Die Ringe Von Ector

Announcing the publication of my first German novel translation, “Die Ringe on Ector”, which is out today!!! If you speak German and enjoy Fantasy stories with clever (anti) heroes, lots of action and some dark magic sprinkled on top, check out this series. (If you don’t speak German but want to do me a favor, download anyway 😏 and share with all your German-speaking friends. (If you have a Kindle Unlimited account, you can even read it for free.)

For a behind-the-scenes look working with a translator, check out this video from Life, the Universe, and Everything, February 2021.

For more information on my German releases, go to https://bkhewett.com/buecher/ .

Buy on Amazon.com

Buy on Amazon.de

Book Review: The Double Life of Danny Day

“I like this book so I think I’m going to write a review on it.” –Benjamin K. Hewett

Danny Day lives every day twice.

By sixth grade, he’s a pro at it. He spends the first playing video games, scoping out important details, and doing things most of us will only daydream about, knowing his day will reset at 2:22 am and he’ll have to start all over.

For Danny, this is a good thing. His second day—the sticky day—usually goes off like a speed run. He gets perfect grades, stops his toddling twin sisters from decorating their bedroom walls with sharpies, and tricks his classmates into thinking he can read minds.

But Danny’s life is far from perfect. When his family moves from Texas to Idaho, Danny has to be the new kid at school twice as much as any normal kid. If he gets hurt on a sticky day, he hurts twice as long. Even worse, Danny starting to think he’s been doing it all wrong. Then he meets Zak, the kind, athletic sixth-grader who lives each day without regrets, and who convinces Danny that he can too. Danny eventually shares his secret with his new friend and swears him to secrecy and the two boys enlist Freddie, the girl-next-door, in bringing the bullies of Snake River Middle School to justice.

In reading the story, it is clear that Danny isn’t the only one reliving junior high. Author Mike Thayer’s portrayal of middle school feels almost photographic, but it serves up the sweet taste of sixth-grade wish-fulfillment right along with the poignant memory of mistakes made. In addition to painting his adolescents well, Thayer gets the adults right, with unique perspectives and personalities for each, without bogging down the book in elaborate backstories.

I especially like Danny’s mom. Even though he’s living every day twice, she still manages to surprise him sometimes, and those moments are some of the funniest.

In short, The Double Life of Danny Day is for middle-grade readers, current junior high attendees, and all the rest of us who survived junior high intact, more-or-less. It’s about finding balance, even when we think we have it all. In the end it’s not Danny’s singular power that makes him great, but what he spends that precious extra time on.

Is it a true story?

“No. But it could be true, and that’s all that matters.”

UNDERWATER

When I was twelve, I signed up for Boy Scout Camp.  As explained to me by my older brother, it was the great summer adventure: water sports, merit badges, and exciting new foods.

Our Scoutmaster was one of my life role models, a giant of a man with the ability to make any scouting trip memorable and fun, without letting things get out of hand.  A few weeks before the camp, he handed me a blank form and asked me which merit badges classes I wanted to take.  A few of the choices were easy. I’d always wanted to learn to ride a horse, so I filled one time slot with Horsemanship. Mom did all the Cooking at home, so I didn’t need that one (I’ve since repented), but Leatherwork looked kind of cool, and building your own shelter in the woods for Wilderness Survival sounded awesome.

I had one slot left, and Lifesaving sounded a lot cooler than Emergency Preparedness, so I marked that one down too. One of the other boys warned me it was an aquatic merit badge, but I figured I was in pretty good shape from soccer, and I’d already completed the Swimming merit badge. How hard could this be?

Harder than it looks. For one thing, you never have to hold your breath while playing soccer. . .

Towards the end of the week, we were learning escapes. I went into the water with an instructor about three times my size and built of pure muscle.  Beefy was supposed to act like a panicked, drowning person, and I was supposed to escape his grip and carefully lead him back to the dock while maintaining a safe distance.  It all sounds great in theory, but I was in trouble from the get-go. The moment I hit the water, Beefy latched onto me like a three-hundred pound gorilla and began dragging me down. I took one gasp of air and then all I could see was muddy water. It got colder. I was wrapped up so tight I couldn’t move a muscle.

In that dark place, I wondered if I would just continue sinking forever, if I would ever breathe again, and if maybe Beefy was taking this escape exercise just a bit too seriously. I had a moment of complete and utter fear. It took me a lot longer than it should have to remember the training they’d given us. But eventually I did remember it. I broke Beefy’s grip and dove away from him, creating the safety space required.

In retrospect, I didn’t get out of that predicament on my own. I went in with a theoretical understanding learned from experts and some practical experience in breaking holds. And in retrospect, there was also a safety net. There were lifeguards, if my training, experience, and skill proved insufficient.

We have lifeguards too. We have safety nets.

As part of Mental Health Awareness Month, I interviewed a friend and licensed marriage & family therapist Matt Brown. We talked about my book The Deep End of Life, finding support, and getting out of the deep end. I’ve been going back through the interview footage, making clips of specific topics kids (and adults) might wonder about before seeing therapist for the first time. Some of the questions are more serious than others, but sometimes laughing a little is just as important as asking for help.

Click here for the interview.

BOOK LAUNCH: THE DEEP END OF LIFE

“The Deep End of Life is as charming in its shallows as it is poignant in its depths.”

Allison K. Hymas, Author of The Explorer’s Code

As some of you know, I finished writing a book last year, and it is finally available. There wasn’t a party or a signing like I sometimes do, thanks to COVID-19, but that didn’t stop us from launching it on Amazon and Ingram (for retailers).

The Deep End of Life is a departure from what I usually write, but also probably the best thing I’ve written to date. It’s an important book.  It’s about an 11-year-old girl coping with her parents’ divorce. It’s about making friends, seeking help, and talking through tough subjects. It’s also a funny book, and one I wish my kids had had four years ago.

[Awkward pause.]

Trust me, you’re going to like it:

CHAPTER 1: WAR

Judith’s eyebrow started it. It soared up her too-pretty face like a volleyball in need of a good spiking, emphasizing the pounds of make-up she’d applied to get Dad’s attention. Showing just the kind of stepmom she’d be, if she got the chance. It was the arched eyebrow of war.

Too bad Judith wore a fancy white dress to the war. Too bad her dress was two sizes too tight. And extra too bad she had to get up from her poofy crimson chair to go to the restroom.

I wouldn’t have done that. I would have held it. And I would have worn my favorite pair of jeans, ankle-cut socks, some stomp-around tennies and my “Try to Stop Me” t-shirt if I were going to start an eyebrow war. I don’t really care what I get on my favorite jeans, ‘cause it always washes out. And if it doesn’t, that’s just one more cool story to tell my best friend Stacey Stanbaugh.

Dad’s Judith is stupid. It’s been too long since she’s had her face rubbed in the playground dirt. It’s been a long time since she’s been in a death match with a fifth-grader. You don’t pick a fight when you’re wearing white. Even first-graders know that. And you don’t get up and go to the restroom in the middle of a war either.

Dad’s not paying attention. I glance over, just in case, but he’s still on his work phone, arguing with Marco about an invoice or something. The waiters aren’t paying attention, either. Nobody is.

I sniff her glass, just to be sure. If it’s grape juice, I can spare a little. I love grape juice.

Pew.

It’s not. It smells like old armpits.

Probably wine.

I take a sip.

Tastes like armpits, too. Now I won’t feel guilty spilling it.

Dad still isn’t paying attention. He’s going to be on his phone for a while, it looks like. He thinks buying nice dinners is the same as taking care of someone, and since the divorce, he’s been even worse. Not that Mom’s any better. She travels a lot, and when she’s in town, Dennis the marine biologist comes over and I have to share Mom with Dennis and his shark movies.

At least with Dad, I don’t usually have to share. It’s all about making the right kind of mess.

Eyebrow war, phase two.

You can’t just spill red wine onto an enemy’s dress. That’s juvenile, amateur, the sort of thing Omar would do, though he’d probably trip and make it look funny, and everyone would laugh.

And you can’t throw it in her face, like the official challenge to an epic duel.

But Dad always says to go for gold.

So I do.

I slide Judith’s wine glass to the edge of the table, and lower it carefully toward the plush, pillowy seat. I push my finger down to create a divot in the fabric, right where I estimate her bum will land. Not that it’s going to be a hard target to hit. I empty about half the glass, more than I meant to, watching it soak in. Then I lift my finger and wipe it off in Judith’s napkin.

I’m eating my peas, continental style—with the knife in my right hand and the fork in my left—when Judith gets back. I watch her adjust that too-tight white dress before she sits. No smile. She just raises her eyebrow at me. Again!

She slinks down into her chair, picks up her fork, and freezes halfway to her pork chop, eyes growing melon-sized. Her fork trembles slightly as she turns to look at me.

“What’s wrong, Judith?” I ask.

“Marco, I have to go,” Dad says suddenly to his cell phone. The word “wrong” has a special meaning between him and me. What’s wrong, Misty? What’s wrong, Evelyn? What’s wrong. . . Judith.

I can see him replaying his mental tape for the last few minutes of phone time, or whatever it is dads do when they’re figuring out what they missed.

My dad’s pretty good at this. His eyes flit from Judith’s wine glass to me and then back to Judith. “Judith, don’t move,” he says.

Judith doesn’t listen. In just a few visits, it’s easy to see that Judith isn’t the type who listens to what other people say. Instead, she does the worst thing possible. And by worst, I mean best. She stands up and turns to see what’s in her chair.

I try not to giggle.

“Don’t look, Bob,” an old lady near us says, warning her husband.

So, of course, he looks. . . His eyes go empire-wide, certainly wider than they’ve been all evening, talking to his boring wife.

“Judith,” Dad says. There’s an edge in his voice that adults use when they don’t want everyone’s attention but they want to be taken seriously. Judith stops staring at her chair, at nothing because the cushion was already red, and sees the cloth napkin Dad’s trying to hand to her. That’s when she checks her six and sees the giant red spot of Jupiter on her bum. “Oh, my . . .”

When she looks at me, her face is as red as her missing wine. I don’t back down. I don’t look away. I never do.

Dad says you can win a battle but lose a war. When he looks at me, I know I’ve lost something. . .

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THE DEEP END OF LIFE

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The New Year is knocking on the front door. I can see him through the peephole with a handful of “bills past due” in his left hand and a wad of cash in the other. Every time I let him in, he knocks that priceless lamp by the door over or spills grape juice on the carpet.

I hesitate. Old Year is comfortable, relaxing on the couch with some luke-warm hot chocolate, re-reading list of unfinished projects. He’s comfortable in the same sort of way that a known misery trumps the unknown. Or comfortable like oft-worn pair of pants with a hole in the bum, and anyone looking too closely can see your undies.

Hopefully, nobody’s looking too closely.

Old Year hasn’t been all bad, though. For example, I finished writing a book called The Deep End Of Life.

It isn’t about dragons, spaceships, or a lonely thief trying feed his kids. In some ways it is a very ordinary book. It’s about an 11-year-old girl coping with her parents’ divorce. It’s about what sometimes happens to kids when their parents break up. It isn’t an autobiography by any stretch of the imagination, but it is real.

I’ve mentioned this before, but 2016 was a difficult year for me, and it was hard for my kids as well. It was the year their parents got divorced.

Sometime during the fall of 2016, while somewhat innocently browsing for internet video games, my oldest, a boy, came across an un-closed browser tab for “divorce attorneys.” He tried to cover up the screen and click away before the younger siblings saw, but they knew right away something was up.

Not how you want your kids to find out there’s trouble in paradise.

That led to some difficult, but important discussions. As parents, we offered to take them to counseling, and mentioned that it had been helpful for us in bringing healing and understanding. Only the youngest seemed open to the idea, but she—if I remember correctly—marched into the elementary school counselor’s office and demanded a session, without parental assistance.

Around that time, the kids were doing year-round swimming. When I picked them up from practice one day, a coach informed me that the youngest (same kid) had spent “a lot of time” in the bathroom. “I don’t like swim practice,” she said later, and she admitted skipping practice to “do gymnastics” on the locker room benches.

That moment stuck with me—a fourth grader swimming dutifully (mostly) through the winter months, when maybe she had bigger dreams, and it came back to me a few months later.

One evening, the youngest walks into the living room, whips out a piece of college-ruled paper, and accosts the oldest.

“Let’s talk,” she says.

He mumbles something that might, under duress, constitute an agreement.

I grin, because I like listening in on their private conversations, when I can. True, I’m only three feet away, but I’m also washing dishes. Chores (or anyone doing them) are completely invisible to kids. As long as you don’t make any noise or alter your facial expressions when they say outrageous things, they don’t know you’re actually there.

Over the counter I can see the paper she’s holding, and I realize—sadly—that this isn’t going to be one of the juicy ones.  The college-ruled notebook paper has “book titles” written at the top. I can’t, for the life of me, recognize any of them.

“Tell me if any of these are good,” she demands of her older brother.

It takes me a minute to catch on, but apparently they’ve done this before, and none of the titles on her list are real. What she’s written is a bunch of test-case titles to see if her big, mature, well-read junior high brother seems interested in any of them. She’s not even particularly motivated to do anything with the information. She just wants to know.

And for an eighth-grader, he’s remarkably patient. “Yeah, that one’s pretty good,” he says, occasionally. Or he just shakes his head when they don’t meet his fancy.

It’s a fun game, initiated by a ten-year-old. Most of them are acceptable middle-grade mock-up titles, but there’s only one I remember now: The Deep End Of Life.

The moment she read it, I was transported from the kitchen, out of the present, away from the months of co-parenting and breadwinning, and aches and worries that parents feel. For a moment, I was there, watching my daughter dancing across that locker room bench, finding her own peace of mind in a world that had just imploded. And I think of that same kid, striding powerfully into the elementary school front office demanding to meet with the school counselor, a trained mental health professional.

The Deep End of Life is a title written by a fourth-grader. There are plenty of people who could come up with a better one. But it stunned me, reminded me of how little of their lives I actually see. It pulled back the curtain for a moment on the drama of childhood, the drama of fourth grade.

I wanted to catch that image and put it in a bottle. Some authors write the book they wish they’d had growing up. I wrote the book I wish my kids had had. It’s okay—and sometimes even fun—to get help when you’re swimming in the deep end.  

With the day job in the mix, it took me a few years to finish. It helped that my commute in 2020 has been considerably shorter.

Thanks for that, at least, Old Year.

The New Year knocks again, louder this time. Opening that door will bring all sorts of problems. But it might bring some good things too. I look at Old Year, who is still lounging on the couch, eating smelly leftovers. “Yeah,” I say. “Get off the couch.”

He stands up and stretches, makes his way to the front door. His jeans are faded and a pocket seam has burst. There’s a bit of plaid boxer peeking through. He always lingers at the end.

“Undies are showing again,” I say, to encourage him onward.

He turns to look at me, hand on the doorknob. “Did you finish writing another book?”

“Yeah.”

“Do some cool things with your kids?”

“Yeah.”

“Then stop looking at my undies.”

#

Every year is challenging. This year I’m thankful for friends, family, and a finishing another manuscript.

ANT FIGHT 2017, PART 2

May 3rd, 2017

I was at the dentist, fantasizing about my ant problem, also possibly on a stronger-than-usual anesthetic, when I finally came up with a solution for the pavement ant infestation. The kids and I had been talking about Eragon or one of the other books in the Inheritance Cycle by my good pal Christopher Paolini, and realized he could probably help me. So I called him:

Me: “Hello . . .Chris?”

CP: “Yes?”

“This is Ben.”

CP: “Who?”

Me: “Your friend, Ben Hewett.  Soon-to-be-famous author.”

CP: “Uh . . . how did you get this number?”

Me: “Your agent. Listen, I just need a little help. Shouldn’t take long.”

CP: “Er. . . okay. Anything to give a fellow author a boost, I guess.”

Me: “Actually, the writing’s going fine, thanks. I just need help killing ants.”

CP: “Wait. . .Who is this?”

Me: “Ben Hewett. And it’s not unrelated. It’s hard to write when the ants go marching across your fingertips. While you’re typing.”

CP: “Listen man, you’re a writer. Write a  letter to your HOA. They’re responsible for animals that enter your home from the exterior.

Me: “Um. Yeah. How’d that HOA letter thingy work for Thorin Oakenshield?”

[Awkward silence.]

CP: “More like, ‘How did it work for Smaug…’ ”

Me: “Of course you’d side with Smaug.”

[Even more awkward silence.]

Me:  “Listen, Chris. What I really need—besides your endorsement on my next book—is for you to send Eragon over to my house real quick. He can just sort of… you know… do that thing he did in Eldest.  It seemed like a pretty weak plot device at the time, but this idea of sucking the life-force straight outta the entire ant colony has really grown on me in the last few weeks.

CP: “Eragon isn’t like that anymore. He carefully considers the impact of each action and . . .”

Me: “This is sort of important. The pavement ants are recolonizing faster than my neighbors and I can poison them. Faster than Galbatorix learning new, obscure languages, actually. Your guy wouldn’t even have to kill that many. Just like. . . eight ant queens. And anyways,  My neighborhood would be more grateful to him than the whole continent of Alagaësia. Remember how much crap he got just for blessing that poor purple girl? Come to think of it, pest control’s a great fallback position for him. It’s safe, fun, and he could definitely minimize the environmental impacts of pesticides like Termidore and Anthrax.”

Click.

Me:  “Um, hello? Chris?”

See what I mean?

Nobody wants to help.

ANT FIGHT 2017, PART 1

January 1st, 2017

 

The rattle and crack of Russian-grade fireworks in the backyard wakes me up.

It takes me a minute to realize the kids are traveling with their mother, and that the detonations are in my neighbor’s yard, not mine.

Ahhh. Good. Not my problem.

I put a pillow over my head.

But it is my problem, because the new neighbors are West Coasters still acclimatizing to the dictates of Central Standard Time.  The detonations continue.

At 2 AM when wake up yet again, I realize that it isn’t just about New Year’s. This is payback. Both to the HOA, and the pavement ants that the HOA has refused to deal with. I say a few hurrahs and stack another pillow on my head. Can’t think of a better use for fireworks.

To understand this attitude, you have to understand pavement ants. They don’t bite, but they’re into everything: crawling across the kitchen counter, drinking from the toilet bowl upstairs, and tripping through my leg hairs while I write this post.

According to the Pest Control guy, our townhomes are parked right on top of a “super colony,”  a quarter-mile, underground ant complex complete with multi-lane traffic signals and 8 different queens, who all argue about whose day it is to wear the pANTs. (Juvenile, I know.)

The Pest Control guy says I’ll need some ANThrax to kill them, but I’m pretty sure that’s illegal, even in Texas.  Termidore is a close second-choice, but Termidore costs more than Anthrax, says the HOA, so they’re not going to spring for it, and their level of engagement only declines from there:

ME: Please? There are, like, a billion ants inside my house.

HOA: “It’s a town home, not an apartment, sucker. Everything inside is your responsibility.”

ME: “Um… but the ants are coming in from the outside.”

HOA: “That’s what you think.”

ME: “No! I’m serious! Here are three videos of them peeking through the windows before they work the latches. It’s really creepy.”

HOA: “Mr. Hewett, please stop trying to give us evidence. We’ve already hired expensive attorneys to help us avoid this responsibility.”

Now you understand why my neighbors have resorted to ant-bombing under the cover of New Year’s.

But this isn’t over.

I once was a 4th Grade teacher.

Shaving Bag on Harry Paper

 

In December 2005, I was teaching 4th grade in Coppell, Texas.

It was a challenging job, and the pay was . . . typical, but I’d made it to my third year, and was really starting to feel the rhythm of the classroom. I remember watching their eyes widen as they grasp concepts for the first time or their tongues stick out as they navigated increasingly complex math problems.

As a teacher, I still had a lot to learn (e.g. the proper execution of a class party), but I always did my best.  It was meaningful work. I had autonomy. And I enjoyed the teacher carpool and our discussions on life and the proper way to motivate tricksy ten-year-olds.

One day we were doing some basic geometry in class and the kids were looking a bit sluggish. So I added facial hair and angry eyebrows to one of the triangles as a reward to the more attentive, fully planning to leave it at that.

Somebody giggled, and suddenly every student was on high alert. Equilaterals are fine and good, but no kid wants to miss a joke.

To build on that success, I adopted a grumpy, sarcastic voice for the rest of the lesson and let Harry the Triangle teach. He was not gentle with the remaining geometries.

I’m not condoning insulting behavior here—insults hurt, whether hurled at a perfectly drawn sphere, or a tall and tan Norwegian isosceles. Instead, I made it abundantly clear that Harry the Triangle was neither role model nor paragon of kindly virtues, and the kids were falling out of their chairs. Laughter crying. Demanding that every math class be taught by Harry.

Math had never been so fun. For me or them. For the rest of the year, they did Harry the Triangle fan-fiction in their notebooks and perked up when math class drew nigh. They even played back that scratchy, sarcastic voice at random, inopportune moments.

Ahhh. The halcyon days of explaining the chorus of scratchy, 10-year-old voices to the school principal. If only my parties had been comparable.

I must have been a special case, because I always had multiple room parents. Shortly before Christmas break, they managed to cut me from my herd.

RPs: “Mr. Hewett, what’s the plan for the holiday party?”

Me: “Uh. . .”

RPs: “Nevermind. You just teach. We’ll handle the details.”

That was the best party my 4th graders ever had. The details are a bit hazy, but there was an abundance of adult supervision, spilled soda cups, and pizza, which was which was still a huge success back then, but you had to wait about 4 hours for it to be hand-molded and delivered on an old Italian bicycle.

And there were teacher-gifts.

Teacher gifts are the second-best thing about being a teacher. Kids are often generous with their favorite teachers, but this year was even more epic. Every kid wanted to thank me for making math less boring. I got beautiful Christmas cards (defaced with hand-drawn images of Harry the Triangle), books for the classroom library, more drawings of Harry the Triangle, gift cards, and chocolate.

And a shaving bag.

—-

Really? Like, for travel?

Like, for carefully gathering and arranging toiletries so you knew you were perfectly packed before going on an actual airplane trip? The kind that helped you ensure your toothbrush, paste, razor, floss, chapstick, deodorant, nail clippers, soap and shampoo were all packed and ready for that big, important business meeting in Detroit? I mean, I knew what it was intellectually, but I didn’t travel. I was a teacher with small kids at home and a single income.

I smiled graciously at the student though. I made sure she knew how much I appreciated her gesture. When her shy smile came out, I relaxed just a hair, glad to see that my bemusement hadn’t shown through. What if you were the only kid to give your teacher something different. . . like a shaving bag . . . and then he didn’t like it?

As a teacher, it is important to be diplomatic.

When I woke up this morning, and grabbed my gear to get ready for a day of panels and networking, I stopped and laughed at my younger self. There it was. The 15-year-old Adidas shaving bag from my outside-the-box thinker.

The shaving bag I thought I didn’t need.

The one I take on every trip.

 

 

-February 15, 2020