Monday, May 30, 2016

Musical Monday: Concert!

Having a dog comes with many benefits. The downside? They get old.

Our pup is twelve this year, and as she gets older, she gets more neurotic and definitely more entitled. This morning she woke me up at ten past five so I could take her out. But what I think she most wanted was water. We came back in from the walk and she drank one and a half bowls.

I can't blame her. It was mid- to upper-80s the last two days. We keep her in our bedroom at night and can't let her roam free because a) she'd get her butt kicked by the cat; and b) she'd eat all the cat's food, and c) she'd eat out of the bathroom garbage. So she stays in our bedroom at night. I'd consider putting a water bowl in our bedroom so she can drink at will, but she's such a sloppy drinker I fear waking up in the morning would be like getting out of bed on the Titanic.

So I'm up and it's now 5:45 and it's not a work day and it would be nice to sleep in, but on the bright side, maybe I can get some writing done. I have an article for the local paper I need to finish (so much for not working on a holiday, hah ha), and maybe, just maybe, I can start on a new fiction project (yes, that's right, my current project is once again off in Carrie's hands; wish me luck!).

This weekend, the wife and I trucked ourselves out to the local brewery (err, wait, we now have at least three breweries in county, along with half-a-dozen wineries and a distillery, so we're fast becoming the cirrhosis capital of New York) for a concert headlined by Lake Street Dive, with Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings as the opener. What a night!

We had high 80s all day, clear skies and a broiling sun. The forecast called for possible thunderstorms, but we saw nothing but a little puff cloud here and there. After the sun went down, things cooled, but nicely (we were there for a show seven or eight years back where it was drizzly and cold, thus miserable). It was only at the end of the night that a sweatshirt was needed. Anyway, we arrived around six, set up our chairs, got some beers, and ran into a friend of ours. I stood in a long line for a couple of burritos from a food truck, and pretty much when I got back to my chair, the show started, right at seven.

The venue is all lawn, general admission. There's an arc between the soundboard and stage that is a no-chair zone; beyond that, you can set up chairs anywhere you like. We aimed for just off center (so as not to be blocked by the tent covering the soundboard) a couple hundred feet back. It actually felt closer than the picture indicates.
Sharon Jones is the tiny red dot in the center of the stage
That glaring sun you see is the only drawback. When we arrived, the sun was almost directly over the stage, so we were looking right into it through Sharon Jones' set. Oh, the other drawback is the guy sitting in front of us had turned his chair around because of the sun, so he was five feet away and kind of staring at me while I tried to eat a burrito. It was kind of weird.

Jones and the Dap-Kings were mighty impressive. I know a couple of their songs from the radio ("100 Days, 100 Nights" and "Stranger to My Happiness") and really enjoyed the set. They've got a great, early 60s soul vibe, and as I said that night, it's not a style of music I seek out, but I really like it when I hear it. Jones at 60 years old (!) has more energy than a lot of younger people. They played for an hour and a half, by which time the sun had gone down. A quick set change, and Lake Street Dive took the stage right at nine.

I've featured Lake Street Dive here on at least two occasions. What was funny is the friend we ran into had about the same experience with discovering this band as me: heard an album review on NPR, found a video of them singing on a Boston street, and went from there. In his case, he'd seen them four or five times before. This was my first.

Small band, big sound

They put on a fantastic show. What surprised me from what I knew of them was that they rocked harder than expected based on their studio releases, but it wasn't in the way some bands do it, where they just kick up the tempo a few notches and add a bunch of "Now you sing along" type of stuff. They played loud, they played with energy, they played with passion, and they kept it flowing. And they did it without pyrotechnics, video screens, or a light show that needed its own nuclear plant to power it. Simple, but effective, where the band was the show. And they encored with this:

which was actually more impressive live than in the video.

What a night. How was your weekend?

Both photos by me; video by Lake Street Dive

Monday, May 23, 2016

We Have "Leaf" Toff!

Oh, that's a bad title, isn't it? Yes, it is. And I'll use it again on my personal Facebook page. I'm not too proud.

Last week, while mowing the lawn, I checked in on the fabled chestnut tree and saw that it appeared to be doing nothing. Well, not entirely nothing. The buds looked round and slightly swollen, but that was about it. Yesterday, while walking the dog, I peaked in and...well, it looked about like this (picture taken this morning):

There's life!

Sorry for the quality of the photo, I'm not real good at this, especially when it's six in the morning, the grass is wet, and I haven't yet had a cup of coffee.

I continue to worry about my little future tree. When it first began to grow it lost all the buds but the bottom-most one, and when I looked at it last week, I was sure the top bud was gone. This, in fact, looks like it's the second bud, and of the four or five below it, it only looks like one is going to pop. I'm not sure what's going on or why. And while I was worried about why it was taking so long to leaf out this year, I'm reminded of three things: most of the trees in our area are only just getting started; in it's two previous years on my lawn, this tree has been a slow starter; and, finally, it's still living in a corrugated plastic tube (we have squirrels, red and gray, we have woodchucks, we have deer; that thing's staying in it's tube until it's big enough to survive those threats).

At the same time, I'm hoping this is the year. My botanist board member reminded me the other day that in the nursery trade, they have a phrase for transplant situations: "Sleep, creep, then leap." If that's the case, then this is the leap year.

In other news, I *think* I'll be done with revisions to my current work of art this week. I am currently about fifty pages out from the end and just last night worked out what I think is my last major hurdle, which will likely add a couple of paragraphs to the manuscript. Which is okay, because right now I've chopped almost 20 pages off the manuscript length and gotten under 100,000 words. I'm feeling pretty good about it.

That's all for me for today; what are you feeling pretty good about today?

Monday, May 16, 2016

Wandering in the Fog

The beauty of being a wingman is that you can start with an empty page and the briefest glimmer of an idea--it doesn't have to be an overarching idea for a novel, either; it can be a character or a single scene with almost no context at all--and start writing. At the end of the session you have something, something that suggests the next scene or chapter, something that may even suggest how it's all going to turn out in the end (though that may take a few sessions). As you string sessions and scenes together, the story starts to take shape. Like an object seen in the fog, it goes from being a vague, slightly-darker-than-the-background thing to something solid, definite, definable.

The story's somewhere out there. I think.

The problem with doing it this way, of course, is you can get yourself lost in some plot dead end, where things don't make sense and it's not clear how to get out of it. That's when you find yourself scrapping large chunks of manuscript that you poured your heart's blood into, when you find yourself thinking, "Why did I delete that scene in Trafalgar Square???" (Which is most likely followed by "Did I save  that scene in Trafalgar Square???" and a bit of praying as you search your hard drive)

Despite all the hubbub of the weekend, I made significant progress on my manuscript, and find myself at the 70% mark. But now I find myself at one of those trouble spots. During my last read-through, I came to a section where I realized I had cut a significant scene. I don't remember actually cutting the scene, but I remember why I did it, which is kind of funny. That scene went back in, and I'm glad.

Unfortunately, every scene that goes in or out at this stage has a ripple effect. I am now almost at the point where I had inserted a chapter's worth of material on my last revision, right before I sent the manuscript to Carrie. This I remember writing, and I remember why I wrote it, but on my post-Carrie read-through, it felt heavy-handed and...not exactly wrong, but not exactly right, either.

And this is the part where I think I should compromise with myself and do some form of outlining. I'm not talking about abandoning my wingman ways, no. But once I actually start getting my story down into a fairly solid form, maybe I should outline it--really outline it--and keep that outline handy and updated (I usually do some form of outline, but I don't keep up with it, so it's kind of useless). This way, maybe I would have a better sense of what one change in Chapter 15 might have in Chapter 18, instead of having to discover it all over again.

Should be a fun week! Do you ever got lost in your work? How do you get out of it?

"Tree And Fog" by George Hodan, from

Monday, May 9, 2016

Monday Musing

Another Monday morning that catches me rather bleary-eyed and unprepared. Second cup of coffee is on its way in and I'm not much better off than when I got up!

-Despite having to work through almost all of my Saturday, attending a memorial service for a really good guy I knew through work, having to mow my lawn on Sunday, and Skyping with the Catbird last night, I managed to work through over 50 manuscript pages over the weekend. Since starting the actual revision work (as opposed to reading and making notes) I've cut 4,000 words and 15 pages, tightening things up considerably. What do I like better, drafting or crafting? It's hard to say. There's nothing like the rush of pouring words out on the page. Then again, there's nothing like polishing something to a high shine and smoothing out the rough edges.

-I woke from a dream this morning in which both my parents were alive. I didn't see my father; he was running his trains off in another room. It's very unusual for me to dream about my parents. I have had several dreams in the past (including two in the recent past) about their house, of all things, but not usually them. Maybe it was all the pictures of people with their mothers splattered all over Facebook on Saturday.

-The graduation photos have started appearing: kids of friends and family who have no business leaving college so soon are getting out! The Magpie graduates officially next week; she came home on Friday (though she has one more paper to turn in yet). It's interesting how, not all that long ago, she loved being in college and didn't want to think about life after, and now she's happy to be out. In true Magpie fashion, she's skipping the university graduation, though we are going to the much more intimate departmental ceremony. I'm not heartbroken by this decision at all.

-Music! Because, why not? From a performance 39 years ago (!) yesterday.

-That's all I got for today. How was your weekend?

Monday, May 2, 2016

Squeezing Time

Last week was one of those weeks.

Each year, the organization I work for runs a garage sale. The purpose of said sale is for people to find new homes for old items that would otherwise either go moldy in a basement or garage or end up in a landfill. It also helps raise a little money for us. It's pretty popular. So I spent about 90% of my work week in a dusty garage (because our garage sale is literally in an old garage), hauling old furniture and boxes getting things set up. It's physical, and dirty, and tiring, and in the back of my head I'm always worrying about the office things that are maybe not getting done while I'm not there.

On Saturday, on the first day of the sale, I actually spent my day with a group of college students doing some trail cleanup and maintenance in a local state forest. This was also physical, dirty, tiring work, but I came out of that, not exactly refreshed, but with a little more pep. It's the difference, I guess, between working in a rather dingy garage sale space and working in the great outdoors.

Yesterday was my day of "rest." I worked on the revisions to my current project, which I've been working on steadily all week. Yesterday I managed to put in three good chunks of time on it, probably totaling six or seven hours over the course of the day and evening. It's not dirty work, but it is tiring and it does take a toll on the body as well.

I'm coming into a stretch where I'll be working part of just about every weekend for several weeks, and where I may not be able to get a day off in the week for a while. I also may have to put in some extra hours during the work week here and there, as I'm temporarily filling two positions at once. Both girls will be coming home in the next week-and-a-half, which means there will be more squeezing of time. I won't let that cut into my writing time.

Back when I used to hang out on Absolute Write, people would regularly start up threads with titles like "How do you find the time to write?" And they would start the thread talking about all the demands on their time that kept them from writing. When I responded (after a while, I stopped, but my reasons for quitting AW are a post for another day), my answer was always pretty much the same: "I want to be published. For me to be published, I have to finish what I start. Therefore, I find the time." It's not always easy, but it's how it has to be.

How about some music from the Tedeschi Trucks Band?

Monday, April 25, 2016

In the DNA?

Did he steal his fate or earn it?
Was he force-fed, did he learn it?*
 Anyone with even a passing interest in the Beatles and/or John Lennon probably thought the same thing I did when hearing "Valotte" -- the first single from Julian Lennon's debut album -- back in the fall of 1984: "Holy shit, he sounds a lot like his father!"

His father, of course, is John Lennon, and the resemblance, physical and vocal, between the two men is striking. One thing I do find interesting: Julian at twenty-one sounded less like his father in his twenties than he did his father at forty. Take a listen to something like "Please Please Me" compared to "Watching the Wheels" and you'll see what I mean.

I'm no expert, but there are two things that seem to go into creating a voice: the physical component is based on things like the shape and size of your larynx and vocal cords, chest and lungs, nasal and oral cavity, and probably more than that, but you get the idea. These things go into making the sound of your voice, the timbre, if I'm using that in quite the right way, and these things are determined by genetics. In other words, Nature.

The other component of voice is the way you speak (or, in this case, sing). It's in your word choice, pronunciation, accents, phrasing. These things are the product of non-physical factors: where you live, the people around you, socio-economics. This is nurture. Some things are absorbed, and some things are put on, but these things are easier to learn, unlearn and change than the physical components of voice. I say "Lawn GUYland" because that's where I grew up and that's how everyone talked. I add "eh" on the end of a lot of my sentences because one of my friends and I used to mock (lovingly) Canadian hockey players and broadcasters and that's how THEY talked; in my case, it became habit (Fun fact: in college, I had a guy peg me as from being from Long Island based on how I said the word "strawberry"; some years later, the sister of a co-worker thought I was from Canada).

Questions of voice and nature versus nurture occurred to me last week as I read Joe Hill's latest (published in 2013, so I guess it's already "old") novel, NOS4A2. Hill is the author of three novels, with a fourth due out in a few weeks, one short story collection and at least one graphic novel. He's also the son of "America's Horror Master," Stephen King, a fact he reputedly withheld from his agent for twenty years until his debut novel, Heart-Shaped Box came out in 2007.

Last year, knowing full well that Hill was the son of King, I read both Heart-Shaped Box and Horns, which came out in 2010. I enjoyed both books and admit that I went in at least partly searching for similarities to King. While there were some, they didn't stand out to me hugely. Heart-Shaped Box felt like a solid debut novel (and Hill won major points with me when, in HSB--SPOILER ALERT--he let a side character that I liked live; I have no doubt his father would have killed that character off 'cuz that's how he rolls), while Horns was a little grittier. If there was any resemblance to King in that one, it was King when he was masquerading as Richard Bachman. But in NOS4A2? Oh, the resemblance is strong.

Aside from the fact that Hill references several of his father's works in this one (remember when I was talking about Easter Eggs last week? Yeah, that post could have been inspired by NOS4A2), it's the style that's eerily similar. There's liberal use of italics and parentheses (though not quite in abundance), and things that advice-givers tell newbie authors to avoid like the plague, like ALL CAPS! AND EXCLAMATION MARKS! AND THE BOOK IS 700 PAGES LONG! And it just really feels like younger Stephen King. So I ask the question: Can something like this be passed down from novelist to novelist, the way elements of appearance or voice (physical) can be? Or is it the result of learning and absorption? What do you think?

*"Victim or the Crime" by Gerrit Graham and Bob Weir

Monday, April 18, 2016

Easter Eggs

If you're a video gamer, regularly watch DVDs, or even just a user of computers (and who isn't at this point?), then you're probably familiar with "Easter Eggs." These are hidden bits of coding that reveal or unlock some special feature or joke: maybe an extra level in a game; a goofy message; an extra video clip; the names of the members of the development team. They don't necessarily add anything of real significance to the experience, but they are no doubt fun for the people making the product, and give the end users plenty to do as they seek them out.

He's even got Indy's trusty whip!
I remember the first Easter Egg I found was in the LucasArts produced game, Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine. While wandering through the game's last level, I took Indy down a long, dark corridor with a light at the end. As Indy stepped into the room, his appearance changed: he became Guybrush Threepwood, the hero of LucasArts' Monkey Island games; the room he came out in was a reproduction of a barbershop from one of those games, the walls lined with pictures of various LucasArts people. It was good fun, though it made me wonder what I may have missed in other games I've played over the years. When I was playing, however, I did not put a whole lot of time into trying to find these things. There were always other things to do.

Late last week, I found what I consider to be an Easter Egg in a book.

Technically I suppose it's not an Easter Egg. Books can't have Easter Eggs in the same way as so-called interactive media; what books can have are inside jokes and self references, spoofs and homages. Readers might get the literary references (when Stephen King and Peter Straub co-wrote The Talisman, you can be that naming their 12-year-old hero Jack Sawyer was a nod to Twain's Tom Sawyer), but they can't be expected to get the inside jokes--unless they know the author. In this case, I do, as she lives and works locally. More importantly, I know the person whose name she dropped, and while the way she used it didn't unlock any secret levels or hidden chapters, it did unlock a laugh from me. Right or wrong, I took it as a bit of a backhand at her boss.

When I write, I let bits of myself out into my characters. Places that are or were important to me often filter into it (I have a terrible habit of including ocean beaches as significant places in my writing), but I have not included names of people I know, or written directly about things that have happened to me or my friends and family. No Easter Eggs in my writing. What about yours? Do you include deliberate references to people, places and incidents from your life in your writing? Do you hide Easter Eggs?