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Gideon Versus the Gods of Cool to be Picked Up by an NYC Publisher

I just signed a contract with Beacon Publishing Group in NYC for my Young Adult Urban-Fantasy/Humor novel, Gideon Versus the Gods of Cool. They anticipate a release date by early Spring of 2019. I’m excited to see this one take root, as I’ve poured more of my soul into this work than any of my previous novels. That is, it’s very autobiographical … or as autobiographical as you might expect from one of Utah’s Biggest Liars. (Speaking of which, come see me and my family tell our stories at the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival this weekend, the best time of the year!)

From the horrors of gym class, to sneaking out at night, to getting mixed up in inter-school fights, to teen drama and complicated love affairs, to going against the popular grain, to challenging the establishment, to exploring the secret tunnels beneath the school, to joining the football team and getting severely pummeled, to sneaking into a dance dressed in drag, to escaping from detention, to jocks becoming nerds and nerds becoming jocks, to crawling through the halls like elephants, to taking on otherworldly beings and having metaphysical adventures, this book very much happened. I think my high school friends will especially appreciate it, as … well … they were there too. And for the rest of my peers, they’ll finally find answers to the often-asked question: “Why is Steve so weird?”

Earlier this year, I was invited to visit Amelia Earhart Elementary in Provo, where I read the final few chapters of the book to several sixth grade classes who had been reading it. It was fun to hear them gasp when things got scary and cheer when the good guys prevailed. More than one of the students exclaimed, “This book needs to be a movie!” I also read it to my daughters, and every time I finished a chapter, they begged me for just one more. Thus I think young readers will enjoy Gideon Versus the Gods of Cool.

In its self-published form, the book has been temporarily available on Amazon, though I’ll soon be taking it down. So if you want to snag a copy of the first edition (whether in print or eBook form), you’d better do so quickly. You can also order signed copies from me.

Just for fun, here’s an excerpt:

First there’s the familiar shame of being late in front of the entire team. Then there’s the agony of running, the taunts of teammates, the pointless slaps, the cruel calisthenics. The autumn air turns cold and sharp, and time slows down as never before.

Finally the warm-ups end, and the armored players line up head-to-head. A whistle blows, and the violence begins. Gideon slips away to the sidelines, but his sweet catharsis doesn’t last. Coach McPherson says, “Pay attention to the plays, because soon you’ll be tested.”

Gideon tries to take mental notes as the quarterback, Doug Rock, shouts strings of seemingly random words. “Blue, forty-two, check, check, set-hut!” What could it mean? He watches the players assume strange, three-legged positions. Then Doug shouts more nonsense – “slant route,” “six-eighty-six,” “left lover boy” – and the players assume new positions. Gideon tries to memorize the complex geometry of this men’s ballet, but it’s information overload. What’s the difference between the “Quick Ace” and the “Green Eighty”? How is a “Reversed Forward Pass” even possible? It would help if he knew the difference between a linebacker and a nose guard. It all hurts his brain, and he thought football was for dumb brutes!

At last, Coach McPherson blows three long whistles. Practice is over. The assistant coach gathers the team for another boring speech. Then there’s the druidic circle of team spirit. “Go cowboys!” When the rituals are over, Gideon’s mind tells him to run, but for some reason he lingers. As the guys disperse and chat among themselves, Gideon finds himself walking around, pretending he’s looking for something. Why? Could he actually be feeling a sense of camaraderie with these guys?

Deep within, he feels a glowing ember of something he’s long-suppressed: masculinity. While he, of course, is above the society of jocks, if, out of necessity, he were to lower his standards and find a companion with whom to share his misery, this whole ordeal might be more tolerable. There is that guy, Bula, who seemed friendly enough, but then, Bula probably gives his welcome spiel to every new team member. If Gideon is going to make a real friend – or as close to a real friend as one could have with a jock – he’ll have to do it the jock way: by proving his manly prowess.

A hard fist slams into Gideon’s chest, contracting his ribs, and sending him staggering backward. He impacts against the well-padded back of the towering Koa Kamaka, Hawaiian giant. Koa, with a savage scowl, knocks Gideon in the opposite direction. As Gideon finds himself on his hands and knees, he hears the inane laughter of Kyle Slater, who, no doubt, instituted this senseless violence.

Doug Rock is watching the scene as if it’s perfectly normal. “So, Gid, we’ll see you at Riverside Park tonight?”

Kyle adds, “Unless you’re chickening out.”

Climbing to his feet, Gideon has to breathe hard in order to speak. “Um …” He forgot all about his rash commitment to attend their secret escapade. The way they refer to the mysterious event makes him wonder if they’re going to initiate him into some esoteric fraternity … or just murder him. “Tell me when, and I’ll be there.”

“Midnight,” says Doug.

“But it’s a school night,” Gideon protests. No sooner do the words escape his mouth than he regrets saying them.

Ignoring him, Doug reaches into his duffel bag. “I’m sure this is your first time, so you can borrow some of my gear.” He tosses Gideon two metal pieces of something. Brass knuckles. “And in case you get lost …” Doug hands Gideon something else. “Here’s my card. You’ll find my number on the back.”

Gideon examines the card. Printed in elegant cursive are the words:

Douglas W. Rock, Concert Violinist

“What the …” Gideon looks up, but Doug and Kyle are walking away.

As Gideon walks home, the sky has turned golden, the sun beginning to set. Though the air is chilly, he droops his jacket over his shoulder. His stomach growls. The thought of his mother’s cooking has never seemed more divine. And he deserves it.

Dwight and Wanda are sitting on his front lawn. Beside them are a messy array of bags, burger wrappers, and soda cups.

“Hey,” says Wanda, stuffing a handful of fries into her mouth. She extends an oil-splattered box to Gideon. “We saved you some …” Then she observes the empty contents. “Oh, sorry. I think there’s one more burger at the bottom.” She shuffles through the crinkly wrappers in one of the paper bags. “Wait, never mind.”

Gideon can smell marinara sauce wafting from his house. “Well, I’ll catch you guys later.”

Wanda frowns. “We’re going to Movies 8. You wanna come?”

“But it’s a school … I mean, I’d like to, but I have too much homework.”

Dwight bursts into laughter. “Since when do you do homework? Man, this gray lady’s got you on a leash!”

“It has nothing to do with her, it’s just … if you must know, some of the guys and I were going to meet up for some … extra practice.”

Wanda says, “Wow, you mean you’re one of the guys now?”

Gideon shrugs. “I guess so.”

Dwight says, “I see how it is. You won’t be needing us anymore.”

“Dwight –”

“Why would you want to hang out with a couple of nerds when you’ve been accepted into the lofty social circles of Doug Rock and Kyle Slater? Soon you’ll have cheer leaders fighting over you and your varsity jacket. Then, my friend, you’ll have to choose between those who love you for who you truly are and those who flatter your vain ambition but will forsake you in the end … the classic conflict.”

Gideon applauds. “That was very impressive. Now will you shut up?”

Dwight bursts into laughter. “You and I both know you don’t have any friends on the football team.”

“Lay off. It’s only my second day.”

“So you’re really going to stick with it?”

“What do you care?”

“Good point, I don’t.”

Wanda cuts in. “Boys, be nice. Honestly, Gideon, I think you’re brave.”

After another whiff of his imminent dinner, Gideon is beyond done with this conversation. He waves goodbye and heads for the front door.

“Gideon …” says Dwight.

Gideon stops, though he doesn’t turn around.

“Remember who you are.” Dwight bursts into laughter until slugged by Wanda.

 

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Family History Fiction

Last night I developed what may be a new genre: family history fiction. I was tired of reading silly novels with my kids. I thought it was time to tell them something meaningful. At the same time, I didn’t want to bore them with old, family stories. So I found a middle ground by mixing fact with fiction. Because, as the old adage goes, “never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

It began near the turn of the twentieth century in the decadent, Austro-Hungarian empire, the very center of world culture. My great-great grandfather, Josef Von Gaschler, was a wealthy landowner and adviser to the mighty emperor (true). I began explaining the political climate that led up to World Word I, and my nine-year-old daughter exclaimed, “I know that! The Serbians didn’t want to be ruled by the empire, so a Serbian man named Gavrilo Princip assassinated the Austro-Hungarian prince, Archduke Ferdinand.”

“Yes,” I said, taken aback. Apparently my kids are smart, and I’ve been filling their heads with dribble for too long. I then explained how Josef Von Gaschler advised the emperor to unleash the full power of the empire’s steam-powered zeppelins (false … but so necessary).

Next I introduced our hero, Josef’s Von Gaschler’s son, Franz Xavier. As a young family man living in the mighty Gaschler manor, Franz is constantly blowing holes in the roof and driving the servants mad as he explores the wonders of chemistry (true enough). Meanwhile, Josef Von Gaschler returns from his meeting with the emperor and sees his house in disarray. He chides Franz and asks him when he’s going to settle down and take on the family business of property management (true). But Franz insists that he must follow his passion for chemistry (true).

At this point, my seven-year-old daughter blurts out, “He’s just like me!”

But Josef Von Gaschler will have none of this. He insists that Franz must take on the family business (true). Franz sees that his father will never accept him for who he is, so he takes his wife and children, and they steal off into the night (true enough). They buy one-way tickets to the farthest place imaginable, Australia (true).

But the voyage is fraught with peril. While Franz and his family gaze over the deck of the steamboat, they spy a black flag on the horizon. Pirates! As the rest passengers panic, Franz advises the captain to prepare his men for war. He gives a noble speech about how Gaschlers do not buckle to tyranny; they do not shirk from conflict; Gaschlers stand tall, and Gaschlers fight. While Franz single-handedly knocks invading pirates off the deck, he makes his way to his briefcase, where he retrieves his chemistry supplies. Then, just in the nick of time, he creates an impromptu bomb, which he hurls at the pirates. The explosion scares the willies out of the pirates, and every last invader jumps overboard. Fanz then completes his monologue with, “… and Gaschlers are smart.” (None of this literally happened. Lyrically, it couldn’t be more true.)

When I ended the adventure for the night, my children begged for more. Of course, it’s only a matter of time before they’ll realize that their great-grandfather wasn’t actually a swashbuckling pirate fighter,  but in order to discover that, they’ll have already learned (and will actually remember) more about their great-grandfather than most children will ever know.

In the next episode, they’ll learn about how their grandfather led an army of wild dingoes against the aborigines.

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Some Interesting Statistics About Mormons

Mormons don’t believe in evolution … so it would appear at first glance. But a closer look at the data suggests that (1) while Mormons rank among the highest percentage of people who don’t believe that the human species came about through strictly natural processes, (2) they also comprise the highest percentage of people who admit that they don’t know how the human species came about. Either that’s a paradox or it appears that Mormons have unusually open minds.

Yesterday I presented a lesson at church on the subject of “following the prophets”. I asked myself the question, “Is there any data to suggest that following the prophets is a good idea?” So I took a look at some statistics published by the Pew Research Center, which compares America’s major religious groups. I had some interesting finds, which I’m going to briefly list below. (I recommend checking out the source yourself at http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/religious-tradition/mormon/. Let me know if I’ve misinterpreted any data. I am, of course, biased.)

Here goes. Mormons …

  • Are in the top 25%, overall, for income.

There’s no competing with the Jews.

  • Have the highest percentage of those who have at least completed some college and are among the highest, overall, for education.

I couldn’t help but chuckle at this one. Some college? That pretty much describes what’s going on a BYU, which is first and foremost a mating ground.

  • Have the highest marriage rates and are among the lowest divorce rates.

Utah’s gotten a bad rap fore having high divorce rates. The truth is, while there are many divorces, there are many more successful marriages, so, comparatively, Utah’s divorce rate is actually impressive. (Yes, I’m conflating Utahans with Mormons here, but just look at the first chart, “Mormons by State” …)

  • Are within the top 25% of religions reporting an absolute belief in God.

Jehovah’s Witnesses barely beat Mormons in many of the categories, so hats off to them. It should be noted, however, that Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons score on opposite ends of the education spectrum. In this regard, Mormons are the anomaly. The rest of the groups that score high on education tend to score low on faith.

  • Are among the highest of those who say religion is important in their lives.

Again, the two higher groups also rank lowest in education.

  • Have the second-highest religious worship attendance
  • Have the second-highest in frequency of prayer, scripture study, and meditation
  • Almost tied (minus 1%) for the highest reports of feeling frequent peace and well-being

Isn’t that what it’s all about? This is the evidence I was looking for.

  • Are among the top 25% for feeling wonder about the universe.

This is good, but its not great. Why aren’t Mormons number one? If you’re a Mormon, I want you to go outside, take a deep breath, look at the clouds, and say, “Wow!” Hopefully, then, the next time you get a call from the Pew Research Center, you’ll have a better answer.

  • Tie for highest in belief of absolute standards of right and wrong.
  • Rank highest for a belief in heaven.

Delightful, considering that Mormon view of heaven is totally non-mainstream.

  • Rank highest for the view that government aid for the poor does more harm than good (64%)

Interesting considering that Mormons put a significant amount of their income into the church’s welfare program, which is probably the largest, independent welfare program in the world.

  • Have the highest percentage of Republicans in the nation (70%).
  • Have the highest percentage of conservatives (61%)
  • Have the highest percentage of believers in small government (75%)
  • Rank second-lowest for supporting legalized abortion in all cases.

Like these or not, I think there’s at least something beautiful about a people who want to be unified in all things … even, heaven forbid, politics. I remember reading the journal of Governor Liburn Boggs of nineteenth century Missouri, who complained about how politically unified the Mormons were. Why couldn’t the Mormons provide balance by dividing over the issues like everyone else? I could see how it could be annoying if you’re on the opposite side of the Mormons. I can also see how effective a huge, collective bargaining power can be. And why not play to win?

But it goes deeper than that. Unless there’s something in Utah’s water, I find it unlikely that this unusual spike in politics is the product of culture alone. Even if it is, the question would remain of how the culture evovled. It appears that there’s something foundational in Mormon doctrine that leads to a belief in limited government. It’s almost as if there’s some correlation between high education, strong marriages, high satisfaction, and, yes, limited government.

And finally, Mormons …

  • Have the lowest income inequality

What I see from the data is one of the highest percentages of people in the $50,000 – $100,000 income ranges and fairly average percentages for the rest of the ranges. Most other religious groups report a lot of rich and a lot of poor. I wasn’t sure if I was interpreting this one correctly, so I found on Wikipedia (and a whole bunch of other sites) that Utah ranks #1 among the states for lowest income inequality, AKA the Gini Coefficient (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_Gini_coefficient). Comparatively, Switzerland, Sweden, Poland, and Norway have some of the highest income inequalities in the world (just below the US) (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_income_equality). Personally I don’t think comparing the entire United States with its 325 million in population to countries with about 5 million makes any sense, but comparing a country of 5 million to Utah’s 3 million is a little less absurd. So the next time you hear someone say, “I wish the United States had more progressive policies like [enter Scandanvian country of your choice] so that we could have lower income inequality,” you might tell them (1) to check their facts and (2) that a more realistic and close-to-home means to that end would be an incorporation of the less progressive policies of Utah.

Okay, sorry if I digressed too much into politics. The Pew Research Center started it. The bottom line is, if you’re interested in Mormonism, it would appear that “following the prophets” is a statistically sound thing to do. Have a nice day.

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FunderCat – Crowdfunding Made Awesome

I launched another business, because that’s what I do.

Here’s the story. A few months ago, I made a contribution on GoFundMe for a family member in need. I was surprised at how much money was taken by the middlemen, profiting off of my family member’s tragedy. I thought, “I could offer a better service for less.” So I built FunderCat.

If you were a child in the 80’s, I know what you’re thinking:

As you should be. I scoured domain registrars for hours, searching for a cool domain name that was still available, and when I stumbled on FunderCat.com, I was sold in a heartbeat. I have yet to introduce the name to someone else and fail to see a smile grace their lips.

Now you’re probably wondering what makes FunderCat better than its competitors. Well, to begin with, we’re not charging anything (at least for now). There is a 3% payment processing fee, but that’s beyond our control. Other crowdfunding platforms typically charge 5% on top of the 3% payment processing fee. To put this into perspective, if you raise $10,000, you’ll make $500 more with FunderCat than you would with Kickstarter, GoFundMe, or IndieGoGo.

Second, you’ll get featured. Because we’re just getting started, your campaign won’t appear at the bottom of a colossal slush pile as it would with other crowdfunding platforms. Your campaign will actually get seen, increasing your chances to find backers.

Third, flexibility. Not into the whole “all or nothing” thing? Want to change your goal or extend your deadline? FunderCat aims to offer more flexibility than any other crowdfunding platform.

In the near future, FunderCat will provide a space where anyone with an idea can collaborate with artists, engineers, and marketers. Our mission is to make it easy for you to raise the funding you need to make your dreams a realities.

Know anyone who needs to raise funds? If you create a campaign by the end of this week, you’ll be locked into our free, introductory offer of no fees and will be guaranteed to be featured on FunderCat’s homepage. (Obviously, we can’t give our services away for free forever, though we pledge to to keep our rates competitive.) So click below to get started with your own campaign or please spread the word to someone who may be interested. Thanks!

Go to FunderCat.com

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What Does My Wife Do?

I’ve learned from experience that whenever my wife says, “Goodbye,” it’s best not to ask, “Where are you going?” or, “When will you be back?” because the answer will inevitably be, “I already told! Weren’t you listening?” and my answer, if I’m honest, will inevitably be, “No, no I was not.” Hence the comings and goings of my wife are mysterious. I wonder what she does out there with her other life. Perhaps she’s just running errands. Or perhaps she’s witch or a mob boss. I’ll never know.

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A Family of Liars

I made this meme for last year’s Utah’s Biggest Liar contest, at which time, Aspen did not steal Ariah’s title of reigning champion, nor did Ariah retain her title. However, at last night’s contest, Aspen did win first place, and Ariah took second place and the Audience Choice Award. I took second place in the adult division. It appears that we are a family of liars. I have trained my daughters in the subtle arts of deceit, and I expect great things from them.

It was the most intense contest I’ve been a part of. All of the stories were hilarious and the storytellers brilliant. I’d never performed for an audience that laughed so loud and on cue. Altogether the experience was addicting. If you missed it, you should definitely consider coming next year.

Afterward, judge and national storyteller Bill Lepp (who concluded the event with another hilarious performance) told me that his two daughters also won the Liars contest back in his native West Virginia, where he won five times. He said they pressure his wife to join the contest, as she’s the only one missing out on the fun. Likewise, he told my wife Teresa that now she’ll be expected to step up her game. My hope is that by posting this online, others will pressure Teresa to compete next year. So if you’d like to hear Teresa tell some whoppers, please say so in the comments.

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Come See Us at Utah’s Biggest Liar Tonight

It’s that time again, when my family competes for the honor of being Utah’s Biggest Liar. My six year-year-old Aspen, my nine-year-old Ariah, and myself are all finalists. I worked with my daughters to take their ideas and spin them into tall tales. We’ve been workshopping their stories at home, and we’re ready to perform. Aspen will be telling about the time she was abducted by a hawk. Ariah will be telling about the time she and George Washington waged a war against bad eating habits, and I’ll be telling about the time I stole Sylvester Stallone’s Filet Mignon.

To my understanding, Aspen was the youngest-ever storyteller to perform at the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival. Ariah has taken home two first place awards, two second place awards, and a bunch of Audience Choice Awards from the Utath’s Biggest Liar contest. I’ve taken home two second place awards and several Audience Choice awards. The plus side to all this is that we’re always awarded more tickets than we know what to do with for the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival (pretty much our favorite time of the year). Thus it’s always been in our financial advantage to compete :-). Though it’s not about the awards. We just like storytelling and, especially, lying. It’s also fun to rub shoulders with so many other talented performers and to enjoy an evening on laughing till it hurts.

Anyway, so if you want to come see us tonight in Orem, UT, the youth contest starts at 5:30, and the adult contest starts at 7:00. This time should be especially epic, as the contest will end with a performance from national storyteller Bill Lepp, one of the funniest men alive. More details here.

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Release Date Announced

Last month I held an album art contest for my project VALHALLA – A NORDIC ROCK OPERA. The hosting site, 99designs.com, predicted about 30 designs. We got over a hundred! The concept of the album excited the imaginations of many artists, and there were some phenomenal designs to choose from. While it was hard to choose just one, this design seemed the best fit for the album.

It’s been over a year since the conception of this project. Though I haven’t met a single goal as far as deadlines, it’s still been an incredible ride. I collaborated with family and friends to write, compose, record, and produce some fantastic music. I got to meet and work with many talented musicians. Together we entertained many audiences (with our most recent concert last month). I’ve networked with a supportive community and generous benefactors. I’ve pre-sold many albums and learned a lot about the music industry. And, of course, I’ve fallen in love with all things viking. Recently, at a writer’s conference, I was honored to share my learning on a panel about Norse mythology.

The setbacks and delays have been resolved, and for the past several weeks, I’ve been working with our producer just about every night to finalize the album. With hundreds — maybe thousands — of vocal and instrument tracks and an ongoing struggle to polish and balance it all, I’ve learned that art truly cannot be rushed. That being said, I can say with confidence that we’ll be done before Fenrir the wolf catches up with the sun, issuing in the great day of Ragnarok. In fact, I believe we’re down to a couple weeks left of work, so I’m committing to March 31st as the official release date. So hold on to your helmets. It’s time to get this ship sailing!

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Come to Our Free Mid-winter Concert

26197891_1655463567826390_2482441952407977067_oTeresa and I have been following a number of new years resolutions, such as eating only whole foods, exercising more, and taking our music more seriously. Specifically, we’re hoping to perform a concert every month. Today will be our first one for the year. It’s in Provo, it’s free, and there will be food. We would love it if you could come.

Find deliverance from the dismal, deathly dearth on winter with a free evening of magical, marvelous music by award-winning husband and wife duo, the great and glorious Gashlers. They’ll pull out the old cello, guitar, and banjo to flabbergast your faculties with frabjous fantasies. Recommended for hearty humans of all ages. Refreshments provided. See the Facebook event.