Friday, January 31, 2014

Happy Chinese New Year! Here's Why It's Important to Me



It is Chinese New year, and as a family with a child from China, our family will be celebrating.  I don’t discuss my kids and family much on this blog, it’s just an arbitrary boundary, but I have two daughters who are more a part of me than anything I've ever posted.  One was adopted from China and the other came to us the old fashioned way.  Our decision to adopt was not due to my wife and I not being able to get pregnant , it was more of a calling and it just felt right. I couldn’t imagine life without her.

 At this point, we both completely forget she is from China at times, and at the same time, make sure to always honor it. Once somebody is part of your family and your heart, you don’t see skin color. You literally forget, and have to remind yourself. We recently went to a place where it was pretty darn white and non-diverse, and got some looks and comments, and it was like “oh, that’s right. We are an inter-racial family.”  It is something that happens periodically, but not frequently.   I was home from China for less than a week before somebody asked “How much did she cost?” in a grocery store. 

 So we do what we can to honor that she’s Chinese and celebrate it.  It would be wrong to dismiss her experience as a racial minority in her own family and as someone who has tons of questions about why she was given up for adoption. But to only identify her as a child adopted from China would be a major mistake too. 

We have done tons of reading on the subject and have regular age appropriate conversations with her. This will continue.  The implications of international adoption are too many to mention here, but they are many. She will never know about the circumstances of her first months of life, will never look into the eyes of her birth mother, and may always wonder if she has biological siblings running around the other side of the world. Plus, there’s the grief of not being from her mommy’s tummy. Her real mommy. The one who is raising her. They have developed the greatest bond I’ve seen two humans have. 

My novel about Chinese adoption, The Jade Rabbit, is partially my attempt to come to terms with what she has experienced and perhaps may experience as an adult. In fact, all of my books I am realizing how autobiographical they are.  Writing, like running, is where things get squeezed out of you, and you find out what’s inside (I’m losing my boundaries here).

I have issues like Thomas Cleaves does from my novel STRAY due to watching so many clients relapse over my 17 years of working with other addicts. 

My novel, On the lips of Children, was written after my brother passed, who lived near San Diego, and some of this darkness certainly found its way inside the novel. In fact, as I look back, I wonder if he isn’t the nameless homeless man in the story who was taken hostage in the cave and is left for dead.  There’s guilt inside for leaving him.

The Jade Rabbit, the story of a woman adopted from China, is my only book written in first person and it was done consciously as a way to try and experience the perspective of my daughter.  I wanted to get inside the head of someone who has had her life experiences, at least in a general way. I certainly cannot expect my presumptions about what she may feel to be accurate.  Still, it helped to imagine best I could by really getting inside the character of Janice Woodward from The Jade Rabbit. I still cry when I read the ending, not because it is so good, but because it is so personal.   

And just as in real life where I have my best insights and emotional catharsis in the throes of a run, I made Janice into a runner who actually has spiritual connections to her heritage and ancestry as she runs. 

This isn’t fiction, however, this is daily stuff.  Just recently my daughter blurted out matter of factly, “I can’t be president.”  Of course you can, I thought, a woman can be president. But then she explained, “No, I wasn’t born in this country.”  I felt a stab in my gut.  I will get the law changed, I said, or just become vice president, and I will take care of the rest.

People are people, skin is skin, but it matters, beyond any type of white-guilt political correctness crap.  For most of us, we are rarely the only person in the room with our skin tone.  I once went to a Baptist church and had a great time, but I was one of maybe 4 folks who were white among the 4,000. It makes you self-conscious and takes a degree of confidence. The community where we live is diverse, but still, rarely is my daughter not the minority in the room. We have put her in situations where this is not the case and will continue to do so.  It’s up to us to give her exposure, gauge her needs, her hopes, and give her the confidence in who she is.  We are saving to go back to China sometime soon. Until then, we do things like celebrating Chinese New Year from across the world.
  
Happy New Year. It is the year of the horse. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

STRAY and the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest


STRAY is being polished off and getting ready for Amazon's BreakThrough Novel Contest in February. The contest is open to self-published titles and is a yearly rite of passage for some of us it seems.

STRAY goes to the award ceremony every year, never expecting to win, but it's an honor just to be nominated (make it into the later rounds)

It also gets a new cover every few months. It's the blessing and curse of self-publishing. Here's the latest. 

STRAY

It really is a sweet story especially considering the reported 50,000 STRAY dogs wandering the streets of Detroit where the story is based.

Friday, January 24, 2014

TREADMILL CREATURES


I've written about treadmills a ton this winter. It is not just because this winter has been a beast, but I also have some treadmill guilt. My ratio of inside to outside runs has been a bit embarrassing. Earlier this week, I missed an outside group run with the Southeast Michigan runners' group. Instead, I ran 5 miles in my basement the next day watching Oblivion on HBO. Oh the shame.

Outside is where the great treasures of running lie. The fresh air. The vast landscape. The arteries of roads and highways through the amber waves of grain, running about where the deer and antelope play.

The air in my basement where I run is stale and sticky. Moisture seems to soak in all the cavernous particles that then get inhaled into my lungs. Besides the TV in front of me, there are white ceiling tiles that sag and show some water spots. Tossed in corners I see discarded furniture we just can’t part with. It’s an underground junk yard and a far cry from a trail run through a state park.

But, God’s creatures are everywhere. There are just as many natural creatures in my basement to appreciate. It is not an area devoid of life. Here are just a few of the specimens who I share a run with in my treadmill basement.

Centipedes – they are at any given moment the fastest creature in the basement. Certainly for shorter distances like a 5k. Natural fartleckers, they stay still until you come by and sprint off, usually trash-talking.


Spiders – Spiders are also intimidating runners and have long legs made for distances. Unfortunately, they often get squashed and never make it out of the chute.


Mice - I have found a dead mouse right next to my treadmill. Not a scary rat looking thing, more like the little mice you see at the pet store.  Certainly this mouse was fast, but did not hydrate properly nor follow runners nutrition. Mr. Jingles will be missed.



Gelatinous Cube – if you do not know what a gelatinous cube is, then you need to grab a Dungons and Dragons monster manual and a 20 sided die. They are large, cubed creatures that are transparent/transluscent and fill up the space of a room and suck in and disintegrate all that they encounter. I know they exist in my basement. How else to explain my suddenly weakening legs which feel stuck in some gelatinous gu.  


 Sewage- it's not alive you say? Then why does it keep oozing out of my sewer lines. Gross, right! Hostile tree roots have attacked my line, and every once in a while the ooze creeps up and we call a plumber. Sewage is persistent but slow. I am becoming sewage. We all are becoming sewage. Such is the circle of life.


Children - a couple of them. Age 7 and 10. They come down to the basement and try to scream to me. My headphones are on and I can not hear them. Perhaps they mock me and just mouth words but are really saying nothing. They run with perfect form, and will soon be faster than all of us and take over the world. 


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Book Review - A Fantastic Piece of Crime Noir

Being in non-marathon training mode and running less miles means more time reading. I have being doing book reviews all over the place, and I am now a guest reviewer at both Bookie-Monster.com and SilkScreenViews. A few of my favorites I am going to share here. I picked up this piece of crime fiction from netgalley and am so glad I did. Five tremendous stars burning so bright they melted my eyelids right off. 

First off, I should note that the title "The Bitch" is in reference to the main character's fear of being labeled a "Ha-Bitch-ual" criminal.  More on that later. Here's the premise:
The Book on Amazon

Ex-con Jake Bishop is several years past his second stint in prison and has completely reformed. He’s married, expecting a child, and preparing to open his own hair salon. But then an old cellmate re-enters his life begging for a favor: to help him with a burglary. Forced by his code of ethics to perform the crime, Jake’s once idyllic life quickly plunges into an abyss. Jake soon realizes that there is only one way out of this purgatory . . . and it may rupture his soul beyond repair.

Sure, you may  have seen this done before: Ex-con trying to fly straight and be a family man gets called back into the lifestyle. But this author does it so well that it never gets trite. Feels like true crime, with a language that is never forced.

The tension escalated beautifully. Unpredictable, yet always getting higher, like the tick, tick, ticking noise you hear the roller coaster make as you climb that first hill. You weren't sure what twist it was going to take, only that the author showed so much skill you would trust it would be somewhere interesting. You get to know the main character so well, that it's hard not to take him out of the book and back home with you.


As far as the title referring to the legal implications of being labeled a "Ha-Bitch-ual" criminal, I don't think the author would mind you thinking otherwise. In some ways, the main character lets his past make him his bitch, so to speak, by trying to live by the code of his old world and be happy in the new. Likewise, his wife, tries a 'cross-over' with similar results. There is moral ambiguity here and a value system that the main character has that you don't have to admire, but you will certainly feel it along the way. As the main character, Jake, goes rifling through what to do next, you want to scream out to him, "Dude, did you realize you just ((spoiler alert)) how are you going to shoot a move through this one?"

I have to believe that crime fiction speaks to the voyeur in all of us. The part who want to know how criminals live and what they think. And the best crime fiction makes us realize they are one of us, or we are one of them. We find ourselves identifying with the character at some parts, wishing they had more of a moral compass at other parts. We may get disgusted at their choices, other times we may just wish they'd be more slick and get away with it. All of these things and more crossed my mind as I committed crimes alongside Jake and Walker.

Read this for the story, for the plot, for the characters, and for the concise as a concrete slab prose. If you are lucky like me, you can read it at your parents cottage, isolated, surrounded by snow, which was exactly the setting the characters found themselves in as they tried to cover the tracks of their misdeeds. I was able to go home and live happily ever after with my family. The characters of this book may have not been so lucky.


Check out the amazon page here:

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Proud to be a Runwell Advocate. Here's the Reason Why



I am excited and privileged to announce I am now an advocate for the Runwell organization.  I stumbled on them by what seems like an accident, but there may have been some divine intervention or spiritual mojo involved, because they are a perfect fit for me.

 The phrase Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous comes to mind.


Runwell is a non-profit foundation that raises funds to link up individuals with treatment for addiction, and encourages those touched by chemical dependency to get involved in sports such as running.  There are some incredibly dedicated, gifted and speedy runners with world-class resumes supporting Runwell.  In some ways, you could see this as a way to spread their endorphin highs around the world. I hope to push their efforts just a little more.

The Runwell Team at the 2013 NYCM
If you visited this blog once or twice, you’ve probably heard me share a sobriety anniversary date, the joy of a holiday run, or all the reasons why I think running has special meaning for those in recovery. I summarized all these posts in Chasing the Dragon: Running to Get High.

The quality of my 21 years of sobriety has been incredibly enhanced by what running has done for me. It would be an overstatement to say running got me sober, but it certainly is one of the greatest rewards of sobriety.  I believe in the message that ‘Getting High’ isn’t bad, it is part of what we live for, but using drugs to get there causes devastation. Running is the best way to feel high that I know, and is a great tool for those who want to get off the destructive path.

So Runwell is the perfect pack to run alongside of.  It’s a silly cliché, but if just one person feels more inspired to run as part of their recovery from addiction, then the efforts will send ripples that are farther reaching. 

The implications of addiction go beyond the individual struggling with the affliction. The repercussions send tsunami-like waves that wipe out their families. When you are in your addiction, you don’t see this, because you are in the middle of imploding, and you have skewed your perspective so drastically. But your loved one, who isn’t under the influence, feels the pain without the numbness of sedatives.  

Losing a family to addiction is slow, hurtful, and torturous. You feel completely powerless (because you are) and revolve your life, sanity, and well-being on their decisions. You are always worried if they will go on a binge, always wondering if they are using and if they are telling the truth.  It’s like a hostile parasite has taken over their body and you’re not sure who is in control. It’s like that because it is that. Addiction is a disease that has a mind of its own, and it is the only disease that will convince those who its stricken that it doesn’t exist.

Having a child get their father back, or a spouse get their partner back, is the most rewarding part of helping others in recovery.  Because people do make changes.  Treatment works. But it takes time and sustained effort. The ones who eventually get sober are often the most hopeless, since the dire, abject circumstances are the needed fuel for desperate measures to take place. I was in a handful of detox centers, hospitals, and outpatient clinics and was literally bleeding out of my ass before I started my current run of sobriety.


 Like cancer that we treat with chemotherapy and radiation and diet change and pray and hope for ‘No Evidence of Disease’ and then continue to track to make sure it stays in remission, addiction treatment needs a steady and multifaceted approach that never gives up. It is a body, mind, and spiritual affliction, so a successful treatment program will meet all of these areas of the disease.

And that is part of why running works so well. Running provides all three of these. It strengthens the body, the legs, the heart, the lungs, it rearranges your mind, provides clarity, detoxes emotions and effuses anger, and provides a spiritual feeling of well-being, gratitude and connects you with your place in the universe. 

Well, at least it does these things for me, but it is pretty much the reason others run as well. There is no more spiritual place on Sunday than the finish line of a marathon.

For an incredible series of articles on running and addiction, check out this link of essays “Getting Your Endorphin Fix”  from the New York Times. My personal favorites are from Caleb Daniloff, author of “Running Ransom Road”  and the article by Jamie Quatro on the ‘third layer’ of the spiritual running experience. This article describes things I already knew just hadn’t put into words just yet. Check it out, and the phrase “The Third Layer” will forever be a  part of your running lexicon.  

So, over the coming months, I will be rockin the Runwell gear at either a running event or grocery store near you. Or I will perchance be knocking at your digital door asking for two dollars and change to support the cause. Please spread the word or look for the Runwell gear, or  if you’re inspired, get involved.

 Message me here if you want to know more and I can connect you with the Runwell folks, as long as they wait for me at the finish line. When I do get there, they will certainly have that glow which comes from the high of running and knowing they’re doing a little bit to spread the endorphin joy around. 

The Founder, Linda Quirk, Finishing the 2013 Badwater UltraMarathon

Monday, January 13, 2014

Meta-Blog Post and A Paperback Giveaway

META   (from The Urban Dictionary ) A term, especially in art, used to characterize something that is characteristically self-referential.

"So I just saw this film about these people making a movie, and the movie they were making was about the film industry..."
"Dude, that's so META. Stop before my brain explodes."

 What to blog about? A blog post idea usually hits me every 30 minutes, but today I'm drawing a blank. What to write? I'm a bit lost.

I can tell you all about my wonderful 5 miles I ran at lunch. Fresh air. 42 degrees. No wind. Wearing shorts in the winter. Jamming tunes with my new Dr. Dre Powerbeats. It felt like spring outside, and much nicer than running on the treadmill next to the spiders in my basment. YAWNNN... that is boring.

I can tell you about how I was refereed to see an Ortho Surgeon by my PCP for non-responsive leg pain, but YAWWNNNN, that is more boring. Plus I'm a bit scared. I mean, if you cut into enough legs, you start to enjoy it, right? Hold a hammer long enough, and everything looks like a nail.

I could tell you that the Ortho Surgeon has been shaving off parts of runners' kneecaps to be used for a special elixir of youth potion from a Witch who lives in a nearby woods. The Witch is holding his pet dog hostage, the one who saved him from the explosion after he was sucking on the sedative tank and a nurse lit a cigarette, and he now feels indebted to save the dog. And when the doctor x-rayed me, he found a rare type of bone which, when placed into the Witch's brew, will actually cause the contrary effect and make the Witch limp so terribly bad she is unable to hurt humans or puppies ever again. Shall I go under the knife for the good of all?

Ah! Now that is interesting, right! Right?

Bottom line is, I'm not really that interesting, so I have to make stuff up or at least exaggerate parts of me. No, I have told no lies, but I do my best to sound mysterious, brooding, artsy, deep, witty, inspirational, controversial, coffee-shop material. 

Truth is, I am much more Phil Dunphy than Johnny Dep. Much more Jack of no Trades than Jack Kerouac.  


Writer types like to say "ooh, it's so cool, I'm a writer" or as this incredible blog post puts it,  Become A Self Important Douche.  And we all know how runner types like me will bore your ear off with tales of their miles and injuries and marathons and so on and so on. All of that makes me a self-indulgent narcissistic bore.

My only recourse is to give something away. I have not given away anything directly on this blog, because I have this big fear: nobody will sign up. Yep. That's one of my fears, even though the kindle version has been a top selling horror novel on amazon the last month.

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Instead, I'm going to giveaway a copy on Goodreads. However, if you leave a comment below, I will send you some of my bone shavings in the mail, should I actually go under the knife.

Friday, January 10, 2014

I Need a Runner Ap Maker, But All I Got is an Audio Book

There are all sorts of runner aps out there.  Some will measure your run, talk to you in Olympian voices, and read off your splits. There are some for the treadmill to make it more interesting.  There are some for your run outside to make it more meaningful.  Here is a list for the Top 5 Running Aps. 

Zombies, Run! is on the list. It is narrates a zombie attack where you are being chased and the stakes become higher, forcing you to maneuver and fartlek and build a base of supplies.
Five Best Smartphone Running Apps

Well, in my perfect ego-centric universe, there would be an app quite similar, but based on my novel "On the Lips of Children." You would be chased by a a psychotic crystal meth addict who has just injested some bath salts and yells out "Fodder" the closer he gets to catching you.  At his side would be his feral twin children who may or may not want to play nice with your child. The trail would be dark. Homeless men may grab at your ankles. Dobermans will snarl and show their teeth.  You would be scared, but you are up to the task, for all your life has brought you to this moment to test your strength, will, and resolve. Plus, you are motivated by the wedding ring in your pocket ready to present to your loved one when (if) you make it to the finish. 

So, Ap makers, can you help a brother out and make one?!

Hmmm, no takers.
Well, I got the next best thing. "On the Lips of Children" will be available as an audio book sometime before spring through ACX.com. I have been listeing to narrators' auditions, and it is one of the coolest things to hear your stuff be read aloud by a theatrical, dramatic voice.  In my perfect world, the book would be listened to while running at 5 am in the dark on the Ocean Beach Trail in San Diego, (the trail this story is based on.)
For now, all that is available is the old fashioned version. On amazon for $2.99. Or paperback,

GARDEN OF FIENDS: TALES OF ADDICTION HORROR - NOW AVAILABLE

Garden of Fiends: Tales of Addiction Horror IS ALIVE!! $4.99 for Kindle $12.99 for paperback  (buy the paperback, and you can get t...