Thursday, April 27, 2017

Thirteen Reasons

UPDATE: This blog post was originally published in June 2011. Now Netflix has adapted Thirteen Reasons Why to film, so I find myself thinking about it again. I don't plan on watching the series; I have better things to do. But I think making the show was a bad idea for the reasons below.

And I still recommend keeping this story away from teens you're worried about.

Now, not only does Hannah pull off the perfect suicide, but she and everyone involved is super attractive, not just the ordinary teenagers you might imagine while reading. It's not just the Hoosiers of suicide anymore, it's the Avengers of suicide.

Read this book instead of watching Thirteen Reasons Why.

Okay, so I know I've been posting a lot of depressing suicide-related stuff on here, but I'm kind of writing a book about it, you know? Like the thing over there —> says, I write about basically whatever I want. And today I want to talk about Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher.

Even if you've never read Thirteen Reasons, you've probably heard of it. It's the story of Hannah who recently committed suicide as told on audiotapes to the thirteen people she blames for pushing her to it. Actually, it's Clay's story as he listens to the tapes. He had a crush on Hannah, but didn't act to stop her from killing herself.

Very touching.

Poor Clay.

Oh, was that mocking? Mmm, maybe a little.

Before I go any further, let me say that it's a pretty good book. I couldn't put it down and enjoyed reading it for the most part. It deserves most of the praise people have given it.

Okay, now here's what I want to say:  Hannah, you have thirteen reasons and they're all other people? You lucky girl! Most of us feel like we have only ourselves to blame. (Which hurts pretty bad in and of itself.)

No, actually that wasn't what I meant to say. Change course a little.

NEVER recommend this book to a teenager who might be thinking about suicide. (Did you notice the caps-bold-italic-underlined word? Now that's emphasis.)

Disclaimer:  Not everyone is like me, so maybe I'm wrong. But really, why take chances?

By showing the aftermath of a successful suicide, the book glorifies it. Some kids will see the sorrow Hannah left behind and think that's exactly what they want. No one loves them now, but if they die, everyone will. (Some of them may be right.)

It's a success story. It's the Hoosiers of suicide. Hannah pulls off a difficult feat to perfection, and gets exactly the effect she intended. It's inspiring.

The important thing is the feeling it leaves you with. Stories are powerful. Don't underestimate them. For most people, Thirteen Reasons Why elicits a desire to reach out to someone, to talk or listen more. It made me want to kill myself. Not because I felt sad or depressed. It simply reminded me of suicide's appeal, something I haven't felt for a long, long time.

And if it can do that to me now, what would it have done twelve years ago?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

No, wait! I like this query better!

And I posted it on this very blog back in October of 2011, before I even started writing The Freezer. For some reason, it's better than any of the four (or five?) queries I've written since then.

What do you think? (Yes, you.)


The world is about to die a violent death at the hands of a rogue planet. The last escape ships have gone, leaving billions of people knowing the exact date and time of their demise. Society is coming apart at the seams. Violence is spreading. Food is disappearing. There's one month left.

Thane Ryder turned down a seat on a spaceship to stay with his six-year-old daughter Mandy, and he intends to make her final days happy. He'll stay in his home and refuse protection. He'll feed his enemies and treat them like friends. He'll plant a garden, clean the house, and teach Mandy to ride a bicycle. He won't pick up a gun or show any of the fear gnawing away at his insides.

And if keeping his daughter from feeling that fear means building a spaceship out of an old freezer, he'll do that too. If she sees the lie in his eyes, maybe he'll even learn to believe the impossible: that their crude spaceship will work, that it will carry them away to find mommy, who left—and was lost—on a scout ship.

Whatever it takes to hide the fear. It's only for a month.

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Writer's Voice Entry: The Freezer

Thane Ryder would move mountains to keep his daughter happy, but it wouldn’t lengthen Mandy’s six-year life.

A rogue planet is on a collision course with Earth. Only a few thousand people will escape on ships destined for a new world. Thane’s wife Dawn piloted one of the first ships. Thane and Mandy were supposed to follow on a later flight.

But the Evacuation Authority disqualifies Mandy, dooming her to die with everyone else. Torn between a wife whose distant vessel has mysteriously lost contact, and the daughter who needs him more than ever, Thane decides to stay.

If shielding a child from the troubles of a dying world is difficult, keeping her from seeing his despair is impossible—almost as impossible as their dream of seeing Dawn again.

But Mandy knows Thane helped build the big interstellar ship that carried Mommy away. Why shouldn’t he be able to build a much smaller ship for only the two of them? Glad for the distraction, Thane plays along with her plans and builds a spaceship from their old chest freezer.

A pretend spaceship can't save them. It's impossible. Then, impossibly, Dawn speaks to Thane from lightyears away, and she says otherwise. Maybe it's a hoax. Maybe he's insane. Or maybe the walls of possibility have moved.

THE FREEZER is a science fiction novel, 72,000 words long. The themes and tone will appeal to fans of Ray Bradbury’s novels.

I have a degree in English and work as a technical writer for a robotics firm, where I translate engineer-speak into English. I also have experience raising little girls.

Mandy sat in the middle of the living room with a balloon in her mouth, her small round face turning red as she tried to blow it up. It sputtered away. She gave me a look that resonated with my thoughts and threatened to shatter my composure. I turned away.

It was Mandy’s sixth birthday. When Dawn flew away, Mandy was four. She’d be sixteen before I saw my wife again, touched her face, felt her breath.

For now, she was gone, piloting a ship named Hope, the Esperanza—alive out there, but dead to me.

Mandy had helped me clean the house that morning. We vacuumed, washed windows and dishes, did a real good job. We emptied it of dust and dirt, of fingerprints and smells. Now it was full of emptiness, vast and draining.

“Daddy,” Mandy called behind me. “I need help.”

She thrust the spitty balloon in my direction and blinked tearful brown eyes. If ever a girl could wrap me around her finger, it was my Amanda.

I gathered and banished the tears from my face and hurried over to her, avoiding her eyes, hoping she wouldn’t notice.

“It helps if you stretch it out a bit first.” I wiped the end of the balloon.

Mandy nodded, watching.

“I’ll get it started for you.” I put a little breath into it, enough to get past the first part, the hardest part. “Now you finish it up.”

She reverently took the balloon, pinching her fingernails white to keep it inflated.

p.s. I just rediscovered an old query that I like better, and I'd like to get your opinion.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Happy Pi Day!

It's March 14th. 3.14. Celebrated mostly as another excuse to eat pie.

Unlike some novelists, I don't have a degree in math. I did make it through college calculus, though, and I really like numbers in almost any form besides homework. So when I went looking for the number of known digits of Pi, I was astounded and pleased to find that there are 12.1 trillion known digits—and they're all available for download!

Of course, encoded as ASCII text, that would be about 12 terabytes of numbers. I don't have nearly that much disk space. Or time. But the downloads are broken up into nice 100,000,000 digit chunks. I downloaded the first one, used Excel to strip out the line numbers, and used TextEdit to search through it. (Because, while Excel will handle 1,000,000 rows, that's literally all it will handle, and it gets dog slow and uses 2 GBs of RAM.)

Of course, I had to make a pie chart.

Big surprise, eh? Each of the 10 decimal digits occurs approximately the same number of times.

However, it's not exactly the same number of times.

Poor 5. So left out.

It turns out that for multiple digit numbers, their frequency depends on their length. (I know. Duh.)

So, if you're looking for your phone number in the first 100 million digits of pi, it's almost guaranteed to be there—if you leave off the area code. If you write your birthday with 7 or fewer digits, it's in there. If you use the standard eight—well, mine's not there.

You're really lucky if your entire ten-digit phone number is in the first 100 million digits of pi. There are people in my area whose phone numbers are. Maybe I should call and wish them a happy Pi Day.

Want to search for your own significant numbers in the fabric of the universe? Here's the file.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Dear Agent,

I sent you a query this morning. It's labeled "Query 4" in my Scrivener file, so I must be getting better at writing queries. The previous novel I queried got up to "Query 6" before I dared send it out. I don't like this query process, but I appreciate that I'm one of many thousands of aspiring writers, and this is an efficient way for you to sort through our manuscripts. Writing novels and writing queries are very different things. I'm better at writing novels.

But the query I sent isn't bad. Now I'd like to say what's not in the query.

The Freezer is my fourth novel. It took me two years to write and revise, far longer than the previous two novels. This one was really difficult, and I'm not quite sure why. But I do know that I put my heart into it. I let my voice come through. I put every writing skill and piece of advice to use at one time or another, including killing my darlings.

The result is something multi-layered and meaningful beyond the plot. It's symbolic, just like my last book. It's the sort of novel you could read over and over again, looking for hidden meaning. All my novels have been that way, to one degree or another. I do that on purpose, because that's the sort of novel I like to read. If it's merely entertainment, that's fine. But what I love is stories that can be transposed and give meaning to my own life. So that's what I write.

If you request the full manuscript, I hope you'll see that. I hope you'll notice that Thane's extraordinary challenges parallel those of many parents. I hope you'll understand a little better what it's like to live with faith. And I hope you'll want more novels like that, because I'm already working on the next one.

I would never tell you any of this in the query letter, because meaning must be discovered by the reader just as it's discovered by the writer. It has to fall naturally out of the story, not be forced into it. I've done my best to let that happen. I think it worked, but you'll be the judge.

In the end, it comes down to what you like. I won't be offended if you don't like my novel.

But I hope you do.



Thursday, January 23, 2014

The End

The Freezer is finally ready to go. A few lucky literary agents have already been queried.

While I was working on this manuscript, my family lived through pregnancy and childbirth, kids with weird diseases, a mom with a ruptured tendon, surgery to repair it, another surgery to fix the results of the first surgery, a dad going on many more business trips than usual, a drive to Ohio, a construction project, a month of houseguests, and for the last week or two, the baby's been teething. That's my excuse for why it took so long. I've probably forgotten a few things.

But our baby is lots of fun, even when he's grumpy. Maybe I'm finally getting the hang of being a dad.

Now for the next novel...

p.s. I didn't write "The End" at the end of The Freezer. It didn't seem appropriate. It rarely does.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

These Three

I've been thinking about three things that are important to me: hope, trust, and love.

They go together like peanut butter and honey, bread and butter, or bread and peanut butter and honey (and butter, for some people.)


Well, here's what I've learned:

Hope needs an accompanying preposition—for. We hope for something specific. Without that, it's a feeling of optimism, not real hope.

Likewise, trust must always be in someone or something. To do any good, trust must also be strong enough to allow action.

Without trust, there can't be hope. Without hope, trust is useless.

For example, if I have trust in a medical treatment and hope for a cure, I'll complete the treatment even if it's unpleasant. If I lack either trust or hope, I'm not likely to endure the discomfort.

Things don't always go as planned. You can have trust in someone and hope for something, but the selfish choices, conflicting desires, mistakes, and offenses of other people will erode them. Hope and trust are positive ways of thinking, easily damaged by negative feelings. Love replaces those negative feelings with understanding, forgiveness, and peace. It drives out enmity and creates within us an environment where hope and trust can thrive.

It's been my experience that we all place our hope, trust, and love somewhere. We can certainly hope for, trust in, and love many different things, but life is so much better when these three travel together.