Mechanics Over Inspiration

Here is my latest as part of the Insecure Writers Support Group


“First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice.”

Octavia-Octavia Butler

I don’t think I understood what the late Octavia Butler was saying the first dozen times I read this quote. I thought she just meant I had to keep writing. Keep the laptop on and stay at it.


Staying at it can be a prescription for repeated failure.

Too often, I’ve thought of writing as art. I just had to keep going and work harder.

Writing may be one part art, but it’s two parts mechanics.

I can pump out a novel. I can also edit the thing for months. As if all that hard work will eventually produce something of quality.

Instead, I need to take a careful look at what I am doing wrong in my writing and fix those problems the same way a plumber unclogs a pipe or my wife fixes a squeaky door. The same way an athlete works on their form and creates better habits.

I’ve been working to identify mechanical problems in my writing. Problems that can be fixed with a metaphorical screwdriver or wrench.

As an anxious writer, thinking about the editing process this way helps me worry less about how good my work is and more on how to make it better.

Here are two mechanical problems I’ve been trying to fix.

1. Explaining what my characters just said – after a relatively clear piece of dialogue, I tend to explain what was said rather than trust my readers to figure it out. Here is an example from Wolf Bait, the novel I’m currently editing.

“Twelve year old Jess Turner is being held in  jail because she dared to speak the truth.” Ms. Mendez sounded every bit as professional as the reporter, but her sentences never lifted up like a question. She believed what she was saying.

Just in case the reader didn’t understand what I meant by “her sentences never lifted up like a question”, I felt compelled to add that last sentence. I had to make sure the reader understood.

I won’t bore you with other examples. Trust me, I do this way too much. So now I am going through my novel and striking out these explanations wherever I can.

2. I’m also struggling with shoving too many “beats” into my dialogue. In the past, I let dialogue drag on without having the characters do something interesting while they talk. I was right try to fix this problem. But I’ve gone too far. My dialogue is often heavy with characters fiddling around in the middle of every quote.

I can’t show a quick example of this because each beat (activity inserted into a quote) makes sense on its own. I just need to do  less of it.

These specific concerns aren’t really my point. A year ago, I was all about striking ly adverbs, italics, and exclamation points. Next week, I will line up all of the dialogue said by each character and make sure the voices are distinct.

I am trying to think of my writing less as inspired art and more as furniture under construction. I need to get the joints right and sand down the rough parts. In general, I need to think of editing as a mechanical process. It’s not personal when my work goes astray. I just need to fix it and stop thinking of myself as an artist who can trust his instincts.

Does this ring true with anyone else?

Theater Season

As a young dadwithoutballs, I looked forward to parenting with an easier schedule than the stressed-out masses.

Other dads shuffled their kids from practice to practice and game to game.

Weekdays. Weekends.

Mornings. Very early mornings.

These dudes resembled the undead in their drooping jeans, cargo shorts, and stained sweatpants. Their skin sagged. Dark circles colored their eyes. I couldn’t imagine any of them enjoyed what was going on.

On my end, I anticipated storytelling and long talks. Without a rigorous schedule, my family could rush off to the movies, check out plays, and run like mad creatures through open fields whenever we wanted.

You’re grinning now, right? You knew this plan wouldn’t work before I did. Or maybe you figured it out based on the title of this post.

My kids found theater. Kids always find something.

Over the last few weeks, my twelve-year-old rehearsed from 4:30 to 7:45 pm every weekday. She put time in on Saturdays too.  Last Friday was opening night. She ruled the stage as the main villain.  She played the role again on Saturday, and Sunday was a double feature. Now, she has fourteen shows to go. Another production just cast her as one of the Hyena’s in the Lion King. So she’ll need to juggle performances and rehearsals.

She won’t get home until 10:00 pm on many school nights. Luckily, the kid is a trooper. She’ll do her homework after she gets home. If she doesn’t get to sleep until 1:00 am, that will be fine with her. Nothing stops this one. The girl scares me.

So I can’t let myself get frustrated or too disappointed that we are not running through parks like a wild family. I need to follow her example.

My sixteen-year-old has a play opening Wednesday. She’ll work every night until at least 9:00 pm. Then she’ll have plays throughout the weekend. All of this with ADHD, at least one anxiety attack, and a desire to attend to a weeknight party even though she knows she has an essay due, math homework, and a French thing to finish.

The girl will also make room for musical performances, time with her boyfriend, and several moments to consider how she will change the world as soon as possible. She’s been thinking about that a lot lately.

My role is mostly to drive kids around. My advice is not wanted or helpful, but I get to watch them sing and dance. Standing in the doorway, I’ll spy as one kid does homework until all hours and the other vanquishes her anxieties and comes up with ways to help others with problems worse than hers.

I’m a dadwithoutballs on a theater schedule. My forehead gets wrinkled. My sweatpants are stained with tomato sauce. Luckily, my girls don’t let me wear cargo shorts.

Of course, I love it as much as sporty dads love their early-morning trips to hockey rinks and soccer fields.

No, I love it more because there’s not a single ball in any of these plays.

Anxiety or ANXIETY (IWSG Post)


It’s the first Wednesday of the month, so I’m posting about anxiety and writing as part of the Insecure Writers Support Group. Head over there to visit writers who are almost as neurotic about their work as I am.

Like many folks, I freak out about writing. I worry my work stinks. That agents and publishers will never accept me. That all my work is for nothing and I’d be better off studying carpentry, electrical engineering, or other useful skills.

On the other hand, I also get ANXIOUS. I worry that something terrible will happen to my children. I’ll get fired. Lose the house. Ruin everything for everybody. That the world would be better off without me. ANXIETY can make me curl up in my room, drink to avoid reality, and turn into an all-around lame guy.child book

Actually, I don’t get super ANXIOUS much these days. I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder several years ago. Since then, I’ve eliminated caffeine, reduced my sugar intake, and I take medication daily. Oh yeah, I’m also supposed to exercise. Some months I’m really good about it.

My point is that we need to know when we are experiencing normal anxiety and sadness related to the writing process and when our fears, worries, and depression are getting out of hand.

This distinction has consequences. Here’s a quick list of writers who have taken their lives:

Manuel Acuña, Louis Adamic, Arthur Adamov, Francis Adams, Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, Jean Améry, Raymond Andrews, Hubert Aquin, Nelly Arcan, Reinaldo Arenas, José María Arguedas, Takeo Arishima, Charles Ashton, Arno Assmann, Zo d’Axa, James Robert Baker, R. H. Barlow, William Vincent Barré, Rex Beach, Victoria Benedictsson, Lore Berger, Steven “Jesse” Bernstein, John Berryman, H. S. Bhabra, Jens Bjørneboe, Samuel Laman Blanchard, Ernest Bornemann, Karin Boye, Menno ter Braak, Henry Joseph, Steele Bradfield, Richard Brautigan, Frederick Hazlitt Brennan, Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić, Eustace Budgell, Andrés Caicedo, Albert Caraco, George Caragonne, Don Carpenter, Camilo Castelo Branco, Harry M. Caudill, Samson Cerfberr, Ana Cristina Cesar, Nicolas Chamfort, Evan Chandler, Iris Chang, Thomas Chatterton, Konstantin Chkheidze, Charles Clegg, Charmian Clift, Danielle Collobert, Charles Caleb Colton, Courtney Ryley Cooper, Branko Ćopić, Elise Cowen, Ida Craddock, Hart Crane, Thomas Creech, James Ashmore Creelman, Hector-Jonathan Crémieux, René Crevel, Harry Crosby, Géza Csáth, Will Cuppy, Stig Dagerman, John Davidson, Osamu Dazai, Aldo De Benedetti, Roy Andries De Groot, Penelope Delta, Frederick Van Rensselaer Dey, Thomas M. Disch, Tove Ditlevsen, Michael Dorris, Chris Doty, Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, K. Sello Duiker, Tristan Egolf, Carl Einstein, Alexander Fadeyev, Fan Changjiang, Arthur Davison Ficke, Ham Fisher, John Gould Fletcher, Vsevolod Garshin, Romain Gary, Helen Palmer Geisel, Peter George, Sam Gillespie, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Guy Gilpatric, Richard Glazar, Denis Goodwin, William Lindsay Gresham, Paul Gruchow, Hjalmar Gullberg, Stephen Haggard, Kenneth Halliwell, St. John Emile Clavering Hankin, Tamiki Hara, James Harden-Hickey, Horace Hart, Walter Hasenclever, Rashad Hashim, Beatrice Hastings, Attila Hazai, Sadegh Hedayat, Olle Hedberg, Thomas Heggen, Carolyn Gold Heilbrun, Ernest Hemingway, Leicester Hemingway, Jarl Hemmer, Henry William Herbert, Iva Hercíková, James Leo Herlihy, Anderson Bigode Herzer, Ashihei Hino, Jane Aiken Hodge, Merton Hodge, Abbie Hoffman, Doug Hopkins, Brian Howard, Robert E. Howard, Lorraine Huling Maynard, Arthur Eaglefield Hull, Robin Hyde, Evald Ilyenkov, Kaan İnce, William Inge, Charles R. Jackson, Philipp Jaffé, Morris K. Jessup, Orrick Glenday Johns, B. S. Johnson, Maurice Joly, Ingrid Jonker, Philippe Jullian, Metin Kaçan, Sarah Kane, Yasunari Kawabata, Bizan Kawakami, Anthony Paul Kelly, Alan Kirschenbaum, Jim Kjelgaard, Heinrich von Kleist, Jochen Klepper, Ardian Klosi, Fletcher Knebel, Vsevolod Kochetov, Arthur Koestler, Sarah Kofman, Hannelore Kohl, Nikola Koljević, Jerzy Kosiński, Deborah Laake, Lao She, Mariano José de Larra, Margaret Laurence, Katherine Lawrence, Pepi Lederer, Joel Lehtonen, Édouard Levé, Primo Levi, D. A. Levy, Heather Lewis, Lester Lewis, Hans Leybold, George Lichtheim, Erik Lindegren, Ross Lockridge, Jr., Petre Locusteanu, Erich Loest, Jack London (either suicide or accidental overdose), Leopoldo Lugones, F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre, Philipp Mainländer, János Majláth, Klaus Mann, Sándor Márai, Eugène Marais, Nilgün Marmara, Harry Martinson, Eleanor Marx, Gunnar Mattsson, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Alexander Keith McClung, Tom McHale, Johann Heinrich Merck, Carlo Michelstaedter, Richard Barham Middleton, Walter M. Miller, Jr., Roger Milliot, Yukio Mishima, Edgar Mittelholzer, Vilhelm Moberg, Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, Henry de Montherlant, Pamela Moore, Jason Moss, Dhan Gopal Mukerji, John Mulgan, Inge Müller, Börries von Münchhausen, Mirosław Nahacz, Nandanar, Yves Navarre, Gérard de Nerval, Torquato Neto, Adela Florence Nicolson, Hollister Noble, Franz Nopcsa von Felső-Szilvás, John O’Brien, Alexandru Odobescu, Louis Owens, André Paiement, Breece D’J Pancake, Dillwyn Parrish, Cesare Pavese, Harry Thurston Peck, Mike Penner, Petronius, Richard Pigott, Edappally Raghavan Pillai, H. Beam Piper, Peter Pišťanek, Sylvia Plath, John William Polidori, Gabriel Pomerand, Raul Pompeia, Jan Potocki, Lucien-Anatole Prévost-Paradol, Gert Prokop, Dragoș Protopopescu, Qiu Miaojin, Horacio Quiroga, Jean-Joseph Rabearivelo, Fritz J. Raddatz, Alexander Radishchev, Taqi Rafat, Ferdinand Raimund, Rajalakshmi, Anil Ramdas, Christopher Rave, Richard Realf, Liam Rector, David Oliver Relin, William Relling, Jr., Cale Young Rice, Jacques Rigaut, Roger-Arnould Rivière, E. Arnot Robertson, Amelia Rosselli, Berton Roueché, Gerolamo Rovetta, Alice Rühle-Gerstel, Mário de Sá-Carneiro, Gunter Sachs, Jun Sadogawa, Stig Sæterbakken, Emilio Salgari, Ramón Sampedro, Thomas Parker Sanborn, Drake Sather, John Monk Saunders, Alexander Saxton, Hermann Georg Scheffauer, Runar Schildt, William Seabrook, Mark Shepherd,  Gennady Shpalikov, Peder Sjögren, Edward Stachura, Frank Stanford, George Sterling, Adalbert Stifter, John Augustus Stone, Alfonsina Storni, Michael Strunge, John Suckling, Mikhail Sushkov, Aaron Swartz, Hidemitsu Tanaka, Rudolf Těsnohlídek, Hunter S. Thompson, James Tiptree, Jr., Ernst Toller, John Kennedy Toole, Felipe Trigo, Thaddäus Troll, Kurt Tucholsky, Peter Tyrrell, Dorothy Uhnak, Tor Ulven, Urmuz, Nikolai Uspensky, Louis Verneuil, Guido da Verona, Ned Vizzini, David Foster Wallace, Horace Binney Wallace, George Drought Warburton, Albert Wass, Gary Webb, Josef Weinheber, Otto Weininger, Ernst Weiss, Lew Welch, Edward Lucas White, Gustav Wied, Charles Williams, Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, Alfred Witte, Wally Wood, Virginia Woolf, Shōji Yamagishi, Francis Parker Yockey, A. P. Younger, Unica Zürn, Joost Zwagerman, and Stefan Zweig.

I could produce a similar list for other professions, but it wouldn’t be as easy.

That’s because research has demonstrated that writers are more likely to face mental health challenges than non-writers. Using a ginormous sample (N = 1,173,763), researchers found that being an author was “specifically associated with increased likelihood of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, unipolar depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and suicide.”

The study found that individuals in other creative professions (artists, musicians…) actually had a reduced chance of being diagnosed with these disorders. In other words, all creative types do not suffer equally. Writers suffer the most.

Here’s the study if you want a closer look. Mental Illness, Suicide, and Creativity

There could be a bunch of reasons behind this relationship.

People with mental illnesses may be more likely to write because we want to work out the issues that bother us.

We tend to be introspective as well as thoughtful observers of the world around us. Such awareness might lend itself toward anxiety and depression.

Writing can also be a lonely life full of criticism and failure, so there may be something about the writing process itself that fosters poor mental health. I have doubts about this argument. Writing can be therapeutic as well as anxiety producing.

I am inclined to think that people who are extra sensitive are more likely to have mental health problems and also more likely to write. But, honestly, I don’t care about the causes. I just want to make sure I stay mentally healthy and keep my anxiety from becoming all-consuming ANXIETY.

The first step comes in recognizing the difference.

There are bunch of online resources to help you figure out if your anxieties are getting the best of you. I don’t know enough to say which one is best, so I do not want to link to one over the others. Just Google “do I have an anxiety disorder” or “anxiety checklist” and you will find a slew of them.

man panicThe standard advice is to seek treatment when anxiety affects your daily life. Does it impede your physical health, relationships, or work performance? If so, take it as seriously as you would a stabbing pain in your heart. Self-medicating is another big sign. If you are drinking to calm your worries or smoking herb to chill out, you may have a problem.

In short, if anxiety is screwing up your ability to function or enjoy life, schedule an appointment with your general practitioner. They will help you diagnose your condition and possibly think out a treatment plan. They may also connect you to a specialist.

That’s what I did, and it helped me become a better husband, father, and worker. Spending less time worrying has also opened up new hours for writing. You can’t write when you are paralyzed by fear and, despite what some folks say, writing drunk rarely produces quality work.

The Kids are Mostly Alright

To help my writing, I eavesdrop whenever possible. Last night, my sixteen-year-old daughter hosted a Halloween party. So it was spying time.

I heard some great stuff from my lair in the kitchen.

Some of it gave me hope for this generation.

For example, “Which pronoun should I use?”

Holy crap, I thought. Kids have evolved.

When a girl asked if any boys had arrived yet, another said “just the gays.” It wasn’t meant in a negative way. These girls love “the gays.” I think they were calibrating their romantic expectations.

Later on, I caught a distant boy’s voice saying “I touched my first boob today.”

That settled me down. These guys were still a lot like my old crew.

Then another voice, this one from my daughter’s ex-boyfriend, pushed me down a little further. I can’t remember the exact quote. The gist was you’re opinion doesn’t matter because you’re a girl.

So these guys were very much like the goofy jerks of my day.

Maybe, but not exactly.

Mixed in with sexual obsessions and a propensity for mean jabs, they were also sensitive to issues that would have confused my contemporaries. In my neighborhood, talk of homosexuality and gender nonconformity led to anger and sometimes violence. It was cool that my daughter’s friends have moved on.

Later in the night, a pair of girls came into the kitchen and started a conversation with me. I can’t remember much of it. I had a drink in hand, and my wife made me go to bed soon after. One of them said she liked boys and girls but none of the boys and girls at her school. She wanted romance from a distance and didn’t seem ready to like someone who might like her back. The other one described herself as boringly heterosexual.

They were both sweet. The kind of teenagers who sneak away to talk to parents because grownups are more predictable and safe. We had that type in my day too.

I went to sleep wishing my wife let me stay up and play more. She was probably right though. The girls in the kitchen needed to hang out with kids their own age. I had already picked up a few observations for future stories. Most important to my wife and daughter, I don’t think I said anything too embarrassing.

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.