Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur, Split-Personality Disorder

30 Dec
Photographer: Kabir Bakie

Photographer: Kabir Bakie

I’ve been reading Guy Kawasaki’s excellent book, APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur-How to Publish a Book. Kawasaki does a very nice job of describing and explaining each part of the process, stressing that an independent writer in today’s market needs to be all three of those things if he or she is going to succeed while giving practical advice on how to make each part of the process work.

I liked the book and have to say I’m 100% on board. At the same time, I’m finding myself struggling with internalizing the basic philosophy behind the book–which isn’t much different than the things I’ve been reading from other people on the web regarding success in indie publishing. It makes sense; it’s just hard to do. And I wonder if the book shouldn’t be titled APES: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur, Split-Personality Disorder.

One of the Big Ideas in the book has to do with using social media to promote one’s work. But you don’t want to do it in such a way that you’re screaming “BUY MY BOOK!” in every post. That’s just obnoxious. It’s blatant self-promotion, and those messages get lost in a sea of similar sales pitches. What’s to distinguish you from the next guy shouting the same thing? Nothing.

So, instead the APE’s goal is to present him or herself as a likeable person on social media, as someone trustworthy, giving, and honest. With luck, the APE will be seen as an expert in his or her field and will seem like someone worth paying attention to, someone whose book will seem worth a try.

All well and good. Makes perfect sense. But it is a bit crazy-making, too.

Let’s say you’ve spent between six and nine months writing, polishing, and editing your book. Maybe you’ve dropped some money on an editor and a cover designer. At the same time, you’ve been establishing your author platform, blogging and connecting with people on social media; you’ve made some e-friends and you’ve been mobilizing your real friends as well (probably to the point of being irritating, but sometimes that’s what friends are for). Now you’ve just hit “publish” on the e-book and paperback versions of your baby. Do you want your next several posts to shine a spotlight on your generous, trustworthy, likeable self? No. You want to scream, “BUY MY BOOK!”

Monkey-typingBut should you? Probably not. That’s where the split personality kicks in. You’re wearing (at least) three hats: the author, the publisher, and the entrepreneur. But to really make that last part work, part of you has to forget that it’s one of your hats. People are going to see the APE’s book through a variety of channels, but they’re going to see a lot of other books, too. What makes potential readers pull the trigger on one book over another? It’s certainly not the author screaming “BUY MY BOOK!” They’re more likely to buy the APE’s book if the author is a known quantity–someone they’ve read before or heard of, someone whose book is reviewed comparably (and favorably) with other books the reader has enjoyed. But those things take time, and when there’s a part of you (the BUY MY BOOK! part) that’s been hoping all the pre-release efforts will yield some serious sales and the mythical-but-possible foot in the door, then it’s hard to let time run its course.

When getting ready to release The Girl at the End of the World earlier this month, I spent a lot time blogging on related subjects and trying to get the word out. When the book came out, it sold about as well as my first book did almost two years ago when I’d done ZERO prepping. Disappointing? Kind of. Surprising? Nope.

I put up a quick post on Google+ a few days after the release, letting people in a Writer’s Community know what I’d done to promote the new release and asking if there was anything else I should try. One wise person commented that it’s easier to make friends than it is to sell books.

I saw his point.

But I hadn’t read APE yet. Now that I have, I really see his point.

So, hard as it is not to shout “BUY MY BOOK” or to think it when someone “likes” my Facebook page without making a purchase, the best thing to do when the APE has reached the “E” in the acronym is to go back to the A and start the next book, keeping the entrepreneurial efforts going but not getting obsessed by them. The APE needs to remember not to let Entrepreneurial failure (or even success) define him or her, but should try instead to look forward, letting e-friends and actual friends and strangers and future friends know about the next project, hoping (without getting hung up on the numbers) that here and there someone will actually click through on a link.

I haven’t exactly mastered that, but I’m working on it. As much as I want to shout “BUY MY BOOK,” I’ll just thank you instead for reading this far. And if you’re curious, you can take a look at my Books or Stories links. They’re right up there at the top of the page.

And if you don’t, that’s okay. I can handle it. But maybe, just maybe, you’ll stop in again to see what else I’m up to. Maybe you’ll let me know what you’re up to, also. Maybe we can have a little conversation about it. In the end, that’s probably going to do both of us more good than if you drop four bucks on my Amazon link, or if I do on yours.

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Mob City–A New Take on Old LA

21 Dec

I recently finished watching Frank Darabont’s Mob City miniseries on TNT and am pleased to say I enjoyed it quite a bit. I should add, of course, that I’m a sucker for pretty much any story set in 1930s or 40s Los Angeles, but just because a film or novel involves my favorite setting doesn’t mean it gets an automatic thumbs up from me. Robert Towne’s Ask the Dust, for example, was a huge disappointment, and I didn’t even attempt the film version of James Ellroy’s The Black Dahlia; reviews were so bad, I knew that no amount of wishful thinking would make it enjoyable.

So I went into Mob City with an open mind, mainly pulled in by Darabont’s connection to the series and not at all familiar with the source material, John Buntin’s L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City. The series follows Joe Teague, a Los Angeles detective and veteran of the war in the Pacific, who gets caught up in a blackmail plot and the machinations of LA’s organized crime factions, most notably those of Ben “Bugsy” Siegel and Mickey Cohen.

Jon Bernthal (Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore)

Jon Bernthal (Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore)

Played by Jon Bernthal, Teague is a classic noir hero; that is to say, he’s deeply conflicted. On the one hand, he’s a detective, dedicated to preserving and upholding the rules of society, protecting the innocent and stopping the guilty; but on the other hand, he follows his own moral code, breaking the law he’s sworn to uphold when he knows the law won’t get the job done. He’s a loner by choice, aware that human connections lead to complications, heartbreak, and vulnerability, but he keeps getting pulled into relationships he thought he left behind. He’s survived the war, but he’s scarred by it, and in some ways has carried the fight into the streets of Los Angeles.

When an old friend from his Guadalcanal days hires Teague to oversee a blackmail exchange involving a stand-up comedian and Bugsy Siegel, Joe takes the job; it’s not exactly up to the policeman’s code, but it’s also a rather victimless crime. Things go south, though, when Joe figures out the implications of the blackmail scheme, and once he decides to take action, he finds himself playing two games of chess–one as part of the police force trying to bring down the city’s crime lords, and in the other as the guy who knows the mob’s secrets and must make his moves very carefully lest people he cares about get hurt.

One could argue that the noir treatment of 40s LA has all been done, that this is just a re-tread of what was done so well in LA Confidential or in the actual 1940s in films like The Blue Dahlia and Double Indemnity. But the setting and material are so rich that a story like this can stand another re-telling, and the characters are strong, interesting, and sympathetic. For example, along with Bernthal’s Teague, there’s also Alexa Davalos’ handling of Jasmine: she’s smart and strong, a woman caught up in a nasty web, not just a femme fatale but rather a savvy observer of the good guys and the bad guys she’s surrounded by.

What I liked about the series was that the writers treated their audience as intelligent people; there was just a little bit of flashback to Prohibition to establish Siegel’s origins, and the rest of the story unfolded naturally. There’s a killing in the first episode from which much of the rest of the plot develops; the motive for the killing isn’t explained until the final episode, telling me that the writers trusted their viewers to be able to wait it out and to keep all the pieces of the puzzle straight until the motive was revealed. There’s a similar move with a mob hit in an early scene, the motive for which isn’t clear until the following episode. I have to admit to cringing a bit during early episodes as I half-expected the Black Dahlia case to be worked into the plot, fearing the story would get too crowded with iconic LA crimes; it was a relief, then, to see a character holding a newspaper with a headline about the Dahlia case going to the grand jury, so I knew the murder had already happened and Mob City‘s mobsters or police weren’t likely to be implicated.

I also liked the way the series was shot.  There were plenty of classic noir nighttime shots and lots of claustrophobic interiors. Unlike a lot of noir, though, there were also a lot of bright colors in Mob City–the cars, the suits, the wide ties, the blood. The contrast of bright colors, gorgeous cars, and deco architecture with the brutality of Bugsy Siegel and Sid Rothman complemented nicely the bigger contrasts typical of LA noir storytelling–namely the differences between LA dreams and LA reality as well as the difference between the peace that people hoped for after World War II and the lingering nightmare they had instead.

1941 Packard

1941 Packard

A nice illustration of these differences comes up when you notice Joe Teague’s car. Just about every other car in the series was gorgeous–bright and sparkling with beautiful lines, exemplifying the California dream of Bugsy Siegel and everyone else who came to California in the years before and after the war, expecting a land of sunshine and opportunity. Joe’s car is drab, oxidized, but functional. To me, the car symbolizes what most people found as the reality of California: the good stuff was already taken, the slots in the movie casts already filled, and the sparkle required more of a down payment than most people could afford.

Joe Teague navigates those differences, not gracefully and not the way he would have liked, but he does manage it successfully. He ends up battered but able to dictate his own terms; he’s traded the nightmare of Guadalcanal for the nightmare of LA and has learned that he doesn’t have to change his ways of handling the conflict much differently in civilian life.

I was pleased with the way the series ended, and even though it had been billed as a 6-episode “event” rather than a new series, I noticed the description had changed by the sixth episode to “season finale.” So Joe and Jasmine will be back, and LA police chief-to-be William Parker will continue trying to rid the city (and the LAPD) of corruption. It would have been a bit more to my taste if there’d been a bit of time travel or some aliens menacing the police, but I’ll still be glad to go along for the ride again when the series returns.

Guest Interview at The Poetics Project

18 Dec

Today I’m in the spotlight at The Poetics Project, thanks to Amanda Riggle who did the interview and posted it. She asked some really good questions about the writing process and some of the decisions that went into The Girl at the End of the World. Head over to The Poetics Project and have a look.

AuthorSpotlight

Maybe Those Who Can, Teach Too

12 Dec

The semester is coming to an end, and I’m watching my Developmental Writing students take their final exams after sixteen weeks of struggling through increasingly difficult reading and writing assignments. Some of them come up to me at the end of the exam to thank me for being an “awesome” teacher–which I have my doubts about, but I accept their compliments. Some of them just leave, and that’s okay, too.

I’ve been at this for more than twenty years now and have figured out a few good ways to help struggling students along in their journeys toward self-expression. How many of them have gone on to master the rigors of muddy academic writing, I don’t know, but I hope that a handful have at least reached an appreciation for the written word and what they can do with it if they just put their minds to the task–and give themselves plenty of time.

For many of those 20+ years, I was the closeted college-professor-who-wants-to-be-a-novelist. And I stayed in the closet because I really didn’t want to be that guy, didn’t want to be one more cliché professor who’s waiting for his big break–the literary equivalent of the waiter who’s auditioning for acting roles.453px-George_Bernard_Shaw_1934-12-06

I was also pretty much haunted by what I saw as George Bernard Shaw’s condemnation of me: “He who can, does; he who cannot, teaches.” My definition of writer for much of that time wasn’t “someone who writes” but rather “someone who’s published,” or more accurately, “someone who makes a living by writing.” That last was something I could not do (still haven’t), and so in the Shavian sense, I had slipped into teaching by default: I was teaching because I couldn’t do the thing I wanted, an admission of failure in every lecture, every stroke of the red pen, every start and end of a semester.

And, of course, every rejection letter just added to my certainty that I was clearly in the second part of the Shaw quotation: the cannot-ing teachers.

Fortunately, somewhere along the way, I redefined writer. A writer writes, after all. That’s what I tell my students at the start of each semester. Whether it’s term papers or poems or journal entries (or blogs) or rejected novels, it’s all writing.

And along with that changed definition came another way to look at success. The indie movement in publishing has allowed a whole new way for writers to find their audience, bypassing the gatekeeper of the agent/publisher. So now, just about anybody can, even some who probably shouldn’t.

So here I sit, watching my students finish their exams, my third full-length novel now available for sale and already in the hands (or Kindles) of several readers. A writer and a teacher.

I think Shaw had it wrong. Those who teach, can do, too.

It’s Not Too Late–Win a Signed Paperback

6 Dec

Did you miss it? To celebrate this week’s release of my YA Post-Apocalypse novel, The Girl at the End of the World, I’ve been running a Giveaway on the blog. 2 lucky winners will receive a signed paperback of the new book, and all you have to do to enter is go to my Sneak Peek post from earlier this week and leave a comment at the end. That’s it! Not like some other contests where you have to jump through a lot of hoops to enter.

But don’t wait too long! The deadline to enter is this Saturday at midnight. I’ll use Random.org to choose the winners on Sunday. Good luck!

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The Girl at the End of the World will be on sale at Amazon for 99 cents this week only. Get it now before the price goes up to $3.99 on December 8th!

Her fight begins the day the world ends.

Scarlett Fisher is an average California teenager. She likes hanging out with her friends and talking on the phone. She does all right at school, and she’s made the best of her parents’ divorce. But in one way, she’s special: on her fifteenth birthday, a fast-moving plague wipes out everyone she’s ever known, yet somehow it passes her by.

Her family dead, alone in a corpse-strewn metropolis, she has no choice but to survive. She needs food, shelter, a safe place to sleep. She discovers that an ordinary girl is capable of extraordinary things, and that she’s more resilient than she imagined. Even so, she wishes more than anything that she could just find another survivor.

Unfortunately for Scarlett, not everyone who survived the plague is looking for companionship. And she’s about to find out just how difficult survival really is.

New Release–The Girl at the End of the World

3 Dec

The Girl at the End of the World

Now available in paperback and ebook formats

On sale this week only for 99 cents

TheGirlAtTheEnd007_half_inch_margin

Her fight begins the day the world ends.

Scarlett Fisher is an average California teenager. She likes hanging out with her friends and talking on the phone. She does all right at school, and she’s made the best of her parents’ divorce. But in one way, she’s special: on her fifteenth birthday, a fast-moving plague wipes out everyone she’s ever known, yet somehow it passes her by.

Her family dead, alone in a corpse-strewn metropolis, she has no choice but to survive. She needs food, shelter, a safe place to sleep. She discovers that an ordinary girl is capable of extraordinary things, and that she’s more resilient than she imagined. Even so, she wishes more than anything that she could just find another survivor.

Unfortunately for Scarlett, not everyone who survived the plague is looking for companionship. And she’s about to find out just how difficult survival really is.

You can read the first chapter for free here.

Enter my Giveaway to win a Signed paperback.

The Girl at the End of the World: Sneak Peek and Giveaway

2 Dec

New Book!

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My new novel, The Girl at the End of the World, is now available in ebook and paperback form. To celebrate I’m offering a sneak peak here as well as a Giveaway.

Would you like to win a signed copy of the paperback? Just leave a comment at the end of this post. The deadline to enter is midnight on December 7th. On Sunday, December 8th, I will use Random.org to select two winners to receive a signed copy of the book. This giveaway is limited to US addresses only.

So, here’s Chapter One. Thanks for reading!

The world ended the day I turned 15.

I don’t know who you are or when you’re reading this, but if you’re anything like me and remember how things used to be, I suppose

that first sentence might remind you of the kinds of things teenagers used to read—things filled with angst and drama, lots of hand-wringing and butterflies in the stomach. Or maybe you’re from a long ways into the future and stories have gone back to being about that sort of thing; maybe people in your time have the luxury of being able to worry about heartbreak and loneliness and first kisses. That’s not the kind of thing I’m talking about.

I don’t mean to say my world ended the day I turned 15. I don’t mean that it was turned upside down by something that happened to me.

No.

I mean it when I say it: the world ended.

Ended.

It’s kind of strange to think back on it now. The old world, I mean. The whole thing seems like it was a dream I woke up from that day. Or maybe a dream someone else had. A dream where you had family and friends and where you laughed at stupid things and couldn’t explain later why they were so funny. Or where you argued with people you loved and said mean, hateful things and tried to make up for it later. It was a dream world where people went to work and drove on freeways and got married and had kids and grew old and died. Some people had everything they needed and some people had so little they couldn’t even imagine all the luxuries they’d never know.

And it mattered so much.

It all mattered so much.

The littlest thing that went wrong would put such a kink in your day and you’d cry about it or fight about it or find a way to try and fix it. And the next day it would be something different, and all those things that had mattered so much the day before were just forgotten…blown away like dust or pollen. Or spores.

I knew a thing or two about things being blown away. My family, for one thing. We’d all been together when I was little: my mom and dad, my older sister Anna, and me—Scarlett. But then had come the divorce and my dad’s new house and new wife, and before long I had new brothers. I remember it had all felt so weird, like my family—my real family—had died, and this new, split-up version had stepped in to take their place.  By the time I was 14, I was done being sad and done being angry, done acting out and done trying to make my parents feel bad for not being able to fake it for Anna and me. I guess I’d come to accept it without really meaning to, my sister and I realizing somewhere along the way that our mom was going to fall apart if we didn’t step up and make the best of things. There were times when it felt like we were the parents watching out for her rather than the other way around.

So when my mom told me I’d be spending my fifteenth birthday with my dad and his family, I didn’t put up a fight. Mom hadn’t planned a party, and I hadn’t begged for one—had just assumed she’d let me hang with my friends and that they’d spoil me for an evening. That was what I really wanted anyway, so it was kind of disappointing to know I’d be going to a Dodger game with my dad and his new family. Still, I went along with the plan, knowing that my dad was at least trying, in his own way, and that fussing about it would just give my mom another reason to say she had a migraine and retreat to her room.

The day came—a Friday. I went to school, and my friends did spoil me with little presents and promises to do all sorts of things in the weeks to come. And at times during that day I forgot about the game coming up in the evening, forgot that I had to go rather than do what I wanted.

But the school day ended, and I went home and then it was get ready and go.

“Happy birthday, Scarlett,” my dad said as I climbed into his Jeep. He leaned over to kiss the top of my head.

“Thanks,” I said and hugged him for a second before putting on the seat belt.

We drove to his new house—bigger and fancier than the one my mom and sister and I were able to live in—and we switched over to my step-mom’s car. Angie, my dad’s wife, was nice enough to me and Anna, but I always had the feeling we made her uncomfortable, like she was faking her smiles for my dad’s sake. She wished me a happy birthday and made sure her little boys did, too, but it didn’t seem sincere, and I felt like my dad was the only one in the car who truly wanted to be there.

Dodger Stadium was this huge place—maybe still is—built into the sides of a ravine right next to downtown Los Angeles. I’d been there maybe ten times before this, so it was nothing special. It had been a hot day, and the sun was still high in the sky but dipping down in its arc toward the west when we got our seats. I wished for shade and knew the heat would turn tolerable once the sun dropped a little lower. For now, though, I sat uncomfortably in the plastic seat and looked down at the field far below.

The crowd filled in. It was all so ordinary. So sad to think about now. All those people, none of them with any idea what was about to happen. To them, it was just another game, another evening in Los Angeles, a little diversion from the everyday things they wouldn’t be able to get away from the next day. That’s what they thought, anyway. If they’d only known, I wonder if they would have traded what was to come for just one more average day filled with things they didn’t really want to do. Actually, I don’t wonder about that—I know it for sure. They’d have traded anything and everything for just one more day. I know I would have.

Two rows down from us sat a big man wearing a Dodgers shirt and hat. I noticed him only because he was such a big guy—probably six feet five inches and kind of overweight. I just remember thinking I was glad he wasn’t right in front of me or beside me. He didn’t appear to be there with anyone else. Later, that’s what they said on the news, and I remember thinking I’d been right about him. Not that it mattered.

The game went the way games did: some activity, some excitement, and lots of waiting in between for something else to happen. My dad bought me a hot dog and soda. My half-brothers argued and had to be separated. The sun slid toward the horizon and the lights came on in the stadium. And every once in a while I’d catch my dad looking at me with a smile or a wink and I’d smile back. It was like we were having a little secret, just the two of us among all those thousands of people. I couldn’t tell you now what the secret was or what it was supposed to mean. I suppose it was just that we were there, together, and that it was all right, or at least the best that it could be under the circumstances with me and him having to be apart so much and that for just this one evening we could act like it was all okay, like we were in a real family again.

The seventh inning came around. The other team was up and the batter hit a high fly that was just barely foul and the crowd got all excited for a few seconds and then settled down again. All except the big man two rows down.

“Foul ball!” he shouted, and I looked down at him. He was nodding his head vigorously, like he was signaling impassioned agreement with something more important than baseball.

“Foul ball!” he shouted again a few seconds later even though no other ball had been hit down on the field. This time, just about everyone else around him turned, giving him looks of annoyance.

I couldn’t see his face, couldn’t see how he responded. He just kept nodding.

“Foul ball!” he shouted a third time, even louder than before, and I saw the man next to him turn and say something, but quieter so I couldn’t tell what he said from two rows away.

And then the big man shouted again, far louder than before. “FOUL!! BALL!!”

People from several rows began yelling at him to shut up and calm down, but the big man was oblivious.

I glanced at my dad and saw that he wasn’t watching the game anymore either. His eyes were on the big man and the people around him. He looked worried, and I saw him shoot a glance at my step-mom. He caught me looking, and his expression turned from concerned to fake happy. The smile he gave me was supposed to make me feel like everything was all right, but I knew he was expecting trouble.

Like just about every other uninvolved observer, my dad was probably trying to decide if he should call security before things got bad. He even had his phone out. I saw maybe a dozen other people with phones in their hands, too, but none of them were calling anyone. They were shooting video, probably thinking they could upload to the Internet and go viral if a fight broke out.

Now, with all eyes on him, the big man seemed to notice the attention he had drawn. He turned and scanned the faces, and when he looked at me two rows above, I knew there was something seriously wrong with him. His eyes were bouncing in their sockets and his lips twitched. He looked like he was fighting back the urge to laugh or cry; I couldn’t tell which.

“You never paid me!” he yelled, his voice erupting without warning. “Never!”

The shouts were directed at no one now. He seemed to be imagining people around him who weren’t there.

“Sit down!” and “Shut up!” and shouts of far worse things came from the people all around us, people who had been happily enjoying the game just a minute or two before. I don’t know what was scarier—seeing this man have his mental breakdown right in front of me or watching everyone else around us getting angrier and angrier at the sight of him.

To be honest, I was angry, too. I know now that I should have felt compassion for the man, and I think when I replay that day in my mind I make myself out to be worried about what was going to happen—to the shouting man and to the people nearby who wouldn’t have fared well if he’d started swinging those big fists. But I don’t think I was really feeling that way, not in the moment. Before I figured out that there was something wrong with the man, I thought he was just acting like an idiot. And when I did see his face and saw that something bigger was going on, it was too late; I was already upset and scared, and the anger of the crowd swept me up so I wanted to shout, too.

“Darryl, do something,” Angie said from two seats away, me and one of the boys in between her and my dad.

He glanced at her and then back at the raving man.

“You never paid me! I’m owed! I’m owed big!” he shouted at no one in particular.

I suppose it wouldn’t have been long before the scene got ugly, but two of the stadium’s security men showed up in the aisle just then, and the rest of the crowd stopped shouting when they saw the uniformed officers approaching. Not the big man, though. He kept raving as the officers got the nearby fans to leave the row. One of them shouted at him to calm down, and seconds later he doused the big man with pepper spray.

I winced as the man screamed louder, put his hands over his face and fell straight into the security officer, both of them hitting the concrete floor between the rows of seats. Shouts rose from the crowd, some frightened and others just surprised.

In seconds, the other security officer had joined the struggle, pulling the big man off the one he’d fallen on. Now he was screaming incomprehensibly, flailing his arms. At first I thought it was from the pepper spray, but the screams got worse.

“Killing me! Killing me!”

He was no longer yelling, but screaming in a high-pitched, frantic voice, desperate to be saved.

Four more security guards and two Los Angeles police officers had arrived by then, but before any of them could drag the man into the main aisle, he suddenly went quiet.

Passed out, I thought. And then, with a chill up my back and neck, another thought: Or dead.

My heart was pounding, and again I looked to my dad. This time he didn’t catch my glance. His eyes were fixed on the spectacle, and it drew mine back as well.

And that was when it happened.

It’s a moment that I’ll never forget till the day I die, a sequence that’s practically burned into the backs of my eyes.

One of the security officers was talking on his radio, probably calling for medical help. People in the crowd just stared. Several still had their cameras pointed at the afflicted man. I remember looking at one woman who stood right behind one of the crouched security officers. She was blonde, probably in her twenties, and she held a beer with one hand and her purse with the other. Her blouse was white cotton.

And then there was a popping sound. Not loud. Kind of a muffled cracking noise. I wasn’t even sure I’d heard it.

And the woman’s blouse, so bright and white and standing out from the darker clothes of the people around her, and the black uniforms of the security guards—that white blouse was spattered with red. The same was true of her face and her hair.

And the people around her.

All of them screaming, shouting. Unintelligibly.

Some turned their heads away.

Some tried to shield their faces, but it was too late.

Two of the security officers who’d been crouched over the prone man now fell back into the legs of the people around them, knocking some over. I saw their faces covered in blood.

I didn’t want to know what had happened, but at the same time I did.

People began stumbling over themselves to get away from the scene they’d just been crowding into seconds before.

And in between the chaos of panicking bodies, I glimpsed the man who’d been so loud and seemed so dangerous just a minute before. I’m sure much of his face was gone, but it was all just blood, and I couldn’t make out anything in the second or two that I had a clear view of him.

But in that second, I did see the other things, the things everyone would be talking about for the rest of the night. Two small white stalks stuck out of the opening in the man’s face, maybe four inches high. I didn’t need to know what they were; it was clear enough that whatever they were, they’d pushed their way out of his skull, breaking him open like an eggshell. I can’t say for sure if I saw the little bulbs at the tip of each stalk, the little caps that were the real problem, but I saw enough of them later, and it all kind of blends together in my memory.

We were in a car wreck once, before the divorce. I was maybe six. All four of us were in the car, passing through an intersection. Another car ran the red light and slammed right into the side of our car, spinning us around before we stopped against the curb. I remember how everything seemed to happen so slowly even though it could only have been a few seconds from the impact to when we stopped and my dad started asking if we were okay. But in those seconds, everything seemed so clear. I knew what had happened. I knew we were spinning out of control. I had time to think about how loud the crash had been, to feel the seatbelt grab onto my shoulder like it was some kind of monster that would never let go, to smell the burnt sulfur as the airbags deployed. I didn’t know if I was hurt or if anyone else in the car was, but I seemed aware of everything else. I had only a few seconds to process the accident, and I did, cramming more information into those seconds than seems possible when I think back on it. Maybe it’s just a trick of memory, but I don’t think so.

That day at Dodger Stadium, I felt the same kind of thing. Everything slowed down as I saw those stalks sticking out of the man’s head. All the yelling and screaming seemed like it was coming from much farther away than ten feet in front of me. I couldn’t really even feel my body. It was like I was nothing more than eyes and ears taking it all in.

And then the illusion of slowed time shattered.

Someone blocked my view of the man, and all the sounds and the chaos rushed back into place as though a floodgate had just been opened and water was pouring through the channels it had been kept from.

A second or two later, there was another popping sound and I expected to see more blood, but there was nothing. People gasped. And then what appeared to be a cloud of dust rose into the air around the stricken man. Some people nearby knocked others down to get away from the scene. More people turned away. More people yelled.

As for me, I think I was in shock. I could say or do nothing. I just stared.

And then I was moving, my feet shuffling forward without my thinking about it. My dad had grabbed me by the shoulders and started pulling me toward the aisle. Confused, I looked past him, wondering what had happened to my brothers and step-mom. They were already in the aisle. Angie was hustling them away, trying to shield the boys from looking back at the spectacle of the dead man in the aisle.

My dad’s grip on my shoulders felt as tight as that seatbelt had in the accident. He wouldn’t let me slow down, wouldn’t let me turn to get another look. I wanted to tell him I was okay, but words wouldn’t come—like in a dream where you want to scream, where you have to scream, and no sound at all will rise from your throat.

I felt numb as he pulled me up the steps and toward an exit, barely noticing the people running past us, some in uniforms, others not. And all the shouting. Maybe something else had happened down on the field. I don’t know. I never found out.

I think I came close to passing out then. I found out later that a lot of people had fainted at the sight of the dying man and what happened to him there in the aisle. I felt all the blood leave my head, and for a few seconds I was dizzy and nauseous. I stumbled, but my dad had me so tight that I didn’t come close to hitting the ground. He just held me, half pulling and half dragging me.

I don’t remember leaving the stadium. It’s funny that I’d remember everything but that. Maybe I did pass out. Maybe my dad had to carry me part of the way.

All I know is that when we got to the car and I piled into the back seat with my brothers, I put on the safety belt and then started crying inconsolably. My tears were contagious, or maybe frightening. At any rate, my brothers were crying too. My step-mom hit the gas, and we left Dodger Stadium behind forever.

*******

That’s all for now. If you’d like to read more, the book is now available on Amazon.

In the meantime, if you’d like to be entered for the Giveaway, just leave a comment at the end of this post. The deadline to enter is midnight on December 7th. On Sunday, December 8th, I will use Random.org to select two winners to receive a signed copy of the paperback edition. This giveaway is limited to US addresses only.