Once again the blog has been crickets, but this time there’s a valid excuse besides raising – I mean chasing – three kids.
After the last post on August 21:
This happened on October 9:
Six weeks and 40,000 words later, I completed the first draft of a memoir.
The fire was lit by my colleague and compadre from the San Joaquin Valley, Tim Z. Hernandez. Tim is a phenomenal writer and I have a lot of respect for the work he does on and off the page and who he is as a person. He read the HOW TO DAD BADLY post and told me he felt there was more there and he could feel the urgency in the writing, that this story needed to come out. I felt it, too – and got to work immediately.
I’m a member of the old school – I get it done early. That puts me at the keyboard in the dark hours of the morning, hammering at the keys long before sunrise, coffee hot enough to pucker lips. I need the quiet and lack of distraction – in a few hours all the other creatures in the house start waking up and it’s off to the races. It’s a lot different than my method used to be, but if The Muse summons me at 4:30 AM, well, so be it. I saw the story unfold like a movie and mapped it out, and these snapshots and scenes became short stories, which became chapters, and when put together they became this:
Which became Draft 2:
Which became Draft 3:
Which became Draft 4:
That’s 54,000 words of blood and guts.
That’s what it’s all about. Just to answer your question.
It focuses on the years 1987-1991, when I was in 8th grade following me to the beginning of my Senior year at Scarborough High in Houston, Texas. During that time I was a member of a Christian cult.
You’ll have to read the book to find out. But the story is more than that – it’s about survival.
Surviving abuse, puberty, religion, Screams from the Trees: My Escape from a Cult is a testimony to the saving nature of friendship. It’s also a testament to a time when American culture was about to shift dramatically, as we left the 80s and entered the 90s. It’s also an insightful critique of American Christianity.
While a few copies of the manuscript are going to some trusted friends for a bit of feedback, I’ll start hunting for agents. That means I need to wrap this thing up into a query letter and a full narrative nonfiction book proposal. That’s where the real “work” of this whole process takes place.
Once I get some of these stones rolling I’m starting the sequel. I got a whole series in mind – all under the Screams from the Trees banner. It’s certainly an appropriate metaphor for my life.
Which is why I changed the focus of this website – again.
Screams from the Trees started out as a crazy idea: Chels and I bought a ridiculously large camper and stuffed our three kids and two dogs inside and we were going to hit the road indefinitely and chronicle our adventures on a website, on YouTube, on Social Media, the whole kabob. Then COVID hit and completely derailed our plans with the caboose, among other things. Well, what was the story then? Once we were no longer on the road, what next?
I started thinking about my role as Dad in my young family. I started thinking about American society and culture. The website reflected this for awhile, but the truth is I’m no expert on being a dad. I do my best to be a good one but by no means am I Mr. Perfect over here. I can’t offer much advice other than read a book, exercise patience, and as Great-Grandma Papagni taught me, “Above all else, love.” There’s nothing else to say.
So here we are, the next evolution of Screams from the Trees. I finally realized it’s the right vehicle to drive all the unbelievable stories of my life.
I’ll be posting excerpts from the manuscripts – stay tuned.