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

Finalist Covers

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.

Grassroots Launch and Tagline Contest

“Local or person-to-person. A typical grassroots effort might include . . .political, educational, artistic, and especially collegiate movements involving the common people.”  (Urban Dictionary)

As some of you know, I’m doing a grassroots launch for my fantasy novella RINGS, and I’d love your help. RINGS is the second installment of The Paladin’s Thief, a parody/pastiche series enjoying (and gently mocking) fantasy from the 1980’s.  (Think Dragonlance meets Lord of the Rings, with a hint of Terry Pratchett.) Can you help?

DOWNLOAD
Any Kindle download on Thursday, May 28th  will make a huge difference in how RINGS is positioned on Amazon. The download will cost $3.99, and if you like epic fantasy and lighthearted irony, you will probably enjoy RINGS. Of course, any download after Thursday will also be appreciated. . .

The first novella in the series (DARTSwill also be available on May 28th as a free promotional.

SHARE
Enlist people in your network—especially those who like fantasy—to download RINGS on May 28th. If you know someone that runs a blog or book review site, ask if they’d be interested in reviewing RINGS or DARTS. If you feel inclined, tell your Facebook friends or share a link on your twitter feed. Part of the difficulty in self-publishing is connecting with those interested in your work.

PLAY 
As part of my book launch, I’ve been told to write taglines. I’ve done a couple, but I’d love to see what my friends come up with. If you’ve read DARTS, post a tagline for a major or minor character in the comments section of this blog. If you haven’t read DARTS, write a tagline about me, and then go read DARTS. (If you haven’t done either, make up something outrageous. There will be a wildcard prize, in addition to the regular prizes.)

The best taglines boil down the essence of a character, book, or movie in one single, catchy phrase, becoming a calling card for the person/work/movement:

“I have a dream.”

“Shaken, not stirred.”

“One ring to rule them all. . .”

That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.

“To boldly go where no one has gone before.”

“Don’t Panic.”

So get your grassroots on and post your best taglines in the “LEAVE A REPLY” section below.  Bonus points for layered meanings!

rings filler