Sunday, May 28, 2023

I Still Write Blogs…

 …but at two other sites.

Do Some Damage - Every Saturday, I contribute to this group blog.

Scott Dennis Parker - My official author website. 

Join the conversation and share your thoughts.

Monday, March 13, 2023

Pushing the Old Guys Aside: HBO's Perry Mason Season 1

I finally finished Season 1 of the updated and re-imagined Perry Mason TV series on HBO Ma. Yeah, I know: I’m two years behind. There’s just too much good content to watch and not enough time.

Here’s a funny thing: when I pulled it up on HBO Max late last week, my time stamp was halfway through episode three. I asked my wife if she’d be up for watching. She was and, without going back to re-watch the opening two installments, we forged ahead.

The cheeky summation I’ve heard about this show is that it is not your grandfather’s Perry Mason. That’s certainly true, both in the language and the personal relationships. The moment where Della Street, assistant to E.B. Jonathan (Jonathan Lithgow), the nearly-too-old-for-this lawyer defending Emily Dodson, climbs into bed with her girlfriend, my wife asked about it. Cue said cheeky comment.

I enjoy the old TV show quite a bit, but I’m nowhere near an expert. It’s just good comfort television. As for the books, I’ve only read the first one. What’s fascinating about the first book and the 2020 series is how much alike they are. If the only Perry Mason you know is Raymond Burr, well, he’s not like Matthew Rhys but Burr is also not exactly like the character we first see in 1933. Rhys and 1933 Mason are scrappers, not afraid to poke a hornet’s nest and see what happens. It’s rather remarkable how well that type of character fit both in the Depression as well as ninety years later.

This being an origin story, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing how far down Mason was when this series began. Employed by E.B., Mason drinks way too much, is estranged from his wife and son, and constantly is threatened to have his family’s house taken away from him.

But the core quality of Perry Mason is his drive for justice. He can’t let things go when he knows there is something just under the surface. To quote Mason’s own self description when asked what he does, “He snapped out two words at her. “I fight!””

Rhys fights, both with his fists as well as his brain. The problem is that he often goes a few steps too far and says things to people like Della or his investigator, Pete Strickland, who are trying to help. I appreciated seeing Rhys try and smooth over Mason’s rough edges by the end of the season and never quite finishing the job.

It’s also fascinating to see how they inject 21st Century themes into a show set in the Depression. It’s obvious that same sex relationships and racial prejudices existed in the 1930s (and the 1950s era of the TV show) but it’s good to see it out in the open. Paul Drake, Mason’s main investigator by the end of the 2020 series, is now portrayed by Chris Chalk, an African-American. That itself brings up a lot of possibilities of narratives and themes. But I liked that Drake, a beat cop when we first meet him, has an inner integrity that is stronger that any position or job. Ditto for Della. The old TV show always showed her as all but an equal partner, but she always remained a secretary. The 2020 Della is an assistant, but she’s already enrolled in school and plans on becoming a lawyer. “A woman lawyer,” Mason says at the end. “A lawyer,” Della replied. “No modifier.”

Author Erle Stanley Gardner’s books are famous for their intricate nature. This 2020 season lives up to that bar. I did not see the ending coming and I really liked how the trial was resolved.

Oh, a quick shout out: Stephen Root, known for his comedy chops, plays the smarmy, publicity-hungry DA is all of his greasy glory. It made me want to see how many other non-comedy roles the actor has done. Loved him as I did Lithgow.

I suppose, with any origin story, you have to have older characters in places of authority that the younger characters seek to overcome. It’s pretty much the same in Season 1. So, in a very literal sense, the young Perry Mason beat a couple of old guys. You know, so it really isn’t your grandfather’s Perry Mason.

Monday, February 20, 2023

Springsteen, Showing Your Age, and Knowing Your Truth

“I’m getting a certain vibe here,” my twenty-one-year-old son said as I drove my car on the streets leading to Houston’s Toyota Center. With less than thirty minutes before showtime, the traffic crawled and the sidewalks were jammed with people heading to the arena to see the 2023 version of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

Yes, there was a vibe. Lots of middle-aged people, many with all-gray hair and loose, baggy clothes worn to hide bodies no longer as thin as fit as they were when The Boss ruled the airwaves in the Seventies and Eighties. Some wore concert t-shirts from ages past while others sported more modern Springsteen attire. A decent number of the concert goers were like me: attending the show with a younger person, hoping to introduce what it was like to see Springsteen the Showman fill an arena with sound and lead the fans in singing his songs. I chuckled as my son and I made our way to our seats. So many people my age and older crowded the hallways. Not like when he and I saw the band Ghost in early 2022. Then, I was in the age minority.

But there was a moment before the lights dimmed and the music started when I looked around at the people who sat near us and lots of the people we had seen coming into Toyota Center: they were old, or at least they looked old. But if they were old, that meant I was old, too. Right? I’m not one who takes my age into account on any given day. Looking out of my eyes, I’m like a perpetual twentysomething person. Looking in the mirror, I see the truth. Looking at all these older Springsteen fans, I see their truths.

And when Bruce himself got on stage and started the evening with “Night,” his face was broadcast on four screens hung over the stage. We had decent seats, but it was nice to have the professional camera folks giving us close ups of the Boss and the members of the E Street Band. When the camera often zoomed in on Springsteen’s face, you could see his truth as well.

The man is seventy three. Yes, he’s aged well. I hope I look as good as he does when I’m that age. Yes he has access to medical and dietary resources that help him age gracefully, but you can still see the age on his face, his eyelids, and the wrinkles around his face. You can tell that he’s not as animated as he used to be when he ran across stages, sliding on his knees, and leaping into the crowds.

But he was still thrilling, and he still put on a helluva show.

And yet I never expected to tear up at a Springsteen show. Well, I should have expected it, but when it happened, it actually moved me.

Every rock star I discovered in my youth, teens, and twenties have aged right along with me. Of course they have, you say. We’re all human. Yes, we are, but when you spin a record that came out in 1992 or 1982 or whenever, your mind can time travel back to that year and you can remember how you felt hearing those songs. In those moments, you can be that age again, even if you’re driving an SUV and taking your kids to band practice.

We got that sense of time travel on Tuesday evening with Bruce. So many of those songs are all time travel songs. That’s what they’ve become. Some songs never get old. “Born to Run”, sung at full volume with the house light up, everyone punching the air with upraised arms, will never, ever get old. But twice on Tuesday, mortality and truth entered the room and reminded us that time never stops.

In a long, spoken introduction to “Last Man Standing,” Bruce told us about he was the last person who was still alive from his first band, The Castilles. It was in this story that Bruce uttered a particularly great quote: “Death’s great gift is expanded vision.” None of us knows how many days we have, so it is necessary to make sure the lives we live are the best possible version.

The final song was just the two of us. By that I mean it was Bruce, on stage with an acoustic guitar and a harmonica, singing to everyone but, in reality, he was singing to each and every one of us like it was just him and us in a room together. “I’ll See You In My Dreams” is a song about mortality and aging and loss. But it’s also an inspirational ode, especially with the line “For death is not the end and I’ll see you in my dreams.”

On the record, it’s the last track and the last time he says those words, he talking, to us, individually and collectively. On stage, the same vibe could be felt throughout the arena as the crowd was mostly silent, listening to Bruce Springsteen tell us that he’ll see us—his fans, his friends—in his dreams. The implication is that when he finally calls it a day and stops touring, he’ll have dreams about the fifty-plus years he’s experienced life on stage.

And we’ll have memories of concerts like this as well.

When I listened to that song on the record back in 2020, I wondered if those last few words would be the last time I’d ever hear a new Bruce Springsteen song. I should have realized that his restless spirit will always create new material even if he doesn’t tour it.

When I listened to that song live in 2023, I wondered if that would be the last time I ever heard Springsteen in person. Maybe. Maybe not. But if it was, what a way to say goodbye, not with a loud, bombastic anthem, but a quiet, gentle song about aging and mortality yet filled with hope, joy, energy, and the truth that shows like this will last a lifetime.

Monday, February 13, 2023

Poker Face and the Spiritual Reboot

Poker Face had me at Rian Johnson. But had I not known it was his brainchild, the show would have had me at the title font.

That yellow font on the title card, the year represented by Roman numerals. What decade are we in? Well, the headspace of creator Rian Johnson was the 1970s and 1980s with shows like Colombo and The Rockford Files. I suspect he gets nostalgically triggered when he sees the title cards of those shows and others and wanted to bring sensibility forward to the 2020s.

What sensibility is that? A traditional crime-of-the-week series. But not just that: a new crime every week with a whole new cast. Which brings me to another 1970s TV it reminds me of: The Incredible Hulk. Both feature a lead who is being chased across the country, meeting new people every week.

Now I know what you’re thinking: there are plenty of crime-of-the-week shows from Law and Order to Castle to all those shows on CBS I don’t watch. That’s not new. No, it’s not, but the laid-back aesthetic is a refreshing return to a modern TV landscape full of season-long streaming shows to modernized takes on old tropes.

Both of those things are fine, and I enjoy them, but I also appreciate the slower paced TV shows that used to dominate networks with stakes that are not really that high. And I very much applaud Johnson for channeling that vibe into something new rather than a modern reboot of an old franchise.

He could just have acquired the rights to, say, Colombo (the obvious ancestor to Natasha Lyonne’s Charlie Cale) and created a story around Colombo’s grandkid who is a rumpled detective just like Peter Faulk. I’d watch that and chances are, you would, too. But we’d constantly be comparing the new actor/actress to Faulk, much to the detriment of the new show. Also, we’d probably have the admittedly fun “sequel” to some random episode that no one remembers save the dedicate Colombo fans.

No, what Johnson did was take all those elements and, crucially, made something new, unique, and his own. That last bit is probably the key factor for Johnson. Given the opportunity, he’d probably make a Colombo sequel or adapt some Agatha Christie novel in to a movie, but with Poker Face and Knives Out and Glass Onion, he gets to revel in all the stuff he loves while playing in his own sandbox.

Monday, February 6, 2023

It’s Never Too Late to Restart Resolutions and Habits

How are your New Year’s Resolutions coming along?

I saw a statistic that said by today—Day 36 of 2023—a shocking 80% or more people have already given up on the resolutions they so fervently made at midnight on 1 January. Eighty percent. I think the figure is higher, to be honest. There’s even a holiday to help folks who waver on their resolutions. It’s called National Quitter’s Day and that was back on 13 January.

As I wrote back in December, I had certain personal goals—okay, let’s just call them habits, okay? That’s what they really are—that I wanted to do in January. I started re-reading the Psalms (one a day for 150 days), I re-read the Proverbs (31 chapters for 31 days in January), and have started to re-read Ryan Holiday’s Daily Stoic. Taking a cue from Bryon Quertermous, I bought a weekly planner and kept track of every habit I wanted to set.

So far? Success. It’s feels very nice to have reached the last day of the why-does-it-feel-so-long January and all my boxes were checked.

The other thing that also was checked? The writing habit. My writing goal for January was simple: start a new project and write on it every day. I had no word count goal but I tend to zero in on 1,000 words per session. Again, 100% success.

Now, it wasn’t perfect. There were a couple of days when I had to slog through the writing, but I sat down and did it.

By the 31st of January, I had amassed approximately 39,000 words on the new novel. That’s not quite NaNoWriMo speed (50,000 words over 30 days) but considering the dismal writing I did in 2022, I’ll take the win. You know how I knew the new habit was locked in? When on that first Saturday morning, I opted not to watch a movie before I finished my words for the day. That Saturday Habit has continued. That, my friends, is a fantastic feeling.

But what do you do if life threw you curveballs in January and you’ve had to catch them, dodge them, hit them, or let them hit you?

Start again. Seriously it’s that simple. Just start.

What’s great about February is that it has the fewest days of any month. If you’ve wanted to start a new habit and have fallen off the wagon, start again on Monday. Do the writing, do the exercise, do the reading, do the calling of your friends or family you haven’t spoken to in a long time. There are only 24 more days in February. It’s a nice, short length of time to get back to the habit you know you want to ingrain in your brain.

Start today or tomorrow and do that new habit every day for a week. Your reward? The Super Bowl. Then aim for the next week. You make it that far, you’ll only have ten more days until the end of the month.

You know you want to create that new resolution, that new habit. I’m here to tell you that it’s never too late. But you will have to do one thing:


Monday, January 30, 2023

Reading Into The Dark

At least nine times a year, I start a book with zero knowledge about it. And it’s wonderful

We’re all readers here, right? How do you usually pick that next book to read? If we’re in a brick-and-mortar store, we look at the cover, we note the author, read that all-so-important description, and then maybe a few pages of chapter one. If we’re online, all of that is still present, but we get the added bonus of that preview. We can actually read the entire preview before we make that purchase decision. Oh, and then there are the reviews—from professionals as well as amateurs.

In every step of this process, we constantly build on what we think the book is going to be about, especially if you’ve got a good book description.

When’s the last time you started a book without any of that? Okay, you can throw in the author, title, and book cover because you actually have to pick it up or download it, but nothing else.

For me, three out of every four months, I get to do that.

I’m in a four-guy science fiction book club that has lasted now over twelve years. We take turns picking the book, we read it during the month, and then gather on the first Tuesday of the next month to discuss. It is at the meeting where we offer our grade and then the Picker gets to explain why he picked the book. When it’s my turn to assign a book, I’ve already gone through every step mentioned above.

Sometime in 2021 (or maybe 2020), I started going into the books picked by the other guys cold. Nearly every selection is on audio so the day the new book is picked, I download it (via Libby and my local library or Audible) and start playing. In this manner, I experience pure story. Sure, I’ve seen the cover and read the title and author, but that’s it.

I love it. With so much of our lives dictated by a myriad of decisions—including the books we read—it’s great to have that choice offload three out of every four months.

What I really love is when there’s a book by an author I don’t know. It happened with this month’s selection: Dead Silence by S. A. Barnes. Knew nothing about it and it is the book to beat for 2023. It’s a rare trick when a book’s spooky nature and a narrator’s excellent performance literally gives me chills and compels me to turn around on my nightly walks to make sure I’m alone.

I find having a book picked for me quite fun. It also happens every month with my cozy mystery subscription through Houston’s Murder by the Book. I do read those book descriptions because I think they are among the best, pun-filled descriptions out there.

With the monthly SF book and the cozy book already picked for me, it frees me up to make my own selection with more care. After all, even with audiobooks, there is only so many story hours in a month.

Note: since there are so many hours in a month to read or listen to stories, if the book is bad or isn’t capturing me, I pull the rip cord and stop. I do not feel compelled to finish. The other guys in the club used to question me and my response remained constant: Life’s too short to read bad books or books you don’t enjoy. Thus, when I give it a grade—officially an I for Incomplete—I’ll explain why the book failed me.

So, have you ever read a book without even reading the book description or reviews or anything? You should try it sometime. Get into a book club, but if that’s not an option, have a spouse or friend select your next book and just read.

Photo: Mo Eid via

Monday, January 23, 2023

The End of New Amsterdam and the Twilight of Network TV for a Gen Xer

One of my favorite TV shows ended its five-year run on Tuesday and I’m wondering if it’ll be the last great network show I watch.

New Amsterdam

Like Castle, New Amsterdam had me at the trailer. The show starred Ryan Eggold (whom I knew from The Blacklist) as Max Goodwin, the new medical director at New Amsterdam, the oldest public hospital in America (based on the real Bellevue hospital). Eggold’s performance on The Blacklist stood out, especially when he was in the same show as series star James Spader, but with Max, Eggold had a role to which he could bring his considerable charm and humanity. It didn’t hurt that he had Max’s mantra as a north star: How can I help?

If you watch the trailer, you get what the series was about: helping people despite the massive forces standing in the way. Over five years, and through a pandemic, Max and his colleagues kept running up against seemingly insurmountable odds. Sometimes they’d win, other times they’d lose, but they kept trying, striving to do what they can.

New Amsterdam ran on Tuesday nights on NBC right after the massive hit This is Us. My wife watched that show from the jump and, like many viewers, often ended episodes with tears in her eyes. I didn’t watch that show, but New Amsterdam proved to be my weekly dose of heartwarming tears.

Storytelling-wise, the writers of New Amsterdam often used a very small story—often a single patient—to tell a larger tale. Like all good TV shows, the supporting cast each had their time the spotlight. A particular favorite was Tyler Labine's Iggy Frome, a psychiatrist, who often ran up against the pillars of big medicine just as much as Max did. A season 5 recurring theme for Iggy was the crumbling of his marriage and having to come to terms with himself before reaching out to his ex-husband and asking him for a simple date, to try again.

Sandra Mae Frank's Dr. Elizabeth Wilder was the Chief of Oncology. The actress is also deaf. She became a love interest to Max in the last season and I found it wonderful not only to see how a deaf surgeon navigated the world of the hearing in the operating room but also how the writers showed a burgeoning love often in silence and sign language.

I enjoyed seeing Jocko Sims's chief surgeon come to terms with things he could not easily fix--like his personal life as well the relationship with mostly absent father--and how Jocko imbued Floyd Reynolds with deep grace and understanding. And Janet Montegomery's Lauren Bloom, a character who grappled with addiction and showed how the messiness in life can be dealt with, but that it's hard and it takes one day at a time, one decision at a time, and the struggle never ends.

The writers and directors brought all their resources to bear in fun way, sometimes using time-honored tropes quite effectively. They did so for the finale episode, adding a nice twist that pulled all the tears from my eyes. [I’ll add my thoughts about the finale at the bottom of this post.]

But what really got me thinking about the end of New Amsterdam is what it might signal for me as a viewer: Would this be the last network TV show I watched on a regular basis?

Network TV for Generation X

Born in 1968, I remember when there were three networks, PBS, and a local UHF station here in Houston. By the time I got to middle school, we had two more local stations, but that was it. Every fall, the three networks would roll out their Saturday morning cartoon lineup, showcasing them in specials that aired the previous night. There'd be articles in the local papers for the new fall TV shows (including a side-by-side grid) and big splashes on TV Guide. I remember scanning all those resources and then making a schedule for what I'd want to watch.

This practice pretty much continued through the publication history of Entertainment Weekly and the birth of the internet when information was much easily found. I'm always game to see what the Big 3 had planned.

With the birth and rise of streaming TV, however, things began to change. Netflix would drop every episode of a new show and you could binge them all in a weekend. Other services followed suit. It was a different way to watch TV. Not wrong, mind you, but different. Just because I grew up in the weekly format doesn't mean I don't appreciate having all episodes of a season at my fingertips. Ever since last summer, my family has been watching the entire run of Friends, an episode a day at dinner, something that would have been difficult prior to streaming. But there is something to having a week to think about and digest plot elements and revelations of any given episode. I remember when Lost was airing, the morning after, a group of us would discuss the newest episode over coffee. It was quite fun.

Things change and I change with them. That's how life is, but I will say I dug when Disney+ opted to drop episodes of its Marvel and Star Wars TV shows on a weekly basis. Sure, it meant the company would secure subscriptions for a longer time, but it was fun to think and read about what the latest revelation about Wanda (WandaVision) or The Mandalorian or Andor might mean.

As Fall 2022 approached, I did my usual thing that I've done all my life: I scanned what was returning and what new shows would debut. New Amsterdam was top of my list even though I knew going in it would be its last. And a shortened 13-episode season at that. It was, however, the only returning show I watched and cared about. The only other network show I watched live--SyFy's Resident Alien--wouldn't be returning until 2023.

That left the new shows. As I read about them and watched previews, I experienced something foreign to my experience: none of the shows appealed to me. Granted, I'm a middle-aged guy now so that might be a thing, but you'd think the shows at CBS would be in my wheelhouse. Some of them probably should be. I'm looking at NCIS or FBI, but for whatever reason, I just never started.

The Future of Network TV

So what's next? Network TV is not going away, but perhaps that majority of its viewers are. The Boomers are slowly dying and us Gen Xers are now in middle age. Millennials grew up in the 1980s and 1990s so they remember what it was like to be in front of a TV on Thursday nights (or set the VCR) but for Gen Z, the ones born in the late 1990s, I don't think network TV barely registers. My son, now twenty-one, rarely watched anything on "live" TV after he stopped watching Blue's Clues. His network is YouTube and streaming. When he moved out of the house, I made sure to load the apps of the local TV stations on his smart TV. "It's for the weather at least," I told him. He just showed me his phone. "I get the weather here."

And he gets his TV there, too.

Now that New Amsterdam is gone, network TV is now the place I watch Stephen Colbert every night. And football until the Super Bowl and then golf on Sunday afternoons without football. If you throw in ESPN, it's also the place I'll catch NBA games, but I think you're seeing the trend. Network TV might become the place for live events where scripted TV shows are things I'll catch on a streaming service.

Might network TV have lost a viewer? Unlikely. Come next fall, I'll still read about the new shows. There might be another New Amsterdam, a new This is Us, or a surprise sitcom that comes out of the blue. I will always be curious to see what network TV has to offer.

But it has been a fascinating realization that the end of New Amsterdam likely marks a point in my lifetime of TV watching.

What about you? Do you still watch network TV or are all your favorite shows on a streaming service?

The New Amsterdam Finale with Spoilers

One of the tropes the writers used in the finale was to give each character their origin story via flashbacks. We see how Max, Elizabeth, Iggy, Lauren, and Floyd each found their way into the practice of medicine. I'll add that I kind of hoped for a flashback to Anupam Kher's Dr. Vijay Kapoor but, as my wife suggested, perhaps the show and the actor didn't part well. Ditto on both accounts for Freema Agyeman as Dr. Helen Sharpe, Max's previous love interest.

In one of those tricks via editing, you see Max's last day at New Amsterdam with his young daughter, Luna, as they try and get out of the hospital. Max has resigned the position of Medical Director in order to spend more time with Luna. There is, of course, a major emergency that will harness the powers and abilities of all the staff and it forces Max to miss the mermaid parade yet again (it's something Luna always wants to attend but they kept missing it because of Max's job, thus the resignation).


The editing trick is where you see what is presented as the next medical director, a young woman who showed up and has to deal with whispered rumors about her. Halfway through the show, as Max's edict of "How can I help?" has been uttered more than once, I looked over to my wife and said, "If the final four words of this entire series isn't 'how can I help?', then the writers will have missed a golden opportunity."

They didn't, but they went one better. My wife figure it out first and suggested it: "I think that new medical director is Luna all grown up."

Boom! That is exACTly what it was. Some writer I am. I didn't even see it coming (although, to be fair, I rarely try and guess stories while I'm in the middle of them because in that moment, I'm a viewer/reading rather than a writer).

Turns out, Luna's origin story was Max's last day at New Amsterdam. And it is she, looking directly at the camera, who speaks those famous four words: How can I help? Cut to black and cue the tears.

Oh, and props to the writers for not showing us older versions of the same characters. I first thought I might've wanted to see a gray-haired Max, to see him be proud of his daughter, but then realized my error. And here's the veteran writer tip: you don't have to see Ryan Eggold in old person makeup to know he's proud of his daughter. If you've written characters well, stuff like that is understood and doesn't always have to be shown. Besides, New Amsterdam no longer belonged to Max. It's Luna's story now.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Intentional Reading

Do you ever feel left out of a conversation?

It’s only mid-January and while the year is still brand-new, the old year still has a few remnants lingering. The biggest me for is the various Best Of lists still readily available. I read many of them—books, TV, movies, music—and made an interesting observation about the book ones: I read few of them and could not contribute to the conversation.

I’m an avid reader I have anywhere from 2-5 books going on all at once. Well, let me clarify: I’m re-reading Ryan Holiday’s The Daily Stoic in 2023 so I’m only reading a page a day, but it’s still active. I’m blazing through the audio of Dead Silence by S. A. Barnes (for my SF book club), I’ve started Vinyl Resting Place by Olivia Blacke (from Murder by the Book’s Cozy Mystery subscription service), I’m re-reading P.D. James’s Talking About Detective Fiction, and I’ve bought a copy of The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. The Blacke book is new and the Barnes book is just shy of a year old and the rest are older.

I have always liked my rabbit-trail way of reading. I’m easily influenced, be it from podcasts, news interviews, Twitter, or recommendations by my fellow writers at Do Some Damage. But when it came to reviewing the Best Mysteries of the Year or the Best Non-Fiction of 2022 or just about any other book list from 2022, I found myself woefully behind.

And it’s not even close.

As such, I created a resolution specific to reading and it boils down to a single phrase: Read Intentionally.

What does that mean as a practical habit? Well, it means I’ll be more aware of books that are released throughout this year and make active decisions to read more new books in 2023 than I did in 2022. I still get to made judgement calls—I’m aware that Prince Harry published a book this week but I have zero interest in it.

On the fiction side of things, this week saw the publication of Jordan Harper’s Everybody Knows. I can’t tell you how many fellow writers read this book pre-publication last fall, but it seemed like it was everyone. The praise was universal. Throw in the blurbs you see on press releases and the book cover and you’ve got yourself a contender for a Best Of list in 2023 right out of the gate.

Harper’s book was the first can’t-miss book of the year, and I didn’t. I download the audiobook on release day and am looking forward to giving it a listen.

Later, as the year goes on and more books like Harper’s are released, I plan on keeping up. Then, come December 2023, I’ll have a list of favorite books that will include newly published ones. Why the emphasis on ‘newly published’? Because I still find myself drawn to older books and I don’t want to leave them behind.

Agatha Christie

For the past few years, in light of the success of the Rian Johnson films (Knives Out; Glass Onion) and the Kenneth Branagh adaptations of Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile, I’ve been curious about Agatha Christie. 2020 celebrated the century mark of her first book and the yearly reading challenges started. I didn’t do very well before but I intend to change that. I plan on reading—intentionally—the books on the Read Christie 2023. This year’s theme is “Methods and Motives.”

Good news: I’m one for one. Sad Cypress is January’s book and I’ve already listened to it. Even better, if you check out the website, they’ve listened ten of the twelve books on tap for the year. That way, you and I can stay abreast with the new challenge and read at least twelve Agatha Christie books. I’m particularly looking forward to February’s book, Partners in Crime, the second book in the Tommy and Tuppence series.

Oh, and you don’t have to read the books they suggest. They have a particular method of murder or a motive and you are free to pick any of her books. But as a Christie newbie, I’m just going with the flow.

Monday, January 9, 2023

When Life Throws Curve Balls at Your Resolutions

How are those resolutions coming along?

It’s Day 7 of January 2023, a full week after many of us toasted the new year at midnight and resolved to make changes in our lives. Back in December, I wrote about making resolutions—or habit changes—with the guiding principle of “just try.” Most of us want to change something about ourselves—to become a better version of ourselves—so the first step is to decide to try. The next (and the next and the next) is to follow through.

Depending on where you get your data, a large percentage of folks who make new year’s resolutions fail by February. One statistic I found was 80%. That means 80% of people who want to change decide to renege [yeah that’s spelled correctly; I actually had to look it up] on their promises to themselves. January 19 seems to be the date most associated with throwing in the towel on resolutions. One fact I read claimed that 23% quit their resolutions in the first week. Hopefully you are not in that number.

So far, neither am I.

Most of the changes I want to implement are habits. I fell out of taking a multi-vitamin in the latter half of the year so I’m starting to take them again. Six for six as of this writing. Ditto for consuming a daily dose of apple cider vinegar, performing daily push-ups, getting up and moving [either walking or the rowing machine; walking won this week], and daily readings [Psalms, Proverbs, and the Daily Stoic]. The principles found in James Clear’s Atomic Habits provided me the tools necessary to maintain the habits I want to implement.

And, inspired by fellow writer Bryon Quertermous, I bought a weekly planner to keep track of everything. I make daily notes when I perform the habit. I don’t anticipate having 365 days of check marks saying I took a vitamin because after a certain number of days, the habit becomes ingrained. It’s how I started and maintained my flossing habit.

But here’s the key metric for any new habit: inevitably, one day you’ll miss or forget or somehow not do the new task. Let that roll off your shoulders and stay focused on the overall goal. Adjust if you have to and try not to miss two in a row. It was a lesson I applied yesterday.

The Writing Resolution

The year 2022 was not a good one for me writing-wise. As such, a major resolution for me was to get back in the habit of writing. Taking a cue from key message from author Mary Robinette Kowal at her book signing here in Houston back in November, I’m starting the year off with a brand-new story. Yes, I have multiple unfinished stories, but am channeling Kowal’s theory of why NaNoWriMo works for her: the writing is Novel, Interesting, Challenging, and Urgent.

So, for me, the new book is novel (as in brand-new). I’m interested in the story I’m telling. I find it challenging in that I’m starting from a story pitch and a general sense of what kind of story it is and how I want to tell it. As for urgency, I would love to finish the story by 31 January, but I’m allowing myself a goal of six weeks. I’ll grant myself until 28 February if things get complicated.

Crucially, I don’t have a set writing goal in terms of word count. All that matters is forward progress. I started the year with 1,028 words, a great start considering I haven’t written fiction in months. I topped 1,600 words twice this week, both on days in which I went into the office (Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays). By the time yesterday rolled around, my first work-from-home day of the year, I was excited: with no commute, I could wake at the same time and get a substantial chunk of writing done before I logged into my work computer.

That was the plan. Didn’t work out that way.

The Friday Curveball

I had Alexa set to sound the alarm at 5:30am. As a bit of background, the Christmas break was not as restful as I wanted and I’ve been trying to catch up on sleep. I’ve been tired this week and, despite my attempt to get up at the alarm, I was still catching up. “Alexa,” I said yesterday morning into the dark, “set an alarm for 5:45.” With those words, I rolled over for an extra fifteen minutes.

Forty-seven minutes later, I woke. Still in the dark. I smiled at myself for thinking I was so excited and ready to get to writing that I had beaten the alarm. I checked my digital watch. 6:17am. What the heck? Did the power go out? Nope, the ceiling fan was spinning. Puzzled, I asked Alexa what the alarm was set for. “5:45pm.”

That brought a huge sigh from me. Sure, I needed the sleep, but I had slept through my writing time. I only had time to get up, take out the dogs, shower, eat breakfast, and get to work. What would become of my new daily writing habit?

I adjusted.

I worked really hard on all my day job activities, got them all complete, and, late in the afternoon, I opened up my writing computer and picked up where I left off during my Thursday lunch hour. To be honest, it was weird writing so late in the day. I became a morning writer ten years ago—lunch hour writer when I have to go into the office—so it’s been a long time since I wrote fiction so late in the day.

But you know what? It worked. I made forward progress, clocked in 1,694 new words, and my writing resolution remained intact. All is good.

The key takeaway: Life will throw curve balls at your resolutions. Take the hits if you can and adjust accordingly. Just stay focused on the end goal: becoming a better you.

Monday, December 19, 2022

New Year’s Resolutions: Just Try

Do you have your New Year’s resolutions planned yet?

Yeah, yeah, I know it’s still two weeks away but this will be my last post at Do Some Damage until January. But I’ve already started thinking and planning the things I want to accomplish in 2023 and it is really important to kick off the year on a good note.

On the Daily Stoic podcast, host Ryan Holiday wondered why we constantly make New Year’s resolutions and he brought in a quote from Samuel Johnson: “Reformation is necessary and despair is criminal.” I looked up this quote to see if it is part of something larger and it is: “When I find that so much of my life has stolen unprofitably away, and that I can descry by retrospection scarcely a few single days properly and vigorously employed, why do I yet try to resolve again? I try, because reformation is necessary and despair is criminal. I try, in humble hope of the help of God.”

I know lots of folks have a good first week in January and then, by around the six-week mark, most folks have given up on their resolutions. But you don’t have to.

Which I why I’ve been structuring my own resolutions around smaller yet quantifiable goals. The key for me is to have a good January so that I can maintain the newly formed habit. For me, any new resolution I make I will do during the 31 days of January. I will keep track of the new habits daily and mark them on my calendar. Then, by 1 February, the bulk of the new habits will have become ingrained. It’s how I started my flossing habit and there isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t floss.

But let’s circle back to the Johnson quote, the longer one. What he’s basically saying is that when he examines his life, he sees where he’s faltered and then questioned why try again. For many, that’s reason enough not to make resolutions For me, however, I am always optimistic that new habits and resolutions can be made and kept and maintained. I’m always looking for ways to improve my life—as a husband, father, writer, friend—and I’ll always make New Year’s resolutions.

Because what’s the alternative? You get older and then you look back on your life and wish you would have started something. Which ties right back to a quote I have pinned to my cork board: A year from now, you will have wished you started today.

Make “today” be 1 January 2023, start something new, and make your future self proud.

Monday, December 12, 2022

The Urgency of Now and Knowing Who You Are

Well, by my own definition, I’m officially in my mid-fifties.

For any given decade, I consider the years ending in zero through three to be “early.” Four, five, and six are “mid” while the last three years are “late.” I turned fifty-four on Tuesday.

You might think that would be cause for a great, big sigh. Sure, there’s a little of that as well as the realization that there are more years behind me than in front of me. That, my friends, is just a sign of mortality.

But here’s the giant cherry on top of this sundae we call life: I’m alive! So it is always good to recognize and respect and cherish that simple fact.

And yet, as I took stock of what I had accomplished and all that happened in my fifty-third year, I started to wonder what I would do in my fifty-fourth. It was the latter thought that gave me a sense of urgency.

Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor who was also a Stoic, wrote the following opening paragraphs in Book 5 (or should it be V?) of his Meditations (as translated by Gregory Hayes):

At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I am rising to do the work of a human being. What do I have to complain about, if I’m going to do what I was born for—the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?”

—But it’s nicer here…

So were you born to feel “nice”? Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?

Much of that passage reflects on what it is like to be a human. Heck, I’ll be honest and say that the spirit of these words permeate my brain when the alarm goes off at 5am and I need to get up and get to writing. Usually, but not always, they are enough and I get up.

When it comes to the writing side of things, re-imagine that same passage but substitute “Writer” for “human being”:

At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I am rising to do the work of a Writer. What do I have to complain about, if I’m going to do what I was born for—the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?”

—But it’s nicer here…

So were you born to feel “nice”? Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a Writer? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?

My fiction self fell apart in 2022 and I’m largely (partially?) to blame. That’s what I wrote about last week. I mostly shrugged it off, chalking things up to life experiences (my son moved out of the house), the day job (the most creative day job I’ve ever had), and a willingness to consume stories rather than produce them.

But I turned fifty-four this week. I’m in my mid-fifties now. Time is not infinite, so why the heck am I not writing more? Because when I boil myself down to my essence and set aside the crucial qualities of being a husband and father and child of God, what am I?

A Writer.

I go to concerts and take notes. Ditto for author events. I keep a notepad in the car so I can jot down ideas and notes during my commutes. When I read books at home—including fiction—I take notes. When I take trips, I make sure I have pen and paper. When I go to conventions, I take notes on what I see and what I want to buy. I am always writing.

Why? Because that’s who I am. And now, at fifty-four, there is a sense of urgency spurred from Aurelius’s quote (with my modification): “And you’re not willing to do your job as a Writer? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?”

Okay, okay, okay. I get it, Marcus, I get it. I am who I am. I’ll strive harder to be more myself from now on.

All of this begs the question for you, dear reader: do you know who you are? And are you doing it?