Dad passed away yesterday afternoon.

There are thoughts and words and memories and more to share about him and his life and his love, but that’s going to take time. For now, please keep him and the family in your prayers.

Love you, Dad.

Chatting with Real Talk Ryan Jespersen

I was interviewed by Canada again this week, only this time they actually went beyond the “isn’t it funny you share a name with someone more famous than you?” line of questioning and asked about politics. And the floodgates were opened. Along with a healthy dose of “ums” and the usual long-windedness.

Thanks to Ryan Jespersen for having me on, was a fun chat. Probably a lot deeper than anyone expected, but hopefully still worthwhile.

Books Off My Shelves III (ARC Edition)

From the age of 18 to 33 I spent about 12 years working in bookstores – a Borders in my hometown of Fredericksburg, VA and a college bookstore in Richmond, VA after I moved down here to finally finish school at VCU.

I may have put that sticker on that book.

The Borders years in particular (1997-2001) were very formative not just for a growing-into-adulthood Jay but also in my interests in music and books and the subsequent collections because it’s hard not to take advantage of a generous employee discount and put all of your money back into the biz when you don’t have much in the way of bills. Most of my existing library and boxed up CD collection is a consequence of these years.

Borders also provided an opportunity to discover new works thanks to review copies of books and CDs that allowed us booksellers to be informed and upsell certain works (mainly the books – most of my review copies of CDs would come from the college radio years at WVCW (2005-2008)). In some cases those books were entirely new authors (to me or anyone else), in others it was a way to get my hands on the newest book of a favorite author before anyone else. Only a handful of these Advance Review Copies (ARC) remained in the library all these years later but they remain as little memories of those halcyon days of being young and carefree and stuff.

Yes, before being a director of big comic book blockbusters, James Gunn wrote a book.
My hands down favorite Jonathan Lethem book.

Previous entries:

Books Off My Shelves II (Derrick Ferguson Edition)

I’ve tried to put into words some thoughts around the passing of Derrick Ferguson earlier this month. Aside from a brief Twitter thread (which I build off of below) shortly after word broke, all I’ve been able to write is: “Damn.”

Damn.

I’d do not exaggerate when I say Derrick is one of my absolute favorite people. Just a fantastic person with a love of reading, writing, movies, so much – and a love if sharing all of that with others.

He truly embodied “write the stories you want to read” but was also always kind, always encouraging, always excited to see what you could do next. Never saw writing and his talent and art as a bubble or competition but as a group exercise, a community that could grow together.

Derrick was a mentor to so many, a hype man that lifted up entire communities and helped so many writers come into their own. He was your Number One Fan, saw talent to be encouraged and nurtured, to be prodded not just because you should write, damnit, but because he wanted to see what could come next.

Dang. See? Number One Fan.

His confidence in the talent of others could make anyone a novelist. Stop being so self-critical, just write, damn it.

I regret not knowing him better, not speaking with him more often, not meeting him in person more than a couple times, but despite all of that he was always there, always a friend, always with an open door and heart. A huge loss.

Damn.

Jason Kenney, Russ Anderson, Derrick Ferguson, Mike McGee, Tamas Jakab (September, 2005)

There is so much more to be said on Derrick, his writings, his influences, his influenced. Others have said it better than I.

Josh Reynolds

“I don’t know, man – who’s this story for?” I asked, one time. Stupid question. I have – had – still have – a bad habit of thinking that ‘market’ and ‘audience’ are interchangeable. Derrick knew better.
He laughed – whatever else, I could always make him laugh – and said, “It’s for me, J. I just write what I want to read.”

Sean Taylor

I’ve long argued that (bear with me here for a moment) Isaac Asimov was the brains of sci-fi but that Ray Bradbury was its heart. In the same way, Derrick was the heart of the community of independent genre writers, and particularly that of New Pulp. But it wasn’t just his writing that put him there and defined it. It was his sort of ambassadorship for the movement, bringing the unrelatable term to the masses with comparisons to movies and other forms or entertainment, his “get started” lists of 100 New Pulp books you need to read, and his action-adventure mindset in regard to everything from his movie reviews to his posts in the Usimi Dero group he ran on Facebook that brought so many like-minded fans together.


You can up some of Derrick’s books on Amazon. You won’t be disappointed. Below are a few I currently have on my shelves.

Books Off My Shelves (Part 1)

A new project for me to never complete: photos of the books that make up my library.

“Never complete” because I’ll probably forget I started it and/or there are a LOT of books and/or I’ll keep getting more so it’s never ending anyway.

Not all of my books are educational or highfalutin, but all of them are here for a reason beyond just being a hoarder of books.

And, before anyone asks, no, I haven’t read all of them. And probably never will. In some cases I worry I’d wreck the book because of it’s age and I have it more for historical or personal reasons. In other cases I ascribe to Umberto Eco’s “Antilibrary” which Nassim Nicholas Taleb covered in Black Swan (which I own and will photograph at some point):

The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?” and the others — a very small minority — who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.

So many of these, sure, I’ve read. Many more I WANT to read because they’re knowledge I have yet to gain. Or mindless reads I’m waiting for a good vacation or retirement (HA! HA HA HA HA HA! I’m going to die working.) to get to.

I’ll be presenting these largely without context beyond my owning them. Maybe I’ll feel compelled to provide a backstory or explanation. Maybe not. We’ll see. It’s a lot of books.

Enough with the intro and excuses! Pictures of books!

2020

2020. A year that will go down in infamy. Despite the plague and anxiety and stress of The Great Stay Home that made some days feel like weeks and weeks like years, looking back, 2020 turned out pretty good – mainly thanks to the same reason every year prior turned out pretty good – the amazing Ana. We are where we are now compared to a year ago (two years ago, five years ago, ten years ago) because of Ana’s drive, dedication, planning, commitment, love, dreams, and absolute devotion to our family.

Where 2020 went right for us:

  • Work: We were both blessed to have jobs that allowed flexibility when working from home, especially when it involved keeping two little ones home as well. There was stress and a little chaos and moments of uncertainty, but compared to so many others we were lucky.
  • Home: 2021 finds us in a new home, our dream home, and the process of selling one home and buying another in the middle of a plague certainly wasn’t without stress, but also went about a smoothly as one could hope. The old house will be missed – it’s where we brought both boys home, it’s where we grew our family, but the new place is already feeling like home because it’s where the family is.
  • The Boys: Six and three already and where has the time gone? The nearly six months where Sammy and Jasper were home with us all day, every day, seem so long ago and feel like they went by so fast and were fun time that will feel like a missed opportunity when we look back on it years from now. There will be no other time in our lives where we’ll have that length of a stretch of time together as a family. While it was hardly a vacation because of both of us having to work and COVID restrictions, having that time to see the boys grow and play and learn and just be amazing little dudes and brothers and sons was a blessing is so many ways.
  • Ana: Of course she gets another shoutout, she deserves a million shout outs. Everything that went right in 2020 had Ana at its core. Everything that went wrong in 2020 had Ana as part of the solution. She makes me a better person – makes me want to be a better person. A better man, husband, father, everything.

If you’d had told me a year ago that’d I’d be where I am right now, even if you glossed over all that 2020 stuff in between, I wouldn’t have believed you.

It’s been a heck of a year, 2020. I’m ok with 2021 being a little quieter. As long as it’s with Ana and the boys.

9/11

I remember working in downtown DC, right off McPherson Square, three blocks from the White House, when a friend sent me a message on AIM that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.

I assumed it was a small plane like the Cessna that hit the White House 7 years earlier almost to the day (9/12/94).

Then, after a few minutes, they said a second plane had hit the South Tower.

I ran downstairs and let others know and one of the lawyers turned on the TV to CNN and there it was.

Like the rest of the world we were transfixed, glued, some folks listening to radio or watching another channel in another office, reports of planes everywhere.

And then a noise we’d later find out was Flight 77 hitting the Pentagon 3 miles away.

Phones stop working. There’s no getting calls in or out of DC. I’m back on AIM messaging friends to call my family and my girlfriend and make sure they’re OK.

Is my brother at the Pentagon OK?

Responses from friends: Family’s been trying to call me worried if I’m OK.

*Side note – 9/11 is when the internet really came of age. It was a lifeline for areas where phones just stopped working. Landlines and cellular were useless, jammed, busy.

The internet was key, real time information, and the aftermath was blogging, citizen journalism, etc.

Curiosity about what was happening at the White House sent me outside with one of the secretaries.

Looking back it was a terrible idea, heading toward what could very well have been the target of Flight 93 which would ultimately be brought down in Pennsylvania.

The streets were chaos. Traffic was locked. Sidewalks were packed. We got within a block of the White House before police started yelling at people to get back, they were blocking off up to two blocks from around the building.

And then a moment that was ultimately nothing but is etched.

A boom.

A mass of people panic and cry out and want to run but where do you go?

That moment of chaos and momentary mass hysteria left a mark.

It was a sonic boom from the passing F-15s scrambled to pass over DC. But at the time, it was another plane crash, a car bomb at the State Department, a helicopter crashed on The Mall, it was an attack and there was nothing anyone could do.

We went back to the office to find the South Tower had collapsed.

We watched as dust and debris and smoke settled on New York City.

Pops in the distance. Canisters from a worksite where the Pentagon had been hit going off, but at the time no one knows that.

We watch.

10:28.

The North Tower collapses.

News is a mess. Reports start coming in that despite all flights being ordered grounded there are a handful of planes unaccounted for.

That one or more planes are headed straight for DC.

We move. The whole office grabs and goes, one of the partners offers his place for those who can’t go anywhere else and many of us end up there, a house only a few miles away, but away from the center of DC, away from any targets.

Lunch is Church’s Chicken while we all just watch, glued to the news, worried, wondering what happened, who did this, is it over?

It’s nearly 3pm before I can finally get a phone call to go through to family and friends and make sure everyone is OK. I’m OK. And that I’m coming home.

A long, quiet ride on a nearly empty Metro because everyone else who needed to got out earlier. I’m met at Springfield by my girlfriend.

And we hug and stay like that for a while.


After would be strings of chaotic reminders.

Passing the still smoldering Pentagon on the commuter bus just days later.

The anthrax scare just months later and mail handled every day coming from the Brentwood facility at the heart of it.

Suspicious packages in the park almost every other week.

Unease at any car awkwardly abandoned or left idling in odd locations.

Noting where the nearest bomb shelter was.

Having multiple routes planned out to get out of DC depending on what and where something happened.

But also a coming together. That this wasn’t going to stop us. That we would still go about our lives and not live in fear because that’s what they wanted.

We were all in this together. We were all Americans.

Hard to think that was 19 years ago.

That for so many it’s not even a memory because they were so young or not even alive at the time.

And how truly defining it has been for a generation now.

My experience isn’t unique. Or all that special, really. I’m not nearly as impacted as so many others, people who had friends and family that died that day, were themselves just at or supposed to be at or near as it happened.

But everyone who remembers that day has a story and an experience and that shapes us. There was a before and there has been an after.

Never Forget

And be safe. Be kind. Know that while there is evil in the world there is so much more good. Know that a few don’t define the many.

And know that there are so many who can be their very best when things seem at their worst.