This Bird Has Flown, pt. 2

Up until January 10, 2017, if anyone asked how I was coping with the loss, I would have said, “Poorly.”

I should be gone. I have metastatic GIST cancer, survived two major surgeries, and was told once, in December of 2010, that I would die that night.

Lark should be here, working on her next novel or play or music collection or falling in love.  Figuring out life.

Up until January 10, 2017, if anyone asked how I was coping with the loss, I would have said, “Poorly.”

On that January day, a little over four months after the death of my daughter and only child, I found myself still struggling to deal with the loss.  Certain things were triggers to my sadness, among them certain photos.

At about 2:45 p.m., I was walking through my bedroom en route to take a leak.  I noticed an older photo of Lark from around the 5th grade and it triggered the beginning of a sad spell.

Gradually, I’m developing strategies to manage the spells.  I remind myself that she is no longer in pain.  Also, I think of a happy photo of our Little Bird seated with both her cats on her lap.  She’s smiling and wearing a tee shirt of one of her favorite bands, Nirvana.

cats

This thought of the happy photo was in my mind as I entered the bathroom.  I decided to play a quick word game on my iPad as I took care of business.  Jumbline, a scrambled letters game, was an easy way to occupy a couple of minutes, but I found myself struggling to figure out the seven-letter final word to the puzzle.  Time was running out.

Then it hit me – NIRVANA was the big word.  I immediately realized the coincidence.  Unless it was more than a coincidence.  Perhaps it was communication.

I’m a skeptic, and certainly not one to make grand leaps of faith.  But neither am I one to ignore what is presented to me.

Two minutes before, I was thinking about Lark in her Nirvana tee shirt, desperately missing her. Now the word Nirvana has popped up in the game I was playing.

Was Lark telling me she was now in Nirvana and at peace?  It’s possible.

Was it just a highly improbable, bizarre coincidence?  Also possible.

I was shaken. People who know me know that I am almost never shaken.

I phoned my sister Valeta Boo, who has a Masters of Divinity degree, to get her take on the occurrence.

She wisely asked, “How did the experience make you feel?”

I replied, “Good.  Happy.  Hopeful.”

After our chat, I texted her the screen image from the game. She texted back, pointing out the word above Nirvana.  Avian.  Like our Little Bird, Lark.

jumbline nirvanaColor me shaken a second time.  That magical mystery tour of a January day changed everything.

The possibility that I might see her again on another plane of existence is comforting.  It gives me a ray of hope where I had none.

It also fills me with abundant parental pride that my brilliant, talented, creative, generous, caring, funny, adventurous, beautiful kiddo figured out how to hack the afterlife.

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This Bird Has Flown, pt. 1

My brilliant, talented, creative, generous, caring, funny, adventurous, beautiful 18 year-old daughter, Lark “Alou” Randon, died on September 4, 2016.  We chose not to immediately announce her death publicly because of our own struggles to process it emotionally.

Before her death, Lark completed a novel under her pen name, Alou Randon.  One way I am coping with the loss of Lark has been to get her novel ready for publication.

Lark’s novel, Christiania will be available from Amazon on Wednesday-Friday (Feb. 15-17) for free download.  Hopefully, as many people as possible will get it on Wednesday so she will get a nice spot on the free best sellers list.Christiania_Cover_for_Kindle

I’m putting her book, Christiania, out there for several reasons.  Finishing her novel was a major accomplishment and one of her dreams.  I want people to see how well she could write at a young age and envision what she might have been able to achieve had she lived.  Also, I just wanted to do one last thing for my kid.

I’d love for everyone who is comfortable doing so, to share the info about the free book to maximize downloads, as a final tribute to Lark/Alou.

However, Christiania is adult material with disturbing themes.  Drug abuse, sex, violence and profanity are used throughout.  If you are easily offended, this will not be the book for you to read.  Just read the About Christiania note at the beginning, and the About the Author, poems, photos, and Afterword at the end.

Alou Randon wrote in letters to prospective agents, “Christiania is comparable to works such as Naked Lunch, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Trainspotting and was influenced largely by the works of William S. Burroughs.  Its audience is similar to those of the aforementioned books — present and past drug users who want and need characters whose problems they can relate to and empathize with.”

Because of my metastatic GIST cancer, I had no expectation of outliving her.  Since her death, I’ve had days when I just wanted to stay in bed or curl up in a ball on the floor indefinitely.  Knowing that Lark really wanted to publish her book has given me a purpose when I wanted to give up.

My heartfelt hope is that if she is able to somehow view what I’ve done from some other plane of existence, she smiles.

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Dennis Green & I Interview Each Other

Dennis Green, Rob Cline, and I have been meeting in my basement on Sundays for nearly 5 years to discuss our writing projects. Our meetings have resulted in 5 novels and a collection of short stories. Most importantly for me, they’ve also resulted in two new friendships and a welcome distraction from my stupid cancer. Since Dennis and I have new novels launching this week, we decided to interview each other about our works.

DENNIS:  Let’s start by getting the elephant in the room out of the way. Your stomach cancer has returned. How are you feeling?

RANDON:  First of all, thanks to you and Rob Cline for visiting me in the hospital after my last surgery.  Sadly, that nasty scar puts an end to my childhood dream of being a Speedo model, so I hope this writing thing works out. Fingers crossed.

Joking aside, the second-line chemotherapy for treatment of GIST (gastrointestinal stromal tumors), Sutent, is harsher than the first-line chemo.  My oncologist has been tweaking the dosage to find the sweet spot where the tumors remain suppressed but my quality of life is reasonable.  I’ve lost a substantial amount of weight and my stamina is greatly diminished, among other problems, but that’s all due to the chemo as opposed to the cancer itself.

Since I didn’t even expect to be alive in 2015, I won’t complain too much.

RANDON: How would you describe your latest novel, Prisoner?

DENNIS: Prisoner takes place about a year after the events of Traveler. True to the promise he made to himself at the end of the first book, Trav Becker has settled into a normal life, or as normal as a policeman’s life can be. But he’s left all the parallel reality-jumping behind. Everything is fine, until dead and dying Trav Beckers start showing up everywhere Trav turns.

Pursued by an FBI profiler who believes (with some justification) that Trav is hiding something, the detective races to save two kidnapped girls while also trying to sort out why he keeps turning up dead. Desperate to preserve his home timeline, Trav is thrust into a hidden war that threatens to destroy the very fabric of reality itself.

DENNIS:  Memoirs is a very different book than Friends Dogs Bullets Lovers. Where did the idea come from?

RANDON:  In 1991 or 1992, I was courting my wife, trying to convince that her I had a modicum of class.  We went to a museum called The Menil Collection in Houston and saw an art exhibit of Jacob Lawrence paintings from 1939 and 1940 that focused on the lives of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass.  Each painting had a caption below it. One caption mentioned that after suffering a head injury as a slave, Tubman, for the rest of her life, had a condition that caused her to fall asleep with no warning.

I was blown away that, despite her medical condition, she risked her life repeatedly to free slaves. Tubman’s story and courage inspired me to begin writing Memoirs of a Dead White Chick. A large portion of the story concept came to me almost instantly. As I did more and more research, though, I began to wonder whether the Civil War was the best way or the only way to end slavery, and that question informed much of the rest of the story.

RANDON: Prisoner is the second book in your Traveler trilogy.  Compare the experience of writing this book to the first.  Was it easier, equally as difficult, or harder?

DENNIS: In music, they say a band has ten years to make their first album and ten months to make their second. If you think about it, you can pretty much count on the fingers of one hand the number of follow-ups that even match, let alone exceed, debuts. So you definitely feel like you’re under some pressure to prove the first book wasn’t a fluke. On top of that, Traveler was intended to be a one-shot. I wanted to leave it a little open-ended, but didn’t intend for it to become a series. Then, toward the end of writing Traveler, I had this idea for a scene where a bleeding and dying version of Trav shows up on “our” Trav’s doorstep. After that, I had to write a sequel. Only problem was, I then had to figure out the rest of the story!

RANDON: What did writing your first book teach you that applied to the second one?

DENNIS: Like you, I’ve never taken any classes or had formal training in writing novels. At its most basic, I learned how to structure a novel. It’s pretty easy to think of the idea of a story, and maybe even to write a scene or two, but understanding the ebb and flow of a narrative, where to leave the little clues your protagonist (and reader) need, while playing fair, takes a lot more skill and patience than you might think.

DENNIS:  And I’ll ask you the same question to wrap up. What did writing your first book teach you that applied to the second one?

RANDON:  The biggest thing I learned was that I can actually write a book.  Doubt was my biggest enemy for years.

Secondly, I learned that the book doesn’t have to be written perfectly in the first draft nor does it have to be written in perfect chronological order.  By that, I mean, if I had an idea for the ending, I could write it early on and then write toward that ending.  If I got stuck in the middle, I could skip over that part and fill it in later.

Lastly, I learned how much I enjoyed meeting readers when we spoke at bookstores, book clubs, Rotary Clubs, and Optimist Clubs.  Their enthusiasm and support gave me the confidence to keep writing, and their questions helped me better understand my own process and the process of our writing group.

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Daybreak Rotary & Beaverdale Books gigs

Busy last couple of days for The Writing Lads.

Dennis, Rob & I met with the Daybreak Rotary of Cedar Rapids on Friday to discuss our novels.  We shared a few laughs and met some outstanding people with a strong sense of community.  Moreover, they are partnering with Sunrise Rotary to construct an Early Childhood Development Center in El Salvador.  Good people.

On Saturday, we went to Beaverdale Books in Des Moines to tell our tale and read.  What a beautiful store with a great selection and helpful staff!  Buy local, readers.

On a personal note, my body has held up fairly well and I’m finding myself more and more comfortable with public speaking.

Thanks to everyone that came out to hear us.

Top 11 Reasons to Read Friends Dogs Bullets Lovers, Branches, & Murder By The Slice

Beyond their obvious literary merit, here are the top 11 reasons to read our books. (A list which is not at all like Letterman’s Top 10 because it’s one more, isn’t it? It’s not ten.)

11.  Nary a single hunky vampire, werewolf or Chupacabra graces the pages of these tomes!

10.  We ardently adhere to the fifth Rule of Peaceful Pizza Delivery. [Ch.28, MBTS]

9.     Content is guaranteed Gluten-Free and Bieber-Free with no MSG, Zero calories, and no soporific content.

8.     Each novel is less than an eighth of an SPL thick. [Ch.3, FDBL]

7.     No documented permanent harmful side effects have been attributed to our books. (not yet verified by FDA or CDC)

6.     Generations of readers from Alma to Zelle want to know the secret of Branches.  See if you can figure it out.

5.     Zombie-proof. Nuff said!

4.     Not inspired by Reality TV

3.     They’re Hipster-rific.

2.     Each book was crafted in the good ole U S of A.

1.     Over one dozen Amazon reviewers can’t be wrong.

Kyle Eastwood, Bassist, Has My Novel

Autographed copy of Kyle Eastwood's latest CD
Autographed copy of Kyle Eastwood’s latest CD

I gave a copy of Friends Dogs Bullets Lovers to bassist extraordinaire Kyle Eastwood on Tuesday night during the intermission of his quintet’s show at CSPS in Cedar Rapids.  In return, he signed my copy of his latest CD.

Kyle said he spends a lot of time on planes, so he’s glad to have something new to read.

Meeting Eastwood is especially cool for me because I mentioned Kyle’s bass prowess on the bottom of page 228 of my novel, never imagining I’d see him live.  In the January 5, 2006 issue of The Gazette, our local newspaper, I even wrote a blurb about how I thought Eastwood’s Paris Blue was the best CD of the prior year.

Kyle and his band were outstanding. I own five of his CD’s but until I saw him live, I did not know how truly incredible he is on the basses.  The entire quintet was tight and soulful.

On March 7, 1980 I saw Jaco Pastorius perform with Weather Report, and on June 28, 1981 I saw Stanley Clarke perform.  Kyle’s performance was on par with those cats – that’s how good he was!

CSPS was a wonderful, intimate venue and the packed house responded well to the show.

Kyle was very gracious about signing autographs and posing for photos both at intermission and after the show.

It was a very cool night for me.  Chalk up another wonderful experience for my bonus years.

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