Author Archives: Drew

About Drew

I'm a writer and blogger who hopes to one day write novels whose proceeds go to charity. Making a difference in the world through humor and the written word... What's better than that? Follow me on Twitter - @BooksBeerBgfoot to keep up with the latest blogs

Like Going to Walmart in the Rain

I heard from someone the other day about travel writing.  And they said that most travel writers begin by writing about their home area as people who live elsewhere would want to get away and vacation there. My response to that?  Yeah, right.  But I’m nothing if not open-minded…

Now I’m not trying to rip on this area (after all, I have a number of readers from this area and I’d like to stay on their good side).  But, vacationing in Fayette County seems to me about as wise as going on a nice shopping trip and choosing to go to Walmart to find your shiny new cocktail dress.  There are better options.

Sure, we have a 5-Star resort you can find if you head up into the mountains a little ways. But most vacations lie somewhere in the middle between having lunch prepared by a Michelin-star winning chef and picking up a hotdog at Sam’s Club.  Sure, we’re closer to the hot dog end of that comparison, but we do have many of the things that you’re looking for in a vacation destiny.

For example, when you travel, you want to meet people from different cultures…

You want to find entertainment options that you don’t see at home…

You want to experience celebrations you haven’t experienced before…

I know I pick on Walmart and Fayette County a lot, but it’s just that I see so much in common.  It’s like every time I drive from one area to another, it’s like I’m living in a Walmart and simply moving from aisle to aisle.

When I’m outside and hear gunfire, it’s the sporting goods section.  When I pass through a bad neighborhood and wonder which household is currently cooking meth, it’s the pharmacy.  And of course, when I have to pay my local taxes, it’s the registers (two lanes open, forty carts waiting).

But Walmart makes approximately $36 million in sales every hour.  So obviously people like it.  And if that’s the case, I can sell this area to road weary travelers as an excellent vacation spot.  I mean, how hard could that be?  We already have everything they’re looking for, even if they don’t know it yet…

Who is Rich?

As a blogger who reviews novels when I’m not commenting on the craziness of Fayette County and random Walmart visits, I’ve received a large number of books through Goodreads to review.  A seriously large number.  I now need at least two more bookshelves as the man cave is full of stacks and stacks that are threatening to topple over.  And, I hate to admit it, but there are even a few boxes of books out in the garage where my car should be.  I love it, but it is getting a little out of control…

Out of all of the books I’ve received, some are okay, some are slightly below average, some are pretty good and some are downright awful.  But, occasionally, I’ll receive one that truly, thoroughly impresses me.  And it’s a great feeling to find a new author who’s every other work you then feel the need to check out.  And Matthew Klam’s Who is Rich? Is one of those novels.

Here’s what it’s about:

Every summer, a once-sort-of-famous cartoonist named Rich Fischer leaves his wife and two kids behind to teach a class at a weeklong arts conference in a charming New England beachside town. It’s a place where, every year, students—nature poets and driftwood sculptors, widowed seniors, teenagers away from home for the first time—show up to study with an esteemed faculty made up of prizewinning playwrights, actors, and historians; drunkards and perverts; members of the cultural elite; unknown nobodies, midlist somebodies, and legitimate stars—a place where drum circles happen on the beach at midnight, clothing optional.

One of the attendees is a forty-one-year-old painting student named Amy O’Donnell. Amy is a mother of three, unhappily married to a brutish Wall Street titan who runs a multibillion-dollar investment fund and commutes to work via helicopter. Rich and Amy met at the conference a year ago, shared a moment of passion, then spent the winter exchanging inappropriate texts and emails and counting the days until they could see each other again. Now they’re back.

Klam writes about marriage and parenthood through the lens of a character who is going through so much more than a midlife crisis.  It’s about the struggles of an artist who’s lost faith in himself and his creative ability, but it’s still more than that.  It’s about the struggles of a man, trying to find his way through all of life’s challenges, personal, financial, romantic, and intellectual.  And, in a book that deals with so many issues, Klam fills it with amazing humor.  Sometimes watching someone else continually stumble and fall can really put a smile on your face and make you feel better about yourself…

The breakdown of such a flawed character in an environment shared with so many other flawed characters allows you the reader to take a wild ride that’s worth the lack of sleep as you continue to read “just one more chapter” to see what happens next.  This is a book that will leave you satisfied, happy, and completely enjoying how a talented writer can tell a story and create characters you truly care about.

Who is Rich? just came out July 4th, and…now that Amazon is advertising through my site, it’s a perfect time to buy an excellent book like this, right?  So click on the link above and go support an excellent writer and lose yourself in an excellent story…  Or to purchase anything else you think you might need.  Is that a shameless enough advertising plug? 😀

Jury Duty

First of all, let me just say this – I wanted to do it.  Sure, it’s not like it was on my bucket list, but I made no effort to get out of it when I received the notice in the mail.  So no comments about me not being intelligent enough to get out of jury duty, okay?

I was curious.  That’s what it was.  I wondered what it would be like and I figured that if I ever wrote a character who had to deal with jury duty, I’d better get my details right.  So…there I was, waiting in the gentle rain outside the courthouse while they slowly passed everyone through the metal detector wondering just what I had gotten myself into.  Then, I found my way to Courtroom #1, had a seat, and found out exactly what I’d gotten myself into…

Forget scaring kids straight by showing them a jail, show them a room of potential jurors.  Once they see how their fate could be placed in the hands of a group of these people, they’ll be helping elderly women across the street and attending church on a regular basis, just to cover their tookis.

Camoflauge shorts and flip flops, a ‘Slayer’ t-shirt, skin-tight shorts, an NRA t-shirt, more flip flops, beer logo baseball caps, jeans with more holes than material, pajama bottoms, leopard print everything…  I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea.  It looked like a Wal-Mart in there.  Yeah, I didn’t exactly wear a suit myself,  but I think I came across a bit less scary to the defendants there behind the tables.

Throughout the next two days, I was called into a few of the other courtrooms, given information on cases, “introduced” to the attorneys and defendants, asked incredibly  simple questions, and forced to wait as the attorneys scratched their way through the list of prospective juror names.  And…each time, my name was one of the ones crossed off the list.  I won’t tell you my secret, but let’s just say that I wasn’t surprised at all each time I was dismissed with a “thank you for your service, you’re free to go”.

The only drawback to escaping from service was that there wasn’t a juror room in that entire building.  And, because every courtroom was active through both days (is that bad?  Too much crime in the area?) there was no place for us to sit and wait for the day’s next opportunity.  So, those of us who weren’t selected simply sat in the hallways watching officers walk orange-suited prisoners from room to room, listening to attorneys on break complain about their days together, and playing on our cell phones.  It was the justice system hard at work.

After running my phone’s battery down for two straight days searching the Internet, emailing everyone I knew and playing solitaire, I was finally, officially dismissed.  And I thought back through my days of service and realized that I hadn’t done or learned a thing.  But I know that if one of the characters in my novels misbehaves and isn’t working well with me, I just may send him or her off to jury duty.  Let them be warned.

But it wasn’t all bad.  Eventually, arriving in the mail was a check from the county to reimburse me for all of my time and service.  And, when I stopped to figure it out, I realized that I’d made a whopping $1.29/hour for my time.  Wow.  If I’m called for jury duty again, everyone’s guilty!

Sunshine and Memories

It seems like I come up with my best writing ideas when I’m busy doing something else.  So then, unless I have something to write a few notes on, I have to try to keep those ideas from falling out of my head until I’m finished with what I’m doing.  Today it was yardwork…

It was a hot, cloudless day today so, after spending a few hours out there, I’m not sure if I’m going to be looking tanned tomorrow, or simply burnt.  But everything looks better out there than it did this morning and that makes the sacrifice of looking a bit lobsterish okay, right?

I wore long shorts so I’m not going to have an all-over tan (there were far too many people driving past on their way to who knows where in the greater Uniontown area). But that thought reminded me of the time I accidently volunteered to help someone stain a deck.  And I say “accidently” because I did tell her that I was willing to help, but I didn’t have the right clothes with me at the time so I didn’t think that I’d have to follow through on it.  But…….

I was given a pair of incredibly short women’s shorts to wear.  Seriously short.  And tight.  But, never one to back down from a challenge – or from potential humiliation – I changed into them and started to stain a deck in an outfit that would have me considered underdressed for working at Hooters.  Fortunately, it was the back deck.  With very few witnesses…

Today wasn’t anywhere near so crazy but, in between mowing and trimming and weeding (all of that fun outdoor stuff), Graham wanted to go out.  And, for some reason, he’s been in an absolute mood this week.  I looked away for a minute and he almost took down a crow.  That bird was flying sideways to get away after he swatted a wing.

Then, just when I think he’s safely napping in the shade under the car, I see the brown blur of a cat tearing across the yard with the orange blur of Graham chasing right behind.  Have I mentioned he’s territorial?  Enough so that he punched a 60 pound dog in the nose just for taking one step off the road and onto our yard.  And then he just stared him down, daring that dog to make a move.  But then he just came back looking so proud that you had to be impressed.

But then, for some odd reason, I trusted him out in the yard yet again, thinking that 90 degree temperatures would calm him out.  Yeah…I learn all my lessons the yard way…

This time, after running branches and weeds down the hill and discovering that he was no longer anywhere to be seen, I took a break to search him out.  And, fortunately I picked the right direction to look and found him at just the right time…

As I peeked into the neighbor’s yard, I was just in time to see him leap out of the bushes, scaring a half dozen birds who took off into the air, screaming at him as they escaped.  And Graham had a look of pure joy on his face.  Then, seeing me there in his moment of glory, he ran up to me and quickly climbed up me, all 13 pounds of fur and claws.  And I was incredibly glad to be wearing a long pair of shorts in that moment.

Sure, my short-short ensemble may have given me a great tan over 95% of my body back then, but today at least I’m majority claw scar free…

 

The Ongoing Editing Process…

Peanuts by Charles Schultz

If I’m self-publishing, I’m in charge of the entire process, right?  So, if I misspelled things the first time around, or if I used a word in verb form rather than adjective form, or just completely wrote a sentence that doesn’t make sense, I need to make sure that it’s caught before its published.  That’s not the fun part of writing…

So now I’m working on finding the right editor and proofreader to hire to work on those aspects.  Then I need to find the right cover artist to make the book grab your attention as soon as you see it.  Etcetera, etc., etc.

But actually, if I’m starting from the beginning of my novel, the biggest thing I need to fix is the title.  Because…I don’t have one.  I have a title for my second novel, a title for another novel I’ve been dabbling with, and a pretty good idea of the title for the next four novels I’d write after that, and even the next one (can you tell that writer’s block isn’t going to be the issue with my career?).  But…for the first novel I’m looking to put out into the world, the first page of the manuscript simply states “TITLE” at this point.  Then, it’s saved on my laptop as “The Great American Novel”, but isn’t that the working title of every American writer’s first novel?  So I’ve got work to do there.  I mean, I have an idea of who I’m going to work with at this point to,have it published, but I can’t pick up the phone to talk about it when I can’t answer the question “So what’s the book called?”.

I was going through an email my dad sent me after being one of the first readers when I went home for a long 4th of July weekend years ago.  I’m glad he caught a number of the typos and mistakes, and definitely appreciate the notes about the sections that he really liked.  But no suggestions about a title.  I guess I’m needing to figure that out on my own.

So one book is going to be self-published while the other is being sent out to agents across the country.  I just hope I don’t end up having one of them as the ‘favorite child’.  People say that an author’s first novel is the most personal one.  But for me, it didn’t work out that way and it’s the second one instead.  But I need to treat them equally.  Even if one will be getting more attention for a while as I work through all of the publishing issues.

Like the problem of the dedication page.  After all, promises were made…

The Crowd Funding Thing

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about it.  And I’ve even been doing my share of research.  And…I think I’m going to do it.  But, if I do, it’s going to be up to you.  So…I guess I want to put the question out there and see what you all think about it…

I’m looking into self-publishing my first novel, with the idea of a large percentage of the proceeds going to charities that assist battered women and children.  And, I’m looking to do it through crowd funding.

If I could get enough people to contribute, I could have enough books out there to hopefully make a major difference.  And, because the novel deals with abuse, the idea of its proceeds funding charities that benefit battered women and children and allow them to achieve everything that they’re meant to with their lives would feel amazing.  So I need to quit stalling and go for it.  Right?  Right?

Hopefully within the next couple of weeks, I’ll decide on the right site to use to promote it and can have the entire project description out there for the world to see.  And here’s what I’m thinking…

If someone donates $25, they get a copy of the book.  For $50, they receive an autographed copy.  I’m not quite sure what to do for higher amounts though.  Sure, you could get multiple copies, but there needs to be something more interesting for the extra amount donated than that, right?  Any thoughts?  One thought I’d had was that I could give out a handwritten copy of the novel for like $5000 (because that would be a long process actually writing it out – and of course you’d have to be willing to accept the errors and scratch-outs that would occur when writing out 75,000 words).  But there would have to be benefits for donations that are more in the middle range too.

Part of it could be where the charitable donations are made.  I’m planning to donate proceeds to organizations in three areas – Minnesota, Illinois and Pennsylvania.  But, I’m thinking that, if people donate $200 or more, they could select where the organization is located that I donate the proceeds to. At least that’s one more thought about what we could do…  Any others?

Please keep an eye out for the upcoming details about this adventure because I’m going to need plenty of company to go on the ride with me.  And I think we can do a lot of good together once we get started.  So I’d better get back to the research and quit with the slacking!

My Life as a Bench

When I have the hard copy of a book, of course I judge it by its cover.  I’m pretty darn petty that way.  But…when it’s the kindle version, I go by what I’ve heard.  And Jaq Hazell’s My Life As a Bench is one that I’ve been hearing about a lot lately.  So, when Netgalley let me have a copy for a review, I bumped that book to,the top of my list.

It quickly became obvious that I don’t download many books because, when it didn’t seem to be working correctly, I accidently ended up downloading it an additional seven times.  Whoops!  But…out of those eight downloads, I picked one and quickly read it.  And came away considerably impressed.

First, in case you haven’t heard of this one, here’s a quick description for you:

Ren Miller has died aged seventeen and yet her consciousness lives on, inhabiting her memorial bench by the River Thames in London.

Ren longs to be reunited with her boyfriend Gabe, but soon discovers why he has failed to visit. Devastated, she must learn to break through and talk to the living so she can reveal the truth about her tragic end.

Unique, haunting and compelling, this is a story about love, friendship, a passion for music and what, if anything, remains after we’ve gone

I’m a sucker for modern British writing.  And, of course I’m a huge music fan.  So there are a couple of things that just jump out to like right away.  As has been the case with a number of the books I’ve received – and read – lately, this one I guess fits in the ‘Young Adult’ category, but good writing is good writing.

My mother died when I was a a kid and there’s a bench that was put up in her honor near the lake in my old home town.  It was even in a picture used on the cover of one of the local phone books (remember those?) years later. So I can relate to that form of remembering someone.  Though the idea of someone’s consciousness residing there is a bit worrisome (a.k.a. creepy).  But it still ends up being a fairly light read without the darkness that could be there with a main character that has already died.

But the story is written so well, the pacing so smooth and timed out perfectly that it sucks you along and takes you away throughout.  The ending is fairly predictable and gets dragged out a bit over the final chapters, but I won’t take too much away from it for that.  It was entertaining, well constructed and completely worth the read.  So no complaints.  I’d give it a 4.5 out of 5 and, though I may never read this novel again, I’m curious enough to check out the author’s other work to see what they’re like.

But for now, I probably need to get away from Young Adult reading to something else for a bit.  Maybe like watching some hockey…

Practical Applications for Multiverse Theory

When I receive a book in the mail with a blurb on the back stating “Practical Applications is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy meets Red Dwarf.”, I’m curious.  Sure, I had doubts that anyone other than me had ever watched an episode of Red Dwarf, let alone remembered it, but that combination sounded like a good one and it led to me putting that book next on my list.  Even if the strange title didn’t say “novel” or even “interesting” to me, I was willing to overlook that.  Don’t judge a book by its cover and all, ya know…

But okay…first lets do our thing where I let you know what the overall premise of the book is…

Carson High School seniors Scott and Davey don’t have much common ground—that is, until all universes begin collapsing into their school. Soon, the avowed loner and the mean-girl cheerleader realize that something is very wrong, and they’re the only two who are aware of what’s happening. Demon versions of their teachers roam the halls, a cowboy sloth appears sporadically, and some students randomly burst into flames, while angry interdimensional counterparts of other students destroy everything in sight.

Now it’s up to two seniors from opposite sides of the social spectrum to defeat this scourge and save not only their high school but also the world. Armed with little more than school supplies and Scott’s trusty copy of The NEW Multiverse Theory, can these unlikely heroes put their differences aside and stop the total chaos? If they can’t, the end of the world may just be beginning.

Sure, that tells you that it’s a bit YA, but that can still be okay…

The first two things that really jumped out at me about this book were 1) there are two authors who wrote it, and 2) the chapters bounce back and forth between the perspectives of the two main characters.  I don’t know how the authors worked together – if they each had a main character they wrote, or if they worked on all of it together, but I have to say that the pattern was a bit distracting.  I’m okay with that overall approach to writing if it’s done right (Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down used multiple characters in this way and I thought that was an excellent book – and one that I’ve re-read multiple times).

However… Here in this book, as you bounce back and forth between Scott and Davey’s perspectives, it slows down the process and before you know it, you’re half way through the book, still waiting for the overall point to get going.  Sure, it’s not overly deep – even for a story involving multiple universes, the potential end of everything we know, and plenty of high school angst – but there’s still a majority of time when the proverbial tires of the story are stuck in the mud.

It’s unique, it’s fairly interesting, it’s pretty well-written, and it was a quick read.  So I’d give it a positive review.  I don’t know if I’ll read it again, but that can be the case with a lot of books.  I just need to find room for it on the bookshelf.  Somewhere.  Somehow…  Or maybe in the closet.  The man cave is getting cluttered…

The Music of the Neighborhood

I love music.  I do.  And I like all kinds of styles and listen to all types, depending on my mood at the time.  So my complaint this afternoon isn’t really about music, but being forced to listen to something when you don’t want it.  That’s what got me today…

So…here’s the story.  My neighbor across the street is retired and is outside almost constantly.  Based on his daily routines, I think his wife locks him out of the house at 8:00am and doesn’t let him back in until at least 4:00.  If he’s doing yard work (which he does at some point every day) you have to listen to his riding lawnmower, his gas powered weed wackier, his leaf blower, etc.  Those, you can pretty much tone out.  But, when he washes his car, you have to listen to his car radio cranked up as loud as it will go.  Seriously loud.  Loud enough where you think the speakers will blow out at any second.  I seriously think the guy is mostly deaf since it’s loud enough to be practically painful from 200 yards away.  And…it’s always (always) classic rock.

Seriously, when you’re hearing “I’ve been driving all night, my hand’s wet on the wheel”, and the bass is causing the ground of your yard to bounce?  Whew, that’s too much.  And Hotel California just doesn’t seem like a sunny, afternoon kind of song, let alone one to share with the neighborhood at that time.  And when The Who yells out that they’ll “take a bow for the new resolution” loud enough that Graham won’t even go outside and all the birds have flown away for a day trip to the other side of the county?  That’s just too much…

I was incredibly tempted to start washing my car (which it honestly needs, even if I would have been washing it for all the wrong – and petty – reasons) and cranking up some music myself to get his attention.  I’ve been addicted to Halestorm’s Here’s to Us lately and probably would have played that one at 10 (or 11) on the volume meter but that song has a few choice words sprinkled through it and the neighbor on the other side has a baby who I’m sure wouldn’t have appreciated it.  So…my good hearted nature won out (though Graham and I listened to the song inside at least a few times while waiting for the neighbor to finish waxing his 1970-something multi-colored pickup truck (it’s grey, green and red with some rust thrown in.  Definitely a thing of beauty, can you just picture it?).

But, things can change quickly, old men move on to,other (quieter) projects, and here we are (Graham and I), sitting outside, listening to the newly returned birds and watching minivans occasional pass down our now quiet street, wondering how many dandelions have sprouted (and wondering how they might taste – Graham not me).  All while I softly hum Here’s to Us because it just won’t get out of my head…

I Keep Going Back For More…

Sure, sometimes it snows in April.  Not often, but it happens…  But how many times do you have it snow all day long on a spring day in April day and then you find yourself going to Sam’s Club and Walmart?!?  That was my Friday to start the weekend,  Well…those and Target too if you’re counting, but Target’s not as bad as the first two locations.  And…when I got home from all those trips…?  There wasn’t a single drop of alcohol in the house.  That’s just not right.

I’m thinking of starting a video blog “Drew goes to Walmart” documenting each and every one of my Fayette County Walmart experiences, but I don’t know how I’d be able to sneak the camera in and shoot that classic footage without getting caught.  Though, when I think about it, who would notice when everyone is lost in their own world around there?

When I was in Sam’s Club this time, I thought I kept seeing the same guy in multiple aisles throughout the store.  But later, I finally realized that it was four different guys, who just happens to all be wearing the exact same camouflage cap and jacket, the same dirty brown beard, the same carpenter jeans and muddy boots.  Each time he had a different wife though, so I probably should have noticed quicker.  And there I was, wearing dress pants at the time.  I so didn’t fit in.

Then in Walmart, I couldn’t help but notice that almost every woman in there was wearing yoga pants.  Sure, that in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  But…  If they’re too big, you look like you’re wearing a diaper.  And, if you’re too big…?  Well…I’ll let you figure that one out yourself,  And there I was clicking my way down the aisles in dress shoes.  So completely not fitting in.

And I get it.  Sometimes when you’re not feeling well, you still have to go to the store.  It happens.  But…if you’re going to cough or sneeze, why can’t you do it well before or well after passing me in the aisle?  Three times, I had someone do that in the exact moment that they passed me by.  Like in that actual moment when they’re within two feet of my personal space (or even closer).  Sure, two of the three people coughed or sneezed into their hand, but two out of the three also turned toward me rather than away when they did it too.  I think I need to look into teaching etiquette lessons at the local ‘Y’ or something.  Sheesh…

I actually do consider myself to be a people person, but Walmart (or Walmart-owned) places do scare me off of people for a while.  Maybe that’s why I’m writing this outside, just keeping company with Graham the cat as he watches dozens of birds scavenge in the yard.  It’s so much more quiet and peaceful, especially when that freak snow has melted and all of the dandelions are no longer hidden beneath it.  I guess that means that I need to do yard work tomorrow.  But that’s still better than even a five minute trip to Walmart…