Keeping Score

From what I can tell, there are at least two kinds of sporty people. Those who sport and those who know everything about sport.

main_bballbubble_480While some guys like to toss balls and run bases, others are content to learn all they can about people who toss and run. More than knowing the names of famous sportsters, this type focuses on data. They memorize average yards gained, batting averages, and shoe and cup sizes.

If I somehow I woke up with the proper hormonal adjustments to make me a sporty dad, I would surely fall into this latter category.

I know this because writing is my sport, and I write like these fellows watch ballgames.

I am currently 35,900 words into Moon Bait, my middle grade horror novel. At 25 chapters, that averages out to 1,435 words per chapter. I have outlined 30 chapters, so I expect my novel to clock in at approximately 43,000 words. That’s about right for the genre.

Beyond these simple statistics, Moon Bait currently scores a Fliesch-Kincade grade level of 3.1. My novel is targeted to fourth to sixth graders, and I want both strong and hard-working readers to enjoy the thing. So that’s good too.

Approximately one percent of the sentences are passive. I think that’s cool. A guy ought to be able to talk like Yoda one out of a hundred times.

In addition, I have 73 literary agents in my sites. When I send the novel out, I will carefully record percentages that never get back to me, reject me, ask for partials, request the entire manuscript, and those who tell me to get lost at this late stage. I will also write down the names of any enlightened souls who actually want to represent my work.

At that point, I’ll probably do the same thing with the publishers. I dunno. I’ve never made it that far.

So maybe I am not that different than the sporty guys – at least nerds who sport anyway. I keep score just like they do.

But you know, I’d also like to run the bases.

If Sportsball is not for You, Grab Your Goofball

My dad knew how to baseball.

In the fifth grade, we joined a pick-up game with some neighborhood kids. I was on base (not sure how) when one of them asked if my dad was any good. He was my dad, so I assumed he wasn’t. The old man must have heard me saying so because he blasted the next pitch out of the park.

Wide Eyed

Granted, he was a grown man playing against kids. Still, I remember watching the ball zoom over my head and feeling ridiculously proud. I’d never seen a ball fly so far, and I was related to the guy who hit it. Wide-eyed and impressed, that was me.

I’m betting many fathers enjoy being sports heroes to their kids. I never had much of a chance when it came to these things. (Although I later channeled my minuscule sportsballs into an interest in judo and karate that has left my kids wide-eyed more than once – but that’s a different post.)

So what do you do when you can’t hit that homer, dunk a basketball, or throw the long bomb? You need to find another path to parental heroism.

A professor friend of mine succeeds here by knowing history. Seriously, he and his teenage son travel the country playing historyball. They talk snarky to tour guides and share a solid nerd-bond. It’s an awesome, if at times unsightly, phenomenon to watch.

My attempts at heroism come by playing with the only ball I’m particularly skilled at – goofball.

Take this summer as an example.

One of my daughters volunteers as a teacher’s aide in a pre-k program. This July, she overheard a little dude bragging to the guys at his table. So she bent down, feigned a snotty tone, and said “well, my dad’s a superhero.”

dave distant

That night, she let me in on the story. The cool thing was she knew exactly what I would do. We jumped in the car and drove to Party City. An hour later, we had a super hero costume in hand.

In the morning, my daughter greeted her students alongside her superhero father. We freaked the little fellas out – in a good way. Each one received super deputy sun glasses from Doctor Blue himself.

That’s my daughter holding the glasses on the left below.

dave glasses

There is no reason a dad couldn’t be good at sportsball and goofball. But I’m not here to worry about those guys. I’m focused on dadswithoutballs who are doing their best in a hostile nation.

Dave shake

Here is my advice, be a super-charged historian if that works for you. Find whatever clicks between you and your child, and take it as far as they want to go. For me, it’s all about the goofball. Sure, I’m embarrassing at times. But, during moments like this one, I get to look in my daughter’s eyes and know she’s cool having a goofy dad rather than a sporty one.

Note: faces are blurred to protect my super deputies’ identities.

Friend to the Ball-less

Today’s post is dedicated to Jeremy Scott Browning – the artist behind my new cover graphic.

Take a close look. The guy has talent, but he sure lacks mercy. I remember that volleyball like it was yesterday. You’d think he could have drawn the picture a second earlier when I still had a chance of hitting the ball.

I wouldn’t call Jeremy a dadwithoutballs. The dude played football at Central High until Martha Sanchez broke his heart and sent him into a teenage tailspin. Oh the glory days.

Jeremy and I have been the best of pals since the sixth grade. I don’t remember either one of us playing with balls when hanging out. We were much more likely to draw/write, read comic books, play Dungeons and Dragons, and obsess about girls. So I’m making him an honorary member of the club despite his troubled foray into football.

Jeremy teaches in Japan where he has a wonderful wife and two sons. You can check out more of his stuff at Jeremy’s Art

Jeremy is available for commissions if you want to enhance your blog, webpage, or living room wall with his fine work. Just email him at

This is one of my favorite pics that you’ll find at his Flickr page.


And here’s the pic of me at a wider angle.


Thanks buddy!

(IWSG Post) Sporty Nerves and Anxious Writing

I have not been completely honest.

A long time ago, in this very galaxy, I liked sports.

Okay, I never enjoyed playing the damn things. There is nothing worse than being picked last or striking out in front hordes of 1970’s elementary school kids.


Don’t believe me? Go back and watch The Bad News Bears. That movie nails my childhood. I am Timmy Lupus – with more than a smidge of Tanner Boyle thrown in. I never would have survived without a little Tanner..

I enjoyed pretending to be good at sports. I played out scenes in my bedroom where I single-handedly won the big game, knocked out Leon Spinks, or outran and out-jumped the future Caitlyn Jenner. My dad set up a pitching net that I could throw the ball against in the backyard (behind a six-foot privacy fence). I even caught the ball a few times on the bounce back.

When no one was looking, I was practically a jock. I liked stories that went with sports even if the actual events made me want to hide. I loved narratives in which I was secretly fast, strong, or agile. I just hated it when reality showed up to prove me wrong.

On a bad day, writing can be a similar horror.

I am currently 27,659 words into my next middle grade novel, Moon Bait.

The word next might give you pause. What happened to my previous novel?

Well, I didn’t think it was good enough so I never truly marketed the poor thing. My standard writing strategy is to work my butt off on a piece, workshop it with the best readers and writers I can find, and then come up with a reason not to expose myself to rejection. I may send out a handful of queries, but I never give it my all.

Just like in sports, it’s all about pretending. The novel I’m working on will be a smashing success. I know it. Only once I finish the thing, I’m less certain about putting it out for everyone to see.

Thing is – I’m a much better writer than I am an athlete. There is no reason to sabotage myself. I’ve won awards at writing conferences, published in small-press magazines, and received positive feedback from established authors.

So I am making a promise right here in this blog.

I’m going to market the next one. This one. I mean I’ll get behind the book I’m working on right now. I’ll do a full-court press, throw a Hail Mary, and give 110 percent to Moon Bait. If the book doesn’t get picked up, it won’t be for lack of courage.

There, I said it. Out loud and everything.

That’s the equivalent of telling my fourth-grade friends I’ll be trying out for little league come spring. Once a kid puts something like that out there, they got to follow through.

IWSG badge

Note: this is my first time participating in the Insecure Writers’ Support Group. To read many excellent posts on writing and insecurity, check out the rest of the posts at:  Insecure Writers Support Group

Almost-Related Fiction (or at least some things I’ve written looking for readers)

I promised this blog would also be about my writing – which is sort of my sport.

Here’s some fiction vaguely related to parenting and kids. I currently write half sweet and half scary middle grade horror. In contrast, these two stories are exclusively for adults. Both lack anti-sports rants and neither one is the least bit funny.

The first is a link to a piece of dystopic fiction I published a long time ago about fathers and daughters. Baby Men would be different if I wrote it now. I’m not so artsy-fartsy these days..

girl in park

Baby Men

I wrote something much darker a few years later. Two publications almost accepted Out from Shadows. But in the end they decided the content was too upsetting. The story deals with my anger about kids who are abused from the point of view of a monster sent to save them.


The editor of this really cool magazine passed because the nature of child abuse mixed with horror was too much. But he was kind enough to say “I’ll take a close look at anything you choose to send. You bought my attention with that submission.” Then the magazine went out of business.

If nothing else, writing Out from Shadows helped purge the need to tell the darkest and most pessimistic stories hiding inside of me. The language is more flowery than my current stuff.


By David Emanuel

When Sara slipped in through the bedroom window, she should have gasped at what she saw. She should have sensed the tingle of excitement rippling in her chest and felt her limbs grow cold as her mouth crusted dry. She had searched for the child so long, Sara should have cried out loud when she finally found her.

But Sara didn’t have a mouth or chest or limbs that could feel the rush when blood flooded toward her missing torso. She slid across the cracked window frame where splintered wood clipped her sides. Slivers of paint sank into the silk shadow stretching from the top of Sara’s head down to the loose tatters that had once been feet.

At last, she had found Jessica. Nine years old with freckled skin and scrawny legs, the girl huddled against the far corner of the bed, her legs tucked within her arms and her chin nestled atop her knees.

city street 1

Sara had heard Jessica’s cries. She’d followed the girl’s tears for more than a year, creeping slowly as the shadows let her. Years of black quiet had finally been interrupted when the voice called out to her in pain. She’d spent a month inching across sidewalks and crawling up light posts to catch the sound. At night, when shadows spread beneath a clouded moon, she’d moved as fast as she could, soaring over entire half blocks in a single evening.

If she could, she would have smiled at the thought that Jessica wouldn’t scream another night. Sara had spent enough time in darkness. It was time to let another rest.

She slid along the carpet, watching cuts of light reach out from the corner nightlight. She moved as best she could, but Shadows crept slowly, one hundred feet a night and seldom more. She pulled her black body across the floor and beneath the glowing stars pasted on Jessica’s ceiling.

There was not much time.

The door creaked open. Dim light silhouetted a man standing in the hallway. Sara knew the man. Not this man, but she knew the type: fathers, uncles, half brothers, and step things. Monstrous men with cold hands and bitter breath. Fat men. Old men. Young men. Cold men. Hot, sweaty men with beastly eyes who cuddled lonely mothers and promised to love their children as if they were their own. Love the young things as if they were owned!

Sara screamed in silence. There was not enough time. Shadows moved in fractions, and the man had already descended. He fell on Jessica’s bed with soft words and promises. If Sara remembered right, he was already stroking her hair and warning about the consequences of telling.

Sara would have flown if she had wings. She’d have soared down from the shadows at the top of the room and consumed the man. If she had legs, she might have bounced over the bed rail and beat him with long-lost human fists. She would have done anything she could, but Sara was only a Shadow, and Shadows could do just three things.

One of them was crawl.

She climbed a blanket dangling from the edge of the bed. Was it only touching or would there be more? Her own nightmares began with touching. Soft fingers squeezing her knees. Gentle touches turning sharp and cruel.

The black mass that had once housed her stomach twisted in pain. The scene in her memory could not repeat itself in the here and now. Not after she had worked so hard to rescue Jessica.

She slid up fast. Fast for a Shadow.

Jessica was already crying. Already muttering hushed “nos” and “pleases”. The others must have heard. Birth moms and half sisters hid in their beds. Step creatures and half things kept quiet so he wouldn’t come for them.

Sara slid along the fabric. If she had them, she’d have plugged her ears and raced ahead. But Shadows couldn’t stuff their ears or close their eyes. When awakened, they heard every scream and saw the lights from apartment windows where boys and girls pleaded for rescue.

She reached the top of the bed and spotted them both. The man pressed his hand along Jessica’s neck. He held her like a shallow cup. Her chin filled the curve between his thumb and fingers as if he might pull her close and take a drink.                    “Be good,” he said. “Daddy will come back tonight.”

Praise God, the abuse had not yet started. Sara had reached the bed in time. She climbed atop a down comforter just as the man was out the door and gone.

Jessica’s hair twisted into a nest between her head and pillow. She muted her cries and held still. Sara moved toward Jessica’s spot on the bed, wondering if this was how the Shadow felt when it approached her years ago. She remembered her own crying. Hiding as a Shadow in the darkness, she’d almost forgotten the sound. Her world had been dark and quiet for so long. Then, years later, Jessica called out from among the city blocks. The child’s pain stirred something in Sara’s absent chest. She knew it was time.

Jessica sobbed in gasps and stutters. “No more. Please.” Like some ancient mantra, the girl repeated lines Sara had uttered herself as a human child.

She slipped a black appendage over Jessica’s heel. She had to touch her. There was no other way, but she was afraid. Touching was the sin only a Shadow could hide.

If she could, she would have told Jessica how the offer works. Told her she could make the pain go away. Jessica would be a Shadow until she was strong enough. She’d face the world in quiet blackness where neither sound nor light could wake her. Not a sound until a child’s cry shook her missing heart. Not a noise until she was strong enough to take that child’s place.

Without a mouth, Sara couldn’t offer the child a choice. She could only touch Jessica with her own dark form and assume she understood what the girl needed the way her Shadow had known all those years before.

Shadows could do three things. One of them was crawl. Another one was take. No words. No choices. She’d take her one last time so the girl could never be taken again.

She touched Jessica’s ankles and toes. She stretched her black, silk body over the child’s belly, shoulders, arms, neck, and chin. Jessica squirmed as Sara consumed her, but the girl was tired. She’d fought before and lost and didn’t have the will to fight again.

Still, Sara would have screamed if she had a mouth. She’d have howled and spit at the thought of forcing herself upon the girl. Instead, she covered Jessica’s lips in blackness and hid her eyes and ears in darkness.

bedroom shadowThen Jessica crawled away. A Shadow, she inched along the blanket and slid over the carpet toward the cracked window and the black night. Jessica was alone in darkness, a restful Shadow as Sara had been for years.

Sara’s dark appendages gave way to muscle and bone. Soft, silk flaps evaporated into freckled flesh and pink lips. She lay in Jessica’s bed and discarded body. She felt strong now. Years stronger since the step thing crept into her room. Years since she kept quiet and obedient, lest the man chose her sister on the bunk above her.

She felt the warmth of the blanket at her feet and pulled it to her chest. She ran her fingers through Jessica’s–through her own–knotted hair and then wiped her tears from her eyes.

The room hung dark and quiet, but light shone from the corner. Step creatures and half and natural birth things lived down the hall. One of them lurked in shame while the others ignored him. That one would come again.

Sara was older now, and, somewhere deep inside, still partly Shadow. The man would return, and that was fine with her. Shadows could do three things after all. They could crawl, take, and something more. Something nasty. Something sharp. Sara looked forward to showing the man, just as her own Shadow had surely done all those years before.


That’s it for me today. Just sharing the creep.

-And thanks to Creative Commons for the cool pics.