Thursday, November 7, 2019

Observing My Birthday

Today’s my birthday. The bots already know this, the NSA has it recorded, Google sent me a balloon, so I’m safe to admit it. When you get to be my age, birthdays have a decidedly different flavor than they used to. Everyone remembers the anticipation of presents, the cake and party, then the driver's license and the right to enter a liquor store. After twenty-one it tapers off to a nice personal holiday with a dinner out or friends in. And then, every once in a while, it is existentialist anniversary.

Guess which one I’m having?

I’ve had worse. I’ve had anniversaries populated by skull-cracking regret, fear, and loneliness. Those are fun, but this time, it’s more of a self-help holiday, coming on the heels of a long season of reading good books.

What I’ve discovered, and what I am working toward now, is the move the Observer back to a safe corner.

What does that mean?

I’m sure there are psychological terms for it. I may be talking about Ego and Id and all that, but for artistry, let me say that we have within us an Observer. This is us, viewing the world from a distance. Distance is key here, it’s how we get proportion. As writers, we rely on the Observer to recollect events that were too overwhelming at the time to contemplate. In the most turbulent hours of our lives, awash in misery or jubilant in joy, there is a part of us recording it.

The Observer isn’t just for writers. It’s the one who can judge what we are doing and puts things into perspective. Remember how mad you were about being cut off in traffic and then you find out a friend is terribly ill? That’s the Observer pulling you back.

What I’m trying to do is move my Observer back a ways. He’s been pretty up front lately, not seeing things any more clearly than my usual reactive self. I’d like to be able to consciously enter that Observer space in times of stress, recognizing the safety of distance from events to my real being. From there, I should be able to act with more deliberation, if not more wisdom.

I’ve run into the idea of the Observer in several of the books I’ve read this year, though they don’t call it that. I’m familiar with the concept from my time when I was actively pursuing philosophy. Life came along and I forgot about it.

One of the books that suggests, but doesn’t name the Observer is Ruiz’s THE FOUR AGREEMENTS, a pop-spiritual book from the 1990s that became a staple of the New Age movement. I finally got around to reading it this year. The Observer approved.

To spoil it, the first agreement concern how we speak and view the world through language, a fantastic concept for anyone involved in words. It says to speak “impeccably,” using the word as a synonym for un-sinfully. Herein we see the poison of self-doubt and self-deprecation as well as the damage we can inflict on others. In order to "be impeccable with our words," we have to be in control of our language which can only happen when we take conscious care to do so. That’s the Observer, or in this case, maybe an Editor. It’s harder than it sounds and requires that distance from reality that only the Observer’s nest can provide.

The other Agreements follow straight on with this. “Don’t take it personally,” a shout out to Hanson’s Razor and a sympathy for what other people might be going through. “Don’t make assumptions” is a call for delaying judgement until you have the information. This one is murky to me, since you can never have all the information and eventually decisions need to be made. Finally, the last one, which sounds absolutely juvenile since it is the Cub Scout credo is “Always do your best.” Though sounding trite and obvious, a conscious observation of our efforts will reward us by making our actions impeccable as well.

It’s a tidy little four rule rubric to make interpersonal relations honest and clear. The Observer allows this to happen.

The Observer offers also a passive retreat, it is the quiet place of a meditation. That is where I first found him. When practiced in meditation, I could retreat a distance and be comfortable in my own skin, even under stress.

So I’ve been meditating again, exercising and contemplating proportion, distance, and impeccability. I’ve found ways to slow time to be more in the moment. Here the Observer is absolutely required.

I see the passage time, feel the decay of my body, the turning of summer to fall, another birthday for me, another day of potential for great things or regrets. These things I try to see from a safe distance, observing in the moment. Not easy, but I’m trying.

Happy birthday.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Rest of My Fall Schedule

Hey buds,

With the weather cooling and holidays lurking like starved hyenas in the wings, I thought I'd offer up my schedule for those seeking some personal interaction, information and entertainment.

First is the Monkey Retreat This weekend October 17-20.

On Saturday October 26th, I'm double booked.

From 9:00-2:00 come out to the Wasatch writers Conference

Weber State University Davis Campus
2750 University Park Blvd
Layton, UT 84041-9099
"Add Flesh to the Bones"

Now that your story is on paper, what do you do next? How do you develop it into something unforgettable? At this year's conference,
learn how to develop and blend your plot, world, characters, and theme into something unforgettable.

Multiple Presenters, including Featured Presenters: J. Scott Savage and Johnny Worthen

Lunch hour is on your own. Several restaurants nearby.

Raffle items, including craft books, critiques, and other swag, available all day. Tickets are $1 each or 13 tickets for $10.
Presentation – 11:00 a.m.
Writing To Theme

From 3:00-5:00, I'll be at the Sandy Barnes & Noble for an author signing event.

Barnes & Noble at The Shops at South Town
10180 S. State Street
Sandy UT, 84070

At the University of Utah my A STUDY OF MYSTERY class kicks off on Tuesday October 29 and runs every week through December 10 from 6:00-9:00. This is a great class about a great genre going over authorship and pre-writing. When you leave the class you should have a fully functional, actionable outline to write a cracking good story.

Also for two Saturdays, I'll be running my CREATIVE WRITING BOOTCAMP. This runs two Saturdays for four hours each and will be filled with writing advice, sprints, critique and good times. A popular and fun class to be sure.

Beyond a few League chapter meeting and board meeting, that should take me to hyena feeding.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Letting go of Tony 2

Usually when I release a new book I do so with a bit on melancholy, the feeling a parent has when sending their child off to school on the first day, knowing that they must stand on their own now. It’s out of my hands. My love is unconditional, but now they must walk alone.

Not so with THICKER THAN WATER. Releasing the next Tony Flaner mystery is a joyous sparkly, party of triumph and silliness. Tony had his first day of school already. He did well, but dropped out for a while to find himself and a new publisher. It’s been a long strange trip, but his return is, for me, nothing less than triumphant.

I love Tony Flaner. Many people compare him to me. I am one of the models for my flawed slacker, a big one, but not the only one. More importantly, Tony is a model for me. He’s my hero. I look to him for tenacity and resilience, a cynical attitude and sarcastic wit.

We’ve been friends for many years, Tony and I. He taught me my vocation and together we learned completion (see THE FINGER TRAP). Tony and I won the highest award we ever strove for, the Diamond Quill from the League of Utah Writers, one of my favorite writing organizations. I’m not just a member, I’m the president. But I wasn’t then.

Then Tony got lost. Publishing intrigue struck just at that moment of triumph and Tony fell out of print. It has taken this long to bring him back. June saw the return of THE FINGER TRAP and August saw the release of THICKER THAN WATER, the second Tony Flaner mystery that signals that the series is safe and sound and ongoing.

Echoing the themes of Tony’s fictional life, the journey to return the series to publication has been an exercise of push and pull. Push as I kept writing Tony, Pull that fans asked for more. Also it was hard to do and the feeling of accomplishment in bringing him back is itself a reward. Selling a bunch won’t suck, but having the moment of holding a Tony Flaner mystery was, well, triumphant.

It’s been a struggle to happen but it has happened. Flaner fans will love THICKER THAN WATER. Tony told me so. It’s an exploration of family and the debts we owe our ancestors. It’s got more local color than Moab at sunset, a love story, a killer whodunnit, and plenty of indulgences for Tony to be Tony.

And best of all, it’s available.

A personal triumph for me, another day in the life of Tony Flaner.

You can pick up a copy THICKER THAN WATER, and THE FINGER TRAP at Amazon now. Let me know what you think of them if you read them.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

September FanX 2019

FanX is upon us!

Come visit me at my table A16, in the creator's space or see me at my panels.

September 5-7, 2019

Salt Lake Convention Center
100 S W Temple
Salt Lake City, UT 84101

Thursday September 5, 2019

Stranger Things: Urban Fantasy Done Right

3:00 pm to 4:00 pm — Room 151D 
The hit Netflix show has become a worldwide sensation. Listen to creative professionals discuss what Stranger Things does right, and how you can emulate it in your own creative works.  

With: Shannon Barnson, Shelly Brown, Jared Garrett, J.R. Johansson, C.K. Johnson, Breezy Weekes, Johnny Worthen

American Apocalypse: Is the End Near?

6:00 pm to 7:00 pm — Room 255C 
Why do we think the end is neigh? How is this cultural fear represented in popular media such as books, television and cinema? What does it say about us? Group will discuss the historic, psychological and cultural phenomenon of the apocalypse as represented in our entertainment media and have a good time doing it.
With: Cody Goodfellow, Mark Avo, DJ Butler, Jodi Milner, Eric Swedin, Johnny Worthen 

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Quills 2019 Afterglow

I’m still in the glow.

Wow, just wow. What a fantastic weekend just happened. The 2019 Quills Conference was a stellar event of community, education and encouragement.

If you weren’t there, you missed a great event. Mark you calendars for next year, August 13-15, 2020, where the League of Utah Writers and our annual committee turns 85.

That is some tradition there. That is some work, some love, some energy, some community.
Encouraging agent Samantha Wekstein
 to stay hydrated at Quills 2019

What a great thing is community.

I am so lucky to be a part of the writing world in Utah and beyond. Here I’ve found like minds, struggling to do their best, making mistakes, picking themselves up, hoping in the balance on Thoth’s scales that we come out ahead, having been a more positive force than negative in the world. In a community like the League of Utah Writers, where all are mentors and mentored, this goal is as achievable as a kind word, a useful critique, a sympathy and celebration.

I love writing conferences, they’re unlike any other event I’ve ever attended. Conferences like Quills, organizations like the League of Utah Writers offer opportunities to give back, to excel, improve, network, get silly, be hated, be loved, be alive. Live in Letters.

I want to thank the volunteers of Quills, the board, committees, guests and attendees who made it so wonderful and offered unparalleled opportunities to everyone. I got to thank a mentor, make new friends, learn from wise, mingle with my people.

My gratitude to all and everyone.


Thursday, August 8, 2019


This week at the Blog Mansion, for obvious self serving reasons, i'm going to like to a new review of THICKER THAN WATER by Guild Master Gaming, a site for geeks and hep cats.

Check it out:

Guild Master Gaming Review

THICKER THAN WATER will release in two weeks-SQUEEE! on August 22, 2019. I'll be celebrating the event at the League of Utah Writers Quills Conference. I hope to see you there.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

THICKER THAN WATER—Debts in the Desert

Tony Flaner’s new adventure, THICKER THAN WATER, is not only the best book ever written ever, but it’s also economically priced and makes a great gift,

But I digress.

I talk a lot about writing to theme, an unusual method of creative writing, one that I learned through my  training in literary and cultural criticism. Thank you, University of Utah. What this means is that I’m usually investigating a larger idea in my work. Larger than just the story, I mean. The story is in service to the personal exploration of the theme.

In Thicker than Water, I was driven by the idea of family connection and ancestral  debts. It was spurned by the tragic but modern phenomenon of losing connections with once dear friends and family. Maybe you’ve kept track of everyone who ever touched your life, but I unfortunately haven’t and coincidentally, neither has Tony.

There are people whom I’ve loved, who have loved me, put up with me, saved me in hard times, but still have fallen by the wayside of my life, lost in the distractions of growing up and growing through.

Nostalgia comes in times of quiet and in times of crisis. For Tony, it’s a tonic to reinvigorate him out of a stupor to repay an old debt to kind kin in the desert.

Tony’s debts are more defined than mine, his settings more cinematic, but the idea of a magical summer, mythical and meaningful as only retrospect can color it, is at the heart of the story on all levels. From his son’s music concert to the snake in the garage, all are pieces of the same familial puzzle.

And there’s plenty of  sarcastic social satire, Flanerisms and a ripping good mystery I bet you won’t figure out until the very end, when Tony tells you. Your mileage may vary.

THICKER THAN WATER, A Tony Flaner Mystery, coming August 2019