Sunday, April 13, 2014

I got married this weekend

I've been noticeably absent from posting on this website for months now, but I've got a good reason and I'm happy to share it.

On Saturday I married by best friend Jill - now Jill Kolbet. Our families have joined together and I couldn’t be more excited. It was a beautiful ceremony shared with hundreds of wonderful friends and family members.

All the kiddos came in for a spontaneous group hug after Jill
and I said "I do." Love this image. 
To the right is one of my favorite pictures from the wedding. My sister snapped it right after Jill and I said "I do." We asked the kids - all six of them - to come in for a spontaneous group hug before we walked down the aisle and got 10 minutes of privacy.

So, why is this news on my website? Because it's an important part of who I am and how I see life. I learn so much from these people. They inspire me and teach me how to be a better person, father and husband. This view of the world will no doubt lead me to write about new things from perspectives I never knew really existed. So, while this is a bonus personally - I suspect it will work (for all of us) professionally too.

I continue to work on my third novel I hope to have it available by the end of the year. My priorities have been on blending our family, not writing much of anything as of late though. I have every intention of getting back on that horse very soon.  It's therapeutic to write and always puts me in a good mood (assuming what I wrote didn't stink!)

Thank you all for your continued emails at dankolbet@gmail.com and Facebook messages at www.facebook.com/DanKolbetBooks. I read each of them and try to respond to them as well.

Until after the honeymoon.

-Dan  

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Public Displays of Affection - a short story



The following short story was an original submission to the 2013 Inlander Short Fiction Contest. 

Public Displays of Affection
A short story

Max hadn’t seen his sweetheart Alyssa since before the flooding started. This was not normal for the 17-year-olds. They hadn’t spent more than two days apart for the past six months. Counting today – Monday – it had been nearly three weeks and Max was becoming very stir crazy.

Their separation had been forced upon them without their input. But then again, there really wasn’t much that could be done to tame or shape the unruly will of Mother Nature. People living in the mountain town of Thousand Peaks, Washington knew this better than most. In the winter they hunkered down under the unrelenting snow. In summer they enjoyed a brief respite of warmth, but it was spring that brought them the most turmoil. 

In spring, the high mountain peaks surrounding the town slowly dripped away the layers of crusty snow that covered its namesake landscape. The crystal flakes of frost created an army of liquid filling every lake, river, stream, crevice, pond and puddle until they all reached a tipping point. And that’s when these bodies of water cried for mercy, spilling over their banks and washing their melted remains down the mountain to those below. “Ready or not, here I come,” the army bellowed every year. 

But Thousand Peaks was ready - as ready as it ever was.  The torrent of water went exactly where it was expected. It crept up the banks of the White River and into the low portions of waterfront streets and homes. The water would stay for a few days or weeks, then gently subside into the depths from which it came.  

But the water didn’t cause Max and Alyssa to part. It was an uprooted pine. Well, several trees for that matter. A torrent of debris rushed downstream and pounded the pilings supporting the William’s Edge Bridge - the bridge that provided the only safe passage out of the southern end of the town.  On the fourth night of heavy flooding, the White finally crested and the bridge gave way.   

The weakened piling buckled and the two-lane William’s Edge Bridge partially sunk. The roadway cracked and swayed, cutting off roughly 200 residents in the southern portion of Thousand Peaks. It was impassable. With the treacherous mountains on three sides and an angry, bloated river to the north, Max and his neighbors were trapped. 

Max
Max Harper pulled the thick military-style duffle bag down from the shelf in the garage of his parents’ home and emptied the contents onto the floor. He meticulously laid out the two plastic paddles and a small two-person inflatable raft before searching the shelves for a foot pump. He had sworn this was where he’d seen his dad store it last summer. His face became red with anger and frustration as he dug through box after box for what seemed like an eternity, looking for the pump. 

Moments before he would begrudgingly resort to blowing the thing up with his own breath, he finally found the pump. He double checked the raft’s valves for leaks and repacked it in the bag, this time adding the pump. He couldn’t be seen carrying an inflated raft the four blocks to the water’s edge. Someone would stop him. “It’s not safe,” they’d say. But he wasn’t worried about that now. His mind was elsewhere. 

His worry was focused on his dear Alyssa. She hadn’t called him and hadn’t returned his repeated texts. Max knew Alyssa’s father was a monster - always sticking to her side for trips to the shopping center or driving her to school so she only had to take a few steps between the car and the door. He’d be there waiting for her when school was out too. Always there, suffocating her. Always next to her. Latched on like a handcuff.

Max would see Alyssa at school and that was it. He’d become used to this arrangement, even if he didn’t like it. The school didn’t like public displays of affection, he’d been told. So he made sure that he kept his distance when others were around, but the moments he was near her were the best of his life.

He would leave notes in her locker almost every day. That’s how he talked to her. Locker 0219. The ninth locker down from Mr. James’ science room. It smelled like her. Sweet.  

So as he carried the duffle bag containing the raft down the street, he only had one thing on his mind – Alyssa. Damn the danger of the raging water. He had a plan. About a half-mile up stream from the William’s Edge Bridge, the river took a steep bend. If he pushed off just right, he’d be able to make his way across the span without having to fight the current. It would sweep him downriver, but he’d catch the other side of the bank without much trouble because the bend was so sharp. 

It was a good plan. A good plan to see his girl. He loved her more than anything in the world and he’d do anything to see her. 

Alyssa
The passing period was only five minutes, but Alyssa needed to grab her Civics textbook before her next class. She dashed down the hall to her locker, hoping she’d have time. Mr. Mitchell had made it very clear that she wouldn’t be excused again if she forgot it. Besides, with many of her classmates stuck on the wrong side of the White River, the halls were fairly empty and that made getting from one side of the school to the other a lot quicker. She didn’t want to go to the locker, but she couldn’t avoid it either. 

The irony wasn’t lost on her. The damaged bridge that kept so many kids home meant she could make it to class on time. Yet this didn’t weigh heavily on her. She spun the dial, entered her school-issued locker combination and lifted the silver handle to open the door. On instinct she quickly moved her hand inside the locker to catch the notes that sometimes got stuck in the venting slats at the top of the door. 

But just like everyday for the last three weeks, there was no note. She let out an audible sigh, snapped up her Civics book, slammed the locker and headed to class. 


Max
The foot pump worked perfectly as the small raft formed into a sturdy vessel in the water-filled backyard of a house on Front Street. The house was empty as far as Max could tell. He didn’t want any prying neighbors to ask questions about what he was doing. His parents had done enough of that. Always prying. Where are you going? Who are you going to be with? Why won’t you talk to me? What’s wrong? Max, just talk to us!

They didn’t understand him. Didn’t understand what he cared about. They didn’t know love like he knew love. Like he knew Alyssa. 

Alyssa. He smiled. It’ll only be a little longer, baby. 

If he hurried he’d be able to make it to school during lunch, which would give him enough time to shower in the gym locker room and put on a set of dry clothes and shoes. 

He’d see her in the cafeteria sometimes, where she always sat at the same table with her friends, with her back to the lunch line. She was close enough to touch as he walked past to get the bland meals they served in the cafeteria. Her blonde hair cascading down her back over a sweater or light jacket. She liked to stay warm. He knew that. That’s why she wore sweaters.

He could smell her, even now. Sweet. His desire drove his actions. 

He tossed the duffle bag to the side of the yard, knowing it would no longer do him any good. He tightened his backpack around his shoulders and lifted the raft up. It was heavier than he expected. 

He carried the raft as far away from the water’s edge as he could. When he reached the deck railing of the house, he knew he’d backed up as far as he could go.

If he got the right momentum he’d be halfway across the water before the current would catch him. But he needed to be fast. Very fast. He dug his feet into the soggy yard and readied himself like a sprinter. 

With both hands he gripped the rope that encircled the edges of the raft, but positioned the raft on his right side so he could see the path before him. He took off like a man being chased by a lightning bolt, taking big strides as he reached the deeper water. 

He smiled as he thrust the raft onto the surface of the water, knowing that he was minutes away from seeing her. But the smile didn’t last long. He’d run too far into the water. He was in above his waist in an instant, so there was no way he could jump up into the raft that was quickly being pulled out of his hands and into the icy current of the White.   

He tried to jump, but only once. The back of the raft hit the underside of his chin like a boxer’s uppercut, snapping his head up and throwing him further off balance. His left hand slipped off the rope, flipping him backward. The rope twisted around his right hand that was now helplessly attached to the raft as it shot downstream like the lightning bolt that had once chased him into the water. 

Alyssa
Alyssa stood with a dozen or so of her classmates on the northern bank of the White River for the ceremony. The summer sun beat down on her face and she took in every bit of it. It felt odd to her. Standing with all these people, without her father at her side. He’d been with her every waking moment since the bizarre notes and texts started. Since someone began watching – stalking – her every move. Describing the details of her hair or the sweaters she wore to school. Professing how much he loved her even after she texted back and said to leave her alone. He didn’t stop. It frightened her. 

The school did nothing about it, so her father did – as much as he could at least. He got her a new phone. He kept an eye on her before and after school, even tagging along with her friends on outings to the coffee shop or Dairy Queen. But he’d finally decided that he’d babied her enough. The notes and texts had stopped and she didn’t have the feeling of someone watching her all the time. She wasn’t nervous or scared to be alone anymore. So she got her freedom back.

It all stopped when the bridge went out. She didn’t know why. So today was a momentous occasion as the bridge re-opened after it was repaired. Would she have to live in fear again? Would he start, like before?

The ceremony at the bridge was a somber one that not only dedicated the new span, but renamed it for a boy in her class. It was now called the Max Harper Memorial Bridge.

For some reason Max tried to float the river during the floods and drowned. It made Alyssa sad. She’d seen him around school a few times. He was cute. He tried to talk to her once, but must have lost his nerve because he just walked away. She smiled at him a few days later, but he ignored her. He never once tried to talk to her again, in fact she never saw him around much after that, which was too bad. He seemed nice and she would have really liked to get to know him.  
*** 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Advice for people who would like to write a book

A while back I talked to a group of students at Eastern Washington University during a young professionals night. Most were in the creative arts – writing, photography, graphic design, theater and the like. I was honored to be asked to talk with them. I wrote these notes (below) before talking to the class. Today, when cleaning out my Dropbox folder, I read them again and thought it might be nice to share. So, here you go.

Set a goal and do your best to achieve it. That might be a word count or a chapter number or a time commitment. You can’t write that book unless you actually write stuff down. There’s no magic laptop fairy that will click-clack away at your story for you. My first novel took me roughly 6 months to write, 2 to edit and 3 to get published. My second novel took 4 months to write and about a month to get published. By this pace I should be able do write and publish a novel inside of a week – not gonna happen.

Don’t expect everyone to enjoy what you wrote. Go into a book store. (Or like a normal person, just go to Amazon’s website. ) Do you like every book you see? Not a chance, so don’t expect your friends and family to like yours unless it’s the sort of stuff they already like. Don’t obtain your sense of value from an audience who doesn’t like your genre – or from family who will love everything you do (and lie to your face).

Find a creative outlet that pays you actually money. The daughter of a co-worker of mine got her parents to send her to live in Key West for a year so she could write her first novel, which happened to be set in Key West a hundred years ago. Nice work if you can find it. My creative outlet happens to be my 8-5 job at Avista. Writing stories, news releases, speeches, taking photographs, brainstorming messaging for the media. It keeps you on your writing game and a roof over your head.

Hire an editor because if your 94,000 word novel incorrectly uses affect instead of effect one time, people will call you an idiot.

Choose your own path. I wanted an agent and a publishing deal, but didn’t need to wait around for my ship to come in. I decided to go independent because I felt my work was good and didn’t need to go through the bottle neck of agent-led publishing. Is it as lucrative? I can’t say. But there are dozens and dozens of examples of people out there who have gone it alone and been greatly successful. (JA Konrath, Hugh Howey for example) 


Lastly, put forth an effort. Only you can determine your worth.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Government shutdown is teaching our children the wrong lessons

I’m not one to often weigh in publicly on political matters, because honestly it’s a dirty business and if you hold a strong, consistent ideological belief, left or right – you’re probably wrong. Our world isn’t left or right. People – normal people – don’t think that way. 

I wholeheartedly believe in free speech and the legal process of passing (and enacting) a law. But this government shutdown is out of bounds.  And sorry peeps, I blame the GOP leadership, who I really want to root for. Am I wrong? You may think so, and I’m OK with that. Reasonable people disagree. Reasonable.

When in 2010 our elected leaders passed a health care law it was apocalyptic to some. Holy crap, you’re going to need to secure health insurance or pay a fine. Our president is a socialist. The sky fell and we all died. Wait. That didn’t happen. In fact when the health insurance marketplaces opened on Oct. 2, millions of people signed up - people who couldn’t secure coverage on their own previously. These are people who need it.

Will this law in some way cost me more money? Quite possibly. Are there big unknowns? Oh, yeah. That may mean you don’t like it. That’s OK. Pay the fine and live your life. It’ll cost you $95 next year to avoid this “hellish” safety net that they rest of us call health insurance. Whoa, buddy! Stay away! Granted, these penalties go up each year, but I suspect that as people find value in the new health care system that they will chose to join in and enjoy the benefits.

OK, let’s assume you totally disagree with me. Good. That’s OK. Now, let’s assume you’re a GOP lawmaker deciding to pass legislation that funds nearly the whole government.  This is how I imagine the conversation goes:

GOP leader 1: “I don’t like this Obamacare thing. It’s no good.”
GOP leader 2: “Then let’s make sure the country goes into the crapper by not funding Obamacare or anything else that our citizens want.”
GOP leader 1: “Sweet. I’ll get right on that. I mean, doing nothing of course.”

The law passed three years ago. President Obama got reelected during that time and he didn’t hide this law. If the country didn’t want this – sorry, majority rules here – then they would have voted for the other guy. Same goes for elected representatives in the House and Senate.

The GOP is playing dirty. They can’t repeal Obamacare, so they are holding back funding for it, whole also holding back funding for much of the rest of the government. Seriously? It’s like a little kid flipping over a game of checkers when he knows he can’t win. It won’t help him win; it just makes him a sore loser who accomplishes nothing.

My solution: Man up. Make the law you hate into a better one. Don’t torpedo the law, the government and the economy because you are too ideologically entrenched to try something different.

The GOP should imagine explaining their actions to a child. What lesson does that teach a child?  If you don’t get your way, you can simply sabotage the other kids. Damn the consequences.

I often vote republican. I tend to lean that direction. Heck, I have even voted for Cathy McMorris Rodgers, my Republican Congresswoman since the first time she ran. Read her opinion here. She’s now one of these people I’m not too pleased with. But this shouldn’t be a red vs. blue issue. It’s a USA issue. This isn’t how we’re supposed to do things. I think we can all agree on that.  

So here’s my challenge to all lawmakers: feel accomplished when you leave office. Feel good about what you got done. If your biggest achievement is flipping over the checkerboard, then you’ve not been successful.  

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Kidnapping leads to big reward


I’m engaged and pretty damn happy about it

So, something kinda big happened this last weekend. I got engaged. But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, I had to kidnap my girlfriend.

Oh, yeah, it’s like that.

Seconds after the big moment. 
About a month ago I told Jill – the aforementioned girlfriend - that she had to be responsibility and kid-free at 3 p.m. last Friday, through 11 p.m. on Sunday. That’s all she was told. Granted, I dropped some (what I thought were) pretty obvious hints about the location of our little getaway, but she didn’t know for sure where we were going until I told her when we arrived at the airport.

I’d been dropping useless clues for weeks that did nothing to help her figure out where we were going. It drove her and her friends and family nuts. I even got text messages asking me, “Where are you taking Jill?” from both our friends and family. Sorry, that’s Top Secret. 

So on Friday I arrived at her office, roses in hand. She was so excited to leave work and get going that she came out to meet me before I even walked in!  My grand plan to unveil our destination in front of dozens of her co-workers was quickly dashed. So, I improvised and gave her the final (actually useful) clue.

She was pretty surprised by
 the whole  weekend, which
made it extra awesome.
“When you go to this city, you should wear a flower in your hair,” I told her, handing her the roses.

Well, she knew the city – San Francisco – but decided it was best to make me suffer and not tell me. Turnabout is fair play in love, my friends. Apparently the location came to her that morning. She’d be better at explaining how she figured it out, but it had something to do with an episode of Full House. We’ve all learned a lot from Full House, so I get it.

The big, official reveal occurred as we’re unpacking the car in the airport parking garage when I hit play on my phone, blasting The Mama’s and The Pappa’s song, “If You’re Going to San Francisco.”

This song, of course begins like this,
If you are going to San Francisco
Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair

If you are going to San Francisco

You are gonna meet some gentle people there.”

Well, that sort of gave it away right then. We were going to San Francisco, via Oakland, but that’s only because I needed us on a direct flight, since I only had around 50 or so hours for this whole kidnapping thing.

Our proposal spot. 
The big moment
I decided to pop the question early on Saturday morning. Heck, if we weren’t both so exhausted on Friday night – or if we didn’t have to walk through puddles of urine outside our hotel that night, I might have done in on Friday. Alas, the moment wasn’t right, but I’m sure all the homeless people on Market Street or the crazy teens waiting in line for the Krewella concert to start would have given us the thumbs up.

Anyhow, my mind was set for Saturday morning. We get up at the hotel. I see blue sky above and we set out for “this random trail” under the Golden Gate Bridge. Truth be told, I looked at Google Street View. I studied satellite images (no kidding). I read reviews of a nearby coffee place on Yelp. I even found some webcams that showed the approximate location that I thought would be good for a wedding proposal. I didn’t want to screw this up!

The cab drops us off by a trail near the water’s edge. The Golden Gate Bridge is shrouded in light fog and the waves are pushing toward shore. We leisurely walk toward this coffee shop – The Warming Hut - that I think is nearby. Remember, I’ve never been here before and Google Street View will only show you so much. I’m stressing out, but I know that even if this is a massive disaster of a proposal, she’ll say yes anyway. So I hang my hat on that.

Then the rain started. A lot of rain, like sheets of big tears from on high. Yeah. That kind of rain. A sign? Not for us.

We dash inside the Warming Hut to keep dry and look around. She probably thought I was just really interested in seeing every damn trinket in the place, but honestly I was trying to kill time, hoping the stupid hurricane outside would pass. As we’re wandering the store there were dozens of runners and bicyclists coming inside to hide out while the storm blew by. They dripped big puddles of salty rain on the floor of this poor little store.

Either Jill knew that I wanted to get moving or she too wanted to hit the road, because she’s the one who actually points out the bucket of umbrella’s for sale. Duh, if you’re in the rain and need to be there, use an umbrella. I wish I had thought of that first! You see the sort of partner I’m looking for, right?

We head outside to “wander.” Of course I know what is coming next. She’s just along for the ride or maybe wondering what the hell we’re doing out in this storm. We ended up walking out on this rickety pier called Torpedo Wharf.

So, we traverse the pools of rain and muck and take up a position facing the Golden Gate Bridge. The dozen or so Asian fisherman – fishing poles in the water – completely ignore us. We chat about the color of the bridge. Orange or red? I’m stalling. Then the rain eases back to a drizzle and I close the umbrella.

Then, my heart pounding, I say, “I’ve got to ask you something.”

I pull out the ring box and snap the little latch, but don’t open it yet. I tend to freeze during big moments and the words that I really want to say just don’t come out. The speech was supposed to start with, “Five months ago . . .” But I just couldn’t get the words out of my mouth.

I drop to one knee (in the fish guts and mud), surrounded by Asian fisherman, in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge, while soaked with rain. I look up at this beautiful woman who is looking at me like, “this is happening, here? Now? OK!”

“Will you marry me?”

“Yes.”

Tears. Hugs. Kisses. All the good stuff.

That’s a moment we will never forget. The rain starts again, somehow stronger than before. We snap a “selfie” picture from our proposal spot. Somehow Jill figured out how to get the ring in the picture too. Such a girl.

A re-creation of the proposal with the assistance
of a random bicyclist photographer nearby.  
About ten minutes after our big moment, we re-created the proposal on a little grassy hill for some passing bicyclists. A guy walked up to us as we were headed out looking for a taxi and asks if we’ll take their photo.

“Sure,” I said, “As long as you take ours. We just got engaged.”

 “OK,” he says, “But take our picture first!” 

It all worked out. This guy took like 25 photos with Jill’s iPhone that turned out really well.

So, that’s the basics of the proposal, but certainly not the end of the story.

I love this girl and am excited to call her my wife and the step mom to my kids. We both took different paths to meet on the one path that led us to each other. We’re together with our kids and happy.

And this story is just getting started.