More Platitudes, Anyone?

The other day, I went for a walk around campus and found myself at the foot of my favorite tree, a centuries-old Giant Sequoia. I sat down in the cradle of its roots, my back against its rugged bark, and I looked up into its reddish-brown and green canopy. What is it about trees that is so restful, reassuring? Maybe it’s that they have no choice but to be patient, to maintain perspective as people, animals, the wind, even the seasons pass them by. Usually when I commune with a tree I can let my own frenetic humanity go, to some extent. But that day I couldn’t seem to absorb the tree’s peace. Instead I felt tears threatening.


I don’t do limbo very well. Then again, many people don’t, I would imagine. Unfortunately, I seem to find myself in that position a lot. Right now at work a new quarter has just begun and I’m in the middle of a position reclassification inquiry. At home, we’re waiting to see if Kris’s newest medication will be effective. If it isn’t, it’ll be the third clinical fail in two and a half years. But it wasn’t just those things pressing down on me as I sat under the tree. It was losing Maggie, our dog. It’s been almost three months since the tumor in her heart made itself known and more than two months since she died, and yet some days I still dissolve in tears at the thought of losing her. She is gone and has been for some time now, but I still haven’t fully adjusted.

I know that the last blog I posted was about losing Corona, and I’m sorry about that. I drafted a post on the SCOTUS decision at the end of June, but we were too busy watching the World Cup for me to spend much time on it. And then Maggie got sick and writing pretty much got tossed out the window. What follows is my account of losing Maggie this summer, so if you’ve had enough talk of dying pets on my blog, you probably won’t want to read on. Just skim through the pictures, or, you know, come back another day. Fingers crossed my next post will be of a less weighty nature.

Anyway, it all started the week after the US Women’s National Team won the World Cup. Talk about a roller coaster—Kris, my parents, my best friends from Seattle and I bought tickets last minute and drove up to Vancouver, BC, for the final. Four goals for the USA in the first sixteen minutes left us and the rest of the distinctly partisan crowd in shock. Happy, thrilled shock. Out of the eight or nine World Cup games I’ve attended (mostly women’s but a couple of men’s too), I had never witnessed such a rout. The crowd was lovely, though: female dominated and family friendly. The men in the crowd around us were soccer dads, gay men, and metrosexual Vancouverites. In other words, a surprisingly pro-women crowd for an international sporting event. Everyone around us was happy, happy, and we were full of joy as we watched the best women’s team I’ve ever witnessed (sorry, ‘99ers!) win a well-deserved world championship—at last.

World Cup Finals crowd

Happy day – the World Cup Finals in Vancouver

That was Sunday, and for the next few days I floated through regular life, still on a World Cup high. Still on a high, too, from the Supreme Court decision two weeks earlier that had legalized gay marriage across the land. Three days after the USWNT won the World Cup, I walked Maggie through our forest as I did every morning before work, watching her nose through the ferns smelling every interesting scent the neighborhood dogs had left. I stood at the edge of a clearing not far from our house looking up at the sunlit morning sky, and I could feel happiness both inside and around me. I was just plainly, fully happy.

We finished our walk and ate breakfast with the kids, and then I got ready for work. Just before I left for the day, Maggie came and leaned against me. And then I realized—she could barely stand. Something was seriously wrong with our elderly canine companion. Had her auto-immune anemia come back? Or was it something else?

Instead of going to work, I carried Maggie out to my car and took her to the vet, where I waited a while with her to see our vet, and then waited some more for an off-site cardiologist to evaluate the chest x-ray. Glad for once that I am small, I stayed with my girl in the procedure room in a crate stuffed with blankets and hot water bottles to keep her core temperature from dropping. Finally our vet returned. As soon as I saw her face, I knew it was bad. She told me that Maggie’s heart cavity was filling up with blood, a situation likely caused by a tumor in her heart. An ultrasound machine was required for the procedure that might save her life, but the nearest facility that could take her was an hour away.

Within minutes I was carrying Maggie out to the car and bundling her, blanket, water bottles, and all, into her travel crate. As I drove to the emergency hospital, I remembered that morning in the woods when Maggie and I walked happily along enjoying the summer morning. And then I remembered my dream from the previous night. In it, Corona had come to visit us. She had come in through the open front door, greeted us happily, stayed a few minutes to visit, and then she had herded Maggie out the front door, down the steps, and into the forest that borders our front yard. When I woke up, I thought what a nice dream it was, that Corona had come to visit. But as I sped down the freeway to the emergency hospital, all I could think was that Corona had come to get Maggie, to lead her away to whatever was next. Maggie, I understood, was dying.

The emergency vet confirmed the diagnosis and performed the procedure, and Maggie stabilized. The next afternoon a cardiologist confirmed a large tumor had infiltrated the right ventricle. Our sweet girl could die at any moment, or she might stick around for a few weeks. No one could say for sure how much time she had left.

As I drove her home from the hospital, I wept uncontrollably. Not my little Maggie. She wasn’t even fourteen yet. I’d been sure we would have her a little while longer. And yet, she’d begun to pull away the year before, a few weeks before Corona died. Instead of draping herself across our laps, she’d taken to avoiding physical contact. Kris and I had discussed the possibility that Maggie was ill with our vet, but tests hadn’t turned up anything. Now I understood—she had been sick all this time.

Maggie & Me

Home from the hospital

I didn’t go to work the next day, the Friday before a planned, week-long vacation. Kris’s family was about to converge on us in for a reunion in the San Juan Islands. With Maggie so ill, though, I couldn’t bear to abandon her to a dog sitter. For the next week, I split my time between the island and home, with more time spent at home. My parents, who had just moved to Washington State to be near the grand kids, watched Maggie when I couldn’t be there. That way, she was never alone.

The time simultaneously crawled and flew. Maggie got stronger every day after her surgery, and she and I spent some good quality time together. There was more snuggling than she had allowed in the past year, plentiful kisses, and even some nice woods time. I started to think that maybe she would beat the odds; maybe she would stick around for months rather than weeks. One evening on the ferry back from the island, I looked up into the darkening sky and caught my breath. Above the water, a feathery cloud stretched midway between island and mainland. I recognized it immediately: The shape resembled Corona’s head and body in alert, waiting mode. Here was the universe again, reminding me that the letting go was coming whether I was ready for it or not.


Corona and her cloud doppelganger

The vacation week passed and I went back to work, hoping that Maggie would hang in a little longer. I have August off each year, and August was only a couple of weeks away. But then it happened. The Saturday morning after our vacation, I heard the click of Maggie’s toenails in the hallway and the clink of her happy tail against the metal child safety gate at our bedroom door, just like usual. Alex had crawled into our bed a little while earlier to snuggle. I extricated myself, lifted Maggie onto the bed, and went back to reading my iPad, my feet gently curled against her warm, curved back.

I don’t remember every detail of what came next. I do remember that I got up to get the twins and we all snuggled a little longer. But nature called, and soon I was nudging Maggie, trying to convince her that it was time to take our morning walk. Reluctantly she uncurled, and I lifted her off the bed. She landed with a groan, and it gave me pause. But then, she was dying. Of course she would groan here and there.

I do remember that it had poured during the night, and that the earth looked and smelled wonderfully clean and fresh after the much-needed rain. I took Maggie down to the end of the driveway to do her thing, but my timing was off—some neighbors pulled up in their car and stopped briefly to chat. Maggie alerted, but she didn’t so much pull as lean away from me, tightening the leash. I tugged her gently, and after a few tries she followed me back up the driveway. She didn’t seem to want to go up the deck stairs and inside, but after a couple of gentle tugs she seemed to sigh and acquiesce.

On the deck I used a towel to dry her feet, and she wagged her tail sweetly as I bent on my knees beside her. She withstood the cleaning process patiently, and then I let her in the house. I told Kris that I was going to bring in the garbage bins and that she should wait a few minutes to feed Maggie. Then I headed outside.

When I returned to the house, Maggie was lying on her dog bed in the living room, a pretty typical spot for her. I washed my hands and then went to check on her again. She was still stretched out on her side, but her breathing was all wrong. I sat down on the floor beside her, concerned. She looked like she couldn’t get a full breath of air. Her eyes were narrowed, and she grimaced with each shuddering breath.

“Kris,” I said, “come in here!”

“Just a minute,” she said from the kitchen, where she was getting the kids into their breakfast chairs.

“I think Maggie’s dying. Come now or you could miss it.”

So she came and sat on the couch above us while I sat on the floor beside Maggie, our vet’s words from an earlier visit ringing in my head: The worst that could happen would be that Maggie dies at home. And that is exactly what she did. It wasn’t pretty, but it wasn’t long, either. She stopped breathing after a few long, labored minutes, and then her body kept twitching and shaking as her brain slowly shut down. I was relieved for her that she didn’t have to go anywhere, that she could be at home, but I was also disturbed that this painful, messy process was happening in our living room. Alex came in once, but we sent her away without seeing Maggie in her death throes. I’m glad we did. I wouldn’t want her last memory of Maggie to be of those harrowing moments.

After it was over, the kids said their goodbyes and I carried Maggie out to the car one last time. Kris and I arranged her on her dog bed in the back of the van and then I drove to the vet’s office, crying and wanting to turn back every inch of the way. This couldn’t be happening. This couldn’t have just happened. Maybe I’d walked her too far. I shouldn’t have forced her off the bed and outside at precisely the moment the neighbors would pass us and alarm Maggie. Maybe we should have had her put down. It was my fault she had died a difficult death, without sedatives to ease her journey.

As my therapist would say, though, I’m just not that important. And as our vet pointed out shortly before Maggie died, we can’t control life or death. Our sweet girl had a tumor in her heart and that’s what killed her, not the fact that we ran into our neighbors during our morning walk. But just like with Corona, I am left with guilt. I wasn’t home enough in the last couple of years. I spent too much energy on the kids and ignored Maggie, my first baby. I spent too much time building my studio office and not enough time paying attention to her. I failed her.

The first twenty-four hours of grieving were hard, made more so by the fact that I couldn’t seem to fend off the same doubt and self-recrimination that had leveled me after Corona died. But there was one bright spot. When I awoke at four a.m. the morning after Maggie left us, the last minutes of her life—the jumbled images that had made it nearly impossible to fall asleep the night before—immediately started replaying in my head again. I couldn’t stop them no matter what I tried: deep breathing, meditation, worry about work, family, health. Finally I took my iPad out to the living room couch, turned my back to the spot where Maggie had taken her last breaths, and tried to read myself back to sleep.

I dozed fitfully until, at last, I fell deeply asleep. Then, in the room where Maggie had died, I dreamed. Only it felt completely real. I was certain that I really was walking into the kitchen, certain that Kris was in fact standing at the sink. I opened my mouth to say how much I missed Maggie when all at once I realized she was there, too, standing at Kris’s feet like she always did waiting for a piece of food to drop from above.

“Oh my god,” I cried, and ran over to her. “She’s here! Maggie, you’re really here!”

“Where?” Kris looked around, confused.

“Right here,” I said, and reached down to rub her fur. It was just the same as ever, and she was warm and, I realized when she turned toward me with a doggy grin, YOUNG. She looked like she had when she was five or six, more pink and brown than gray and white. After nosing around the kitchen floor like normal, she trotted with me into the living room, and we played a little with toys from her young dog days, resting occasionally on a comforter that the dogs had loved to snuggle on back in Massachusetts. We were together for an indeterminate time, and then I sat down on the couch. She jumped up beside me and climbed onto my lap the way she always used to do, back before she grew deaf and skittish, back before Corona died. She claimed me the way she always had, and I wrapped my arms around her and held her as tightly as I always had. She leaned her head on my left shoulder, just above my heart.

“I love you, Maggie,” I murmured.

Then it was like I was outside myself, watching this last embrace from across the room. And I heard a voice, maybe mine, probably mine, say, “I will always love this dog, and I will always hold this dog in my heart.”

I knew in that moment that Maggie had come back to me in my dreams because she didn’t want our last minutes together to be so fraught. She wanted to snuggle, which was her favorite form of bonding before she got sick, and she wanted me to remember her as she had been—healthy and happy—the majority of our nearly fourteen years together.

Maggie in her prime

Maggie in her prime

And then I woke up.

I was alone in the living room again, summer morning sunlight beginning to filter through the windows, and I could hear the girls and Kris beginning to stir. The previous day came back to me, but when the movie of Maggie’s final minutes inevitably began to play in my mind, it didn’t last long. Soon a stronger track overrode it—the image of Maggie all pink and smiley and snuggly, and the voice intoning the power of our connection. And I, in turn, smiled, thinking of her younger self. Her true self? At least the self I had known and loved the longest.

At the beginning of my novel, Flight, the narrator ruminates on the temporary nature of life: “[T]he human body is made up mostly of water that is replaced on a monthly basis, while many other human cells have a life cycle measured only in days or months. Our bodies are constantly changing, evolving, shedding bits and pieces of who we once were. We couldn’t remain the same person from year to year, decade to decade, even if we wanted to.”

This biological reality means that in a few months, I won’t have any cells left in my body that came into direct physical contact with Maggie’s cells. And her body? Well, her body is gone but still with us. Like Corona, we had her cremated. And like Corona, her ashes currently reside on the bookshelf in the living room.

M&C urns

My parents’ dog, Torrey, died at the end of January, exactly midway between Corona and Maggie. The three dogs met when Torrey was ten months, Maggie nine months, and Corona almost three years old. Over the years, the three dogs became good buddies. In fact, we often said that Torrey was Maggie’s only dog friend because of our otherwise sweet girl’s dog-reactive tendencies.

Dogs July 2002

Torrey was named after a valley in Wyoming where she lived much of her life. A few months after her death, my folks sprinkled her ashes into Torrey Creek, which eventually feeds into Torrey Lake. I was envious that they had the perfect spot to lay her remains to rest when Corona had died months earlier and I still couldn’t imagine where to spread her ashes. When Maggie died, I realized why: Their ashes should be together, just as they were in life.

I’ll end this post with a video I made to remember Maggie as she lived, not as she died. This is the short version; just like with Corona, I made an original that’s close to twenty minutes long, but I’ll spare the readers of this blog.

Maggie Moodle, Magster, Maggie Moo, we miss you. But we know how lucky we were to have you in our lives. You brought us so much joy, and you made us happy for so many years.

Love you baby dog. Goodbye for now my sweet, sweet girl.

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The Purpose of Life is to Enjoy Every Moment–and Other Annoying Platitudes

Last night, as on most winter evenings, I had a hankering for a cup of tea, so I reached into the cupboard and pulled out a bag of Yogi’s Lemon Ginger. I am a tea person, and Yogi tea blends make me happy–in spite of the fact that each tea bag bears an “inspirational” tag. As my cuppa brewed, I steeled myself and read the latest quote:

"The Purpose of Life is to Enjoy Every Moment"

“The purpose of life…” Right. Thanks, tea tag writer.

This is the same company who apparently doesn’t see any irony in printing, “Be happy so long as breath is in you” on a tag for medicinal tea aimed at cold sufferers. People who, incidentally, are probably not having the best experience with the whole breathing thing when they reach for this tea. No one is happy at all times, anyway, nor are we equipped to enjoy every moment of every day. Parroting such unrealistic expectations demonstrates not only a lack of genuine wisdom but also a dearth of empathy for those who are ill or grieving, and looking for the comfort that only a cup of herbal tea can provide.

Which brings me to the point of this post: why, exactly, I’ve been AWOL, off the grid, missing in blogging action recently. For the past eleven months, to be precise. It isn’t that I haven’t thought about blogging. It’s that blog writers are expected to cultivate this slick, witty, amusing tone, and I haven’t had the heart lately. To write well about Deep Thoughts and Life Issues, I have always needed a decent chunk of processing time. So while I have thought about blogging since my last post, something has stopped me. Perhaps I simply haven’t been ready to talk about certain aspects of my–our–life until now.

Quite a lead-in, eh? As you can probably tell, it was a rough 2014 for our family. First off, we lost Corona, our older dog, in July. She’d been declining for quite a while, but the end came suddenly, and even though Kris and I had agreed in advance not to take heroic measures for an old dog who was clearly not long for this world, we still struggled with the decision to have her put down. We finally decided to let her go gracefully rather than put her through abdominal surgery at age 15, and I know in my head that it was the right decision. My heart has taken longer to catch up, which is why I’ve been reluctant to write about losing her.

Guilt is apparently a common reaction to a loved one’s death, at least according to the World Wide Web and my therapist. But no matter how guilty I feel about the end, or about the fact that I asked my dad to walk Corona so that I could get to work earlier on what turned out to be the last morning of her life, it doesn’t bring her back. It also doesn’t change the fact that we had a great run with her, and she with us. When I called to share the news of Corona’s passing with the woman who rescued her from the wilds of Pennsylvania, she said, “You and Kris were Corona’s therapy.” A young stray initially hostile to people (men in particular) and addicted to running away, Corona became during her thirteen and a half years with us the perfect off-leash family dog.

During her first decade with Kris and me, Corona was one of only two babies vying for our attention. Back in Western Massachusetts, I worked from home on a flexible schedule. Most weekday mornings I would take Corona up to Mt. Tom or Mt. Holyoke, and we would run the trails in all kinds of seasons and weather—through the falling leaves, through falling snow, through falling rain, through air that was so humid you could practically feel it falling, too. In our prime, she and I swished through autumn leaves in picturesque New England, ran up moss-bedecked mountains in the Pacific Northwest, hiked snow-covered trails in the Rockies and the Cascades, swam in the Great Lakes and Puget Sound, and chased all sorts of critters across all sorts of landscapes. She visited 25+ states during her life with us, and spent much of her time where she loved it most—outdoors. I recently compiled a slideshow of some of my favorite photos of her, and I had such fun remembering the amazing places we visited together.

Right after she died, though, I couldn’t sleep for a while, and then I couldn’t get interested in going hiking without her. More than a month later, I finally asked Alex if she wanted to go for a walk at a local park I’d only rarely visited without Corona. Alex said yes, so we piled into the car and set off, the back of my Escape conspicuously empty. All I could think about was the night I’d rushed Corona to the emergency vet clinic and, hours later, returned home without her. Driving my car hadn’t felt the same since.

And then serendipity waved her wand: Alex and I found a stray dog on our way to the park. When I couldn’t reach anyone on either of the numbers listed on her collar, I invited her along on our walk, and she hopped into the back of my car, an unexpected participant in our adventure. It was a beautiful summer day, and the young dog reminded me so much of Corona she could have been related. Just like Corona, this sweet-natured dog loved being outdoors and disliked walking on a leash. Alex and I enjoyed her company, and near the end of the walk, her owner got in touch. We dropped her off with her family, who said they were glad she’d gotten out and about on such a lovely day.


Mischa the wonder dog

It was like Corona was with you after all, a friend said when I told her the story. And it was. Of course, she’s with us all the time in small ways—I see her in the woods, trotting ahead of me and Alex on our way to the “fishing hole” in our neighborhood; I picture her in the back of my car, nose out the window as I run down to the market to pick up a gallon of milk; I see her swimming in the lake each time we take the loop trail, coughing whenever she accidentally inhales too much water; and I imagine her sleeping in the living room at night, watching over us. The first two weeks after she died, I couldn’t feel her anywhere. But then I got the call to bring her ashes home, and as soon as I placed the urn on top of the book shelf, I felt better. It was like she was home with us for good. And now, seven months later, it’s finally getting easier to think of her without crying.

Onward and… Well, Onward

Alex's first day of school

First day of school game face

The past year hasn’t all been rough, of course. In September, Alex started preschool, so we posted First Day of School EVER! photos on Facebook, and were excited to do so in an unabashedly sentimental, completely non-ironic way. Sorry, fellow Gen-Xers. That’s just how we roll. She also had her first soccer clinic over the summer, and naturally, she was a star—once I could convince her to relinquish her grip on my shirt/hand/knee. She had her first gymnastics class, too, in which she was really just ADHD every Saturday morning from 10 to 11am for a month, and then another month of Saturday swim lessons. She’s even sleeping most nights in her own bed without complaint! Admittedly we’re still bribing her with treats, and she still comes into our room to snuggle in the mornings, but fortunately, it’s getting light pretty late these days… For Alex, it’s been a year of milestones.

Eleven months constitutes exactly half of the twins’ lives at this point, so as you can imagine, the change in that time has been explosive. Language, motor skills, communication, understanding–they’ve grown exponentially in all of these areas. Although not at the same pace. One of the things I haven’t written about publicly is the developmental challenges we’ve faced with one of the twins. I’m not sure I even want to name which twin, for reasons of privacy. And yet, it’s not like we think needing some extra help (her and us) is something to be ashamed of. She’s our daughter, and she is who she is, and we love her. It’s just that the internet is forever, and she can’t tell me if it’s okay or not to disclose her personal information.

Let me just say, then, that we noticed some issues with one of the twins about two months in. After discussing our options with our awesome pediatrician, we enrolled said twin in a local early childhood development program. We currently have a coach who comes to the house every few weeks to help us identify issues and solutions related to our daughter’s mild developmental delays and her continued difficulties processing certain types of stimuli. It’s been a really encouraging experience. Kris and I feel like we’re being proactive and trying to help our child be the strongest, happiest, healthiest person she can be, and yet her issues are not extreme, so we feel a tad guilty using the resources being offered to us. Still, I don’t think we would have done it differently in hindsight. Watching our girl become more comfortable and engaged in the world, more sure of herself and confident in her ability to learn new things has brought some hope and inspiration to us in the face of other challenges.

The twins

Ellie & Sydney

In addition to Corona’s death, Kris’s health has been a major hurdle to our ability to Enjoy Every Moment. For some reason, her rheumatoid arthritis (RA) decided to amp way the heck up while she was off her meds during her pregnancy with the twins. We thought once she went back on Enbrel that her RA would go back to normal—i.e., moderately destructive rather than all evil and sh#%—but that, alas, has not been the case. Her doctors declared Enbrel a clinical fail a year ago, and then, just for fun, they took her off ALL medication for six weeks last spring to try to get her “healthy” enough to try a new biologic drug. Surprisingly, being without medication other than Aleve and Tylenol while a severe rheumatologic disease ravages your joints turned out to be pretty awful. So much so that we joke now that it’s a good day when Kris can dress herself.

“That’s not funny,” you may be thinking to yourself, or even saying out loud right about now. But pain and fear only get worse if you let them get you down. (Take that, Yogi tea tag writers.) My Minnesota wife has been trying to teach me this lesson by example for years now, but it hasn’t quite taken. I still whine more than I should about not having time to write, and I know I feel sorry for her and for the kids and for myself more than I probably ought to. She, on the other hand, has borne up impressively. I’m good in a sudden emergency. In a crisis that requires quick thinking and decisive action, I’m your woman. But for the long, drawn-out pain of an acute, chronic disease, my money’s on Kris.


Adorable sisters

The kids are a two-sided coin—on the one hand, they provide us with joy and unconditional love, with a reason to get up every day and keep pushing forward. But on the other, it’s exhausting to parent three kids under the age of four even without an illness like Kris’s. Thank God for the kids, we say as they prance around us during Family Dance Party, or when they run giggling between us, hugging and kissing each of us in turn. But then on one of the late nights/early mornings when not one, not two, but all three are wailing away in their separate beds, I do not feel even remotely thankful. Some nights I leap out of bed, ignited with a rage that I’m sure served some adaptive purpose in my Scots ancestors, back when it might have been advantageous to awaken instantly from a deep sleep ready to do battle. Other nights, I mutter things that are best left unwritten. As Kris and I have come to agree, what is said in the middle of the night stays in the middle of the night.

And then I get up in the morning and go to work, every day Monday through Friday, and I try to stay awake and I try to care about web pages and college students and alumni newsletters. But it’s not easy. This time will pass, I know, probably too quickly. I am conscious of my daughters growing rapidly, and I don’t want to feel relief for every milestone they reach because it means they are headed inexorably toward independence. I think that’s one of the hardest things about Kris’s illness—not always being able to enjoy our children’s early years because somehow, I am currently the only truly able-bodied adult in the family.

“Some day you’ll remember these days fondly,” one of my co-workers told me the other day.

Tears pricked my eyes, because I knew he was wrong. I won’t look back on these days fondly at all, and that’s the sad truth.

Doh, there I go again, pausing to think about our situation instead of pushing onward and upward. To be a writer requires self-awareness, the deliberate act of looking inward. And yet, to survive where Kris and I are right now requires constant movement. If I stop, I’m afraid I will fall and I won’t be able to get up. Lucky for us, our families have really stepped up. So has the university where I work. FMLA is a good thing for our family, thanks in no small part to the 2013 Supreme Court decision that found DOMA to be unconstitutional. My bosses also let me go down to an eleven-month appointment, which means I got to take all of August off and a few extra days at Christmas. Unpaid, but that’s okay. Kris applied for Social Security Disability last spring so that we could have help paying for a college student to come to the house when I’m at work, and SSD was granted at the end of last summer. At least her illness isn’t sending us spiraling into debt, which a lot of people both in the US and elsewhere experience. For that, we are grateful. We are so lucky, we tell each other regularly. Could be worse. Because, of course, it could.

So that’s my last ten or eleven months in a nutshell. Moments of joy, a heart overflowing with love, a spirit rising at times but mostly struggling not to fall. We lost Corona, which we always knew would happen, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Kris is strong, but in constant pain, and one of the twins still struggles occasionally with life in a chaotic world. Things are difficult–and yet not all the time. The cliché says that the hard times make the good times seem even better. I’m not sure I always agree, but I have hope. After many years of therapy, I know that distraction is an antidote to pain and fear (ahem, tea taggers). And so I will keep writing fiction and spending time with my family and working. I will continue to go for walks in the rain with Maggie, our remaining elderly canine companion. I will try to slow down and appreciate my children, though probably not in the middle of the difficult nights. And I will hold out hope that stem cell research will be allowed to flourish in our nation sooner rather than later.

But that’s a subject for another blog post. In the meantime, I leave you with this slideshow of some of our silver-lining moments of 2014. Happy 2015…

Posted in Family, Illness, Parenting | Tagged , | 6 Comments

BOGO Babies, Bogus Research, and BOGO Rulings


The Twins

As some of you know, Kris and I jokingly refer to the twins as our BOGO babies. We actually weren’t the first to bestow this title. Many years ago, one of my very straight grad school friends asked us if we planned to have children. We were at a baby shower, so this question was being bandied about among most of the room’s occupants. When I said that yes, in fact, we were planning to start a family quite soon, our friends asked who would carry the baby, how many kids we wanted, and how we were planning to proceed—adoption, fostering, artificial insemination, IVF?

Artificial with an anonymous donor, we told them; and if that didn’t work, then IVF or adoption, in that order. Kris wanted to be pregnant, and I supported her wish to have that experience.

“IVF?” one of my friends repeated. “Look out—you may end up with a BOGO baby.”

“BOGO?” another friend questioned.

“You know—buy one get one free.”

Everyone laughed, and Kris joked, “I can just hear one of them saying, ‘You were the free one. At least Moms paid for me.’”

At eleven and a half months, the twins are unable to form actual words, let alone sentences, so we haven’t heard that one yet. They do squabble in their own mysterious language, but they also hold hands occasionally at meal times, pat each other on the back, and smile widely and often at each other. Among other things:

We’ve been told that one of the wonderful things about twins is their bond, and at almost a year, we’re definitely starting to see signs of an “us-against-the-world” approach. It’s lovely, and I’m glad they have each other and their big sister, who they both watch raptly whenever she slows down long enough to inhabit their space. Kris and I planned on two children and ended up with three, and though the numbers can be overwhelming at times (they outnumber us, literally), we adore each of them. They are such different people, each her own and simultaneously not her own. Our daughters are ours and their selves and each other’s, a multitude of steadily expanding identities I am forced to acknowledge almost daily.


The Girls

Our children’s identities aren’t the only things changing rapidly, of course. This morning over my second cup of tea, I came across a article about the recent federal court ruling in Michigan, my home state and, coincidentally, the place where Kris’s brother and sister-in-law (the famous G) and our nephews currently reside. In the most recent blow against American anti-gay marriage policies, a federal judge declared last week that Michigan’s voter-enacted ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional. But the judge didn’t just strike a blow in favor of LGBT rights. He also took the opportunity to expose and discredit an insidious tactic that anti-gay activists have used in their attempts to block forward movement on same-sex marriage in the U.S.—namely, the invention of biased research that purports to prove that children are disadvantaged by being raised by gay or lesbian parents.

In my last blog post, I ranted about the attorneys who argue that same-sex marriage should be illegal because of the “damage” done to children of gay parents. Yet even worse are the pseudo-intellectuals like Dr. Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas at Austin, who purposely interpret data to make their research results align with religious-based bias against gay marriage.

In a 2012 study funded by religious conservatives and published by the journal Social Science Research, Regnerus claimed falsely that children of same-sex parents fared worse than those of straight parents. The main problem with this claim? The children he references in the study were actually raised in traditional heterosexual marriages that broke up over one parent’s extra-marital affair(s) with a member of the same sex. Regnerus’s “children of gay parents” are, in fact, children of failed heterosexual marriages.

Yet despite having his study condemned by oh, say, a couple of hundred scholarly peers, disavowed by his own department, and found in an internal audit by SSR to have “serious flaws and distortions,” Regnerus continues to insist that his findings should be used to prevent the legalization of gay marriage.

Bill Schuette, the Attorney General of Michigan, agrees, and recently put Regnerus, along with a handful of similar “scholars,” on the stand to defend Michigan’s ban on gay marriage. Once again, the anti-gay side argued that gays shouldn’t be allowed to legally marry because we shouldn’t be allowed to legally parent.

The Girls' Moms

The Girls’ Legally Married Moms

Even though we already are married; even though we already are parenting; even though the consensus from scholars across a variety of disciplines is that the “the adjustment, development and psychological well-being of children are unrelated to parental sexual orientation and that the children of lesbian and gay parents are as likely as those of heterosexual parents to flourish.” (Source:

According to Dr. Nathaniel Frank, an Ivy League-educated scholar, Regnerus’s research is part of an intentional strategy to prevent change in the currently anti-gay marriage status quo in the majority of American states:

As the New York Times recently reported, in 2010 the conservative Heritage Foundation gathered social conservatives consisting of Catholic intellectuals, researchers, activists and funders at a Washington meeting to plot their approach. The idea was for conservative scholars to generate research claiming that gay marriage harms children by placing them in unstable gay homes and by upending marital norms for straights. A solid consensus of actual scholarship—not the fixed kind being ginned up at Heritage—has consistently found that gay parenting does not disadvantage kids, and no research has shown gay marriage having any impact on straight marriage rates. But trafficking in truth was not the plan. The plan was to tap into a sordid history of linking gay people with threatening kids, and to produce skewed research that could be used as talking points to demagogue the public. (Source:

The beauty of the Michigan ruling last week is that the LGBT community got a BOGO decision—not only did U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman determine that Michigan’s ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional, he also struck a blow against the false prophet/profiteering of researchers like Regnerus and the other “academics” who recently testified on behalf of the State of Michigan that gay parents damage children. As Dr. Frank writes:

Judge Friedman didn’t fall for any of it. “The Court finds Regnerus’s testimony entirely unbelievable and not worthy of serious consideration,” he wrote in what must be one of the most stinging and decisive repudiations of an expert witness in memory. He cited evidence that the conservative research was “hastily concocted at the behest of a third-party funder” which clearly expressed its wish for skewed results. Dismissing the defense’s other witnesses just as strongly, the judge wrote that “The Court was unable to accord the testimony of Marks, Price, and Allen any significant weight.” He concluded that “The most that can be said of these witnesses’ testimony is that the ‘no differences’ consensus has not been proven with scientific certainty, not that there is any credible evidence showing that children raised by same-sex couples fare worse than those raised by heterosexual couples.” (Source:

I won’t pretend that same-sex parents have some sort of corner on excellent parenting. I don’t claim that we make better parents than our straight peers, even though recent studies may or may not have said something along those lines. So much goes into parenting, and so many of us are clueless when we start out, that I honestly believe it’s difficult to come up with quantitative data on something that is impacted by a multitude of factors—age, race, socioeconomic class, family of origin, education level, personality type, sexual orientation, cultural/ethnic background. But at the same time, I absolutely reject the notion that same-sex parents disadvantage our children. And so does the research, Mark Regnerus and his discredited ilk notwithstanding.

Different children respond to the same parenting style in widely divergent ways, not to mention to social situations, classrooms, teachers, peer groups, standardized tests, and so on and so forth. To someone like me, largely untrained in statistics and the social sciences, comparing straight parents to gay parents seems like comparing apples to oranges. Or like comparing Alex to Ellie or Ellie to Sydney.


The Girls & their Mars Rover

All three of our children share the same DNA, the same parents, the same household, potentially the same inherited traits. And yet where Alex and Sydney are cautious and observant, Ellie launches herself into the world with seemingly no fear (or easily discernible judgment). While Alex and Ellie wrestle and giggle together, Sydney is content to play on her own or snuggle with one of her moms. While Ellie and Alex run through the house, Ellie clinging to a wall for support on her still wobbly legs, Sydney paces slowly and deliberately down the center of the long hall, bowed legs wide for maximum stability. While Alex and Sydney seem happiest reading a book or dancing to a tune, Ellie appears to crave motion and discovery.

Our three girls—they are all themselves, and ours, and each other’s. And we are lucky to have them. Whether they’re lucky to have us, only they can decide in due time, and despite all their similarities—Ellie and Sydney have shared almost everything so far, and will continue to do so because that is the way of twindom, for better or worse—our daughters might not even agree on that. Which is okay, because no matter what, Kris and I love them, and we always will.

And speaking of love, I hope you’ll join Kris and me in offering your prayers and condolences to the people of nearby Oso, Washington, who have seen their community so devastated by last Saturday’s catastrophic mudslide. If you can, I hope you’ll join us in giving to the Red Cross. Call 800-733-2767 to donate or text “RedCross” to 90999 to have $10 charged to your phone bill. Or visit the Washington state Combined Fund Drive’s special campaign to help victims: Thank you in advance for your support.

Posted in Family, gay marriage, LGBT rights, Parenting, Twins | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Winter Birthdays and AP Headlines

Last weekend, Alex turned three. Two years ago for her first birthday, we sent out party invitations and ended up with a full house: 25 adults and 11 children. To say that Alex was overwhelmed is like saying the Affordable Care Act websites didn’t work quite as expected at first.

Alex loves a crowd, clearly.

Alex loves a crowd, clearly.

This time around, we only invited half a dozen children, with one parent per child to maintain control while keeping the crowd to a minimum. By Thursday we were set with party favors, cupcake plans, and the requisite Elmo balloon when Alex started sniffling and whining. Kris and I exchanged worried glances. The birthday girl was coming down with a cold.

By the weekend, Alex was a sick little kid. She slept on me most of Friday night, and on Saturday morning she followed me around the house moaning, “Mimi, I don’t like it.” And, “Mimi, I need help from you.” Exhausted from the previous night’s sleeplessness, I have to admit that at first I found my constant companion somewhat unwelcome. But by mid-morning she was so miserable that I gave up any thought of spending time with the twins or my parents, who are currently visiting. I spent the majority of Saturday holding Alex, including a two-hour nap on the living room couch where she burrowed against me twitching and wheezing while I read WWII history on my phone’s Kindle app.

That afternoon, we finally cancelled the party. This was the second year in a row we’d had to change plans for Alex’s birthday due to illness, leading Kris to remark, “Winter birthdays suck.”

This bug seemed like more than a measly cold to me. Alex, our prolific eater who has never met a vegetable she didn’t like, barely ate anything that day other than the fruit and honey-cinnamon concoction we offered her. By nightfall, I was genuinely worried.

“Something’s wrong with her,” I fretted to Kris as we got ready for bed. “Something’s really wrong.”

Kris hugged me. “She has a bad cold. She’ll be okay in a few days.”

bday-girlLooking back, of course, I realize that it may have been the profound lack of sleep that kept making me tear up that night. After a better night’s sleep, Alex woke up the next morning not cured but significantly less clingy and far more smiley. I, however, was no less grouchy.

I did feel a little silly for worrying as I had, but that’s parenting. As my sister-in-law G. once said, no one warns you ahead of time that once you have a child, you will worry constantly. Irrationally, rationally, logically, illogically—your worry travels with you, just as your love does. And just like your love, your worry is easily triggered by a look, a word, a touch.

By Monday morning, Alex was back to almost normal, i.e. dancing and singing made-up words to made-up tunes.

“I’m so glad you feel better,” I told her, smiling at her across the breakfast table.

A little while later, I checked the online news headlines.  And here’s the first headline I saw the morning after Alex’s birthday: “Lawyers: Gay marriage a detriment to children” – Associated Press

First thing Monday morning, and already the AP was crafting headlines giving top billing to the baseless, bigoted opinions of anti-gay hate groups.

Here’s what the headlines should have read:

  • “Attorneys defend same-sex married couples from well-funded hate groups”
  • “Homophobic groups target gay parents—again”
  • “Anti-gay bullies old enough to know better”
  • “Federal court battle pits Bible-thumping bigots against peace-loving, tax-paying, law-abiding gay folks”

Instead, a week rarely passes without some headline proclaiming that same-sex marriage damages children. My marriage. Damages my children. That’s what they’re saying.

Know what damages children? Not having parents who love them. Not having homes to live in and beds to sleep in. Not having food and attention and care and affection. Not being able to sing made-up songs while they dance around a room with a gaggle of adoring adults looking on. Oh, yeah—and being told by bigots that their family isn’t real, doesn’t count, shouldn’t be allowed to exist.

A friend of mine has a child that she and her wife adopted. Recently she told me that the little girl had been born to straight parents who were in the system because low IQs prevented them from being able to take care of themselves, let alone a baby. Social Services knew that the woman was pregnant, and her social worker was anxious to ensure the baby’s safety. But a few days before the little girl was born, her parents vanished off the radar for six full weeks. By the time the social worker found them, the baby was in such bad shape that she had to be airlifted to the hospital and fed via a stomach tube for two weeks.

Now, a few years later, you’d never know that this vivacious, laughing little girl nearly died at the hands of her heterosexual biological parents. And why is that? Because her adoptive moms have given her nothing but love and attention and care. They have provided her with a loving home, and given her the therapy and attention that she needed to overcome such a rocky start in life.

“She’s the light of my life,” my friend told me recently. “She is literally the best thing that has ever happened to me.”

I knew exactly what she meant. We sat together in her living room watching our daughters play together, our eyes brimming with the same tears of love—and worry—for our children.

After last weekend, when I held my daughter and bathed her and fed her and soothed her and sung to her and cried for her and grabbed only a handful of hours of sleep for myself, my temper is necessarily short. As Alex could tell you, I was not in the best mood this morning when she woke me up at 4:30, nor was I very pleasant when she kicked me in her desperation to avoid having a bath a short time later.

“When you’re tired,” the late actor James Gandolfini once noted, “every single thing that somebody else does makes you mad.” Another bit of wisdom all new parents should be given.

Today, armed with sleeplessness and fresh worry, I want to say “F— you” to the anti-gay activists. F— off, you hate-spewing hypocrites. You call yourselves Christians? I think not. And Jesus probably thinks not, too.

Obviously, I’ve gotta get more sleep. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with an image of Alex on one of her recent good days during Family Dance Party, an after-dinner tradition we usually manage to observe three or four nights a week:

dance-partyHer shirt says, “Give peas a chance”–an adage we might all keep in mind, really.

Posted in Family, gay marriage, Parenting | Tagged , | 6 Comments

It’s Not Autobiography. Not Really, Anyway.

One of the hazards of writing fiction in first person is that readers, whether consciously or not, often confuse the author with the narrator. I’ve had plenty of readers familiar with Solstice, which features dual first-person point-of-view characters, ask, “Which narrator is you?” And the answer, as most writers will tell you, is both Sam and Emily and neither of them. Like many others, I favor the smorgasbord technique of character development—borrow a little here from myself, a little there from my closest friends and loved ones, a pinch of invention, and tidbits from work, movies, and other novels, and voila! A character is born.

I wasn’t surprised, then, when a recent review on Amazon for Flight included this sentence: “The main character Ashley is drawn so well that I found myself wondering at times if this was an autobiography.” She added, “I don’t really think it is, but it’s a testament to the realism and complexity of Ashley that I even wondered.” (Thank you, Amazon reader!)

Flattering, no? But while nice for me, the author, to read, this comment also points to the larger issue of author/narrator conflation, which in turn reminds me that I wrote a “Next Big Thing” blog post on Flight last summer that I never actually posted on my blog–which sort of sums up my 2013 writing life nicely, I think. So here it is. Perhaps it will offer a broader explanation of what I do and don’t share with Ashley, my latest view-point protagonist.

(By the way, for an entertaining take on the craft of characterization, check out Andrew Miller’s 2011 piece in The Guardian.)

What is the working title of your next book?


Where did the idea come from for the book?

In the mid-1980s, a plane crash in Detroit made national headlines. An airliner crashed on take-off, killing everyone on board except a 4-year-old girl. My parents and I were on a road trip to look at colleges the week of the crash, and our route home took us along I-94 in Detroit where the plane had gone down less than a week before. The large debris had been cleared but the impact on the landscape was still evident. The impact on my parents and me was also evident—we talked of little else during the two-hour drive home from Detroit.

Later, in college, when I fell in love for the first time, it happened to be with a woman whose father had died in a plane crash six months before we met. Her grief was still raw and remained so during our year together. That experience somehow intertwined in my mind with the accident whose aftermath I had witnessed. When I sat down to write my first serious post-college novel, the story of Flight came to me almost entirely intact. The first draft was high on plot and low on character development, so when I started rewriting it a couple of years ago, I focused on setting, character, and all the other elements I’d neglected in my first, early rush to get the story out of  my head in some form.

What genre does your book fall under?

Contemporary fiction/coming-of-age/new adult. It features a love story, too, but it is not, as several reviewers have noted, a traditional lesbian romance.

What is the synopsis or blurb of your book?

It’s June 1993, and Ashley Lake has just been reminded that she is not a lucky person. As a small child, she lost her parents in a plane crash from which she emerged as sole survivor. More recently, as a high school senior, she watched the aunt who raised her succumb to cancer, leaving her to wonder: Am I cursed?

Rocked by her aunt’s death, Ash puts plans for a collegiate track and field career on hold and moves to New York City. But even as she settles into life in The City, Ash knows she can’t stay forever. Because while it doesn’t look like she’ll be the next Wilma Rudolph, she still might find an encouraging college coach and welcoming teammates. Possibly, even, the perfect place—or person—to call home.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

That’s a tough one. I would say Jessica Biel in her Seventh Heaven days would make a pretty good Ash, but I don’t have a time machine, so…

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Self-published via my imprint, Second Growth Books.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

One year, although that was more than fifteen years ago, so the first draft seems more like a plan for a novel than a fully articulated manuscript.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The aforementioned brushes with aviation accidents, along with the illnesses/passing of assorted persons in my life. My godmother, Alice, died of cancer when I was seven. She was the first person other than my parents to hold me in the hospital when I was born, so losing her was rough. Kris and I named our oldest daughter “Alex” in honor of Alice—a slightly more modern take on a classic name.

My mother has also battled with illness. She has an immune system disorder, but when I was in high school she received various incorrect diagnoses, at least two of which were terminal. For a while, there, I thought we would lose her. Fortunately, the misdiagnoses were eventually corrected, but the impact of that experience on me as a teenager and young adult has had a significant influence on the stories I tell.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

My Mom’s family is from Chattanooga, TN, and one of my father’s aunts lived in Signal Mountain, where Ash hails from. I also lived in New York City right after college, and I wrote the first draft of Flight shortly after leaving the East Coast for Seattle (the first time), so the novel contains a fairly detailed description of a newcomer’s reaction to the Big Apple in the early 1990s. Also, for fans of my earlier sports-themed novels, there’s a fair bit of action and rumination involving running and cycling. Individual rather than team sports, but fun nonetheless, I hope! I’m sure my marathon-running father would agree.

So no, not autobiography. But not not autobiography, either, just the usual author’s smorgasbord. As my wife says, be careful what you share with me–it just might end up in a book.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Self-Publishing with CreateSpace and Amazon in Twenty Not-So-Easy Steps

I’ve now self-published three novels with CreateSpace (print) and Amazon/Nook/my website (eBooks), and while I’m not an expert, I have developed a system that seems to work. At least, it works for me. When I went to launch Flight last month, though, I realized it had been more than a year since my last release. That primer I’d intended to write in late 2012 when I published Gay Pride & Prejudice? Yeah, turns out it would have been exceedingly helpful to have on hand this time around, particularly the Byzantine steps needed to create a print-ready cover PDF for CreateSpace.

So while I waited for CS to review the print files for Flight, I quickly typed up the steps to my process. I wasn’t trying for the nice round number of 20; just worked out that way. Of course, it’s more like 41 steps if you count the nested lists… Anyway, many of these notes are very specific and seemingly esoteric if you haven’t gone through the process, but I thought I would share them anyway for anyone interested in the steps I take to make a book. My hope is that they might actually be useful for someone else engaged in the self-publishing revolution, too.


Before I move on to the steps to my self-publishing process, I thought I would quickly summarize them:

(1)  Write the text in MS Word using a formatted template from CreateSpace
(2)  Download a custom cover template from CreateSpace
(3)  Buy inexpensive high-res cover art and use Photoshop/Illustrator to create the cover
(4)  Upload completed interior and cover files separately to CS (typically in PDF format) to be reviewed at their end for print-readiness
(5)  Order a print proof copy, revise the final draft, upload files, and proof again
(6)  Take the truly final, completed text and convert it to eBook format(s)
(7)  Upload eBook files to various vendors and to your website to sell

Voila! Sounds easy, right? Right.

So here are those steps with much more detail and advice gleaned usually the hard way by moi. Let me know if you have any questions by posting a comment—chances are, if you’re wondering about something, so is someone else.

The Steps as I See Them

  1. Choose paperback trim size (8.5 x 5.5 for me) and download the formatted Microsoft Word template from CreateSpace:
  2. Write the novel. Revise the novel. Go away for a week minimum, a month preferably. Read the novel and revise again. Have others (a minimum of two, preferably someone with editorial skills and experience!) read the manuscript when you think it’s complete. Revise again.
  3. Set up the book at (If you don’t already have a CS account, you will need to register, which involves sharing your Social Security number for tax purposes and a bank account for direct deposit of your future spoils.) Pick either a CreateSpace ISBN for your new project or your own. (I use my own so that the publisher of record is my imprint, Second Growth Books, not CreateSpace/Amazon, but that also means my book isn’t available for libraries to order from Amazon.) You can buy your own from Bowker (
  4. Once your book is in close to final shape, download a custom cover template for your chosen trim size and number of pages from CreateSpace:
  5. Edit the PNG file in Photoshop. For my self-published titles, I buy royalty-free stock photos (Flight, Family Jewels) or vectors (Gay Pride & Prejudice) from—seriously affordable and good high-res images. You’ll need the cover photos to be larger than 1200×1600, so I definitely recommend buying a high-res cover image from a professional website that offers royalty-free options.
  6. Once your cover is complete, print it to a PDF file in high print quality according to these specifications:
    • Fonts and images are embedded.
    • Specified page size matches the intended trim size plus bleed (if applicable). You may lose the bleed you included in your native document if not printed to the proper size.
    • Bookmarks, annotations, and comments are disabled.
    • Document security (any type) is not used.
    • PDF/X format is used. PDF/X is preferred, but if you are submitting non-PDF/X files (for example, PDF/A), any comments, forms, or other non-printing objects could be removed during our review process.
    • Transparent objects are flattened.
    • Spreads and printer’s marks are disabled.
    • Downsampling, or decreasing resolution, of images is disabled.
  7. Other important print-to-PDF settings:
    • Page size = custom; match the document size specified in Photoshop (in inches). Or choose an existing paper size and modify it to match the Photoshop document size—typically 19 x 13 inches.
    • Landscape
    • Minimum 300 dpi
  8. Upload your interior file to CreateSpace as either a .doc or, if you have a bunch of interior art work, printed to PDF file using the same settings as the cover file. I’ve done each for different books and had good results.
  9. Upload your cover file to CreateSpace.
  10. CS will review the files and let you know when they are ready to be proofed, usually in about 24 hours.
  11. Use CS’s online proof review option first. Once you’re satisfied with the cover and interior there, order a print proof copy.
  12. Use the time it takes for your proof to reach you to rest, work on your promo materials/website/Bowker record, or connect with neglected family and friends. Do not think about your book cover or content!

    Kauai, December 2007

    Whew, thought we should take a visual break, too. The text in this post breaks the rules for online text chunking! And yes, “chunking” is a word. Really.

  13. When you receive your proof copy, set aside a day or two (if you can; I know, right?) and read through your book as quickly as you can in order to catch consistency issues and other errors. Mark any changes directly on the page. Have a second reader do the same, if possible. The more eyes, the better.
  14. Edit your interior file in Word. Try not to make any other changes than what you’ve marked in your proof copy—the more changes you make, the more chances for new errors. (Trust me on this one.)
  15. When your file is complete, upload to CreateSpace. They will review the files one more time (24 hours or less) and let you know when your book is ready to go on sale.
  16. Now that your text is absolutely final, work on your eBook. One option: Pay CS $69 to convert your book to Kindle. Or find someone else to convert your book —the CreateSpace Community Forums have lots of folks who do the service well and on the cheap side.
  17. If you want to do it yourself, here’s what I do:
    1. Obtain the ePub template/coding directions from somewhere reliable—I got mine from wiki (, believe it or not, but plenty of other options are available.
    2. Code the book in Notepad (admin files) and DreamWeaver or another WYSIWYG HTML/XML editor (content files). Note: For the content files (chapters), cut and paste your text into Notepad first and then into your HTML editor. This strips all Word formatting out, which is what you want but also a pain because then you have to go through the text in your HTML editor and manually add back in any text formatting, like italics. Fortunately, Word allows you to search for character formatting (i.e., italics), so it’s not as impossible as it sounds. Just very time consuming.
    3. Use WinZip to compress the parts of the eBook. Be sure to add the mimetype file to the archive first, or the resulting .zip file won’t work.
    4. Once the file has been created, manually change the extension from .zip to .epub. (Ignore any warnings that might pop up.)
    5. Validate your ePub file (check it for errors) at
    6. Fix any code/compiling errors and re-validate as many times as it takes. For me, usually about three to five times of receiving errors, Googling them to find out how to fix them, fixing them, and revalidating.
    7. Convert your ePub to .mobi and any other format you want (I use Calibre); .mobi works on the Kindle and .epub works on Sony, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, iBooks, and other ePub-based readers.
    8. Create the Kindle record at (You’ll have to register as a Kindle Author/Publisher and link a bank account/SSN if you haven’t already done so.)
    9. Create the Nook record at Again, you’ll have to register if you’re not already a B&N Author/Publisher.
    10. Create the record at for even more distribution options. However, this involves reformatting a second Word file, which is also very, very time-consuming, which is why I have yet to do so. But I’m told it’s the way to go, so someday I probably will try it.
  18. If you want to sell paperback copies directly from your website, create a link to Amazon as an affiliate or a link to your CS store—you earn higher royalties on your CS store, FYI.
  19. If you want to sell eBooks directly from your website, connect with an online shopping cart system if you don’t already have that capability. I use eJunkie hooked up to a PayPal account, which came highly recommended from other self-publishers on the CS community forum. A bit non-intuitive at first, but if you’re a little bit techie, it’ll come.
  20. Ta da! You’re done! Well, sort of. You should have already started promoting (a trailer is good—I create mine with Animoto, borrowing their stock photos when possible but also pulling from Morguefile, WikiCommons, and my own image collection, and then edit in Adobe Premiere Elements), but marketing and promotion is a never-ending side job for most authors.

This probably sounds like a lot of work, and, as my wife can attest, it is. But once you’ve launched your first self-publishing title, the system is in place. For the next title, you just use your templates and your existing online accounts, and half of the steps (okay, maybe, like, a quarter) are already set.

In conclusion, self-publishing a title takes a fraction of the time writing a book takes, but it is not for the faint of heart. Nor is it for the technically-averse.

Software programs I own and use:

  • Microsoft Word
  • Notepad
  • Photoshop
  • Illustrator
  • Acrobat Pro
  • Adobe Premiere Elements
  • DreamWeaver

Websites I use and/or own (heh heh):

Last and not least, good luck, and may the self-publishing force be with you!

Posted in Self-Publishing, Writing | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

First Reviews and a Book Giveaway

I know, you’re not supposed to read your own reviews. But for me it’s hard to resist, which is why I know that Flight is doing surprisingly well so far–it’s currently #11 on the Amazon Kindle bestseller list for lesbian fiction, and out of four reviews to date on Amazon and Goodreads, Flight has garnered an average of 4.75 stars out of 5. A loyal reader (you know who you are, C.) wrote to tell me, “Flight is an incredibly positive journey, not in the shallow sense of the absence of sorrow or pain, but in finding in love and life the courage to search and discover.” Another reader commented, “What a thought-provoking book! Slow food for the mind.”

SlowFoodSo why after five other well-received and decently selling books do I find all of this surprising? Probably because like many other writers (and artists and musicians), I am way too close to my own work to be able judge the merits of anything I produce. I mean, of course I like what I write. Why else would I spend so much time and energy on my novels? It’s not like I’m turning out runaway bestsellers; clearly I haven’t sold my fiction-writing soul at this point.

But it is still gratifying to have people I’ve never met announce publicly that they loved my book. And, of course, a relief, because I’m not sure I’ll ever completely quiet the little voice in the back of my mind whispering that I’ll never write anything good. Four years, six books, and only a few bad reviews in, that voice is much smaller than it used to be. Perhaps a decade from now it will have faded into nothingness. One can hope.

The funny thing is, the worst review I ever received was for an unpublished book, a historical mystery/romance that I entered many years ago in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. I made it to the semi-finalist round, which meant I got to have a (supposedly) real Publisher’s Weekly reviewer take a gander. Lucky me. Suffice it to say, the reviewer detested the novel, and very ably and snarkily detailed exactly why, pulling zero punches in what seemed to my bruised ego like an attempt to convince me to give up writing fiction altogether.

abna-badgeLooking back, I now feel fortunate that I got that egregiously awful review out of the way in a venue that few people other than my friends and family members saw. I’m also glad I didn’t let that jerk–who has probably penned nothing more than snarky reviews himself–convince me to quit. If my literary-fiction-leaning grad school classmates and professors didn’t succeed on that front, I guess a random stranger didn’t have much of a shot, either.

But the thing I’ve come to realize about books that everyone else probably already knew is that taste is subjective. Some readers like one of my books and not the others, some like them all, and some don’t like any. And that’s okay. An estimated 95% of the books published in the US sell fewer than 1,000 copies. Given that reality, life is good.

Okay, so enough on reviews and sales and fragile author egos. The other part of this post relates to a giveaway: For those who don’t already know, I’m giving away a paperback copy of Flight on Goodreads. Sign up at before December 31 for a shot at winning a signed copy, or pick up an eBook copy–still only $3.99…

Happy Holidays to everyone, and happy reading!

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