My Writing

Deck the Halls: An Excerpt from “Home Street”

The following is an excerpt from my debut novel.  A life or death Christmas Carol, “Home Street” tells the story of a man who must journey through his past in order to save his future.  He must relive his rocky childhood, the dreams of his youth, and conflicts he faced during the Iraq War before he can accept an incredible gift: the opportunity to change one crucial moment that will spare him from certain death.

This chapter sets the scene for his teenage years, when Paul discovered love, heartbreak, and the kind of man he wanted to be when he grew up.

 

As we walk through the fog, shapes begin to emerge from the gloom.  First a chain-link fence.  Then a flag pole.  Soon we arrive at the top of the hill, and a large, imposing structure rises above us.  It resembles a privately-operated, taxpayer-funded, for-profit prison.

“I swore I’d never come back here,” I say, and I silently muse how perhaps some part of me had never left.

“What?” asks Nicholas with an incredulous look.  “To your high school?”

“Haven’t been here since they put the plaque in the garden.”

“Like a commemorative thing?”

“The kind that names the kids that went to their schools and died in their wars.”

The halls are empty when we step inside, but as we encounter different landmarks and I’m reminded of specific events, they populate with ghosts, and each happening plays out just as it once did.

“Look at that head of hair,” I say as I walk Nicholas over to my younger self.  “Goddamn, I was a good-looking kid.”

I hear Nicholas chuckle, but I ignore him as I circle my old body and try not to compare it to what I walk around in these days.

“First day of freshmen year,” I say as a crowd of students choke the hall.  “The vice-principal got to know my name right away.  We were waiting to be let into our first class, and I was standing with a few friends right over there.”

I point at a group of freshmen.  Fourteen-year-old me is in a playful shoving match with a buddy, which grows more and more intense until Joel’s elbow accidentally smashes through the emergency glass covering the fire extinguisher.

“This shirt is silk,” Joel says, tugging at the fabric to check for holes.  Moments later, the vice principal appears and grabs both boys by the neck.

Behind us, a freckle-faced kid with a Cincinnati Reds jacket makes his way through the crowd.  My younger self follows close behind, making announcements like a town crier.

“Jeff Murdock coming through!  Make way for Jeff Murdock!”

Jeff’s face is becoming more and more amber as he grunts out a protest under his breath.  “Shut up, Paul.  Stop it, Paul.  Everyone’s looking at us, Paul.”

The boy I once was continues in this minstrel game, taking delight in bringing his shy buddy unwanted attention.  “Take a good, hard look at Jeff Murdock!  Hear ye, hear ye!  Jeff Murdock!  J-E-F-F M-U-R-D-”

“E-R, because I’m gonna kill you if you don’t quit.”

For the first time tonight, I’m genuinely smiling.  I turn Nicholas’s attention to a portly man with silvery Elvis hair and a Han Solo vest.  “My art teacher.  He used to draw picture after picture of Jeff’s older brother.”  I laugh.  “Had poor Steve all flustered.  There were paintings of him all over the walls of the art room.  Happy Steve.  Sad Steve.  Thinking Steve.”

“Confused Steve,” Nicholas adds.

“You know, that guy told me I was ‘too creative’ for art.  Gave me straight D’s!”

Two cute girls come bounding down the stairs.

“Oh!” I say, pushing Nicholas’s face toward them.  “I declared the last day of my senior year International Day of Free Love.  Kissed every girl I came across.  On the cheek, hand, top of the head, wherever they gave consent to.”

The pair of cute girls set down their books and sneak up behind my younger self.  As they pounce, breaking into giggles, they pin him to the lockers and plant kisses all over his face and neck.  While he laughs and squirms, pretending to struggle against their tickling grasp, I watch on in amazement, still in disbelief that this moment actually happened to me.

“Anya!  Bethany!  Come on.  There’s plenty of me to go around.”

Nicholas smirks, looking at me with amazement.  “Looks like you were pretty popular around here.”

I shrug.  “I was the class clown.”

Inside one of the classrooms, sixteen-year-old me stares down at a small slip of paper.

“My junior year,” I say to Nicholas, “there was a tie for Homecoming King for my class, and we had to do a revote to decide the winner.”

Sixteen-year-old me looks around the classroom suspiciously.

“Came down to this really handsome guy that kind of looked like a young Sylvester Stallone and – uh – me.”

The classroom starts to shrink, pulling past the bodies as they sit at their desks.  The walls segment into small squares and turn into ceramic tiles.  A bathtub pushes up from the linoleum floor, and the water inside shifts.  Eight-year-old me sits thoughtfully in the tub, eating candy.

“We moved around a lot when I was little, and I had to change schools in the middle of almost every grade before we got here.  I was always the least popular kid in every school I went to.  Too sensitive.  Too introverted.  And, yes, as Mr. Fraley was so happy to point out, I was too creative.  Not only was I the new kid everywhere we went, but I wasn’t even sure how to talk to people.”

The little boy puts a sucker into his mouth and lays back in the warm water.

“One night, just after Halloween and yet another move, I was taking a bath.  I remember this grape lollipop was the most intense thing I’d ever tasted.  Just covered my tongue, mixing with the bath water.”

Eight-year-old me sinks underwater, holding the lollipop aloft to keep it dry.

“With a mouthful of that grape, I said one of the most fervent prayers of my life.  Sometimes I guess I felt like there wasn’t anyone in the world that truly loved me.  I mean, I always had a best friend, because I had my brother Chris.  And I had my sister Jen too.  I know I wasn’t being reasonable.  I wasn’t alone, but I felt helpless at home.  And school was kind of a living hell.”

“What did you pray for?” asks Nicholas.

A tall fifth grader with a ruddy face takes a corner and strolls down the hall of a different school.  His hands are thrust into his hooded sweatshirt, but he struts with confidence, as though he were the only person in the world.  He sings for himself, but he sings loud enough to be heard by everyone else.  He warbles and wails a personal rendition of the 1984 hit “Eat It.”

“I guess I must have been in kindergarten.  There was this older boy I thought was the coolest kid ever.”  I watch the fifth grader’s long strides as he passes.  “It seemed like no one ever had anything bad to say about the guy, and I wanted to be just like him.”

The fifth grader ducks around another corner and disappears.  I turn back to the boy in the bathtub as eight-year-old me scrutinizes the spent lollipop stick in his hand.

“If Solomon could pray for wisdom,” I say, “why couldn’t I pray to be funny?  Maybe people would like me if I was only funny enough.”

“And by the time you got here,” Nicholas says, “things had turned around for you.”

“See, I’ll never know if that’s true.”

The bathroom transforms back into the classroom where sixteen-year-old me asks his friends about the confusing ballot.  One of those friends, a pretty girl he had a small crush on, says, “Why not?  You’re popular enough.”

Next to her, a guy he’d always respected for honesty and insight, shakes his head.  “It’s obviously a joke.  Someone’s idea of a prank.”

We continue our walk down the hall.

Nicholas asks, “Why would it have been a prank?”

“Be careful what you wish for, that’s why.  When you’re the guy people go to for a laugh, sometimes you’re the joke.”

The bell rings, and I watch as the student body I used to be a part of switches classes.  I peer at the faces in the crowd.  Even though they’d once been part of my daily life, they’re all strangers now.  My perception – my reality – was dependent on the temporary circumstances of adolescence.

“Junior high was where I hit my breaking point,” I say.  “My cheeks hurt from my fake smile, and I had a year-long phase where I didn’t bother combing my hair.”  I laugh at the self-revelation.

“How did you snap out of it?”

“Two things happened.  First, someone loaned me a tape, and I discovered the music that kid in elementary school was singing came from a growing library of work.  Most music takes itself oh-so seriously, and that’s not what I needed.  I know it might sound strange, but Weird Al spoke to me in a way nothing else did.  Soon, Mr. Yankovic became my main obsession, and I knew what I wanted to do with my life.”

“And did you?”

I face Nicholas with an expression drawn from my interrupted thoughts.  “Did I what?”

“Spend your life doing it?”

His question is so earnest I almost can’t believe his naivety.

“No,” I say, my voice dripping with condescension.

Nicholas turns away, nodding.  “What was the other thing that happened?”

“I got a summer job working at camp.  Teaching kids, performing campfire songs and skits, telling ghost stories.  It was a natural fit for me, and since there were two other Paul’s that year, I went by a funny nickname.  That helps when you’re working with kids.”

Smiling slyly, Nicholas says, “I bet it does.”

“I’m not telling you my nickname,” I say, keeping the conversation on track.  “Sometimes you find something you’re really good at, and I was a great camp counselor.  The campers loved me.  They’d get excited when they saw me.  And the parents, when they’d come at the end of the session, knew me from letters home.  I was more than the sum of my parts there, and I can’t tell you what that experience did for my self-esteem.”

I stop, and the hall empties, going silent.  The door to my right leads to the auditorium.

“There are parts of your life you can look back on and understand,” I say, “and then there are things that leave you wondering.”

To hear the rest of the story – and see if Weird Al comes up again (spoiler: he does) – grab a copy of the book!

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2017 in Review

What a crazy year!  In 2017, I released books (Home Street, Sick Day, Drunken Cat Presents: Sheepdogs), the fourth Chalkskin album (The Whitey Album), three DVD collections (Chalkskin 10: Season One, Narcissist: An Autobiography, Never Classic: A Wolf in Wool Anthology), and started a podcast (#Matters).  I’ll be writing a new entry soon that will outline my plans for 2018, but before we do that, let’s take a look at the blog entries that were the biggest hits of the year!

NOTE: I will not be counting the ever-successful “The Greatest Depictions of Single-Minded Emotion” or “Predator Vs. ‘Predator’,” because those seem to be mainly viewed for the images.

10. Prologue for “Home Street” – A Preorder Update

The gripping introduction of Paul Squall and his compelling tale.  I hope.

9. Cover Reveal – A Preorder Update

Drunken Cat Presents: Sheepdogs

8. What makes a great romance.  An exploration of ‘LA LA Land’

My review of the best picture of 2017…  that wasn’t “Moonlight?”

7. Sheepdog David Grant’s 19th Annual Academy Awards Contest Results!!!

This one’s kind of a cheat, I suppose.  I mean, if you wanted to see how you fared in my annual contest, then you HAD TO look at the blog post.

6. The DOs and DON’Ts of Action Films: A Tale of Skyfall and Jack Reacher

From January 2013, I compare and contrast an action film that got it right and one that absolutely did not.

5. How to Spot a Racist

From September 2013, my response to the growing presence of racism in the presidential election between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney became very popular this year for some reason.

4. ‘Fear of Flying’ is a Delightfully Pretense Free Journal Comic from Drunken Cat

I review my friend Brian Canini’s award-winning graphic novel.

3. Acknowledgements from the pages of “Home Street” – The First Preorder Update

The novel was thirty years in the making, so it’s no surprise the gratitude goes so deep.

2. A Shocking Epidemic We’re Not Talking About Enough

From March 2014, the ongoing epidemic discussed here has become a national media sensation this year after allegations of sexual misconduct began to more publicly expose men in positions of power in various industries and politics.

1. Preface for “Sick Day” – A Preorder Update

This is the introduction to Buster Benjamin and his gang of colorful friends.

 

BTW, if you’re interested in picking up any of the aforementioned stories, just head on over to wolfinwool.com and shop away your worries!

Cover Reveal! – A Preorder Update

Years ago, Brian Canini of Drunken Cat Comics and I collaborated on a bunch of really cool comics.  For the first time ever, you’ll be able to own all of these comics in one single edition, and here’s the cover!

Sheepdogs-cover-forWEB-ONLY

 

You can preorder this book here.  And check out the rest of what’s being offered.  These are exciting times!

Prologue for “Home Street” – A Preorder Update

This is the prologue for the upcoming novel “Home Street,” which can be preordered here.  If you’d like to read the forward for the other upcoming novel, “Sick Day,” head on over to this entry.

Note: This book does contain some rather harsh language.

 

           This is one fucked up way to start Christmas.

Not the most eloquent final words, but they were exact to the situation and had entered his mind in whole.  Of course, he could not speak them out loud.  Not down here.

No more words.  No more deeds.

As a boy, he had never been able to open his eyes while submerged, but somehow he was looking around in the murky, muddy water, shady and blue.  His whole being was telling him if he could not save himself, he would breathe it all in, filling his lungs.  The world would darken around him, and he would sink into the quagmire below.  He would have to act quickly if indeed he wanted to live.

Only, he wasn’t convinced he did wish to live.

No more dreams.  No more nightmares.

I can’t believe I rented a tux for this.

He had had enough of this world, and the world seemed to know he thought so.  After all, it was the very earth which was trying to swallow him up.

Bubbles rose from his nostrils as he looked at the thick sheet of ice above his head.  He couldn’t see a break to the surface, but he knew if he’d looked hard enough, he’d find the opening his body made on the impact that had landed him in this silent, frozen hell.

No more debts.  No more harassing creditors.

Dammit.  I lost a shoe.

There was no telling how long he’d been in the water, but he knew there couldn’t be much more time before everything would start happening.  Already, his fingers were numb.  Already, his chest and stomach were crying for warmth.

Somehow, he found serenity in it all.  Maybe it was God’s hush bringing this calm.

Yeah, maybe, but it was probably just the head wound.

No more hair loss.  No more tooth decay.

Did I tip that waitress?

Blue hands hung in front of him.  Suspended in the water, they reminded him of the limbs of a tree, blown lightly by a passing breeze.  He knew they were his, but he couldn’t feel them anymore.  In a way, they already belonged to the grave.  This was all there was left.  Just to float.  And then to die.  No fanfare or trumpets or a flickering film of life passing before his eyes.  Just this.

Just cold water and a painful death.

No more sunrises to break the dawn.  No more stars burning overhead.

I wonder if they’ll ever find me here.

He forced himself to recall the events of his life, to remember the moments that led to his demise.  He conjured the faces of those he loved into the dusky bog, but it suddenly felt wrong to do it – to bring them all down here with him, so he simply closed his eyes.

It seemed life had one lesson left for him: How to let it all go.

No more fading memories.  No more moments to look forward to.  No more.

Oh, God, no!  I’m not the only one down here.

 

Preface for “Sick Day” – A Preorder Update

The following is an excerpt from the T rated version of “Sick Day.”

To find out how to get your own copy of the book described as “Clerks” meets “Ready Player One,” click here.

Forward

I’m going to tell you a story that changed my life.  It must have been eleven or twelve years ago I heard it.  I’d just moved to San Diego, so this would have been my first time at Comic Con.  Actually, it was my only time at the San Diego Comic Con.  These days I set up interviews downtown and chat with the cosplayers without ever actually entering the convention center.  Back then, I could stand in line and buy a ticket, but since then it’s gotten so big tickets are basically impossible to. . .

Whatever.  That’s not really the point, is it?  What’s important here is this story, and I wanted to give you some background on where I heard it.

I was in the main hall when I spotted this gawky kid.  Nothing special — like I said, this is Comic Con, right?  But something about the way she was moving around the hall – as though she was seeing the world for the first time – caught my attention.  She would run a few steps, stop, clasp her hands together, gape at a booth, and make this high pitched “squee” noise.  I found the whole thing endearing, probably because she reminded me so much of myself at the time.  That’s the thing about a comic book convention: we come from all walks of life, from all over the world, and we are united in our mutual enthusiasm for something everyone else thinks is nerdy.

Okay.  Again, this doesn’t have much to do with the story exactly, but for the purpose of background, this was before every movie and TV show could point to a comic book as its source material.  This was before video games went mainstream.  We were nerds.  Geeks.  Misfits.  And it was awesome.  So what if I don’t have the emotional range to squee at stuff?  We were still forged from the same adamantium.  And one of the things we had in common, if we were being perfectly honest with ourselves, was that we had times when we absolutely lacked the confidence to make it in life.  There were times when our love for heroism only amplified our own lack of nerve.  And that’s why I’m writing down this story I heard third party.

Yes, this story is based on true events, and yes, I did my own independent research to flesh it out.  Still, I’m doing what I can to maintain the spirit of that original telling, because, like I said, it changed my whole life.  I was a coward with no self-assurance, and I felt inadequate.  I wasn’t getting anywhere, and I was getting there fast.  The story of Buster Benjamin changed all of that for me.

So the kid was looking at these trading cards that this vendor had on his table.  The guy at the booth was tubby.  He was wearing a Captain America t-shirt.  If Steve Rodgers had bought a similar shirt before he took the super serum and then put it on afterwards, it would fit him about as well as it did this guy.  Only this guy wasn’t muscular.  He was like the little tea pot; short and stout.  The flabby Cappy finished with one customer and then turned to the kid.  He asked if he could help her, and she looked up at him and froze.  It was like she thought herself invisible and shocked to discover he could actually see her.

“Um,” she stammered.  “Are these all of your Mystic Cards?”

“Those are the cards I let people touch.  I’ve got my good ones back here.”

She smiled, putting her hand over her mouth to cover her imperfect teeth.  “I’m looking for a Grimdrake.”

“There are Grimdrakes in there.”

“I want the Ginger Grimdrake from series one.”

The vendor grabbed at the hem of his shirt and pulled the fabric until the star-spangled shield was tight against his fluffy chest.  He reached under the table and after a few seconds of wheezing and turning red, he placed the card she was seeking in front of her.

When she saw it there, I swear I could see her heart beating hard in her throat.  “Do you take trades?” she asked.

“Depends what you’re offering.”

With shaky hands, she placed two of her own cards on the table.  The vendor looked them over and stroked his weedy beard.  “I think we can make this wor-”

“No way!  A Ginger Grimdrake?”  A large woman who came dressed as Xena, the warrior princess, leaned in over the gawky girl.  “How much do you want for it?”

“It’s my only one, and I just sold it.”

“How much was it going for?”

“Two hundred dollars.”

The gawky girl’s eyes widened.  She hadn’t realized just how much the card was worth.

“I’ll give you two twenty-five for it.”

The vendor folded his arms.  “I believe the girl still has the better offer.”

“What?” the large woman said, gripping her Chakram.  “An Albino Hill Giant and a Silver Serpent-Eater?  I have three of each of those in my collection.”

“Even so.  We’ve already made the deal.”

The woman stared down at the gawky girl, her eyes burning.  “And if she decided to withdraw her offer?”

The gawky girl looked up at the woman and quickly turned away, staring down at the cards on the table.  After a heavy moment, she picked her cards up and quietly walked away.

I witnessed all of this from the line I’m standing in.  I’d been waiting for over an hour to get an autograph from a venerated veteran of the comic industry.  I’m not going to say his name here, but you know the guy.  I just don’t want any legal issues, and besides, if we end up turning this book into a movie, I don’t want anyone to get the impression this was just meant to be a cameo.

I wasn’t the only one who was watching this kid get bullied out of her dream card.  This comic guru — who again, is someone you’ve most definitely heard of — was keeping tabs too, and when the girl was walking past us, this inventor of so many incredible super heroes said, “Excuse me, miss.  You aren’t going to take that lying down, are you?”

The girl looked over both of her shoulders.  One at a time, not all at once.

“That’s right, young lady.  I’m talking to you.  Are you let her get away with that?”

She stared back at him, her chin on her chest.

“Why don’t you step on up over here, and let’s have a little chat.”

She stumbled forward, eyes dead like a zombie’s.  Everyone in the line groaned as she cut in front of me.  Some of the people behind me vocalized their disapproval with guttural grunts and nasally naysaying, so the comic guru held up his hands.  “Calm down.  I just want to talk to this precious child a moment and fill her head with wisdom.  Alright?  ‘Nuff said.”  He set aside his Sharpie and prints.  “Alright, sweetheart.  Why don’t you tell me just what happened?”  And then he waited while she swallowed and blinked and her senses slowly returned.  “Why did you just walk away like that?”

“She’s bigger than me.”

“Ain’t that the truth!.  She’s bigger than me!  But if there’s one thing I know, it’s most of life’s obstacles will be bigger than you.”

“What was I supposed to do?  I’m just a nerd.”

“Just a nerd?  Just a nerd?  I’ll have you know no one is just any one thing, and besides, being a nerd is a great and noble thing.  Where would the world be without nerds?”

She shrugged.

“Look, you come from a long line of important people.  Newton was a nerd.  Einstein was a nerd.  Buster Benjamin was a nerd.”

“Who?”

“Who?  Newton?  He’s the cookie guy!  What kind of nerd doesn’t know who Isaac Newton is?”  He got a smile out of her, which perked him up like black coffee.

“No!” she said, finally not shaking.  “I mean the last one.  Who’s that?”

“Oh.  You mean Buster Benjamin?”

She nodded.

“You’ve never heard the legend of Buster Benjamin?”

She shook her head.

“Well, no wonder you’re so lost in the world.  You don’t know what you’re capable of.”  The comic guru leaned back in his chair and intertwined his fingers behind his head.  “Sit back, kid!  I’m about to unravel a yarn so spectacular – so incredible – it’ll sweep you away into a world of endless possibilities.”

The sounds of angst and reproach that rose from the line was practically deafening.