Friday, May 30, 2014

Reading Day, Part III

Years ago I was friends with someone who had the uncanny ability to stretch her birthday out from a single day to a week-long celebration. There was the happy hour/dinner with work folks; there was the dinner out with her non-work friends; if she had a boyfriend, there was a birthday dinner with him; and finally there was Friday and/or Saturday night out as well, assuming the birthday didn't occur on the weekend (I suspect the years it did, she felt cheated). I feel kind of like that now as I milk this week's reading yet again, and will do so again some time next week. At least next week's post on the reading will involve tips and strategies for those of you who may be doing your own readings.

My wife will attest that I was a wreck all day. I was nervous, keyed up, had trouble eating. Probably the best thing I did was mow the lawn (half of it, anyway), which killed good hour and a half and occupied my mind. There's something very meditative in riding a lawn tractor around in big circles. I get a lot of good brain work in that way. We got to the arts center an hour before the scheduled reading and I promptly abandoned my wife and kids, hanging out with my writers' circle friends instead. Aside from reading, we had a job of selling books, so I had to know what we were going to do. The book launch was part of a bigger event, the opening of the gallery for the season, so there was the potential for a lot of people.

At five, the doors opened. We drew a fair number of people, a number of whom bought the book--and asked for autographs. I will say, signing your name on something like this is an even stranger sensation than seeing your story in print.

We were very fortunate to have great weather. It was sunny, warm--but not too hot. We had a stage set up in the courtyard, there was a bar with beer and wine. I did not partake until I was done. The drawback for me was I went in the penultimate spot. 8 readers, I went 7th, and it took about 45 minutes before it was my turn. Somehow, I did not need to run to the bathroom half-a-dozen times!
I could get away with black--it was still Memorial Day!

The piece I've read is called Katydid Nights, and I've actually written about it before. By the time it was my turn, the crowd directly in front of the stage had thinned a bit, but there was a nice number  of people spread along one side, watching--and listening. As I posted earlier in the week, I nailed it, and got some nice applause. Better still, while I was getting my celebratory beer while writer #8 was preparing to take the stage, the husband of one of my fellow writers told me, "That really resonated with me." That made me feel really, really good. Later, when the reading was over, another person approached me and told me the same thing. It truly was a great feeling--and it still is.

That's it for me for now. Next time I write about reading, I will have what I hope will be useful tips and suggestions to make it all easier. Have a great weekend, everyone, and thanks for reading!

Photo by Barb Enderley

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Reading Day, Part II

So, we had our launch party and reading for our Writers' Circle anthology last night. How did it go, you ask?

More coming on Friday, maybe even a couple of pictures. Let's just say it was a good time, the feedback was great, and now it's back to 'the real world'. Hope you all had a good weekend!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Reading Day

I'm likely to break with tradition this week and either post twice today, or again tomorrow. It's my blog, and I can do what I want here, after all. Today is reading day for our Writers' Circle, beginning around 5:30 the first of our members will take the stage in front of an audience that will number somewhat more than 0 and hopefully less than 100. I get to go next to last, so by the time it's my turn, my shirt will probably be wet enough to wring out and fill a barrel. That's really kind of disgusting, isn't it?

We got our books yesterday, here's a snapshot (I'm not a great photographer, and the light is bad). It looks pretty good. The powers that be used Lulu for the publishing. It's slim, 76 pages or so, but looks really nice. Photographs and artwork are included, all the works of multi-talented members of the Smithy Writers' Circle (not me), and all the stories, poems and essays are pieces that were begun during a session.
A terrible picture, but a sharp-looking book, no?

I practiced my piece about 5 or 6 times last week, clocking in at a pretty consistent 6 minutes. Yesterday, when I read in front of the group, I could feel my nerves taking hold of me, could feel me speeding up. It's kind of like when you're driving a car on the highway and you glance at the speedometer and find yourself doing 80--that's miles per hour, not kilometers--and you're not sure how you got there. I shouldn't be nervous in front of those people, but I am, and I'll be more nervous tonight, even if (and especially if) I know everyone in the audience. When I used to do the wildlife shows, I got more nervous when I was doing a program for my kids' school than a school full of strangers. There's all kinds of crazy psychology involved in that, I'm sure.

Anyway, that's it for now. Depending on how I feel (and how much I drink after the reading is done, hah ha), I'll have more tonight or tomorrow. Have a great day!

Friday, May 23, 2014

El Jefe

What a crazy week.

A week ago last Saturday, the word got around: the President was coming to town.

For the first time since Martin Van Buren nearly two centuries ago, a sitting President of the United States was going to visit Cooperstown.

The details were hazy about the President's agenda and itinerary. No one knew much of anything except that he was coming in on Friday, and he would be addressing the issue of tourism at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. That was about all anyone knew. Or at least that's what they were telling us they knew.

Talk about a a hubbub! All week, the paper ran stories about the President's visit. The village--and many individuals--threw together welcoming banners. Helicopters buzzed overhead, and local activist groups mobilized and plotted out ways to get their message seen by the President. As I watched the craziness play out, I couldn't help but thing of that episode of the TV show M*A*S*H from all those years ago, when the 4077th went crazy preparing for a visit from General MacArthur, only to have this happen (apologies, this is the only clip I can find of this classic episode):

The actual visit worked out a little better than that, though it was pretty quick. The President was whisked in and out of town. His speech lasted about fifteen minutes, he took some photos, and within an hour, he was gone. Whether his speech will make a difference, I don't know.

As for me, I tried to avoid town yesterday, figuring it would be a mess. However, last Sunday at Writers' Circle, I likely came as close to a President as I will ever be. Our group meets in a local arts center which is located down a little alley behind Main Street. The building fronts on a parking lot. Catty corner across the lot is the Baseball Hall of Fame. About ten minutes after we started writing, a group of men appeared outside the building, 5 or 6 of them, standing in a little circle, talking. This is not unusual; weekend tourists spring up in large numbers around this time of year, and that's what I took them for at first. Then, I realized they weren't.

One of them wore a baseball hat, khakis, and a blue polo shirt that looked suspiciously like an official Hall of Fame shirt. One wore a dress shirt and slacks. The others were more casual, polo shirts, shorts. Several had sunglasses. One looked a bit like Dean Norris, who played DEA agent Hank Schrader on Breaking Bad. As I watched the, talk, and point at the Hall of Fame, and look at the back of the hotel directly across the way, I realized: Secret Service, scoping things out, getting the security in place for a Presidential visit that was almost a week away yet. They were out there for about ten minutes, then after a round of play fighting, handshakes, and smiles all around, they were gone. So was whatever I had been writing. Instead, I ended up with a short piece about a president riding in a limousine on a dark road, miffed at being the most powerful man in the world who's not even allowed to open his car window because of security threats.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Monday, May 19, 2014

A Weekend Conversation

On Saturday I ran into one of the Magpie's friend, the Robin, who is freshly-returned from college for the summer. While talking about school (the curse of every returning college student is they get stuck talking about the same thing whenever they run into any adult they know--when'd ya get back, how did it go, what are you doing for the summer, blah blah blah), she mentioned an episode that occurred during the year. A professor in a class made a passing mention of apartheid. Another girl raised her hand. "Excuse me," she said. "What's apartheid?" The Robin was shocked. Later, she related this to another friend. "What's apartheid?" he asked. She thought he was goofing aroudn, but he honestly did not know. The Robin was shocked--maybe even outraged--that these students did not know what apartheid was.

I thought about it for a second, tried to cast my mind back and remember the when of it all. Apartheid was something I can say I never remember hearing about until I went to college, where it seemed to be everywhere. Students on campus regularly protested the university's investments in companies that did business in South Africa, and often picketed those companies when they came by to recruit students for jobs, internships, etc. "Divest!" was the word on many lips, t-shirts and exhibits at student events.  I also remember watching Nelson Mandela walk out of prison. The date was hazy but I knew it occurred after I graduated but before I got married. I thought the Robin's ire was admirable, but that she should cut the other kids some slack: after all, kids like her—and her classmates—had grown up in a world without an apartheid state in South Africa. She countered with the fact that she knew about it, so why shouldn't they, and was also disturbed by the fact that schools in a certain region of America (the classmates in question grew up in the south) didn't seem to teach it.
Nelson Mandela and F.W. De Klerk

The fact she knew it and they didn't could mean a few things. It could mean our high school is exceptional (I'd like to believe that, for a couple of reasons); it could mean her friends' schools aren't. It could all be on the skills of the teachers involved. I don't know the answer, but I found her ire somewhat amusing, and heartening: there's a view held by many old fogies in the world (like me) that young people are too self-absorbed, are too wrapped up in themselves and their status updates and tumblrs and tweets to really care about the world. This conversation, and my recent experiences working with college interns at the office, show me we're wrong. There are lots of smart kids out there who care about what's happening in the world today, and are willing to make an effort to do something about it.

The exchange also makes me think of something related to writing. One of the reasons we so often write characters our own ages is that it's easy to relate to them and what they know of the world. If I write a 40-something year old character, I know this person grew up in a pre-internet world, where phones had cords, record companies made actual records, and you needed to go into a bank to put money in or take it out. My kids have no real concept of the Soviet Union or the Cold War; when they see Youtube videos of Americans hanging out with cosmonauts in the international space station, they don't understand how unthinkable that once was, or how close our nations once were to blowing each other up. The Twin Towers are the dimmest of memories for my kids, while I'm still a bit startled every time I see that empty space in the New York City skyline. It's easy to forget the often subtle little differences between people who grew up in different times.

How was your weekend?

Photo by the World Economic Forum, posted under Creative Commons license.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Commencing Countdown

Well, I've been back at this for all of a week, and already I'm missing deadlines and not posting what I intended. The truth is, I've been working on a post all week, but I'm not quite comfortable with it. It's a touchy subject (you'll know it when it runs), and I have to get it just exactly right. Unfortunately, I haven't managed that just yet.

Instead, I'll share the poster of the upcoming launch of our Writers' Circle anthology--complete with reading! I'm not sure which is worse: the fear that no one will show up to listen to us, or the fear that someone will!

So, if you're in the area that weekend, please come to the launch. Sadly, I cannot open my house and home--it's a mess, and too full now that the Magpie is home!

That's about it here. Have a great weekend, all.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Weekend Update

Greetings, all, hope everyone had a smashing weekend. There really wasn't much to report on my front, things were pretty quiet around here. Let's see....

-The weather has been...warm! Finally! Got in my first cutting on the lawn, which is usually bordering on out of control by the end of April. Mowing the lawn is one of those tasks that requires just enough engagement to really let the mind run. It's a pain in the neck, especially early in the season, when I might have to do it twice in a week, but it's also a good time to think and run through story ideas. Quality thinking time.

-As a result of cutting the grass, I got my first sunburn of the year. Nothing severe; no blisters, not especially painful, not likely to peel. I know current thinking on sun exposure (i.e., it's bad), but I love it. Not the burn so much, but being out in it.

-The Magpie comes home on Tuesday. If all goes according to her plans, she will have a summer that's a couple of weeks longer than usual, and will be studying overseas next year. It's a scary thought, but exciting. I'm proud of how she's grown and matured in the last couple of years.

-Not to be outdone, the Catbird came home from school awards night with a nice award that includes a good scholarship if she attends a particular college. This is not a school I've ever heard of, but we'll definitely look into it more. It's nice to see her recognized for all the hard work she puts in. She also qualified for sectionals in the 1500-meter run in track.

-'Finished' a project. Now, I've got two more that need attention, but I'm not sure which is 'better'. I think it's time to take a read through some pretty rough drafts. Ugh.

-The chestnut tree has still not leafed out, but I don't think I can categorically declare it dead. The buds didn't fall off it, but they haven't obviously swelled. I take solace in the fact that trees leaf out after the stuff on the ground, but most of the trees are now popping leaves, and I would think a sapling would do everything possible to get the jump on the competition. Fingers still crossed.

That's it for me, what's going on with you?

Friday, May 9, 2014


Hey, did you see this story make the rounds recently?  It seems that, due to a phenomenon known as negative frequency-dependent selection, the more common beards are, the less desirable they become. In a sea of clean-shaven men, the one guy with the beard is likely to get the positive attention, and when all the men are bearded, it's the baby face who stands out and is most desirable.

It's an interesting study, though I note their focus is on full beards and not outrageous mustaches. I suspect the findings would apply there, too, and since just plain 'staches do not seem to be as common as full beards, I guess I stand out in the crowd in a good way (though I sometimes look at myself in the mirror and think, "You really go out looking like that?" but a shave is not in my future).

It does make me wonder if NFD plays any role in the books we read. I certainly know that I sometimes browse bookshelves in the store or online, or look at a cover or book release on a blog, and think, "Ugh, not another [insert hot trend of the month here]." Of course, this could be due to the fact that I'm simply not the right audience for whatever's trendy. YA and MG seem much more beholden to the 'flavor of the month' effects than the adult market, though I can be way off base there, too.

Perhaps instead of following the trends, we would be better off bucking the trend. Vampires are in? Give us pirates! Pirates are super hot? Astronauts! Then again, maybe chasing the next big thing, or deliberately writing against trends, is just as bad as trying to jump on the moving train. Write what you want, write it as best you can, and don't worry about what everyone else is doing. Grow a beard if you want to.

Have a great weekend, all!

Monday, May 5, 2014

What's This Thing Called Blog?

Well, howdy! I'm back, I think. I suppose we'll know come Friday, when it's time to post again. I may have something, or not (I think I will; that's my aim, certainly). Hopefully, you're all well and enjoying life. I figure I'll start off easy enough today with some semi-random thoughts and observations.

First, submissions. I am out on submissions. It's a lot like being out on query, except the responses don't come directly to me. It's great knowing there's someone out there championing me and my work. The toughest part of it is trying not to pester Carrie with a barrage of "Anything yet? How about now?" e-mails. No news is neither good news or bad news--it's just no news.

Speaking of book news, my writers' circle anthology is at the printers. Our circle is hosted by a local non-profit arts association. Their official opening is Memorial Day (May 26), and we'll be there to chat people up and do readings. One of our members has also arranged a signing for the following weekend at a local bookstore, which feels really...strange. I need to start rehearsing my piece.

Spring is springing, though we're still getting night-time temperatures in the 30s. We're at the weird, in-between time when it is sometimes colder in than out. My chestnut tree does not seem to be doing much yet. I'm hoping it's just a slow starter.

In her blog post over the weekend, Bonnee Crawford asked, "What have you learned about writing this week?" I commented on her post, but did not answer the question. So, here it is, the same lesson learned that I have apparently not quite learned: I need to be more economical with my words. Case in point, this post, hah ha. This problem is especially bad on my opening chapters.

Came home from writers' circle yesterday and found my wife and the Catbird watching Silence of the Lambs. That's still a great movie.

I think I'll stop there for now. How's everyone doing?