Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Unfortunate Pig

I met a pig today.

Not on purpose. It was one of those weird little incidents that, while not necessarily life-changing, you never forget simply because it is one of those times when you wonder how things would have turned out if you’d have done just one thing differently.

While I was at school (I‘m a teacher), my wife called saying she locked herself out of the house, and wanted me to come home and let her in. Good timing, really, because this was just when my lunch started. I had roughly forty minutes to get home, unlock the house and get back before my next class started. I was a little miffed having to skip lunch to bail her out, but that anger subsided when I remembered it was chicken nugget day in the cafeteria (my school’s nuggets have roughly the same taste and consistency as a plate of Hacky-Sacks).

I made it home in about 15 minutes. The driveway gate was open when I pulled in. We’re usually pretty good at keeping it closed, since Murphy, our wheaten terrier, isn’t exactly the brightest crayon in the box. But after climbing from my car, I saw Murphy was actually trapped in the house, barking at me through the living room window (his eyesight ain’t so great either). I had expected my wife to be sitting on the porch with a sheepish grin on her face, but she wasn’t.

Figuring she was in the garage on the treadmill to pass the time, I headed toward the back of the house. And that’s when I saw it…a pig. Not a very big one, about the size of our dog, pushing his snout through some weeds on the side of the house.

Okay, so it’s not like I just spotted a giant squid flopping around in my yard. But I live in Portland, Oregon, not exactly Times Square, but not Green Acres, either. My house sits on a busy street just a few blocks away from a 7-Eleven, a wrecking yard and a strip club. How in the hell did a pig end up here? Until now, the most unusual animals to venture onto my property were the occasional frogs climbing the side of my house, and two raccoons humping atop the storage shed one night. And I guess there was also the time my neighbors decided to fill their pond with crawdads; one of the critters apparently did not like the new living arrangements and kept crossing the property onto our driveway. I returned it to them twice before my neighbors finally realized crawdads didn’t make great pets.

But this was a pig, and not one of those cute & fuzzy potbelly ones people adopt as pets. This was a pig pig, fat and pink, the kind most of us only come in contact with only after they’ve become pork chops. Okay, maybe he was a little cute, like the one in Babe. But still, he was wet, muddy and not something I'd want sitting in my lap.

I froze and stared, the reality of a farm animal on my property not really registering for a second. The garage door was open, and one of my wife’s disco CDs blasting from within (yep, she’s on the treadmill).

“Honey?” I called, which startled the pig from his burrowing to look up at me. “There’s a pig in our yard!”

She didn’t hear me, but the pig heard all he needed to before breaking into a sprint, whizzing past me as fast as his little piggy legs could carry him. He snorted as he went by, obviously terrified, toes clicking on the driveway as he scurried out the open gate.

“Hey, wait!” I yelled, feeling immediately stupid, as if the beastie would suddenly stop, rear his head and reply, “What is it, Dave?”

Hell, my own dog doesn’t come to me when I call him.

Still, I felt a bit panicked and chased after him. We live on a busy road, and I worried he might run out into traffic. He may not have been a beloved pet, but that didn’t mean I wanted to see him get pancaked by an SUV.

By the time I reached the end of the driveway, he was nowhere to be seen. I was a bit relieved at the time. At least he didn’t run out into the road. He must have disappeared into the neighbor’s bushes or something.

Finished on the treadmill, my wife came out of the garage. I asked her if she had seen the pig in our yard. She looked at me like I just had a six-pack for lunch.

“I swear to god,” I claimed. “There was a pig  snooting around in the weeds. I hope he stays off the road.”

I could tell my wife thought I was making this up…or worse, hallucinating. In fact, she only half-jokingly suggested that very thing.

Anyway, after checking the time, I forgot about the pig. I had to get back to work fast to be in time for my next class. Kids are allowed a few mulligans when it comes to tardies, but teachers aren’t.

Back at school, I told the students in my next class about my pig encounter. None seemed too impressed. Granted, seeing a pig may not be as awe-inspiring as a UFO landing in your yard, but it isn’t like the streets of Portland are teaming with swine. The only comment I got back was from one girl, who asked, “Was it fat?” Yeah, like the pig’s size was the missing detail to make my lunchtime account a better story.

After the school day ended, I got home in time to join my wife in waiting for my daughter’s bus. On the way back from the bus stop, there was the little pig lying on the side of the road, about thirty feet beyond our driveway…


Fortunately, my little daughter had a friend with her, who she’d invited home for a play date, and in their quest to get home and start dressing Barbies, they didn’t notice him. I’m glad, because she only recently informed us she would no longer eat pork because pigs are cute animals.* Not only that, she doesn’t handle death too well just yet; she cried for two hours when a fifty-cent snail in her fish’s bowl died.

After the girls had vanished into the house, my wife and I ventured over to the dead pig, which was definitely nailed by a car. I guess he wandered out into the road after all.

“See?” I said to my wife victoriously. “I told you I wasn’t making this up.”

But inside, I was kind of sad. No, I don’t get upset every time I spot roadkill. In fact, part of me does a silent cheer whenever I see the bloodied carcass of a raccoon that met its end with a car bumper. Raccoons may be cute, but they are nasty, mean animals (and one beat the shit out of my cat once, which resulted in a $300 in veterinarian bill).

But a pig? In the city?** I do not know how he got there, but the little critter was obviously out of his element and probably scared to death. And as I looked down at his carcass (not a bloody, gory mess…just lying there on the sidewalk with his little black eyes still open, which actually made it worse), I started to wonder if I could have prevented this. What if I had closed the gate when I got home to let my wife in? What if I had tried to catch the little pig as he tried to flee my driveway?

I tried to reason with myself in order to feel better…he wasn’t my pig, and it wasn’t as if I had the property or resources to take care of a pig, even temporarily, while I scouted the neighborhood to find its owner. My wife suggested going to Zenger Farm, a nearby business which isn’t so-much an actual farm as it is a tiny agricultural Mecca for hipsters to congregate and buy pumpkins and wine. Maybe one of Zenger’s animals escaped. So I checked. But they had no pigs, just some chickens and bunnies for school kids to fawn over during field trips (just what purpose do bunnies actually serve on a farm, anyway?). After that, I felt I did all I could for the little pig.

As I write this, it is still lying on the side of the road, thirty feet from my driveway, as cars whiz by. I feel bad about that, because someone in my neighborhood is obviously missing a pig, and probably wondering where the hell he is. It ain’t like owning a cat. Face it, even if you love cats and probably think they return that love, you have to admit sometimes they just decide to take off and never return. But surely there must be someone missing their pig, even if they only intended to make bacon strips out of him.

And, as I write this, I’m thinking I should go outside with a few towels and hoist him off the sidewalk, away from the road where he met his death. Why? I don’t really know. It ain’t like we bonded or anything. I dunno…maybe it’s to make up for not trapping him in my yard earlier this afternoon. After all, he'd still be alive if I'd have just closed my driveway gate.
This dead pig isn’t my problem, so why am I making him my problem? It isn’t like I asked him to wonder into my yard.

I guess this is one of those ‘would’ve, could’ve should’ve’ moments we all face at some point in our lives, even though there is no way we could predict subsequent events in time to change the outcome. But that doesn’t always make us feel any better about how things turn out.

So, I still feel bad for the little pig that wandered into my driveway.

*She rescinded that proclamation just a couple of weeks later, when she awoke to the smell of bacon frying on the griddle last Sunday.

**No Babe jokes, please. I’m in mourning.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Stephen Brayton Interview

Free Kittens recently caught up with Stephen L. Brayton, author of the novels, Beta and Night Shadows (both published by Echelon Press). When he isn’t writing, Brayton is also an experienced martial arts instructor, in addition to having a day job. He is a pretty busy guy, so we here at Free Kittens are pleased he took some time from his busy schedule to let us know a little more about him.

First, two obvious questions everyone's gonna ask anyway...What first inspired you to write? And when was that moment when you decide this was something you wanted to pursue?

I read mysteries (Hardy Boys, Encyclopedia Brown, Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators) as a child. I started developing my creativity with writing short skits for my sister and me to perform. I wrote a few short mystery stories featuring a Quad Cities detective but didn’t start seriously writing until at my first job out of college. I found I had a lot of free time so I would write. When I moved to Oskaloosa I decided I really wanted to create something to submit to publishers. Not knowing how to go about it, I just began the way I thought best and learned from others throughout the years.

As a writer and reader, what are your favorite genres?

I still enjoy a good mystery, thriller, police procedural, a few legal mysteries. I’ll try sci-fi if I think the book looks interesting.

Your five desert island books...

Forgive me for just a moment, but at first I thought you were asking after my five favorite books about desert islands. I wasn’t sure I had read any that would qualify unless they started writing novelizations of Gilligan’s Island episodes. Then my brain clicked and now the question is even tougher. What five books would I take to the island? I have hundreds of books in my library, many waiting to be read, so although I have a few favorites, I’m going to have to go with the next five on my list of to be read and hope the supply ship shows up soon.

How would you describe your work to someone who knows nothing about it?

Beta is the first adventure of Mallory Petersen, six foot blonde martial artist and private detective. She has a knack for attracting the odd cases but when she starts trailing after a kidnapped eight year old girl, things get serious in hurry. Humorous scenes temper the serious subject matter as Mallory uncovers a child pornography ring.

Night Shadows: Think of X-Files with a twist. A federal agent who investigates paranormal and supernatural occurrences teams with a Des Moines homicide officer trying to stop a horde of killer shadow creatures.

Action mystery fans and those who like a little fright in their stories will enjoy these.

Tell us a little about yourself. Like a lot of independently published authors, I am assuming writing is not yet a full time career. How do you pay the bills in between writing projects?

I thought about knocking over banks and convenience stores to help with finances, but those pesky cops kept showing up and ruining my plans. So, I dropped that idea and began looking into identity theft…

Wait, scratch that. Actually, I instruct martial arts four nights a week as well as a full time job in the hospitality business.

I enjoy fishing in the summer, maybe a little golf once in awhile. I’d love to find a place to restart racquetball games. I really enjoyed the exercise.

I notice on your website you are heavily into martial arts. Tell us a little about that. Has that interest influenced the types of stories you write? Do martial arts play a part in some of your tales?

I took advantage of a two weeks’ free classes back in 1990 and never looked back. I earned my black belt in a little less than three years and opened a club in 1996. In 2003, I took over the Oskaloosa club.

When I started thinking about a private investigator series I considered using the detective I had written about years before, but I was so impressed with the women in my organization, I created Mallory Petersen, fourth degree black belt. One of the challenges is to create various scenarios to show off her wide range of skills.

In your publishing/submission efforts, what's your greatest experience? What's your worst?

Well, an obvious positive would be getting accepted by Echelon Press for publication. However, in my travels and networking I’ve met so many wonderful authors and editors and so the wonderful experiences continue with those developing relationships.

I don’t know if this was the worst experience, but it sticks in my mind as one of the most disheartening. When I was still learning my craft and sending out submission queries, I tried to follow the guidelines for each publisher. One night I’m sending out email queries and I shoot one to a publisher at 9:45. Not half an hour later, I receive an email rejection. Really? How much serious consideration was given? I sighed and thought, “Live and learn.”

We all have that one story that, no matter what else we accomplish, remains the nearest and dearest in our hearts. If you could choose one story or novel or yours (published or unpublished), which would it be and why?

Each author develops an individual style and I wouldn’t want to copy anyone. I don’t want anyone to say, “Well, he writes just like(insert name here).” However, I would like to have half the talent the pair who created Ellery Queen possessed. Their stories were so fundamentally solid, complex, intriguing, and entertaining. I also admire the immense skill of H.P. Lovecraft. A true master. The language he used and the images he created were outstanding. I hope one day somebody can read my stuff and have similar thoughts.

What's your writing process? Some map out everything in advance, some wing-it. Some maintain a strict schedule, some don't. What do you do?

I want to be more disciplined and I’m always looking to have better time management to be able to write. I can’t be forced to write which why I don’t join the annual NaNo event. I just can’t write with someone constantly looking over my shoulder wondering how many words I’ve put down. I would like to have a set time each day to write, but my schedule is so full I have to wait for a few hours free at work.

Ideas will pop into my head and if they seem interesting, I’ll write them down for future reference. If one won’t leave alone, I’ll jot a few scenes, a few possible characters. If the idea starts to be look promising, I’ll see if an outline can be completed. I’ll note points of future research, questions to ask certain people. Then I’ll start thinking about character profiles, maybe a subplot. After that’s completed, it’s time to start chapter one.

Any advice to aspiring writers looking to break-in to the business?

Do your homework. Don’t worry about plot, character, queries, synopses, or anything do with story structure. Learn how to write. This means basic punctuation, grammar, and spelling. Learn how to put together a proper sentence. Learn the rules. Develop a style where you then learn when and where to break them.

Promoting your books comes with the job. What types of things do you do to let the world know about Stephen Brayton, the author?

I’m on several social networking sites. Facebook and Twitter as well as a few .ning sites and others. I’ve created a book trailer for Beta (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vn_mDGLOPe8), bookmarks, postcards, done a few blogtalkradio interviews. I’m also planning on visiting some martial arts studios and hand out material to promote the book. And of course, blog interviews. Love them!

Where can one find out more information about Stephen Brayton and his work?

Please visit my website at: www.stephenbrayton.com, my blog at: http://stephenlbrayton.blogspot.com, and if you want a book reviewd at: http://braytonsbookbuzz.blogspot.com. Plus, check me out at Facebook and Twitter. Then, tell your friends.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Free Kittens Round-Up


Well, the ebook version of Shaken was made officially available today. A nice way to begin my Sunday just before the NASCAR race (made even better when I heard Kyle Busch is being force to sit out of the race...I hate that guy). Now some of the real work begins, mainly trying to get word out that it is available and where to find it, trying to send review copies and set up interviews. All that, of course, would be a lot easier if I didn't have a day job getting in the way. Who knows...maybe someday. Anyway, you can click the cover on the right to download it right now.

I recent gave an interview to Stephen Brayton, a fellow author and martial arts enthusiast. You can check it out here: http://www.booksummit.com/profiles/blogs/around-the-globe-with-dave-anderson?xg_source=facebookshare . Look for an interview featuring Stephen in Free Kittens very soon.


Here's something I found quite depressing. It seems that Amazon is selling a children's book called The Trinity of Superkidds, by J.D. Bauer. It was published by PublishAmerica, a barely-disguised vanity press that pretty-much accepts any crap someone sends to them. But here's the rub...J.D. Bauer is actually convicted serial killer Charles Kembo, currently serving a life sentence for four murders. This has outraged a lot of people lately, which I suppose is understandable.

But here's what makes me sick. As of this writing, the Amazon sales rank of The Trinity of Superkidds, written by a serial killer who also confessed that he prefers writing naked in the dark, is about 38,000. I'm a school teacher and family man, and the current sales rank of my first young adult novel, Killer Cows, is only 1,800,000. Being the 38,000th selling book may not seem very high, but based what I've been able to discover, it is currently one of the bestselling books in PublishAmerica's library. Granted, that still doesn't amount to much, but it does suggest to me that there are a lot of people buying this book out of morbid curiosity.

I also find it interesting that, just a day ago, there were several reviews of the book posted on Amazon by readers outing the author's identity, but as of right now, all of them have been removed. Yet, the book is still on sale.


Why is Kim Kardasian's divorce part of my morning news?

The new Opeth album, Heritage, is awesome. Even if you don't like metal, I recommend this.

A lot of my male seventh grade students love to make fun of Justin Beiber, but I'll bet there isn't a single one who wouldn't trade places with him, given the chance.

Barack Obama needs to commission the construction of a giant robot. People who would build a giant robot are clearly insane, and not to be messed with. All he'd have to do is air-drop one of those babies into the middle east, and everyone would throw down their guns, because anyone crazy enough to build a giant robot is someone you shouldn't anger.

Grimm is a great show, and it's filmed in my hometown!

It's hard to feel sorry for anyone in the NBA when you realize the reason for the lockout is that they can't agree on how to split up the FOUR BILLION DOLLARS IN REVENUE the league earned last year. I hope they cancel the whole freaking season. The more I read about pro athletes, the more I love NASCAR.

Speaking of NASCAR, I believe I already stated how much I hate Kyle Busch, but I'm sure glad he's there. Every sport needs a bad guy.

Is it just me, or is “Don't get smart” a dumb thing to say to your kids?