Sunday, November 1, 2015

Dia de Muertos

In the late 80's and early 90's, I lived in a lovely little one bedroom flat in San Francisco's Mission District. This is where I first experienced Dia de Muertos (aka Dia de los Muertos).

I instantly embraced the idea is honoring and connecting with our loved ones who've gone ahead—keeping their memory alive by sprucing up their grave (if they have one), cheering them on in their spiritual journey, and inviting them to visit us on the night of November 1st by enticing them with their favorite earthly delights.

More than anything, I love the idea of reaching across the great divide between living and dead, and doing so with joy and whimsey over the deep sorrow that our loved ones are no longer here with us. It's also the main reason I was drawn to and still make Cartoneria (Mexican paper mache).

In Mexico, November 1st is the day to tidy up loved one's graves, bring bright flowers (real and paper) and spend time in the graveyard. People bring food, meaningful objects, and music that will perhaps draw their loved ones back to be among them throughout the night. Many spend the entire night in the graveyard, playing music, eating, and drinking. Dia de Muetos is a national holiday in Mexico so there's also plenty of public celebrations, parades, and festivals.

Dia de Muertos was once limited to Central and Southern Mexico and was celebrated in summer. It dates back many hundreds of years. The date of this celebration was eventually moved to coincide with All Saint's Day and All Soul's Day (an effort by the Roman Catholic Church to dilute traditional  Dia de Muertos rituals and celebrations). The Church deemed it too primitive, too pagan, and it certainly didn't generate any money for the church.

Ofrendes (altars) are a beautiful and healing part of the Dia de Muertos celebration. For years I've built small altars in my home. Here is this year's ofrenda.

I won't try to explain everything that's going on here—just know that Day of the Dead altars are very personal and healing. My dad crossed over on June 4th of this year, so of course, he is the primary focus of this ofrenda. Kettle corn, a cigar, a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and one of his fishing lures have been placed here for him. And of course, lots of pics that capture his spirit.

There are many other people and pets represented and "invited" with this ofrenda. A small glass of Pinot for my sister-in-law, Sandy. White roses for our friend Debbie who left us just a couple months ago. A Tarot card for my dear friend, Miriam. At the bottom, the traditional bright marigolds (flores para los muertos). You know this celebration has spread far when Trader Joe's has "Flores para los Muertos" and they're marked as such.

I decided a more condensed altar was the way to go this year and came up with this two-story Ofrenda. The candles will burn all night tonight but I have to work in the morning, so won't be staying up all night to party with the spirits who no longer have to punch the clock. But I will have a beer with my dad tonight.

Mom and I visited his grave on Friday and brought some beautiful fall flowers. It's a military cemetery so you can't go too crazy with extras, though I did see someone had left their loved one a little pumpkin and wish I'd thought to bring one.

Blessings on you and all your loved ones who have crossed over. Their spirits have left their mark on this side. May their memory bring you comfort today and every day.  

My dad was an amazing free spirit, who is even free-er now. We miss him terribly, but have no doubt he is rockin' the great beyond and still making everyone laugh. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Crossings; with and without goodbye.

Where the hell have I been? Off the social media grid that's for sure, entrenched in real life.

At the end of May, my sweet dad fell ill and passed away a short time later. Ed was 90 and lived a very full life. Still, I can't help but wish for one more family gathering, one more backyard barbecue, one more time to clink my glass to his and hear him say, "Slainte."

When you’re the writer in the family, it’s clear you’ll be writing the obituary, memorial card, and eulogy of any family member who crosses over. Honoring a life in words is my final gift to them. Hopefully, I capture their spirit, do them justice, make them proud.

To say my dad was a character is an understatement. People were drawn to him because he was always upbeat and funny. Nearly 100 people turned out for his Celebration of Life gathering, not bad for someone who outlived many of his contemporaries.

When it became clear there was nothing more doctors could do and our beloved Fast Eddie was leaving us (dying of a rare disorder called Heyde's Syndrome related to his aortic stenosis) we decided to switch him to palliative care. 

Regardless of knowing a person’s ultimate wishes, it’s still a difficult decision to make on someone else’s behalf. But once they put dad on a morphine drip, there was no more agitation, no more pain, no more confusion. We all got to spend time with him, gathered around him in a beautiful suite looking out over the Diablo Valley, the place he and my mom made a home for us some 48 years ago. He knew we were there and could squeeze a hand though he was drifting between two worlds.

Still, my dad hung on longer than we anticipated considering how very done his body was. But Ed comes from pioneer stock and regardless of the circumstance, they just stoically keep going. At a certain point when it seemed he was determined to hang on regardless, I switched from telling him it was okay to go, that we would take care of mom, to sending him on a mission.

Camping, backpacking, and fishing had been a big part of my dad's life. So I told him he had to go ahead and make camp for us on the other side and we'd be along shortly.  Told him we wanted a spot near the water with lots of trees. That when each of us came through the woods into the clearing of our camp, we wanted to see him there in his camp chair—a fishing pole in his hand, drinking a beer and smoking a stogie—our dog, Inky, by his side.

I told him his folks had already set up camp there, along with plenty of friends and cousins so he'd better get going, 'cause we wanted a good spot and he needed to have the beer cold when we got there. I assured him everything on his life list had been checked off but he had one last chore: to get the hell outta that tired old body that wasn't him anymore and run like the wind.

Fast Eddie got busy and started leaving in earnest that afternoon. Later, as my brother, Terry, was holding his hand, dad's breathing shifted and we knew he was ready. It was a good crossing.

As sad and difficult as it was to lose a beloved parent, we all got to say goodbye, tell him how much we love him and what a great dad he'd been.

Just a few days ago, as Tom and I were sitting down to dinner, we got the call that a dear friend had passed away in her sleep early that morning. It was a devastating stab to the heart. Debbie was our neighbor, our loyal friend, our council, the unsung rescuer of so many stray souls, human and animal alike.

My dad had a good long life. We got to say goodbye and send him on his way with blessings. It's amazing what a difference that makes. I only wish we'd had the same opportunity with Debbie. So much left unsaid.

So there you have it; why my blog is more neglected than usual. Where my heart and soul have been, and where I continue to linger for now. 


I began this post on a long flight from SFO to Heathrow—"Crossing the Pond" as they say. I was fortunate enough to be able to meet Tom in the UK. He was out on tour with Y&T and had a week off in London. Disconnecting from life and work at home to wander about London and the Wales' countryside for a while was healing.

I’ll be back to social media after a bit, though I suspect in a more limited fashion. I just got clocked by a couple solid life blows that put me on the mat. But I’ll be up before the count of 10 and back in the ring slugging it out as a self-published author. I’ve got more stories and more fight left in me. My dad didn’t raise no quitter.

Until we connect again—make time to be with family and friends, say I love you, be kind to one other. No regrets. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Frankenstein's Monster Defends Doctor Frankenstein

Two sides of an issue that remains divisive. Regardless of which side of this debate you fall, I think it's important to be respectful.

Girls at Isleta Day School, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1940.
I believe we each achieved that here—though one of us was a bit more long-winded. That would be me, of course.

Hello Kelan,

I have just noticed that you produced your book Delta Legend through Createspace, which unfortunately makes it something of a problem for us to carry at our store.  Createspace is a subsidiary of, a company whose business practices have been very harmful to independent book stores such as ---------.  So we can't in good conscience carry their publications in our stores.  That's the case both for books that are self-published through Createspace, as well as other titles Amazon publishes through major publishers such as Houghton Mifflin (Penny Marshall's autobiography is an example of such a book that we declined to carry at any of our stores).  We can sell your title at the event.  That would be okay.  So while I can take Delta Legend on consignment, it will only be for the night of the event. You can either bring them the night of the event or, if you still want, you can bring them by early.  I'll leave a consignment form for you.  But unfortunately, we would not be able to sell or display your book until the event on --------, and we would need to return any unsold copies to you at that time.  I am very sorry, and I apologize for any inconvenience that this might cause you.



Dear -----, 

Thank you for one of the more respectful and polite rejections I have yet to receive. And yes, I’ve received my fair share of nasty ones, both in writing and in person.

I believe it is in the best interest of all parties that I appear to interview ------ about his wonderful book but do not sell my own book at this event. This event is not about me. It’s about generating interest and sales for ------'s book and ---------.

I am extremely proud of Delta Legend and I would never want it placed somewhere it’s not wanted—only tolerated for an event. I do, however, feel it’s important that you and others who share your stance understand why I ultimately self-published Delta Legend and did so with CreateSpace.

In 2010, when I finished the manuscript and began querying agents, I truly had no idea that agents and the majority of the publishing industry believe that a book featuring an African American male protagonist relegates that book to a limited niche market. I was extremely na├»ve. 

Thanks to the We Need Diverse Books movement, things have shifted slightly, but there’s still work to be done in this regard. Toward the end of my 51 rejection letters, two agents actually spelled things out for me; letting me know that while I was a decent enough writer, Delta Legend was going to be a tough sell. That’s when I decided I wasn’t going to let the gatekeepers of the publishing industry keep me from telling Calvin’s story. 

In researching my options of how to make this happen, CreateSpace came out ahead in customer satisfaction with regard to accessibility and guidance. They were, after all, in the independent publishing business before being bought by Amazon.

I’ve had booksellers tell me that I should have published with LuLu or some other company not owned by Amazon (thank you for refraining from that by the way). Being an armchair publisher is one thing. Actually bringing a book into the physical realm is something else entirely.

My partner, Tom Size, has been a Sound Engineer/Producer for over 30 years. He experienced first hand the revolution within the music industry similar to the one that’s currently underway within the publishing industry. Post-revolution, Tom’s had the opportunity to work with some amazing artists whose music never would have seen the light of day under the old paradigm of the record companies.

When the gatekeepers no longer hold exclusive power to decide what is worthy, it changes everything. We are still in the throws of discovering both the good and bad of this with the publishing revolution. I hope, however, that independent booksellers don’t allow their war with Amazon to become their identity. Independent brick & mortar bookstores serve the community in ways never could, never will. People still crave authentic communities over online communities and I will always support indie bookstores, even though my own book will likely never appear on their shelves.

I would have loved for Delta Legend to have been traditionally published. It would have been a much easier road than the one I currently walk. But there will always be challenges that make us work harder in order to be even better.

The discrimination I experience in being a self-published author is minor compared to the very real discrimination marginalized groups experience routinely. It means everything to me that I now have a physical copy of Delta Legend to share with the students I’ve had the privilege of working with. If not for the advent of self-publishing and CreateSpace, that could not happen.

When a young adult who struggles suddenly becomes engaged and discovers the joy of reading through a main character named Calvin Pierce—someone he can identify with—that’s something I will never be ashamed of, or apologetic about.

—Kelan O’Connell  

Bride of Frankenstein, 1935
CreateSpace Author, 2013

In addendum: The event went extremely well. The bookstore folks were respectful and gracious to me. I bought my copy of Bettyville by George Hodgeman (so excited) and connected with yet another teacher who serves at-risk youth. A complimentary copy of Delta Legend is on its way to him. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Review of Bayou Magic

In 2015 I'll be adding my reviews of Diverse Children's & mostly YA books here, and I'm delighted to make Bayou Magic by Jewell Parker Rhodes my first.

Not having children or grandchildren of my own, I rarely read Middle Grade Fiction, but I snagged an ARC of Bayou Magic at KidLitCon 2014 where the author was a presenter, and I’m so glad I did.

There’s magic in these pages—it's a lovely story from a gifted storyteller.

Maddy is the youngest of five sibling girls, which means she can easily get lost in the family dynamic. Each of her sisters have already done the obligatory summer stint with grandma in the Louisiana bayou of Bon Temps and reported it to be a deplorable sentence. To them, Grandmere’s strange ways make her something of a witch.

Now it’s Maddy’s turn to spend her summer with Grandmere. To an average city kid from New Orleans, a summer with no electricity or indoor plumbing might seem like a summer to forget. But Maddy is no ordinary 10 year-old and her gift for magic begins to blossom once in the loving embrace of her mystical grandmother and the enchanted world of Bon Temps.

Won’t tell you much more as it’s best to discover this gem of a Middle Grade story for yourself. It hits all the right notes of empowering young girls while appropriately addressing environmental issues, multicultural communities, slavery, alcoholism, cultural heritage, and African American folklore. 

For more about the prolific author/playwright/educator, Jewell Parker Rhodes, click the image below and visit her website.