Monday, December 26, 2016

Monday Musing, Post-Holiday Edition

Christmas has come and gone, though the Holidays-with-a-capital-H are still upon us. Yesterday was a lovely day, a full day, and now we're sort of back into the routine. For example, here I am, improvising a blog post, waiting for my first cup of coffee, and realizing I just forgot to set the timer so said coffee is likely to come out of the French press too bitter. All systems working as intended.

Things are not normal, though. For one thing, I'm not scrambling as much as on a typical, didn'tfinishdraftingapostandnowI'vegottogetitdonebeforeIhavetoleaveforwork Monday. That's because New Boss decided (and got approval of the Board) to shut down the office for the week. Part of it was no doubt selfishly motivated: she wanted to spend time visiting family away from home this week, but it was also in recognition of the fact that me and my fellow underling co-worker both had put in a lot of extra hours over the year, particularly when we were down a staff person this summer. It's nice to be recognized for this, though not expected, and I won't expect it next year.

But it leaves me with a full week, and it's kind of strange to think of a full week without work. What does that leave me to do? For one, I still have to fix my thermostat. I bought a new one, along with some replacement wire (I got a look at the old stuff--it's so old, it's the kind that's covered in cloth. Can you say "Fire hazard? I knew you could."), but wisely decided seven o'clock on a weeknight was not the best time. Just in case I do something wrong. It shouldn't take long, and it should be pretty easy, but I'm the kind of person who turns simple jobs into complicated affairs. Know thyself, right?

There is also lots of reading to be done. I have a book on the end table, and another one at the library, I'm curious to see if I can finish both before next year, or if one (or both) will be first on the 2017 reading list. On top of that, I'm beta-ing for a friend and am woefully behind on that. I feel guilty, but it's not always easy--or fast--to beta. I hopefully have not taken so long that she changes the name of one the characters (it's kind of strange when you have an uncommon last name to see it in a work of fiction), or decides to have him killed off in some embarrassing or grisly way (of course, since I haven't read all the way through yet, that could be exactly what happens to him).

And, of course, there is writing, writing, writing. Job one, right? So, I suppose it's time to close this one up and get to it, and make this a working Holiday week.

What about you? Are you working this week, or are you back to your normal schedule?

Monday, December 19, 2016

Did You Say--Gasp!--Outline?

Good freezing morning to you today! Not only is it one of the coldest mornings of the year so far (outdoor thermometer says it's zero right about now), but my thermostat continues to prove that it needs to be replaced: for the third time in four nights, it failed to tell the boiler that heat was needed, and it's really freaking cold right now! Good news? It must have worked at least partway through the night, because it was 'only' in the mid fifties in the house when I got up. Still, that's too freakin' cold. The thermostat is one of those old, mechanical types with a coil and a mercury switch. I see a digital upgrade in my short-term future.

Around this time each year, Agent Carrie schedules calls with all of her clients to plot and plan for the upcoming year. It's a chance to set goals, discuss how things are working, and map out where we want to go and how we're going to get there. My call was yesterday afternoon. Through the magic of cell phone technology, I left my family in a supermarket and sat in the car while we talked. Best thing of all? When our conference was done, I stepped out of the car and saw my wife pushing a laden cart across the parking lot to me--we were done! Timing is everything!

Carrie and I last spoke in mid-September, when we discussed the editorial feedback and "near miss" of the novel I'd last completed. At that time, I mentioned my new project, something I'd started working on over the summer while on submission. Her reaction was...cautious. She expressed concern that it didn't sound like what I typically write. Admittedly, my poor description of it probably made it sound a bit like an action flick, which is definitely not my style, but I also don't talk about my writing as well as I write about it! I did understand where she was coming from, however, and when I went back to the WiP while avoiding the RiP, I made some changes based on what Carrie had put in my mind. I then abandoned the WiP during NaNo month in favor of the RiP, which I finally sent back to Carrie in early December.

In the last two weeks, I made substantial progress on the WiP. On Saturday morning, prior to a pre-Christmas cleaning binge, I added nearly 2000 words on to the end, and found myself happy with the progress. I have a little over 200 pages, almost 65,000 words down, and the full sense of what happens. Which brings me to yesterday's conversation with Carrie. On Saturday afternoon, after the pre-Christmas cleaning binge, I decided I wanted to send Carrie a synopsis of the WiP in advance of our conference. This way, she'd really understand the WiP in the likely event I garbled my way through the conversation. So I started the synopsis.

If you're an author, you've probably dealt with the synopsis. This is something many agents and editors ask for, where you condense your 100,000 word opus into three to five pages--or, worse yet, one page. It typically includes mentions of all the MAJOR CHARACTERS, all the major plot events, and the ending. It's something that causes as much angst for writers as a pitch letter, maybe more: if you're not an author, it's hard to write these things, trust me. At any rate, I got to a point on Saturday evening where I liked my synopsis, then touched it up again on Sunday morning and sent it out. I'll admit, I broke some rules: my synopsis is not a one page quickie, it's three pages. And I didn't mention all the characters, and I didn't put them in ALL CAPS. I'm daring. A maverick. A rule breaker. But it worked. When I talked to Carrie later, she seemed really excited about the project, and didn't express the same sort of reservations she had raised when we first talked about the project. Score for me!

It also helped me, however. If you've been reading this space at all, you know I'm a dedicated Wingman, a Discovery Writer, a man who hates the concept of outlining. Yet, the synopsis is, in fact, something of an outline. It lays out the major events of the plot, and in summarizing the plot, it's possible to see where some of the holes might be. Since I haven't read over this manuscript from start to finish (and trust me, this one is a hot mess in many ways) yet, I was running largely off of memory, and what I thought should happen. There are a couple of spots where the synopsis comes across as a mumble, the literary equivalent of "la la la'ing" your way through the line of a song when you're not quite sure how it goes.

10 Beatles Classics You Kind Of Know The Words To by jeremeey

This synopsis, or "after the fact outline," has helped me see where I need to beef things up, expand on things, fill in the details. I'm not ready to call myself an outliner, not by a longshot, but I certainly can see where outlining in the middle of things can help bring it all home.

That's it for me for this week. I hope you all have yourselves a beautiful holiday. See you next time!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Monday Musing: TV Schedules

On Friday morning, I found myself listening to something curious on one of the local radio stations. Seemed the DJ from one of the five or six stations housed in one building (and, as far as I can tell, these are the only two actual on-air personalities on any of these stations; I think they are totally automated otherwise) apparently popped in to chat with the other DJ. I don't know if this is something they do every week, or if maybe a guest who was supposed to come in that hour to speak with each of them cancelled, or if they just bumped into each other in the hallway and said, "Why the hell not?"

They were talking about television. I missed most of the discussion, I think--since I don't know how long they were talking, I can't really say--but neither of them are big TV watchers at this point, at least, of commercial TV. They both admitted to binge watching: "We'll sit down on the weekends and go through six episodes of House of Cards," said one. A little later, one commented how they don't know most shows on TV, but he could still remember the schedule of shows he used to watch as a kid. "I Love Lucy was on at nine on Monday, Burns and Allen, Thursday at eight."

It got me thinking about television and how much things have changed, even over the last 15, 20 years. When I was a kid, even into my thirties, probably, television was largely something you watched on schedule. Sunday night, Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom followed by The Wonderful World of Disney. Friday night had The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family back to back (my poor parents). And then there were specials--anything by Jacques Cousteau would have the entire family lined up on the couch. Later, of course, there was "Must See TV" and the new Fox network's Sunday Night shows (Bad Taste TV?).

Now, of course, schedule largely means nothing. It used to be you had one, maybe two chances to catch an episode of your favorite show, but if you were out on a particular Tuesday night at 8, you might have missed Fonzie jumping the shark on Happy Days, with no chance to see it until summer reruns. Now? No big deal. The latest episode of Big Bang Theory is probably available for free in half a dozen places (and maybe even legally!).

Is this good, or is this bad? On the one hand, clicking "Play Next Episode" is great if we just can't wait to see Rick and the gang fight off the undead and the living, or to see how Fiona Gallagher is going to save the family this time. It definitely maintains an excitement level. But do we lose anything? I don't know.

What about you? Do you watch TV according to their schedule, or yours? Do you watch TV at all?

Meanwhile, some music. Last Thursday was the 36th (!!!) anniversary of John Lennon's death. I heard the lovely rendition of his semi-finished song, Real Love, performed by Regina Spektor. She's got a marvelous voice, really interesting. Enjoy.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Weekend Update: And Away She Goes!

Various thoughts and musings over the previous week:

-A week ago yesterday, we spent the better part of ten hours in the car getting the Catbird back to school. My wife and the Catbird split the driving chores on the way up; I pretty much drove us home. I like driving, don't get me wrong, but the older I get....Anyway, woke up a little achy and sore on Monday, feeling a little fuzzy-headed. I attributed that to being out of work for almost a full week. But on Tuesday, oh boy. My first thought was, 'It's not the day after that will get you, it's the day after the day after!' But my aches became a little suspicious. So was the sore throat. I am fortunate that it didn't really develop into anything. My wife was not so lucky, and spent the better part of two days dealing with a fever. Ugh.

-The RiP is out the door! Sent it off to Carrie last night, and we'll see what happens from here. Interestingly enough, it actually expanded a touch in word count, yet it feels lean. We'll see what happens from here. Time to buckle in for a new round of submissions. Which means....

-Back to the WiP! On a certain level, I'm almost afraid of this one, for a couple of reasons. It's been written in a style not quite conventional for me (as if I can really be said to have a 'convention' at this point in time). Also because I've got 160, 170 pages written, but I'm not sure how much more the story can be expanded to fill out a full-length novel. I have tended, so far, to finish at around 98-100,000 words; this right now doesn't seem to have the potential to land anywhere near that. I suppose the bit question is, "Does it need  to?" Maybe this is something that really needs to be novella/short novel in length. Time will tell.

-I cannot believe Christmas is just under three weeks away.

That's all I got for today; what's up with you?

Monday, November 28, 2016

How Do I Work This?

Going back to work after a long layoff is tough, isn't it? I was last in the office on Monday; Tuesday was travel day to pick up the Catbird (about 9 hours of driving round trip, plus having to eat, plus she had one last class so we had to find some errands to do for an hour and a half, made for a long day). I had given myself the option of going in on Wednesday, but decided to skip it: there was plenty to do around here, I was tired, and I did not expect a whole lot to happen anyway. I have been in the office the day before Thanksgiving; nothing ever happens. Thursday and Friday for the holiday, then the weekend, and now? Wow, I really don't want to go in today!

Strangely, that's about how I feel about blogging today, too. While on the road yesterday, I thought about this post off and on; but now that I'm sitting down, drinking my coffee, trying to psyche myself up for the day, I feel like it's been far longer than a week since my last post. I feel like I've completely forgotten how to do this (maybe I never knew!). Holidays can do that, I guess.

Despite all the driving, we had a real nice time, and it was good to have the Catbird home for a few days, was nice to hear her and the Magpie being silly together. Nice, also, to know that we get to do the trip again in about three weeks, and that she'll be home for a month this time. We were fortunate that we caught a break: From Saturday through Monday evening, we ended up with about 8 inches of snow here; on Tuesday, the roads were (mostly) free of slop and slip, and once we traveled about 30 miles east, we found that there had been little to no snow, which made for good travel. Hopefully, we'll catch a similar break in December.

The RiP progressed nicely. I had hoped to be sending it back off to Agent Carrie this morning, but I fear it's not quite there. I have one small (I hope) portion of a chapter that I'm writing fresh to insert; three pages, give or take, but it's not quite there, frustratingly close. I spent a lot of time on it over the long holiday weekend. Not much time to do anything with it this morning, but maybe I'll be fresher later. After I hook up one of these bad boys:

That's all I got for today; how are you all?

Monday, November 21, 2016

Monday Musing: And There It Is!

Good morning, all. Various bits and pieces of brain drivel from me:

After pushing sixty degrees on Friday and Saturday, the temperature dropped, dropped, dropped. Drizzle on Saturday night turned into snow on Sunday morning, which hasn't stopped yet. Plows are busy, and I will soon be busy as well, shoveling out the driveway (again). Looks like I'll have the chance to try the 4-wheel drive out again today.

Had a pretty good weekend of work on the RiP. The WiP is pretty much dead in the water*, but I might actually be able to make good on my goal of delivering the RiP to Agent Carrie by the end of the month.

*Not entirely true. I've written all of 560 words this month (to 'win' NaNo, I'd need to average 5,493.33 words per day between now and the end of the month--yeah, not gonna happen!). BUT parts of the WiP have been rattling around in my head at odd hours, which is a good sign. I think I'll be able to pick it up right away once I've put away the RiP.

Tuesday is our travel day, when we head out to pick up the Catbird for Thanksgiving. The weather is looking as promising as can be so far. On the other hand, we have to drive through about five colors to get there!

This will, of course, look completely different tomorrow.

My brain is proving to be a little empty at this hour, on this day, so I will leave you with that. To my American friends, happy Thanksgiving! May you have a lovely holiday filled with family, good friends, and good food! To everyone else--have a great week, and thank you to all of you who take the time to read and share your thoughts.

Monday, November 14, 2016

My Last Word On The Elections (for now)

This goes out to the Trumpites out there:

For the last sixteen months or so, you've been supporting Donald Trump, and it must have been frustrating for you, a thinking, feeling person, being painted with a very broad brush because of your choice of candidate. You were voting for Trump because you didn't like Hillary--but not just because she's a woman. You didn't like Hillary because she represents more of the same, and you don't feel the Democrats were leading us to a very good place. You don't like Hillary because of her Wall Street ties. Or because of her e-mails. Or Benghazi. Fine.

Or maybe you're a business owner, or a top earner, and you were not looking forward to yet another round of tax hikes on your income bracket. Or you are not confident in Hillary's ability to get us out of the Middle East and end the threat of ISIS. Or Russia. Maybe you're from coal country or gas country or oil country and view the push to renewables to be a threat to your livelihood and were fighting to keep your job. I get that.

And I get that it must have been frustrating over these last sixteen months or so to constantly have friends and relations on social media calling you a racist, a bigot, a xenophobe, a homophobe, a misogynist. The memes that were all over the place basically equated your choice for president as a Mussolini, a Hitler--and, by association, they lumped you in there, too.

"I am not those things," you said. You were not one of those people chanting "Build the wall" at Trump rallies, or "Lock her up." You were not one of those people throwing punches at protesters, or spitting on them, or calling people who looked like they might be from south of the border "beaners" and telling them they'd soon be deported. That wasn't you. The thing about politics is there's no such thing as a perfect candidate. They all have some kind of baggage, some position that we do not like, and that forces us to prioritize, make choices, and live with things that make us uncomfortable. Maybe you're not comfortable with things Trump has said (and done) in the past, but you really feel like the nation is being strangled by over-regulation, and Clinton sure isn't going to cut any of that back. So you put up with the bad stuff and say, "That isn't me. I'm not like that."

And now it's time to prove it. Your man is president elect. In two months, he'll take the oath of office and he'll have a semi-friendly Republican majority in Congress at his back. And sometime in the next year--more likely, within a few weeks of taking office--something's going to come out of the White House. It may be a proposed law. It may be a program. It may be a plan. Whatever it is, it's going to tick off one or more boxes: racist. Misogynist. Discriminatory. There's no telling which group it will target. It will almost certainly be gussied up as some kind of action that will keep our borders safe, or boost the economy, or limit voter fraud, but it will be definitely targeted at a group and close inspection will reveal it for what it is. And that's when you will have to prove that you are not those things people have been saying you are.

I hope you do.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016



Went to bed at one last night, the buzz from a shot of vodka and a White Russian not able to sufficiently dampen the bewilderment of what I had been watching unfold all night on the election map, or quiet the anxiety building over the prospect of a Trump presidency--and Republican control of both House and Senate. The math was not adding up, and that was even before Pennsylvania flipped from light blue to pale pink.

I went to bed hoping it was wrong, hoping that the late tally of ballots would be in Democratic stronghold precincts, while also knowing that a deficit of thirty, forty, fifty thousand votes is a lot to overcome. I went to bed hoping I could wake up in the morning, look at the results, and say, "Whew, that was a little dicey there." Instead, I wake up and wonder how President-elect Trump will behave, how he will  govern, whether he'll squander his majority by attacking the senators and representatives who didn't support him wholeheartedly throughout, whether he'll follow through on his promises to sue  the women who have accused him of sexual assault, whether he'll actually ultimately launch (more) investigations into Clintons e-mails and throw her in jail. I wake up and realize that I'm actually going to have to put into practice--somehow--Stephen King's words I posted here on Monday: "he's not just the president but my president." A good line, but it sure don't taste too good right now.

Monday, November 7, 2016

A Last Word Ahead Of Election Day

It's nearly over. At least I hope it is.

Tomorrow is the day we here in the United States officially cast our ballots and choose the next president. Though the events won't be offically official until January, when Congress counts the electoral votes, God willing, we'll know the result either late tomorrow night or early Wednesday morning, and then we can get on with the business of fixing the parts of our country that are broken, and strengthening the parts that are not.

I know where I stand in this election, and what I want to see happen, so I'm not going to belabor the point. No matter the outcome of tomorrow, there are going to be millions of people who are disappointed with the results. Some will be beyond disappointed: distraught, maybe; super-righteously pissed, perhaps. So, once the election is over and the results are in, I think we need to look at some wise words penned by that master statesman, Stephen King. In his book, 11/22/63 (about a man who travels back in time to save John F. Kenneday from assassination), King wrote:

"I didn't vote for him, but I happen to be an American, and that makes him not just the president but my president."

We can be upset with the result. We can be upset with the winner. But at the end of the day, that person will be our president, and we will have to work with him or her for the next four years.  Let's do it.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Another NaNo Upon Us

Here we are, once again on the cusp of November, which means it's time to ask two questions:

-How the hell did October go by so fast? and
-Are you doing NaNoWriMo?

(On the odd chance someone is reading this who has no idea what NaNoWriMo is, follow the above link; or, here's the nutshell: a national program in which participants attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in the thirty days of November)

It seems every year I approach November with that same, doubt-filled post: To NaNo, or not to NaNo, that is the question. Some years, I've done it. Some, I haven't. I succeeded on my first attempt (2010, though the folks at NaNo seem to have lost that record) and my last attempt (2014). I failed to break the 20K mark in 2011, and I don't have any other records in my history, which is strange, because I know I've tried on at least one other occasion. Oh, well.

The first criteria for committing to NaNo is whether I have a project or not. This year, it turns out that I do, sort of. Now, in looking at the 'rules' for NaNo, it doesn't exactly say you have to start at the beginning of your novel, and the folks at NaNo seem to be pretty flexible in their interpretation of the rules. My WiP is currently sitting at 57,292 words (hey, I've won! ). But it's not done. Based on my past history, my first drafts typically end up around 105-110,000 words, and there's no reason to believe this one will be any different. Hmmm.

The real question now becomes, "Can I add 50,000 words to this in the next thirty days?" It's only 1,667 words per day, if I write every day. Hell, on Saturday morning, I squeezed out 1597 words in the space of about two-and-a-half hours--and then added another 509 in commercial breaks and in between periods of the Boston-Detroit hockey game (seriously, I'm sometimes amazed at how fast the words will come). I can hear Agent Carrie saying "Imagine what would happen if you were really working on this, four solid hours a day?" Indeed, that would be wonderful, but alas, life gets in the way, and those thirty days of November get chewed up mighty fast. Looking ahead at the calendar, thirty becomes twenty-eight, because we have to spend two days driving to pick up and drop off the Catbird for Thanksgiving break. And then there's my organization's annual dinner. So we're already down to 27 days, or 1852 words.

And then, I also hear Agent Carrie whispering, "What about the RiP?" Yes, the RiP. The RiP needs some RiPping, so it can get back out in the world and be sold and make it so that I can work four hours a day plus on the WiP--and I can't say for sure how much more work the RiP is actually going to take (not 50,000 new words, thankfully).

So, after all that, where do I stand? Well, I certainly like the idea of NaNo-ing the WiP to completion. On the other hand, the RiP is more important. So it looks like the more sensible goal is to sit out NaNo, aim to have the RiP back in Carrie's hands by the end of November at the latest, and maybe turn December into DecNoWriMo.

What about you? Will you be back in the NaNo game?

Two other things before I go: Check out Agent Carrie's blog later today, or tomorrow, as she is expecting to post her latest Query Critique Winner. If you're like many writers who struggle with writing an effective query letter, Carrie's insights can be very helpful.

Second, maybe it's because Bob Dylan just won himself a Nobel Prize for Literature, or maybe it's something in my mood, but I just can't get the song "Visions of Johanna" out of my head. And, because this is me, I'm particularly partial to this version performed by the Grateful Dead way back in 1986. The lyrics are a little hard to make out at times, but I find it to be a rather powerful performance (and Garcia was unusually animated for this period of time). Have a great week!

Monday, October 24, 2016

It's Not Just About Trump

More than thirty years ago I had to make one of the first decisions of my semi-adult life: which political party should I join? After much consideration, I registered Republican.

This decision was not made lightly. It was not made without a great deal of thought. Back then, there were some issues where I leaned right, and issues where I leaned left, and plenty of issues where I didn't care a whole lot one way or the other, but I had to make a choice, so I made one. The decision was made both rationally and irrationally (rational: on the issues that were most important to me at the time, I leaned right. Rational: registering as an independent would mean I couldn't vote in the primaries. Rational: I thought I might want a county job and I lived in a Republican dominated county. See? I was cynical even then. Irrational: my father was a Republican. Irrational: I wrote a letter to President Nixon during the energy crisis and got a letter and a neat little book).

Over the years, I've pulled the lever (and, now, filled in the circle with the pen and fed the ballot through the scanner; this is much less satisfying than the loud ka-thunk of a mechanical voting machine) for Republicans and Democrats alike, for every office from President down to Town Clerk. I've tried to be informed about my choices, and I've never been a person who votes simply by pulling the lever for any candidate with an 'R' after their name. Party, to me, has always been less important than the person running for office. I was a Republican, but hardly the card-carrying, sign waving, campaign contributing type.

And now it's time to get off the bus.

This is not about Donald Trump. Or, mostly, not about Donald Trump. In a certain way, Trump's ascendance to the role as Republican standard bearer is a sign that the system isn't broken, that it's working as intended. The people spoke, the Party swallowed and said, "Yeah, okay, he's our guy. We don't like him, but we can't change the rules." (And here's a note to the still-smarting "Bernie Bros" out there: the DNC was against you, but the rules is the rules. Don't complain about not being able to vote in a Democratic primary if you're an Independent or a Green or a Working Families if your state doesn't allow it. House Rules work great in Monopoly, but not in an election) We can trace the rise of Tump to the rise of Newt Gingrich back in the 90s, which, coincidentally, is around the time I first started thinking, "Why am I a Republican?"

Some time ago I wrote in this space about change, and my belief that, in general, people in the real world change slowly. My change from Republican to Democrat has been thirty years in the making. Who has changed? I think it's both of us. The things that brought me to the Republicans in the first place are no longer as important to me, while other issues are more important. And of the issues that weren't issues for me then? I consistently find myself on the other side of them. As I've gotten older, I've moved to the left. At the same time, the Republican Party has been moving further to the right. I am not the same, but neither is the Republican Party I signed on for all those years ago.

The final straw for me was not Trump standing there smugly in Cleveland in July. It was reading the Republican Party platform. As much as I can agree with certain Republican principles (fiscal conservatism, smaller, less intrusive government), there is so much in here to object to. If allowed, the Republicans would:

-attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade, either by judicial review or constitutional amendment returning abortion control to the state;
-attempt to overturn same sex marriage;
-allow individuals and business to discriminate against same sex couples under the guise of religious freedom;
-ignore the preponderance of scientific evidence regarding climate change and would also gut environmental protections offered by the EPA, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act;
-remove women from combat roles and infantry battalions;
-replace "'family planning' programs for teens with sexual risk avoidance education that sets abstinence until marriage as the responsible and respected standard of behavior";
-push this country further toward what I think of as Judeo-Christian sharia.

Maybe some of you have read this and you say, "Yeah! I'm all for it! What's your beef?" To me, this document, this policy statement, is just not reflective of the modern world, which is in keeping with the platform writers' statement that "We believe the Constitution was written not as a flexible document, but as our enduring covenant." Welcome to 1789, folks.

Maybe it is just me. Maybe if I went back and read the Republican platform from when I registered to vote, I would find the same thing. Either way, I'm glad I changed. And when this election is over, I will be changing my voter registration.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Monday Musing

I was heading for another "confessional post." Though it's been partially drafted, it's not ready and I don't have the time (or stomach) to get it ready for this week. Instead, we get random bits of whatever.

-Walking the dog in the morning, I'm still not used to the fact that it's largely dark until right around seven (this week). Autumn seems to come on fast in this part of the world. I'll enjoy it while I can.

- Speaking of walking the dog, I took this picture yesterday afternoon while walking the dog. I kind of like it.

-Debate number 3 is coming up this week. Another thing I'm not sure I have the stomach for. Have you noticed (not to get too political here, but I can't help myself) that Donald Trump's rhetorical strategy of late seems to boil down to "I'm rubber, you're glue"? After the "locker room banter" incident, it was "Bill Clinton said far worse." John McCain is "foul mouthed." (I can't even figure out where that comes from) Hillary Clinton "has hate in her heart." Now, after two debate performances that have had some jokingly (and others seriously) suggest Trump is using cocaine, he wants to take a drug test. Enough of that.

-Making only sporadic progress on the RiP and the WiP this past week/weekend. Going through the RiP, I'm finding some stuff that I can't believe got through to submission stage. Yeesh.

That's about all I've got this week; how's things with you?


Monday, October 10, 2016

In Which I Make a Horrible Admission: Locker Room Banter

(Author's note: I wrote this piece yesterday in Writers' Circle. I'm very much troubled by the recently-unearthed audio of Donald Trump on the "Access Hollywood" bus with Billy Bush. This has been very difficult to write, and pressing the "Publish" button is a little scary. I fear I may not have articulated things that well. Let's hope I have.)

Words matter. Words have the potential to influence the thinking of others, to change their actions and behaviors, maybe even their lives. But sometimes words are just words, not uttered or written with any particular intent beyond entertainment. They're used to funny, or to shock, or to gain attention. Whether we're aiming for influence or just throw-away entertainment, we still need to think about what we say, how we say it, and to whom.
Image from Wikipedia

I'm a guy. I hope this comes as no surprise to you after all this time. And as a guy, I've engaged in my fair share of locker room banter. Also golf course gabbing. Barroom bombast. I have told--and laughed at--jokes that cover every -ist and -ism out there. Racist, sexist, misogynist? Been there. I have slurred and slandered, engaged in stereotyping and objectification. Gay bashing? That, too. In certain situations with certain people, this side of me comes out.

I say all of this not because I'm proud of it. I'm not. I say this not to excuse it, because there's no excusing it. I say this because it's simply the truth. And the other truth is, in the right setting with the right people, I will almost certainly engage in "locker room banter" again. It's the simple truth of the matter.

What would you do if you heard me say these things? Would you become angry, tell me off, then leave and tell everyone you know that I'm an utter ass? Perhaps you would chuckle politely, then change the subject and find an excuse to leave soon thereafter, never to see me by choice again. Or maybe you'd join in with gusto. It depends on what kind of person you are. What will you do now that I've confessed these things to you? Will you comment? Stop following? Spread it far and wide on Twitter and Facebook and bring the hammer of Internet Outrage down upon my head? It all depends on what kind of person you are.

And now we come to Donald Trump. The recently-unearthed "Access Hollywood" clip has Trump bragging about putting the moves on a married woman, just kissing women, whether invited or not, and that as a rich, famous person, he can do whatever the hell he wants. Trump has brushed all of this off as locker room banter, and, in his typical fashion, has used his best second grade "I know you are, but what am I" rhetorical style to say that Bill Clinton is far, far worse (and he may well be, but this is not about Bill Clinton).

Do we let Donald Trump off the hook for his ten-year-old crudities on the "Access Hollywood" bus, or for the things he's said while guesting on the Howard Stern show five, ten, or twenty years ago? Do accept his excuse that he was just playing a role, or playing up (or down, as the case may be) to a particular crowd, and that it doesn't reflect who he is as a person? At this point,

And what's my excuse? What's the difference between me and Trump on this (besides the millions of dollars and millions in audience, that is)? I'd like to believe the difference is that one of us means what he says, and puts it into action, while the other is just engaging in locker room banter. I can tell you that I have never forcibly kissed a woman or put my hands on one uninvited. Nor would I. Meanwhile, there's mounting evidence that Trump's words to Billy Bush were not just him being "braggadocious." The allegations that continue to surface about Trump--from former business partners, from cast and crew of "The Apprentice," from contestants in the various pageants he has run--indicate that he these are not mere words.

Locker room banter is not going to go away. Men and women (but mostly men, I suspect) will continue to engage in it, and there's nothing necessarily wrong with that--provided it remains just that: banter. Words, not action, exagerration, not reality.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for commenting.

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Reading List (The Third)

Well, well, it's another sheet torn off the old wall calendar, and not just any month, but September. That means another quarter of the year gone, and that means it's time for the reading report! If you want to see what else I've read this year, here's Part I and Part II. But before we do that, let's have a quick peek at the old American chestnut growing on my lawn. On the left is a picture taken earlier in the week:

That picture on the right is a bit blurry, and lacks my hand for scale, but there was clearly a bit more growth put in between July and September. There won't be much growth going on now; hopefully the tree to be will make it through the winter. And now, on to the reading list!

Hyperart: Thomasson, Genpei Akasegawa (2010). Read this one at the urging of the Magpie, and it was amusing. Started early in quarter 2, put it aside for a while, then finished it off. Some day, I'll explain what a Thomasson is, but that day is not this one.

Born On A Tuesday, Elnathan John (2016). Strong debut novel about a young boy in Nigeria growing up among social and religious upheaval.

The Fireman, Joe Hill (2016). Joe Hill is good.

The Revenant: A Novel Of Revenge, Richard Punke (2002). I haven't seen the movie yet, but I found the ending rather disappointing and a bit anti-climatic.

End Of Watch, Stephen King (2016). Though I thought the middle book (Finders Keepers) was the best, this was satisfying way to wrap up the Mr. Mercedes trilogy, though it did veer a bit off the straight up detective story formula of the first two.

Everybody's Fool, Richard Russo (2016). Russo writes with tongue planted firmly in cheek, but I found this sequel lacked the warmth of the original.

Nobody's Fool, Richard Russo (1993) Re-read because it was hanging around and I wanted to compare it with the above. Russo nails life in a down-at-the-heels upstate New York town, and the banter between protagonist Sully and his frenemy, Carl Roebuck is pitch-perfect. This could be a desert island book.

The Age of Miracles, Karen Thompson Walker (2012). The earth's rotation begins to slow down, bringing unexpected, catastrophic changes. Very well done book, though I wasn't entirely sure if I was reading an adult book with a young protagonist or a YA book. It crossed the line back and forth a few times.

The Stand, Stepehn King (1980). Re-read. Still enjoyable after all these years, but the cracks are beginning to show. Do women really refer to themselves as "Stu's woman" or "Larry's woman"?

Life After Life, Kate Atkinson (2013). Great concept of a woman living her life over and over again, but can best be summed up by this exchange late in the book: "What if we had the chance to do it again and again, until we finally did get it right? Wouldn't that be wonderful?" "I think it would be exhausting."

Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides (2002). A multi-generational epic that covers the Greek expulsion from Turkey, incest, the immigrant experience, and gender identity, and still manages to be entertaining.

Heat & Light, Jennifer Haigh (2016). Gas drilling comes to a small Pennsylvania town, changing everything. Overall good, but I think Haigh should have trimmed the cast of characters back and gone deeper than she did.

Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson (2014). Picked up off the Catbird's bookshelf. Wow. Just, wow.

Thirteen books for the second quarter in a row, bringing my total for the year to 34. It's funny, too, because I felt like there was a slowdown somewhere in there, but I guess not. I have succeeded in reading newer (5 books published this year). One of these days I'll look at the diversity issue, too. But not today. That needs more space and time than what I've got right now. So--what's on your reading list?

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Inner Crowd

Oh my, it's getting crowded in here.

Last week, I had a conversation with Agent Carrie about my last project. As you may (or may not; I can't recall if I shared this or not) know, at the beginning of summer, said last project went out on submission. Generally speaking, I adhere to the policy of "what happens on submission stays on submission"--except when I don't. Like any writing rules, there are times when it's okay to break the rules, and I think this is one of them.

This project was my second manuscript to go out on submission, and I think I did a better job this time around of forgetting about it. Until August. That's when Carrie sent me an e-mail that said "Keep your fingers crossed." She also forwarded an e-mail from an editor who liked my project! Someone was considering it! Someone was shopping it around inside their house to see what others thought! Needless to say, at that point, it became hard not to think about it.

Ultimately, the project got turned down. With all the editorial rejections in, Carrie and I looked them over, talked about them, decided that we were close with this one, but there were a couple of things I could do on a rewrite to make this THE ONE that editors just had to have.Now it's time to get to work, do some refinement, and turn in a manuscript that cannot be turned down.

There's just one problem: I'm working on another project.

I've written before about projects that grind on and are difficult to work on for various reasons (too often to go digging through and find the links; you'll have to find them yourself if you want).  The last one was one of those; this new one is one of those. Chances are good that every single thing I ever write will be one of those. At any rate, I wrote about 175 pages between the end of June and now, which is makes it about half a book by my usual standards (though I do actually have the ending written). I'm at a stage where I think I need to go back to the beginning and start filling out--and cleaning up, because a lot of it is, frankly, a mess. Since talking to Carrie last week, however, my head is now filling up with other people: the people from the last project.

Though I am a wingman, I do a lot of "writing" in my head while doing non-writing things. Showering. Washing the dishes. Driving. Walking the dog. When I sit down at the keyboard I often have something of a plan for a scene or section, because I've been over it in my head, sometimes multiple times. Instead of those scenes from the current WiP, a lot of that non-writing writing time is being taken up with the last WiP--which I guess needs a new name. Maybe Revision in Progress, i.e., RiP, will work?

I suppose the thing to do here is to compartmentalize my brain in some way. Maybe early morning can be time for the WiP and evening can be time for the RiP. The tough part is getting my brain to devote the precious non-writing writing time to the most important task. Maybe I need some kind of inner office manager to keep the people and events from the RiP and the WiP in separate rooms, and to shuttle them from the front room to the back room when appropriate without getting anyone or anything mixed up.

Do you have any tricks for keeping your various projects separate? Do share!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Who Is This For?

I may have mentioned in an earlier post that I was having trouble with my computer. Well, I've actually been having trouble with it for a couple of years, due to a damaged hard drive that, for some time, would cause complete system crashes--a rather inconvenient thing, to say the least. Those problems seemed to disappear over the last six or seven months, which was really nice, though it was always at the back of my head that I could crash anytime. I got in the habit of saving early and often, and of setting up AutoSave to go off every two minutes or something like that.

Of course, we all know that computers, like cars, don't just fix themselves, and the hard drive was the least of my worries. My computer had a lot of stuff in it--by which I mean hard drives (two), optical drives (2), USB ports (more than you could shake a stick at)--and those things started disappearing. When I lost my speakers two years ago I thought it was something I had done; I had disabled them but then couldn't enable them. Inconvenient, but no biggie: no one in the house really wanted to be subject to the barrage of Grateful Dead I listen to when I write, and I have since found headphones are more effective at blocking out distraction, and might actually be better for picking up nuance in music. As the month of August wore on, however, I realized that it probably wasn't me failing to find the proper audio component in my Device Manager--it was my computer, slowly but surely dying.

My wife had bought an expansion drive some time ago with a universe of storage space on it and had been urging me to back up the hard drive. I had started this back when the crashes were occurring, but hadn't finished. The last week in August I got on my horse and copied files, and it's a good thing: the old computer had a couple of nights where it shut itself down, and each time I turned it back on, I noticed that, one by one, the various bits of hardware were disappearing from the list. Then one evening it wouldn't turn on at all (not entirely true: fans spin and that's about it). Meaning...

The day after Labor Day, the replacement arrived. It's a sleek, cheap Dell that takes up about a third of the space the old tower filled. When it arrived, I wanted to put it up on my desk, alongside my monitor. That meant I needed to excavate my desk, which I did. Well, almost. I excavated about two-thirds of my desk--not my idea of fun, but necessary (and not complete; I hate cleaning up).

As I excavated, I found a lot of interesting things, which I will not go into much detail about, but I did find this, and if you're a writer, you probably have some of this, too:

Yes, these are printed out manuscripts. On the top is my most recent epic, printed out this spring. You can see a bunch of sticky notes hanging off the side. Below that are actually more recent editions, from later in the editing process. Mixed in with the mess are parts of my last two manuscripts, along with notes and e-mails from beta readers.

In prepping my desk for the new computer, I filled a bag with garbage and a big cardboard box with recyclables. Perfect time to pitch the old manuscripts away, right? Well, that picture was taken this morning.

Last week, Katrina Lantz, writing at the blog Operation Awesome, embedded a vlog from writer Beth Revis (Across the Universe) on failure and success. In the video, Beth displayed a pile (actually, it might have been two piles) of manuscripts she had written before getting Across the Universe published. She mentioned, I believe, ten manuscripts, and you can bet she's got all ten of them printed out and saved somewhere in her house. After seeing this video, and finding myself with a pile of three unpublished (but hopeful) manuscripts on the floor to my left, two weeks after cleaning up my desk, I have to ask: Who are we saving these for? And why?

I know the impulse that drives me to save drafts upon drafts on my computer. It's the same one that makes me do a Save As... every time I make a major change to my manuscript, the same one that explains why I have 11 versions of my currently on submission project in various stages of completion on the computer: fear. Fear that something will go horribly wrong with the new version and I'll have to go back to a previous version; fear that, if I don't keep it, it will be lost forever should I need to go back, that I won't be able to pull something out of my head again if needed.

But the pile of paper is different. Given the gazillion-gigabyte expansion drive, the cloud, the ability to e-mail myself or Agent Carrie the manuscript at any time as a safeguard, the pile of paper is completely unnecessary. So why do I do it? Why do we do it (since Beth Revis' video shows I'm not alone in my manuscript hoarding)?

Fiction writers are historians, in a way, charting the lives of people and families who never existed, recording their histories in exacting detail. Maybe saving our drafts and notes is akin to preserving important documents: records of births and deaths, marriages and moves. Or maybe it's just an ego thing: Or maybe it's some sort of ego thing: we're hoping to make it big, and we want to leave something to posterity. Here are my eyeglasses, here's my coffee mug, here's the marked-up first draft of my first mega-bestseller.

Wow, I've gone on much longer than I expected. So, what do you think? Are you a manuscript hoarder, and if so, why?

Monday, September 12, 2016

Triggers, Again

While I was on my break, triggers and trigger warnings popped rather suddenly into prominence again. Triggered by a post Porter Anderson wrote for Writer Unboxed in mid-August, I started drafting my own bit on this, which, of course, I've already done at least once before (Tipper Stickers). The initial work I did on the latest post was lost when my computer finally collapsed in a heap of aging processors and blown capacitors, but I had enough in my head to carry on. So, here we are. Again.

When I began crafting my response to Anderson's post, it was not all that different from my Tipper Stickers post: the purpose of literature is to provoke thought and feeling; I don't like the idea of putting ratings on books, though I accept them on movies and TV programs; a reader can always stop reading, etc. and so forth. Not a lot had changed.

But as I started my comment, a thought popped into my head: As a person who has never suffered any real trauma in life beyond the usual scrapes and bruises, am I really qualified to decide?

The major traumas in my life involve the deaths of my parents (and neither of those events qualifies as scarring; it's sad that they aren't part of our lives anymore, and watching loved ones succumb to illness sucks, plain and simple; but nothing in their deaths rises to the level where there are triggers) and one assault at the Lenox Avenue subway station that I got over long ago. Simply put, I am fortunate--and happy--not to have had incidents that leave me prone to debilitating emotional responses. And much as straight white men in America are not usually that reliable when it comes to commenting on issues of racism and sexism (particularly the sneaky institutional kinds), this may leave me unqualified to really determine whether there should be triggers or not.
Wait, not that kind!

Sensitivity in this world is a must. The whole point of so-called "Political Correctness" is not about stopping people from thinking, or stopping people from speaking their minds; rather, it's to get them to think about what they're saying and writing, to consider other people's lives and points of view, and to recognize that there are other experiences out there beyond their own. You can go on thinking whatever you want--you will, anyway. Just think a little about who you're impacting before you say it.

Whoops, I've drifted a bit off topic. The simple truth is, I don't think there should be any topics that are taboo in writing, and I think it's absolutely wrong to tell writers not to include potentially upsetting scenes. As for trigger warnings? Again, maybe. My question is this, though: Who gets to decide what warrants a trigger warning and what does not? What do you think?

Monday, September 5, 2016

Whoa, What Is This Place?

It's September and my self-imposed blog break is over. I return a bit refreshed and even have enough ideas sketched out to get me through a month of this--the question is whether or not I'll do enough pre-writing on these would-be future posts to make it not too much of a struggle or not. I'm thinking I might. At least for a little while.

Now, I must admit, I've totally screwed up. I sat down this morning thinking how I would ease into the blogging thing by reporting on my reading list for the third quarter. I even started writing up the introduction. But, somewhere on my way to get the coffee ready (and it's still not ready; another two minutes or so), my fogged brain did some calculations and I realized I'm too early--the third quarter doesn't end until the end of September. Which means I'll actually have to post something else (I knew my reading list for the quarter was looking a little thin!). Let me think of that while I get me some...

 One sip, and things are suddenly much better!

So, reason for the break: as I may have said when announcing this break, I really haven't been happy with either my post quality or the fact I've been squeezing things out under pressure. I like to post on Monday mornings, and several of my posts were coming Monday evening, and I think I even deferred one to Tuesday. Not what I wanted. So, here's where I place the blame for all this!

Summer is typically my busiest time at the job, as I have a lot of outdoor work to arrange, and I also tend to have a lot more weekend work because of the nature of what I do. This summer was no exception. It was compounded, however, by the departure of my boss, who told us back at the end of March that she was leaving. Her last day was in mid-May. While the board of directors searched for a new boss, I took on most (hell, pretty much all) of Old Boss' responsibilities--in addition to my own. I didn't necessarily work longer hours, though perhaps I should have, but my days were definitely packed a bit more.

I did not realize until New Boss started how much the job was weighing on me, until New Boss started. Some of it was almost certainly the pressure of carrying two sets of job responsibilities; I suspect there was some anxiety in there about what kind of person New Boss would be. She started in early August, and so far, so good.I like her personally; professionally, I think she's going to do a great job. The evidence of how tough the summer was for me is that I realize I've been in an extremely elevated mood for the last three weeks or so--my energy level is up, my mood is up. I'll ride that as long as I can.

On top of all the other stuff, summer is summer and both girls were home (Yay!). We're a one-car family (Boo!). So, there was a lot of ferrying of people back and forth, and a lot of car juggling going on.

And then there are the worries of being on submission, even though through most of July I was on Amnesia Mode where that was concerned, and working on The Next One. I'm happy to say I made solid progress on The Next One, particularly during July. I slowed down a bit in August, but there is some reconfiguration I need to do on that piece.

Anyway, New Boss is working out really well so far, the Catbird is back at school, thus cutting some of the car juggling, and I'm back and ready to blog--at least this week, so far. I've been keeping tabs on many of you, but tell me: How's your summer been?

Monday, August 1, 2016

And it's Break Time

As the title says.

Lately, I've been arriving to blog work late and unprepared--more unprepared than usual, that is. When I'm on a roll, I've at least thought about my posts ahead of time. When I'm really on a roll, I've put some ideas down on virtual paper. When I start writing about visits from Mauritius, and then turn up a week later having done no thinking whatsoever about the blog (except for the idea of taking a break), it's time to take a break.

This summer has been a bit crazier than summers past, I think. We are a one-car family with four people, so juggling cars and coordinating departure times, and drop-off times, and pick-up times and who needs to be where when has been a pain. I'm in the midst of a WiP (~26,000 words so far, which is good, but it's still not entirely sure what it wants to be), I'm on submission, and I've been trying to handle two sets of responsibilities at one job since May.

Yeah, it seems like a good time for a break.

I'll still be around, checking out other blogs, and I suppose if I find something that I just can't resist writing about, I will (almost guaranteed, right?), but I expect to be taking pretty much all of August off. By the time September rolls around, the Catbird will be back in college, I'll have a new boss who should be pretty well settled in, I should be past the dread middle stage of my WiP, and who knows what else. Until then, see you around, and enjoy the rest of your summer.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Monday Musing: Mauritius!

First things first: Agent Carrie is running her monthly Query Critique today--with bonus 1st page--so if you want to see what an agent thinks of a submitted query and first page, and if you want to help a fellow author potentially win a critique of her first hundred pages, hie on over to Carrie's blog and leave a comment. Some day, maybe it will be you on the receiving end!

Some time last week I logged on to Blogger as I regularly do and noticed one of those funny spikes on the heartbeat monitor stat line snippet that shows up on the main page. Curious, I clicked the stat bar and was shocked to see that I was in the midst of one of those days: the day of the unexpected explosion of blog visitors:
Yes, that was 180 page views, apparently instantaneously. Now even more curious, I clicked on the "Audience" bar--where were all these people coming from?

Okay, then. To blatantly rip off borrow from John Oliver: "Mauritius. A country you think about so little, you didn't even realize it's not on Blogger's map."

Mauritius is an island nation of 1.2 million people located some seven hundred miles from Madagascar.It's arguably most famous for being home to the dodo, a bird which was driven to extinction within a century of the island's settlement.

I honestly don't know what to say. No, really. In the past, I found handy phrases for welcoming a rush of visitors from Romania ("Bună zuia!") and Latvia ("Laipni ludzam!"). But Mauritian? According to that great source of information for the modern age (i.e., Wikipedia), there is no official language. The Official Site for Mauritius states that French and Creole are the most frequently spoken languages, but just about everyone also speaks English. So, "Bonjour," I guess. Welcome to my little blog!

On a slightly more alarming note, the ridiculous number of hits and page views continued through the week. Rather than a continued onslaught of Mauritians, I was overwhelmed by Russians. As of now? 695 page views originating in Russia. This week. "Dobro požalovat'! Welcome! (Psst: I think you're looking for the DNC--that's over here)"

That's it for me. Hope you all had a nice weekend and are having a good start to your week!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Things My Characters Can't Do

Good morning, all.

A day late this week. I woke yesterday and started writing the post that was rattling around in my head all weekend, but I ran out of time. Figured I'd take care of it when I came home from work, as I have done on other occasions. That didn't work, either.

I've gotten in one of those funny ruts over the weekend,  the kind where sleep doesn't come easy. Or, rather, sleep comes easily enough, but staying asleep is the problem. I've taken once again to waking up somewhere around 1:30, then again around 4, so when I do finally wake up at the appointed time--nhyeah, I'm not feeling like doing much of anything. When I got home from work yesterday, about all I wanted to do was collapse into bed and call it a day.

This sort of thing happens once in a while, and I usually get out of it after a few days, but man it's really throwing me right now.

The post I'm going to write--but not today--is about the things I can't seem to get my characters to do. In the various stories I've written--novels and shorts--I've had point-of-view characters who are very different from me. There have been killers and con men, hot-headed women and artsy teenagers, and a megalomaniac. These characters haven't always been easy to write--the megalomaniac, in particular, left me feeling like I needed a shower after I wrote some of his point-of-view chapters--but they have been fun, in their way, and, for the most part, I've never had all that much trouble slipping in and out of their skins to write them.

Where I have trouble? Mundane things. Stupid, every day things that are rapidly taking over our lives, but that I'm strangely resistant to: Uber. Airbnb. Crowdsourcing/funding. Ashley Madison. Taking pictures of food and posting it to Facebook, Twitter or some other flavor-of-the-month social media platform. My characters still tend to use landlines, though they are starting to use cells, smartphones and texts a little more.

I think, for me, the motivations for the killers, con men, hot-headed women, artsy teenagers and megalomaniacs are understandable. These things are rooted in the characters' backgrounds and emotional landscapes. And even if I've never killed someone myself, for example (I haven't), I can empathize with the character, and understand the journey that takes him to the point where he swings a baseball bat at someone's head. It ain't pretty, but I can get it.

On the other hand, I don't really understand the language of Uber, for example. Need a ride? Call a taxi. Crowdsourcing? It's electronic panhandling. And I can't figure out why you're calling it a hashtag when it's really a pound sign, let alone how you use it in a 140-character "conversation." The devil is in the details, and I don't have the details of these things, so it's usually easier to just skip them all together.

So, go figure, here I've gone and written my post after all. I'm not sure if it's coherent or not--I've finished my second cup of coffee and I'm still feeling a little groggy. So, let me put the question out to you: are there things you can't seem to get your characters to do? Thanks!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Monday Musing: Clunky Computer Edition

This is one of those mornings where my computer is wheezy and sluggish and unresponsive. It gets like this once in a while, where it takes forever to switch between tabs, and heaven forbid if I try to close a tab or a window or anything like that. It's times like these when I make sure any of my work is saved, saved, SAVED. What does it need? Maybe a restart, or a run-through with Spy-Bot. Maybe I should pour some of my coffee into it, because that's about how I feel right now, myself! So, where to start?

Ah! The chestnut! On the left is the "tree" as of May 23. On the right is the tree as of this morning:

It's put on an inch, maybe two. I'm wondering if I should ditch the corrugated plastic tube in favor of a cage. I have little doubt that rabbits (which are not nearly as numerous as they were a couple of years back), woodchucks (which are far more numerous) and deer (which are ubiquitous) would snap that tender mini-tree down in an instant if I left the tube off. I'm not sure how much more growth it's got in it for the rest of the summer, but we'll be checking in again with it.

The Magpie will kill me for this, but what the heck. She and a friend of hers from school have started doing a...podcast? At any rate, once a week they review a cartoon or anime series or movie, updating every Friday. This week's "review" of Captain Planet made me smile. Check out their Youtube page here!

And speaking of: it's always interesting to discover the ways your children are like you. And the ways in which they are not. The Magpie has eagerly sought our input (mine, the wife's, and the Catbird's, that is) and wants us to watch her videos. When I threaten to post the link on Facebook, she gets a little nervous. "Don't do that!" She would prefer family to watch, not people she doesn't know (though they do want more people to watch). As for me? When I do any sort of public program or public speaking (and I used to do it pretty much for a living), I hate presenting to an audience of people I know. The worst for me was when I would go into my kids' school--I loved the kids, don't get me wrong, but I would always be much more nervous than walking into a room with a hundred strangers. This carries over into my writing life, too: it's why it's much easier to share what I've written with relative strangers like my beta readers, my writers' circle, and my agent than with my wife.

Speaking of writing, I am in another project now, hooray! I have a feeling, however, that this one may be even tougher to write than the last one, which gave me fits throughout. I'm in that stage where I'm in the beginning, and I have a path to the middle of the story, but the ending is not quite clear yet. Of interest: author Brandon Sanderson teaches a writing course at Brigham Young University. His lectures are being made available on Youtube, posted once a week. I've been watching and finding it interesting. Will it change how I write? Maybe not, but maybe I'll try something new.

I think that's about it for me. The computer seems to have woken up without me having to pour coffee into it. I, on the other hand, could use some more, and so I say, "How are you?"


Monday, July 4, 2016

The Reading List (Part Deux)

I've been on a bit of a downer lately, what with posts on...well, never mind, no need to bring it all back up. If you've been reading along, you know what I mean, and if not, you can easily go back and look over the last couple of weeks of posts and see for yourself.

It's been three months, another quarter of a year, hard to believe, so that means it's time for The Reading List (part deux). For a recap, here is where you'll find The Reading List (Part I).

So--what's been in my reading list these last three months? In order of finish (i.e., April through June):

Finders Keepers, Stephen King (2015). The second book in the "Mr. Mercedes trilogy." I enjoyed this quite a bit. While it's definitely King's voice, I find his crime novels have a very different vibe. I also like the concept of this trilogy, as each book (so far; I haven't yet read End of Watch) begins at the same place, then follows different victims of Mr. Mercedes years later.

The Big Rewind, Libby Cudmore (2016). Local author Cudmore invents a new genre, the "hipster cozy." She starts with a great concept but I found the story wandered a bit and lost some steam as the book progressed.

NOS4A2, Joe Hill (2013). It's like reading young Stephen King!

My Name Is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout (2016). Quietly compelling.

The Water Knife, Paolo Bacigalupi (2015). I'm hoping this is not our future, 'cause it ain't a happy one. Very good book, though.

The Shining, Stephen King (1977). Reread. Watched Kubrick's film, decided to read this one again. It's still good. And Kubrick made a fantastic-looking film, but he really missed the point of the story.

Light On Snow, Anita Shreve (1992). Did I say last time I love adult books with child protagonists? Yes. Yes, I did.

Bill Graham Presents: My Life Inside Rock And Out, Bill Graham and Robert Greenfield (1992). Graham died before he could complete his autobiography, so Greenfield structured it in an unusual way to great effect. Arguably the most famous rock and roll promoter in history tells his story, supplemented with interviews with family, friends, colleagues, rivals and the rock stars he worked with over 25 years in the music business.

All The King's Men, Robert Penn Warren (1946). Reread. Gets better every time I read it. This is a Desert Island Book.

Welcome To Night Vale, Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor (2015). A book based on a quirky podcast introduced to me by The Magpie, who loves it. I started this in the first quarter, put it down, then picked it up again. The uneven story eventually smoothed out and the book got better as it went along, but surrealism is not my thing.

Skeleton Crew, Stephen King, (1985). Reread (though I last read it so long ago it's kind of like picking it up for the first time). Grabbed this when I was out of books to read. Some very good stories, some not so good, some feel really dated. Which is natural, I guess.

The Guest Room, Chris Bohjalion (2016). Bachelor party gone awry (that's an understatement) threatens to tear apart well-to-do suburban family. The book also deals with the horrors of human trafficking.

The Bone People, Keri Hulme (1983). Got through 200 pages or so back in January, then put it down. Suddenly found myself speeding through the middle third. A difficult book to read due to its structure, frequent use of Maori phrases (and stupid me didn't discover the little glossary in the back until I was in the last hundred pages), and subject matter. I still can't say for sure if I liked it as a whole or not.

So, 13 books for the quarter (21 for the year so far), not bad. Back in April I declared that I wanted to read "newer"--six of the 13 were published in 2015 or '16, so mission accomplished there, and if inter-library loan comes through any time soon I'll have four or five more books in that category by the end of the next quarter (my librarian here tells me, however, that librarians play fast and loose with the rules governing the movement of books, so I may be reading them in October). One thing I do notice here is that I have a high proportion of (presumably white) dudes on this list; I'd like to diversify my reading a bit. And maybe cut back on the King.

What have you been reading lately?

Photo credit: My Books, by Jenn Calder

Monday, June 27, 2016

Thoughts on the Brexit

The Brexit frightens me.

(In the unlikely event you have no idea what "Brexit" is, it's the decision made by the United Kingdom last week to leave the European Union.)

What frightens me about the Brexit is not what it does to the stock market, or global trade, the value of the dollar compared to the pound, or the world economy in general. I admit to having little understanding of how all of that works, or how that impacts me on a daily basis. The Brexit may well be good for the UK in the long run, though I suspect it will not. But I'm no economist.

What frightens me is that it was a victory for racism and xenophobia. Much of the arguing over Brexit centered on the question of immigration. The UK has been hit over the last few years with a lot of immigrants from Poland and eastern Europe. And now, of course, there are all those Muslim trying to get in and turn the UK into the northwest corner of the caliphate. Pro-Brexiters like Nigel Farage skillfully played on the fears of UK citizens, with pro-"Leave" ads that bear a striking resemblance to Nazi propaganda (the black and white images are actual images from a Nazi film):

My apologies for displaying this vile stuff.
Much of the rhetoric from Farage's UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) was about preserving jobs for real Brits, about protecting borders, about "taking back control of the country."

Sounds a lot like what I'm hearing from a certain fur-bearing mammal on this side of the pond.

I'm not naive. Racism has always been a thing. It will always be a thing. We humans have a need to create divisions where they don't exist, and to carve  them deeper where they do exist. I've come to believe (and maybe it's because of my privileged position as a white, sort of middle class man) that it's gotten better over the years, and maybe it has. But lately? It's getting worse.

Some of it's because of the economy. Bad times lead to finger pointing, and fingers are much easier to point at people who look and act different, who speak in funny languages, who come from other places. And some of it's because of the times, which are troubled. But demonizing those people with the funny customs and clothes and accents is not the way to go. Pointing the anger and fear at one or two groups and releasing that pent up anger is a dangerous game to play, and it can all too easily end in some very bad places.

I'm hoping this is a blip, a hiccup, a momentary lapse of reason. And I hope we defeat it here.

Second image from Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Poland

Monday, June 20, 2016

Solstice (and not much else)

Happy Solstice! At least in my particular corner of the world, the sun reaches its zenith, i.e., its greatest distance from the equator, today at 6:34 p.m. In terms of daylight, we'll have 15 hours, 19 minutes, 33 seconds of it today. Woohoo!

I am once again back on submission. My manuscript is in Carrie's hands, we've crafted a pitch letter (or whatever it is that agent's call it; it's an awful lot like a query letter to me), and Carrie's got her list of publishers together. I can now fantasize about contracts, advances, cover reveals, launch parties and all that.




Wow, that was fun. Now, it's time to really settle in on The Next One.

That's all for me for today; how's things with you all?

Monday, June 13, 2016

"Not MY Son"

There was a kid on my block that used to really piss us off.

He wasn't part of our regular group. He was a couple of years younger than the youngest of us (me), presumably enough of an age difference that he just didn't quite fit. We generally avoided him and his friend, a nasty little kid who lived around the corner. But every once in a while, our paths would cross, we would try to play together...and it would just go all wrong.

How wrong? Well, on one or two occasions, we actually felt the need to tattle.

Again, I have no memory of what he ever actually did that was so wrong, but I do remember this, quite clearly: When we told his mother, she said, and I quote: "Not my Kyle. My Kyle would never do that."

That pretty much sealed it. We didn't play with him after that.

I find myself thinking of Kyle's mother (his father we almost never crossed paths with at all, though I have a vague memory of him looking like some straight-man, secondary character from a 50s/60s comedy show, like The Dick Van Dyke Show or something like that) as Facebook and social media pours hate onto the parents of Brock Turner. In the event you've been hiking the Appalachian Trail for the last year or so, Turner was just recently convicted of three counts of felony sexual assault for an attack on a young woman at Stanford University in January, 2015, and though the prosecution rather generously asked for just six years in prison (Turner could have gone for 14), the judge gave him six months in county jail.

The judge was almost certainly influenced by an outpouring of support for Turner, including the letters from Turner's mother and father, both of which have been made public. Turner's parents have come under a lot of fire for their letters, but here's one question for those blindly lashing out: What were they supposed to do?

Turner's in that hazy age where he's no longer a child, but not quite an adult. The responsibilities his parents face have shifted (and this is a stage I find myself at with my girls). The job of teaching him right from wrong is mostly over; so, too, is the job of protecting him from the preventable harms in the world (I should note, however, that as parents, we're always role models for our kids, and I don't think I'll ever stop trying to protect my kids; it's instinctive). Turner's at the age where he has to start standing on his own feet, where he has to make his own decisions, which should be planted firmly in the foundation that's been built for him by his parents. Sadly, he made a terrible decision, and so the Turners are forced to play defender.

As defenders, they both wrote letters in support of their son. They should not be vilified for doing this. The content of their letters, however, is another thing. These are the very definition of "tone deaf." Neither Turner mentions the victim. The letters focus on what Brock. In the very first paragraph of Mrs. Turner's letter, she uses what I think is a very telling phrase: "since the verdict", as in "...since the verdict, he [Brock] has not smiled." And while Mr. Turner's letter comes closer to admitting someone else was hurt, he also uses one of the most unfortunate phrases possible when he says the damage to Brock's life is "a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action...." 'Action,' of course, is a word that's been used by guys for years as a euphemism for sex. He then proceeds to pass the buck, blaming alcohol and sexual promiscuity on campuses for his son's trouble. It's perilously close to victim-blaming.

I can't blame the Turners for defending their son. He's their son; they love him. Despite the verdict of the court, despite the evidence and the testimony, despite the gut-wrenching letter the victim read to Turner in court (and this should be required reading for all, especially boys), there's almost certainly some part of their brains that can't believe their son did this. "Not my Brock; my Brock would never do that." Unfortunately for all involved, he did.

It should go without saying that I am in no way defending the rapist, Brock Turner, for his actions. He deserves far more jail time than he received, and he has to live with the consequences of the choices he made. Nor am I defending the words used by Mr. and Mrs. Turner on behalf of their son. Be angry at Brock Turner for what he did; be angry at the judge for this tap on the wrist; be angry at the Turners for what they wrote, but don't be angry at them for writing. I suspect most of us would have done the same.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Monday Musing: No Real Theme

Starting is always the hardest part. Do I ease into the post with an introductory paragraph, or dive right in?

It's supposed to be fun. Over the last few weeks I've been reading Stacy McKitrick's agonizings over the Pittsburgh Penguins' playoff fortunes. She's up! She's down! She's up! She's down! (Today, she's down) And as I read it, I think, "Wait, isn't sports supposed to be fun?" 

This year for me was one of the most frustrating years I can recall, as my Bruins started out of the gate like a house Dumpster afire (and here's something that's got me thinking: why is "a house afire" good, while a "Dumpster fire" or "tire fire" is bad? Dumpster fires may stink, but at least it's getting rid of something we don't really want), then rocketed all the way to the top of the division and looked like a lock for the playoffs before sinking into a tarpit in March. I can't recall ever being more aggravated while watching this team, and on several occasions, I found myself thinking, "I can't watch this." Yet I always went back. Glutton for punishment.

For my part, I thought that the Pengins/Sharks game 3 was the best of the lot so far, the most even game from start to finish. We'll see what happens from here. Here's hoping for great hockey!

Here's to re-reading. Last night at dinner the subject of re-reading books came up, and my wife mentioned one (and now I can't remember what it was that touched this off, or which book it was) that was one of the few books she's ever re-read. She's not big on re-reading. For me, I re-read a lot, possibly more than I should. This weekend, I finished my third re-read of Robert Penn Warren's All The King's Men--and found that it just seems to get better each time.

I read it for the first time about eight years ago--it was a new edition, released in conjunction with a new film adaptation--and liked it. Probably three or four years I read it again and liked it more. Last week, having exhausted my supply of unread books for the moment, I grabbed it. Even better.

Still have no idea how it actually works!
It's tough to play video games (particularly the puzzle-type games) over and over again. Even if you let a lot of time pass between playings, all the things that made the game challenging the first time come back fairly fast. "Oh, I remember this, I have to do this to get in the door." Maybe it's the writer's mind at work here, but re-reading this book, I'd hit an event that would trigger a bit of memory: "Oh, right, this is going to happen to that character later on." Rather than spoil it, it was insight into how a master writer did things. It was a little like getting to look at the intricate inner workings of a Swiss watch. And it's beautifully written. Now let's see if I can learn anything from it.

Vindication! (sort of) Remember back when Frozen was still a thing, and I posted this? The Hans Heel Turn never sat right with me. Apparently, someone else feels the same way, and has gotten to the bottom of the whole thing. Here's an amusing--and eye-opening--read: "You Really Have No Idea Who The Villain of Frozen Is" (and be sure to read the photo captions in that article, too). Yeah, it's from Cracked, but still--it all makes sense now!

That's about all I've got for today; how about you?

 Image credit: Mechanism, by Alex Brown, used under Creative Commons license.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Musical Monday: Concert!

Having a dog comes with many benefits. The downside? They get old.

Our pup is twelve this year, and as she gets older, she gets more neurotic and definitely more entitled. This morning she woke me up at ten past five so I could take her out. But what I think she most wanted was water. We came back in from the walk and she drank one and a half bowls.

I can't blame her. It was mid- to upper-80s the last two days. We keep her in our bedroom at night and can't let her roam free because a) she'd get her butt kicked by the cat; and b) she'd eat all the cat's food, and c) she'd eat out of the bathroom garbage. So she stays in our bedroom at night. I'd consider putting a water bowl in our bedroom so she can drink at will, but she's such a sloppy drinker I fear waking up in the morning would be like getting out of bed on the Titanic.

So I'm up and it's now 5:45 and it's not a work day and it would be nice to sleep in, but on the bright side, maybe I can get some writing done. I have an article for the local paper I need to finish (so much for not working on a holiday, hah ha), and maybe, just maybe, I can start on a new fiction project (yes, that's right, my current project is once again off in Carrie's hands; wish me luck!).

This weekend, the wife and I trucked ourselves out to the local brewery (err, wait, we now have at least three breweries in county, along with half-a-dozen wineries and a distillery, so we're fast becoming the cirrhosis capital of New York) for a concert headlined by Lake Street Dive, with Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings as the opener. What a night!

We had high 80s all day, clear skies and a broiling sun. The forecast called for possible thunderstorms, but we saw nothing but a little puff cloud here and there. After the sun went down, things cooled, but nicely (we were there for a show seven or eight years back where it was drizzly and cold, thus miserable). It was only at the end of the night that a sweatshirt was needed. Anyway, we arrived around six, set up our chairs, got some beers, and ran into a friend of ours. I stood in a long line for a couple of burritos from a food truck, and pretty much when I got back to my chair, the show started, right at seven.

The venue is all lawn, general admission. There's an arc between the soundboard and stage that is a no-chair zone; beyond that, you can set up chairs anywhere you like. We aimed for just off center (so as not to be blocked by the tent covering the soundboard) a couple hundred feet back. It actually felt closer than the picture indicates.
Sharon Jones is the tiny red dot in the center of the stage
That glaring sun you see is the only drawback. When we arrived, the sun was almost directly over the stage, so we were looking right into it through Sharon Jones' set. Oh, the other drawback is the guy sitting in front of us had turned his chair around because of the sun, so he was five feet away and kind of staring at me while I tried to eat a burrito. It was kind of weird.

Jones and the Dap-Kings were mighty impressive. I know a couple of their songs from the radio ("100 Days, 100 Nights" and "Stranger to My Happiness") and really enjoyed the set. They've got a great, early 60s soul vibe, and as I said that night, it's not a style of music I seek out, but I really like it when I hear it. Jones at 60 years old (!) has more energy than a lot of younger people. They played for an hour and a half, by which time the sun had gone down. A quick set change, and Lake Street Dive took the stage right at nine.

I've featured Lake Street Dive here on at least two occasions. What was funny is the friend we ran into had about the same experience with discovering this band as me: heard an album review on NPR, found a video of them singing on a Boston street, and went from there. In his case, he'd seen them four or five times before. This was my first.

Small band, big sound

They put on a fantastic show. What surprised me from what I knew of them was that they rocked harder than expected based on their studio releases, but it wasn't in the way some bands do it, where they just kick up the tempo a few notches and add a bunch of "Now you sing along" type of stuff. They played loud, they played with energy, they played with passion, and they kept it flowing. And they did it without pyrotechnics, video screens, or a light show that needed its own nuclear plant to power it. Simple, but effective, where the band was the show. And they encored with this:

which was actually more impressive live than in the video.

What a night. How was your weekend?

Both photos by me; video by Lake Street Dive