The revealing Billy Coffey multiple choice interview

Over the past five years, Billy Coffey has done a variety of interviews. In addition to multiple online and print interviews, he has also appeared on the PBS affiliate in Washington, D.C., a morning news show in in Richmond, VA and has participated in a few radio phone interviews. I remember listening to his first on-air live interview when his debut novel, Snow Day came out. The scheduled interviewer had read the book and liked it. Unfortunately, something came up at the last minute and she had to bow out. Instead, the interview was conducted by a guy who knew nothing about the book, Billy or how to conduct an interview. He was clearly unprepared and more than a little distracted. He spent most of the interview talking about himself and at one point, stopped to feed his cat.

Stock image from google images. Not the actual interviewer.

Stock image from google images. Not the actual interviewer.

Yes. You read that right. He fed his cat, which you could hear meowing in the background. Billy was a real pro and tried his best to steer the conversation back to the book, but I swear I haven’t cringed so many times since I heard Roseanne Barr sing the National Anthem.Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 8.41.52 PM

Aside from that rocky start, I’ve found Billy’s interviews to be interesting and informative. Most tend to focus on story lines and the craft of writing, which makes sense–he’s a writer trying to market his books, after all.

But I thought we would take a little detour from all things literary and writerly and do a little “out of the box” multiple choice Q&A with everyone’s favorite fancy redneck, Billy Coffey.

Bill, (can I call you Bill?) thanks for taking time out of your busy day to answer a few questions here at katdish.net!

Like I had a choice. I’m busy, so let’s hurry this up. Unlike some people, I have a job.

And don’t ever call me Bill.

I suppose you’re right. Helping make other people’s dreams come true really isn’t a job. It’s more like mission work. It sure pays like mission work. And speaking of me, here’s your first question:

****

1) Which TV work relationship do you think best reflects our working relationship?

A) Shaun Spencer & Burton Guster from Psych

B) Jack Bauer & Chloe O’Brian from 24

A) Jack Bauer & Chloe O'Brian from 24

“DAMMIT CHLOE!!!”

C) Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Art Mullen & Deputy Raylan Givens from Justified

Chief Deputy Art Mullen: Just what part of “under investigation” confuses you?
Raylan Givens: So many things confuse me, Art.

D) George Costanza and George Steinbrenner from Seinfeld

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Mr. Steinbrenner: Nice to meet you.
George: Well, I wish I could say the same, but I must say, with all due respect, I find it very hard to see the logic behind some of the moves you have made with this fine organization. In the past 20 years you have caused myself, and the city of New York, a good deal of distress, as we have watched you take our beloved Yankees and reduce them to a laughing stock, all for the glorification of your massive ego!
Mr. Steinbrenner: Hire this man!

E) Dr. Frasier Crane and Agent BeBe Glazer from Frasier

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Bebe: Frasier, we have to talk.
Frasier: Are you aware that you are in the men’s room?
Bebe: Oh, please, if I paid attention to signs with little pictures on them – I would never get a parking space.

F) All of the Above

G) None of the Above

I’ll go with G, assuming that I’m Gus, Chloe, Art, George, and Frasier.

****

2) You have an irrational fear of

A) The Zombie Apocalypse
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B) Big cities
Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 9.45.57 PM

C) Eccentric medium Tangina Barrons from the movie Poltergeist
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D) Ice Cream Trucks
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E) All of the Above

F) None of the Above

Are you kidding me? I couldn’t even get through that list without dry heaving. E.

****

3) When traveling on business, after leaving the airport you typically

A) Check into the hotel, find the nearest Starbucks with wifi, sit down and get some writing done.
Working from Starbucks

B) Hail a taxi and ask the driver to take you to a few local hot spots or points of interest.
Taxi

C) Look up a few locals and ask them to meet you for lunch or dinner.
Dinner with Friends

D) Go straight to your hotel room, order room service then barricade yourself in your room by pushing the largest piece of furniture you can find up against the door.
Barring the door

E) All of the Above.

F) None of the Above.

D. Isn’t that what everyone does? I mean, come on. It’s THE CITY. If city folks came to where I live, they’d do the same.

****

4) You’ve written about your father before. Most recently in an article you wrote for The Good Men Project, A Father’s Long Shadow. Which on-screen father/son relationship would you say is most representative of your relationship with your father?

A) Andy Taylor and Opie of The Andy Griffith Show
Andy and Opie

B) Martin and Dr. Frasier Crane of Frasier
Frasier and Martin

C) Jackson and Leroy Jethro Gibbs of NCIS
Gibbs and father

D) Sheriff Buford T. Justice and Junior of Smokey and the Bandit
Buford T. Justice and Junior

E) All of the Above

F) None of the Above

I wish I could say the Gibbs’s, but I could sue the writers of Smokey and the Bandit for basically stealing my childhood story.


****

I’ve saved the hardest question for last.

5) If you were only allowed to watch three television shows for the rest of your life, but were given access to all episodes, which three would you choose and why?

FrasierMonk

Psych

PerceptionLost

CastleFringe

Ed

Person of InterestElementary

24NCIS

The OfficeSeinfeld

Twilight ZoneSherlock

The Andy Griffith ShowJustified

Sweet fancy Moses. Okay—Justified, Castle, Ed, Sherlock, and Frasier. Yes, that’s five instead of three. But that’s what you deserve for not putting any sci-fi AT ALL on that list. No Battlestar Galactica? No Eureka? No Star Trek?

I’m done with this interview.

***

I suppose I’ll allow the five rather than three, even though in some circles The Twilight Zone and Fringe would be considered sci-fi.

I keep forgetting what a hopeless nerd you are.

NOT Billy as a child. Just a reasonable facsimile.

NOT Billy as a child. Just a reasonable facsimile.

It’s the hat that throws me off, I guess.

Thanks again for taking time for this interview, Billy. And no, you really didn’t have a choice. Now get back to work.

Newman!********************************************

For those of you who are still with us, now is your opportunity to win a signed copy of Billy Coffey’s fourth novel, The Devil Walks in Mattingly. Just leave a comment here. A winner will be chosen at random on Thursday, March 27, 2014.

But wait…there’s more! Win a Kindle HDX from Billy Coffey in “The Devil Walks in Mattingly” Giveaway!

Win a Kindle HDX!
The Devil Walks in Mattingly Billy Coffey

In the meantime, it would be great if you could help get the word out about the book by sharing links via social media, reviews or just good old fashioned word of mouth. I’ve provided some links below:

Billy’s website: http://billycoffey.com
(Be sure to sign up to receive new posts via email. He writes good short stories, too!)

Twitter: @billycoffey

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/mattinglyva/

Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/billycoffeywriter

Join the Launch Team: Devil Walks in Mattingly Launch Team

Thanks for helping spread the word about Billy’s latest (and greatest, I think), The Devil Walks in Mattingly. I’ll notify the winner via email next Friday.

Good Luck!

How Sweet the Sound: An interview with Amy K. Sorrells

Screen Shot 2014-03-12 at 9.40.18 PMAs promised earlier this week, today I have an interview with the lovely and talented Amy K. Sorrells.

As an added bonus, by leaving a comment on this post, you will automatically be entered into a drawing to win an autographed copy of Amy’s debut novel, How Sweet the Sound from David C. Cook Publishing AND a yummy combo tin of pecans, including Milk Chocolate/Dark Chocolate/White Chocolate/Honey Toasted/Praline/Roasted & Salted/Creamy White fresh from the B&B Pecan Farm in Fairhope, Alabama. (If you don’t like pecans, I’m willing to have them shipped directly to my house and take them off your hands. (I’m generous like that.)

I came across Amy’s blog four years ago and was immediately drawn to her lyrical and honest writing. We sort of hit it off right away, and I’ve been a fan ever since. There are many good writers I’ve stumbled upon through blogging, but if you asked me to choose my absolute favorites, she’d be right up there at the top of the list, even in light of her continuous overuse of emoticons in correspondence, done just to annoy me.

Amy is the winner of the 2011 Women of Faith writing contest, former weekly newspaper columnist, RN, and a member of the RAINN Speaker’s Bureau. She lives with her husband, three boys and a gaggle of golden retrievers in central Indiana.

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Now, on with the Q&A:

Katdish: The first thing I ever read from you (besides a blog post) way back in 2010 was a non-fiction manuscript about dealing with brokenness. What lead you to make the leap to fiction? Do you imagine yourself writing non-fiction in the future?

Amy: How Sweet the Sound did begin as a non-fiction work which centered around finding hope and joy in the midst of brokenness. As I delved further into the publishing industry, I began to realize that my chances of a publishing house picking up my non-fiction story were pretty dismal, considering most non-fiction works are either by or about someone who is already famous. In industry terms, I didn’t have a “platform.”

Still, I believed in the message of that manuscript, that it is possible to find not only hope, but joy, in the midst of pain and brokenness. I also knew that fiction has a lot better chance of being picked up by publishing houses, and that if a story is well written, platform doesn’t matter nearly as much. So, I set about studying the craft of fiction. I’d already been studying it for my non-fiction, because even those books need well-told stories, even plots, to make them engaging. I read books on the craft, stalked fiction author blogs (including Billy Coffey’s), read piles of novels in the genre I hoped to write. Soon I had a new goal: turn my nonfiction into a novel.

Now that I’m finishing up my second novel (as yet untitled, and scheduled for spring, 2015 publication), I don’t know that I’ll ever turn back to nonfiction. Anything is possible of course. After all, I never thought I could write a novel. But fiction writing is an adventure all its own, and the imagination, the sculpting, the creation involved in novel writing is one I doubt I’ll turn away from, as long as my brain keeps working well enough for me to keep writing. :)

Katdish: Well, as a big fan of novels, I’m glad you made the move to fiction. It’s funny that you mention Billy Coffey, because his first published work was submitted as a memoir, but his publisher asked if he would be willing to make it into a work of fiction. He was extremely hesitant about it at first, but I pleaded with him to take their advice and insisted that the only way it would have been a better idea is if I had thought of it first. The rest, as they say, is history. He’s now a bonafide novelist. (That’s not really a question. I just wanted to put that out there.) Moving on…

I fell in love with the characters in How Sweet the Sound, particularly Anniston. Any plans to revisit her and her family in later novels? (Say yes.)

Amy: I’m sorry to say, at this point (never say never), I have no plans to write a sequel or follow-up novel about any of the characters in How Sweet the Sound. The story is so strong, I don’t think any subsequent book would do any of them justice. I also feel like the story needs to rest where it ends, that part of the longing readers may have for a sequel can be best met with the readers own imaginings of “what happens next.”  :)

Katdish: That’s disappointing news. Perhaps it’s the fact that the story is so strong, the characters so compelling that I’m just not ready to say goodbye to them yet. Which is why I’m planning to start a How Sweet the Sound fan fiction site, where quality of story or characters won’t be an issue. You’re welcome.

And speaking of non-traditional publishing routes, in a publishing world awash with self-published authors, what made you hold out for a contract from a traditional publisher? Any advice to fellow writers about the pros and cons of either route?

Amy: I live to disappoint you, Katdish.

You’re welcome.

Here’s the thing about traditional publishing. Waiting for an agent and getting through all those dozens of rejections is excruciating. Waiting for an editor is a veritable thorn in the side. Landing a contract is thrilling, but the editorial process that follows that is heart-rending. In the midst of all the rejections and waiting and heart-rending, friends and family begin to tire of your laments. They want to know when–IF–your doggone book is ever going to be out. They even wonder if you’re lying about ever having written one. After all, no one has seen it. And inevitably, eventually, they ask:

“Why don’t you just self publish?”

I imagine everyone who works toward traditional publication has a different answer. Mine are twofold for choosing that path: 1) I wanted my book to have the greatest reach, the widest sales opportunities, the biggest chance to bless the most amount of people as possible. This can’t happen–unless you have tons of money to hire publicists on your own–without the force of a team of people at a publishing house behind your work. 2) I wanted my book to be the best. I could not make it the best on my own. I needed editors. I needed proofreaders. I needed input from industry professionals who know–and know well–how to turn a manuscript into something excellent. Going solo is great, but I needed and wanted the critiques from seasoned professionals who would work with me to make sure what I’m offering to readers is not only good, but excellent.

As far as advice, I would say if you can’t handle–nor even welcome–critique gracefully, then you should self publish. If you have thousands of dollars to spend on editors on your own, and then thousands more to spend on marketing and promotional services, then you should self-publish. If you are a professional looking to get a non-fiction book involving your business into the hands of your customers quickly, then self-publishing might also be for you. But if you work well with teams; if you can take constructive critique, heed it, and use it to improve your work; and if you have patience for the years it takes for a manuscript to reach bookstore shelves, traditional publishing is worth it.

Neither method is perfect. Neither is right or wrong. Every writer has unique needs and expectations for their art. But for me, traditional publication has been the most difficult, yet rewarding path of my life.

Katdish: So what you’re saying is that while the traditional publishing route is much more difficult, the quality of the finished product is worth the blood, sweat and tears associated with it? I admire you for sticking with it. Having read an early version of How Sweet the Sound, I will say that it was a solid, well written story before the editing process. But I will also say that editors are the unsung heroes of the publishing process, and whomever it was that convinced you NOT to kill off one of my favorite characters early in the book did you a big favor, because I was pretty mad at you for doing that. Having read the finished novel, you are now officially off my crap list. (You were only on there in pencil, not the usual black Sharpie. All is forgiven.)

Thanks for taking the time for this little Q&A, Amy. I’ll close with the most important question. Where can folks pick up one or 50 copies of How Sweet the Sound?

Amy: How Sweet the Sound is available nationwide at brick-and-mortar and internet stores such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and in e-book format, too!

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You can catch up with Award-winning author of How Sweet the Sound: A Novel Amy Sorrells at her website, Amy K. Sorrells
Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads and Pinterest.

Leave a comment for a chance to win an autographed copy of How Sweet the Sound and a tin-ful of deliciousness from B&B Pecan Farms. I will end the drawing at midnight next Thursday, March 20, 2014 and notify the winner by email. But if I were you, I’d play it safe and go ahead and pick up a copy or two of the book today.

In like a lion

Screen Shot 2014-03-10 at 11.18.28 PMThis month is chock full of book releases. Among these books are authors whom I also consider friends. Virtual friends, but friends none the less.

I’ve been at this blogging thing for just shy of six years.

Six years.

What began as simply a way to transfer my long, annoying comments from other people’s websites onto one of my own has turned into so much more. Blogging has introduced me to so many amazing, wonderful people and has changed my life in ways I never expected.

If you were to suggest to me that I would be involved, even in a small way, in the career trajectory of people who actually make money from writing, I would have laughed and told you to get your prescriptions refilled. Who knew that this lifelong lover of stories would morph into a lover of storytellers and an immense respect for their craft?

Writing is easy. Writing well is an art form.

The list of favorites is long and varied, but this month I’d like to highlight some of my favorites.

Screen Shot 2014-02-13 at 2.17.06 PMToday is Billy Coffey’s day. His fourth novel, The Devil Walks in Mattingly is released to public today. It is by far my favorite book he’s published to date, and I’ve probably read everything he’s published, usually multiple times. To read a story of 90,000+ words and not tire of it or its author just goes to show the immense talent of said author. It’s a talent I recognized (along with many others who visited and continue to visit his website) over 5 years ago, and it is a talent that still surprises me on a fairly regular basis.

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Later this week, I’ll introduce you to another favorite: the lovely and talented Amy K. Sorrells and offer you the opportunity to win an autographed copy of her debut novel, How Sweet the Sound along with some delicious southern goodies. Stay tuned.

But for now, I’ll ask you to hop on over to Billy’s place and find out where you can pick up his latest and greatest. (I’ll be giving away an autographed copy of his book as well, but you’ll have to wait until next week for that.)

On a personal note, I want to thank you for stopping by my little corner of the blogosphere, either for the first time or the hundredth.  I don’t say it often enough, but I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to do so.

Afraid of getting hurt

image courtesy of google images

image courtesy of google images

A week ago Tuesday:

As he does five days a week, my son emerges from his room around 6:00 a.m. dressed in shorts and shirt courtesy of the school’s athletic department. His first class of the day is football. On most mornings that’s a good thing: roll out of bed, put on your athletic clothes, eat some breakfast and go. But this is not most mornings.

It’s Day One of Hell Week.

The term Hell Week is a bit of a misnomer. While most of the players would say the intense workouts consisting of everything from bear crawls and up downs, tire flips and sleds to good old fashioned power lifting, sprints and jumping rope is hell, it typically doesn’t last a week. Instead, it goes on until the coaches decide it’s over. If one or more of your teammates isn’t putting forth his best effort, everyone pays for it with added days. It’s a way to simultaneously strengthen the team and thin out the herd. Some set themselves apart, others decide it’s not worth it and quit football altogether. Most just keep their heads down and endure.

Knowing my son, it came as no surprise when I saw the anxiety on his face last Tuesday morning. He’s been through hell week before, but as a freshman with an all freshman class. This year he’s in there with the big boys–all upperclass linemen. He’s going to have to prove his worth against bigger and more experienced athletes. Still, it’s the first day. Getting stressed out to a point where you can’t even eat breakfast isn’t going to do you any good.  I told him as much, not that any of my advice penetrated the fog of anxiety he was in.

As expected, Day One was “hellish”. They were divided up into 4 groups: A, B, C and D–”A” being the best. My son was put on the “B” team, which considering that “A” consisted of mostly varsity players, I thought was pretty good. But by the end of class, he had been moved to the “C” team. When he got home, he didn’t want to talk about it. “I just have to do better”, he said.

In some situations, I would have left it at that–let him lick his wounds and try again tomorrow. But not this time, because there is absolutely no good reason he should have been moved down. I say this not because I’m one of those parents who thinks my kid is better than he really is. I say this because I’ve spent the last two off seasons driving my son to and from strength and conditioning training five days a week; watching him build muscle, speed and agility performing most of the drills the coaches are putting them through now. If he got moved down, I knew it had more to do with the muscle in that big head of his than any of the muscles used to push sleds and flip tractor tires.

I couldn’t let it go. I pressed him. I asked him what was so hard about the first day of hell week. They didn’t do anything he hasn’t done before.  He finally told me what the problem was.

Son: Mom, I’m afraid of getting hurt.

Me: You’re afraid of getting hurt? After going through a year of weight and speed training specifically designed to prevent injury? After putting in more time in a year than many of your teammates put in their entire high school athletic careers you’re afraid of getting hurt? After two seasons of playing football essentially injury free you’re afraid of getting hurt? If you go into hell week thinking you’re going to get hurt one of two thing will happen. You’re either going to get hurt, or you’re going to perform under your potential and all that training will have been a big waste of time and money.

By Wednesday, he had been moved back up to “B” team with a personal goal of being moved up to “A”, provided that hell week continues past Thursday. We’ll see what happens.

You can’t play a contact sport like football if you’re afraid of getting hurt. What you can do is trust your hard work and training.

You can’t stand up and sing in front of a crowd if you’re afraid of forgetting the lyrics or singing off key. What you can do is rehearse the song so many times that it’s forever burned into your mind.

You can’t write a book if you’re afraid of being panned by critics. What you can do is write the best story you can, and then you write it again with the knowledge that there’s no such thing as a universal audience for a book. If someone doesn’t like your work, it’s because it’s just not for them.

You can’t ride a bike, learn to drive, interview for a job, save a life, fall in love, lead someone to Christ or make a difference if you’re afraid of getting hurt.

Life is full of hurt. When we choose not to pursue something out of fear, we feel the hurt of regret for what could have been.

And that’s the kind of hurt we can seldom overcome.

image courtesy of google images

image courtesy of google images

Real love

As some of you may already know, I’m not a big fan of Valentine’s Day. If you think that makes me unromantic, well…I don’t really care. I won’t give you my arguments against the holiday, as I think I’ve made my case against it here and here.

But I will reiterate my contention that Valentine’s Day is not so much about love, but about expressing love. Not a bad thing, of course. We all need to be loved. My problem with the holiday is with all those who feel so completely unloved by their exclusion in the festivities. I’m not suggesting a boycott of the holiday, I just don’t personally celebrate it.

For all of you who face this day with trepidation–worried that you won’t give or receive enough to feel loved, I’m going to break my self-imposed ban of Valentine’s Day to send out a very special message of love. It’s one I’ve posted here before, but one I need to be reminded of often.

Maybe you do, too.

Brennan Manning said:

The Lord Jesus is going to ask each of us one question and only one question:

Do you believe that I loved you? That I desired you? That I waited for you day after day? That I longed to hear the sound of your voice?

The real believers there will answer, “Yes, Jesus. I believed in your love and I tried to shape my life as a response to it. But many of us who are so faithful in our ministry, in our practice, in our church going are going to have to reply, “Well frankly, no sir. I mean, I never really believed it. I mean, I heard alot of wonderful sermons and teachings about it. In fact I gave quite a few myself. But I always knew that that was just a way of speaking; a kindly lie, some Christian’s pious pat on the back to cheer me on. And there’s the difference between the real believers and the nominal Christians that are found in our churches across the land. No one can measure like a believer the depth and the intensity of God’s love. But at the same time, no one can measure like a believer the effectiveness of our gloom, pessimism, low self-esteem, self-hatred and despair that block God’s way to us. Do you see why it is so important to lay hold of this basic truth of our faith? Because you’re only going to be as big as your own concept of God.

Do you remember the famous line of the French philosopher, Blaise Pascal? “God made man in his own image, and man returned the compliment”? We often make God in our own image, and He winds up to be as fussy, rude, narrow minded, legalistic, judgemental, unforgiving, unloving as we are.

In the past couple of three years I have preached the gospel to the financial community in Wallstreet, New York City, the airmen and women of the air force academy in Colorado Springs, a thousand positions in Nairobi. I’ve been in churches in Bangor, Maine, Miami, Chicago, St. Louis, Seattle, San Diego. And honest, the god of so many Christians I meet is a god who is too small for me. Because he is not the God of the Word, he is not the God revealed by it in Jesus Christ who this moment comes right to your seat and says,

“I have a word for you. I know your whole life story. I know every skeleton in your closet. I know every moment of sin, shame, dishonesty and degraded love that has darkened your past. Right now I know your shallow faith, your feeble prayer life, your inconsistent discipleship. And my word is this: I dare you to trust that I love you just as you are, and not as you should be. Because you’re never going to be as you should be.”

Do you believe that He loves you?

Mr. Manning, you are missed.

Love thy neighbor

Screen Shot 2014-01-21 at 12.03.04 PMI am fortunate enough to live in a unique neighborhood. Surrounded on all sides by cookie cutter houses in cookie cutter subdivisions, ours is one of the last places in this growing area to offer acreage lots. As an added bonus, our neighborhood is essentially one giant, looping road. There is only one way in and one way out. There are no street lights, no sidewalks and no MUDs (Municipal Utility District). Each house has its own well and septic system. Many of our neighbors have horses. Some even have goats and chickens. I’ve had several friends tell me they’ve driven past my neighborhood for years and never knew it existed. It’s truly country living smack dab in the middle of suburbia. We like it that way. It’s what drew us here in the first place.

For the most part, we look out for one another. I once had a new exterminator come to my house when I wasn’t home only to be greeted by my next door neighbor holding a shotgun in one hand and his cell phone in the other. After I assured my neighbor I was expecting the bug guy at my house but was running late, apologies were made and the exterminator said he would come back later. He probably needed a fresh pair of underwear. Like I said, we look out for one another. Most of the time.

We don’t get many new neighbors because people who move here typically don’t leave, but over the past couple of years the last of the empty lots have been sold and new families have moved in. One such family decided to shoot fireworks at around 9:30 pm last Saturday night. Someone called the cops on them.

What followed was an angry email shared via a community email system typically used to alert those of us on the distribution list of upcoming neighborhood events, missing dogs and neighborhood break ins.

Our new neighbor was upset that someone called the police rather than talking to them directly. She said that since there is no ordinance prohibiting them from shooting fireworks, whoever called the police had no right to do so. And she’s correct. I suppose you can shoot fireworks anytime, not just on New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July. She went on to say that she has 4 young children and if any of us calls the cops, it should be to report people driving too fast through the neighborhood and endangering the lives of kids playing. Again, she has a point. People (mostly teenagers) drive too fast through this neighborhood and it’s probably no small miracle that no one has been hit save for a few squirrels–no big loss.

I heard the fireworks. For me, it was little more than a mild annoyance. It never occurred to me to call the police because like she said, there’s no law against it. Then again, I was just hanging out watching TV after a fairly uneventful day. I don’t own a dog who is deathly afraid of loud noises, nor do I have very young children that are in bed by 8:00 pm. But I have neighbors who do. Neighbors who know that on the days just prior to and proceeding New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July there will be fireworks, and will therefore need to be prepared to quiet young children and keep their skittish dogs penned up.

I don’t know who called the police. Maybe it was someone who thought the fireworks were gunshots–that was my first reaction. Or maybe it was someone whose dog freaked out and ran off. There was another community email the same day asking if anyone had seen a yellow lab who had escaped Saturday night. I feel badly for the new neighbors. I’m sure they came to this neighborhood seeking refuge from suburbia; a place where there’s a little more breathing room and people mind their own business.

From a strictly legal perspective, the new neighbor was in the right. I don’t think anyone should have called the police. I suppose they could have done what most of us did–shrug it off. But if unexpected fireworks bother you so much, the neighborly thing, the stand-up thing to do is to pay a visit to whomever is setting them off. It’s a small neighborhood, it wouldn’t take long to find them.

As I see it, the real problem isn’t people shooting fireworks or other people calling the cops.

The real problem is that we’re so completely wrapped up in what we’re entitled to–whether it’s the right to shoot off fireworks or the right to a quiet Saturday night–that we care precious little about how our actions affect anyone else. We’ve lost our sense of community because we’ve become empathy-impaired. It’s all about us. Is it any wonder that we are raising a generation of men and women who, when given an opportunity to express elation for teamwork and excellence facing adversity, we instead get a temper tantrum worthy of a spoiled toddler?:


(And yeah, I get that it was the heat of the moment. But please. Show a little class.)

A slow fade

Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 11.07.29 AM

Sunday morning: A video was shown during the sermon–Slow Fade by Casting Crowns. Here’s an excerpt from the lyrics:

The journey from your mind to your hands
Is shorter than you’re thinking
Be careful if you think you stand
You just might be sinking

It’s a slow fade
When you give yourself away
Its a slow fade
When black and white are turned to gray

And thoughts invade, choices are made
A price will be paid
When you give yourself away

People never crumble in a day
Daddies never crumble in a day
Families never crumble in a day

It’s a slow fade

Monday afternoon: After a mostly sleepless night, I’m dozing off on the couch, news on in the background when I hear the name of a local high school. This immediately gets my attention because it’s the national news. The high school has been evacuated because of a bomb threat. By the end of the day, close to 4,000 students have been released from the school and a 19 year old senior is in custody. Something called a zip gun has been found in a backpack thought to belong to him and there are news reports that another such device has been found in his car.

Before any official word came from the school district, I was exchanging texts with a friend whose kids attend the school. She gave me the name of the suspect. I found him quickly on Facebook. Nothing on his profile would indicate anything other than a normal, high school kid. His profile pic even reminded me a little of my own son’s last school picture. But somebody had to know he was in trouble. Like the song says, people never crumble in a day.

I’m grateful that no one was hurt. I suppose I could be outraged that something like this could happen so literally close to home.

But mostly I’m reminded that as a parent, I need to pay attention. That sometimes kids go through phases but at other times there are serious issues they’re wrestling with. There are times when kids–my own kids–just aren’t that pleasant to be around. And while it’s tempting to leave them alone and avoid the attitude, it’s those times when they’re least unlovable that they need love the most.

I don’t know what lead this kid to do whatever he was planning to do, but I hope it serves as a wake up call for other families who may be one or two steps away from the same scenario.

Families never crumble in a day…

Anthropomorphism: The life you save could be your own

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 4.01.39 PMIt’s certainly not a new trend. Humans have been anthropomorphizing the world around them as long as there have been humans. Early man used anthropomorphism in an attempt to explain things beyond his ability to understand and comprehend them. The term anthropomorphism was first used by the Greek philosopher Xenophanes when describing the similarity between religious believers and their gods.

I think we tend to assign human characteristics to animals we feel strong bonds with, particularly our pets. This would explain a multi-billion dollar industry devoted exclusively to dog clothing. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that if your dog could talk, he would most likely tell you that while he appreciates the irony, he doesn’t really appreciate being dressed up like a hot dog.Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 11.33.47 AM He’s only been humoring you. And while this practice is relatively harmless save for the dignity of your canine companion, other forms are not.

Most of us remember the tragic death of Sea World trainer Dawn Brancheau by Tilikum, the oldest and largest killer whale at the park. People were understandably horrified, but no one should have been particularly surprised.

As it turns out, the “normally docile” orca had killed twice before. Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 11.58.45 AMMost of us are accustomed to seeing killer whales jumping out of giant swimming pools and allowing trainers to ride them like giant water horses, but they’re not called killer whales for nothing.Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 12.04.15 PM

I’m fairly certain that whale in the second picture isn’t jumping up to give that penguin a kiss. The anthropomorphisation of killer whales has a logical explanation. Sea World parks are profit driven. Kids want to see Shamu jumping out of the water and kicking giant footballs with their tails, not what they typically do in the wild like, say, dragging seals off of rocks and eating them.

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 2.02.13 PMOther examples of anthropomorphisation are more difficult for me. While I suppose I can understand the popularity of the teddy bear based upon President Theodore Roosevelt’s encounter with a black bear on a hunting trip, I don’t think anyone in the early 20th century would have mistakenly assumed a bear in the woods to be cuddly and/or friendly. No, that ill-fated assumption only came to pass in the late 20th century courtesy of Hanna-Barbara Studio’s Yogi Bear. Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 2.07.51 PM Since then, people have been happily feeding bears in state parks resulting in the death both campers and bears. Seriously, people. Unless a bear approaches you wearing a green tie and a fedora, it’s best to keep a safe distance.

I’m sure you can think of dozens of other examples. The Coca-Cola polar bears are fun loving and family friendly. Actual polar bears are one of the few mammals who will kill for the sake of killing. Fantasia’s dancing hippos? Hilarious. Real hippos kill more people in Africa than crocodiles. Sock monkeys? Adorable. Real monkeys? Disgusting, stinky, vile animals.

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 3.28.23 PMI will make one exception because I’m rather fond of rabbits due in large part to Watership Down by Richard Adams. I love that book, and I see rabbits all the time. They’ve never once attempted to attack me. Rabbits are wholly fantastic and wonderful. But don’t watch the movie based on the book. It’s horrible.

I am certain that real rabbits are mostly good and true and would be befriend you if they weren’t completely terrified of human beings.

I know that all the aforementioned is simply restating facts that you are probably already aware of. But of late, I have observed a disturbing trend in anthropomorphism. Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 3.44.25 PM

Namely, the cute-tification of owls. Owls are certainly not a new phenomenon to literature or home decor. Who can forget Owl of Winnie the Pooh fame? But he wasn’t portrayed as cute, only wise and a bit on snooty side. Home decor? Need I remind any of you of the tragedy which befell almost every 1970′s household: the macrame owl? Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 3.51.00 PM

Again, these could not be described as cute by any stretch of the imagination. But today? Owls are everywhere. In home decor and in fashion, almost always portrayed as cute.

They’re not cute, people! They’re predatory killing machines. I’m convinced that the only reason the large owl which frequents the telephone line behind my house hasn’t attempted to kill me is because I’m simply too heavy to carry off. But they’re getting more confidently aggressive every day as we are lulled into a false sense of security.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Righting the iceberg

iceberganalogyAccording to Freud, the human psyche is structured into three parts:

The id is the impulsive (and unconscious) part of our psyche which responds directly and immediately to the instincts.

The ego seeks pleasure and avoids pain but unlike the id the ego is concerned with devising a realistic strategy to obtain pleasure.

The superego incorporates the values and morals of society which are learned from one’s parents and others. Its function is to control the id’s impulses, especially those which society forbids.

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 12.05.36 PMClearly Dr. Freud could not have fathomed a world with Internet and social media. A world where you need not be the brightest, just the loudest or most outrageous, where substance is often replaced with snark, and perceived anonymity brings out the very worst of all of us at times. It’s the iceberg analogy turned upside-down.

Lest you think I’m being a bit preachy, I will freely admit to being guilty of all of the above.
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Just the other day I was at the mall with my son when I snapped this picture with my iPhone with every intention of posting it to Facebook or Twitter with some snark-filled remark about the irony of a perfume named “Unbreakable Bond” featuring a couple whose marriage lasted less than four years.

I could have justified my actions by telling myself that if anyone deserves a little public humiliation it’s the Kardashians, who have made lucrative careers of allowing cameras to film what many of us would consider the most private aspects of their lives, all in the name of fame and fortune. Even those who have never seen an episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians are inundated with headlines of their latest escapades courtesy of gossip magazines placed at the check-out line of their local grocery stores. One could reasonably surmise that for a Kardashian, there’s no such thing as bad press.

So, what stopped me?

My son. Who asked me why I was taking a picture of a bottle of perfume. What could I tell him? That it’s not okay for him to make fun of people but that it’s different for me? That I have an online reputation for my fun-loving snark and sarcasm? I decided right then and there that the purpose of taking the photo would not be the one originally intended. Maybe I could use it to share a lesson learned about empathy and grace right there in the long check out line at Burlington Coat Factory.

Regardless of how much you have or don’t have, life can be downright painful at times. And I don’t care how rich and famous you are, filing for divorce is a public admission that you made a mistake; that the vows you thought would last a lifetime did not; that you have failed at love. I’ve been told that going through a divorce is in some ways more painful than dealing with the death of a loved one, and that it is not something you would wish on anyone–not even an overexposed celebrity who probably should have seen it coming. Love is blind, and it often makes fools of us all.

I’m not suggesting that I will cease and desist all of my snark and sarcasm–it is, after all, my love language–only that I will ask myself how it would make me feel if someone posted the same thing about me.

The virtual world is a deceptive one. We fool ourselves into thinking that people understand where we’re coming from, that they understand when we’re kidding like our non-virtual friends do. Not long ago at a soundcheck before church, I stood on stage surrounded by a group of talented and experienced musicians and vocalists who also happen to be close and long time friends. So when I referred to myself as “the talent” it was understood that I was kidding, the joke made more amusing (for me, anyway) by the fact that of all the people gathered on that stage, I was the least talented of all of us. But referring to myself as “the talent” in an online setting just doesn’t go over as well, because there will always be those who misunderstand me.

I know choosing my snark and sarcasm more carefully won’t make a dent in the online sea of of mean-spirited humor. There are many popular websites whose sole purpose is to share a laugh at the expense of others. Some do so with permission and participation of their readers while others encourage their readers to submit unflattering photos taken without permission. Of the latter, ask yourself if you’ve ever ventured outside your house looking less than completely put together. Would you be okay with someone taking a picture of you wandering the aisles of Walmart in your ill-fitting sweatpants and flip flops? What about your mother, father, brother or sister? Because I can assure you that every unflattering photo posted on sites like these are of someone’s mother, father, brother or sister taken without their knowledge or permission. Imagine seeing your most unflattering moment captured and knowing that millions of other people have access to that same picture. It’s just not nice.

I won’t tell you where to draw your own personal line in the sand. I don’t think you’d find many who would fault you for calling Adolf Hitler a bad person or saying that Al Gore did not invent the Internet. But comparing someone to Adolf Hitler who isn’t knowingly and deliberately participating in genocide? That’s a line I personally will not cross.

If you’re still confused about what’s acceptable, you can heed words that were written centuries before the Internet was a twinkle in Al Gore’s eye (see what I did there?):

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. –Philippians 4:8

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Maybe we can all do our part towards righting the iceberg.

Lofty goals

image courtesy of photo bucket.com

image courtesy of photo bucket.com

The days preceding to start of a new year prompt many of us to reflect upon what has transpired over the past year and resolve to make some positive changes in the new one. Whether it’s relational: Spend more time with family and friends, career oriented: Get a better job or a promotion, financial: Get out of debt and save more towards retirement or physical: Lose weight, eat healthier, quit smoking, exercise, most of us make New Years Resolutions, or at least have made them at some point in our lives.

I stopped making New Years resolutions a few years ago. It’s not that I don’t have goals or things I wish to accomplish. I just got tired of being a constant disappointment to myself. Once I made a resolution, I would subconsciously begin to sabotage my own efforts because apparently, no one is the boss of me. Not even me. In other words, I don’t like ultimatums. If I tell myself I have to do something, I don’t want to do it.

Maybe everyone’s a little crazy like that and I’ve just been around long enough to realize setting pie-in-the-sky aspirations for oneself often leads to disappointment.

This is typically not the case for young people. Take my 16 year old son for example. He has his whole life ahead of him with plenty of time to accomplish great things. As a bonus, he has the added confidence (cockiness) born of not having experienced many of the bone-crushing disappointments that time spent on this earth tends to bring.

This past Sunday at church, we were encouraged to write down some of our resolutions for 2014. My bulletin remained blank save for the anime doodles done by my daughter.

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But my son? He had some impressive goals for the coming year:

Keep climbing (towards) your potential.
I should probably mention here that my son plays high school football. In Texas. I’m sure he’s heard a thing or two from coaches about reaching his potential.

Never compromise your integrity.
I love this one. Kids these days have ample opportunity to make bad decisions, but he’s never been one to go along to get along.

Accept that A is A.
Okay, I had to Google that one. “A is A” refers to Aristotle’s Law of Identity which states:

Everything that exists has a specific nature. Each entity exists as something in particular and it has characteristics that are a part of what it is. “This leaf is red, solid, dry, rough, and flammable.” “This book is white, and has 312 pages.” “This coin is round, dense, smooth, and has a picture on it.” In all three of these cases we are referring to an entity with a specific identity; the particular type of identity, or the trait discussed, is not important. Their identities include all of their features, not just those mentioned.

Identity is the concept that refers to this aspect of existence; the aspect of existing as something in particular, with specific characteristics. An entity without an identity cannot exist because it would be nothing. To exist is to exist as something, and that means to exist with a particular identity.

To have an identity means to have a single identity; an object cannot have two identities. A tree cannot be a telephone, and a dog cannot be a cat. Each entity exists as something specific, its identity is particular, and it cannot exist as something else. An entity can have more than one characteristic, but any characteristic it has is a part of its identity. A car can be both blue and red, but not at the same time or not in the same respect. Whatever portion is blue cannot be red at the same time, in the same way. Half the car can be red, and the other half blue. But the whole car can’t be both red and blue. These two traits, blue and red, each have single, particular identities.

The concept of identity is important because it makes explicit that reality has a definite nature. Since reality has an identity, it is knowable. Since it exists in a particular way, it has no contradictions.

And for the second time this week I’ve found myself wondering, “Who is this child?” The last time it was a different kid.

Gain 20 to 25 pounds of muscle weight.
Again with the football–Left Offensive Tackle. Yikes! He’s already a beast.

And last, but certainly not least:

Usher in the 2nd Renaissance.
I’m not sure if he means a personal renaissance or if he’s planning to conquer the world in the next twelve months. Maybe a combination of both. Good luck with that.

Lofty goals.

Sort of made me feel like a slacker. I didn’t even come up with one. Oh, I’ve thought of several, but then I shy away from committing to them lest I fall short of the goals I’ve set and feel like a failure.

But if I’m failing at something, at the very least it means I’m working towards something.

And each time I fail, if I pay attention and try to figure out where I went wrong then it’s not complete failure.

It’s incomplete success.

That’s what I’m going with.

So, I’ll share with you all one of my New Years Resolutions:

I’m back to blogging on a regular basis again.

Can you think of anything more incompletely successful than the act of writing?

Yeah, me neither.

Happy New Year!

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