Wednesday, October 23, 2013

My new book is now available on

Pete Wurdock is an emerging voice in Michigan fiction. The new book, Bending Water and Stories Nearby was given 5 out of 5 Stars on in a review with its Kindle release today:

Brushing the Cheek of Our Own Humanity, October 21, 2013

After reading Wurdock's collection of short stories, I just felt more human. I didn't plan on reading as much as I did, for as long as I did, but I couldn't help it.

The author's prose have the same consistency of flowing water. I felt like I was being taken on a spiritual and emotional journey downriver, where there was calm water, then mighty rapids, then a steady calm again.

Books like this remind me of how important it is to just take time to reflect upon our lives. We need to appreciate the little things as they float past.

I highly recommend this collection, as it captures the good times in life as well as the beautiful sadness that makes us all human.  This review is from: Bending Water and Stories Nearby (Kindle Edition) by Jo

sef Bastian.

“Peter Wurdock writes stories that are so real, you’ll feel like you already know the characters and you care about what happens to them. You won’t want the stories to end.” -Sherry Margolis, News Anchor, Fox News, Detroit

“Wurdock has infused new life into the literary landscape with a collection of stories that are reminiscent of Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories, avoiding the pitfalls of the derivative by plotting a course through the rough, unpredictable and often isolated terrain of Michigan’s natural splendor, populated with characters wrestling with emotive realization in a voice that is equally fresh as it is contemporary. - Robert Martin, Review Magazine

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Excerpt from the story "LastNight" from the book "Bending Water and Stories Nearby" by Pete Wurdock

Champions of the heart

My dogs are messy eaters.  They also leave their toys out, never make their beds and try to dig holes in the yard when I’m not watching. They are the most beautiful, imperfect dogs in the world. Being Greyhounds their story is not uncommon to the breed, but a greater purpose was revealed when they came into my life. Jack and Needa are my two kids; my family. When we pass people on the street many ask me if they were rescues.  “Sort of” I reply. “But I didn’t rescue them, they rescued me.”

After the effects of a divorce, losing my job and the ensuing depression, I needed something to change. Many months later after getting back on my feet, Jack invaded my life.  A few months later my job didn’t work out and I became an unemployment statistic again. Times were hard once more and had it not been for Jack, I would probably still be laying in bed.  

But parenting doesn’t give you that option, even with a dog. It became clear one day as I stared into his big brown eyes and saw myself. There were scars on his body from spills on the track and fights with his kennel mates. But I knew his biggest scar was inside, concealed somewhere deep inside his extraordinary and enduring heart, because that is what our dogs do with their pain; they hide it from us while they unselfishly absorb ours.

Shortly thereafter I got a call from the greyhound rescue about a new female who had just arrived. When they met Jack immediately rested his head on her back. In the canine world it may indeed be a sign of dominance, but it’s also a sign of love.  There was no way I could afford another dog, but I was reminded of an old saying; nobody ever became poor by giving. Animal shelters are full of dogs who want to love and be loved. Dogs wait in them hoping for a second chance. But after being forced to race for living greyhounds really only have one chance.

The politics of greyhound racing are complicated. When the dogs no longer make money they become unwanted. The sad, simple truth is if they are not humanely euthanized, they will be inhumanely euthanized. Jack and Needa were given their one chance and I was the lucky one who took it.

With racing behind them, I’ve had the joy of watching them become dogs again. Every day they are like a child waking up on Christmas morning. I may be poor in net worth, but with them I am rich in spirit and blessed with happiness. Raising them has been nothing short of an amazing experience.

We are a family. I don’t like to boast about my parenting, but yeah, I am a “great one.” But it’s because of the joy that Jack and Needa have given me and knowing every bit of love I give, I get right back in spades.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Trying to get life right

I don’t know about anyone else, but sometimes it seems like a lot of precious time passes quickly between the years and the place that we once knew as “the long ago” can instantly feel brand new. Losing a close friend is heartbreaking. My parents are 82 and I’ve watched their circle of friends get smaller over the past several years. It’s now so small that it isn’t a circle anymore; just a few people who make a short line and all you can see is the aging on their bodies and the pain in their eyes as they continue to say goodbye to their friends one by one. But behind their eyes is also camera with a finite amount of film which stores the memories of a life well lived with friends and family well loved. My parent’s camera is still taking pictures and still brings smiles to their faces and joy into their hearts. But on days like today it is hard to remember that.

Each day I thank God for the people I have in my life, but far too often I fail at divulging that information. There’s only 365 days in a year, but when you string a few together, one or two, or twenty, the space between them expands at an astounding rate until one day we wake up and wonder where they went. It’s something we all share and nobody is immune. Losing friends and family is a fact of life and I am always sad when someone I know passes away, but there’s a different kind of sadness when it is someone in my generation, someone who has not yet gotten old by traditional standards. But sometimes there are those who disappear from your life by not knowing how to let go of a grudge or by falling out of love with you. And they hurt just as much; trust me on this one.

Earlier this morning I reached into the big box where I have hundreds of photos and so many memories from the years came flooding back. There were faces I still knew, many I miss, some I recognized but can no longer recall the name attached to it but some are still as recognizable as they day I met them.

Even my dogs know something does not feel right. Today they slept in, which never happens. They won’t eat and three hours ago they should have been in my office, nudging me with their nose doing their happy dance as I put on my shoes preparing to take them for their morning walk. Greyhounds are dogs of speed, majesty, beauty, habit and routine and, as evidenced today, they are also creatures of empathy.

Keith was only 47 when he died. He called me this past Wednesday and we made plans to have lunch together on Friday, which we did. We talked about our ex-wives and politics (but did not dwell on either very long) We talked about drumming, campers, his new red truck, the cabin up in the UP, his girlfriend Christy, his relationship with God, his new drums, his beautiful son Aaron, his parents and my new book, where only moments before I had written the words “To Keith, with love and respect.” I meant it.

In the middle of the conversation he put down his fork and told me how sorry he was for the voids, disappearing acts, unreturned phone calls and time we’ve missed being an active part of each other’s lives. I tried to stop him and said “If you need to say that for your sake that’s fine, but you don’t need to say it for mine.” He knew I was telling the truth.

When he was done I put my fork down, looked him in the eye and said “Look, I love you brother, I’m always going to love you and if I don’t see you for another month, year or ten years, it’s ok because I know that our bond is constant. It will always remain and our friendship is always going to pick up right where it left off with no hard feelings and no games, only the truth. It’s what friends do. It is what friendship is. Everyone is a fuck up in life with something and the past doesn’t matter. “

He thanked me and I know he understood.

Keith’s parents gave me their approval to let people know about his passing here on facebook last evening, probably because they understood that everyone who knew him, or remembered him or loved him needed a prayer or a hug or something right now to wrap around this huge, warm blooded void.

Last night when I got home I had the painful task of calling a mutual friend Keith and I have; a woman named Joanne. Keith and I and our friend Carol have always called her our second mother, or “Mom Mitchell.” Keith and I became inseparable when her son Scott died 27 years ago. It was a different world back then, a different era, a different time with no Youtube, cell phones or 24-hour news but it was still a time when 19 year old boys were not supposed to tragically die in automobile accidents like our mutual best friend Scott did in May of 1985.

Scott’s death one year out of high school affected the whole student body at Dondero in Royal Oak. It brought Keith and I closer. It brought our circle of friends closer as we cried and grieved together and tried to make sense of why a 19 year old kid was behind the wheel of a car and was tragically killed the way Scott was. It broke his mother Joanne’s heart and his brother, Lee’s heart; permanently altering their lives only a year or two after Lee lost his father and Joanne had lost her husband.

After a while the mass of friends brought together by this loss became a smaller group as people went their separate ways. More time passed and the “group of many” became a handful. Then the “handful” became a few until the few only remained connected through facebook or life events, like weddings, births and funerals. And now here I am, with a huge void, a regret-filled ache, a big black hole in my heart which at the moment does nothing except illuminate what a flicker our existence is.

When Keith and I caught up with each other on Friday something happened exactly like I said it would. The friendship picked up exactly where it left off, so did the love. There were smiles and laughter, but today Keith’s loss is a pain I share with many of you and I thank everyone for their comments and private messages. There is a different pain I now share with his brother and sister and girlfriend, but also one I will be permanently unable to share or understand as it occupies his son’s heart and his parent’s hearts.

Yet at this same time, a few hours ago I also felt some of the pain lifting as I watch my neighbor and her young boy walk by my house on their way to the neighborhood church, where God can be found bringing peace and happiness and joy and where our loving God also weeps for this loss yet radiates an unexplainable comfort and a perpetual promise--- and does so without question; generously and freely because of a Savior who already paid the debt. Today I am given a new day to wake and try to make things right again in my world and I pray I won’t fail.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Life, love and loss

This was hard to write but like so much I’ve had to write the last several days I had to write it. Unfortunately death separates some of us from God. But during this week I feel that I have moved a few hundred steps closer to him.

When C and G Newspapers writer Robert Guttersohn’s piece about my book appeared in the paper today he wrote “Each of Wurdock’s stories confronts death in one way or another using the UP as a backdrop” I read it again and I panicked and thought; oh crap. . .that can’t be good for book sales.

But after these last few days on planet earth and the sad events previously mentioned here, it reaffirmed what I’ve known all along, which is that God has much heavier things going on than to be concerned with sales figures or my own selfishness.

In fact, Guttersohn interviewed me last week, before I got the last phone call from Keith and before the last lunch we had on Friday. All through the interview I mentioned to him that the underlying theme of most of what I’ve ever written was done is based upon the universal premise that every day life is but the flicker which serves only to illuminates our brief existence.

After completing the book "Bending Water and Stories Nearby" earlier this year, I did recognize how death and loss was part of this anthology. Still, when I was just out walking my dogs this evening I thought Robert was exaggerating the point in his article, so when I got home I grabbed a copy of the book and realized how right he was about it . . .and about me.

In my book twelve of the fourteen stories have obvious or less subtle references to someone dead, dying , wanting to die or trying not to die. Of the two remaining stories, one of them talks about a dying relationship (which can often feel like death) and one is about a dog who was left for dead, but became the sole reason for his owner wanting to live.

If I sound obsessed with dying it’s only because I am consumed with living.

I’m not sure what a shrink would think of that, nor do I have an interest in finding out just now. I am no stranger to death, from events in my youth and those as fresh as attending Keith’s funeral yesterday.

Keith’s funeral was held in a room full of love, surrounded by beautiful and fragrant flowers where beautiful music was sung and played and many people who may not have been prepared for what was to come even though we’ve been preparing for a few days.

The loveable and amiable Rev Richard Stafford (Keith’s brother) presided over the service. Let me rephrase that. . .Keith’s brother Rick wrote and led a beautiful celebration of Keith’s life. I have never been at a place so sad where so much love was radiated and the truth spoken about such a special love between brother and brother. The words also provided comfort in conveying the truth about what the gospel of Jesus holds and what it brings to those who believe it or live it.

At times Rick was redundant when he spoke to Keith’s son Aaron: “He loved you so much.”
But looking everyone in the eye and expressing what Rick did, especially to Keith’s son, were words of truth that needed to be said over and over and they will be remembered.

The service was as heartbreaking and poignant and it was funny and memorable; more than any service I’ve ever been a part of in my life. When I die, I hope mine is the same and that I will be remembered in the same way.

I am honored to have been a part of Keith’s life and this occasion and have written extensively about it here for the last few days. I am also honored to be a part of your life. It has been so great reconnecting with so many people during this time on facebook. Facebook? Interacting with people on a computer? What is that about (everyone over 35 has said, always)

I always thought death was hard to talk about. Maybe that is the reason that subconsciously I’ve included it so much in most everything I’ve written, not just this week, but for a long time.

It’s part of the human condition recognized as much if not more than birth because in our blurry world it is easy to miss an announcement of someone being born while our tendency is to let bad new travel fast. Meanwhile, in the life “in-between” too many of us plot ways to avoid what’s important and allow ourselves to live in avoidance or in a world of watered down emotions justified by posting memes we hope will reach the important people in our lives. What crap; and I am just as guilty of that as you are, so let's change it.

Family, friendships and marriages are things we need to work at every day if we have any expectation of success and happiness with them. I don’t know many people with an unhappy marriage who are happy in life anymore than I know unhappy people who are pleased with their success, wealth can accomplishment but who have no soul. It doesn’t work that way. . .see Life 101 for reference.

Pain and loss casts a long and dark shadow, but remember that we live most of our lives in the l

Friday, October 11, 2013

He came in through the bathroom window. . .

An inspiration for re-engaging in my blog was a writers conference I attended on October 5, 2013. It was time well spent with other writers and learning something new, proving once again the truth behind a phrase I've heard many times which is that it's "never too late in the afternoon to learn something." I had been at the conference all day and it was upon exiting that I received a phone call that changed my life forever. In one second I learned of the death of one of my oldest and dearest friends, someone I had lunch with less than 24 hours earlier. It has been a heart-breaking few days. 

I met Keith Stafford in 1978 when I was in 8th grade at Clara Barton Junior High School in Royal Oak, MI.  He was a larger than life kid barely out of 6th grade but made his presence known in a big way when one of the first things he said to me was “So, I understand you are dating my sister. I’d like to know just how serious you plan on getting with her.”
Yep, that was Keith. And yes, the word precocious was an understatement.
I moved onto high school and was spared anymore grilling until a year later when Keith became a Freshman at Dondero when I was a Sophomore. We were together more than most students were because of marching band. 
The Stafford’s have a long legacy of great musicians in their family. His big brother Rick was the drum major my freshman year and his booming voice and serious tone was commanding. (I know where Keith got his maturity)  Anne of course was also in band; an awesome oboe player during concert season and part of the percussion section (I know where he got his good looks) Then I finally met Harold and Jean all the pieces fit perfectly. They were all their mother’s and father’s kids. Jean and the “Big H” have always been people I admire, and this is why I’ve always admired the entire Stafford family.

 I knew Keith looked up to his siblings. He adored and protected Anne and wanted to be like Rick. But he also wanted to be like Anne. The only difference between Keith and Rick was that Keith used Anne’s eye shadow to thicken his mustache and Rick didn’t.
Another one of his possible role models besides his older brother may have been Alex P. Keaton, the loveable character from the show Family Ties played by Michael J Fox. Why do I think this?  It’s because Keith was the only kid I knew who came to Dondero his freshman year carrying a briefcase.
He was also the only person I ever saw dance to Gordon Lightfoot, “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by himself.
Being in the percussion section we spent more time together than most in the marching band. The season started before school was in session, we were on the field every morning and competitions allowed us the fun of traveling by bus together to many places. Naturally, the entire section had to be tight in our execution, so you learned to be close to one another in both proximity and in preparation. You had to trust the person on each side of you and you had to know them.
Keith and I were also competitive. During the three years we played together he beat me out for first chair at each audition and I tried not to resent him because he won; fair and square. Later I found out that when he beat me, it was only by one or two points at its largest margin.  However, he did need to be knocked down a time or two when he was becoming too much like a dictator, but in the end, especially when we were awarded best percussion section in the state of Michigan for tier 2, his demanding demeanor was worth it. He got respect from people the old fashioned way; he earned it.
But band was not always all work and no play.  During Keith’s freshman year we were led by two upperclassman; one was Damien McCann, who, in addition to being a great drummer also had the zaniness necessary to holding a young percussion section together.  I think this is where Keith learned to lighten up and about the time he also taught us that tampons were great for muffling a drum set.

We had quirky traditions, such as splashing worchester sauce on the ground before every halftime performance or competition. During concert season we kept Damien’s tradition of strategically placing the bottle among all the percussion equipment when we had our group photo and then laughed like the kids we were when it showed up in the yearbook.  
We’d  “cover “ for each other, creating a diversion when the code word was  given signaling one of us had to readjust our private parts during rehearsals carrying drums that often chafed our. . .well. . .you know. Kudos to Ann and the other girls in the percussion section for putting up with that.
But Keith could also take a ribbing.  He was as athletic as much as any of us were qualified to navigate the space shuttle. Watching him trying to throw a football was like watching that one poor girl who was always picked last in gym class try to throw a forward pass. The only difference was that she did it better.
He was funny, a team player, he was an encourager. In high school he used to put notes in the instrument case of his girlfriend’s younger sister saying things like “this is your conscience speaking, have you practiced your trumpet today?”
But, as is high school. . .there were some people who for whatever reason just didn’t like him. These were guys on the football team who were just. . .well, guys on the football team. I remember the story of how a math teacher, who was also the football coach was giving Keith the business one time for not being an athlete. “why don’t you play sports Mr. Stafford, are you afraid? aren’t you good enough?” he was reported as saying. The jockstraps in the class played right into the coaches BS and challenged him to “come on out after school and try playing a sport.”  The teacher continued to egg Keith on until Keith explained why he didn’t want to play football. “The truth is coach that I am too busy. I have several drum students I teach most days after class and currently I make about $15 an hour, which I think is pretty good for a kid in high school, wouldn’t you agree?”
It was reported that steam came out of the coach’s ears like a cartoon character and his face turned red as an apple and that topic was never discussed again.
But life was not all “just band.” Life became a deeper more convoluted place for Keith and I when our mutual best friend Scott Mitchell died in 1985.  It was a brutal time for both of us and often times still is for me, especially now.  Losing your best friend at 19 is not supposed to happen. Losing your friend at 47 isn’t supposed to happen either. But looking back, perhaps the greatest thing I took away from losing Scott was gaining Keith. 
We were together through all things friends do when you are trying to console the inconsolable. We got to spend time in the UP at our family cabin. One year we took Scott’s younger brother Lee. The cabin is a rustic place, which meant bathing in the lake. Lee was not too keen on this and refused to put his head underwater for fear of getting minnows in his hair.
I was the best man at his first wedding and made numerous trips to Kalamazoo to visit before and after his son Aaron was born. As life continued at its frantic pace the trips became less frequent but we remained in touch and continued as best we could until we began a stretch of only seeing each other every few years and then every several years.  Still, the friendship would pick up where it left off each time we were together, up until last Friday when we saw each other for the last time, never knowing it was to be our last, but treating it as if it were.
Whenever we’d reconnect, the first thing he would tell me about was his terrific son Aaron.  I have not seen Aaron since he was a young child but would always get an earful from Keith about the noble work he was doing in school, at the church and how he admired the great man he was becoming.  He was a professional bragger who loved and admired his son, second only to God.
He was also his father’s son. I learned about a trait of his that he got from Harold (the big H) It mean when he was done saying what he had to say on the phone, he’d announce it and then hang up. Keith’s version of this was “Well buddy, I don’t want to run your bill up, so I gotta go.”  Sometimes I think he was afraid of talking about how he felt about me, but nothing was held back during our last time together on this earth.
Our lunch together last Friday was probably what I will remember most about him because it is so fresh.  We talked about our ex-wives and politics (but did not dwell on either very long) We talked about drumming, campers, his new red truck, the cabin up in the UP, his girlfriend Christy who he loved dearly and anyone who knows Christy knows why he did. We also talked about his relationship with God, his new drums, his beautiful son Aaron, his parents and my new book, where only moments before I had written the words “To Keith, with love and respect.”  I meant it.
In the middle of the conversation he put down his fork and told me how sorry he was for the voids, disappearing acts, unreturned phone calls and time we’ve missed being an active part of each other’s lives. I tried to stop him and said “If you need to say that for your sake that’s fine, but you don’t need to say it for mine.” He knew I was telling the truth. 
When he was done I put my fork down, looked him in the eye and said “Look, I love you brother, I’m always going to love you and if I don’t see you for another month, year or ten years, it’s ok because I know that our bond is constant. It will always remain and our friendship is always going to pick up right where it left off with no hard feelings and no games, only the truth. It’s what friends do.  Everyone is a fuck up in life with something and the past doesn’t matter. “
He thanked me and I know he understood. 
But our lives were full of so many memorable moments.
Often when he’d call, I would be greeted with his low, Old Man River, baritone voice on the other end as he recited an obscure line from a movie we watched together. We loved watching moves together and we loved each other, only it took us several years to be able to say it out loud.
I was always a bit envious of his hairline as it never seemed to recede. It’s too bad he could never have the mustache he wanted to without the help of his sister’s eye shadow. The world is less interesting without him. His sudden loss is difficult for many people right now, especially those who may read this and walk back into whatever other grief they are experiencing in this stone hard joy filled life. There is never a good time for these things in life and they only are becoming more frequent in mine.  The comfort will come; it always does even though there are days upon days when it feels like it's just not coming through at all. This is when you discover what faith really is.
 I will miss Keith’s sidesplitting humor, laughter and smile. I will miss our meaningful conversations, but perhaps what I will miss most is the conversations we had when we were talking about nothing at all.