Monday, March 28, 2016


I must have been rather cranky last week. Being tired, I guess, can do that to you. In addition to being somewhat worn out from all the driving, I think maybe I was just a little under the weather, as well. Aside from dragging my butt around work and the house all week, I found myself also being somewhat disagreeable on the web, with other writing blogs.

On Wednesday last week, E.C. Myers, over on Pub Crawl, wrote excitedly about a device "built for only one purpose: writing." Called the Freewrite by a company called Astrohaus, it is also branded as "Your distraction-free writing tool" and "the world's first dedicated device for distraction-free writing composition." I would argue that that honor actually belongs to the typewriter, unless you believe the rattle of keys, a dinging bell, and the ratchet and slam of the carriage as it returns to home is a distraction (I learned to type on a heavy Royal typewriter that made a lot of noise; I can't quite remember what sound the IBM Selectric made, except it wasn't quite as noisy). Typewriters and early word processors had no distractions: no games, no internet, no e-mail, no streaming videos of kittens and puppies. They weren't especially portable, either--there's a reason why Paul Sheldon in Stephen King's Misery was able to build upper body strength by lifting his, those things were heavy--which I guess is one advantage of the Freewrite, as it only weighs about four pounds.

As Myers enthused over the Freewrite's capabilities, I found myself imaging writers prone to distraction eagerly plunking down their $500 for the device, taking it to the library, the coffee shop, the city park, the far side of the room from the desktops and TVs, powering it up, and--bing, buzz, chirp, it's the mobile phone, alerting them to e-mails, tweets, and status updates from Facebook friends they've never actually met in real life. And I started thinking about this:

Can the Freewrite help people? I guess so, sure. For me, however, I actually find things like music helpful when I write. I also find that there are times when I need to step out from my manuscript--maybe it's to research something pressing, or to look up the spelling of a word that's really, really bugging me, since Spellcheck is so unreliable. Those little breaks help keep me fresh. I realize I am not Every Writer; we all have differences in how we work, and the Freewrite maybe be perfect for some. Yet there's part of me that can't help but view it as yet another thing invented to help separate writers from their money--and $500 is a lot of money. Maybe you would be better off spending $15 instead on a good book on time management and maintaining focus instead.

What do you think? Is Freewrite something that would help you?

Monday, March 21, 2016

Second Chances

I've used this before. So sue me.

Driving, it seems, takes a lot more out of me than it used to.

So, I'm curious: as a reader, do you give authors a second chance? If you read a book by someone, and you think it's awful, are you willing to read something else by that same author at another time?

I ask because, while searching for an agent, I kept coming across references to a particular, best-selling author in the agent blurbs: "I want the next [Famous Author here]," said one. Or "I'd like someone who writes like [Famous Author here]." I finally decided that it was time to read said famous author, who actually had a brand new book coming out around the time I was reading all this. I went to my local library and found Famous Author's first book, a much ballyhooed, very heavy text.

I was unimpressed.

Not with the writing. I thought, on a sentence and paragraph level, Famous Author did a great job. No, for me, I found myself spending 500+ pages with characters I did not like, and a story that was, quite frankly, unbelievable and rather thin. I read it all the way through (because I still tend to do that), but it was a struggle. These were people I really didn't want to spend time with, but not like, say, Walter White or Tony Soprano--those guys, at least, are interesting, even if morally bankrupt. These people were just...blah.

I shook my head and wondered what all the fuss was about, because Famous Author's debut novel was, as I said, much ballyhooed--though I noted, after finishing, that there were an awful lot of one-star reviews on Amazon. Seems a lot of people felt the way I did.

Last week, I came across a second (actually, the second) book by Famous Author at the library. Why not? I thought, and checked it out. After all, the worst that could happen was I found it just as unpalatable as the first, and I could put it down and dust my hands of Famous Author forever. But a funny thing happened: I liked it. A lot. Unlike the other book, this was one I could not wait to pick up, and every time I put it down, I did so reluctantly.

Interestingly, when I put it down for the last time on Saturday morning and then started reading reviews, I found the critics (the fancy-pants book reviewers; I haven't checked Amazon at this point) were mixed. Every review started by mentioning Famous Author's first book; due in no small part to how starry-eyed they (still) were over it, this one paled in comparison. Funny how it goes, isn't it? As for me, I'm much more likely to read Famous Author's most recent book than I was a week ago.

So, back to the original question: do you give second chances? I typically do. There are a couple of authors out there who I have put on my "Don't bother" list, but that's after three or four attempts--and even then, I might be willing to reconsider at some point.

That's it for now, as I consider calling in sick and going back upstairs and falling into bed. Have a pleasant week!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Three Quotes

Three quotes from over the weekend:
"What caused the protests at Trump’s rally is a candidate that has promoted hatred and division against Latinos, Muslims, women, and people with disabilities, and his birther attacks against the legitimacy of President Obama. What caused the violence at Trump’s rally is a campaign whose words and actions have encouraged it on the part of his supporters."--Bernie Sanders
And, in what may be the only statement uttered by Ted Cruz that I'll ever agree with:

"Any candidate is responsible for the culture of a campaign. And when you have a campaign that disrespects the voters, when you have a campaign that affirmatively encourages violence, when you have a campaign that is facing allegations of physical violence against members of the press, you create an environment that only encourages this sort of nasty discord."--Ted Cruz
Trump, of course, denies it, has put the blame squarely on the protesters, has suggested that they're the ones who are escalating the conflicts, and while there is no doubt some truth to that--some of those folks are not going peacefully; they drag their feet, they try to shout over the sea of voices shouting, "Trump! Trump! Trump!" and "USA! USA! USA!"--Trump has been not-so-subtly asking his supporters to knock people around for weeks now. How many times has he talked about how he'd like to punch somebody in the face? Or how, "in the old days," they'd carry a guy like that out on a stretcher? It's no surprise that it's happening, and it's going to get worse: in his Twitter feed, Trump has basically put out the call to his supporters to go and disrupt Sanders' rallies:
"Bernie Sanders is lying when he says his disruptors aren't told to go to my events. Be careful Bernie, or my supporters will go to yours!"
Note how he doesn't say it is Sanders or his campaign telling "disruptors" to go to Trump events, yet that's exactly what he means, and his supporters know it. the implication. And he doesn't tell anyone to go to future Sanders events and start throwing punches around, but he never pointed to someone chanting "Black lives matter!" at his own events and said, "Punch that guy in the face." Yet, that is exactly what happened. And you can bet that it will keep happening, and that it's going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better.


A few notes of a much more cheerful nature:

We picked up the Magpie for Spring Break this past Thursday, and we'll have two whole weeks with the little birds home, as the Catbird will come home this coming Friday for her week off. Unfortunately, they only get a little window of overlap, but it will sure be nice to have them here.

Yesterday, I walked out of the building where we have our writers' group, looked up, and saw about two dozen turkey vultures wheeling around the sky overhead. Always a nice sign. March can be highly unpredictable around here, and the last two winters we've had a lot of cold and a lot of snow extending very late into the month, but I believe the worst is over. No frogs or toads calling yet, but it won't be long.

And that's about it for me; how are you?


Monday, March 7, 2016

Time to Turn the Radio Back On

There was a time when, upon entering the car, the first thing I'd do is to turn the radio on. Or the tape deck. Or the CD player. What I chose to listen to depended very much on where I was and what I was doing. When I get within range of New York City, I find myself listening way too much to sports radio--there's something about those Sopranos-esque accents on "Joey from Brooklyn" and "Mikey from Bayonne" as they call in to vent their frustrations with the Mets, Yankees, Knicks, Jets and Giants (and, once in a while, the Rangers, but hockey doesn't get a lot of air time on this particular station until the playoffs, and then it's Rangers, Rangers, Rangers, never mind the other two NHL teams in the immediate area). Even half the air staff sound like they were hired right off a street corner in Astoria. Must be some kind of nostalgia thing.

Where I live now in central New York, we don't have the kind of flexibility in radio stations that I had when living downstate. It's a choice of two classic rock stations (one is kind of hard-edged, one is softer), one alternative station (not my kind of music, mostly), two that are labeled "today's best hits," and NPR. Yeah, there's also a couple of country stations and one Christian station. The lack of choices (and I realize having at least 6 viable choices is not bad, but not compared to what I used to have available) is compounded by the fact that some of these stations are located kind of far away, and reception in the hilly region is spotty. Even the stations that broadcast from right in my county can fade in and out depending on the weather and where I happen to be.

Lately, I've come to make the 20-minute drive to and from work in silence. No radio, no CD player, just me. "Silence," however, is not the right word for it, because there's a lot of noise--it's just coming from inside my skull. (at this point I should say to any of my non-writer friends, family or readers that it is nothing to be concerned about. Really.)

This is normally a great thing for me, particularly when I'm in the midst of writing. I drive, I think. I think about whatever project I'm working on at the time, seeing/hearing/reading (not quite sure which it is; possibly a combination of all three) scenes in my head, kind of setting the stage for my next writing session. When this sort of imagining/work is going on in my brain, I don't notice the lack of music or background chatter. I don't miss it, either; there are too many interesting things going on upstairs to really notice (also note: don't worry, I am still paying attention to what's happening on the road in front of, alongside, and behind me). When I'm really going, I don't need it.

But now, maybe I need it. Until Carrie comes back with a response to my latest project, I need to be working on something else. Back in December I mentioned that I just might be onto THE NEXT BIG IDEA. This weekend, after working on a contest entry, I played around a bit with this idea, trying to write my way into it. So far, it hasn't happened. I've got the germ, the basis, but I need something else, that missing ingredient, that catalyst that will cause it to really grow and take on life--and for that, perhaps I need the radio.

One of the earliest projects I started writing (but never finished; I wasn't quite serious enough at the time, I guess) came about after hearing a story on NPR about the rise in hate groups that started early in President Obama's first term in office. I'd had something vaguely kicking around in The Back Room, and when I heard this story, BOOM, there it was. So, yes, it's time to turn on the radio again. You never know when lightning will strike.

Just over a year ago, I posted a video featuring Lake Street Dive, a neat little band I had seen or heard on NPR. I liked them! I just found out they'll be playing in our area this summer, with Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings--nice double-bill. I'll have to see about tickets. Here's Call Off Your Dogs. Enjoy!