It Always Takes Longer

As anyone who knows me understands, I’m a big fan of doing things myself instead. It’s actually how I got into computers – I couldn’t afford for someone else to repair them for me when something went wrong.

My level of skill in particular areas can be great or little, but I usually try. I’m not much of a mechanic, I’m a decent carpenter, and I can logic my way through electricity and plumbing. I’m not about to give someone a home appendectomy (mine’s already done, so I can’t do it to myself) but I know how to give injections to livestock and slap a bandage on a wound.

But there’s a critical fact that I often fail to account for: major projects always take longer than the time budgeted.

My house expansion (original house: 500 square feet, single-stall garage with rotten roof; new house: 1000 square feet, two-stall tuck-under garage) has been an ongoing project since 2012. In part it’s taken so long because I’ve never really committed fully to it. I had a 60-70 hour per week job; then I was writing novels. Last fall I really threw myself into it and got it 90% done, with the remaining 10% consisting of heat and plumbing (including the new bathroom which never got further than framed and insulated).

I had originally planned on forced-air heat for my expansion, but I hate my old furnace and really didn’t want to replace it. (I need to sell more books.) Also, drilling big enough holes through 6″ concrete walls to bring heat ducting over wasn’t appealing at all. So, my search for alternate ideas eventually landed on a radiant system designed around 1/2″ Pex tubing and aluminum heat spreaders strung through my floor joists.

On paper, it’s actually a really elegant and simple design. The holes I needed to drill through my wall are much smaller, for one. So after drawing up a materials list, I closed my eyes and ordered all the Pex, the pump, and everything else I needed to make it work.

I aimed to actually get the system built over Thanksgiving weekend. While I knew we had plans for Thanksgiving Day proper and the Saturday following, I had nothing on Friday and all of Sunday afternoon. I figured even if I didn’t get the system done (which was likely), I’d have the vast majority of it done and all I’d need is a quick trip to Menards to pick up the last of the fittings I’d need to complete the project.

As I write this on Monday morning, I can say that I’m far less than 50% on the project. Now, some of that had to do with butchering a deer on Friday evening that eliminated a big chunk of my work time, as well as a trip to the church last night to fix the sound system after a disastrous service on Sunday morning. (All audio and visual upgrades should be tested well in advance of a service, regardless of how well past upgrades have gone.) But even with that time back, I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I thought I’d be by this time.

As my father wisely pointed out to me last night on the phone, “It always takes longer than you think.”

I guess that means I won’t be getting bored in the evening any time soon.

With the outside temps approaching -20 this morning, though, it would have been nice to have some heat.

A day of Thanksgiving

This post was actually written yesterday. I’m spending the day with family, not sitting in front of a computer.

Thanksgiving isn’t my favorite holiday. (Neither is Christmas, the usual popular choice.) I don’t feel the need to criticize it for historical connotations, as many do every year. But as a Christian, I find it an important holiday – it’s a day to reflect on what blessings I’ve received and how fortunate I am.

I’m thankful I’ve walked this Earth for thirty years (next week, that is; close enough). The Lord has given me an appointed time, and I don’t know what it is. I’ve wasted so much of it on things that didn’t and don’t matter, but every year I’m given is a blessing.

I’m thankful for my wife of five years. She has blessed me in ways I never anticipated, calls me out when I need to be taken down a notch, and builds me up when I’m low. She’s my first reader, my editor, and one of the few people that can tell me what she really thinks of an idea. She’s encouraged me on my many endeavors, and without her I couldn’t do what I do.

I’m thankful for my son. As I write this, he brings a smile to my face as he’s sitting in his high chair chomping on his favorite food: an apple. He drives me nuts sometimes, but he’s brought joy and laughter to our home that I didn’t know was missing. And he’s so stinkin’ cute it’s ridiculous.

I’m thankful for my family. Though we sometimes fight, we disagree, we argue, I also know that I can call at any time from anywhere and have all the help I could ever need. My father in particular has made many things in my life possible – advice and willing hands whenever I need to fix a car or swing a hammer or drive a screw.

I’m grateful for the ability to provide for my family. I have a sound mind and body, and I’m able to hunt to put venison on the table or spend days cutting up and processing beef. I’m able to work to provide money or repair our home or do any of a hundred things to ensure my wife and son are warm, sheltered, and fed.

I’m thankful for independent publishing. New technology like print-on-demand, Kindle, and Nook allow me to put books out even if I can’t find a regular publisher – and make more money off them than I would under a standard contract.

I’m thankful for a church that is closer than many families.  They, too, will come at a moment’s notice and provide an ear when I need to talk. Though there are only a handful of people in the church close to my age, they are valuable friends and brothers and sisters in Christ.

Finally, I’m thankful for Jesus Christ. His Word provides hope and guidance and sustains me spiritually. The words I have are insufficient to describe the importance of his grace, and how that affects me each and every day, consciously and unconsciously.

So today, I’m thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

The importance of narratives

Among the last things I read last night before going to bed were several news feeds coming out of Ferguson, Missouri. Namely, reports that shots had been fired and a nice GIF of President Obama calling for calm split-screen with an image of a burning car. (Insert your own jokes about metaphors for Obama’s presidency here.)

This morning, I read celebratory threads on a lefty site about how the lack of deaths and full-scale race riots meant the minority community had proved that right-wingers are a bunch of evil racists who should never have doubted the calm and collected response.

The whole thing left me scratching my head.

Sarah Hoyt opines occasionally about the importance of storytellers, and by that perspective gave me a view on this I would have otherwise lacked.

In our society, we have more information readily available at our fingertips than ever before. We are not shackled by what the three or four biggest media outlets choose to cover and how they choose to cover it. Alternative viewpoints are easier to find than ever.

And in spite of all that, narrative is more important than truth.

Look at the facts of the situation. 18-year-old Michael Brown stood 6’4″ and weighed nearly 300 pounds. Just prior to the altercation that ended his life, he stole cigarillos from a convenience store and roughed up a store clerk who tried to stop him from leaving. Minutes later he encountered Darren Wilson (who was in his police cruiser). There was an apparent fight over his gun and the firearm discharged inside the officer’s vehicle. Brown immediately fled then, by eyewitness accounts and forensic evidence, had turned around and tried to rush the officer again. He was then fatally shot.

But narrative drove the aftermath. By the narrative Brown was a “gentle giant” and a “child”. The cops were, necessarily, racists who used disproportionate force in the shooting.

And now, after last night, certain people are out suggesting that the average American is racist as well for suggesting that rioting was going to happen last night.

I’ll be the first to admit I was fairly certain there’d be a body count this morning.

On the other hand, this was hardly a peaceful protest, either. A dozen businesses burned or destroyed, looting, and assaults on uniformed police officers. And this peaceful protest narrative also leaves out the presence of National Guard, FBI, and hundreds of additional police in an attempt to contain the violence before it broke out.

Ferguson’s hardly a shining star in civility.

But the narrative will go on. And that’s why it’s important to have writers, reporters, and authors of varying political and social views – to ensure inconvenient facts don’t get swept under the rug because they conflict with the narrative.

End of Deer Season

Now that deer season has come to an end, it’s time to get back into writing mode.

I didn’t get Friday’s planned gun control post done on Thursday night like I planned, and my Friday morning lasted far longer than I expected.


It involved an epic chase, and fortunately, he was in full rut (and therefore stupid). By the time he was hung up and cooling, it was nearly noon, and my afternoon was already fully accounted for. Saturday involved more work, and Sunday included an unplanned trip to the hospital to visit my great-grandmother.

And hey, let’s be honest – I didn’t have a post planned for this morning anyway.

Alongside writing, I’m closing in on my radiant heating project. One more trip to Bismarck and a couple of deliveries from Amazon and I’ll have everything I need to complete it. Black Friday isn’t going to involve any shopping for me (unless it’s at 5 AM on the couch in my underwear).

I do have some posts planned for the rest of the week (including part 3 of gun control), so stay tuned.

A Golden Age of Information

It’s been a busy week here.

Aside from slow progress on writing projects, I’ve had a stack of side work and house improvement projects to work on. I’ve repaired a half dozen computers this week (the last one is on my bench right now); my wife’s car is currently sitting torn-down in my father’s shop out on the farm; our backup car is now, fittingly, back up and running; and I have the rest of the gear coming to finish my heating project for the house expansion. Also on the to-do list is shoot a deer this weekend (closing weekend for deer season, so I’m getting short on time), and maybe get some plumbing and wiring done.

There’s actually a common theme running through all my projects (aside from deer hunting – that’s an outlier): the information age.

“Erm, Neumiller? You’re talking about mechanics and home improvement. That’s not exactly information age stuff.”

Surprisingly enough, it is.

Not many people I know offline would think of me as a real hands-on type guy. I grew up on a ranch, so hard work and working with my hands aren’t earth-shattering prospects for me, but I’m no one’s first choice when it comes to carpentry, or plumbing, or wiring, or working on a car. I’m pretty sharp at computers, but they’re a different breed than the basic hands-on skills that build and maintain our modern world.

With that said, the Information Age has made these fields far more accessible.

Looking at my various projects, in order: the wife’s car currently has the head stripped off (we thought a blown head gasket, but it was a burned valve and we still don’t know where the coolant’s going) due to plenty of informational videos about the 2.2 engine that’s shared between plenty of vehicles (Sunfire, Cavalier, S-10 pickup). The backup car was a pretty easy job that didn’t require extraneous information (a battery change along with the ends on both leads). The new heating system was designed by reading extensively online on the radiant floor heating I wanted to put in, including both drawbacks and strengths. Electrical and plumbing are both fairly straightforward projects, but there’s plenty of information for consulting (which I need to do on occasion) when I’m not sure about best practices.

That is the world we live in – a world where we can find all the information we need to do so many projects with our own two hands.

Never in the history of the human race has so much information been so readily available at our fingertips.

And we use it to 1.) look at pictures of funny cats or 2.) look at porn.

Kind of a sad commentary on the human condition, isn’t it?

The knowledge is only as useful as our willingness to put it to work. All those Youtube videos of practical skills and projects (which I’ve been consulting heavily for automotive work; between the cracked head on the Jeep and the work I’ve done on the Sunfire, I’ve probably watched four to five hours of instructional videos along this year) are useless if we don’t do it ourselves.

It must be four years ago already when I had a conversation with an overseas friend. He was caught in the same trap many people my age put themselves in: overspent, in debt, and stuck where he was because he couldn’t afford to do anything else.

We spoke at length about the way we had chosen to structure our lives: we purchased used vehicles, not new; we didn’t spring for the latest and greatest electronics; we regularly were paying down our student debt; we forewent eating out regularly and cooked meals at home; we purchased an old house in tough shape and put in hours to fix it up ourselves. And so forth – we didn’t have the fanciest toys, nor the biggest house, nor the newest phones – but we were working to make our lives better.

At the time, I didn’t think it had made a difference – my experience was that most people didn’t want to hear phrases like “Do it yourself instead of hiring it” and “Sacrifice now to make things better later”.

A year back, the same friend reached out to me and thanked me for the advice I’d given. He told me it was some of the best advice he’d ever gotten, and after following it he found options opening up for him that he’d never had available before.

I’ve gotten a bit far afield from where I started, but remember this, if nothing else: You have access to more knowledge than any generation before you. Use it, and you can make your life better.

North Dakota Author: Todd Ford

It’s been a while since I wrote a post on another North Dakota author. There aren’t that many of us, so it’s best to space it out, or in less than a month I’d be out of people to talk about. That said, I’ve been meaning to write this post for quite a while, because it’s a personal one.

I’ve known Todd Ford for over four years – we worked in the IT department at MDU Resources (me as help desk technician and later supervisor, him as a programmer). And while we’ll never agree on politics, we do share a passion for writing. Todd’s been at it a lot longer than I have, but he’s been far more reluctant to show the world what he’s done. It’s not an uncommon trait among writers; we pour ourselves into those words, and if they’re rejected, it hurts. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

So I was very excited when Todd announced he was finally releasing a book to the world.

Todd is a self-described cinephile. That man loves movies. It’s only fitting, then, that his book is a mixture of autobiographical and movie reviews. In short, it’s a large portion of his life.

It’s also great to see a collection like this. The movie reviews were written over a twenty-year period, and it’s too easy to let those things slip away and vanish forever. I know, personally, many of the articles and stories I wrote in college have vanished forever due to hard drive failures and lost papers; but by collecting them in this bundle, Todd’s preserved a portion of his work in a way that will likely outlast him.

Oh, the title? See You in the Dark: Two Decades of my Cinephilia in North Dakota. You can grab either a Kindle or Paperback version from Amazon.

Natural Born Thrillers returns!

Natural Born Thrillers, a limited-time offer made around Christmas of 2013, has returned for a short time in iBooks!

Apple is promoting box sets in iBooks. Don’t miss out on Natural Born Thrillers for just 99¢ – less than you spent in the soda machine!

For less than a dollar you get eleven novels, including my own Dead Man’s Fugue – plenty of reading material for your buck. If you have an iPhone or iPad, don’t miss out on this deal.


The world spins on

Thirteen years have passed since the attack on New York City and Washington, DC by Islamic terrorists.

I was a junior in high school at the time. I remember exactly where I was on the road when I heard on the radio that a plane had hit the World Trade Center in New York. I thought it was pretty odd, but the details were light, and in my mind I chalked it up to an accident involving a small aircraft.

By the time I made it to my first-hour class, that was clearly not the case. More planes hijacked, more crashes, more death.

The day was a blur of sorts; in only one class did we actually focus on schoolwork (math). For the most part, we listened to the news, talked quietly, prayed.

I also remember, late that night, crawling into bed and wondering if perhaps the whole thing had been some fevered nightmare. Maybe I would wake up the next morning, it would be September 11th, and no great tragedy had occurred, some 3000 American lives had not been lost.

I was wrong.

My wife has told me once that September 11th makes her feel old. Not because she’s particularly old – she’s two years younger than I am, and I haven’t even hit 30 yet. No, she feels old because of her students at the high school. For those of us who are old enough to have clear memory, there was a “before” and “after” – and the “after” made the world seem much darker and more dangerous. Illusions were destroyed, veils cast down – there was no denying there is plain evil in the world.

For those kids, though, there’s not really a “before”. They don’t have a concept of how the world changed for Americans on September 11th, 2001.

But it’s also important not to get caught up in the past. The world continues to spin on, and we can’t afford to be endlessly caught in the immediate aftermath of an attack thirteen years ago. It’s not healthy to fixate on a single point in time, and not allow growth, context, and understanding.

In the months following 9/11/01, many Americans would have rejoiced had Osama Bin Laden been immediately found and shot by American forces. But by the time the SEALs caught up with him and put a bullet in his brain close to a decade later, I couldn’t find any note of celebration in myself, because it wouldn’t make a difference. The fighting would go on, the terrorism would continue, the Middle East would continue in its terse infighting. There was no closure.

Never forget, but move on as well – the world keeps spinning.

Turning a corner

Given that I’m a week into September and haven’t written anything substantial in quite a while, I felt the need to write a public-facing post here.

Guilt can really send someone into a spiral.

It’s not that I feel guilty about life in general. I have a wonderful wife that I spent quite a bit of time with. I have the best son ever in the Peanut, and I never feel like I don’t get to spend enough time with him. I spend time volunteering for projects with my church. I helped my brother pour a concrete slab and start framing out a new garage. I’ve switched over to baking all our own bread, rather than buying from the store. (The wonderful wife still does virtually all the other cooking.) I spent time helping on the family farm because my dad was badly injured in a horseback accident and the family needed help.

But what I haven’t been doing is writing.

The worst part is feeling guilty about it, because it paralyzes my ability to write. Then I feel more guilt, and the process repeats.

Contract Hunt has been over half done for quite some time, but my progress on it for several months now has been minimal…because of the loop.

It’s not unlike the problems I’ve struggled with in the past with depression. I had bad, bad problems with it in college; the depression and the guilt for screwing things up (because I was depressed) built on each other and paralyzed me, until I had a whole mountain of screw ups and I couldn’t dig my way out. It cost me an extra year of college (I should have been done in four) and a planned career path (education).

So now, the site is back up to date. The manuscript is laid out in Word, holes and all.

It’s time to write.