Saturday, October 21, 2017

Weekend Zen, October 21-22

A friend knows 
the song in my heart
and sings it to me 
when my memory fails.

~ Donna Roberts

Friday, October 20, 2017

20 Questions: The (Dreaded) Author Interview

Birthday photo. I'd guess this was taken the
same year I started my first draft.
Around the time Solid Ground was released earlier this year, I penned a series of six short posts about my writing process and my lengthy journey to publication.

The articles were initially published on various book blogs, but now, with lots of new readers and social media friends, I've decided to re-issue them here. I'll probably share one article each week.

As with the novel, I tried my best not to let these blog posts suck. I hope you enjoy them.

First up....20 Questions!

When did you write your first story and what was the inspiration for it?
I was a poet in my early years, and I don’t think I wrote any fiction until I was in my twenties. The first story I remember writing was a supernatural tale about a boy who gets inexplicably lost as he bicycles around his own neighborhood trying to find his way home. I named the story “Jeremiah Blues,” a title I took from a Sting song of the same name. In the song, Sting references a Shakespeare line in the lyric, “Everybody wants to look the other way, when something wicked this way comes.” I decided if Sting could borrow from literature for music, I would borrow something back from music for literature.

Do you have a writing schedule or do you just write when you can find the time?
I’m a guy who doesn’t get much writing done without structure and scheduling (sound like a load of fun at parties, don’t I?). When I wrote the first draft of Solid Ground, I worked pretty regularly in the afternoons for 4-6 hours each day. Oddly enough, when I reached the editing stages, I shifted my writing time to early mornings. I started editing many days before the sun even came up.

Briefly describe the writing process. Do you create an outline first? Do you seek out inspirational pictures, videos or music? Do you just let the words flow and then go back and try and make some sense out it?
When it comes to novel writing, I’m a hardcore outliner. That’s not to say I don’t seek out inspiration (especially from the music I listen to as I write), but at the start of the project, I plot things out as best as I can. I write a one or two page synopsis of the story and a basic biography of each main character. Then, I break the story arc into three acts and outline the key moments and scenes within each act. Having said that, once I start writing I’m totally open to following whatever rabbit trails I come across. With Solid Ground, I veered off course several times and those side trips yielded some of the best elements of the story.

Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how much I love Scrivener writing software. I’m like a TV evangelist for this software, only I’m not asking for donations.

Where did the desire to write LGBTQIA+ stories come from?
I like to write about character flaws and individual struggles, how the seemingly tiny moments in life can ultimately define us. For me, the details of the experiences and challenges LGBTQIA+ characters face may differ from their CIS hetero brothers and sisters, but in the end, our stories are all just human stories.

How much research do you do when writing a story and what are the best sources you’ve found for giving an authentic voice to your characters?
My stories are set in everyday places among everyday people, so I’m not a big researcher. To make sure my characters sound real and compelling, I draw from my own experiences and from a lifetime of paying attention to books, movies, music, and pop culture. I’ve also been lucky to have some excellent beta readers and writing group buddies who have been willing to spray paint the awful parts of my manuscripts when I’ve been off the mark.

What’s harder, naming your characters, creating the title for your book or the cover design process?
Hands down, naming the characters is the most difficult! Actually, to be clear, naming them is a cakewalk. Renaming them once you realize a few of the names needed to be tweaked is…a challenge. BUT, getting used to their new names and calling them by those names as you edit and discuss the story, that is torture. First, it’s just mentally challenging to make the switch. Second, and more importantly, it feels to some degree like you’re being unfair and maybe even unfaithful to the characters. But hey, Conor is a more compelling name than Rob. So, there you have it.

How do you answer the question “Oh, you're an author...what do you write?"
Fiction. I write intimate stories about people who try and don’t always succeed.

What does your family think of your writing?
I think they’re proud and as surprised as I am that I finally finished a damn book.

Tell us about your current work in process and what you’ve got planned for the future.
My current work-in-progress is my second novel, Selfish. Like my first novel, Selfish is a first person narration that revolves around the small wonder and giant burden of family. The setting is a fictional town in Michigan, and the main character, Max Becker (or so he’s named for now), is forced to make a harrowing and deeply personal decision that will mean life or death, though not necessarily his own. Unlike Solid Ground, most of the main characters in Selfish are not LGBTQIA+. I’m about half way through the first draft of the book and I’m excited to see if the storyline actually ends up where I originally told it to go.

Do you have any advice for all the aspiring writers out there?
It’s cliché, but write every day, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes. Some days, you’ll put in your fifteen minutes, bitch and moan a little, then shut your laptop and get back to the business of life. Other days, a quarter hour magically becomes three or four hours, and you’ll have to drag yourself away from the keyboard. Both days are okay.

If you could travel forward or backward in time, where would you go and why?
I’d go back to my twenties to tell myself to write fifteen minutes every day.

We’ve all got a little voyeurism in us right? If you could be a fly on the wall during an intimate encounter (does not need to be sexual) between two characters, not your own, who would they be?
Hmmm. I suppose I’d like to peak in on Louis and Lestat, Anne Rice’s characters from the Vampire Chronicles. I loved their love, especially in the first hundred or so years when it was fresh and new.

If I were snooping around your kitchen and looked in your refrigerator right now, what would I find?
Milk (for my Apple Jacks), grapes (I like to drop a few in my brandy), and cheese (the most versatile of all the dairy products).

If you could be a superhero, what would you want your superpowers to be?
To sleep through the night without waking up to pee.

If you could trade places with one of your characters, who would it be and why?
I’d trade with Conor, my main character, so I could make better decisions than he does and spare him a shitload of grief.

If you could sequester yourself for a week somewhere and just focus on your writing, where would you go and what would the environment be like?
A small cabin in the redwood forest around Arcata, CA. There would be no television, telephone, or Internet, and I’d use a wood stove for heat. On the wooden front porch, I’d have the most comfortable writing chair known to mankind – an Eames lounge chair and ottoman (if you have $5,000 to spend on one, you’ll thank me). I know that’s how my fantasy week would be because I was in that cabin in Arcata for a month in 2012. I’d go back tomorrow if I could.

What's the one thing, you can't live without?
Ice cream, Maker’s Mark, and tennis. Okay, that’s three things, but if I can’t have ‘em all it’s not worth it.

What internet site do you surf to the most?
I have a serious Twitter problem. Add me if you’d like to help keep me awake nights. (

If you had your own talk show, who would your first three author guests be and why?
* Christopher Moore (Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, etc.) – because he’s not only a terrific novelist, he’s also hilarious and kind (or so it seems).
* Dave Eggers (Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, etc.) – because he’s brilliant and I’d probably be a better person by the end of the interview.
* JK Rowling (Harry Potter, as if I needed to say that) – because she’s an unbelievable creator of compelling stories and characters and her British accent would make me giddy.

When you got your very first manuscript acceptance letter, what was your initial reaction and who was the first person you told?
I don’t recall my exact reaction, but it was in the ballpark of, “Seriously? Are you sure?” followed by some zealous fist pumping and jumping around. I told my partner, Paul, and our roommate (and live-in editor), Kyle as soon as I read the letter. Kyle got weepy and Paul said something akin to, “Holy shit!”

Thanks for reading!

Jeff's novel, Solid Ground, can be purchased in print and ebook from AmazonB&NBooks-A-Million, and other places where fine fiction is sold.

Daily Zen - Friday, October 20

Act happy,
feel happy,
be happy,
without a reason in the world.
Then you can love,
and do what you will.

~ Dan Millman

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Daily Zen - Wednesday, October 18

It was only a sunny smile,
and little it cost in the giving,
but like morning light
it scattered the night,
and made the day worth living.

~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Daily Zen - Tuesday, October 17

Few people know so clearly what they want.
Most people can't even think what to hope for
when they throw a penny in a fountain.

~ Barbara Kingsolver

Monday, October 16, 2017

Daily Zen - Monday, October 16

Our happiness depends on the habit of mind
we cultivate. So practice happy thinking everyday.
Cultivate the merry heart, develop the happiness habit,
and life will become a continual feast.

~ Norman Vincent Peale

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Weekend Zen, October 14-15

Life is a process of becoming, a combination 
of states we have to go through.
Where people fail is that they wish to 
elect a state and remain in it.

~ Anais Nin

Friday, October 13, 2017

Daily Zen - Friday, October 13

As we share the gifts of tenderness and 
compassion for others, we open our hearts
to understanding and forgiveness.

~ Robin Pickens

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Daily Zen - Thursday, October 12

But your solitude will be your home and haven
even in the midst of very strange conditions,
and from there you will discover all your paths.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Daily Zen - Tuesday, October 10

You are here. However you imagine yourself to be,
you are here. Imagine yourself as a body, you are here.
Imagine yourself as God, you are here. Imagine yourself
as worthless, superior, nothing at all, you are still here.
My suggestion is that you stop all imagining, here.

~ Gangaji

Monday, October 9, 2017

Friday, October 6, 2017

Daily Zen - Friday, October 6

And once the storm is over, you won't remember
how you made it through, how you managed to survive.
And you may not even be sure, whether the storm
is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come
out of the storm, you won't be the same person who
walked in. That's what the storm is all about.

~ Haruki Murakami

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Daily Zen - Thursday, October 5

Joy comes not through possession or ownership,
but through a wise and loving heart.

~ Buddha

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Daily Zen - Wednesday, October 4

There ain't no answer.
There ain't gonna be any answer.
There never has been an answer.
There's the answer.

~ Gertrude Stein

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Daily Zen - Tuesday, October 3

As soon as you see something, you already
start to intellectualize it. As soon as you
intellectualize something, it is no longer what you saw.

~ Shunryu Suzuki

Monday, October 2, 2017

Daily Zen - Monday, October 2

That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality
—your soul, if you will—is as bright and shining as any
that has ever been...Clear away everything that keeps you
separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists,
come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.

~ George Saunders

Friday, September 29, 2017

Daily Zen - Friday, September 29

You yourself, as much as 
anybody in the entire universe, 
deserve your love and attention.

~ Buddha

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Daily Zen - Thursday, September 28

Do not grasp at the stars,
but do life's plain, common work as it comes,
certain that daily duties and daily bread are 
the sweetest things in life.

~ Robert Louis Stevenson

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Daily Zen - Wednesday, September 27

All that is necessary to awaken yourself as the 
radiant emptiness of spirit is to stop seeking
something more or better or different,
and to turn your attention inward
to awake the silence that you are.

~ Adyashanti

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Monday, September 25, 2017

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Weekend Zen, September 23-24

If people sat outside and 
looked at the stars each night,
I bet they'd live differently. 

When you look into infinity, 
you realize there are more important 
things than what people do all day.

~ Bill Watterson

Friday, September 22, 2017

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Daily Zen - Thursday, September 21

Intrinsically, we are perfect in being as we are.
We are enlightened. But until we really 
understand this, we will do deluded things.

~ Charlotte Joko Beck

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Daily Zen - Wednesday, September 20

Do not worry about what "others" may do to you.
Strive only to know yourself completely. 
Then, you can move in this world like the wind.
Who can command the wind? 

~ Mooji

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Monday, September 18, 2017

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Friday, September 15, 2017

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Daily Zen - Tuesday, September 12

Your assumptions are 
your windows on the world. 
Scrub them off every once in a while, 
or the light won't come in.

~ Alan Alda

Monday, September 11, 2017

Daily Zen - Monday, September 11

One who knows how to show and accept kindness
will be a friend better than any possession.

~ Sophocles

Friday, September 8, 2017

Daily Zen - Friday, September 8

Just don't give up trying to do 
what you really want to do. 
Where there's love and inspiration,
I don't think you can go wrong.

~ Ella Fitzgerald

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Daily Zen - Thursday, September 7

You invite things to happen.
You open the door. You inhale.
And if you inhale the chaos, 
you give the chaos, 
the chaos gives back.

~ Dave Eggers

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Monday, September 4, 2017

Daily Zen - Monday, September 4

Start now. Start where you are. Start with fear. 
Start with pain. Start with doubt. Start with hands
shaking. Start with voice trembling, but start.
Start and don't stop. Start where you are, 
with just what you have. Just start.

~ Ijeoma Umebinyuo

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Weekend Zen, September 2-3

Did I offer peace today? Did I bring a smile to 
someone's face? Did I say words of healing? 
Did I let go of my anger and resentment? 
Did I forgive? Did I love? These are the real questions.

I must trust that the little bit of love that I sow now 
will bear fruits, here in this world and the life to come.

~ Henri Nouwen

Here's a link to the Red Cross if you'd like to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Daily Zen - Friday, September 1

Life shrinks or expands in
proportion to one's courage.

~ Anaïs Nin

If you'd like to make a donation to help those affected by 
Hurricane Harvey, here's a link to the Red Cross.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Daily Zen - Thursday, August 31

If you want others to be happy,
practice compassion.
If you want to be happy,
practice compassion.

~ Dalai Lama

If you'd like to make a donation to help those affected by 
Hurricane Harvey, here's a link to the Red Cross.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Daily Zen - Wednesday, August 30

Never give up, for that is just the
place and time that the tide will turn.

~ Harriet Beecher Stowe

If you'd like to make a donation to help those affected by 
Hurricane Harvey, here's a link to the Red Cross.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Daily Zen - Tuesday, August 29

We make a living by what we get, 
but we make a life by what we give.

~ Winston Churchill

If you'd like to make a donation to help those affected by 
Hurricane Harvey, here's a link to the Red Cross.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Daily Zen - Monday, August 28

Always be a little kinder
than necessary.

~ James M. Barrie

If you'd like to make a donation to help those affected by 
Hurricane Harvey, here's a link to the Red Cross.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Hey Democrats - We Need All the Friends We Can Get

Republican Senator John McCain (AZ) released a statement yesterday criticizing President Trump's pardon of former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio. In his statement, McCain noted that the pardon of Arpaio, who was "found guilty of criminal contempt for continuing to illegally profile Latinos," undermined Trump's claim to respect the rule of law. This was maybe not the strongest condemnation of the pardon (McCain didn't call the President a racist as many others have), but the Senator's statement was criticism nonetheless. And, of course, this also wasn't McCain's first public opposition to some of the President's most disgraceful decisions. McCain was also among the first to speak out against Trump's Muslim ban, and when the President tweeted his intent to bar transgender Americans from serving in the military, McCain responded the same day opposing the ban and saying that transgender soldiers "should be treated as the patriots they are."

Trump and Arpaio (Photo: Mary Altaffer/AP)
Since the release of McCain's statement about Arpaio, I've had discussions with other liberals, both online and in real life, who argued that Senator McCain's repeated condemnations of Trump were essentially just "hot air." In these conversations, my fellow liberals argue that McCain, and others in the GOP who periodically speak out against the President, are all talk, and that when the rubber meets the road, when it comes down to Congressional votes, these anti-Trump GOP windbags simply fall in line the President.

Well, okay. There's truth to the accusation that GOP Trump critics frequently, if not almost always, vote in line with the President's policy positions. Check for yourself in this Congressional vote tracker. The tracker shows the "Trump Score" (the percentage of time each member of Congress votes in line with the President), and various columns in the chart allow you to sort by political party, ascending or descending "Trump Score," etc.

If you drill down to the specifics in the tracker, you'll find that out of 52 Republican Senators, only Senator Susan Collins (ME) votes AGAINST Trump more than John McCain. By contrast, no Republican Senator votes more WITH Trump than Florida's Marco Rubio. Other GOP politicians who have been regularly outspoken against Trump, Senators like Ben Sasse (NE), Jeff Flake (AZ), Lindsey Graham (SC), and Bob Corker (TN), tend toward the bottom of the Republican "vote in line with Trump" list, but even among these more "independent-minded" Senators, the percentage of time they vote with Trump tends to be in the low to mid 90s. It's true, then — when voting on bills in Congress, these Trump critics tend to vote in favor of policies the President supports. So, what do we make of this? Maybe all this public Trump opposition is just GOP politicians talking out of both sides of their mouths? Maybe their criticism is nothing more than grandstanding for the cameras? Maybe they take principled positions on CNN, but not in the halls of Congress?

Or as one Twitter friend proposed, maybe most of the bills that have come up for votes in the Senate, excluding the healthcare bill which was defeated, have been on "standard line Republican legislation." More importantly, maybe the bills upon which the Senate has voted don't reflect the most heinous and reprehensible things the President has said or done. Let's face it, when the President has thrown the real red meat to his base (things like exiting the Paris Climate Agreement, attempting the Muslim ban and the transgender military ban, the Joe Arpaio pardon), he has done so unilaterally through executive power. He has not enlisted the support of Congress for such actions because he knows he wouldn't have it. In fact, when he's attempted to make good on the most despicable and hurtful elements of his campaign rhetoric, and when he needed Congressional approval to do so, he has failed. That's why Obamacare is still the law of the land, and there is little, if any, progress on a border wall, paid for by Mexico or anyone else.

I've dedicated a fair amount of this article to "defending" some Republicans in Congress, but that is not my ultimate intent. The bigger picture is this....

When the President supports traditional GOP positions, Republicans in Congress will, of course, vote in favor of those policies. When the President unilaterally takes executive actions that fly in the face of core American values like fairness and equality, some Republican leaders are vocal in their opposition to the President and we should not criticize those efforts.

When Republican opponents of the President speak out against his most egregious social, cultural, and political transgressions, those of us on the left must resist the urge to hurl "hot air" or hypocrisy accusations. When someone from the GOP steps forward to criticize the President for something appalling, outrageous, and un-American that he's done or said, we need to recognize and appreciate these rebukes for what they are, statements of disapproval and condemnation.

Are there enough Republicans, Congressional or otherwise, stepping forward to oppose the daily attacks and abuses we suffer from Donald J. Trump? Hell no. And that's exactly why we can't afford to alienate those who do. We need to help more Americans recognize Trump's assault on democratic institutions (voting rights, the free press, the judiciary, need I go on?), and we must act in ways that encourage Trump opponents of all political stripes to speak out.

There will, no doubt, be countless future attempts by this Administration to enact into law things that those on the left (and many on the right) find unequivocally wrongheaded, unfair, and even disturbing. There is also an increasing likelihood that ongoing investigations of potential Trump campaign violations of federal law will escalate and possibly lead to criminal prosecutions, and even Presidential impeachment. In all cases, it will be helpful to have voices from across the political spectrum who are not afraid to speak truth to power. When it comes down to it, our most fierce and robust opposition to Trump exists not because he represents traditional Republican values, but because he tramples on fundamental American values like equality, decency, and democracy. In our fight to salvage these principles, we need all the friends we can get.