Confidence Begins Skin Deep

ImageLast week I ventured to the gun range with the wife and had a blast shooting hand-held cannons. The ultimate being the S&W .44 Magnum long barrel — the original bad-ass weapon, made famous by Clint Eastwood in Dirt Harry. The pumped up ego only lasted until my wife posted to FaceBook pictures of me firing said weapon. The ego was further deflated when she informed me “those were the good pictures”. I basked in the post-shooting glow for a day or so allowing my brain to slowly accept the reality those photos shown.

A week later and I have come to the realization that confidence begins with image. How we present ourselves to the public is the spark to confidence. For a man; the vehicle we drive, the tools we use, the man-toys we possess, are all items that define who we are — or at least who we want to be. And of course the more flashy, more expensive, or the bigger those toys are, the more we are trying to compensate for the lack luster confidence we feel within ourselves.

This holds true to women as well, just in a different ‘fashion’. Don’t believe me? Watch a few episodes of TLC’s What Not To Wear. Stacey and Clinton will tell you that a woman’s whole outlook on life can begin with the positive image she has for herself — meaning the clothes she wears, the style of her hair, and properly applied make-up.

(Just a side-note here. Yes, I, a man, do indeed watch the show. Not so much for the fashion advice, but because Stacey and Carmandy are freaking hot! Hehehe, I watch for the pictures, not the articles.)

There was a point in my life, not so long ago, that I didn’t need man-toys to bolster my confidence. My accomplishment, my physical feats, and my athletic body spoke volumes of the confidence I felt. Hell, for the first time in my life I felt like I was attractive to the opposite sex and had the notches in my bed post to prove it. But my confidence got the better of me and over the last few years my accomplishments waned, my physical feats were reduced to getting off the couch to go pee, and my athletic body is now covered in 50lbs of fat. The confidence is gone. I now rely on my motorcycle and moments at a firing range to give me a glimmer of the confidence I once felt.

Granted that there are men out there that are my size and very content with it. They have confidence and they wear their weight well. Though we men are simple creatures, we are all different. Confidence begins skin deep, and for this man, an athletic body is what is needed. I know what needs to be done. I know how to get that Kirk back. I have done it before and, dammit, I will do it again.

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Looking Like a Bad Ass

On a Saturday in late June my wife and I headed down to the firing range. An associate at work organized the event with a friend of his. As it was a class on learning basic safety of firearms and how to shoot them, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to bring her. The wife has become increasingly jealous of Kari Byron from Mythbusters, for having a job that allowed her to blow shit up and shoot big ass guns. It would also be a chance to show-off my self-proclaimed masterful skills with a firearm.

In fact, my last trip to a firing range was in 1989 while serving in the Marine Corps. I’ve fired weapons since, even once shooting a hole through a friend’s truck’s glove compartment. Truth to be told, I think that was the first and only time I fired a pistol. As a Marine we were required to qualify with the M-16A2 (rifle) but we only had one day to shoot the M1911 (pistol) and I had chosen that day to be in sick-bay with the shingles.

We arrive at the firing range a little late and head up the hill to where the rest were waiting to begin the class. The instructors go through the safety rules and talk about the basics of marksmanship. B.R.A.S.S. Got to love easy acronyms. Finally, we get out to the range and begin shooting. The wife takes to it really fast. I do have to admit, seeing her with a Bereatta 9mm in her hands was sexy and scary at the same time. I replayed the days events to make sure I didn’t piss her off for any reason before handing her the loaded magazine. We fired a range of pistols and a M&P15-22 (rifle patterned from the civilian AR-15). After things started winding down, Todd brings out the big boy, a Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum Model 29 with 8 3/8 inch stainless steel barrel (see the picture). The original bad ass gun made famous by the original bad ass himself – Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry.

Being the gentlemen we are, the women had a chance to fire first. A few opted out, but not my wife. She pushed her way to the front and grabbed that bad boy. If her holding a 9mm was scary, seeing the 5’4” petite woman brandishing a mini-cannon was down-right terrifying. After pulling the trigger she couldn’t help giggling. She looked at me with an expression of “don’t mess with me” written all over it. Not to be out done, I had my go at it. I must admit, that first trigger pull is a bit unnerving. After that, it’s an adrenaline rush with each pull. Even more surprising I was on target. That’s one less tennis ball.

Throughout the day we took pictures. For her, it was to prove to her daughter she actually did it. For me, it was to look like a bad ass.Epic failure. The image in my head of my cool shades aiming the stainless steel long barrel looked pathetic compared to the massive ring that has settled around my mid-section. I looked like a deflated Hersey Kiss standing on tooth picks. The only thing Dirty Harry about the image was the .44 mag. Lesson learned: don’t take pictures if you aren’t prepared for the result.  A lesson I’m going to discuss in my next post. For now, I’ll enjoy the memory of feeling like a bad ass for just a little while longer.

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Real Life Inspiration

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It has once been said that real life is stranger than fiction, and it is a fact I believe adamantly. Many mornings I can be found at a local coffee shop engrossed on my laptop. Or am I? I admit, I am not the most imaginative writer in the world. It is hard for me to sit in a sealed room and pull great works and awe inspiring pieces from the vastness of my mind. For me it doesn’t happen that way. I draw my inspiration from the world around me. To me imagination is sparked by the life stories of people that walk by me on their way for a morning cup of joe or just going through the motions of life.

A few years ago I found myself at a gas station while refueling my work-truck. As the neighborhood was questionable, I remained in the cab while the tank filled. Across the parking lot walked an older black man with dread locks falling midway down his back. He wore jeans, untied combat boots, and his untucked shirt was only half buttoned, exposing a bare chest and a gold chain that would make Mr. T envious. The man talked non-stop — not to people but everything else. The pile of firewood, the garbage can, advertisements, until finally he got into a heated discussion with a tree. I pulled out my lap top and began sketching a character that would eventually become the March Hare in my novel.

Everyone has a tale to tell, though not every tale is worth telling. For me inspiration comes in many forms and at any time. I have found inspiration at a gas station, an overflowing river, and even at church. When I do have inspiration I pull out my iPhone or lap top and jot down the first three things that caught my attention, then briefly what the sight inspired. Some ideas I have used, other’s I add to a file with hundreds of others I’ve collected. It is a practice I try to hone every chance I get; fine tuning my observations, and improve my writing efficiency. My laptop is always with me and I’m always expanding my collection of inspirations.

Just curious… Where do you find inspiration and how have you used that inspiration?

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Parenting of Writing

This morning I sat at the local Starbuck’s, freezing to death, while trying to clear my head enough to come up with a snaggy (that’s snappy and engaging) blog post. Most of the ideas coming to mind dealt with conferences or writing. All of which, I dismissed. Seriously, just about everything on the craft of writing has been done and by those a whole lot more experienced than myself. So what can I offer? In desperation I sent out a tweet (here’s another use of social media for you) and got a response from a fellow tweeter and workshop member @tex_maam.

“I’d be interested in [knowing] what parenting and writing actually do have in common, since everybody calls their book their baby.”

The idea resonated strongly with me due to two recent milestones in my life. First, my book, RABBIT SLAYER, was given to the care my agent. Secondly, my only daughter graduated high school. The similarities in raising my only child and getting her off to college has countless parallels to getting my book published. Here are just a few.

Writing Intercourse…

Sorry to be offensive, but writing is a lot like sex. Some love it, others not so much. And almost everyone has tried it at one point in their life. Either can be done for the pure enjoyment of it, and it can be done in hopes of producing something tangible. There are short episodes and their can be long passionate ones. We play around and practice (A LOT), but at some point we ask ourselves, “Where is this taking us”. At that point and idea forms and we have conception. At that point our whole lives change.

First Steps…

Birth is an exciting and overwhelming time. We spend the next few days, weeks, and months watching it grow. We are in awe with each movement and development. We oh and ah with each little step. We brag and we are proud. In no time a personality forms and we start to see (and smell) a few not so good points. But they are dismissed, we can handle it. It’s our baby and nothing can dissuade us. Until…

Terrible (and doubtful) twos…

As our baby grows into a toddler our paternal instincts to protect and isolate slacken ever so slightly. We share our toddler with others and we give it space to explore. Without restrictions it gets into everything: the cabinets, the clothes, and even their own poo. Turn your back for one second, and all hell breaks loose. We begin to doubt our abilities. We start hearing criticism, and not all of it is good. We are strong so we change and adjust. It is our baby and we will see it to the end. So help us God.

Teenage Revisions…

And so our baby continues to grow. We nurture it along the way, we protect it, we dress it up, and we go through the emotional roller-coaster with it. Then it gets to the teenage years and we realize that we need to shift our role. The child is grown and the book is complete, both are in raw form and needs to be refined. Play time is over and the real work begins. It must be ready to face competition and adversity. We must focus and revise, so that it can stand on its own. We won’t be there forever and the world does not revolve around it.

Graduation…

Blood, sweat, and tears pays off on the day our baby graduates. Our emotions run high as it sits out there with all the other hopefuls. We are excited and saddened as she takes her spot in line at the stage. Tears fall as her name is called out and she walks across that stage. We are happy for her and sad at the same time. We love our baby, but now the next steps are all hers.

Next Steps…

Honestly, I don’t know those next steps. My daughter is a high school graduate and college is only a few months away. RABBIT SLAYER is with my agent and a list of publishers await. I hope and pray that I have given my best so they can thrive. I know that they will face hard times, and I know that I will come to their rescue when needed. I want them both to succeed, because they are both my babies.

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A Reflection Of A Conference

The 2012 DFW Writer’s Conference is over and I’ve had a week to recover. Being the Director of Literary Professionals turned out to be MUCH more work than sending out a few emails to influential agents and editors. It also required more sacrifices than I had expected. I missed out on James Rollins’ class about writing Thrillers, missed out on the business aspect of writing, but most importantly I missed out on socializing with so many great writers that attended. A quick “hello” as I ushered them into the pitch hall does not suffice as socializing. So what did I get out of the conference? Well…

I spent two days in a room with 18 wonderful publishing professionals not to mention I over heard hundreds of pitches, so I am bound to glean some things. Perhaps the most is what the agents told me during their breaks.

Be Prepared:

This is perhaps the most important. I cringe at the memory of so many people coming up to me saying they didn’t know what to say, patted their pocket (which held their scripts), or complained to me because a perspective agent didn’t represent a particular genre. Yeah, that last one was a touchy subject with several solutions – all about being prepared.

  • Though the committee (namely myself) tried to complete a comprehensive guide to what genres an agent represents, it failed. Why? Because of the industry. I created that guide last year, over 6 months before the conference. Agents change  their categories based on the market and their client list. Even though an agent lists “sci-fi” as a genre, it doesn’t mean s/he is LOOKING for “sci-fi”. I probably should have updated the list closer to the conference, but I was involved in other aspects. Bad Kirk. I wasn’t prepared – which leads me to my second point
  • As an author/writer it is your responsibility to know as much as possible about an agent BEFORE pitching or sending them a query. There are multiple sources of information on the web about agents, look them up. The best source? The agent’s website or blog. If you are going to a conference, create little index cards with pertinent information of each agent. Take the cards to the conference and review them before talking to the agent. If s/he has a twitter account, follow him/her. Learn the likes and dislikes of each agent. The more you know the more you will know how to pitch your book idea – or even if you should.
  • Don’t pitch to an agent without being ready to send your manuscript. Many times I overheard a writer tell an agent that they are only 40K words into it or had finished the first draft. Two things to remember: Established agents are quick to reject a book idea that isn’t finished while a newer agent isn’t as quick. If the idea is good, s/he is more likely to hand you their card so you can contact them when the book is done.

This whole idea of having manuscripts ready reminds me of an idea to bring to the 2013 DFW Writer’s Conference committee. Pitch vs. Small group critiques. Another example of being prepared – on all sides.

Be Patient

The publishing industry is agonizingly slow. A fact I am learning as I continue to move forward with my book. Nothing happens in industry overnight. Remember the time following a conference is an agent’s ‘busy’ time. Send out requested material as quickly as possible but don’t expect immediate answers. I know of several agents that went to the 2012 DFW Con only to fly out to another! One agent told me she had already been to six conferences in just the first five months of this year. Imagine their inboxes when they finally get back to a computer. If an agent requested materials at a conference, don’t expect to hear from him/her for at least 4 to 6 weeks.

Also be patient AT the conference. Following etiquette and being patient pays off when talking to agents. At a conference, you and about 400 others want that agents attention. Join in the conversation and be patient, the agent sees you standing (or sitting) there, s/he will get around to you. And when they do…

Be Yourself


So many writers are so obsessed with getting an agent that they forget one has to work with the agent. Personality comes into play and what clicks with one agent may not click with another. The conference is an opportunity to get to know the agent and the agent to know you. This doesn’t mean launching into a five minute monologue about how a pen name was chosen – unless the agent asks for it. Just be yourself and let the conversation flow.

Which reminds me. DON’T read to an agent. Seriously, I witnessed several people pitching to an agent READING their query! Come on. The agent’s expression was priceless – it had “you got to be kidding” written all over it. I think she rejected it BECAUSE it was read aloud to her. If you are too scared to even talk to an agent then how are you going to act when you are in the presence of an editor of a publishing house?

I’m sure there are more (a lot more) points gleaned, but I believe these are the most important. Be yourself, be patient, and be PREPARED.

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The first draft of anything…

You’ve done it! After months, or even years, of toiling and long hours at the keyboard you finally have that next bestseller sitting on the screen in front of you. It’s printed and the acrid smell of an over worked printer fills the air. You’ve jumped online and registered for the amazing DFW Writer’s Conference. You’ve even selected the top three choice of the agents you want to pitch your book to…

Hold on there cowboy, oh siblings of the pen, masters of wordsmith — not so fast. Have you even read it? What about getting it critiqued by someone you trust? And I’m not talking about a spouse, parent, or your best friend since the third grade. I’m talking about someone you know that will give you an honest to goodness, give it to me until I bleed, type of critique. Why?

Well my old pal Hemingway said it best, “The first draft of anything is shit.” He really did — Google it.

Anyway, that may give us a license to write our novel, but it doesn’t give us permission to pawn our sh… stuff off on agents. Think about it, for an agent this is business, they’re not there to stroke your ego. They make money by representing a story that will sell, and quickly. They aren’t going to waste time on a premise that is still three or four revisions away from even being close to finished. Would you buy a car that was still missing the tires and an engine? “Well they will be in next month,” the salesman says. Your response? “Then call me next month and I might consider it.” Or even better. Would you even want to do business with him or would you move on to the next lot?

This year I am responsible for the pitch sessions at the DFW Writer’s Conference and have been monitoring the tweets from those planning on attending. Quite a few of them out there are tweeting how they only have so many chapters to write before the book is finished. Write? As in not done yet? Like the first draft?

For those not in the know or have just started writing, let me debunk a popular misconception. Writing a novel does NOT happen over night — or over even in a single weekend. This is real life people, not a movie. Hollywood may have someone scribbling out their memoirs overnight and deliver it to a publisher the next morning, but that isn’t the way it’s going to happen. Writing a novel or book is a long journey of passion and love. And when that first draft is done, the work has only begun.

That first draft is just that — a draft. A prototype for a product that you may, or may not, intend to sell. Not all concepts work well and not all stories will develop into a publishable product. So enjoy the process of writing. Feel the words flow from you brain to the screen, but remember ‘The End’ isn’t always the end.

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The Joys of Madness

Our mornings are a blur of rushed half-asleep commotion, followed by hours of mind-numbing meetings, then a flurry of exhaustive chores before retiring for the night. On the weekends, we try to squeeze every ounce of fun we can into our measly 48hr pardon, before the cruelty starts all over again. Day by day and month after month we continue in this endless cycle. Occasionally, we need to stop and smell the roses….

Okay, I know it’s an old cliche with an obvious meaning. Take a moment and enjoy the things that life has to offer us. But that is different for each of us, especially different between men and woman. Take my wife and I for example. She is one to take the phrase literally. She will walk through a garden and smell the roses, the gardenias, and what ever flora is in bloom. And, if her ever-present allergies are flaring up, a trip to a local shoe store will suffice as much as any garden. Not sure why, but she says shopping — shoe shopping more specifically — is a relaxing therapy.

Yeah, no.

Not for me. Crowds of people, endless lines at the check-out, and countless outfit changes is not a day for me. Personally, I prefer seeing the mall pass by at high rates of speed. A rose by any other name is still a rose, but getting a bug splattered on my face shield is pure adrenaline. That’s for me.

This past weekend I took the cruiser in to get the front tire replaced and have the 12K service done. Three hours they told me. My fast pace life screamed to a halt. With so much to do and I’m stranded for a whole three hours. What was worse, the weather was perfect for riding. I chatted about it with the owner, who took pity on me and offered a joy that only a man could appreciate. (okay, there are some adrenaline junky women out there, but let me have my man-moment). Out comes the keys to the Holy Grail of super sport bikes. A machine that is said to top out at over 200mph, one that will do 0 to 60 in three heart beats, a bike that separates men from the wannabes. HIS Yamaha YZF-R1!

Can I get a man-grunt?

I consider myself a calm and collected adult, but the sight of those keys dangling in front of me had man-drool dripping from my lips. Just imagine Horshack in Welcome Back Kotter “Oh! OH! Me! Me!!”. I’m so excited I barely acknowledged the text from my wife – “make sure you wear a helmet if your going to test ride”. What else is a kid going to say? Okay, no problem. I can do that. Besides, sand and a bald head don’t do well at high speeds. Helmet on, and a quick lecture on the “changes” he’s made to the bike, and I’m out on the road. Well… not really. I had to stop once or twice on the back street to allow my hips to relax from the weird angle.

I typically ride a cruiser, a bike made to sit upright or to recline BACK. A sports bike (or in the R1’s case a super sport) is designed to lay the rider FORWARD over the gas tank — with your legs behind you. If you are not used to it, expect some adjustment time. Like to the end of the block.

The light turns green and I lean into the turn and up the ramp to the highway. In mere seconds I’m in second gear and doing 60mph. I hit third and I’m doing 80mph. I notice the speed, hit fourth and throttle out. I’m cruising at 70mph in fourth and the bike is like holding back a leashed cheetah. The beast under me roars with caged excitement and I realize I have two more gears! Traffic keeps my speed at an almost legal velocity, but I can’t help feathering the throttle. That’s all it takes, a little twist and the beast screams from 70mph to 100mph. I’m in fifth gear and see the exit to 161 south. A new highway of three lanes and very little traffic.

Not one to pass up an opportunity, I throttle and shift down to lean into the turn, at 65mph. I know its insanity, but the R1 takes the turn with ease. Ahead of me is a long stretch of concrete heading onto the super clean highway. I jump down to third and release the animal. The end of the ramp I’m at 100mph and fifth. Seconds later the wind is screaming by me at 130mph and I’m straining to keep my head down and looking forward. Just a word to the wise. An open face helmet with a little sun visor clipped in place is NOT a good choice for facing speed in excess of 120mph. It took all I had to keep my head straight as I broke through 135mph.

I approached a small rise in the road and thought it would be a great place for Ft. Worth’s finest to hang out, so I throttled down. I crested the hill and there he was. My speed? 80mph! Ha. I avoided a big one!

The trip back saw the speed frequently in the triple digits, but I was also testing out the nimbleness of the crotch rocket. In and out of traffic with ease, and the tight turn of 161 was taken at an un-godly speed. I’m not really sure how fast I was going, I know I was leaning very close to the concrete and my mind just kept screaming “please don’t kill me” over and over.

Was it insane? Hell ya.

Would I do it again? In a heart beat.

My wife can buy all the shoes she wants, so long as I get to play with the joys of madness.

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