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Me and My Dad - 1972

The Gift

My thoughts on suicide, assisted suicide, dignity with death, Robin Williams, Brittany Maynard, and my dad Michael Semegran

Robin Williams by Michael Dressler 1979I have been thinking about my father a lot lately, more than usual, because of two controversial topics I have read about in the media this past year: suicide and assisted suicide. What initially prompted me to think more about my dad was Robin Williams' suicide on August 11, 2014. Having such a high profile person commit suicide definitely put the spotlight on this topic even though suicides claim the lives of tens of thousands of people every year and is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. (CDC). My father, Michael Semegran, committed suicide on December 4, 2002. He was not a famous person, he was just my dad. Robin Williams and my dad had a LOT in common which was what got me thinking about my dad so much. I'll get to that in a bit; now to assisted suicide. Brittany Maynard committed assisted suicide on November 1, 2014. Maynard was diagnosed with a stage 4 malignant brain tumor. She moved with her family to Oregon so she could legally kill herself with lethal medication prescribed under the Oregon Death with Dignity Act. She definitely put a new face on this topic since she was young and attractive and very vocal on social media about her path to death with dignity. What is the difference between a family member who commits suicide and a family member who commits assisted suicide? There is a very fine line between dignity and shame on the way to the same end, apparently. I find that to be very strange and perplexing and hurtful.

When Robin Williams committed suicide, I was shocked--if only for a few minutes--and it seemed the world was shocked as well. How could someone so universally loved and admired do such a thing as commit suicide? By all accounts, he was a very successful and brilliant man, actor, and comedian. He starred in several universally acclaimed movies such as Good Morning, Vietnam, Dead Poets Society, Awakenings, The Fisher King, Aladdin, and Good Will Hunting. He was a unique stand-up comedian who intimidated his contemporaries, many considered great in their own right. He earned an Oscar, two Emmy Awards, six Golden Globe Awards, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, and five Grammy Awards. And he made millions of dollars doing all of this. My father was also brilliant and successful although on a different, more down-to-earth scale. He earned both Bachelors and Masters Degrees in Industrial Engineering. He had a decorated, 25-year career in the Air Force leading a team programming computer software. He was called a genius by his commanders and way ahead of his time. He retired from the Air Force and made six figures working as the Director of Tech Support at Ashton-Tate, one of the "Big Three" software companies of the 1980s, which included Microsoft and Lotus. By all measures, both my dad and Robin Williams were successful men and geniuses.

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Lunch Bag Art 2013

It's that time of year again for me to create custom lunch bag art for my kids. They enjoy getting them during summer camp and their friends love it too. I have to admit, it's getting tougher and tougher each year to top the previous years but I'll try my best. My goal this year is to create them for each of my kids once a week. Enjoy! Check out the previous ones here, here, and here.

 

Step It Up. Be a Man. Be a Dad.

watch_dogsWhen I was a kid, I don’t remember my dad ever stepping foot into any of my schools. Not once. Now, I’m not mentioning this because I believe my dad was a bad dad. To the contrary, he was an excellent provider and dispenser of fatherly advice. But I always knew I wanted to be a dad and I wanted to be a hands-on dad. That’s the main difference between my father and I; we have vastly different parenting styles. One of the things I do for my children is to volunteer at their elementary school once a month. I am part of a volunteer program called Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students), which “is the father involvement initiative of the National Center for Fathering that organizes fathers and father figures in order to provide positive male role models for the students and to enhance school security.” Doing this allows me the opportunity to get to know the teachers and staff at my kids’ school, meet the kids my children are friends with, and see what it is like for my kids to be in school and what their daily routine is like. Mostly, it is more time I get to spend with my kids. I love being a dad and I enjoy the company of my children. But, and this is a BIG but, I ended up learning more about myself and what it means to be a dad than I ever expected by volunteering at their school.

When I’m at the school, all of the kids tell me the funniest things. They tell me things without any filter and without any provocation at all. For instance, when my oldest was in kindergarten, she had a little boy in her class that I guess would have been considered the bully. He was an obnoxious little brat that always made loud outbursts during class and constantly harassed the other students. I could tell that the teacher was at her wits end with this kid. I couldn’t help but think that this kid needed a good spanking (and I never spanked my own kids!). I made it a point to keep my eye on him. Later in the day, the class was in line to go outside for recess. The bully was terrorizing some of the kids. I stepped over to him and place my hand firmly on his shoulder, maneuvering him to the back of the line. He looked up at me with a straight face and said, “I wish my dad would be a Watch DOG.” I asked him why his dad didn’t do it and he said, “Because he’s in jail.” My heart sank. He said this so matter-of-factly too like he was telling me his favorite game to play or what color the sky was. Little did this brat know just how much he affected me that day. It had a profound effect on me. Volunteering at my kids’ school became more than time to spend with my kids; it gave me some great insight into being a parent too.

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On Writing: Part Two

My Writing Process

On Writing Part TwoIn my first blog post on writing, I gave some practical and inspirational tips for writers. In this blog post, I will discuss the writing process, or more specifically, my writing process. As I mentioned before, I enjoyed reading Stephen King’s On Writing. His process was so different from mine but I took a lot away from reading about his writing process and it made me reflect on my own process. I see the writing process as the intersection between creativity and productivity, the place where your inspiration bares fruit and a work of literary art is created. If you feel that you will live the life of a writer or even have a career as a writer, then you will need to have your own writing process, one that allows you to successfully complete a writing project, whether it be a short story or a poem or a novel or whatever. Every great writer has a process and you should too. So let’s get started.

When it comes to writing fiction, I mostly write what is referred to as literary fiction, or more specifically, fiction that focuses on its characters rather than its plot. Unlike genre fiction, where there can be a well-defined blue print for story structure, literary fiction only has the precedence of past literary works whose stories / narrative structures are as unique as their characters. Since I began writing short stories, novels, and comic strips over 20 years ago, I’ve discovered what exactly my writing process is and I’ve been able to replicate it. I am able to visualize a story that I want a character to explore and then complete my project the way I imagined it to be. For those of you who may be new writers, or writers that are interested in reflecting on your own process (like me), I’ll describe how my two novels about Simon Burchwood came about and how I completed them. Hopefully, as it did for me when I read Stephen King’s On Writing, this blog post will help you understand your own writing process and where your creativity and productivity intersect to create literary art.

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Head Lice Brought My Family Together

lice_combThis past August, both of my daughters were enrolled in a summer camp in my neighborhood. Spending their summer days in the neighborhood, I thought, was a great way for them to stay connected to their friends from school, considering the majority of the kids enrolled in the camp lived in our neighborhood. My kids' days were fun but long and after I picked them up and brought them home, they usually fell into a deep lull of relaxation and laziness, catching up on a little TV or being creative. This past summer was particularly brutal with a record number of days above 100 degrees and a stifling heat that made being outside as pleasant as getting a root canal from burly, Russian dentist with big hands. One day, after picking them up and bringing them home, I noticed the temperature on the nuclear clock in my living room said it was 118 degrees outside. "Shit," I thought. "This is torture." I decided that lying on my bed under the ceiling fan in my air-conditioned bedroom was a fabulous idea so I commenced to lounge.

After a few minutes, my oldest daughter came into my room. She looked kind of perplexed. Kids her age are always kind of perplexed. I kind of like that about preteen kids.

"Daddy?" she asked.

"Yes baby?" I replied.

"I found a bug in my hair."

"You did?"

"Yes."

"Where is it?"

"I don't know. It disappeared."

"I wouldn't worry about it. Sometimes bugs do that. That's why they're called bugs."

"OK daddy."

She left my room and I went back to relaxing under the fan. A few moments later, she came back in.

"Daddy?"

"Yes baby?"

"My head itches."

Shit. Not good. The possibility of what that meant was evident to me, although I hated to think my kid could be infected. I was disturbed and concerned.

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On Writing: Part One

Tips on Writing Fiction

On Writing Part OneWhen I tell people that I'm a writer, in general, a few things happen. Almost always, I get a bizarre look in return that implies, "You're kidding, right?" The most puzzling thing to me about this initial response is that it is almost always followed by this response, "You know? I've always wanted to be a writer." Really? Then why don't you write? This routine usually morphs into an insane amount of beer drinking and long discussions about dashed hopes and crushed dreams of not pursuing a literary career by the person who started this conversation in the first place. I'm always being prodded for writing tips whether from Twitter followers or bar patrons or acquaintances who know that I've been a writer for almost 20 years (oof!) and I have a decent amount of literary output and byline credits to show for it. Do I mind talking about? I don't mind one bit.

You may be asking yourself (if you're curious at all about the writing process), "Who the hell does this asshole think he is? Who gave him the 'Writer Know-It-All' badge?" In which I would reply, "Ummm. You're quite hostile." I do not claim to be a Samurai Master of Writing. I do not go on lecture tours and show Power Point presentations about the structure of genre novels. I do not wear a monocle and a smoking jacket while sitting in a leather recliner and pontificate about iambic pentameter in Shakespearean plays. I do not claim to be anything but a writer who is asked a lot of questions about writing from people who are truly curious about writing. I enjoy the writing process or, better said, MY writing process. I enjoy the satisfaction that comes from completing a writing project, whatever it may be, from blog post to short story to novel. I most particularly like the responses from readers that enjoy my written work. It is very satisfying to me. Have I made a gazillion dollars as a writer? No. Am I famous? No. Do I know what I'm doing? Yes. Do you trust me? Who knows but goddamn it, I'm going to write about writing. It will be fun. Do I have credentials? Yes, I have a B.A. in English from the University of Texas at Austin in which I wrote an honor's thesis on the narrative strategies of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Do I have an agent? Not right now but I had one a couple of years ago and I'm currently looking for a new one. Have I been published? Yes. Blah blah blah blah... let's get on with it. OK? Let's go!

I'm going to split this blog post about writing into a few posts, maybe 3, maybe 4, I haven't decided yet but there will be a few. This particular post will be about some writing tips. There will be another about the writing process, my process, then one with frequently asked questions about writing and writers. Ready?

The following "writing tips" were born out of a message from a Twitter follower who asked me to give a writing tip to her then the rest of them spilled out in the form of a few Tweets later that day. They appear in no particular order of importance except for #9 which needs to be last in this group of tips. In all honesty, there are hundreds of great writing tips but these are some that popped into my head that day. Here they are:

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The Worry Generation

father_daughterI take pride in being a good parent or at least trying to be a good parent. That's my goal anyway. So when I was watching the comedian Louis C.K. last week, I couldn't help but laugh at his jokes about being a single dad. Those jokes, like laser-guided missiles, were dead-on target, funny, and very true (the best comedians can do that, you know?). After laughing so hard that tears were pouring out of my eyes like a busted water faucet, Louis said something very poignant, "I found out I'm a pretty bad father. I make a lot of mistakes. I don't know what I'm doing. But my kids love me." And that was it. I was crying like a little girl. Well, maybe not a little girl. OK, I wasn't crying at all. I'm a tough guy, you know?

Louis did get me thinking though. As a parent, I always use what I know as a point of reference and for most of us good parents, we think about what our parents did for us as children when we try to make parenting decisions for our own kids. The funny thing is, as my kids get older and more and more decisions have to be made for them, I realize that what my parents did was in stark contrast to what I do now. For instance, I recently had a conversation with my kids about them walking to school. My immediate reaction was, "There is no way in hell that you girls are going to walk to school. There is an extremely busy street where we live. You could get run over. And kidnappers! What about the KIDNAPPERS?! And don't get me started about the CHILD MOLESTERS!" After I dropped my kids off at school, I thought really hard about what my parents let me do when I was my own daughters' ages. I dusted off those childhood memories and remembered that when I was in kindergarten, my dad let me ride my bike to school, which was a few miles from my house. I had to ride through an alley and a field of grass to get to a road that took me through the other side of the neighborhood to my elementary school. I was only five years old. I didn't get run over. I didn't get kidnapped. And I did not get molested. Weird, huh?

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More Lunch Bag Art 2011

Last summer, I started an art project with my kids for their summer camp. At least once a week, I created Custom Art Lunch Bags for them. They loved it! It's the time of year to continue that tradition and I will keep an on-going gallery here of the lunch bags I create for them. Enjoy!

 

The Power of FREE

How an eBook Shot to the Kindle Bestseller Top 10 List in One Day

celebrateI was minding my own business the other day when I received this cryptic email from the Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing team. It said:

Dear Publisher,

We wanted to let you know that we have matched a free promotion on another sales channel for the following ASIN(s):

B003B656DG

Please allow up to 24 hours for the price change to reflect on the Kindle store. Note that as provided on our Pricing Page, you will not earn royalties for free copies of this book during the free promotion.

If you have questions, please reply to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Thank you,

Amazon KDP Team

Now, I thought this was kind of strange because I cannot set the prices for my eBooks as FREE in the KDP control panel. The lowest price I can set is 99 cents. For a long time, I felt 99 cents was a good price for my eBooks that were short stories. I set my novels and other longer books at $2.99 but 99 cents made sense for short stories, kind of like 99 cents for a song but a higher price for an album. Anyway, I didn't know what eBook they were referring to by that weird ASIN code so I had to go research it.

Turns out that particular ASIN number is for The Butterfly Effect, a fictional short story about my daughters and I. It is one of the few short stories I have for sale for the Kindle that has consistently sold at least a few copies a month for the past year or so. Since it is also a short story that is included in my book Modicum, I have set its price as FREE through my other eBook distributors in hopes of getting some sales for Modicum. But since Amazon wouldn't let me set its price at FREE, it remained at 99 cents in the Kindle Store until May 10th. And then… WHAMMO! It hit the Bestseller Lists in 2 categories! HOLY SHIT! As of this writing, it is #6 in Kindle eBooks Humor and #7 in Kindle eBooks Literary Fiction. I have proof, check it! In one day, this eBook went from an overall Kindle rank of #202,265 to #233. Amazing!

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If you found my blogs, stories, cartoons, or other articles on my website useful or entertaining, then please visit my Books page and check out my novels as well as my comic strip compilation and my collection of short stories and cartoons. They are all available in eBook, paperback, and hardcover formats. For a pittance, you can purchase something great to read while supporting a writer with a large family and lots of mouths to feed. Thanks for your support, Scott.