Author Archives: Josh

MONSTORM Now Available

This is old news at this point, but last time I posted here I was in the process of helping fellow writer Matt Masucci read and curate submissions for our Hurricane Ian relief charity anthology, Monstorm. Well, the book is finished and out now (has been for a couple months), Sorry about the slow blogging (although I expect anyone likely to see the announcement here already knows me in person or is connected with me on other social media).

Monstorm contains 20 weather-themed scary stories, representing a wide range of tale types from across the horror genre. In this book are wind and rain, snow and hail, blood and guts, things that go bump in the night and unsettling glimpses at the darkness that lives inside each of us. Matt and I are both happy to have been a part of the book, and like to think it contains a little something for anyone with a taste for the dark and strange. If that sounds like your jam, you can check it out HERE.

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Posted by on May 30, 2023 in Blog



Well, that escalated quickly.

Quick update for those not intimately involved with my life: Yes, my region was hit by hurricane Ian. Yes, it’s kind of a mess down here. No, my own home was not severely damaged. Yes, my family is ok.

Yes, it will take time and work for everything to return to normal. Storms are like that.

So. Anyway.

I’ve recently been blessed to join up with a local chapter of the Horror Writers Association (we meet only a few minutes away from the library where I work), and it’s been very fun and encouraging to find myself in a room of smart, friendly, welcoming folks who, like me, have fun writing strange, dark, thrilling stuff. It’s a safe place for freaky nerds to be freaky and nerdy, and I’ve really enjoyed talking shop with other professional spooks and geeking out over stuff we enjoy. It’s a common ground I don’t get to share with others very often; most of my friends aren’t really into horror, which is totally fine– it’s certainly not a genre for everybody. I’m just delighted to have found some people who I can share that side of myself with, without either sounding pretentious or like a total weirdo.

The timing of my joining the HWA is very close to Hurricane Ian hitting. These two topics are linked thusly:

One of my new writing friends is Matt Masucci. Together, he and I are working to throw together an anthology of weather-themed horror fiction in order to raise some money for local hurricaine relief. All profits earned will go to a local food bank that directly serves our community. It’s a good cause, it’s an excuse to collaborate creatively with others, and it’s going to be a pretty-dang-cool book. It’s kind of amazing how quickly others wanted to get involved– a handful of fairly big-name authors in the horror community, a cover artist, and a publisher all immediately jumped on board, and the end result is going to come from a true group effort.

Since we’re trying to put this together quickly in order to get aid to folks who need it while they still need it, the submission window is very short- ending November 1st. Here are the details, in case you would like to try your hand at sending something in. Tell your friends.

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Posted by on October 17, 2022 in Blog



Let me tell you a story about my daughter. Mind, this is not THE story about my daughter; there will be (Lord willing) many more (and more interesting) to come. But it is the first one, and since she is not able to tell it, that job falls to me.

This particular story starts a while ago– back in December. No… actually let’s start further back. I don’t want to make this all about me, but you need to understand from the start that I really, really wanted a little girl. Years ago, when Rachel and I were pregnent with our first, before we knew the sex of my son David, if you had asked me what I hoped for, my answer would have been a girl. I grew up with two sisters who were quite a bit younger than me, see, and I’ve always thought (and continue to think) they are the bee’s knees. Little girls were a known quantity; although I had of course been a little boy myself I wasn’t totally sure I knew how to raise one.

(For the record, once I found out I would have a son I was delighted with that prospect, and David is a constant source of pride and joy for me).

But anyway, when we found out we were pregnant again, I still wanted a girl. If you had asked me why, I couldn’t tell you. Not all desires are strictly rational.

Ok, so with that in mind, let’s return to early December. Rachel was 26 weeks pregnant with our daughter (joy of joys!) when we got some troubling news. Because of complications during her pregnancy with David (and his early birth), Rachel had been seeing a special doctor for high risk cases. On one visit, during a routine ultrasound, the doctor discovered that her cervix had shortened to one centimeter, when it had been four centimeters just four weeks before. She’d also begun having contractions. In short, without being too technical, she was very near to giving birth.

This would, of course, have been dangerously early. David had been tiny and had needed a brief NICU stay at one month early (delivered via emergency c-section)– The beginning of December was a solid four months before our due date. The doctor sent Rachel to the hospital immediately, where she was hooked up to IVs and machines that measured her contractions and the baby’s heart rate for signs of distress. She remained in the hospital for a week, then was sent home on strict bedrest.

She could sit on the couch or lie in bed, but for the foreseeable future her primary job was to cook that baby inside her. She wasn’t to be on her feet doing much of anything, as any activity could potentially trigger her body into delivery mode. This would of course prove very difficult with me at work and an active little boy to care for.

Here’s where one of the coolest parts of this story comes in– the love and support we received from family and friends. The bulk of the load was carried by ladies from our church who came into our home pretty much every day on a rotating schedule– to cook and clean and care for David, to provide comfort and company to Rachel, to drive her back and forth to doctors and midwives and chiropractors. Honestly, without their care, I’m not sure how we would have gotten through those months. This is one of the clearest times in my life that I’ve witnessed the local church acting as the hands and feet of Christ; the way the body came together for us, to pray but also to offer practical help, was fantastic.

Christmas came and went, as did New Years. January passed, then February. The baby continued to grow, as did Rachel’s belly. Our daughter stayed inside much longer and thrived in ways that exceeded all our expectations. She grew to double the size David had been when he was born. She remained in the womb so long and so well that the medical professionals, contrary to worrying about keeping her inside, began to talk about inducing labor.

Last Monday, at 5:55 AM, after a total of about four hours of labor and only about 25 minutes of hard pushing from Rachel, our daughter entered the world: No c-section (which would have been statistically more likely after the first one), no NICU stay, no severe complications. Only a healthy (tired, sore) woman and a healthy, 9 lb 12 oz 21 inch little girl.

Next month, just a couple days before Easter, the Jewish Passover begins. We are not Jewish by ethnicity, but without getting super-theological here, the Christian faith owes a huge debt to the Jewish tradition (cue Father Abraham song). I grew up celebrating the Passover Seder meal, and plan to continue the tradition with my own family when my kids are big enough to understand what’s going on. For those unfamiliar, the ceremonial Seder dinner uses special foods and a script (called a haggadah) to recall the story of how God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. It also ties to the Christian celebration of Easter, as many of the elements of the meal can be seen as prophetic parallels to the death and resurrection of Jesus Himself (including His famous last supper assertion that the bread and wine were His own body and blood, and His command to “do this in remembrance of me.”)

There are four different important toasts (or cups) included in the meal, in which participants drink wine to remember and/or comment on different parts of the story. One of these is a song called Dayenu (pronounced die-ay-new), a Hebrew word that can be roughly translated to mean “It would have been enough.” The Dayenu toast is a means to reflect on God’s continual blessing upon His people, the simple fact that, being God, He doesn’t owe us anything but that He gives anyway– graciously, generously, abundantly. The way this appears in the Passover meal is basically a recitation of the things God did for His chosen people– after each step, the word Dayenu is repeated. It looks something like this:

If He had brought us out of Egypt, Dayenu
If He had executed justice upon the Egyptians, Dayenu
If He had executed justice upon their gods, Dayenu
If He had slain their first-born, Dayenu
If He had given to us their health and wealth, Dayenu
If He had split the sea for us, Dayenu
If He had led us through on dry land, Dayenu
If He had drowned our oppressors, Dayenu
If He had provided for our needs in the wilderness for 40 years, Dayenu
If He had fed us manna, Dayenu
If He had given us Shabbat, Dayenu
If He had led us to Mount Sinai, Dayenu
If He had given us the Torah, Dayenu
If He had brought us into the Land of Israel, Dayenu
If He built the Temple for us, Dayenu.

Applying this thinking to my own life leads me to a state of amazement about how good the Lord has been to me and my family. I can add more and more to my list, which includes, but is not limited to, the following:

If He had created this good world full of joy and mystery and wonder and fun, Dayenu
If He had provided my daily, physical needs, Dayenu
If He had given Himself in order to simultaneously satisfy justice and provide forgiveness for my sins, Dayenu
If He had given me Rachel, Dayenu
If He had surrounded me with good friends and a loving family, Dayenu
If He had led me to an fulfilling and interesting job that matches my interests and skills, Dayenu
If He had given me a son, Dayenu
If He had given me a daughter, Dayenu.

God is good, and when I look at my strong, healthy, beautiful little girl with a head of dark hair like her mother’s, I am struck to my very soul with once-again-fresh knowledge of His goodness. Her name is Dayenu, because even if God stopped blessing me and my family, here and now, it would be enough.

But of course, He won’t stop. He doesn’t. Not ever. In Romans 8:38-39, the apostle Paul writes, ““For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This is, of course, the greatest gift of all, and even if all else were stripped away, it would be enough. Dayenu.

Blessed are you, oh Lord our God, King of the universe, who gives, and gives, and gives, even (and especially) when we don’t deserve it.

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Posted by on March 19, 2022 in Blog


Let’s Pretend

*Blows dust off this thing and taps microphone* Hello, hello. Testing, 1-2-3.

First, the obvious. It’s been a while. Things have been crazy. 2020 and 2021, amiright?

I’m not going to try to summarize my “years in books” here as I have in the past– suffice to say I read a lot of ‘em, some of which I liked very much indeed. I won’t attempt to give a play-by play of the past several years, but here’s a quick highlight reel for those I don’t have regular contact with: The past couple years included a major career change from teaching to youth library work (with a one-and-a-half-year stint as a professional painter squashed between them), overlapping a long haul in graduate school and a (second) Masters degree completed, (this one in Library and Information Science). My wife and I started a podcast together, then abandoned it for six months. We’re talking about starting it up again soon. We are expecting our second child (a little girl). I’ve written reams of essays and discussion board posts, but precious little fiction. I’ve not been to any conventions. My authorial career (glorified hobby?) has been pretty much on hold. I’ve had a couple short fiction publications of stories that were resting on my hard drive, but haven’t written anything new that’s worth doodley-doo. I’ve not even blogged.

Till now.

Metablogging is boring, though, so although I’m tempted to say something about hopping back in the saddle blah blah blah, I’d rather just dive right into discussing something that’s on my mind.


My son is three now, and I read to him a lot. I put very little stock into the trendy educational concept of children’s “reading level” (a rant for another day), and I’m far more interested in a book’s quality or its ideas than I am in its difficulty. I firmly believe that stories are the food that our minds and hearts grow on, and I try hard to present him with a balanced diet of fiction and nonfiction, simple picture books and more complex narratives. He is fond of Elephant and Piggy, but equally fond of Robin Hood. He knows the Cat in the Hat and King Arthur, Alice, Aslan, and Winnie the Pooh. If you ask him, he could probably tell you all about Charlotte the spider, Anansi the spider, and the itsy-bitsy spider that climbed up the fabled water spout. He devours stories more-or-less indiscriminately, the simple along with the complex. Listening to him play is one of my greatest joys, as he crafts narratives for his action figures, his cars, even his silverware at mealtime. Cut him, and he bleeds imagination. (Can you tell I’m proud of my boy?)

Naturally, our discussions while reading have involved the veracity of the claims of any given story: George Washington was a real person, for example, while Frosty the Snowman was not, etc. Parents often don’t give kids enough credit about separating make-believe from the real world; very rarely have I known kids to be actively deceived by fiction. “Only in books” has become a kind of catchphrase for him– “Do hippos go to the store?” I’ll ask him while looking at a silly picture. “Only in books,” he’ll respond.

Only in books or movies, only in the games we play or the thoughts we think. Pretend. 

And yet, as I listen to my little man making up little stories about little people enacting little dramas in their little Duplo house, I can’t help but think there’s something more significant going on. I caught myself the other day using a common phrase with him, explaining a piece of fantasy. “It’s just pretend.” Then I stopped myself. What do we mean when we say something is “just” pretend?

Obviously we mean, first and foremost, that it is not part of the real world: that it is born of the mind, something that exists only in thought. But that is no small thing, and certainly not to be trivialized too rapidly. As adults we regularly play through possible scenarios in our minds, crafting plans for who we would like to be and what we would like to do as well as horror-shows of potential failures. We act, based upon what we first imagine. The things we play at become reality as we make our choices. Millions of possibilities and impossibilities constantly parade before us. Pretend contains multitudes.

Of course, I am a fantasist so I am unashamedly biased on this subject, but how much more do we enter into this world of pretend through the stories we encounter? Fiction can be as trivial as a Bazooka Joe comic or as weighty as a novel by Dickens or Tolstoy. When we are able to invest ourselves in stories, they can make us laugh or move us to tears, they can anger us, inspire us, comfort us, and, yes, teach us. Starship famously built this city on rock and roll, but our collective culture, as well as our lives as individuals, are built on imagination. Make believe is a powerful thing, my friends. A mighty powerful thing. So why are we so quick to trivialize it, to shove it aside, to *ahem* pretend it’s just for kids? I suggest we stop.

If things are pretend, they are not reality. But pretending shapes how we understand reality and presents us with resources to meet it. The internal life is no less vital than the real world, simply because it doesn’t exist in physical space.

Macbeth, Paul Bunyon, Jo March, Frankenstein, Batman, Huck Finn, Winnie the Pooh, Scrooge, Hercules, Norman Bates, Elisabeth Bennett, King Midas, Princess Lea, and Bilbo Baggins– These characters and myriad others– heroic, cowardly, kind, and monstrous– are gloriously, wonderfully, majestically fictional. They live only in our brains, “only in books,” but that doesn’t make the impact they have on us any less real. They are Pretend with a capital P. Dragons are pretend, but because I want my son to learn to be brave in the real world, I encourage him to slay them, which he does, vigorously, swinging his toy sword around our empty living room. Fairies and vampires and space aliens and talking animals and ghosts and unicorns are pretend, sure, but they are not *just* pretend. In some hard-to-define way, as they take up residence in our imaginations, they become something more.

Nothing is *just* pretend. Let’s lose the ”just.” These things I have been describing are pretend. Full stop.

And that is a good and noble thing to be.

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Posted by on January 8, 2022 in Blog


2019—My Year In Books

Without going into a ton of detail here, 2019 was an unusually hard one for the Strnads. We’ve been very blessed by friends and family who have come alongside us through our struggles (God has indeed been very good to us, and sometimes hard times are a means to highlight His blessings), but as the year comes to a close I can’t help but utter a hearty “good riddance.” In the midst of it all, Goodreads tells me I read 58 books over the past year (counting all 20 original Goosebumps children’s novels as one big book), so, as usual, here is my commentary on some of the highlights.

BEST CLASSIC: Paradise Lost by John Milton

I am convinced that everything just sounds cooler when it’s uttered in iambic pentameter. Paradise Lost puts the “epic” in epic poem, and it is easy to see why this work became one of the lynchpins of Western literature, influencing generations of authors from every genre. Retelling the Biblical story of the creation and the fall of man, Milton presents readers with one amazing sequence after another (including a massive war in Heaven itself), making me wish for a full-scale, big-budget action movie that preserved the original language. Satan, under Milton’s pen, is perhaps the most memorable character as a silver tongued and utterly convincing villain, but others are given their due as well– Christ himself is portrayed as an epic warrior who, by his resurrection, “ruin[s] all my foes, Death last, and with his carcass glut the graves.” From a modern perspective, the book suffers from some mysogony (Eve is a hopeless ditz), and at times Milton seems more interested in telling a cool story than in communicating theological truth, but these are fairly minor quibbles to have with such a great book. Upon reading it, I can’t help but feel that he really did intend his masterpiece to be God honoring, as well as exciting. The result is nothing short of breathtaking.

BEST GENERAL NONFICTION: Toss-up Between Every Tool’s A Hammer by Adam Savage, Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams, and The Guide to Classic Graphic Adventures

Celebrity memoirs are a bit of a guilty pleasure for me– I read them without expecting any real literary merit, but if I like the work of a movie star or musician, sometimes reading their own words can give further insight or trivia into a piece of media I already like. When I picked up Every Tool’s A Hammer, I expected some goofy stories from the set of Mythbusters, and probably not a lot else– what I got was very different, and a very pleasant surprise. Although he does touch upon some of the things he did while working on the Discovery Channel show that made him a star, Adam Savage spends most of this book simply talking about the joy of making things, analyzing his own creative process and work style, and offering practical advice to other creatives. C.S. Lewis observed that “we read to know we are not alone,” and I found that wonderfully true in this case: where I expected to find a showbiz memoir, I instead found a kindred soul and a wealth of experience.

Best known for his goofy sci-fi comedy series, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams is one of my poster boys for droll British wit. In Last Chance to See, he turns his attention to a somewhat more serious topic, taking a trip to record encounters with endangered animals around the globe. The result is as heartfelt and funny as anything else he ever wrote, well worth digging into (although I did find his atheistic bias and his cynicism toward people of faith at times a bit overwhelming and annoying).

I also really enjoyed The Guide to Classic Graphic Adventures, a massive, 774 page tome from the good folks at I’m know I’m in a minority here, but I have a huge soft spot for the oft-maligned point-and-click adventure computer game genre that dominated PC gaming in the 1990s. To this day, I actively seek out games like this– enjoying both the rich storytelling and the complex logic puzzles they offer. This book offered history and amusing commentary on a number of games I’ve played, while directing my attention toward many more fascinating-sounding titles I’d never even heard of. I now have a running “to-play” list of old adventure games to get my hands on.

BEST SCI-FI: Toss-up Between Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein and Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

Much ink has been spilled about the alleged fascist political undertones of Heinlein’s classic of military science fiction, Starship Troopers. I’m not really equipped to comment one way or another on the subject. What I found, while reading it, for good or ill, was a unique and detailed insight into the mentality of a soldier– an apologetic for why one fights and for what one hopes to accomplish, a detail of fears and loves that may be universal to anyone who goes to war, regardless of the book’s futuristic set dressing. The best science fiction always provides insight into the human condition and, whether one ultimately agrees or disagrees with the views of the novel’s first-person protagonist, this one accomplishes that handily.

Like most kids of the 1990s, I have fond memories of Stephen Spielberg’s supremely entertaining film adaptation of Jurassic Park, but had never read the book till this year. It holds up, and actually probably surpasses the film in some ways, with the cautionary “don’t play god” theme coming through stronger than it does in the movie. I’ve read a handful of Crichton novels over the years, but this is the best I’ve encountered from him.

BEST CHRISTIAN LIVING: The Gospel Comes With a House Key by Rosaria Butterfield

In end-of-year lists like this, I often feature a category I call “Philosophy and Theology,” but such a label doesn’t really feel like it applies to this book. This isn’t an exploration of doctrine or thought which I would encourage my non-Christian friends to read and wrestle with; this is a book specifically written for the Church. In it, Butterfield (who has a pretty amazing life story) presents a case for what she calls “Christian Hospitality:” a messy, self-sacrificial, radical, open way of doing life together as a practical means of sharing Christ’s love among believers and unbelievers alike. The result is beautifully written, as well as deeply challenging. Much of the book, though, is descriptive, rather than prescriptive– she is a special lady and her life is very unique; I think the best way to read the book is not as instruction that every Christian conduct his or her life in a way that mirrors hers, but as a challenge to find ways to apply the principles and attitudes she discusses within the context of one’s own home.

BEST COMIC: Batman Inferno by Alexander C. Irvine

I’m kind of cheating with this one, because it’s not really a comic– it’s a straight-up prose novel. Also, I didn’t read it, but listened to the full-cast audio adaptation from Graphic Audio (slogan: “A movie… in your mind”). Regardless, it’s the best superhero story I encountered this year. I used to look down my nose a bit at guys who read nothing but serialized adventure novels, but I’ve reached a point where, when I am down or stressed, I want to read things that are comfortable and easy. Give me my Batman story, and leave me in peace, please. Recently, I picked up a little extra work with a house painting friend, and I listened to this one as I sanded and wiped baseboards. Plot-wise, although the story is fun, there’s nothing particularly special about Batman Inferno, but Irvine’s understanding of the characters is very solid. The real reason it makes it onto this list, though, is the production of the audio version. In particular, the acting for the Joker (channeling Mark Hamill’s iconic intonation) is spot-on, and became even more impressive when I realized (listening to the credits afterward) that the actor who provided the voice for the Clown Prince of Crime also voiced the Dark Knight himself!

Anyway, that wraps up this year’s list. Happy New Year, everyone. I wish you all the best as we swing into the roaring 2020’s.

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Posted by on December 30, 2019 in Blog


Here’s To The Strugglers

I don’t know who needs to hear this, but listen. This one is for you. Pull your chair closer. Sit up straight and pay attention.

You with me? Good.

It’s ok to struggle. It’s ok to feel weak, to be overwhelmed. It’s ok to look at the people around you, at stable adults with good jobs and clean homes and well-behaved children, and wonder just how they maintain such perfect lives. It’s ok to work your tail off and still have moments of self-doubt. It’s ok to be tired. It’s ok to try and fail and try again.

It’s ok to be honest– better than ok. It’s ok to let your mask slip, to let the cracks show on your carefully constructed outward persona.It’s a great thing to be humble, to be able to laugh at your own quirks, to give grace to others for theirs.It’s ok to be wrong sometimes, to learn to lose arguments with dignity or at least to recognize that you can’t always win. Sometimes the best you can hope for is a peaceful stalemate.

It’s ok to take honest pride in the things you are good at; false, sniveling self-depreciation is neither healthy nor wise. It’s ok to accept praise from others as well as criticism, and to maintain a healthy distance from both. It’s ok to ask for help from others when it comes to things you’re less good at. As U2 wisely pointed out, “sometimes you can’t make it on your own.”

It’s ok to feel incompetent and to press on anyway. It’s ok to ask hard questions, so long as you’re willing to wrestle with the equally hard answers when you come to them. It’s ok to be sad. It’s ok to be tired. It’s ok to be confused.

It’s ok.

I’m not the first to observe that our culture is one that’s very driven by external appearances. This is true for the high school kids I teach. It’s true for the adults I work with. “Fake it till you make it,” as the saying goes– and there’s certainly a degree of truth to that. We become what we aspire to be, and our choices ultimately define us. We put one foot in front of the other, and we keep going, confidently, boldly, into the future.

And yet, sometimes you can’t fake it. Sometimes you shouldn’t. That’s ok, too.

Fantasist Neil Gaiman summed this idea up nicely in his novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane: “I’m going to tell you something important. Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.”

Sometimes (as I am attempting in this blog post), honesty really is the best policy. Let your show of confidence drop, at least for a moment. Letting others see your struggle may give them the comfort and courage they need to get through theirs. Real recognize real, dontchaknow.

I’m teaching at a new school this year and, although it’s been a positive change in literally every possible aspect, I’m struggling with feeling overwhelmed. I have a new set of policies to learn, a new set of curricula to draw from, and new lesson plans to write. I have a new culture to find my place in, new kids whose trust I need to gain, new colleagues whose esteem I crave. I know, deep down, that I’m knowledgeable and well trained and experienced. I’m a professional, dash it all! I’m good at what I do– but today I’ve been struck so hard with crippling self-doubt (paradoxically worrying that I’m both too easy and too hard on my students) that it’s almost like a physical weight. Even knowing that the fact of my being hired wasn’t a fluke or an accident– I was selected because my employers believe I am a good fit for the job– I still worry from time to time that I’ve bit off more than I can chew.

That’s ok. It really is. Tomorrow I’ll be back on top of the world. We all go through difficult seasons. The struggle is not what defines us, ultimately– What we do with it is.

I know I’m not the only one. There are many people who feel like me. You might be one. You might need to hear this. Real recognize real. Take my hand. I’ll help you keep standing if you help me out. Together, we can do this. Put one foot in front of the other. One step at a time.

Fake it till you make it, baby. But don’t lose heart, because the rest of us are faking it too.


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Posted by on September 3, 2019 in Blog


My Fitness Journey: A Humble Beginning

A few months ago, my friend Cameron came up to me at church with a proposal.

“I want to train you. I’ll prepare a workout schedule, and you can come a few times a week to my dojo to use the weights. We’ll keep track of your progress from month to month– this will be a way for me to hone my skills and build my resume as a personal trainer, and a chance for you to get in shape. What do you say?”

A quick word on Cameron: He’s a bear of a man, broad and burly, with a thick, black beard. He looks like he could fit in quite comfortably swinging a scimitar as a bad guy in an Indiana Jones movie. He is an MMA expert, the owner and sensei of Tribe-K Martial Arts in North Fort Myers, and knows dozens of ways to cause pain and injury, if not death, in an opponent. He teaches self-defense and NRA handgun certification courses and, in short, would appear at first glance to be everything that I’m not– my complete opposite. On the flipside, though, he is soft-spoken and easy-going, earning a large portion of his living by running after-school clubs and summer camps for kids. He is a die-hard fan of both Star Wars and Pokemon. He and I share an affinity for puns and lame pop culture jokes as well as a love of theology and a desire to lead others to Jesus. He’s a good dude.

Now, I’ve never thought of myself as an athlete. I’m a (seemingly perpetual) student, an English teacher, and an indie science fiction author. Guys like me aren’t generally known for our impressive physicality. My brother, Kenny and I lifted weights some when we were in high school, but team sports never interested me; when he went out for football and became a star player, I was more interested in hanging out in my room, listening to music and drawing cartoons. I was fairly strong when I was working blue-collar jobs, hauling boxes of weed killer and loading trucks with lumber and concrete at Lowe’s, but I’ve never really loved working out. Over the past handful of years since becoming a teacher, I’ve been pretty sedentary. I also love good food. I have grown squishy.

So I said yes. For the past few months, I’ve been hitting the gym three times a week, lifting weights and running on the treadmill and drinking sludgy protein shakes. It’s painful and time-consuming and sometimes boring. Each time I go I wind up drenched in sweat. I’ve been sore and exhausted. It’s difficult– but somewhere I read that most worthwhile things are.

And somewhere along the way, exercise became fun. I don’t mean that I go skipping to the weight room, giggling with glee over the work before me, but there is real satisfaction in seeing progress. It’s cool to be able to lift more (significantly more) than I could when I first started just a few months ago. Rachel tells me I’m not snoring as bad as I used to. It’s nice to take my shirt off and look in the mirror; although I still rock a pretty serious dad-bod, I can see some slimming in the belly and definition in the muscles. My body fat percentage has dropped by 30% in the past few months. That’s huge. For the first time in years, I feel good about my body– not just indifferent, but actually good. Within a couple weeks, I should be able to run a twelve minute mile, which I know isn’t a big deal for a lot of you maniacs who go out for marathons and “fun runs” (an oxymoron if I ever heard one), but trust me– it’s a big deal for me. Having some accountability and motivation, not to mention advice from someone who knows what he’s talking about, has made all the difference for me.

It’s also been fun to learn some of the science behind exercise– a whole world of knowledge I had never encountered. I’ve pitched the idea of co-writing a book to Cameron– something along the lines of “The Geek’s Guide to Personal Fitness”– peppered with sarcasm and humor and practical tips in order to help demystify some of this stuff for guys like me who don’t generally think of themselves as being interested in athletic activity. I don’t know how big an audience such a book would have, but I think it would be fun to put together. I am living proof that being healthy is for everyone; if I can begin this journey, anyone can.

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Posted by on May 28, 2019 in Blog


2018—My Year In Books

As Yakko Warner stated before spinning the satirical Wheel of Morality at the end of many an Animaniacs episode, “It’s that time again.” The earth has concluded yet another trip around the sun, and I’m back to run through a few of my favorite books of the year. 2018 has been a whirlwind for me with several mountaintop highs (including the arrival of my first son, who has already doubled in weight since my most recent blog post) and a few deep, dark valleys—some of which I am still in the process of recovering from even as the year draws to a close. It has been a long year, my friends, and a busy one. Nevertheless, Goodreads tells me I completed 58 books (my goal was 50, which will be my goal for 2019). As always, here are a few of my favorites, listed by genre.

BEST HUMOR: The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones

An accomplished fantasist herself (most famous for Howl’s Moving Castle), Jones knew her way around the fantasy genre. In The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, written in the form of a travel guide, she provides readers with a tongue-in-cheek rundown of the genre’s most hoary tropes—equipment and armor, character archetypes, types of quests, sources of food, weather patterns, locations, magic systems, etc. Her loving parody—sharp but never cynical—highlights clichés without denigrating the stories that made them so popular. Whether one is a fan of Lord of the Rings or Skyrim, readers will find plenty of witty insight on the all-too-familiar elements of these types of stories.

BEST LITERARY FICTION: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

As an artifact and product of the early-sixties counterculture that birthed it, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest serves as the ultimate power-to-the-people underdog story. Rallied by the gumption and charisma of a self-proclaimed con man, the oppressed inmates of a mental asylum break free, not from their insanity, but from the bindings of a system designed to hold them as prisoners. The book is a bit crass, plagued by the sexism and profanity one expects to find in literary novels of its era, but the interactions between the mental patients are always a hoot, and the novel itself is loaded with interesting imagery, a fascinatingly flawed hero, an ironically mute narrator, and, in Nurse Ratched, a villain whose cultural significance has taken her far beyond the pages of this book.

BEST CHILDREN’S BOOK: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Sweet. Innocent. As profound as it is simple. This fantasy fable of the prince from a tiny planet and of the rose he loves serves as a great reminder to live in the moment, to learn from those around us, and to invest our time and energy into the things that matter most—relationships with those we love. I would have liked this book as a kid, but I think it meant more to me reading it as an adult.

BEST FANTASY: Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon

This is actually a contender for my favorite book of the year—which I’ll come to at the end of this list. It’s certainly the best novel I read in 2018. Perhaps it’s because of my own background, but I’m a sucker for novels set in the rural South, for luscious prose, and for tales that speak to a longing for what is often perceived as a simpler time. This is just such a novel—a coming of age story interspersed with jolts of magical realism including a sentient bicycle, a hot-rod driving ghost, a sea monster in the local river, a kid who can throw a baseball out of the earth’s gravitational pull, a retired old-west gunfighter, and a dinosaur in a traveling circus act, to name a few things. At the novel’s core is a murder mystery, but the focus is the story of a boy’s relationships with his father and his friends and the community around him. The fantastical elements peppered throughout serve to highlight the wonder of childhood, an age where magic and mystery seem to lurk around every corner before the mundanity of adult responsibilities dulls our sensibilities. McCammon was obviously influenced by Ray Bradbury (one of my all time favorite authors) while writing this, and it’s a fitting tribute, not only to Bradbury’s writing style but to childhood itself.

BEST HORROR: Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin

I saw the movie based on this story as a kid (although I knew my parents wouldn’t have approved), and it was pretty freaky. As an adult and as a writer of macabre sensibilities myself, I see the layers of irony and humor in the story; there’s something delightfully bizarre and blackly comic about the cute elderly couple next door who are the agents of ultimate evil. This novel that works on multiple levels: as a rollicking horror tale that digs beyond satanic panic, trapping its heroine in a mass conspiracy, as a feminist satire (to be held alongside Levin’s other famous work, The Stepford Wives), and as an exploration of the anxiety that accompanies pregnancy and becoming a new parent. Most interesting, though, from a literary standpoint, (and a great lesson for any author) is to look at this book as a masterwork of foreshadowing. Every significant plot point that occurs is broadcast earlier in the novel, and Levin displays nothing short of genius in his ability to set-em-up and knock-em-down, providing readers with one satisfying payoff after another.

BEST UNCATAGORIZABLE: The Supper of the Lamb by Robert Farrar Capon

My favorite book of 2018 is also the hardest to define. Subtitled “A Culinary Reflection,” The Supper of the Lamb is part memoir, part cook book (complete with recipes), and part theological treatise. Written by an Episcopal priest who clearly loves food, the book uses the topic of eating as a jumping-off point to explore topics as diverse as God’s extravagant goodness and grace, the joy of creativity, the meaning and value of hospitality, and the beauty that can be found in the ordinary stuff of life. It’s also loaded with practical cooking tips (I am a better chef simply by employing bits of Capon’s advice), and seasoned throughout with gentle humor reminiscent of the best of C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton. Absolutely delightful.

And with that, another year’s book rundown draws to a close. As always, feel free to let me know what books you enjoyed in the past year. Happy New Year, friends.

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Posted by on December 31, 2018 in Blog


And Baby Makes Three

I was at work when I got the phone call; I had just released my last class of the day and was settling in to my desk to complete some much-needed grading.

“Hey Rachel, what’s up?”

“Hey… I think my water just broke.”

How can I describe the rush of emotions? Excitement, of course, but also surprise, confusion, and a bit of fear. Our due date wasn’t meant to be for another month, after all. He still had some growing to do. We still had some work to get our house ready for a new baby. We hadn’t even packed an overnight bag the way all the books said to.

A cop followed me on the way home; he rode my tail all the way down Tamiami as if daring me to speed. It was all I could do not to just push the pedal to the floor, devil may care, and attempt to outrun him like Tommy Vercetti in Grand Theft Auto.

Rachel wasn’t in any pain, and seeing her helped calm my nerves. Together, with her seated on absorbent pads we’d thankfully had left over from our incontinent pet rabbit, we made the 50-minute drive to the hospital triage unit. Since the baby was breech, we would need an emergency caesarian section—but apparently not too much of an emergency. Rachel’s contractions were very mild and there was time for me, while Rachel was working through some of the preliminary paperwork, to make a run to Walgreens for some much needed canker-sore medicine and to the nextdoor Publix for a sub and a Coke. We arrived at the hospital at around 1:43, were told we would go in for surgery at 7:00, and actually went in at about 8:30. C’est la vie.

We were given a fair amount of scary worst-case-scenario talk about all the things that can go wrong in a c-section. The words hovered in the air like hydrogen blimps on the verge of exploding: infection … blood loss … remove the womb … We were told that our son might have underdeveloped lungs and be unable to breathe. I tried not to let it bother me. I know they’re required to let patients know this stuff in advance, in preparation should things take a turn for the worst. None of these things would happen to Rachel or our child. They wouldn’t. They couldn’t. Things like that only happen to other people … to women on daytime TV melodramas or to your mom’s friend’s sister’s baby. I willed my nervousness away. We prayed together. Over my clothes, I put on a paper suit—loose fitting shirt, MC Hammer pants, hair net, silly little booties. The doctors said it was time and took Rachel away for local anesthetic. Half an hour later they came and got me.

The operation itself went faster than I had expected—after the nurse anesthetist did his thing, the actual surgery was over in a matter of minutes. I held Rachel’s hand, anxious, as she winced and gasped and told me how weird it felt: “Tugging, but no pain,” as the surgeons said. I tried my best not to imagine them fiddling about wrist-deep in my wife’s guts.

After a tense few minutes, we heard the baby—our baby—cry. It was one of the best sounds I’ve ever heard. I immediately began to laugh. I couldn’t help it. I was overjoyed. That was my son, my little David. If he could cry, he could breathe. He would be ok.

The next moments were a delirious blur of activity. I kissed Rachel, then was whisked to an adjoining room that seemed no bigger than a closet. Doctors were wiping him with cloths, sucking fluid from his mouth and nostrils with a bulb syringe, squirting ointment into his eyes. I cut the umbilical cord with a pair of scissors, trying to take in his tiny hands, his smooth, pink skin, his angry little face. In a daze, I watched when they brought him over to meet his mom, dutifully snapped a picture when instructed, then followed the doctors down a series of corridors to the NICU unit.

Wee Davey was placed under a heat lamp, given an IV, and hooked up to machines that go “bing.” The nurses (who were great—equal parts compassion and professionalism) stuck him with what seemed like dozens of needles, trying to insert tubes into tiny veins to draw blood off and put other fluids in. To distract and calm him as they worked, I dipped a pacifier into sugar water—the newborn equivalent of a lollypop. They took his weight and measurements: five pounds, three ounces, seventeen inches. His breathing, heartrate, and body temperature were stable. His blood was sludgy thick and would not come easily when the nurses needed to draw it; it would need to be thinned out. He cried and wiggled and made soft chimpanzee noises, but mostly he slept.

I wasn’t allowed to hold him that first night—was barely allowed to touch him, except to comfort him when he was already awake. Sleep was the most vital thing for him at the moment, the nurses said, as he had a lot of development to catch up on, and I oughtn’t disturb him, except at specified “touch times” when he would be awakened to take care of all his medical needs at once. So instead I watched. I stood beside his little incubator-bed and stared at him, trying without success to read my or Rachel’s features in his little wizened face. I admit I cried a little. This was my son, after all. My firstborn. Flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone, and all that. It was—is—simply amazing.

When he cried, I kissed him and sang to him: rock and swing, hymns, nursery rhymes. In the midst of it all I thought of a song I hadn’t heard in years—perhaps not since my days as a middle-schooler racing round and round the disco-ball lit hardwood floor at Kate’s Skating Rink: Aerosmith’s power-ballad, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.” I know the song is about a guy singing to his wife or girlfriend or whatever, but it felt super-appropriate for our situation.

Don’t want to close my eyes
I don’t want to fall asleep
Cause I’d miss you, baby
And I don’t wanna miss a thing.

Cause even when I dream of you
The sweetest dream would never do
I’d still miss you, baby
And I don’t want to miss a thing.

I spent the night ostensibly on a cot in his room, but probably only slept about half an hour in total. Most of my time was spent either restlessly watching him, talking with the nurses, or running errands between his room in the children’s hospital and Rachel’s room in the main unit where she was recovering from surgery—It would be about twelve hours before she would be well enough to come see him—right after I was able to hold him for the first time.

God is gracious—so many things that could have gone wrong didn’t, and we are thankful for a healthy son. I have no doubt that little Davey, “from his mother’s womb untimely ripped,” will grow to do mighty things.

The staff here tell us that we can expect David to remain in the NICU unit for at least a couple of weeks—maybe all the way up through our due date at the end of October. Healthy as he is, he is yet small and fragile, being premature, and he’s going to need time and care to continue to develop properly. We’ve applied for a place at the Ronald McDonald house, which would make staying up here far more convenient—there’s only room for one parent to really sleep in David’s room with him. I’m going to need to go back to work soon (perhaps Monday, but we’ll see what the weekend holds), but I plan to spend every possible moment here with him.

Because I don’t want to miss a thing.

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Posted by on September 28, 2018 in Blog


Emptying Out the Junk Drawer

The problem with not blogging regularly (here we go with the metacommentary again) is that life continues to happen at the same rate as ever. As a result, events, experiences, challenges, and changes stack up alarmingly, growing fusty and gathering a thick layer of dust before actually making it online. At that point, a blog becomes little more than the equivalent of a “yearly summary of the Strnad family” Christmas newsletter—hardly the point of the thing. Thus, motivation to write for the blog wanes, and blog-worthy events continue to gather like assorted items jammed into the kitchen junk drawer, till the day one says “to heck with it,” and dumps all the contents on the table to sort through them. This is that blog post, I suppose. So it goes.

I’m headed back to school this week, with meetings and preparation before the kids arrive for their first day on Friday. Last year (2017-2018) was the best year I’ve had as a teacher, leading a film class as well as taking over AP Literature at my school. This year will likely be a little rougher, though—our school is under a new administrative team and, as the new principal is dealing with a shortage of English teachers, I’ve lost those electives. I’m disappointed (especially since I just spent a week this summer in training with the College Board AP Literature test), but have confidence of building back up the program and bringing back AP classes next year. In the meantime, I’m taking over teaching Yearbook, which ought to be fun and hectic in equal measure. It’ll help scratch my creative itch, but the scheduling involved intimidates me. Fortunately, I have several colleagues who have waded the yearbook waters before me who will be invaluable as guides.

I had intended to hammer hard on my next novel (a yet-untitled urban fantasy) this summer, but wound up diverted into short story territory instead. I’ve gotten a few pretty good ones written (if I do say so myself), and am seeking homes for them now. I’m also considering the possibility of putting together a short fiction collection—something with a Ray Bradburyesque frame story that would tie it together. I’m told that short fiction anthologies often don’t sell as well as novels (and my experience with Silent Screams seems to confirm that), but Bradbury’s trick in books like The Illustrated Man (my all-time favorite short fiction collection) and The Martian Chronicles was to add simple frame stories and call them novels. It’s business. It’s psychology. It’s sales. But if it worked for Bradbury, maybe I can make it work for me.

Similarly on the writing front, I’m gearing up to rerelease Pantheon under the Serpent and Dove label. Since Musa went out of business, Pantheon hasn’t been available online, so I’m excited to get it back out there. The rerelease involves some polish all around—a fresh edit and some brand-new pulp-inspired cover art from the mighty Emory Watts (who did all the artwork for Silent Screams). It’s been a long time coming, but I’m very excited. Here’s a rough sketch to give you an idea for what the cover is going to look like:

Cool, huh?

The church Rachel and I attended for the past several years dissolved recently when our pastor retired. The split was amicable and peaceful (praise God), but we spent several months back in church-hunting mode. We recently found one in the area to call home (praise God), with solid, Biblical teaching and a genuine sense of community and fellowship. We are blessed.

Speaking of blessings, we are expecting our first child! Rachel is due on October 30th (although I’m pushing for a Halloween baby). October is going to be a crazy month—I am in a friend’s wedding in North Carolina, I am scheduled as a guest at NecronomiCon, and our baby is due sometime around there. Add in normal life with work and such (and the added pressure of yearbook deadlines) and I’m sure I’ll be spinning like a top. So far, though, both Mom and Baby are healthy. We are extremely excited to be parents.

What else… What else?

We’ve done a fair amount of traveling and visiting this summer—visiting family in North Carolina, having family come here (as I write this, several of Rachel’s cousins from Washington State are hanging out with us for the week).

I’ve been to a few sci-fi conventions. I have a few more lined up. I’ve gotten to a point, though, where that feels fairly normal and not particularly newsworthy…

I started a YouTube channel where I review free computer games. Here’s a link, if you’re interested.

I’ve gotten really into making home-made ice cream over the past several years, but only recently leveled-up my skills to the point that I can craft my own flavors without a recipe. So far my best successes have been red-hot cinnamon flavored, and amaretto with toffee bits (currently in my freezer).

I’ve also recently enjoyed repainting and customizing toy guns to make them all brassy and steampunky. Probably I’ll begin bringing them to conventions to sell them off along with my books, as I really don’t have room to store them, but really enjoy the painting and crafting process.

I suppose that’ll do for now. I think I’ll hop on here sometime in the nearer future (hopefully) to blather at length about my hobbies—each of which could easily make a full blog post. Or maybe I won’t. I’m mysterious like that.

Until next time… whenever that may be,

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Posted by on August 5, 2018 in Blog