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Monday, December 5, 2011

A Scrooge about Christmas Carols?

A Scrooge about Christmas Carols?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Veterans' Day 2011 Recap

With the release of Untold Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan earlier this year and the seventieth anniverssary of the attack on Pearl Harbor coming up, it only stood to reason that it would be a long, busy, and amazing Veterans' Day. And how!

Veterans' Day may be on November 11, but for me, it started a couple of days before. A shipment of books arrived, and the local comic book store wanted me to sign a couple of copies for their customers. My visit there was pleasant, but quite unlike what my daughter got to do that day, short and simple.

Her school hosted a luncheon for the area veterans that was capped with a school assembly. The assembly included a Boy Scout honor guard presentation, readings of award-winning essays from students, music and dance numbers, and- as the veterans from World War II all the way up to those recently returned from Iraq or Afghanistan were introduced to the school- no less than a raucous ten-minute standing ovation.

What kept my daughter busiest, however, were the interviews she conducted with some of the veterans of World War II, including a few members of the famed, "most decorated and decimated" 442nd Infantry. The perspectives of these men, many of whom went into the Army from the Japanese internment camps, can come as a shock to a generation largely unaccustomed to responding to negativity by rising above it. That's all the more reason why it's important that they be heard. At any rate, their stories and messages made a real impression upon my daughter, who came home from school with a greater understanding of what dedication and integrity really mean.

The next day, being November 10 and the birthday of the Marine Corps, proved to be another very special part of what began to feel like an extended Veterans' Day celebration. I was supposed to do a reading of "Yea, Though We Drive Through a Tier One Hot Spot" at Madison Public Library, but had to cancel for a couple of reasons. First of all, I struggled slightly with the request that the story be "clean." The little bit of profanity in there was, of course, easy to omit without sacrificing fidelity to the account as provided by SSgt. Kyle Hausmann-Stokes. But I worried that the folks at the library would take exception to a frank explanation of what the "pucker factor" is, and I was not about to leave out some of the story's best lines in case someone might find it offensive.

But the main reason I cancelled is because I would not have been able to put in a good enough appearance at the Marine Corps Ball and get to the library on time. As it was a work night for my husband, he was unable to take me there, so I asked my son if he'd like to go. His face lit up. As he had made no secret of his desire to be a Marine when he grows up, he accordingly jumped at the chance to dress up and take part in Marine tradition. He happily OOrah-ed, sang the Marine hymn with perfect gusto, and is thoroughly convinced that the coolest way to cut a birthday cake is with a sword.

I also ended up autographing a lot of books with "Oorah!" or "Semper Fi!" that night.

But that night was most notable for a couple of more solemn moments. Making an entrance that was inevitably dramatic due to its tardiness were a couple of young officers, brothers by blood as well as sweat and tears, one of whom had only relatively recently lost both legs to an IED attack. My son was very quiet for a long time after meeting them. Then, on the way home, he said he now better understood what risk and sacrifice mean. And he still wants to be a Marine.

Veterans' Day itself proved to be a relatively calm day for me. I read a remarkable account of a local soldier whose only reason for not having five Purple Hearts was because he turned down the fifth. I also attended a flag raising with one of the area VFW posts, was impressed to hear a class of fifth-graders sing three whole verses of the "Star Spangled Banner," and was touched to see due recognition given a schoolteacher whose son is currently fighting in Afghanistan. That night, a celebration of Bonneville County's centennial also included tributes to our local veterans, with the presentation of colors done by the VFW and patriotic music by the Eastern Idaho Technical College wind ensemble and the Idaho Falls Fire Department Pipes and Drums.

The next day, all the snow in the world couldn't keep me away from Pocatello, with their parade and an entire day of events to honor the veterans. I met a lot of remarkable people, from World War II veterans with stories from Okinawa or Nazi POW camps, to an extraordinary little girl who, at only four, already knows a thing or two about caring for combat-wounded family members. I told one man that this Veterans' Day had been the most amazing to me since 1989, when the Berlin Wall had fallen. He then gave me a weird little look and said, "But Veterans' Day was yesterday."

"I know," I replied, "but it didn't end yesterday." And neither did my observance end there. That night included an American Legion dinner. Then, Sunday morning, I visited a nursing home and read "Yea, Though We Drive Through a Tier One Hot Spot" to the old vets there. They laughed at the description of the pucker factor.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Smart Alex Says: TPB Thursday - Worst Case Scenario: Outbreak

Smart Alex Says: TPB Thursday - Worst Case Scenario: Outbreak: Stephen Lindsay, in the foreword to FUBAR: European Theater of the Damned ,  acerbically described zombie fiction as a "dead genre that cont...

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Where would I be when a zombie apocalypse begins?

That was the prompt we received from Guild Works Publishing. The answers collected in the book Worst Case Scenario: Outbreak were as varied as the writers and the characters they created. A baseball game. On vacation. Fishing. At work. At a strip club. Hospitals. Trying to leave home. Trying to get home. Trying to hide some more literal skeletons in the closet. Seeking vengeance. Struggling to simply survive.

I thought I'd prefer to be on the road with the family, getting as far away from the danger as possible. But then what? Would we passively hole up in some cabin and hope the zombies don't get in a la Night of the Living Dead? Or would we come prepared to take a more active role in our survival? And would it even be feasible for us to prepare?

Yes, absolutely, and I needed to look no further for proof than my own local culture. Stockpiling nonperishable food and other essentials isn't considered the purview of religious or political fanatics, but a practice that is encouraged across religious and political lines as a proven life saver. Basic outdoor survival skills are also considered de rigeur for anyone who wants to have any real fun out here, too.

But since I knew from the outset that the title was "Worst Case Scenario," I had to think of just how things could go wrong even for those best prepared. Specifically what would this kind of worst case scenario entail? What painful choices would it necessitate? To answer those questions, I investigated the worst, most primal fears of every member of my family. My husband and I both mentioned any failure of ours causing the children harm. The kids talked about Leatherface and acromantulas, but decided the idea of being left entirely alone in an extremely dangerous world without even the family pets for company was worse.

The short story that resulted, "A Girl and Her Dog," can be described as a coming-of-age tale, but more than that it is a story of the sacrifices a family has to make when confronting those fears.

And you have to read the book to see if the dog makes it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Pirhanas, Pariahs, and Me, Oh My! Part 2

Yes, apparently there is need for a part 2.

It all began when I signed a contract to appear at what I'll call the Nowheresville Comic Festival. Before I'd done so, however, I went through the contract with a fine-toothed comb and discussed the details with a friend who'd been in the comic book industry since I was a kid. The contract met our high standards, barring a couple of typos. I also looked up the name of the organizer,a person I'll call Tripp Nolan. I was horrified by what I found on line- accusations of mistreatment and non-payment so horribly presented that my conscience constrained me to doubt. Forum threads devoted to years-old accusations- closed and started up again, and again, and again- by some of the same people made me worry a little that they might be harboring a vendetta. The persistent name-dropping of people who may have signed one letter of complaint, but who otherwise remained quiet from then out made me wonder how these people felt about being so repeatedly trotted out. And with the childish taunts, bullying tactics, even the baseless character aspersions against people I know that so heavily interspersed what passed for discussion, why should I believe anything posted by people who resort to them so frequently?

But on the other hand, what if there was something to those accusations? I didn't want to believe completely that anyone was actually lying. Perhaps there was some misunderstanding. Suppose what they were saying was true, or at least a part of the truth? Keeping all that in mind, I sought Mr. Nolan's side of the story.

It seemed benign enough. He confirmed that judgments had been issued against him for non-payment, but it was all a misunderstanding. I advised him that it would be best to either appeal the decisions or pay the judgments and get it over with. He reassured me that he would deal with it. The one thing that raised a red flag was that he made a disparaging remark about another writer I'll call Ginny Simons. She was on my FB friend list, was a willing member of a group I'd started, and expressed a willingness to work on a benefit project I was helping write. I can think of a few things I tolerate less than talking smack about people, but it's a pretty short and vile list. I told him to keep his remarks about her or anyone else civil.

It didn't even raise a red flag when he delayed booking my travel arrangements for the convention, but then, this was very early on. I tried to make things as easy as possible. Flying me anywhere from where I live can be a little difficult and quite expensive. I urged that he book my husband and me to fly out of Salt Lake City instead of our hometown airport and fly us to New York City- where we'd have to stop anyway- instead of the smaller and much more expensive airport closer to the convention. We could handle the drive and/or the train ride. I felt limousine transportation was a little much, and I refused to fly first class. The only special request I had was that I be allowed a few extra days in New York City, because I wished to meet in person some of the beneficiaries of this benefit book- some of New York's Bravest and Finest. But the one thing I stressed most was that our tickets needed to be booked soon, because fares from Utah to New York were already high and bound only to get worse. He said I would hear from a travel manager closer to the date.

I figured if the convention really wanted to and could afford to shell out as much as a couple thousand to fly a fairly new writer and her spouse across the country, that was their business. But if they didn't or couldn't, and they didn't book promptly, I wouldn't go. I most certainly would not shell out any money up front to go, since that was not in the contract, and I didn't have the means to put any money out anyway. And I did all that before anyone told me to google Tripp Nolan.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Smart Alex Says: Comics for Causes: Untold Stories from Ground Zero...

Smart Alex Says: Comics for Causes: Untold Stories from Ground Zero...: September 11, 2001 tested American mettle like nothing since the bombing of Pearl Harbor or even since the Civil War. Everyone with a televi...