Sunday, March 17, 2024

ACC title a long time coming for this Wolfpack fan

When I arrived in North Carolina in January 1990, the newspapers were full of stories detailing the fallout of the NCAA's investigation into NC State's athletics department, the basketball program in particular. After a thorough process, the major violations boiled down to student athletes making money by selling tickets and shoes. The NCAA determined the school had received no major competitive advantage, and the case appeared to be winding down.

Until the school itself decided to dig in. Under pressure from the local press, the administration eventually fired legendary Coach Jim Valvano that spring.

None of this deterred me from applying to State as a transfer student. With two-plus years of community college under my belt, I visited East Carolina and NC State. Having moved from Seattle, we were living in an apartment in Durham at the time, and I got a better vibe off State, which was close enough I could commute. They gave me a year's worth of credits for the classes I had taken already, and I entered school that summer as a sophomore.

The basketball program was handed over to former Wolfpack player Les Robinson, who guided the team to a solid 20-11 record and an NCAA Tournament berth, thanks to senior guards Chris Corchiani and Rodney Monroe. But when Fire and Ice graduated, the program slipped into mediocrity, or worse.

Having grown up in Seattle, college basketball was never a huge part of my childhood. Moving to Tobacco Road was a night-and-day difference in that regard, but living off campus I never participated in any campouts for student tickets. I never actually went to any basketball games at all until after I graduated.

I started attending games the following season, when the Pack was a bit of a hopeless cause. Making matters worse, almost everyone else I worked with at Baseball America had graduated from UNC, which is where the big journalism program is. State only offered a minor in journalism, which I completed. But these guys had all worked for The Daily Tar Heel, covering teams that won stuff. And were still winning stuff. Come ACC Tournament time, they had a name for first night's play-in game to narrow the field from nine teams to eight for the "real" bracket: The Les Robinson Invitational. Because State was almost always one of the teams in it.

Robinson's real job was to guide the team through the brutal years where the school imposed stiffer academic rules on the program than the NCAA did. Somehow the squad was able to bring hot recruit Charles Kornegay, but he was ruled academically ineligible early in his career and transferred to Villanova, where he was allowed to play and star for a top team. In his place we got Todd Fuller, who was better known for his classwork than his basketball prowess--at least initially. He turned himself into an All-American, leading the ACC in scoring in 1996 and going on to a five-year NBA career.

Despite his heroics, the Pack finished 3-13 in the conference that spring, and Robinson stepped aside in favor of Herb Sendek. The Pack fared only marginally better in 1997, going 4-12 in conference play. But there was a bit of magic in store that March, as State made a run to the ACC Tournament finals, winning three games in three days (including the Les Robinson Invitational), knocking off Georgia Tech, Duke, and Maryland, before falling to hated rivals North Carolina by 10 in the finale.

By lining up some powder-puff non-conference foes early in the year, State managed to compile winning records under Sendek, despite routinely finishing below .500 in conference. For four years running, the team made it to the NIT in March (aka, the Not Invited Tournament). I attended several of those contests, for which tickets weren't necessarily difficult to come by. Just when the fanbase was starting to weary of being only slightly better than in the truly down days, Sendek scored a stud recruiting class, including brash Julius Hodge, who had been heavily recruited by Syracuse among others. This probably kept him in a job despite a truly lackluster fifth season, when the Pack didn't even make the NIT after going 13-16 in 2000-01.

By this point, I had left North Carolina a second time, moving up to Rochester, NY, in March 2001. My Wolfpack fever, however, was about to go next level. We were finally good. Or good adjacent. Close enough that the losses now felt like blown opportunities instead of inevitabilities. We reached the ACC Tournament finals in both 2002 and 2003, losing to Duke in each case. But we also made it back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in my fandom. I will never forget the second-round matchup with Connecticut in 2002. Nor likely, will my dad, a UConn grad and hoops enthusiast, who watched at my house along with a friend of his. There were some close calls at the end that didn't go the Pack's way, and by the time the game ended (77-74 bad guys) I may have thrown myself on the floor once or twice.

My dad didn't completely swear off watching the Pack with me, however, and we drove to Syracuse for a Sweet Sixteen matchup against Wisconsin in 2005. I recall State getting off to a strong start and owning a solid lead at halftime. And I remember them blowing it and losing by nine. To dig the knife in deeper, the second matchup in the building that night was UNC vs Villanova. We rooted like hell for Nova, but they finished a point short. Womp-womp. That was a long, crappy drive home. We didn't use the Sunday tickets to witness UNC vs Wisconsin. No point.

A year later, with the program having plateaued, Sendek moved on, heading west for Arizona State. The coaching search became a horrific joke, led by historically incompetent athletic director Lee Fowler, aka Lee Foul-up. In the end, he settled for 1983 Pack hero Sidney Lowe, who had to first complete his degree by correspondence classes before he could officially be hired. The decision looked like a mistake from the start, and the team struggled that first year, before once again catching lightning in a bottle during the ACC Tournament and making a miracle run to the finals.

There were highs and lows under Lowe, but the writing was on the wall from the start. He just wasn't cut out for coaching at this level. After five seasons, and an 86-78 record, he was out the door. In came Mark Gottfried, who got the team playing at a much higher level. Sadly, he turned out to be a bit of a cheater, both at recruiting and on his wife. He was also, from stories I heard from some friends close to the program, a complete asshole, and I was glad when he was canned in 2016, though it stung a bit to be left holding the bag for the recruiting violations that took place under his watch, specifically in the case of Dennis Smith Jr, who left for the NBA after one season.

In came Kevin Keatts, who seemed like a huge upgrade on a human level. While I hoped for good things, my heart wasn't as into Wolfpack Hoops as it had been for so many years. I had reached a point where it didn't feel right to hang so much of my happiness on the efforts of 19-20 year old kids. And with college basketball shifting to a new reality where half the roster turned over year on year thanks to the transfer portal, I barely knew who most of the guys were anymore anyway.

Whereas my schedule had once been based around Wolfpack basketball, I watched instead when I could. When it was on and I wasn't busy, I tuned in. The team seemed okay. Keatts looked like he was building a roster of guys who could run and play in transition, and when it came off it was fun to watch. But it didn't consistently come off, and I didn't consistently watch.

This season felt different. When the season tipped off in November, once again I barely recognized most of the guys. The two star guards from 2022-23, Terquavion Smith and Jarkel Joiner, were gone. In their place were some new guys, who seemed more interchangeable. The lineup looked good. The early games I saw gave me hope this was the best Wolfpack team I'd seen in years. They started conference play off 4-0 and looked to be NCAA Tournament bound. And then ... slump city. We kept watching, they kept losing. They slid to 10th place, putting them back on the schedule for the first day of the ACC Tourney.

And then they made history.

Louisville, W 94-85.

Syracuse, W 83-65.

Duke, W 74-69.

Virginia, W 73-65 (OT).

UNC, W 84-76.

We finally won something. We finally emerged from a tournament with something more tangible than a moral victory. I had waited so long I had honestly given up hope it would ever happen. And when it did, it almost seemed unreal. I woke up this morning almost wondering if it really had happened.

What a ride this week has been. What an amazing accomplishment. We finally did it. In some ways it's an even greater accomplishment because of the transient nature of transfer-portal basketball. How Keatts put that team together, the chemistry they built in one season, it's incredible. Well done, Pack.

And thank you.

Now let's keep making memories.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Nine Bucks a Pound celebrates its 10th birthday

Ten years ago this week I released my second novel (and second baseball novel), Nine Bucks a Pound. It's possibly my favorite, though sales-wise it ranks a distant third behind The Greatest Show on Dirt and Sorry I Wasn't What You Needed. And in time it will surely be passed up by This Is Who We Are Now.

I didn't realize how fortunate I was with The Greatest Show on Dirt when it was released in 2012, but the Durham Bulls connection there netted a lot of publicity in North Carolina, with several major newspapers running reviews or short features shortly after it came out. It was also still the relatively early days of Kindle sales, and I have never since matched the success of some of the promotions I ran that first year. Even two years later, the market had matured enough that it wasn't as easy to catch that sales wave.

I've also had second thoughts on the title, dating back to even before I hit the publish button. The working title all along was Branded, but it turned out to be not very original. There were, in fact, a number of books already for sale on Amazon called Branded, and they tended to largely fall under the bad-boy romance umbrella. So I reached a little deeper, choosing a name that needed to be explained, which should have been my first clue that it was a poor choice. Then again, there are plenty of very famous books with titles that don't necessarily make it obvious what they're about. The Catcher in the Rye. Bang the Drum Slowly. The Sun Also Rises. Still, going esoteric might not be the best strategy for naming a novel.

The other strong contender for title was Lightning in a Needle. If I could go back 10 years, I think I'd go with that. Combined with the bobblehead holding the bat syringe on the cover, I think that would have done a better job of conveying what the story was about. Which, if you're not familiar, is this:

From the moment he’s drafted, Del Tanner shows the Twins a smooth left-handed stroke and a slick glove at first base. But his path is blocked by players who possess the one thing he lacks—power. When a teammate’s injury is the only thing to spare him on cutdown day, the message is clear: Put more balls over the fence or find a new line of work.

His aspiring agent connects him with a steroid dealer operating out of the back room of a South Florida funeral parlor. After a winter in Mexico, pumping iron by day and riding the bench by night, Del reports to spring training sporting twenty additional pounds of muscle. Suddenly a legitimate power threat, he ascends from the ranks of the unknown to American League Rookie of the Year. Within days of being so honored, allegations surface of his performance-enhancing drug use, forcing him on the defensive as he fights to restore his reputation and repair his personal relationships.

Those who have found it have seemed to like it for the most part. It's currently rocking a 4.2 rating on Amazon, tops among my novels. And those reviews are one of the major reasons I've never re-released it with a different title. No point risking losing all those. That's another thing that seems to have changed over the years. Amazon readers seem a bit stingier with reviews these days. At least based on my own anecdotal evidence.

Lesson learned. Unless I somehow become famous enough to get away with it, cryptic titles are not my friend. You only get one chance to get that name right, and if you don't you may wind up a decade later wondering what if.

Monday, February 5, 2024

Star treatment from Independent Book Review

Reviews are slowly trickling in for This Is Who We Are Now, with the Amazon tally now up to a whopping 5 (with a 4.6 average). Today, we got a big one posted, though, on Independent Book Review, and it was extra nice because they gave it a starred review, calling it a "sassy, hilarious, heartwarming, and provocative surprise." I'll take that.

It's fairly long, but here are some of the best bits:

Redemption, humor, and love shine through the tragic, the inept, and the mundane in this family’s relationships. Henry is a frustrated yet compassionate protagonist who has nonetheless become a halfhearted presence in his own life. 

All characters are incredibly well-developed and interact in refreshingly candid ways. Henry’s wife Denise is thoughtfully painted in complex layers, illuminating the difficulties in her marriage to Henry as well as her individual struggles. Erin, Henry’s high school sweetheart, is a strong presence in her own right, who has carved out a life after tragedy working as a single mom to raise her teenaged son. Henry’s brother highlights the thriving sibling rivalry between him and Henry. Margo serves as a faithful support for Henry throughout the novel, revealing her alcoholism and her own painful struggles along the way. Margo’s boyfriend is at turns ridiculous and endearing. Henry’s parents offer alternating exacerbation and soothing of the family angst throughout the action of the novel. Henry’s sons illustrate the emotional challenges of navigating adolescence while also giving us glimpses into the loving power of parental guidance.


This delightful novel presents steady action balanced with vivid setting descriptions and snappy, engaging dialogue. The end result is a fresh take on adult existential struggles and extended family drama. A thoroughly enjoyable read, this fictional drama proves that a family reunion with a group of highly flawed people can still deliver happiness, love, redemption, and hope.

To see the full review, here's the full link:

Saturday, January 13, 2024

The Adventures of Apple Butt

We bought the boy a foosball table for Christmas. He's 14 now, and when his friends come over, especially in the dead of winter, they need stuff to do. Plus, I would have loved one when I was his age.

The foosball table inspired a large-scale cleanup of the basement, which we finished off before he was born, figuring we'd need the space in time. And, boy, do we use it. My office is down in the basement, as well as a TV room, my library, and the ping pong table. And way, way too much crap. Well, a lot less now than there was two weeks ago. We shifted a roomful of furniture around New Year's thanks to a Salvation Army pickup. And toys. They got a cabinet full of Bat caves and all the little superhero figures that went with them.

I turned my attention to the random containers of art supplies, stickers, and papers today. Dump it, dump it, dump it, was the motto. But I'm not stonehearted enough to do it en masse. (Maybe if I were it wouldn't have all piled up on us like it did.) In one particular box, I found a treasure trove of 8.5 x 11 paper, including an eight-chapter story my son wrote back in second grade. ("Chapters" being a loose term here, though that is what he called them, and I'll defer to the author on such matters.) That was preserved in the file cabinet. You can take that one out of my cold, dead files in about 50 years. (Yes, I'm living to 104.)

And just beneath that, I found three pages of my own handwriting. An unfinished story I had completely forgotten about. I can't pinpoint when it was written, but it was probably about the time he penned (penciled?) his. And it was clearly written to entertain him. As sketchy as I am on the details, I do think I wrote it all in one sitting. And, man, do I wish now that I had finished it, because it makes me laugh. At least I entertained my own future self.

On the off chance it will entertain anyone else, here it is, in all its glory. I didn't title it back then, but let's call it "The Adventures of Apple Butt." For reasons that will soon be obvious.

Monroe Applebottom had had enough. Every day for two weeks his new boss at the Chicken Shack had called him Apple Butt. "Apple Butt, clean out the fryer!" he yelled.

"Apple Butt, empty the mouse trap!"

"Apple Butt, scrub the restroom!"

All of Monroe's co-workers had started calling him Apple Butt, too. If it was okay for the boss, it must be okay for them. So they stopped calling him Monroe, and started referring to him only as Apple Butt.

As Monroe rinsed off plates and glasses to put into the dishwasher, another kitchen worker named Edgar came up and said, "Hey, Apple Butt, boss man wants you." Monroe glared at Edgar as he dried his hands on his apron. He could feel the sweat trickling down his forehead. The last thing he wanted to do was go talk to his boss, who on top of calling him names also liked to give him all the chores no one else would do.

Monroe walked out of the kitchen and down the hall toward Burt's office. Two waitresses, who were leaning against the wall filing their nails, stopped talking and started giggling when they saw him. "I should just keep on walking," thought Monroe. "I should just go straight outside and not stop until I get to the bus stop." That was another thing his co-workers made fun of. Monroe always took the bus to work. His mom used to drop him off, but they laughed even harder about that, so he took the bus instead.

Burt was sitting in his office with his feet up on his desk, sipping on a bottle of Coca-Cola. "Ah, Apple Butt," he said. "I got a job for you."

"I'm not caught up on the dishes yet," Monroe said.

"Dishes can wait. I got something more important." Burt jerked his thumb toward the chair in the corner, upon which sat a large, white box. "I need you to put that on and go pass out coupons."

Monroe lifted the lid on the box. Inside was a fluffy, yellow suit, with a huge chicken head. "Very funny," he said. "Now, if you're done joking, I'll go back and finish the dishes."

"Oh, I'm not joking." Burt cracked a wicked smile. "We need to drum up business, and we all have a role to play. Your role is Mr. Clucks."

"No thanks." Monroe turned to leave Burt's office. "I think Edgar is your man."

"Oh, I think not," retorted his boss. "Suit up, or you're fired."

Monroe hated his job. Being fired didn't sound so bad in some ways. But he really needed money so he could afford to go to Batavia for the comic convention. When he wasn't toiling away at the Chicken Shack, Monroe spent all his time reading and drawing comics. His favorites were superheroes, who always dealt out justice to bullies like Burt. In fact, Monroe had written a new comic just last night about a hero called Megazon who used electromagnetic power to stick Burt to the side of the town water tower. He thought of the terrified expression on water-tower Burt's face as his boss watched him put on the chicken suit.

"Perfect," Burt cackled when Monroe pulled the chicken head on. "You're a real chicken, Apple Butt. Now take these coupons and pass them out to people on the street. And don't just dump them all in the trash. Because I'll be watching."

Monroe stuck his tongue out at Burt, but his boss couldn't see through the beak of the chicken head. He took the stack of coupons in his yellow glove and walked outside. Burt followed, filming everything on his cellphone. "Hey guys," he laughed. "Check out our new mascot, Mr. Clucks. Or as you all know him, Apple Butt."

Monroe wanted to karate kick the phone right out of Burt's hand, just like one of his heroes, Chop Sooey, a pig with a black belt. But he couldn't lift his leg high enough to kick, so he pretended he didn't hear him. He handed a coupon to a woman on a Hoveround.

"What the heck is this?" she demanded. "I ain't gonna eat at Chicken Shack. My sister got E. coli there." She crumpled up the coupon and threw it back at Monroe so hard it bounced off his big plastic googly chicken eye and landed in the gutter. For a lady on a Hoveround, she had a good arm.

He decided to try the bus stop next. A lot of people on the bus smelled like fried chicken, so maybe they would like the coupons better. Without saying anything, he handed coupons to six people standing in the bus shelter. Five of them dropped to the ground. The sixth person used it to blow his nose on.

"Dang it, Apple Butt, they aren't using them," Burt yelled. Monroe had actually forgotten his boss was following him. "Give out some more, and make sure they go to actual customers this time."

Just then, Monroe heard a scream. He looked up the sidewalk and saw the old lady on the Hoveround swinging her cane at a man dressed all in black with a black balaclava over his head. "Give me back my purse, you scumbag!" she yelled.

The robber, for he was indeed a thief, ripped the cane out of her hands and began running up the sidewalk, straight toward Burt and Monroe. Burt held his cellphone up to film the getaway, but as the thief ran past, he snatched it right out of Burt's hands.

"Hey, that's mine!" Burt shouted. "He stole my phone. Help, police!"

But there were no police to be seen, because it was free donut hour as the Les Donuts House on the other side of town. Monroe thought to himself, this is surely a job for Megazon or Chop Sooey, who were always foiling crimes like this. But Megazon was probably back on his home planet of Gorkawow, and Chop Sooey was probably at Les Donuts House, because he loved donuts, too. "If no one else will help, it's up to me," thought Monroe.

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Thank You and Happy New Year!

Twelve months ago, I was counting down to New Year's with significant optimism. I had two books in the works for 2023. I was going to find a new job (for sure, this time). Things were looking up. This was going to be my year. I had Santana's "Winning" cued up and ready to blast on 11. (Obscure choice, perhaps, but tell that to 12-year-old me, who freakin' loved that song.)

The fates had other ideas, apparently. I submitted so many resumes I lost track. I got three interviews and no offers. As the year wound down, I tried my best to talk myself into seeing the positives in my current gig, not always convincingly.

Book No. 1, Major League Debuts, came out in January to positive reviews and supportive media attention. I did a fair few radio shows and podcasts in support of it, some of which were genuinely fun. But though sales held steady throughout spring training, they weren't nearly strong enough to offset my upfront costs. And when they predictably dried up once baseball season began, I pulled the plug on a sequel and turned my attention to the next project despite having already written up more than 20 players for the 2024 edition.

I began querying agents in earnest seeking representation for This Is Who We Are Now in April. All in all, I sent out more than 40 queries. I had one request for a full manuscript. He passed. In the end, I went down the path I'd walked for my six previous books and published it independently, releasing in late October.

Sales to this point aren't what I'd hoped, if I'm being honest, though they are picking up and I'm optimistic this book will find its audience.

But it's the third book I published this year that convinced me that 2023 wasn't a flop. A one-off, unavailable for purchase in any format at any of your major retailers. This was a photo album compiled for my wife as a Christmas gift, and it included pictures of our trips to Buffalo and Cleveland and Toronto. Shots of my son playing baseball. Of me coaching his team. Of our home projects, which might not have gone smoothly even if they ended mostly positively. Photos of us having good times and making nice memories.

What really matters

We're already planning trips for 2024. Baltimore and Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The boy is training for another baseball season, which will generate more moments, more photos, more highlights to capture in next year's book. Those will be the things to once more remind me to be grateful for what happened instead of lamenting the things that didn't.

And speaking of things to be thankful for, I may not have the heaviest traffic on the interwebs, but I really do appreciate every one of you who stops by. Thank you for reading. Thank you for buying my books. And thank you for taking the time to leave reviews. They really do help more than you can imagine, especially for a new release.

I hope your 2023 was full of nice memories, and I hope the new year brings more good things your way, even if it doesn't quite live up to your loftiest ambitions.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Drury's Grouse County is worth a visit

Way back in the summer of 2020, during the height of Covid when reading was at its modern peak, someone hipped me to the author Tom Drury. I can't remember now exactly who should get credit for that. I don't recall if it was a friend, a rando on Twitter, or a blog somewhere. But the gist, as I recall, was that he was one of the best authors I'd never heard of, who created interesting and fun characters.

I started at the start on Drury, with his debut novel, The End of Vandalism, purchased in paperback form via ebay. The most prominent quote on the back was offered up by Annie Dillard, who said, "Brilliant, wonderfully funny ... It's hard to think of any novel--let alone a first novel--in which you can hear the people so well. This is indeed deadpan humor, and Tom Drury is its master."

The edition I received includes an introduction by Paul Winner, who lauded Drury's characters and humor while acknowledging that plot wasn't necessarily the be-all, end-all of the book. "Plot, as I understand it, forms and explains the connection between causes and effects, but Drury looks at plot with what is known to locals of this region as Midwestern Nice: a dismissal, polite and kindly, and worth no more than a tight-lipped nod in its general direction." In other words, the lack of a hard-driving plot here was considered a feature, not a bug.

And despite what most writing teachers, coaches, editors, et cetera, might have you believe, I think I'm not alone as a reader who doesn't necessarily mind that. If I like the characters enough to want to spend some time with them, maybe I don't need the story all wrapped up in a bow every single time. Maybe I just want to ride shotgun and see what happens.

I read The End of Vandalism that summer and I liked it. Well enough. There were parts I thought were hilarious, especially in the first half. The characters lived up to their billing, with a trio taking center stage: Grouse County Sheriff Dan Norman, his love interest Louise Darling, and her ex, Tiny Darling. Tiny is, as Winner puts is, "a petty thief and the county fuckup." And hands down the funniest one in the book. Stupid, yes, but not without interesting thoughts, which he often shares willingly.

Without giving too much away, despite its somewhat meandering nature, the story took a bit of a dark turn toward the end, when Louise takes off from Iowa for Minnesota to have some time away, leaving Dan to wonder exactly where his marriage stands.

I think that put me off just enough at the time that I didn't pursue the rest of Drury's catalog.

And then something struck me this spring when I was working on a new manuscript. Well, an old manuscript that had been set aside and finally resumed. There was just a little bit going on with some of my characters that my mind wandered back to Grouse County. So I logged back onto ebay and hunted down the rest of Drury's books.

What I didn't realize at that time was that two of them were essentially spinoffs from The End of Vandalism: Hunts in Dreams, which focuses on Tiny and his new family, and Pacific, which follows Tiny's son, Micah, and second ex-wife, Joan, to California. Both follow a similar formula to the original, though I didn't find either nearly as humorous as The End of Vandalism. Drury's characters are so realistic at times that what they do can almost seem unremarkable. Pacific was the stronger of the two, but if I had read it first instead of The End of Vandalism, it's possible I would never have gone any further.

Next came The Driftless Area, which is described as neo-noir. It's set in the Midwest, where a young bartender named Pierre Hunter is saved from drowning after falling through the ice one night by a beautiful woman. But it's no coincidence she was there to save him, as the whole thing turns out to be a convoluted setup. Though it can at times dwell on what seems like minutia, it's generally fast-paced and interesting enough to pull you along, and there's definitely no shortage of plot. Some of Pierre's actions and dialogue at times give off a Grouse County feel, which doesn't always fit. There is also more than a hint of supernatural.

And then I read The Black Brook, which thematically aligns closest to The Driftless Area. Again we have a mystery with a main character who is being hunted by baddies, though this time they at least have a reason to target him, as he squealed in the witness box years earlier. After splitting with his wife, who heads back to their safe, new life in Europe, Paul Emmons has the poor sense to return home to New England, where he takes up with a woman he first had feelings for in college. Of course, she's married to their former college roommate (it's complicated). Further exposing himself, he takes a job as a reporter for the small, local paper. And becomes obsessed with the ghost of a woman who once lived in his house. There's art forgery, mob violence and revenge, and a very puzzling side trip to Scotland.

Ultimately, it didn't work for me. It felt all too random at times. There was a plot here, but it was moving in too many directions all at the same time. I appreciate that he was trying to do something different with what chronologically was his followup to The End of Vandalism, but what made his debut work for me just didn't exist here. The characters weren't fun, or even really all that likeable. The story was confusing and at times not even all that believable. I finished mainly because I wanted to complete the set.

So, Drury ... yes, and no. If you are in the great characters can outweigh the lack of a strong central plot camp, I would highly recommend The End of Vandalism (which I think I appreciated more the second time around when I re-read it this summer). And start there, for sure. If you enjoy that, spend a little more time with Tiny and family in Hunts in Dreams and Pacific. Give The Driftless Area a shot if you're into the whole noir thing. And if you want more, well, maybe you'll appreciate something I didn't in The Black Brook.

Apart from the stories themselves, two interesting notes on the books I received. My copy of The Driftless Area appears to have been signed by the author, unless perhaps another Tom D. personalized a gift back at Christmas 2015, which is when it's dated. And my The Black Brook is a hardback version that once belonged to the Oconomowoc Public Library in Oconomowoc, Wisc. It looks to have been checked out only once, in February 1999, according to the card in the pocket affixed to the inside back cover. That little glimpse of its history may be my favorite thing about the book.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Sayanora Twitter, Hello Bluesky

The end game on Twitter has been inevitable for more than a year now. Ever since a certain Elon Musk purchased controlling interest in the company in 2022, it always seemed likely that one of us would have to leave. For as badly as he mismanaged what was once the best (in my humble opinion) social media offering going, he never took the step. So I will.

And I hate it.

I really liked Twitter. I spent way, way too much time on there since creating my account back in June 2011. I totaled 16.8 thousand posts over 12 years, most of which probably fall in the retweet category. I don't think that includes likes, which surely dwarf that number.

I'm not going to go back in and count them for myself. I don't really care to even pop in for a peek anymore. The place has been sullied beyond recognition.

Before Twitter came Facebook. I never caught the MySpace train, so Facebook was my first social media experience. I'll ballpark my debut on the FB around 2007. Give or take. I recall creating an account and being astounded by all the old acquaintances to pop up. All those high school friends. Wait, that's not quite right. Peers? Associates? NPCs (to borrow from a term that wasn't coined until long after I last laid eyes upon any of my fellow schoolmates)?

Yeah, it was fun, briefly, to reconnect. The novelty wore off once they began to share their political viewpoints. The close friends I might genuinely have wanted to touch base with seemed to have had the sense to stay offline. Though there was one guy I seemed to become better friends with on FB than we had back in school. And thanks to the back-and-forths we shared about the Premier League, I can still roughly mark the end of my FB time. Because I didn't become a big Tottenham fan until around 2014, and, with him being a rabid Arsenal follower, we had a lot of entertaining exchanges. So while it always seems like it's been at least 10 years since I ditched Facebook, it's probably closer to seven.

And it wasn't because of him, or any of my other high school connections. It was more the awkward encounters with family members. The cousin with the gun fetish. The relative who took offense when I posted a link about cops abusing civil forfeiture laws. The unfollowing. The unfriending. All the crap you didn't have to deal with on Twitter because everyone in your family tree wasn't on there.

I "met" some great people on Twitter. I used to listen regularly to BBC Wales and play along with their 2:45 Teaser, submitting my answers via Twitter (and hearing my name called out across the ocean when I got them right, "James Bailey, from Rochester, New York, in the USA"). I had conversations with fellow listeners all the way over in Carfiff or Swansea or wherever they were. I talked music with the DJs. I had so much fun.

I talked baseball. I made connections, dating all the way back to when I was still writing book reviews for Baseball America, through the release of The Greatest Show on Dirt in 2012, all the way up through the publication of Major League Debuts this past January.

Those are the things I'm going to miss.

Because I just can't do it anymore. I can't take any joy in signing onto X (and I throw up in my mouth a little just calling it that). Twitter died long before the name change came about. I guess I only kept my account active in hopes that maybe Musk would decide he couldn't continue to lose money on the project and offload it to someone normal. But he's just as terrible of a businessman as he is a human. The value of the company has cratered along with its morals. Most of my old connections stopped posting long ago.

My last post was July 23 of this year, when we were on vacation in Cleveland. (Well, second to last, before tacking up a link to this post.) My last like came four days before that. My interactions dried to a trickle sometime this past spring.

I tried Post over the winter, but it just didn't have enough oomph to it to warrant the time investment. I did post a number of updates to my site, with very little interaction to show for it. I got as far a installing the Threads app on my phone this summer, though its 15 minutes ticked away before I progressed to setting up an account. I did create one for Instagram, and have uploaded a handful of photos there to the lukewarm applause of my blood relatives (largely an overlapping segment dating back to my Facebook days).

But the scratch to my itch looks a lot like old Twitter. Bluesky. Brought to us by the same folks who gave us Twitter back in the day, it looks and feels like the real thing. The only issue now is when will it reach critical mass. It's growing slowly, at an invitation-only pace, reportedly topping 2 million users earlier this week. I finally got an invite key last week and set up shop there. Now it's all about getting the band back together. I'm up to 6 followers. I had a whole 621 on Twitter. (Say it with me, "Ooh, Aah, Wow." Super impressive, I know.)

I haven't been on long enough to receive any invite codes of my own yet. When I do, I will pass them along to my former connections on Birdland. One by one, we'll reunite and share our pithy observations on horrible VAR decisions, who truly deserved to finish second in American League Rookie of the Year balloting, and maybe even some theories on the 2:45 Teaser (I hope).

If you're there, look me up. I'm at Yes, I got in early enough to get my own name. Jump on it soon and maybe you can as well.

I'll be shutting up shop on Twitter very soon, likely before the end of the month. It was a nice run, but now it feels like driving down your old street and seeing the new owners have repainted and chopped down all the trees you planted. It's time to take another route entirely.