Awesome Failures

G&T Cover

Last night I was the guest speaker for the Talented Unlimited journal. The collection honors students from five counties, locally, and is arranged by the Washington, Saratoga, Warren, Hamilton and Essex BOCES Gifted and Talented program. It was an honor to present to these talented artists of photography, paint, sketch, drawing, and writing.

My speech is titled “Awesome Failures” and its intent was to demonstrate that the path to success is not necessarily a straight line.

I have not watched the video you are about to see. My wife did, and said it was great, so that’s all I need. I simply can’t watch myself on screen (television or computer), and so we’ll have to trust that this is as awesome as I felt it was. However, in the process of uploading, I did notice that the student who recorded did so with  my phone vertical, not horizontal. It’s not really an ironic testament to the title, but close 🙂 Enjoy:

Talking to the Dead


I’m between books, which means it’s research time. For as long as I can remember I’ve been intrigued by the dead and ghosts and those who can talk to them. I was raised on The Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Stephen King. What can I say?

So when I started brainstorming what I wanted to explore, this element kept popping up. It’s not that I want to write paranormal, because I don’t. For me, people with abilities like being a Medium are intriguing, not solely for their abilities, but for the fact that they also live regular lives.

Therefore, I needed to speak to a professional, to try and understand how this came to be and how the process works, and to ask about skeptics and encounters that made hair stand on end and shivers rise up the spine. You know, everything you always wanted to know about talking to the dead but were too afraid to ask.

Well, I write novels, so apparently I get to ask.

I have four pages of notes, so I will not transcribe them here, but will give you the nuts and bolts, because as intriguing it is for me, I’m sure the same is true for you.



As a child she saw dead people, but dismissed this. Who wouldn’t? Then one day the form was more tangible, a deceased grandmother. And then things got real. Another family member responded to, “I saw grandma,” with, “Of course you did.”

And I think this bears noting. No one prior had said a word. It wasn’t until the medium as a child brought it up, and then was shown how she wasn’t alone.


Like any other gift or talent, one must hone it and understand how it can and should be used. The same family member assisted, guiding, but not leading. It’s a process, but one point was very clear. It was a practice of dealing with what came up, and not “this is how we fake it.”


Next came years of work deciphering, because the dead, like living human beings, don’t do what we want them to do. They do what they do, and if we’re lucky they pop in to say hey. There are various ways to communicate. The “platform work” which is what is most commonly known, is all inside the medium’s head. He or she hears what the spirits say and works to decipher. The type of sit down, conversation practice of today is used when a medium can see the spirits, which hover just above.


Of which there are many. Her response: “I’m not doing anything to hurt anyone, so there is no harm.” Plus, she has priests and nuns as clients and works alongside people of various denominations. Communing with the dead is a universal practice.

The Afterlife

It exists. It’s not necessarily how we envision it, but rather an existence of energy in a dimension separate, yet connected to our own. In it are the souls of those who have passed. These are the spirits that “come through” and talk. They are positive. They are not ghosts or malevolent. Yes, you get there via The Light.


These are “earth-bound” spirits that take a left turn when the light appears. For whatever reason they decide to stay and then get stuck, and their energy hangs around, confused. It’s relatively easy to get them to move on; they just need some reminding that the other side is an option.

Malevolent spirits

Sure, evil spirits exist. Why wouldn’t they? Evil people exist. Something tragic has possibly kept them wanting to remain here, and they do not want to be disturbed. They can be convinced to go, but it’s best to leave them alone.


To be possessed is not like what we have been taught by Hollywood. Spirits who are here want to get to the light, but that takes work. If someone has a void in his or her life, a spirit can fill that, can hang on. This is visible to a medium and the spirit can be eradicated.


There’s so much more, but I have to save some for my work, right?

And, really, this was just an initial encounter for me. There is no doubt that if I continue down this path I will have to exert the same time and energy researching as I do for all my work. But I love this part, because pieces are coming together, yet everything is up for grabs. And I get to go out and have unbelievable conversations and experience the coolest stuff ever.

It’s what writers do. We open ourselves to the possibilities, and we provide insight. Guess we’re not so different from Mediums.

When DIY Shouldn’t Be



It’s spring, and based on all the Home Depot commercials, it’s time for all things DIY. While I do think it’s awesome to plan a project, execute it, and then revel in what your hands have done, I also think there are times when you should bring in the professionals.

Recently, I’ve had trouble with lights in my house. The flickering turned into a short, and one short into two. Since I know next to nothing about working with electricity, it is abundantly amazing that my brother-in-law is an electrician.

He stopped by the other night and quickly found the root course of my problem: frayed and blackened wires in the recessed light in one of bathrooms, which I had thought I’d fixed. Great, problem solved. No, not yet. He then checked the recessed lights in my other bathroom. Not as bad, but getting there. I hadn’t touched them yet. Therefore, yesterday he spent hours replacing all four lights because…I’ve been using the wrong type of light bulb, and in essence was melting the wires. My “fix” only hastened the issue.

I felt like an idiot. However, this isn’t a first for me. Countless times I’ve tried and failed at projects, only to need my father’s or brother-in-law’s assistance in the end. Which is why there are so many little things not quite right in my house (my non-working doorbell for instance), because I can only beg for help so many times without it completely eroding the father/provider portion of my ego. Which I know is a dumb notion, but what can I do?

Blame HGTV, of course. They make it all look so easy.

In reality, I have to look at it in terms I know. Even with writing, there is only so much I can do on my own. Yes, I am a professional writer, but that doesn’t mean I get things right the first, second, or even third time around. Fortunately, I have an agent who lets me know early on where all my missteps are. Later, I have an editor who does the same, for all the issues I’ve created even after cleaning up the first ones.

I can’t do all the marketing and publicity, either. I rely on my publisher, my filmmaker, and all the people on social media. When it comes down to it, I’m good at ideas, at bringing them to life, at making them work. But making them pretty and then making them known, I need all the help I can get.

And I’m okay with this. Even as much as I’m not. It’s embarrassing to think I could have burned down my house because of light bulbs and my ineptitude. It would be demoralizing to put out a rough draft of any of my novels before the treatments they receive. Fortunately, I’m getting comfortable with my strengths and weaknesses and realizing that I will always have some of both. The task now is to embrace, to keep the professionals happy by not destroying things too much, and having the sense to know early on when I’m in over my head.

So here’s to spring and to projects, be them household or writing. If you stop by, however, understand that my next novel will most likely be underway before I ever get to that doorbell.

Knock hard.

The Walking Dead, Tap Out, and The Naïveté of Self-Sacrifice

*There are spoilers for both Tap Out and the series finale of Season Four of The Walking Dead in this post*  Proceed at your own risk.

I had a conversation about Tap Out, post-finale of this season’s Walking Dead that I’ve had before. Except this time, because of Rick’s actions, the conversation took on a different context.

Person: But Tony killed. He murdered those people.

Me: But he would have been killed. What’s your point?

Person. One, we don’t know that. Two, I could no longer relate to him after that.

Me: *trying very hard to keep calm about that first comment because, author* So if someone is pushed to the limit, essentially put in duress, they can’t save themselves?

Person: No. They can save themselves, but they can’t kill others in the process.

Me: So, then what Rick did, biting Joe’s neck like that, to save himself, Carl, and most likely Daryl and Michonne, that wasn’t okay?

Person: But that’s different. That’s post-apocalyptic Sci-Fi and not contemporary fiction.

This is where my brain kind of collapsed on itself. Because even though Sci-Fi is not my thing, I understand that the parallels of the stories often run against those of our contemporary lives. So to dismiss that genre as such is foolish. However, what struck me the most was the naïveté expressed. Somehow, in this person’s world, the notion of self-sacrifice is only viewed as noble. While I’m not going to say the notion isn’t noble, I believe what matters is context. And in Tony’s and Rick’s cases, self-sacrifice would have proved no benefit.

Tony, forced by Cameron to pour the gas and light the fire that burns down the warehouse, is not responsible for those deaths. That’s on Cameron. Yes, in a purely black and white logical sense, Tony’s a murderer. I understand that. But what in Tap Out is black and white? Nothing. That’s the point.

People force others into inescapable situations and then we look at the victim and say, “How dare you protect yourself. Surely there was another way.” No, there wasn’t. In the context of that novel, Cameron would most certainly have killed Tony, and most likely on the spot. And what good would that have served?

Tony did what he had to in order to survive. I’m not suggesting we applaud his actions, but to denounce them in light of ALL THE THINGS that are done to him…please!

Same holds true for Rick. Say what you want about the push pull of Farmer Rick and Monster Rick, but when push came to shove and his son’s life was on the line, along with his own, Rick let the monster out. And good for him. I see nothing wrong with him doing what he needed to do, albeit in a very gory manner. But the very act of biting Joe’s neck like he did was so symbolic. What else in that world bites to kill? Exactly. Rick is willing to be as ruthless as he needs to in order to protect Carl. He cannot do that if he is dead. Therefore, he must do whatever it takes to stay alive.

And survival is a very powerfully ingrained instinct. Both Tony and Rick went through the ringer before getting pushed to the brink. I think it is a testament to the spirit that each does not given up.

Not that giving up is easy, not when your life is on the line, but neither is it inherently noble. Not if evil wins because of this sacrifice. Because there is real evil in this world. And Walking Dead comments on that. Who is really to be feared, now? Not the zombies, but the humans. And what is Tony to fear? Repercussions for his actions? No, the evil of Cameron and the biker gang, set on making him a pawn.

Both do what I hope we all would do if brought to our knees––fight.

And win.