Monday, January 16, 2017

Musical Monday: The Clash

Annnnd here we are again. I have the day off, I've spent the last two plus hours working on this damn resolution post, and I've decided it's time to pull the plug on it yet again, because I have other things I want to work on today--like the WiP. I suspect part of my problem is that some of the post will look a bit like trashing another writer, which I am loathe to do, because a) who am I? and b) I just don't like to trash anything. Instead, we get another fluff post about the weekend and a little bit of music.

Writing: The WiP is progressing. Currently around 130 pages and 35K words, I like where it's going. I did slow down a bit at the end of last week, as I was not feeling well, but did have a good day yesterday.

Weekend: Took the long drive to bring The Catbird back to college on Saturday, she starts classes today (no MLK day for her!). We enjoyed having her home, and the house is very quiet, despite the fact she's a quiet kid. Spring break is only eight weeks away!

Parental boasting time: The Catbird nailed her second straight semester of straight A's. I think first semester freshman year she got one B+ or A-, so she's rocking a pretty damn good GPA. The Magpie finished her own four years with something like a 3.98 GPA. Smart kids!

Weather: We're riding a roller coaster for January. First week was kind of warm; then it got kind of cold; now it's kind of warm again. We had really heavy rain and 50 degrees last Thursday, so pretty much all the snow is gone.

Music: I'm gonna go all hipster here and say I liked The Clash before it was cool (i.e., before "Rock the Casbah" and "Should I Stay or Should I Go" were big hits). This song, from their excellent London Calling album, actually helped me answer a Trivial Pursuit question many years ago!

That's it for me for now. What's going on with all of you?

Monday, January 9, 2017


Well, after extensively drafting my post on Resolution, then running out of time this morning, and spending the last hour post-dinner on it, I've decide to...



Yeah, it's just one of those days. Maybe next week.

For those of you looking for an agent, Agent Carrie posted a little quiz on her blog this morning, a sort of "compatibility quiz." Pop on over there and see if she might be for you! For the record, I scored a 76. Yeah, definitely one of those days! And, if you're interested in the fine art of the query, check Carrie's blog tomorrow, I think she may be doing a query critique!

Until next time!

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Reading List (The Last)

Good morning, and Happy New Year to all of you! I hope you had a good--and safe--celebration, and I wish you the very best for 2017.

I have a thematically-appropriate post on Resolution drafted, but it's not ready enough this morning and I'm not prepared to craft it into perfection this morning; instead, I give you my final reading list for 2016.

FOURTH QUARTER READING LIST (In the order read, with or without commentary):

State of Wonder, Ann Patchett (2011). My wife's book club book for October. I read it, she didn't. I enjoyed it!

The Death and Life of Dith Pran, Sydney Schanberg (1985). The tale of Dith's survival and eventual escape from Cambodia makes for some harrowing reading.

All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr (2014). I wish I'd written that! Seriously, this was a book I could not put down. My wife's book club ended up reading this for December, and I belive they were unanimous in their enjoyment of it.

The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism, Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson (2012). Hmm, I seem to be developing a trend in my reading here, between this and the Schanberg book. This one was related somewhat to my current project, which in turn has been influenced (I'm not sure inspired is quite the right word) by developments in American politics (and, I should add, in much of the rest of the world, too). I did learn something from this book, though I found it a little difficult to get through.

The Girls, Emma Cline (2016). One of the most-hyped books of 2016, it was good, but I felt a little let down by it. I'm not sure I ever really loved the main character enough, though, which may explain some of my disappointment.

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, Bryn Greenwood (2016). And we have a winner for "Most Uncomfortable Subject Matter, 2016!" Greenwood dares to go there as she traces the growing love between a man and a very much younger girl, set against a life lived with drug dealers and users. In this case, "there" is them having their first sexual encounter when the girl is thirteen. Despite the high squick factor--or maybe because of it--I enjoyed the book, and applaud Greenwood (and her publisher) for taking chances.

At the Water's Edge, Sara Gruen (2015). Finished on Christmas Eve. This book will factor into that post on resolution I mentioned at the top. This also raises a question that can be explored some other time (or, I guess, you can answer below): Is it better to have a smash hit right out of the gate that all of your future work will be compared to, or to have modest success that builds over time? This book has a lot of flaws, but even when I read positive reviews (after the fact; I almost never read reviews before I've read the book), most people insisted on comparing this one to Water for Elephants.

Extinction, Mark Alpert (2013). Techno-thrillers are not my thing, and though I know some of the technology Alpert employs here (retinal implants, prosthetic devices powered by thought) are real, I found some of it to be a little too much. Not a bad read.

So, that's the list for the fourth quarter: Eight books read, six fiction, two non-fiction. My reading fell off a bit; this was the lowest number of books read, and the second time this year I read less than ten books, the other being the first quarter of the month. Schanberg's book also was extremely short, maybe 85 pages.

The total for the year: 42 books read. 37 fiction (including one play), five non-fiction. In a couple of weeks I think I'll talk a little more about the reading list and some things that interest me from my selections.

Oh, one last thing: I'm not usually good at playing favorites, but people usually want to know, so...Hmmm. If I had to pick the top three books I read this year (not counting re-reads), I would go with...The Water Knife, by Paolo Bacigalupi, NOS4A2, by Joe Hill, and All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr.

That's it for now, what about you? What books did you enjoy this last year? See you next time!

Monday, December 26, 2016

Monday Musing, Post-Holiday Edition

Christmas has come and gone, though the Holidays-with-a-capital-H are still upon us. Yesterday was a lovely day, a full day, and now we're sort of back into the routine. For example, here I am, improvising a blog post, waiting for my first cup of coffee, and realizing I just forgot to set the timer so said coffee is likely to come out of the French press too bitter. All systems working as intended.

Things are not normal, though. For one thing, I'm not scrambling as much as on a typical, didn'tfinishdraftingapostandnowI'vegottogetitdonebeforeIhavetoleaveforwork Monday. That's because New Boss decided (and got approval of the Board) to shut down the office for the week. Part of it was no doubt selfishly motivated: she wanted to spend time visiting family away from home this week, but it was also in recognition of the fact that me and my fellow underling co-worker both had put in a lot of extra hours over the year, particularly when we were down a staff person this summer. It's nice to be recognized for this, though not expected, and I won't expect it next year.

But it leaves me with a full week, and it's kind of strange to think of a full week without work. What does that leave me to do? For one, I still have to fix my thermostat. I bought a new one, along with some replacement wire (I got a look at the old stuff--it's so old, it's the kind that's covered in cloth. Can you say "Fire hazard? I knew you could."), but wisely decided seven o'clock on a weeknight was not the best time. Just in case I do something wrong. It shouldn't take long, and it should be pretty easy, but I'm the kind of person who turns simple jobs into complicated affairs. Know thyself, right?

There is also lots of reading to be done. I have a book on the end table, and another one at the library, I'm curious to see if I can finish both before next year, or if one (or both) will be first on the 2017 reading list. On top of that, I'm beta-ing for a friend and am woefully behind on that. I feel guilty, but it's not always easy--or fast--to beta. I hopefully have not taken so long that she changes the name of one the characters (it's kind of strange when you have an uncommon last name to see it in a work of fiction), or decides to have him killed off in some embarrassing or grisly way (of course, since I haven't read all the way through yet, that could be exactly what happens to him).

And, of course, there is writing, writing, writing. Job one, right? So, I suppose it's time to close this one up and get to it, and make this a working Holiday week.

What about you? Are you working this week, or are you back to your normal schedule?

Monday, December 19, 2016

Did You Say--Gasp!--Outline?

Good freezing morning to you today! Not only is it one of the coldest mornings of the year so far (outdoor thermometer says it's zero right about now), but my thermostat continues to prove that it needs to be replaced: for the third time in four nights, it failed to tell the boiler that heat was needed, and it's really freaking cold right now! Good news? It must have worked at least partway through the night, because it was 'only' in the mid fifties in the house when I got up. Still, that's too freakin' cold. The thermostat is one of those old, mechanical types with a coil and a mercury switch. I see a digital upgrade in my short-term future.

Around this time each year, Agent Carrie schedules calls with all of her clients to plot and plan for the upcoming year. It's a chance to set goals, discuss how things are working, and map out where we want to go and how we're going to get there. My call was yesterday afternoon. Through the magic of cell phone technology, I left my family in a supermarket and sat in the car while we talked. Best thing of all? When our conference was done, I stepped out of the car and saw my wife pushing a laden cart across the parking lot to me--we were done! Timing is everything!

Carrie and I last spoke in mid-September, when we discussed the editorial feedback and "near miss" of the novel I'd last completed. At that time, I mentioned my new project, something I'd started working on over the summer while on submission. Her reaction was...cautious. She expressed concern that it didn't sound like what I typically write. Admittedly, my poor description of it probably made it sound a bit like an action flick, which is definitely not my style, but I also don't talk about my writing as well as I write about it! I did understand where she was coming from, however, and when I went back to the WiP while avoiding the RiP, I made some changes based on what Carrie had put in my mind. I then abandoned the WiP during NaNo month in favor of the RiP, which I finally sent back to Carrie in early December.

In the last two weeks, I made substantial progress on the WiP. On Saturday morning, prior to a pre-Christmas cleaning binge, I added nearly 2000 words on to the end, and found myself happy with the progress. I have a little over 200 pages, almost 65,000 words down, and the full sense of what happens. Which brings me to yesterday's conversation with Carrie. On Saturday afternoon, after the pre-Christmas cleaning binge, I decided I wanted to send Carrie a synopsis of the WiP in advance of our conference. This way, she'd really understand the WiP in the likely event I garbled my way through the conversation. So I started the synopsis.

If you're an author, you've probably dealt with the synopsis. This is something many agents and editors ask for, where you condense your 100,000 word opus into three to five pages--or, worse yet, one page. It typically includes mentions of all the MAJOR CHARACTERS, all the major plot events, and the ending. It's something that causes as much angst for writers as a pitch letter, maybe more: if you're not an author, it's hard to write these things, trust me. At any rate, I got to a point on Saturday evening where I liked my synopsis, then touched it up again on Sunday morning and sent it out. I'll admit, I broke some rules: my synopsis is not a one page quickie, it's three pages. And I didn't mention all the characters, and I didn't put them in ALL CAPS. I'm daring. A maverick. A rule breaker. But it worked. When I talked to Carrie later, she seemed really excited about the project, and didn't express the same sort of reservations she had raised when we first talked about the project. Score for me!

It also helped me, however. If you've been reading this space at all, you know I'm a dedicated Wingman, a Discovery Writer, a man who hates the concept of outlining. Yet, the synopsis is, in fact, something of an outline. It lays out the major events of the plot, and in summarizing the plot, it's possible to see where some of the holes might be. Since I haven't read over this manuscript from start to finish (and trust me, this one is a hot mess in many ways) yet, I was running largely off of memory, and what I thought should happen. There are a couple of spots where the synopsis comes across as a mumble, the literary equivalent of "la la la'ing" your way through the line of a song when you're not quite sure how it goes.

10 Beatles Classics You Kind Of Know The Words To by jeremeey

This synopsis, or "after the fact outline," has helped me see where I need to beef things up, expand on things, fill in the details. I'm not ready to call myself an outliner, not by a longshot, but I certainly can see where outlining in the middle of things can help bring it all home.

That's it for me for this week. I hope you all have yourselves a beautiful holiday. See you next time!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Monday Musing: TV Schedules

On Friday morning, I found myself listening to something curious on one of the local radio stations. Seemed the DJ from one of the five or six stations housed in one building (and, as far as I can tell, these are the only two actual on-air personalities on any of these stations; I think they are totally automated otherwise) apparently popped in to chat with the other DJ. I don't know if this is something they do every week, or if maybe a guest who was supposed to come in that hour to speak with each of them cancelled, or if they just bumped into each other in the hallway and said, "Why the hell not?"

They were talking about television. I missed most of the discussion, I think--since I don't know how long they were talking, I can't really say--but neither of them are big TV watchers at this point, at least, of commercial TV. They both admitted to binge watching: "We'll sit down on the weekends and go through six episodes of House of Cards," said one. A little later, one commented how they don't know most shows on TV, but he could still remember the schedule of shows he used to watch as a kid. "I Love Lucy was on at nine on Monday, Burns and Allen, Thursday at eight."

It got me thinking about television and how much things have changed, even over the last 15, 20 years. When I was a kid, even into my thirties, probably, television was largely something you watched on schedule. Sunday night, Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom followed by The Wonderful World of Disney. Friday night had The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family back to back (my poor parents). And then there were specials--anything by Jacques Cousteau would have the entire family lined up on the couch. Later, of course, there was "Must See TV" and the new Fox network's Sunday Night shows (Bad Taste TV?).

Now, of course, schedule largely means nothing. It used to be you had one, maybe two chances to catch an episode of your favorite show, but if you were out on a particular Tuesday night at 8, you might have missed Fonzie jumping the shark on Happy Days, with no chance to see it until summer reruns. Now? No big deal. The latest episode of Big Bang Theory is probably available for free in half a dozen places (and maybe even legally!).

Is this good, or is this bad? On the one hand, clicking "Play Next Episode" is great if we just can't wait to see Rick and the gang fight off the undead and the living, or to see how Fiona Gallagher is going to save the family this time. It definitely maintains an excitement level. But do we lose anything? I don't know.

What about you? Do you watch TV according to their schedule, or yours? Do you watch TV at all?

Meanwhile, some music. Last Thursday was the 36th (!!!) anniversary of John Lennon's death. I heard the lovely rendition of his semi-finished song, Real Love, performed by Regina Spektor. She's got a marvelous voice, really interesting. Enjoy.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Weekend Update: And Away She Goes!

Various thoughts and musings over the previous week:

-A week ago yesterday, we spent the better part of ten hours in the car getting the Catbird back to school. My wife and the Catbird split the driving chores on the way up; I pretty much drove us home. I like driving, don't get me wrong, but the older I get....Anyway, woke up a little achy and sore on Monday, feeling a little fuzzy-headed. I attributed that to being out of work for almost a full week. But on Tuesday, oh boy. My first thought was, 'It's not the day after that will get you, it's the day after the day after!' But my aches became a little suspicious. So was the sore throat. I am fortunate that it didn't really develop into anything. My wife was not so lucky, and spent the better part of two days dealing with a fever. Ugh.

-The RiP is out the door! Sent it off to Carrie last night, and we'll see what happens from here. Interestingly enough, it actually expanded a touch in word count, yet it feels lean. We'll see what happens from here. Time to buckle in for a new round of submissions. Which means....

-Back to the WiP! On a certain level, I'm almost afraid of this one, for a couple of reasons. It's been written in a style not quite conventional for me (as if I can really be said to have a 'convention' at this point in time). Also because I've got 160, 170 pages written, but I'm not sure how much more the story can be expanded to fill out a full-length novel. I have tended, so far, to finish at around 98-100,000 words; this right now doesn't seem to have the potential to land anywhere near that. I suppose the bit question is, "Does it need  to?" Maybe this is something that really needs to be novella/short novel in length. Time will tell.

-I cannot believe Christmas is just under three weeks away.

That's all I got for today; what's up with you?