Monday, February 1, 2016

Monday Musing

Last week was one of those weeks that nearly ate my brain. We had a big grant application due on Friday that kept me in the office for 22 combined hours on Wednesday and Thursday, and took up almost all of my other time in the office. Despite that, I actually managed to draft a post that I wanted to run today...but couldn't quite bring it home this morning. So it goes, as some famous author once said. Instead, here are some random bits and pieces.

The great winter that wasn't continues. My radiator was cold to the touch this morning, but mainly because the heat wasn't going on often enough to make it warm. It was about 45 F when I got up this morning. Given the mild winter, I expect a spike in the price of maple syrup this year, because I can't imagine we're going to see a whole lot produced this year. Back in December, the grass was green and there were a few dandelions popping up. When we took the Catbird back to school after Thanksgiving, there was a red maple in flower on the campus quad (they're not supposed to flower until late winter/early spring), and I've heard reports of Forsythia blooming downstate. El Niño has brought us wonderful, mild weather, but I can't help but wonder what the spring is going to look like.

Tomorrow is groundhog day, and I fully expect that the mayor of Punxsatawney is going to tell us it's going to be an early spring this year. I also expect that, some time in February, we're going to get a murderous cold snap that will make us forget how mild everything has been. It's still winter, after all.

Two notable events occurred in sports over the weekend: the NHL held its All-Star weekend, and the NFL held the Pro Bowl. Does anyone even watch this stuff anymore?

Writing is progressing. Actually, I've been reading and taking notes on my current manuscript. I expect to finish very soon and start yet another rewrite. Aside from a couple of thin spots, I'm actually pretty happy.

Speaking of writing--when Carrie and I had our conversation, she asked me if I had any ideas for The Next Project. I did. I do. One is partially written, another was just an idea. This weekend, a story started writing itself in my head. I'm not sure where it came from. It feels like it has potential....

Speaking of writing, II: Elephant's Bookshelf Press is opening up to submissions for their next anthology. Matt is a good guy and a great editor, and I'm not just saying that because he published two of my short stories. Details can be found here.

Last week, quite by accident, I discovered that Hulu is running a special mini-series adaptation of Stephen King's 11/22/63. In case you're not aware, this was a mighty, mighty book by King about a man who traveled back in time to stop the Kennedy assassination. It's an excellent book, and I will watch this. I just hope it's better than the treatment given to Under the Dome.

Finally, here's an oldie for you, one that is appropriate in these troubled times: Elvis Costello and The Attractions covering Nick Lowe. Have a great week, everyone.

Monday, January 25, 2016

On Dynasties

Most of the people in my life that I know are from New York, especially Long Island and the New York City region. This was made all the more clear last night, when my Facebook feed erupted in gloating after the Denver Broncos defeated the New England Patriots in last night's AFC title game. No seventh trip to the Super Bowl for coach Bill Belichick, quarterback Tom Brady, and the rest of the Pats. No fifth Super Bowl title for the hated team from New England. My friends who are Jets fans were joined by a lot of others from all across the country in gleefully waving

to New England.

Of course, this also leads to predictions of New England's demise. Tom Brady is 38, ancient for a quarterback. Coach Bill Belichick can't do this forever. And in the modern world of sports, there's no way they can hold this winning team together for much longer, right? Jets fans (and, seemingly, everyone else) are salivating over a season of mediocrity from New England, or even something as bad as Belichick's first season in New England, when the Patriots went five and eleven. Everyone would like to see New England plunged back into the dark ages, maybe into a run as desperately bad as the Detroit Lions of 2008 (winless) or the Columbia University football squad (forty-four consecutive losses). That would be sweet revenge, right?

Maybe not.

Though the Patriots can no longer quite be considered a true dynasty team in the sense of what the word means (multiple consecutive championships, like the New York Yankees who won five straight World Series titles, the Montreal Canadiens, who won five straight Stanley Cups and appeared in an astounding ten consecutive Stanley Cup finals, or the Boston Celtics and their eight straight NBA championships) their consistent winning record is the closest thing we have in sports right now. The changes that have occurred in modern sports--salary caps, free agency, endless expansion, of leagues and playoffs--have all but knocked off the true dynasties, and that's too bad, in my opinion.

The people who run the sports leagues want parity, and there's something to be said for it. As a fan, it's nice to look at your team and your favorite sports league at the beginning of a season and think, "We've got a shot." It's also nice to know that rebuilding your team to contender status doesn't have to take a generation. Playoff races are more intense and upsets in the playoffs are more likely--hooray for parity! Yet, I feel like we're losing something at the same time.

Dynasties give us someone to hate. They also give us someone to look up to, to grudgingly admire. Dynasty teams tend to bring out the best in their opponents, even if they end up making them look silly. They serve as motivation and provide a template for other general managers. And if we're lucky, and our general manager is any good, we fans have hope that, some day, our team will be the one sitting on the throne and running off championship after championship.

We don't know if the Patriots are done. Maybe they are, maybe they're not. But I think that, when they are finally gone (as all dynasties must eventually fall), some of those Jets fans will one day look back and say (grudgingly), "Yeah, that was one hell of a football team."

Have a great week, everyone.

Monday, January 18, 2016

This and That Monday

Another Monday morning in blogland. Yesterday was spent on the road; the Catbird went back to school after a nice month home, and I'm finding that, the older I get, the more long drives wear me out. So, this will be one of those days where I'm just meandering around a bit, as opposed to one of those times where I have something coherent to say.

FIRST, writing land business. Agent Carrie is open to submissions for her query critique. If you've got a query, and you're looking for a shot at having an agent critique it (and having an agent potentially review your first hundred pages), go check it out. And if you don't have a query, consider checking back there in a few days or a week, so that you can help the lucky winner--and learn something yourself.

And speaking of Agent Carrie, just as governors have a State of the State address, and presidents do a State of the Union, she and I will be conferring for our annual State of the Partnership Phone Conference. This is a chance to formally discuss what's going on and setting the goals and plans for the coming year into place. For me, on the broadest level, it's "finish  the book, start the next," though I have other thinsg in mind, as well.

While on the subject of writing, I did "finish" my current project last week--huzzah!--but I was alarmed to look at how much the word count has grown. In a few more days, it's back into the grinder with it to see what fluff can come out. Writing a novel can seem to be a never-ending process, can't it?

I caught the last two hours of last night's debate, and found I actually enjoyed it. Three intelligent people who were sticking to debating the issues and not resorting to a series of schoolyard-level insults. Most surprisingly, I felt that the moderators  were rather pro-Sanders in terms of how they ran the debate. They seemed to throw a lot of questions his way, and seemed more willing to defer to him when he asked for a few seconds to respond to something stated by the other candidates during the previous discussion. I feel a bit for Martin O'Malley, who really has to struggle to get his voice heard. Sanders and Clinton are both LOUD and aggressive; O'Malley is kind of a nice balance to that, but he disappeared for long stretches, which is part personality, and part the fault of the moderators.

And, just to finish, tomorrow the Magpie goes back to school as well, so the nest will once again be empty. This is it for her, the final semester of her life as a college student (unless she ultimately opts for graduate school, but that won't be the same). It is truly amazing how fast the time goes, isn't it?

That's all I've got for today; what have YOU got?

Monday, January 11, 2016

On the Cusp

A funny thing happened while I've been griping and grumbling and carping about my current WiP: I'm nearly finished.

Last night, I sat down and tried to work on the penultimate chapter. I didn't have much success, but that's okay. The morning was productive, and this chapter will come--I may start in on it after I finish this post, or this evening when I'm home from work. If all goes well, by the time I have my "State of the Union" conference with Carrie later this week, I'll be able to tell her, "It's done!"* and we'll both be pretty happy about that.

It's funny how stuff like this can sneak up on you. You're plugging along, focused on what's in front of you, and all of a sudden, there it is--whoa, how'd that happen? For a long time it felt like I would never get here, but it happened the way writing always happens: one word, one sentence, one paragraph, one page at a time.

*Of course, I'm not quite ready to pop the champagne just yet (I don't do that, anyway, though I might allow myself a nip of scotch or something). There are those last two chapters to get through. The one I couldn't quite face last night will require a little more heavy construction than the last one. And then it's definitely going to need a re-read and a pass-through before I send it off. Will it ultimately be good enough? That remains to be seen, but it's a step almost completed, and given how difficult it's been to get here, I'll enjoy the moment.

Have you ever surprised yourself by reaching the end of one of your projects? How do you celebrate hitting 'The End'?

I was a little shocked this morning to sit down at my computer and see the news that David Bowie died. Every once in a while someone will die and you'll think, "Wait, I didn't even know he was still alive!" but that was not the case with Bowie. What did surprise me was that he had been battling cancer. Either I don't pay that much attention to the celebrity news or Bowie kept this one to himself. Even when he released a new song not all that long ago (I gave it a listen, and really didn't like it), I don't recall there being any mention of cancer.

I was never a huge Bowie fan; I liked some of his music, but not all of it. Still, there was no doubt that he was a huge persona, and a huge influence in the world of music. Here's "Modern Love." Back when I was a college freshman, there was a guy a few doors down who used to blast this all day.

Monday, January 4, 2016

New Year Noodling

First post of the new year, and I'm in rather familiar territory: not knowing what to write! So, we'll ramble.

-We did not watch the ball drop--it's just not the same without Dick Clark (though the last time I saw Dick Clark, that wasn't the same, either). We did do a countdown, complete with New Year's hugs and kisses, and I ran outside for a few seconds to bang a wooden spoon against the bottom of a pot. It's something we used to do when I was a kid, part of an old tradition that may have been for good luck, or to chase away bad luck or spirits or something. A lot of people on the block used to do it; here in rural New York, where the neighbors are a little more spread out, I'm the only one who does it.

-The first time I ever came across or heard of "First Night" was when my not-then-wife and I were in Boston for her brother's wedding back in the 90s and we kind of stumbled across it. We had a sort of magical night, which included lucking into a table at a restaurant in the Faneuil Hall Marketplace (New Year's Eve dining without a reservation? Don't try this at home). When we got done with dinner (around 11:30), we walked out of the door and right into the countdown, fireworks, all of it. It was incredible (even more incredible was how fast the place emptied out when it was over).

Since then, First Nights are all over the place, but this weekend, I found myself wondering: shouldn't it really be called Last Night? Or First Morning? Just wondering.

-This weekend we had visits from a couple of the Magpie's friends, and while I know these kids don't want to hear it, I couldn't help but ask them how they were feeling about impending college graduations (I recognize these poor kids have to answer the same questions every time they run into someone they know, but I can't help myself; I'm curious). The consensus seems to be 'Quite Nervous.' I don't remember if I was quite as terrified when I was staring down graduation or not, but I think this is a scarier world than the one I came of age in. These are good kids, smart kids, and they'll be all right. It will be interesting to see where they're at a year from now.

-Yesterday, I did something I haven't done since April: I went to the writers' circle I'm a part of. I have no good explanation for having been away so long, except things started getting crazy toward the end of the Catbird's senior year; there always seemed to be something to do, even on Sundays, and then I got to the point where it was habit not to go.

It was a small group, a number of people missing, and the room we worked in was cold, but it was fun. It was fun to write something that was not part of my current manuscript, a one-off bit about a woman watching her boyfriend get dressed. Good fun, and even if it leads to nothing (and this, I'm pretty sure, is exactly that), it was nice to spend the time and get those creative juices flowing in a slightly different direction. Now, to make going a habit again!

-Finally, this song has been stuck in my head for the better part of a week. Maybe it's the goofy title. Maybe its that pedal steel guitar. Maybe it's that jaunty piano. I don't know. It's catchy, even if it's kind of dark, lyrically.

That's all for me for this week--hope your new year is off to a great start!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Post-Christmas Post

Christmas falling on a Friday may be the best thing, ever.

My organization gets both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day as holidays, leading to an automatic four-day weekend (although, as my boss insists on pointing out every time a holiday comes up, we don't actually have to take the holidays on the day they occur if we don't want to). I like my job, I like the people I work with and the work I do, but I also really like to spend  time away from the office. That's just the way I am.

For me, I added in a full day off on Wednesday last week, which I had requested a couple of weeks ago. After being out sick on Monday, I considered going in at least half a day on Wednesday to make up for things not done, and then considered maybe taking half a day. Instead, I ended up taking the whole day, and it was a good thing I did, too. The Catbird and I had shopping to do, and what I thought could take just half a day ended up being an all-day affair. It all got done, and except for an emergency run to the grocery store early on Christmas Eve for That Thing That Somehow Kept Getting Missed on all the other trips (in this case, a can of pumpkin puree), there was nothing left to do on Christmas Eve except for some pre-holiday cooking, some present wrapping, and enjoying the day.

It's been a loafy weekend for us, spent watching far too much TV (in this case, the Magpie had us watch Psycho-Pass, an anime which reminded me more than a little bit of Blade Runner at times, and Jessica Jones. This is my second run-through of Jessica Jones, and I'm finding it to be just as good the second time around. Yes, folks, there is such a thing as good TV out there!

I am quite happy to say, meanwhile, that I managed to get some writing in here and there. Mostly I worked in dribs and drabs, and found myself going over the same thing several times (though it was kind of new ground, as I worked on a chapter that hadn't been in my original draft). Sunday morning was particularly good; I put down nearly 4,000 words to electronic paper, some of which were all new, some of which were rewrites. Is it any good? Hard to say. I'm into the last quarter of the book and I'm having a hard time seeing the forest. There's yet another "let it sit for a bit then read it all" in the not-too-distant future, but there's a light glimmering in the distance. Best not to look; best to keep my head down and stay focused on the chapters in front of me.

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas, enjoy the week, and have a safe and fun New Year's Eve/Day!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Tuesday Take Two: The Mind of a Writer

Because I'm feeling better (though I'm still not sure I could say that I'm feeling well), and because I actually somewhat slept last night, and because I feel kind of bad about yet another post with a title like yesterday's, I figured I'd try this again.

A week ago, I had one of those great "Writer Moments." For those of you readers who are writers, you'll know exactly what I mean; for those of you who aren't, this is a little insight into how our brains (or at least my brain) work, and how ideas start.

The starting point was a story on the website "I Fucking Love Science" which recounted how a town in North Carolina rejected rezoning a parcel of land that would allow a solar installation, then later approved a moratorium on all solar projects. During the public comment portion of the town council, at least one resident expressed fears that the panels would "suck up all the energy from the sun." I kid you not.

My first reaction?

Entirely appropriate, if you ask me. Though we call solar energy a renewable resource, it really isn't that, because renewable would imply that there's a sort of draw down and recharge cycle involved, like a rechargeable battery. As far as anyone can tell, solar is really an unlimited resource--until the sun goes supernova or whatever it will do in five billion years. I suppose, however, it's wrong to assume everyone knows this (it's also wrong to assume the person who made this claim was entirely serious, and not just spouting off. To be fair to the people of that North Carolina town, most of the concerns were centered on economic impacts to the town, and the fear that this type of installation would stifle business and drive down property values. Wonder if they'd make those claims if it were an oil or gas industry looking to tap petroleum reserves under the town). Still, I can't help but wonder about the state of our country when people believe solar panels will deplete the sun. Which brings me to my second reaction, the Writer Reaction. As I pulled the trigger on posting Stevie to Facebook, I thought:

But what if it did?

 What if solar panels really did deplete the sun? What if all of our Go Solar initiatives, all the rooftop panels and solar fields, what if they somehow did hasten the processes in the sun, dramatically shortening its life? It's got the makings of a good story, doesn't it? (Though it could be short: "Oh, my God!" Hero Scientist shot up from his chair, where he'd been poring over the results of the latest computer simulation. "Solar panels really do deplete the sun! I've got to warn everyone before it's too l--" THE END)

I love moments like that, even when I know they won't come to anything. I'm not a science fiction writer, after all, so I don't really see myself running with this. On the other hand, some of you might be, so consider this my Christmas gift to you. Feel free to take this idea and let 'er rip (and Agent Carrie may be tearing her hair out right now if she's reading this. "You can do this! You can do this!" But if I did this, it would probably take me four years to get it to her, by which time editors will be saying, "Well, it was entertaining, but I think the 'Solar panels deplete the sun' market is dead, so, what else ya got?"). Just do me one favor: If you get it published, toss me a mention in the acknowledgments, would you? Merry Christmas!

Other business

Speaking of Agent Carrie, it's time for another of her Query Critiques. Help a fellow writer out! I may actually have enough brain power to get over there now and offer up my own scintillating comments.

According to, the Winter Solstice occurred (in my area) at 11:49 p.m.--yesterday. We will have nine hours, two minutes and sixteen seconds of daylight, almost exactly the same as yesterday. Tomorrow? Tomorrow will be about four seconds longer. Interestingly enough, the sun will continue to rise a little later each day until next week, when it will hold at 7:30 until the second week in January, but sunset will occur later each day. It is interesting that the worst weather we get occurs even as the length of day is increasing. Forecasters are all calling for a warmer, drier winter here in the northeast due to El Niño; we'll see if that holds up.

Being sick and fitful sleeping gave me some bizarre dreams this week. One of the strangest occurred this morning. In short (and it was a short dream), I was out in my front yard and I noticed two or three unfamiliar, white-trash muscle cars in my driveway. I walked over. In the back of one sat a sullen young lady. I said, "Can I help you?" She said, "Stop calling my fucking phone." I asked what her phone number was and she told me, and then they left, and all I could think was, "I've never called that number." How bizarre.

That's it, Merry Christmas, thanks for reading!