Skip to content

A Shot To The Chin

January 20, 2010

I think there’s a slight chance he’d be pissed I’m crying.  Yet, as I think about it, I don’t think so.  I think he had a pretty clear vision of when a man needs to cry and when he’s just being a sap.

I sat down at my desk to bang out some words on my shift this evening.  I took ten minutes and checked my email, my Facebook.  That’s when I got the news.

Robert B. Parker was dead.

They say he died at his desk working on his next novel.

I’ve never cried for a celebrity.  I came close with Paul Newman.  This time though when I got the news it was a tight fast uppercut I never saw coming.   It left me staggering with my face in my hands and my eyeglasses tumbled to the floor.  I took a long walk with my dog.  I got a hug from my wife.  I’m finishing a beer.  It still stings so I’m going to write it out  in hopes that it eases the pain.  Even though I know I’ll be dealing with this over the next few days,  I’m sure it will help the processing.

He was an iconic writer for me.  I spent most of this past December trying to figure out why I write.  The ins, outs, and what got me started.  One of those reasons was because of him.  He showed me how to do it.  In college, I was so enamored of his work I took one of his Spenser novels and scribbled all over the damn thing.  Underlines, phrases in the margins, page corners folded over adorned that book until it looked like it had been handled by a maniac.  I took several chapters and, over the course of a week, hand copied them into a lined Mead notebook.  I remember it had a green cover.  Like an artist doing a sketch of a master’s painting, I needed to see how he did it.     Few words, maximum clarity, and dialogue you could cut paper with.  It’s been so long I can’t even remember which one I used.  I wish I could find it now.

I have to admit something else.  It hurts a bit more to admit but I bet many of his fans out there might have to agree with me.   He helped me get a hand up on how to be a man.  No, not that exactly.  He helped illustrate how NOT to be a phony.   Don’t get me wrong, I had plenty of it in the real world but his characters helped underscore in me  a deep sense of humor, humility, honor and no bullshit honesty.    By writing strong but flawed characters like Spenser, Hawk, Jesse Stone, Sunny Randall, and Virgil Cole he gave me a glimpse into himself and he shone a little light on a slightly confused young man.

I’d always hoped I would get a chance to meet him, shake his hand, and tell him “Thank you.”

Guess that’s gonna have to wait for now.

Instead, what I have to do is shake this off and write.  Time is limited for all of us and he showed how to make good use of it.  The biggest form of thanks I could give is to press forward and that’s what I’m going to do.  Regardless, it’s going to take awhile for me to really get over this.

A titan has passed and another like him shall not pass this way again.


Here’s a small list of links that cover the story and offer their own appreciations.

“His Spenser Novels Saved Detective Fiction” by Tom Nolan at the Wall Street Journal

Sarah Weinman on the Los Angeles Times “Robert B. Parker left a mark on the detective novel”

Sarah also has a great page full of links, information, and updates


My Shift This Evening

January 13, 2010

So, it’s a tough gig.  I’m behind in my word count.  I’m behind in logged hours.  My office is a bit chilly and my computer refuses to place words on the screen no matter how much I stare at it or rock back in my chair.

Chances are, if you’re a writer, you already know what I’m talking about.  If you’re not a writer I’m not sure how to get you to understand just how hard this can be.

It’s been a long day.  Woke from an absolute crazy dream way before my alarm clock and put in a full day, finished up my office shift and headed home.  My wife is sick so I made dinner.  Well, that’s not true exactly.  I went and got dinner.  When I got back home my oldest son opened the cans of soup and warmed it up.  I served them in the bowls with a clean spoon.

Does that count?

I ate a bowl of soup, shared some laughs, and then I forced myself downstairs to turn on some music and stare at an old short story that needs a shot in the arm and about 20,000 extra words attached to it.

My family is upstairs watching some entertaining TV.    I can hear them through the cieling so I just turn my music up a bit more.   The glaring white of the Microsoft Word document stares back at me.  I consider if its possible to change the color from such an offensive and insulting white.  I remind myself that no matter how much I change the color its still going to be blank until I get to work.

I shrug my shoulders, roll my neck, decide to write a blog post to get warmed up.  I get dug in.

This is me.

Here I go.

The Job

January 6, 2010

I made a New Year’s resolution a few days ago.  I knew what it was going to be weeks before the first cold air arrived in my town.  I knew it before the first snow fell.  I knew in Autumn that it was time to take the opportunity of a new year to really make a stand.   The resolution?  To work hard, real hard, at being a writer.  This blog was the first baby steps to get it going.  Now, it’s the new year, 2010, and it’s time for me to move forward.

My life is not very conducive to writing.  I think a lot of people can say that right off the bat.  I’ve got three kids, I’ve got a full time job and I’ve got responsibilities that pull me left and right with nary a warning.  I go to bed at 11 or Midnight.  I get up at 6 in the morning and am on the move almost immediately.  I get home late and after dinner the day has caught up with me.  My brain is typically mush.  I get an hour lunch break but I find it difficult to only work for thirty, forty minutes and then have to return to the desk.  Weekends are busy and there are events to attend, bills to pay, laundry to do, chores to perform, family to visit. It’s really not a good life in which to be a writer.

And, though all the above is true, my attitude about it was simple bullshit.

Late last year I reached a place in my life where sitting around and not writing was becoming far too painful.  I realized that although I was in a difficult situation, I was not in an impossible one.  It could be done and I was going to do it.  As the holiday break approached in early December I took several weeks off my job.  I got myself cleared out, relaxed, and enjoyed the holidays.  In that free time I also started to get my head screwed on straight and to make a plan, a good plan this time.

No more screwing around.  No more whining.  No more “I can’t do this.  I don’t have time,” and most importantly I had to admit that I was scared to death.  No matter though because something had to budge.  Fear was no longer an option and I realized that this was it.  It was fight or die.  Write or die.

I hired myself as a part time writer.  I hired myself knowing the pay was going to suck (or be non-existent.) The hours could end up being brutal.  I took the gig knowing it would mean even more time away from my family.  But, really, when it came time to sign on the dotted line, I was doing it for them as much as I was doing it for me.

For now, I’m working only a few shifts a night.  The family, Universe bless them, has agreed on the extra employment.  I’m allowed to hole up in my office and not be bothered.

This evening is my first shift on my new job.

I’m nervous as hell.

Before I get to work I really want to thank Stephen Pressfield for getting me this gig.  He held a bright lamp of truth on me in the form of his book, “The War of Art.”   It took a little over a year for me to get to the point where I could go toe to toe with my Resistance.  You’ll just have to believe me when I tell you it was not easy to even get to this point.  I stumbled, I delayed, I fawned but here I am.  I’m ready to do this.  I cannot recommend the book enough.

You’ll start seeing several more posts from here on out.  Yes, the Allegory Harbor story will continue.  I hope you enjoy it.  I promise to keep you up to date on things as they develop.  There will be times where it will be good to know I’m not slogging through this alone.

Time to get to work, time to hunt.  My boss tells me I can get up every hour or so and stretch but otherwise I better keep my nose down.  If I work till my eyes cross he tells me I can get a cookie and, an extra bonus, a good nights sleep.

Chapter One

November 27, 2009

The blue sky Autumn morning was up to it’s usual pace which, by default, was slow as Paul Dobbs, Harbormaster for Allegory Harbor,  finished his third orbital walk around the docks.  He had accomplished the daring task of kicking the remains of a seagull’s breakfast back into the water.  So far, the scattered bits of crab shell had been the most excitement since yesterday evening when Jenna Lowson decided to come strolling by the docks drunk on cheap wine and heartbreak.

Shortly after midnight he’d watched Jenna from his front porch as he sat in his antique rocking chair while sharing a Cutty Sark with the cool night air.  He hadn’t been able to sleep but it was nothing new to him.  He was pretty sure he’d not slept through the night for nearly twenty years and besides, the quiet hours of evening were always special to him.

Overdone blonde hair, tight blue jeans, mascara, heels and a plain black tank top had been Jenna’s weapons of choice for her walk.  As she passed by the small wooden house he called home, he raised his tumbler glass to her in greeting.  Waving back to him in response had nearly been her undoing as she weaved, stumbled, and nearly missed the last two steps down to the pier.  She had caught herself on the wooden railing and then spun, putting her hip into the railing for balance as if she had planned to do it for the past week.

“Heya, Paul.”

“Evening, Jenna.”

She gave a self-conscious grin, ran an unsteady hand through her hair and motioned down the dock, “Goin’ to see, Mark.”  She laughed lightly.

“Didn’t figure you were here for the night fishin’.  Jenna, you sure seeing Mark is such a good idea?”

Jenna had surprised him with a quick thumbs-up, “You shoulda’ been a detective,” and then she turned and wove down the maze of wooden platforms and mazes.  She mutter-mumbled something that sounded like, “Best idea I’ve had all day…”

He watched her go, sipped his drink and wished he was about forty years younger.

Coming back to the present, Paul watched the crab shell wobble, flip, and slowly sink back into the surf.  He pushed his hands down into the front pockets of his coveralls as the shell disappeared into the depths.  He’d been the harbormaster for Allegory Harbor for decades.  He was an institution.  It’s what Mayor Flannery would say to him whenever he came down to check on things.  “Paul, sir, you’re an instahtoootion, a gahd damned instahtootion.”  Mayor Flannery had been born on the East coast and from time to time his voice wouldn’t let anyone forget it.

“Instahtootion” or no, he was melancholy. Paul thought about so many things he used to do and wondered if he could do them again.  He knew the answer and chuckled to himself.  Then, he shook his head.  He couldn’t shake the feeling that things had just been too peaceful in the harbor lately.  They had definitely been a bit too quiet for him.  He knew he shouldn’t be asking for trouble in his golden years but he couldn’t help it.  He thought about his wife, passed close to ten years ago.  She wouldn’t have liked it one bit.

The Harbor was a good place, strange at times, but a damn fine place and he never wished it any ill will.  It had been just too, well, what was the word?  He squinted and thought and then found the word.  “Predictable,” he muttered to himself.

It was what was eating at him.  In all his years of walking the docks, of tying off yet another bowline to another small sailboat, of attending yet another town meeting, of filling out another form, of calling over the short wave to issue another fog warning the past few years had become predictable.  He was pretty certain that predictable was not something Allegory Harbor should ever be called.  Peaceful, serene, wonderful, magical, all of those were fine words.  Calling it predictable for Paul was equal to saying his dog had died.

Perhaps it was?  Perhaps too many of the younger ones had run off to the city?  Too many traditions lost to the glow of urban lights?  Perhaps Allegory Harbor was losing its passion?

Then, again, maybe he was just losing his?

The thought frightened him and to get away from it he looked up and let his eyes scan the boats in their slips, up to the thin stream of clouds losing the last of the golden glow of sunrise and then out over the water of the bay.  The only answer was the gentle lapping sound of the ocean hitting the posts of the dock.  He chastised himself for allowing his thoughts to spin downward.  He should get breakfast.  He should walk down to the diner and get some eggs just like he had done for the past several years.  Shaking his head seemed to be the only response to all of it and he turned away from the harbor to head back to his office.  He’d need his wallet for the cafe.

His ears picked up a faint whistling over the other sounds of the harbor and it made him pause.  It was coming from the sky.  Before he could turn to locate the source, the whistle had gone to a sudden roar.  Some deep survival instinct ticked from the far corners of Paul Dobb’s mind and he was moving.  He had time to think, “I should duck,” and then the falling item scorched across the docks, over the bay, and struck the southeastern beach with a deep thrumming concussion and a puff of sand.

Paul, perhaps not the fastest on his seventy year old feet, had still been able to follow through with his thought and then some. He lifted his face from the rough wooden planks of the pier and pushed himself up just enough to look across the bay.  Water underneath the sand had misted on impact and a thin layer of mist drifted over the beach and covered the impact zone.  Alarmed seagulls scattered and swirled away from the beach voicing their displeasure at the day’s interruption.  The sound of impact continued to roll outward from harbor, drifting off into the distance.

He propped himself up on his elbows, scratched his forehead, and muttered something non-sensical as he looked across the water of the bay.  Deciding he was just fine where he was until things calmed down, he stayed there flat against the dock leaning on bony elbows.  He’d learned a long time ago that sometimes it was better not to be in a rush and this was, most certainly, one of those times.  Paul waited to see what would happen next and who would be the first to react.  His wait was not long as the first to do the aforementioned was Jenna Lowson who came up onto the deck from the lower levels of the little red yacht owned by Mark Taylor.

Wearing the garb and hair of a hung over woman suddenly awakened by an explosion, she staggered to the edge of the boat.  Holding onto the edge of the captain’s deck for support she looked over to the impact area with her free hand shielding her squinting eyes from the sun. Then, looking back down the docks she saw Paul, belly side down, looking back at her.

Paul gave her a small wave.

“What the hell!?  What the hell was that, Paul? Did you see it?

Paul pointed over to crater and nodded his head knowingly, his eyes twinkling, “That?  That, Jenna, is a damned site for sore eyes!”

Welcome to the Harbor

October 18, 2009

Allegory Harbor is a place. I’m not sure where it is exactly. It could be this blog but it might also be somewhere “out there.” It’s a place where creativity can come and go, anchor up whenever and wherever it sees fit. It’s a place where I can sail my stories.

I originally started this site because I wanted a place which could contain my storytelling.  As the idea grew, it started to become something much more than what I started with in the first place. I realized I wanted to add in my commentary on writing and story crafting.  To me, stories are magical. They weave themselves from nothingness yet manage to touch our lives in some way. They inspire us to greatness or perhaps just entertain us, pull us away from our everyday reality so, when we are finished, we look at our life with a lighter mindset.

I wanted a place where the stories, worlds, and characters parading through my head on a daily basis had a place to go. I’ve been running out of room up there for some time and I’ve got characters and situations that stretch back further than I care to count. The ships and passengers just keep coming in but, once there, they have no where to go.  They cram up against each other, bumping into each other’s hulls, chatter amongst themselves and while this is going on I’ve got to walk around and carry on normal conversations with normal everyday people in my normal everyday life.

I’m telling you, it’s getting crowded and I needed a place to put some of them!

I’ve walked away from writing many times in my life. Sometimes due to frustration, sometimes out of necessity to put food on the table. I always ended up coming back to it in some form. It’s in my blood and I’m a better person when I’m doing it. Even during those times of forced abstinence I was still storytelling, writing stories on a game’s forum board, running a roleplaying game for my children, or spending some time just making up “what if” stories. I told myself I wasn’t being serious so it didn’t count. You know, the usual attempt at rationalizing my talent away. Sound familiar?

But, here’s what I realized. It did count. It did matter. The stories I wrote on the forum board entertained those that read them, my children fell in love with the creativity of roleplaying games, and those what-if stories led me to come up with seeds for larger and better stories. It all mattered. It’s not the story’s fault if I decided to blow it off. Once I realized my mistake I began to fix it and I began to craft again.

I’m not published. I’d love to be but I’m not, not yet, and this brings me to another reason why Allegory Harbor is here.  It’s a journal for me to talk about the process of getting published, of fighting hard against your inner editor, about making a stand about something you believe in and pressing forward with it; even if that means you have to do it yourself!

See ya around the docks!