From Room 106, Vol. 3 – Love and Death

“Death and love are real. That’s all I know on earth, and I need to know.” – from So Shelly

In English Literature this week, I reminded my students of my longstanding belief that there are really only two themes worth writing about: Love and Death. For my money, the best works of literature are those that intertwine these two themes. This assertion was reinforced as we examined the poetry of John Donne, the 17th century poet-turned-preacher. As a young man of the late Renaissance, Donne’s poetry focuses primarily on love: falling in love, being in love, and nurturing love. He professes that for love to last and to be of any real value, it must quickly move beyond mere physical attraction; otherwise, as one’s lover’s youthful beauty diminishes, so must one’s love. In other words, infatuated love must undergo a sort of death itself that brings forth a new and better love. The secret to maintaining a successful love relationship is to take it to a metaphysical level, a transcendent reality not physical but spiritual and even intellectual. Should you doubt Donne’s qualifications for making such an assertion, know that he took a great risk by eloping with Anne More, a woman high above his station. Her father had Donne temporarily imprisoned for his audacious stealing of his daughter’s hand. He and Anne, cut off from her father’s beneficence, lived in poverty for much of their lives while having twelve children together and remaining married and in love until Death did them part.

After Anne’s death, older and often in ill-health himself, Donne shifted his thematic focus to Death, which we are all wont to do as we draw ever closer to our biblically-promised three score and ten years. In “Holy Sonnet 10″, Donne boldly challenges Death’s claim to mastery over us mortals by suggesting that Death is merely a liberator of the soul not the destroyer of life; therefore, Death should be welcomed not feared. Donne’s tough talk, however, is undermined by his tone that suggests that he is less sure of a heavenly reward than one would think an ordained minister would be. Like most, he hopes and he has a measure of faith in a life after death, but he also has fears and doubts.

What’s all this worth? Not much, but in conclusion, I’ll refer to So Shelly once more:”Unless you learn to wrap your brain around the fact that you are eventually going to die, you’ll never wrap your arms around the less certain fact that you are already living.”


In GOODNESS FALLS, high school quarterback T.J. Farrell suffers a brutal blow to the head on the final play of the regular season, but with a history of concussions and fearful of a medical benching for the playoffs, T.J. tries desperately to manage the physical, psychological, and emotional symptoms of severe head trauma and to avoid its detection.

Set in and around the rural village of Goodness Falls, Ohio, the story is further complicated when T.J.’s best friend and teammate is killed in a freak accident to which T.J. is an inadvertent contributor. To ease the excruciating headaches and to cope with his grief and guilt, T.J. begins stealing and abusing prescription painkillers from his parents’ medicine cabinet. Hallucinations begin to haunt him. Violent outbursts of temper and uncharacteristically erratic behavior follow. Both of which endanger his starting position, his hope for a scholarship, his grip on reality, his relationship with his longtime girlfriend, and his life. GOODNESS FALLS confronts the universal themes of love and death as well as a wide range of contemporary issues faced by T.J. and teenagers everywhere, including: the bonds of friendship; sex and dating; undue pressure from adults; and, most significantly, the timely issues of the dangers of sport-induced head injuries and prescription drug abuse.

And, trust me, that’s just half the story.

We May Never Pass This Way Again

We May Never Pass This Way Again

The Road Rarely Traveled

Normally, I prefer to blog about my professional life as an author and teacher and to keep my personal life to myself because, really, who cares? Yesterday, however, was a day I have to write about, if only to put the experience into words for myself. Along with nine friends, I completed a ten mile run, which, on the surface, doesn’t seem like a big deal. What made this run special, however, was that six miles of it was over the frozen waters of the South Passage in Lake Erie between South Bass Island and Catawba Island.

When asked to participate, my reaction was “Are you crazy!? Subsequently, it became the first response of nearly everyone I told of our plans. Anyone who has lived along the lake knows the treachery of the ice. The truism holds that “There is no such thing as safe ice.” An admonition, by the way, that remains true, and I would share with anybody who wishes to duplicate our adventure.

So why go? Unlike some of my buddies, I am not an adventure seeker or an adrenaline junkie. What I am is a patsy for peer pressure and someone easily cajoled into the stupidest of risks with the most childish and inane assaults on my manhood. I am not proud of my easy submission to macho cajoling, but I am what I am. What I couldn’t get out of my head was the thought of listening to their stories recounting their day on the ice for the next twenty-five years and regretting that I wasn’t there. Remember, it’s the sins of omission, not commission, that weigh most heavily in retrospect.

We did our research and learned that the ice was as thick as anyone in the area could remember. No, it wasn’t necessarily safe, but it was never going to be safer. So, I started thinking: if all I ever did in life was what was entirely safe and without risk, what would I ever do? I may as well not get out of bed in the morning if that is going to serve as my criteria for taking action. In the past, I’d certainly never have played sports, asked a date to the prom, fallen in love, had children, changed jobs, written books, etc.

Then, on Friday, as I was still discerning the wisdom of going, we were studying Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilych in World Lit., and I quoted the central theme from the story: “Ivan Ilych’s life had been the most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible.” As Tolstoy intended, I found myself challenging my students to “Do something extraordinary,” and I realized that I was talking to myself. My opportunity to do something extraordinary and disrupt the all-too-often mundane progress of my own life was waiting for me out on that ice. I had to go or else come to uneasy terms with my own hypocrisy.

In the end, the experience of running through ankle deep snow over uneven ice in wind chills approaching zero degrees was ungodly awful. The life experience, however, was priceless. I’ll never forget the bewildered looks of the rugged ice fisherman, covered from head to toe in Carhartt products, as we ran past their shanties, or the snowmobilers, rolling into Tipper’s in Put-in-Bay like bikers at Sturgis inside their helmets, boots, and state-of-the-art cold weather gear. They stared dumbfounded at us in our running shoes and clothes. “You did what?” was their near-unanimous response to our declaration of “We ran here.” Between the three groups – fishermen, snowmobilers, and runners – it was like Larry, Curly, and Moe staring at each other and trying to figure out who is the “stoogiest.” I’m pretty sure we won.

I said at the beginning that this entry wouldn’t pertain to my professional career; however, I’ve already mentioned how this experience interacted with my teaching, and I know it will forever be a source of writing material. In fact, I already have two historical novels in various stages of completion that contain scenes that take place on Lake Erie ice. Now, I can write with greater poignancy and authority about that reality.

Seals and Crofts once mistakenly sang, “We May Never Pass This Way Again.” Their error was in the use of the subjunctive mood. In fact, we will never pass this way again. They should have used the declarative mood. With that understood, how could I have not ventured out onto the ice with great friends for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure?

From Room 106, Vol. 2 – Who Writes the Best Love Poems/Songs?

Today in English Literature, we discussed Shakespearean sonnets and love poetry in general. I made the somewhat ironic point that the majority of great love poems and love songs are written by those suffering from unrequited love or by unfortunate souls who are outside of love’s embrace. One would think that those in the throes of a love relationship would be most-suited to express the joys of being in love; however, the opposite is actually true. For like in most things, we typically fail to appreciate what we already have. Those in love tend to grow comfortable and lazy in love. They take it for granted, lose their appreciation for its sublimity, and sadly, even grow disappointed in their love relationship. It is then those who lack love and pine for it who imagine and describe the joy of being in love in idealistic ways; it is they who best understand the value of love; therefore, it is the unloved who best wax poetic about it.

Food for thought as Valentine’s Day draws near.

One of my favorite songs of the pangs of love is by Matt Nathanson: “Falling Apart.”

The Cover Art

My second novel, coming in May.

My second novel, coming in May.

A successful design for the cover of a book is vital to its success. Regardless of the oft-repeated axiom that warns against it, readers do judge a book by its cover. For many, it is the deciding factor in choosing to read a particular title. If nothing else, it is certainly what first draws a potential reader’s eyes to the book.

Like the title (See my earlier post.), the cover art for Goodness Falls works on two levels. The shape of the text with the tilted word “Falls” is meant to simulate the run-up to and the sudden and precipitous drop of a waterfall and the downward narrative trajectory of a tragedy. The blue font switches to black to symbolize the main character’s fall from goodness and the exposure of his darker nature – both to himself and others.

The cover image has a trippy, psychedelic feel that represents the main character’s confused state of mind and his warped sense of reality that results from a severe head trauma and his subsequent abuse of prescription drugs in an attempt to ease the pain and psychosis that follows.

If you have a second, visit my web page and sign up for my mailing list.

From Room 106, Vol. 1

The other day in World Literature, we read Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey,” for my money, the greatest expression of the Romantic’s relationship with Nature ever penned. In the poem, Wordsworth expounds on how Nature fuels his tank and how, when the demands and stresses of day-to-day hustling become too much, he imaginatively revisits the pastoral River Wye region of England’s Lake District. This brief, fantastical journey provides enough solace and psychic balm to allow him to face and forge on with his day and duties. What Wordsworth is suggesting is that Nature is of greater value to us than the mere fostering of an aesthetic appreciation of her. It can actually have practical application to our lives.

The poem always reminds me of two James Taylor songs: 1) “Carolina in My Mind,” and “Up on a Roof,” originally written by Carole King and sung by The Drifters. In the former, Taylor sings, “In my mind, I’m going to Carolina.” Like the River Rye region for Wordsworth, Carolina is the place to where he escapes when overwhelmed by life or as in “Up on the Roof, “When this old world starts a getting me down.”

I think we all need a River Wye, a Carolina, or a place up on the roof, to where we can retreat, catch our breath and gather our thoughts, either literally or imaginatively, whenever the world starts to get the best of us. For me, there’s a corner of my mind occupied by a ball field. Sometimes when I’ve had my fill of the bitch that is living, I close my eyes and sit down behind the dugout and stare out at the dirt, the grass, and the white lines that mark the parameters of a playing field where, unlike life, fair is fair and foul is foul; the rules make sense and are consistently and equally applied; and time is irrelevant. It’s silly; I know. But it works for me. How about you? What’s the Carolina in your mind?

Why Goodness Falls?

This is Chagrin Falls but also the inspiration for Goodness Falls

This is Chagrin Falls but also the inspiration for Goodness Falls

The title is meant to work on two levels. On the first, Goodness Falls is the name of the village in which the story is set. Like everything I write, the events take place where I grew up and live in north central Ohio. To be precise, Goodness Falls is a highly-fictionalized version of Castalia, Ohio, with a waterfall in the center of town, sort of like Chagrin Falls, Ohio, if you’ve been there. I like to intermingle the real names of places with invented ones in order to give the story a simultaneous grounding in a familiar reality while still distancing itself from actuality.

On the second level, I love wordplay. Therefore, the title is also a simple subject-verb sentence: Goodness (Subject) falls (verb). It’s a sentence that pretty much sums up the plot of the story as well as any tragedy in which, through some tragic flaw and events beyond his control, a hero is brought to ruin. For better or worse, I prefer tragedy over comedy – not in life but in art. Don’t get me wrong, in the real world, I love a happy ending as much as anybody. Too often in storytelling, however, happy endings are trite, cliché, and unsatisfying – at least for me.

Also, the narrative flow of tragedy imitates that of a waterfall, meaning the story starts high and ends low. Goodness Falls is a young adult novel that follows the pattern of a Shakespearean tragedy, a form we all should be familiar and comfortable with as long as we have attended high school and have read Romeo and Juliet, MacBeth, Hamlet, Othello, Julius Caesar, or King Lear. By the way, I wrote and now describe Goodness Falls as a “young adult” novel knowing that the vast majority of YA readers are well into their adulthood.

So, there you go: a brief explanation of the title of my soon-to-be-released sophomore novel, Goodness Falls.

Goodness Falls Coming in May


My second novel, coming in May.

My second novel, coming in May.

I’m excited to announce that my second novel, Goodness Falls, will be released this May. Therefore, I’m bracing myself for what will be the oft-repeated question, “What’s it about?” This is a good and perfectly-appropriate question but one that I struggle to answer adequately unless the questioner is willing to sit down for a half-day’s conversation. At the end of which time, I still would not feel that I had adequately exhausted the question. If by “What’s it about?” the questioner is actually asking, “What happens in the story?” I could give a reasonably exhaustive, blow-by-blow plot summary, but that would make the actual reading of the novel unnecessary. If, however, by “What’s it about?” the questioner wants to discuss the lessons, universal truths, philosophies for living, and life observations that the novel suggests, then the question is much more complicated and one that, even though I wrote the darn thing, I can’t comprehensively answer. You see, how well the story plays and how it’s interpreted by each individual reader is beyond my ability, desire, or need to control. I’d compare it to how the same perfume/cologne doesn’t smell exactly the same on any two people. Each person’s unique chemistry interacts with the perfume to inspire a unique scent. Similarly, each reader’s unique life experiences will inspire unique and equally valid responses to the story. In coming weeks, however, I will discuss the title, the cover art, and various other elements of the novel from my perspective. At least, I will share what I was shooting for. Whether or not I hit my marks will be up to you to determine. In the end, I’m just thrilled to have something to share with those of you who enjoyed So Shelly.