Mea Culpa…

lineI learned this week that I had added to a grieving friend’s burden — not through intentional malice, but worse, unintentional absence.

I had simply “moved on” with my life and forgot to look over my shoulder to see if my friend was keeping up. 

She wasn’t. 

I was crestfallen. Embarrassed. Guilty.

This poem is my small apology to a friend who deserves so much more. 


No, of course, I don’t know your pain

How could I, standing on my side

Of this divide — invisible, yet as solid

As your concrete and steel sorrow

Certainly, I can never

Understand much less

Explain the dark clouds

Raining grief on your spirit

I admit, because I am human

That I moved on, moved ahead

To claim otherwise is to lie

But I never meant to move away

In hindsight, I see that my failing

However unintended, was

Another knife shredding the thin

Sheet of solace that time had bought

The truth is, I cannot know

What I have not known

Your heart is not my heart

Yet my heart is always open to yours

Sadly now, we see each other

Across an unfamiliar distance

You, grieving your loss; me, lost in your grief

Still, it is just a line between us, not a wall

Honestly, I pray never to be on your side

Yet I am always here on mine

Reach over any time

I will forever reach back

                                                                                 May 2018


Social Justice…and Vampires!

As promised here yesterday, I am pleased and proud to host the fourth installment of the Denise Baran-Unland 2018 Blog Tour. So, without further ado, here is Denise!

Please visit Denise’s “BryonySeries” blog for more information about her many literary projects.


denise writeon

In all great literature, the truest, most powerful drama comes in the lonely longing for passion; the physical, emotional and spiritual intimacy that comes with new love; the personal validation and romantic affirmation to mature love brings; and the consolation that follows when love fails or abandons us.

            “Staked!” has all of this, and much more. (from the forward to “Staked!” by Tom Hernandez)

            Lofty words for the third book in my BryonySeries young adult vampire trilogy. Moreover, the series addresses an issue, the “much more,” which, in all the years I’ve known Tom Hernandez, is also an issue of which he’s most passionate and often speaks (and writes) against.

That issue is the oppression of others, especially oppression for personal gain. In Staked! this occurs in three key places, a necessary part of a story that features an unlikely hero.

One, teen protagonist John-Peter Simotes learns how three adults he’s trusted all his life have manipulated him for their benefit. Around the same time, he discovers what he thinks is his life’s mission: to rescue a trapped princess with whom he’s infatuated. To do so, he travels to a place inhabited by fairy creatures.

When he arrives, he meets two groups of people who have been kidnapped from the real world and used for specific purposes in the imaginary one.

The first group, to which his princess belongs, is a “herd” of blonde-haired girls, whom the fairies are keeping in basement cells for the purpose of breeding with fairies to strengthen fairy bloodlines.

The second group is composed of amateur writers with one task: to ghostwrite material for the ruthless dictator (who invented the fairyland) so he can stock his library with titles all “penned” by him.

Now John-Peter, like most reluctant heroes, really wants only to rescue the princess and go home, especially since his opportunity for helping her will literally soon expire. Yet he winds up getting involved in the other causes after two runaway girls and the spokesman for the makeshift writer’s mill beg for his assistance, which spurs him on to a fuller heroism.

Still, John-Peter doesn’t realize the extent of sacrifice required from him until the eleventh hour. Then he has a decision to make – and he must decide quickly.

Now, these situations at face value are obviously implausible. But the exploitation of one person by another is very real in many parts of the planet. And the way John-Peter ultimately agrees to participate in the solution is very (ironically, given the story’s premise and John-Peter’s essence) very human – first, outright refusal, then grudging participation, and finally a wholehearted giving of self.

You see, the thread running through all three books (and its prequel in progress) is one of free will and choice, along with its repercussions and rewards.

Sometimes we’re slow to make good and right choices because of the cost to us: ranging from simple inconvenience to our own lives. Ultimately, though, I hope we all make them. Ultimately.

That is the real inspiration behind the BryonySeries.

Although I do really like a good vampire story.












Friends, Vampires, and Friendly Vampires

Staked! Offical Cover It’s not that I don’t like vampires per se.

I love Dracula, both in Bram Stoker’s original story and Bela Legosi’s iconic movie portrayal.

And I really liked Anne Rice’s “Lestat” series, right up through the fifth book, “Memnoch the Devil.” After that, Rice started writing full-blown backstory novels for every D-level side character — probably to fulfill her contract. The series became (for me) repetitious, predictable and — dare I say this about creatures who must drink blood to live? — dull.

But I absolutely loathed Stephanie Meyer’s “Twilight”.

The book is terrible — a thin, unbelievable story (as if any vampire story is “believable”) about a teenage girl who falls in love with a vampire. It is poorly written, filled with one-dimensional characters, and tedious. Blech!

The movie, if you can believe it,  is worse — fleshed out by the teen-age angst-y mouth-breathing Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, whose acting is so bad that, to call it “wooden” insults wood.

That was my frame of mind about six years ago when I first met Denise Baran-Unland.

She is the co-founder of the WriteOn Joliet writers group. I had just written the first chapter of an as-yet unfinished novel. Fiction is not my forte and I desperately needed some guidance. My wife read about this group and suggested I attend a meeting.

I went. Denise introduced herself as the author of “Bryony”. The book, she said (with others both in process and mapped out ready to be written) is about — wait for it — a teenage girl who falls in love with a vampire.

It doesn’t take much imagination to imagine the thoughts that I thought…”Twilight” sells a gazillion copies, becomes a successful movie, and now everyone who can bang a keyboard is writing teen vampire love stories.

Boy, was I wrong!

This was not the first time I had (literally and metaphorically) misjudged a book by its cover. However it was, by far, one of the worst.

It’s funny, but wise women have often pulled me back from the edge of my own arrogance. Usually it’s my wife. Sometimes, one of my daughters.

In this case, it was Denise.

I share this to introduce Denise Baran-Unland, one of the best writers I have known. She has also become a good friend, editor, sounding board and creative confidant.

Her “Bryony” series shimmers with creative plotting, brilliant writing, fully-drawn, complex and interesting characters and true human (not to mention vampiric) emotion.

Denise’s voluminous writing — she is a cottage industry unto herself, with several series, spin-offs and side projects — evokes awe and admiration for its pure creativity, and envy for its amazing skill.

Yet another of her never-ending list of her promotional ideas is a “Blog Tour.” Simply put, several hosts will publish something that Denise has specially-written for the host, on their own blogs.

Look for the fourth installment of the Denise Baran-Unland 2018 Blog Tour here, on Tuesday, May 15, 2018.

By the way, in case you were wondering, I don’t know if Denise is a vampire herself. Could be…I mean, she really seems to know her stuff.

But whether she is or isn’t, she is one heck of a writer, and that’s all that matters — at least until the sun goes down…

Here’s a little more information to acquaint you with Denise Baran-Unland:

  • Favorite color? — Blue. As in royal or cobalt not sky or powder.
  • Least favorite kind of food? — Eggs. They’re completely disgusting in every way: texture, smell, taste…
  • What music do you listen to when writing? — No music when I’m actually writing, too distracting. But for mental writing, a certain song or musical selections will unlock my thoughts. In fact, not until a chapter has its theme song am I able to write it. The song often (and usually) has absolutely nothing to do with the chapter. But once I have it, I can listen to it thousands of times until the chapter is completed. Then I go off it and can’t stand to hear it anymore – until editing time. I’ll listen to it, and the entire chapter springs up.
  • Why vampires? — I’ve asked myself the same question, and I don’t know. It’s an interest that goes back to childhood, and it’s not all vampires, usually vampires who appear in literature before the 20th century. I’ve tried analyzing it. Perhaps it’s a combination of midnight, moonlight, and mysterious with a dash of vintage and erotica.
  • Favorite vampire in literature/cinema? — Literature: the tie goes to Carmilla and Dracula. Carmilla because of its shadowy uneasiness; Dracula because of its complexity, both in story construction and its roots in history and legend. Cinema, not so much. I do like Christopher Lee in “Horror of Dracula,” but I overall prefer reading about vampires to watching them in film. Mental pictures are generally more satisfying.
  • Finish this sentence: “If I ruled the world, the first thing I would change is…..” — Disrespect. Few things make me really angry, but disrespect always does. I mean, why can’t we all be nice to each other, even when disagreeing? The world would truly be a better place.
  • Biggest aggravation — Clutter of all kinds
  • How do you fight writer’s block? – I go around it.
  • Top three literary inspirations? – So many! However, for the Bryony Series, Ruth M. Arthur, Patricia Clapp, Daphne Du Maurier, and Taylor Caldwell. Yes, I know that’s four.
  • Three historical or literary figures you’d invite to a dinner party? — The above four. I’d love to share my admiration of their work and hear their feedback on mine.



A Moving Friendship


Early Sunday morning, 7 a.m., maybe 8, returning from a long night of delivering newspapers for my wife (her part-time job which I did on weekends to give her a rest), bleary-eyed, thinking only about the bed whispering my name, I pulled slowly around the corner toward the house that we’d called home for only a few weeks.

Then I saw her.

A girl, about 2 years old, clothed in her nightgown, perched nonchalantly on the cul-de-sac curb across the street from our yard.

I parked. Walking cautiously toward her, I imagined the worst – she was lost, or was a tiny runaway escaping some horrible abuse. I asked where she lived. She pointed vaguely behind her. I took her hand and she walked me back to her house, which stood, conveniently, across the street from ours.

I knocked firmly but gently, hard enough to wake but not frighten. A woman, also in night clothes, answered. Strangely, she didn’t seem very surprised to see me holding the little girl’s hand.

Turns out the child was the woman’s daughter, and she (the little girl) had done this Houdini act before. She likes being outside but doesn’t like waiting for an adult to wake up and let her out, Mom explained, unlocking the still-locked door.

Mom, pointing down, said her daughter sometimes just pushes through the screen. Indeed, the screen was popped out. We exchanged names and the child, and I went home to catch as long a nap as the morning would allow.

And so it started…

Twenty-two years of across-the-fence (or in our case, the street) friendship encompassing our two kids and their three, shared newspaper delivery and catering jobs, a few family crises and mutual neighborhood interests.

Better yet, 22 years of the kind of common concern that builds bonds strong enough to survive adolescent disagreements (between the kids, not the adults), a few adult differences of opinion, the inevitable growing apart when the kids got older, even differing politics.

The friendship part continues. However, sadly, the neighbor part is ending.

They lost their house and now must move. (I will not name them here, knowing this is, understandably, a very sensitive subject.)

He, a truck driver, was hurt on the job a few years ago and finally missed more mortgage payments than the bank would let slide. The company wouldn’t let him work, the banks wouldn’t help with the debt.

Now, after countless doctor exams, insurance investigations, unemployment and workers compensation claims, legal to-and-fro-ing and all the other rigamarole that goes with trying to force a corporate entity to do right by its employees, they spent the weekend doing the arduous, sad work of leaving.

My heart broke watching them loading their life into cars and vans and trucks, knowing that they were also taking a part of our lives, too.

Not to mention that no one in the wealthiest nation in the world who is willing to work and earn a living (and they both were –and still are, company doctors and insurance companies be damned) should suffer the indignity of losing one’s home. There’s just an inherent unfairness to it all.

Which is not to say that I don’t understand.

I tried to point out, foregoing our usual political needling, the obvious to my conservative neighbor: in a capitalist world, the only thing that matters to The Company is profit. Employees are expenses. They help create profit. Until they don’t. A truck driver who cannot drive a truck is just a drag on the bottom line.

Plus, all of the benefits he’d received — unemployment, workers comp, and eventually a settlement that will help them move forward — are all the products of generations of liberal battles on behalf of the worker.

He did not seem to grasp the irony. Or maybe he was just too deflated to care.

I share this not to be sentimental.

Though we were neighbors and I will miss them, we didn’t always see eye to eye. Certainly, we were friends, but not the kind who broke bread together, other than the occasional summer barbecue.

More than once I selfishly wondered what it might be like with someone else living across the street. Someone not quite so noisy (especially on any holiday that presented even the flimsiest excuse for fireworks). Not quite so volatile. Not quite so opinionated – or, more to the point, someone with an opinion not quite so opposed to mine.

And then, inevitably, something would happen that demanded assistance or expertise that I didn’t have.

A household repair (especially anything involving electricity). Or a flat tire. Or a dead lawnmower. I’d dispatch one of our kids – “Go get Mr. ____.” Or I’d go over myself and knock on that very same door that I knocked on 1,100 or so Sundays ago. Knowing that they’d always say yes.

Then, in those moments of real and true need, the political disagreements, the Fourth of July thunder that would terrorize our dog, the eardrum-busting volume of music pouring from the garage would just blow away, like dandelion pods, whisked away on a breeze of deep-rooted understanding.

We would chat. Work. Down a few beers. Gossip. Bitch. Commiserate. Laugh (a lot).  Celebrate. Even cry every now and then.

Like family.

Like friends.

Like neighbors.

Because in the end, the only real thing between us was a street. And now, for them, that street will no longer lead to home, but rather to somewhere else.