Surviving Mondays

Let me just tell you: Mondays are exhausting. First of all, you’re tired because you’re getting up earlier than you did over the weekend. Secondly, despite the extra hour of sleep from Daylight Savings Time, your schedule still isn’t normal, so you’re still tired.

Thirdly, Mondays are the busiest day of the week at work. So today in 8 hours, I ran 300 transactions: that includes customers, and mailed-in payments. That averages to just about 38 transactions per hour, which means I’m running a transaction at a pace quicker than every 2 minutes. But that’s not even the half of it, because sometimes you get a break of customers–which just means you’re doing other side work, not actually resting–so that pace turns into quicker than one transaction every two minutes. It could be multiple transactions per minute!

Fourthly, the leaves are piling up quite quick and I’m trying to stay ahead of the game. Let me just Leaves are the bane of my existence. What else is the bane of my existence? Glad you asked! Here’s a quick list:

  • Leaves
  • The Philadelphia Eagles (because they enjoy throwing games away)
  • People who say “Books are dumb” or “I don’t have time to read” while they are watching “Real Housewives” or some other reality show
  • Typos in books, Typos in Emails from superiors, and just Typos in general

I’m sure there are more, but that’s a quick list. So I come home from a long, busy day, only to go outside and try and control the leaf population (which is a constant losing battle).

So yeah. Mondays are, all in all, exhausting.

But I told myself I was going to try and write on Mondays, so here I am. Luckily, I made some progress on a non-fiction piece this weekend, and I’m excited to finish that soon. Also, I’ve been reading one of my new books I got to help build my platform. It’s called “Your First 1000 Copies” by Timothy Grahl. I think it’s going to be pretty useful in the long run, but in the short run, I have my doubts. For instance, one of the tips Grahl uses in order to gain viewership and keep in touch with your readers is to use an e=mail list on your blog with incentives, so they will know exactly when your new books drops. I think this is a good idea, but here is my problem: no one can see my e=mail list if they are not coming to my blog in the first place. So that’s obviously an issue. I also know that WordPress covers some of the subscribing issues, but that requires a WordPress account, so maybe an email list would still be useful on here. I need to think on that. But for now, my problem is trying to get you, the reader, to find me in the first place, and then to keep coming back.

Some other things I’ve been mulling lately in regards to writing. 1) Where is the best place to publish something online? I’ve thought about publishing a short story of mine, uploading it for a free download and see what kind of traction it gets, and see if that helps my platform. Is Amazon the best route to go, and if so, does that discriminate against Ipad and Nook users? Is there a simple way to upload to all three, and/or should I worry about that? I’m not sure.

Also, 2) I want to write some short stories! I think that is the quickest way to reach out to you, my readers. But there’s a two-fold problem with that. a) I have limited time to write and ideally, I should be using that for my novel and other various stories I’d like to get professionally published and b) my strength is not in writing short stories. Whenever I try and write a short story, it ends up turning into more of a novella (8-10,000 + words), which I guess isn’t horrible for what I plan on using it for. But that still doesn’t eliminate problem a.

And finally, 3) I think I’m going to start up loading a video blog (or vlog, if you prefer) once a week, to give you guys and girls yet another way to connect with me. I think with the advances in technology, today’s writer needs to be more accessible to his/her readers, which includes using social media to their advantage. Also, with video blogging, it’s a quick way to give my viewers substance without taking up valuable writing time I could use on my stories. Ideally, I’d love to write all the time, but with a full-time job and a more-than-full time family, I have to find creative ways to make it all work.

I think that’s it for now, readers. Thanks for listening. I mean reading. Well you know what I mean.

Until Next Time, Keep Reading!
-MP

P.S. Only 48 days til Christmas, and 1 day until, for better or worse, the world changes forever.

“Holy Typos, Batman!”and Comparative Descriptions

Currently Reading: I finished Nicholas Sparks’ “Two by Two” this past Sunday. Awesome book, if you can get through the first 30 pages. They tend to lag on, but the rest of the book is pure joy. For the writers out there viewing this, have you ever heard the expression “Show, Don’t Tell,” which basically means use descriptive writing as opposed to just saying what happens? Well, the first 30 pages is a great example of telling, but not showing. Basically, it’s a whole bunch of paragraphs setting up the book, but rather than sitting you in the middle of a scene, it’s the narrator basically droning on about his life, but not actually telling you anything of substance. I thought this part was unnecessary. The rest of the book though? Typical Sparks. And I totally mean that in a good way if you enjoy his writing.

But Wow….talk about typos!! I have never seen anything like this in a Sparks book. Missed punctuation here, “he” instead of “she” there. At one point on page 438, it reads, “Monday was London’s last day of school before Winter Break.” Then on page 440: “Tuesday, London’s last day of Winter Break.” Dude, which is it?? I re-read those two pages four or five times, trying to decipher if I was misreading it, but I don’t think I was. Pretty unbelievable considering this isn’t a first-time writer at a dinky publisher, but instead a well-established author with a rich history of best sellers (including this one). Some of this falls on the author, sure, but grievances like this generally belong to the editor/publisher, I assume.

Now I’m onto “The Girl With All the Gifts” by M.R. Carey. I’m enjoying it so far as I’ve already eclipsed 150 pages in less than two days. Carey is actually a pen name, but the writer himself has a history of work for Marvel and DC Comics, among other publications. The fact that Carey is a seasoned veteran is obvious. I’m particularly impressed with his descriptive writing. I’m jealous of his use of what I like to call Comparative Descriptions. Example: “Seventy miles of England’s green and pleasant land, all gone to the hungries and as safe to wander in as it would be to dance a mazurka in a minefield.” Now, have I ever heard of the Mazurka? No, but the sentence is constructed in a way that I don’t have to.

If you’re interested, “The Girl With All the Gifts” is a post-apocalyptic story, set in what was once London, but is now overrun by Hungries (think Zombies), as the few human survivors try and find a cure. The titular Girl is a child zombie, waffling between her Hungrian instincts and her love of the humans, especially one in particular, her teacher Helen Justineau. I’m excited to see how it turns out.

On a sidenote: My wife J asked (I’m hoping in jest) if “The Girl With All the Gifts” is the sister of “The Girl on the Train” and if both of these girls are the daughters of “The Woman in Cabin 10.” I’m gonna go ahead and say, um, no.

Currently Writing: Wednesday is my best night to write, as J is prepping for a 5K this weekend with her mom, and they like to stroll our son E around the neighborhood while they power walk. So tonight should give me a solid 60-90 minutes to write. This will likely include some editing, but hopefully I can get into one of the short non-fiction pieces I’d like to explore that I mentioned in my last post. Also, I’m still waiting on a couple books that I ordered from Amazon, that I hope will assist me in successfully building my platform.

Distractions? Saturday was my first Auction Experience, as we visited my uncle’s auction house in the morning. J bid $2.00, and won a cookie jar. I got a set of wrenches for $12.50. All in all, I would call it a successful first venture. Let me just say that Auctions, Bingo Halls, and Yard Sales definitely bring out a unique group of individuals, and I’ll leave it at that. Sunday was football-stupid Eagles cost me valuable sleep because of poor coaching-and Monday, we strolled around my sister’s neighborhood with our son dressed as a bluebird. He was quite the trooper for being only 379 days old, but the candy selection itself was disappointing. I mean, seriously, applesauce??? Come on, people!! Bring on the giant chocolate bars, and gummy candies. Halloween is about creating cavities, not eating mushy fruit!! Oh well. Maybe next year.

Until next time, Keep Reading! My beard will be longer the next time I post as it is officially No-Shave November. You’ll just have to take my word on that.
-MP

When to Introduce “The Event,” and Building Your Platform

Currently Reading: So I’m 240 pages into “Two by Two” by Nicholas Sparks, a tantalizing average of about 120 words per day. If this pace continues, I could read an average book in about 3 days, which would translate to approximately 120 books per year. How awesome would that be?!? Unfortunately, this pace will not continue (see: Life, cross reference: Shit Happens). What can I attribute to the current blistering speed? Two things. 1)Nicholas Sparks is one of my all time favorite authors. Probably top two, running neck and neck with Richard Paul Evans. He creates characters that you remember when you put the book down, and you find yourself daydreaming about the world when you’re supposed to be working. He was the first writer that made me want to write books. He also writes the type of books that I find myself drawn to writing – both he and Evans are often categorized into Women’s Fiction, but oddly I’m OK with reading books from a writer that caters mostly to women readers.

2) I’m in a good rotation at work right now. Let me explain. So even though my job title mentions nothing about customer service, essentially that is what I do: take payments from customers whose utilities are powered by the city itself. My job rotates into 3 stations on a monthly basis: two inside the lobby and one in the drive thru. Station 1 in the Lobby’s main task is to wait on all the customers that walk in the door. Also, they are secondary to answering the phones that ring non stop. Station 2 in the Lobby’s main task is being primary on the phones, as well as processing all incoming mail payments, which on Mondays turns into a giant shit show of busyness that starts around 7:40 and doesn’t let up until after 4. Needless to say, I hate this rotation the most. Station 3 in the Drive Thru’s main task is to wait on the customers who do not want to get out of their cars and prefer quick, wait-free service. Also, the drive thru station is located on the other side of the building, isolated from everyone, so it’s just you, a tiny enclosed room, and the radio. Can you guess which I love the most? So when the customers don’t come to the drive-thru and the phone isn’t ringing off the hook (yes, I’m still required to answer the phone there), I’m able to read, something not afforded in either of the other two stations. So if your work is caught up inside, you sit and stare at the wall waiting for a customer. In the drive thru, the head honchos aren’t around to spy and make sure you don’t look bored. So I read, and read a lot. Hence my progress.

“Two by Two” is one of Sparks’ best books in my opinion, but I’m surprised at how long it took to reach The Event. The Event is what occurs in every book (child goes missing, dead body turns up, etc.), and is usually mentioned in the book jacket when describing said book. Typically, The Event occurs in the first 50 pages and the rest of the book depicts the aftermath. But in “Two by Two,” I didn’t hit The Event until about page 220. It made me question whether or not I misread the book’s description or, at the very least, misinterpreted it. It’s just unheard of to be 50% into a book and wondering when something is going to occur that you’ve been waiting for since Page 1. In any event, as a Wannabe Writer, it’s good for me to see different ways to approach The Event and decide what works best for me and my novel.

The fun thing now about reading an author you’ve already read at least 15 times, you develop a fun game in predicting the outcome of the rest of the book. I’ll let you know if I was right or not.

Currently Writing: On Tuesday, I looked into a small, local publisher as perhaps a venue to launch my novel “Off the Record” that I completed several years ago. Upon investigating their submission form, I realized it was more complicated than I thought. I assumed it’d be a quick query letter and submitting a pdf file. Instead, there are in-depth questions regarding BISAC codes and whether or not you have your own publicist. I’ve decided I need to do a better job of building my platform. So on Tuesday, I found some books I wanted to read because right now, my online presence/platform is non-existent, and that is not good. In addition, I want to really think about my answers to these questions, because I probably have one shot with this publisher. So that’s where I stand right now: working on building my platform, which likely will include some redesigns to this blog. But don’t worry! I’ll still be bloggin’. I’ll also be editing/rewriting “Off the Record” as it stands, as well as editing/writing/rewriting another story I’m looking to publish. In addition, I recently thought of some short non-ficiton pieces I’d like to put to paper and see what they look like, because I think they have a potential viewership in the online market as well. So that’s what will be happening in the near future.

Distractions: None. Can you believe that? Ok, so it’s probably a lie. But I don’t consider “spending time with my family” a distraction. On Monday, we  visited a raggedy Pumpkin Patch because my wife J insisted on finding a pumpkin to carve for our 1-year old son E who will never remember this experience except by the endless pictures J decides to take, which will inevitably include several unflattering shots of Yours Truly that I hope don’t find their way onto any Social Media outlets. But who am I kidding? I actually enjoy carving the pumpkin. I love the smell of the inside once you cut the top off, and I love how slimy the seeds and innards are when you squish them between your fingers.

And because I love this, I was willing to drive out of my way on Monday afternoon in the cold and windy conditions; park my precious Rogue into a shady field; push my son’s stroller over a rickety, dirt path into a patch that looks like it’s where pumpkins go to die; ;carefully step over the broken pumpkins into uncharted territory that probably includes bugs that will eat at my sweet skin, while my wife and son wait patiently in the safe part of the patch; rip the only decent looking pumpkin off the vine with my bare hands like the Hulk because I don’t have tools, all the while pricking my fingers; drag the 10 lber back across said patch and hope that I don’t fall onto my face; kneel down so I can pose in the Patch of Horrors with my son; pose again because J didn’t like the light in picture 1; pose again because E moved slightly in Picture 2 (have I mentioned J is a P.P. -Photographing Perfectionist?); and then pay $12.00 dollars for The Experience of a Lifetime. J insists these will be memories we cherish lately, and really who am I to argue?

…but then again, $12 could have bought me a new paperback….damn.

Until Next Time, Keep Reading!!
-MP

 

The Last 48 Days

Currently Reading: Well, I finally finished “A Man Called Ove” (hopefully, right? It’s only been a month and a half!). I was pleasantly surprised; however, the ending did drag a little bit, and was also kind of predictable. Still, I like Backman’s writing style, would recommend this book, and would certainly read another one – he has at least two other published books out already.

After finishing “Ove,” I blew through “Love and Gelato” by Jenna Evans Welch. I was hesitant to read this book because of my own stubbornness: Jenna is the daughter of well-known author, Richard Paul Evans. The elder Evans is one of my favorite authors. Ever. I had a feeling this book would be good, but a nagging question ate at me: would “Love and Gelato” ever have been published if her father wasn’t well-documented? After all, her agent, Laurie Liss, is the same agent that represents Richard Paul Evans. What bothers me about this is what this means to me: sometimes, the book that gets published isn’t the best book, but it’s written by the person that has the “In.” It’s the same reason I’m bothered when I see a book by Joe Hill in prime position on a bookstore shelf. And it dates back to my high school years, when the “best athletes” on your high school teams were the ones who had parents that were well known within the community, not the ones with the most talent. It’s the harsh reality that Publishing is a business, and sometimes, it’s all about Who You Know. And unfortunately, I don’t know many people in the publishing business. I didn’t stay in touch with my writing professors from college, at least two of whom that have been published. But even if I did stay in good contact with them, is that how I wish to be successful? By piggy-backing the success of others? I don’t know. But it would certainly make my life a lot easier than it currently is.

Now wait!! Don’t get me wrong! This “Rant of the Slain” as I like to call the above paragraph does not in any way diminish the quality of “Love and Gelato” by Mrs. Welch. The book is a phenomenal YA read and makes me want to jet on over to Italy pronto (Wait, is that word even Italian? Ah, who knows). Welch has created characters that you remember when you shut the book. Characters that you think about while you’re at work. She’s created a world that parallels your own, a world you’d like to escape into, and are more than happy to dive into once the workday is over. That, folks, is damn good writing. Her father has that talent, and clearly she does too. “Love and Gelato” is a book not to be missed, and I love that you don’t have to be an 18-year old girl to enjoy it, even if the main character is. The only downfall is that “Love and Gelato” is Welch’s first book to be published, so we will have to wait awhile to read another.

Next on the reading list: “Two by Two” by another of my favorite writers, Nicholas Sparks. I read recently that Sparks’ movie production company has shut down, so “The Choice” may in fact be the last book brought to the Big Screen. This is truly a shame, because even though “The Choice” performed poorer compared to other Sparks’ blockbusters, it was one of the better adaptations, staying truer to the book than even its successful predecessors, “The Notebook,” “Dear John,” “Walk to Remember” and “The Best of Me” just to name a few.

Currently Writing: Well, not much, unfortunately. However, my brain has not stopped working, as I have thought up two more ideas (one being a screenplay I’d like to try someday), as well as the opening line of a novel that I thought up while eating dinner, though I don’t know the story behind that line yet.Here’s my problem: the ability to focus. I have several ideas up in the ol’ noggin that I’d like to put on paper, but I don’t know which to devote the majority of my free time to, and even when I decide where to place my focus, several other ideas jump into my head, and I don’t want to lose them, so I feel I need to get as much information about said idea down on paper before it escapes me. Does anyone else have this problem? It’s like Author A.D.D., but I’m pretty sure no good doctor on earth will write me a prescription to cure this. Maybe I just need to cut back on caffeine?

Distractions That Prevented Healthy Writing: Well, in a word? Me! I haven’t been my best writing self in the last 45 days. Saturday the 22nd was my birthday, and I took the next two business days (Monday and Today) off, and am finally able to sit down and do a little blogging/writing.

However, if I wanted you to feel sorry for me, I would tell you that work is a tough distraction. I work in Customer Service and more often than not, I’ll have a day where someone comes in and yells or complains about how bad city government is, and that their electric bill is way too damned expensive, and that they should be able to pay it later than 3 weeks past their due date, and we’re just cruel and hateful people because we shut off their service for lack of payment. And what is my allowed response? Smile and Nod. They call you a name? Smile and Nod. They swear? Smile and Nod.

Now look, folks. I…LOVE people! Why do you think I want to write these books and do this full time? So people can read them, enjoy them, and escape from the problems in their own life like I do when I read a good book. But working in customer service is tough. It wears. You. Down. When you come home dejected and devoid of energy, how do you muster the courage to write productive pages that aren’t just sad and angry gibberish? Too often, I come home and crash in front of the television, thankful just to be at home with people that love me, rather than at work dealing with people who, well, don’t exactly care about my well being.

I’m a tough guy, though. Don’t worry about my state of mind. But if you read this, I wouldn’t mind if you sent good thoughts my way, ESP-style, encouraging me to come home and find the energy to write, write, write! That’s the only way I’m going to change the world, right?

Until Next Time – and I promise it will be less than 48 days – KEEP READING!!
-mp

Daily Writing Struggles: Case of the Mondays

Currently Reading: Shamefully, I must admit I’ve only read two pages of “A Man Called Ove” since my last post. But when one has free time, one must decide how to use said time. Do you write, or do you read?

Currently Writing: And proudly, I must admit I used my free time to write! Today, I wrote 1,182 pages of a story I started approximately one year ago. So here’s the backstory: A couple years ago while I still worked at my other job, a woman’s voice popped into my head. More accurately, her story popped into my head. And I couldn’t get her to shut up; naturally, I knew this meant I had to write about her. And so it began. Around 2,600 words were created about said woman. Her origin story formed as I wrote about her struggles in September of 2015. Then: LIFE GOT IN THE WAY. My son was born three weeks early with breathing issues and had to spend 10 days (including my birthday) in the NICU. Luckily, he is fine now. But a month after he was born, I lost my job due to a bank merger, and my unemployed time was spent searching for jobs and watching my son. The woman’s voice faded, and her story became lost on a flash drive….until today. While deciding what I wanted to write about today, I came across her story, and dove right in. I’m excited about what happens next as the next pages of her life will uncover the very images I had when her voice popped into my head from so long ago.

Special shout-out to my wife, who is training for a 5K in November and has also taken our 10-month old son off my hands on Wednesday nights, giving me ample time to write. This could lead to some major writing progress.

How Life Got In The Way: Have you ever seen the movie Office Space? Well you should. It’s hilarious whether you’ve worked in an office setting with cubicles before or not. Anyway, someone at the beginning says “Sounds like someone has a case of the Mondays!” And honestly, I never quite understood that phrase until the job I have now.

A brief description of my job: so I work for city government, processing payments for customers and opening mail. Mondays tend to be a little crazy. After having two days off, customers come in like it’s a Black Friday Deal, except they don’t want to spend their money here. Not to mention the mail comes in like it’s the North Pole on Christmas Eve. Plus the phone rings off the hook. I probably answer over 100 calls on a Monday.

And well, if Monday is a holiday as it was this past week, Tuesday becomes Monday’s angry cousin, and unleashes twice as much evil. Needless to say when Quitting Time comes on the business day after the weekend, I. Am. EXHAUSTED. And even if I sat at the computer to write, my mind would not be in the proper place to compose coherent thought….unless maybe I was writing angry lit, or a Dr. Seuss poem. But I’m not.

Special shout out to The Lawn for maintaining its browny goodness during the heat wave here in the Northeast, and saving me from having to spend my evenings mowing!

What’s Newsworthy: I hear now that presidential hopeful Donald Trump was revealed in a poll to be the more trustworthy/honest of the two candidates. Is it Halloween already? Because I just got scared….

Also saw an article on CNN with the headline “Math is Racist?” I had to roll my eyes at this. I couldn’t even convince my right hand to click on the link. If you have the energy to read about it, let me know if any of it holds water.

Until Next Time. Keep Reading!
-MP

 

New Format, Same Goofy Writer

Happy Labor Day! If you got an extra day off, I hope you enjoyed it. If you didn’t get an extra day off, what is wrong with your employer??

I wanted to share you with an idea that I wanted to try (and what better forum to try it than a blog that not many people read…yet?). I’ve decided that a nice way to get more traction (and for you to learn a little more about me, which is always important), is for me to write shorter blogs, packed with updates on my writing for that day (or days, depending on the lag time between posts). I’ll also update on the book(s) that I’m reading, because, as any good writer will tell you, you can’t be a good writer without reading…a lot. And if there is anything newsworthy – good or bad – from my life or the world that I’d like to write about, I can throw that in too. So without delay, I’ll give you an example of how I envision this, and if you have thoughts on ways I can tweak to make better, let me know! Ok? Ok! So let’s go.

Currently Reading: “A Man Called Ove” by Fredrik Backman. Read about 50 pages today. I’ve determined that Ove is a cross between Carl Fredrickson (aka the balloon man from “Up”) and Gru (aka the me in “Despicable Me”). He’s grumpy, but with reason, and he is adored by kids, but disgusted by adults.

Currently Writing: Didn’t do much writing today unfortunately, only a tiny bit of editing. However, I did manage to submit my short story to a literary magazine! So fingers crossed for that. The short story is “The Nine Lives of Jay Catsby” which I have mentioned on here before. It is the best short story I’ve ever written, by far. Naturally, I found myself more suited to writing longer pieces – novels, novellas. Even this short story, which clocks in at 8,500 words, is longer than most publications will take on. I’m a self-titled “Long-Winded Writer,” which makes short stories more difficult for me to complete in short fashion. However, occasionally I’ll have a subject conducive to a shorter script and “Catsby” was one of them. I really hope this pans out, if not with this submission, then another, because it is really good and I think others will enjoy it too!

How Life Got In The Way: Life Distractions are evil to the wannabe writer. It’s like stepping in gum on your way to church. It’s the stuff that gets in the way of what you really want to do. For me, that’s usually work and house/lawn maintenance. On a holiday like today, however, I can’t blame Life for any writing delays, hence why I was able to get the submission in. I also shut all the windows and refused to look at the yard, because a grass trimming looms. For some reason, it’s socially acceptable for me to skit out on timely haircuts, but not the yard. Go figure. Tonight, the wife and I celebrated my Mo-In-Law’s birthday (note: I would never call her “Mo-In-Law” or “Mo” to her face), but that’s not really a distraction, just something happened.

Newsworthy?:By now, the Colin Kaepernick story has been beaten to death, so let me just add this briefly. I think it’s okay to take a stand for what you feel is wrong; however, I feel the forum in which he chose to do it was misguided. Let’s really think about the Star Spangled Banner and what it represents. It was written 200+ years ago, in a time when America was fighting for its independence. To disrespect the national anthem is to disrespect those who fought for our freedom 200+ years ago, who are not at fault for what the current administration has done wrong. I have no problem with athletes protesting for what is right. Take Carmelo Anthony for example, who marched in Baltimore for what he believed in. I have no problem. The forum was right, and it didn’t disrespect a symbol for our country’s freedom. Colin’s other problem is that any of us poor-working schmos are going to take issue with a backup quarterback making $12 mil per year complaining about how unjust this country is. Also, I think Megan Rapinoe’s statement that the backlash toward Kaepernick is overtly racist is a tad over dramatic. I think the backlash is more towards his disrespect of the Flag/National Anthem, and not because we’re racist. And again, tweeting your allegiance to Kaepernick is a much more pointed statement than kneeling during the Anthem, which just adds fuel to a fire that, honestly, is burning a little stronger than necessary.

Does the United States have a problem with race? Absolutely. Does it have a problem with its reaction to the gay and transgender population as well? You bet it does. But the Flag is not to blame. The soldiers that gave their lives to this country 200+ years ago are also not to blame. And while race is a problem in this country, let me mention three others that are just as troubling to me as a U.S. citizen regardless of color: gun control, health insurance, and big bank takeovers.

First of all, why is it okay for a random citizen, let alone an individual with known ties to ISIS, to go out and purchase an AK-47 assault rifle? Why does an ordinary individual need such a deadly weapon, and why is it handed out so freely, like its produce in a grocery store? That, ladies and gentlemen, scares the bejeezus out of me.

Secondly, my friend’s father was recently denied access to a rehabilitation center that would speed up his recovery from injury by the health insurance. Why is this ok?? Why is the almighty dollar more important than a person’s well being? That I will never understand. We are doling out thousands each year in health insurance, for services that are free in other countries. Big problem, guys.

And finally, myself, along with approximately 200 of my coworkers, lost our jobs ten months ago because of big bank takeovers. Not to mention several of the key players from the purchasing bank got a huge cash settlement (we’re talking high six and seven figures) for completing the deal. So let me get this straight: Person A just got a million dollar bonus for putting 200 people out of work, and we have no idea why the unemployment rates in this country are not dropping? If this keeps up, there will be less than ten banks in the entire country, and thousands of people will be lining up to collect an unemployment salary that our government can’t afford….all so that less than 1% of the population gets a huge pay day.

Race is a problem in this country, no doubt. But remember that in 2008, we elected a black to man to office whose middle name is “Hussain” no less. And in 2012, we re-elected that same man over a white competitor. Race is a problem, for sure.

But it’s not the only problem.

 

 

Moving Forward: Pulling Success From the Clutches of Failure

Happy Almost 4th of July to you and your families! Are you eating burgers? Dogs? See any fireworks yet? Well, I hope it’s glorious when you do!

Let’s start off with the bad news: my short story “The 9 Lives of Jay Catsby” was not selected by voters as one of the Top 25 to be voted on to be published in a collection later this year. I can’t say I’m surprised. Because I was not a long time member at Wattpad when the contest started, I did not have a following, and therefore could not muster up the votes, despite blog pleas and several tweets mentioning the vote. It was always going to be a long shot at best.

But still, I’m quite disappointed. I saw this as a golden opportunity to achieve a goal of mine. Because I frequent Target stores a lot and saw the poster indicating the contest, I thought it was, as they say, written in the stars. Meant to be. I work forty hours a week. I have a family that I enjoy spending time with, so my opportunities to fully immerse myself in writing are limited. (Yes, I know. If I truly want this, I wouldn’t make excuses, but if you have a family, you understand the sacrifices one has to make in order to write and hold a full-time job). So I naturally saw this as something I was supposed to do to achieve success. A sign. (Sidenote: I’m very pessimistic until an opportunity comes along, and then I dream big. Very big.).

But alas, I was mistaken. It was just another life lesson for me. Another due that I had to pay as a writer before my big break comes along, if it ever does.

But let’s focus on the positives. The good news: I started and finished a writing project of mine! At all times, there are approximately 9,000 ideas floating around in my brain, just waiting to be put on paper to see what they look like, but usually they just bang against each other like rocks in space because I don’t have the time, or I don’t make the time. But my brain not only gave birth to this idea, my fingers ran with the idea, putting down on paper, finishing it, editing it, and submitting it. Rarely does this happen. So this is a huge step for me. Anytime I complete a project related to writing, I can not view it as a failure, even if the end goal is not reached.

I don’t plan to stop here either. There’s more than one way to get a short story published. I have a finished project, a great short story, and it’s just a matter of making someone else believe it’s good. I haven’t had much luck in that department yet, but maybe that just means my luck is about to change.

A huge thank you to my wife, who is the hero of this story. She understands how important writing is in my life, how desperate I am to be published, how much I struggle on a daily basis not doing what I love. She took the reins of the house, left me the time to write, gave me the time I needed to get this project done. I couldn’t have done it without her. She’s my rock. Any I success I achieve in writing is only success if it includes her, because I am able to do what I do because of her.

Congrats to the 25 stories who did receive the necessary votes, and are eligible to be one of the ten finalists to be published later this year! I, more than anyone else, understand how hard of a step this is to achieve. To those who, like me, did not make the top 25: don’t give up. Use this as an opportunity to find other avenues to achieve publication. That’s what I aim to do.

Until Next Time. Keep Reading!
-MP

 

My Journey…So Far

I want you to know where I came from and why writing is so important to me.

I don’t know for sure, but it started in third grade. My third grade teacher, Mrs. Shilling, had us write creative stories on green-lined construction paper. We would write stories about the Amazon rain forest. I would fill 20-30 sheets of paper while some of my classmates struggled to fill five. (Note: Considering I think each sheet probably held about two sentences because of how big kids write, it probably amounted to maybe 3 typed pages? Maybe. But still.) Writing came natural to me. But you know what the best part was? When we read the stories to our classmates, and to hear them laugh and be amazed. I can still remember that, how fun it was to know readers were enthralled by something I did. In 5th grade, I wrote another story about Sheldon, a turtle who dreamed about being a limousine driver, but he was extremely fat, so he went on a diet of only salads, but eventually turned into a salad. It was even illustrated, albeit poorly, by yours truly. I still have that story. I pull it out every now and then and reminisce.

Then middle school happened, and junior high and high school. And what happened then? Puberty. Acne. No dates. An obsession with girls who did not reciprocate my feelings. A drain on my self confidence.

Did I write during this time? You betcha, but it was mostly self-loathing entries about how terrible life was, and how I was obsessed with this girl and I was pretty sure she was the love of my life. And then a couple months later, I would write the same entry, only it would be about a different girl. And the reason I call them “self loathing entries” is because I loathe myself every time I re-read this. Kind of a “What the hell were you thinking?” type of entry.

Then in tenth grade, something happened. I started writing again. Not “Dear Diary” style, but actual fiction. I wrote a poem about a cow who didn’t moo and was therefore mocked by society. (It was ahead of its time, clearly, but brilliant nonetheless) I wrote a short story, I wrote a murder-mystery play that was briefly available online for purchase (or so I was told). Something wonderful was reignited inside of me, something that had been dormant for 5 years, but was now active and hungrier than ever.

I continued to write. I took a creative writing class, I wrote for the school writing collection and submitted several pieces. I knew writing was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I even bought a book, Herman’s Guide to Literary Agents because it was recommended to me by one of my favorite authors of the time, Nicholas Sparks. I wanted to write love stories like him. (I figured my obsessive longing for females with my diary entries gave me the edge to do this) I was convinced I wanted to write for a living, I applied to two colleges, Pitt-Johnstown and Susquehanna University. Susquehanna was a campus built around trees and lush greenery, with squirrels running around. It also had a dedicated writing program. Pitt-Johnstown did not. Case closed.

When I was accepted into Susquehanna University’s writing program, I assumed it meant I was a big deal, that Susquehanna rejected hundreds of curious writers and accepted only the best of the best. Boy was I dumb. I’m pretty sure everyone was accepted. The first college writing class I took was Intro to Poetry, with mostly upper-classmen. Let me tell you three things about me and poetry: 1) I can’t write poetry save for one epic Cow poem, 2) I don’t enjoy reading poetry except for a few sonnets here and there, and 3) I’m awful at dissecting poetry–meanings, rhyme schemes, verse, etc. Somehow I managed to pull a B in the class.

I eventually got into fiction classes and felt more in my element. But I soon realized something that the naive, wide-eyed high schooler who figured he’d have his first novel published in his early twenties didn’t know: writing is extremely subjective. And my professor, a published author himself, stories that spoke to him. That’s not to say I didn’t learn anything in the class, but the momentum that had carried me through high school hit a giant brick wall in college. Suddenly my stories were not beloved. They were criticized, picked apart by eager peers wanting to impress teacher. They would repeat phrases that the professor spoke in class, probably oblivious to its actual meanings. My confidence shattered quicker than dropped glass. I became hardened, bitter, angry, sad, disappointed, frustrated. In a way, it sucked. But in a way, it was good to hear: most writers don’t get published in their twenties, if ever. The hard dose of reality was demoralizing, but I know it was also necessary.

Senior year of college, something strange happened. I took a novel class and…the professor didn’t hate it! It was a story about a freshman baseball player who was secretly using steroids to help his game. Steroids in pros were starting to become a major things at this point. “Juiced” by Jose Canseco was big, and Barry Bonds was shattering records with a body that looked nothing like it did in his Pirate days. It was a relevant story, and the professor gave more positive feedback than negative. Perhaps he was just running out my clock, pushing me through the door with a boost of confidence after shattering it for the past four years. Perhaps he actually liked it. I’ll never know for sure. I graduated before I finished.

With four years of student loans in front of me, I took the first job I could find as a bookseller at the local mall. The pay was shit, I worked nights and weekends, but I didn’t have a girlfriend or a life, so it fit well. And I was working with books! If the pay had been higher, I could have seen it as a career track. During this time, I finished that baseball novel at around 103,00 words, edited it, and tried to find an agent. I didn’t find one. Meanwhile, after 13 months selling books, I found a better paying job in banking. I continued to write, although sparingly, dated my wife, married my wife, moved out of my parent’s house, got a cat, bought a house, got a dog, knocked up said wife.

Then disaster struck. The bank where I had clawed and worked my way up over 7 years was bought by a bigger bank and I lost my job. Meanwhile, my pregnant wife gave birth to our baby boy three weeks early. He had Respiratory Stress Syndrome and spent 10 days in the NICU in York, where I spent my 31st birthday.An occasion that was supposed to be joyous became chaotic and stressful. When my healthy son turned one month old, right before Thanksgiving, I worked my last day at the bank. I was unemployed for five months, and in that time, while raising my son, I found an old friend: writing.

A story had been brewing in my mind for a while, a children’s Christmas story that I began writing. Over the span of a few months, I nearly finished it. I shopped it to one agent who–surprise surprise–never responded. But I plan on shopping it more very soon.

My writing life has gotten back on track. I’m writing more, I just entered a shorty story of mine called “The Nine Lives of Jay Catsby” in a contest with Wattpad, and I started this blog with a pen name I hope to use with my published works someday.

There are two lessons in all of this. One, writing is subjective. I guarantee if I presented a novel of mine called “Fifty Shades of My Grey” to my college professor and peers, it would have been beaten down to a pile of shit because of how terrible it was. Just because what you write doesn’t appeal to a certain room, it doesn’t mean it’s awful. It’s like fishing: You just need a wider net. Two, Never Give Up. My son spent ten days in the NICU, I lost my job at the worst time. But I’m still standing. No matter what is going on in your life, whether it’s trying to publish a story or getting through a tough time, never give up. 

Thanks for reading, and Happy Father’s Day to all the wonderful dads out there!
-MP

Help A Writer Realize His Dream

I want to tell you about a short story I wrote.

It’s called “The Nine Lives of Jay Catsby.” In short, it’s about a journalist who encounters a stray cat on the side of the road during an accident in which a dog is hit by a car. The journalist sees the dog, lying lifeless on the road. When he turns back, a cat is there, and the dog is moving. Hours later, still trying to process the events, the cat shows up on the man’s doorstep. As if this weren’t bizarre enough, the cat eventually begins talking, though only the man can hear him, and the cat informs him he has the ability to save lives–nine of them to be exact. The cat, Jay Catsby, is based loosely on my cat, shown above.

This story came about when I was wandering the aisles at Target, which I like to do at least once a week. Specifically, I enjoy looking at the books and dvds, although the kid in me still wanders the toy aisles. While looking over the new titles, I see a message on the side of an end cap that says “You can be published in Target stores!” Intrigued, I read on and find out it’s a contest sponsored by Wattpad and Target. The details are simple: write a story dealing in modern life with a fantastical element. Make sure it’s between 4,000 and 9,000 words. Post it on Wattpad, tag it with #OnceUponNow, and if enough Wattpad users vote you into the top 25, you have a chance to be selected by Gallery Books (an imprint of Simon & Schuster) as one of 10 stories to be published in October of this year.

Suddenly, the bridge between my lifelong dream and my current status became a little shorter…

…but only a little.

Here’s the thing: I’ve never used Wattpad before. I’ve heard about it, maybe perused it once or twice, but didn’t use it. The problem with my lack of use when it comes to this contest is that, similar to WordPress, Wattpad is all about building a following. I learned about this contest roughly four weeks ago. I’ve spent my free time in those past four weeks, crafting the “Catsby” story, editing the “Catsby” story, and figuring out how to successfully post the “Catsby” story to Wattpad.

None of this free time led me to building a following on Wattpad. And starting on Tuesday, June 14th, the writing window for the Wattpad contest will open. I’m not sure if there’s a way to calculate the number of stories that are being entered into this contest, but I’m going to assume it’s a lot. Definitely in the triple digits. Possibly in the four-digit range.

I’ve read that a writer’s job is never done, and that couldn’t be more true. If you’re not editing a story that you just finished, you’re thinking of the other stories that are stuck in your head that need to get down on paper. And if by some miracle your brain stops talking to you long enough to have a clear thought, the writer–published or unpublished–constantly has to be a shameless self promoter if he/she wants their book to be read.

So in the limited time I have left, I’m going to ask you, the reader, to push this blog, forward it to you and your Wattpad friends, to help me achieve a dream I’ve had for at least the last 15 years: publication.

Quickly, if you don’t currently use Wattpad and are unsure how to vote, I’m going to give you a quick tutorial if you’d like to sign up. (And I’d really appreciate it if you did!) Quick but important sidebar: YOU CAN ONLY VOTE BETWEEN JUNE 14TH AND JUNE 21ST, ENDING AT 3:59 PM (EST) ON THE 21ST!!!

  1. Click here to go to the Wattpad site
  2. My story should pop up. Cick the “read” button at the top.
  3. You will have to submit a username, an email address and a password to read.
  4. You will need to confirm your email by going into your email account and clicking on a link. This is important, because you can’t vote until you do this!
  5. Now you are able to read my story! I hope you love it as much as I did writing it!
  6. If you enjoy it enough and you’d like to vote, there is a “vote” button at the bottom of  each page of the story. Additionally, under each chapter (this story has 7), there’s a vote button at the top right-hand corner of the page that you can click to vote. You will know it works if the voting icon gets filled.
  7. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please email me and I will help! You can reach me at mpenbrell@gmail.com

Whether you choose to vote or not, or whether you choose to even sign up at Wattpad or not, I will say that I appreciate you reading this blog. Working fulltime, having a family, having a yard that needs work in the summer, it’s hard to find time to write, let alone time to develop a following. The fact that you found me and took the time to read this is a victory itself!

Thanks again, everyone! I’ll keep you posted!
-MP

 

Thoughts on Today’s Shooting in Orlando

This afternoon, I sat in our nursery, attempting to rock my fussy son to sleep. I didn’t have my tablet with me, nor was I in reach of his music box, so I decided to sing. Quietly, because the louder I am, the more off-key I become.

I sang the classics: ABCs, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Lullaby. Then I started singing a song I learned in Sunday School almost 30 years ago. It’s simple:

Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world.
Whether yellow, black or white,
They are precious in his sight,
Jesus loves the little children of the world.

The song hit home for me in a way that it hadn’t in many years, that Jesus preached tolerance and acceptance while on this Earth, and 2,000 years later, we’ve forgotten his message.

When people carry out violent crimes like today, they like to mask it as “doing God’s will.” While God set forth a set of rules to be followed, nowhere did He tell us that if we witness someone not following his rules, we should enforce our own brand of punishment. And I’m pretty sure one of his commandments was worded something along the lines of “Thou Shalt Not Kill.”

Not to mention that the 50+ people who died today were not doing anything wrong. I don’t care what your stance is on homosexuality: nothing gives any one of us the right to establish our own brand of justice.

I’m saddened by the events of today. One of my biggest fears about having a child was bringing him into the world that we currently inhabit. It’s not peaceful. It’s not safe. Something terrible can at anytime, anywhere. For any reason.

But I’m also angry. I’m angry that we turn on each other when something awful happens. I’m angry that Fox News’ biggest debate this afternoon wasn’t about the events, but it was analyzing and criticizing our president’s press conference. Thanks, guys. Very helpful.

I’m angered that anytime a mass shooting occurs, we immediately split it into two camps: pro-guns and anti-guns. 50+ people have died, and our biggest concern is whether or not we should be able to keep that gun in our closet? C’mon. Let’s look at the bigger picture.

I’m angered that while searching on Twitter today, I saw several critical tweets, blaming tv writers/producers of all people, that we contributed to today’s tragedy by writing about the deaths of the LGBT community.

The truth, sadly, is there isn’t one issue to blame. It’s a combination of things. Is television too violent? At times, yes. But if everything on television was clean, there’d still be shootings. Are the gun control laws in this country too weak? Absolutely. But stronger gun laws wouldn’t solve our problems. Anyone with malice in their heart will find a way to carry out a scheme. And while laws about the “right to bear arms” that were written over 200 years ago do not have the same value that they do today, eliminating guns altogether solves nothing. People have the right to feel safe, but they also have the responsibility to protect themselves AND others.

At this point, I’m rambling. But I really don’t care. I’m tired of hearing of tragedies that could have been prevented, but I’m also tired of the finger pointing that ensues. How do we fix it? That’s the million dollar question, but nobody has the right answer. It’s a combination of things that need to be changed, but right now, we’re too stubborn to make the necessary changes.

For now, there’s only one thing we all need to remember: United We Stand, Divided We Fall.

RIP to the victims of today’s shooting in Orlando. My thoughts and prayers go out to the survivors and the families that have lost loved ones today.