Category Archives: What I Know

Spring Break 2015

Trish and Aaron Pogue at AT&T Stadium I’ve done a couple of posts now about living the high life thanks to the slow, certain success of my most recent business venture. I have one more to share, but this one is only tangentially related to Draft2Digital. In fact, I think it was the first time this year I took time off from work.

Earlier this month, I took a road trip with the family. We went down to Dallas (about a three-hour drive) for three days in order to accomplish three things:

  • Dinner at Texas de Brazil
  • A tour of the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium
  • Shopping at Ikea

(Just guess which one of those items Trish picked.)

(You are correct.)

Nicki and Kris Austin at AT&T StadiumActually, she was pretty excited about all three. And, come to think of it, there was a pretty important forth item on the list:

  • Socializing

That’s because we took this family road trip with another family in tow: The Austins joined us for the whole weekend.

For those who don’t know, Kris Austin is the CEO of Draft2Digital who accompanied me on both of those last two outings I wrote about. But I knew Kris for more than a decade before Draft2Digital existed. Our families have been close for as long as they’ve been discrete families. We all have dinner together a couple of times a week, and our kids are close as cousins.

Annabelle, Jason, and Alexander in DallasSo everyone was on board when I suggested this trip. We drove down Saturday afternoon, checked into the hotel (and it was a nice one), then headed straight to Texas de Brazil, where we had a reservation waiting.

If you don’t know Texas de Brazil, you should. It’s a Brazilian churrascaria that represents the perfect union between a fine steakhouse and an all-you-can-eat buffet. Even their salad bar is almost worth the price of admission.

I’ve been three times now,and it just doesn’t disappoint. It’s a feast and an experience and a luxury.

And this time we got to share the experience with our friends. It was the first time we’d brought our kids, too, and they had a chance to try some foods they’d never encountered before. Annabelle liked the lamb chops. Xander was all about the bacon-wrapped filet mignon.

After that we went back to the hotel and talked and watched a couple of shows before calling it an early night.

AT&T Stadium in DallasThen Sunday morning we had breakfast at the hotel. The kids all went swimming in the hotel pool (which might have been the highlight of the trip for them), then we got cleaned up and headed to the stadium.

We had tickets for the VIP guided tour which took almost two hours (and rightly so; that facility is amazing) before they released us onto the field for some free play. And it occurs to me now that that was the highlight of the trip for the kids.

Xander, Maggie, Jason, and Kris in the end-zone at AT&T StadiumThey ran and jumped and tackled each other. Kris bought a football for them to fight over. They rolled around in the astro-dirt. It was great.

After that we had a late lunch at my favorite Mexican place (it’s a chain, but one we don’t have in Oklahoma), and then we went back to the hotel to hang out and play games together. It was quiet and easy and so much fun.

Annabelle posing in her dream room at IkeaMonday went much the same way: sleeping in and a late breakfast before check-out, then we loaded up the cars and headed to Ikea. It was…I want to say “overwhelming.” We don’t have one closer than Dallas, and for most of us, this was our first experience with one. It was certainly impressive.

Then we found a pizza joint with a kids’ play place for lunch. (I grabbed In-N-Out from across the street.) We played there for about an hour, then we finally said our goodbyes and headed home.

The whole trip was cool and exciting and relaxing and…just everything a vacation ought to be. Then I woke up the next morning and went back to work at my dream job.

Courtside

Kris Austin and Aaron Pogue courtside at the Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Philadelphia 76ersI wrote recently about the burst of exciting events in the early days of Draft2Digital before it became mostly nose-to-the-grindstone right up until my visit to Apple in February. Well, as it happened, that sort of became its own burst of exciting events.

A couple weeks after the San Francisco trip, Kris (our CEO) was talking with our company lawyers about something boring, and they invited Kris and me to join them in their courtside seats for an NBA game. Am I a VIP, or what?

The game was March 4th’s outing against the Philadelphia 76ers, when Russell Westbrook got his second triple-double of the season (he’s up to six now). We showed up a little bit before the game and Kris took some photos of the arena from his seat:

Kris Austin and Aaron Pogue courtside at the Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Philadelphia 76ers

We were on the second row, right behind one of the goals (and about twenty feet from the Thunder bench). We had an incredible view of the action, and it was an action-packed game.

Kris’s wife was watching the game at home, and she caught some great pictures of us on the TV. This one’s probably the best:

Kris Austin and Aaron Pogue courtside at the Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Philadelphia 76ers

That’s Westbrook making a break for an incredible slam dunk. You can see Kris and me on the second row. (The dude behind Kris gaping in awe is our superstar lawyer.)

This one shows me a little more clearly:

Kris Austin and Aaron Pogue courtside at the Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Philadelphia 76ers

But we weren’t really there to become TV stars. We were there for the game and, as I said, the game was amazing. I’ll leave you with a shot of the view from my seat:

Kris Austin and Aaron Pogue courtside at the Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Philadelphia 76ers

Livin’ large. I’ll let you know what happens next.

Spring Break

Swingin'Last week I took a short vacation from all of my many day jobs and went to visit some long-neglected family down in Texas. I should probably include my wife and kids in that “long-neglected” category, but I spent five days doing my best to make up for that.

Before we left, I wasn’t terribly excited about the trip. There’s a reason I’m always working: I really have that much important work to do.

But it also wasn’t negotiable. I missed Christmas with a cold, and this trip was meant to make up for that. Also, as I mentioned, my wife and kids needed some attention. So I scrambled as hard as I could for the last few days at work, then on Tuesday I logged off, crossed my fingers, and headed for the Red River.

At Granddad’s

Our first stop was in Longview to visit my dad’s dad. We hadn’t seen him in several years, so we really introduced Annabelle and Alexander to him as though it were the first time.

For me, it was more like a homecoming. Granddad has lived in the same house for as long as I’ve been alive, and when I was younger, I visited there at least twice a year: once for a major holiday, and once for a week-long stay (by myself) over the summer.

I have so many memories in that house and its sprawling back yard. Alexander raced me past the garden sprouting with Granddad’s onions. Annabelle scraped up her leg climbing (and getting stuck in) the same trees I always climbed and got stuck in.

Granddad played an excellent host. He’d planned for our trip, so he took us out to all his favorite dinner spots (which included some excellent Tex Mex), and he made gifts of some classic movies that he’d picked up for the kids. Alexander got Home Alone, and Annabelle got Annie.

Amazingly, the kids had never seen either movie, so we watched Home Alone on Wednesday night and Annie on Thursday. The kids loved the movies. Annabelle has been singing songs from Annie ever since.

While we were reminiscing over dinner, I asked Granddad if he remembered taking me up to the office back when I was very young and sitting me down in front of the typewriter just to keep me busy.

He’s the one who taught me about the quick brown fox and when it is that all good men should come to the aid of their country. He loaned me an old high school textbook on touch typing. That’s where I learned to use a keyboard (which is now my primary profession).

It’s also one of the earliest memories I have of storytelling. After all, I needed something to do on the typewriter.

Of course he remembered. He said that even as a small child I was typing 60 words a minute while composing stories. Something about knights and dragons, to be sure. I can probably thank Granddad for being one of the first people to push me toward being a writer.

At Gigi’s

Friday morning we woke up early, had a hearty breakfast, then packed the car and headed back to Dallas. We met my Grandma Darlene (or, as the kids call her, Gigi) for lunch at El Fenix (more excellent Tex Mex), and then drove over to the thrift shop/food bank where my aunt Darla works. We bought some clothes for the kids and took a tour of the charitable operations. It was exciting to see the work she’s doing and to hear how much it’s grown in just a couple years.

Then we went back to Grandma’s and talked for a couple hours while the kids played. I told her all about the exciting developments (good and bad) at Draft2Digital over the last year, and she filled me in on the successes and struggles of her tech startup down in Dallas. And we both expressed how nice it was to finally take a day off, while very much recognizing that we’re the only reason we don’t do it more often. It might have been the closest I ever felt to my grandma.

Friday night, she watched the kids while Trish and I had a belated anniversary dinner at my favorite restaurant in the world. Texas de Brazil. There are no words to describe how exquisite an experience that place provides.

Afterward, we did a little recreational shopping at Target before returning home to watch Annie with Annabelle again. That made two nights in a row, and I doubt we’ve seen the last of it.

Saturday afternoon we went down to the harbor on the lake and walked around a bit, took some pictures of the kids, then Gigi took us to the movies to see Muppets: Most Wanted. As soon as that was over, we had dinner with my aunt Darla and uncle Jason. Eric and Shelley joined us, along with my cousin Lauren, and for about an hour there it very nearly qualified as a family reunion.

Then we said a bunch of heartfelt goodbyes, piled into the car around 8:00 pm, and headed home.

It was wonderful to reconnect with the family I have in Texas, but I think my favorite part of the trip was swinging on the swings with Alexander or hearing Annabelle guffaw in a crowded theater or talking to Trish with nothing to distract us but the long road ahead.

I am surrounded by a rich constellation of some of the most amazing people in the world. I forget it far too often, but whenever I slow down and notice, I am both awestruck and humbled.

To all my family, to all my friends, to everyone who helps me be the man I am: Thank you. You’re precious. I love you.

Candycreme Cookies

Sometime last week, I was watching Twitter when a conversation developed concerning cooking as an art form. Argumentative as I am by nature, I immediately thought, “There’s nothing that creative about cooking!”

Argumentative as I am by nature, I immediately thought, “That’s stupid! Of course there is! For instance, I could probably imagine an incredible new kind of cookie and thereby make the world a better place.”

Now, that inner dialogue is ridiculous in any number of ways, but I share it to explain how it came to pass that I spent my entire afternoon on Sunday working in the kitchen. In the end, I created an expensive kind of cookie that looks like beef jerky and tastes like candied brownies.

I also got to spend several hours making messes with my five-year-old daughter and letting her lick batter from the stirring spoons (while also teaching proper kitchen hygiene–we went through a lot of spoons). In every way, I consider the afternoon a stirring victory.

Well…in every way but one. The cookies would be more popular, I think, if they didn’t look quite so much like beef jerky. I did an excellent job of creating the flavor profile, it’s just in the mechanical technique of baking where I stumbled.

So maybe someone out there can refine my process and make a better version of the cookie. Here’s my recipe, dedicated without reservation to the public domain (as is my wont).

Ingredients:

  • 1-1/2 cup milk chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup caramel syrup
  • 3/4 cup marshmallow creme
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 2-1/4 cup flour (unsifted)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1-1/2 tsp salt

Preparation (Candycreme)

On a double-boiler, melt together chocolate chips, caramel syrup, and marshmallow creme, along with 1 tsp salt. Once mixed, keep at a low simmer so it will easily pour.

 

Preparation (Dough)

Beat together butter, sugar, and brown sugar in a large mixing bowl. Add eggs and vanilla, then slowly mix in the candycreme. Add flour, baking soda, and 1/2 tsp of salt.

 

Baking

Preheat over to 375 degrees. Bake cookies in tablespoon-sized globs for approximately 10 minutes.

When I tried baking them as globs on a cookie sheet, they spread out to a pancake-size pool, then swelled up to a very impressive pillowy texture, then ultimately collapsed into a circular candycrisp. They were still delicious in that form, but not terribly cookie-like.

Hoping to solve that, I tried making a mega-cookie in a pie tin. I filled it to about 1/3 depth with the dough, and cooked it for 10 minutes at 375. When I checked on it, the dough had risen again, so that it threatened the top of the tin, and the outer edges looked crisped but it was still quite clearly liquid in the center. I gave it another five minutes, and when I checked again it had collapsed like a bad souffle. The cookie in the bottom of the dish (about 1/4-inch thick, and deliciously gooey) had a brown/black cracked texture that looked like the landscape from some post-apocalyptic horror. Very cool.

I next tried it in a muffin tin, hoping that smaller puddles of dough would behave better, but they didn’t. I just ended up with twelve post-apocalyptic horrors instead of one.

Trish thinks I probably could have solved the problem by adding more flour (since I just adapted a chocolate chip cookie recipe, but added a liquid candycreme in place of the dry chocolate chips). We also considered freezing and chopping up the candycreme to use like chips instead of pouring it in as a liquid. I’d also considered making normal cookies and dredging them in the candycreme, as is sometimes done with pretzels in melted chocolate or almond bark.

Now that I’ve made the attempt, I think a better option would be to blend the candycreme into a brownie batter recipe instead of cookie dough. Then again, I don’t know enough about brownie batter to say that with any strong conviction. I merely present these alternatives as recommendations for future experimenters.

I Always Knew this Day Would Come!

I’ve been sued.

It’s not as exciting as it could have been (and surely will be in the future). This time, it’s a small-claims matter.

Way back in 2002, when I first graduated and discovered with a shock that I had to get a job, I found a Tech Writing gig in Tulsa. We relocated up there, rented out a duplex for a couple years, and then bought a cute little three-bedroom house with the expectation we’d be trapped in Tulsa for decades yet.

Three years later I landed an incredible job with the FAA in Oklahoma City, and we moved away. But to our great dismay, we couldn’t sell the house. We hired a lousy realtor who did next to nothing to promote it for the length of her 90-day contract, and by that point we were broke from paying two mortgages, so we panicked and started looking for a renter.

That became a pattern. We’d get renters for six months to a year, that would end badly, we’d waste a weekend and a couple thousand bucks trying to fix up the place, then try listing it for sale (because we are not doing this ever again!), and after 90 days on the market we’d be suffering so much financially that we tried finding renters again.

We’ve been through four realtors and three property managers, and now our last property manager is suing us. In the months that this drama has been unfolding, we’ve gotten a referral for a wonderful new realtor, listed the house for sale, watched 90 days slip quietly past with no interest from buyers, and…now we’re looking for a new property manager.

I kinda hate this house. It was a wonderful first home, and that kinda just makes me hate it all the more. It’s a great deal and a great property. I can’t imagine why we can’t sell it.

And now I’ve been sued. Awesome.

Ultimately, this lawsuit is small potatoes. Given the ambitious nature of my business plans in a notoriously litigious industry (intellectual property), I’m definitely going to end up sued again. So I’ll just consider this practice, find out how the process goes, and try to make the most of it.

Meantime…anyone out there looking for a newly-renovated starter home in a quiet neighborhood? Let me sell it to you. Cheap.

Discipline(s)

You may not know this about me, but I’m a programmer. It took him years, but one of my best friends from college finally convinced me to try my hand at it…well, a decade ago, now.

He found the right language for me (Python), and then my interest in tedious videogames sealed the deal. Most of the hours I’ve spent programming have gone toward automating or enhancing the games I was playing–whether I was writing a page-scraper to play a browser game for me or developing AddOns for World of Warcraft.

Anyway! The programming I’m doing now is focused much more on my writing and publishing. I’m helping maintain an e-book conversion and production tool, collecting and drawing some pretty cool sales reports with those same skills I used to hack old browser games, and even developing a couple commercial-level projects on the side for friends.

I set aside some time on Saturday to do just that. The project is…well, from the outside, it’s pretty boring. It’s a tool for easily, quickly, and accurately applying contextual labels to large batches of image files. But to me, it’s just a series of puzzles.

  • My friend says he needs to be able to handle non-numeric page numbers. I growl at the absurdity of the request (“non-numeric numbers”? really?), then figure out how to make my program handle that.
  • My friend says he needs to be able to make duplicates of all subsets containing more than 100 images. It’s a tedious process for him to count and copy and rename. It’s three lines of code for me.
  • My friend says he needs to be able to Undo when he makes a mistake (and it would be nice to save old copies of his data file just in case something bad happens to the working copy)….

When he brought up that last one, I shrugged and nodded. “No problem. That’s a normal thing in programming. To keep from wasting storage space, instead of saving lots of old copies of the data, we’ll just save the original document plus a list of changes. That way you can calculate the ‘current’ version by adding all the changes to the original, and you can revert to older versions just leaving out some of the changes.”

That really is an utterly normal thing in programming. Happens all the time. It’s a smart way to do things. And, hey, any program you use regularly supports Undo and Redo, right? How hard could it be?

So Saturday afternoon, when Xander was taking a nap and Annabelle was reading in her room, I settled down with the laptop to add revision history to my program.

Turns out…it’s not easy. I couldn’t find a standard library (where someone else had already done the work for me). I couldn’t find good examples. I had all the starting points, but they didn’t give me quite the information I’d expected to get, and I spent hours trying to figure out how to turn what I did get into something useful.

I spent six hours on it. In retrospect, that’s probably a pretty respectable time, but going in, I really expected it to be a half-hour job. After all, thousands of people do this sort of thing every day. I’m not a professional programmer, but I know all the basics (and I’m pretty good at the things I do often). Something so standard should have just made sense to me. That’s what I expected, anyway.

Anyway! The cool news is that I did end up getting it to work (after giving up completely on two separate occasions). Not only that, but I built my solution into a standalone file, so now I can incorporate that into any other program I want. For me, at least, it will be a half-hour task to add revision history to future projects.

I’ve been thinking about that experience a lot this week, because it carries a strong parallel with another one from the same weekend. On Sunday morning, I started outlining a Sherlock Holmes-style short story for my Auric’s Valiants series. The character is one we’d wanted in that universe from the start and, again, I’d just taken it for granted that I could whip up a Sherlock Holmes-style short story.

I did make it easier for myself by getting the whole Sherlock Holmes series on audiobook. I’ve been working my way through the series for weeks now, and it’s really good stuff. I admire the way Doyle balances the distant, refined narration with the visceral, evocative premises.

The stories have strong, consistent structure to them. That helps a lot. There are some pretty reliable elements, like the size of the cast, the number (and order) of clues, the misdirections, and so on. I felt like I could pretty easily mimic that structure, substituting in my own characters and setting.

But when I started outlining a short story in my scribblebook, expecting it to take about a page, I quickly discovered that the inputs didn’t automatically lead to the output. In fact, it turns out most of what goes into a great Sherlock Holmes story has nothing to do with Sherlock Holmes (or Dr. Watson). It took me fifteen pages of scribbling and a lot more energetic thinking than I ever expected it would, just to come up with an effective plot for a Sherlock Holmes story.

And I haven’t even started on the style and tone–the actual storytelling. Luckily, that’s the part I know how to do. It’s just like my programming problem Saturday: A given writing project can be a huge challenge for me, even as a professional writer, just to get to the point where I can do my kind of writing within the project.

But once I’m there, I’m virtually done. It might have taken me six hours to figure out the outline, but I’ll only need half that much time at a keyboard to get the actual story written. And now that I’ve figured it out, I can reuse it in future projects.

That sort of thing is fascinating to me. I love seeing the parallels between my disciplines. Just one of the many things I love about my job.

Ask Me Anything

I’ve never been a regular at Reddit, but I have friends who are and they’ve been encouraging me for a while to do an AMA (Ask Me Anything) thread.

It’s a little scary, but that’s how I plan to spend my work day today. Swing by if you get a chance.

You might want to keep an eye out for spoilers while you’re there, if you’re that sort of reader. I’ve asked anyone who asks spoiler-y questions to mark the question that way so you can skip it, but for my part I’m entirely willing to talk unwritten plot.

Fanmail

My final editorial review of The Dragonprince’s Heir is done. I finished it around 10:00 last night, then sat up for another hour tweaking the custom metadata file we use to turn a Google Doc into an actual e-book. Then I wrote a little personal letter to tuck inside the back of the book, ran BookMaker, and mailed out copies to a couple hundred people.

My name is Taryn Eliade, firstborn son of Daven Carrickson. I’ve been called a nuisance and a little lord, a kingsman and a traitor. I’ve been called the dragon-born son and the heritage of Chaos. I was born the Dragonprince’s heir. In the summer of my fourteenth year, at the waning of the dragonswarm, I went on a quest to choose my destiny.

When I woke up this morning, I already had answers. Nobody had sat up all night to finish the book (or if they did, they were too tired to email me), but I had lots of gracious “thank yous.” Those weren’t at all necessary (as I’ll explain below), but they started my day bright.

I also had one fan who’d caught a typo. He was terribly friendly about it, and I was grateful for the heads-up. (It’s already fixed in the source document. Digital bookmaking is a wonderful thing.)

Anyway, as I was making that correction, I glanced down the page and saw this little exchange:

“Those are dangerous words,” I hissed.

Jen’s eyes glittered like a viper’s. “Less dangerous than yours. I only insulted a king. You insulted Caleb Drake.”

(That link isn’t in the actual ebook, it just seemed appropriate here.)

I know it’s not cool to be impressed at your own writing, but when I saw those lines I fell in love with Jen all over again. She’s a relatively minor character in the book, but (for me anyway) she stole the show.

It’s been an interesting week. I’ve split my time between sending out fanmail to people I respect in the desperate hopes of making a connection so I might generate some real publicity for the KickStarter campaign (in its last week, and not even 20% funded), and checking my email for the WordPress comment notifications which, by and large, read like fanmail sent to me!

That still blows my mind. I know a lot of people are buying the books (I check the sales reports obsessively), and I have a lot of followers at Facebook and some wonderful reviews at Amazon. But it still comes as a shock when someone takes the time to contact me directly, especially if it’s to say my books robbed them of sleep or inspired their imagination or left them wanting more.

Those are the things I live for as a reader, and it’s almost unbelievable that I’m getting to have that impact as a storyteller now. You’d be surprised how much time I spend just smiling at my computer monitor.

So, last Saturday I posted saying, “Leave a comment if you want an Advance Reading Copy of The Dragonprince’s Heir.” That was a shrewd, soulless, calculated business tactic. Positive reviews (especially at Amazon) directly and measurably impact how many people hear about the book and end up reading it. When I offer ARCs, I’m doing it as a greedy corporate mogul, to drive the machine of business. Or something.

And your response to that offer left me speechless. For four straight days, I got a constant string of comment notifications from Amazon. It’s like I posted a blog saying,

“Make me feel good about myself!”

And the internet obeyed.

I just wanted to take a moment to express my thanks to all of you. It’s because of my readers that I get to be a storyteller, and that has been my biggest dream my entire life. Thanks for reading, thanks for visiting the site, thanks for recommending the books and posting reviews and leaving comments and sending fanmail. Every bit of that is amazing.

Most of all, thanks for liking me. I like you, too.

Sincerely,
Aaron Pogue

Soccer Song

Through no fault of my own, my two-year-old son Alexander decided early to reinforce gender stereotypes by loving sports of all kinds. For a while there, he demanded the same lullaby every single night before he’d go to sleep.

“Baseball song!”

I don’t know where he picked up “Take Me out to the Ballgame” — strikes me as a kind of outdated tune — but he adores it. The kid learned how to count from, “One! Two! Three strikes you’re out!”

One night Trish was in there, singing him to sleep, and after she finished “Take Me out to the Ballgame,” Alexander wailed,

“Again!”

Trish said, “No. I already sang the baseball song.”

“Soccer song?”

Trish laughed and said, “There is no soccer song.” She kissed him goodnight and came out to tag me in, so I went in, gave the kid a hug, and told him to sleep well.

He piped up again, all pathetic,

“Soccer song?”

and how could I say no to that? So I made one up for him:

Soccer ball, soccer ball,

They don’t score any points at all!

Soccer ball, soccer ball,

It’s just a game about running!

Needless to say, he loved it! New favorite. And you thought I could only write books. Hah!

Cracking Skulls

When I was young, my parents owned a little hobby farm outside a little town outside Tulsa. This surprises people who know me now, but as a kid I spent all my time outdoors. I never got into comic books or G. I. Joe and Transformers, because I wouldn’t sit still long enough.

I loved to be out on our land, roaming through the hills and trees or splashing through the streams. Out there in the woods, I was some kind of hero. Sometimes King Arthur, sometimes Robin Hood, sometimes Robinson Crusoe surviving the in wild.

And then, sometimes I was David, the shepherd boy who would be king. I didn’t know the sadder stories then, just that it all began with a shepherd boy who would be king. And I was a shepherd boy.

My parents had a little herd, and we had a bit of grazing land just down the hillside, and I would sit on an outcrop of stone and watch the sheep and tell myself adventure stories. It felt right, that I should be a shepherd. It was a proper beginning to the story of my life. I probably complained at the chore, but the narrative element pleased me anyway.

But sometimes the narrative broke down.

Sheep are big and brutish creatures, but mostly they’re pretty easy to care for. I was…maybe eight or nine. I wasn’t very big, but I could swing the gate to let them run off down the hill, and when the sun was setting I could chivvy them back up and pour the feed.

The only problem, really, were the rams. They were always big and mean, and we had one or two I hated. They were dumb, and mostly easy to avoid, but once or twice I got a smacking from one of them and ended up bruised and bitter.

I remember one harsh winter, when the snow lay thick and we’d burned through our stock of firewood, and we finally got a break in the bad weather. Dad decided to take advantage of it, so he bundled up us kids–my two sisters and me–and told us we’d go out playing in the snow! He took us to the top of the long, wooded slope, pointed to the bare wall outside the back door, and told us to go gather firewood.

We went off grumbling, but it was not a miserable task. We kicked at the snow, and slipped and slid along the hillside, and threw snowballs at each other from fortified positions. Maybe we grabbed a stick now and then, but mostly we were playing.

And then, seeing how much we were benefiting from a little time outdoors and thinking the sheep had been cooped up just as long, Dad turned them loose to go romping in the snow. He was not a harsh taskmaster. He left his two flocks playing, and went to gather the wood we really needed.

Alas, that blasted ram found us, and he was in a rotten mood. Up along the fenceline at the top of the hill, I was playing with my sisters when the beast came charging along, his little hooves churning up mud and snow, his huge, curved horns lowered for the strike. Someone screamed. We ran. We dodged. Perhaps one of us slipped on ice and went sprawling, and shouted nobly, “Leave me! Save yourselves!”

I…don’t remember precisely how it happened, but in the end he treed us. The stupid, woolly behemoth had all three of us straddling one low-hanging limb, and he was stamping and pawing at the ground below, snorting great gouts of steamy sheep breath. We shouted and hollered for someone to come rescue us, and our knight in shining armor was my dad.

He came trundling down the path, head cocked curiously at the sight of his three kids arrayed on an ominously sagging sycamore limb. And there below us was his prize ram. Dad had proved more productive than the rest of us, and he came innocently down the path, his arms loaded with big, cut logs.

Oh, how many times had we tried to convince him this animal was a dangerous monster? He’d never believed us, but now the beast spotted him and turned his way. We tried to shout a warning to him, but he couldn’t understand our clamor. We could only watch as the creature, mad with rage, charged straight at our helpless father.

As it got close, his eyes got wide. He shouted, “Yelp!” and dropped his load of timber. Six stove-size logs fell like hammer-blows on the sheep’s hard skull, and the animal stumbled drunkenly past my dad, then sank down in the snow for a nap.

My sisters and I dropped to the ground and ran toward Dad, cheering and laughing that the beast had finally met its match. That must have shown him! Go Dad! What a hero.

But he wasn’t laughing. He ignored our celebration and left the wood he’d cut and gathered where it had fallen. He went to the animal and bent down over it, raised its head and gently prodded at the spot the logs had hit.

There a spot of shiny blood in the dense black wool. It wasn’t much, and rams are famous for their hard skulls, but Dad had hurt one his animals. I saw him cry a tear or two while he checked the wound, while he checked that the animal was only stunned, then he sent me to the house for gauze and some antibiotic ointment. He nursed the wretched monster like some precious pet, and in the end we all five walked together back to the yard.

I borrowed something of that memory for “Auric and the Wolf.” It’s one I think of often. I’ve learned a lot from my dad, and most of it was not when he was lecturing.

Other than that, it’s just things and stuff.