Saturday, July 30, 2022

The Empty Nest Phase Begins

Scott D. Parker

I know we’re all here to talk about books and writing, but I experienced a momentous event this week: my son moved out of the house. My best recommendation on books this week is the publication of Jay Stringer’s two Marah Chase novels. I’ve already bought book 1, World War Zero.

On Wednesday, my twenty-year-old son moved out of our house and into his first apartment to continue his education in audio engineering. He’s an only child and this is the only house in which he’s lived, so I know it’s a big deal for him. But it’s also a big deal for my wife and I.

Because of Covid, he stayed home after high school and got all his basic courses out of the way, so my wife and I got two bonus years, a fact we cherished. We got two extra years many parents don’t get. They came at a terrible, pandemic-induced cost, but we three got them nonetheless.

As New Year’s Day 2022 dawned, we three knew this was going to be The Year. We had to find him a new school to attend and we did. Thankfully, it’s across Houston…you know, so an hour of driving. But it’s only an hour. We drove home after meeting with his professors with the certainty that this was where he wanted to go to school.

But he didn’t want to commute across town every day. So that left the obvious alternative.

We knew Move Out Day was coming for months, but it was on some ambiguous date. Then suddenly the date crystallized and we prepared: movers hired, boxes packed, and last moments here at the house with him as a resident. One of the things he and I did was a nightly walk where we’d talk about music or the future or moving out or anything.

Move Out Day arrived and most of the day was filled with work: staying out of the movers’ way, unpacking boxes, setting up his stuff in his new place, a trip to the grocery store, and the first meal in his apartment.

The busyness of work was therapeutic, but it was not without emotions. Little by little, his stuff was unpacked and arranged. I broke down boxes and carried them to the car. But there there were little moments that shocked the tears right out of my eyes, like when I opened his box of clothes and his smell permeated my nose. He caught me then, actually, when I didn’t respond to something he said. I just shrugged, smiled, and kept hanging up his clothes.

Then my wife and I had to leave, and nothing prepares you for that moment…or the moment you come home to your house and see and feel his absence. The next day, Thursday, was the first day of the new phase of our lives: waking, working, eating, and living in our house without our son with us.

I know this new normal will become easier, that we’ll smile at a memory of his time here and not tear up, but these first days are all about the waves of emotions that are triggered at the slightest stray thought or vacant chair.

As parents, we intellectually know our children are bound for adulthood, for moving out and making their own mark on the world just like we did. But when that moment comes, it knocks your breath away. It’s incredible how emotions work, how you can simultaneously have your heart swell with pride that he is moving on but also have that very same heart contain an empty space because of his absence that’ll never truly be filled again.

So I wanted to share this moment with everyone because it is the one all-consuming thing of this week. Besides, since I’ve been writing these columns for thirteen years, I feel like we’ve come to know each other.

I’ve started reading about how parents deal with the empty nest. I know there are some readers who have already dealt with this transition and new phase of life so I’d love to learn about those experiences.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Scenes from a Writer's Mind

Among the many films I thought of yesterday on hearing the news that David Warner died was the 1977 film Providence, directed by Alain Resnais.  I mention it here not only because I liked the film very much, but also because it's one of the best movies ever made about a writer and the creative workings of a writer's mind.

The writer is an aging and frequently drunk man named Clive (John Gielgud) who lives in a large and somewhat Gothic house in Providence, Rhode Island.  He is working on his new novel and a somewhat odd one it certainly is.  It involves a mercy killing, a trial, a dark forest, a macabre autopsy, and perhaps even a werewolf.  The characters in this story are based on Clive's family, specifically his illegitimate son Kevin (Warner), his son Claude (Dirk Bogarde), and Claude's wife (Ellen Burstyn).  Clearly, there is a lot of vitriol among these three and between each of the three individually and Clive.  Or is there?  How much of what we are seeing of these people/characters matches how they actually are and how much is Clive adding to and distorting their personalities to suit his creative needs?  Imagination, time, and memory all play a part in this complex weave, and the author Clive, as he creates, twists around, and recreates mental scenes involving these three people, has little but caustic commentary about them.  That commentary is quite funny, and much of what he composes in his mind is somewhat ridiculous...but, of course, isn't that how a writer's mind works when it is in that stage of free-flowing reverie?

In the second part of the film, which takes place the day after Clive's drunken imaginings, we see the actual family members he's been thinking of, and the view of them now is quite different.  But does what we see of them in this section, in the cold light of day, undo everything we learned about them before, when we saw them through Clive's mind?   

I didn't see Providence in the theaters when it opened, but I saw it maybe a year later in the late seventies when it was a staple, in regular rotation, on HBO.  And since then, from what I can tell, it has been difficult to find.  As of right now, it doesn't appear to be streaming anywhere, but there is a pretty good print of it you can watch on YouTube.  It's a film that got both acclaimed and lambasted by critics when it came out, which means nothing more than it's not to everyone's taste.  A couple of things are certain: it is not a film that is supposed to be naturalistic and the acting by all the principals reflects that.  That's especially true in the film's first part, but then again, isn't what we're seeing then how the people are behaving in the old drunken writer's imagination? 

Music by the great composer Miklos Rosza, a nod or two in its Gothic imagery to the specter of Providence himself, H.P. Lovecraft, and ultimately a moving look at a dying writer's fantasies and memories, his determination even as he fades to keep on making up stories.  It's just a superb movie, one that can keep revealing itself after one or two viewings, and it's a true writer's movie.  And in David Warner's career, it's yet another example of the actor's versatility and skill.  

Sunday, July 24, 2022

James L'Etoile's New Thriller, DEAD DROP

Thriller writer James L'Etoile stops by today with a few training tips for writers. The cute dog photos are just a coincidence. - Claire

Claire, thanks for letting me guest post today on Do Some Damage. With DEAD DROP fresh out on the streets, I’m in that sweet spot somewhere in between exhaustion from finishing all the work to get a book published and anxiety that no one will read it. I barely remember the last few months of revisions. Then there’s the publicity and marketing and the worry if I’ve done too much and people are sick of seeing my stuff, or what if I’ve haven’t done enough and no one knows about the book?

There’s only so much you can control. A simple concept, right? But, it’s something the Corgis reminded me about during one of our walks. I use the time with the dogs to do a bit of training with them (they both have obedience and therapy dog titles) while I mull over characters, plot points, and scenes I’m writing. During one of these walks, it struck me how much dog training and writing have in common. I know, you’re thinking I’ve gone to the dogs…

If I listen to what Emma and Bryn the Corgis tell me, they firmly believe they are responsible for DEAD DROP because they have been training me.

They remind me of a few basic commands and rules used in dog training:

Rule: Stay on Leash. On walks in the community, the Corgis stay on leash. It’s not only courteous to the neighbors and other dogs, but it also makes sure the Corgis pay attention and stay on task. They tell me I need a leash while writing to keep me from distractions and wandering off from the keyboard. Which leads to command 1:

Sit-Stay.  Once I’m at the keyboard, they tell me I need to park there and don’t get up until I’m released. There will be emails, social media, phone calls, and all sorts of interruptions, but while I’m in a “Sit-Stay” I’m supposed to focus on one thing—writing.

Heel: Generally speaking, when you give the dogs a heel command, they are to follow your lead. This also applies to writing. I have to pay attention and “Heel” while I’m writing, which means follow the damned outline.


Look: Sometimes a dog will get excited and lose focus on the task at hand. The “Look” command gets their attention, and they are supposed stop whatever it is they’re doing and make eye contact with you. I can get off-task from time to time with scrolling on Instagram or procrastinating on just about anything other than writing. “Look” should get me re-focused on the job at hand, namely putting the words down on the screen.

Roll Over: I’ll admit this is a hard skill for my Corgis to manage. But the idea is stop, drop, and roll. Sometimes you just need to roll around in the stinky stuff to forget what else is going on. For a writer, a “Roll Over” could mean put that review/rejection/scene that’s just not working behind you and get back at it.

Rally: While not a command, both Emma and Bryn have Rally titles, where they follow a course with me where we perform skills like this:



This also looks very much like one of my story outlines.

And finally, the “Clean up your own mess” rule. In the dog walking world, it’s a simple concept. Don’t pee in your neighbor’s yard. I’m talking about the dogs, because when the humans do it, that’s a whole other set of issues. The cops are called and the handcuffs come out … But, where was I, oh, yeah, if your dog answers nature’s call and leaves a deposit, be kind and pick it up. No one wants to see your mess. The same applies to writing. Your mess of a first draft needs to be cleaned up and revised before another human sees it.

I guess, Emma and Bryn have a point. I do use much of what they’ve taught me in my daily writing routine. Now, where are those tasty treats…

James L’Etoile’s latest thriller, DEAD DROP, hit stores last Tuesday. You can get it at your local independent bookstore or through IndieBound, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble.

Hundreds go missing each year making the dangerous crossing over the border. What if you were one of them?
While investigating the deaths of undocumented migrants in the Arizona desert, Detective Nathan Parker finds a connection to the unsolved murder of his partner by a coyote on a human smuggling run. The new evidence lures Parker over the border in search of the truth, only to trap him in a strange and dangerous land. If he’s to survive, Parker must place his life in the hands of the very people he once pursued.
Border violence, border politics, and who is caught in the middle. The forces behind it might surprise you.

James L’Etoile uses his twenty-nine years behind bars as an influence in his novels, short stories, and screenplays. He is a former associate warden in a maximum-security prison, a hostage negotiator, facility captain, and director of California’s state parole system. He is a nationally recognized expert witness and consultant on prison and jail operations. L'Etoile's crime fiction work has been recognized by the Creative World Awards, Acclaim Film, and the Scriptapalooza Television Script Competition. Major social themes weave through his work, including the world of human trafficking, black market organ transplants, homelessness, domestic terrorism, immigration policy, political corruption, and the pharmaceutical industry.