NaNoWriMo 2014 Ends! (Spoiler: I Didn’t Make It!)


So, with 95-ish minutes left on the clock, I think it’s fair to say that I won’t be surpassing the goal of 50,000 words this time around.  Two wins, three…well, non-wins in five years.  I’m very proud of my 36K words so far and I’m continuing my project.  My wife and I each now expect to pass 50K by New Year’s Day.

I owe a great debt of gratitude toward the fine folks at Letters of Light and the NanoWrimo Challenge.  They do amazing work, and they inspire creativity in all of us.

If you’re like me and you’re feeling a little down about not meeting the challenge, just remember that you had 0 words toward this project a mere 30 days ago.  Now look at you!  I hope all of you work to accomplish your story-telling dreams!

NCTE Day 3 (Saturday) Notes/Reflections


After a short sleep, I woke up this morning at probably 5:50 to another roommate’s trash-can lid sound emitting from his iPhone.  It might have been a gong.  Either way, it did the trick…for me.  I wasn’t upset about being up because I had wanted to get to the convention as early as possible.  A friend had a poster session that began at 8.  With a bagel in my belly, I hit the road with my Chestnut Praline Latte and got there around 8:20.  It was good to see my colleague, and I was inspired by her work and our brief catch-up chat.  More on that in a moment.

Let me speak to the exhibit hall of my convention.  I know thousands of English teachers under one roof sounds, perhaps, like a raucous group of activists who bleed red ink, but the people I spoke to while in lines or at tables were some of the most genuine and funny people I’ve ever met.  They love books; they love teaching; they love sharing stories.

I caught the end of a session on blogging for teachers, and I learned about two pretty well known sites:


Everyone I spoke to at these sessions felt these blogs were among the best going for teacher-writers.  I had not considered writing about my profession; I have decided that will be coming soon.

This leads me to my day’s highlight!

Just after the session with the bloggers, the same room was used for a session entitled “Meet the Editors.”  These editors were from NCTE’s journals.  In short, attendees had a chance to learn submission guidelines and pitch ideas for upcoming issues.  I was able to speak to a column editor for English Journal, who gave me very positive feedback about an idea I have for a column.  At the same table were the chief editors, and I spoke with one of them who identified with my concept and also encouraged me to write it!  I’m going to start on it soon and submit it.  I might have a real shot, folks!

Anyway, it was a great day overall.  I met a few more authors (including Cory Doctorow, above) picked up about 8-10 more books for my classroom, and left the conference feeling rejuvenated and excited about my profession!  While I may not be able to attend each year, I do hope to attend again in the coming years.  Who knows…maybe I’ll be one of the authors this time!

The Start of Someting – Novel Excerpt (First Draft)


This is a chapter from my novel-in-progress, THE START OF SOMETHING. Within the chapter is a short story written by my main character, Bill McKenzie. That’s probably confusing. Sorry…


“A Reunion of Sorts” – Bill McKenzie – age 24- story outline

[note to self]: this is inspired by this book a girl named Melody was reading for some sort of Children’s Literature class she was taking. The book was about this kid who has to go to the four extreme corners of the continental US to place a memorial for a teenager the narrator kid was friends with before the kid died in a drunk driving accident. The cross-country trip was his dad’s idea, I think. Pinwheels, maybe, was the name. It got me thinking about how people deal with sudden deaths in ways we may not ever hear about.

Story idea: Each year, on the last day of classes, this teacher pulls aside one student and hands him or her a sealed envelope. They are instructed not to open it for five years or earlier if they finish college. He tells them he almost didn’t finish and knows several fine, successful people who not only didn’t finish but some never started.

The letter is an acceptance letter into a club of sorts. Once a year, and never the same time of year, the teacher meets with the members of the club for dinner out, dinner in, a day at the park, or some other fairly private event. These are students he would have never admitted were his favorites of the year. They were favorites for all sorts of reasons—many were academically successful, but some were C students or worse. Over half have earned M.D.s or Ph. Ds but some of the others never left that town.

The story is what turns out to be the final meeting of the group—the teacher’s funeral. People from ages 23 to over 50 attend. One mother-daughter combination (neither knew the other had been a member??) shows up. They’d all been sent a letter prior to his death to attend the visitation, but not the funeral. After the visitation, the letter read, someone, maybe all of them, would know where to go.

They meet in his classroom and they eventually talk. Maybe the story ends with an unnamed person finally saying something out loud.

The power of the piece could be that nothing is ever stated until that final line.

That was all he had. A single sheet of notes scratched down and never more. Bill McKenzie had gone home after having drinks with his old writing teacher to sift through notebooks and flash drives and could only find that one page. His shoulders drooped, defeated, and he shook his head and told the invisible people around his apartment that he had written more. He had been sure of it.

With just the sheet, however, he knew it was time to finally put it together. Opting for a water instead of one of the three beers in his fridge, he sat down at his writing table and tried to remember those characters.


To the non-writer, this may seem implausible—the guy had access to his notes and the memory of what he’d thought of a long time ago when the idea first entered his mind. Todd’s words, though, struck something in him and he tried to find it again.

“A Reunion of Sorts” – Bill McKenzie age 28

The old man was so sly about it. Every year, he did something very subtle, but this time was fairly easy. He had had a contest with his English 12 students: They average 90% or higher on their last exam of the year and he’d let them watch any movie they wanted over the last two days of classes before finals. The class won the contest and eventually decided on a film made from a popular teen love story. He’d made fun of the story and genre countless times and this was their playful payback.

This time, he was subtle in passing a note to Marianna Jenkins, seated in the middle chair of the middle row. The center of the room and the center of his Platonic heart.

That year.

The old man was perfectly harmless. Don’t get the wrong idea about him. He had had a wife, but she passed ten years earlier of a violent cancer that had not been caught at the right time. They’d had a child—a boy—and he was fine and successful. He loved his old man almost as much as the students who had been in his room year after year.

The subtlty toward Marianna Jenkins was in the form of a sticky note. In the darkened classroom, she didn’t even know he’d put it down while the movie was playing. He had been watching with the class—laughing when they laughed. Awwing when they awwed. Marianna Jenkins’ note simply said “Pls stay after class.”

She lingered as was told and waited until all of her classmates left and wished the old man a great summer. He nodded and didn’t look anyone in the eye as they passed on to another room on their final day.

Marianna Jenkins stood at the doorway—closed—with her remaining materials clenched tightly to her chest. She waited patiently for the reason for the note.

The old man began this year’s speech the same was as he had for the last thirty-seven years. He held the envelope the entire time, but the student he kept after each year never knew what it held. His words were crinkled and sentimental. Tears usually ensued, always by the student and never his. They were honored to be the recipient of such kindness.

The old man smiled under a long salt-and-pepper mustache. He reminded her the terms—that she may not open it for five years from today or sooner, if she’d earned a bachelor’s degree.

Marianna Jenkins stepped toward the emptying hallway and shot back, hugged him tightly, and thanked him for everything he’d done for her over the last two years. The old man reminded her that she had done the hard work, not him.

This year’s meeting, according to the letter sent out, was going to be at his residence. The first time since his wife’s passing. He’d been debating whether or not to sell it and eventually contacted a realtor who warned him that at the price he was asking it was going to go quickly. That would be okay with him.

The event at his house was to occur on the second Saturday. In June. In the late afternoon. The invitations were always worded just like this. Come if you can, he used to add. It’d be wonderful to reunite. For a teacher who valued the English language above his own diet and, some argued, his own family, the old man included few words on the handwritten invitations. For those who had come regularly over the years, they knew less was more. The first-timers, like Marianna Jenkins, had to do a little digging.

The old man deplored social media. A junkpile, he often called it. Eliot’s new Waste Land, he once offered in class. Did you ever notice that people don’t shake hands anymore, he said the previous year when he was asked why he isn’t connected.

That term used to mean something else, he told them.

He told them spending his youth indoors would have been tragic.

What’s the point of leaving the house if you’re only going to stare at your phone, he posited.

That shut them up.

And they actually talked.

While they maintained possession of their phones during their visit, they all but forgot about them.

But that was all last year. When the old man was a little healthier.

But it was also the summer before he met Marianna Jenkins.

Marianna Jenkins was, to the old man, the proverbial shining star student. She was genuinely respectful, smart as a whip (he’d tell her after she aced test after test), and always put others before herself.

She was one of the few students who never even had the time to request a recommendation letter; he had it ready in early November.

She offered to organize a toy drive and spearheaded a Coats For Kids campaign while others students filled out wish lists for their parents.

Marianna Jenkins, however, also had opened up to the old man. It had been in October when she told him that she’d spent many of her single-digit years in foster care before she was finally officially adopted. She loved her adopted parents so much that she didn’t think twice about changing her name to theirs.

It had been bad, she’d told him, in foster care. Sleeping in four different beds throughout a given week because so much drama was happening within the house and family. Verbal and physical abuse. It’d had made her stronger, she told him.

When she’d gotten her letter three years earlier, the old man had told her it might be the last one he gives out. That was all he said about it.

Marianna Jenkins finished her bachelors degree in eight semesters over three calendar years. She took the sealed letter with her to her graduation ceremony. She didn’t know it, but he watched her cross the stage before excusing himself out of his aisle and pumping his fist.

The June letter reached Marianna Jenkins a week later at her apartment. A dog she’d adopted two days after graduation yelped with enthusiasm but she kindly explained the letter was not for him.

The following Wednesday morning, for reasons she’ll never know, she was standing in line at the local convenient store. Something turned her around. Not a force from a person but a sensation. Her eyes peered downward to see the old man’s picture on the front page of the daily newspaper. Heart attack takes local teacher, it read.

In the same way she knew to turn around at the convenient store, Marianna Jenkins also called in to work (she’d never done that before) to attend the visitation. There was a modest crowd, given the limited time between the announcement of the old man’s passing and his celebration of life. That’s what they called them nowadays, he’d told her class once before. Funerals must be too morbid a term for this sensitive generation.

Marianna had driven to the funeral alone but sensed togetherness as soon as a young spirited man who introduced himself as Jack from Tennessee had smiled as she approached the door he had been holding open for her.

Once inside and slightly embarrassed as she revealed to Jack that it was her first funeral, he glazed that smile again and said it was nice to meet what he presumed to be a new member.

Jack walked Marianna Jenkins down the plush carpeted hallway, past an empty page on a signature sheet, and toward the room that held the casket. She bit her lip, suggesting she was not ready. He shushed her as if he were his older, wiser brother. The first row of seats were the only ones occupied. Marianna Jenkins immediately recognized the unmistakable bob of a recently retired teacher and the height of the school’s basketball coach.

He didn’t look real, but then again they never do. In class once, he’d talked about going to his own mother’s funeral and said he regretted it. Those words stunned Marianna Jenkins and probably her classmates, but he went on to state how he appreciated what the funeral home people do, but he wished he could erase that image of her permanently.

The open casket, she realized, might have been another lesson from the old man. He battled over irony with students (presumably year after year) and this was his final nod to, well, himself and his humor. Take that, he was telling them. I told ya it’s not how I really look!

She turned from the casket and nodded at the familiar teachers. Before awkwardness set in, Jack came from behind and pushed her on as if a train of people were waiting to see the old man one last time.

In here, he whispered.

The room where she was guided had four different colored walls and dozens of uncrying faces. These people weren’t sad, which seemed very odd to Marianna Jenkins.

A beat later, and Marianna found herself shaking hands with the people who bore these faces. They had to be club members, she realized. As she made her rounds, two faces fell into place as she remembered seeing younger versions of them in the school hallways.

Introductions done, Jack took the lead and suggested everyone follow him. He had a pretty good feeling where they were really supposed to be that day.

The caravansary led down Hall Street a mile and a half, through the light, and left at the curve. Marianna Jenkins drove in silence and held back every emotion that tried to muster its way through her heart and out her eyes. He was gone. It was done. Unlike her, these people knew what to do next.

In less than fifteen minutes, though it seemed like a longer drive to Marianna Jenkins, one by one the cars parked in a row at the back of the school, typically where teachers parked during the year. A few nods of hello passed between the group who had just seen each other back at the funeral home. She watched as Jack, the tallest of the group, produced a key and allowed everyone access to the back hallway. Everyone toed to the old man’s classroom door. Using a non-verbal circular motion, Jack instructed the rest to organize the desks into something of an oval—large enough for all twenty-three members to sit comfortably. Marianna Jenkins took a position she remembered from high school and adjusted accordingly into the shape.

Jack cleared his throat and eyed the group in a round again.

“So,” he said with a clap. “Who wants to go first?”


Jack slapped his knees and darted his eyes around the ring of classroom desks. “So. Who wants to go first?”

Notes about Old Town Alexandria


I asked Siri where the closest sushi place was after today’s sessions at the NCTE conference.  She directed me to the historic district of Alexandria, Virginia.  I must admit my geographic ignorance because I failed to realize I would be able to check off Maryland and Virginia from my States Never Visited List.  That list doesn’t actually exist, but I know I hadn’t been there.

Anyway, I ended up at a place called Ichiban.  At a quarter to six, there were more employees than diners.  My presence did not change that.  The family consisted of a gray-haired man, his wife, and their (probably) eight-year-old son.  It was a fun preview for my life, in a way!

I ordered a hot tea, which reminded me of Cracker Barrel.  It’s been a little cold here–more windy than anything–and the tea offered a cozy balance to the temperatures outside.

The sushi was on special until 6:30, so of course I ordered too much.  I’d only eaten a bagel at breakfast and a bowl of chili at lunch.  I splurged, but was able to get three rolls and a red snapper appetizer for $16.50!  It was (presumably) fresher than anything I’d had in Indiana, and it was very tasty.

But enough about what I ate.  No one really cares, right?  I do want to tell you, devoted reader, about the Historic District of Alexandria.  Go there.  It’s so quaint and endearing!  Brick buildings, brick roads, brick cheese (probably), and numerous specialty shops and restaurants.  Fellas, they have a cigars and whiskey lounge with live music every night!  Ladies, there are cute places like Three Sisters and a lingerie shop as well.  I popped in a few knick-knacky places that had loads of Christmas decor.  There was a (surprisingly busy) ice cream shop, a Starbucks, and a Gentleman’s Quarters where, if I had wanted, I could have had a close shave, a neck massage, a manicure or all (for a lot of money, unfortunately).

Between dinner and browsing, I was probably there two hours, but I could have stayed longer–I believe I only saw a little bit of King Street!

#NCTE14 Experience (Day 1-ish)


It has been about seven or eight years since I last had the opportunity to attend the NCTE national convention.  It was the year Indianapolis hosted.  This year the convention is in Washington, D. C. which is also where, coincidentally, many US Presidents have lived.

It’s probably as good a time as any to explain that this is horrendous writing and merely for my own amusement.

Anyway, the convention center (Gaylord National Resort) is a gorgeous building that reminds me of absolutely nothing from my childhood.  There are a few sessions this afternoon, but the real craziness begins Friday.  I have a added the app, hashtagged appropriate lines on my LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  I’ve even blogged about the first day before the day really began!

I came alone, but I’m not shy.  My wife says I’m not so much “friendly” to strangers as much as I am “creepy.”  I’m hoping to learn a lot from this experience.  I made business cards.

In the 18 hours or so since I’ve landed, I’ve really enjoyed my time in the capital.  I miss my family immensely, but I plan to stay alive long enough to see them again Sunday afternoon.

Enjoy the convention, everyone!

I’m a HIT!!! ….in BRAZIL!


I’ll be quick; I know it’s probably an important night for reality television.

Putting off grading just a little longer, I clicked “Stats” at the top  of my page.  I had THREE hits today, and all live in (according to this web site) Brazil!

While I’m not ready to become the Brazilian David Hasselhoff, I’m going to grade now knowing that I (or my homepage) am/is popular in a sweet-ass country that isn’t the US.

Thanks, Brazil!  More coming after I grade (maybe!)

Headed Toward Complexity


It’s truly amazing how much of your real life comes out in your writing, once you actually allow yourself to write at length.  I teach high school.  I have this bizarre proclivity to complicate things that do not need to be complicated.  I can attribute this trait to absolutely no one from my past that I can recall.  Maybe it’s just my thing.  Some people walk tightropes, I make instructions twice as long as needed.

But this is REALLY coming out in my NanoWrimo this year.  I started with the simplest of ideas and it’s spiraling into a (much worse) version of Inception, sans the flying fruit or stunning good looks.  I’m inventing characters almost every night.  Tonight, the novel went to a completely new depth I never anticipated.

Writers:  Is this good or am I setting myself up for a lifetime struggle.  I know what I want (in my mind) but how can I know if it will resonate with readers?  I teach the complexities of novels.  What was their true intent and what have we simply assumed?  I know it doesn’t truly matter what was intended, but I still don’t want to die thinking “Nobody gets me.”


Happy Weekend, by the way

For Tom


Recently, I found NPR on my cassette-playing radio device in my truck.  I will probably not change the channel until baseball season begins.  I was so sad to hear about the passing of Tom Magliozzi yesterday morning.  For the uninformed, Tom and his younger brother Ray hosted an absolutely wonderful program on NPR for about twenty-five years–CarTalk.  If you never listened, be grateful that all of those have been recorded and that you can probably obtain access at a minimal cost.  Tom had one of the best laughs you could ever hear.  The brothers’ on-air relationship reminds me so much of my own with my brother Rob.  In fact, when we were much younger, a friend of his taped episodes for us.  Regularly, I would pop one in before I went to sleep.  Hysterical and informative.  It was such a brilliant show.  When i was a little older, I got a job at a independent bookstore.  Among my first purchases was the brothers’ first book.  I still have it, and I look forward to sharing it with my children someday.  I didn’t listen a whole lot, but Tom Magliozzi ended up being a large part of my childhood.  Thanks, Tom, for the knowledge.  More importantly, though, thank you for all the laughs.

New Novel Excerpt! (Nanowrimo 2014)


Need more to read before you return to your family?

Here ya go.

I warned you I’d do this.  Happy Election Day, by the way.  Is that a thing?

It was when I was really starting to see my writing turn to utter shit when Jazz called to ask me to pick her up from work. It was a believable ruse; her car was unreliable and needed attention. Even though I had pretty much stayed out of her business with the car, I knew she had to get it to a mechanic before too long or she was going to be bussin’ it to work. I told her no problem and slammed home my laptop.

Of course it was raining, and since my the passenger side of my windshield sometimes leaks, she got in and made a shitty comment about staying drier if she’d walked. Part of me wanted to let her walk, but I just drove on to the next light. Why do you always hit red lights when you don’t want to?

“I can’t work there anymore,” she began. She found some old mail in between our bucket seats and used them to sop up the saturated blackened area beneath her feet.

“What happened?”

“Well, you know how it goes, right?”

I did. But I wasn’t sure what could have happened this particular time.

“Wanna take me through Rally’s?”


“It was Carlos and his stupid-ass way of running that place. He brings me in, right, and says he’s got twenty or thirty hours every week if I want them.”


“But what he doesn’t mention is that some of those hours are going to be hosting.”

“Oh,” I said. “Yeah, fuck that, right?”

“Exactly!” She’s pissed because hostesses make minimum wage and have really boring jobs. Standing at the podium and writing down names for four or five hours is as mindless as it gets. It’s easy money to some; to girls like Jazz, though, it’s a fucking nightmare.

“Well, what ya gonna do?” I ask absently. I meant it in a can’t-beat-em-join-em sort of way, but she didn’t hear that tone.

“I’m fucking gone, is what I’m doing.”

“Gone? As in, you quit?”

“Well, I didn’t storm out or anything. But I’m not going in Friday when I’m supposed to host.”

I found the restaurant she wanted and wheeled in. Two cars were in front of me, but at least the rain was lightening. She tells me the order without looking up from her phone. She’s scrolling through automatically, no real chance that she’s actually reading anyone’s status.

“You think he might let you have tables at all?”

“Oh…prob’ly not. There’s this new girl he’s been fucking obnoxiously flirting with all week.”

Jazz is too green to know this shit happens in all restaurants everywhere. At least, in my limited experience around this town it does. And we’re not a special town by any means, ya know?

NaNoWriMo 2014!


This will be quick.  If you’ve been enjoying/ignoring my recent posts, then this is for you!

My workhorse of a wife (stay-at-home mother of two, organization/cleaning queen, blogger, and outstanding person) is adding NaNoWriMo to her November to-do list.  We’ve both tried for several years, but life has tended to get in the way.  She’s murdering this daily word-count goal (about 6 double-spaced pages) and I’m struggling to stay on par.  My story is coming together, and I’m really liking the free trial of Scrivener.  More about that as the month continues…

If anyone out there actually cares, I’ll post another rough draft of a scene.  I’m not asking for you, dear reader, to do anything.  Except recycle.  That’s important.

In the meantime, help yourself to a favorite beverage.  You’ve (probably) earned it!