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 parking lot of the Glenview Community Center in Orange Mound is lined with campaign signs as my mom rolls my wheelchair to the passenger door of our battered Toyota Avalon.

“This all sounds stupid,” I say, grabbing my legs and swinging them outside the car door.

“Don’t call things stupid. Besides, Trey, you love basketball,” Mom says. 

“I used to. When I could still play.”

My mom purses her lips and raises an eyebrow. I’m busy pulling myself into the chair, so I don’t see her do those things, but I know the disapproving face she’s making.

“Trey, you’re only as disabled as you let yourself be,” she says for the millionth time since I got shot back in June. Like, what’s that even mean? She’s got these catchphrases for everything. It’s her way of avoiding the truth that I can’t do anything I used to.

This isn’t the first time she’s tried getting me back on the court. At rehab last month, she told the physical therapist I used to play ball and insisted I would again. So they made me try shooting baskets at the hospital’s gym. The previous year, I had the sickest crossover on the JV team. Now, sitting down, I could barely get the ball up to the net. When they started lowering the basket for me, I couldn’t take it. I just left. 

The therapist followed us out to the car to tell us about the Memphis Rollin’ Grizzlies, this whole team of guys who play basketball in wheelchairs. She gave us the coach’s number. When we got home, Mom dialed the number and shoved the phone into my hands because I sure as hell wasn’t going to choose to make the call myself. Seeing a group of grown men in wheelchairs pretend to play basketball like I’d just done sounded depressing. 

But here we are.

I hear basketballs dribbling to my left as we enter the community center. Through double doors, guys in chairs streak past faster than I expected. We sit in the doorway and watch them shoot free throws for a bit. Empty wheelchairs similar to mine line the far wall. The chairs they’re playing in look way different, with slanted wheels and this bar that extends around the front of their feet. Practice started thirty minutes ago, but on the phone Al, the coach, said to get here whenever. He’d kept saying I just needed to get in to see a practice. 

“Alright, fellas, back on the line!” Across the gym, a small white man in a wheelchair calls out instructions, blows a whistle. The ten players push hard down the length of the court. At the end, they turn faster than I’ve ever been able to in my chair. One dude even goes up on one wheel around the turn. The coach waves us over.

Coach Al asks about my injury, and I let my mom answer all his questions while I watch the guys pushing down-and-backs up and down the court. I’m staring at the hoop when I hear Al explain that most of the rules are the same as “able-bodied” basketball, which is what they call regular basketball. 

“How high is the basket?”

“Ten feet. Everything about the court is the same.”

“You have to dribble?”

“Yep. You can’t do more than two pushes without dribbling.”

I nod, wondering how they’re supposed to push and dribble at the same time, let alone things like crossovers or three-pointers. I think back to our final post-season game last year. That three pointer I barely missed against Melrose that would have put us within one basket with under a minute left. Half of us were in tears after losing that game, and I vowed I wouldn’t miss the shot next time. 

“I guess y’all don’t really do three-pointers in wheelchair basketball,” I say, realizing I’ll never get that second chance.

Coach raises an eyebrow, then calls out to one of the guys. “Hey O! Shoot a three.” Al tosses a ball to this tall dude with no legs. He’s wearing a durag and a glove on one hand. He pulls up and drains a shot from a few feet behind the three point line. Someone tosses the ball back to him and he does it again.

I close my mouth, which was just hanging open. I try to picture myself making a shot like that, but I can’t shake the image of me struggling to get the ball up to the basket in that hospital.

Coach checks his watch, then blows his whistle. “Alright, gentlemen, get some water!” 

Everyone’s breathing heavily as they get water and start shooting around. A couple guys come over and introduce themselves: a redhead man in his thirties who towers over us. A lanky light-skinned black guy with muscled arms who looks like he could play for the able-bodied Grizzlies team if not for his skinny legs. 

They ask me questions, and I tell them about my gunshot injury, how I was in the wrong spot at the wrong time, running with some guys I shouldn’t have been running with. I leave out the depression that came after I woke up and realized I wasn’t dead but that my life was over. I don’t mention all the tears I cried about things I’d never do. Play basketball. Drive a car. Have a girlfriend, maybe a family some day. Talking to them is different though. Their faces say they feel sad for me, but not sorry for me like everyone else has up to this point.

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, Trey?” Mom 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?” says Archie, the lanky, light-skinned guy. “We gonna get you out here hoopin’ though.”

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

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

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

“Man, you’re real fresh,” O says. “This junt don’t get easy, but it gets easier, you feel me?”

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. I watch him go back out on the court and post someone up on the block, and I wonder how he was ever scared. 

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

I look to my mom, who I can tell is holding back an I told you so smirk. “Maybe. I’ll think about it,” I say. I’m sure Mom is rolling her eyes because she can tell how much I want to be part of this.

Once practice is over, everyone convenes out in the parking lot. While most of the players debate about what defensive set they should run against some of the teams they’ll face in an upcoming tournament in Alabama, the guy who was hitting reverse layups before comes over to me.

“It was Trey, right?” he asks.

“Yeah. And your name was…”

“Justin,” he says, giving me a fist bump. “Four months ago, huh? That’s tough. You’re still relearning how to live life. I bet you have a lot of questions.”

I shrug. 

Another guy leans over to us. “He’s wondering the same thing we all wondered after we got injured, and the answer is yes, you can still have sex.” 

“Manners, A.G.!” Justin says, nodding toward my mom. 

I’m avoiding eye contact with her and dying of embarrassment inside, so I change the subject.

“Well, like, how do you drive a car?” I ask.

Justin takes me and Mom over to his car, and he shows me how the hand controls work, how he gets his chair inside. He shows me a picture of his wife and his two-year-old daughter sitting in his lap. He tells me about playing basketball in college, becoming a science teacher, about how disability is never an excuse for not doing something in life. 

Then he says something that makes me cringe.

“You know, I’ve seen a lot of disabled people never try things because they’re afraid of failure. Don’t make yourself more disabled than you actually are.”

My mom is beaming. “Now that’s some great advice! Sounds like something I’d say.” 

I glare at her, then roll my eyes. “Mom’s got a new catchphrase now. I’m going to be hearing that twice a day.”

Justin laughs. “Well, I think there’s a lot of truth to it. Anyway, I need to go. We going to see you Wednesday?”

I look to my Mom, who indicates it’s my decision, then back to Justin.

“Yeah. Yeah, I’ll be here.”

Author’s note:

I wrote an abbreviated version of this for a flash fiction contest a few years ago. A few years later, I rewrote and expanded the story for publication in the Memphis-themed anthology, Malfunction Junction.

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—”

Haunted Mansions Are Never Wheelchair Accessible – (My First Published Story!)

Read it here.

I almost didn’t finish the story.

I started writing it soon after The Arcanist (an online flash fiction literary magazine specializing in sci-fi, fantasy, and horror) announced their Ghost Stories contest. I’d already submitted a few stories to The Arcanist and received rejections for each, so I knew this was a long shot. I had an idea I liked, but self-doubt crept in and I abandoned the story about a third of the way through.

A few weeks later, I re-opened the file and remembered why the idea had intrigued me. There are huge problems with disability representation in media, and the problem that bothers me the most is that the story arcs for people with disabilities are usually about them overcoming the disability. It gets old. We disabled people don’t sit around our whole lives trying to overcome disability.

So I wrote a story about a ghost who only focuses on disability and a protagonist who is pretty tired of it. I hope you enjoy! Let me know what you think.

The Stories Lost in Flame

A score of people wandered the smoldering ruins, treaded carefully over scorched and splintered wood, searched for any words that remained. They wore their brown robes hiked up short over their ankles, their feet shod with sturdy-soled boots instead of sandals. They wore their faces long and solemn.

The apprentice stooped amidst a pile of ashes and picked up a small stack of paper lined with careful script. The edges were dark and curled, irregular like the shoreline of an island.

“The person who did this deserves to…I would make them suffer…I would…”

Her hands shook. She held the paper tight despite the embered edges of the paper forming tiny blisters on her fingers. A thin streak of ash appeared across her cheek as she wiped tears away. She breathed in the acrid fumes from the library ruins, searching for hints of something sweeter in the air.

Master Dienum towered over her nearby, his posture straight and his face empty as he worked his mouth in that way that old men do. He lowered his hood, revealing wisps of gray hair encircling his bald pate. The bags under his eyes failed to move as he squinted down at the apprentice.

“Give a frail, old master a hand now,” he said, holding out an arm.

“Of course,” she said, then hastily blew on the edges of the papers to cool them before placing them down into her satchel. She stood, took his arm, and lead him carefully over the debris. The old man, although always strangely distant as if his mind dwelled in another world, had been a role model for her. He had curated for the sprawling library for longer than her parents had even been alive. Now, this ashen mess was all that was left of his life’s work. She half expected him to go now as well, like a story she had read of an elderly woman passing away just weeks after her husband’s death.

Another story…


Lost forever…

They hobbled along toward the north wing, where people were saying the fire had started. Master Dienum looked out across the landscape, flanked by stone pillars and huge sections of charred wall.

“The coward deserves to die,” the apprentice said through gritted teeth. “Master, what would you do to the wretch who did this?”

“I haven’t thought about it, really,” he said, sighing. “Do you know what first came to my mind when I heard reports of the fire?”

The apprentice considered how the old man could have reacted upon hearing of his life’s work consumed by flames. She shook her head. “Sisyphus, maybe? The futility of our work on this earth?”

“Goodness, no, nothing that philosophical. I thought, ‘Hmm. Now, I can spend more time growing my strawberries.’”

The apprentice opened her mouth, but nothing came out.

“Every spring, I plant a few.” He waved his free hand and gave a helpless laugh. “Every year, the damned things wither and die, barely producing a crop. Just a few tiny fruits.”

“Master, I don’t understand…”

“I still have a book about gardening at my house. One of a few survivors of the fire. It didn’t make a difference though. Still can’t keep a strawberry alive.”

“I am sorry, I don’t follow your metaphor, Master.”

“Bah! No metaphor. Don’t look for meaning where there is none. It’s not a lesson.” He gestured north toward the origin of the fire. His head and arm shook, showing his age and fraying nerves. “I’ve seen a lot of men die bitter and alone. Miserable, pitiable old things. I have too few days left to waste them that way. Too few days to see this place rebuilt.”

They walked in silence. A beam a few dozen feet away shifted and crashed to the ground, interrupting the subdued murmurs and sniffling of the other librarians and apprentices.

The destruction in the north wing was utter and devastating. The apprentice couldn’t imagine a single volume surviving. She breathed in the smoky air, trying again to smell the…

The smell of honey.

Her jaw clenched. Had she smelled it? Or just tricked herself into thinking she had?

She scanned the debris. Ash. Charred wood. No sign of the expensive beeswax candle her mother had given her. She swayed, unsteady. Of course there was nothing left of it. It was a candle. Why had she brought a candle here?

To think that she was capable of such stupidity. Of such destruction…

“Master Dienum, I have to tell you—”

“I have my answer,” he said.


“To your question. If I knew who burnt this place down, what I would do to the person responsible.”

The apprentice braced herself. She wanted to hear his wrath, the controlled, profound righteous judgment of a gentle man, to witness his anger, to hear spoken aloud what she deserved.

His face grew serious.

“I would sentence him to a life of hard labor. Toiling on endlessessly for the rest of his days.”

There it was. Underwhelming, but justice nonetheless.

“I would have him rebuild and take precautions to never let such a tragedy happen again. Have him journey wide and far to acquire new and old accounts. Find new stories, new encyclopaedia, new references and histories. Write his own stories. There is power in the words printed on these pages, power in the sharing of knowledge. Humanity needs this place.”

He looked at her, a fire burning in his ancient eyes.

“Of course, I expect we will never know who caused this. But, if this person were here, that would be my judgement.”


The apprentice rested her quill in the inkwell and read back through her account of her last interaction with the old curator.

“It’s so short,” she whispered to herself. A story measured in hundreds of words, not hundreds of thousands of volumes.

But it was a start.

The beginning of a new story to replace what had been lost.

Why You Should Always Buy the Biggest Pizza Pi!

Yesterday was Pi Day, and as a high school science teacher, this is a big deal. Not as big of a deal as it is for math teachers, but until the practical but not-yet-widely-accepted Tau catches on, it’s the best mathematical constant we can celebrate during the school year.

My wife Carol and I about to devour some “banarama” and “shady wake” pie at Muddy’s Grindhouse here in midtown Memphis! I also made sure to share some Pi puns with my students during the day and remind them what Pi means (it’s the ratio of circumference divided by diameter of ANY CIRCLE EVERRRR).

But that’s not why I’m writing this post. This post will use my second-favorite mathematical constant to bolster your economic future. If you readily look for applications of geometry in your everyday life, then you may already know what I’m about to say. If not, then this may be the most important statement you are reading at this very moment. Here it is:

You should always buy the biggest pizza.

For this post, I’ll be using prices from this menu from the Memphis Pizza Cafe on Broad Avenue. Here are the prices for the 10″, 13″, and 15″ “Hey Meat!” pizza:

Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 9.41.08 PM.pngScreen Shot 2016-03-14 at 9.41.00 PM.png

At first glance, it seems like each inch of pizza diameter costs you about a dollar. It’s just under $10 for the 10″. But the deal seems to get worse as you add more inches. The 15″ costs $16.35, which is more than $1 per inch! It’s a WORSE deal than the smaller pizza!

Pizza prices are misleading though. Most pizza locations (unless they use the ambiguous sizes of small/medium/large) list pizza sizes by the diameter of the pizza. But of course, you aren’t eating a linear pizza, you are eating a circular pizza. The AREA, not the diameter, is what you care about. And it turns out that each additional inch of diameter nets you an increasing amount of area. For example, adding an inch to the diameter of the 10″ pizza increases the total area by a little, but adding an inch to the diameter of the 15″ pizza increases the total area by a lot!

The equation for area is:

A = π r², where r is the radius (i.e., half the diameter)

Here is my calculation for area of the 10″ diameter pizza:

A = π r²; r = 5″

A = (3.1415)(5″)²

A = 78.5 in²

The 78.5 in² (10″ diameter) pizza costs $9.90. Divide the cost by the area, and you get $0.126/in², or 12.6¢/in². Not bad, only 12.6 cents for every square inch of pizza!

I did the same calculation for the other two sizes, getting the following results:

10″ pizza: 12.6¢/in²

13″ pizza: 9.91¢/in²

15″ pizza: 9.25¢/in²

These numbers would be like the “unit price” you find at grocery stores, telling you the price per unit (such as ounce or gram) that you can compare to other brands/sizes. Look at that! The 15″ pizza costs you only 70% the price per square inch of the 10″ pizza!

So, unless you hate leftover pizza, it’s always the best deal to get the biggest pizza possible! Share that pizza with some other folks and bask in the glory of savings! Thank goodness for π and for geometry!