Saturday, December 28, 2013

Meat and Potatoes: Your Votes, Please.

And Good Day, fellow Castaways.

I know I started this blog as a way to help my readers get to know me better, as a person and where I stand, as well as just hang out and chat.

I am a writer. That means I write and sell what I write. I'm not trying to insult your intelligence, I'm just laying it out like it is.

I'm also too proud to beg. Let's face it, you get enough commercials throughout your day, you don't need me adding to all that racket, and I hate trying to "shout louder than everyone else out there" to draw attention to my work. Knowing this, I am aware it makes my sales suffer, because I'm not out there dancing the Hoity-Toity and shouting through my bullhorn. I just think it's more important to be courteous.

Well, I'd like you to buy my books. They've been very well-received by those who have read them, and in addition, I've received some fairly prestigious awards for my writing. Consider that my version of a commercial. I really need people to buy my books so I can pay my bills.

You might notice off to the right a little and down, a box filled with undersea wonders and a legend "Top Ten Finisher." That's a badge given to me by the fine folks at Preditors and Editors, an organization dedicated to watching out for writers and making sure they don't get scammed by jackwagons posing as reputable publishers, who might otherwise take advantage over someone with a dream of being published and marketed. Let's take a closer look at that little thang, shall we?

Awards have a way of translating into sales. That's why I'm bringing this up today. Becoming NADIA finished in the top ten best thrillers of 2011. Thanks for all who voted.

Preditors and Editors works hard to keep the business end of writing clean, and I want to take a moment to recognize them. Yay, you. Thanks, guys.

But back to the Top Ten: Every year, P&E opens up the polls for voting by readers on the best new works, both eBook and paper.

So, to the heart of the matter: What I'd love everyone to do is vote for my two books that are up this year: Critical Mass for best novel-length thriller, and Lies and Paine for All Other Short Stories. I've even included the links below. You can vote for both.

For Critical Mass, click here:

For Lies and Paine, click here:

Thanks for indulging me, guys. I really appreciate it. Like I said, awards tend to translate into sales, and I do need all I can get.

Next week, we resume our regularly-scheduled chaos.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Why Failure = Excellence.

Good day, fellow castaways. I pray this Holy-Day season finds you well. The Keith Household wishes every one and all of you a Merry Christmas, and a joyous and prosperous New Year.

I felt it appropriate this week to expand on the theme of excellence, because so many people seem to have a wrong idea on what "excellence" is. So I'll talk about what it means to me, and if it touches some of the same nerves in you, then we're all a little closer to knowing each other.

Let's revisit the little league pitcher from last week's post. Kid had awesome hot talent. That I will not argue; it's evident in the way he shuts down whole teams' batting lineups. But instead of studying him and making their kids learn to hit him, the league decided to disband his team.

The argument was that they didn't want their kids to have to face failure over and over against him, and it would damage their self esteem.

I get it. Failure sucks. I tried out for little league when I was seven years old. Man, I was eager to get going. I love baseball. I love everything about it, except the overpaid spoiled brats who have to wring every last penny from families who just want to have an afternoon at the ball park. But that another story. I love baseball, and I tried out.

Coach was on the mound (in the days before pitching machines), and he hucked a pumpkin up there to see what I'd do with it. For those of you not familiar, he tossed an easy pitch right over the plate for me. Well, as my biggest brother at the time was already popping home runs and taught me how to hit, I was ready for it. I laid into that ball like a cheap rug, sending a pretty hot grounder between first and second base. I take off down the line to First Base as hard as I can. Second baseman (an older kid on the team) scoops the ball up and rifles it over to the first baseman just before I got there. The ump calls me out. That's it. I'm out. I failed. I couldn't stand the humiliation of all those boys looking at me, watching me fail. So I took my mitt and left the field in tears. The coaches called me to come back, but I couldn't go back there and fail again.

True story, it happened exactly that way. I missed out on playing team baseball because I couldn't handle failure. Poor me. My mother tried to talk me into going back to they tryouts, and eventually I did, but by that time tryouts were over. The field was empty. My chance was gone. Mom should have gabbed me by the ear and dragged my keister back to that ball diamond and made me try again right away. My life could have turned out different.

Failure is a part of life, and I might suggest is the largest part of excellence. Everyone here has been 'round and 'round the mulberry bush about Thomas Edison. You know, the guy who invented the electric light bulb, and other such awesome things. He said the key to his success was the thousands of failures he encountered in his search for the right combination of wire, glass, etc.

When someone asked him about all those goofs, he said, "What failures? I just discovered a thousand ways not to make a light bulb before I discovered the way to make one." Or words to that effect. Feel free to look it up.

Life is full of frustration, failures, mistakes, humiliation and scorn. Just watch the news. But life is also full of celebration, success, honor and pride of accomplishment. And it's nothing to celebrate if it isn't preceded by someone pouring their blood, sweat and tears into their dream, and failing time and again only to try one more time and get it right.

What if we gave up the first time we tried to walk, and fell on our padded little bums? Hell, let's all just crawl around on all fours. Falling hurts, and we wouldn't want to pick up any bruises. That might affect our self-esteem.

That's why "participation trophies" make me sick. It may seem cruel to make kids suffer through losing. Good gravy, I know what it's like. And yes, some kids are more sensitive than others, and they most certainly will  be crushed if they don't get that first base hit. But guys, let's remember the pros in baseball only make it only about a third of the time, and that's the better hitters.

Excellence is NOT winning all the time. In fact, if anything, excellence is losing, trying again, losing some more, trying again, getting bashed in the face, trying again and wiping the blood from your nose, trying again... You get the picture.

Excellence is staring failure in the face and daring to try one more time. One more submission. One more lap around the track. One more pitch. One more step.

Excellence isn't in our wins. Excellence is in our failures. Winning is just the end result when we don't quit.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Demand Excellence!

Fellow Castaways,

Greetings from the busy (yet cozy) confines of the Keith Household, from the Gizzard of Sub-Polar Michigan (The Heart is a bit farther north).

This week's post should be no surprise to anyone who's known me longer than six weeks on any level deeper than just random musings or rants on a blog. I firmly believe that what advances a culture even further than basic civility is a drive for individual excellence. Because if we are all free to excel, the entire culture excels as well. And the best way to get an individual to excel is to reward him or her when they do.

Why does this make a difference? Because somewhere down the line, the American Culture has given up on excellence. As a prime example, I give you the story of Jericho Scott. Read the following article as a personal favor for me. I posted the url for copyright purposes:


Granted, Jericho is 14 now, and I hope he's still pitching. But seriously? "He's too good. We simply must stop that!" is what I get from reading the article. Someone who pours themselves into their craft is punished, and for what? Practicing until his shoulder is sore? Throwing at smaller targets to improve his aim? Demanding more from himself than everyone else in the league?

"Well," you say, "He's not being a team player, then, is he? Plus, he's making the opposing teams feel bad that they can't hit him. And isn't sport about making each other feel good?"

 "Well," I say, "Sport isn't about making a person feel good. Sport is about teaching someone to drive themselves beyond what they believe they can do on their own. Winning and losing are part of the game. If you lose, guess what? You drive yourself and your teammates harder, so the next time you win!!!"

Life doesn't hand out trophies for participation. You don't win by simply showing up. Notre Dame didn't win a national football championship because they simply showed up, and someone forgot to tell them it was time to play. Not every writer finishes a book, let alone gets a contract. Very few actually do. Even self-published authors are responsible for not only finishing the book, but securing a good editor, getting cover art, and promoting. Books don't sell simply by their virtue of existing.

See how I made that change there? It doesn't matter what your dream is, or your passion, or your pastime or hobby. If you don't pursue and yes, demand excellence from yourself, you don't get the prize. You don't get the contract. You don't get the sales. You get "Isn't that nice?" and a pat on the head.

I don't know about you, but I want everyone who sees my work, whether it's writing a book or repairing an aircraft's avionics systems, to be able to say, "That man knows his stuff about (fill in the blank).

As a culture we have to do better at rewarding excellence, not punishing it. The person who puts in more hours than everyone else deserves a bigger cut of the pie. The one who pours their blood, sweat and tears into making a better product deserves to charge more, and deserves better pay than the one who shows up, puts in 8 hours, and goes home to burn their eyes out on the big game of the night.

Participation trophies are a cheap imitation of "Isn't that nice?" Why do you deserve an award for showing up? That's expected. Rewards are for those who excel.

One of everyone's favorite Christmas songs points out the Favor of Excellence:

Come, they told me; A newborn King to see.
Our finest gifts we bring to lay before the King,
So to honor him when we come.

Little baby, I am a poor boy, too.
I have no gift to bring that's fit to give a king.
Shall I play for you on my drum?

Mary nodded. The ox and lamb kept time.
I played my drum for him. I played my best for him.
Then he smiled at me.
Me and my drum.

I left out the "pa-rumm-pa-pumm-pumms to condense the story to its purest form.
Because in our hearts, we know that driving to do our best is what we were born to do.

There was a time when excellence played a part in our culture, and it can again. But it comes down to us. Stop rewarding mediocrity. Drive yourself on to greater things. You don't have to win all the time; no one does.

But is it too much to ask that we everyone do our very best, each day, with what we have?

What do we have to lose?

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Resting Place

Resting Place

Over the mountains, through the fens,

There's a cabin in a glen.

A fire is waiting, the hearth is warm,

Food and shelter from the storm.

A jug of wine, a loaf of bread,

A place to rest your weary head,

A hearty meal and a cheerful song

To warm your heart. Here, you belong.

Outside, out there, the beasts may rage

The wind may howl, the storm rampage.

But stand they fast outside this door,

None dare come in, though they implore

With beats and bangs, with furious screams.

In here, they're but the stuff of dreams.

Empty are the threats they raise,

They cannot cross into this place

Where peace and rest soothe heavy heart,

And heal the scars of angry dart,

Where love can kiss each tear away.

Let good drink flow and music play!

Let cheer lift up each weary face,

Here inside my resting place.

--Cyrus Keith, (c) 2012

Saturday, November 30, 2013


I remember in my earlier days, my dad gave my brother and me matching tool sets. These weren't little plastic replica tools, these were "Handy Andy" sets.
I mean just look at that! Hand saw, hammer, punch awl, Brace and bit, man this thing had it all, and we were on Cloud Nine just having these tools within our reach.
Dad was a bit of a craftsman, and we used to love watching him in the basement, building kitchen cabinets, turning lampstands on a lathe, making intricate kites---he loved wood. Which reminds me of a story, but I'll tell that later.
Anyway, Dad taught us how to use all these brilliant little implements of destruction to create things of our own. He showed us how to hammer, and then he put the hammer in our hand and said, "Now you try." He cut a couple boards with his big handsaw and then set us up with smaller ones to measure and cut. Mark always got his right. Me, not so much. It wasn't from lack of trying, mind you. I just didn't have the steady hands that Dad and Mark had, nor the sharp eye for detail, nor (let's face it) the talent to nail more than one board to anything more than my own foot.
BUT, I tried, and still had fun. And my father exposed us over the years to many other skills besides, from making acrylic-molded sculptures to candle-making, to developing our own photo negatives and prints, to maintaining our own cars. He even taught us how to braze sculptures from coat hanger wire and hardware.

He wanted us to be well-rounded with our hands so we could be more self-sufficient, and maybe in the mix, we could find our calling. Dad pushed us ever on, ever higher, and told us there was no limit to what we could do, if we set our minds to it. All we needed was a vision.
So many times though, I look around and see people with no vision. they get up, go to work, they come home, pay their bills, and go to bed. And the next day, they do it all over again, until they die. I don't know about you, but I am more frightened of dying in a rut than I am of anything else, except maybe large, hairy spiders.
There is a story Jesus told his followers about a landlord departing on a journey. Before he left, he gave each of his servants ten measures of gold, with the understanding that he wanted it back when he returned. Then he left. When he came back home, the first servant came to him, and said "Lord? These ten measures of gold (Gold back then was measured using in "talents.") you gave me, I invested, and turned them into thirty talents. See, here is your gold." The second came to him and said, "I put the gold you gave me to use, and turned it into twenty talents. Here it is, my lord." The third one came and said, "I took your gold and buried it so you couldn't accuse me of losing it. Here it is, all ten measures."
The landlord was impressed with the servants who got their hands dirty and doubled, or even tripled their money, even though they put their talents at risk, and rewarded them richly. The third servant he called "wicked," and threw him out. Look it up; it's called "The Parable of the Talents."
See, I'm going to be held accountable one day for having used the talent I've been given.  I want to be able to say to my Maker that I took the tools my father gave me, and I made something with them. Now, that Handy Andy kit has long been gone from my life. But Dad gave me more tools than just a hammer and a brace-and-bit. I have different tools now, and I want to tell God I've put them to use.
Even if you don't believe in God, you're going to be lying on your deathbed one day with the knowledge that you could have done more, stretched yourself farther, reached higher. And it will be too late to do anything then to fix it.
So fix it now. Here's your chance.
I want everyone who reads this post to set a goal THIS WEEK for taking one more step toward fulfilling your true joy. Those are the talents you received from God. It might be writing. It might be enforcing the law. It might be dancing, welding, singing-- whatever it is that God has put in you (remember you have everything in you that you need already), whatever it is that is your True Joy, take one step closer to it.
If you need help making a plan for achieving it, then get help. I want reports, and "I can't" is not an acceptable answer.
Do it. This week. I'll randomly pick four who comment with a NEW STEP toward their goal, and they will get  their choice of an eBook by yours truly, Cyrus Keith. I'll even gift it in your name to one person you designate, if you want. Make sure you leave an email for me to contact.
Three, Two, One...Go.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Special Interview: Alice Germond

Good day, fellow castaways.

This week I'm posting a day early because no one in their right mind would pass up this interview. It's gonna be a long post, but I hope you all read through to the end, because I couldn't stand to cut any of the real meat in the story.

Jack Germond was one of Washington Journalism's heavy hitters, writing columns that appeared in 140 newspapers over the years. He was also an outspoken panel member on Meet the Press, The McLaughlin Group, and other public affairs shows.

His first work of fiction released recently through MuseItUp Publishing, the same House through which I have my own work published, which makes him my House brother. Sadly, however, we lost Jack to a respiratory illness the very day his book released. He said in a 2008 interview, "I want to see if I can do it, but I don't want to write a bad book." Yeah, right. The man wrote through ten presidential elections, gained national notoriety for his Mad Skillz (yes, I said it. Suck it up!), and still doubted whether he could pull off a decent work of fiction. I haven't read his book yet, but rest assured I'm going to.

To get to the point: This week, my guest is none other than Alice Germond, Jack's wife of twenty-five years, and before we get done, you'll get a great picture of Jack and his book, A Small Story For Page Three.

Alice is herself no shrinking wallflower. She met Jack in 1984 while he was covering that presidential campaign, and she's been active in politics for some time, sitting in positions of leadership on the national level. I'm honored and blessed to host her this week.

So without further ado, Here's my interview with Alice:

Cy: First off, Alice, my deepest condolences for your loss. Those of us who don’t know Jack will never know what we missed out on. That is, until now. Because we all want to be able to say “Don’t tell me I don’t know Jack!”

Alice: Thank you for your kind and thoughtful words.  Knowing Jack was an extraordinary experience and a great joy.  He was lots of fun, smart, caring and complicated.  He enjoyed many things and we had a great time together.  I am fortunate indeed.

Cy: Jack Germond was known as one of Washington’s heavy-hitters in political journalism for many years. Why was A Small Story for Page 3 Jack’s first foray into Fiction?
Alice: While Jack pondered this novel for at least 20 years, he loved writing for good newspapers and covering great stories – so much so that he often said he would have done it for free.  But the newspaper business was changing, the campaigns he covered less real, and though he was worried about writing “a bad novel” with a little encouragement, he was ready to go for it.

Cy: Give me one memory that sums up “Jack” in his essence.

Alice: One is too hard, he lived life very completely burning the candle at both ends.  But I like to picture him both in those quiet moments sitting on our deck in the morning sipping coffee and watching the bluebirds nest, and in the evening with a glass of wine as the sun reflected the day and we shared ours; and in those collegial moments with friends enjoying great conversation, good food and wine, and extending the evening, often at the bar at the end of a long campaign day on the road;  and covering a story, writing fast, getting it right, and beating the competition.

Cy: Why fiction? Why now? (Not that we’re complaining, mind you!)

Alice: After he retired from the newspaper business – a bit fed up with the alarming way both politics and the media have changed – he wrote a memoir (Fat Man in A Middle Seat) and then an opinion book (Fat Man Fed Up).  So he was kinda’ evolving from “just the facts” to writing about himself, to writing his thoughts.  Writing fiction, making up people and situations and a story line was the next challenge and he had played with the idea over a number of years on the road and at home.   Finally he had the time and the courage.

Cy: Did he have any other hobbies or interests?

Alice: Oh yes, Jack loved the race track.  He judged horses almost like they were candidates:  closer, trainer, come from behind, condition of the track, the rest of the field, etc.  He also loved good food and wine and would pore over various catalogues imagining his next order.  He loved sports, particularly the Red Skins and the Orioles.  He was fascinated by and knew the names of most birds, and enjoyed the change of seasons noting when various flowers bloomed in my garden, and which vegetables were ripe.  He read the newspaper every day, of course.  We certainly liked to travel together and go on road trips, and he liked seeing me dressed up, sexy, smart and exuberant celebrating something/anything.  He loved our place in the country about 1 ½ hours outside of DC.  He was a very complete man.

Cy: What was your favorite meal to share?

Alice: Well, I loved that he made me breakfast almost every day while I would go running with our dog and pick up the newspaper.  But, dinner with Jack Germond, what a treat.  We ate by candlelight even if it was just pizza.  Dinner was always an event, first a drink and “being sociable” as he called it; then cooking together or whatever; eating and talking with occasional hand waving and much discussion, and extending the meal, or the evening, with more talk and good wine.

Cy: How did you two meet?

Alice: On the campaign trail.  I was working as a senior staff person in Gary Hart’s campaigns in 84 and 88 .  The 88 campaign was long and messy and after Hart folded I was hired as the Deputy Political Director for Michael Dukakis.  It was a long year and a half of traveling and we sorta’ found each other, regularly…  We called it “schedule check”; i.e.; where were we each going next and could it be the same state?
Cy: Was there ever a story Jack really didn’t want to write?

Alice: I think Jack was often troubled by the obsession with personal issues that have nothing to do with the real stories these days, but Jack would not write a story if he didn’t think it should be written – and he would fight to write the story if it should be.  That’s partially what “A Small Story for Page 3” is about.

Cy: It just so happens I "sit" on the other side of the political aisle, but from what I'm hearing so far, Jack and I would have seen a lot of the same things from the same side, with the way politics have changed in the last forty or so years. A journalist with ethics: Now, that I can respect, regardless of whether we agree on specific issues.

Was there any particular subject that got just got his goat more than any other? 

Alice: When so called journalists are not really reporting the story, just pontificating without doing the job -- not talking to both sides or to voters and not appreciating nuance.  And the “moral” certitude of some who pretend they are in the news business.

Cy: The New York Times described Jack as “old-school, irascible and opinionated.” Would he have taken those as compliments, or as insults?

Alice: “Old school and irascible” I think he would have smiled at, and he was, among many things.   But while Jack held strong opinions, I’m not sure opinionated captures him as well since Jack was seldom judgmental.  He certainly was sought after company both on the road and on TV.

Cy: Lastly, how are you doing?
Alice: Oh, how nice of you.  Pretty well I like to think…  Jack and I had a wonderful time, mustn’t be greedy.  But I miss him.

Cy: I can understand. I've lost people whom I've loved deeply as well, and I want to thank you for giving us this insight into Jack. I feel like I know him a little, and I feel privileged that you've allowed us to see him in a light away from what we may have seen in his columns or on TV.

So now, my friends. with that tone still ringing in your minds' ears, let's take a peek at Jack's only work of fiction, A Small Story For Page Three:

Blurb: Harry Fletcher can’t for the life of him figure out what exactly the ‘nugget’ of information his colleague, Eddie Concannon, uncovered prior to his death is. Picking his way along the threads of information, Harry soon finds himself at odds with government officials and his own newspaper seems to be involved in the collusion. Join Harry as he deciphers the clues and enjoy a journey into the world of investigative reporting set against a colorful back drop of characters and locations.

Check out more of Jack's book at:

Barnes and Noble

Check out these reviews:

Congratulations to MuseItUp Publishing for publishing this first novel by the legendary newspaper reporter and television commentator Jack Germond.  I was privileged to know Jack, who died at age 85 the day A Small Story for Page 3 was published.  Like the author himself, his novel is knowledgeable without being the least bit pretentious, insightful and often funny.  You’ll cheer newspaper reporter Harry Fletcher as he doggedly pursues a scandal involving a politician who hopes to be governor. Despite threats from both the politician and his own publisher—not to mention marital problems at home—Harry perseveres as he confronts his own ethical standards of journalism.  This is a well-written story with plenty of food for thought.  K.P. Robbins

Inside a major D.C. newspaper hub, Jack W. Germond has created a tense, boilerpot of a story. He shows the glamour we all think the news media possess is coated with many layers of tarnish, some obvious, some concealed, seedy, and spreading like dry rot through the limbs of a towering old tree.

Upon the death of his friend, our hero Harry Fletcher, top political reporter is given what the business calls a nugget of a story his buddy was following. Find the story, Harry's bosses bid of him...quietly!

This is a gripping book I read from beginning to end in one sitting. I was captivated and cheering Harry on as he came up against obstacle after obstacle while ferreting out the story behind the nugget.

When I reached the end though, I wanted more, but sadly, there will be no more, Mr. Germond passed before this book was due for release, but I will read and re-read this book, as I often do with books that are keepers. This IS a keeper. Well done Mr. Germond, and thank you for leaving this final gift behind for us to enjoy.

Lin Holmes

Monday, November 18, 2013

Special Excerpt: Becoming NADIA

Greetings, fellow castaways.

This is going to be a short week for a variety of reasons. Oh, most of them are good, believe me.

First off, I was going to post this weekend, but after Linda peeled my face off my keyboard and typed "Go to bed, Dearest" on the imprints on my forehead (Shift key included), I figgered it weren't gonna hap'n, darlin'. So forgive my late post this week.

Secondly, and this is cool beyond cool: My special guest THIS FRIDAY is none other than Alice Germond, Secretary Emeritus of the Democratic National Committee and wife of the late Jack Germond, the legendary Washington "not-inside" Power Journalist and author of A Small Story For Page 3. No, we're not going to debate anything. Alice is going to share some of her favorite "Jack" moments, and talk about her husband's book. We had us an awesome conversation. So stop back by and comment.

So, that's out of the way. This week, I want to share another sneak peek from my EPIC-Award-winning debut novel Becoming NADIA. If you haven't read it yet, I can safely promise you'll enjoy it.

Nadia fished around in her duffel bag until she found a gray fleece hoodie and slipped it on against the rising wind. She took one other item from the bag, the little bible from the hotel nightstand in Denver, and tucked it in her pocket. Then she picked up the duffel and stuffed it into the bin, one less load to slow her down.
She walked north out of town on Hank's Lumber Road, skirting the upper lake on a narrow, winding road that led up into the mountains around Klamath Falls. She breathed deeply of the mountain air, refreshing her lungs as she stepped out, hands jammed in her pockets. The aroma was clean, the air rich with life. She heard birds in the trees all around. A bear snorted and shuffled across the road ahead, hardly giving her a second glance. A gentle rain began to fall, and it wasn't long before Nadia began to feel the chill in her bones.

As she walked along, she wondered if the people who lived here appreciated the beauty that surrounded them. She wondered if they woke up and simply went on with their lives, not living each day to its fullest. How many people never heard the birdsongs in the trees, never saw the sky painted with so many beautifully sad shades of watercolor gray? They would call this dismal. They would write today off as dreary and depressing, and never bother to look out their windows to see the beautiful, clear raindrops gathering like a million tiny, silver-gilt diamonds on the leaves of the trees all around them. They wouldn't bother to smell the clean scent of the air, feel the coolness in their lungs. How many never really tasted the food they ate, or smelled the scent of the morning air in the mountains? How many people never really felt the other people in their lives, never appreciated the love that could be theirs? Deaf, numb, and blind, they existed only to exist. She took an extra deep
breath of cool, moist air and felt it cleanse her being. Breathing. They could start by being thankful
they could breathe, and enjoy every breath because it meant one more that they could take. How many more breaths would she be able to call hers?

Here, even so close to the end, she was thankful. Thankful for the few real friends with whom she'd shared time and laughs, thankful for this short time that she'd been given. At least she'd known friendship; she'd known love.

A car came by the other way, headed for town, throwing a fine mist from its tires as it passed. Nadia was so lost in her own thoughts she never heard it turn around and pull up behind her. She jumped when a familiar voice rang in her ears, and she started to run, but held up short when she heard a desperate shout. “No, Nadia! Please don't run away!”

Nadia turned around. Becca Mitchell was out of her car running toward her. Nadia held her ground. She stood on the shoulder and waited as Becca approached.

Becca stopped a few paces away and held her arms out, breathless. “Please, let me talk with you. Just you and me, and no one else, okay?”
Now you want to talk?”

Becca's face was tight, her voice confused: “I've always wanted to talk. Nothing's changed.”

“Everything's changed, Dr. Mitchell! I'm not who I thought I was, and you're a part of this whole mess. Why should I trust you?”

“I'm sorry, Nadia. Look, I'm just as confused about all this as you are. I want to understand. Will you help me?”

Nadia looked into Becca's eyes. Either Becca Mitchell was a better liar than Nadia ever dreamed, or she was dumber than a box of rocks.

She remembered when this whole mess began to blow up. Becca was anything but stupid. She was also the worst liar in history. That left only one other option, and that was the most frightening of the three. She followed the doctor back to her car and slid into the passenger's seat.

The car was warm and dry. The windshield wipers beat a gentle cadence as Becca put the car in gear and pulled out onto the road. The women spoke little as Becca headed down the highway toward town. “So you decided to come home after all?”

“After a fashion,” Nadia mumbled, shivering in spite of the warmth from the car's heater. The rain had soaked her clean through to the skin, and she was losing body heat.

Becca seemed to notice, for she reached over and turned the heater up to full so Nadia could warm her hands. “I know what I am now.” She looked at Becca, waiting for some kind of response. She got none. “I'd like to know why.”

I included this part because it follows up on what I've been trying to tell everyone from the git-go. We all need to see the beauty of rain, of snow, of parenthood, and of childhood. Life is life, and we only get one shot. We need to make it count. We need to tell the people we love how much they mean to us, to show the world the best that we have. We have no guarantee of a tomorrow. How many more breaths do we have to call our own, after all? 
Just a little food for thought, people.
I'll see you Friday. Set your calendars.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Good News/Bad News

I was watching a video with the fam, an old comedy (whoodathunk "Dinosaurs" was "old?") last night, and one of the characters says to another (read closely, this is the "bad news"):

"You're all that you are, and that's all you're ever going to be."

It was meant as a punchline, and the context was "If you're miserable now, you'll always just be miserable." Okay, funny, haha. At least it was funny when he said it. Kind of like those posters you see in cubicles from these smart-aleks over at

Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars.  Of course, then your eyeballs will boil and your lungs explode from decompression.  But that's what you get for being a damn showoff.

Even the most ambitious little pebble will never grow up to be a big rock.

Woo-hoo. Yes, I think those are hilarious. And the bad news is:

Yes, it's true. You're all that you are, and that's all you're ever going to be. Period.

"Hey," you say. "That doesn't equate to what you said before! You mean I'm always gonna be this way?"

No, I didn't say that. Because now I'm going to share a secret (This is the "Good News" part): You have everything to be great RIGHT NOW.

You have your talent. You have your dream, and all the tools to make it happen, right inside you. I'll even go you one better. Jesus said "The Kingdom of God is within you." (Look in Luke's Gospel, Chapter 17). Look, you have the Kingdom of God inside you. What more do you need?
Who you are is not what you are doing right now. Who you are is what you will become. t's the final fulfillment of all that you already are. It's you, shining in your brilliance, in that one great thing you can do better than anyone else, and that's just to Be You.

No, not everyone is cut out to be an astronaut. Not everyone bounds across the Mongolian wilderness with RC Andrews. Not everyone writes beautiful stories. But if you are, then don't compromise. In everything you d, do it as though you were doing it for God Himself, for His glory as your Daddy. "Hey, did you see that?" he shouts as He points at you and laughs with pride. "Did you see what my child just did? That's AWESOME!!!"

So your earthly father never did that. He may be someone you really don't like or respect, and that sentiment very well may be merited. But God doesn't make junk, and He doesn't make mistakes. He refines GOLD, people.

He makes farmers who love the earth and bring forth life from it.

He makes pilots who cram us into hollow metal tubes with wings and chuck us through the air at supersonic speeds to land safely in far way lands.

He makes comedians who make us laugh and bring smiles to our lives.

He makes writers, who make us see new worlds, and challenge us to think.

Yes, the good news is this:

You're all that you are, and that's all you're ever going to be.

And that's a wonderful thing.

Sunday, November 3, 2013


I'm an great shot with a rifle or pistol. I can hit an aspirin at 50 feet with a rifle, non-scoped (Try it sometime), or a man-sized mass from closer. I qualified for my expert marksman badge in basic training with no difficulty at all. You could have covered all 400 of my shots on the target at 150 feet with a coffee mug. Huah. Hey, it ain't bragging if you can back it up, right?

There some folks out here who are even better shots than me. Yep, right here on the internet. Snipers. They love to get their shots in, and see how much damage they can cause. Some folks call them Trolls. That's a good word, too. They hide under bridges and wait for Little Sally Sunshine to say something they can jump all over, and then they leap out and swallow Little Sally whole, while they ridicule her all over the 'net.

Now, this is where I get all "Old Fart" on this: The internet, though a technological marvel, has opened the door for these snipers to lower the bar for courtesy all over the world. And it's spreading to other areas of our lives.

We get to hide behind the relative anonymity of our Usernames, and launch verbal bullets, missiles, rockets, grenades, what have you, at our foes. Then we can sit back and chuckle at our cleverness, knowing that we've just blown our target's ego to smithereens. There. That will teach them to disagree with us and our vaunted position. How dare  they trifle with our sacred cow.

The internet has turned into a vast tool of character assassination, and it's easy because we will most likely never be held accountable for our words or actions. Why do you think that girl didn't even care that the other girl she was cyber-bullying leaped off the top of a storage tank to her death? Murder, nice and sterile. And we don't even have to give a rat's hairy little ass, because after all, they must have been off-balance anyway. It's not our fault that they took our words to their grave with them.

I filter every comment on my blog now, because I and my fellow castaways get sniped. I might make a statement, and then I'm attacked. Not just disagreed with. Flat-out attacked, called every name in the book but a human, and of course the commenter refuses to identify themselves. "Anonymous" is one of the biggest jackwagons in history, and he's awful busy out here, running his mouth flap in new and creative ways to piss people off. So I head off those comments and delete them. I don't mind someone who disagrees with me in substance. But you'd better damned well show respect for my house when you come in as my guest. You can expect my respect in turn.

Why they do it, I don't care. It may stem from the old adage that some folks just don't feel big enough about themselves, and the only way they feel they can make themselves bigger is by making someone else smaller. Shame. I almost feel sorry for them. Almost. Really, I want to knock on every single one's door, walk in, and have a face-to-face talk about who's an adult, and why they seem to think having a Username entitles them to behave like two-year-olds in the sandbox. I wonder how many of them would hold the same attitude looking straight into my eyes.

And then they let it spill over into every other aspect of the media and our lives as well. Who else has noticed the decline of common courtesy in the last half-century? When I was a child, every professional addressed his co-workers with "Mr." or Mrs." or "Miss." I still use "sir" and "ma'am" liberally in conversation. It's important to show respect to the person with whom you are dealing. It's not even about catching flies with honey or vinegar. It's about having enough respect for the other individual as a human being, another of God's Greatest Creation, to discuss on level ground, and to debate with thoughtful dialogue. It's called "disagreeing without being disagreeable."

Look at politics today. It's spread into that arena as well. Politicians are constantly seen standing around the mike with a dozen or so of their cronies for moral support, saying the most stupid, hateful things about their opponents. It's all over Facebook, especially. "F*** the GOP, and f*** you if you voted for them," I read on a friend's page recently. I know why my friend posted it (she explained it to me once), and while I don't agree, I see her passion.

And don't get me started with this "First Amendment Free Speech" BS. I stood in the breach, ready to shed blood for your right to say what you want to, as well as my own right to say what I want to. But we need to understand, whatever you say, you damned well better be ready to stand accountable for it, and that right to say whatever you want doesn't include the right to be rude.

So, here are my House Rules: Feel free to disagree with anything I or anyone else says in my house (If you're reading this, you are in my house). Keep any and all comments polite and courteous. I do not, nor will I, tolerate disrespectful comments. They will be deleted with extreme prejudice.

While you're at it, speak to people on the web as though you were face to face with them. And while we're at that, let's speak to people face to face with a little more courtesy as well. the world could stand a little more friendly overall atmosphere.

Can we all just get along, already?

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Excerpt: Critical Mass

Hey, all.

It's been quite a ride so far. I have four books out now, and working on the fifth. Still trying to get a handle on that "marketing" thing. Anybody know a move producer?

This week, I want to share another excerpt, this one from Critical Mass. It hits hard at the heart of one of the themes of the trilogy. I'm sure you can guess what it is, and how passionately I feel or it.

Without further ado, Critical Mass:

Jimmy sat on the porch, watching the dull routine of the afternoon in front of him. The air commandos not on guard sat in the shade of Nadia’s lawn for lunch, weapons within easy reach. Those on duty at the detention shacks stood their watches, ever vigilant against any attempted breakout. The occasional fly or wasp buzzed by, its hypnotic drone lulling the man in the wooden chair. The pain med Watts had given him was just starting to do its work, and the ache in Jimmy’s shoulder was finally at a tolerable level. But on the downside, that warm, sleepy feeling Jimmy hated so much was just beginning to creep in and steal the rest of his afternoon.

The old warrior’s eyes had just drifted shut when the screen door opened with a protest of springs. The steps on the porch were light and favored one side. The soft scent in his nostrils confirmed the identity of the other party. “Afternoon, Miss Paine,” he mumbled through the painkiller’s haze. Another smell, cool and yeasty, wafted to him and he held out a hand to receive the cold bottle offered, his eyes still closed.

He couldn’t resist his own grin at the smile in her voice. “You must have sonar, you old coot.” The chair next to Jimmy’s creaked as Jenna settled into it. She clinked her bottle against his and took a pull.

The first swallow went down good, so he took a second before speaking.

“How’s the leg?”

“Better, thanks. A little stiff, but I can work with it.”

“Good. Wouldn’t want ya to miss out just ’cause ya got a little hitch in your git-along.”

“Jimmy, I wouldn’t miss this if I had a whole leg off.”

“Big deal, eh?

Jenna looked out at the yard for a while before answering. “They lied to me. I don’t like being lied to.”

“But do you still believe in what they want? World unity and Kumbaya, and all that crap?”

Jenna tensed and clenched her jaw at the offhand remark. “When you kill someone, what do you feel?”

Jimmy bristled at the question. “You’re kidding, right?” Feel? How the hell am I supposed to feel? What kind of stupid question as that?

Jenna’s eyes narrowed with passion. “I want to know what you feel when you pull a trigger and put a bullet into another person, and let their life spill out. In whose name did you do it? Yours? Your country’s? And how did it solve anything?” She looked away. “That wasn’t even enough, was it? You had to teach others how to kill, too. For a border. An imaginary line on a map.”

She paused long enough to take a swallow. “So before you label someone’s beliefs as ‘crap,’ just think about what it felt like every time you killed someone for that imaginary line.”

The hair stood up on Jimmy’s neck. I swear, if you were a man, I’d pin your ears back… As it was, there was no way he was going to let that one go. It had been a long time since he needed to shift into sergeant mode, but the shift was a smooth as his last class of recruits.
"Young lady." He struggled through gritted teeth. "I didn't kill anyone for a line. I killed to save an idea. That idea was that free men should be able to defend themselves from oppression and tyranny and help other men to live free as well. Them poor jackwagons who stood in the way  of that idea were the ones I killed. And to tell you the truth, I don't feel a damned thing for 'em. That line on the map you're goin' on about is the line that say, 'on this side you're free to choose your own destiny.' And I'll spill as much blood as I have to to make sure it stays where it's at."


Jimmy sniffed and set his bottle on the small table between them. “Look at

you, giving me the ‘baby-killer’ speech. How many bodies have you left behind? Why don’t you tell me what you felt when you stood over the bodies of the people you laid out for a lie?"


He gave her a cold smile then and watched the steel in her eyes melt away. “I’ll grant you, hon, you ain’t any worse than me. But you sure as hell ain’t any sight better.”

Leaning his chair back, he said, “Now, I’d be willin’ to bet your vision for this earth ain’t too far from mine. We just ended up thinkin’ about it from some different places.” He fixed her eyes again with his. “I do know if I’d have had a half-dozen more of you on my team, we’d have buried less of our boys and more of theirs.”

Jenna broke her gaze away and looked across the yard. In the silence that followed, Jimmy imagined he could hear the gears working inside her head. He just hoped that, whatever she decided in the end about whatever it was she was pondering, it wouldn’t affect her edge when it came down to brass knuckles and billy clubs.

Things were going to get bad enough as it was.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Murder, He Wrote!

Remember when I posted on Propaganda? Remember those shadowy figures somewhere who want to influence you "behind your back?" Well, they were out in force on both sides recently, and I'd be remiss if I didn't run down some facts vs. what was released in the press, and see how much of that malarkey we all fell for.

Character assassination is one of the most prominent tools for a propagandist. If you can't influence your audience with simple truth, appeal to them on a more visceral level.

Take for instance the latest hoo-ha from Texas about voter identification:

Just start with that headline. It seems to infer that all Texas Republicans want to keep women from voting. For one thing, that's one of the most asinine assumptions an honest person could make.

The point of the report assumes that because women tend to vote liberal (assuming more liberals are Democrats than Republicans), and women tend not to update their photo ID's after marriage, that any requirement for a person to present a photo ID in order to vote is an attempt to prevent women from voting.

How stupid can you be and still breathe? For one thing, the writer of this article is assuming that women are too stupid to have a valid photo ID. For another thing, the writer assumes more married women would vote for liberal (or democratic) candidates, if given the opportunity (you know, because their Republican/conservative husbands keep them barefoot and pregnant, and take away their opportunity to vote). Actually, the opposite is true. Married women tend to vote more on the conservative side. So if anything, Texas Republicans are trying to get more women to vote, not less. I still say there's a reason someone wants non-citizens to vote. But that's just me.

Ladies, get a valid photo ID and keep it up to date, already! Show those evil conservatives who has the power of the American ballot box! (Pssst!--how about we make sure first that they're Americans?)

Now, that's out of the way. Let's look at the political murder that Congress has been committing at the federal level.

When one side offered a funding bill that had one program defunded, the other side said, "NO! All or nothing!" Now, the House of Representatives is supposed to have the power of the purse string. The bill would have funded the entire government, except for one law that will triple our national debt and handcuff us with more than 80 new federal agencies. It's no secret that I don't support that law, and I have a boatload of reasons for that.

But aside from that, the recent shutdown was blamed squarely on one party in the press, the very party that offered many, many bills to fund the government. The other side, who demanded the "all or nothing" approach, was just as guilty, was it not? But that's not how the press reported it.

What waved the first red flag for me was how the shutdown was handled. It seemed like the government agencies and programs that ground to a halt were deliberately the ones who would have hurt or inconvenienced a maximum number of people. The WWII Memorial in DC was barricaded, even though no staff tend to the thing to begin with. Likewise, across the nation, national parks and lakeshores were shut down or closed off, regardless of whether staff was actually required to keep them open. Take our own Sleeping Bear Dunes. In most of these cases, citizens simply moved the barricades and opened the parks and monuments anyway. I mean, how far do you really have to go to prove a point, Mr. and Mrs. Congressman?

Aside from parks and monuments, benefit programs like Social Security, Military pay, and military widow's benefits were withheld. You know, I'm sure we could have done without studies on the flow rate of ketchup, or personal airports in Pennsylvania, before these critical programs were shut down. But no. Maybe if they'd stuck with programs we really didn't need to begin with, maybe the public would realize how badly we've been getting fleeced all these years.

We've been getting played, people. By both sides in the "Republican/Democratic" war. And in the end, we lose anyway.

At least we still have a ballot box. Isn't it about time we showed the Washington Pharisees and Sadducees where the real power in America resides? This is supposed to be a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people." But it seems it's become "of the professional politicians, by powermongers, and for the special interests." They keep leveling accusations at each other across the aisle, and we get caught in the middle under the thumb of more regulation, more taxes, more oppression, more intrusion, and less freedom. Less of what made this country the greatest on the face of the planet.

I don't now about you, but I'm getting fed up with both "parties."

That's not to say there aren't some decent folks trying to change things. They just need some more support from those of us who actually study the issues and vote based on facts, not on character assassination.

Let's get ready, because the Mid-Terms are coming. Vote for freedom, folks. Before we lose it all.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Beta Readers: Who Needs 'Em?

I do.

And any writer who's honest with themselves will say the same thing.

For those of my followers who are not writers, please bear with me this time as I discuss a critical element in the process.  It just keeps coming back as something that gets neglected way too much, and the industry suffers from a lack of it.

When I first started writing, I wanted to hide my masterwork under a sheet, like the grand artiste I was (yeah, right), until the day of the Grand Reveal, when the world would behold my genius and fall to their knees in ecstasy. Agents would read it and cry, wondering where in the world I'd been all their lives. Editors would engage in a demolition derby in my driveway, fighting each other to the death to get my signature on their overly-generous contracts.

How stupid can a guy be and still breathe?

Needless to say, since then I've learned how mind-numbingly difficult it is to get a manuscript in shape to even have a hope in the slush pile. After about the thirtieth rejection letter, the sun began to rise in my less-than-plumb-level-and-square brain. Maybe there was something wrong with the manuscript, and maybe, just maybe, I was too close to see what it was.

Where I work for my day job, we have an intricate quality-control system, for which I'm sure you're all grateful. When one fixes problems on airplanes, one needs to take measures to make sure the job is done using what I like to call, "The Right Way." And when the procedure you're following is sixteen pages long, and you're messing with landing gear settings, checking functions in the navigation systems, changing settings in the controls, and double-checking the cabin pressure system, it helps to have a second set of eyes come along behind to make sure you didn't miss a step. Our inspectors go over every detail of the job, make sure every screw is tight, every panel in place. All before the crew sets foot in the aircraft again. If we didn't have this system, people can get hurt, or worse.

Now, a typo in one of my books won't get anyone killed. The worst thing that can happen is one of my readers gets a papercut. But it doesn't absolve me of the responsibility of ensuring my work meets certain standards. Editors don't need a perfect manuscript. But they also don't want to spend their time rewriting a mediocre work just to get it ready for market.

So two critical steps I was missing jumped up and bit me in the nose. Fortunately, it wasn't too late to take advantage of them, and I've never missed those steps since.

The first step is to get the work critiqued by a brutally honest crit partner. I don't mean Attila the critter. I mean someone who will push you on a deep level and point out where you're doing well, and where you could still do better. I also trade suggestions with my regulars, and we steal from each other with gleeful gratitude. Then again, I guess it's not stealing if it's offered as a gift, is it?

Anyway, the second critical step is to find a beta reader who will look over the entire manuscript and give you a definitive thumbs-up/thumbs down on it. They don't have to be a writer, but you need them to be, once again, brutally honest as well as an avid reader.

Now, here is the place where "The Split" happens, depending on your publishing method. Self-publishers, for the love of God, invest in an editor. If you can't afford an editor, you're better off finding an agent or a publisher for a contract deal, so it can be edited by a professional. If you're looking for a contract deal already, the call is yours whether you want to get the manuscript edited at this point. It couldn't hurt, but when you enter your deal, your publisher will assign you at least one editor, and then the real work begins, with rewrites and revisions galore until it's ready for a final galley.

After I inserted those two critical steps into my process, I've been consistently accepted for contract. And don't assume that once you get your foot in the door with one publishing credit, that every manuscript is a slam dunk from then on. Quite the opposite. The bar only gets higher.

As competitive as the publishing industry is, you can't afford not to let someone peek at your work before it goes to market. The extra edge will make the difference between a shredder and a contract.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Ah, The Classics!

Greetings, fellow castaways.

As I write this, the Keith Household is settling down to watch one of the most rock-awesome movies of all time, the original Dracula, featuring none other than Bela Lugosi in the lead role. I am a huge fan of some old movies. I know, acting and special effects have come a long way since the 1930's, but there are still some stories that remain timeless in their form as pure masterpieces of the art of cinema.

It's been years since I've seen Dracula. Like, when I was a kid. I finally took the liberty of reading Stoker's novel last year (it came free on my reader), and I can tell you, as bone-chilling as the movie was, the book is even more so. I just wish Stoker could have written an action scene worth a darn.

But anyway, what I was trying to say is that there are some old movies that are head and shoulders above their younger versions. I think Hollywood has become so dependent on special effects, they have compromised an essential element of movies, and that is the use of our own imagination in interpreting the story. I don't need to see the Count ripping someone's lungs out through their ear, thank you. I can get a stronger impact from the suggestion that he's ripping someone's lungs out through their ears, and I don't need to get grossed out by watching him do it. Horror is so much more than a cheap slasher flick (cheap is cheap, even though the budget may have been a hundred times as much on extra blood, pig guts and various gross effects).

Okay, call me old-fashioned. Go ahead. Say it. There, I know ya could. I am a little old-fashioned. There are actually few oldie movies that feel this way about. Many of them are primitive, poorly written, and flat out boring. My soft spots are reserved for those brilliant gems who stand out as ground-breaking and timeless.

Among them, I count the Count (muahahaha!) and a few others like All Quiet on the Western Front, The Wizard of Oz, Modern Times,  and The General.

I do have some modern favorites as well.  The Fifth Element and Aliens, and some little-known movies like Walking Across Egypt and The Last Legion (one of my new faves).

But it does seem like Hollywood has experienced a dearth of original stories lately. How many movies came out this year as remakes on older movies? Just this year, we've seen another Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie, yet another version of Dracula called Stoker, The Great Gatsby, The Lone Ranger, numerous sequels, and a plethora of what promise to be movies founded on splashing blood, copious amounts of sex, sermonizing, belittling morals, and any other of a number of reasons to not leave the house.

I like a movie that actually encourages me to use my brain once in a while. Okay, I slip in some Three Stooges once in a while. Ya can't take yourself too seriously, ya know.

I'd be interested in knowing what your favorite classic movies are. Post a comment, let me know.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Why Am I Here?

Good day to you, fellow Castaways. Thanks for popping by. Sit yourselves on the sofa, grab a cup of coffee from the cart, swipe a pastry or two (you know you want to).

This past week I was sitting here thinking, great. I have a blog. Everyone tells me if I have a blog, I need to have a focus, a consistent theme of some sort. Recently, I was taken to task by someone who said, "Aren't you here to sell books? Sell books, and stop scaring away readers!" Okay, so here I am being Mr. Friendly Author. If you want to buy my book, you can click on my Books Page and take it from there.

Okay, that's done. Hey, I'd love to sell books. But if all I'm here to do is market my novels, don't you think people will get tired of coming here week after week and getting commercials? I don't watch TV for the ads, guys, and I don't have ads on my blog for a reason. There's enough ads out there.


I want a place where anybody can stop by, relax, and have a chat with a friend. We don't always have to agree on a point, or on the subject. We're just here to get to know each other a little better, to come away a little Closer To The Heart, as the song goes.


I don't expect everybody to agree with me. I'm an odd sort, and if anyone did agree with me on everything, I'd consider that a red flag. We're all who we are, and no one should ever endeavor to be "just like" anybody else. Humans are all different. And that's a glorious and precious thing.

Plus, it occurs to me, we all need a place to come where we are appreciated and loved right where we are. There's enough going on around us to tear us down, tell us we aren't "good enough," point out our every mistake. There's more than enough folks who think the only way to elevate themselves is to lower everyone else around them. Don't we just want to get a break from all the crap the day hands us? Don't we all just need a hug once in a while? Seriously, I know I'm sounding like a bleeding heart wimp, but think about it: One solid hug a day (more, as required) simply tells us that we are of value to someone. Who the hell wants to fight after receiving a hug from someone they value?


The great thing about a hug is that it's just there.  In abundance. An inexhaustible supply of simple, human love. You can just never run out of them. For every hurting person, for every broken heart, for every lonely, tortured soul, there is a hug. And you can get one right here.

So I guess the theme for my blog is, "Here's me. Come on in and get to know me. While you're here, get a free hug."

We might discuss some political point, or some point of faith. Or share something from my writing, or another author, or the Queen of Persia. But if we differ, we can do it in a safe place, where we honor and respect each other, and show where our hearts are, rather than screaming and fighting.

Hey, it's my blog. I can do what I want, right?

Have another cup. It's good stuff. Trust me.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Art of Breathing: How to Fight Depression and Win

Someone reading this is struggling. This is for you. If you're not struggling, read anyway, so you can help someone who is. I'm not a doctor. I'm just a guy who struggles, too. And I've found the secret to getting through. It's called "breathing."

Life is life. We can't explain it, we can't predict it. It is what it is, and sometimes your world just gets rocked. And by that, I mean not in a good way. It's in those times when you get leveled by a boxcar from above that you re-evaluate your priorities.

My daughter had to say goodbye yesterday to her dearest and closest friend. The lady got married, and they will be living in Alaska. I'll miss her, too. She's a good kid, and those two were thick as thieves. But life is life, and life is what it is. It's not like her friend died or anything. But then again, maybe it feels pretty damn close. Alaska may as well be another universe for a friend that close. The point is, my daughter is very down right now.

I've found in storms like this that it boils down to the basics. Situations hit, like atom bombs in our lives. A loss by death. Your friend moving away. That lab report that changes everything. One moment that can destroy your freedom. So many things can knock us right down, and so many people have no idea how to get back up again. The wallow in depression and just fade away.

I knew a woman several years ago who struggled with depression. My best friend was recently floored by a perfect storm in his life, and we spent a good deal of time scraping him off the floor in pieces and gluing him back together. It's horrid stuff, depression. It can steal away your ability to function. If you let it.

As one who has been run over by a few freight trains in my life (like the sudden death of my brother, loss of my father and younger sister to cancer, a son with severe disabilities, and a daughter I nearly lost before she was three, among other storms), I can speak from experience. I still fight my own depression once in a while.

There once was a time I could languish in my depression and give the circumstances time to immobilize me. I could lay on the couch for hours and just corrode, mentally. That was before I became a dad and husband. I could afford the loss of time. But now things are different. I had to learn how to work through and remain functional.

Yeah, it makes me sound like a machine. But when you're floored with circumstances, "functional" takes on a whole new meaning. "Functional" is where you're at. Look at it this way:

Okay, right now you're helpless. I get that. But you're breathing, right? I'll prove it. Take a breath. Good, yeah, you did it. Don't space out on me, some people don't realize how big a step it is to willfully take a breath. Okay, now take another one. Who cares if you're still lying on your side on the couch with a mountain of snotty, tear-soaked  Kleenex on the floor under your face. You're breathing. So breathe. Don't worry about your heart; it'll handle beating all on its own (in most cases). Just breathe for a while.

Once you get the hang of breathing, things actually get easier. Believe me, they do. If you can breathe, you can sit up. You have to go to the bathroom anyway. Sitting up is right on your way. So sit up. Now, if you can sit up, you can stand. Not "you may." You CAN. If you need help, get some. But you need to get that standing thing down before you go ay further. Note that by "standing" I include those among us who need wheels as well. Standing is a relative term. I don't care if you hate your chair, especially if that's the cause for your depression. Mobility is the next step. It takes an act of will. If you can't handle a step, don't worry about it. Just back up to the previous one. Breathe. Sit. Get mobile. Those are the basics.

Now, look at what's next: eat and drink. I know, things are getting to be a challenge now. We're getting into areas that require action.  Willful action. By "willful" I don't mean wanting to do it. I mean taking action by an act of your will. Crying isn't an act of will. Eating is.If you're still crying though breathing and sitting up, that's okay. You can address that later.

The key to breathing is to keep doing it, and take each step at a time. You don't go from the couch back to work in one huge quantum leap. I can remember when eating and drinking to me was a sign of things actually getting better. First, it meant I had food, and the utility companies hadn't cut off my power or my water. Yay me. I already had the first three steps under my belt, and I was eating. All on my own, too. I'm not being funny; it was that bad.

Next was keeping the utilities on. That meant work. It meant functioning as a profitable member of my company team. I'd get up, go to work, come home, and most evenings would find me back on that couch with the pile of Kleenex. But you know what? I was functional. Kind of like when you really need a car and you buy a '78 rust-bucket with no muffler and a busted windshield, where you can see the road through the holes in the floorboard and the trunk is falling out and there's no rear bumper because that rusted off a long time ago. BUT, it starts in the morning (even if you have to pump your leg furiously for the first five minutes just to keep it running), and when you push on the gas it goes, when you push the brake, it stops. And when you turn the wheel, it turns, hopefully in the same direction. That kind of "functional."

See, you can do it. It's one step at a time, and you don't have to lie to yourself (unless that's what it takes to get you to sit up). Do what you have to do, when you have to do it. Tomorrow doesn't exist. There's only This Moment and how to get through it.

And you can do it. Just start with breathing. Because it will get better. You will win.