It’s not a Comic Book, It’s a Graphic Novel

Comment:  I know there are some folks who are anxious for me to get on with part five of the Brain-Crab story (It Didn’t Have to End Like This), and I did sit down with the intention of writing the next 1000 words or so.  Something else was on my mind, and so I wrote it first.  I’ll get to the Brain-Crabs.  I will.  For now, read this.  It’s nice and kind of mushy.

ML

~~~~~

Let me tell you an unlikely but true story.

My wife, Lynn,  is enamored with the classics by Jane Austen – particularly Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Emma.  She has the novels and has seen all of the movies based on those novels.  Knowing this, I wanted to surprise her with a series of Austen-themed items.

Amazon making all of this easy, I proceeded to place my order.

Jane Austen Note Cards.  These contained quotes from the novels and had themed artwork.  They were also a complete flop with my wife, who does not write notes to people.  She sends email, like the rest of the world.

JA-notecards

 Accoutrements Jane Austen Action Figure.  This one was silly – an action figure of the author, complete with book and quill.  Still, my wife adores I Love Lucy and has several of the Lucy Barbie dolls, so I gave it a shot.  This was also a flop.

JA-actionfigure

I bought her a Kickstarter card game, Marrying Mr. Darcy, based on Jane Austen’s classic novel, Pride and Prejudice.  Each of the players is a heroine who is attempting to marry well.  She liked the game and read the rules, but we have yet to play it.  I am in no rush.

Marrymrdarcy

Pride and Prejudice (Marvel Classics) Graphic Novel.   Lynn has read the novels several times.  She has seen the movies dozens of times.  This was a graphic novel –  comic book – based on the classic novel.  It was a complete and absolute hit. 

JA-PandPgn

She devoured it, commenting on what an interesting medium the graphic novel is.  Then she wanted more.  I promptly ordered the Marvel versions of Sense and Sensibility and Emma.  These were also read immediately, with her interest growing in the different artists and unique approach to telling the stories that are so familiar to her.  So I ordered Jayne Eyre: The Graphic Novel,  written by Charlotte Bronte, but also a story I know my life loves and in the same genre as Austen’s work. 

Next was a trip to Half Price Books, where I directed my dear wife to the shelves with graphic novels.  We have been in the store at least twenty times before but she didn’t know where this section was.  I then perused the store and an hour later, she emerged from aisle with a stack of six graphic novels she wanted to try out.  None were classics – though two were based on the Sherlock Holmes character.  There was an X-Men (which I could have never predicted) and several Star Trek themed ones.  On our first date, I learned that she liked Star Trek – The Next Generation.  Knowing what a rarity it is to find a pretty girl who likes Sci-Fi, I married her.  Now, I’ve got her reading comics.  I think I can get her into a Princess Leia slave girl outfit in another year or two.  If I do – I won’t be telling you about it.

Anyway, Lynn has taken to ordering the books for herself, either from HPB online or Amazon, and she’s developed quite a habit.  It’s one I thoroughly encourage.  I’ve always appreciated the comic medium, though that is just part of my childhood I never outgrew.   I’m an avid collector of Jim Steranko art.  Now, my wife has developed a similar appreciation for the genre.

One night, as we lay in bed with Big Bang Theory re-runs playing on the TV, she leaned over and said, “Thank you for my graphic novels.” 

She then opened Star Trek Volume 4 and was lost within the frames. 

I watched her and smiled.  It’s just like the first date, when I found out she liked Star Trek.  I’m going to make her mine. 

Oh, wait.  She is.

So You are Gay

This is not something I thought I would ever write about, but since it’s been challenged by a friend in another forum, here it is: I don’t care if you are gay.

When I say I don’t care – it means I am not opposing the rights of gay people and I’m not marching in the street to lobby for gay marriage, either. It also means that I will be your friend regardless of your sexual preference, and if I chose not to be your friend, you are probably just a douche. Gay absolutely, 100% does not matter to me. Why would it? I’ve been married to the same woman for 25 years, and I love her more now than the day I married her. I’m secure in my sexuality. You should be too. We all should be. Yay us.

SO-GAY

What I fail to understand (and do not want anyone to explain), is why some people chose to define themselves by their sexual preference – gay or not gay.

You have a rainbow sticker on your car bumper.  Wow, you are such an activist.

There are so many things about personality that define you in meaningful ways, why would the gender you have sex with rank anywhere close to Top 10? To put it bluntly – your sexual preference is as interesting as your choice of bread at the grocery store.

So look – if you are gay, there will always be people who oppose your rights and label you. I’m not one of them. But do not let GAY be the only banner you define yourself by. Be everything that is you and that you care for, and I sincerely hope that means you love and share a special bond with someone. My relationship with my wife is the greatest reward of my life. It is not perfect, but it has amounted to a life I am very grateful to be living.

Maybe one day – we won’t be gay or straight, republican or democrat, white or black, Catholic, Baptist, Buddhist,  Hindu or Atheist. Maybe one day, we will all  see each other as people.

Romance–Short Movie made from Chuck Palahniuk’s story

Last year, I posted a link to a video of Chuck Palahniuk, reading his short story, Romance.  The story had been previously published in Playboy.

Andy Mingo made a short movie (26:32) based on this story, and it’s tight. 

This is a true romantic comedy, Chuck Palahniuk style. The author of Fight Club brings you John: a man who feels blessed that, for someone who aimed so low, he got the golden trophy. Her name is Britney. It’s Britney Spears, actually, and she’s just as hot. She may have some sort of drug problem. She seems stoned…a lot of the time. She doesn’t need to be perfect, though. It’s how much he loves her that makes her perfect. Plus, she is the epitome of sexy, using playful language and leaving the end of her sentences hanging in the air all mysteriously. She’s so out of his league. You couldn’t pull him from the clouds; it’s so perfect.

 

Directed and Produced by Andy Mingo. http://www.romancemovie.net

I Am Not a Unique and Beautiful Snowflake (About writers for writers)

This is repub and modest edit of a post made April, 2011. I still think this is true.

 

I just read another “Why Do I Write?” article. This one was in Publisher’s Weekly by an author I don’t know, but she’s more successful than I am. She’s published in PW, and that is more than I can say. I see these articles frequently; I’ve even written a couple, and the content is the same, no matter who the author is.

Here’s my problem with “Why I Write” articles: They usually boil down to the author making three distinct points, and two of them aren’t true. Rather than attack other writers, I’ll pick apart my own Why I Write pieces, not anyone else’s.  Still, if you’ve ever done one of these – and if you write, you probably have – step back from yourself and take a long, hard look at it.  Every one of these pieces is exactly like masturbating in public.  It felt good at the time, but now you are ashamed.   Or should be.

editing-stop

Point 1: I love reading and writing. This one is true. And to this, I say, “Duh.”

It’s a given. It’s like a pitcher saying he loves baseball. Write, edit, tweak and rewrite. It’s hard, often thankless work and hard work does not mean you are good. Rejection by publishers and agents is a brutal constant, yet writers submit and submit and submit, and the rejection letters pile up. Our words are our blood, sweat, and tears, and they are turned down repeatedly.  We keep at it despite the adversity, so it goes without saying that writers are in love with the written medium. Duh.

Point 2: I write only for myself. To this, I say, “Shenanigans.”

Note that this is not the same as saying, “I write stories I would like to read.”

Saying “I write only for myself,” is a defense. It’s like saying, “I don’t care what anyone thinks, because I wrote this just for me, anyway.”

This way, if someone doesn’t like the story, there is an emotional pillow to fall on. If a writer really wrote only for himself, he would never share his work with others. He would never submit it and certainly never put up with the demoralization that goes along with the rejections or likewise, experience the elation on those times work is accepted or gets accolades.

The truth?: I have something to say and I want someone to hear it. No person who has something to say is content to say it to an empty room. I write to be read, and anything I write is dead until a reader breathes life into it.  Period.

Point 3: I’m so special because I write. The words are not said exactly like that but it’s what they mean, and to this I say, “Not really.”

People could view this the same as, “I’m special because I drive a car and dress myself.” Every literate person can write, and of those, about 69% think they could write a book.

Any literate person could write a book. They just don’t and that alone might place them higher on the evolutionary scale than those of us who try.

As writers, we put our thoughts, ideas, and feelings out there for scrutiny. It’s risky and we do it anyway. We are 2% of that 69% that do write. That’s approximately the same percentage of people that have some level of retardation or are otherwise mentally challenged. Who is to say that we are not them? How could we tell if we were?

I look at my “successes” as a writer – the times I have been published.  Some of them don’t even give me a copy of the publication my work appears in.  Is that special?  I can’t really say it is.

It’s just stepping stones to where I want to be. All of it is stepping stones and exercises. Eyes ahead, I continue to climb, and there is nothing exceptional about putting one foot in front of the other, but it’s the only way I know how to move forward, and so I go.

What matters is that you do write.  You are a writing juggernaut that does not stop for anything and one day, if you are good enough, you will be recognized for it.  Until then, no one cares why you write.

If you disagree with anything written here, well, that’s okay.

I’m very special, love reading and writing, and I wrote this only for myself, anyway.

being-a-good-writer-is-3-talent-97-not-being-distracted-by-the-internet_137244090345

Game Review: NUCLEAR WAR Card Game – A Blast from the Past

Let me be absolutely transparent: This is a review that is heavily weighted by nostalgia.

Nuclear War.  I was regularly playing this game with my gaming group in the early 1980’s, before a game about blowing up millions of people to win might be considered “politically incorrect” (finger quotes mandatory). It was a go-to game to play before or after a more lengthy game with heavier strategy and I recall we played a lot of it with both of the expansion packs. We loved Nuke War.

NukeWar-Cover

Cut to today.  Surprised it is still in print, I purchased a brand new copy of Nuclear War. The box is almost identical to the copy I had in the 80’s and the cards and spinner have not changed much, either.

You read that correctly – the game has a spinner. The only other game I have played that had a spinner is Twister when I was thirteen and reaching to put left hand on green while rubbing body parts with Caroline in the process when I was still figuring out what the body parts were for, so… huzzah for spinners.

In Nuke War, each player plays as a nameless country, embroiled in global propaganda, where population is stolen from other player’s countries to join your own. This can only go on so long before someone launches a missile and then propaganda means nothing and the cold war is over – all countries start blowing each other up. The game’s goal is to be the last player with remaining population cards, and there are other random events that shake things up, such as the Super Germ, where 25 million people die from an epidemic.

Nuke War touted it was, “One of the few games where it is possible to have no winners (often everybody loses!).” This is true, and there were quite a few games where we annihilated each other, with no player having any remaining population. In a way, this abstract game felt real. Back in the 1980’s, we worried a lot about someone pushing The Button and starting a global nuclear war.

Nuke-War1

Jump to now and I play the game again, 30 years later. I’m playing with a 14-year-old son. I watch him and judge his reaction to the cards, spinner, and game play. To me, this is old school gaming and I am almost giddy. We blew each other up with nuclear weapons. Lo and behold, neither of us won. We destroyed each other.

My son said, “Seems like the way to win a nuclear war is not to play.”

He’d never seen the movie, Wargames, (a parental failing of mine that I will soon rectify) so he arrived at that conclusion on his own. But I thought I had to get it across to him that this is ONLY A GAME. We played again.

This time, I won, but not but much – just 6 million population, after my son’s nation had final retaliation.

We played two more games.

He won one of them and wasn’t very talkative during these games.  We’d been playing for a couple of hours.

“What do you think about the game?” I asked.  It was a fair question after he played four games in a row.

“Next game, let’s only do propaganda until the end; until everyone has defected from one country or another. That way, no nukes and nobody gets blown up.”

He doesn’t want to play a game where millions of people are wantonly killed. Despite myself, I am raising a boy that is better than me. I could not hope for more.  Unfortunately, the game is very dull unless you do blow each other up but we gave a “cold war only” version of the game a chance.

While I won’t make him play Nuke War again, I make it a point to play games with my son and cultivate the simple enjoyment of sitting at a table and interacting with people over a game.  We just don’t do these sort of things enough.

While the theme is not politically correct, I still love the Nuke War card game

· Game: Nuclear War

· Publisher: Flying Buffalo Games

· Designer: Doug Malewicki

· Year Originally Published: 1965

· Players: 2-6

· Ages: “players of all ages” but realistically, 8+

· Playing Time: 30-45 Minutes

· Retail Price: $29.95

· Serious Game Rating: 4 of 10

· Family Game Rating: 7 of 10

· Component Quality: Excellent except for the population cards, which suck and have to be cut out with scissors.  (I later bought improved population cards from Flying Buffalo at a convention for $10)

· In the Box: 100 playing cards, 40 population cards, 1 Bomb Effect Spinner, Rules and 4 playing mats

· Expansions Available: Nuclear Escalation, Nuclear Proliferation and Weapons of Mass Destruction

Reality is Far More Frightening than Conspiracy

More and more, I hear talk of nefarious conspiracies.  I have to admit, it is good fodder for a story.

Shadow governments or Illuminati are controlling global affairs. Aliens from other planets are mutilating our cattle and kidnapping people to probe their anuses.  Reptilian elite from another dimension are jockeying for positions to control our world. 

 

WWNconspiracies

It’s instinctual for humans to put reason to the unreasonable – to try to explain what cannot be explained. We have wonderful imaginations.

Is it because shadow governments, invading space aliens or creatures from another dimension are raiding us, creating huge market swings and economic instability? Or could it be that our market is tremendously volatile, flawed and erected on unstable ground?

Conspiracy is a comfortable, if somewhat extreme, explanation for the difficult questions. It’s an easy out.

The hard truth to consider is that our world is in ongoing chaos and no one is in control. We are all passengers on the bus, careening down the road and no one is driving. Yes, there are influences, but no one is in the driver’s seat.

Occam’s razor, folks. Settle in and buckle up, I say. We are spinning through space at 1,040.4 mph, orbiting the sun at 66,600 mph, and yet, I do not spill my coffee. Every single day we do not blow ourselves up or get taken out by a random asteroid is amazing.

Review of the PC Game, The Novelist

I’ve been playing the PC game, The Novelist on and off for a couple of weeks.

You play as a formless entity, possessing the house that Dan Kaplan and his wife and son move into. Dan is a writer and is dealing with a bad case of writer’s block. His marriage has seen better times and his son is having trouble with bullies in school.  All of them hope this move is a new beginning, but each brings their own baggage along to insure that does not happen.

As the player,  you lurk around the house, reading notes, diaries and even the memories of Kaplan family.  In this way, story lines evolve and you eventually are placed in the situation where you must decide what Dan will do and what will be left undone.

Will you work on your novel? The deadline is looming and it’s nowhere close to ready. Will you spend quality time with your wife, or your son? Both are feeling neglected. Ultimately, you have to prioritize what things Dan will do and what he won’t do, and be prepared to live with the consequences.

Clearly, this is not a conventional game. No matter what decisions you make, someone will be disappointed.  That is the intriguing hook, a life lesson and also the game’s downfall. It’s like real life – making compromises and setting precedence of a thing or a person over another.  Repeatedly. 

Unlike games that are an escape and allow the player to play as incredible, super-powered heroes having fantastic adventures, The Novelist opts to show you the third-party perspective of what real life looks like, including the disappointments.  Especially the disappointments.

The Novelist–Game Trailer

While I dig the writer theme,  sensible presentation and smooth, arty graphics,  the game served as a constant reminder that I was playing a game where a primary goal was for a game character to write, rather than writing, myself.  It’s a PC game about the difficulty of balancing writing, career and family.  As if I needed a game to experience that.

As an interesting concept, it works. As a fun game, it fails.

Your mileage may vary. 

Confessions of a Zombie Fiction Author

HelloMyName

“Hi. My name is Mitch Lavender, and I write fiction in the Horror-Zombie Genre.”

Hi Mitch.

“Over the last two years, I’ve been crafting a series of novels that follows the events that cause governments all over the world to fail and at the same time, the dead are getting up and attacking the living. In such a world, mercenaries have come forth to fight back the risen dead, protecting the innocent. Even dead animals rise and attack, and these men and women – vestiges from the Before Wars, are all that stand between the living and the undead, when the government is powerless to assist. They are Undertakers.”

I wait for a response but there is none. 12 step programs prohibit condemning a confession, and this is me, spilling my guts. I continue.

“I call the series The Risen. The first book is called Undertaking Hartford. It’s a good story, told in three acts with a unique twist on the genre that I have not seen before. I have likable characters and a smarmy, narrative voice that is in tune for the story. In truth, I think all components work in harmony, and I’ll go so far as to say it is the best thing I have ever written.”

Across the room of half-filled chairs I see disinterested looks and no eye contact. People are waiting for their turn to talk. Well, one person makes eye contact.

It’s Jennifer, and she’s a romance writer. She wants to do the sort of books that have Fabio on the cover. Her problem is that she writes intimate scenes so that they sound like someone is getting murdered.

His steely hardness plunged into her wet flesh again and again, each thrust making her scream louder and louder.

In a world of people with messed up perceptions of sexuality, Jennifer is their voice. She’s tragic in so many ways. She thinks her work is enticing, erotic and unique to the extent that it would draw readers that don’t usually read the genre. She believes this, deep in her soul.

Like her, I also think my zombie stories are exciting and inspired. That’s why we are in this support group.

Jennifer purses her painted-on lips into a pout. She raises a press-on fingernail to her mouth and licks it seductively with a flick of her tongue.

No one sees this but me. I keep talking.

While Undertaking Hartford might be an excellent story, I recognize the saturation level of the genre and don’t expect it to do well when released.

I sigh. My novel is doomed to be lost among the flotsam of the genre, and Jennifer is just a hot mess of unclaimed baggage.

“I have written seven short stories over the last month, and none of them have zombies. I have submitted four of them to publications, so we’ll see. I am proud of myself for that.”

Claps as I step down from the podium. They are just glad I am finished. Now they get their turn.

It’s not etiquette, but I don’t stay to listen to the others. I don’t even look back. As I reach my car in the parking lot, Jennifer calls out to me from the doorway.

“Zombies rule! Go with it.” She holds a thumb up.

I get in my car and drive home. So help me, Jennifer’s little act has me thinking about the second novel in The Risen series.

Truly, we are the blind leading the blind.

taillights

Kickstarter, what the hell? No Coin Age For The Troops?

There’s a  cool, little “pay what you want” Kickstarter project by Michael Mindes at Tasty Minstrel Games.  Coin Age is  a simple strategy game using standard US coins as playing pieces on a small map.  In truth, the game is  available for free as a print-and-play version, HERE.  If you want the professionally produced components, or just want to support the designer and producer, you can back it on Kickstarter, HERE.  It only has 3 days to go, finishing on December 20, 2013.

coin-age

The minimum to receive a copy of the game was $3, but they also had a pledge level called Operation Gratitude + Pay What You Want. At this pledge level, you get a copy of the game, and a copy of the game is also donated to the troops in the US Military for every $2 over that you pledge.  At last look, this pledge level had 531 backers.

Kickstarter pulled the plug on Operation Gratitude and voided all pledges at that level, saying it, “violated our project guidelines.”

I looked up Kickstarter’s project guidelines, HERE.

Apparently, the guideline that was violated was the first one listed under the heading, What is not allowed?

“Kickstarter cannot be used to raise money for causes, whether it’s the Red Cross or a scholarship, or for “fund my life” projects, like tuition or bills.”

and the fourth line:

“Creators cannot promise to donate a portion of funds raised or future revenue to a cause.”

OK.  I hear you, Kickstarter. 

But this pledge for Coin Age  is not being used to “raise money for causes”  or to “donate a portion of the funds raised… to a cause.”

It is being used to provide a copy of the game to US Military.  Is that the same thing?

Is it?

Look, this Kickstarter campaign for Coin Age has exceeded all expectation of the humble $5000 goal, and is currently sitting at $44,918 as I type this at 5:50 PM CST on December 17, 2013.  At almost nine times the goal, it’s definitely a successful campaign, and that is after the 531 pledges were removed for Operation Gratitude.  The only ones who are missing out are the US Military who might enjoy a simple diversion from the stresses of military deployment but won’t, because of this change by the jackasses at Kickstarter.

Well done, Kickstarter.  Clearly we set our expectations of you too high, and you have shown us the error of our ways.

While the people using the service might have good hearts, the people running Kickstarter are self-serving and narrow in their interpretation of loosely worded guidelines.

 

UPDATE:

For those who wish to do so, you can buy a copy and have it sent to the following address for Operation Kindness:

Below is the website and other information for Operation Gratitude
http://www.operationgratitude.com

Shipping Item Donations:

DATES: Please deliver between March 15 and May 5 OR between September 15 and December 5:

SHIP TO:
Operation Gratitude/California Army National Guard
17330 Victory Boulevard
Van Nuys, CA 91406
Attn: Rich Hernandez: Phone: 800-651-8031

 

Post revised twice, last on 12/18/2013, 6:20a CST

Novel Excerpt: Find My Baby (Meeting the Dewdey Doctors)

This is an excerpt from a novel I have been working on for some time, Find My Baby.  it is a story about Zachary and Lucy Foxborne, an American couple attempting to adopt a little boy in Ukraine, but being menaced by ingenious and cruel Russian hackers who want something from Zachary.

This scene is from Chapter 2, early in the first act, while the Zachary and Lucy are still attempting pregnancy.

If you enjoy it, please share.

 

Excerpt from Find My Baby
by Mitch Lavender

 

Dark Find my baby cover-4They enjoyed the first eight years of marriage and eventually both took different jobs, Zachary working for Sentia Solutions and Lucy working in the safety consulting field. They travelled and enjoyed being together.

Each time Lucy would start talking about having a baby, Zachary would come home with a new kitten or puppy. This seemed to sate her maternal instincts for a while. Now with four pets, getting another started to look a bit like a zoo. So, after five years of marriage, Zachary and Lucy were seriously discussing the prospect of bringing a child into the world. After all, the trying was fun! Lucy stopped taking the pill and they  bought pregnancy tests at the supermarket.

She did get pregnant, but they lost the baby in a miscarriage after five months. They were devastated, but through the loss, they grew even closer, soldered by their sorrow, and slowly they healed. It wasn’t until three years later that they started trying again.

The first two negative results were dismissed with a, ‘Back to the drawing board’ and a roll in bed. Then, Lucy started feeling like there was something wrong. After the sixth pale blue minus sign, Lucy decided they should have this checked out.

At first, Zachary thought he was going to get away without having to do this, but he was wrong.  A semen sample was needed, and Lucy wasn’t there to help collect it. Still, he managed, leaving the sealed cup with the receptionist and hurrying back out the door, face blushing.

Tests came back and his sperm count was fine. Nothing was wrong with Lucy either, but at thirty-five, she knew the sand in her biological hourglass was running out. This meant stepping up to the next level. Enter: Dr. Dewdy. Or to be accurate, the Dewdy Doctors, as they were a husband-wife team.

The Dewdy Doctors were well respected and ran a fertility clinic, advising would-be parents and assisting couples with pregnancies. Dr. Benjamin Dewdy was a peculiar looking man, like a shaved ferret that had too many facelifts. That’s what he reminded Zachary of – a perpetually surprised, shaved ferret.

Dr. Heloise Dewdy was a kind enough woman with an empathic but firm demeanor. Women just naturally warmed to her maternal aptitude and men found her interesting and charismatic. She was in her early forties and had an elegant, sensual air about her. Zachary thought she was alright for an older woman, but all the same, he kept thinking that she sleeps with the surprised, shaved ferret-man. Those sort of things perplexed Zachary. He would see a beautiful girl, model material, really – model material. She would be with some dirty, redneck biker that lives in a trailer and smacks her around when he gets drunk, which was often. How does that happen? How was it that a woman of Lucy’s beauty was with him?

The surprised, shaved ferret was a successful doctor and judging from the different Italian sports cars he drove, he had money as well. The Dewdy Clinic was a sprawling complex of building laid out on a beautiful landscape, located in Valley Ranch, an upscale part of a Dallas suburb, known because many of the Dallas Cowboys lived there. Heloise Dewdy was successful too, also being a Ph.D., so she wasn’t attracted to his success. And wow… she took his name: Mrs. Heloise (Surprised, Shaved Ferret) Dewdy.

Zachary and Lucy Foxborne’s first visit was a seminar, and Zachary and Lucy sat in a nice presentation room with about eight other couples. All the couples were in their late thirties, early forties, Zachary guessed.

A screen lowered and the Dewdys came out and introduced themselves. They took turns talking through a well-rehearsed, methodical speech that they have given many times before, no doubt. Dr. Heloise Dewdy began:

“Conceiving a baby seems like it should be the easiest thing in the world– but for many couples this is not the case. Having difficulty getting pregnant is more common than you might think, especially among women over the age of 35. We, at Dewdy Fertility Clinic, offer advanced fertility treatment that is one of the most affordable in the Dallas Fort Worth Metropolitan Area and can do so because of our outstanding pregnancy success rates.”

Dr. Surprised, Shaved Ferret took over. “Patients seek treatment at Dewdy Fertility because of our outstanding record of success and experience in treating some of the most resistant cases of infertility including those that have failed at other IVF centers. Our patients continue to be our best advertising as to our commitment to helping them achieve a pregnancy. This information we are about to present is designed to help those who are just beginning the process of starting a family or those who have discovered that having a second child does not come along as planned.”

With a professional smile, Dr. Heloise Dewdy added, “We’ve prepared a short video to familiarize you with the options that are available and how The Dewdy Fertility Clinic can help you fulfill your family needs.”

The room lights went down and a video started up on the projector. A pleasant picture of a lush meadow, mountains in the background. Words superimposed over this read, “Infertility. Why Me?”

“Oh brother,” Zachary sighed, but Lucy ignored him. She did say it would be a short video.

“At The Dewdy Fertility Clinic of Texas, Dr. Benjamin Dewdy, Dr. Heloise Dewdy and their staff feel privileged to help patients achieve their dreams.”

The presentation continued, a professional announcer’s voice read the PowerPoint slide. Pictures of a handsome couple, holding hands and looking pensively into each other’s eyes, obviously worried about the prospect of infertility.

“Often times you can have a complete fertility evaluation and all the test come back normal. This is very frustrating, but does not mean that there is not a problem. It simply means that at this time, medical means are not able to find a specific issue that is keeping you from getting pregnant. By increasing the number of eggs available at the time of ovulation, we are able to increase the success rate of pregnancy occurring.”

Zachary heard a woman’s voice from behind me whisper to her husband, “That’s just like us!”

“Today’s couples experiencing infertility should both be evaluated. We should not underestimate problems that can occur in the male. The initial test for a male is a semen analysis which is performed in our lab. A semen analysis allows determination of the volume as well as the number of sperm present, their ability to swim and morphology or shape of the sperm.”

Magnified pictures of squiggling sperm filled the screen.

“All of these factors are important in preventing a missed opportunity for a cause of infertility and will allow the couple to develop the most timely and cost efficient pathway to start or expand a family.”

The image shifted to an attractive woman’s face, worried and contemplative. Across her forehead appeared the words ‘Polycystic ovary syndrome’. The announcer continued, “Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) may well be the most common endocrine disorder affecting women of reproductive age. For some women, the disorder is easy to identify, with the classic signs of irregular menses, increased facial hair growth and infertility. For others, the signs are more subtle, making the diagnosis difficult.”

The words changed to ‘Blocked Tubes’ and the announcer continued, “Any patient, who has had a history of tubal disease, symptomatic or just on testing, should be sure that there are no residual blocked fallopian tubes that fill up with fluid and are called a hydrosalpinx. If a hydrosalpinx is present, your chances of success with IVF will be decreased by fifty percent. It is possible to clip or remove one or two hydrosalpinges thereby reversing this fifty percent decrease completely.”

Back to the image of the couple looking imploringly at the camera. “What treatments are available?”

Alright, maybe there will be a car chase, Zachary thought sarcastically.

“Clomid is an oral medication and is often used as the first line treatment for ovulatory disorders or unexplained infertility. Injectable gonadotropins therapy involves the use of medications that stimulate the ovaries to produce multiple oocytes each month. Patients who do not respond to clomid often find greater success with gonadotropin therapy.”

Alright, so when we can’t explain why you aren’t getting pregnant, we give you a pill or a shot. Western medicine at its finest, Zachary thought.

“Intrauterine inseminations recommended for couples that have ovulation problems and are undergoing ovulation induction as well as having failed other treatments such as clomid.”

Bring out the turkey basters.

“In Vitro Fertilization involves stimulating the woman’s ovaries with fertility medications to produce many oocytes; or eggs, that mature and ripen, at which point they are retrieved while she is under anesthesia, and fertilized with her husband’s sperm in the laboratory. This creates embryos which are carefully monitored by an embryologist for three-five days, and then one or more are placed into her uterus with the hope that implantation will occur and establish a pregnancy.”

The announcer continued on, speaking in a helpful, hopeful tone:

“We at The Dewdy Fertility Center are proud of the pregnancy success we have achieved through our fertility treatments and want to share with you the wide range of state-of-the art techniques that have enabled so many patients to fulfill their dreams of having a baby.

When you are a patient at Dewdy Fertility Center, you can rest assured we will maximize your chances of pregnancy by providing fertility treatment under the safest and most professional conditions.”

The music swelled as the video ended and the room lights went up. Hazel the Surprised Shaved Ferret came back out and with his hands clasped in front of him, said, “We try to make your experience as easy and comfortable as possible. You can schedule a consultation with the receptionist on your way out. We completely understand that fertility care may involve weekend procedures or office visits. Therefore, we schedule care seven days a week and a physician can be reached twenty-four hours a day.”

Dr. Heloise Dewdy came out and took his hand. Turning to the audience of infertile potential paying patients, she said, “My husband and look forward to meeting with you and together, we will realize your dreams of adding to your family!”

And with that, they both departed the stage and exited through a door. If you want to talk to them, you really do have to schedule an appointment. Nice.

“Well, that’s that then,” Zachary said with a sigh. “Pretty sure we could have gotten this kind of info on PBS or something.” This earned Zachary a scathing look from Lucy.

“I like them.” And with that, she was up and getting in the line that quickly formed at the receptionist’s desk in the waiting room. It took a while to schedule the appointment and it was four weeks out, not at all what Lucy had hoped for.

The four weeks went fast for Zachary but  dragged by for Lucy. When the day finally came, she was beside herself. She expected more… much more… than what the first visit turned out to be. This was just a planning session, and she did get a prescription for Clomid.

The Clomid made her emotional and sensitive. The least little thing would set her off. There are the jokes about fighting over the cap on the toothpaste or the toilet seat left up. These became a reality around the house. Zachary wasn’t used to this. Lucy has always been very centered, very much in control and level-headed. It was the hormones talking, he knew, but it didn’t make it make sense.

Lucy also became much more regimented about sex. Not just when, but how. She wouldn’t be on top, which Zachary loved. She would only do missionary, and she would stick her legs up in the air afterwards to let gravity help things along. She started buying boxer shorts for Zachary because she heard it was good for increasing sperm count. She took various herbs and drank horrible smelling mixtures that were designed to increase fertility. A book was always on the nightstand, “Getting Knocked-Up!”

*****

This was not fun anymore. They attempted In Utero fertilization two times with the Dewdys. Both times, it was unsuccessful. At this point, they had depleted the $7000 covered by insurance and they had a decision to make. Do they continue throwing money into the wishing well, hoping for a pregnancy, or do they consider alternatives.

Zachary had brought up adoption one time earlier. It was after meeting the Dewdys and Lucy was on the Clomid. She was… emotional. Saying that, “maybe adoption was something they should consider” sounded to her like “YOU ARE BROKEN! YOU ARE INCAPABLE OF CONCIEVING A CHILD! IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT.” The suggestion escalated into a full-blown argument that somehow tied into Zachary not putting the garden hose away. He didn’t give the dogs fresh water. The trash in the kitchen was full. He left his dirty shirt on the floor.

The rule Zachary and Lucy lived by was ‘do not go to sleep angry with each other’, and both had a deep respect for this rule. On this night, it meant neither of them slept. They fought into the early morning. Each time it would start to wind down, one or the other would say something wrong or in the wrong way and the argument was started again.

Finally, Zachary agreed to never bring it up again. He apologized for implying she was not capable of child-bearing, even though that’s not what he meant at all. He took a big plate of “I am completely wrong” and ate it with gusto. Sometimes, this is the cost of harmony and he hated it, but he hated arguing with Lucy even more. He told himself that in the scheme of what is important, being right didn’t factor in this case. It wasn’t even about being right, it was about being understood. It was clear Lucy didn’t have an ear to hear it the way he meant it, and that was all there was to that. He reminded himself that Lucy has done the same thing for him on other occasions.

They made up and then made love, but it was disconnected; not the usual, gentle caressing. It was a good lay but when they were done, Zachary rolled over and went to sleep. They always cuddled afterwards, but not this time.

Lucy felt rejected. She felt inferior and insecure. She felt unworthy and broken. As Zachary began to snore, she cried.

 

© 2013, Mitch Lavender

Game Review: Bocce Dice (Kickstarter Edition)

 

Bocce Dice is a dice-tossing, table-top game that combines luck, skill and strategy as players attempt to land dice in high-scoring areas of the playing mat, while knocking the opponent’s dice out of scoring zones. Designed and published by Kevin McCarthy, it is based on Bocce, the Italian ball tossing game, but also has elements that appear to be drawn from Shuffleboard and Curling.

I love dice games and when I came across the Bocce Dice Kickstarter campaign, I immediately supported it. The campaign was successfully funded and met both stretch goals as well. On December 10, 2013 my copy arrived in a clear plastic tube. We started playing that night.

The standard (non-Kickstarter) version of the game consists of 12 dice (6 each of two colors), the Bocce Dice Mat, 2 Scorekeeping tokens and rules sheet in a reusable, clear plastic tube. The Kickstarter Stretch Goals included some additional dice of various sizes and such and some optional rules for using these dice.

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The Bocce Dice mat is colorful and made of similar material to a computer mouse pad, but is much larger (12”x18”) and a little thinner. This is the playing surface you roll the dice on, and the padded material reduces the sound of the dice rolling as well as changes the way they bounce a bit. The mat also has a numbered track at each end to track rounds won.

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The dice are quality, plastic 6-sided dice but nothing special. The tube that stores the game is well made and includes a rubber end cap. I thought this packaging was quite smart.

The players take turns, rolling one die at a time until all dice have been rolled.  If a die is rolled and comes up as 1, it can be rerolled or not, as the player chooses. Points are scored for the number rolled on the die, as well as the bonus (if any) for the scoring area it lands in. Dice that land outside the scoring area score 0 points. Total score is tallied and the highest score wins the round. First player to win 10 rounds wins the game.

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It’s pretty straight-forward and gameplay is fast. There is an interesting strategy typical of the Bocce game itself where the player can opt for scoring maximum points, try to place a die so that it protects another of his\her high scoring dice already in play, or attempt to knock opponent’s dice out of scoring areas. It’s not complicated but it is a lot a fun. An entire game takes 15 minutes or less and setup took a minute.

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The thing that attracted me to the game was that I saw a lot of opportunity to adapt the game with house rules or cross Bocce Dice with other dice games to create Bocce Zombie Dice or Bocce Roll Through the Ages, for example. I’ll do that, and when I do, I’ll post the rules to Boccedicegame.com.

If you like a fast setup, fast-playing game that is dexterity-based, you should give it a look. Personally, I loved the game and I’m very happy with the components themselves, particularly the mat. It’s the kind of game that is only as fun as the people who are playing it, and in my family, this is a very fun game. I expect it to be in our rotation for a long time to come.

Recommended.

For more info or to order, go to: Boccedicegame.com

Shrinking Women by Lilly Meyers

Sometimes an author writes a story, poem or prose in a  genre, but the work is so powerful it breaks boundaries and evokes feelings in those who ordinarily would not read that genre.

I don’t usually read poetry, much less pro-feminist poetry that makes me feel ashamed for men everywhere.  I think this short piece is in that category: “Shrinking Women,” written and read by Lily Meyers (Wesleyan University).

It isn’t how she read it, and she appears to do this from memory – though the timing and delivery is perfect.

It isn’t that the content was important – though it is.

It isn’t that the statements weren’t true – though they are and at times,  hit like a sledgehammer.

For me, it’s the impressive images she conjures with so few words.  It’s her masterful command of the language and alliteration – the full effect of words brought to bear and the exposing of stupid expectations and inequality our society has (or does not have) based entirely on gender.  It’s the clarity.

Simply, I appreciated this on many levels.  I hope you do too. 

Watch:

Shrinking Women

 

If this was moving for you, tell me what you thought.

Thanks

Folks,

I am taking a short break from Life64, work and writing to completely enjoy my family and all that I have.  I’ll be back into the grind soon enough – December 4, 2013.  I’ll post a piece that highlights Ernest Hemingway’s recorded voice.

Thanks to all of you who take the trouble to drop by from time to time and especially for those who follow the blog.  I am thankful for all of you.

Life64-thankyou

Short Story: Holy Crap

This is an unpublished story I wrote over three years ago.  I had high hopes when I wrote it, but never found anyone with enough nutsack to publish it, so here it is.  I wrote this in satire of the claims that the image of Jesus or Mary magically appeared on toast, screen doors or window condensation, and the people who revere such coincidences or profit from them.

If you like it, please share.  If it offends you, tell me why in a comment.  If it offends you so badly you want to kill me – I live in Columbia.  My real name is Juan, I am a one-armed coffee bean picker from a long line of one-armed coffee bean pickers.

~~~~~

Holy Crap
by Mitch Lavender

I never thought of myself as a religious man, but some paths are just chosen for us. It felt like it, anyway. I think the first step down my predestined path started with a simple statement.

You can’t get a hangover from clear alcohol.

That’s what Jake said, and it was a hypothesis we felt deserved consideration and severe testing. Yes, we could have looked this up on the Internet but we were already at the bar. Besides, a theory of this magnitude needed to be confirmed first hand, didn’t it?

I awoke the next morning, lying on my bed and still fully clothed. Rolling over and curling into a fetal position facing opposite of the light that streamed in around the blinds, I forced myself back into slumber beneath the throb in my skull.

I awoke later. I don’t know how long I had slept but it wasn’t long enough. My head still pounded and my gut churned. If my bladder had not been the verge of bursting, I would have stayed in bed. Staggering to the bathroom, I stood in front of the toilet and pissed for an unreasonably long time. Pissing like a racehorse, as the saying goes; I feared the toilet might overflow and flushed it, mid-pee, without stopping. And man, did my head hurt.

With a drained bladder, I felt marginally more sober. Stumbling two steps over to the sink, I squirted some toothpaste on my finger and rubbed it around on my teeth and inside my mouth, trying to get out the taste of something dying in there. Then I saw the note.

Written in lipstick on the mirror was: “I’m done with you, LOSER.”

A love note from my girlfriend, Julie; she had a way with words. I guessed my coming home drunk again was one too many times for her. I needed to take a crap.

I hadn’t pulled my pants up from my piss, so I shuffled back over to the toilet and lowered the seat, sitting down hard and propping my elbows on my knees, laying my head in my hands. I had to fix things with Julie, already imagining the uncomfortable approach to her parent’s house with a bundle of flowers, her father opening the door and telling me she doesn’t want to see me. I evacuated my bowels and it felt really good; like I was expunging myself, purging myself. With each plop in the toilet I felt cleaner and more wholesome even though I knew I stunk of bar smoke, alcohol and was that puke on my shoe? My head almost stopped hurting.

Getting up from the basin, I undressed and started the shower. When the water warmed enough, I got in and let the showerhead wash the residue of the night before from my skin.

Leaning against the shower wall, I vaguely remembered Julie saying something before slamming the door. She had said a lot of things but the short sentences surfaced: “No job. No life. No girlfriend!” Had I imagined it?

I grabbed the bar of soap and rubbed it over myself, the scent of cloves and mint. Julie always bought sissy-smelling soaps. It made me think of her and that she was gone. I felt sick again, and after a couple of dry heaves, vomited in the shower. Stepping back, I let my sick wash down the drain.

After I stepped out and toweled off, I felt pretty good and awake. Maybe there was something to the clear alcohol theory, after all.

Realizing I hadn’t flushed, I went over to the toilet and grabbed the handle. It was one of those moments where I could have just flushed without looking, but I did. It’s a weird thing I have always done; look at the crap first. I did the same thing when I blew my nose. I would open the Kleenex to see what came out. Not like I expected it to be gold or anything, but just wanted to see, you know?

Floating there in the yellow water of the basin was a crap-cross. The cross-member was one shorter turd laid across a longer one, but it was clearly a cross. Then I saw the third turd and gasped. It was the face of a bearded man, a halo over his head, made of flecked corn.

It was Jesus.

I don’t know how long I stared down in the toilet, admiring the detail of the Christ-turd; the eyes cast upwards, the peanut nose, the beard and the corn-flecked halo. I took my hand from the handle and backed away, bumping into the wall.

Someone else has to see this!

Jesus-Good-Shepherd-05Knocking at the door across the hall, I called out, “Hello! Hello? Are you home?”

Madison opened the door. She was a brunette with brown eyes and was incredibly hot. The sort of girl who wears a heavy sweater and you could still see her nipple bumps. I had only said niceties to her as we passed in the hallway. She was out of my league, but now I had a mission; a higher purpose.

“Hi! Can you look at something in my bathroom? I’d be eternally grateful.”

She was puzzled but said, “Alright. Is something the matter?”

“I don’t know. Maybe something is very right, but I need a second opinion.” I grabbed her by the hand and pulled her into my apartment and to my bathroom. We stood in the small room for a second with her looking a little frightened. “Look in the toilet.”

She didn’t step towards the basin but leaned over a little. “Gross!”

“No, look. Really look.” I insisted, pulling her towards the toilet.

She looked down and paused. “Oh my god.” Then she crossed herself. She looked up at me with wide eyes and asked, “You did this?”

“Yeah!” I said proudly.

Before I knew it, other tenants were in my apartment, wanting to see The Miracle in my bathroom. After almost an hour, the crowds had not dissipated. Other people from the street came up to see. They took pictures and videos, uploading them to Facebook and YouTube from their phones. Then the Father showed up.

Apparently, someone had called a Catholic priest to come see my bowel movement. He shoved his way past the others, entering my bathroom. All chatter in the room fell silent and then we heard him uttering some prayers in Latin. They were beautiful, though I didn’t understand any of it. When he emerged, he came over to me.

“You did this thing, My Son?”

“Yeah.”

“It is a miracle! Images of The Christ have been seen in rocks, screen doors or condensation on windows, but nothing like this. The face of our Lord is clear, and the cross makes it that much more significant!”

I nodded. “Okay.”

“This is different from those events. This came from within you – from inside. You are a holy man,” he said, taking my hand and kissing it.

In two days, the YouTube video went viral with over a million hits. That’s when the agents started calling me. I let the Father have my “Divine Bowel Movement” and he coated it with some clear acrylic to preserve the form before sending it to Vatican City. Imagine that – the Pope would see my poop.

When I signed with an agent, she got me an appearance on several TV talk shows and a few radio shows. The acting coaches had taught me how to deliver the lines the writers had written for me to say and I think I did alright. I loved the new wardrobe of Armani suits and the evenings out with famous people. I started dating Paris Hilton and then I traded up to Scarlett Johansen when my agent said Paris was too trashy. I was definitely in demand. The interview with People Magazine went great and I got walk-on parts on Grey’s Anatomy and Two and a Half Men. After 3 months, the Vatican was still silent about the divine origins of my excrement but my agent said it was time to step up my game and use my power to better mankind.

As I stared up at the 2016 campaign billboard, I swelled with pride. I looked so humble and yet inspired in the picture, my name splayed underneath the image next to slogan: “He gives a shit.”

Just think – had I flushed, none of this would have happened.

© 2010, 2013 Mitch Lavender

Short Story: Sans Commentary, Please

This story appeared in Untrue Stories, Volume One by Pantoum Press in 2012.    If you enjoy it, please share.

 

Sans Commentary, Please
by Mitch Lavender

 

“Start the movie already!” the guy screamed at the screen. We had sat through two commercials and four movie previews, with another just starting. I don’t know when It became OK to show 25 minutes of commercials before a movie, but we acquiesced and sat quietly, waiting for the feature to begin. We always did. Still, I silently had to agree with the guy – Start the movie!

talking in theater“Woooooop!” the guy shouted as aliens and humans fought it out in the preview. “Woooooop!” he repeated when an alien lost a showdown with Daniel Craig, taking a laser blast between its bugged eyes. “Dead!”

The theater was dark and crowded, opening night of a blockbuster; no one would have expected less than a full house. I leaned forward to see the guy yelling at the screen. He was three rows in front, four seats down; a young guy, maybe twenty, sitting with two friends. Great. Three punks at the theater. It’s bad enough that I pay $12 a ticket, have to wear cheesy Wayfarer-like 3D glasses and go into hock to buy popcorn and a drink, now I must tolerate the Woop-Boy commentary track as well. The truth is, I’m like the cranky old man yelling at the kids to get off of his lawn. I get testy when I’m up past my bedtime.

Woop-Boy continued to jack his commentary as the movie progressed. Thank goodness there were a lot of explosions that helped drowned out some of his crude, nonsensical comments. I grew more and more infuriated and fixated on his interruptions. I was all about him, not even watching the movie anymore.

Into the third act, after over an hour, I couldn’t take it anymore, got up and moved to Woop-Boy’s row in front, side-stepping past people, excuse me, pardon, sorry, excuse. Finally, I am in front of Woop-Boy. I see my reflection in his 3D glasses as an explosion goes off on the screen behind me. His jaw slackened, his teeth glistening in the ambient glow. I grabbed the collar of his shirt, pulling him up as I lean down, wanting him to hear me.

“Shut up,” I growled, cold and firm. When did I become Batman? His face was close to mine and I didn’t blink, but realized he wouldn’t know – I was still wearing those dorky 3D glasses.

“Screw you, Monkey-Man!” he shouted during a quiet moment in the movie, loud enough for the entire theater to hear.

My free hand balled into a fist, seconds away from punching him in the face.

theater

“He’s got Tourette Syndrome,” the boy sitting next to him shouted, shoving me so hard I nearly tumbled over the row behind me. I scrambled, clutching Woop-Boy’s shirt as an anchor to regain my balance.

“I’m… S…sss…sssssorry,” Woop-Boy said, and then added, “dickhead!”

I stared at him for what had to be two or three seconds, but seemed much longer. Realizing I was still clutching his shirt, I let go and with a final look to his friends, I side-stepped back down the aisle, excuse me, pardon, sorry, excuse. When I got to the end, I walked out of the theater into the lobby, and waited for my wife, who joined me a few minutes later. We were both silent on the drive home.

As I climbed into bed that night, I confessed to my wife, “I was wrong. I shouldn’t have done anything.”

“You weren’t wrong. He ruined the movie for everyone. Everyone in the place wanted to do what you did.” She paused and gave me a wan smile. “I think the reason you feel badly is you didn’t finish what you started. You stepped in a mess and didn’t wipe it off.”

“Are you saying I should have punched him?”

“I’m saying that if a person has a disease where they can’t shut up, they shouldn’t go to a theater and annoy everyone else. He is no different than the new parents who bring their baby to a theater and expect everyone to just ignore the crying throughout the movie.”

“That’s not very sensitive to the person’s disability.” While I wasn’t sure I disagreed, I played Devil’s Advocate.

“People who can’t be quiet should not be in a place that requires they be quiet. It’s not you being insensitive to them. It is them being insensitive to everyone else.”

“I’m not sure. I mean, should a person in a wheelchair not go out because they slow down everyone behind them? Does it make them insensitive to others?”

“That’s different, don’t you think?” I recognized the tone in my wife’s voice and she was ready for a debate. “Once situated, the person in a wheelchair won’t bother anyone.”

While I saw her point, it was terrain I had not yet found my balance. “I don’t know.” The conversation ended there and I eventually drifted off to sleep.

Woooop! echoed in my restless dreams.

~~~~~