Monday, August 29, 2011


Living in Central New York, I hoped we would escape the brunt of Hurricane Irene. And I suppose we did. For several days I watched the hurricane tracker and noticed with alarm how the impact line kept shifting to the west. First it was going to pass to the east of Oneonta, then it was right along Oneonta, and then it was west of Oneonta, encompassing my part of town. Ah, well.

I woke yesterday to light rain and little wind, but by 7:30, the internet died (and then revived) and the power flickered a couple of times. Just before noon, the internet died again, the power went moments later, and that was it until around 3 this afternoon. This was after hearing rumors that power could be lost for some for weeks.

I had to drive through the storm in the morning to drop off one daughter's friend, who had slept over here, and to pick up my other daughter, who stayed at her friend's house. I've had an idea poking around in my mind off and on for some time that relates to the idea of having someone else's kid visiting when some great disaster strikes (disaster on the scale of The Road) and the family dynamics. Maybe I'll get on that now.

I can't really complain, all things considered, thirty hours or so without power is nothing compared to 35 deaths (at least), destroyed homes and evacuations. A tip of the hat to emergency services personnel and the men and women of the utility companies who have worked extremely hard to restore power all around. I hope you all are well and have come through the storm unscathed.

Friday, August 26, 2011

However Much I Booze

I'm feeling very frustrated at the moment. Not with my writing in general. Since coming back from last week's trip, I've been able to get back into the groove on Parallel Lives and make some more headway. I also think I've gotten a tweak to the late part of the story to make, one that I'm rather excited about. I think it will strengthen the story quite a bit.

No, the thing that's bugging me right now is today's blog post. I've been writing it for more than a week, and getting nowhere. So, I've decided to largely-scrap the extensively-researched post I've been working on and go off the reservation a bit. My apologies in advance. The first paragraph that follows is scripted. Everything else is somewhat stream-of-consciousness, which is a style I don't like for my posts. The thing is, I need to get it out of my head. SO, here goes:

When I posted last week's music video, I poked around Florence + the Machine's website, hoping to find out that they were touring. Alas, they've finished their US tour, and didn't come anywhere near my area. I'll just have to wait until next time (and maybe they'll be more affordable than the last concert I went to. I hate TicketMaster). While I cyberstalked err, read Florence's 'About me' section, I came across the following tidbit:

Florence writes her best songs when she is drunk or has a hangover, because that’s when the freedom, the feral music comes….

This disturbed me on a couple of different levels.

First, given the recent death of Amy Winehouse and her well-chronicled battles with the bottle, not to mention the extensive list of rock and rollers who ruined their careers or ended their lives due to substance abuse, it concerns me that young Florence might find herself traveling down that same path. She has a gift when it comes to constructing songs, a unique musical sound, and a lovely voice. As a fan, it would be a shame to lose that from the world.

I may be misunderstanding what I'm reading. When I was Florence's age (she's almost 25), I drank a lot. I was never an alcoholic, never needed any 'A.M. Ale' to start my day right, or a nightcap or two to get me to sleep. I didn't generally drink my lunch, or with my lunch, or even have a beer at dinner. But I went out a lot with my friends, and that usually involved bars and massive quantities of beer.

It also involved a lot of foolish bravado when it came to drinking. There are a lot of pictures of me in the years between 18 and 25 where I'm holding a beer in a prominent location, as if to say "Look at me! I'm cool! I drink!" and I admit I took a certain pride when my friends told me that, 'pound-for-pound, JeffO is the biggest rumball in the Crew.' Maybe that's all we're seeing here with Florence Welch. Maybe she's just adopted a particular lifestyle and is proudly displaying it. Maybe, when she grows up a little bit, she'll look back at a claim like that and think "What was I thinking?" Hopefully, she won't have done any permanent damage to herself or others before then.

The second thing that disturbed me in Florence's bio is the notion that creativity is best-achieved when drunk.

I spent a lot of my late teens and early- to mid-twenties in a state of inebriation, and I can say that, for me, I never did anything 'best' when drunk. Unless you count horribly off-key karaoke; wailing in misery about my lack of love life; duck-walking, Chuck Berry style through a bar to the song 'Beat it on Down the Line'; or vomiting on the side of the road. I did those things great.

It's easy to see where you could get the idea that alcohol frees the muse. Alcohol is a depressant. It relaxes the body. A drink or two loosens inhibitions. So, maybe it frees things up a little. I read a blog post where the author suggests that writing is the most self-revealing of the arts; an author puts herself up for examination to a far great extent than the other creative arts. In this view, booze allows the author to expose herself to others.

I can see this point of view, but I know for me the problem isn't in writing it down, it's the sharing. Maybe when I shop out my work to others I'll need a couple of shots under my belt before handing it over, or hitting 'send e-mail' to an agent. God forbid if I ever get published and have to do a public reading. Then it will be time for some Hennigan's.

I really don't mean to make light of this; alcohol abuse is a serious problem. Are writers really more prone to alcoholism than CPA's or teachers or stevedores, or is it just the perception due to the self-destruction of some famous authors? Does alcohol really help some people write, or is there something else behind it? Creative artists tend to have a lot going on upstairs. Maybe, as another blogger suggested, booze is just a way to quiet the voices down so they can actually create.

My apologies for this rambling wreck of a post. Have a pleasant weekend, all.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Flash Monday

I know that if you want to publish something, you don’t post it on a public website. I never had any illusions that this piece would be published anywhere; it's too short, and isn't really a story, exactly, but it's finished. It's got no place to go from here (at least not as far as I can see), so I'm presenting it to you.

I wrote this in my Writer’s Group back on May 23rd. We were working off a prompt, but I was distracted by a barrage of artificial sounds spilling into our writing area from out on the street. I wrote three pieces that day: One, a brief exposition on cell phones and ring tones in general; this one here; and a third involving a teacher who was out of touch with his students. That last one has promise, though I don't know where to go with it, and I haven't really looked at it since I wrote it. This piece has changed very little since it flew out of my head that afternoon. I hope you enjoy it.

The Ringtone

Ominous music poured out of Richie’s pants.

Dun dun dun, DA duh-dun, Da duh-DUN.

“Crap,” he said, reaching for his pocket. “It’s the wife.”

I laughed. “You use Darth Vader’s theme song as your wife’s ringtone?”

Richie’s hand paused halfway to his ear. He said, without a trace of humor, “If you lived with her you’d know why.”

He flipped open the phone, plastered a phony smile on his face, and injected saccharine into his voice. “Hey, honey, how are you?”
# # #

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Back Home Filler Post

At least I'm honest, eh?

Stumbled in last night around seven after driving 600+ miles, so the brain is a little empty. Here's something real old. Gotta love the hair and clothing of the early 70's.

Now to catch up on all the blogs and forums, etc., etc. Have a nice weekend, all.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Musical Monday

Just to prove I can and do enjoy more modern music that what I've previously posted, here's Florence and the Machine, from an appearance on David Letterman last December. Enjoy.

I've always been a sucker for women rockers; I love Florence's voice and her style (heavy percussion and a harp -- what's not to love?). Maybe this will kick-start the piece on stars I've been playing with since April.

I'll be spending much of this week on the road (college visits, yikes) and I don't have anything pre-loaded for Friday, so you may not hear from me until next week. Have a good one, all!

Friday, August 12, 2011


“I spit out like a sewer hole.” – Pete Townshend, Who Are You

[WARNING: There are some actual, honest-to-goodness curse words in here.]

I am terrible when it comes to cursing. In the right setting I am capable of letting fly with all manner of expletives, words of vile origin and viler meaning. I’m not up there with Ralphie’s father from A Christmas Story, a man who “worked in profanity like other men worked in oils or clay.” Ralphie tells us, “In the heat of battle my father wove a tapestry of obscenities that as far as we know is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan.” I’m not quite as creative or imaginative as that, which, I suppose, is a good thing.
There are two ‘right circumstances’ that get me cursing. One is when I hang around with my old hockey buddies. We curse like, well, hockey players. It’s amazing how easily you slip into old habits around the right people.
The other ‘right circumstance’ is when I’m alone and something goes very, very wrong. Like, say, when I’m not able to get a chapter just exactly right. Then, I can sit at my desk, or pace about the office cursing away, while the dog gives me that worried look that dogs seem to have perfected.
Physical pain is a subset of the ‘something goes very, very wrong’ situation, and is an even better inspiration for a good curse-out session. About four years ago I broke my ankle while walking the dog (Okay, I was running, and it was midnight, but at least I wasn’t drunk). My ankle rolled on an uneven edge of pavement, I face-planted in the street, and out it came, at the top of my lungs:

I don’t know how I didn’t wake the neighbors.
In general, though, I’m very careful about cursing. I don’t curse in front of people I don’t know, and never in front of the kids. And I never, ever cursed in front of my parents. I slipped. Once. I said “suck” in front of my father. Now, most people today don’t consider that to be a bad word at all, but I operated on the assumption that it was, even though I really didn’t understand it. “This sucks!” someone says. Sucks? What do you mean? What does it suck? When we first started delving into profanity, kids at school would say things like “That sucks shit,” so I guess it was something like that. Anyway, I don’t remember my father saying anything in response, but I got The Look: the kind that made you want to curl up and die in a lonely corner somewhere. That was enough for me. Even as an adult, I steered clear of everything in front of them: Damn, Piss, Crap – even the mildest profanities were on my ‘do not utter’ list.
In public discourse of any kind, even internet forums and blogs, I follow the same approach in terms of profanity that I took when speaking with my parents, or anyone I didn’t know well: I avoid it. The way I figure it, I don’t know who you are, or how easily you’re offended, so I’ll just err on the side of extreme caution. Cursing like Jules Winnfield might work in a Quentin Tarantino film, but it doesn’t do you any favors in the Real World (of course, talking like Ned Flanders might not do you any favors, either).
Writing fiction presented a big challenge for me, because there’s just something about writing these words down, about committing them to paper, that makes me cringe even more. When you say something out loud, it’s there and gone. “I said what? Prove it!” But when you write it, it’s part of the permanent record. I don’t want to leave a blue trail that leads to my door. Even when the situation calls for it, I think about my kids reading my work, and I pause. Never mind that they’ve heard it (I’ve watched Pulp Fiction with my daughter – according to imdb, the eff-bomb is dropped 265 times) before, they don’t hear it from me.
It’s also more forgivable when you say something bad in the heat of the moment. Bash your thumb with a hammer and drop an F-bomb – it’s understandable. It slipped out. It happens. Write it down in dialogue, or as part of the narrative? Well, you can’t say “Oops, it slipped.” It’s written down, it’s considered and weighed, and is very deliberate.
But it’s in the name of story. And the first time I came upon a place in a work of fiction where ‘shit’ or ‘fuck’ just seemed absolutely necessary – I clenched my teeth and typed it out.
And it felt good.
I guess the next hurdle is a steamy sex scene. This just keeps getting harder, doesn’t it?
Have a nice weekend, all.

Monday, August 8, 2011


First, thanks to all of you who have popped in to take a read and decided to stay as a result of Carrie's 'Liebster' of this space. I appreciate it! Thanks again, Carrie! It's a nice balance considering I’ve just come through one of the most frustrating weeks of writing that I’ve had since I started down this path last year. Nothing really seemed to work right for me, starting with my Writer’s Group last week, where I managed to half-complete two piles of junk ‘inspired’ (and I use the term very, very loosely) by four guys playing a beanbag-toss game just outside the door. The only worthwhile thing to come out of that for me was the phrase ‘lentil-laden projectile.’ That’s a keeper.

During the week I got badly hung up on Chapter 21 of Parallel Lives. I decided it needed reworking, and I put a huge effort into it. I’m still not happy with it. The idea of the chapter is good, but the execution is not. Bleah.

I do have theory why I’m having so much trouble with it. Actually, two. The first one? I’m distracted. By TV. That’s bad.

I’ll blame my daughter. She got herself hooked, courtesy of a friend, on Dr. Who. Sometime during the winter they had a sleepover and binged on Dr. Who reruns. Several times during the recently-completed season they got together for viewing parties. Considering what I did on Saturday nights when I was seventeen, I’m pretty grateful that they’re staying up late watching British sci-fi/fantasy TV. Over time I got sucked into it, too, though I’m no Who-vian. And I lost whatever shred of ‘cool’ I have when I mistakenly referred to the actor currently playing The Doctor as ‘David Smith.’ Matt Smith is the current doctor, David Tennant was the previous one. I think it's a forgivable mistake. Their reaction to my gaffe was kind of like this:

Hmm, I've finally figured out how to get a Youtube video to start at a particular point. Unfortunately, you can't seem to make it stop at a particular point.

With the season on summer hiatus (the BBC apparently doesn’t work in the same way as American television) my daughter decided that we really needed to catch up on all the episodes, going back to when the series was resurrected back in 2005 (she’s already done this at least once on her own). So, through the magic of Netflix we went back and watched. And watched. And watched. We finally caught up this week. Whew.
Meanwhile, about two weeks ago, my wife started watching Ally McBeal. I didn’t watch a whole lot of Ally McBeal back in the day (and yes, I’m old enough to have been an adult when it was running, just as I’m old enough to remember when The Simpsons were an occasional short segment on the Tracey Ullman Show); I guess I just had other stuff I liked better. But my wife started watching at her computer right behind me and, try as I might to block it out by turning up the music, it filtered in. Next thing you know, we’re on to season 2. So now I had Dr. Who and Ally McBeal going.

But it gets worse. TV is like a whirlpool (in a cesspool), and it sucked at me down. Last week, for reasons I cannot explain, I went to the well of Netflix myself and started watching Weeds from the beginning. I’d started watching it casually about three years ago, so now I have the chance to catch up on that one, too! Great! So I’ve gone from barely watching any TV (except for hockey and Seinfeld reruns) to spending hours and hours on Netflix. Not good. While the shows in question are all quite good, I have to wonder if the time spent watching them is impacting my writing muscles.

Of course, this being me, I am also entertaining another possibility. TV could be a symptom, not the disease itself. I’ve made two passes through Parallel Lives already. I’ve taken out a lot, and added some things in. I may be going to ‘the glass teat’ (I think it was Stephen King who called it that) because I’ve reached the end of what I can do with this book without outside help. I think, friends, that it's time I found me a couple of readers.

Hmmm, I wonder if I can get Malcolm in the Middle on Instant queue....

Friday, August 5, 2011


About a week-and-a-half ago I had one of those dream-like moments. I was in the midst of my morning run-through of blogs and Absolute Write threads when something lit up in my mind: a topic for my next Friday blog post. To that I said,

I continued on my blog tour and went about my day. Later, I tried to think of that excellent post for the upcoming Friday…and it was gone! I hadn’t written it down anywhere, and it was either not etched with a firm enough hand on my brain, or it was dispatched to some deep corner where it could not be found. I faked my way through that post and, a week later, here I am again.
The good news for this week is I had a post on the way. The idea came to me early in the week, and this time, I remembered it. I worked on it Wednesday night and Thursday morning, but it wasn’t quite ready to go this morning. I figured I’d bust my butt this morning to clean it up and get it ready, and hope it was polished enough to share with the ten of you.

But now, I don’t have to, because Carrie has come to the rescue. I’ve been Liebstered!

As I’ve said before, I’m not one who’s necessarily comfortable playing tagging type of games in blog-land, but in this case, I’ll make an exception, like I did the last time. The goal of the Liebster is to showcase up and coming bloggers who have less than 200 followers. The rules:
  1. Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who bestowed the award on you
  2. Reveal your top five picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog
  3. Copy and paste the award on your blog
  4. Have faith that your followers will spread the love
  5. Have bloggity-blog fun!
OK, I’m going to say this now: this is the last time you will see the words ‘have bloggity-blog fun’ on this blog. So, first, thank you, Carrie. You were one of my first followers, and I think this is the second time you’ve saved me with a timely tag!

Now, the tough part, choosing five bloggers. The truth is, I don’t follow a huge amount of blogs, but here we go (in no particular order):

Libbie Hawker. Libbie's blog is over a year old, but she took some time off, so I’ll bend the rules of ‘up and comer.’ Libbie writes with intelligence, fire, and humor; she doesn’t shy away from controversy, and she loves Turkey vultures. Liebstered!

Jennifer, at The Writing Cocoon. Another one of my first followers. I really enjoy reading how other writers write; Jennifer covers this in a very personal style. I feel we’re at very similar stages in our works and development. Jennifer, you have been Liebstered!

Robin Kristoff and Luke. Two different bloggers who are both quite new to the scene. I like what they both have to say, and how they say it. For some strange reason, I’m not following them yet, but that’s about to change. Liebstered and followed!

 And number 5? There is no number 5. Five is right out!

Thank you, Carrie, for Liebsterizing me. And I hope that the folks I’ve passed this on to won’t hate me for doing so.

Have a nice weekend, all.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Musical Monday

First, no ten-minute songs today. I was going to write a post about the soundtrack for my WiP, but changed my mind in the middle of things, and went with this, instead, which actually does figure in my WiP.

True story: Many years ago, my wife and I took a trip to Martha’s Vineyard from our Long Island home. Reason: I had an interview to be the new director of a major conservation group on the island. We fought our way through the heavy traffic of the Long Island Expressway (aka, The World's Longest Parking Lot), across the Throgs Neck Bridge, and finally onto I-95. Once cleared the brutal traffic of the Cross Bronx/Bruckner Interchange, we switched the radio from the All News, All The Time (where we were getting a steady feed of traffic reports) to a rock station. This is the first song we heard. 

We should have gone home right then and there. We didn’t. We schlepped up to the Vineyard, took a ferry, and I had my interview. We spent the night in a B&B and came home the next day (and, for the record, Martha's Vineyard is beautiful).

The interview went well enough that they asked me back for a second round a few weeks later. It was at that point that I learned the salary for the position was – wait for it – $17,000. If Room and Board had been included, it might have worked -- maybe -- but it wasn’t. I'll also point out that this was not so far in the past that $17,000 was a lot of money. After a lot of discussion with my wife, we decided to go back for the second interview anyway, on the notion that maybe the salary was negotiable (it wasn't), and that maybe there would be a way to live on 17K/year. So, we set off, cleared the traffic, cleared the bridges, got on I-95 heading north, switched from all news to the rock station, and the first song we heard was:

I kid you not.