Finding Fact in Fiction: Fathering Fears and Tending Truth

Again. It was happening again. The boy cringed and pulled the covers over his head, a narrow slit the only opening in his thin armor. The streetlight sickled the night and latched onto the faux crystal door knob, its prism shattering the beams to a million glints of light peppering the room. The door fell open into the bedroom and he felt the intruder’s feet pulling the carpet with him, the leaden steps echoing distant thunder. The boy could feel his breath, taste the bar, and inhale its staleness. He could feel his stare undress the thin veil that feigned protection, the only barrier between them. Fearing for his life, the boy found the grip of the worn steak knife, his constant companion in slumber tucked under his pillow. His white knuckles trembled at the thought, a thought that wouldn’t see its own fruition that late evening. The intruder withdrew, but his point was made: his arrogance dulled the boy’s every possibility to fight back.

But wait – this wasn’t supposed to be a fiction piece. And it isn’t. The above scenario was real, one of many violent or psychologically intimidating incidents throughout the victim’s childhood. The victim was this writer. Odd timing brings this piece to light, with Father’s Day bearing down as I write. For many years after those incidents, celebrating any parent, or even the institution of parenthood, was a sore point for me. Because, I am a survivor of domestic violence in the form of child abuse.

Why mention this? Often readers assume my writing – and perhaps any writer’s work – to be autobiographical. This in some cases would be rather pleasant, and in others – well let’s just say not so much. Whispers in the Alders is no different. Many readers have asked, “Is this based on your life?” To which I answer, no. As a writer, I take in all I have experienced, witnessed, and read, and recycle them through my imagination to create my fiction and poetry. These are all products of my imagination, although at times they can seem quite real to the reader, and even to this writer.

There were points during the writing of Whispers in the Alders where the scenes were so vivid, so painful to even write, that I questioned penning them, wondering if I was crossing a line. As has been the case for most of my life, I looked to the bookshelf flanking my desk for answers. At eye level was Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, which sits on my desk as I write this piece. In The Bluest Eye, Morrison recounts horribly abusive situations towards children in as tasteful a manner as can be committed to paper. Still, those scenes haunt me. I knew I hadn’t come close to crossing any line in Whispers in the Alders, as tragic and heartbreaking as some of those scenes came to be written.

So why come out about this now? Simply because it has come up numerous times in conversation following the release of Whispers in the Alders. I have always said that Whispers in the Alders is a story that needed to be told. But it’s not just my story, it’s also the story of Aubrey and Tommy, and countless other children who suffer through the cycle of domestic violence in their childhood. Whispers in the Alders is their story as much as it is mine. However, I am not a psychologist. I am educated in the Humanities. I have no true standing to explain away the psychological chaos wrought by abuse except for the fact that I survived many of those situations myself.

This is not to say that survival was any easier than losing my life to abuse would have been. For years I suffered from the post-traumatic stress of physical and psychological abuse. I didn’t even know it, thinking I had escaped, only to later learn that the past has a funny way of keeping pace with the future. In the end, you have to confront the past to survive it. Sometimes those memories were just as frightening as the events themselves. The depression was deep, an enveloping darkness that dulled the senses. It was like a drug, except there was no high.

Where did Aubrey and Tommy end up? Those answers are within Whispers in the Alders. I’d like to say I was the perfect Aquarian like Tommy, and always optimistic, but it’s not true. Like many survivors of childhood abuse, I faltered for years in all my relationships. To my surprise, the models of behavior I abhorred resurrected themselves within me. I was traveling a path to become as abusive as those who abused me. Destructive behaviors became the norm, and I hurt many people along the way, some of whom may never find the means within to forgive me. While I have always accepted responsibility for my actions, this is the legacy of my childhood. I never fully understood the trauma I had undergone from childhood into early adulthood until I was in my thirties. The pain of therapy was near crippling, but it was the first of many challenging experiences that allowed me to begin healing from my past. I am still a work in progress, and always will be. As long as I keep that in mind, I can stay honest with myself, and to those who love me.

Whispers in the Alders is a story for anyone that has suffered, or is suffering, from child abuse. It’s a story of how to weather the circumstances of an unfair childhood. It tells society why it is failing its children, if it should choose to listen. It’s a story about finding love in friendship and having the courage to place your faith in another human being even after all others have failed you. That is the most difficult position that many survivors of abuse face: placing trust in others.

This Father’s Day, I’m quite lucky to have a father-in-law that has accepted me as his own, and filled the role of father without even being asked. I no longer have fear of the man lurking outside my bedroom, wondering whether or not a rusted blade will save me. It took years of hard work to reach this point in my existence. I’m not alone in this struggle, although for many years, the struggle was lonely.

It is my hope that Aubrey and Tommy’s story will keep this dialogue going. That is why Whispers in the Alders is a story that needed to be told. It’s not one person’s story either – it is an entire generation’s story. And unfortunately, this is a story retold generation after generation. Is it getting better? Perhaps it is, but not better enough. There is a spring to the human mind, and that spring is childhood. Without it, imagination and hope wither in the winter of human pessimism. I’m certain that there are many who can empathize with Aubrey and Tommy, and many more that should learn to have empathy for their situation. Empathy that can begin to be felt in the pages of a book.





In the dialed face

of the sunflower did rest

a reflection of the sun

light giving the plant

brilliance to digest.


Shimmer along yellow

petals gilding the rays

feathered out in fine detail

for the wandering eye

to celebrate.


The flower is a palette

contrasting the glance—

light and dark balancing act—

an optic harmony

to a sun-lit dance.


Don’t Knock the Vernacular

I read (again) The Red Wheelbarrow by William Carlos Williams. I was reminded how Williams assembled a small group of simple words. They were just words, but imported great meaning in a brief space. Williams, a pediatrician, became inspired to write the poem while making a house-call for a patient. Did the chickens represent payment for his services? Could payment even be considered as his thoughts also lingered over the condition of his patient? We may never know, but what we can infer, is that nothing in this poem is insignificant. Every word is dependent upon the other, much as the imagery in this piece is so dependent upon what happened that day—the details that none of us will ever totally know.

As a writer, I know at times that I fall short of connecting to my audience through the vernacular of common language. This is the same vernacular that bred me. I’ve experienced the same hardships endured by many other people. It’s what connects us on a human level, and it’s the connection that literature creates between writer and reader. Good writing is not meant to be a mere exhibition of fine-tuned grammar and an assemblage of words that boast of our education and prowess. It is an instrument that gives hope—something that has gone missing in recent time.

Williams’ poem is far more than a simple collection of words. These are words styled with care that demonstrate a dedication to craft tailored to keep the audience in mind. On its face the words of “The Red Wheelbarrow” are simple, but all words when singled out can be described in that way. Williams has taken these words and portrayed a scene that could evoke any emotion, or none at all. In its simplicity lies its complexity, showing that the writer’s gift is making that connection to the reader, whether the metaphor is accepted or portended to be something else.

The vernacular is lost by writers attempting to string words across the page that separate themselves from the world they interpret. It is not the writer’s cause to give meaning or understanding to circumstances, but insight. That is what words do when assembled with care and disseminated for all to appreciate. Word size and counts don’t matter. Substance always takes the prize in the literary arts.

Art can teach or alienate. The writer has failed when their art strays from the point of entertainment or enlightenment and caters only to a small fraction of society. The writer’s purpose is to take their perspective and make it accessible. When that accessibility is denied, the medium falls flat and loses influence and credibility.

We’re at a turning point, a time of great change, in history. Many are anxious, and wake to the fear of what the day will bring; security is escaping from the segments of society that need it most. Recent events have disturbed us from the comforts we knew too well for eight years. Trying as the future may seem, for the writer it is a time of opportunity, a time to connect with readers struggling to come to terms with an uncertain future filled with fear.

These are the times when the written word exerts its utmost power. Sometimes metaphor isn’t necessary, and sometimes a grammatically superior sentence stifles its own message. Simple words, crafted with care, can convey the complexities of emotions being felt across a nation turning its eyes to the future. It’s the vernacular that writers can wield with power and make a connection only few others dare to attempt.

Imagine : 2016

Ballots break the Age of Aquarius
while its perfunctory measures
greet its waiting antithesis
knelling the departure of its heroes;

Struck out was Joe DiMaggio
before a nation’s lonely eyes
raptured through political vertigo
a myth of promises lost their disguise;

Tendering chaos on axes X and Y
a generation lost to cyberspace
booming eyes with false tears cried
over children’s dreams laid to waste;

Bowled over by instant karma
indiscriminate in natural selection
from champagne bubbles’ supernova
sparkling of arrogance brazen;

Hope’s promise devastated
its concept bore suspicion
Cosell’s call unheeded
all remains forsaken—

leaving us,


to Imagine.


The hills and

their sweet grasses

stood sentry

guarding time

witness to

the changing seasons


demolition by mankind

too stoic

to flinch

too passive

to resist

their soils


riding the wind

barren plains

now sown


cheat(ing) grasses

purple majesty

running red

no more

does thunder




the heavens



Whispers in the Alders to be published by Blue Deco Publishing

It’s official: Debut Novel, Whispers in the Alders, to be published by Blue Deco Publishing, coming in 2017!


The alder catkin, hallowed totem in Whispers in the Alders.

I owe a great deal of thanks to all those who have shown their support throughout the process of writing, querying, and now, publishing. Soon, Whispers in the Alders will be in the hands of readers not just because this writer chose to tell a story, but also because of the interest generated by my closest friends and followers.

In 2017, readers will come to know the characters and events that make Whispers in the Alders an impassioned experience testing the emotions, and a story that will linger with them long after the last page is turned.



For more information, be sure to follow Blue Deco Publishing:

Twitter:           @BlueDecoPublish




I wrote this poem sideways because I

Couldn’t see straight enough

To know the lines on the page

And if they were running

North, south, east or west;

They turned out to be mere guide-ons

Along this journey in a world

Structured by contradiction

Escape recognized as


Or maybe I could rhyme

And lay down a beat

In perfect time –

But to do so would recognize

The stricture of my

Education, it’s failure

In my homogeny;

Lay down the sonnets and


Forget even the bop –

All are well in time

But tonight…

These lines


are Mine.

red and white

I can still smell the red and white

they linger in the air

staining the hand

while its accomplice

on my palate lingers.


I choke back the cough-

push down the bile-

it’s all I can do-

minus virtue.


A boy among men

five years old

a father’s gift on

his day, to me-

a can of suds

and a pack of reds

teaching me how

to be a man

in the red and white

carton –

and can.



We spiraled down the thousand stairs to the river shore. Our arms floated alongside, separated from our bodies by the currents of air rising from the warm waters below. The air was heavy. It gave lift to our arms but slowed our descent, keeping our feet from escaping us.

Not too fast. We were certain not to make our way too fast. Haste was always met with disdain. But it was something against our will as children—slowing down was antithetical to being a child. Carefree and full of aplomb were our true natures. Still we held our emotions and our raw energy in check, careful not to disturb the peace.

It was a peace that didn’t happen often. But when it did it we were made to abide.

I turned back to see Robert coming down the stairs in unison with my steps. The shaded spiral of stairs was hewn from flagstone slabs shingled like fallen dominoes. On their surfaces colonies of moss crept, claiming squatter’s rights. They defended their territory with ferocity—one misplaced step and the moss would grab the underfoot and push it away, sending its victim tumbling to the rocky shore below.

We were keen to the moss. We tread the stairs by its rules. It slowed us down, maintaining the balance between our world and the adult world: the same world we fled every morning. The stairs were our escape to the one place we were allowed to go and just be kids. As long as we played by the rules—no running, no speaking on the stairs, and return home at our assigned times—it was the only freedom we would know. It was school for the summer, scheduled play to remove us from the adult world, where we were nothing more than in the way.

The moss was quiet. It never spoke, but only listened to our approaching footfalls.

Robert’s stride had a sense of hesitance. On his face was a lack of reassurance with the placement of his steps. Still he continued, not slowing, although it was not of his own will. He did all he was told: he spoke nothing and held his feet in abeyance to his arbitrary speed limit. It was too late to avoid the fall, guided by an unseen hand.

His body sounded off like a balloon releasing its pressure, the wind expelled from his lungs by the hardened stairs. His face was full of fright; it ignored me. I watched as it slid by in slow motion, passing beneath the banister, and fading from memory. He slipped into the darkness below and was swallowed by the maelstrom of waves gnashing at the shore like hungry teeth.

I stopped and planted my foot. The moss caught my sole.

I never saw Robert again.

Reminiscing of Hardy Country

River Frome, Dorchester.

There is nothing quite like bringing a story to life by walking in the footsteps of its characters, taking in the sights that they too would recognize. I had the fortunate opportunity to do just that not too long ago, touring Hardy Country, the area surrounding Dorchester that English author Thomas Hardy called home. Better known as “Wessex” in his writings, the area provided the back-drop to many of his stories.

Hangmans Cottage.



The literary tour of Dorchester proper highlighted various landmarks used by Hardy. At the site of the old prison, I learned of how a young Hardy witnessed the hanging of a woman. Later, this woman would serve as inspiration for Hardy’s character, Tess, from Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Many other references to Hardy’s works could be seen throughout Dorchester, including the Hangman’s Cottage which appeared in “The Withered Arm.” Viewing these sites was more than a backdrop to the works of Hardy; it gave perspective. In such a bucolic setting, it was hard to imagine the traumatic events often written about by Hardy. This is in part his genius, I suppose, underscoring that beneath the surface there is always a dark side waiting to be exposed.

Nestled in a small valley outside Dorchester, I happened upon the Hardy family cottage where the author spent his youth. The location was remote even by modern standards; in Hardy’s childhood it must have felt as if it were one thousand miles from anywhere. The simple thatched roof structure, with its low ceilings, clung to the valley as a morning fog, melting in with the surroundings. More than just a great example of Hardy’s humble beginnings, it also delineated the progress of technology in his lifetime. From a simple cottage in 1840 to his home at Max Gate, the effects of technological change were very clear. In essence, the trips between Hardy’s childhood cottage and his home at Max Gate showed the dramatic changes in society witnessed by Victorian England.

Hardy’s study overlooking garden at Max Gate.

My final stop was at St. Michael’s Church in Stinford, where Hardy’s heart (sans body) is interred. The parish graveyard was small; enclosed by a stone wall it was quiet and demanded respect. This old cemetery felt hallowed by the age of the tombs and those buried there, and in some respects has its own Poet’s Corner of sorts – buried within feet of Hardy is Cecil Day Lewis, former Poet Laureate of England and father of Academy Award winning actor Daniel Day Lewis. Hardy chose to be in the same grave as his first wife, and his second wife was later buried atop both of them, an eerie ménage-a-trois for the afterlife.

Dorchester and its surroundings are alive with the life and foils experienced by Hardy and his characters. As I turned my back to the town, I felt a bit of passing nostalgia knowing that I may never return, much as the Mayor of Casterbridge must have felt as he enacted his exile from the town that came to disregard his existence. But a visit there is no further away from the bookshelf. When I read Hardy, I’m taken back to Dorchester, the imagery of his words bringing the town and its people to life again, my memories resuscitated with each turn of the page.