Author Archives: Josh

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.

Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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 gentle, 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.

Leave a comment

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.

Leave a comment

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.

1 Comment

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,

1 Comment

Posted by on August 5, 2018 in Blog


2017—My Year In Books

For me, New Years is always a time for reflection and thought—a time for me to remember the past year’s struggles and triumphs and to look ahead to dreams and goals for the future. I’m not big on New Years Resolutions (as one really has no idea what new challenges or opportunities tomorrow will bring), but for the past few years I’ve been able to meet a general goal of reading on average one book a week—sixty-five in total this year. They (whoever “they” are) say that great authors are first and foremost great readers, and although I make no pretentions to greatness in either category, isn’t that the standard to shoot for?

That said, here are a few of the notable books I’ve read over the past 365 days, with a few words on what I appreciated about them. As usual, I’ll break them into rough categories.

BEST GENERAL NONFICTION: Republocrat by Carl R. Trueman

Confession: I kind of hate politics. This isn’t to say I don’t have political opinions, but rather that I have a general distrust of most of the government and little patience for the social media name-calling that stands in the place of debate these days. I often joke that I’m just conservative enough to piss off my liberal friends, and just liberal enough to piss off my conservative friends, being sure to alienate and enrage everybody. In that sense, Trueman feels like a kindred spirit, and Republocrat like a breath of fresh air. For anyone dissatisfied with the state of American political discourse, this book can help make one make a little sense of the madness.

BEST SCI-FI: Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke

I now know why Clarke is hailed as one of the all-time greatest science fiction authors. Childhood’s End is an alien invasion story with a twist… then another twist… then another twist. By the time I reached the end of the book, my jaw was on the floor. No spoilers. If you trust my opinion at all, read this book. It is fantastic, in every sense of the word.

BEST COMIC: The Superior Spider-Man by Dan Slott

The three-volume collection of Superior Spider-Man is a tour de force that ranks up with some of the best Marvel stories I’ve read. After swapping brains with Peter Parker (resulting in the death of the former spidey), Otto Octavius determines that he will take over Parker’s role as protector of the city—his own way. The resulting story of supervillain-turned-superhero involves lots of good character moments, as well as plenty of action, ranging from the Green Goblin’s dealings in the criminal underworld to time-traveling dimension-hopping madness. It’s a total hoot.

BEST HORROR: Toss-up between It by Stephen King and What the Hell Did I Just Read by David Wong

With the success of the recent movie, I suspect It wound up on a lot of people’s reading lists, but (cue hipster impersonation) I’d like to say once and for all that I began the novel before I even knew there would be a movie (starting it in 2016 and finishing it in January). Regardless of whether people are bandwagoning or not, though, this novel deserves the attention. Although the final scene of the book (which I hear was cut from the film version) was a huge disappointment, the rest of the book was a delight. King is known for his slobbering, sharp-toothed monsters, but I find he shines most in his quieter moments of character interaction. The real heart of It resides in a gentle nostalgia for the ups and downs of childhood, and a delight in the power of friendship.

As a contrast, David Wong’s gleefully immature take on the genre never fails to entertain me. What the Hell Did I Just Read is the third (and maybe best) addition to Wong’s successful John Dies at The End series, in which he blends absurd, outrageous humor with scenes of gut-wrenching terror. Imagine HP Lovecraft as a thirteen-year-old boy who has watched too many Saturday morning cartoons, and you’ll have a fairly good idea of Wong’s style. If you can tolerate the middle-school-level vulgarity, there is plenty of mind-bending fun to be found here.

BEST THEOLOGY: The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer

The Knowledge of the Holy is a slim, unassuming little book, but it is both dense in its content and profound in its implications. Contemplating on the attributes of God, Tozer manages to say more in two or three pages than many authors say in their entire books, and I found myself needing frequent pauses while reading in order to properly digest the ideas on the pages. It’s good, rich, meaty stuff, but rather than being a mere intellectual exercise, Tozer uses the scholarly aspects to direct the readers’ hearts to worship the amazing, incomprehensible, marvelous God who has revealed Himself in creation, in the holy Scriptures, and in the person of Jesus Christ.

BEST CHILDREN’S BOOK: The Brave Little Toaster by Thomas M. Disch

I grew up on the movie The Brave Little Toaster, and it remains one of my favorite animated films. It wasn’t until this year that I learned it was initially based on a book—and immediately tracked down an audio version someone recorded online. The story wasn’t initially intended for children, serialized in Fantasy and Science Fiction, but no matter—this is a children’s classic on par and sharing its tone with Milne’s Whinnie the Pooh books. Although the movie is manic fun, the book’s humor is a bit softer, gentler, and more poignant. It’s sweet and innocent, a story I loved as an adult and intend to share with my own children one day.

So there you have it. What books did you love this past year? I’m always on the lookout for recommendations.

So long, 2017. Hello, 2018. Let’s make it a good one, friends.

Leave a comment

Posted by on December 30, 2017 in Blog


Impostor Syndrome

Here’s the good news: I am a guest author at not one, but two different science fiction conventions this October, SWFL Writer’s Showcase and NecronomiCon. Here’s the bad news: I don’t feel like an author.

There’s a tendency for artists and creators to get in a kind of funk when they haven’t been producing much. Legitimately or not, we often think of ourselves only as good as our most recent work output—I may have edited a pretty great book last year (check out Silent Screams if you haven’t yet), but… well… I haven’t had a story published in a while. Even worse, more and more when I sit down to write, I’ve been having trouble solidifying my imagination into words and getting them onto paper. I have some killer ideas for my next novel, and some fun short fiction concepts rattling around the brain-box, but haven’t had anything to share with my writing critique group for the past month or so.

Here’s where self-doubt comes in—the nagging thought that maybe I just suck at this and my previous successes were flukes. This is compounded by things like being a guest at conventions. Who the heck am I to sit on panels next to way more successful and famous people and give others writing advice?

In Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” Lumiere laments that “life is so unnerving for a servant who’s not serving.” I second that emotion. When I’m not actively producing, I feel… well, less somehow. There’s a weird sort of guilt, like I’m wasting time and not living up to my potential. We like to put ourselves into boxes and categorize ourselves with neat definitions. I am a painter, so I paint. I am an athlete, so I compete. I am an intellectual, so I debate.

I am an author, so I write.

I think, therefore, I am.

But what of the painter who can do no more than doodle swirly lines on her canvas? What of the athlete who, through a tragic accident, winds up confined to a wheelchair? What of the intellectual who struggles with bouts of depression or crippling headaches?

Am I still an author when I’m hitting the writer’s block wall or when I’d rather crank up Steam than my word processor? Am I still a Christian when my devotional life tanks and my prayers are empty parrot-talk? Am I still a teacher when, despite my best intentions, I don’t communicate what I want my students to learn?

Of course, the answer to all three of these is yes. Failure is a normal part of life. That doesn’t mean I quit trying, but it does mean that I can cut myself a little slack when things aren’t going so well. The fact that I’m concerned about the times I’m not doing so well helps prove that my heart is in the right place, and that I will eventually wind up back on top. The struggle isn’t what defines me, but what I do through it.

God’s grace is bigger than my sin. He will see me through, because it’s in His nature. It’s what He does.

My imagination is bigger than my writer’s block, and one day, soon, the stories will flow again. It’s in my nature. It’s what I do.

I am an author, so I write.


And sometimes, that’s good enough.

Leave a comment

Posted by on October 3, 2017 in Blog


Done, Done, On to the Next One

Today marks a milestone. I completed the final illustration for my children’s picture book. As I glued the last piece in place, sitting back to examine my work, I experienced a quiet glow of satisfaction. No fanfare blew, no confetti fell from the ceiling (although the floor around me was, as usual, already covered with tiny scraps of paper), and so far I have yet to receive any unsolicited calls from publishers desperate to make me a superstar. Still, it feels good just to be done with the thing. I began working on this book a full eight years ago, and it’s been a labor of love (as all art worth making must be).

The story, a simple fable about anthropomorphized talking tools, is a personal one to me, born out of a period of frustration and longing and loneliness, written with a deep sense of having been made for a purpose and a hope in things yet unseen. I’ve always been of the opinion that a story’s genre and style should, as well as possible, match the author’s message. Sometimes children’s stories say best what’s to be said.

Shortly after writing its initial draft and sketching the characters, I became interested in collage art—using scraps of old magazines to create new images. Upon encouragement from friends and family, I used this method to create the illustrations, poster-sized to maintain the level of detail I wanted each picture to have.

Looking back, I wish I’d kept a tally of how many magazines I’ve destroyed to make these illustrations, as well as how many glue sticks I’ve gone through. My estimate is that I’ve harvested colors from easily thousands of magazines, and worn at least a few hundred glue sticks down to the plastics. A conservative guess is that about 600 hours went into the collages (15 in total at about 40 hours apiece). This time was spread over nearly a decade; while my picture book waited in the background, I put out two books for adults and spent three years in grad school (during which I barely touched any other projects).

“So what are you going to do now that you’re finished?” my wife asked. I almost laughed. “You forget you’re married to the man with 1000 hobbies,” I told her. Art and writing are, for me, like the hydra: cut off one head and two more grow to take its place.

First things first: the actual story text some serious overhaul. Needless to say, I’ve grown a lot as a writer in the past ten years, and I think that some trimming and sanding and polishing are in order before this thing is ready for prime time.

I also need to learn all I can about children’s publishing. All my previous experience is in writing for adults—sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. Picture books are a whole different animal.

And, of course, there’s my other writing to attend to—more short fiction, and the ever-looming “second novel.” In the immortal words of Semisonic, “Every new beginning starts with some other beginning’s end.”

Who knows? Given the speed this project has moved at thus far, maybe I’ll be able to get this thing published and into a form people can actually read within another ten years.


Posted by on June 30, 2017 in Blog


The Girl

Last time I had seen her, she was in middle school. Her sister and I were high school friends (same graduating class). As kids we had all gone to church and played together (I have especially fond memories of putting on puppet shows with a portable stage) but, as life has a way of sending people different directions, we hadn’t seen each other or spoken in about fifteen years.

In hindsight, it seems inevitable that when we met for the second time, it would be at the library. The library in my hometown is about the size of an average McDonalds. Although the town itself has grown considerably over the past 20 years, the library has remained in the same building it’s always occupied. Since I was there about once a week, it was inevitable that the librarians would know me. They make it a habit to greet their frequent fliers by name. It’s a bit like Cheers that way.

I was hanging out at my parents’ house for the summer vacation (one of the few real perks of being a teacher), looking for a new job, hoping for a change. Jonesing for a comic book, I swung by the library. I hadn’t been there in about a year (since I’d been living an another town), and was surprised to see this beautiful young lady– a woman I had known as a girl long ago, standing behind the counter.

Last time I had seen her, she’d been a skinny kid in a baggy rock-and-roll tee shirt. Now she was grown up, working as a librarian, and… well… cute. After a hug and the initial “long time no see” banter, I asked her what she was up to these days.

“I’m finishing up my master’s degree right now. I’m studying theology and creative writing.”

“That’s cool,” I said, trying to sound casual. “What kind of stuff do you like to write?”

She smiled. “Mostly science fiction.”

Be still, my heart.

We exchanged information, me awkwardly telling her that if she ever wanted to get together and *ahem* talk about writing some time, I’d be happy to hang out.

Then I took my books and left. That, I figured, was that. She was pretty, but what of it? Lots of girls are pretty. After all, I would not likely be in town long.The new school year was rapidly approaching, and I still had no idea where I would be teaching.

Little did I know our paths would cross again a few nights later. I was over at a friend’s home for supper and board games when she walked in. I’d had no idea she would be there. That evening, as we sat around eating Mexican food and playing Takinoko, I was more and more impressed– she was smart and funny and full of life.

As there were others who were interested in writing, we planned to meet that Sunday evening for a writers’ group. We did. It was nice, but fairly uneventful.

Later that week I was offered a job near my grandparents in South Florida. The school year was about to begin, so, without even time for a proper goodbye, I dropped a ninja smoke bomb in North Carolina and raced down to prepare my classroom and curriculum.

And that, I figured, was that.

…Which just goes to show how little I knew. That fall, I was beginning to gather stories for Silent Screams, and she was interested in contributing one. We spoke on the phone several times, then on Skype, initially to brainstorm and swap ideas but more and more just to talk. Our conversations would extend for hours.

When I was home for Christmas break, I knew I would regret it if I didn’t take the chance to ask her out. That first date, on a cold, gray day, we sat and talked over sushi and frozen yogurt for about five hours. My family made fun of me when I got home, but I didn’t care. There weren’t a lot of fireworks, no flashes of heady passion (those would come later). It was just nice to be with her, to hear her thoughts, to enjoy her company.

When I returned to Florida, we kept up contact over email and Skype; very soon we were speaking almost every night. It didn’t take long before I was head over heels in love. When I was about to go home for spring break, my grandmother jokingly asked if I planned to propose.

“Don’t be silly,” I told her. “We’ve only been dating for about three months. That’s not going to happen. That’s too fast. Normal, sane people don’t do that.”

…Which just goes to show how little I knew.

Seeing her again was better than wonderful. Where there weren’t fireworks before, this time I had enough to fill Crazy Ed’s Roadside Bargain Warehouse.

Halfway through the week, we had a conversation that began with “How do you think all this is going?” and ended with “I guess we should get married, then.” I was completely unprepared; I hadn’t even purchased a ring. I kissed her. I had no idea it was possible to be so happy.

Three months later, only about one year after that initial encounter at the library, we said our vows at the front of a full church. She wore white. I wore a suit. There was music and laughter and cake.

She is asleep in the other room as I type this.

At the risk of being redundant, I had no idea it was possible to be so happy.

Leave a comment

Posted by on March 11, 2017 in Blog