Hold On Tight To Your Dreams

Hello there. Welcome to jimmiekepler.com, the blog of a writer, poet, and polymath named Jimmie Aaron Kepler. This is Jim Kepler.

On my blog, I communicate about how I write, my writing process, and how I manage to do it while maintaining a life. From time to time I’ll interview other authors on the same subjects.

I don’t have all the answers. Like you I struggle. My struggle is a thirty-five plus years journey of writing while working a day job, being a husband, father, grandfather and caregiver.

Presently I work full time as an Applications Support Engineer for a Fortune 500 privately held company. I average 45 hours a week on my day job. I spend another ten to fifteen hours a week in my car during my daily commute. I am the primary caregiver for my wife of forty-plus years who is battling Stage IV Melanoma Cancer and Neuroendocrine Cancer. I also am the primary caregiver for my ninety years old father who lives 50 miles from me with all of the city of Dallas, Texas and its traffic in-between. He still drives and lives on his own.

Today I am the blog’s guest. My name is Jim Kepler. I earned a bachelor of arts degree in history with minors in English and military science from The University of Texas at Arlington and a master of religious education and master of arts degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. I later earned a doctor of education degree as well as completed the core curriculum of a computer science degree.

Relax, I promise not to hit you over the head or between the eyes with the Bible. I confess I write science fiction with faith where I include Christianity and other belief systems. I try to avoid the Seven Deadly Sins of Religion in Science Fiction.

Since high school, I wanted to write. I was told writing was not a real job for a man who would someday need to support a wife and children. Graduating from college, I did three years active duty as a commissioned officer in the US Army. I then headed to grad school.

When I finished graduate school, I started taking writing seriously. I attend my first writer’s conference. There I was offered a nonfiction magazine article assignment. I jumped at the opportunity.

Over the next fifteen years, I wrote, sold, and had published one to three articles a year. I was paid at professional writing rates. I penned a weekly newspaper column for fifteen years. I also wrote a nonfiction book, sold it, and then had the kill fee clause in the book’s contract executed. I was paid twenty percent of the contract by the publisher to cancel the book. I was devastated. I started losing my motivation to write.

Then life seemed to get in the way. I did a major career change where I started doing a large amount of corporate training, technical writing, and curriculum writing. I also went back to college and faced the common challenges of career, parenting three teenagers, having my wife develop a serious illness, and caring for aging parents.

Because of this, I took a ten years break from writing articles. I still wrote and worked on a few poems. I also started writing and publishing book reviews in the military history field as well as blogging. I did not write any book-length manuscripts, magazine articles, short stories, etc. during this season of life.

In 2007 I was revisited by my Muse. She encouraged me to start writing again. This time I started over as a newbie. Instead of writing nonfiction I decided to write short stories, historical fiction, and my favorite, science fiction.

That same year I started the next great American novel, joined an excellent writers group, and started writing and submitting short stories and poems. Along the way, I sold a few short stories as well as placed at some writing contests.

The writing contest affirmations of my skills helped my ego and increased my drive. Somewhere in this time, I learned the need to focus. My focus was improved by listening to podcasts on writing like Mur Lafferty’s “I Should Be Writing” and Joann Penn’s “The Creative Penn.”  Dean Koontz and Diana Gabaldon also were podcasting during this time and provided great insights and motivation.

I took me three years to complete that first novel. It was historical fiction. I went the traditional route pitching it to agents at Cons, small press acquisition editors, and publishers at more Cons, and finally self-publishing the first novel to minimal sales. It proved to be of great value as it showed me I could complete a book. I have since written the first two books of a four-book science fiction series.

Through the years I found myself wanting to be a full-time writer so bad I could taste it. I modeled the habits of the people who successfully transitioned from day job to full-time writer. I started writing an hour a day before work, giving my best time and effort to my writing before going to the day job. I would also write for two to three hours on Saturday.

So I’m chasing the dream. In the weeks ahead we’ll pursue the dream together and meet other writers pursuing their dreams.

And you’ll be reminded to hold on tight to your dreams.

Charlie’s Bells by Jimmie Aaron Kepler

Charlie’s Bells by Jimmie Aaron Kepler

Pummerin Stephansdom Vienna July 2008 P02Jackson Smith lived in the pale-yellow house with the whitewashed picket fence on Second Street. When he first arrived in town, he had already accepted a new position with the First State Bank. He brought with him a small inheritance from his favorite aunt, so he had not hesitated to purchase the three-gabled structure. Jackson prized the large porch on the house’s west side. He envisioned himself swaying gently on the wide swing. Handsomely painted a peaceful gray, Jackson had it repainted a cheerful pale yellow to please his new bride when they married two years later. Since then, he spent many an enjoyable evening on that porch. The charm of Jackson’s home was appealing. An advantage was its’ location, just one block north of the County Courthouse and the bank.

Jackson possessed a keen intellect. He enjoyed strong, good looks, a healthy shock of sable brown hair, smiling amber brown eyes and naturally straight white teeth. The only flaw found in Jackson Smith was he would not attend church. He had been enlightened at State University. One religion professor taught church attendance wasn’t necessary. That man’s teachings was validation for Jackson’s inclination towards the avoidance of church interiors.

Jackson avowed his Christian belief but insisted on sleeping on Sunday mornings. It was with a good-natured yet firm resolve that he rebuffed the invitations to attend the sermons of Dr. George Whitefield Jones. He visited a few times when he first moved to town and joined the church.

Since Jackson could answer anyone’s questions on Christianity with his thorough Bible knowledge and rhetorical prowess, even Dr. Jones left him alone. This has been particularly true since Jackson subscribed to the church budget based on his gross income. He was one of the church’s top five contributors while never attending. That was truly the only gossip the mongers could muster on the man.

Anyone familiar with small town customs knows that such a refined, young man cannot be allowed to go through life unmarried. The eagle-eyed wife of a bank trustee spotted Jackson within days of his arrival. She set to work matchmaking Jackson with her beautiful, debutante granddaughter who was of marrying age. She thought, Julia needed a husband and so she went to work.

The scheming matchmaker worked to pair the two, her activities so blatant that both parties and half the town knew what was afoot. In the end, most felt Cupid intervened, releasing the twin arrows from his bow that pierced the paired lover’s hearts.

Jackson was happy the meddling trustee’s wife had insisted her granddaughter visit that first summer. He thought it endearing how she had plotted so many events to bring them together. They were soon courting and then engaged.

As the impending nuptials approached, Dr. Jones began lobbying Julia to have Jackson pay for the repair of the church bells so they might ring out gloriously in celebration of their wedding.

Julia imagined her wedding day, a perfect June morning with a blue sky, she and Jackson exiting the church and laughing at being drowned in showers of rice. Dr. Jones had vividly planted the suggestion of wedding bells ringing. Julia, too often indulging in her favorite wedding daydream, actually began hearing the church bells ringing.

When Julia finally asked Jackson to pay for the bells repair, he said yes. It was a bit sad when it was discovered that the restoration turned out to be so much simpler than anticipated.  The armature holding the bell didn’t need replacing. The rope had merely become frayed and gotten caught up in the gears. It only needed untangled from the mechanism and replaced with a new line.

That Tuesday afternoon in May, the sudden ringing of the bells after so many years of their silence caught the community completely off-guard. People rushed out of their shops or stood at home on their porches admiring the sound. The melodic ringing elicited broad smiles, a few sentimental tears, and cheery goodwill.

When the wedding day arrived, it was as Julia imaged. Mr. and Mrs. Jackson Smith exited the church with happy smiles as cascades of rice poured down on them. They dashed to the waiting car with the Just Married sign, the tin cans and old shoes tied to the bumper. The bells rang and rang. They resonated long and gloriously filling the blue sky with their joyous sound.

#

The Smiths were still unpacking from their honeymoon when the Richards family moved to town. Mr. Charles Richards was hired to replace the saw mill’s elderly superintendent, who after losing two of his fingers had grudgingly agreed to retire.

The Richards were an unassuming couple. Their family was small with one son, Charles Junior. Everyone called him Charlie. He had Down syndrome. It influenced his personality strongly.

Charlie was fifteen years old, always smiling and happy. He quickly gravitated towards the church. You’d find him there whenever the church doors were open. Some of the dear sisters thought maybe his mother shooed him off in the church’s direction to have some time away from the simple-minded boy, but he was not a bother. He was competent and industrious when directed towards a task that was within his abilities. He was able and willing to dust and polish pews and rake leaves. Charlie had a special talent for plugging away at the most boring and repetitive tasks. He always completed them with industry and cheerfulness than no one else would, or even could.

Charlie’s efforts saved the church money. It was with appreciation that Dr. Jones would pay Charlie a small salary. The money swelled Charlie’s heart with pride. He would take the few dollars down to the shops on the square, buy himself a comic book and a double-dip ice cream waffle cone with a scoop of chocolate and a scoop of butter praline.

The first-time Charlie heard the church bells he wanted to ring them. A young man named Tom held the bell-ringer position. When Charlie found out that Tom would be leaving for college, he began lobbying to take over Tom’s duties.

Dr. Jones liked the idea of Charlie having the bell-ringing responsibilities, but he was also concerned with Charlie’s physical and mental challenges from Down syndrome that he might injure himself. The bells were as big as Charlie and weighed hundreds of pounds. The timing and rope pulling needed to be coordinated in just the right way to be safe for the bell-ringer and pleasing to the ear. It just so happened that Tom was both an athletic young man and gifted with a musician’s sense of timing.

It also turned out Tom was kind and patient. When he learned Charlie wanted to be the bell-ringer, he taught Charlie how it was done. To begin the lessons, Tom rigged up a phony line next to his. He’d have Charlie practice pulling along with him.

This thrilled Charlie, as he didn’t understand that his rope had no effect on the bells, because when he pulled his line along with Tom, the bells rang. After several sessions of perfecting the timing with the dummy rope, Tom had Charlie assist him at pulling on the real rope so that Charlie could get used to the weight and feel of the swinging bells.

It turned out that Charlie was a natural bell-ringer. He wasn’t just competent; he was good at it! Charlie performed his duties safely. He had a natural rhythmic gift. Often when pulling the rope, he’d let the rebound lift him several feet off the ground, thrilling to it over and over. Charlie would tell his parents that he felt like an angel flying in the church, and Charlie’s mother would tell him that he was an angel.

Charlie’s bell ringing pleased just about everyone except Jackson. In his enthusiasm to please his wife and have the bells repaired, Jackson had not thought through the consequences of having fully functioning church bells so close to his home.

Jackson liked sleeping late on Sunday. He didn’t mind Julia getting up and going to Sunday services at the church. His request was she be quiet and not awaken him while she was getting dressed. Julia complied as she dressed and ate her light breakfast, but it was pointless. Julia might as well have shot off artillery in the front yard because the bells woke Jackson up just as predictably as cannons would have. Every Sunday, the bells Jackson had paid to repair caused him aggravation, even more so because he was responsible for their now flawless functioning.

Julia suggested since he was going to be woken up anyway, why not accompany her to church? Jackson almost softened but said no. He didn’t offer an explanation. It was then that she realized Jackson’s real aversion was to attending church. She pointed this out to him and gently queried him further, but this questioning was met with an uncomfortable silence. Julia decided she respected her husband enough that he could keep this secret.

Jackson decided to do something about the Sunday morning bell ringing. Dr. Jones chuckled at Jackson’s request to silence the ringing, pointing out that Sunday’s bells called the congregants to church. Dr. Jones even suggested there was a sort of positive Pavlovian response for churchgoing people to hear the ringing bells. He again thanked Jackson for having the bells restored, shared how much Charlie enjoyed ringing the bells, and the community’s appreciation. Well, that shook Jackson’s resolve. He resigned himself to wearing earplugs which didn’t always work.

One reason Jackson no longer pursued ceasing the Sunday bell ringing was Charlie. He and Julia were very fond of Charlie. The boy often stopped and drank a glass of iced tea if he walked by their home when they were sitting out on their west facing porch waiting to watch the sunset. The three of them would sit companionably enjoying the evening and chat about subjects that suited Charlie. Julia would also praise him on his bell ringing. She liked watching her husband grimace disapprovingly, but there would be that smile in his amber brown eyes.

I’ll have to resign myself to hearing the bells ring all the days of my life, he’d grumble to Julia. She countered the sounds should fill him with joy, reminding him of their wedding day. She reminded him, their marriage was the reason the bells had been repaired. Jackson knew not to argue that point.

And so, it was, every Sunday the bells announced church. This went on year after year. Charlie with his bell ringing was a faithful servant unto the Lord.

Jackson and Julia had always assumed that they would have children, but the years passed, and it just never happened. Julia sought advice from a doctor and tried some different things, but in truth, they were content just with each other.  They also enjoyed spending time with Charlie, who though he grew older was still a perpetual kid. They often took Charlie places with them, sometimes to a movie, or on an overnight trip to the lake. They would have dinner with the Richards family almost once a week, alternating homes and cooking duties.  Mr. and Mrs. Richards eventually designated the Smiths to be Charlie’s guardian should anything happen to them.

One Sunday Jackson didn’t wake up until nearly noon. No church bells were ringing to serve as his alarm.

Jackson knew immediately when Julia returned from church that something was terribly wrong; her nose was red, and her face was wet with tears that continuously streamed down her cheeks. He lightly took her shoulders and pulled her to his chest, enfolded her in his arms and asked what was wrong.  Julia could barely choke out her grief-stricken words, Charlie was about to leave for church this morning when he had a heart attack right in front of his Mama. They called Dr. Wilbur. He came right away, but they knew Charlie was dead. Dr. Wilbur said Charlie had flown to Heaven before he even reached the floor. His Mama said he was an angel now.

Now the years had been good to Jackson. His work ethic complimented his banking skills. Before he turned fifty, the board appointed him president of the First State Bank. When Julia’s grandfather passed away, he assumed his seat on the board of trustees. Jackson had remained faithful in both makings and paying his subscription to the church’s budget. He was now their largest contributor.

One morning Jackson called and made an appointment to meet with Dr. Jones. The aging minister had recently announced that he would be retiring on his seventieth birthday. Jackson wanted to meet with him while Dr. Jones was still able to help.

When he arrived at the pastor’s study, Jackson asked one question. He wanted to know who would be ringing the bells at ten o’clock A.M. every Sunday. Dr. Jones agreed there was still value in the bell ringing, but said no one was willing to commit to taking the responsibility.

A couple of more Sundays passed with Jackson sleeping away his Sunday mornings because no one rang the bells to wake him. People started arriving late at the church service because they had no church bells to remind them to hurry to church.

The weather turned to match the cold, gray attitude that settled over the town on Sundays since the church bells stopped ringing. The joy of the little Down syndrome boy who grew into a happy man that had permeated the congregation and town for a quarter of a century disappeared when the bells stopped ringing.

#

Julia came home from the Wednesday night church business meeting with all the color drained from her face. She told Jackson the church had voted to remove and sell the church bells. The value of the brass and the money obtained would be given to help those with special needs unless someone stepped forward, called by God to ring the bells.

Jackson shook his head in disbelief. He said nothing.

The next Sunday morning at ten o’clock, Julia and her Sunday school class heard the bells ringing. They closed their Bibles, picked up their purse and hurried to the bell tower curious to see who was ringing the bells. Dr. Jones left his prayers and last minute review of his sermon as soon as he heard the bells ringing. He also headed for the bell tower. This was repeated by class after class from the oldest men’s class to the older preschool class.

They all arrived at the bell tower at the same time. Someone opened the red door. Inside was the president of the First State Bank, Jackson Smith. He was pulling the rope up and down, ringing the bells. A great smile was on his face.

“What are you doing?” questioned Dr. Jones.

“I’m ringing Charlie’s bells,” said Jackson Smith.


Picture source: By Gryffindor stitched by Marku 1988. This image was created with Hugin [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Hello, I’m a Military Brat

Pease Air Force Base at Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The picture was taken in the May 1966 from the balcony of the operations building. I was in the 7th grade. There is one KC-135 and six B-52s on the runway.
Pease Air Force Base, Portsmouth, New Hampshire. There are one KC-135 and six B-52s on the runway. The picture dates from May 1966. I was in the 7th grade. I lived on Pease AFB from February 1966 to May 1967 and was in the 7th and 8th grades while we lived there.

What is a military brat? A military brat is the son or daughter of an airman, marine, sailor, or soldier. These children of career military have shared characteristics. They grew up in a community of service. Sacrificing for the greater good is part of their character. They moved on average once every three years to a new state, region, or country.

Academic studies show military brats lack racism.1 They are the only color blind group in the USA. They are the most open-minded of any subgroup in the world. They are more tolerant and embrace diversity with respect for others better than their civilian counterparts to include those raised in liberal homes. They are equally respectful and tolerant of conservative, moderate and liberal points of view.2

They adapt to change and new situations better than any group in the United States. 2

They are socially independent. They do well in personal relationships. They put the needs of the other people ahead of their needs.

Military brats who grew up as military dependents particularly in the late 1940s to early 1970s are kinder, caring, and more loyal than their raised as civilian children counterparts. They were higher achievers academically and professionally make the best employees due to characteristics like self-discipline, self-starter, flexibility, and their personal fiscal responsibility. 2

Most military brats do not have a real hometown.2 Most do not know their cousins, aunts, and uncles or grandparents very well. Many do not trust the governments of North Korea, Russia, and China.

The word brat is not derogatory. It stands for:

B – Born

R – Raised

A – And

T – Trained1

I’m a military brat. My father served in the United States Army, United States Army Air Force and the United States Air Force (USAF). He retired from the USAF.

I am also a former United States Army officer. Growing up as a military brat helped prepare me for my service. It was all natural and comfortable to me. I felt it was where I belonged more than anyplace else in my life.

1 http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=military%20brat

2 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_brat_(U.S._subculture)


Jimmie Aaron Kepler is a novelist, poet, book reviewer, and award-winning short story writer. His work has appeared in over twenty venues, including Bewildering Stories and Beyond Imagination. When not writing each morning at his favorite coffeehouse, he supports his writing, reading, and book reviewing habit working as an IT application support analyst. He is a former Captain in the US Army. His blog Kepler’s Book Reviews was named a 100 best blogs for history buffs. You can visit him at http://www.jimmiekepler.com.

Not Everyone Thinks Being a Writer is a Good Idea

One of the extraordinary challenges you’ll face as a writer is the opinion of others toward writing as a profession.

You’ll face varied reactions from friends, family, day job coworkers, acquaintances, want to be writer friends and even members of your writer’s group when you are a writer.

A few people will say that’s nice. Some will start telling you about their great American novel plan. They may even offer to share the millions of dollars you can make together if you’ll just write the book using their idea.

im-a-writer-10-things-not-to-say

You will find others not seeing you as a real writer if you don’t flesh out their vision of a writer. These are the people who talk about writing, but rarely or never put their behind in a chair and write. They only see the real writer as a person with a print book, who goes from book store to book store doing book signings or doing interviews. Of course, someone else has set up all the interviews and book signings. All they do is leave their five-star hotel room and ride the limo to the event.

Author’s Earning $1,000,000 or more per year.

“As of May 5, 2016, only three Big Five authors who debuted in the past five years are currently making a seven-figure run rate from their Amazon sales—print, audio, and ebook combined. On the other hand, 14 indies who debuted in the same time period are right now doing the same.”

Author’s Earning $100,000 or more per year.

“1,340 authors are earning $100,000 per year or more from Amazon sales. But half of them are indies and Amazon-imprint authors. The majority of the remainder? They come from traditional publishing’s longest-tenured ‘old guard.’

“Fewer than 115 Big Five published authors and 45 small or medium publisher authors who debuted in the past five years are currently earning $100,000 per year from Amazon sales. Among indie authors of the same tenure, more than 425 of them are now at a six-figure run rate.”

Author’s Earning $25,000 or more per year.

“More than 4,600 authors [are] earning $25,000 or above from their sales on Amazon.com. Forty percent of these are indie authors deriving at least half their income from self-published titles, while 35 percent are Big Five authors deriving the majority of their income from Big Five published titles, and 22 percent are authors who derive most of their income from titles published by small- or medium-sized traditional publishers.”

“The vast majority of traditional publishing’s midlist-or-better earners started their careers more than a decade ago. Their more recently debuted peers are not doing anywhere near as well. Fewer than 700 Big Five authors and fewer than 500 small-or-medium publisher authors who debuted in the last 10 years are now earning $25,000 a year or more on Amazon — from all of their hardcover, paperback, audio and ebook editions combined. By contrast, over 1,600 indie authors are currently earning that much or more.

Source for the above: http://authorearnings.com/big-five-may-2016-ebook-pricing/

Why so much mention of money?

Too many people use the financial bottom line as the reason to measure success or their reason for writing. They expect to write one book and make a million dollars.

Could it happen? Yes. Is it likely to happen? No.

Others want to see their name on the spine of a book or byline in a magazine. I confess it feels good to see either or both.

Why a person writes is personal. Here’s my story when I first shared my dream of becoming a writer.

My Story.

Summoned to my high school guidance counselor’s office, I learned not everyone thinks being a writer is a good idea.  I still recall the meeting as if it were yesterday.

“What are you going to do now that you failed your physical due to bad vision and you can’t use your appointment to the United States Air Force Academy,” asked my high school guidance counselor.

“I’m going to be an author,” I said.

“You can’t be an author,” she replied.

“Why can’t I be an author?” I asked. I wanted to be the next Kurt Vonnegut, Philip Roth, or Ray Bradbury. They were the best-selling authors of the day.

Her career choices for me came from the father role models on the popular television programs of the era. She wanted me to be the next Mike Brady (the architect dad on The Brady Bunch) or an aerospace engineer like Steven Douglas (My Three Sons).

“Jimmie, you’re a boy. You need a college degree in engineering, math, science, or accounting. You have to earn enough money to support your future wife and family. Forget your silly notion that a man can support himself by writing. It is okay to write for a hobby, but you will need a real job. With your grades and SAT scores you could aspire to be a doctor, dentist, or lawyer,” she said.

I was heartbroken.

Raised to believe I could do anything, because of my high school guidance counselor now I wasn’t so sure.

Has anyone ever laughed at your vision of writing?

Perhaps you have been told you lack life experience or you don’t stand a chance because everyone is writing now that they can simply self-publish on Amazon.

You may have feelings of doubt, thinking if only you had an MFA. If only your family and spouse supported you more. If you could quit your day job. Maybe you are in your sixties like me. You think it is too late. You say I am just too old. If only…

We all experience self-doubt. Friends and family do not always understand our passion.

Everyone faces such challenges. My faith as a Christian also helps me overcome such thoughts. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned.

Some people will never understand your passion for writing. Don’t bother trying to explain. Just let them watch as you write.

Read.

Reading is necessary for writing. Not only is reading the fodder for writing, it is fun. It also helps me relax as well as grow.

Write.

I know it sounds silly, but to become a writer you have to write. I have heard for years that it takes 10,000 hours to master something. 10,000 hours is five years worth of forty-hour weeks. Maybe that is why it takes ten years for so many to get that first traditional book deal. Do not be a want to be a writer. Write.

Edit.

This includes proofreading, rewriting, and polishing. No one is perfect. Critique groups help as well as reputable professional editing services. Rewrite as needed.

Submit.

To your surprise, someone may like and buy what you wrote.

Rejection.

Being rejected is not personal. Your writing may be bad. It may be good, but just not meet the publisher’s or editor’s needs. You may have submitted to the wrong market or not followed the submission guidelines (both guarantee a rejection). Every writer gets rejections. I have been rejected by the best. My rejections include The New Yorker Magazine, Asimov’s Science Fiction, and Poetry Magazine.

Acceptance.

Selling a book or an article doesn’t guarantee success. Many times it means the real work is only beginning. Having your work accepted by a publisher feels good. It feels very good. Then comes the question, can you do it again?

Writers’ Groups.

Consider joining a writers’ group. I have belonged to three over the years. I have changed groups as I have changed. Some groups I have belonged to were for critique. Some have been to learn the business of writing. Some have been for the encouragement.

I know the thoughts I have shared are all items you have heard many times before. Sometimes a reminder is good. See the comments on dollars from Author Earnings may even be scary.

Don’t let the negative thinker stop you from chasing your dreams.

We all have people like my old high school guidance counselor in our lives. Do not let their negative words keep you from writing. If you have the urge to write, write! It’s not too late.

The formula really is simple. It is read, write, edit, rewrite, submit, and repeat. If your writing is good enough and if what you write matches the publisher’s need, you just may see your story in print.

Parts of this article were originally published in the June 30, 2014 issue of Author Culture.

Iamge source: https://jcarsonwrites.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/im-a-writer-10-things-not-to-say.jpg?w=698

 

Chasing the Dream

cam00043Hello, I’m Jimmie Aaron Kepler. I’m an author, poet, and chase the brass ring with the dream of quitting my day job where I can write full time. I call jimmiekepler.com “Kepler’s Coffee House.”

Why would I select “Kepler’s Coffee House” for the name of my blog?

I write almost every day at my favorite coffee house! I’ve been doing it for several years. I’m the first one there in the morning as they unlock the doors. My coffee house as I like to call it is located halfway between my home and my day job.

I commute twenty-one miles each way every day, Monday through Friday. At about the ten-mile mark I stop at my select Starbucks at 6:00 AM. I am there every day at the same time. Being at my writing table allows my muse to know when and where to find me.

I write for forty-five to seventy-five minutes and then head on to the day job. Like most people, I need the day job to have money to live and to provide health insurance.

I’m not saying you have to mirror what I do. I am saying that you need to write on a regular basis. Writing in the morning allows me to give my best to my writing. I write before the cares and responsibilities of the day clutter my mind.

Remember, it’s not where you write or when you write that matters. What is important as an author is writing. And with my stick-to-it-ness, I just may be one of the lucky persons who transitions from a day job to writing as my day job.

Yes, I’m chasing the dream. I’ve been chasing it for some years. I think I’ll make it because I won’t quit. I’ll pay the price. And just maybe, I’ll get the brass ring.

Hello, I’m a Military Brat

Pease Air Force Base at Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The picture was taken in the May 1966 from the balcony of the operations building. I was in the 7th grade. There is one KC-135 and six B-52s on the runway.
Pease Air Force Base, Portsmouth, New Hampshire. There are one KC-135 and six B-52s on the runway. The picture dates from May 1966. I was in the 7th grade. I lived on Pease AFB from February 1966 to May 1967 and was in the 7th and 8th grades while we lived there.

What is a military brat? A military brat is the son or daughter of an airman, marine, sailor, or soldier. These children of career military have shared characteristics. They grew up in a community of service. Sacrificing for the greater good is part of their character. They moved on average once every three years to a new state, region, or country.

Academic studies show military brats lack racism.1 They are the only color blind group in the USA. They are the most open-minded of any subgroup in the world. They are more tolerant and embrace diversity with respect for others better than their civilian counterparts to include those raised in liberal homes. They are equally respectful and tolerant of conservative, moderate and liberal points of view.2

They adapt to change and new situations better than any group in the United States. 2

They are socially independent. They do well in personal relationships. They put the needs of the other people ahead of their needs.

Military brats who grew up as military dependents particularly in the late 1940s to early 1970s are kinder, caring, and more loyal than their raised as civilian children counterparts. They were higher achievers academically and professionally make the best employees due to characteristics like self-discipline, self-starter, flexibility, and their personal fiscal responsibility. 2

Most military brats do not have a real hometown.2 Most do not know their cousins, aunts, and uncles or grandparents very well. Many do not trust the governments of North Korea, Russia, and China.

The word brat is not derogatory. It stands for:

B – Born

R – Raised

A – And

T – Trained1

I’m a military brat. My father served in the United States Army, United States Army Air Force and the United States Air Force (USAF). He retired from the USAF.

I am also a former United States Army officer. Growing up as a military brat helped prepare me for my service. It was all natural and comfortable to me. I felt it was where I belonged more than anyplace else in my life.

1 http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=military%20brat

2 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_brat_(U.S._subculture)


Jimmie Aaron Kepler

Jimmie Aaron Kepler’s work has appeared in six different Lifeway Christian publications as well as The Baptist Program, Thinking About Suicide.com, Poetry & Prose Magazine, vox poetica, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Bewildering Stories, Beyond Imagination Literary Magazine and more. His short stories The Cup, Invasion of the Prairie Dogs, Miracle at the Gibson Farm: A Christmas Story, and The Paintings as well as Gone Electric: A Poetry Collection are available on Amazon.com. He is also the author of The Liberator Series. The Rebuilder – Book 1 is available for pre-order on Amazon. It will be released October 1, 2015. The Mission – Book Two will be available Spring 2016, The Traveller – Book 3 will be available Summer 2016, and The Seer – Book 4 will be available Fall 2016.

Grits for Breakfast by Jimmie Aaron Kepler

Grits for Breakfast

My access card unlocked the door. As I stepped inside, motion detectors turned on banks of fluorescent lights filling the room with near-blinding white light. A blast of refrigerated air caused goose bumps to form on my arms and the nape of my neck. Tiny pulsating blue, green, yellow, and red LED bulbs filled the room signaling the nonstop activity of one thousand computer servers.

The dancing signals reminded me of Mercy Hospital’s biomedical equipment. For months, as I sat in mother’s hospital room I watched them flash their never-ending warnings.

While I never understood the lines on the heart monitor, I knew if the line went flat, doctors and nurses raced trying to save the patient. If they could not resuscitate her, hearts broke. I knew the monitor’s continuous flat line pronounced death. Soon after that proclamation, a doctor with solemn eyes would confirm the machine’s decree. In time, the chaplain followed offering religious comfort in whatever denominational flavor the family preferred.

Breast cancer consumed mother. She wasted away under the machines’ watch care. The lights danced their death ritual. The beeps disturbing her rest until the lines on the heart monitor screen pointed to eternity. Then, she was gone.

“It’s on the second server rack,” said Andrew, the night computer operator. His voice broke my reminiscing. He pointed to my left making sure I knew where our problem child resided.

My thoughts focused on why I hurried to work at two o’clock in the morning. I moved over to the finicky server. I started my diagnosis by connecting the keyboard, mouse, and flat-panel monitor that made up the crash cart as we called it. As I leaned in for a look, I placed my left hand behind my back.

“I found your problem,” I yelled in a voice that boomed over the roar of the servers, switches, and air conditioners.

Scratching the stubble on his chin, Andrew said, “Wha – what was wrong?”

I stood up straight glaring at Andrew. “The server hung up when rebooting. It’s right here on the screen. That’s why we couldn’t access it with a remote connection. My guess is it happened when you restarted it after applying the patches. It’s rebooting now. Yes, it’s starting okay.”

“Oh,” he said.

“Andrew, that’s something you have to find and fix on your own if you want to work here long-term. I should troubleshoot and repair this. You just hook up a crash cart as I did, check the monitor, find the problem and fix it. I’ll check the log files in the morning. Open a Severity 3 problem ticket. Assign it to me. Keep an eye on it, but I don’t expect any problems.”

“Thank you, James. You know I hate to call and wake you up.”

I nodded.

Idiot,” I thought

“I appreciate it. I would be in a fix without you. Go home. Enjoy the company of your bride,” Andrew said.

I understood. It seemed most of my coworkers were surprised at both my recent marriage and that I wed someone as beautiful and charming as Kat.

“Please give my apology to your Katherine,” he said with an even bigger grin adding a wink.

“I hope the rest of your night is quiet. If you must know, I was just trying to get to sleep – as if it’s any of your business,” I said as I headed for the door.

The servers’ blue, green, yellow, and red lights flashed their goodbyes to me. They reminded me of the conversation Kat, and I had that evening. At first, we were trying to make sense out of life while dreaming of a bright future and long life together. Then I talked about mother’s death while Kat listened. Next, we discussed how the grim reaper had a destiny with everyone. Just before the call, our conversation had shifted to mother’s twin sister Elizabeth.

Aunt Elizabeth became a dedicated vegetarian, runner of marathons and breast cancer activist in the two years between mother’s death and her own malignancy’s diagnosis. Since her tumor’s discovery, she had morphed from athletic and energetic to a bed-ridden skeleton, unable to take care of herself or even control routine bodily functions. The grim reaper was at her door, knocking. I didn’t know how soon the door would open, but I knew it would open.

Before her cancer, Aunt Elizabeth lived an active lifestyle. That changed. A routine self-exam while showering discovered the lump. A mammogram followed. Then the biopsy, the radiation treatments, having a double, radical mastectomy “just to be safe” she had said and now the metastatic breast cancer at only age 47, the death sentence.

My grandparents, Aunt Elizabeth’s parents, were dead. She didn’t have any brothers. My mother, her only sister, had died four years. She had never married. Had no partner and had never had children. I was her only living relative.

After marriage, Kat and I rented the other half of Aunt Elizabeth’s duplex. Kat had become her closest friend and as the daughter, she wished she had. My wife loved her more than she loved her mother, doing what she could to care for her, trying to make her comfortable. Kat was in total denial of my aunt’s condition.

#

One day Aunt Elizabeth’s physician said the end was near. She had less than three months. The doctor recommended she get her personal affairs in order and immediate hospice care if for nothing more than providing Kat, and I support as we cared for her. She had removed her glasses getting serious when the physician added the hospice could also provide something to mask the ever-increasing pain.

“James,” Aunt Elizabeth said struggling to catch her breath. “The drugs scare me.”

“I understand.” I held her hand looking at the fear in her eyes.

She continued in a breathy, low voice, “No, I’m not sure you do. Those drugs are both evil and good. The masking of pain is their benefit. James, I fear they will destroy my mental faculties. That frightens me more than death. I don’t want to fade into a drug induced stupor where I don’t recognize Kat or you.”

I nodded.

#

Each morning before work, I checked on Aunt Elizabeth. My routine was taking her a cup of black coffee and bowl of grits for breakfast. She loved grits. She would add sugar and real butter, not that artificial margarine. She also savored her coffee nursing it to last all morning.

Kat’s job permitted her to work from home allowing her to check on our patient every few hours.

One Saturday morning after breakfast when Kat wasn’t there, Aunt Elizabeth had a frank talk with me.

“James,” she said. “I’ve decided to stop all treatments. It’s time to face reality. I am going to die. I want to depart this life with a clear mind. I may wither away as the cancer destroys my body, but I don’t want the long death your mother went through or any hospitals.”

I looked at Aunt Elizabeth. Her words were heading where I wasn’t expecting. “Go on,” I heard my voice say.

“I’m not afraid of dying. We all have to face it. I’m going to embrace death. I’ve decided to go to heaven in the next few days,” she said.

I watched her facial expressions as she next shared how her faith would sustain her through the passage from this life to the next. I smiled as she even shared her Christian faith trying to make sure I would join her and mother one day in heaven. I tried not being too annoyed as she pressed me for a reply, not to her evangelization of me, but that I assist in her suicide.

I remembered mother’s suffering. I wanted better for Aunt Elizabeth.

“James, I can’t do this by myself. I don’t have the means to get the required medication to put me to sleep … permanent like. You must help.”

I couldn’t believe the words coming out of my mouth as I replied, “Yes, I’ll help.” I could not believe I gave such a cavalier answer.

#

At work that morning, all I could do is think about what I had agreed to do. I knew it was the right decision, but I had agreed to kill Aunt Elizabeth. I took the afternoon off as I was face to face with an ethical dilemma. I had agreed to help Aunt Elizabeth commit suicide.

I hadn’t drunk since I was in the army, but that day I downed my first liquor in over five years. I drank and drank, as the finality of the decision I made became reality. The bartender had to call Kat to come rescue me from myself.

“What the devil are you doing drinking?” asked Kat as she sat down on the stool beside me. Irritation was in her voice and on her face.

I looked up with a sheepish grin on my face.

“Hello, my love,” I said.

“Don’t you hello my love me. Why are you drinking? Dammit, you know you can’t handle alcohol.”

“Hello, my love. You look beautiful when you are mad. Work, yes, work, that’s why, and Aunt Elizabeth and the economy,” I replied.

I knew Kat would never agree to my decision. I could never broach the subject with her. She hadn’t been around to see mother’s suffering. She didn’t fathom how much worse it would get. She was too noble and virtuous for assisting in a suicide.

“How could you!” was her last comment as she helped me to the car.

I smiled a broad grin showing my teeth.

She glared at me before driving us home in icy silence.

#

I decided to have a good-bye tour for Aunt Elizabeth. Over the next few days, I invited her friends to pay their last respects in person. The visits helped keep a smile on my aunt’s face. She seemed to have found new strength from her guests.

Two days later, she asked, “James, have you figured out how to do it yet? I’d like to die this Sunday.”

I looked out the window staring, thinking and didn’t reply.

She interrupted my thoughts. She said, “I figured it out. We can borrow some extra pain pills when the hospice nurse isn’t looking.”

“What? We can’t do that.”

“Honey, I remembered the nurse mentioning I was on the largest dosage of the pain pills. She said not to take too many. That would bring the end faster than we wanted. I recall she said only five or six of the pills would kill a person. We only have to skip one pill a day to have five saved by the weekend. I already have four stashed.” She reached under her pillow collecting her supply in her hand then slowly moved her clenched fist in my direction. As the hand drew closer, her fist opened showing four pills resting in the palm of her hand.

I turned toward my aunt. I rubbed my center of my forehead with the tips of my fingers. After a deep breath, I said, “Sunday, we’ll do it Sunday morning. I’ll grind up the pills and mix them with your grits. We can pray, watch your television preacher and then you can enjoy your grits.”

“Yes and have Katherine bath me Saturday night,” instructed Aunt Elizabeth. “I have a new nightgown in my dresser. I want to wear it. Make sure you call Brenda and Jennifer from my Bible study class. Brenda can do my hair. Jennifer can do my nails. Did you know they own The Magic Mirror? I use that beauty shop. I must look my best to greet Saint Peter when I arrive at the Pearly Gates. First impressions are important. Have them come Saturday afternoon, say 2 PM and please tell them, I will be forever grateful.”

I had to turn away, look at the floor. I was choking up, about to cry.

Get a hold of yourself. Death is her choice. Looking up from the floor, I said, “I’ll call them. Yes, I knew that was their business.”

“James. I’m ready,” she said. The fear disappeared from her eyes.

I nodded. Nothing more was said. I made the requested arrangements. Saturday went well. Kat asked no questions. She bathed her and changed her into a new gown. Brenda did her hair where she looked like she was ready for the country club black-tie dance. Jennifer manicured and painted her nails.

#

Saturday night I went to bed thinking about Sunday morning’s plans.

“What’s wrong?” asked Kat.

“Nothing,” I lied.

“Aren’t we going to make love?”

I smiled. “Darling, I’m just too tired. Work has me pretty stressed out. Besides, you know I’m on-call. The servers have been finicky, as Andrew has done software patching again. This weekend is the production Linux servers.”

“Well, okay, but don’t let this become a habit,” she said. She kissed my forehead.

My statement about the servers was true. The stress I faced was accepting the fact I would be Aunt Elizabeth’s executioner in but a few hours, and I would be her executioner.

Kat was right; I had never turned down sex before in my life. One of the things I like about Kat was she was one of the few women I ever knew who liked sex as much as I did, but not tonight.

Sleep was hard to come as my thoughts focused on Aunt Elizabeth. Sometimes I saw mother’s face. Around one o’clock, I fell asleep.

At two in the morning, I awoke to a text then a phone call that the production Linux servers didn’t like the new patches Andrew applied tonight. My going into the office would make sure the jobs scheduled for five o’clock A.M. ran on their appointed timetable.

I told Kat what was up and hurried to the data center.

When I returned home just before seven A.M., all was quiet. I thought of my commitment to Aunt Elizabeth. I went into the kitchen and started cooking a big pot of grits. I took the pills and crushed them in a cup. I used the handle of a knife for the pestle and ground them into a fine powder. With care, I stirred the medicine into the pot of grits. I was afraid of not using enough meds to do the job, so I ground up all the pills.

Another text from Andrew came in interrupting my cooking, and my work phone started ringing before I finished reading the message. The data center again required my attention. A Linux Server wasn’t restarting. It hosted the critical database. A reboot of the server failed to correct the issue. If I didn’t get there and get it repaired fast, the weekly Sunday only jobs wouldn’t start on time. Therefore, they would fail to finish running today. There would be the heck to pay Monday morning if the jobs failed to complete. I could see my director’s red face and hear his booming bass voice yelling at me if he had to explain to the VP why the jobs didn’t finish. I physically shook just thinking about the situation.

I turned off the burner heating the grits. I removed the pot from the burner.

“Who called?” asked Kat. She stood in the kitchen door leaning against the door frame.

I filled her in on the impending disaster at work.

“Don’t touch the grits. I’ll take Aunt Elizabeth her breakfast when I return. I promised her I would spend time with her this morning. You could go into the data center with me,” I said with a wink.

“No way am I going to that freezing, noisy place. Besides, I am not going to let that pervert Andrew rape me with his eyes. Good luck. I’m going back to bed,” said Kat.

#

At the data center, the tiny pulsating blue, green, yellow, and red lights greeted me signaling the nonstop activity of one thousand computer servers. Again, the dancing lights had me thinking of our hospital’s biomedical equipment. One hour later, the issue solved, and I arrived back at the duplex. I had averted another potential crisis.

“Kat, I back,” I said as I opened the door to the duplex.

There was no answer.

“Kat?”

I glanced in the bedroom. The bed was empty. Kat wasn’t there. I noticed the stove top. Gone was the pot of grits. I felt sick to my stomach as I made my way next door.

I could hear the TV preacher delivering his sermon as I entered Aunt Elizabeth’s side of the duplex. A faint, distant hissing sound produced a white noise in the background. I saw the pot of grits was sitting on the kitchen counter. My aunt’s face came into view. She had a blank stare with tear stains visible on her cheeks. A bowl with a spoon in it sat on her nightstand.

On the dark mahogany end table, next to the recliner was a second bowl. Kat sat slumped in the recliner, eyes wide open, her countenance showing the shock of her unexpected face-to-face meeting with death’s grim reaper. She looked more mad than peaceful.

“Kat?” I said.

Turning toward me, she stood and screamed, “How could you? How could you?”

“How could I what?”

Two uniformed police officers stepped out of Aunt Elizabeth’s second bedroom. The shorter one said, “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney, and to have an attorney present during any questioning. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you at government expense.”

I looked at Aunt Elizabeth. I saw tears again streaming down her cheeks.

“James, Kat said the grits smelled funny. I told her why they smelled to keep her from eating them.”

“How could you?” screamed Kat a second time. She reached for me with her hands trying to choke me.

I sidestepped her attack.

“When I told her why,” added Aunt Elizabeth, “she freaked out and called the police.”

“Yes, I did,” said Kat.

“The police said I am unable to make my competent decisions. James, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to cause you any trouble,” said Aunt Elizabeth.

I nodded.

The taller police officer said, “Let’s go sir. You are under arrest for attempted murder by poisoning.”

Beep, beep, beep blared the alarm.

“What the?” said the shorter officer.

We all looked toward the kitchen. The sound was coming from that direction.

“It must be the smoke alarm,” said the second officer. “I don’t smell any smoke. I’ll turn it off.”

“It’s in the kitchen,” said Kat.

“Ha.” A sinister, psychotic grin appeared on Aunt Elizabeth’s face as she showed them a Bic® lighter held in her right hand. “You’ll give me my bowl of grits or I’ll flick my Bic®.”

The relentless beeping of the alarm continued.

“My god, that’s not a smoke detector, that’s a natural gas detector,” said the shorter officer. “She’s filled the house with natural gas.”

I saw she had used some of her last strength and opened the old gas jet at the head of her bed.

“Give me my grits, then stand back, or you all join me meeting our maker now!” she screamed.

She held the Bic® out with her thumb primed, ready to ignite the lighter.

“Give me my Grits! You’re too slow!”

#

“Saint Peter, the last thing I remember was seeing Aunt Elizabeth. She flicked her Bic®. Then there was an immediate flash of light, explosion, ball of fire engulfing me, and then suddenly I’m standing in front of you telling my story,” I said.

Written by: Jimmie Aaron Kepler
2012