Importance of Each Word


And … I’m back (after an inexcusably long hiatus)!

The following is an amusing +  true story that (spoiler!) demonstrates why word choice is important. Okay. That doesn’t sound like it will be funny, but read on….

I had been wandering through Costa Rica for nearly a month, practicing my Spanish, white-water rafting, touring beaches and rainforests, when I learned an important lesson regarding specificity. So considering I was there to contemplate life’s big questions, a lesson about precision was somewhat ironic. Yes, I was vacationing and having fun, but my ultimate goal was figuring out my future as a college grad entering the work force. And, I’m happy to say, it was on a beautiful mountainside hotel rooftop overlooking the unending Pacific, the glimmering dark water somehow melding into an infinity blanket of stars that reached back over my head, that I decided my role in the universe.

But that’s not the lesson I want to talk about.

About a week prior to my big epiphany, I had a boring yet fascinating conversation with a fellow American tourist. At first, it couldn’t have been more typical . . . except for his reactions to my answers regarding who I was and what I did for a living. His expression became confused, then amazed, and finally horrified.

Anyway, I had told him that after graduating from Sewanee, I moved back in with my parents for several months, working as a substitute teacher by day and as a waiter by night. But when I mentioned that simple, mundane, fact, his brow furrowed.

“Que?” he asked.

The conversation continued in Spanish, but roughly translated, I explained that I “worked with children, teaching them English, writing, or whatever was required, but after dark, I worked long hours, often not finishing until the middle of the night.”

“And then you taught children the morning after?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said. “I was exhausted, but it was fun. And I was making a lot of money.”

“As a waiter?”

“Yeah. People liked me and I made big tips. I had several ‘regulars.’”

He shuffled a little farther away and sized me up, as though inspecting a potentially poisonous snake.

I didn’t know what his deal was, so I tried explaining again, but he cut me off. I laughed because both his reactions and the questions he asked were so ridiculous. But I played along and answered as best I could. A minute later, he excused himself and ran off, looking back at me more than once.

I relayed this conversation to a girl in a pub later that night and she stopped me, pointing out a simple error in my Spanish.

One word. That’s all it was. Just one simple word.

You see, in Spanish, the word for waiter is “camarero.” But I had messed it up, using “caballero” instead—the word for “gentleman.” Not a big deal, under normal circumstances, but then I considered my responses from the American Tourist’s point of view, and the conversation took on a whole new meaning:

“After teaching, I work as a gentleman, working long hours into the night. It’s exhausting, but a lot of fun. The money is great. I am very popular, good at my job, and people obviously like me. I get big tips and have several regulars.”

And that’s when his follow-ups got really weird:

“Do you serve women?”


“And men?”

“Si claro! Of course!”

“And you like it?”

“It’s great! I have fun and make sure everybody else does too!”

And at that he shook his head, looking at me incredulously, so I said, “So I guess you’ve never worked as a gentleman.”

He snorted as if such a notion was impossible.

But I said, “I think everyone should work in the service industry for at least a little while. It teaches you a lot about what people truly want.”

And then he ran away.

And that’s how I learned that, in communication of any sort, every single word is vital. As Mark Twain once said, “use the right word, not its second cousin.” Because I did not follow that advice, I can only imagine what the guy I had been talking to assumed about my relationship with my 2nd cousin . . . who is a dude.

The point is: you want to be specific with your word choice. Always. When you’re writing or speaking publically, obviously, but even in day-to-day interactions, because a small mistake can send a wacked out and bizarre message.

In this case, the damage was minimal. In fact, I’d say the added bonus of my learning a valuable lesson is that there’s a guy out there telling an amazing “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” story about the time he met a substitute school-teacher/bi-sexual male prostitute.

And that’s pretty cool.


A kind of Holiday Letter – 2013

Dear Friends,

Welcome to my annual “multiple-choice” Holiday Letter. As you may recall, I began writing in this format because (1):

  1. I enjoy ambiguity.
  2. Everyone loves a quiz.
  3. As a teacher, this format has become 2nd nature to me.

Yet again, I find that my life is ridiculously fun and rewarding. I owe this primarily to my wife and children, though my students, surprisingly enough, make me smile every day (thanks, guys!). There is so much for which I am thankful, including (2):

  1. That I get to spend so much time with my family.
  2. The good news about my Illinois teacher pension.
  3. That I still have winning the lottery to look forward to.

I am also happy to report that my wife (3):

  1. Has fallen in love with a younger man who our kids just rave about.
  2. Continues to make me laugh (not at her . . . usually).
  3. Has been asked to quit working for United Airlines and work exclusively for Air Force One.
  4. All of the above.

Our daughter has entered kindergarten and (4):

  1. Is learning in a bilingual school—most of her education is in Spanish.
  2. Has made several new friends.
  3. Still loves to give her daddy several hugs a day!
  4. All of the above.

While our son is only three-years-old, he (5):

  1. Has the destructive ability of a zombie dinosaur army.
  2. Speaks fluent French and Japanese.
  3. Is a cute, funny, and charming heartbreaker.
  4. Both A and C.

Life remains a blast—providing our family with new and plentiful reasons to celebrate. While we occasionally have a tough break or curve ball thrown our way, we stay happy because (6):

  1. We get shiny new toys that bring true enlightenment.
  2. Our fame continues to spread and our adoring public can’t get enough of us.
  3. Gold coins fall at our feet when we snap our fingers.
  4. None of the above is the key to our happiness.

We hope you have had a wonderful year and that the next one brings you (7):

  1. Adventure.
  2. Laughter.
  3. A few surprises.
  4. The time to do whatever it is you truly want to do.
  5. All of the above.

Happy Holidays!



ANSWER KEY: 1 = 3.     2 = 1.    3 = 2.      4 = 4.     5 = 4.     6 = 4.     7 = 5.

Sunshine Award

Fellow writer and book lover Emilyann Girdner ( nominated my blog for a Sunshine Award! Thanks, Emilyann!

Sunshine Award

Scroll to the bottom of this post for a list of great “writing blogs” I am nominating and go check them out!

You can learn a bit more about me if you bother reading my answers to these questions. I’m just a little bit of all right, so you might be interested in getting to know me better. However, I won’t be offended (heck, I might respect you even more) if you simply head straight to my recommended blog sites at the far bottom. You can thank me later.

As part of the fun, I am to answer 10 questions and nominate other bloggers for the award. Here are the rules:

  1. Include the award’s logo in my blog post.
  2. Link to the person who nominated you.
  3. Answer the 10 questions about yourself.
  4. Nominate 10 bloggers.
  5. Link your nominees to the post and commend on their blogs, letting them know they have been nominated.

So here we go. . . .

  1. Favorite color: Varying shades of blue, like the Blue Morpho Butterfly or a clear sea on a sunny day.
  2. Favorite Animal: Dogs, preferably the small & friendly variety that won’t kill me.
  3. Favorite Number: Four because that includes my wife, our two children, and me (so “No,” not because of Divergent).
  4. Favorite Non-Alcoholic Drink: This topic is inherently flawed: it assumes that something without alcohol is still a “drink” instead of a beverage. But in order to play along, I’ll say Cherry Coke Zero.
  5. Favorite Alcoholic Drink: Blue Moon beer.
  6. Facebook or Twitter: I confess that I don’t follow either regularly, but I certainly learn more about writing via Twitter than Facebook because it is through other tweets that I learn about author signings, contests, agents, advice, conferences, etc.
  7. Passions: Checking items off of my “bucket list,” enjoying time with family and friends, vacations, and experiencing great stories through writing, reading, and shows or movies.
  8. Prefer giving or getting presents? Giving. No question.
  9. Favorite City: I have three:
    1. Edinburgh, Scotland.
    2. Wellington, New Zealand.
    3. Sweet home, Chicago.
    4. Favorite TV Shows: That are on right now:Arrow, Sherlock (BBC), Dr. Who (BBC), Modern Family, Grimm, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead

Favorite TV Shows Of All TimeLost, Firefly, Fringe, and Babylon 5 (ignore the sad production value—the writing is great).

And I’m nominating the following great blogs!

Note: I’m supposed to nominate 10 blogs, but I’m trying to only nominate ones I have not mentioned in the past. I met these folks via this past summer and they all gave me some great advice on my manuscript! Check them out TODAY!

My Blog Got an Award and I am Passing It On!

Fellow fiction writer Emilyann Girdner(  nominated me (this blog) for a Liebster Award–one given out to new and upcoming blogs with fewer than 200 followers. Thanks, Emilyann! “Liebster” is German for “favorite,” so this is considered a Favorite Blog Award.

So my blogpost today is my response to the 11 questions I had to answer as part of the Liebster rules. This post is less about writing than it is about me. I’m also “passing it forward” to eleven other blogs in hopes of creating a better network of great new blogs.

I’ve nominated 11 other blogs and included 11 questions for them to answer on their own blogs.

So, my answers to the 11 Questions I was given:

1. What is your favorite song?

“One Way” by The Levellers. No, you’ve probably never heard the song or the band, but you should listen to both. “There’s only one way of life—and that’s your own.” So true.

2. Cats or Dogs? Why?

Cats are fine, but dogs bring joy.

3. What is your favorite book from childhood?

I read comics, mostly. My favorite monthly was Uncanny X-Men, though I have to give props to The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen. The first novel I read on my own was David Morrell’s The Brotherhood of the Rose (by then I’d been assigned And Then There Were None and To Kill a Mockingbird, both of which made me realize that reading prose could be worth my time). I didn’t start reading novels for fun until high school.

4. If you had to pick a different occupation, what would it be?

I’d like to be one of those guys who taste beer for a living. This is a real job, by the way. Budweiser has a few guys who sample each vat of beer to make sure it is exactly right. And I think the pay is pretty good!

5. Do you have a favorite flower?

I am not a flower guy. They look nice. That’s about the extent of how much I’ve thought about flowers.

6. Mac or PC?

I prefer a Mac simply because I’ve never had a single virus or computer issue. It just works.

7. Who would you pick if you had the opportunity to interview a historical figure?

I’d probably interview Dick Cheney. I want to know what or who was in the “man-sized” safe in his office. Actually, I have a lot of questions for him. That would be a fun interview . . . unless I ended up in the safe.

8. Do you believe in love at first sight?

Only for the blind. Just kidding. I’m suspect of love at first sight because Romeo and Juliet were such idiots. Now, I was certainly interested in my wife when I first saw her from across the room at the Galway Arms Irish Pub in Chicago, but the love thing grew as I got to know her (and I guess she grew to love me, too . . . or so I tell myself). I believe in infatuation at first sight and lust at first sight. True love seems like it takes more time than a glance.

9. What is your favorite genre of book and why?
I love science fiction/speculative fiction because these stories tend to be creative & imaginative, but more importantly, they tackle important issues in entertaining and thought provoking ways.
10. What are you most proud of in life?

I’m proud of my family and happy to be part of that wonderful group of people. I’m also proud of the novel I’ve written (unpublished). Whatever happens with it, I know it is good. It may not win any awards. That’s fine. But you have no idea how hard it is to write a good novel until you spend years trying and revising. I did it and I know it is a fairly entertaining read. Come what may, that’s something.

11. What obstacle has been the toughest for you to overcome in your life?

Compared to most people, I have lived a charmed life: no major tragedies, financial woes, etc. I am probably the happiest person I know. When I was growing up, we moved several times and that wasn’t easy. I didn’t have any control over what was happening and I certainly didn’t like saying “good-bye” to friends. My family stayed together and we were always okay, but moving to a new spot was depressing and frightening. Eventually I learned to make the best of it, go in and make new friends, etc. By the time I got to college, making new friends was easy and normal, but in elementary and high school, moving felt a lot more like an ending than a beginning. That being said, I wouldn’t change anything. Moving helped me discover who I was . . . and despite all my faults, I like who I am.

My New 11 Questions for the Blogs Nominated Below:

  1. What is something you regret? (no need to get too personal)
  2. What was the first thing you remember writing?
  3. Who was your favorite actor or actress when you were growing up?
  4. What is your favorite television show that was cancelled before its time/too soon?
  5. Can you think of a time when you were “pleasantly surprised”? What was it?
  6. What is your least favorite type/genre of music?
  7. Which disappointing revelation of a fallen star/celebrity had the biggest effect on you and why?
  8. If you were to recommend one vacation spot, what would it be and why?
  9. What goal are you most focused on right now?
  10. What is on your bucket list (things you want to do before you die)? *List just one or two.
  11. If you were to write a “Thank you” note to someone you’ve never actually met, who would that be and why?

New Blogs: