Monday, January 1, 2024

NINJA STUFF: Author, Year Ten (2023)


Esteemed Reader, I fear 2023 likely marks the end of Middle Grade Ninja.  Never say never, but I think it's time for me to move on. And this is, in part, my goodbye to you. Thank you for your support these many years  It's meant more than you can know.

Truthfully, I think I knew it was likely to end when I wrote last year's post, I just didn't want to admit it.  And then on 03/03/23, God spoke to me. Directly. That has a way of putting things in perspective (hopelessly imperfect though that perspective may be).

Some of you Esteemed Readers will shake your heads and think, ahh, Kent's finally gone mad. Shame. I liked his interviews. To you, Esteemed Readers, I say, "Fair enough. Thank you for staying with me through the years. I hope you've found value in my content. Also, please be assured I've been quite mad all along."

This year, my paradigm has forever shifted. I don't know exactly who I am going forward, which is as exciting as it is unsettling. But some experiences you don't come back from unchanged. 

I had intended to publish a 20th anniversary reimagining of Jim's Monster, an early book of mine. As 2023 marked the ten-year anniversary of my first official book, All Together Now: A Zombie Story, I also worked on a project that would've been a quasi retelling of that story, but this time without zombies. It was a fun challenge and it was a sort of/kind of sequel to The Book of David, another challenge given how that story ended. The plotting was a satisfying puzzle.

Yet, I was aware I was repeating myself and after God got my attention, writing those stories just didn't seem to matter as much.

Also, in light of David Grusch's testimony before congress and the many, many, many little acts of flying saucer disclosure that happened in 2023 as the dam on secrecy is clearly breaking, The Book of David now feels too real. I worry my fiction can't keep up with unfolding reality. Of all my books, The Book of David is the one I most would've preferred not be true.

I've been thinking about the UFO reality for years, and to those who scoffed, I told you so:) And yet, even I am experiencing ontological shock on top of ontological shock. 

I'm sure I'll eventually rediscover my passion for writing (I'm enjoying writing this post), I just don't currently possess the fire in my belly essential to producing a new novel. And I'm not sure if or when I'll return to the podcast. I've turned down some unbelievably amazing opportunities to have conversations with incredible people, but I don't currently possess the bandwidth to focus on the publishing world. I've been focused on it for years, often to the detriment of the rest of my life.

One thing that happened in 2023 is that Mrs. Kent made a career change that allows her to be home more with Little Ninja and I went back to work full time. And I'm not back to work in a this-is-just-my-dayjob-until-my-writing-pans-out-even-though-it-hasn't-for-almost-all-the-writers-I-know-who-weren't-already-well-off sort of way, but in a I-actually-love-what-I-do career sort of way. It's a job that allows me to make a positive change in the lives of others and I believe that's something God has put in me position to do.

I've also mostly withdrawn from social media. Oh, I still doom scroll on occasion, but without a podcast to promote, I've spent less time worrying about maintaining an online persona. And I think it's been good for me. The back catalogue of this site still gets plenty of traffic, so I'll leave it up as enough folks have been kind enough to write me and tell me how helpful they've found it. But I check the site's traffic numbers less frequently. After years of endlessly focusing on my online persona, I've mostly let it and the idea that it's crucial to some future super successful author version of myself go. 

And I feel lighter. 

Being the middle grade ninja has given me a front row seat to the decline of author as a viable occupation, enough to know that statistically speaking, it's not that I failed to work hard enough or write well enough. It's that the vast majority of authors who set out to make a living will fail to make writing fiction a full-time career and it's nothing personal. Don't tell me to be more optimistic or to work harder. The facts on the ground are the facts.

But writing? Writing is beautiful. Writing has enriched my life in so many ways and elevated my existence. I do not for one minute regret dedicating so much of my life to so pure and wonderful an artform. I'm eternally grateful for the blessings a writer's life has bestowed upon me. I've had amazing experiences worth more than money could buy. Every reader's reaction to my work has meant the world to me and I have loved being the middle grade ninja.

Rob Worm's Bird Adventure is the pinnacle of my writing. It is a simple tale, but true, and I am not capable of producing a better book. I could produce books that are also good, but I set out to tell the tales of my heart, and I've accomplished it. I put everything I had into producing my books and they continue to be read even as I write this. But just because I've enjoyed doing a thing doesn't mean I have to go on doing it forever.

I've seen some authors be tremendously successful, but the majority stop writing at some point, or at least slow down. Most of my former critique partners have stopped publishing. Some are still writing, but it's no longer their primary focus, and they're not unhappy so far as I can tell. They're multifaceted individuals who contain multitudes, only one of which is their love of writing and literature. And I believe their lives have been enriched by their creative endeavors as has mine. It's only the wicked, skewed perspective of capitalism that might make those experiences appear to contain even a hint of failure.

And yet, though I wouldn't have believed it as a younger man, there is more to life than writing.

In a world where beings presenting themselves as aliens are more frequently making their presence known, existence is so much stranger than I had suspected. Whatever these beings are, they've been here all along and have frequently behaved both angelic and demonic. I haven't the time to provide a crash course in the sordid history of mankind's spiritual encounters with beings from the sky in this post (I recommend Encounters by D.W. Pasulka). But as a former atheist, I take comfort in realizing the many, many spiritual people in our history were apparently not ALL out of their mind.

Against all odds, there is a There there.

Sorry, my atheist friend Hugh Howey (loved Silo, by the way, and cheered when I saw you on screen). Sorry, Christopher Hitchens. I reread my old favorite, God is Not Great, this summer and was again filled with admiration for the brilliance of its author. I too would like to be brilliant and Hitchens makes many excellent points, but in light of new evidence, I'm going to have to respectfully disagree with even so eloquent a writer.

You regular Esteemed Readers will know I've meandered from agnostic to atheist to reluctant believer for years (a theme through my adult fiction, but never my books for children). I'm not certain of much, but I'm no longer uncertain about whether or not there is a God. 

A Greater Intelligence I don't have a better term for than 'God' exists. Undeniably. 

I no longer have the luxury of pretending They aren't real.  They were real the whole time, the whole time!  I'm likely to spend the rest of my life trying to better know Them. Why They were often so very quiet prior to March, I don't know, though I suspect the fault may lie, in part, with my listening.

Esteemed Reader, 2023 has been a difficult year. I've never shared all my personal business on this blog and today won't be the day I start, but for context: If ever there was a year in which I needed to hear from God, if in fact there was ever a single day in which I needed to hear from God, it was 03/03/23. For me, the improbability of the day is part of the irrefutable evidence.

I'm not going to tell you what God said, it was very specific to me and extremely personal. But I'll tell you HOW They spoke to me and why I can't pretend it's something other than what it was. I think God would appreciate me sharing this story given the many faith-discouraging things I've said over the years, but who knows?

Okay. Enough stalling....

Although, don't I usual mention my favorite non-book media of the year in these posts? I would've paid to see a movie that had Michael Keaton playing Batman in it for one minute multiple times and it would've been my favorite movie of 2023. Despite its shortcomings, The Flash had dozens of transcendent minutes of Michael Keaton greatness. Now that I own it, I can fast-forward past the rest of the movie around those glorious minutes. The only thing I saw as amazing in 2023 was Tori Amos live in concert, a bucket list item I can now check off as she was as amazing in person as I've dreamed she would be since I became obsessed with her music at 14.

My favorite shows were Silo, The Last of Us, the final season of Succession (never has a finale so beautifully punished every character the way I most hoped they would be punished), and Lucky Hank. Marvel's Spider-man 2 slid past Red Dead Redemption 2 to become my favorite videogame of all time, although I also loved Zelda Tears of the Kingdom (of course), Super Mario Wonder, Dead Island 2, and Robocop: Rogue City. 2013 was a banger year for videogames and in March I was playing the exquisitely addictive Zombieland Headshot Fever Reloaded on my new PSVR2.

Okay, for real, everything I'm about to tell you actually happened on 03/03/23:

I was staying at an Airbnb, where I had intended to hammer out a draft of my new novel and play with my new VR headset. Instead, I was fretting and smoking cigarettes, a nasty habit I occasionally still fall prey to when I'm really, really stressed out (I don't need your judgement). And on that day, I was the most stressed I've ever been. And I had a crucial decision to make.

I spent the day doing research on my laptop and talking with the relevant parties and smoking, for which I had to go outside. That's why I know the lamppost in the curved driveway of the little house was lit up brightly even though it was only 4:00 in the evening.

The weather had turned nasty as though it were a metaphor for my inner life at that moment. There were framed pictures of Bible verses on nearly every wall of that Airbnb because the property was owned by the large church next door. There were crosses and other religious symbols posted everywhere, but I didn't see them, because I wasn't looking for them.  The last thing that might've occurred to me was to pray or attempt to reach out to God. 

So They reached out to me instead.

Just past 4:00, I realized I hadn't eaten anything all day, so I headed for the McDonalds that was a mere four or five blocks from the house. As I left, the storm worsened. There was already thunder and lightning, but now it began to hail. No matter, I was already in the drive-thru.

The whole trip took only 10, possibly 15 minutes. Yet, when I returned to the condo with my nuggets, there was a fallen tree in the drive. A fallen tree partly stabbed through the new roof the owner had put on the previous summer, though most of the tree landed directly where my car had been parked all day and all night save for those 10, possibly 15 minutes while I was getting food. 

The tree had been struck by lightning. I'm not the most perceptive man, but even I can't miss the significance of that. 

I parked further down the driveway just in front of the tree, which was the worst possible idea. But I didn't think of that. I went inside to email the owners and to call Mrs. Ninja to let her know what had happened. After that, I started to eat my nuggets, but they never did get eaten, because just then there came a frantic knock at the door. 

I answered to discover the world's most fireman-looking fireman. He was a big muscular man with bright red hair and a bushy mustache dressed in boots, a coat, a hat--the whole uniform. If they were making a movie involving firemen, he should've been cast as the lead. 

What I noticed first was not how much he looked like his occupation. What I noticed first was that he was terrified. His whole face was pale white, his eyes were wide, and his lips were tightly drawn. It was an unsettling expression on so tough-looking a man. "Is that your car?" he demanded.

I said that it was and explained that I'd been lucky enough to be gone at exactly the perfect time to avoid my car being smashed.

"You're a whole lot luckier than that," the world's most fireman-looking fireman proclaimed. "I can't believe I'm talking to you right now. You should be dead right now."

"Oh?" inquired I.

Like the Ghost of Christmas Future showing Scrooge his grave, the world's more fireman-looking fireman pointed to a thick black cable beside my car; a thick black cable I hadn't seen lying in a puddle on the soaked driveway. 

"Unfortunately, I've come on the scene before where someone stepped on a power cable like that one, which must've been knocked loose when the tree struck that street lamp. We couldn't do anything for them. That lamp appears to be light controlled, and it's plenty dark, so it's a miracle it wasn't on or you'd have been dead the moment your foot touched the pavement."

"Oh," said I.

But that light had been on. I knew it for sure. I'd seen it with my own eyes.

A miracle, then.

When I was a boy, the leaders at my church used to say something I didn't understand then: "I don't have enough faith to be an atheist." In that moment, at long last, I understood what they'd meant. 

There are coincidences, of course, even multiple coincidences happing simultaneously, but that many coincidences on the one particular day I most needed them? It strains credibility. 

You believe what you want, Esteemed Reader. I don't have enough faith to believe in that many coincidences happening independently of a designed framework. And if that shatters my little paradigm, I reckon I need a new one.

There was lots of motion then, folks talking to me, me smoking, the owner of the Airbnb graciously agreeing to wave the charge for the rest of my visit as I was already packing up. Police took my statement,  and other things were said to me, but the world seemed like a faint noise coming from a distant room.

I was alive. I shouldn't be. 

That big decision I couldn't make? I made it. Instantly. Because when everything was in proper perspective, it wasn't so hard to make after all. 

Later, as I was putting the last of my luggage in my trunk, a man named Bill made casual conversation as he cleared the driveway. He was a member of the church that owned the house. He told me that the church routinely prayed for the safety for their guests, and then he told me, "Sometimes God winks at you."

Sometimes They do. 

After that, writing my little stories just didn't seem so important. I put everything on hold and reassessed my life. Because I've been living as though the world was one way and it turns out it's something else entirely. The world is so much stranger than I thought and so many things I thought were impossible might, it turns out, actually be possible.

These days, I pray a lot (once a day, which is a huge uptick for me as I haven't prayed in decades). I attend religious services and hear lectures, mostly online so they don't pressure me to join. And I read a lot, mostly books about differing perspectives on religion and reality. 

I've been trying to read The Bible, but I get hung up on Genesis with its two of every animal in the the world on one really big boat, some of whom get sacrificed by Noah, and also that talking snake from back when the world was a Disney cartoon, and... I just can't take it seriously.

I pray for God to make it make sense if that's Their word, but so far it doesn't. I'll keep reading, though, if for no other reason than to better understand the beliefs of others. But the questions I had when I first started to doubt my original religion still linger and I don't think I'm going to find the answers I'm looking for in any one book.

Lue Elizondo says, "Homo sapiens have been around for roughly 100,000 years, and we've only gotten into written language for the last 5,000 or 6,000 years... so only 5% of our entire time rummaging around on this planet has been in somewhat of a civilized fashion... only about 0.2% of mankind's time on Earth we've been industrialized. How much of our history do we really know? We can go back 5,000 years pretty easily, 8,000 years gets a little murky... It's like spending an entire day and having amnesia about everything that happened before the last five minutes."

So when I read ancient texts, I believe we're playing a game of telephone and I shouldn't necessarily expect to understand all of it. Who am I to say snakes didn't used to talk?

What I know is that there is a God. There are beings visiting from the sky having contact with humans. Probably there have been for a very long time, maybe even since before the dawn of humanity. We find ourselves in a situation even stranger and more complicated than a mere alien invasion.

And that's where I leave it. I now know more than I did, but not as much as I hopefully will as I continue my walk in faith. 

I've loved writing and I've loved being the Middle Grade Ninja, but both of those things are on indefinite hold, not because I don't love them.

I've just got other things to focus on presently.

Thank you so much for all your support over the years, Esteemed Reader. It's meant more than you can know. If I decide to be a public figure again, I'll update this site to let you know where you can find me.

Until then, best of luck with your reading and writing and your loving and learning.

1 comment:

  1. I'm sorry to see you go, but I'm glad that you're focusing on what's important to you. I hope you'll bring back the podcasts as a service to writers because your interviews are so helpful. You don't have to want to write anymore to do them. I'm mostly just writing for myself. Being an author is too hard of a journey for me. But I'm maintaining Literary Rambles as a service to writers and authors. Take care as you journey through your life. Hope to see you one of these days.


Thanks for stopping by, Esteemed Reader! And thanks for taking the time to comment. You are awesome.