Saturday, January 7, 2023

When Life Throws Curve Balls at Your Resolutions

Scott D. Parker

How are those resolutions coming along?

It’s Day 7 of January 2023, a full week after many of us toasted the new year at midnight and resolved to make changes in our lives. Back in December, I wrote about making resolutions—or habit changes—with the guiding principle of “just try.” Most of us want to change something about ourselves—to become a better version of ourselves—so the first step is to decide to try. The next (and the next and the next) is to follow through.

Depending on where you get your data, a large percentage of folks who make new year’s resolutions fail by February. One statistic I found was 80%. That means 80% of people who want to change decide to renege [yeah that’s spelled correctly; I actually had to look it up] on their promises to themselves. January 19 seems to be the date most associated with throwing in the towel on resolutions. One fact I read claimed that 23% quit their resolutions in the first week. Hopefully you are not in that number.

So far, neither am I.

Most of the changes I want to implement are habits. I fell out of taking a multi-vitamin in the latter half of the year so I’m starting to take them again. Six for six as of this writing. Ditto for consuming a daily dose of apple cider vinegar, performing daily push-ups, getting up and moving [either walking or the rowing machine; walking won this week], and daily readings [Psalms, Proverbs, and the Daily Stoic]. The principles found in James Clear’s Atomic Habits provided me the tools necessary to maintain the habits I want to implement.

And, inspired by fellow writer Bryon Quertermous, I bought a weekly planner to keep track of everything. I make daily notes when I perform the habit. I don’t anticipate having 365 days of check marks saying I took a vitamin because after a certain number of days, the habit becomes ingrained. It’s how I started and maintained my flossing habit.

But here’s the key metric for any new habit: inevitably, one day you’ll miss or forget or somehow not do the new task. Let that roll off your shoulders and stay focused on the overall goal. Adjust if you have to and try not to miss two in a row. It was a lesson I applied yesterday.

The Writing Resolution

The year 2022 was not a good one for me writing-wise. As such, a major resolution for me was to get back in the habit of writing. Taking a cue from key message from author Mary Robinette Kowal at her book signing here in Houston back in November, I’m starting the year off with a brand-new story. Yes, I have multiple unfinished stories, but am channeling Kowal’s theory of why NaNoWriMo works for her: the writing is Novel, Interesting, Challenging, and Urgent.

So, for me, the new book is novel (as in brand-new). I’m interested in the story I’m telling. I find it challenging in that I’m starting from a story pitch and a general sense of what kind of story it is and how I want to tell it. As for urgency, I would love to finish the story by 31 January, but I’m allowing myself a goal of six weeks. I’ll grant myself until 28 February if things get complicated.

Crucially, I don’t have a set writing goal in terms of word count. All that matters is forward progress. I started the year with 1,028 words, a great start considering I haven’t written fiction in months. I topped 1,600 words twice this week, both on days in which I went into the office (Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays). By the time yesterday rolled around, my first work-from-home day of the year, I was excited: with no commute, I could wake at the same time and get a substantial chunk of writing done before I logged into my work computer.

That was the plan. Didn’t work out that way.

The Friday Curveball

I had Alexa set to sound the alarm at 5:30am. As a bit of background, the Christmas break was not as restful as I wanted and I’ve been trying to catch up on sleep. I’ve been tired this week and, despite my attempt to get up at the alarm, I was still catching up. “Alexa,” I said yesterday morning into the dark, “set an alarm for 5:45.” With those words, I rolled over for an extra fifteen minutes.

Forty-seven minutes later, I woke. Still in the dark. I smiled at myself for thinking I was so excited and ready to get to writing that I had beaten the alarm. I checked my digital watch. 6:17am. What the heck? Did the power go out? Nope, the ceiling fan was spinning. Puzzled, I asked Alexa what the alarm was set for. “5:45pm.”

That brought a huge sigh from me. Sure, I needed the sleep, but I had slept through my writing time. I only had time to get up, take out the dogs, shower, eat breakfast, and get to work. What would become of my new daily writing habit?

I adjusted.

I worked really hard on all my day job activities, got them all complete, and, late in the afternoon, I opened up my writing computer and picked up where I left off during my Thursday lunch hour. To be honest, it was weird writing so late in the day. I became a morning writer ten years ago—lunch hour writer when I have to go into the office—so it’s been a long time since I wrote fiction so late in the day.

But you know what? It worked. I made forward progress, clocked in 1,694 new words, and my writing resolution remained intact. All is good.

The key takeaway: Life will throw curve balls at your resolutions. Take the hits if you can and adjust accordingly. Just stay focused on the end goal: becoming a better you.

Thursday, January 5, 2023

Recommending Lutzke


This week, Beau recommends Three-Smile Mile

Glover, Texas has three restaurants, two gas stations, and its very own underground crime syndicate. Other than that, the town’s about as lively as roadkill. That’s been Cake Donaldson’s experience, anyway.

Cake flips burgers at the local diner on Route 66 for the same mouths day in, day out. Life is simple. Too simple. So, when an attractive older woman shows up with a spontaneous proposition—a sex-filled road trip full of adventure—he bites the hook.

Unfortunately for him, she leaves out some details, like what’s in the trunk of her car, and just how bad her husband wants it.

A cat and mouse crime thriller that meets True Romance with The Graduate.

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Green grass and cool uniforms: The Mark Stevens Interview

The Fireballer is not just a great baseball yarn that any fan of the game will enjoy—it is also a richly-layered exploration of character, regret, and redemption.” 

—Lou Berney, author of November Road and The Long and Faraway Gone

By Steve Weddle

As I write this, Mark Stevens has the #1 spot on Amazon's new release list for contemporary fiction. Not a bad way to start the year, and so well deserved.

A poignant story about hopes, dreams, and how far one man’s talent takes him before he realizes it’s about what you do—and how you do it.

Frank Ryder is unstoppable on the baseball field—his pitches arrive faster than a batter can swing, giving his opponents no chance. He’s being heralded as a game-changing pitcher.

But within the maelstrom of press, adulation, and wild speculation, Frank is a man alone. Haunted by a tragic incident from years past, he yearns to be the best but cannot reconcile the guilt he carries with the man everyone believes him to be. Frank’s path to redemption leads him on a journey back to where his life changed forever, to visit his family, his high school coach, and his brother. Through reconnection and reconciliation with those also deeply affected by the devastating event of Frank’s youth, he finds peace and his place in the world both in and outside the game.

The Fireballer is a lyrical, moving story of undeniable talent and the life-changing power of forgiveness and a subtly romantic ode to America’s favorite pastime.

This was a book I thoroughly enjoyed. The Fireballer is warm, charming, and powerful, and Frank Ryder is such a fully imagined character.

Keir Graff has called this an "emotional thriller," and that sounds just about right. This is a book that grabs you and won't let go.

DSD's own Claire Booth said this novel is a "true triumph."

Mark and I had a recent email chat concerning the book, and I was glad we agree on the horror of ghost runners. 


Steve Weddle: What kind of a baseball nerd were you before you got to this book?

Mark Stevens: Nerd? Not much. I know people who can recite batting orders and lineups from decades ago for their favorite teams. Batting averages, pitching records, everything. These people inhale the game and never forget an inning. Me? I’m just a huge fan. Since I was nine years old. I remember vividly walking into Fenway Park for the first time and seeing all that green grass and those cool uniforms. Back then, I’d only seen a game on black and white television so the real-life experience was galvanizing. And life-changing.


SW: Why is this a baseball book rather than a redemption story about a corporate lawyer overcoming a bad case from 10 years ago or a police officer trying to make up for accidentally killing a child? What is it about baseball itself that so matches up to the story and the character you're working with here?


MS: Second question first: Because the very thing that makes Frank Ryder the subject of national conversation (his ability to throw a baseball) is the very thing that took a life and has haunted him, for good reason, ever since. Plus, Ryder is playing a game. A game. But it’s a game that can be dangerous and also allow an athlete to be rich. And famous.


First question second: Well, there are plenty of novels about redemption for police officers and lawyers, but I think baseball immediately connects to the nation’s psyche. Its soul. And, frequently, the pitcher is at the center of the story. Because the pitcher, in theory, controls all. That instantly means pressure. It’s the only major sport that starts with the defense putting the ball in play. And, in a pitcher’s perfect world, the other eight players on the field aren’t even necessary. A pitcher is isolated. Alone. And yet in charge of the story unfolding in front of him. Every batter presents a new problem. Every inning holds potential for disaster. It’s high-stakes. And, in the big leagues, you have to do it all


SW: You've done quite a bit of writing, including five or six Allison Coil mystery novels. How would this book have been different had you written at the beginning of your career?


MS: There is no way. Not even close. After I finished book five in the mystery series (The Melancholy Howl) I went back and rewrote book one (Antler Dust) based on all I had learned about writing. And what had I learned? I don’t know. It’s an accumulation of little things that come down to style. I think every aspect of my storytelling abilities got marginally better—enough that I needed to go back and spruce up that first book.  The story didn’t change, but my storytelling style did.


SW: How can we get rid of the DH in the National League? It's almost as bad as starting a runner on second in extra innings. 

MS: How about if we round up all the baseball fans in the United States and we all agree to not buy one beer at a ballpark until they reinstate the DH in both leagues? That’ll hit them where it hurts! And I’m sure everyone will be willing to forgo a few ballpark beers to restore baseball to its rightful strategic order, which requires that managers have to decide whether to pull the starting pitcher in hopes of one more beneficial at-bat. Plus, installing the DH in the National League had no impact in 2022! National League teams averaged 4.34 runs per game in 2022—down slightly from 2021. Pitchers are dominating the game, no matter who is at the plate.


Don’t get me started on those weird extra inning ghost runners! How sad for MLB to stoop so low. How can any self-respecting professional baseball player walk out to second base in the 10th inning knowing he’s done exactly nothing whatsoever to earn the spot? It’s a crime.


SW: Like me, do you twitch whenever an announcer says "ground-rule double" instead of "rulebook double"?


MS: How about “automatic double? It’s such a purely, weird baseball thing. It’s one of the quirky rules of the game, like the infield fly rule. I can’t say the phrase itself has bugged me, but it will now that you’ve pointed it out. Speaking of things announcers say, watch this 1-minute video of a ball going right through a seam in the fence. And the commentator has to say “He’ couldn’t do that again if he tried.”  No, really?  

SW: You open this book with a quote from Tommy Lasorda, who might be the most quotable manager in any sport ever. Of all the managers and all the players, who would you like to see play a game, if you were given a time machine for a summer afternoon?

MS: A diabolical question. I’d like to take the fifth. I have a feeling this answer will incriminate me among baseball fanatics because there are so many good choices, but I’d like to go back and watch Willie Mays in his prime. Nothing better than a good three-way player and he was among the best. 

SW: I've said that no one ever picked up a book because of theme. We read for character and plot and setting, for action and emotion. Yet, theme is an undeniable current underneath the best narratives. I see redemption and forgiveness in this book and wonder what made you write about those and why you find them so important.

MS: Do you have an hour? Or two?

I think, in a way, that all books are about loss. A stable world goes unstable. The “now” of our main character is threatened or our main character is living with a secret or burden that needs to be resolved. That “loss” can also be in the form of having a “want” and not being able to achieve it—that feeling of something missing in the character’s life. Shame and embarrassment are powerful drivers for story, too. The “loss” in that case is your public reputation, the public story you’ve been telling about your moral character is threatened. How far will we go to uphold the precious veneer we’ve created in our public image?  

If you don’t have a loss, you probably don’t have a novel. I can’t say I set out to want to write a novel that addressed these themes, but when the idea for it came to me it was practically screaming in my ear: write me. That’s a good feeling to have. 

SW: What was the toughest scene for you to write? Did it come fully formed or did you have to fight it?

MS: Easy answer. The scene between Frank and Gail Johnson in her house. I won’t identify Gail’s role in the story because that’s a bit of a spoiler. I think I rewrote the dialogue in that scene 30 to 40 times. Easy. 

SW: Finally, what are a few books you've read recently that you think people should check out.

MS: I loved Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell. Yes, long book but so much energy and so creative. Fantastic dialogue. Rock and roll in the late 1960’s in London. There’s music on practically every page, in more ways than one.

I can’t say enough about Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison. A very powerful first-person voice that covers so much ground about economic class, enterprise, and personal identity.  

And, finally, James Sallis’s Sarah Jane. The definition of concise, tight, and enthralling. It asks the reader to sit up and listen. There is so much deep in-between every word of exposition and dialogue. I read it and immediately started over because I knew I had missed so much.  

From the Publisher

The Fireballer is a book I’ll never forget. I truly can’t talk about this book except in a rush of emotion, crescendo-ing to uncontrollable tears while I spoil the ending, which, of course, I won’t do here in this letter.

Mark Stevens has written a remarkable novel—a book about humanity by way of baseball. If you, like me, are a fan of 
The NaturalField of Dreams, or Moneyball, read on. This one’s for you.

The Fireballer is captivating, emotional, tender, and hopeful. The story of one man’s extraordinary talent and stoicism. The story of mistakes and guilt and forgiveness and grace. Of unwritten rules and personal codes of honor. Of a nation joyfully caught up in collective fervor, rooting for an underdog rookie pitcher as he breaks records and exemplifies good sportsmanship. The story of how he almost loses everything and how, in order to find his way forward, he looks back.

Whether or not you’re a fan of the quintessential American pastime, the story within these pages will, I hope, spark in you the same feelings of connection, understanding, and reverie that I have when I read (and reread) it. It means the world to me to be able to share it now with you.

As Babe Ruth said, “The only real game, I think, in the world is baseball.”

—Alison Dasho, Editor

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

The Screaming Child Cover Reveal

My first blog post of the New Year, and for it I'm excited to reveal the cover for my upcoming book, The Screaming Child.  It's done by Matthew Revert, who once again, in his unique style, has done something mysterious and evocative.

Coming from Ghoulish Books in July 2023.

The Screaming Child: A Child Vanished is Not a Child Gone

You can pre-order here: