The Long Road Back

It has been nearly a year since I’ve written anything on here, the longest duration between posts for me since I starting writing on here over eight years ago. I’ve had stretches before where I have neglected this blog, but it was unintentional. Life flows in its steady stream, and sometimes when you look up you’re a lot farther down the river than you realized. But I always would come back. The difference this time is I never intended to come back. Earlier this year, I decided I was done with writing for good.from the blog www.stuckincustoms.com

 

I won’t go into the details, but back in January, I left my publisher. It wasn’t an amicable split, and the whole incident soured me on writing. For the first time in a decade, I had no desire to write at all. I didn’t know what to do or how to feel about it. I wanted to finish what I started, but my heart wasn’t in it. I decided not to make any irrational and emotional decisions, and instead, I just put aside my writing and delayed my final verdict for at least a couple of months.

I moved to a new apartment in April, and it felt like a fresh start. As I settled into my new place, I began to make new plans for my future, but I noticed none of them included writing. The problem for me was writing had become so engrained in my self-identity, I didn’t know who I was without writing. I was a writer. That’s who I was.

The other problem I had was I was a writer to all of those around me. When I would see someone I hadn’t talked to in a while, I would dread that inevitable question which would always arise, “So, how’s the book coming along?” I didn’t know how to tell them I had all but given up. I couldn’t face the disappointment from the individuals or from the countless people who had shown me support through some very rough patches in my life. So I just hid away, retreated to my little domicile until I could muster up the balls to make my decision public.

My job which pays the bills affords me the luxury of listening to various media while I work. I listened to music or stand-up comedy most of the time. I was also a subscriber to Audible, Amazon’s audio book subsidiary. For $14.95 a month, they give you one credit with which you can purchase an audio book. So once a month I would listen to a new book. But back in June, I came across another service called Playster. For the same rate per month as Audible, they let you listen to UNLIMITED audio books. It has been all have listened to ever since.

A couple of weeks into my smorgasbord of literary bliss, I decided to listen to some Stephen King, one of my favorites. Instead of listening to one of his plethora of great stories, I decided to listen to On Writing. The title pretty much explains what the book is about, but King puts his twist on the typical how-to writing guide. It’s basically an autobiographical story of how he became a writer and the struggles he went through. Reading it again was a revelation to me. It was the match which lit the flame of my desire. In the eight hours in which I listened to King narrate his own story, I transformed. Not only did I want to write again, I NEEDED to write again.

So here I am. Three months ago, this would have been a much different post. Today, however, I am here to say I’m back. It has been a long journey, but it’s good to be back where I belong.

 

 

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Coming Home

Pariah Dustjacket.jpgIf you saw my Facebook update today, you already know that I turned in the manuscript for the short story The Evil Among Us. It is with the editor at this moment. That in itself is an amazing feeling. To know that I am just a month or so from having my first piece of the Pariah universe out there for you to read is exhilarating.

But, as good as that feels, it might have been secondary to the felling of stepping back into my novel. I hadn’t touched it in a little over a month. With all the trauma in my personal life, it was comforting to get back in there with Colt and all the characters that are so much a part of me.

One thing that this time away from my novel gave me was an intense appreciation for the story of within Pariah. I think with developing stories for The Dialogue with Richard Howk like the Steve Bertman episode (below) and working on the short stories, it gave me a greater understanding of the pariah phenomenon. In the end I think it is going to  result in a better overall novel and experience for the reader.

Today for me was like coming home to see an old friend. It felt so comfortable to dig back into to those characters. I didn’t realize how much I had missed them until I spent that time away. I’m looking forward to spending a lot of time with them in the near future.

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NRE in Your Writing

One of the hardest things to fight as an author is when you are in the middle of your WIP (Work In Progress) and the Muse decides to drop the sexiest, juiciest story right in the middle of your plate. You want to jump right on it, drop your WIP and dedicate all your time to this new and obviously, more brilliant piece, but there is nothing more detrimental to your writing career. It is the fatal mistake many unpublished authors make time and time again. But, all you end up doing is becoming the author who is ‘working on several projects.’

Street Corner Profit Early TeaseIt’s comparable to a phenomenon polyamorists refer  to as NRE, which is short for New Relationship Energy. (And yes, I said polyamorists, not polygamists. It’s 2016, polyamory is a thing. Deal with it.) But, it is not a feeling that is exclusive to the poly community. It’s just necessary for them to have a name for it.

Chances are you have experienced NRE in your lifetime. Some call it puppy love, but moreover, it is that feeling that you can only get when you like someone and you find out that they like you, too. It’s flirty texts, the late night phone calls, a first date, holding hands on a park bench, or that first kiss. There is no feeling like it.

While it might be one of the most exhilarating emotions there is, it is also one of the most dangerous. How many marriages have ended because someone meets that cute new co-worker or a handsome gent at the gym? They take an interest in each other, NRE kicks in, and the next thing you know a spouse is being served divorce papers. Monogamy has no alternative than to sever the one relationship to pursue the other.

polyamory-130214In a poly relationship, partners are allowed to pursue interests outside the core relationship. They have the freedom to explore new girlfriends or boyfriends, but they respect and come back to that central connection that has been nurtured and developed over years, or possibly decades.

Now, this is not a recommendation or condemnation of monogamy or polyamory, each has its upside and downside. And at this point in my life, I’m not a fan of any construct bonding me to another human being. But, in this instance, the author needs to be a little more poly and a lot less mono. You can flirt with this miraculous piece of literary genius that magically appeared before you, but you have to realize that your steady relationship is with your WIP. At one point you had that NRE with your current project, but that bond has grown beyond silly puppy love. Give your WIP the respect and admiration it deserves.

 

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The Shawshank Principle

I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying.

~Andy Dufresne, The Shawshank Redemption.

We all have our own varied experience here on this planet. Some seem to be blessed with all the world has to offer from birth, while for others, each day is a fight to survive. Most of us lie somewhere in the middle. We have our gifts, we  have our short comings, and we each struggle in our own way.

No matter how humble or extravagant our beginnings are, our lives are still on roller coasters. We experience high times, low times, and sometimes our life gets turn upside-down. No man or woman is exempt from the effects of the ride, myself included.

In my forty-first year around the sun, I’m not sure that my roller coaster hasn’t derailed completely and plunged off the top. To say 2016 has been rough is like saying the Grand Canyon is a little hole in the ground. In every facet of my life, I have faced upheaval.

When one person’s life changes in a dramatic way, it can’t help but flow through those that are close to them. Friends and family rush to help in anyway they can, throwing the normal circadian rhythms of their lives off, as well. That takes its toll on relationships with those people. It’s a constant battle to find balance and harmony in how you deal with people, all because of the change of status with one other person.

But, what comes next is the measure of the man or woman. How you respond to these challenges speaks to your character, or lack thereof. You can choose to let these things overwhelm you, strip you of your dignity. Or, you can pull yourself up and fight. That’s what I choose to do. Get busy living, or get busy dying. That’s goddamn right.

In the 1994 movie The Shawshank Redemption, the main character, Andy Dufresne, reaches the same kind of monumental life choice. He talks about his struggle in this scene:

If you haven’t seen the movie, Andy chooses to fight. And so do I. I might have to crawl through 500 yards of metaphorical shit before I get to where I want to be, but someday I will stand tall on the other side. Because I have hope, and hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.


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Bringing On The Water Works

For those of you who know me well, you know that I am an emotional man. I listen to love songs exclusively whenever my daughter doesn’t have control of the radio. Literally, Celine Dion’s Greatest Hits is in my car’s CD player right now. My favorite movies are primarily romantic comedies, and Nicholas Sparks is my favorite author. I have been teased about having stereotypical gay tendencies since I was a teenager.

But, that’s me. I have long ago accepted who I am, and frankly, I’d much rather be a man that is in touch with his feelings and empathizes with the world around him than the kind  of man who bottles his emotion behind a gruff exterior, or just doesn’t feel at all. I feel it makes me a better writer. In my personal life, it allows me to love more intensely and connect on a deeper level with those around me. Of course, I feel hurt and betrayal more, too. So, for me to write a post about crying is not to be unexpected. Let’s just say it’s in my wheelhouse.

Tonight, I was scanning through the movies and stopped on Never Been Kissed. I hadn’t watched it in a while, and it’s a movie that I’ve seen enough to not have to keep up with it to know what is going on. I had it playing in the background while I wrote. After it ended, I went searching for another movie that fit the same criteria, and I found Mr. Holland’s Opus.

This movie is probably top 20 all-time for me, but it is also on an even shorter list. Because every time I watch this movie, I cry. There are just a handful of movies like this, but they are some of my favorites. The scene that gets me in Opus is at the end when Mr. Holland is given the gift of directing his An American Symphony for the first time. Richard Dreyfuss’ (Mr. Holland) reaction is just too much. Get’s me every time.

Another movie that gets me is Rudy (see, I am a man). When Rudy Rutiger runs out on the field at Notre Dame Stadium, you’d better start passing the tissues my way. Rudy goes through so much adversity just to make it to the Fighting Irish practice squad, to see his dream to play in a real game against all odds is as uplifting a moment as there might be in cinematic history.

The fact that it is based on a true story just makes it that much more inspiring.

But, the scene that will always make the flood gates open is from Forrest Gump. I have watched this movie more times than I can count. It is right there with The Shawshank Redemption as one of my two favorite movies ever. There are several moments in the movie that could qualify as tear-jerk worthy. When Mama or Bubba die, or when Jenny leaves Forrest after their affair. But, the ultimate in bringing on the waterworks is when Forrest is talking to Jenny at her grave. Tom Hanks’ face when he says, “I miss you, Jenny,” might just be the most heart-breaking thing I’ve seen. For someone to finally realize the love of his life and have it torn away so soon, kills me.

So, call me a crybaby. I don’t care. These moments get to me. But, again, that’s me. Are there movies you watch that you can just count on crying? I’d love to hear about your weep inducers in the comments below.

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Fat Shaming Myself

If you have seen my head shot for my book cover on my various social media platforms, you might have said to yourself, “Man, Richard’s kind of a big boy.” To that I would say, “Thank you!” Because big boy is putting it mildly, more over, it’s a straight up lie. I’m Fat. F-A-T, Fat.

Comparison

The Power of Photoshop

Pictures in this day and age can be deceiving. It takes a lot of work to make me look as good as that photo does. Great lighting, perfect angles, and a crap load of Photoshop are just a few of the things that went into that photo. Just look at the before and after.

Now, the tone of this post might seem like it is taking a dark turn, but hold in there. It’s always darkest before the dawn, and like a Jane Austen novel, I promise you a happy ending. Think of this as the first step of a 12-step program. Admit that you are powerless against your affliction, and that your life had become unmanageable.

“My name is Richard Howk, and I am fat. It’s been two days since I’ve had biscuits and gravy.”

You might think I’m being harsh to myself, but try being my bathroom scale. I got on it this morning and it read “oL.” Which I can only guess means, “Get off of me you fat bastard. You’re crushing me.” But, seriously, I weigh too much for the scale to measure. Let that sink in a bit. Talk about your wake-up calls.

I have battled with weight issues my whole life. And recent life events haven’t made it any easier. For the first time, I’m on medication for depression. I’m lonely most of the time, and I’m so stressed out about this book that I can’t control it. While I hide it pretty well emotionally, my waistline doesn’t lie.

IMG_20160610_215843

Dinner for a New Richard

Now, for the happy ending. I have decided to stop battling against weight issues and just win the damn war, once-and-for-all. That means not a diet, but a change of the way I do things in my life. My life has been food-centric forever. If I was celebrating an event, there was a cake. If I went out, it was dinner and then an activity, but always dinner. Yes, we have to eat (which is what makes weight issues such a hard fight), but eating doesn’t have to be a part of everything we do.

If I were to compare it to a relationship, I would have to say that I am in love with food. But, food doesn’t feel that way about me. It’s probably best if food and I are just friends. I have become too needy, and I need to step back and concentrate on myself.

Why do I bother making a public post about this? Because no one person can win a war on their own, no matter how much John Rambo would have us believe otherwise, it can’t be done. I need your help. For my family, friends, and the new followers of my writing, this is a call to arms. I need every man, woman, and child for encouragement and accountability.

I will thank you in advance for your help. So, not only will we be counting down to the release of Pariah, but we will be counting down the pounds as well. I truly am blessed to have all of you in my life, now it’s time to get healthy so I can enjoy these blessings as long as I possibly can. Love you all!

 

 

 

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21

The Magical and Mysterious 21.

21. My favorite number. What a funny thing to say, A favorite number? Yet we all have one. When you read ‘My favorite number,’ I bet yours popped in to your head. But, why do we develop such strong affectations to certain numbers?

The simple answer is it’s ingrained in our cultures, but those vary drastically across the globe. In North America, the UK, France, and the Netherlands, 7 is considered a lucky number, and is in fact the most popular favorite number. Early factors in our culture for this are mostly Biblical. 7 is considered the heavenly number, God took 7 days to create the heavens and the earth, and the 7 deadly sins (and we all have the desire for sin). Then, there are the 7 wonders of the ancient world and the 7 planets of the ancient world. In modern times, this disposition is only exacerbated by our society’s proclivity toward gambling. Three 7’s wins you the jackpot on a majority of slot machines, and 7 is a natural in craps.

Lucky Numbers Around the World

In other countries, favorite or lucky numbers differ for other reasons. China, Japan, and Korea believe 8 is a lucky number because in each the character for 8 and for prosper/wealth are pronounced almost identically. When China hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics Games they began on 8/8/08 at 8:08.08pm. Transversely, those cultures don’t like the number 4 because it pronounced like death.

3 is also a popular favorite number in many countries. It is considered the perfect number. Across many faiths, 3 has many positive connotations. In Christianity there is The Holy Trinity, Jesus arose from the dead on the third day, and His ministry on Earth lasted 3 years. Judaism has The Three Patriarchs, three daily prayers, Shabbat has three meals and ends when three stars are visable in the sky, and the Three Pilgrimage Festivals. The Triple Bodhi and The Three Jewels are staples of Buddhism, as is the Trimurti to Hinduism. And of course, School House Rock taught us that 3 is a magic number.

As an aside, 13 is almost universally considered a bad luck number. There were 13 people at the Last Supper. Friday the 13th is considered unlucky because on Friday, October 13, 1307, King Philip IV of France ordered the arrest of the Knights Templar, most of whom

The Original Friday the 13th

were killed or tortured or both. When Gregorian monks created their calendar, it was difficult for them to account for the years that had 13 full moons which developed bad connotations for the number.

However, I think the development for a favorite number is much more personal. As a young kid, I developed a love for sports, and my first love was baseball. Growing up in the south, baseball was never more readily available anywhere than on WTBS The Superstation out of Atlanta, which carried all of their hometown Braves’ games. I watched religiously and worshiped Dale Murphy. This was at the time when he won back-to-back NL MVP Awards. His jersey number was 3. If you had asked six-year-old “Little Richard” (my dad’s name is Richard, as well, hence the little) what his favorite number was, he would say 3. I had to have it for my t-ball number because, of course, I was going to be just like Dale Murphy.

The Amazing Dale Murphy

I also had another reason for liking 3 that is a major one for a lot of people. My birthday is October 3rd. When mathematician Alex Bellos did a study on favorite numbers, he discovered that a majority of people pick a favorite number based on dates that are significant to them. That also played a significant role in my choice of 21. My mom was born on May 21st and my younger brother was born on November 21st. As a child, when two of the three most important people in your life something like that in common, it can be a strong factor in your opinion on a subject.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell how or when you became a fan of something. But, when it comes to basketball, I can tell you the exact date, Sunday, February 12, 1984. As a youngster in Northwest Arkansas, there wasn’t any other team to cheer for other than the Arkansas Razorbacks. We lived and breathed cardinal and white. My first ever published piece is a memoir about watching the 1994 NCAA Basketball Championship with my dad. The Razorback basketball team had some success in the late 70’s and early 80’s, even going to the NCAA Final Four in 1978, but I was only 2 when that happened.

Balentine’s Floater Lifts the Razorbacks Over the #1 ranked North Carolina Tar Heels.

On that Sunday, the Razorbacks were playing the North Carolina Tar Heels, the number 1 ranked team in college basketball and led by 5 future 1st round NBA picks including Michael Jordan. When they came to Barton Coliseum in Pine Bluff to play the Razorbacks, they were undefeated at 19-0, but they would not leave that way. Charles Balentine sunk an arching, ten-foot jumper to beat North Carolina, 65-64. The game was broadcast nationally by NBC and I watched with my dad. I’m not sure I fully understood what a monumental victory it was at the time (it was Arkansas’ first win over a #1 ranked team in history), but my dad sure was excited about it, so I was as well.

Later that week, I got to meet Charles Balentine. My student teacher in Mrs. Walker’s 2nd grade class was friends with him at the university, and she convinced him to come visit us. I was in total awe of him. I started watching Razorback basketball any time I could, but I quickly switched favorite players on the team to the more flashy and savvy Alvin Robertson. He was the leader of that team, and even with my limited knowledge at the time, I could tell he was special. His defensive prowess was unrivaled. He went on to win the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award 3 times and still holds the career record for steals per game. His jersey number was 21.

Blackjack, or 21 as my grandpa called it.

But, probably the most personal reason has to do with the game Blackjack and the man who taught me how to play. My Grandpa Howk and I had a special relationship when it came to two of my favorite activities, sports and card games. I can still picture him today sitting in his mustard yellow chair at the kitchen table playing solitaire. The Sylvania 19″ TV in the living room was set at just the right angle so he could watch through the doorway between the two rooms. He usually just wore what we would now call a wife-beater tank top shirt, comfortable slacks, worn out loafers, and horn-rimmed glasses so he could see the cards.

We would spend hours at that dining table, playing cards and talking about sports. But, my favorite game with him was Blackjack, or as he called it, 21. He would be the dealer and my dad, brother, uncle, and occasionally my cousins would try to beat him. We didn’t play with chips or money, but with pride. If you could say you beat grandpa at cards, that was a big deal.He would always smile when we would win and tell us that we’d get him the next hand if we didn’t.

I lost my grandpa on July 4, 1990. He had battled with emphysema as long as I can remember and finally succumbed. I was 14 at the time and his was the first death of someone that was close to me that I had ever faced. He probably never would have thought what effect playing those little games with me as a kid would have, but it truly has shaped my world. Including the love of 21.

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