Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Remembering almost-girlfriends and transgender boys …

I didn’t have a girlfriend in seventh or eighth grade in Norco, California. The girlfriends would come much later. But I did have friends who were girls who I danced with at sock hops. In seventh grade, I did have a girl at the back of the classroom near where I sat pull up her dress a tad and rearrange her nylons. I know the girl knew I was watching because she looked at me and smiled. I don’t recall her name, but she was one of the girls I danced with at the sock hops.

Who knows? Maybe she could have become my first girlfriend, except my family moved back to my birthplace – Wadsworth, Ohio – in October 1965, changing my life forever. Beyond this girl who used her nylons to tease me, I knew another girl who I had a special childhood friendship with in Rialto, California back in elementary school. I remember her name – Laura Wagner.

While I ended up in Ohio, my friend Laura got to live the California life.
Dad, mom, my sister Jody and me moved into our St. Elmo Drive home in 1958. Soon Laura’s family moved into their home just two houses away. We immediately took to each other. She was one year younger than me, and we often played together. Once she wanted me to spend the night at her house – at that age we were truly innocent and knew nothing about sex – and couldn’t understand why her mom told her “no.” I went home hearing Laura crying in the background.

I taught Laura how to play baseball, and she was a better player than many of the boys in the neighborhood. Both families had above-ground pools and she’d be either over at mine or I’d be over in hers during the hot summer months. I have one vivid memory of the two of us … we were wrestling in the side yard of my house., rolling around like a couple of cowboys in a knockdown, drag-out fight. When I pinned her, she’d look up at me and start singing a love song, and I’d leap to me feet and complain, “Stop that, Laura!” Maybe that could have been the first stirrings of adolescent love, except Laura’s family moved from Rialto to Anaheim in 1964.

I saw Laura one more time – in September 1965 just before my family moved back to Wadsworth, Ohio. We drove to her home in Anaheim; Laura wasn't home so I played with her eighth-grade brother Mark, who was a year older than Laura. Finally, she came home along with a friend of hers. Both wore tennis dresses, and I immediately noticed my childhood friend had become very shapely and pretty. Laura acknowledged me with a wave and “hi,” and then left with her friend to play tennis. Well, that’s not entirely accurate … she asked me if I liked tennis, and I stupidly said I preferred baseball. Maybe had I said yes, she would have invited me to go with them to the tennis courts. That’s the last time I saw her – walking out the door and out of my life, a potential romance that would never be.

Avator's Na'Vi people ... they could probably identify with transgenders.
I had another friend while I lived in Southern California – this one a boy who wanted to be a girl. I met him in junior high, and became his friend because other guys bullied him. I don’t like bullying, and decided to offer him friendship. I don’t recall his name, but I do remember his face – pimply and thick curly hair. He told me he had a problem … he was developing breasts, a condition in boys called gynecomastia. He was transgender, and told me he wanted to become a girl, and joked that maybe someday he could be my girlfriend. I’m glad I met him during my early teenage years … he taught me to be accepting of people radically different from me.

So you can see … I didn’t have a love life in my early teenage years, but I did live in interesting times.

Mike Staton is the author of a fantasy trilogy – The Emperor’s Mistress, Thief’s Coin and Assassins’ Lair. The first two books have been published and the third is still being written. To purchase them, go to:

Monday, January 27, 2014

Hallelujah … I’m sitting at my sister’s dining room table

I ain’t proud.

Not when my back is shrieking like a Halloween wind whirling through a forest full of skeletal limbs.

Since foolishly choosing to pick up a box of heavy coffee-table books two weeks ago, I’ve been a poor facsimile of a 90-year-old humpback witch concocted by the Grimm Brothers, a witch barely able to pick up her book of spells.

Don't try this or you'll end up like me.
The last few days have been hectic, although not always for me. There’s only so much a crippled back can manage during a weekend of packing up my Saturn Ion for my move to Las Vegas.

Priority No. 1 on Saturday was finding someone to help me dispose of a bedsprings and mattress. My initial choice – my longtime friend Jayne – had to work in the morning, so I had to quickly conjure a backup plan. My roommate Deb came through, convincing her friend Stuart to help me transport the mattress and bedspring to the landfill.

There was a time I could single-handedly move a mattress from a U-haul-it truck into a bedroom. But I had a healthy back by then. And I was 37 years old. This time around Stewart did the heavy lifting and I cheered him on as he heaved the bedsprings and mattress into the back of his pickup.

Jayne showed up about 11 a.m. ready to load the Saturn for me. Luckily I had packed most everything I intended to take with me – about 10 boxes – before I blew up my back. Earlier I had gone through two closets and given about half my clothes to Goodwill. I hadn’t touched the rest since the back catastrophe, so it fell on Jayne to pack the clothes in several heavy-duty plastic lawn bags. My plan was to just dump them in … she insisted we fold them; said the bags would not take up as much space.

I held open the house and car doors as she carried the boxes and bags out to the car and packed them just like an 18th-century stevedore packed cargo into a sailing vessel bound from the Old World to the New World. Amazingly I could see out the back window, although a couple of small boxes along the back edge of the right rear passenger window did block a smidgen of the window. It forced me to use my right side-view mirror. But all in all it was an excellent job of packing.

Breakfast and pain, anti-inflammatory pills -- the perfect combination.
I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with my three-quarter antique bed. We couldn’t get it into the car and still be able to get all the bags and boxes in as well. But Jayne said she’d store it and try to sell it to an antique dealer and send the money to me. Then she decided she’d buy it, order a three-quarter bedsprings and mattress for it, and use it as the bed in the guest bedroom. The money will help me offset the cost of a HD TV for my new haunts in Nevada.

That night I slept on the living room couch and awoke at 6:30 a.m. with a slight backache. I didn’t want to take any prescription pain meds since they make me drowsy, and I’d be driving up to Ohio. So I went with off-the-counter medication and said goodbye to Jayne, Nance and my roommate Deb and her sweet pom Max, and aimed the Saturn toward I-40.

The back bothered me from the moment I backed out of the driveway, and it kept getting worse and worse. “How the heck am I going to do this for eight hours?” I thought to myself.

Storms and back pain are similar. Sometime it's better to seek shelter.
I discussed my dilemma with my sister Jody and with Sharon out in Nevada. Jody was going to keep me posted on weather conditions in West Virginia and Ohio; with worry in her voice, Sharon advised me not to take more than one pain pill and at the next rest stop get out and walk around to stretch the back.

Preoccupied with the pain, I missed the rest-stop exit. By the time I passed the Greensboro exits, I was feeling nauseous. In Yadkinville where I’ve gotten gasoline for years and years, I filled up and weighed my options. I’d gone 260 miles and had 300 miles still to go. An inviting Day’s Inn motel could be seen from U.S. 421. Like a sea captain sailing for a safe harbor ahead of a storm, I docked at the Day’s Inn. Safe in Room 124, I took a pain pill and let my back calm down, then took to the bed and got a good night’s sleep. In the morning, I ate a hotel breakfast of Frosted Flakes and a fruit-centered roll, coffee, and bulwarked myself for the journey ahead with a pain pill followed by an anti-inflammatory pill. This time my back behaved properly during the 4.5-hour ride up to Southeastern Ohio.

So here I am sitting at my sister’s dining room table composing a blog-post update detailing my grand journey to Nevada via Ohio and West Virginia. So tonight I get to sleep in my mom’s bedroom where 10 years ago she went to Heaven after months of coping with Lou Gehrig’s disease. It’s good to remember what she went through … it makes my back troubles look trivial.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

I’ve a universe to explore – if my back stops hurting …

I’m officially retired.

I won’t hold back. It’s a bit scary. Yes, I have a grand adventure planned for the days and years ahead, but after nearly 45 years in college and the working world, I’m feeling just a bit squeamish.

I took early retirement. Instead of waiting until I’m 65 or 66, I chose to retire at age 62. No pussyfooting around for me. I went for immediate gratification.

Too many books equal back problems.
Well, not really.

By retiring at 62, I get only 80 percent of what I would have been entitled to had I waited to retire at 66. That comes out to around $13,800.

I figure I will soon be looking for part-time work to supplement by Social Security income.

Over the last five years, I’ve had to cope with a body that has been break down. Well, that’s not entirely true … it’s mostly been my brain breaking down.

In the winter of 2010, back covering sports and news for the first time since 1989, I tripped coming down grandstands at a girls’ high school soccer game and broke my hip. Less than a year later I made a bad decision at around 10 p.m. to walk down to the mailbox and get the day’s mail. Now that wouldn’t have been a problem during a typical Southeast North Carolina winter, except this wasn’t a normal one. It had snowed, and the snow had turned to ice. Perhaps if I had walked through the lawn down to the mailbox? Except I didn’t.

No need to create more tension. Most of you can guess what happened and be reasonably correct. I slid on ice and fell. I was grateful that I could rise to my feet even with nearly unbearable pain … it meant I hadn’t broken a hip. Instead, I screwed up my back.

Well, here we are … two years later, and the back still gives me problems. I can no longer take extra-long walks – too much pain. But it’s bearable – at least until last week. That’s when my brain again let me down.

They're selling a few books, maybe I can too later this year.
I decided not to rent a small trailer for my move to Las Vegas, NV. Instead, my plans are to pack a few boxes and plastic bags in the trunk and back seat and head west. That meant I needed to find a home for my books I’ve collected since the mid-1970s. I decided to donate 90 percent of them to the Wallace public library and ship the remaining 10 percent to my intended home in Henderson, NV.

The first box I packed full of books destined for the library I couldn’t even lift up from my bed. So I divided the books up and packed them in smaller boxes. Yea, I could lift them without a problem.

The process worked fine for several days of deliveries to the Wallace library. I was down to the final box of books. Those books were different, though, coffee table picture books, heavy books, books designed to cripple backs and mess up plans.

Again, you no doubt can correctly guess what happened. Yep, I picked up the groaningly heavy books and when putting them down, I strained my back. A week later, the back is still forcing me to take painkillers and muscle relaxers to survive. Not good. Not with me planning to start my trip this Sunday.

The Strip's lights draws me to my future and the completion of my WIP. 
I’m lucky that I have good friends who plant to help pack up the car. Most of the things I plan to take with me are packed up. Still have to pick up some coffee mugs and glasses, and I still have to mail four packages of books to my new address in Henderson.

Once I’m settled into my new home, my first priority is to finish Assassins’ Lair, the third book of my fantasy trilogy, Larenia’s Shadow. I’m leaving behind my computer desk, swivel chair, dresser and bookcases, so I will need to buy a desk, chair, dresser and one bookcase. Most of the furniture I’ve given to Goodwill, so maybe I can buy similar furniture at Goodwill in Henderson. Then I can finish the first draft and start the editing process.

Right now the first draft is only about 20 percent complete, so there’s a lot of work remaining to do. It’s been so long since I last worked on the manuscript that I will need to reread the novel and the outline.
But it’s not just going to be hard work for Mikey. My soon-to-be roommate has been plotting out plans to market my two published novels, The Emperor’s Mistress and Thief’s Coin, at festivals and conventions in Vegas. She’s looking forward to dressing us in 15th century garb and setting up a display of my novels at renaissance faires and SF/Fantasy/comic book conventions. I have to admit … I’m looking forward to those faires and conventions as well. Back when I was still a reporter, I never had time to attend any faires or conventions. Now I have a new “universe” that I can soon start exploring – as soon as my back stops hurting.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas Trees and memories of bygone holiday celebrations

I recently interviewed the owners of the Beautancus Christmas Tree Farm in Duplin County, N.C. As I left the farm, I couldn’t help but remember other Christmas trees in my life, both real and artificial.
Jody and I smile in front of the silver Christmas tree.
When I was a kid, putting up the Christmas tree and decorating it was one of the major events of the Christmas season. In the ‘50s and early ‘60s, dad went to one of the Christmas Tree lots in Rialto, California, and bought a real one. Those were splendid trees with their evergreen smell that so expertly summoned the Christmas spirit. But they dried and presented a fire hazard, so dad bought one of those less-than-stellar silver trees. They were just a step above Charlie Brown’s little tree. Like Charlie Brown’s tree, that silver tree didn’t look too bad once decorated. A slowly turning color wheel took the place of the cords of lights that had been strung around the real Christmas trees in earlier years.

I’ve a photograph of my sister Jody and I standing in front of that straggly silver tree. She’s showing off a new doll while I hold a ball glove. Like many photos from the early ‘60s, time hasn’t been kind to it. It’s smudged, damaged when removed from a photo album. I cropped it to remove the damage.

In later years, when we lived on Mount Eaton Road just outside Wadsworth, Ohio, and then down south on the Muskingum River in Beverly we decorated a green artificial tree that was a bit more complicated to erect than that silver tree we owned in California. It was prettier, but the silver tree still holds a special place in my heart.

Grandpa Frog and Grandma Mid at Uncle Denny's house.
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were hectic at our houses in Wadsworth and Beverly. On Christmas Eve we’d celebrate Christmas at the house of my cousins, Candy and Pat Kelly. It was quite an affair. Many branches of the family came to the celebration including my dad’s sister Emmy and her husband and their kids, Billy, Kim, Ken and –born much later – Brian. The kids ate at our own table while the parents ate at the "grownup" table. Candy and Pat’s dad Jack would head to Akron after the meal to do his shopping, then come back and wrap his gifts. We waited and waited and waited, and only after Jack returned and wrapped his presents could our gifts be unwrapped beside the Kelly’s huge "real" Christmas tree. Each December Jack chopped down a tree on the Kelly property and hauled it to the house. The Kelly’s recreation room had a high ceiling, perfect for that extra-tall tree erected in front of the large picture-glass window that over looked the driveway.

Bruce Snyder on Grandma Mid's lap; Denny with Taffy.
One Christmas Eve we left the Kelly house after midnight – actually, Christmas morning, right? – and discovered several inches of newly fallen snow. The overcast had cleared and a fall moon casts its brilliance down on the white blanket that covered the yard. Even now, decades later, I can say that night was the brightest I’ve ever seen. It was mystical ... I expected to see fairies fluttering above the snow or maybe a unicorn to emerge from the woods.

After celebrating our own Christmas on Christmas morning – and eating the traditional fruitcake supplied by dad’s mom, our Grandmother Nan, we’d pack presents in the car for Grandpa Frog and Grandma Mid, Uncle Denny and Aunt Dee and their kids, Kim and Kevin, and head to the Fourth Street house in Rittman.

In earlier times, when Denny was young and still living at home, Grandpa Frog bought a real tree for the living room. My dad, who will be 87 in April, recently shared some memories of Christmas in Rittman. He said that Grandma Mid would study the tree and whenever she saw a "thin" area she’d have grandpa hammer in an additional limb. That’s right ... grandpa would not only bring the Christmas Tree, he’d also come back to the house with extra limbs. He’d saw them to fit the trunk and then affix them to the tree with nails. He must have been grateful when they purchased an artificial tree, one that had not only limbs that needed to be attached to the trunk, but branches and twigs that had to be attached to the limbs.

"Joyful" partying at Christmastime 1981.
In the 1940s and 1950s Denny’s train set ran around the tree. That’s the way Christmas should be ... a Lionel engine and railcars wheeling around a real tree.
Nowadays my sister Jody and her husband put up a couple of artificial trees, one in the living room and one in the back family room. I don’t know if any of her three daughters, all married, plan to return to Beverly to celebrate Christmas. Two – Quinn and Vanessa – live in Charlotte, North Carolina, while the third, Nicci, lives up in Central Michigan. Jody is a grandmother now ... Quinn and her husband Lance have a toddler, Griffin, 15 months old, who will be experiencing his first Christmas where he can actually open presents. In the not-so-distant future, Griffin will be tucking away memories of Christmas trees and celebrations that perhaps he’ll write about in the 2070s.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Would Shakespeare like NaNoWriMo?

I admit I don’t get it.

It’s not my – get ready for a tired metaphor – cup of tea.

This month is NaNoWriMo, short for National Novel Writing Month.

Fellow writers on Facebook are busy writing thousands of words a day trying to write a 50,000 word novel by the end of Nov. 30.

Posts keep appearing on my timeline:

·         Wrote 4,331 words over the weekend;

·         Managed 1,133 words today;

·         My cat is sick; going to have to give up NaNoWriMo this year.

Back in 2008 a writer friend of mine who lives in Oregon asked me if I planned to participate in National Novel Writing Month.

I told her no. Five years ago I needed to finish up The Emperor’s Mistress and line up a literary agent to open doors to big-name publishers. Boy was I naïveté.

While not as naïveté today, I remain a skeptic of NaNoWriMo. That’s because I put a great deal of time and effort in a first draft. For me, an intense revision and editing process is a major portion of a first draft. Writing the initial draft is 40 percent writing the scenes and 60 percent sweat-and-blood editing.

NaNoWriMo writers are spewing forth the scenes’ sentences without a thought to editing and polishing the chapters. I fear many of them end up doing complete rewrites.

Write, write, write ... don't worry about editing. 
It takes careful thought to weave in description so that it blends with the narrative and dialogue and doesn’t turn into big info-dumps.

Hard decisions have to be made on how you approach a scene: should you “show” the action or resort to tried-and-true “telling?”

Strategy falls by the wayside when the primary objective is word count.

Even before National Novel Writing Month, some writers on Facebook were bragging about the number of words they managed to write each day. That makes me cringe. Autoworkers should brag about the number the number of cars that roll off the assembly line. Writers shouldn’t be bragging about the words rolling off their laptops or tablets … creative writing shouldn’t be assembly line writing.

It was a dark and stormy ...
The National Novel Writing Month organizers claim more than 250 NaNoWriMo novels have been traditionally published. They include Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus and Jason Hough’s The Darwin Elevator. So that means the NaNoWriMo method works for some authors, just not for me.

National Novel Writing Month is 14 years old. It’s a 501(c) (3). This year 304,026 writers are participating. Merchandise sales, donations by participants and sponsors fund NaNoWriMo.
So let me conclude … all you NaNoWriMo writers out there … you had better hurry … only eight days left to write your 50,000-word romance novel. Forget baths, forget eating, forget sex, pound the keyboard … faster, faster, faster.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Where are the Groggs? Wow … they’re on Live Journal!

I’m turning Live Journal over to my author friend Cherley Groff, a fine West Virginian author who wants to tell folks about her YA novel, The Secret in Grandma’s Trunk. She’s offering it for free on Amazon for a short time.

*  *  *

Cherley Grogg
I’m so glad to have this opportunity to share a little about myself and my children’s novel, The Secret in Grandma’s Trunk, which is free to download from Amazon for a limited time. The inspiration for the book came from my grandsons. I have three grandsons and a granddaughter.

My granddaughter loves to read, but the boys do not so I decided to write a book they would love to read. I knew it’d have to have strong kids in it, strong physically and headstrong too. The characters would all have to be realistic with problems and scuffles among themselves; it would have to be fast paced and full of adventure. Plus my grandsons like sports and girls so I needed to put that in there as well.

I couldn’t leave my granddaughter without someone to relate to so I gave the brothers in the story a female cousin who could keep up with them in most things and top them in others. In addition to the children, there are some strong, funny and interesting adult characters. This book appeals to people of all ages.

Brandon, the main character in The Secret in Grandma’s Trunk, is not quiet. He’s very outgoing and loud. He’s a leader and his outgoing, boisterous personality works well for him, but not listening gets him into a lot of trouble. Jordon, his cousin, is a female version of Brandon, but Jacob, his brother, is the opposite – a quiet listener, a thinker. The 13 year olds get in a passel of trouble because of not listening, and Jacob quietly follows them.

Here’s the blurb:

A teen’s life gets disrupted when his grand-grandmother, a stranger, comes to live with him and his family. She upsets his life so much that he stoops pretty low to get rid of her, including trying to find a way to get into the oversized trunk she has stored in the garage. Spunky Grandma keeps the trunk's key in a special place.

The kids expect to find treasure, but discover a terrible secret instead, one that puts Grandma in danger’s way. Will she turn to her grandchildren for help or to a young ghost?

Read Cherley's novel and find the secret.
And here’s an excerpt from Chapter 14:

Jacob looked astounded. “How in the world did you pull that off?”

“A girl has to have stuff.” She grinned. “You know … girl’s stuff.”

“No, we don’t know, and we don’t want to know. The important thing is you got the card.” Brandon reached for the credit card.

“I want to know,” Jacob said.

“Believe me, you don’t want to know.” Jordan laughed as she handed the card to Brandon. “Hurry up. I need to get Dad’s card back to him before Mom’s out of the shower.”

In the next chapter the kids want to play soccer. Grandma went with them. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 15:

Lilly turned to Grandma. “It doesn’t matter what she thinks, she’s not on our team. I don’t know why the coach favors Jordan. Maybe he feels sorry for her. She’s so big and clunky.”

Grandma’s eyes flashed, and her little fist doubled up. Brandon hoped she wouldn't spit. He put his hand on Grandma’s shoulder. “Let’s go.”

“I’ll go, but I want her to know that Jordan sure is big. She has a big heart, and a big personality, and she’s twice the lady that girl is. She would never put someone else down to try to make herself look better.”

"I don’t need to put her down to make myself look better. I always look good.”

Grandma turned her head and spit.

The Secret in Grandma’s Trunk is free from Amazon; I hope you enjoy it.

Cher’ley’s Books are listed below and on sale at Amazon and local bookstores.

And here’s her FB fan page, hosted by a good friend of hers, Cindy Ferrell:

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Don’t let the past stay dead and buried …

Trips and vacations are excellent vehicles for reviving memories, some wonderful, some not so wonderful.

My dad as a baby with his Grandpa Louis Iuppenlatz
A long drive gives a man – or woman – a chance to think. In my case, it was nearly nine hours of driving, 90 percent on interstates, nine hours to remember other trips up to Grantsville, West Virginia, and Beverly, Ohio, over the last quarter century.

My memories of my travels along Interstates 40 and 77 up to Beverly in 2003 are especially poignant. That year the drives were what I now think of as deathwatch journeys. We’d learned mom had ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and was slowly dying. On that first trip northward after learning she hadn’t suffered a stroke, but had somehow contracted the still-cureless neurological killer, my thoughts while driving kept coming back to this unsettling thought: How was I going to cope with watching her die, and could I handle being in her bedroom with her when she took the last few breaths?

Of course, I coped. And I was in the bedroom with her, sitting in her easy chair, when she – as the song “I’ll Fly Away” says so beautifully – flew away “to that home on God’s celestial shore.”

My sister Jody and I one Christmas in the early 1970s.
On my most recent trip around Independence Day, my sister Jody and I took walks through her neighborhood including a foray through the village cemetery and past mom’s grave, decorated with summer flowers.

Last November I turned 61, and more often than I like I find my thoughts returning to the past. I had believed that my Uncle Denny had my Grandmother Mid’s photo scrapbooks. No, Jody told me, she had them. “He didn’t want them,” she said, bringing them out from a closet for me to thumb through.

My re-enactment days ... Gettysburg 1976.
Jody lacks the scanning equipment to turn the old photos into jpegs, so I took some of them – as well as some of mom’s – back to my house in Wilmington to scan and save. I intend to post some of them on Facebook with newsy captions, maybe even a short story or two.

A few days earlier, dad and his wife Linda had picked through a box of old photographs looking for Brownie snapshots of his mom Nan, his dad Bud, his sister Emmie and other Staton and Iuppenlatz relatives. One photo in particular stood out for me – a slightly out-of-focus shot of the extended family taken sometime in the mid to late 1940s. By then dad’s Grandpa Louis Iuppenlatz was no longer living. The photo shows Emmie as a child, and dad's brother Steven is a toddler.
I love that photo, even if it doesn't include Great-Grandpa Iuppenlatz. I never knew him and barely knew my Grandpa Bud; he died in August 1960 when I was eight. But I spent many, many fun evenings chit-chatting with my Grandmother Nan and her sisters, Hortense (my grandma’s identical twin) and Avis.
Staton/Iuppenlatz family in 1940s.
They lived together in a supposedly haunted two-story house in Sharon Center, Ohio. I never stayed overnight in that house until one summer when I was in college, and I have to concede … I had trouble getting to sleep … I half expected the ghost of a young woman in a Victorian era dress to make its way down the hallway past my open doorway.
The stories these photographs summon to consciousness could someday give rise to scenes in yet-unwritten novels. My books now are fantasy-genre tales, but future endeavors could see me wandering far from that genre. First, though, I have to finish Assassins’ Lair, the last book in my trilogy, and see it published by my publisher.