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The January Saga Concludes with Launch of January’s Thaw

I was fortunate in that my first novel, January’s Paradigm, was picked up by a publisher in the U.K. fairly quickly. I’ve heard stories from other writers who claim to have written five or six novels before they hit pay dirt. In addition to learning perseverance, they also end up with a nice backlog of novels ready to go.

The success I had finding a home for January’s Paradigm spoiled me. It came easy, and so I expected the same for the sequel, One Hot January. It was not to be. My publisher went belly up and I self-published January’s Paradigm to keep the title available with the hope another publisher might pick it up. I completed One Hot January and immediately commenced submitting queries to agents and publishers while I started writing the third and final book in the January series, January’s Thaw.

Eighteen months later I completed January’s Thaw; but where One Hot January was concerned, I had accumulated nothing more than rejection letters. Most were form letters, but there were a few very encouraging letters, too—“we like your voice; however, not for us,” “regrettably we must pass, but it’s obvious you have talent; feel free to submit to us other work.”

So I continued submitting queries, but now offering both books, convinced that having a sequel would be appealing to a publisher. Then I commenced my next project—Backstop: A Baseball Love Story in Nine Innings.

As I approached completion of Backstop, I received some interest in the two January books from an independent press; but they suggested I combine the two into one volume and pare it down by about thirty thousand words. I wasn’t ready to do that, so I politely declined. After I finished Backstop, I began submitting it. Then I started work on Chaotic Theory, a novella that explores the theory of a butterfly in Brazil flapping its wings and causing a tornado in Texas. I’d written it as a short story a couple years previously, but I wanted to expand its scope.

After completing Chaotic Theory, I hadn’t yet come up with my next project, so I reconsidered the January books, the suggestion that I combine and shorten them into a single volume. I decided it would be a good exercise for me, getting out a scalpel and slicing and dicing my baby. So I combined the two files into another file, renamed it January’s Penitence, and went at it.

It took me about six weeks. I found cutting twenty-eight thousand words was fairly easy—deleting scenes and, in some instances, whole chapters. It was those last two thousand words that were a challenge—a paragraph here, a sentence there. But as I neared my target word count, it became more and more difficult to find paragraphs and sentences with which I could part. I started looking for single words and phrases to cut.

In the end, I managed it. Originally, the two books were composed of 180,000 words. I now had a single novel of 150,000 words. I resubmitted it to the publisher who’d made the suggestion. This time, they politely declined. I was disappointed and began to think that maybe it was time to let the second and third January books go. They’d taught me a lot about the craft of writing, but Backstop was a much better story, better written, and certainly more accessible. I had to consider that maybe January’s Paradigm would be the only January book to grace a bookshelf.

But I wasn’t having much success finding takers for Backstop either. One agent told me there was no market for baseball novels. I resisted, somehow, the urge to tell her she should search Amazon using “baseball” as her keyword.

So I started work on The Cobb Legacy, a mystery romance written around the shooting death of the father of baseball legend, Ty Cobb, by his mother. All the while I was collecting more rejection letters for Backstop … until I struck gold with Second Wind Publishing.

2W was not yet even a year old when they offered me a contract. It was a risk for me, such a small independent press with very little record, but I took a chance. Shortly after Backstop launched, the title was submitted as a 2010 Michigan Notable Book, and a year later the Illinois Institute of Technology adopted it as required reading for a spring course—Baseball: America’s Literary Pastime.

With that success, I explained to Mike Simpson (2W) the exercise I’d gone through with January’s Penitence and offered it to him, along with One Hot January and January’s Thaw; Mike opted to publish them as the diptych I’d originally envisioned. However, it was my choice to use the revised January’s Penitence text, with some minor revisions, rather than go back to the original 180,000-word editions.

You see, I realized, after making the edits, I had a much stronger, tighter narrative than I did in the original manuscripts. Never underestimate the value of edits.

One Hot January launched in March 2010, and January’s Thaw is due to launch any day. I’m proud of the entire January series—they hold their rightful place in my growing body of work.

Below appears a short excerpt from January’s Thaw:

1982

Our eyes meet, hold for a moment. We are thirty-five years older: Lindy in her 1982, me from my own 2082.

Despite her affliction, which has left her much thinner and frailer than I would’ve imagined, I still recognize her. Despite my own aging—more than a few pounds heavier, longer, grayer hair, bearded and hobbled by a bad knee—perhaps she, too, recognizes something familiar; she looks back at me, her gaze at least steady, perhaps wanting to recognize me.

I smile, nod. It is the polite thing to do.

“Do I know you?” she asks, rushing the four words together nearly as one, the sound more breath than voice; it is difficult for her to support her speech.

I shake my head. “I don’t think so.” More truth than lie: I had withheld from her in our youth any hint of the Joe January I would become.

“Listen,” I add. “Do you have the time? I seem to have left my watch elsewhere.”

Lindy’s eyes widen; I see the light of recognition. A corner of her mouth rises. A moment later a full smile breaks across her face and I glimpse the Lindy I knew so long ago. In that moment I realize that it was this anything but chance meeting that had resulted in Lindy taking the necessary steps to return my watch to me sixty-five years into her future.

John Roberts—I can’t bring myself to refer to him as her husband—seemingly embarrassed to be seen with her, says angrily, “It’s twenty after four.”

“Thank you,” I say to Lindy, and, “I hope you will forgive me.”

My apology leaves no impact on John Roberts, who only takes Lindy’s arm and starts to turn her, roughly; Lindy nearly loses her balance but John Roberts is quick to support her.

“Come on, Lindy,” he says. “Let’s go.”

I watch Lindy’s back recede as they make their way to the diner’s exit.

As John Roberts opens the door, Lindy turns back to offer me a smile and a nod that is not the result of her condition, and I steel myself to put the next stage of my plan into motion.

2082

I arrange the cutout letters in semblance of my message and paste them, letter by letter, onto a blank piece of paper:

Bring the package to Indianapolis

Using the time travel device I’d confiscated from Ben Junior, I return to 1947 to leave the envelope outside my office door for Lindy to find when she opened up.

I have time enough, before returning to 2082, to watch my past self interact with Lindy, Melissa and Lance before they depart for Indianapolis. I marvel at how young I look, chuckle over the arrogance in my demeanor—how self-important I once thought myself—and Lindy, for whom I feel a flood of warmth: the love a brother might feel for a sister with whom he is fixing up a friend. I see in my past self’s eyes the look of love for Lindy I had, at that time, worked so hard to mask.

And I believed Lindy could not have known! I think.

I grieve for her in that moment, grieve for and regret, not for the first time, the heartache my past behavior caused her, and still she persisted in loving me, hoping she would in time win my heart.

“She sees in you what I see in you,” Melissa would say later that day.

She saw in me what Ecstasy had seen and been instrumental in bringing out more than a century later.

Someone once wrote that history is a fickle science left mainly to those who wish to enshrine the past.

So here I am, finally letting go my past by trying to set things right: to give my past self a chance to find the love I found with Ecstasy by creating another timeline, one in which I wouldn’t be swept into the future, in which Lindy wouldn’t be trapped in a loveless marriage to a man who, in time, would be embarrassed to be seen with her.

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One Hot January Launch

The launch of One Hot January, a Second Wind Publishing release, is imminent. One Hot January deals with the science fiction elements of time travel and alternate realities. Much of yesterday’s science fiction has become today’s reality—we’ve put men on the moon, satellites into orbit, and routinely launch space shuttles. We have laser technology and personal communication devices (cell phones). Are alternate realities created each and every day, the result of the choices we make or fail to make? Might time travel one day be possible? 

As part of the upcoming new launch celebration, I’m asking readers to consider what they might tell themselves if they could write a letter and send it back through time to themselves, at age eight. To stimulate your creativity, here’s one that I wrote to myself.

 

Journal Entry No. 51: Letter to Myself About Dad

Three things you should know about Dad. One: His bark is worse than his bite. His eight-year stint in the Marine Corps, during which he fought on Okinawa and returned stateside to serve as a Drill Instructor, left him ill-prepared for fatherhood. He no doubt suffered from what today is called post-traumatic stress disorder. In a few years, after you’ve gotten your driver license, he’ll make a habit of checking the odometer on the family car when you bring it home and tell you it’s a father’s duty to distrust his son. Don’t believe him. In the end, when it matters most, even as he takes with him to his grave all he saw and endured on Okinawa, he’ll trust you as if you’d once shared a foxhole together. You need not fear him; in your fourth decade you will discover the teddy bear inside him, and yes, the pupil you always thought yourself will become the teacher. He will hold you in much higher esteem than you ever thought possible.

Two: He means well even if he isn’t very nurturing to you. In a couple years you’ll take a spill from a bike that doesn’t belong to you and is much too big for you. Dad will scold you and the lesson you will learn is to avoid risk. You already dream of playing major league baseball and you’ll want to play little league, but he will dissuade you, fearing a risk of injury and, perhaps more important, your disappointment should you fail. Understand he means only to protect you―just remind him that he joined the Marines to avoid the sentence of serving on an assembly line for forty years to retire with a gold watch, and that playing baseball carries with it far less risk than does going into battle. Remind him of the words of Robert Browning: “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

Three: Although he doesn’t show it, he loves you. It’s true, the notion of “pay it forward.” An unhappy childhood, the youngest of three boys, and the weight of sixty-five years of guilt over violin lessons―unable to stand up to his own father, he allowed him to pay for lessons unwanted and in later years accused himself of thievery―perhaps accounts for his hands off approach to fatherhood. He’ll tell you he wants you to live your own life and, too late, you’ll realize that some decisions you, as a young man, should not have made without his wisdom and guidance. You’ll be angry at him, blame him for a lot of your shortcomings and failures, in both career and relationships with women, and for your difficulty in bonding with men. Understand that he may be responsible, but he is not to blame. He may have left you handicapped in many ways, but you have the good sense within you to choose the paths down which you travel. You can unlearn all that his absence from your youth teaches you.

As an adult you will continue to seek the approval he withheld when you were a boy, and which he will continue to withhold until the final year of his life. Understand that setting goals and reaching for your dreams—doing what’s right because it’s the right thing to do—doesn’t require approval from anyone.

Dad is right: no one gets out of this life without regrets, and you’ll be no different. You’ll feel the perceived weight of his disapproval of many of the sins you’ll commit. In your fifth decade, ten years after Dad’s passing and as you realize there are fewer grains in the upper bell of the hourglass than in the lower, you’ll come to understand a lot about why he was the way he was and so you’ll come to forgive him. The forgetting will be more difficult. Use it to your advantage.

Wisdom: it comes alone from living. Yet it’s no substitute for the teachings of a father, the man whom a young boy first aspires to emulate. This letter is not intended to save you from bloodying your nose, to prevent you from ever riding the bicycle too big for you. It is instead intended to assure you that you have within you the power to risk and to change, the strength to make choices, even if some of those choices aren’t always the right one. You also have within you the ability to forgive yourself your transgressions, as God forgives you, even as others choose not to. Yet choose wisely, knowing that yesterday’s mistakes can’t be undone, but that tomorrow is a blank page.

With no children, I cannot pay it forward; therefore this letter is my sincere effort to pay it backward, in the hope (what is a man if he cannot dare to hope?) you will pay it forward―for the three of us.

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