Excerpt time! Fish, toilet paper and bad puns

This excerpt is from my unpublished manuscript, Too Young to Save: Our Premature Baby, My Weakness and God’s Strength. This section appears about two-thirds of the way through the book. Here, we’ve been in the NICU for about three months, and things are looking are starting to look up, well enough for me to go on a 204-mile bike ride with my brother Patrick while my wife stayed in the NICU for the weekend. Every book needs a “crisis” at the two-thirds / three-quarters point where things really go off the rails before the climax, so this light-hearted banter is meant to lull the readers in to relaxing a little so they can be shocked 10 pages later. I’d love to hear your comments.

At the rest stop at mile 80, we had to stand in line for abo1280px-Toiletpapier_(Gobran111)ut 10 minutes to use the port-a-potties. We had learned from years past that this was better than the 30-minute waits you’ll have if you start the ride later in the morning and go in the middle of the pack with the people who intend to do the ride in two days.

As we came out of the port-a-potties, Patrick said, “You know, this reminds me of an app I’ve been wanting to create.” Patrick is a software developer. At that time, he’d recently gone from a company doing search-engine optimization to a company writing scheduling software for dentists. “I’m going to call it CrapChat. A location-based app that you log in to anonymously and you can chat with other people nearby who are also on the toilet. You can send emojis and memes, and rate the bathroom that you’re using.”

“Can you ask for extra paper to be brought if you run out? Can you recommend places to go buy laxatives if someone is uh… unsuccessful?” I asked.

“No, but it will collect data and make predictions for which bathrooms on which floors are mostly likely to have empty space. That was actually the reason I came up with the idea. In a big office with hundreds of programmers, it’s often difficult to find an open stall.”

“I think you should call it ShextChat.”

“Shext? What’s that mean?”

“Texting on the potty. Like drexting is drunk-texting.”

Patrick let out a quick, startled laugh and then glared at me, a little annoyed.

We got on our bikes and continued. A while later, we passed a grocery store that was advertising fresh Atlantic salmon fillets for $6.99 a pound on a sign outside.

“Did you know,” I asked Patrick, “that when you buy pen-raised Atlantic salmon, about 40 percent of the cost goes to pay for an additive dye in the food that the fish eat?”

“Dye?”Salmo_salar

“Yes, if the dye wasn’t there, the flesh of the fish would be an unappetizing gray. Apparently wild salmon get their color from a variety of shellfish that they eat, but for the pen fish who eat pellets, it’s dye. The formula for the dye is a proprietary blend controlled by the company that invented it, so they charge a huge amount to the fish farms and then you have to pay that. I read this in a book called Bottomfeeder, about seafood sustainability.”

“But wild fish eat food, too. So you buy a wild salmon, and you’re paying for its color and the food it ate.”

“I think that would be considered a sunk cost.”

“Oof,” Patrick moaned. “That was bad, even for you.”

“But seriously, the fish dye is a variable cost for a pen-netter, but there’s no choice to be made for…”

“Ok, ok…”

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Meeting with the agents

This past weekend was a writers’ conference for me, a time to both learn and to have the incredibly nerve-wracking experience of pitching the book to agents. There were several agents there who have made book deals in my genre. And, I was able to have 15-minute appointments with three of them.

  1. She was my first choice, with the most book deals in this category, and she was quite engaged and said it sounded like I’d done my research and that I was quite active as an advocate on the topic of preemie issues. (Yay!) She took the prepared packet with sample chapters. (Double yay!)
  2. She was my third choice, someone who’d done a little in my genre. She said she wasn’t going to take the proposal packet. She thought the writing needed to be smoother, and she recommended I look for an agent who does more in the memoir genre. Sigh…
  3. He was my second choice, someone who does sell titles in my genre. He said it was a powerful story, but that he was representing an author right now on a similar topic (adopting a frozen embryo left left over from stem-cell research) and it seemed like a slam-dunk for a deal, and… no sales. So he didn’t want to represent another author trying to do the same thing.

In the world of agents, that’s actually pretty good, getting one who wants to read it.

Northwest Christian Writers Association conference!

0602181157aHere’s an obligatory picture of me at the selfie stand of the Northwest Christian Writers’ Association conference this week. Had a great time there! We were continuously reminded of the importance of having fresh material on our social media as agents and publishers do look at that when they’re looking at how well an author engages with people. So it’s time to catch up a little on that.

Also, if you’re a person from the conference checking my sites out to see what I do, by all means, leave a comment, send me a message, tell me about your blog, as I would love to stay connected!

Progress on the manuscript! But not on the blog…

I haven’t blogged much lately because I’ve been working on a new manuscript about my time in Ukraine in the Peace Corps. It’s actually an old manuscript I’m re-writing…
I’ve reached that point in the manuscript where I’ve written 70,000 words, but I’m just getting warmed up, ready to develop more characters, and get the conflicts cooking and have lots of amusing subplots providing comic relief.
 
Thing is, the limit for this kind of book is in the 50,000 – 70,000 word range. So, do I write it all just for the satisfaction of getting it on paper, or do I start to think about the audience (gasp!) and what it is they really need to know to understand the story, and focus my attention on those plot elements?
 
Sigh…

WaPo: When will we stop killing humans with Down Syndrome?

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When Karen Gaffney’s mother found out she would be born with Down syndrome, the doctor said Karen probably would not be able to tie her own shoes. Instead, as Karen explained in a moving and eloquent TEDx talk, she has become an accomplished open-water swimmer who has crossed the English Channel in a relay race and completed the swimming leg of the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon… [read the rest on the Washington Post]

A model memoir, “The Long Haul” – by a trucker

So there’s this memoir, The Long Haul, that was reviewed in The New York Times last 01bookmurphy-master180year. I read that and checked it out from the library in hopes I could steal some of the author’s narrative tricks. And I just heard on the radio that Fresh Air is going to have the author, Finn Murphy, on the show today (Wednesday). I’d been meaning to type up my own review for a while, and now I have a reason to get it done.

The memoir genre: A novel that really happened, and how it changed you. Pretty simple specifications, really hard to execute. It’s about how it changed you, but you can’t ramble on forever about how it changed you, you have to show it in scenes that hang together as a plot, but real life doesn’t happen in a sequential plot. You need just the right balance of dramatic and emotional action, internal commentary and external events, and it’s darned hard.

One guy who’s done it is Finn Murphy, a trucker in the moving business. He tells the story of his becoming a mover and learning to excel at it. He drops out of college and makes his parents mad when he tells them he wants to do his summer job full time: packing other people’s belongings up to move them to other states.

He tells us about various shippers, that is, the person moving. Most are grumpy, but different kinds of grumpy. Some are worried everything will get broken, others just like dominating people and others yet are in terrible health or financial straits, doing a move they don’t want to.

He tells of how he puts name tags on his movers so they’ll get treated like people, and how he can stir up trouble for this shippers when they’re especially difficult. “Ma’am, would you like me pack these gay porn mags underneath the tax returns in the office?” “Sir, would you like me to pack the almost-empty vodka bottle behind the laundry soap?” He also explains how movers like to have a little fun, going through the lingerie drawer with more details than necessary, especially if the shipper is a good-looking woman, concluding with this gem of advice: “Either pack your erotica yourself or salt the lingerie draw with plastic snakes or a loaded mousetrap. This will scare and impress the movers; always a good option.”

The first part of the book is his introduction to the moving business and then his becoming a successful mover in the early 1980s, getting assignments and working 73 hours in a week (he says he likes it) and bringing in the bucks. He then stops trucking for a decade and a half and starts again, with little explanation of what happened in between. A divorce? But this is memoir, which allows gaps like that. Coming back in his 50s, he’s now called The Great White Mover just because so few whites are left in the business, and he’s a handsome older gent, which leads to one story of a shipper who’s a neglected gorgeous housewife. (I’ll just let that one linger.)

He alternates between telling stories of memorable shippers to explaining the trucking business, and the changes that occurred with deregulation in the 1980s. In the 2010s, he’s astonished when he’s stopped at a rest area in Kansas during a massive thunderstorm, waiting it out in the lobby with a FedEx driver, when the FedEx driver gets a call from Mumbai. It’s the company, wanting to know why he’s stopped. Not the open-road cowboy independence that appeals to most truckers.

In my own writing, I’d like to have a lively yarn like he does that leads you from one shipper to the next, both with humor and frustration. And I’d like to open the secret world to the reader the way he does. My two books I’m working on have either someone in danger of dying most of the time, or characters actually dying… and it’s not as much fun. But that’s my slog.

Ok, that’s my blogpost for today. I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s Fresh Air to hear Finn!