Monday, December 11, 2017

Weekend Update: Post-travel edition

This past weekend saw us travel for a funeral. On our return trip, we got hung up in the snow that came up the coast, which added an extra two hours--and an untold level of stress--to the drive. The weather reports gave no indication that the storm was going to impact as far as it did,  thanks, weather service models!

I need this today
As a result, yesterday was kind of a do-nothing day. Rather, it was a 'Write Like Hell' day, as I was able to put in a full day plus on my WiP, which helped offset the couple of days at the end of the week where I couldn't work on it. I'm roughly a quarter of the way through now, and, after a few days where my massive word count didn't seem to be going down at all, I have now chopped nearly 3000 words away. And a lot of these are from the front half (heck, quarter!) of the manuscript. I have a tendency to build too slowly, I think, and not leave enough room at the resolution end. I'm still excited about this project; whether or not I can get this draft completed in time for Christmas remains to be seen. If I do, then I'll be faced with a conundrum: let it sit, or go right back to the start and take another pass through? If I let it sit, then what do I work on? There's nothing really in the back room right now (as far as I know), and I hate to be not writing at all.

Not much else to report. I'm back on submission, so trying not to think about that, enjoying the Bruins' current surge that has seen them go 8-2 in their last ten, and trying to come to grips with the fact that we are just two weeks away from Christmas. And no, my shopping isn't done. Or started. But we do have lists going, so that's good.

Anyway, that's it for me, what's up with you all?

Monday, December 4, 2017

The struggle to keep current

In the Netflix comedy series, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Ellie Kemper plays Kimmy, a 29-year-old woman who spent literally half of her life imprisoned in an underground bunker with three other women, and the doomsday cultist who kidnapped her when she was 15. Upon being freed, Kimmy decides to move to New York and start fresh, hoping to avoid having to forever be one of the "Indiana Mole Women."

Part of the show's humor (and, despite what is Kimmy's horrific background, the show manages to be laugh out loud funny, which can be a little uncomfortable when you consider how many women have lived--and died--in such circumstances, and when you try not to wonder how many women might actually be living in similar circumstances right now) is how much of a "fish out of water" Kimmy is: small town girl trying to make it in the big city, which is compounded by the fact that a) though Kimmy turns 30 in season one, she really has the emotional development of a teenager (and a naive one at that), and b) the world has changed substantially in the fifteen years she was captive in the bunker. Kimmy dresses like a kid and often acts like a kid, and her speech is filled with references to people and things of the nineties, when she was a teenager and free, such as when she uses "Psych!" (does anyone do that anymore?), or describes brunch as being "Frasierfancy," or when she asks aspiring Broadway star Titus if he'll "...sing at the Grammys with Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson?"
Her optimism is endearing

I like to tell my kids that I'm an incredibly hip, incredibly with it guy, that I have my finger on the pulse of society, that I know what's hot and what's not, and what all the cool kids like. They see right through it. The truth is, I'm a fifty-plus year-old man who grew up in the suburbs of Long Island and went to high school and college in the 80s. I hear music on the radio and I have no idea who the singer/band is; I see pictures of supposedly A-list actors and actresses and have no idea who they are, and on the rare occasions I move myself to find out, I tend to forget and have to ask again the next time I see/hear them. But I can still quote from Caddyshack, or Animal House, or The Terminator. When NBC hockey analyst, Ed Olczyk referred to a player getting caught in "a Malacchi Crunch," I knew exactly what he was talking about (and was then surprised to realize he and I are pretty much the same age).

The pop culture of my youth had a big impact on me, and does to this day. As a writer, this can create some interesting problems. In my first two manuscripts, my protagonists were man suspiciously close to my own age, who grew up in similar places to me. Easy enough to represent their similarities. In my now back-on-submission third attempt, two of the three POV characters are close to my age, while the third is a bit younger. In my WiP, my protagonist and her peers are squarely in the Millennial category. What's a borderline boomer/Gen Xer to do?

"Pond would be good for you."
Way back in 1999, Bill Murray guest-hosted Saturday Night Live and appeared in a sketch called that opened with this voiceover: "You're a white male between the ages of 15 and 41, chances are you love quote lines from Caddyshack." Later in the sketch, Murray says, "the secret language of American business is peppered with quotes from this classic 1980 comedy."

Saturday Night Live (original cast); Caddyshack. Animal House. National Lampoon's Vacation. Stripes. For better or worse, these films and TV shows are part of the lens that my world view is filtered through. So, it's no surprise that one of my characters, when faced with a difficult choice, might say "Sometimes, you gotta say 'What the fuck.'" And while that might be right for a fifty-year-old, is it right for a thirty-year-old? Or a twenty-two year-old?

Maybe it is. After all, it's entirely possible that my twenty-something character has seen--and loved--the old movies and TV shows, just as I watched I Love Lucy and could complete this run of dialogue that was old before I was born: "Who's on first?" "I don't know." "________"* While my twenty-something character might know "See the ball, Danny. Be the ball" would that be her 'go to' quote in the appropriate situation, or would she come up with something from, I don't know, Happy Gilmore or...or...I don't know. (I could write about hockey players. Hockey players all quote from Slap Shot.)

So, there's my question to you: if you are writing characters that are younger than you--a generation or two younger, in particular--how do you keep them from sounding like they just came out of a bunker after fifteen years?

*"Third base"


Monday, November 27, 2017

Back to normal...for now

We have a saying around my office to describe those draggy, low-energy days that happen from time to time: "Feels like the day after a board meeting." That's because our board meetings take place in the evening, they run typically two, two-and-a-half hours long, and there's a certain degree of stress in preparing for and participating in them. The day after a board meeting tends to be a little hazy, hard to get started on things, hard to concentrate on any one thing (especially if we're distracted by talking about things that got done--or not--at the meeting the night before).

Today is going to be one of those days.

Yesterday, the Magpie and I drove the Catbird back to college, which meant leaving around 8 in the morning and getting back just before 8 last night. I did all the driving (not out of any sort of chauvinistic "I'm the man, so I drive" attitude, but because neither of my girls has a license at this point, which is...odd, but is what it is right now), and while there was no snow and mostly little traffic, I'm finding that the older I get, the more I feel it. I'll probably be having a little of that "Isn't this day over yet?" feeling around two o'clock.

Thanksgiving was good, it was nice to have everyone home, nice to stuff ourselves on turkey and all the works, nice to hear my girls doing their silly things together. Writing was also good for me: I managed to do a full read-through and note-making on my massively-bloated WiP, and I'm hoping to start working on the second draft of it starting tonight (and I still really like it !!!). The previous project is with Agent Carrie and will hopefully be ready for submission by January. Seems like a pretty good place to start the final leg of 2017.

That's it for me; how's things with you?


Monday, November 20, 2017

Semi-random thoughts in advance of Thanksgiving

I'm in vacation mode, so if my thoughts are more scattered than normal, you'll know why! Having found myself needing to use approximately 8 days of vacation time before the end of the year, I decided to take the first half of the week off (we get Thursday and Friday for Thanksgiving). I don't know if I've ever done that before, which is part of why I've got over 200 vacation hours piled up. This being Thanksgiving, here are some things I'm thankful for...

...loving the WiP! I spent a good part of the weekend reading and making notes, and while I'm only about a quarter of the way through, I'm loving the WiP! It's overly-bloated at 478 pages (!!!) and the writing is really uneven, but I really like the main character and the story. At the risk of setting unreasonable goals, I'm going to try to have the next draft done by Christmas. Possible? Ye-e-e-s. Probable? I guess we'll see once I start really rewriting it. Sellable? Not yet, but we'll see...

...the Catbird coming home! Yes, it means driving nine hours round-trip to get her, and another nine hours to bring her back on Sunday, but she'll be home, my little birds will be in the nest again and it will be very nice for a few days.

...the Magpie. I'm amazed at what a fine young woman she's become.

...the RiP is out of my hands! For real this time! I hope the next time I have to rewrite it, it will be under contract. We'll see. More on this (not a contract, it's not back out on sub yet) another time.

...good coffee.

...the dog is still with us. She's thirteen and increasingly neurotic. She can't hear when the oil man pumps a hundred and fifty gallons of #2 heating oil in our tank. She has to stick her nose in. Every. Single. Footprint. In the snow when it's cold and blustery and all I want to do is get back inside (that's not new, anyway). But she's a good dog and she's still here and I'm thankful for that. wife. She's amazing.

...all of you. I know how many follow this blog, but I have no real idea how many read it. I do know how many of you comment and I thank you and am glad you stop by. I hope you get some value out of this, at least once in a while. Thanks for dropping in and sharing your thoughts and time.

That's all for me this week. Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Delayed Reaction

On the afternoon of Sunday, May 4, 1974 the Boston Bruins and the Philadelphia Flyers squared off for game six of the Stanley Cup Final. For the Bruins, a win was needed to send the series back to Boston for one more, winner-take-all game. A Flyers victory would give them the Cup right there. Eight-year-old me sat on the edge of my couch, urging my beloved Bruins on. This was the Big Bad Bruins, the team of legends that included Esposito and Bucyk, Hodge and Cashman. And, most of all, Bobby Orr, my sports hero.

Late in the first period, Philadelphia's Rick MacLeish got his stick in the way of a shot and redirected it past Boston goalie, Gilles Gilbert. It would be the only goal in an entertaining, fast-paced game. The game ended in a 1-0 victory for the Flyers, and Flyers' captain Bobby Clarke lifted the Stanley Cup at center ice.

Is it too late to get this play reviewed?
Looks like goalie interference to me!
Eight-year-old me had been known to flip over a board game or two in response to losing (True Confession time: adult me has also flipped over a board game or two, as my friends who played Strat-O-Matic hockey and baseball can attest), but there were no tears. Disappointment, yes, but tears? No. Instead, I went out into a fine May afternoon and played hockey at the top of the driveway, where I fired tennis balls at the side of the shed, body-checked the house, and waged pitched 'puck battles' with the coiled up garden hose. I also suspect I altered history and scored a couple of goals for the Bruins, turning a 1-0 loss into a 2-1, sudden death overtime victory, followed by a game 7 win, but I can't say for sure. My memory is not quite that clear.

On the outside, not much had changed. I didn't swear off hockey like my father did on a regular basis (I think swearing off hockey was something common to New York Rangers fans back in the 70s and 80s). Yet, as I look back on it now, something definitely changed, because for the next three years, hockey was an insignificant blip, mere background noise in my life. I was aware of the biggest news of the day--the Bruins and Rangers pulling off an unthinkable, monster trade; Bobby Orr going to Chicago; the Islanders shocking the Rangers in the first round of the playoffs and setting the stage for the last great dynasty of the NHL--but it meant little. I still played hockey, quite passionately; but I stopped consuming the professional game for about three years. It's almost as if I suffered some sort of delayed action, sports-related post-traumatic stress disorder.*

I bring all this up because I've sent my RiP off to Carrie (True Confession time #2: I haven't. Yet. But by the time you read this, it will be in her inbox). Last year, this project actually gathered interest from an editor. It had me on pins and needles for two months or so while it worked it's way through the publishing house acquisitions project before it got rejected. Despite the rejection, I felt good about it. Really good. Someone had liked my manuscript enough to champion it in their publishing house! When Carrie and I conferred afterwards, she emphasized this fact and I assured her that I was disappointed, yes, but positive. I'd tinker with the manuscript and we'd try to get it back to this editor, hope that they would bite the second time around.

It didn't quite work out that way. What I submitted to Carrie last fall was, honestly, kind of rushed. We discussed it again around Christmas, and I received more notes from her and vowed to get to work on it immediately in 2017--and didn't. My excuse? Well, there was the lure of the shiny, but it was more than that. When I finished my first rough draft on the WiP and turned my attention back to the RiP, I dillied. And dallied. And dragged my feet. It's only now that I look back that I see the parallels between this fifty-something year-old writer and that eight-year-old hockey fan. Instead of sports-related PTSD, I think I have rejection-related PTSD. Both intellectually and in my heart there's no doubt this rejection was a positive thing, but deep down in my gut there's a defensive reaction to it, an involuntary hardening of the mental muscle to protect against another blow.

There is good news here, however. By 1977 I was back to watching hockey and passionately rooting for my Bruins, and I haven't stopped despite years of frustration: too many men on the ice, Steve Penney, Patrick Roy, Joel Ward, seventeen seconds. The Bruins have broken my sports heart many, many times over the last forty years, yet I still sit down to watch them. Last year's rejection at the editorial stage was my first. It hurt, more than I was willing to acknowledge at the time. But just as I kept playing hockey then, I kept writing. And just as I got past that 1-0 loss, I'm past the first rejection now. I may never get a rejection again. I may never even get a sniff from an editor again. But I'm going to be in the game.

*NOTE: Though I'm using a PTSD analogy here, let's be clear: a Stanley Cup loss or an editorial rejection is nowhere near equivalent to what so many people face as a result of traumatic experiences.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Extra Time!

I'm a little toasted around the edges this morning, due to the bending of space and time that is otherwise known as 'Daylight Saving Time ends.' It's funny, everyone always talks about how you get an extra hour of sleep, but I alwasy finds myself with an extra hour of day. And yesterday, it felt like I ended up with even more than that. I got up at about ten to five, which felt like ten to six (and at least one clock in the house said it was ten to six). Within an hour--which is pretty fast for me--I was working on the RiP.

I spent almost all morning working on the RiP, and then in the late morning/early afternoon (or maybe it was both at the same time), I got to work in our pantry, trying to reclaim it from mice. I recognize that we have to coexist with 'wildlife,' and that in old, leaky Victorian homes like mine, it's awfully tough to keep them out, but lines have been crossed. Either there's too many or they'd gotten too comfortable. And maybe our cats did more to keep them at bay than I ever thought, but as much as the Magpie wants (a) new cat(s), we're not going there now. Somehow, when I got done* it was only three o'clock, and this after an endless amount of time spent empying, sweeping, vacuuming and washing down with Mr. Clean. I showered, we ate an early dinner (though it felt like dinner at a normal time) and I had the whole evening to work on the RiP again.

I'm not a fan of the disruption that Daylight Saving Time causes, to be honest. I'll spend the next three days feeling out of sorts and like Henry in The Time Traveler's Wife. But at least for one day, it felt like I had plenty of time to do everything I wanted--and needed--to do. The pantry is one step closer to being done, and the RiP is now in the 'final tweaking' stage. It should be on its way to Carrie by week's end.

How was your weekend? Do anything fun?

*done as in "Stick a fork in me, I can't do anymore today" as opposed to "Finished"

Monday, October 30, 2017

Stranger Things 2: That's a Relief!

Last week saw the much-hyped and long-awaited return of last year's surprise Netflix hit, Stranger Things. A critical success that was also insanely popular, the show is a sci-fi thriller centered on three nerdy, on-the-cusp-of-adolescence boys who are searching for their missing friend, and the mysterious girl with strange powers who appears in town one day. When we watched the show last year, we loved it, even my kids, who didn't get all the 80s references the way my wife and I did (and why would they? They didn't live through it!). The show was fun, provided some genuinely scary, tension-filled moments, and, most of all, had those kids. They were cute. They were sweet--and sassy. They had great chemistry and believable dialogue. Even where some of the characters ventured into the realm of cliché (the rich, pretty boy jock; the indifferent parents; the nerdy science teacher), you could mostly roll your eyes and let it go. It was a fun ride.

I approached the second season with trepidation. My experience with series, whether it's television, books, or movies, is that they eventually fail. Sequels--and with the title Stranger Things 2, the show's creators branded this like a sequel instead of a continuation--rarely live up to the quality of the original. Happy Days jumped the shark. Twin Peaks lost its way for much of its second season before David Lynch pulled it out of the fire late in its original run. The X-Files collapsed beneath the weight of its ever-expanding mythology, and Orphan Black, which I admittedly have not seen since early in its third season, was threatening to do the same. So I was a little worried about what might happen.

My worries were magnified after the first episode. It started with high action, introducing new characters, then seemed to lapse into too much scene setting, too much catching up. I understand the need to do that; even in this age of always-available shows and binge-watching, showrunners can't assume everyone's going to do this. Still, it seemed a little slow and pokey, a little unfinished. As the end credits rolled and the Netflix counter ticked down to the next episode, I wasn't really sure I wanted to go on. But I did, and I'm glad.

We watched another episode that night, then a couple more the next day, and a couple more the day after that. We will possibly finish the season tonight or tomorrow. And despite the obligatory romantic entanglements that seems like an industry standard, one episode where it seemed a character figured something out way too easily, and one episode that really felt like filler to me, my fears were misplaced. The show quickly found its groove. It felt like the first season in tone, it's provided plenty of thrills and humor, and it's allowing the characters most central to the show--the kids--to grow. And it's done it all without feeling like a straight-up rehash of season one. Stranger Things has not jumped the shark.

Do you watch Stranger Things? How are you liking this new season?

[EDIT: 10/31]: Jemi's comment makes me realize I asked the wrong question. Consider this also: How do you feel about the continuation of some well-loved series/franchise? Have you ever been pleasantly surprised? Deeply disappointed? Thanks!