Remembering Brent

An Illustration from AustenRecently, I lost one of my heroes.

Dr. Brent Chesley was a professor at Aquinas College and a big influence on the person I became. For a while I even wanted to be Dr. Chesley as I applied and was accepted in a Ph.D. program in Literature at Michigan State University. (In time that didn’t feel like a good match for my skills and I transferred over to the University of Southern California’s writing program where I eventually got my MFA.)

Everyday Dr. Chesley celebrated literature.

Everything was worthy of a discussion and everyone’s opinion mattered. To emphasize this, he would begin each class by welcoming his students as “persons of quality.” If hearing that, even on a stormy Monday, doesn’t bring a smile to your face, I don’t know what will.

After graduation, Dr. Chesley and I stayed in touch. We would meet for lunch once a year or so, where we would discuss writing and maybe Worf on Star Trek. We kept in touch over emails and Facebook messages. Whenever I had a funny or depressing story to share about the world of literature (and my adventures in it), there would be an email out from me followed by a few from him.

The world felt right knowing Dr. Chesley was out there. He was the fan of literature that writers dream of. Someone that will really give your writing a chance (not just skim like someone waiting at an airport) and find the possibility there. For years, he would have me come into his writing courses to speak to his students (you can listen to one of those appearances here) and a part of me always wanted to begin by saying “Do you know how lucky you are to be in this class right now?” We all have those wonders if you can go back and relive certain moments in your life which would you choose. Of course, like most people, I will point to holding my children as babies again or when my wife and I were married, but I would also include being a student at Aquinas College in that list.

When I went off to study writing on the graduate level other students would ask why I went to Aquinas College as compared to a major university. But Aquinas College turned out to be the perfect starting place for me, and the professors that were there then, like Dr. Chesley,  were able to give me the attention and focus I needed. I wasn’t just another student dreaming of publishing stardom. I was unique and special there. And we all like to feel unique and special, don’t we?

Pride and PrejudiceWhen I wrote my novel A Jane Austen Daydream I had to create a series of articles for websites and press releases about the book and Dr. Chesley would always sneak into them. For it was Dr. Chesley, who introduced me to Ms. Austen. As any of his former students will tell you he was obsessed with Pride and Prejudice and considered it one of the greatest works in English Literature. Today, I heartily agree with him, but before his class I would never have considered picking up one of her books. Oh, how wrong I was. It is one of the reasons why I gave him a cameo in the book, acting as the doctor in Jane Austen’s hometown.

It still feels right to me that the doctor in Jane’s hometown is actually a doctor of literature.

A few years after I graduated Dr. Chesley told me I could just call him Brent. It felt weird and then strangely like an honor. How many other students got to call a professor by their first name? It was something I had earned. So when I think of the person that left my life, I don’t simply think of a professor that encouraged and inspired me, I also think of a good friend… and a hero.

Goodbye Brent. Tell Jane I said hi.

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10 Things That Prove I Am Getting Old

Father Time1. Sometimes the movies in the movie theater are just too gosh-darn loud!

2. I don’t like emoji’s. I don’t find them cute or humorous. I find them annoying and I’m always sure the sender could have easily typed words in the amount of time it took them to find the blasted image.

3. I rap along with The Beastie Boys each time they come up on my iPhone.

4. I have The Beastie Boys on my iPhone.

5. The idea of virtual reality scares me. (Not because of the technology, it’s just that it is one more thing that will emphasize to me how little I have done in my life and how unimportant I am.)

6. When I read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, for the first time, I related more to the grownups then the kids. Don’t those blasted kids know they are dealing with powerful dark magic! What were they thinking? No dinner! Go to your room!

7. I still think of YouTube as a new thing.

8. I still think of Twitter as a new thing.

9. I was excited about Bloom County coming back… and then had to explain to everyone exactly what Bloom County was.

10. I have a blog

Lingering Questions About the Drunk One-Legged Man

LegIt was after 9 o’clock on a weekday when a drunk one-legged man knocked on my door.

Let me begin by saying that my house is not in a particularly busy neighborhood. This is not any major city; it is a middle-class suburb. The kind of neighborhood, where you see the same old couple walking their dog at the same time every single night. Like clockwork. Everyone living near us is so familiar that my wife and I have given them nicknames. Nicknames I dare not mention here.

On the night of the one-legged man, my wife was out, and my son and I were watching Lord of the Rings (his recent obsession, which shows how much we are kin), my young daughter already fast asleep upstairs.

Typically, a door like ours does not get knocked on very often. I remember once during our first few weeks in the house when the knock came from some Seventh-Day Adventists. I told them that I was somewhere between atheist and agnostic. You would have thought they had won the lottery. They were so excited to meet me. Finally, I had to tell them I wasn’t interested and shut the door.

So this, in this neighborhood and at this time, was odd. The knock was loud and quick and both my son and I jumped. Even our dog, who is usually so aware of everything seemed surprised. I told my son, to go back to watching the movie, held my dog back and opened the door.

There was a white truck running in my driveway and the one-legged man was standing on my porch, hunched over like he was having trouble with his balance. There was no cane. His hair was disheveled and his clothes were filthy. His shirt was an old t-shirt, that was probably white once, but now yellow. I was never able to make out the image on it, and I did spend a few minutes squinting at it. He was wearing sweat shorts, so it was easy to see his artificial and metallic right leg going down to his tennis shoes. The man was so drunk I was not certain he could even see me.

“Is Julie in?” He asked.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know a Julie.”

He looked confused. “Julie lives here.”

Now my wife (not named Julie) and I have been in our house for almost ten years, and we did not buy it from someone named Julie. She was Cindi or Cynthia or some other kind of peepy C name. So this man was somewhere out of the distant past… Assuming, of course, a Julie even lived at my house at one time. Continue reading

Catch up on the new online book- Uses of this World

Hamlet Illustrated ClassicGreetings readers!

Why we all wait for the new Harry Potter book and tickets for Hamilton (seriously, I can’t wait to see that show, I’m addicted to the soundtrack), I’ve been working on a brand new novel online.

As I said in this opening discussion about it (here), it is an incredibly snobby enterprise. Prove it? I’m trying to reimagine my own version of Hamlet.

I know, I know…  Hamlet… Shakespeare… there is a chance there might be some eye rolling going on right now over the internet. But if I do this right, it should be a very engaging and interesting book with no prior knowledge of the Bard needed.

Denmark, 1926. The world is on a powder keg, the old world is in conflict with the new, still recovering from World War I. Jazz and flappers. Cocktails and parties. In this tumultuous time, the king of Denmark is found dead… but his spirit is not at rest.

This new book, Uses of this World, will be created here online, and I will be putting up a new chapter each time they are ready. Just this week I shared Chapter 3, finally getting up to the first scene in my favorite play.

Why not take this moment to catch up?

Here are three links to the first entries in this new writing experiment. I hope you will give it a try. I’m really enjoying the work and the process around it.

Uses of this World: Chapter 2

Cover Image

Prologue and Chapter 1

Chapter 2: Teach You to Drink

Everyone who is anyone in Europe knew Horatio.

American playboy, scholar, dreamer, writer, and spoiled drunken rich brat… at least that is what the people that didn’t like him said behind his back, including all of the gossip magazines. Horatio’s arrival in Europe landed with the start of the Jazz age and it was as if he had disembarked with his own soundtrack and style in hand. He was the one that introduced the young French populations to dances such as the shim-sham and perfected the art of the cocktail. He was then original and so very brilliant.

With the death of his rich grandfather the great Forster estate was his. Horatio had no interest in the oil enterprise that made the Forsters so prosperous. Even when his grandfather was alive and tried to introduce him to the family business, Horatio shocked the family by merely (and dangerously) lighting a cigarette by an open canister and simply shrugging his shoulders.

He was twelve at the time. Continue reading

Really??? Three Things I Can’t Believe I Was Once Into

CompassSo I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what makes up a life. What is truly important and what is, honestly, fluff. Or better yet, what milestones make us who we are, that make our life the final story it will be? The marks on our compass. Is this something important, for example, or just another day, something that will be forgotten.

Okay, I know this sounds like heady stuff, but stick with me. The shift is about to happen.

Yet, for me, as I pondered these deep thoughts I kept returning to things I was once into, especially things that now make me feel a little, honestly, humiliated. We all have those. I can easily name right now a hundred friends on Facebook that were into New Kids on the Block when they were in high school. (To those friends I’ll like to say: “Yes, you should be embarrassed; and, no, going to see them in concert now is not a good idea. You are watching people in their mid-forties pretending to be teenagers because they need the money.”)

Here are three things right now that make me blush. I can’t say why, they just do. And if I could go back in time I might have a few words with myself. Maybe even pat the past me on the back and say:

It’s okay, but you know this is kind of lame… No, seriously lame… Not boy bands lame…. Nothing you have liked has ever been that lame, Scott. So no worries… But lame, yes.

You know, looking back over this intro, let me correct myself. I just wanted an excuse to talk about three things that I’m not into anymore. (And by the way, I always thought boy bands were lame.)   Continue reading

I Never Knew Harper Lee

Harper LeeI think the greatest sin of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman is the feeling of doubt that it gave me.

Before Go Set a Watchman, I naively thought I knew Harper Lee. Many of us believed that. There was such a beautiful personal quality to To Kill a Mockingbird. Scout and Atticus were not fictional, they were real, and we assumed that real people hid behind their smiles and hugs. Harper was Scout and, of course, her father was the noble and great Atticus.

They were friends and I visited with them often, in both film and book. Before Go Set a Watchman, I would watch the movie once a year, crying in the same two places each time (when Scout is told to stand for her father as he is passing and when she sees Boo in the corner). And I have read the book more times than I care to mention. A part of me still dreams of the first time that I will read it to my kids.

There was a moment in the 2000s, that I shared the same literary agent as Harper Lee. And I would beg (beg!) the agent for news on Harper. I imagined, if I played my cards right, there could be a friendship there. It would begin with a call, that slight southern warmth in her voice. “I was told you wanted to speak with me?”

Awkward at first and then the talk would grow. I would laugh at her sarcastic wit. And I would do a little dance the first time I was able to get her to laugh.

Of course, that call never happened, and my agent at the time just allowed my daydreams to take place.

But, like I said, that all changed with Go Set a Watchman. Continue reading

Five Things I Am Into Right Now, February 2016

Sherlock Coloring BookHi readers! It’s good to be back. Sorry about the dust. I’ll try to clean up around here in a bit.

I’ve been off for the month, working on my latest novel, but now I am back and…

What is the deal with coloring books? Okay, this is a tangent, but recently I bought a coloring books for adults, based on the TV show Sherlock and I find it all very calming.

There I am, right next to my kids (while they work on their superhero or Little Pony books) and I am coloring a picture of a corpse hiding in some weeds. My daughter asked me “Who is that?” I replied, “Someone sleeping.” That was a lie, it’s a dead body! Yet, there I am coloring a picture of it. I’m feeling calm from doing it. It’s a freaking dead body and I am lying to my daughter too and I’m calmed by this and…

Okay, I really missed having this blog! Let’s see what else?

Oh, I introduced my eight-year old son to Monty Python! We watched Holy Grail. And, yes, I did fast forward through the naughty virgins scene, but the rest he ate up. Ever since then he has been quoting the film back to me, asking “Dad, do you remember when King Arthur asked if the monster was behind the bunny?” or “Flesh wound? He said it was just a flesh wound!” I can’t stop smiling about it. My son fits so nicely into my Monty Python world. Next up Flying Circus. Man, he is going to love the Spanish Inquisition. And spam! Who doesn’t love spam?

Man, did I miss venting here about things.

Deep Breath Scott, get your head back in the game and focused. Now here are the five things I am into right now. Enjoy! I’m off to color questionable scenes with Monty Python playing in the background. Bliss! Continue reading

New Year’s Resolutions 2016

HeadSo my 4-year old daughter has been playing mind games with me.

She found this old stuffed dog toy and decided to name it after a beloved pet I had ten years ago. Really, I’m not sure where she heard the name “Cratchit” before (and, yes, if you are taking note I had a dog named after Bob Cratchit from A Christmas Carol)…. Deep breath, Southard… My daughter, for some reason I can’t explain, stole the moniker and christened this toy with it.

Now here it where it gets a little creepy… like from a psychological thriller creepy. She keeps asking me questions with it like:

  • “Why have you forgotten about Cratchit? He didn’t forget about you.”
  • “Don’t you care about Cratchit anymore?”
  • “Do you want to hug and kiss the dog, daddy?”
  • “Tell Cratchit how you missed him. Here…”

It is totally messing with my head! Cratchit was a great dog! That cocker spaniel lived an amazing 15 years and was a good friend. He is gone. It’s just a stuffed toy… just a stuffed toy. No, I don’t want to hug the toy… Okay, maybe I do…

Where was I?

This website began as a New Year’s Resolution and I’m enjoying keeping it going. (I hope to still be doing two or so posts a week, but things might get busy with the note I mention below). So that is an easy resolution to keep.  Here are some others.

Be more present.

This one is a little more difficult for me. I’m one of those kind of people who are always in their head. Sure, I can have a conversation with you, but there is a good chance I am working through something with my writing or thinking about the new Star Wars film (which was awesome, by the way), etc. I’ve always been that way. And it’s probably not something that others will notice, because I am not “away” or staring off into the distance.  I’m just a person with multiple thoughts at the same time, all the time.  Well, with my kids growing up so fast around me, I want to change this about myself. I want to learn to be more present. Here. Now. If I am playing with them, I want to try and be fully in the moment. Honestly, this might not be something I can change about me, but it is something I want to try doing.

Finish the new book.

So last year I completed a draft of my new novel. For the last month I’ve been working with an agent and we are fine-tuning it. I am really proud of the book, but this will take some time. I truly think it will pay off for the readers. It is a very unique read and I can’t wait to tell you more about it. Seriously, it is very, very good and I think you will like it.

Have less crutches.

What I mean about that is I go to a lot of comfort things in my life. Certain foods for when I am writing (pretzels or Red Vines), soda for the morning, favorite lunches for bad days, favorite dinner for good days, etc. Comfort things are fine but sometimes it feels like we can go overboard with it. So what does that mean? I want less comfort?… Hmmm… maybe there might be a better way to describe it. The fact is I feel like it helps push me, forces me to seize the day more, accept more the things around me (good and bad). Yeah, I guess I want to seize this year.  So 2016 will be mine. (You can have the next one.)

Honestly… Happy New Year! 

3 Thoughts in November

Thought 1: In Paris

Eiffel TowerI was in Paris for only two days. This was at the end of my six-week European adventure, the stereotypical college graduate trying to discover himself and the world.

My trip had begun in London and I spent a majority of my time in England, but my flight to return to the states was from Paris. So (possibly because of bad planning) I ended up in the City of Love exhausted and broke.

I didn’t drink little coffees by the apartment of Hemingway, I didn’t travel the same paths of Fitzgerald. I may have visited the Notre Dame and the Louvre, but today I can’t be certain. For my memories might be nothing more than a picture I saw in a magazine or something from a show or movie. Yes, I might have stolen my memory of the city. I can say with certainty I didn’t go to the top of the Eiffel Tower. I walked past it, took a picture, and felt that was enough. It was like a box was checked in my head.

Honestly, I should have cared more. There is a lot of family lore connecting me to France. I can’t verify any of this but as the story goes through my family, on my mother’s side, I have French nobility in my blood. We were the ones that were smart enough to figure out that it wasn’t worth it to stick around during the French Revolution, scampering away to Ireland. Those very streets might have been walked by my ancestors! Of course, if they were nobility they were probably driven around in carriages and didn’t peer out of the windows at the riff-raff (which is exactly what I was as I stumbled around those streets poor and alone).

Instead, I spent most of my time sleeping on the bumpy bed (the bumps I remember) of the cheap hotel I had a room in. When I got up, after sleeping for 12 hours, I was starving. I was so financially spent by this point in my trip I was almost dreading my return to the States. My parents might be waiting for me at the airport, but I imagined also the credit card companies there as well with something the opposite of a hug. So when I wandered to the little restaurant under the hotel my choices were very limited.

Of course, everything on the menu was in French. And since France was not the big focus of my trip (England! Shakespeare! Authors! Venice!) I didn’t bring a French dictionary with me. I was, sadly, the typical dumb American tourist. I admit it. I ended up pointing at the one thing on the menu that had a word in it that I could translate: Ham. Continue reading