Thirty-nine years and counting…

April 17, 2008

“Is something wrong?” she said.
“Well, of course there is.”
“You’re still alive,” she said.
“Oh? And do I deserve to be-
“Is that the question?
“And if so
“If so,
“Who answers?
“Who answers?”

‘Alive’ Ten

Pearl Jam

Once an intimate personal anthem, the song is now a point of reference, a dogeared page in a chapter full of wild times, raving idiocy, and occasionally, a dry, genuine encounter. I listen to it every April 17. I look forward to it each year.

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Hip, hip, Mr. Favre.

March 4, 2008

Congratulations on your retirement.

We’re the same age.

I’m at the pre-beginning of my career. You’re at the tired-of-300-lbs.-men-want-to-hurt-you point in yours.

Might I recommend a book for you to read in the very near future (nudge, nudge, wink, wink)? I hear there is a jolly good post-pandemic thriller on the horizon. Just keep it in mind. It’s tentatively called Strain.

Don’t fall into broadcasting this year.

Please.

Enjoy the time your family first.

Oh, might I also recommend if you’re in Oregon City get to Fisherman’s Marine and Outdoor. Here’s the address:

1120 N Hayden Meadows Dr
Portland, OR 97217
(503) 283-0044

Ask for Bob. He runs the joint. He’s the Bocephus of outfitters.

Enjoy and best wishes.

Espouse, expectorate, expound…you know what I mean

February 27, 2008

O.K.

Quick lesson in humility and reasons not to speed post: Wrong word choice.

Now a more polished blog writer could or would simply edit the post to correct the misused word. Since I’m not a polished blogger (what’s more I believe the format is more approachable because it shows its warts and all), I’ll just make this an example of what not to do when your children are in the tub and your wife would really appreciate your help putting them to bed before her head explodes. DO NOT post off-handed commentary about a bit of political buffoonery unless you are using words you are certain of their definition.

Expound. Couldn’t think of the word. I had a brief internal debate, “it starts with an ‘e.’ Expectorate? Espouse? Yes, I’m on my way. Espouse. Good enough.” Then I hit ‘Publish.’

I was in my son’s room, tucking him in and I straightened up, “espouse?! ”

Geez.

The Lapel: Extra suit coat fabric or political battleground?

February 27, 2008

NOTE: Please pardon this writer-focused environment for a brief political observation.

I’m not big on espousing politics, but this guy isn’t doing the Republican party any favors. Case in point, if you’re going to go on Live with Dan Abrams to rip another member of Congress for refusing to wearing a lapel pin, make sure you’re WEARING YOUR LAPEL PIN.

C’mon.

Completing the first draft: A look back at the writing process – Part 3

February 25, 2008

While I have on my hindsight goggles, I might as well take a look at the what I would do differently going forward.

Stay focused:

For the most part I focused on Strain. But last year about this time, I had a breakthrough on a story idea I’d been chewing on for years. And I mean YEARS. It was a hypnogogic experience. (Appropriate because the story is called The Strangest Dream.) I followed the trail for a couple of weeks. Really dug into the main character and was just about to jump in with both feet, when my wife asked, ‘what about the book you’re working on?’

Damn. Writus Interruptus.

She was right and she called me on it. I needed to focus and finish one before jumping into another. Otherwise, who’s to say I wouldn’t have run out on that story.

Fortunately, The Strangest Dream will still be there when I’m done with Strain (I suppose it will be good therapy/distraction during the querying process). Of course, Structure of Shadows is all outlined…there I go again.

Speaking of outlines

Outline :

I’ve never been one to outline a story. I’ve never written a book. At 90,000 words, the story is much bigger – physically – than I ever could have imagined. Keeping track of notes and ideas needs some sort of system. Perhaps an outline is the method, perhaps it’s mindmapping.

Mind the creative cycle
This could also be called ‘Don’t get pissy or give up so easily when it ain’t happening’

I’d like to map or plot my creative cycle; the creative ebb and flow of writing, work, and family. I’ve kept a word count for every night I’ve written along with a the individual version. In fact, I have over 175 versions of the first draft on my little thumb drive. Each night I start by saving off a copy with the day’s date. At the end of each draft I enter the total word count. One of these days, I’ll pull all the dates and counts into a spreadsheet or some more effective form of visually expressing the data to plot out my creative cycles.

If I had one regret it would be that I didn’t attempt a book earlier. It would have saved me years of fumbling around in my twenties and into my early thirties trying to find my ass with both hands, a map and a flashlight. (Tip of the hat to Barry. I’d never thought to use the flashlight).

Stay focused: a reprise

In the foreword to Your First Novel by Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb, Dennis Lehane talks about the Ticking-Clock Syndrome writers need to overcome to break the chains of daydreaming and return to the task of writing the best sentence you are able followed by another and another. I’ll admit there are days when I do let myself daydream. Typically on the ride to work or just after I receive a client’s second round edits that contradict the first round.

But there was one Lehane anecdote that I truly appreciated. In the forward he describes the three words he wrote on a piece of paper and taped to his wall, ‘No One Cares.’ In my case, the phrase is a little longer: ‘The story ain’t going to write itself.’

It occurred to me during the process that I couldn’t have accomplished this before now. I believe many of my old college classmates would be keen to tell you that I was late to mature. Very late. I think if you were to ask my wife, she’d tell you October 10, 2005. Just after dinner.

I’m unsure how to explain it more than to say, I just didn’t get it. I mean, for a very, very long time, I was waiting for something, maturity I suppose, to come ’round like a package delivered by the mail carrier. Until then, I’d be chasing staring off into space wondering why I wasn’t being an author, or important. I was thick-headed  and terribly self-absorbed. Yes, my old college friends would also be keen to agree with my self-centeredness. (On a side note to the youngsters out there who don’t get it yet, either: don’t spend your time chasing the ladies at the bar. Join a gym, take classes, anything. And don’t discuss your debt consolidation, skin conditions, or ex-lovers on the first date.)

Oh, I had glimpses inside the writer’s school of cool. When I first moved to Seattle from Ohio, I fell in with a bunch of blacksmiths and a couple of artists. I rented a room in the loft of the forge. It was my space just to write.

I furnished it with a couch, a desk, and a radio. I’d write and drink beers. The writing would start off great, but by the third beer, I’d need to take a leak. I’d stop writing, run to the restroom, and then go and hang around with artists actually producing art. It was very social. The small stuff I wrote back at that time was mostly broken hearted callow self-indulgence. I spent hours journaling my deep, smoldering angst.

My life was a bad ripoff of a Neil Diamond song. I had no clue what I was doing. No direction. Aimless. Ugh. I cringe just thinking back to it.

I think that’s enough self-exploration for one night.

Till next time.

Completing the first draft: A look back at the writing process – Part 2

February 18, 2008

What didn’t work

Pinning down this list was more difficult. There are so many variables; when did a method slip from the ‘Worked’ category to the ‘Didn’t Work’?

For instance, NaNoWriMo 2005 was instrumental at the start. Our son was six-weeks old, we were exhausted; it was a stressful time. Our daughter was 2 years old and she didn’t give a whit if her brother was up all night. She’d slept her 10 hours and when morning came you better be ready for action. NaNoWriMo 2005 was an island in the storm. I wanted to complete the 50,000 like a dog begging to be let outside. It was a relief, but completing NaNoWriMo was a pipe dream. There was no way I could manage and not be a self-absorbed yahoo. My wife was all for it, but with a daughter and a newborn, we had no idea what we’d gotten ourselves into. So NaNoWriMo worked until it didn’t.

Since NaNoWriMo 2005, I haven’t felt the need to participate because I never quit the NoWri part.

So with that, let’s dig into the things that didn’t work:

The deadline: Wha…? I know, it’s not what I said previously, but by it’s nature, a deadline has to be met to be considered a success. Would I do it again? Yes, absolutely. My very first deadline was to complete before my 20-year high school class reunion. Stupid idea – right motivation, wrong implementation. The second deadline was more plausible – four months – and I was close. Really close

Attempted assault: It was one encounter on a business trip, but it severed the continuity and momentum I’d built and sustained. I really, really hope those three boys got everything they wanted for the holidays and have since found more gainful employment and are giving back to the community in which they live. At the very least, picked a different form of after school entertainment.

Prime time television: It’s a crutch. Some days after work and getting the kids down, there is nothing better than a healthy dose of mind-numbing television to get you through.

Wine, wine, wine: This is not a cry for help. But if they could caffeinate it, I would’ve spent less time nodding off on the couch.

256MB of memory : I love, love, love my Dell C400 laptop. It weighs less than 4lbs, but until very recently (three cheers for profit sharing; hip, hip!) working in a document and opening the browser brought my little CPU to a 100% standstill. The new, additional memory has made a big difference. (Would it be irony or coincidence that the lack of computer power put the kibosh on browsing the Web instead of writing? Should this be considered a ‘Worked’ column item? Hmm.)

Self-(insert item): If there is one thing I learned, I have no control over the story; only the process. The only influence I have is putting my ass in a chair with a keyboard on my lap every night.  The story is outside of me. I’m recording the events. Events that are happening with or without me. Once I got me out of the way, things worked…better.

Trust the story. Be diligent and responsible and it will be just to you. Now, I’ve got to get back to work. Thanks for dropping in to take a look.

Cringe Video: A personal history

February 17, 2008

Please pardon the interruption to this regularly writing-centric blog.

My daughter and I were watching Martin Luther King Jr. speeches on YouTube. One of the other videos on the front page featured an old Smiths video. Wow. Education time was over (sorry, sweetie) and daddy’s trip to Video Nostalgia was full steam ahead.

So I used to hang out at Mean Mr. Mustard’s on the Ohio State University campus (High St. shout out – police paddy wagons parked at every intersection would be filled at the end of every evening) in Columbus. In the heyday of alternative music when R.E.M., U2, and the Clash were considered neither Classic, nor Rock, Mustards was a safe haven from the drunken masses getting liquored listening to Bon Jovi, Jimmy Buffett, Linerd Skinerd, and, heaven help me, James Taylor. Really, James Taylor. He’s big in Ohio.

I never dressed like Ian Astbury, but I did go the dapper vintage sports coat, Morrissey hair, and wingtips route. Ahh, to be 18 again. Here are three classics from the Mustards era. A BIG tip of the hat to the people posting at YouTube for this.

And yes, I danced like Ian (the guy in white) in this first video for “She Sells Sanctuary.”

Cure – “Close to Me.” I love the musical use of a comb.

Smiths – “How Soon Is Now.” I loved LOVED this song because it brought all the young ladies out to the dance floor in spite of my Ian Astbury spastic preening moves.

Completing the first draft: A look back at the writing process – Part 1

February 16, 2008

Here’s a postmortem of sorts of the first draft of my book, Strain. At first I wanted to do this just on my own, but it occurred to me this might be of help to someone else. So here’s my clean and dirty laundry. In this post, I’ll run through the four critical pieces to the completion of the script.

Original target date: 10.01.2007

Actual completion date: (Ahem) 02.01.2008

Note: A large portion of the time past my personal deadline was eaten up with the holidays. Sure, you can write from anywhere, but avoiding familial alienation and consternation is prudent.

I’d have to check to see when I actually wrote the end of the first draft. I knew I’d be writing a second draft as I wrote the first, so there is an overlap between the two.

What worked:

Separating family time from writing time. We’ve got two kids, 4 and 2. As much as I’d love to, there is no plausible way for me to write while the family is awake and in the house. Awake and out of the house, sure. But in the house, nope. Once I came to this realization, the writing life got MUCH easier. I wasn’t splitting time. I no longer felt guilty about taking time away from my family, nor do I feel guilty about missing time with my wife. I wait till everyone is in bed (or reading) and then I bust out the Twain-like genius I call my writing. Thank you very much. I don’t sleep much (but that’s more for Part 2).

Set a deadline. It was crucial to the process. It knocked the ‘I’m tired’ parent procrastination crutch out of my reach. The slippage would have been ignored. Ignored is not the right word; endured is more accurate.

Found a countdown clock widget. I’ve mentioned this in the comments from a previous post but it bears repeating. The countdown clock was a bit of a double-edged sword. I had a passive aggressive streak, a glibness I knew was going to be counter productive. Which leads to my third good idea-

Initiated a daily word quota. I attached a daily word quota to the countdown clock; skip a day and watch your daily quota increase. For me, it was the tipping point.

So there is a summary of the methods – tricks – I used to plow through the first draft of my manuscript. They worked for me. (Cue Rocky and Bullwinkle narrator) So join me next time for Part 2 – What didn’t work – or How a bottle of wine and a cozy couch can cure the compulsive need to write.

Dovetail to Crane

February 6, 2008

To complement the previous post a related note, this from Dystel & Goderich Literary Management a story about the long road to success.  See, A.J. Hartley caught the horizon. Scratch that, A.J. Hartley is making money while he chases the horizon. Ha! I like that.

A poem to define the writer’s life

February 5, 2008

“It is futile,” I said,
“You can never -“

“You lie,” he cried,
And ran on.

I first read Stephen Crane’s I Saw a Man Pursuing the Horizon in 6th grade. Eight lines of verse that – for me – encapsulates the life of a writer. For all the poetry I’ve read in the 27 years since, it’s the only poem I know by heart.

I recalled this poem after missing the cut for Nathan Bransford’s Surprisingly Essential First Page Contest. See, a little doubt reared it’s ugly head. A little, ‘hey, why the hell do I stay up nights after the wife and kids are in bed.’

At times like these, I think of this poem like a reflex. Perhaps because I relate to the man pursuing the horizon. The difference is I really think I’m going to catch it. [UPDATE: Obviously, the man pursuing the horizon thinks he’s going to catch it, too. The distinction I wanted to make is this: the Crane’s pursuer is flippin’ crazy. I mean, metaphor or not, who does he think he is? Forrest Gump? Stephen Colbert? C’mon. Twenty-seven years later, he’s still running. That’s not progress. That’s just sad. Dagnabit, now I pity the poor guy. Rather than accosting the poor man, perhaps the narrator should try to get him some help. Like a horse or a spaceship. Better yet, someone should tell him the world is flat.]

(By the way Nathan Bransford is now taking heat for his effort. I’m speechless; blown away that some would take the time and try to sandbag the contest with first pages from actual published novels. Mr. Bransford has handled the lameness with aplomb – remember kids, I still need to query agents in the future – but still, wow…just wow.)

O.K. it occurred to me I shouldn’t post the poem here for copyright reasons. See, I’m learning.

Point of clarification: when I say poem, I certainly don’t mean lyrics. Bono, no offense intended.