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Joe DeRouen, Author of the Small Things trilogy

Friday, May 06, 2011

What I Believe

I've been arguing with a friend on Facebook about religion, specifically her Christian beliefs that being gay is a sin. I'm not gay and thus have no horse in this race, other than I believe all people should be treated equally and allowed the benefits that the rest of us enjoy. It's ludicrous to tell gay people that they can't be married. If you believe that your god doesn't like it, well, that's your belief. You have no right to push that belief on others. Morality should never be legislated. If a particular church doesn't wish to marry certain people, I have no problem with that. But to say two people of the same sex can't be legally married, that they cannot enjoy insurance and hospital visitation rights and the other things that come along with being married, is bigotry, plain and simple.

All this got me to thinking, what do I believe? I'm not a Christian, and I'm not an Atheist. I'm not a Muslim, a Buddhist, or a Wiccan. I'm an Agnostic, which, for the uninformed, means I don't know whether or not god exists. I can't know. No one can, regardless of what they tell you. You can have faith, you can believe, but you cannot know. No one can, at least not in this lifetime.

I have a good friend who is an Atheist. It's his belief, as I understand it, that once you die, that's it. You're gone. There is no afterlife. There's nothing.

I don't want to believe that. Maybe it's hubris, but I can't imagine not existing. Everything else in nature recycles, so why not psyches? Why not souls? Thus my belief in reincarnation. As far as an afterlife goes, that makes sense to me. A leaf dies and falls from a tree. It lands in the soil, it rots, and is absorbed into the soil, and, through the roots of the tree, back into the tree itself. The energy that leaf represented isn't gone, just changed. Maybe some people, instead of being reincarnated, chose to wander the earth, observing. Or perhaps they take off for the stars.

I can't believe that everything came from nothing. Oh, sure, I believe in the big bang, I believe that the earth is billions of years old, and I believe in evolution. But there had to be something that sparked it all. I don't believe it's the Christian capital "G" God, nor do I believe it's any of the other gods represented by the multitude of religions humanity has created over the course of time. I think whatever that spark was, that intelligence that started all of this, is unknowable. Hell, maybe we're all Sims in a computer game played by a kid in another universe. I don't know. But I do believe there is something out there beyond what we can currently perceive.

I've experienced enough things in my life that prove, at least to me, that there is more to the universe than what we regularly observe. I've had premonitions, usually in the form of dreams, that came true. And not just once, but multiple times throughout my life. I knew the moment my first wife died, though prior to that moment I had faith that, like every other time, she'd pull out of it and eventually beat cancer. But in that moment, when I'd just left the hospital to go get something to eat, I knew, when there was no logical way that I could.

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,than are dreamt of in your philosophy." Hamlet Act 1, scene 5, 159–167, William Shakespeare. It's an oft-quoted line, because it's true.

I am open to the possibilities that exist in the universe. What I'm not open to is believing in a god that would condemn the 10% of humanity (and animals, too) that are born homosexual. Why would god care? The answer is, he/she/it wouldn't. People care, because they fear what they don't understand and what is different from them. And someone writes something down, puts his own prejudices into a book, and people believe it.

They may not be prejudiced themselves, but they believe that because it's written in the bible that it's true and should be followed. They recognize on one hand that the bible was written by men and translated by other men over and over, yet on the other hand refuse to believe that maybe some of these men had agendas that Jesus of Nazareth (for I do believe he existed, though I think he was as human as any of us) would have wept over if he'd realized that, two thousand years later, would be used to oppress certain segments of the population in his name.

So maybe it's time someone wrote a new bible.

Another friend suggested that I hate Christians. I don't. I hate when people use a religion, any religion, to justify not allowing homosexuals the rights that heterosexuals enjoy. I hate when a supposedly good Christian child at my son's school tells him that if he doesn't believe in god he'll go to hell. I hate when religion is used to put down, separate, or vilify those who don't follow that religion. That's what I hate.

And it harm none, do what thou will. Love thy neighbor as thyself. Those are the two basic principals I try to follow in life. I say try because I often fail. I'm far from perfect. But I'll keep trying, just as I'll keep trying to change the opinions out there that I don't agree with, and if I'm wrong, well, I'll admit it.

The Christian friend I referred to in the first paragraph of this now-long blog entry still believes that homosexuality is a sin, but she hasn't stopped responding to my points, so there's dialogue. I'll take that as a win, at least for now.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Running for my local School Board

I feel like such a grown-up! Yes, I'm running for the Benton County School of the Arts school board. I want to be an elected official on the board of the school that my third-grade son attends. Does this mean I'll have to start drinking coffee, learn to golf, and do other "grown-up" things I've been putting off all these years?

Will I have to join the PTO?? (Oh wait, I already did that.)

My goal in joining the school board, should I be elected, is to bring about more and better communication between the board and the rest of us, something I feel has been lacking in recent years. If I can help bring about this change, the parents will hopefully feel more involved and the teachers will feel more appreciated, both of which can only benefit the students. It's a win-win situation for everyone.

Okay, so maybe being a grown-up isn't so bad after all.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Life Sucks

Life Sucks. At least sometimes. My wife has been unemployed for well over a year, and my business has slowed down a lot because of the economy. I hate being poor. And I hate not writing, though I haven't in quite some time. For whatever reason, I just can't put virtual pen to virtual paper these days. I need someone to pay me in advance for all of my future writing output, so I can stop worrying about bills for a while and take the time to write. Any takers?

Today, we awoke to find that some moron had put "Glenn Beck 2012" and Beck/Bachmann 2012" on our cars. That was annoying. I'd almost sooner vote for a resurrected Nixon than either of those two jackasses.

It's been a year since I wrote in this blog. Will it be another year before the next entry? Who knows? I'm going to do my best, though. Maybe it'll actually inspire me to get back to fiction.

Friday, January 08, 2010


Just got back from seeing Avatar and was blown away. It was a phenomenal movie, emotionally triumphant, and anyone who says otherwise... well, I just don't get it. What more could you want from a movie?

I've heard people say it was thin on plot, and, aside from not explaining just what in the hell made Unobtainium (silly name!) so valuable, I disagree. Sure, the plot was fairly straightforward - humans stealing land from the seemingly-primitive aliens - and yes, it's an allegory for what we did to the American Indians, but so what? It was a beautiful story told beautifully. It was amazing, both in the scope of the completely alien world and, yes, in the special effects.

I may be going out on a limb here, but in ten or twenty years I think people will revere it much the same way we revere Star Wars today: as an amazing, landmark movie that changed the face of film as we know it.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Reviews of Books I've Read Lately

WWW:Wake by Robert J. Sawyer

It's alright. This was actually the first full-length novel I read on my new Kindle. WWW: Wake is the story of a blind girl named Caitlin who undergoes an experimental surgery that could give her sight. Scientists implant a device behind one of her eyes that is supposed to let her see. Soon enough, though, she discovers that, instead of reality, she is perceiving the World Wide Web. What at first she takes to be simple noise turns out to be a sentient entity that has risen from the Internet. Interesting but predictable. WWW: Wake is the first in a series, so maybe subsequent books will be better.

Ghost Road Blues, Dead Man's Song, and Bad Moon Rising by Jonathan Maberry

An excellent dark urban fantasy/horror trilogy! Thirty years after the death of a serial killer known as the Reaper, the citizens of Pine Deep, a small tourist town in Pennsylvania (nicknamed "the most haunted town in America") must come to grips with more strange murders, a crop blight that threatens to wipe out the town's farmers, and some really, really evil folks hell bent on bringing about the end of the world as we know it.

ex-cop, martial arts expert, comic book store owner, and near-victim of the original Reaper, Malcolm Crow finds himself thrust into the role of hero, responsible for not only protecting childhood sweetheart Val (Maberry falls into the Dean Koontz trap here, of making Val The Most Perfect Woman in the World) but the whole town. I won't get into the plot too much here, but if you like folklore, vampires, and werewolves, you'll love this trilogy. And there aren't vamps and wolves from popular culture either; they're straight from the legends of old. Be warned: crosses and stakes through the heart may not work on real vampires...

Replay by Ken Grimwood

What if you could live your life over again? REPLAY takes that age-old wish one step beyond. Jeff Winston, a not-very-successful radio journalist in his forties, begins the greatest journey anyone could ever know.

He awakens from his death in the past, in his college dorm room. It's 1963, exactly 25 years earlier. At first thinking that he's in a dream or a coma-induced hallucination, Jeff eventually accepts his situation as reality. Forced to live the last 25 years of his life over again, Jeff swears not to make the same mistakes again.

Jeff uses his knowledge of the future to build a financial empire, but true happiness manages to elude him. Eventually marrying a wealthy heiress, the loveless union produces the one thing that his previous life could never give him; a child.

Always alone, Jeff accepts his fate as time marches on, enjoying the company of his daughter Gretchen. On October 18th 1988, at exactly 1:06 pm, he dies again..

..Only to awaken again in 1963, a little further along in his original timeline.

REPLAY follows the lives of Jeff Winston with angst, sadness, intrigue, and just a touch of humor, and is my all-time favorite novel. I've read the book probably a 14 or 15 times in the years since I first found it (in 1987) and I never tire of it. It's as close to perfect as a novel can get.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

My Kindle and Me

I purchased a Kindle 2 from a little over a month ago, and I love it. I wasn't sure I would. I mean, I love books - I like how they feel in your hand, I enjoy the smell, delight in turning the pages. Guess what? Other than the smell, the Kindle duplicates these things just about perfectly. So much, in fact, that I often forget I'm reading it, and scan the room for my bookmark when I want to put my book down.

In the month that I've had my Kindle, I've used it to read five novels, a novella, and countless blogs and newsletters. And if you stop in the middle of a newsletter, say, and decide to start reading a novel, and then go back to the newsletter later, you pick up exactly where you left off. Multiple bookmarks, just like with "real" books!

And, yes, you quickly get used to turning pages via a button. I know it's hard to believe now, but by halfway through Stephen King's novella UR, it had become almost second nature to press that "next page" button. And one of the nicer things about the Kindle is that, if you want to find a piece of information you remember reading earlier in the book, it's only a text search away!

The Kindle 2 runs $299 and the Kindle DX, it's larger cousin, (10.4" x 7.2" x 0.38" vs. 8" x 5.3" x 0.36") costs $489. I almost bought the DX. but in the end couldn't really justify the cost difference, especially when you consider that the price difference ($190) can buy a lot of eBooks! And though I occasionally wish I'd sprung for the bigger Kindle - magazines and graphic novels, while readable on the K2, would certainly be much more readable on the DX - I'm overall happy with my decision. If nothing else, when they eventually come out with the Kindle Color (or maybe Kindle Kolor - geez, I hope not!) I'll only be replacing a $300 device, and not a $500 one.

For those who don't know, the K2 holds approximately 1,500 eBooks. That's a lot of reading material, and at this point I don't think I've even used 5% of that space. And even if I do, I can archive material on my PC or simply let Amazon do it for me. They keep a listing of everything you've purchased through them or had them convert, (they have a service that will convert .txt, .doc, and a whole bunch of other file formats to the Kindle format, via attaching the file to an email and sending it to your special Kindle address, for $.15) so if you want to physically delete something from your Kindle, you still have it in your Kindle page on

And, of course, everything is delivered to your device wirelessly, via WhisperNet, Amazon's 3G network. There are no monthly or start-up fees. You buy the Kindle, you have access to WhisperNet, simple as that. And, really, you never have to spend a dime after the initial purchase of the Kindle. Go to Project Gutenberg ( and download all the free classic eBooks you want. You can even forgo Amazon's $.15 translation into Kindle format fee by sending the file to a special address that, instead of then sending the converted file to your Kindle, sends it back to you. Then you're only a USB cable away from uploading it to your Kindle yourself. (There are also independent utilities out there that you can use to convert files to the Kindle format without Amazon's involvement.)

I could write a lot more about the K2 features - text-to-speech, for instance, or the ability to play MP3's - but really, the proof is in the pudding. If you have a friend or a relative with a Kindle 2, DX, or even the first generation Kindle, ask them if you can give it a spin. For me, it was actually holding and using my brother-in-law's first-gen Kindle that sold me on the concept. Before that, I was one of the "I'll never give up real books" people. Afterward, I couldn't wait to own my very own Kindle 2.

Another nice thing about the Kindle format is the price of books. Most new hard cover novels are anywhere from $24.95 to $27.95. In Kindle format, most are $9.99. (There are some as high as $14.95.) That's a huge savings, not to mention the benefit of not having to sandwich yet another beefy novel into your already-overcrowded bookshelf. If, like me, you read a lot, both the money and the space saved, over the long term, will more than make up for the initial $300 cash outlay.

So, have I sold you yet? If you want to check out the Kindle 2 or Kindle DX for yourself, head on over to Amazon and give it a whirl!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Bitter Agent Woes

On January 3rd, 2006, I queried the agent of one of my favorite authors. She said she really liked my query letter, but was up to her eyeballs in work. She asked, if I didn't have an agent in three months time, to e-mail her again. I did, and she said she wanted to look as the manuscript, but to wait another three months to send it off. I agreed, and sent it off three months later. And I waited.

Was I put off by waiting? Well, sure. Of course. But she was upfront and honest with me, and it was my choice to wait. She didn't put a gun to my head. So I waited. This was around August of 2006. I wrote her again in December of that same year, and she said she hadn't yet been able to read it. Her assistant, a junior agent, wrote me and said she'd like to read it. I agreed, and the first agent passed it off to the second agent.

And that's when the fun began. This was around the first of January, 2007, just about a year since I'd originally sent off the manuscript. The junior agent gave me the three month time frame, and when I wrote in three months, gave me another three month time frame. I am patient, but my patience was starting to wear thin. I wrote said junior agent, and she didn't respond. I waited a month and wrote again, with the same results. Eventually I wrote the original agent, who spoke to her junior associate, who apparently said, "I think I rejected it."

I wrote junior agent yet again, to confirm this, and got no response. Finally, she returned on e-mail in July of 2008. " I have been excessively tardy in replying to you, for which I profusely apologize," she said. " I am writing to see if you are still interested in having me read the material you sent me, in regards to potential representation. If you would like to withdraw it from consideration, I will not be offended in the least. Please let me know how you would like to proceed."

I wrote her back and said, yes, I'm still interested, but how long will it take?

A month later, she wrote me back, stating: "Probably within three months, which is my standard response time frame now. "

She hadn't had time to read my novel, but yet had time to post almost daily updates to her blog.

This was in August of 2008, mind you, two and a half years since I'd queried the original agent, and over a year and a half since the junior agent had agreed to read the ms. Flabbergasted, I put it out of my mind and set a reminder to e-mail her again in three months. No response, though I did get a mass e-mail telling me that she had left the employ of the original agent to start her own agency.

Finally, in February of 2009 - over three years from the date of my initial query - she finally returned my e-mail, and said that she had decided against representing the novel, because she had decided to "no longer represent horror."

I deleted the e-mail. My novel wasn't horror. It's an urban fantasy. After all that time, she still hadn't actually read the thing but had apparently gotten tired of my increasingly-annoyed e-mails and finally decided to blow me off.

To this day, I have absolutely no problem with the first agent. She was polite, informed me of the long wait, and when she still couldn't get to it she passed it off to someone she thought could. That's professional and courteous, and I really appreciated her efforts.

The second agent, however, I will always have problems with. She not only repeatedly lied to me, but she also lied to her boss when she told me she had rejected my ms. I can only imagine that she's treated others the same way. It was my choice to keep waiting for her (which in retrospect I much regret) but, by her chosen career, she's put herself in a position between the publisher and the author, a potential gateway if you will, and she has a responsibility to treat both ends of that equation fairly. In my case, at least, she failed tremendously.

It was demoralizing and depressing, to say the least. I'm not naming names because of my respect for the original agent, but I will say that if the junior agent came to me with a publishing contract in hand and an offer to represent me, I would not think twice about walking away. I certainly bear some responsibility for being silly enough to wait that long, during which time I stopped querying other agents, but I never would have done that had this junior agent not kept stringing me along. I'll certainly never make that mistake again.