Thursday, September 11, 2014

My Jury Duty

Douglas McRae, accused of assault with a deadly
weapon, shortly after his arrest.
I thought I should briefly interrupt the flow of my usual blogging to talk a bit about something that has interrupted the flow of my life this week: jury duty.

Yes, about a month ago I received the dreaded "jury duty: you are required to appear" notice in the mail. This is my second jury duty experience since we've lived in the Pacific Northwest (more than 18 years now). Both experiences were similar.

By the way, many of my fellow jurors were responding to their fifth or sixth summons! So, I guess I should be grateful for only two.

Lots of folks advised me to try and do everything I could to get out of it. But, not being one to shirk my civic responsibility, I thought I'd go with it. So I reported as advised to the Superior Courthouse in downtown Tacoma. The first thing I remembered, which I had forgotten after my first experience, is that parking is next to impossible unless you are way early. Which I am never. This is because they have fewer than 130 parking spaces designated for what seemed to me to be at least 250 jurors. Which I suppose is why they urge everyone to use public transportation. (Of course taking the bus means you have to leave for Tacoma from here at least an hour earlier. And I would still have to fight Puyallup traffic to drive to the bus stop.)

The jury assembly room was crammed full that first morning, of course — standing room only as we watched the requisite orientation video. Then came the highlight of the experience, our jury administrator, Connie Janiga. Standing in front of a room full of harassed and helpless citizens wouldn't be my idea of fun, but she made it fun. She communicated clearly, told jokes, and overall was a shining star for the next three days of otherwise utter civic boredom.

She admitted up front that the juror experience was one of "hurry up and wait." This I remembered from my first go-round. It took two or three days to be assigned to a court case, which was some guy accused of selling drugs who had made the (in my opinion highly unwise, but I'm sure he's had lots of time to reflect on this, sitting in his jail cell) decision to represent himself in court. So he, along with the prosecuting attorney, grilled all the prospective jurors. He dismissed me when I think he surmised from my answers to his questions that I disapproved of illegal drugs.

That was it. Three days of hurry up and wait for that one shining moment.

My experience this time was similar, but instead I was assigned, on the very first afternoon, to what sounded like a very interesting case. I can talk about it now that I have been summarily dismissed (again). You can read all about it here. The 59-year-old defendant, a man named Douglas McRae, was charged with first- and second-degree assault after shooting his rifle at a group of female custodians at a middle school near his home. Thankfully no one was injured, but after the shooting McRae was taken into custody by local sheriff's officers at gunpoint. McRae's excuse for the late-night shooting was complicated, but the following statement he made to police showed why the trial will surely be an interesting one:
"The defendant claimed he had arrived home to find a man and a woman leaving his house, carrying his guns, and he fired warning shots. Later, the defendant said a naked woman came to his door and, because of the cold, he had no choice but to let her in. He said he believed she had something to do with the robbery."
Police seized "large amounts of ammunition and muiltiple weapons" in a search of McRae's house. The Sheriff wondered whether mental illness, or alcohol, or drugs, might have played a role. (Or perhaps all three?)

There were 45 of us in the jury pool, and 14 spaces in the jury. Unfortunately I was juror #42. All 14 jurors were selected from among the first 28 numbers, so I don't think they ever even got to considering us poor suckers sitting in the back two rows. Nevertheless, over the course of two days during the jury selection process, each of us had extensive opportunity to answer attorneys' questions about our views of guns, self-defense, stand-your-ground, etc.

I'm guessing I said quite a bit which could probably offend both sides.

Although I'd guess that probably wasn't why I was dismissed. In addition, I wondered if the fact that my wife is a school district employee was the final nail in my coffin.

So anyway, I was dismissed at the end of the morning of my second day of grilling. I got in one afternoon of work, then had to report again on the morning of my third day for possible reassignment. After sitting all morning in the jury administration room, enjoying Ms. Janiga's banter, those of us who remained (about half had been reassigned) were then dismissed for the day. While we were told to check in each night for a possible assignment, Ms. Janiga assured us with a smile that there was a "diminishing likelihood" that we would be called back in again.

So, that was it. Three days later, I'm probably not a whole lot wiser, but I am $70 richer (they pay $10 a day for your trouble, plus mileage). Of course the check is in the mail.

But, it was a nice break from my usual day in and day out responsibilities of saving the world. And, I got an approving nod from Mr. McRae when I revealed (under oath) that carrying a concealed pistol while biking (yes, I have a permit) gave me a sense of confidence that has proven useful against potential muggers.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Fountains of the Deep

A new / old chapter of my life is about to commence!

That may sound like a strange statement, so let me explain a bit. When I was in my 20's, I was convinced I was going to be the next great American novelist. My hugely overdeveloped sense of optimism (I was going to say "hubris") came in part from just having won a national writing award from the Evangelical Press Association. In 1981, the year I graduated from college, I won the EPA's "Best Personality Feature" of the year award for an article I wrote about mountainclimber Tobin Sorenson (a personal friend, who was killed in a fall the prior year) in Campus Crusade for Christ's "Athletes in Action" magazine.

It was the first EPA award that magazine had ever won, so they were quite excited, as was I. (If the name of the magazine sounds unfamiliar, it's because they themselves are now somewhat deceased. And "Campus Crusade for Christ" has now changed it's name to "Cru." Life goes on.)

So I graduated from college and entered my first full year of professional life with all sorts of exciting notions of glory. I spent the next five years planning, writing, and rewriting the Great American Novel, which I titled Fountains of the Deep, and then attempting to sell it to some unsuspecting publisher.

If you haven't guessed by now, I found no takers. While I received very positive feedback from some publishers, and those friends and family I asked to read my masterpiece (unbiased folks such as my wife Darlene) said they loved it, what I had to show for my effort was little other than a growing stack of very polite rejection letters (the novel "didn't quite fit the profile of what they were hoping to publish this year," but of course they wished me the best of luck). and a growing sense of wounded pride.

Eventually I relegated Fountains to a desk drawer where it gathered about 30 years' worth of dust.

Fast forward to 2014, the digital age when printed newspapers are dying left and right, and traditional book publishers are struggling. I was having an elevator conversation with a colleague at World Vision one day, earlier this year, and told him about my novel and my unsuccessful attempts to get it published.

"Do you think it's any good?" he asked.

"I'm not the most unbiased observer," I assured him, as if that was something he could have never figured out on his own. "But, as an avid fiction reader, I do think it's something I myself would really enjoy reading. If I hadn't proofread it 14 times already."

He didn't laugh. "Why don't you publish it on Amazon Kindle, then?" he suggested. "Everyone is doing that nowadays. You are a social media adept, and you could certainly market it online. Price it right and I have no doubt you would find a lot of people who were interested in reading it. If you get a few positive reviews, you're all set. Better than letting it gather dust in your drawer for another 30 years. I'm assuming you put a lot of work into it, and would like to see someone enjoying the fruits of your labor?"

Indeed I did. And that I would.

So, I took his advice to heart. I read a book (available for free on Kindle) about how to publish your book on Amazon Kindle. And it is surprisingly easy. But one thing I realized I needed to do first was get it illustrated.

Enter my niece, Lauren, who is a brilliant and talented artist, along with her husband Josh. (When I was in my 20s, I had tried to find an illustrator, But the guy I wanted to do it was Jewish, and after reading my book, he rejected me in no uncertain terms. (Apparently he disagreed with my interpretation of the Ark as a type of Christ!) And after that I kind of gave up.

I realize now that this, as with many other "death of a dream" experiences in my life, may simply be a matter of waiting for God's perfect timing. If I had found a publisher for Fountains when I was a young man, Lord knows how badly that might have gone to my head!

Anyway, why am I telling you all this in my blog? Well, for one thing, it's something I'm excited about right now, and am eager to share with you. I would also like to see if there is any enthusiasm or interest our there for what I have to offer.

So, what I plan to do with some of my upcoming blog posts is to present excerpts from various portions of Fountains of the Deep. Once the illustration is completed, and it's successfully uploaded to Amazon Kindle, I will share the link so that if you are interested in reading more, you (hopefully) won't be completely frustrated.

Enough for now. So stay tuned for the first excerpt!