Daddy’s Girl

In Memoriam, on Father’s Day

JamesSuver(Dad)

Colonel James D. Suver, DBA, USAF, Retired

The last coherent words my father said to me were, “I’ll always love you.” There were other words from his hospital bed: paranoid, deluded whispers about experiments being conducted in shadowed hallways, half audible invective about the doctors and nurses around us, but the last thing he said that made sense was, “I’ll always love you.”

 

My response was, “Why?” I didn’t say that, of course, but the thought still crossed my mind. All the normal emotions were there too, the main one being denial: why are you saying that? What does it mean that you would say this thing, which is the kind of thing people say when they’re leaving, never coming back. He was leaving. He’d fought cancer for a year, had shrunk from a robust six-foot-one with a broad belly he joked about to an elfin creature no taller than me. He was still stoic and tough and paternal on that last day. I was there because my stepmother had asked me to stay with him while she attended a conference out of town. I flew from California to Kentucky, climbed out of the taxi from the airport, walked up the brick path that arrowed through the verdant manicured lawn to ring the bell next to the heavy oak door. A frail old man opened the door and said my name. It took several seconds to recognize him as Dad.

He was stoic and tough and paternal on that last day. I could have driven him to the hospital but he called a friend to take him instead. “I need you, buddy,” he said over the phone. My father’s voice broke when he said ‘need’; a retired Air Force colonel and Harvard DBA from blue collar roots in Columbus, with parents and sisters proud of their high school diplomas, James D. Suver gave help, he didn’t ask for it. My father’s willingness to lend a hand was a point of contention between my parents—my mother always resented how readily he’d go to a neighbor’s to help build a tree house or clean out a garage. On that last day, however, his liver stabbing at him from the inside, Dad knew he wouldn’t make it to the hospital without help. I could have driven him, but he called a friend to take him, and while we waited for the friend to arrive, he imparted wisdom and dispensed love. Never work for less than what you’re worth. Find a way to be friends with your brother. I’ll always love you.

“I’ll always love you.” Twenty years later I can hear him say that, see him say it. He sat on a stool, breath labored, back against the paneled wall. His friend arrived and took him away, and I never saw my father lucid again. I waited for the babysitter to arrive and look after my half-brother, who was only four at the time. When I made it to the hospital, the friend told me my father had walked in through the ER door under his own power. “Just like Jim,” he said.

Self-reliance and denial—these are the legacies Dad left me. Until I got the call from my stepmother, asking me to come stay with her family while she traveled on business, I didn’t even know he was sick. He’d fought off cancer half a dozen years before, while I was in college, but I had no idea how sick he was then. Weekly phone calls had come, cordial exchanges on the weather and work. No conversation lasted more than five minutes—I assumed he wasn’t interested in what I had to say, and I didn’t take an interest in his life either. Nearly everything my father did came as a surprise to me. From my perspective, his marriage to my stepmother came out of the blue, and so did their adoption of my half-brother. (The day Dad called to tell me about Adam, when he said over the phone, “You’re getting a new little brother,” I thought he meant a puppy.) I always believed Dad kept his life private from me, until there was something I needed to know. Now, looking back, I think it was my indifference that led him to stay silent. I didn’t ask, so he didn’t tell.

Where did this indifference come from? I loved spending time with my father—he knew how to show a girl a good time. After my parents divorced, Dad would pick me up on Saturdays and take me to lunch at Michelle’s, my favorite ice cream parlor in downtown Colorado Springs. I ordered the same meal every time: tuna salad sandwich with the Black Bart ice cream sundae. Dad had a hearty appetite and also ate fast—a habit picked up as an enlisted man in the Air Force. He’d finish long before me, but every meal we shared together, he would trick me into looking away so he could steal a pickle or a French fry from my plate. An inventive trickster, he didn’t always deceive me on the first try, but he never failed to distract me at some point, and when I returned my attention to the table, I’d find a pickle or fry hanging from his lips. He even pulled this trick during that last visit, before he had to call his friend to take him to the hospital.

He was the fun parent, the one who took us skiing and swimming, to weekly tennis lessons and miniature golf. An athlete himself, he must have been frustrated by his klutzy, bookish daughter, who missed more tennis balls than she hit, who would snowplow to the top of a mogul and freeze there, instead of sliding easily between the icy mounds. He was surely frustrated, and he probably rolled his eyes and groaned behind my back, but where I could see he rarely showed impatience or temper. My mother claimed Dad’s eyes would turn bright green when he was angry, and there’s the family legend about the time Dad dumped a cup of milk over the head of my older brother, because he was so frustrated and outraged by Jim’s toddler eating habits. I’d grown up hearing these stories but never knowing that sort of anger. I was Daddy’s girl; he didn’t even raise his voice to me.

Dad grew up in a row house in a working class neighborhood in Columbus. His parents scraped together money to pay tuition at the local Catholic school, but they didn’t have much more to spend on my father and his two sisters. He joined the Air Force at the urging of a friend, went down to Mississippi and completed basic training, met and married an Air Force nurse in violation of the rules against fraternization. The marriage ended quickly, before my father even knew his first wife was pregnant. The first wife gave the baby up for adoption, and we all learned about my half-sister when she turned up at age 16 on a quest to find her birth parents. The Air Force sent him to Beale AFB in northern California and paid for him to study at Cal State Sacramento as part of an officer’s training program, and that’s when Dad met my mother. Their marriage lasted seventeen years, through two tours navigating bombers over Vietnam and the interleaved stints at Harvard when Dad earned his MBA and then his DBA, degrees that led to his professorship at the Air Force Academy. That experience was a springboard to a flourishing career as a professor of healthcare administration after he retired from the Air Force.

I am proud of my father’s accomplishments, but I don’t think he felt the same about mine. Throughout his life, Dad strove to leave behind his working class roots and rise into the ranks of the genteel. He realized his American dream and provided for his family so well my brother and I were deprived of nothing we wanted. (Within reason: I longed for a horse, begged for a horse, a real horse that I could ride and feed and brush—I never got one.) Dad wanted the same for us—that we should never have to deny our children—and he worried about career choices that would lead to deprivation. He steered my brother away from a passion for nuclear physics toward a degree in business administration (and eventually the younger Jim became a hospital administrator, doing what his father taught). He tried to steer me into business too, but maybe because he never scolded me, no amount of encouragement or cajoling or subtle manipulation could convince me to study something practical. I went to school determined to become an actress. Midstream I heard the siren call of physical anthropology and fancied myself digging up Lucys in Ethiopia. An English major at the time, I didn’t have the requisite classes for an anthropology degree and would need to stay an extra year to graduate. Dad drew the line there: “If you’re going to go to college more than four years and only get a bachelor’s, you’re paying for the fifth year yourself.” Used to Daddy paying for every last dime of my existence, I immediately caved and stuck with the BA in English.

That degree was bad enough, but by the time I graduated, I was determined to be a writer, and I saw the publishing profession as my entrée. Dad immediately mailed me a page ripped out of Business Week—no note, just the page. The headline read “Average Starting Salaries for College Grad Careers.” He had circled “Publishing” with its starting salary of $12,000 per year (in 1988). Undaunted, I marched through interviews at Bay Area publishing houses and landed a job in the industry at nearly twice that salary. Look, Dad, I’m making $20,000! The job was in the sales division of a textbook publisher, not quite a springboard to a career among the literati, but it paid relatively well. The next job, as a production editor for a science press—had more to do with writing but even less to do with literature. My copyediting skills honed to a fine point, I learned how to spot and fix a dangling modifier, but not how to land an agent or a publishing contract. A disappointment for me, but a success as far as Dad was concerned. Now his daughter at least held down a steady job and was off the family dole. She was learning to apply herself at work, rise through the ranks, become a supervisor and a manager, a person of note, even if her circle of influence was small. All those impractical notions of graduate degrees in anthropology, or film, or fiction writing were pushed out of the head of Daddy’s girl.

I did my writing behind his back, behind the scenes, after work, between episodes of the X Files and Star Trek, Next Generation. I never shared my fiction with him; I never thought he would see value in it. Dad loved the same kind of movies and TV shows I did, and I’m sure my love of all things geek grew out of his enthusiasm for Star Wars and Atari. But even though Dad strung an X-wing fighter next to the plastic B52 hanging from his rec room ceiling, I was too embarrassed to share the science fiction adventure I was writing with him. Certainly the subject matter was a taboo one for daughters to broach with fathers, but beyond that, I didn’t think he’d see any good in it. I can’t remember if I told him I secured an agent for my work. I think I didn’t, because it would have meant saying something deeper than a comment on the weather during our weekly 3-minute-long phone calls.

I miss my dad. I regret the brevity of those calls, the shallowness of my love, how I took my father for granted and never gave him the same attention I gave my mother. In 1989, a major earthquake hit the Bay Area, knocking out power, collapsing bridges, setting fires. I was in the local drug store when it hit, surfed the floor rippling under me, dodged away from the steel and glass cigarette case rocking on its heels. Unscathed, I walked across the street through the golden light of an October sunset, weaving past honking traffic, up the hill to my apartment where one bookcase leaned against another, the books on the floor but otherwise everything pristine. My mother I called immediately, dialing as many times as necessary until my call wedged itself through the jammed phone lines and connected. My dad called me, waking me from a dead sleep at 3 am, his voice strident, loud, raised: “Are you OK? Why didn’t you call me?” Could I tell him I simply didn’t think of it? I wasn’t that callous—I said I had called Mom and thought she or my brother would pass the news to him that I was all right. I wish I’d called him to say I was OK, that everything was fine.

While he lay dying in the hospital, mumbling delirium about experiments and invective about the staff, the nurses urged me to talk to him so he would know I was there and loved him. When my grandfather was dying when I was seven, I hid when the nurse came looking for me, but there was nowhere to hide in the hospital where my dad was dying. I was as frightened of watching him die as I had been of my grandfather’s death. And what was there to say? The man was caught in a dream world wrought by morphine. I figured he didn’t care about whatever superficial banalities I might share, and I was terrified if I did speak, it would only prompt more paranoid tall tales. The wizened old man in that bed, with a feeding tube shoved down his nose, was not my father. My dad was big, tall, with an outsized belly and charisma to match. My dad was the one who took me to see All That Jazz and Excalibur and covered my eyes during the sexy parts. My dad sheltered me, provided for me, protected me, right to the end. When he called for help, it wasn’t me he called. I wish I’d helped. I wish I had risen out of the poverty of my own selfishness and showed the generosity he always showed others. I wish I’d told him, “I’ll always love you,” because it’s true. I do.

This essay originally appeared in Four Doors Open published by JaCol Publishing.

Crafting Back Cover Copy: Don’t Try It Alone

First of all, let’s clarify some terms. The text that appears on the back cover of a printed book and on any webpage offering the book for sale is not called a blurb, it’s called back cover copy or book description. A blurb is a quote from another author or celebrity touting the book. Blurbs also go on the cover (front or back, depending on the fame of the blurb source) and are awesome marketing tools (and anyone wishing to blurb my book, please contact me!), but after the cover art, the first taste of a book most readers see and attend to is the back cover copy. Thus, getting it right is essential.

When traditional publishers release a book, they rarely allow the author to write the novel’s back cover copy; usually someone in the marketing department crafts it. Back in the last century, when I trained for a career in publishing, we were taught that the person writing the back cover copy will frequently not have read the book—you can chalk up every misleading book description you’ve ever read to that practice. Despite the risk of inaccuracies, however, there’s value in having someone else write the book description. As authors we can be blinded by our own vision, where another person can see through the forest to the particular trees that will hook readers’ interest.

I recently went through this process with the back cover copy for my upcoming novel A Wizard’s Forge. As I’ve already described here, AWF is a reboot of a previously published novel, which had this description:

BladeofAmber_final_sized for SWScorned by her teenage peers, Victoria studies the ship’s logs of her spacefaring ancestors and dreams of other lands. She regrets her wish the day slavers arrive. Sold as a concubine to a cruel sovereign, Vic escapes and finds refuge with his enemies, among whom she learns the art of war. In time, she becomes the Blade, a soldier-assassin renowned for cunning and daring, and the woman who captures the heart of the charming Prince Ashel. When the sovereign who once owned her imprisons the prince who loves her, Vic undertakes a quest to rescue Ashel and wreak her vengeance. Along the way, she meets mysterious creatures who make a strange offer: drink the Waters of the Dead and become a wizard. As Vic’s powers manifest, she realizes she has been forged into a weapon—but for what purpose?

I worked and reworked that description over months, including running it past other writer friends and working hard to find the essence of the novel. I didn’t anticipate a substantial revision to this copy for AWF, but when I sent it into Wise Ink, my publishing partners for the rebooted novel, my project manager Patrick came back with this alternative suggestion:

Scholar. Slave. Warrior. Wizard.

Victoria of Ourtown has been a lot of things.

On a planet far from Earth, the descendants of marooned space travelers are fighting a decades-long war. Vic is dragged from her peaceful homeland and sold to a sadistic warlord who keeps her locked in a tower and naked. After months of psychological torture, she seizes an opportunity to escape—and uses her newfound freedom to join the fight against her former captor. As new powers manifest in Vic, she realizes she has been forged into a weapon—but for what purpose?

My eyes popped and heart raced when I read this, and my first reaction was denial—I couldn’t put that on the cover! You see, even though I wrote a novel about a woman seeking revenge for sexual and psychological abuse she endured as a teen, I’m pretty discomfited by the content of my own story, and I previously hid the details of the plot’s driving force behind the relatively genteel concubine. However, once I caught my breath and my heart rate slowed down, I decided to build from Patrick’s more provocative version. He had, after all, found the trees that would likely draw readers into my forest.

Patrick and I passed the description back and forth for several more rounds, getting input from writing and publishing colleagues. Altogether, the description went through half a dozen rounds of revision. I’m thrilled with the final product:

A_Wizards_Forge_cover_Text_FINALScholar. Slave. Warrior. Wizard.

On a planet far from Earth, descendants of marooned space travelers fight a decades-long war. Shy scholar Victoria knows nothing of this conflict until pirates kidnap and sell her to the sadistic tyrant behind it. He keeps her naked and locked in a tower, subjecting her to months of psychological torture. After seizing an opportunity to escape, Vic joins the fight against her former captor and begins walking a bloody path toward revenge.

As the Blade, Vic gains glory raiding her enemy’s forces, but the ordeal in his tower haunts her. Bitter memories keep her from returning the love of the kindhearted Prince Ashel, whose family has fended off the tyrant’s invading army for a generation. When enemy soldiers capture Ashel, Vic embarks on a quest to rescue him and, on the journey, discovers a source of spectacular power. With wizardry, Vic can rescue the prince, end the war, and wreak the vengeance she craves, but she might also destroy her only chance for peace.

A Wizard’s Forge will be released September 19, 2016. I can’t wait, and I hope you’re as excited as I am.

Crime and Privilege

Like a lot of people, I’m outraged by the light sentence—essentially a slap on the hand and a shake of the finger—given to the Stanford student and swim team star who was convicted of three counts of sexual assault for raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster, who received six months jail time plus probation from a judge who said a longer sentence would have a “severe impact on him.” Half a century ago, we might have expected this incident to be shrugged off as “boys will be boys.” The rape would have been just as wrong half a century ago, but more concern for the rapist’s welfare than the victim’s would have been normal fifty years ago. How sad it is that in the Twenty-first Century we’re still blaming victims for not being pure and demure and well behaved enough. This same attitude in other countries leads to the sisters of rapists being raped in kind, as “justice” for the original crime.

What do I think should have happened to the rapist in this case? The maximum sentence under the law. The rapist’s status as a swim star at an expensive private university shouldn’t have carried any weight in this case. A privileged upbringing should not entitle one to commit crimes, period.

Sexual abuse and its lasting effects are a major theme of my upcoming scifi/fantasy novel A Wizard’s Forge, in which Vic, the protagonist, is held captive by the sadistic Lord of Relm, Lornk. She escapes and  joins the Lathan army in a war against Lornk’s forces, but is captured again during her first battle. This time, she escapes with the help of another Lathan soldier named Maynon, and they discover Vic isn’t the only young woman caught in Lornk’s dragnet…


 

A_Wizards_Forge_cover_Text_FINALThey broke out of the hollow, running across a flat expanse of grass at the bottom of the hill. Maynon puffed beside her, his strides limping, then grabbed Vic’s arm and tugged her down. The beam from a hooded lantern swung over them. Maynon grimaced, his face almost black in the darkness, his blood an ugly shadow. “My knees are sore,” he grumbled.

“We’ll never make it back to the Lathan lines tonight,” Vic whispered.

“Brilliant deduction.”

Suppressing a growl, she looked toward the Relman fires. At how many campsites did other girls lay bound, ready to be taken to Lordhome and Traine. “Look,” she said suddenly, her voice assuming the authority of a Logkeeper. “All this business capturing young girls is because of me—”

“What?” Maynon scoffed. “The Relmlord have a personal vendetta against you?”

“You can do what you want tonight,” she went on, “but I’m going to try to rescue other prisoners. The Relmlord will sell them in Traine, and I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.” Not even Kara.

Maynon lay speechless. He looked at the fires, at the stars, his mouth grim. “Madness,” he muttered. “Crazy insanity.” Then he eyed her. “Wish I’d looked the other way when I saw those two hauling your ass off the field. But since I can’t sit by a fire with my pipe, I might as well help you.”

Vic smiled, but a lump blocked her throat. Swallowing hard, she pointed across the grass. “If we head for that gully—”

“What gully?”

She blinked at him. “The one on the map. We’re about a league south of the battlefield—there was this string of hills like a necklace, then this flat area—”

“You memorized all that?”

Shouts echoed across the grass, lamps bouncing among running figures. “We need weapons, Maynon. Can we ambush them in the gully—is that a good plan?”

“As good as any, kid.”

They sprinted, diving and lying still whenever a beam rippled their way. Reaching an embankment, they leapt down, splashed into water, then ran downstream, hoping the burbling creek would wash footprints away. In a stand of trees, Vic hid behind a curtain of exposed roots while Maynon grabbed a heavy stone from the creek bed and swung himself into some overhanging branches. They waited, hoping their pursuers would split into small groups when they reached the stream. Orders echoed toward them. Minutes later, a pair of troopers ran along the rim of the gully, a third splashing through the stream, lamps flashing on the water. Vic pressed herself deeper into the shadows, her breath still in her throat. As the man in the creek passed beneath his tree, Maynon dropped on top of him, knocking him facedown in the water, and slammed his rock into the man’s skull.

The other Relmans leapt at Maynon, and Vic sprang from her hiding spot and stabbed one in the back, the razor sharp stone sliding easily through the woman’s ribs. Maynon sparred with the other, water flying around them in black droplets. The woman fell, coughing blood into the stream; Vic swiped the bow off her back, yanked her quiver free, and climbed the embankment. Arrow nocked, she took aim, but Maynon already had the third trooper down.

Stripping the Relman weapons, they doused the lamps and sprinted toward the center of the Relman line. In a copse, they paused to catch their breath. Vic’s ears pricked, and she held her breath, signaling Maynon to quiet his own gasps. Jeering laughter filtered through the leaves, voices egging each other on. Muffled whimpers and choked screams punctuated the glee. Vic knew that suffering; even if Kara had submitted to Lornk, Vic never had in that room in Traine. Ears burning, she hissed, “I thought Relmans were supposed to be just as prudish as Lathans.”

Maynon’s spittle thwacked against a fallen trunk. “Rape’s a killing offense, but folk still do it.”

Stealing toward the noises, they stopped outside a circle of firelight. A Relman man and woman lounged near the coals, giggling while a third, trousers pushed to his knees, pressed himself into a dusky woman, gagged and stripped, each hand bound to an ankle.

“Think of it as training, honey,” the woman taunted.

“Training for Traine,” the watching man laughed.

Cold rippled from the roots of Vic’s hair, encasing her heart in ice. Her fingers tightened around the hilt of the stoneknife, then loosened, sure of their grip. The shadow of Lornk’s hand encircled her throat, and her nostrils flared at the rutty stench pervading the campsite. Never, she promised herself. Never his. Striding into the circle of light, she jabbed the stoneknife through the ear of the woman, leapt over the fire and rammed the blade through the eye of the man, then straddled the rapist, pressing the knife edge against his throat.

“Pull out—gently,” she whispered. He complied, eyes rolling between her and his dead companions. “Maynon, I want him bound like her.”

Maynon’s eyes were just as big as the rapist’s, but he stepped over to the captured woman. “You’ll need some twine.” Cutting her loose, he pulled off his tunic and gave it to her, then tied the Relman hand to foot while Vic kept the knife at his throat.

Once he was bound, Vic went to the Lathan woman. “What’s your name?”

Shivering, she huddled within Maynon’s tunic. Her eyes darted between Vic, Maynon, and the Relman, then she pressed her lips together and answered. “Silla of Pilagg. I was with the Thirty-second. Can I kill him?”

Vic shook her head. “I need him to give a message to the Relmlord.” Facing the Relman, she said, “You caught the wrong girl. But if you had got the right one, do you have any idea what he would have done to you?”

The man’s eyes flicked to Silla, then to his shriveled privates.

“He might have started there.” Vic smirked, tapping the blade against her palm. Ice still enveloped her heart, but she felt a heat in her loins she hadn’t felt since those last moments in Traine. “In fact, he might still. Maynon, hold him down.”

“Vic—”

“Hold him!”

Silla strode over and pushed the Relman into the dirt. She pressed her palms into his shoulders, Maynon’s tunic falling over his face. “Enjoy the view, asshole,” she grated, giving Vic a grim nod.

Maynon grabbed the man’s legs, and Vic sliced open his shirt, handing Silla a swath of fabric to force between his teeth. “I hope they find you in time,” she said as she cut. Shrieks muffled, the man jolted and bucked, but her comrades held him. “I almost wish I could be there, when the Relmlord sees this. I hope you’re still alive, so he can tell you what your punishment would have been, had it been me you found. Knowing him, he probably won’t tell you—he’ll show you.”

“You’re the one they wanted?” Silla asked over the man’s gagged scream.

Vic pointed to the name carved into the man’s bloody chest. “That’s what he called me.”

“Kara. Like the wizard.”

Vic shrugged, then read aloud the message she’d cut into the man’s skin. “I raped a girl I thought was Kara.” Standing, she touched her tongue to the blade, relished the iron. “I really hope you’re still alive when your comrades find you. If you are, when you see Lornk Korng, tell him Victoria of Ourtown will never be his. She’s a Lathan now.”

Why Readers Stop Reading a Book.

Ronovan Hester examines why readers stop reading in this terrific analysis of survey data.

Lit World Interviews

Recently, we here at LitWorldInterviews.com conducted a survey, “Why do you put a book down?” and through the assistance of the writing community we had a very nice response. Now it’s time to share what we found.

First, I want to say why the survey was conducted. We wanted to help writers by giving them the information they most need. If a reader takes the time to check out your book and don’t like it, they are unlikely to give you a second chance with your next work. First impressions mean a lot.

86.30% of those responding were Female, thus leaving the remaining 13.70% Male. Considering the majority of those reading novels are Female, although not quite this extreme, I’m comfortable with sharing what we found.

There were 34 sub-categories as a result of the survey. Those results were then placed into 5 main categories: Writing, Editing, Proofreading, Taste, and…

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