Friday, February 14, 2020

What’s Your Character’s Type? Part II: What the Enneagram Reveals about (More) Characters' Personalities

Photo by Miguel Bruna on Unsplash

This post continues from this one, in which we looked at the Enneagram types of Damon, Denise, and Kyle, three of the main characters in my novel, The Power Club. In this post, we’ll reveal the Enneagram numbers of the remaining members of the PC--Vee, Danner, and Ali--plus one.

The Enneagram is an ancient concept which categorizes a person’s traits, strengths, and weaknesses into one of nine interconnected numbers. These numbers, scholars claim, can reveal a lot about your inner drives and fears, as well as how you behave in situations of stress and growth. (See, for example, the bibliography at the end of the previous post.)

The Enneagram is also useful, I’ve found, for uncovering the inner drives, fears, etc., of fictional characters—whether you are a writer or a fan. For the most part, I already knew the inner drives and motivations of the PC members—or I thought I did. The Enneagram has helped me look at certain choices the characters make in a new way.

More information on the Enneagram can be found at the Enneagram Institute, from whence came the quotes below which describe each type.

Vee = Seven (The Enthusiast)

With the power of super-speed, Vee lives life by literally running from one thing to the next. He is “extroverted, optimistic, versatile, and spontaneous,” but he can also become “overextended, scattered, and undisciplined.” As the original leader of The Power Club, he decides to cancel a workout session for no other reason than to watch something on TV; however, he neglects to inform the club’s newest member, Damon, of the cancellation. Alone, Damon is ambushed by his enemy from school, Calvin.

Vee feels truly bad about the consequences of his actions, but this doesn’t stop him from making similar mistakes. Once Damon is elected leader, Vee becomes “perfectionistic and critical” of every mistake Damon makes. In part, this is because Vee thinks of PC as his club and resents Damon for intruding. However, Vee’s basic fear “of being deprived and in pain” forces him to keep these tendencies in check for now. If he gets kicked out of the PC, Vee fears the pain would be more than he can bear.

Because of his sister Denise’s concern for his safety, Vee misses out on “a worthwhile experience,” which causes him to become ever more resentful towards Damon, as we will see in the second book. At his best, though, Vee is more focused and able to do what is required of him to help the others survive.

Danner = Eight (The Challenger)

Danner’s ability to grow to as large as 30 feet exemplifies his personality as an Eight: “self-confident, strong, and assertive” as well as “egocentric and domineering.” At school, Danner serves as a crossing guard, a position of authority he relishes. Typical of Eights, he loves to control his environment and the people in it. When Damon resists his authority, Danner becomes temperamental. This leads him to make a choice he later regrets (including fighting his former best friend, Kyle) and he goes to great lengths to pay off the debt he has created for himself. Losing self-control, to Danner, is the greatest weakness.

Still, Danner recognizes the good he did as a member of PC and takes it to the next level in the second book so he can “protect himself and others.” When this protection goes awry, he is forced into a truce with Damon and later saves Damon's life. Despite their mutual dislike, Danner readily thinks of himself as in charge and as a protector.

Ali = Three (The Achiever)

Ali, like Kyle, is a Three, but her Enneagram type is expressed in slightly different ways. Like Kyle, she is “assured, attractive, and charming” as well as “self-accepting and authentic.” But she is also competitive and needs to feel valuable. When the riot breaks out in the mall, Ali jumps right into the fight. Later, she loudly objects when Damon suggests her role in the group could be that of a mere lookout. In spite of that, she arrives late to the scene of the robbery and ends up acting as lookout anyway.

For Ali, feeling worthless is unacceptable, and this feeling can cause her to become “disengaged and apathetic.” Although she truly does not like lying to her parents about her PC activities, one reason she quits PC is because she feels relegated to a secondary role.

In the first book, she is still learning to use her power of flight and lacks confidence. By the second book, she exhibits much more control and daring. She plays a central role in The Safety Patrol, the school-sponsored club of powered kids. She becomes “cooperative and committed to others,” putting her life at risk to help the others out of a deadly situation. And she takes no b.s. from a would-be kidnapper.

And now the plus-one:

Calvin = Four (The Individualist)

It’s hard for me to think of “bad guy” Calvin as a Four because that’s the number I most identify with. But Calvin has a typical Four personality. He is “self-aware, sensitive, and reserved” but also “moody and self-conscious.” He feels “disdainful and exempt from ordinary ways of living.” He “has problems with melancholy, self-indulgence, and self-pity.” Fours can be withdrawn, and Calvin possesses a literal power to withdraw: He can create rifts into other dimensions and then hide in those dimensions or make others disappear into them.

From Damon’s perspective, Calvin is a villain. But Calvin sees himself as a victim who is misunderstood and who has been isolated because of the dangers of his powers. Because he has spent so much of his childhood apart from other kids, he feels he has “no identity or personal significance.” He “wants to express [himself] and [his] individuality,” but when he did so in the past, it resulted in a classmate disappearing forever. Calvin thinks it unfair that his own powers are singled out as too dangerous while other kids get to practice theirs and to make friends. In the meantime, he is looking for a “rescuer” and, by the end of the first book, believes he has found one.

If Calvin gets a chance to grow in different directions, he may embrace the positive aspects of being a Four: surrounding himself with beauty and “becoming more objective and principled,” but a lot depends on his ability to make positive choices from the challenges he faces.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at Enneagram types as expressed through the main characters in The Power Club. I enjoyed exploring the types and learning new things about each character. In some cases, motivations are revealed here for the first time—things they haven’t shared with Damon, through whose eyes the story unfolds.

In a few days, the second book in the series, The Secret Club, will be available. In it, we will meet new powered kids to interact with Damon and the rest. In a future post, we’ll uncover their Enneagram numbers, as well.

Monday, February 10, 2020

What’s Your Character’s Number? What the Enneagram can reveal about your characters’ personalities



silhouette of man illustration
Photo by Ben Sweet on Unsplash

Personality tests are all the rage in social media land, but few tests can be as accurate, revealing, and insightful as the Enneagram. An ancient concept that finds modern uses among psychologists, educators, and hiring managers, the Enneagram is a circle separated into nine interconnected numbers, with each number representing personality traits, inner drives, and strengths and weaknesses.

I thought it would be fun to see where the characters in my novel, The Power Club and its forthcoming sequel, The Secret Club (due to be published on Feb. 20) land on this circle, and below is what I came up with. 

First, a couple of caveats need mentioning.

Not every trait in a personality type will apply to everyone who fits that type. If you are a Seven (“The Enthusiast”), for example, you might find some traits that resemble you and others that don’t.

Also, it can be difficult to pin one’s own number down. I’ve taken several Enneagram tests in the last few months, and depending on their results and on the opinions of people who know me, I’m a One (“The Reformer,” also known as “The Perfectionist”), a Four (“The Individualist”), A Five (“The Investigator”) or a Nine (“The Peacemaker”).

However, in studying the Enneagram, I think I have come to understand myself a little better.

But in terms of revealing where your characters might land on the circle, the Ennegram can be both insightful and surprising, as my results on three of the Power Club characters show.

More information on the Enneagram can be found at the Enneagram Institute, from when come the quotes below. Two helpful books are also listed in the bibliography at the end of this post.

Herewith is how three of the main PC kids stack up:

Damon = Six (The Loyalist)

According to the Enneagram Institute, Sixes are “reliable, hard-working, responsible, and trusting.” They “foresee problems and foster cooperation.” We see this in the first book, as Damon is the one who rallies The Power Club into becoming heroes. They join in when he fights back against the mob that invades the mall, and they (or most of them) later help him foil a robbery. Of all the PC members, Damon is the most committed to becoming a hero and doing something positive with the powers they possess.

But Sixes also have a dark side (in Damon’s case, this is both literal and figurative). They can become “defensive, evasive, and anxious,” and also “reactive, defiant, and rebellious.” We see these traits play out when the District opposes Damon’s plans to turn the PC into heroes. Damon becomes convinced, rightly or wrongly, that the unseen leaders of the District are out to get him, lying about the limits of his darkness power and turning other kids against him.

Sixes “want to have security, to feel supported by others,” and this is why the Power Club is so important to Damon. He doesn’t want to become a solo hero, acting on his own. He wants to be part of a team, working with other powered kids to make a difference. When things don’t work out the way he plans, he can become “competitive and arrogant” (as we’ll see in the second book), but, at his best, Damon is “internally stable and self-reliant, courageously championing [himself] and others”—especially when their survival is at stake.

Denise = Five (The Investigator)

As a precognitive, Denise embodies a Five’s traits of being “visionary . . . ahead of [her] time, and able to see the world in an entirely new way.” But her “Fiveness” goes beyond the nature of her power. She is “able to concentrate and focus on developing complex ideas and independent skills.” In the False Alarm prequel, we saw that young Denise loved science and kept an ant farm. Her interest in science ties in with her key motivation of wanting to possess knowledge and understand the physical environment.

But the downside of her power and personality is that she can become “detached . . . high-strung and intense.” Her desire to control her world leads her to make decisions she later regrets. (We will see one such decision at the end The Power Club and some consequences of it in The Secret Club.) 

Typical of Fives, Denise is afraid of being useless; she knows her power isn’t very useful in battle, and, thus, she struggles with feeling insecure and isolated. At her best, she is “self-confident and decisive” and even the other PC members know when to listen to her.

Kyle = Three (The Achiever)

Kyle, who becomes Damon’s best friend, exudes the traits of a Three: “self-assured, attractive, and charming” as well as “ambitious, competent, and energetic.” As the oldest member of PC, Kyle is probably the best qualified to be its leader, but he’s not threatened when Damon is chosen instead. Rather, Kyle remains “diplomatic and poised,” a role model “who inspires others.”

Still, like other Threes, Kyle is status-conscious, and in his world, status often means doing the things other 15-year-old boys do: hunt, play football, and drive sports cars. In fact, Kyle is obsessed with a Mustang he helps his father rebuild, even though his own natural teleportation power can take him anywhere he wants to go. In his heart, Kyle wants both to fit in and “to be admired, and to impress others.” To him, this means acquiring the status symbols of achievement, such as the driver’s license he is looking forward to on his 16th birthday.

At his best, Kyle becomes “cooperative and committed to others,” assisting Damon in foiling the robbery at great personal cost.

So, what do we learn from all this?

What’s most interesting to me is that the types align not only with each character’s personality but also with his or her powers. A security-conscious Damon, for example, would naturally see his darkspace as an environment in which to feel safe. Kyle, on the other hand, has an inverse relationship between his power and his personality. As a teleporter, he is conceivably one of the most powerful kids in the district, but all he wants to do is fit in.

In future posts, I’ll reveal the numbers of the other PC kids as well as new ones introduced in the sequel, The Secret Club.

Meanwhile, you can use the Enneagram to see what you can learn about your own characters.

Bibliography

The Enneagram Institute. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.enneagraminstitute.com/

Stabile, Suzanne. (2018). The Path Between Us: An Enneagram Journey to Healthy Relationships. InterVarsity Press.

Palmer, Helen. (2010). The Enneagram in Love and Work: Understanding Your Intimate & Business Relationships. HarperOne.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Book Review Amazon Wouldn't Publish


Reviews, writers are told, are their lifeblood--especially on Amazon. The more reviews you have, the belief goes, the more attention Amazon's all-powerful logarithms pay to your product. Therefore, all authors ask (or should ask) for reviews. I ask for reviews when I sell books.

And I support fellow authors by writing reviews of books I enjoy. I've written and published many reviews on Amazon without a hitch. Until now.

The Cost of Being a Reviewer?


Recently, I bought from Amazon a newly published book called Transtime (Life on Another Island Book 4) by Ruth Danes. I loved it, wrote an extensive review on it, and submitted it to Amazon. No other reviews had been posted, so I was delighted that mine would be the first.

Three days later, I received the following email from Amazon:

"Thank you for submitting a customer review on Amazon. After carefully reviewing your submission, your review could not be posted to the website. While we appreciate your time and comments, reviews must adhere to the following guidelines: . . ."

The "Community Guidelines" link that followed led to a full-page document which lists eligibility requirements and rules for posting reviews. The document is publicly available here. After poring through the guidelines, I can think of two reasons why my review might have been rejected. The firt is listed under "Eligibility Requirements":

"To contribute to Customer features (for example, Customer Reviews, Customer Answers, Idea Lists) or to follow other contributors, you must have spent at least $50 on Amazon.com using a valid credit or debit card in the past 12 months. Promotional discounts don't qualify towards the $50 minimum."

I don't keep track of my purchases on Amazon. However, Amazon keeps track of them, and the amount you spend apparently determines whether you are qualified to write a review.

This leaves me wondering how many reviews of my own books have been rejected because the reviewer did not meet the minimum purchase requirements. It also leaves me wondering how many good books languish with low exposure and low sales for the same reason.

Are You Connected?


The second possible reason for rejection can be found under the section labeled "Promotions and
Commercial Considerations."

In the interest of full disclosure, Transtime is published by Rogue Phoenix Press, which also publishes my book, The Power Club, and its forthcoming sequel. Nothing in the Community Guidelines states authors cannot review books from the same publisher. There is, however, the following vaguely worded statement:

"You may post content other than Customer Reviews and Questions and Answers regarding products or services for which you have a financial or close personal connection to the brand, seller, author, or artist, but only if you clearly and conspicuously disclose the connection (e.g., "I was paid for this post.")."

I was not paid for the review, and I'm not sure what "close personal" means, but it's true that I did not 'fess up to the RPP connection. If this is the reason for the rejection, it is illogical. Publishers publish a wide variety of books, so there really is no "close personal" connection among authors or between authors and publishers. It is not reasonable to expect reviewers to disclose every relationship they may have or to guess what vague terms mean.

It is also unfair because authors may be left wondering why there are so few reviews of their books. Readers miss out on reviews that may influence their purchases. And readers may be discouraged from contributing further reviews because they never know why their reviews were rejected.


You Be The Judge


I responded to the email by asking for clarification on the rejection but received no response. Since the guidelines state I cannot submit another review for the same book even with changes (whatever those changes may need to be), here is the review.

Transtime (Life on Another Island Book 4) by [Danes, Ruth]Life in the Good Ol’ Days?

Esme Stark is a biracial, bisexual woman who is not happy with her life. Once a member of a popular girl band, Esme’s own musical career hit the skids after the band broke up. She ekes out a living as a part-time admin for a boss and co-worker who drive her nuts. It’s been a long time since she’s had a relationship, and she doesn’t speak to her family following the death of her disabled sister. Esme fantasizes about what life would be like if she had lived in an earlier time—the 18th century. After meeting a counselor and an angel, Esme learns she can do just that. 

“Transtime” builds off a simple but compelling premise: Just as some people believe they are born in with the wrong gender, others believe they are born in the wrong time. Whereas technology now exists to help people transition from one gender to another, there is a supernatural means (otherwise unexplained) to transfer souls from one time to another. The process is irreversible: one swaps places with someone else who was born in the earlier or later time. 

Esme’s counselor, Jasmine, introduces her to Gabriel, an angel (though he prefers not to be called that), who helps her decide if she wants to live permanently in the past by allowing her to experience "scenarios"--experiencing life through the eyes of people who lived then. Esme temporarily swaps places with Zilpha, a peasant woman from the 18th century, who similarly feels she was born in the wrong time. 

“Transtime” is at its best when it allows Esme to subsume herself into different characters and experience their normal but frequently unfair and precarious lives. At first, she becomes Agnes, an eight-year-old girl from a well-to-do family who stays with her rich cousins. But the parents are abusive—the father regularly beats his rebellious son, and a daughter has been disowned and forced to change her name for refusing to conform to their ways. There were no laws protecting children in those days; everything the parents do is legal. 

In another scenario, Esme inhabits the life of a man—also named Gabriel—who spies for the English during their war with East Islanders---then called Demons. The story lays bear the prejudices of the time—literally demonizing those with different ways and customs. In one chilling scenario, Esme's host hangs “Demons” for no other reason than being born into that culture. 
 
But “Transtime” is not an indictment of the earlier era. What attracted Esme to the 18th century is what continues to attract her through each scenario: the sense of community. The people she inhabits lived smaller lives and had smaller worldviews—few traveled abroad—but each had something to contribute to that community: the very feeling that is lacking in Esme’s own time. 
 
The book contrasts these different worldviews when Esme and Zilpha meet to discuss their experiences after each scenario. At first, Zilpha expresses horror at the modern world (the book is sent in 2015): people on their screens all the time, single motherhood, the elderly suffering from dementia (“An earlier death would have been a blessing,” she observes). And Zilpha never accepts Esme’s point of view that it’s okay to love people of one’s own gender, even though Zilpha is herself bisexual. 
 
“Transtime” affords Esme (and the reader) the opportunity to live other people’s lives, to embrace the good with the bad, and to appreciate just how far society has come since the 18th century—but also the costs of that progress. None of the people Esme inhabits lived perfect lives, and neither does Esme herself. But the ability to fix one’s own life, and to help others improve theirs, exists for all.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

One Writer's Journey: Epiphanies and Confessions


I've been watching Stranger Things and The Haunting of Hill House, not because they are horror stories or stories of otherworldly creatures and ghosts, but because they feature young teen and pre-teen protagonists. I'm not normally drawn to such stories, but, since I wrote a book called The Power Club, which features similarly young heroes, I find a lot in common with these tales. 

One aspect I admire is that these series don't soften the material or talk down to the audience. Truly horrible things happen to these kids--and sometimes they cause horrible things to happen to themselves and to each other. Friends betray each other. Family members turn their backs on each other. And some kids are downright evil.

And that's to say nothing of the otherworldly creatures and ghosts.

After watching the second episode of The Haunting of Hill House--in which the middle child, Theodora, bravely looks after her siblings as a child and other children as a psychologist (the story is told both in the present and in flashback)--I reflected on what it truly takes to be a hero, how I wanted to be a hero so badly when I was a kid, and how I fell short.

I thought of Kelly.

Kelly (not her real name) was a girl I went to school with. She was large--not heavy, just large--plain and awkward, a frequent target of teasing from other kids. She lived across the street from me, and we hung out a lot. She had a Johnny Cash album which included "Daddy Sang Bass." She had the Marvel Comics tabloid adaptation of The Wizard of Oz, which I also owned because I received it as a gift from Marvel but hated because it didn't involve super-heroes.

Kelly was the first and only girl I kissed. We were wrestling in her living room when I wound up on top of her. I bent down and gave her a smack on the cheek. I remember her exclamation of surprise. We were 12. 

Shaun (not his real name), an older boy who lived in the neighborhood, did not see the kiss. But he did see me leaving Kelly's house. He teased me mercilessly about her being my girlfriend. That was more than my fragile ego could take. I envisioned myself as a super-hero or bridge officer of the Enterprise. Such manly figures were not made fun of for having girlfriends. They were not made fun of for having Kelly as a girlfriend. I stopped hanging out with her. I ignored her at school. Bewildered, she called to ask what she had done wrong. I hung up on her. I refused to tell my mother why I was so mean to Kelly. But mean I was.

I don't know when she moved out of the neighborhood.

I encountered her once or twice as an adult. Once was in a department store. We were cordial to each other, but I don't think we even addressed each other by name. 

When I began writing The Power Club some eight years ago, I began with the precept that I wanted to write about kids as they really are, not an idealized version of kid heroes. I wanted my heroes to be real. I think I naively assumed that people are inherently good, and that kids, though they may do things that aren't so good, will eventually come to the truth. Having powers gives them an extra incentive to find their true selves. However, in writing the book and its still-in-progress sequel, I've often had a hard time finding the heroic side to some of my characters. This is because I did not behave heroically at that age.

If I possessed a super-power or a Starfleet commission, I would--my thinking went--have the power to do the right thing. 

But I did not do the right thing, not even with the "powers" I was given. I put my insecurities above Kelly's feelings. I chased after the "cool" kids, from whom I wanted acceptance, and ignored someone who liked me for who I was and who wanted to hang out with me. I knew Kelly better than other girls. She was a real person, not an imitation of a super-heroine or Hollywood actress. She was not standoffish or mean, like other girls at school could be. She deserved better.

Having an innate power or ability does not make one heroic. Heroism is a choice to do the right thing even when it is unpopular to do so.



Saturday, October 13, 2018

Requiem for a "Miracles" Man



And through an open window where no curtain hung
I saw you
I saw you
Comin' back to me
--"Comin' Back to Me," Jefferson Airplane (written by Marty Balin)

Marty Balin died on September 27. Balin was co-founder and singer of Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship--for the latter, he wrote and sang lead on their biggest hit, "Miracles" (1975). For the next few years, he crooned on other hits, such as "With Your Love" (1976) and "Count on Me" and "Runaway" (both 1978) before leaving the band. On his own, he scored two hits, "Hearts" and "Atlanta Lady" (both 1981).

By the time I became a fan of Jefferson Starship in 1979, Balin was gone and so was the romantic pop direction he had guided so successfully. I discovered the band after it had transitioned into a hard rock unit with the soaring high tenor of Mickey Thomas at the helm. But I explored Balin's contributions through the band's radio hits and albums. Balin, whose name sounded so much like "ballad," the kind of music he was most noted for, had an unmistakable voice that combined passion and earnestness. He could make even the most treacly love songs sound genuine. Balin also reminded me of a friend I had, who possessed the same earthy, dark appearance, the same suave demeanor, and who, by 1979, had also moved on.

I woke this morning to an earworm of "Count on Me" playing over and over in my head. This song, more than even "Miracles," expresses to me the sentiments of the Balin era of the band. Even before I knew anything about Jefferson Starship, I had heard "Count on Me" on the radio. Its plaintive promise of a love that cannot be abandoned warmed my soul, inspiring my own images of what love would look and feel like. I was 14--prime time for developing such images and yearnings, though also at that age when such notions are best kept to oneself.

I nearly had a chance to interview Balin once. In the late '90s, I wrote bios and reviews for a fan site with the unpretentious title, "A Jefferson Starship/Airplane Site." Through that site and a JA/JS newsgroup, I interacted with Jeff Tamarkin, a well-known music journalist who was writing a book on the band. We exchanged information on the group, and he offered to put me in touch with Marty Balin's father, then 82, who could put me in touch with Marty. However, there comes a point where you get a little too close to your dreams, your ambitions, your fantasies. Getting too close to a star is like touching a lit sparkler on the Fourth of July. Some things are better admired from a distance. I never followed through on the offer.

I do not see that as a missed opportunity. I got to hear and read Balin's story through numerous interviews and books, and I got to experience that incredible voice through numerous songs. Checking up on his story--and the band's story--over the years helped ground me as my life changed course in ways I couldn't have imagined at 14. The JA/JS and its various members were like old friends I'd check up on now and then, friends who reminded me of something of core importance: a sense of family in all of its messy configurations.

This sense of family was both invented and real. Rock bands in general create a sense of belonging for disaffected teens and young people who feel at odds with their own families and communities. Rock bands say, "Come and join us. You can be who you are or whatever you want to be. You can succeed in your wildest dreams, and we will be there to help and support you." For many bands, this is nothing more than an illusion--a projection of teenage wish fulfillment. But for a select few bands, there is something real under-girding this illusion. The Beatles had that "something"--call it honesty or integrity: a willingness to expose their less attractive sides and choices. A willingness to say, "This is who we are and what we choose to do (even break up), even if our fans don't like it."

Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship had that "something," too, and I felt it mirrored my own relationships: feelings of not being understood or appreciated for who I was, having to conform to expectations that did not suit me, wanting to chuck it all and leave--to start over with new people and relationships. I imagine Marty, during his various comings and goings, felt all of that at one time or another.

Yet Marty returned to the band time and time again. From 1993 until well into the 2000s, he sang with a new configuration, dubbed Jefferson Starship--The Next Generation. The only time I got to see him perform live was during a JS--TNG show in 2000. Fittingly and with great appreciation from me, he sang "Count on Me."

The stage was almost vacant except for him and keyboard player Chris Smith. I can't recall if other band members played on the song, but I remember that Paul Kantner did not. Kantner, who had co-founded the band with Marty in 1965, was the only other member from their hit-making days present in the millennium configuration. I wasn't sure what to make of his absence during Marty's solo. (Marty joked that Paul must be taking a leak.) In my fantasy interpretation, he should have supported Marty as he did in the videos. But perhaps Marty wanted it that way. It was his solo.

Families are messy and incomplete. They overflow with resentment as much as love. And what is love? Balin and JA/JS often sang about love as if its nature were beyond question: a force that made our lives better. Love, in Balin's world, was sexual ("Miracles") but also full of world-weary hope ("Comin' Back to Me," 1967). Even broken hearts cannot truly dispel love ("Hearts").

Or families.

Art credit: https://openclipart.org/detail/302864/open-window-version-2


Saturday, July 21, 2018

A Poem for Air Conditioning

I luxuriate 

in the frigid morning

under warm covers and 

blissful remnants of fading dreams.

No future

No past

Just this glorious moment:

The simple love I felt 

As a child

Returns:

A mother's care

A father's safety

A brother's company:

"I am a flower blooming in the desert--a ray of light in the wasteland."

The sheet rubs against my shins, confining

yet setting me free;

There is nothing else.

***

A memory of absent paradise:

In summer, my family slept downstairs.

We could afford only one air conditioner. It perched 

in the window of our living room, 

transfiguring downstairs into heaven

while the bedrooms above baked and suffocated.

Mother and father took the couches

Under cathedral windows

While we dragged our tiny, plastic

mattresses from upstairs and sprawled out

under the soft rumble 

that emerged from round vents, 

like engines of a starship

conveying us to a new world.


I had no fear of the dark.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

THE POWER CLUB Nominated for Award!

I'm pleased to announce that my book, THE POWER CLUB, has been nominated for the 2018 Readers Choice Awards contest by TCK Publishing!


Please vote for it under the YA and Middle Grade Book Category at https://www.tckpublishing.com/2018-readers-choice-voting-page/
TCK Publishing 2018 Readers Choice Awards


Saturday, January 27, 2018

Power Club Book Signing on Feb. 3


Parkville Coffee is an intimate coffee shop located in Parkville, MO. I've hung out there with friends many times, and even wrote a few chapters of THE POWER CLUB in the upstairs nook. Parkville Coffee has graciously agreed to host a dual author signing with myself and Miranda Nichols, who just published her debut novel, Blood Awakening. This is your chance to meet two local authors and get signed copies of our books!

As an added incentive for coming out, there will be a chance to win a free e-reader. Scrumptious treats will be served.

The Dual Author Signing begins at 1 p.m. on Saturday, February 3. The address is 103 Main Street, Parkville, MO.


No automatic alt text available.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

A Reflection on Sentimentality


This post was inspired by this one.
The Book of Life defines “sentimentality” as a view of life with the dark parts erased. When we look back at the past through sentimental eyes, we long for a simpler, happier time—one so very different from our present circumstances. Yet this longing, according to The Book of Life, breeds cynicism. We get caught up in our fantasy of how things used to be and ignore the reality that things weren’t always so good. We also look for the worst in the present day.
I couldn’t help wondering if this is how many Conservatives view the world—especially those who voted for and still support Donald Trump. To them, he is a throwback to a simpler time when boys could be boys and it was easy to tell who America’s enemies were: They looked different, dressed differently, and held to a different religion. Some Conservatives (I hate to make broad, general statements) want to return to this simpler time. Certain relatives of mine, who self-identified as Conservatives or Republicans, saw the world as getting much worse as it moves forward with gay rights, lack of prayer in public schools, and apparent disrespect of the American flag. In their youth, no one questioned these matters. Now everyone questions everything. Questions are scary. Questions undermine the certainty that God is on our side, or we are on his. (God is always a “he.”) They destroy the cherished illusions we take for granted: American superiority, Christian rightness, and male dominion.
However, this post is not about Conservatives. It is about me and my own brushes with sentimentality.
One of the recurring themes and preoccupations of my life is self-improvement. I know from first-hand experience that I can be wrong and usually am. So, any faith I had in American superiority, Christian rightness, and male dominion (because I am all these things—American, Christian, and male) was destroyed long ago. “Destroyed” perhaps isn’t the right word. Those thoughts are still with me. I am a product of the culture in which I was raised, and any culture has both a positive and a negative side. (Take that, sentimentality.) I also long for a past in which things were somehow “better” than they are now. I particularly feel this way when I miss certain relatives who have died and friends who have moved on. I imagine the conversations we should have had but didn’t, conversations which we made a silent pact not to have because their Truths were not my Truth, and a steady peace was preferred to the risk of all-out war of Truths. My attempts to be understood failed. My attempts to understand failed even worse.
Sentimentality seduces. A couple of years ago, I was delighted when a local radio station began playing American Top 40 programs from the ‘70s, the era of my childhood. At last, I was able to listen to all the programs I missed because I didn’t discover AT40 until I was 15. I was able to watch the classic artists and songs of my youth move up and down the chart, and to listen to host Casey Kasem’s anecdotes and chart trivia. Every Sunday I took notes and shared them on Facebook. A few of my FB friends even commented. Sentimentality is always best when shared.
Yet a certain boredom crept in. After a while, I realized there was nothing “classic” or transcendent about listening to the countdown year after year. The same artists released new songs every year, and while some were indeed memorable hits, others were just dreck. Rock ‘n’ roll, like any business, thrives on pushing product, no matter how lame, to the public. This interpretation is subjective, of course—every song is probably someone’s favorite. But even favorite status depends on where we were, who we were, who we were with, and countless other subjective associations. Most Top 40 music was bland and formulaic in the ‘70s, just as it was in the ‘80s, when I listened faithfully every week, hoping my own favorite songs and artists would rise to the top. Instead, I had to patiently wait out the reigns of “Endless Love” and Daryl Hall and John Oates. In hindsight, I appreciate the craft that went into such songs and artists. At the time, I longed for an imagined past of the ‘70s when the likes of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and Grand Funk reigned supreme.
Sentimentality runs its course—or it should. There should come a point where we realize we are learning nothing new and that the very feelings we are trying to avoid—uncertainty, anxiety, nervousness—point to impending change. The world evolves constantly, and we can either embrace those changes or turn back to an imagined past where things were better, happier. I suggest it’s not bad if we do this occasionally. Looking to the past can remind us who we are and where we came from. As is evident in some of my Conservative friends, tradition reaffirms values: what it means to be American or Christian or male (or female).
However, sentimentality becomes a trap when we refuse to see it for what it is, when we take the fantasy as real and become bitter towards a present which doesn’t live up to our expectations. The simple truth is that the past wasn’t always so great. The ‘70s I grew up in were full of personal upheavals. About a year ago, I found my old school records. I passed many of my classes only because my mother implored my teachers and principals to let me pass. I was so traumatized by being picked on and bullied that I couldn’t concentrate on school work. In the eighth grade, I stopped going to school yet somehow managed to pass. In the ninth grade, a teacher came to my house to deliver and collect assignments. Then I switched schools—to a Conservative, religious school which proclaimed rock ‘n’ roll to be the devil’s music. Of course, this was the time when I got into rock ‘n’ roll. My identity was formed in part by rebellion against what I saw as the narrow-mindedness of the people on whom I depended for life and education.
The sentimentality of my youth would have required me to be born about 20 years earlier so I could have been part of that generation which changed the music world—the Beatles, the Stones, and my go-to group, Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship. Many of these artists were still active in the ‘70s and ‘80s. They had “made it.” I, too, wanted to make it without having to go through adolescence and young adulthood and college and figuring out what I wanted to do. I imagined they lived happy lives as established artists whose records were all but guaranteed to be successful and whose every pronouncement made the news with Messianic weight. And they were all a “family”—creative and loved.
Of course, I know differently now. My curiosity about such artists led me to research them and learn their Truths: the addictions, the pressure to have hits, the tension between remaining original yet pleasing the crowds, the broken relationships, the massive egos. Yet in studying their Truths, I learned to let go of my own fantasies and to open myself to the wonder of reality: the miracle of what it is truly like to create something which impacts others. I also learned, in a roundabout way, to understand and embrace my own Truth.

The Book of Life has it right: Sentimentality can breed cynicism, but only if we let it. If we recognize sentimentality for what it is—a temporary excursion into how we want things to be—we can use it to create a better future.

Photo: https://openclipart.org/detail/277056/sad-lady-and-kids

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Okay, Mr. Writer, What Makes The Power Club So Special?



One of the cool things about publishing a book is getting interviewed. One blogger recently sent me a series of questions, and, while I enjoyed answering them all, one threw me. The blogger asked: Super-hero stories are quite common these days. What makes The Power Club unique?

It’s a fair question. Every writer should know what makes his or her book stand above the herd. In my mind, I’ve rehearsed an answer to such questions ever since I started writing PC. Yet answering that question for real requires the writer to take a good, hard look at his or her work, delve into personal reasons why he or she wrote the book in the first place, and connect those reasons with readers who will buy and (we hope) love the book.

It’s especially a fair question today with movie theaters glutted with Avengers and JLA movies. What makes PC—a story about kids with super-powers—different?  One obvious answer is that these kids are forced to live in a place known as “the district,” which restricts the use of their powers and keeps a careful, perhaps sinister, watch over them.

But there’s more to it than that. Herewith is my attempt to give a more complete answer to “What makes The Power Club unique?”

         1. PC is a deeply personal story which combines elements of real life and fantasy.

Growing up in the small Midwestern city of St. Joseph, MO, I dreamed of having super-powers and friends who had powers so we could form our own super-hero team. For a fleeting summer, a bunch of neighborhood kids and I, fueled by comic books and cartoons, pretended we were super-heroes. Then they moved on to other things (sports and cars), but I never did. In the back of my mind, I always wondered, “What if our super-team had been real?”

Also, I felt a sense of confinement in my neighborhood and hometown, just as Damon, the main character in PC, feels confined in the district. All the “real” super-heroes lived in New York or imaginary cities such as Metropolis and Coast City. I wanted to explore the world, but I was “stuck” in St. Joseph.

A third strand came from the realization that the world outside the safe confines of St. Joseph was a scary place (and it could be scary inside St. Joseph, as well). Suicide bombers and mass shooters were extremely rare in those days, but the world always seemed to be on the brink of nuclear disaster. Until I was almost 12, there were constant reminders that—as a young male—I could be drafted and sent off to fight in a war. When I was about Damon’s age, a cult led by the Rev. Jim Jones committed mass suicide. These events formed my perceptions of the world and fueled my desire to do something about them.

This isn’t to say that PC is based on fear. Quite the contrary, I hope readers derive a sense of hope and optimism from it. Yes, the world is screwed up, and there is much outside our control. However, we can do something about our own choices.

Fear, then, is a motivating factor in the book, and it hits Damon from all sides. He must contend with super-powered bullies as well as the district itself, which conspires against him. How Damon responds to these challenges determines who he is.

 2. PC isn’t just about good guys versus bad guys. Sometimes it's difficult to know what a good guy should do.

Many super-hero stories succeed because they are comforting and familiar. We know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, and we know the good guys will win after they overcome many obstacles. But in PC, the obstacle and the choices the characters make to overcome them aren't so clear cut.

The PC characters share at least one common obstacle: they are young. They don’t have the resources, independence, or experience of adult heroes. They must contend with real-world challenges such as going to school, obeying rules, and even attending birthday parties. All of these things get in the way of being heroes.

Damon and some of the other characters have to make difficult choices in order to become heroes. One character lies to her parents so she can participate in a mission. Damon must decide whether to kick another member out of the club. He also learns that the district, which is supposed to protect him, uses dirty tricks to keep him from becoming a hero. Sometimes, doing "the right thing" is hard when there are competing choices.

Being a hero is also dangerous business, and this is shown in the book. Stopping a scared mob is one thing, but going up against real criminals is another. Some members of the PC question whether they want to be heroes, and the sacrifices they have to make. So, PC turns this assumption on its head: Just because you have powers doesn’t mean you can or want to be a hero.

      3. PC wasn’t written to cash in on trends and fashions.

Okay, I hope PC is a big success, and if it rides the current wave of super-hero popularity, so much the better. However, my goal is for PC to have universal appeal and to live on, be read, and be discussed for years. Though I don’t pretend to compare my book to Harry Potter, I think some lessons can be learned from J.K. Rowling’s series. HP is not just about a kid who wants to become a wizard; it’s about a kid who, bereft of a loving family, seeks to find his place in the world. This is something all kids everywhere can identify with. 

Likewise, PC is about kids discovering their special abilities and trying to figure out what those abilities mean for them and the world.


That’s my take on what makes PC unique. For another perspective, here’s a gracious review written by the Blushing Bibliophile:



Saturday, October 7, 2017

THE POWER CLUB Now Available on Amazon

I'm taking a sabbatical from the blog, but I wanted to let everyone know that the new version of The Power Club is now available on Amazon. Check it out.

Here is the brand spanking new ebook cover:


"Some kids play piano. Some make hook shots.

Some create darkness
. . . or teleport
. . . or fly.

Damon has what ordinary kids want: a power.

"Ords" have what he wants: freedom.

If he joins a 'special club,' he can use his power freely. But getting into a club isn't easy, and joining one is just the beginning."










And here's the full print cover:


Special thanks to my agent, Stephanie Hansen, for getting PC this far, and to Rogue Phoenix Press for taking a chance!

What’s Your Character’s Type? Part II: What the Enneagram Reveals about (More) Characters' Personalities

Photo by  Miguel Bruna  on  Unsplash This post continues from this one , in which we looked at the Enneagram types of Damon, Denis...