I’m a science teacher. Next year, I’m teaching a Science Fiction and Fantasy English class.

I hated English in high school.

If there was one class I thought I’d never want to teach…it’s English. Reading was kind of boring, writing was a lot of work for little gain, and grading papers…no, no, no, no. Yet, here I am entering my 10th year of teaching at Collegiate, and I’m about to teach a section of high school English.

How did it come to this??? Let’s start back in high school…

Reading in High School

We read books like The Stranger and As I Lay Dying and The Scarlet Letter and the play Julius Caesar. All teacher-chosen books, and all excellent works (from what I’m told) of historical fiction literature by dead white men. But not books I was likely to ever get excited about. Falling in love with reading and becoming a life-long reader was not going to happen.

I never once (in high school) got to read a book of my choosing for class. I was a student, but I didn’t get to be a reader, someone who chooses books to read in order to learn and experience new things.

Writing in High School

We wrote research papers and literary analysis essays. I compared Denethor from Lord of the Rings (which I read in middle school…remember, I never got to choose a book to read in high school) to Willy Loman from Death of a Salesman. I made notecards for a research paper on the ethics of stem cell research (I think…I can’t quite remember). Never anything I would want to write on my own. I never saw myself as a writer.

Once, I did get to write a descriptive one-pager. I remember I wrote it about what I felt driving in my truck. I’m sure it was actually over-wordy and full of cringey purple prose, but I had fun with it and other students thought it was great. I was proud of it. I think it’s one of the only things I was proud of in high school English.

To be fair, I had great high school English teachers. Gurnow, Boyer, and Henningsen led their classes well. I have fond memories from my time in those classes, and I gained necessary skills for college. But I think the way English is traditionally taught fails too many of us.

What Made Me Want to Teach an English Class

Fast forward six years. I’ve graduated college (studying engineering so I wouldn’t have to read and write much) and am beginning a career in science education at a great school. Every day, all teachers and students in the building have this 15-minute block of time called R&R to read a book of our choosing. I’ve watched the first season of Game of Thrones on a bootleg website, and I feel a bit guilty about that, so I start reading A Clash of Kings, the second book in the A Song of Ice and Fire (i.e., Game of Thrones) series, and the longest stinkin’ book I’ve ever cracked open. And I love it. I can’t wait to get home each night to finish the chapter I’d started during R&R. I realize that all the books I’d ever really loved were fantasy. I start to think that maybe I am a reader after all.

I just never realized fantasy and science fiction were genres that readers read.

Fast forward another six years, and I get the itch to start writing my own fiction. I start working on a novel (spoiler alert, novels are hard to write). The novel doesn’t happen, but I do start writing some short fiction, entering some competitions, and even get a few stories published (which you can read here if you’d like). I start to think that maybe I’m not just a reader; maybe I’m a writer too. I’ve started developing (as Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle would say) my identity as a reader and a writer.

Fast forward another few years to 2020. This past year, as part of a professional development unit at my school, I read The Book Whisperer with three middle school English teachers. Yeah, a strange turn of events that I, a high school science teacher, ended up reading a book about getting students to fall in love with reading. What Donalyn Miller describes in her book—a chaotic classroom full of students reading books of their choice, recommending books to each other, surrounded by thousands of books—was so contrary to anything I’d ever seen. It was what I wished my English class would have been. It made me excited about what an English class could be.

Then rumors emerged about a revamping of high school English at my school. (Credit to Thomas Pillow, Peter Bouck, and Shelia Morgan for pioneering this!) Instead of students signing up for required English 2 or English 3, students would have choices, getting to choose classes like Women’s Literature, Coming of Age Literature, Mysteries and Suspense, or Poetry. Classes would be semester-long, with fiction classes in the fall and non-fiction classes in the spring.

Just as I’d developed my identity as a reader and a writer, maybe I could help students do the same…

So I started dropping hints that I would love to teach a class on science fiction and fantasy, and people thought I was joking at first. I mean, maybe I was. It was ridiculous, but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to share my love for SFF with a class of nerdy, SFF-loving kids. And here I am, prepping to teach it.

How This Class Will Be Different

For about half of the semester, students will read books of their choosing. So I took my classroom budget from this year (being most virtual all year, I didn’t need to spend that much on science supplies), went to novel. bookstore, and bought a ton of books that I think my students might want to read. They should have plenty to choose from!

The other half of the semester, they’ll read one whole-class novel and one small-group “book club” book. My plan is to read Dawn by Octavia Butler as our whole-class novel. I think it’s brilliant, and Butler is an important author to know. So much to unpack in the book, with themes of colonialism, consent, and what it means to be human.

For book clubs, students will rank their choices from a list of five books. Then I’ll assign their book clubs, and they’ll meet with their small group each week to discuss the book. I actually did this in my Physics class last year, and it went well. I’m excited to try it again with science fiction and fantasy. Aiming for diversity in author and genre, I picked these book club options: The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez (my favorite book of 2020), Wings of Ebony by J. Elle, Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson, Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas, and The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (the book that first got me into fantasy).

As for writing, we’ll spend half the semester actually writing in the genres of science fiction and fantasy. Students crafting their own characters and stories, learning how to write narratives and learning to read as a writer. During the second half, we’ll focus on literary analysis.

This structure mostly comes from the book 180 Days: Two Teachers and the Quest to Engage and Empower Adolescents. Highly recommend.

I’ve seriously thought about leaving education several times in my ten-year career. I have an engineering degree, after all. But what keeps bringing me back are things like this. The opportunity to try something new, to break out of the mold of the way class has always been done and into something that might better serve students.

I’ll still be teaching mostly science next year, and don’t worry, I can’t see myself switching over to teaching English full-time. But I sure am excited to talk to students about SFF books and help them learn how to write their own SFF stories.

A Year of Making Science Videos

A year ago, I sat in front of my computer, frustrated and on the verge of angry tears.

The pandemic had become real a week earlier. My school closed its building, and we spent a week planning for fourth quarter “emergency online learning.” It was a fast transition, but one my school did well. We went fully asynchronous for fourth quarter, and so as teachers we were planning lessons our students could complete without real-time guidance from us.

And I returned to a former dream of mine: making excellent instructional YouTube videos for my classes.

I had a little extra time to do it, and I had a real need. It would be the only direct instruction I’d be able to provide to my students for the rest of that school year.

So I paid $50 to upgrade to the latest version of Screenflow, a video recording/editing program for Mac, and proceeded to start recording a video that I needed to post that same day.

The details of what happened next are fuzzy, but I had a really hard time with the program, which was recording laggy, unwatchable video. A few hours into it, I was frustrated, I felt like I was neglecting my family because of all the time I spent failing at video production, AND I just wasted money on a program that wasn’t working. (For the record, I don’t recommend Screenflow. If you stumble upon any of my older videos where I seem laggy, it was recorded in Screenflow, and customer service was unhelpful in solving the problem.)

I was ready to give up on the whole educational video thing. But after Carol talked me down, I decided to give it another try.

Fast forward a year, and I’ve made over 70 videos (mostly for my A&P classes), and the channel has had a ton of growth:

I get way fewer views in the summer, and the dip in January is winter break.

I also hit a particularly important milestone for any budding YouTuber: monetization!

To start receiving ad revenue on YouTube, you need at least 1000 subscribers and at least 4000 hours of watch time in the last 12 months. I just hit that second requirement last week. Today, after applying for monetization, I received this email:

So now when there’s an ad on one of my videos, YouTube only takes half the revenue instead of taking all of it!

Really, it’s not about the money (at this point, I have little idea how much I’ll get from this…somewhere between $1 and $150/month). It’s more about the validation that I’ve made something that others find value in, and I’ll get some small compensation for that.

Most importantly, it’s been rewarding to hear from people who have watched my videos. The messages I’ve received from teachers who watch my videos, teachers who assign my videos, or students around the world who kindly take a moment to leave a comment as they’re cramming for the next day’s test have been incredibly rewarding.

Wherever the channel goes from here, I’m glad I didn’t give up on video production that first frustrating night. See you in the next video!

Curriculum notes from my first year teaching Anatomy & Physiology

A few weeks ago, clearing out some storage space filled with long-forgotten binders of notes from my education classes, PDs, and conferences, I stumbled across my notes from the first year I taught A&P.

What I most remember was teaching myself the content over the weekend so I could teach it to my students the next day. Scrambling, trying to keep up. A friend of mine, Kelly, came to my rescue that year back in 2012 by sharing with me her old A&P binder full of notes she took. It was a freaking goldmine.

Anytime I didn’t know what to teach and what not to teach, I went to her binder. And as I crafted my curriculum that year, I ended up making my own binder of notes. Besides the intro unit, this is everything I taught that year.

If you are a new A&P teacher looking for a starting point, these notes could be just what you’re looking for.

Of course, these notes are not perfect. I taught in a weird unit order because my skeleton model was on backorder from the science supply company. I taught some things I think were completely unnecessary (like having students memorize 25 arteries and 25 veins). I lectured wayyyyy too much, and spent too little time making my students analyze and apply what they were learning.

But, as notes go, they’re not bad. And if you’re lost like I was that first year, they may be just the anchor you need, like Kelly’s A&P binder was for me.

For a better guide to what I teach now, click here.

And speaking of first year…here are a couple old photos from my first years teaching!

Class photo! I looked so different back then.
Look at that clueless first-year teacher…

Six Steps to Starting a Podcast!

by Someone Who Has Never Started a Podcast

Have you ever been in a class and wondered, “When will I actually use this in real life? Does anyone even need to need to know this?”

Well, my friend Andy and I are starting a podcast to help answer the age-old question:

“When will I need this?”

And in an effort to Show Our Work, here’s a step-by-step tutorial on how to get to the point where you’re ready to start recording a podcast! (by someone who has not yet recorded his first podcast)

1 – Talk a friend into starting a freaking podcast!

The first step is to get a stupid idea and share it with a friend who might think the idea isn’t completely stupid. And just like the time senior year of high school when Andy told me we should get tattoos, I thought starting a podcast sounded like a thing we could totally do and not regret it later. Here’s what that stage looked like for us:

2 – Make a shared Google Doc.

Great. We knew we wanted to make a podcast. Next question: what the heck will it be about?


No, it won’t be about crickets, but Andy works as a biologist and I studied engineering and work as a science teacher, so we knew we wanted to do something science-y and informative, yet fun. We bounced around a bunch of ideas, and started loading all our thoughts into a shared Google doc.

We’re still loading ideas into the shared doc, refining it, leaving comments…it became sort of our central hub for podcast things. It had sections for potential podcast names, episode ideas, a plan for episode format, questions about recording logistics, podcast hosting platforms, and a ton of other stuff. Here’s an old version of the doc. (Excuse the messiness…like I said, it’s a brainstorming tool!)

3 – Come up with an interesting concept.

Tons of ideas, but we settled on the “When Will I Need This?” because of a few key reasons:

  1. It’s unique. We couldn’t any other podcast answering this particular question. Whereas there are a ton of science podcasts, this idea seemed somewhat novel.
  2. It can be explained in a single sentence. The concept is a pretty straightforward question that takes less than 10 seconds to communicate.
  3. Everyone can relate to it. Every time I share the idea with someone, they get a thoughtful look on their face. It’s like they’re instantly transported back to a time where they wondered this exact thing.
  4. There are plenty of topics to cover. We’ll start with some of the obvious things (mitochondria, cursive, algebra, five-paragraph essays, Eli Whitney inventing the cotton gin (which came up every single year of history class somehow)), but we could really take any topic we’re interested in and turn into an episode.

4 – Make a sweet thumbnail to feel more legit.

I made this in Canva. It wasn’t a necessary step at this point (we haven’t recorded an episode), but it sure makes the whole thing feel more legit and real! I’m sure this will change, maybe even before the first episode drops, but in the meantime it’s a pretty cool placeholder.

5 – Fumble around in Garageband until you have cool intro music.

I’m not a particularly musically-inclined person, but dang it if I can’t teach myself a new skill! Garageband has a steep learning curve, but I resisted the urge to throw my iPad against the wall multiple times and was able to find some pre-recorded loops and finagle them into something usable for a solid intro.

We’ve also considered paying someone on Fiverr to do some music, but free is nice too. Check out the intro music below! (We’ll both be speaking on the actual intro…I was just trying to experiment with how the music would sound with voices around it.)

6 – Record your first freakin’ podcast episode!

We’re scheduled to record our first episode (the powerhouse of the cell, baby!) next Thursday. More updates to come.

Oh! One more thing. Our fledgling, zero-episode podcast is now on social media! Follow @NeedThisPod on Twitter and Instagram!

First Day of Practice

The whole parking lot of the Glenview Community Center in Orange Mound is lined with campaign signs as my brother Darius rolls my wheelchair to the passenger door.

“This shit sounds stupid,” I say.

Darius raises an eyebrow as I pull myself into the chair. “I don’t know man, might be cool.”

The physical therapist told me about the Memphis Rollin’ Grizzlies, these guys who play basketball in wheelchairs. She gave me their coach Al’s number, told me to call, and unfortunately my mom overheard the therapist and made me call because I sure as hell wasn’t going to. At rehab, they knew I used to play ball, so they had me trying to shoot baskets at the hospital’s gym. I could barely get the ball to the net sitting down, and when they started lowering the basket for me, I just left. The thought of seeing a group of grown men in wheelchairs doing the same thing just sounds depressing. 

But here we are.

I hear the basketballs dribbling to my left as we enter the community center. Through double doors, guys in chairs streak past faster than I expect. I give Darius a look.

We sit in the doorway and watch. Practice started thirty minutes ago, but on the phone Al said to get here whenever. He’d kept saying I just needed to get in to see a practice. 

“Alright, boys, back on the line!” Across the gym, a small white man in a wheelchair calls out instructions, and the ten guys push hard down the length of the court, then turn faster than I’ve ever been able to in my chair. The coach waves us over.

After some introductions, Al starts telling us about the game, how most of the rules are the same as “able-bodied” basketball, which is what he calls regular basketball. 

“The hoop is still ten feet?” I ask. 

“Yeah, everything about the court is the same.”

A few minutes later, Al checks his watch. “Alright, gentlemen, get some water!” 

Everyone looks out of breath as they get water and start shooting around. A couple guys come over and introduce themselves: a redhead who towers over us and a light-skinned black guy with long, muscled arms. He looks like he could play professionally if not for his skinny legs.

They ask me questions, and I tell them about my gunshot injury, leaving out the depression that came after I woke up and realized I wasn’t dead but that my life was over. I can tell they feel sad for me, but not sorry for me like everyone else has up to this point.

While I talk, I see a short, white, bearded player roll under the basket and make a reverse layup. A big dude with a du-rag and no legs drains a shot from a few feet behind the three-point line. Then he does it again

This isn’t what I thought it was, and I finally admit to myself how much I want to be a part of it. But my mind flashes back to rehab…

“You alright, bro?” Darius asks. 

I nod slowly and mumble. “I don’t know if I can do all this.”

Al puts a hand on my shoulder, and his voice changes to that of a father giving advice. “Don’t cut yourself short. These guys were all in your same position at one point.”

“This takes time, you feel me?” one player says. “We gonna get you out here hoopin’ though.”

Al calls out to the guy who was draining threes. “Big O! Come here a minute.”

“What’s up, fam?” O says, shaking my hand.

Al points to me, tells Big O how long I’ve been in a chair.

“Man, you real fresh,” O says. “This shit don’t get easy, but it gets easier, you know what I’m saying?”

I nod and listen to Big O tell about his accident, how he coped with everything and still is coping, how he was intimidated to get out on the court at first too.

Then I watch him go out there and post people up on the block, and I wonder how he was ever scared. 

“What do you think, you gonna come back Wednesday?” Al asks as they scrimmage. “We’ll get you in a ball chair, see how that feels.”

“Yeah, I’ll be here,” I say, holding back a smile. 

“Alright, welcome to the Grizzlies.”

Author’s note:

I wrote this for a flash fiction contest a few years ago. The only requirements were that it had to be under 750 words and it had to embody Memphis in some way. It didn’t win the contest, but as I’ve been missing playing basketball during the pandemic, I thought I’d share the story.

I think Memphis is a lot like a kid going to a wheelchair basketball practice for the first time. Down on his luck, going through some really hard stuff. But also so full of potential, just needing permission to dream of what he could become. That his life isn’t over yet.

That’s what wheelchair sports do for people.

And special thanks to Quain and Al for keeping the team going here in Memphis all this time, despite all we’ve put you guys through 🙂

Best Books I Read in 2019!

Hey! So, everybody’s doing these posts at the turn of the New Year, but you know what?

People like reading them, as evidenced by the fact that you clicked on this post and the fact that:

  1. you clicked on this link, and
  2. more people read my Best Books I Read in 2018! post from last year than any of my other posts.
So, as Mario would say, here we gooooooooooooooooooo!

5. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

A single caption cannot adequately describe this strange book. You got to read it for yourself.

This is the weirdest book I’ve read (in some ways).

I first heard of this book at MidSouthCon a few years ago. On a panel, Ellen Datlow (well-known horror editor) described it as this book where you had to start

Most of the book is a series of essays written by a guy named Zampanó. The essays are about a documentary made by a filmmaker Navidson, who discovers his new house is…strange. The inside dimensions are a fraction of an inch larger than the outside dimensions, which is impossible. From there the house grows stranger and Navidson becomes obsessed, at the expense of his relationship with his wife. Also, while you read the essays, there are footnote commentaries by a guy named Johnny, who is reading Zampanó’s essays about Navidson’s documentary.

Okay. It’s hard to explain. Even harder to describe is the text layout. See below for some examples. In the first picture, the characters are wandering through a frustrating maze while the reader is reading through a frustrating footnote-laden maze of text. SO META, AMIRIGHT?

If all of that interests you, then GO READ THIS BOOK. If it doesn’t, then DON’T GO READ THIS BOOK. It’s not for everyone. But it’s weird and strange and awesome.

Buy it at novel., on Amazon, or borrow it from me if you live in Memphis!

4. Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

It is said you have a nose…

This is the other weirdest book I’ve read (in other ways).

This book was everything I secretly wished Children of Blood and Bone would be. To be fair, CoBaB is YA. Black Leopard, Red Wolf is very not YA. It was an unfair expectation.

The book is a hard read. The plot winds, many things that happen are distorted through the beliefs and prejudices of the narrator, and many stories are told for unclear reasons. But it’s so good.

When novel., our local bookstore, asked community members for shelf-talkers (recommendation with little description) last year, I wrote one on this book:

This book is weird (in the best way). It’s African. It’s queer. It’s violent (insert all the trigger warnings here). It’s epic fantasy that pushes me as a reader beyond the traditional Eurocentric fantasy tropes of Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones toward something fresh and new. Infused with African mythology, the book follows Tracker and his companions as they search for a mysterious boy and discover that those they trust are not what they seem.

It’s billed as the “African Game of Thrones,” but it’s not. Black Leopard, Red Wolf is its own beast.

Also, book 2 of this series will cover the events of book 1, but from the perspective of one of the villains from book 1. Book 3 will be from the perspective of the boy they’re trying to find. I’m pumped to see how Marlon James plays with perspective in the rest of the series.

But it at novel., on Amazon, or borrow from me or your local library!

3. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Best memoir I’ve ever read.

Surprisingly, this book had nothing to do with Noah’s rise to fame as a comedian and Daily Show host. It’s all about him as a little boy trying to find his way during his childhood during Apartheid.

We read this as part of novel. Book Club, and it was one of a few books that literally everyone liked. At the end of the year, several cited it as their favorite book of the year.

His stories range from trying to find a girlfriend to getting in with a bad crowd selling bootleg CDs, to finding out his abusive stepfather shot his mother. Parts are hilarious, heart-wrenching, informative, and beautiful.

And unlike my first couple entries on this list, it’s very accessible. I’d recommend it to anyone!

Buy it at novel., on Amazon, or borrow it from me or at your local library!

2. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

And one night, the Carls just appeared…

When I heard Hank Green (who I know from Crash Course and brother of famous YA author John Green) was writing a book, I knew I wanted to read it.

The premise is this: late one night, April discovers a huge robot statue thingy in the middle of the city. She records a video and uploads it to her YouTube channel. As more of these huge, inexplicable robot statues are discovered around world, April becomes internet-famous as the first person to document them.

The rest of the book is about how this fame affects April and her relationships as she and others around the world work to figure out what the heck these things are. Aliens? An elaborate prank? A secretive art installation?

I also appreciated that it was centered around a college-age protagonist. It’s not quite YA, but more post-YA (sometimes called New Adult). But it was awesome. Page-turner that also explores some relevant themes about internet fame, divisive politics, and humanity coming together to solve a problem.

But it at novel., on Amazon, or borrow it from your local library (because I don’t own a copy)!

Before I reveal my number one…
Honorable Mentions!

These were great and definitely could have made this list:

…and my least favorite book of the year!

Zone One by Colson Whitehead

There’s a reason you’ve not heard of Whitehead’s first novel. He somehow took the zombie horror genre and mashed it up with nothing-really-happens literary fiction and created the most horrifying reading experience of the year:

Having to finish a book I suggested for book club and feeling bad that I inadvertently subjected a book club of people I really like to this wordy piece of garbage.

Luckily, I had it on audiobook, so I could let the second half of the book bounce against my tympanic membrane for long enough that I could count it in my list of books that I read. It was excruciating. It left me with a bad case of Post-Apocalyptic Stress Disorder (PASD). That was Whitehead’s term, not mine.

For the record, some folks in book club did like it. So take my words with a grain of salt. And I’ve heard his other books are good…

And finally! My number one book of the year!

1. Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

A powerful collection of stories.

I love short stories. As a writer, it’s a way to explore an idea quickly, to provoke a visceral emotional response, to surprise and entertain in a short time.

If you have never read a short story collection, I recommend you start with this one. Adjei-Brenyah does all the things I mentioned above in a way that will stick with you. Here are three that stuck with me:

In “Zimmer Land,” a young black boy navigates what it would be like to work in an amusement park where patrons get to shoot a black kid in a hoodie as part of a fantasy on the pretense of protecting their family. Disclaimer: Many (not all) of these stories deal with triggering themes. These particular stories are not “fun” or “entertaining” in the traditional sense, but they are powerful and will affect how you think about the issues they explore.

In “The Era,” the world has changed so that everyone says exactly what’s on their mind. In the past, people used to lie just for the sake of being nice or polite. It’s a jarring premise, but fascinating, making me evaluate the line between honesty and not being a jerk.

In “How to Sell a Jacket As Told by IceKing,” the protagonist is a hotshot jacket salesman selling clothes to literal consumer zombies (a hilarious concept) in order to win a brand new jacket for his mother.

All that being said, here’s the biggest compliment I can give this book: It made me want to be a better writer myself by showing me what a short story can really do. A short story can take a crazy idea (or crazy fact about our society) and use it to make someone see the world differently.

But it at novel., on Amazon, or borrow it from me or your local library!

I got to briefly meet him when he came to speak at novel.! Also, he follows me on Twitter, NBD. Speaking of which, YOU SHOULD FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER TOO, HERE’S A LINK.

Here’s to another year of reading!

Let me know what your best book of the year was and why I should read it in 2020! And if you’re curious, here’s my full list of books I read in 2019.

I was on the Write Away Podcast! Critique Groups!

For about a year, I’ve been in a writing critique group with three other excellent folks who are also doing this whole writing thing. One of our members, Rae Harding, connected on Twitter with Natalie Lockett, a YA writer who recently started a writing podcast called “Write Away.” Natalie was recording a podcast on peer and professional critique, and she asked us if we’d like to be on the podcast and share about our critique group and how it’s impacted our writing.

If you are a writer, check out this podcast. If you just like the sound of my voice, listen to episode 3.

Of course, we said yes!

If you are a writer (and especially if you are an aspiring author), I highly recommend finding/creating a critique group. It can be as simple as finding other authors and asking them to join you in a group! That’s basically what happened with ours.

There are dozens of reasons to be part of a critique group. Here are a few:

  • Get feedback on your writing
  • Get to know other writers and form a support network for your writing career
  • Learn by critiquing others’ writing

Check out the episode here!

Or find Write Away podcast on iTunes or Spotify! We were on Episode 3: Peer and Professional Critique.

What Alice Would Say

“Do you want to go see your mommy today?” I ask.

Madi squints her eyes up real tight like she does when she’s figuring something out. “I don’t know. It’s not very fun there.”

Madi and I are both sitting on the couch. She has her copy of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom splayed out across her legs. I loosen my tie.

“It’s been a few days, Madi. I know it can be sad, but we should go see her. ”

I scoot over closer to her. I think I’m supposed to put my arm around her or something. I pat her shoulder instead. I don’t know how to do this, to comfort someone, but it’s a start.

My sister Alice was always the jovial one. She would light up when she saw me, especially after I got back from a long business trip or hadn’t visited in a while. She made people feel special just for being alive.

“Is there anything you’d like to tell mommy?”

Madi pulls her legs up close to her body, and the book slides down to the floor, bending the pages.

Alice would know what to say here.

“How does it make you feel when we go see her, Madi?”

Madi shrugs.

“Does it make you feel sad?”

A moment passes. She gives a subtle nod.

I swallow, wishing I had something to say. “Godfather” had been a celebratory term four years ago when Alice asked me. According to the doctor, it would not be long until “godfather” became just…


It doesn’t feel right to say it. It won’t for a long time.

“I feel sad too,” I said. “You know, it’s okay to feel sad.”

Madi leans into me, and I put my arm around her.

Despite the pain, I think this feels right.

Author’s note:

I wrote this tiny story in a half hour during a meeting of the creative writing club that I co-lead with another teacher at my school. We gave the kids a prompt, and we both decided to write stories for it as well. Here was the prompt:

Put a character in a situation entirely new to the character, e.g., college, a new school, a new job, a new city/country. Let the character improvise a new identity, as most of us do when we enter a new world. This exercise should be about the new situation but how the character adjusts herself and her mind to the new situation.

As my wife Carol and I have started the adoption process, I think I may have been subconsciously processing the idea of suddenly going from “not-a-parent” to “parent” and how strange the associated emotions might be. I think I have a lot of the insecurities that the uncle/godfather in this story has, and I’ll have to face those when the time comes.

Best Books I Read in 2018!

Hey! I read (or listened to on audiobook) a lot of books this year. Here are my top five!

5. Able-Bodied Like Me by Matt Glowacki

A quick read that reflects many of my thoughts about living with a visible physical disability!

I believe this is the first book I’ve ever read about disability. It’s just never been something that’s never interested me, reading-wise. I have my own beliefs about disability, which, when asked, I’ve shared with individuals and groups of people.

But when I heard that civility speaker Matt Glowacki, who I used to play wheelchair basketball and softball with back when I lived in Missouri, was writing a book, I got excited. Matt was born without legs and has used a wheelchair to get around for most of his life. I knew Matt was someone who would share some similar views on disability and what it’s like to be a person who uses a wheelchair. While my experiences don’t align exactly with Matt’s (not all wheelchair people are the same, haha), there are so many things I identified with.

Although this book is fifth on my list, I’m going to recommend it more strongly than any other book on here. If you want to know what it’s like to have a disability like mine, go read this book. Also, it’s short and really interesting! Buy it here, or ask to borrow my copy!

4. In the Woods by Tana French

The book that (might have) changed my mind about mysteries.

I have only ever read TWO mystery novels in my life, and both have been part of a book club I’m in through our local independent bookstore, Novel. It’s simply a genre that’s never interested me. I love fantasy, where heroes and legends are born and the fates of whole worlds are on the line….compared to that, discovering who murdered some random person has always seemed to me kind of boring.

In the Woods by Tana French may have changed my mind. I found myself tearing through the pages to figure out what the heck was going on. I have a few qualms with some minor plot points, but in the end, I cared about the love story, I was so frustrated (in a good way) with the protagonist’s stupid decisions, and I: was excited that this became about more than just solving a murder. Also, the ending, love it or hate it, is far from the cookie-cutter kind of ending I expected. Who knows? At some point, I may pick up Tana French’s second book of my own accord…

3. Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

A fascinating true-crime book that shows the extent to which corrupt people in power will oppress others.

Another book club book that I would have never picked up on my own. This impressively-researched true crime story is insane. You know when you watch a movie and the villain is really evil, and you think, “Nobody can really be that evil, right?” Well, the bad guy(s) here are that bad.

It tells the story of the systematic murder of wealthy Osage Native Americans in the 1920s and how the FBI rose to prominence by “solving” this case. I won’t spoil anything else here, but I’ll just say that the lengths that we white people have gone to exploit Native Americans is mind-blowing.

2. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Powerful memoir, and a story worth telling.

I knew I’d end up reading this book after reading the first sentence: “I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a dumpster.”

This memoir tells the story of Walls as a little girl growing up in a dysfunctional family. Her relationship with her father was interesting to me. He loved her, in a way, but he was also neglectful and manipulative. This is Walls’s journey to desire her independence, then fight for her independence, then reconcile with her family who has failed her and her siblings in so many ways. It’s also beautifully written.

Before I reveal my number one…Honorable Mentions!

These were great and definitely could have made this list:

  • Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson
  • Looking for Alaska by John Green
  • High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
  • Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

…and my least favorite book of the year!

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Okay, so I think it’s generally a terrible idea to hate on things that other people love. People who do that are the worst. But I just could not enjoy this book. Once I got about a quarter of the way through it, I looked up reviews and saw that people LOVED this book, and it seriously blew my mind. I found it incredibly boring and (for a novel marketed as a comedy) not funny. It turns out it was parodying over-dramatic doom and gloom novels about rural English life in the late 20’s/early 30’s, which I didn’t even know was a thing, so I think that’s why most of the humor was lost on me.

And finally! My number one book of the year!

1. The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

Aliens, science fiction, philosophy, Jesus, and the immense literal and metaphorical distances between us.

Remember when I said I don’t like mysteries? You heard me wrong. I don’t like murder mysteries all that much. This story had me asking, “What is really going on here?” the whole time. It’s about a man who is hired by the government to be the first Christian missionary to another planet, where humanity has made contact with an alien species. And the alien species craves Christianity and its stories and, in particular, the healing power of Jesus.

To be clear, this is NOT a “Christian” book. If you like labels, it’s a literary science fiction novel. Although the author is not a Christian, he does a good job of showing beliefs of Christians without caricaturing them. He also avoids making the book preachy or religious or overly-allegorical, like many Christians authors might do. In sum, I’d highly recommend this book for both Christians and non-Christians.

While the protagonist is off successfully sharing the Gospel, he has a hard time connecting with his wife, who is alone on Earth, struggling to keep her faith while natural disasters start tearing the world apart. He’s having huge successes, while his wife falls into despair, and it’s difficult for them to share and relate to each other’s vastly different experiences. It’s like the challenges of dating long distance times a thousand. In real life, the author’s wife died from cancer prior to writing this book, and this story line serves as a powerful metaphor for the inability to fully empathize with a loved one who is going through a life-ending struggle.

If you like science fiction and/or literary fiction and/or thinking about how another sentient species might view a foreign religion that promises them hope, then pick up this book. Or borrow it from me!

Here’s to another year of reading!

Let me know what your best book of the year was and why I should read it in 2019! And if you’re curious, here’s my full list of books I read this year.

Never Go to Bed Angry

I wrote this for the NYC Midnight flash fiction challenge the same weekend I was finishing “Haunted Mansions Are Never Wheelchair Accessible.” I almost gave up on this story because I wasn’t feeling the prompts (ghost story / walking trail / contact solution) and because of the Crippling Self-Doubt Monster, the terrifying, real-life antagonist in many writers’ lives. But I’m glad I did. Enjoy, and remember to never go to bed angry!

Never Go to Bed Angry

Before they got married, Jen told Connor that they should never go to bed angry with each other. Connor saw a lot of wisdom in the idea, so for twelve years, he shared every problem, insecurity, and hurt with her. As he wrapped his arm around her waist each night in bed and kissed her cheek, he fell asleep with no trace of anger in his heart.

Until tonight, when the nothingness of sleep finally swept away his anger and pain…


Connor hiked in silence next to his wife through the cool shade of the towering northern California redwoods, which usually calmed him. The green canopy two hundred meters above made him feel like a kid in a blanket fort, hiding from the world and whatever evil lurked outside its walls.

Jen moved her hand over toward Connor’s, and he pulled away, averting his eyes as Jen lowered her hand back down. Even after her affair, he felt strange not taking her hand as they hiked.

Jen cocked her head to the side with a sad smile that he used to find irresistibly cute. “You know,” she said, “before we came here this time, I thought this place would feel just sort of normal. We’ve been here so many times. But it still reminds me of how big God is, how through every terrible thing we go through, he still remains faith—”

“Stop it, Jen.” He looked at her and held up a hand. “Just stop it.”


They sat on a massive, fallen branch and ate their packed lunches in silence. Connor found it hard to ignore her as tears slid down her cheek. He wanted to hold her, but he couldn’t shake the thought of another man holding her instead.

Jen pulled a tiny bottle of eye drops from her pack and held it above her reddened eyes.  Her hand shook as a drop missed. She was terrible at this and always had Connor do it for her when her frequent allergies came.


She missed her eye again and threw the bottle into the dirt. Connor stood, grabbed the bottle, and brought it over to her. “Here, just let me—”

“No, it’s fine. Forget it. I don’t need them.”

Something rustled behind them, and they both looked up to see a deer walking toward them.

“How does it not see us?” Jen whispered.

Connor held up a finger to his lips as the deer cocked its head and opened its mouth. Connor thought it looked happy, like it was…smiling at them…

The deer shuddered, an unnatural spasm, and ran off, disappearing behind the trees.

Jen frowned. “The hell was that?”

Connor shook his head and ignored the chill running through his body. There was something off about this part of the forest. He had sensed it ever since Jen’s silent offer to hold his hand earlier. He looked down and realized his arm was around her, pulling her tight.

He let go.

“Let’s head back to the car.”


Getting back to the main trail proved harder than he’d thought. Jen hated seeing tourists when they hiked, so they made a point to escape into less-traveled areas whenever possible.

“I’m sure it’s this way,” Jen said. “Just trust me.”

Connor resisted making a comment about how trusting her hadn’t worked well for him recently.

“I guess this trip was a stupid idea,” she said, adjusting her pack on her shoulders.

“It was just a deer, Jen. Not a huge deal.”

“No, not that. Just, this trip in general. Thinking this could bring us back to before. Do you remember our first trip here?”

Connor stared at the forest floor. Of course he did.

Jen continued. “That was my first time, you know.”

“First time? We’d been married for over a month.”

“Well, it was my first time doing it in a national park.”

Connor actually laughed out loud at that. “You’re ridiculous.”

“And my first time seeing you run through a forest with your pants down, tripping every five steps!”

“Christ, Jen. But I mean what were the odds of a ranger passing close enough to hear us in a forest this size?”

They were both smiling when they heard the thud of something dropping to the ground up ahead, followed by an agonizing, inhuman moan.

Connor ran toward the sound.

“What are you doing?” Jen called to him.

“Just stay here!”

As he ran, he could make out something on the ground between the vertical brown columns of the forest. A body of some sort, brown and heaving…

The deer seemed to look at him even in its dying state. Blood drained from deep gashes on both sides of its neck, like something had strangled the poor beast with sharp, claw-like fingers. Hope left the creature’s eyes, and Connor couldn’t help but empathize with it. He knew the feeling of having your foundation suddenly stripped away, the sensation of falling, choking…

He stumbled back.


Connor turned at the sound of Jen’s voice, but she was obscured by a pale, ghostly figure standing next to him. He didn’t know what the man even looked like, but he recognized him all the same.

Connor pressed a finger up against its chest. “Get the hell away from me, you bastard.”

It grabbed his hand, ripping off ribbons of flesh as he pulled away.

“Jen! Run!”

Connor scrambled backward, collapsing against a fallen redwood. The figure glided toward him, baring its smiling teeth.

“Jen, can you hear me!?”

He’d spent the twelve best years of his life following this advice: Never go to bed angry. He couldn’t end his life mad at her, despite how much her betrayal gripped his neck, choked him at night when he couldn’t sleep, flooded his dreams with the nightmare of her having sex with another man, with nightmares of these attacks in the woods. He had to let this go.

“Just know I still love you!”

The ghost’s hand reached out…

“We would have made it through this!”

Skeletal fingers wrapped tight around his throat…

“I forgive you, Jen! I’m not angry any—”