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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Update for Viddy

“I swear I’ve been writing.”
–Benjamin Hewett (or maybe Patrick Rothfuss)

 

Deathly Cold Office Potter Sword (JPEG)

For a long time now I’ve been secretly plotting to culture my kids. It’s a sinister job, but one that parents are obliged to do. Imagine me sitting in a dark, cold basement, dry-washing my hands while scheming up ways to trick them into liking opera music before the age of 40.

Okay, so Houston doesn’t have basements.

Or cold places.*

But I was scheming.

And while I was scheming in my office after normal work hours,  I came across a promising flyer from the Houston Symphony:  “HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN™ IN CONCERT.”

They’ll never know this is culture, I thought.

I prepared carefully. I introduced the topic of attending the symphony nonchalantly at dinner.  When they groaned, I mentioned it was a “Harry Potter 3” concert.  Groans dissipated to mild disinterest. As we talked about  appropriate symphony dress and behavior, they gave appropriately irritated responses, but said nothing truly alarming.

So I purchased “affordable” tickets. We arrived Friday night, dressed to kill, black ties and button ups, or black skirts and high-heels, as appropriate. And the first thing we see getting out of the car? Professor McGonagall. Not making this up. Seems like everyone at the Houston Symphony is in full fantasy getup, except us. My son turns to me and says something like, “Wait, why are we all dressed up, again?”

I’m not complaining. They enjoyed the program and only teased me a little about having left the Draco, Hermione, and Luna costumes at home. We’re getting up to leave, snapping some shots in our overdressed state, and I hear a voice behind me:

“Ben!”
“Viddy!”
“When’s the next book coming out?”

Just like that. Almost no preamble.

Besides hanging out with my kids, that was the highlight of my evening. When a friend I haven’t seen in ages asks me to account for my writing activities and then posts my response on Facebook to all his friends, that lights a fire.

This post is for you Viddy. I swear I’ve been writing:

Activity Report  Spring/Summer 2018

  • Traveled to France for work. Did off-hours research for Shadowcloaks.
  • Joined a writing group.
  • Retro-outlined Plaguerunners per writing group’s recommendation.
  • Began cutting and restructuring Plaguerunners based on consistent advice from two very talented agents.
  • Finished drafting Shadowcloaks.
  • Finished second draft of Shadowcloaks. (Almost.)
  • Wrote statement of work  and bid out cover and concept art.
  • Visited family and friends in Seattle and Utah. Worked more on Shadowcloaks.
  • All this time, I’ve been getting better. I think you’re going to like the results. #December2018

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*My office in Houston  is cold. Deathly cold. Deathly Hallows cold. (Remember that part where Harry’s trapped under the ice in nothing but his boxer shorts?) That cold. In fact, to celebrate the similarities, I’ll ship my personal copy of RINGS–complete with marginal notations and edits–to the person who posts the best caption for the photo above in the comments. There may also be consolation prizes. Let the contest begin!

 

Lucinda:

“Say again, Gerard?”

lucinda alone color Cropped2

I loved writing Lucinda for this story. She’s always been extremely independent, but as I drafted the series ending last month, I realized just how much she has to grow as a character. Most importantly, she needed to be able to defend herself. (She demanded a weapon.) So I gave her a dagger, sharp like her wit and suited to the conflict ahead. Knowing Lucinda, it won’t be enough. . .

TEASER:

She puts the book down and slides over, subtle as a pickpocket. Nobody else notices.

“How does one properly hold a dagger?” There’s a determined look in her eye, the same one that says she won’t take no for an answer. “Someone has to protect you two,” she says, glancing at Carmen.

“And Magnus?”

She ignores the question. “What do I do?”

“Depends on the kind,” I whisper back.

What she shows me is a rusty, double-edged Ralfian with a thin, stubby crossguard and no quillons. It’s definitely past its prime but still functional, and only slightly oversized for her hand. Not a bad pick for a beginner.

“Reverse, hammer, forward, and palm-enforced.” I flip through the basic grips at my side so no one else is likely to see. “Stick with forward. Only idiots and Nightshades use the palm-enforced, and reverse grip is for stabbing people from behind. Mostly.”

“Thanks, Teacup.”

“Just don’t use the pointy end on me.”

She smiles reassuringly, eyes twinkling, and slips it back into her dress pocket. There’s a light snapping sound as it clicks into place. . .

Available now on Amazon: RINGS.