Book Review: Nicholas Sparks’ “Every Breath” Shines, But Misses Opportunities

On October 16th, Nicholas Sparks released a momentous work as “Every Breath” became his 20th novel released to the masses. It was his 22nd work overall, including a memoir written with his brother Micah, and a non-fiction work co-authored with Billy Mills.

On October 24th, I finished reading my 20th Sparks novel and 21st Sparks work overall (I’m missing only Wokini, the non-fiction work that was actually Sparks’ first release). To say I’m an expert in the works of Nicholas Sparks would be boastful and untrue; however, since I’ve been reading Sparks for over 15 years, I can honestly tell you that while I enjoyed this book, it is certainly not the best we’ve seen from him.

Sparks tries something entirely different from any of his other novels: he bookends the story with a fictional character named…Nicholas Sparks, a writer who happens to come upon the story of Hope Anderson and Tru Walls, and decides he needs to write about it. The average reader who skips the “Acknowledgements” and “Author’s Note” sections will be fooled into believing this was based on a true story, but tucked right at the end, Sparks admits that it’s not.

Sparks is certainly not the first author to attempt this; however, this insertion doesn’t add to the story and the illusion of it being based on true events is whimsical, but also unnecessary. If anything, the attempt takes up valuable pages that could have been devoted to more details regarding Hope and Tru’s story — incidentally, the fictional Sparks says he initially wrote more regarding their story but decided not to include it; this reader wishes that he had.

The love story takes place over two separate time periods, spread 25 years apart. In 1990, two strangers happen to meet because they find themselves visiting neighboring cottages on Sunset Beach. While the harsh critic might say the neighbor angle weakens the power of their love, I prefer to believe that it alludes that love can happen anywhere, at any moment.

Almost immediately, Sparks shows the deep connection developing between the two characters, but also mixes that with the conflict (exes and the long distance, among others) that the reader should expect to rear its head later in the story. And while the initial connection is brief — the characters are only brought together initially for less than 5 days — Sparks again shows, as is a constant theme with his works, that love does not follow a clock, and that a spark between two souls can ignite very quickly.

But once the initial connection ends, the story loses momentum. Sparks struggles to fill in the 25-year gap by telling the reader what happened leading up to the 2016 present time, rather than showing. Time jumping can be an effective narrative as long as the reader is not left questioning what happened in between. I’d have preferred to see chapters devoted strictly to important moments between  time frames, rather than learning about them in a conversation between two characters.

The story does eventually regain its momentum, but it is halted once again too soon when the fictional Nicholas Sparks reappears to end the story. As I turned the last page of the story and began reading the Sparks perspective, I thought “Oh, it’s over already? Oh, okay,” secretly disappointed that there would no more pages dedicated to Hope and Tru. Without giving too much away, I certainly felt there was more to say, or more that could be said, rather than abruptly ending the story where it did.

Sparks certainly knows how to carry momentum from beginning to end. And while I prefer a love story that also adds an element of suspense ala Safe Haven, The Lucky One The Guardian, I enjoy a story that focuses purely on love as well, ala The Notebook, The Choice or Dear John.

Though Every Breath contains the elements Sparks fans have come to know and love, with the tenderness and sweetness only Sparks knows how to write, the story had a hard time holding momentum for me, a quality that is crucial for any reader. Bottom Line: A little more Author Sparks and a little less Fictional Sparks next time. 

Where Were You When…A Life’s Journey Through Books

So the beginning of this is going to be a little strange, but just go with it.

So I’m trying to lose about 15 pounds before the new baby comes in July. To do so, I need to change some dieting habits, i.e. drink less soda, consume less sugar. My problem is if work gets a little slow, I’ll eat and drink more, but I don’t eat healthy. I eat cookies, or food from McDonald’s, and I drink soda. A lot of it.

So this past Tuesday, the brilliant dietitian that I am, I decided I would eat cauliflower and drink water. Which, aside from going to the bathroom more frequently (which I hate!), it was working well…until about 7:oo that evening when someone started poking me with a million knives. It turns out eating an entire Ziploc bag of cauliflower may be healthier in theory, but it’s not going to make you FEEL better in the long run.

So of course I ended up doubled over in the bathroom. And I couldn’t help but be reminded back two years ago when I turned 30 and had to go through my first colonoscopy. And as anyone will tell you, the worst part about the colonoscopy is the preparation of cleaning yourself out the night before, which basically means drinking something that tastes like bathroom cleaner, but is really a powerful laxative that leaves you in the bathroom for hours on end.

And, this of course, reminded me of “Eleanor and Park” by Rainbow Rowell for the simple reason that this was the book I was reading at the time, and I remember how powerful it was, and immediately upon finishing, I had to look up every other book she has written because one just wasn’t enough.

And this got me thinking about the power of books, and how they’re with you through the ups and downs of your lifetime.

Like when I was in my early twenties, and me and my best friend KG decided that after ten years of friendship, we would try dating. (But if I’m being honest, I mean KG finally decided she wanted to date me, because I had been trying that for years) And anyone who knows anything knows that when you date your best friend, it could go either extremely well, or extremely poor. And unfortunately, our courtship went sideways almost out of the gate, and was also the beginning of the end of our friendship as we started growing even further apart. It was also around Valentine’s Day and I was beyond devastated, reopening old wounds and thoughts that I would never find the one. Not sure I was ever going to get out of the abyss, I picked up “Bluesman” by Andre Dubus III, and almost immediately became engrossed in this coming-of-age story about a teenager in a different time period, but for some reason, the story resonated with me so personally in that moment, and I couldn’t have asked for a better story to get me moving again.

Before that was of course the Harry Potter craze, specifically JK Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” I was 22 at the time, fresh out of college, and temporarily living in Northern Virginia at the time, isolated from friends and family, but venturing out on my own, really for the first time (I don’t count college). I ordered the book through Amazon, waited for it to deliver around 10 am on a Saturday morning, and then I did nothing but read the entire day. This gargantuan, 800-900 page book, but I couldn’t put it down, because I needed to know what happened before the media floodgates broke and ruined the ending, and I finally finished around 7 or 8 that night, exhausted but relieved. Sometime in the afternoon, I chowed down on some fish sticks, but never put the book down.

I mean….Don’t You Just Frickin’ Love Books?! 

Of course, I won’t ever forget being 15 years old. My mom took me and my sister to Waldenbooks and we were each allowed to pick a book. And for some reason, unbeknownst to me, I was drawn to one in particular, “A Bend in the Road” by Nicholas Sparks, and I don’t remember ever devouring a book so quickly, and being a hopeless romantic who couldn’t get a date in high school, Sparks made my heart ache by describing love that I was missing. Sparks is also responsible for my own writing journey, as his ability to evoke deep emotions within me that I didn’t know existed, created my own personal desire to write and do the same for others.

Years later, my girlfriend’s mother would give me a book she thought I would enjoy. It was called “A Perfect Day” by Richard Paul Evans, and was the story of a writer who was just starting out, getting his first book published. Suffice it to say that Evans was successful in not only writing a great book, but hammering home the point that writing was exactly what I should be doing with my life.

This is only a small sampling. I could talk to you about “Every Day” by David Levithan, or The Fault In Our Stars by John Green. Or we could beckon back even further to anything by Roald Dahl, RL Stine’s “Goosebumps” series, the quirky stylings of Dr. Seuss, particulary Marvin K Mooney, Will You Please Go Now and Green Eggs and Ham, which I read religiously every time we had to go to the doctor’s office. But my point in writing this blog is simple:

Books are always there for us.

Through good times and bad times, books are there. They let us forget about our troubles if for only a few hundred pages. They inspire us to be better people. They make us laugh when we don’t want to, cry when we really don’t want to. They help us to find what we’re looking for, when we didn’t even know we were looking for that particular thing. They connect us to others, and help open our eyes to events to which we were previously ignorant.

Why do I want to be a writer, you ask? Because of everything I just said. To inspire and help others in the same way countless authors did, and continue to do for me.

I have never been more sure of what I was meant to do.

 

 

“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

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