Saturday, September 24, 2016

Two years, three months later...

The Zoloft worked so well that I haven't written in a couple of years.  I still have the drive, but life is pulling me in other directions. That sounds too passive, but... it's mostly true. I never expected to be a manager, never expected work to be so exhausting that I just wanted to turn off my brain in the evenings.

See? The days just flow into each other, just the magma of time sort of hardening into a weird... series of surprises. Like, the other day. The pharmacy called in a prescription for me, and my nurse practitioner said that before she'd fill it, she wanted me to come in for my annual checkup.

I hadn't planned on that, or for her to find a lump in my throat. One ultrasound and two suspicious nodules later, I'm going in for a biopsy next week. I really want this to be a one-off post. Like, maybe I'll post again in two years from Sweden and remember this week as an anomaly.

The nodules aren't too big - one is 11 mm, and the other is 9 mm. And a mildly prominent lymph node, I don't even pretend to know what that means. They automatically biopsy any nodules bigger than 10 mm. What's not great is that the nodules have internal calcification and 'increased vascularity.' It means probably not a simple cyst, and probably something my body thinks is foreign (that's a little calcium shell it's building around it.) Those are red flags.

Anyway. Thyroid nodules are super common. Benign nodules with the features above are ... not AS common, but still pretty common. That's good! The odds are that this is not thyroid cancer. And if it IS thyroid cancer, then looks like they caught it really early. They take out the thyroid, give me synthetic hormones the rest of my life, and I sit back and relax. The doctor didn't quite come out and say it, but she implied that the only people who die of thyroid cancer are the ones who refuse treatment.

Biopsy is on September 29th. I don't know when the results will be in, but here we go.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A Month on Zoloft

GREAT NEWS! Last month, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. With some OCD in there for good measure.

And no one is surprised. For a long time, I thought I was a quirky introvert. Like, how on some days, I just couldn’t talk to anyone, because I thought that everything I said sounded crazy. Or how I always had to-do lists, and I felt wound-up and nervous until I finished the last thing, and if I was interrupted, it was like a million bees in my skull. But the worst part: obsessive thoughts.

For instance. One day, my car makes a funny noise. Immediately, my brain goes into overdrive: Is that a problem? What’s wrong with it? PANIC. I get on the internet. I research. The panic gets worse: it could be a hundred things. I’m pretty sure that whatever’s happening, it’s expensive. I should take it to the mechanic. Or should I? Is that premature? What if it was a fluke? What if it never happens again? I should test it. I should take it out right now, even though it’s 10:00 at night. No. I hate driving at night.

Generalized anxiety disorder means my brain never shuts up. I wake up in the middle of the night worrying about the car, and in the morning, I wake up thinking about that noise. I feel sick to my stomach, and I can’t stop my racing thoughts. Really, I decide, I should just take it to a mechanic; I know it will cost a lot, but it’ll be worth the piece of mind. Only the car doesn’t make a noise for a few days, and I start to wonder if it’s my imagination. I start to feel a little better. Until the car makes the noise again one day, and it all comes back. I take it into the mechanic, and they fix it, and then I spend the next couple of weeks listening REAL HARD just in case there's still a problem.

This happened usually once a month about all sorts of stupid stuff: a leaky roof, a broken sink, death, a spot on a board, a creaky floor. Vacations were the worst, because probably there was a burglary or a fire going on while we were out, if the pipes weren’t frozen. If Rebecca was going somewhere with Audrey and I hadn’t heard from them in a few hours, that probably meant they were in an explosive car wreck. Etcetera.

This has always been a problem, but every couple of years, it got REALLY bad. And no matter how badly I wanted to fix my anxiety with rationality, it didn't work. I'd make plans, I'd reason with myself, and then I'd spend an entire day (or week) ramming a thermometer into the mayonnaise jar to make sure it wasn't in the salmonella zone. At the beginning of 2014, it got really miserable; that's about when I started obsessing about my anxiety, which is pretty meta. So I wound up calling a nurse practitioner and setting up an appointment.

The nurse practitioner told me that anxiety was one of the biggest reasons why patients visited her. Anxiety disorders are very common; something like 10-15% of adults have one.  They’re highly treatable with Zoloft, which is cheap and has relatively few side effects. But you know: social stigmas. "You should try asking around," she said. "You might be surprised how many people have the same problem you do."

For a couple of weeks, Zoloft ramped my anxiety up to eleven. Then I was only anxious during the first half of the day, and then only in early morning, and then it was kinda-sorta gone.

I'm STILL adjusting. It’s subtle. I still get grumpy and tired and anxious, but not nearly as much as before, and not NEARLY at the same levels. And it's so much easier to let go of it. I feel SO much more patient with everyone and everything, and I can focus on the moment instead of rushing from one problem to another.

We’re working on selling the house, too. I haven’t done much writing lately. I’m okay with that. When I get back to it, I won't feel so much like it's more stress than fun. Right now, I'm enjoying life again.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Handyman

This is a pretty good story, so bear with me.

At LAST, I started working on The Dead Rise. At the rate things are going, I’ll have this draft finished sometime in the next five years.

But it’s okay! We have a lot going on. We’ve decided to sell our house and move to a bigger, nicer, better locale. Somewhere, preferably, with two bathrooms. But before we can put it on the market, we have to find a handyman to do some big repairs that we’ve been putting off. Recaulking the bathroom, refinishing the deck, stuff like that.

I found the perfect handyman online. Fantastic reviews. Great prices. He even works with a couple of big realtors, so he can point out exactly what needs to be done to appease inspectors and attract buyers.

And, of course, he’s overworked. It’s been two weeks since he gave me a quote, and I still haven’t heard back from him. I have the sinking suspicion that, despite his declarations that Everything’s Still On, he’s probably going to bail on us.

I complained about it at work, about how EVERY time I call someone to cut down a tree or clean my gutters, they come out and give me a quote and seem so friendly and then they disappear on me and the work never gets done. Why does it happen so often? Is it just me? Why won’t they just take my money?

One coworker said, “I can recommend a handyman . He’s a great worker. PLUS, he’s a Christian; he goes to my church.” There’s always an awkward pause when somebody gives me a recommendation like that. I’m an atheist, so it's like saying "Hey, I went to high school with this guy!" Go, Tigers, whatever. My coworker continued: “He's never done any work for me, but he restored this mansion. I saw pictures. It’s gorgeous. You want me to call him?” So I said, “Sure, why not?”

The handyman called me five minutes later. For the sake of privacy, let’s call him Dickerton. Dickerton said, “I’ll come out this afternoon and take a look at everything. Bring my pad, give you a quote. Is that okay?” What time, I asked, and he cautiously mentioned that he wasn’t sure yet – probably four or five. I said that was fine, but to give me some notice if it would be earlier, because I got out of work at four. I told him I could get out of work early, but he had to let me know.

At 3:55, Dickerton called me and asked when I’d be home. “Right around 4:30,” I said. “Oh. I’m right around the corner from you, just sitting at a McDonald’s.” So I rushed home. By the time I got there, Dickerton was waiting outside of my house in a pickup. I invited him in.

We walked through the backyard, and I told him about all the things I wanted done. Dickerton made suggestions that I was pretty sure were sort of insane, like instead of cleaning our shingles, we might just want to nail new ones on top of the old, and that we didn't have to power wash a deck before we stained it, we could just spray bleach on it. And instead of staining the deck, we might just want to paint it with some gritty paint. I started to doubt his credentials.

Dickerton just wanted to chitchat. Only not the regular kind, where you talk about the weather. He wanted to tell me all about his mom's house that he just restored, and what a good job he did.  He pulled out his phone and showed me pictures. I'm pretty sure they're the same ones he showed to my coworker. I'm pretty sure they're the same one he shows to everyone. I suddenly realized, with a sinking sensation, that his motehr's house was his entire resume.

As he flipped through the pictures, a text came up: “Are you still in Franklin?” And then another: “Where are you?” He ignored the texts. The phone rang, and he immediately hung up. “Ha ha, my girlfriend,” he told me. Another text came through: “Is everything okay!?”

His girlfriend was obviously freaking out. She called him again, twice in a row. By proxy, I started freaking out too, and I said,  "If you need to take that, go ahead." So he did. He texted her back. Again. And again. Each time, I just stood there awkwardly while he typed into his phone

Dickerton stayed at my house for nearly two hours. For reference, it only took an hour for the first handyman, and that included twenty minutes of idle chitchat at the end.

As I finally pushed Dickerton out the door, I asked for his last name. I had this faint, desperate hope that maybe he was some sort of secret genius, that I’d google him and find a couple dozen five-star reviews: “At first, I thought he was a lunatic, but…” Anyway, Dickerton told me it was Dirkley. Dickerton Dirkley.

So the minute he was gone, I googled Dickerton Dirkley. The first set of results were adorable: a Facebook profile and Twitter account for an aspiring country music star named Dickerton. I was like, wow, who knew! Country music isn't my thing, but whatever; that's kind of fun.

And then I pulled up the second page and found a series of police affidavits for a “Dickerton Dirkley Todd” who just so happened to live in Nashville and who, like Dickerton Dirkley, previously lived in southeast Texas. Turns OUT that Dickerton Dirkley Todd used the alias "Dickerton Dirkley" and had been booked something like a half-dozen times in the past five years for driving drunk and without a license. And the last time he was arrested was nine days before. He was due in court in two weeks.

Number one: driving drunk is pretty bad. It’s not the ninth circle, but it’s definitely in the bottom four. Number two: I am all about second chances, but not with someone who, nine days before, had swerved across two lanes of traffic before refusing a sobriety test. For the third time in as many years.

I had this secret hope that Dickerton would forget to call me back. Of course, he called the next day. Twice. When I finally spoke to him, he told me that he has some prices for me. “I think seventy-five should do it for the paint. But if we need another bucket, we can get one for twenty. Okay. But I need you to go shopping with me. See. I think you should see what it is that you’re paying for. So you know I’m not screwing you.”

“Great,” I said. “How much is labor?”

“I mean, well, that’s really hard to say with a job this small. See, most craftsmen make, I think, something  around $20-$25 an hour. So you do the math. We’ll add up all the time it takes me to do a job, and then that’s what you’ll pay me. So if it takes me two hours to paint your deck, you know, maybe fifty dollars. But even if it’s a little longer, you know, that’s not too much.”

The math was too tough. He assured me that he was, and I quote verbatim, “not trying to rape nobody here.”  It was around that point I told him I’d talk things over with the wife and get back with him. Then I stared at the floor the rest of the night and said “Jesus. Jesus.”

Anyway. So far, I still haven’t found my handyman. If anyone knows someone they’ll vouch for, let me know.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What is this dark magic

Audrey is turning TWO by the end of the week. How. How? 

In one year,


She has requested 'a chocolate cake with pink icing' and ice cream for her birthday. And party hats. I'm not sure where she found out about party hats. For a not-quite-two-year-old, those seem like excessive demands.

Every night, I have to read Charles Schultz's book "Happiness is a Warm Puppy" to her. The last page is something like, "Happiness means different things to different people." Once, I asked what made her happy. I said, for instance, that a long nap would make me very happy.

"Chocolate makes me happy," she said. "And coffee. Pancakes make me happy, too." 
Legit, except who's giving her coffee?

Her other favorite things include:
  •  Play-Dough (the homemade stuff.)
  •  Books (we have to go through a half dozen at bedtime or it's a cheat.)
  • Legos (not Duplos; I feel like I got scammed on the whole Duplo sitch.)
  • Scribblenauts (because the answer to everyone's demands is apparently the same.  "Oh, this guy says he needs to relax at the beach. What shall we give him?" "A knife." "Look, this girl wants something to make her boyfriend laugh!" "A knife.")

I’ve finally finished the rewrite of “The Dead Rise.” It’s better. I'm having an excessively good time tweaking it.  Still needs yet another draft. Then it might be gold.
So who wants to read it? For reals. It will be free. I’ll post again with more details.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

My toddler has a first name: it's O-S-C-A-R

Four years into this blog, everyone knows the drill: I neglect this space.

It's okay! I use my free time wisely. I'm a little over a quarter of the way through The Dead Rise (version 3). It's more than a revision at this point: 95% of this thing is totally new plot. Think Seven Samurai versus The Magnificent Seven: same basic story, but Kurosawa didn't have the stones to cast Steve McQueen.

In other words, it's becoming a much, much better book,  and I can't wait for people read it. I'm so happy every chance I get to work on it. Yay!

A while back, I had the idea to write Audrey regular letters, or emails, or something, and post them to this blog. That never happened, because after a baby comes into the world, time becomes a super premium luxury. Also, who'd want to read that? Even Future Audrey's eyes glaze over at the idea!

So, instead, let's do a quick update. Audrey is now twenty-one months old. Her hair has finally started to grow out. Right now, it's sort of a  fine downy blonde mullet. For a while, she wanted me to style it into a mohawk every day, but I think she's over it.

She can sing a handful of songs (itsy-bitsy spider, ten in the bed, and most of the ABC song). She also can sing "What's Going On" by the 4 Non Blondes.

She can recognize most of the alphabet. She knows all of her primary and secondary colors. She can point out circles, squares, and triangles. She can name numbers up to thirteen,  but she can't actually count - quantities are either three or ten, nothing in-between. She has three ears and ten crayons. 

The other day, she spent forty minutes pretending to cook. She shook crayons into a bowl like salt shakers, making the shh-shh sounds of tiny grains falling into a bowl. She mixed and transferred from one bowl to another. She poured imaginary liquid from a teaspoon into a tablespoon. After a long while, she opened the microwave. She slid the plastic bowl in and tried to turn it on. That is when we decided to unplug it.

She's memorized most of her books and will sit still for like, a solid hour while we read. Right now, she's trying to put herself to sleep. I hear her muttering and singing to herself, and so I'm typing extra quiet.

It's pretty good. She gets intense expressions a lot, like her brain is overheating from effort. I hope she likes Legos, because I'm planning to use Audrey as a Lego-buying excuse a lot over the next few years.

Friday, July 19, 2013

THE DEAD RISE: five years later.

I reread The Dead Rise this week.

The plan was: clean it up, polish it to a fine gloss, put it out on the Kindle. Maybe, if it was really good, try to pass it along to agents again.


Back up five years: July, 2008. I wanted to write a book, but I didn't know how to begin. I'd just written Noisome Beasts, which was sort of a very long short story. Inspiration struck, and I spent a couple of weeks throwing together a short novella. No planning. No structure. I just sort of started wherever and ended when I felt like it.

When I finished, I thought it was pretty good.

So I sent it out to a few agents; I actually heard back from a couple of them. They told me that it was way, way too short. 

I spent a couple of months beefing up the novella, and when I was done, I sent it out again. I heard back from another agent who read the whole thing and told me that it just wasn't ready for prime time.

I benched the book. Sat on it and worked on a few other things. Five years later...

The agent was SO right! The Dead Rise is uneven and clunky. The main character spouts out exposition and lays out every thought in his head. He's self-absorbed and narcissistic. At the time I wrote it, I thought that was unique. It wasn't. It might have the potential to be, except:


Nothing happens! I mean, little things happen here and there, but I gave zero shits about them. I just felt embarrassed by the whole thing.

But I got excited, because I think that I can fix this. I think I can make this interesting; maybe even good. No promises. The Dead Rise has a really exciting premise; I want to do more with it. I screwed up a lot of stuff because this was practice; every book is practice; and this was my first non-jokey book.

I'm working on an outline for version three. Over the next few months, I plan on rewriting 90% of The Dead Rise. When I'm finished, we'll see where we are.

Not that anyone's holding their breath, but no new Kindle books in 2013 :-)

Monday, July 15, 2013

Review: Complete Audio Mastering by Gebre Waddell!

Back from my much needed hiatus, batteries recharged! I started prepping the third draft of The Dead Rise today. It's going to be a tough, tough project. A post for another day.

In the meantime, a review for Gebre Waddell's Complete Audio Mastering: Practical Techniques! Gebre is one of my oldest friends; we've known each other half our lives. He's a professional mastering engineer and runs his own studio, Stonebridge Mastering.

When Gebre first asked me to review his book on audio mastering, I was a little uncertain - I'm a novice to music production. I'd heard of mastering and mixing, but wasn't entirely sure of much more than that. I was delighted to find that Complete Audio Mastering is both an accessible introduction to audio mastering and a solid discussion of professional mastering techniques.

The book starts from scratch, introducing the key concepts behind mastering - why it's a necessary part of an album's creation, and what's involved from beginning to end. From there, he outlines equipment, techniques, and tips for avoiding common mistakes. No two mastering engineers will master the same track the same way, so trying to create a step-by-step from process beginning to end is like trying to describe how to paint a portrait. Instead, Gebre lays out the tools and techniques of his profession and describes what does and doesn't work.

My favorite thing about the book is how much I learned about just listening to music. Volume is key; Gebre mentions that increasing the volume just a fraction can completely change a listener's appraisal of a piece, which is why maintaining strict control of volume is important in mastering, and why the Loudness Wars resulted in poor mastering practices.

One word of warning: I wouldn't expect a novice to instantly know how to master. There are technical details that will likely go above the head of a beginner; I'd suggest reading this as a textbook alongside a course or an internship (Gebre discusses several possible 'next steps' in chapter 15.) But even if you don't plan a career in mastering, Complete Audio Mastering is a fantastic guide to what goes behind the scenes after an album is mixed. It's available on Amazon now through McGraw-Hill/TAB Electronics.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Noisome Beasts and Self Publishing: FAIL!

Noisome Beasts has been out on the Amazon store for two months. I made a real go of it. I put in some solid time promoting my book. But it didn't work out this go-round. I totally failed at self publishing. In two months, I sold eighteen copies of Noisome Beasts and gave away another four hundred.

That's not bad. But I would not classify it as a complete win.

A big part of it is that Noisome Beasts just isn't great. It isn't! It's the first thing I wrote that was both (A) longer than ten pages, and (B) not a college paper, and it's (C) not exactly... uh... you know. Tight. I still think it's funny, but funny is subjective.

Another part of it is that I may be the worst salesman in the world. Here are more things I'm not good at: social networking, small talk, and home repairs.

For any budding authors interested in Amazon KDP promotions, here are things that are Definitely Supposed to Generate Sales, but didn't for me:
  • Review requests. I contacted 30+ review sites and 30+ Amazon top Amazon reviewers and offered each of them a free copy. No luck!
  • Lots and Lots of Amazon Reviews. I've seen books with 25+ reviews and worse sales than Noisome Beasts. Reviews don't seem to guarantee sales.
  • KDP Free Day promotions. I'm SO glad that people downloaded the book; I want more readers! But I have this sinking suspicion that not many of the freebie downloaders will actually read the book. And, no, I got zero extra sales after both of my promotional periods.
At this point, I'm number six hundred thousand on the Amazon sales list. Five hundred and ninety nine thousand books have to be doing better than me; I bet some of those were self-published. I bet there's some sort of evil secret that I don't know.

If you know it, I'll trade you. I have a really good recipe for chocolate chip pecan cookies.

Happy news: I'm nearly done with the first draft of Psychopomp. I've been writing for five months now. I know that doesn't seem like a long time for a first draft, but balancing writing and working and toddler and cooking and all the little things that have to be done around the house...  my brain is worn out. It's time for a break.  So after I finish, I plan on taking a break for a couple of months (or until I can't NOT write.)

The plan was to self-publish The Dead Rise on the Kindle store; right now, I don't think I want to do that. I don't want it to disappear into the aether too. Back when I queried it, I had some strong interest from a couple of literary agents. I think that after I rework it, I'll try querying it again.

Which might work out as badly as it did the first time around! But we'll see; I can always change my mind later. But I really like The Dead Rise; I want to give it a fair chance.

Almost as much as I want chocolate chip pecan cookies.

Monday, March 25, 2013


Last week, I was interviewed by Bill Thompson of The Bookcast.

I was nervous as hell. I get tongue-tied easily, so I knew exactly what was going to happen: I would start talking and go completely blank. It happens a lot. The worst: back when I was twenty or so, I was chit-chatting with an adult (remember when adults made you nervous?), and he asked me what I did for Christmas. This is what I said, almost verbatim.:

"I uh. Uhh. I... I. I. Ha ha ha!  Jeez. I can't remember."

Only I remember this stuttering going on for about five minutes while he smiled politely. EVERY THOUGHT DISAPPEARED FROM MY MIND.

That only happened twice during the interview, and Bill edited those bits out. I need him to do this for every conversation I have, every day of my life.

That being said: I had a FANTASTIC time, and if you're an indie author, do yourself a favor and check out The Bookcast. Send in an interview request: It is incredibly easy to do. Even though I was nervous, it went really well. Except for the part where I got too hot and tried to quietly turn on my ceiling fan and accidentally pulled the entire chain out. That part was not according to plan.
Listen to the interview below, or at The Bookcast!

Interview with Robert Chatham "Noisome Beasts"

Friday, March 15, 2013


At this point, Noisome Beasts has been out for two weeks and has sold an average of nearly a copy a day. Right now, I'm fielding a lot of questions from book clubs.

In the interest of saving time, here is some trivia about Noisome Beasts.

  • The book is a metaphor for the book. As I wrote it, I was pretty sure that no one would ever read it, and that it would be the only book I'd ever write. And at the same time, I hoped that in the distant future, robots would worship it.
  • I am Todd. Rebecca is definitely Edgar.
  • I used to really like Wilson Phillips and Phil Collins. When I think back on it, I wonder what was wrong with my parents. Why did they let me do that?
  • I am the worst on road trips, because, like Todd, I have to go to the bathroom frequently. The More You Know! The truck stop is a real place where I made Rebecca stop. I still regret it to this very day.
  • You have to go to the Dairy Queen on road trips. You just do.
  • Reverend Wayne Crumlick's sermon is a real thing that I had to sit through when I was dating Rebecca. Except the real life sermon went on and on and on, forever and ever.
  • I wish I knew where that neon model Frankenstein's Monster was, because it was GREAT, even though it was lumpy with model cement.