Monday, October 17, 2016

Monday Musing

I was heading for another "confessional post." Though it's been partially drafted, it's not ready and I don't have the time (or stomach) to get it ready for this week. Instead, we get random bits of whatever.

-Walking the dog in the morning, I'm still not used to the fact that it's largely dark until right around seven (this week). Autumn seems to come on fast in this part of the world. I'll enjoy it while I can.

- Speaking of walking the dog, I took this picture yesterday afternoon while walking the dog. I kind of like it.

-Debate number 3 is coming up this week. Another thing I'm not sure I have the stomach for. Have you noticed (not to get too political here, but I can't help myself) that Donald Trump's rhetorical strategy of late seems to boil down to "I'm rubber, you're glue"? After the "locker room banter" incident, it was "Bill Clinton said far worse." John McCain is "foul mouthed." (I can't even figure out where that comes from) Hillary Clinton "has hate in her heart." Now, after two debate performances that have had some jokingly (and others seriously) suggest Trump is using cocaine, he wants to take a drug test. Enough of that.

-Making only sporadic progress on the RiP and the WiP this past week/weekend. Going through the RiP, I'm finding some stuff that I can't believe got through to submission stage. Yeesh.

That's about all I've got this week; how's things with you?


Monday, October 10, 2016

In Which I Make a Horrible Admission: Locker Room Banter

(Author's note: I wrote this piece yesterday in Writers' Circle. I'm very much troubled by the recently-unearthed audio of Donald Trump on the "Access Hollywood" bus with Billy Bush. This has been very difficult to write, and pressing the "Publish" button is a little scary. I fear I may not have articulated things that well. Let's hope I have.)

Words matter. Words have the potential to influence the thinking of others, to change their actions and behaviors, maybe even their lives. But sometimes words are just words, not uttered or written with any particular intent beyond entertainment. They're used to funny, or to shock, or to gain attention. Whether we're aiming for influence or just throw-away entertainment, we still need to think about what we say, how we say it, and to whom.
Image from Wikipedia

I'm a guy. I hope this comes as no surprise to you after all this time. And as a guy, I've engaged in my fair share of locker room banter. Also golf course gabbing. Barroom bombast. I have told--and laughed at--jokes that cover every -ist and -ism out there. Racist, sexist, misogynist? Been there. I have slurred and slandered, engaged in stereotyping and objectification. Gay bashing? That, too. In certain situations with certain people, this side of me comes out.

I say all of this not because I'm proud of it. I'm not. I say this not to excuse it, because there's no excusing it. I say this because it's simply the truth. And the other truth is, in the right setting with the right people, I will almost certainly engage in "locker room banter" again. It's the simple truth of the matter.

What would you do if you heard me say these things? Would you become angry, tell me off, then leave and tell everyone you know that I'm an utter ass? Perhaps you would chuckle politely, then change the subject and find an excuse to leave soon thereafter, never to see me by choice again. Or maybe you'd join in with gusto. It depends on what kind of person you are. What will you do now that I've confessed these things to you? Will you comment? Stop following? Spread it far and wide on Twitter and Facebook and bring the hammer of Internet Outrage down upon my head? It all depends on what kind of person you are.

And now we come to Donald Trump. The recently-unearthed "Access Hollywood" clip has Trump bragging about putting the moves on a married woman, just kissing women, whether invited or not, and that as a rich, famous person, he can do whatever the hell he wants. Trump has brushed all of this off as locker room banter, and, in his typical fashion, has used his best second grade "I know you are, but what am I" rhetorical style to say that Bill Clinton is far, far worse (and he may well be, but this is not about Bill Clinton).

Do we let Donald Trump off the hook for his ten-year-old crudities on the "Access Hollywood" bus, or for the things he's said while guesting on the Howard Stern show five, ten, or twenty years ago? Do accept his excuse that he was just playing a role, or playing up (or down, as the case may be) to a particular crowd, and that it doesn't reflect who he is as a person? At this point,

And what's my excuse? What's the difference between me and Trump on this (besides the millions of dollars and millions in audience, that is)? I'd like to believe the difference is that one of us means what he says, and puts it into action, while the other is just engaging in locker room banter. I can tell you that I have never forcibly kissed a woman or put my hands on one uninvited. Nor would I. Meanwhile, there's mounting evidence that Trump's words to Billy Bush were not just him being "braggadocious." The allegations that continue to surface about Trump--from former business partners, from cast and crew of "The Apprentice," from contestants in the various pageants he has run--indicate that he these are not mere words.

Locker room banter is not going to go away. Men and women (but mostly men, I suspect) will continue to engage in it, and there's nothing necessarily wrong with that--provided it remains just that: banter. Words, not action, exagerration, not reality.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for commenting.

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Reading List (The Third)

Well, well, it's another sheet torn off the old wall calendar, and not just any month, but September. That means another quarter of the year gone, and that means it's time for the reading report! If you want to see what else I've read this year, here's Part I and Part II. But before we do that, let's have a quick peek at the old American chestnut growing on my lawn. On the left is a picture taken earlier in the week:

That picture on the right is a bit blurry, and lacks my hand for scale, but there was clearly a bit more growth put in between July and September. There won't be much growth going on now; hopefully the tree to be will make it through the winter. And now, on to the reading list!

Hyperart: Thomasson, Genpei Akasegawa (2010). Read this one at the urging of the Magpie, and it was amusing. Started early in quarter 2, put it aside for a while, then finished it off. Some day, I'll explain what a Thomasson is, but that day is not this one.

Born On A Tuesday, Elnathan John (2016). Strong debut novel about a young boy in Nigeria growing up among social and religious upheaval.

The Fireman, Joe Hill (2016). Joe Hill is good.

The Revenant: A Novel Of Revenge, Richard Punke (2002). I haven't seen the movie yet, but I found the ending rather disappointing and a bit anti-climatic.

End Of Watch, Stephen King (2016). Though I thought the middle book (Finders Keepers) was the best, this was satisfying way to wrap up the Mr. Mercedes trilogy, though it did veer a bit off the straight up detective story formula of the first two.

Everybody's Fool, Richard Russo (2016). Russo writes with tongue planted firmly in cheek, but I found this sequel lacked the warmth of the original.

Nobody's Fool, Richard Russo (1993) Re-read because it was hanging around and I wanted to compare it with the above. Russo nails life in a down-at-the-heels upstate New York town, and the banter between protagonist Sully and his frenemy, Carl Roebuck is pitch-perfect. This could be a desert island book.

The Age of Miracles, Karen Thompson Walker (2012). The earth's rotation begins to slow down, bringing unexpected, catastrophic changes. Very well done book, though I wasn't entirely sure if I was reading an adult book with a young protagonist or a YA book. It crossed the line back and forth a few times.

The Stand, Stepehn King (1980). Re-read. Still enjoyable after all these years, but the cracks are beginning to show. Do women really refer to themselves as "Stu's woman" or "Larry's woman"?

Life After Life, Kate Atkinson (2013). Great concept of a woman living her life over and over again, but can best be summed up by this exchange late in the book: "What if we had the chance to do it again and again, until we finally did get it right? Wouldn't that be wonderful?" "I think it would be exhausting."

Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides (2002). A multi-generational epic that covers the Greek expulsion from Turkey, incest, the immigrant experience, and gender identity, and still manages to be entertaining.

Heat & Light, Jennifer Haigh (2016). Gas drilling comes to a small Pennsylvania town, changing everything. Overall good, but I think Haigh should have trimmed the cast of characters back and gone deeper than she did.

Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson (2014). Picked up off the Catbird's bookshelf. Wow. Just, wow.

Thirteen books for the second quarter in a row, bringing my total for the year to 34. It's funny, too, because I felt like there was a slowdown somewhere in there, but I guess not. I have succeeded in reading newer (5 books published this year). One of these days I'll look at the diversity issue, too. But not today. That needs more space and time than what I've got right now. So--what's on your reading list?

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Inner Crowd

Oh my, it's getting crowded in here.

Last week, I had a conversation with Agent Carrie about my last project. As you may (or may not; I can't recall if I shared this or not) know, at the beginning of summer, said last project went out on submission. Generally speaking, I adhere to the policy of "what happens on submission stays on submission"--except when I don't. Like any writing rules, there are times when it's okay to break the rules, and I think this is one of them.

This project was my second manuscript to go out on submission, and I think I did a better job this time around of forgetting about it. Until August. That's when Carrie sent me an e-mail that said "Keep your fingers crossed." She also forwarded an e-mail from an editor who liked my project! Someone was considering it! Someone was shopping it around inside their house to see what others thought! Needless to say, at that point, it became hard not to think about it.

Ultimately, the project got turned down. With all the editorial rejections in, Carrie and I looked them over, talked about them, decided that we were close with this one, but there were a couple of things I could do on a rewrite to make this THE ONE that editors just had to have.Now it's time to get to work, do some refinement, and turn in a manuscript that cannot be turned down.

There's just one problem: I'm working on another project.

I've written before about projects that grind on and are difficult to work on for various reasons (too often to go digging through and find the links; you'll have to find them yourself if you want).  The last one was one of those; this new one is one of those. Chances are good that every single thing I ever write will be one of those. At any rate, I wrote about 175 pages between the end of June and now, which is makes it about half a book by my usual standards (though I do actually have the ending written). I'm at a stage where I think I need to go back to the beginning and start filling out--and cleaning up, because a lot of it is, frankly, a mess. Since talking to Carrie last week, however, my head is now filling up with other people: the people from the last project.

Though I am a wingman, I do a lot of "writing" in my head while doing non-writing things. Showering. Washing the dishes. Driving. Walking the dog. When I sit down at the keyboard I often have something of a plan for a scene or section, because I've been over it in my head, sometimes multiple times. Instead of those scenes from the current WiP, a lot of that non-writing writing time is being taken up with the last WiP--which I guess needs a new name. Maybe Revision in Progress, i.e., RiP, will work?

I suppose the thing to do here is to compartmentalize my brain in some way. Maybe early morning can be time for the WiP and evening can be time for the RiP. The tough part is getting my brain to devote the precious non-writing writing time to the most important task. Maybe I need some kind of inner office manager to keep the people and events from the RiP and the WiP in separate rooms, and to shuttle them from the front room to the back room when appropriate without getting anyone or anything mixed up.

Do you have any tricks for keeping your various projects separate? Do share!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Who Is This For?

I may have mentioned in an earlier post that I was having trouble with my computer. Well, I've actually been having trouble with it for a couple of years, due to a damaged hard drive that, for some time, would cause complete system crashes--a rather inconvenient thing, to say the least. Those problems seemed to disappear over the last six or seven months, which was really nice, though it was always at the back of my head that I could crash anytime. I got in the habit of saving early and often, and of setting up AutoSave to go off every two minutes or something like that.

Of course, we all know that computers, like cars, don't just fix themselves, and the hard drive was the least of my worries. My computer had a lot of stuff in it--by which I mean hard drives (two), optical drives (2), USB ports (more than you could shake a stick at)--and those things started disappearing. When I lost my speakers two years ago I thought it was something I had done; I had disabled them but then couldn't enable them. Inconvenient, but no biggie: no one in the house really wanted to be subject to the barrage of Grateful Dead I listen to when I write, and I have since found headphones are more effective at blocking out distraction, and might actually be better for picking up nuance in music. As the month of August wore on, however, I realized that it probably wasn't me failing to find the proper audio component in my Device Manager--it was my computer, slowly but surely dying.

My wife had bought an expansion drive some time ago with a universe of storage space on it and had been urging me to back up the hard drive. I had started this back when the crashes were occurring, but hadn't finished. The last week in August I got on my horse and copied files, and it's a good thing: the old computer had a couple of nights where it shut itself down, and each time I turned it back on, I noticed that, one by one, the various bits of hardware were disappearing from the list. Then one evening it wouldn't turn on at all (not entirely true: fans spin and that's about it). Meaning...

The day after Labor Day, the replacement arrived. It's a sleek, cheap Dell that takes up about a third of the space the old tower filled. When it arrived, I wanted to put it up on my desk, alongside my monitor. That meant I needed to excavate my desk, which I did. Well, almost. I excavated about two-thirds of my desk--not my idea of fun, but necessary (and not complete; I hate cleaning up).

As I excavated, I found a lot of interesting things, which I will not go into much detail about, but I did find this, and if you're a writer, you probably have some of this, too:

Yes, these are printed out manuscripts. On the top is my most recent epic, printed out this spring. You can see a bunch of sticky notes hanging off the side. Below that are actually more recent editions, from later in the editing process. Mixed in with the mess are parts of my last two manuscripts, along with notes and e-mails from beta readers.

In prepping my desk for the new computer, I filled a bag with garbage and a big cardboard box with recyclables. Perfect time to pitch the old manuscripts away, right? Well, that picture was taken this morning.

Last week, Katrina Lantz, writing at the blog Operation Awesome, embedded a vlog from writer Beth Revis (Across the Universe) on failure and success. In the video, Beth displayed a pile (actually, it might have been two piles) of manuscripts she had written before getting Across the Universe published. She mentioned, I believe, ten manuscripts, and you can bet she's got all ten of them printed out and saved somewhere in her house. After seeing this video, and finding myself with a pile of three unpublished (but hopeful) manuscripts on the floor to my left, two weeks after cleaning up my desk, I have to ask: Who are we saving these for? And why?

I know the impulse that drives me to save drafts upon drafts on my computer. It's the same one that makes me do a Save As... every time I make a major change to my manuscript, the same one that explains why I have 11 versions of my currently on submission project in various stages of completion on the computer: fear. Fear that something will go horribly wrong with the new version and I'll have to go back to a previous version; fear that, if I don't keep it, it will be lost forever should I need to go back, that I won't be able to pull something out of my head again if needed.

But the pile of paper is different. Given the gazillion-gigabyte expansion drive, the cloud, the ability to e-mail myself or Agent Carrie the manuscript at any time as a safeguard, the pile of paper is completely unnecessary. So why do I do it? Why do we do it (since Beth Revis' video shows I'm not alone in my manuscript hoarding)?

Fiction writers are historians, in a way, charting the lives of people and families who never existed, recording their histories in exacting detail. Maybe saving our drafts and notes is akin to preserving important documents: records of births and deaths, marriages and moves. Or maybe it's just an ego thing: Or maybe it's some sort of ego thing: we're hoping to make it big, and we want to leave something to posterity. Here are my eyeglasses, here's my coffee mug, here's the marked-up first draft of my first mega-bestseller.

Wow, I've gone on much longer than I expected. So, what do you think? Are you a manuscript hoarder, and if so, why?

Monday, September 12, 2016

Triggers, Again

While I was on my break, triggers and trigger warnings popped rather suddenly into prominence again. Triggered by a post Porter Anderson wrote for Writer Unboxed in mid-August, I started drafting my own bit on this, which, of course, I've already done at least once before (Tipper Stickers). The initial work I did on the latest post was lost when my computer finally collapsed in a heap of aging processors and blown capacitors, but I had enough in my head to carry on. So, here we are. Again.

When I began crafting my response to Anderson's post, it was not all that different from my Tipper Stickers post: the purpose of literature is to provoke thought and feeling; I don't like the idea of putting ratings on books, though I accept them on movies and TV programs; a reader can always stop reading, etc. and so forth. Not a lot had changed.

But as I started my comment, a thought popped into my head: As a person who has never suffered any real trauma in life beyond the usual scrapes and bruises, am I really qualified to decide?

The major traumas in my life involve the deaths of my parents (and neither of those events qualifies as scarring; it's sad that they aren't part of our lives anymore, and watching loved ones succumb to illness sucks, plain and simple; but nothing in their deaths rises to the level where there are triggers) and one assault at the Lenox Avenue subway station that I got over long ago. Simply put, I am fortunate--and happy--not to have had incidents that leave me prone to debilitating emotional responses. And much as straight white men in America are not usually that reliable when it comes to commenting on issues of racism and sexism (particularly the sneaky institutional kinds), this may leave me unqualified to really determine whether there should be triggers or not.
Wait, not that kind!

Sensitivity in this world is a must. The whole point of so-called "Political Correctness" is not about stopping people from thinking, or stopping people from speaking their minds; rather, it's to get them to think about what they're saying and writing, to consider other people's lives and points of view, and to recognize that there are other experiences out there beyond their own. You can go on thinking whatever you want--you will, anyway. Just think a little about who you're impacting before you say it.

Whoops, I've drifted a bit off topic. The simple truth is, I don't think there should be any topics that are taboo in writing, and I think it's absolutely wrong to tell writers not to include potentially upsetting scenes. As for trigger warnings? Again, maybe. My question is this, though: Who gets to decide what warrants a trigger warning and what does not? What do you think?

Monday, September 5, 2016

Whoa, What Is This Place?

It's September and my self-imposed blog break is over. I return a bit refreshed and even have enough ideas sketched out to get me through a month of this--the question is whether or not I'll do enough pre-writing on these would-be future posts to make it not too much of a struggle or not. I'm thinking I might. At least for a little while.

Now, I must admit, I've totally screwed up. I sat down this morning thinking how I would ease into the blogging thing by reporting on my reading list for the third quarter. I even started writing up the introduction. But, somewhere on my way to get the coffee ready (and it's still not ready; another two minutes or so), my fogged brain did some calculations and I realized I'm too early--the third quarter doesn't end until the end of September. Which means I'll actually have to post something else (I knew my reading list for the quarter was looking a little thin!). Let me think of that while I get me some...

 One sip, and things are suddenly much better!

So, reason for the break: as I may have said when announcing this break, I really haven't been happy with either my post quality or the fact I've been squeezing things out under pressure. I like to post on Monday mornings, and several of my posts were coming Monday evening, and I think I even deferred one to Tuesday. Not what I wanted. So, here's where I place the blame for all this!

Summer is typically my busiest time at the job, as I have a lot of outdoor work to arrange, and I also tend to have a lot more weekend work because of the nature of what I do. This summer was no exception. It was compounded, however, by the departure of my boss, who told us back at the end of March that she was leaving. Her last day was in mid-May. While the board of directors searched for a new boss, I took on most (hell, pretty much all) of Old Boss' responsibilities--in addition to my own. I didn't necessarily work longer hours, though perhaps I should have, but my days were definitely packed a bit more.

I did not realize until New Boss started how much the job was weighing on me, until New Boss started. Some of it was almost certainly the pressure of carrying two sets of job responsibilities; I suspect there was some anxiety in there about what kind of person New Boss would be. She started in early August, and so far, so good.I like her personally; professionally, I think she's going to do a great job. The evidence of how tough the summer was for me is that I realize I've been in an extremely elevated mood for the last three weeks or so--my energy level is up, my mood is up. I'll ride that as long as I can.

On top of all the other stuff, summer is summer and both girls were home (Yay!). We're a one-car family (Boo!). So, there was a lot of ferrying of people back and forth, and a lot of car juggling going on.

And then there are the worries of being on submission, even though through most of July I was on Amnesia Mode where that was concerned, and working on The Next One. I'm happy to say I made solid progress on The Next One, particularly during July. I slowed down a bit in August, but there is some reconfiguration I need to do on that piece.

Anyway, New Boss is working out really well so far, the Catbird is back at school, thus cutting some of the car juggling, and I'm back and ready to blog--at least this week, so far. I've been keeping tabs on many of you, but tell me: How's your summer been?