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Thursday, January 5, 2017

Things I learned as an indie.

It's all about marketing.

Well, it's a bit more than that. There's product. You have to have a novel that someone wants to read. But having that novel doesn't mean anything if no one sees it. There are a thousand ways to make that happen. I've tried quite a few. Firstly, I'm lucky that I arrived on the scene when the indie movement was just a ripple. It's grown tidal since then and I've learned from the best along the way.

Some indies are killing it, quitting day jobs, cashing six figures, sailing around the world. I've managed to carve a small slice of success, enough to pay some bills and have some fun on weekends. I'm not likely to quit my day job, so this hobby of spelunking my imagination has been a blast.

I'm a teacher first, writer second. Teaching keeps me mentally and emotionally fit. I'm mostly introverted. If you saw me at a party, you'd disagree, but I've learned to be social. When I have free time, I almost always choose to something solitary. But social interaction is essential, so employment fills that niche and teaching does so nicely. If I wrote full time, I'd never get dressed. Not good for the long term.

So the indie life suites me spot on. If you're an indie and want to compare notes, here's where I'm at.

WHAT WORKS FOR ME?
I mean that as a reader. What do writers do that attracts me as a reader? First, it's the material. Fiction is fickle. Everyone has a genre that grabs them, or a voice, or style. Whatever it is, don't take it personally if someone doesn't like your stuff. Rowling has a theme park and not every digs the muggle trope.

So I ask myself that question a lot. What would work for me as a reader? I take that approach as a teacher, what would work for me as a student? I teach from that perspective. That doesn't mean everyone should teach like me. I don't hit the target 100% of the time. Nobody does. Same goes for writing. I get emails from readers that become hardcore fans, but there are plenty that don't get me or my writing. That's the game, those are the rules.

I tried writing romance once because I wanted to take advantage of the marketing opportunities. Romance readers are voracious and indie romance writers crushing it. I made it halfway through a romance novel. That's 40,000 words. All I could think about was writing my next scifi story. I dropped the romance story that moment and never saw it again.

I don't read romance, and I sure as hell can't write it. I've got to love what I'm writing and love reading what I'm writing. And hope others come along.

It starts there.

GO WIDE
I'm on all platforms. Amazon, Nook, Apple, Kobo, and Google. Occasionally, I play with Kindle Select, meaning I'm only on Kindle, but I'm finding it's more lucrative to be wide. Amazon is the king, wrangling 70% to 80% of sales. Apple and Nook closely tie for second and third. Kobo (the main vendor for Canadian sales) is fourth. Dead and decisively last is Google Play.

I publish directly with Amazon, Google and Kobo, but use D2D to publish to Apple and Nook. I give up some money to use D2D but it's worth it. Apple and Nook platforms were a pain to use. I might go back to publishing directly with Nook to recoup the D2D fees, but not for now.

BOOKBUB
Get in line.

Every author wants a Bookbub. That's why it's so hard to book an advert with them. It's only getting harder. I booked six in 2016. That's pretty good. I attribute two things to my success. They were all boxed sets, so the discount was deeper ($6.99 down to $0.99). They are wide, not Kindle Select. I noticed a trend that significantly more books selected were wide, one of the reasons I continue to stay wide.

Bookbub is essential to getting sales in UK, CA, Australia and India. Also, should you book one, you have to manually change your prices in CA, AU and IN to make sure they match the Bookbub deal. For whatever reason, Amazon does not automatically make the right adjustments.

THE NON-BOOKBUBS
There are countless Bookbub knockoffs. Some are straight up scams. I've whittled my list down to a short set of promo sites that I only use as a lead up to a Bookbub promo, which primes sales for a bigger spike. I'll also use them when releasing a new book.

Free Kindle Books and Tips
Ereader News Today
Bargain Booksy
Book Barbarian
Book Basset 

BOXED SETS
However you can do it, write stories that funnel readers. Most of my books are part of a trilogy. Getting a reader hooked on the first book leads them to the rest. I even cross-promote between trilogies, writing elements in each one to pique interest. And then there's the Bookbub advantage. BB loves a boxed set.



FREE BOOKS
It's a tad controversial. Not every author likes the idea of giving away their work. I'm a fan, though. As a reader, I've found many writers by downloading a freebie and buying their subsequent novels. In particular, I like free novellas. They're bite-sized stories that give me taste.

I have 4 free novellas, each leading into a trilogy. I've had readers tell me they bought my books because of the freebie and they never buy books. It's a loss leader, and it works.



MULTI-AUTHOR BOXED SETS
I've been involved in several multi-author boxed sets, even coordinated one. Leading a boxed set takes a tremendous amount of effort. Most authors are happy to contribute their writing, but it can be a bit like herding squirrels.

I've been lucky to be involved with some big names. That proximity has led to discovery. One such luck shot was having Hugh Howey on board, the poster child for indie success. Most boxed sets are temporary, running for a several months.



Currently, I joined a boxed set through Rebecca Hamilton's marketing service. Twenty-two book boxed set with some potent indie writers. The buy-in was $500 per author in an effort to land on the NY Times list. I'm not as interested in the NYT title as much as I am the exposure. Dominion Rising will launch in August.



NETWORKING
I found the Writer's Cafe to be extremely helpful. I used to read it daily. Now I'll pop in every once in a great while. Authors from various indie strata contribute advice or breaking news. I've discovered boxed set opportunities there as well as numerous marketing ideas.

Rebecca Hamilton, an indie author, has a author marketing service called Genrecrave that's worked well. I've gained quite a few subscribers there, but I think it's most effective for fantasy and romance writers.

WORKSHOPS
I've shelled out some cash to jump in on a few online seminars. I got in on Mark Dawson's Facebook Advertising for Authors workshop called Self Publishing Formula. $500 at the time. While advertising on FB hasn't worked out for me (it seems to work for authors in thrillers and romance), I learned quite a bit from the videos. 

Later, I joined Nick Stephenson's Your First 10K Readers online workshop. That was pricey, too. Some of it was covered in Dawson's, but I still learned a lot.

Both workshops provided invaluable knowledge and lifetime memberships. Each time they come out with new videos, I'm automatically enrolled. If you had to do just one of them, I'd recommend Nick's since FB advertising isn't part of my plan anymore.

ADVERTISING
There are several viable opportunities. The authors that seem to be doing the best are those with a grasp on marketing (duh). By that, I mean they know you have to invest money to be visible. Quite a few are spending over $3000 a month on FB ads or Amazon's new marketing service (which I just starting dabbling in). It's the "it takes money to make money" adage.

I'm still too gun shy to jump into that well with both feet. I'm spending more on advertising, but not as much as I should. 

MAILING LIST
Dawson's workshop taught me the intrinsic value of a mailing list. Nowadays, a lot of services are focusing on acquiring subscribers. And for good reason. It's a captive audience that you can directly communicate with. I recently launched Humbug: The Unwinding of Ebenezer Scrooge. The first week, I sold nearly 1000 copies and racked up 80 Amazon reviews averaging 4.8 stars. 

That's hot.



Both workshops taught me how to attract and manage a mailing list, starting with a reader magnet. Readers that sign up will receive four novellas for free. My offer is at the end of all my books, it's on the website, everywhere I can put it. They are free samples that give a reader a taste. If they like, they buy other books in the series.

Recently, instaFreebie has been a huge avenue to gain subscribers. Readers have to subscribe to my mailing list to download a free book. Numerous promotional opportunities, most being free, can gather several hundred subscribers in a few days. They seem to be good subscribers, too. Although some argue they're still after free books and not worth the subscription.

MAILCHIMP
I use Mailchimp to manage a mailing list. It's not the cheapest, but I know how to use it and like the functions. I currently have 9000 subscribers. That costs me $75 a month. Their automated feature is worth the price. When subscribers sign up, they received a pre-determined series of emails that trickle feed to the user, starting with a welcome and a thank you and here's your first free novella. It's completely hands free, I don't have to do anything for them to receive these emails. 

I give a lot of free stuff to my subscribers. It has to be of value to them. For instance, I frequently give away Amazon gift cards at Christmas. All they have to do is click on a link I set up that takes them to one of my Amazon books. It has my affiliate link attached, so any shopping they do kicks back money to me. In December, it's a lot. But I use that money to pay for the gift card. In essence, I'm giving them the money. It's a thank you and keeps them engaged and they buy books.

REVIEWS
Reviews are hard to come by. Once upon a time, Goodreads was a good source to find reviewers. Too many fish in the pond now. While I have a presence on Goodreads, I rarely interact anymore. The vast majority of readers don't review.

I use the mailing list to garner reviews. I use Nick Stephenson's approach to running a contest to offer 10 free paperbacks to anyone that reviews the book. This falls within Amazon's parameters of fair play. Technically, subscribers don't have to review to enter, but most are happy to do so. I also encourage them to leave whatever review they want, good, bad or ugly. This is America.

The end result is healthy clump of positive reviews. I usually see a 100+ added to Amazon within a week.

A similar approach worked for the Humbug: The Unwinding of Ebenezer Scrooge release. I recruited advanced readers from my mailing list. Six hundred copies were downloaded. There are 94 Amazon reviews in the first month, 4.8 star average. So it worked.

BLOG TOURS
I think blog tours have fallen out of favor for many authors. I've done a few. There are great blog organizers that get them lined up. They do all the legwork for fee. I'm sure there was some benefit from appearing on several blogs, perhaps gaining some readers, but nothing that was obvious or that I could determine.

Plus, it's a bit of work. Most blogs want to do a contest or interview, so I've spent some hours filling out questionnaires. While I'll occasionally contribute to a blog, I don't do the blog tours (multiple blogs in a short period).

AUDIOBOOKS
I love audiobooks.

Most of my "reading" gets done in the truck on my commute, a great way to use dead time. I download them from Audible and post all of my books through the same service. The problem with audiobooks can be the influence of the narrator. A good one can make it better, a bad one can sink the story. While I've had some good ones, none of them have ever captured the characters that are in my head.

A few years ago, I started reading my own audiobooks. I make more money narrating my stories, but more importantly I enjoy it. Only I can capture the tone that's in my head. Also, it's a great way to proofread, catching those last few typos before launch.

I hunker down in my closet with a snowball microphone ($80) and laptop with free audio software and read on. A novel will take me a couple of weeks. Many reviews are not kind about my narrating skills, and I get it. I'm not a professional that does different voices. But I capture the tone, the emotion and I love it. That's important.

SELF-E
I take advantage of almost every opportunity. When the Self-E library came along, a digital venue that features indie titles, I threw my books into the mix. Two of them were accepted and, as a result, I've gotten a few speaking engagements.

These events were small and may lead to bigger things. More importantly, they're fun. It's another facet to the experience of writing, that is sharing it with readers in person. Since I teach for a living, talking to group is what I like to do.

I learned in the last event that my books were the most downloaded. A nice little feather. More importantly, they could get some press in the Library Journal, which could lead to more exposure. So I've got that going for me.

BABELCUBE
Some indies contract translators to get their books in foreign markets. Babelcube came along where you can split the profits with a translator. I'm experimenting with this. So far it's cool to have my books on Amazon in Spanish and Italian and Portuguese, and may give it the appearance of legitimacy. Marketing these, however, has proven impossible. I've made almost no money. Not sure how much longer I'll do this.

DOWNLOADS
Not all ebook readers--Kindle, Nook, otherwise--are tech savvy. It's likely most aren't. Once they set up their ereader, it's relatively easy to purchase books from Amazon or Kobo and start reading. But sideloading a freebie takes a tad more complicated. One additional step can throw the masses into meltdown. So emailing someone an ebook or sending them to a link for downloading can be difficult.

Services such as Book Funnel take out the aggravation. An author account is very affordable. You can set up your books for readers to download and it tells them exactly how to do it. A lot of older generation readers, the bulk of book buyers, don't have a handle on side loading books. I use this for all my free novellas and occasional promos. Since I started using, almost no questions from readers.

InstaFreebie is another such service, also relatively inexpensive with the added benefit of attracting readers to my mailing list. I would cancel my Bookfunnel account if I wasn't already committed to it. InstaFreebie is more than a download service, it attracts readers looking for free downloads. And they do a great job at it. Readers have to sign up for your mailing list to download your book. I've gained 2,500 subscribers in two months. Ridiculous.

SOCIAL MEDIA
I don't get much out of Facebook. Some authors are very good at it. They're quick, they're witty. They engage with their fans. There's a skill there, I believe. I don't really have it. Or the energy.

Visibility has changed, as well. If you have 2000 readers that like your author page, 2000 readers will not see your post. Usually 200 will be shown your post, depending what's in the post. You want the other 1800 to see it? Pay up.

Many authors still do Facebook parties but I'm don't see much activity from them. Unless you're actively promoting, it's not much of a promotional tool. As I've said, many authors are having great success with paid promotions. You can spend a lot of money in hurry, so you'll have to be committed and have some knowledge. Most seem to be in a romance genre, but there are other genres having success. I'm not one of them. I also haven't committed to this approach, either. 

I still don't get twitter. But like Facebook, I'm on it. I use SocialOomph to automate my tweets. I read Advanced Twitter Strategies to learn the automation approach. Very helpful book. It makes tweeting effortless.  I have very few sales that can directly attribute to it. I still keep a presence, though. The problem is me. I'm only use it to advertise, so it's not going to be nearly as useful. Authors that use it first to be social and second to market seem to get the most out of that account. I just can't get myself to care enough to the first part. 


Saturday, December 3, 2016

HUMBUG.

In case you haven't heard.


The Claus series continues with Eb Scrooge and more than a little twist on this Dicken's tale. The initial release has been well-received. Currently, 94 reviews on Amazon that average 4.8 starts.

Wowwee.



Jacob Marley is dead. His business partner, Eb Scrooge, is left to run Avocado, Inc., an innovative technology business, all alone. An introverted shut-in locked away in a Colorado mansion, he changes the company’s mission statement. Only his servant droids keep him company.

Until the gifts arrive.

Each Christmas, a messenger forces Eb to look at his life in hopes he will change. But change does not happen in a single night. And only Eb can make it happen.

But who is sending the messengers?






Sunday, October 23, 2016

A Very Good Boy

We knew the day would come. 

Waiting for your dog to die is like walking on thin ice, watching the fractures spiderweb beneath your feet, tensing for the cold plunge that never seems to come. Death doesn’t come waving a white flag, doesn’t announce a date for his arrival. Death seems to lurk in the corner of the room, a wall flower that spoils the party.



Kooper was our favorite.

We’ve had several pets over the years, liked some more than others. We loved Koop. His head smelled like brownies. He didn’t wag his tail, he wagged his body. He curled up at our feet, always kept us in sight.

Seizures started about a couple of years ago. You never forget that first one, the panic in their eyes, the urine on the floor, foam on their lips. It took several months to find the right cocktail to get the seizures under control, a combination of gabapentin and phenobarbital, but not before a couple hard nights took their toll.

He started dragging his back legs.

Our long walks turned into short ones. He wore booties to keep from scraping his paws. Several months ago, his back legs stopped working all together. He wasn’t in pain, still scarfed down food and wagged his tail when we came in the room. He just watched the world from a pillow and his head still smelled like brownies.

My great aunt was in her 90s when she died. She spent her last year confined to a bed in a nursing home in a great deal of pain and mental anguish while her caretakers waited for her to stop breathing. Death took his sweet ass time. There was no reason not to invite him over for tea, to have him pull up a chair and take her with him when he left, give her the relief she deserved. 

Push a button. 

I hope when Death introduces himself to me, I'll have the sand to invite him inside for a quick drink, maybe a cigar. Afterwards, we can head down the road like long lost friends. I won't have my body pickled and preserved, it'll probably be cremated, but even that is a bit silly. If I had the balls, I would take long boat ride with Death at the helm, take on a lungful of seawater and feed the planet with the body I don't need anymore. Makes more sense, really. 

All of that sounds well and good until we had to do it. 

Like I said, Koop wasn't in pain, wasn't hurting in any way. He slept most of the day like dogs long in tooth tend to do. We fitted him with a chariot and resumed daily walks. That lasted about six months, until he just didn't have the energy. He resumed his place on the pillow. 



A few weeks ago, things changed.

His breath labored, his appetite waned. He barely had the energy to lift his head. We contacted a vet that did home hospice. She would come over and administer the final rest while we sat with him. It was all arranged. We were just waited for him to wave the flag. 

After a brief rebound, the labored breathing returned. He stopped eating. His tail stopped wagging. The look was in his eyes, his neck stretched out. He was waving the flag. We didn't want to see, but it was there. Death was knocking.

Now all we had to was open the door.

I could feel myself refusing, not accepting this moment. All that tough talk of dumping my body in the ocean when I reached terminal velocity and I couldn't call the vet. Not Koop. Just not him.

He grew with the kids. He watched over the house at night, patrolled the backyard during the day, laid his head in our laps. But our kids are grown up. The end was speeding toward us. One glance told us he needed our help. 

Our vet wasn't available for the home hospice, so we loaded him into the back seat of the car. I went back in the house and began losing it. I was certain I wouldn't be able to talk when I got to the vet, but I set aside the grief and drove to a pet hospital, waited for the vet while my wife stayed in the car with him. 

I carried him into the room when our name was called. He lay on the floor as the tech explained how the procedure would go down. He rested his head at our feet, ears relaxed. Emotion in my throat, I barely answered the vet's questions. When she administered the final syringe, the room blurred. Hands on him, we wept as his breath were numbered. Just before the final one fell, I managed to whisper the last words a very good boy would hear.

Goodbye, Koop.




Saturday, June 18, 2016

Anatomy of a Book Signing

I rarely do book signings. For a couple of reasons.

One, 99% of my books are downloaded by readers all over the world. Aside from Christmas, I rarely sell more than a dozen paperbacks in a month.

Two, I'm not that big a deal. I have great rapport with readers through social media and email lists, but not the fervor that would compel someone to stand in line. I've worked author events in Charleston, in particular Yallfest, and watched fans stand in lines that stretched around the block to meet James Dashner. I'm not sure they all knew who he was, but it didn't matter.

Three, and probably most importantly, nobody asks me to do them. (See reason two for an explanation.)



Recently, Summerville did an event. Summerville is a small town outside of Charleston. It's where I live. Initially, I wasn't interested. We've all seen the sad author at a table of books with no one around. Passerbys avert their attention lest he start a conversation about his merch. I've been that guy.

Before writing fiction, I was primarily a technical writer that published in trade magazines and eventually two textbooks on landscape design. I was giving a talk at a conference on the topic. The attendance was good, the crowd enthusiastic. The event organizers asked if I would like to sign textbooks after my talk. They were being nice and I didn't want to look like a tool.

I sat next to a guy that was evidently a PBS personality in the gardening world. I wasn't familiar, but every person at the event was. They lined up, they laughed, they swooned. Every once in a while, they'd look to their left at the sad man with his landscape design books. I felt bad for putting them through that. It went on for an hour.

So of course when Four Green Fields asked if I'd like to participate in the local event, I said sure, why not. They've been kind to me, carrying my books in their storefront for the last several years. And, quite frankly, it sounded like a challenge I was up for.

My wife came with me, and that helped. I wasn't the sad lonely man and his books. I was the man with an attractive woman and his books.

We set up inside the store. As I was putting away the boxes, I caught my head on the corner of a glass shelf. Had the edge not been beveled, I'm certain it would've lobotomized me. Instead, I had a Harry Potter gash. So much for marketing.

This event is all over the downtown area. If you haven't been to it, downtown Summerville is like a movie set with very quaint brick roads and small storefronts. People walk down the street, stop in art galleries and restaurants. I was one of thirty-three authors scattered across the area. I guarantee you not one customer knew who I was.

But here's the thing. I didn't care if I sold a book. And that made all the difference.

Customers wandered through the store. As they rounded the corner and saw me, I imagined a shiver of discomfort possess them. To be honest, I didn't imagine it. It was happening for real. I said hi, they said hi and that was it.

Here's where things changed. We started conversations that had nothing to do with books. And this exchange, this interaction led to a connection that happened spontaneously. One person said she didn't like my kind of books, the science fiction kind. I said I don't blame her, fiction is subjective. I wasn't crazy about Harry Potter and clearly I was in the minority.

I sold 13 books. Quite frankly, that was shocking. But the best part of the night was this, I had fun. And that's what all this writing business is about.

The best part was a young man named Chris. He came through the store photographing the event. We started talking and I got him laughing. He didn't like digital books. He liked ones he could feel. He said his favorite science fiction book was probably Ender's Game. If he was interested, I said, he could come back at the end of this event and I'd hook him up with a free book. My wife went to the truck to grab The Discovery of Socket Greeny.

Chris came back when it was over. I signed the book and gave it to him. Maybe he'll like it, maybe not. It doesn't matter.

That made the whole event worth it.








  

Friday, May 20, 2016

Writerly Update

For those that follow me, thought I'd take a moment to update you. Doesn't seem like much has happened in my writerly world since the release of Bricks and Halfskin Boxed.

So here's the deal-o.


Humbug: The Unwinding of Ebenezer Scrooge

I missed my annual addition to the Claus series last holiday because, well, no reason. Just got behind and it didn't happen. Not this year. Humbug will be released November 2016. The rough draft is currently finished and still fairly rough. It's marinating in silence right now so I can come back for round two with fresh eyes. I will be courting advanced readers in October. We still have the whole summer to waste so I'll be putting the word out at a much later time.

In the meantime, this is the cover-in-progress:



Claus, Foreverland and Halfskin come to audio

All the Claus audiobooks were narrated by James Killavey. It occurred to me much too late that all we needed to do was upload the files to offer the CLAUS BOXED SET. What's that mean to the listener? You get all three books for one measly coupon.



HALFSKIN BOXED SET got way behind schedule. But it's out, yes! David Dietz, the narrator on Halfskin and Clay, put his pipes on Bricks (the third book in the trilogy) and wrapped all those up in one tidy boxed set download.



In the meantime, I put my voice on FOREVERLAND BOXED SET. I enjoyed reading SOCKET GREENY SAGA last year. I didn't plan on doing Foreverland, but a different narrator did each book in the trilogy so I couldn't package that. Six weeks in my studio (aka closet) and I wrapped the project. The timing of release was almost the exact day of Halfskin Boxed.





The Maze

I'll be submitting a short story to another Chronicles anthology. These anthologies have had some of the best of the best indie authors, so it's been an honor to contribute. My first run was in the Alt History 101 Chronicles with the short story 108 Stitches.

The next will be the Gamer Chronicles. I finished a short story called The Maze. After sending it through a beta read gauntlet, I blew up half the story and turned out something more exciting. The Gamer Chronicles will release in September.

More importantly, this short story gave rise to the next trilogy.




Maze, the trilogy

I hadn't thought about the tie-in until a few beta readers made suggestions that turned on the light. I've been toying with how to merge the Halfskin and Foreverland story arcs. Once the light went on, I sat down with a pad of paper. I know I've hit the target when I get this excited. I've churned 5000+ words in two days and already have the next several chapters outlined. The characters just stepped front and center. Don't know where they're taking the story, but we're off to a strong start.


Drayton is still asleep.

I promised fans of Drayton I would add another installment. Alas, he just won't come alive. I've made some attempts but his story is just dormant. Pressing too much never goes in a good direction. He's not dead, but he's still asleep. I will prod his bones after the first Maze novel.




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Sunday, May 8, 2016

This is Kooper

Kooper is a boxer.

He's 9 years old. About a year ago, he suffered his first seizure. You never forget witnessing a beloved pet go rigid and piss the floor. Neither does he.

We tried a number of things to keep them from coming back. Nothing was perfect. Phenobarbital seemed to settle him down but eventually they came back, and this time in clusters -- several of them in a row. Our previous dog, a collie named Samu, suffered from seizures and went into a cluster and never came out of it. We thought it was happening to Kooper. In fact, the vet gave us an emergency dose of phenobarb to inject up his bottom should another cluster hit. Hitting a puckered butthole during a seizure is like throwing darts in a hurricane.

Did I mention this is the best dog ever?

Eventually the right balance of phenobarbital and gabapentin worked. It's been several months since he last went through the ringer.

Problems remained.

Kooper began dragging his back legs after the first seizure. It wasn't anything alarming, just occasionally noticed his nails dragging the concrete on long walks. As the seizures continued, the lethargy increased, his paws occasionally knuckling over. He began scuffing the fur off the top of his back paws and his nails were wearing down to bloody nubs.

We bought him booties, but the dragging got so bad that he wore holes through them. We duct taped the holes before every walk. This only worked for so long. The progression of symptoms seemed to hit a fast track and soon he was crumpling to the ground. His walks rapidly shortened from around the block to the end of the driveway. By the time we stopped, he could barely hold himself up to pee. Instead, he assumed an odd kickstand sort of stance to relieve himself.

All in a matter of months.

It seemed to be a condition called degenerative myelopathy, a genetic disorder in the boxer breed.

The question becomes... well, you know what it becomes. But he wasn't in pain. He had an appetite, wagged his tail when he saw us, barked at the front door and whined when we took our other dog for a walk. He spent all day in bed, venturing outside a couple times with assistance to drop a number one or two before returning to bed. What old dog doesn't do this?

We can't put him down.

It's not time for that, not yet. He still has some years in him, just needs a little helps living them. So we found some.


Excellent music performed by Madeline Walsh 



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Saturday, April 16, 2016

Great Expectations (The Last Part)

We received a wedding invitation early 2016.

Michael was getting married in the spring. It would be in New York City where he now lived. He grew up in Oklahoma, spent most of his life there. Once he graduated high school, he moved to NYC. He has lived in the city ever since.

The invitation was flattering. But of course, all sorts of thoughts followed. Is this just a kindly gesture? Would it be inappropriate to go? Or weird? This went on for weeks. Heather, however, really wanted to be there, so after a short correspondence, she booked a flight.

Initially, I wasn't able to go. But, as luck would have it, plans unexpectedly changed at the last minute. We flew out on a Saturday morning. 

We'd never been to New York. It was a little intimidating. The unknown usually is. All we knew about New York is what we'd seen on television. In my experience, if your preparation for a new situation involves movies, you're effed. Fortunately, we knew someone besides Michael that lived there.

We didn't know much about his fiance. We wanted to know more so we did what most people would do. We stalked Facebook. Five minutes later and we were about to click off when I noticed a line in italics. 1 mutual friend. 

Remember the secret family password weirdness? Here it comes again.

Five minutes ago we didn't know Michael's fiance and now we have a mutual friend? Naturally, you'd think it was Michael but we're not linked on Facebook. The one mutual friend was someone that had lived in New York City for the past 26 years. His name is Jamie.

And we went to high school with him.

Heather and I grew up in a small town tucked between Illinois cornfields. Heather and Jamie were friends through middle school until he moved away. His career took him to New York City in his mid-twenties and he'd lived there ever since. And he knew Michael's fiance. He moved there 26 years ago. When Michael was born. 

Six degree of Kevin Bacon can't touch this.

Heather and Jamie.

We arrived before noon on Saturday and spent the afternoon with Jamie on the Lower East Side. It kept us occupied. We were out of our element, in a new city, not sure what the evening would bring. Would they be happy to see us? Nervous? Is this weird? Now we weren't so sure.

We asked the hotel what was the best way to catch a cab. He said walk outside and raise your arm. Was it really that easy? Yeah. Yeah, it was. Turns out, cabs really are everywhere. We arrived at the venue, early evening. The sun was hours from setting, the spring air cool and crisp.

Had it really been 26 years? Is this really how the story ends--the crises that began so long ago, when we were young and lost and scared, a distant memory? Will we wake up on the floor and realize it was all just a dream? Because these things don't end this way.

There aren't happy endings like this.

We followed the eclectic crowd up an iron staircase and for a moment, we were all alone. It was 26 years earlier, just a couple of nervous kids in a really big world, unsure which way to turn, what was around the corner. But in the next moment, we saw Cathy. Tears. Hugs.

It was real again.

We caught up with Wayne and Cathy, and a now grown-up and married Kelsie; we met extended family, recalled the day we met at the Italian Village. They were from the Midwest so it didn't take long to speak the same language. Had it really been 26 years? 


The ceremony took place on the rooftop. Wayne and Cathy ushered Michael out. As dusk drew near, they took their vows in a short ceremony among friends and family. It would be another hour before we met Michael.

The reception took place downstairs. We found a table in the corner. It was small and convenient, one where we could stand up and hold our drinks. An inconspicuous place. It wasn't until later that we realized it was perfect. The family graciously invited us to the table but we declined. From our little corner, we watched an extravagant New York crowd mix with Midwesterners--a clash of style and values, interests and eras. But a crowd united in love.

The reunion with Michael was what you would imagine. Outstanding. Grateful.



Perched in our corner, we watched the night unfold. We were not removed, not distant or antisocial. We spent time with all the family and friends. It was the perfect balance of being there.
The fathers gave touching speeches. And when cake was cut and, one by one, friends toasted the newlyweds, Heather and I made our exit. We thanked them for being the family anyone would wish for. They had exceeded all our hopes. The script of this moment was surreal and oddly perfect.

The night was relatively young, but we'd done everything we'd come to do in New York. We ate a slice of pizza in a very small hotel room and fell asleep.

Heather, Micheal, and Cathy


So why tell this story?

The world needs to hear it is a tad presumptuous. The world doesn't need anything. And this certainly isn't the end of anything. But for some reason, it certainly felt like it. Twenty-six years ago, we would not have been so bold as to write a tale like this.

But I'm a storyteller. I like a good ending. And this certainly felt worthy.

Even if it is true.