Monday, July 16, 2018

Monday Musing: Overburdened, self-inflicted

This morning when I go to work, one of my tasks will be to complete my timesheet for the pay period that just ended. It's going to show a lot of extra time. This past week was a seven-day work week, which included a ten-hour day in the middle of it. So, I've been a little crispy around the edges lately.

I'm also contributing to my own burnout: on top of what was a 60+ hour work week, on Saturday night, after helping to put on a first-time, minor event, I rushed home, changed, and then my wife and I dashed out so we could volunteer for a local charity pouring beer at a concert. I may have written about this last summer: my organization was the charity at one such concert which meant organizing 60-70 volunteers. It's a heck of a lot of fun (and a good fundraiser: my organiztion made over two grand in approximately five hours), but it's exhausting. And then there's the MOOC, the Massive Open Online Course offered through the University of Iowa, which just started yesterday (slots still available, I believe). I did my required readings and discussion participation for the first unit already, and now have to write something.

Ah, writing. Yeah, about that. This week has been unbelievably bad for writing. After getting off to a rousing start on the revisions for my WiP, which included two 3000+ word days in late June and a massive 5600-word day on July 4 (here's to holidays!), this week has been a disaster. In the last five days, I've amassed a whopping total of 347 words, and those 347 came hard and grudgingly. My goal of having this one out on submission by the end of the summer is slipping away.

When we write our stories, the obstacles we force our heroes to overcome can be external or internal. External: my job is really busy this week--I have to work seven days and a night, so I have little time and I'm really, really tired at the end of the day. Internal: I can't say no, thus I overextend myself and leave myself more exhausted with less time to do things I want (or need) to do for myself. Like writing. And I end up crispy around the edges.

Other random thoughts for the week that was and is to be:

Best news all week was the rescue of the boys and their coach from that cave in Thailand. Outstanding work by the rescuers, and very sad to lose one of them in the rescue effort.

I'm not a big soccer guy, but congratulations to France on their World Cup victory.


I read the indictment. I'm really curious about the identities of a) "a candidate for US Congress"; b) "a then-registered state lobbyist and online source of political news"; c) "a reporter"; d) a person who was in regular contact with senior members of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump." I suspect more indictments are coming.

That's all I got; what's going on with you all?

 

Monday, July 9, 2018

A question on change

Yesterday, while towing a  trailer of canoes down the road to an invasive species removal event, I found myself listening to the program, Out of Bounds on NPR. On this particular show they were interviewing poet Michael Jennings, and talking with hm about his recently released chapbook, Summoning the Outlaws. Now, I missed a good part of the interview, spending a sizable chunk of time getting out of the truck to make sure the hitch was line up properly with the trailer, then getting the trailer hitched up, then walking around the trailer to make sure all the lights and turn signals worked, and triple-checking that half a dozen canoes weren't going to go flying off the back of the trailer while I'm trundling down the road (it's my worst nightmare; hasn't happened yet, knock wood).

Once everything was squared away and secure, I got to listen to the rest of the interview, which was pretty interesting. I'm not what you might call a big fan of poetry, but the poems Jennings read on air were good, and it's always interesting to listen to writers of any kind talk about their process. One question in particular caught my fancy.

How did writing this book change you?

As often happens when I listen to these sort of programs, I let my imagination run away a little. I wasn't listening to Michael Jennings whilst hauling a canoe trailer through the heart of the county on a Sunday morning; no, I was the one being asked the question after the publication of my latest, greatest book. How did writing this book change me?

First off, fantasy me did not answer that, as a newly-minted best seller, I was jetting around the world in my private jet and rubbing shoulders with all the biggest celebrities and bending the ears of heads of state--my fantasies don't typically run that way. It's enough to be published and to get interviewed on a radio show for me! Besides, that wasn't what the question was aiming at; it was more to the point of how writing the book changed Jennings'(my) world view.

For me, a book (and yeah, I know it's not technically a book until it's published, but I've still got one foot in fantasyland here, okay?) typically starts when something catches my attention. That something triggers a question, most typically one that starts with "What if...?" The possible answer to that question fires off all kinds of things in my brain and a story emerges, slowly (very slowly) but surely. At least in the case of this book, what caught my attention were the views of a certain billionaire presidential candidate and a certain sort-of in control political party. Seeing what was happening, listening to what was being said worked on my brain, and this story started to develop. In terms of the question being asked, it's not so much that I wrote this book, therefore I changed as much as it's I changed, therefore I wrote this book.

Now, in fairness, I think it's also true that writing this not-yet-a-book has changed me as well. At this point in time, I haven't been able to quantify any changes that have occurred as a result of writing this particular project. I suspect it will vary from project to project. Fortunately, fantasy interviewer was appropriately appreciative of my response and didn't press the point. Unfortunately, I didn't really get to hear what Michael Jennings said; I was too busy responding in my head (and keeping one eye on the mirror to make sure my trailer--and all my canoes--were still there).

What about you? Does writing change you, or do you change, then write? And, while we're at it, am I the only one who does fantasy interviews in my head?
 

Monday, July 2, 2018

Reading List, 2018 (Part II)

Hard to believe we're into July already, isn't it? Seems like just yesterday I was sitting here at my computer, likely with a blanket draped over my shoulders and posting Part I of this series. This morning I'm wearing shorts and a t-shirt and it's comfortable, after the hottest night of the year so far.

Before getting into the list, I'll add that I've (finally) gotten around to actual rewrites on my latest project, the one that landed at about 138,000 words. I'm about 14,000 words/50 pages in right now, struggling with how to shorten the beginning without losing too much of importance. This is the job the phrase "Kill your darlings" was meant for.

One other note: on Saturday, I led a canoe trip for what turned out to be around 30 people (we had a veritable Spanish Armada out there) on what was until yesterday the hottest day of the year. Let me tell you, there is no feeling on this earth quite like sticking your feet over the sides of your canoe and into cool water on a hot day. It is heaven. On to the list!

All Our Wrong Todays (2017), Elan Mastai. After thirty pages with no dialogue I was almost ready to toss this one aside. I'm glad I stuck with it. Time travel by a screw-up, which screws things up.

Tool of War (2017), Paolo Bacigalup. I much preferred by The Windup Girl and The Water Knife. Entertaining and fast-paced, but not quite my thing.

The Heart Goes Last (2015), Margaret Atwood. Atwood's a great writer, and she explores some creepy directions society could go. Unfortunately, this one gets muddier the longer it goes.

Oops: Tales of a Sexpert (2018), Vivian Peters. This may be the most important book I've read this year. Long-time educator for Planned Parenthood relays her experiences working with teens in rural America. It's often funny, but not funny at all, if you know what I mean.

American War (2017), Omar El Akkad. Quote from the book, which seemed particularly appropriate given our times: "Nativism being a pyramid scheme, I found myself contemptuous of the refugees' presence in a city already overburdened. At the foot of the docks, we yelled at them to go home, even though we knew home to be a pestilence field. We carried signs calling them terrorists and criminals and we vandalized the homes that would take them in. It made me feel good to do it, it made me feel rooted; their unbelonging was proof of my belonging."

Flight Behavior (2012), Barbara Kingsolver. How is it I've never read Barbara Kingsolver before?

A Hologram for the King (2012), Dave Eggers. A man finds himself in an absurd situation in Saudi Arabia.

Summerlong (2015), Dean Bakopoulos. Don and Claire Lowry's marriage becomes a slow-motion car wreck. That description does not do this book justice.

Catskill (2001), John R. Hayes. This is easily the worst book I've read in a long time. Why did I read all of it? I hate to leave things unfinished.

Commonwealth (2016), Ann Patchett. A tale of a blended family (and not always well-blended, at that) that unfolds over fifty years. Very well done.

Ten books read this quarter, not bad! I suppose this is what happens a) once hockey season and and, b) when I was trying to avoid working on my own writing.

What about you? What have you been reading? Anything from on this list?

Monday, June 25, 2018

Oh, that jacket

First, let's get something straight: I don't follow fashion. I don't care what the stars wear. And on the occasions when I happen to see snippets from the runways at Fashion Week, my reaction is usually along the lines of, "Who in their right mind would wear that?" (the answer, of course, is pretty much "Nobody except the models at Fashion Week.")

And then Melania Trump wore that jacket. Well, this one:



In case you haven't been paying attention, it says on the back "I really don't care, do you?" and she did not write it herself, it is a designer jacket, and sales are likely to shoot through the roof.

This jacket would raise eyebrows if the First Lady wore it while strolling around the White House grounds on a lazy Sunday afternoon. It would raise eyebrows if she casually draped it over the back of her chair while sipping tea in the Rose Garden. In those settings, itwould raise eyebrows and draw jokes like the one Trevor Noah of The Daily Show made: "It is kind of sweet she made a jacket out of her and Donald's wedding vows." But she didn't wear it in those situations; she wore it while boarding Air Force One last week to travel to Texas, where she visited a detention center for children separated from their families for illegally crossing the border.

Now, it's good that Melania Trump visited these centers. More of our politicians should go and see what the President's "Zero Tolerance" for illegal border crossings has wrought. Maybe then they would do something substantial instead of just sniping back and forth across the aisle. And maybe Melania saw and heard things there beyond what was released in the highly-staged photo opp, something that she would take back to Washington, something that would enable her to push her husband into doing something thoughtful, something humane, something not written by Stephen Miller. I applaud her for making the trip, and for apparently wielding some sort of influence in the President's order of last week that reversed his policy.

But that jacket.

To her credit, the First Lady did not wear the jacket when she got off Air Force One in Texas, and she did not wear it when she toured the detention center, but she did wear it when she got off Air Force One on her return to Washington. Why did she select it? Maybe she just likes the way it looks (if you remove the awful lettering, it's actually a pretty sharp looking jacket). Maybe it was just the right weight for dealing with over-enthusiastic airplane air conditioning. Maybe it was her way of saying the trip was just for show, or was her way of trolling her husband, or her way of trolling the news media, as the President insists.

We will likely never know what she meant when she selected that jacket, but it is (Dare we say it? We do, we do) feckless of her, her staff, and Fox and Friends to insist it doesn't mean anything. Words matter, people. Image matters. And when you're the First Lady of the United States, you have to pay close attention not just to what you say, but what you wear and the images you project, because even if it doesn't mean anything to you, it means something to someone else.

Unless you just really don't care.





Monday, June 18, 2018

A Facebook challenge comes to the blog!

Some time in late April, I did something I don't normally do: I accepted a challenge. Every day for ten days, I was supposed to list a record album that I still listen to. I had been seeing this happening for a week or two, and found it interesting to see what people I knew were listening to.

As I said, I don't normally do this stuff, but I did this one and it turned out to be kind of fun. So, for today, here is my list of ten albums that I still listen to. The format is Album title, artist, (year released). The list is presented in no real order.

The Beatles, The Beatles (1968). Better known as The White Album, this does go first because it represents my real entry into rock-and-roll. For the most part, I'd been listening to whatever was on the AM radio station my mother listened to. Hearing this at a friend's house in 7th grade or so got me into The Beatles--and rock music--big time.

Quadrophenia, The Who (1973). On Facebook, I listed Tommy in this slot, but on further review, while my friends and I listened to Tommy a huge amount, I actually listen to this much more often now. And the story--about a teenage boy searching for his identity against the backdrop of gang violence is the 60s--is a bit more relatable that Tommy.

London Calling, The Clash (1979). Fun fact: the song "The Right Profile" once helped me answer a Trivial Pursuit question, much to the amazement and disgust of all in attendance. That's Montgomery Clift, honey!

Anthem of the Sun, Grateful Dead (1968). "We mixed it for the hallucinations."--Jerry Garcia. Yeah, no shit. The band allegedly made the producer quit when Bob Weir stated he wanted "the sound of thick air."

American Beauty, Grateful Dead (1970). It's amazing how far this band developed in two years. There's a warmth and presence on this album that this band would never achieve in the studio again. "Box of Rain" may be my favorite song of all time.

Flood, They Might Be Giants (1990). The only band I can think of that has the audacity to reference Jason and the Argonauts, the Longines Symphonette, AND manage to work in the phrase "filibuster vigilantly" in a song...about a nightlight. These guys are all kind of fun, and they're still making quirky records like this.

The Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1, Traveling Wilburys (1988). The Osmonds. The King Family. The Jacksons. The Von Trapps. No list of great musical families is complete without the Wilburys. Listening to this album just makes me feel good, they sounded like they had a lot of fun making this. It's too bad only two of the brothers are left.

Bringing Down the Horse, The Wallflowers (1996). Lucky Wilbury's son fronts a band and shows he's got what it takes. Some great songs on this one, and still good listening today.


Astro Lounge, Smash Mouth (1999). I don't care if John Oliver said "All Star" is a "terrible stupid song," I like it. And this whole album is still fun to listen to.

The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd (1973). I was never into Pink Floyd back in the day, and while I'm not exactly "into" them now, this is one hell of an album. There's a reason it was on Billboard's charts every week for 15 years. Heavy stuff, yes, but great music.

Abbey Road, The Beatles (1969). Side two of this album may well be perfection.

It's probably telling that the newest album here is just short of 20 years old. The truth is, while I hear plenty of new songs I like, I don't really buy albums anymore. And when I do hear new songs on the radio, it's hard for me to remember who the artist is or what the name of the song is!

What about you? Are there any albums from "back in the day" that you still listen to? This particular Facebook challenge turned out to be fun, and it was surprising to see what turned up on other people's lists.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?

When I started this blog all the way back in...holy crap, 2011? Really? Anyway, when I started this blog back in 2011, it seemed like you couldn't swing a dead cat around without running into a blogfest, a bloghop, or some kind of "award." Liebsters. First lines. Sad songs. First loves. Remember these things? Someone out there would start them, maybe create a nifty little badge, crib together some rules and start tagging people, and it would spread across the blogosphere like ink on a paper towel.

The rules on the "awards" usually followed some variation of the pattern: answer a bunch of questions about yourself and/or your writing project, tag a bunch of people, visit and comment on their posts. For bloghops, you would sign up at someone's blog, and on the appointed day, you would write about a specific topic and jump around commenting on as many posts as you could. These things could be fun (or they could be pressure-packed), they could be ways to meet new people with interesting things to say, they could be ways to get more followers.

Where have they gone?

I can't remember the last time I saw a bloghop aside from the Insecure Writers' Support Group. Likewise, the last time I think I saw anyone who had been Liebstered, it was at least two or three years ago.

When I started this blog back in (shudder) 2011, the blog was already being declared dead on a regular basis. All the cool kids were on Facebook. Or Twitter. Or Instagram. Platforms that I either don't know or don't like. But for a couple of years, anyway, the awards and hops and fests rolled on. I didn't always particpate--I'm not a joiner of stuff like this in general--but sometimes I did, and sometimes it was fun, and it was always interesting to see how people responded to the challenges posed in them. Is the lack of contests and hops and awards indicative of a dying world, or a more mature one that no longer needs these things?

In Stephen King's Dark Tower series, Roland the Gunslinger often noted that "The world had moved on." It conjures up an image of a place and people who are left behind, that time stopped carrying them forward. That is what it feels a little like, living in blog land these days, like one of those old western mining towns where the well ran dry and the mine collapsed and all but a few hearty souls lit out for the coast. Or maybe it's just this little corner of the world. This morning, I took a look at my reading list. Even after some recent pruning, I've got 52 blogs on my reading list. Of those, only 19 are active, and 9 of those are industry insiders. Where have all the writers gone?

Aside from the flight to Facebook and the like, one thing has happened is that bloggers seem to be collected at places like Writer Unboxed, Pub(lishing) Crawl and the like. Here, they get to post once a month or so, and while most of them have their own websites with a tab for their own blog, most seem to do their blogging either at these collectives or in guest posts for other collectives (often, coincidentally, when they have a new book coming out). 

I am curious about the people who no longer blog. Many of them left on a final post that said, in essence, "I'm taking a break, I expect to be back." My respons was usually, "Enjoy, we'll be here when you come back." I suppose that's part of why these people are still on my reading list: many of them felt like friends in the short time we read each other, and it would be sad to come back and find none of the old gang around, right? Leave no blogger behind!

Monday, June 4, 2018

The Bee and the Barr

Late last night, I gave in to an itch and rubbed my eye. I knew it was a mistake, but the eye had started itching madly right around the time Last Week Tonight started. Twice during the program I dribbled a little cool water into the corner of my eye, but it did no good: the itch remained. And though I knew the itch was the result of an allergy (I had cut the grass earlier in the day, and it was raining, and it's spring/summer), and though I knew exactly what was going to happen if I gave in, I stuck my finger in behind my glasses and rubbed.
Ahhh, such sweet relief! There is nothing quite so satisfying as scratching as scratching an itch. It's so...so...so. It's just so.

Here's the problem with this sort of itch, though: while it feels positively orgasmic while you're scratching it, it doesn't solve anything. As soon as I pulled my finger out from behind my glasses, three things happened: 1) the itch returned, as bad and insistent as before; 2) it now felt like a lash or something was stuck beneath my eyelid, even though I didn't have to check in the mirror to know this wasn't true, and 3) the phlegm factory in my head went into full-scale production mode, churning out mucus like Soviet factories cranked out tanks in World War II. I ended up taking Benadryl, and while it did the job, taking Benadryl at midnight means waking from a bizarre dream at 5:44 with no recollection of the alarm having gone off and a tongue that feels about as moist as the Mojave Desert. My head is clear of phlegm, but my brain is rather sluggish, which might explain this post.

The sad thing? All of this was predictable. I've been here before. It never ends well. Experience tells me there are certain types of eye itches that I must absolutely leave alone, and last night's was one of those. I knew it, and I reaped the consequences. But it felt so good!

Last week, Roseanne Barr and Samantha Bee both scratched some particular eye itch, Barr in her Twitter feed, Bee on her show, Full Frontal. (If you've been living under a rock, Barr's tweet was a racist shot at a former Obama administration official, while Bee dropped a C-Bomb on Ivanka Trump) Barr was fired from her show before the day was out. Bee is still employed, though she has lost a couple of big advertisers. She is supposedly going to address this on this week's show. At this point, I'm guessing she'll keep her job, since the network (TBS) joined her in falling on the sword. Unless there's enough of a backlash.

What was Roseanne thinking when she fired off her 2 a.m. Tweet? What was Bee thinking when she dropped the C-bomb on air? I can't say for sure, but I imagine it was a lot like me with my eye itch: it felt really good until the entirely predictable--and avoidable--reaction.


Monday, May 28, 2018

Slow starts

True confession time: My wife and I haven't been current with a TV show since about the time Seinfeld went off the air twenty years ago. Up until then, the Magpie (and then the Catbird) was small enough to go to be at some ridiculous hour like 7 or 7:30, giving us time to actually watch prime time TV. When the girls got older and extended their waking hours, we didn't fill it by watching TV. We read and played games with them, baths, and so on. Later, TV was lost by going to school concerts, ferrying kids to plays and rehearsals, sports, friends, etc. The absolute death knell for current TV came when we decided to drop cable in favor of Netflix. Cable had gotten way too expensive and we only watched maybe four or five of the hundreds of channels at our disposal, so it seemed kind of pointless to keep.

This meant we missed things, of course, or that we saw things, but after everyone else. We watched The Sopranos several years after the show famously cut to black. We watched Breaking Bad and Walking Dead about a season behind, since Netflix wouldn't show last year's episodes until right before this year's episodes were due to air. It meant I had to try to recognize potential spoilers in Facebook without seeing enough to actually spoil me.

One of the shows I was aware of on the air that I might have liked to watch "in real time" was Parks and Recreation, mainly because I always liked Amy Poehler. It started its run while we still had cable, but got swallowed up by life and World of Warcraft. People would talk about it, tell me how good it was, but one thing I heard from several people: it starts slow. You have to give it about half a season.

A couple of years ago, I was alone in the house for a weekend, was in between writing projects, and hockey season was over, so I fired up Netflix and watched the first two episodes. I was not impressed, but decided to push on because the show reputedly got good halfway through Season One, and Season One was only six episodes long. I was still unimpressed. One chuckle per episode is not enough; who's got time for an unfunny comedy?

Several months later, I went back and finished Season One and started Season Two (Boredom is a powerful thing). And then? It clicked. I can't say whether it was the actors more fully inhabiting their characters, or the writing getting better, or that it was like hearing a crappy song that you hate over and over again on the radio until you're singing along like you're one of the band (okay, it wasn't that), but the show got good, and I watched it fairly regularly, and just finished the series over the weekend. Plain and simple, it was a quality TV show. But oh, that slow start!

Slow starts are not something writers can generally afford. TV shows can generally get away with a slow start. Some big hits start out with humble beginnings, it's really a matter of generating buzz and keeping advertisers and network executives at bay until that buzz brings viewers. A book, on the other hand? Slow starts are tough to overcome. It's amazing to me in some ways that I sat through probably about four hours of TV programming time until Parks and Recreation "got good"--one the other hand, I don't think I'd sit and read a bad book for four hours.

What's made me think of all this is I got feedback from two beta readers on my latest manuscript, a manuscript I have very high hopes for. The feedback was good; the news? Not so much. One of them noted that they did not feel particularly invested in things until about 40% of the way in. Forty percent! That's almost half the manuscript! The other said they read the last third or so "like my hair was on fire and the only way to put it out was to get to the end" (I love that!). The problem? The first two thirds. Ouch.

I have long known that I have a tendency to write stories with long, slow, ramp-up times. Writing coaches fill blogs and books with fun little graphs of story structure that look like mountain ranges full of foothills, peaks, valleys and gorges, to show how you should build your story. They look more or less like this:

Mine? It looks more like a wheelchair ramp on the side of a government building, and that's not good enough.

TV by it's nature is a passive activity. You sit. You watch. You react (or not). Books, however, are different. Though you are sitting, you are actively engaged. A TV show can get away with a bad start. A bad start for a novel is generally death, unless you have very patient readers. (Some are. I just finished Barabara Kingsolver's 2012 novel, Flight Behavior. It took me three attempts over as many reading sessions to get past page 10, but was worth it in the end.)

The good news for me is I've got feedback, I've got my manuscript, and now I've got the opportunity to make that ramp shorter, steeper, and more bumpy. On to revisions!

THIS AND THAT:
*Weather, vacation, and working too many weekends meant that I finally got to mow my lawn this weekend, about a month later than I would normally get the first cutting, and at least two weeks after it should have been done this year. It gave me the excuse to go look at my chestnut tree, and it's potentially taking off:

OK, so I got new glasses, but apparently my photo skills just plain suck. I took my first photo of the year on Friday (even worse than this), and this one this morning. The tree has definitely grown between Friday and today.

*With my favorite team out of the NHL playoffs, I was kind of rooting for Winnipeg, but they crapped the bed against Vegas. I do not want an expansion team winning the championship, but I really dislike the idea of the second coming of Raffi Torres (i.e., Washington's Tom Wilson) winning, and I still hold a grudge against Braden Holtby for 2012. On the other hand, I would really like to see Alex Ovechkin win so that it would shut up the whole "selfish player, bad leader, shrinks in the big moment" narrative that, for many people, is really a result of the whole "enigmatic Russian" bullshit. Plus, if Ovechkin wins, maybe we'll get a new commercial featuring the Ovech-head in the bowl of the Stanley Cup!

*F&$%@^g Windows! A recent update by Microsoft totally borked our home network. The problem? All my writing is on an external hard drive attached to my wife's computer--and that drive (the whole network) became inaccessible. After banging my head for hours, I think I've finally figured it out. If you're having similar problems (and if you're a Windows 10 user, you almost certainly are), what helps is to not just search stuff like "Windows update killed my network" or "can't access network after Windows update." Find the actual update/build number. This last one was 1803, and the article that helped me was found here. Good luck.






Monday, May 21, 2018

Airing it Out

One of the things I was very fortunate to do whilst on my blogging break was take an actual vacation, not just a vacation from the blog. My wife and I went to Las Vegas for a week, and stayed with her cousin. It was quite an experience, and I may share some pictures of it at some point, but today is not that day. Instead, I want to talk a little about air travel.

To get to Las Vegas, we had to take two flights. We flew from Albany at about 6am to Charlotte, where we met my brother-in-law (he was heading out there as well, and was the impetus for the trip). From there, we flew to Vegas. The magic of air travel is that you can leave Albany at six in the morning, spend something like ten hours in transit (we had a three hour layover in Charlotte) yet still arrive at Las Vegas at one in the afternoon. Wait, I guess that's not the magic of air travel as much as it's the magic of time zones.

I'm still new enough to air travel that I find the whole thing incredible. I mean, think of it: you're in a metal tube with 150 of your closest friends, and you're 35,000 feet in the air. Thirty-five thousand. It still boggles the mind. I understand the principles of flight well enough to understand how it happens, but it's still kind of magical when I get right down to it. And I love the perspective of looking down on towns and houses and cities, on forests and mountains and, in the west, canyons and deserts. A window seat is pretty much required for me; I don't know what I would have done on the five-hour flight if I hadn't been sitting by the window, because the sad thing is, the reality of air travel doesn't really match with the promise. Once you get off the ground and reach cruising altitude (35,000 feet!), the trip itself becomes kind of dull (on the flight out there, we ran into cloud cover from just west of the Appalachians to western Arizona. It opened up for the last forty-minutes or so of our flight, which did provide us some pretty good views). Seats are too cramped, the plane is really, really noisy, and those windows? Kind of small. I guess they have to be, but I would prefer a window that I didn't have to break my neck to see out of.

The thing that might be most amazing about air travel, though, is all the other stuff that had to be invented to support it. Baggage carts and carousels. The jet bridge. The pushback tug. Radar stations. To quote Sheriff Bart (Blazing Saddles):




Monday, May 14, 2018

And back again.

Hello, all!

It's hard to believe it's been over a month since I decided to take my break. I hope things have been well for all of you. They've been pretty good for me on the overall, though April in particular was a month run at breakneck speed, between work and personal stuff, which was compounded by getting ready to go on an actual vacation at the beginning of May.

The hardest part of being away is coming back. When I take time off (or when I'm home on a weekend), I rarely check work e-mails or think about work at all, and my mind doesn't start drifting back toward work in the last day or so of the break. Sometimes, this makes me feel guilty, especially when I come back to the office and find a roaring e-mail discussion amongst some of my volunteers that broke out over the weekend. Then, I tend to think, "This is something important to these people, would it really have killed me to spend a few minutes looking over this and weighing in over the weekend?" Probably not, but then again, the advent of the web and e-mails and texting has eaten more and more into our personal lives. It's not a matter of "I'm not getting paid for this time, so I won't do it" as much as it's "I just need to not think about this stuff for a while."

It's been kind of the same for the blog. Once in a while, I would think of it with a twinge of guilt, like, "I really should be writing something so when I come back to it I'm not scrambling around to produce" (kind of like I am now, hah ha). Unlike some of my other breaks, however, I never had one of those must-blog-about-this-now moments. I'm not sure if that's a good sign or not.

Wow, that's an inspiring way to resume the blog, huh? Let's chalk it up to vacation/hiatus hangover. Next week will be better. I don't know yet what it will be, but it will be better.

Thanks for coming back (or for stopping in, if this is your first time here). What's new with you?


Monday, April 9, 2018

Time for...

Yesterday morning, I spent a couple of hours drafting a couple of ideas for a post to run today. They weren't quite complete posts, though, because they never are. Even when I really, really work at pre-writing a post, when I sit down on Monday morning to get it done here on the blog, it's never as simple as a straight cut-and-paste job, or just retyping in the blog box what's in the Word box. No, the Word document tends to be a guide, and it takes a surprising amount of brain power to go from even a pretty good draft to a finished blog post. Well, here's where my brain power is at these days:


It's been like this for a while now: posting is never easy for me, but it's become increasingly difficult and that means it's time for a break. I was kind of thinking the entire month of April, but, well, last week was easy. And then you need a post saying it's break time, right? So, here's the official "I'm on break" post. I'll still be around, will still be visiting the blogs I usually visit, I just won't be posting here.*

I should also point out, it's not just the blog. For the last couple of weeks, I've been kind of dragging, my energy levels pretty much bottomed out. I suspect at least some of it is weather related: after having 60 degree weather in the middle of February, March has been shit, quite frankly, and April has not been much better, with limited sunshine and persistent, irritating snow. It's ten degrees outside right now. Ten! On April 9th!

At any rate, it seems like a good time to take a break, and recharge the batteries. The nice thing is, I've got a mini-vacation coming up at the beginning of May, one that is much needed, because April starts the crazy-busy season at work. I'll be back in mid-May, and I'll see you around the blogs in the interim. Enjoy my break!


*Which of course means in a week's time or so I'll have a burning, gotta post it now moment





Monday, April 2, 2018

Reading List, 2018 (Part I)

Howdy, folks. Can't believe we're already in the fourth month of 2018--time is flying! So, here's the list of what I've read so far:

The Education of Dixie Dupree (2016), Donna Everhart. I feel like I know Donna from around the blogosphere. I enjoyed this book, in as much as you can be said to enjoy a book about a girl dealing with sexual abuse from an uncle.

The Girl in the Spider's Web (2015), David Lagercrantz, translated by George Goulding. Shortly after starting, I realized I had never actually read the third installment of Steig Larsson's Millennium series, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. It didn't impact the reading of this all that much. I enjoyed the first two, mostly, but this was a battle.

The House on Hope Street (2015), Menna van Praag.

Vanishing Girls (2017), Lisa Regan. My old blogging buddy scores with another thriller!

The Woman in the Window (2018), A.J. Finn. Agoraphobic alcoholic woman spies on her neighbors. Reminiscent of The Girl on the Train, yet not derivative. I blew through this one in about 24 hours.

Cannery Row (1945), John Steinbeck.

At Heaven's Gate (1943), Robert Penn Warren.

Stone Arabia (2011), Dana Spiotta.

The Great Alone (2018), Kristin Hannah. This felt a little too YA at times for my liking. Nothing against YA, but it's like taking a drink from a glass thinking it's Sprite and finding out it's club soda instead.

Hey, how about that--not a single Stephen King book in the mix!

I feel like there might have been another book between At Heaven's Gate and Stone Arabia, but I can't remember what it was. Nine books in three months is perhaps a little slow; my reading definitely tailed off in March, for reasons I can't explain. (Bruins too busy, perhaps? They've played literally every other day since around March 2, except for the weekend, when they played both days.)

Other things:

-Had an unusual dinner yesterday in which we Skyped the Catbird in from college. Set the laptop up on the end of the table and chatted with her while we ate. It was very futuristic in a 1960s kind of way.

-Last week during a program, I declared the end of winter. Thursday and Friday, I noticed actual, new green poking out through the mud. Yesterday, we had a dusting of snow. Right now, it's about 28 degrees outside. This is upstate New York in April. It's coming, but sloooooooooooow.


That's it for me, what about you? What have you been reading lately?
 

Monday, March 26, 2018

Fire forged

In one of my manuscripts, an unlikely hero steps up in a critical moment and saves his small town from sliding into chaos. Initially, he shrugs it off, telling another character, "Someone had to do something." Later, in a moment of reflection after the dust has settled, he muses over what he's done in relation to a slightly shortened quote from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night: "Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them." Considering the character's pretty unremarkable life up until that point, he's not quite sure where he fits.

Watching the March for Our Lives events--indeed, since the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School--I've been wondering about this in relation to the students we've been seeing. Ever since Emma Gonzalez stood before the crowd and cried, "We call--BS!" and stood toe-to-toe with NRA flack Dana Loesch; ever since David Hogg calmly brushed off those who said he was at best coached, at worst, a paid crisis actor. These students have been passionate, intelligent and articulate; they have started a movement that is having real impact. And I can't help but wonder about them: were they always like this? Were they activists? Were they outspoken? Were they the leaders in their school already, members of the student government, captains of sports teams and debate teams, editors of school newspapers, kids that everyone knew? Or were they shy, anonymous, kids that stayed out of sight, out of mind, on the edges of the MSD community, either by choice or circumstance?

The citizen in me applauds them and doesn't care much about what they were, only about what they are, and what they will become. The writer in me wants to know.



Monday, March 19, 2018

Random Thoughts

It's been a tough week, capped off by the long drive to get the Catbird back to school from spring break. Here are some random thoughts:

*Defenestrate is a great word, but, boy is it hard to work into everyday conversation.

*There is nothing more optimistic in this world than a dog.

*Waking up to single-digit temperatures again kind of sucks, but it looks like we're at least going to have a snow-free week.

*I need to find my next writing project.

*The Bruins are doing their best to make a believer out of me.

*Waiting is still the hardest part.

*There is nothing quite like a good bagel in the morning.

*It's nice to have it still light at 7pm, though I'm not crazy about waking up again in the pitch dark.

*Black Panther was a lot of fun.

*It's going to be hard for season 2 of Jessica Jones to top season 1, but two episodes in, they're off to a good start.

*David Byrne sounds like David Byrne--yet he doesn't. I find this video strangely compelling, and the song has been stuck in my head the last couple of days. It's funny how people's voices change as they age.


That's all I've got for today--what's on your mind?

Monday, March 12, 2018

Another day...

...another winter weather advisory.

Roughly a third of the snow that has fallen on my corner of the world has come down since March 1, according to the National Weather Service. It feels like this has been the case for at least the last four years or so. When we moved here 15 years ago, most of the snow fell in January and February, but it's been shifting later and later. As have the seasons in general.

At least this storm doesn't look to be too bad here, just four or five inches. Folks on the coast look like they could  get slammed (again--it's been a tough couple of weeks out there). Hopefully, we won't see a lot of power outages again.

That's about all I got today, sorry to say. My brain appears to be in a bit of a down cycle. What's new with all of you?

Monday, March 5, 2018

In search of judgment

The greatest gift for every writer is judgment--Obari Gumba
 Back in December, Agent Carrie and I had our annual strategy session, where we set the course for the upcoming year. One of the things Carrie wanted me to do, once I was finished writing the first draft of the WiP, was to take a new look at an old project, one long-time readers will be familiar, first as BARTON'S WOMEN, then as POWERLESS. (Quick rundown: this was the project that received the offer of representation from Carrie; it went through several submission rounds before we opted to pull it). The story was deemed by some editors as being a little too dystopian, and dystopia was dead, in the wake of several years of Wool and Divergent and The Hunger Games.

But Carrie had been hearing rumblings, that publishers were opening up again to dystopia, and she encouraged me to take another look and consider potentially revising it and putting it back out there, so I did (take another look at it, that is).

It was a bit of an eye opener.

Last summer, I took an online course through the University of Iowa's Writers' Workshop (written about here and here), which is where, in the first week, I encountered that quote from Obari Gumba. There was another quote, from novelist/playwright Kia Corthron that I wish for the life of me I had written down. I thought I did, but I couldn't find it. (I may not have written it down because I think I thought at the time I'd have access to all class materials, including lectures and transcripts, forever; I do not) It went something like this: "The first draft, say your point clearly; say it again a little quieter; say it again a little more subtly still." In other words, subtlety is your friend. Don't spoon feed the readers.

Looking back through POWERLESS, I am amazed (and disturbed) by how obvious and heavy-handed I was, not just with some of "the points" I was trying to get across, but just with character thoughts and emotions. There's a hell of a lot of explaining going on, a hell of a lot of spoon feeding, a hell of a lot of making sure any future readers will get exactly what I was going for, no room for interpretation. There was little subtlety, little good judgment. Ugh.

I'm hoping I've moved past this. Some time in the not-too-distant future, I'm going to crack open the WiP with the responses of beta readers to guide me. What will I find? Spoon feeding? Explanation? Dictation? Or will I find I've exercised judgment, given my readers space to fill in some of the gaps themselves, a demonstration that I've learned something in the last few years? Time will tell, but I know what I'm hoping for.

Have you ever had similar reactions to your past work? Have you found your judgment has improved over the years?
 

Monday, February 26, 2018

Hello, Square One

Oh, hello, Square One, I...wasn't expecting to see you here. How are you? It's been a while, hasn't it?

Four years? Really, that long? Time flies, huh? Sorry I haven't kept in touch, you know how it is.

Well. I'd love to stay and hang out, but--

Yeah, sure, we can hang out a little. Catch up a bit, sure, I guess I can do that. Is there anything you'd like to do?

...

Sure. Yeah. I guess we can look at the old spreadsheet. I guess it's around here somewhere...yeah, there it is. Geeze, what a lot of work we put into that, huh?

Yeah, I guess we can update it. Wow, what fun. You really haven't changed much in four years, have you?

Wait, you want to do what? Query writing? I haven't written one of those in...four years. But I do sometimes write query-like paragraphs, so I'm not totally out of practice. Oh, but guess what I still do a lot of? Waiting! Yeah, I'm still pretty good at that.

Well, it sure has been fun catching up with you, Square One, but I'm sure you've got places to be and I don't want to hold you up, so....

Oh, you've got time? Lots and lots of time?

...

Yeah, that's great. Just...great.

***

Welp, as you may have figured out, I am once again agent free. It's a business decision, one of those things that happens from time to time. I want to express my gratitude to Carrie for taking me on, showing faith in me and my work, and working on my behalf, and I wish her well in her new position at Laura Dail Literary Agency.

***

Interestingly, on my way to work on Tuesday (before I became a free agent, so to speak), I heard this song on the radio, and remembered how much I like it, and considered slipping it into a blog post somewhere soon. Now, it's more appropriate (I also think I may have done this once before, but if I did, I didn't tag it specifically, so if it's a rerun....). The song is, when you get right down to it, pretty sad. Chrissy Hynde wrote it shortly after the death of Pretenders guitarist, James Honeyman-Scott from a drug overdose, which itself came about two days after the band fired bass player, Pete Farndon for his drug use. Despite this, I've always found something optimistic and uplifting here, and I'm going to be positive. Hope all is well with all of you, what's new?

 

Monday, February 19, 2018

We've been here before

Recommended reading if you haven't already run across it on Facebook or elsewhere:

Fuck you, I like guns.

I may have said this before, after some other school shooting, or a mass murder in a gay nightclub, or a massacre at a movie theater, but I'll say it again: I'm not anti-gun. I don't want to take your guns away--not exactly. But I do want to see something meaningful happen here. The majority of people in our government are more interested these days in restricting the voting rights of a large segment of our population than giving even the barest hint of increasing control on gun ownership in the slightest. Yes, that's a convoluted sentence; it's supposed to be. It matches the thinking of lawmakers who insist this is not the time to talk about this; of a president who first shifts blame to the community, then to law enforcement, and then manages to make it about himself.

Gun rights have long been seen as a Red vs. Blue, liberal vs. conservative, Republican vs. Democrat issue. It's time to stop thinking about it in party lines. It's time, really, to stop thinking about everything in party lines, because this, I fear, is where the true downfall of our country comes in, but maybe that's the basis for another post, or a stunning piece of fiction. It's time to start thinking about it as a human issue, because that's what it is.

After last week's post, I told myself I wasn't going to be political, and that I was going to write about writing again. Sorry. Maybe next week.


Monday, February 12, 2018

One of the big problems with this country, summed up in a single sentence

According to a story on CNN's website this weekend, during a 2006 meeting with employees angered over a new rule that would force them to share tips with their supervisors, casino mogul Steve Wynn said this in response to a woman who stated the rule would cost her fifteen to twenty thousand dollars a year:

"If $15,000 to $20,000 a year makes that big a difference in your life, you're doing something wrong."

Steve Wynn is worth an estimated 3.4 billion dollars.

There's a lot of people in our government--on both sides of the aisle, but predominantly on the Republican side--who think this way. Back in December, while discussing the elimination of the estate tax (which only impacted individuals worth more than $5.5 million, or couples worth more than $11 million), Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley said "I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing, as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it's on booze or women or movies." Nice. Oh, and by the way, Chuck Grassley has an estimated worth of 3.76 million dollars.

The attitude from the likes of Wynn and Grassley is that those who have wealth are deserving or more able than those who don't. I'm not going to doubt that these folks have worked hard, or that they're able. At the same time, as someone who would benefit greatly from an extra $15,000 to $20,000 a year, I'll readily admit to the mistakes I've made in my life that have put me, at times, behind the financial eight ball, starting with a career choice made thirty-plus years ago that set me on the road to being a person who is "doing something wrong." But I've also worked my ass off (and I'm good at my job, dammit) in a field that does not really reward its people with riches, and while I'd like to have a Scrooge McDuck money pit like Steve Wynn and Chuck Grassley and pretty much every appointee and "special advisor to the President" hanging around the White House, it's just not gonna happen. And I'm okay with that. Just don't say I'm worth less because I'm worth less.


***
On a different note, last night the wife and I went to see Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. Very good film. Very much like a Coen brothers film, funny, but also very heavy, and unconventional. Great performances from all, especially Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson. I recommend it.






Monday, February 5, 2018

Musical Monday: Jackie Wilson said what?

It's a Monday, there's something like eight inches of snow on the ground (despite the forecast that told us we'd have half that, at most), and I'm kind of tired and achy, hoping it's not something coming on. So, we'll have some rather chipper music today! About two weeks back, I completely got Van Morrison's Jackie Wilson Said stuck in my head.



But it did get me wondering:  What did Jackie Wilson say? According to Van Morrison, it was 'Reet Petite', whatever that meant. But since Morrison has a rather...unique...vocal style (as my wife says, "He swallows his words," which is a pretty apt description), what you hear may not come anywhwere close to reality. After all, for years I thought the chorus line in Jackie Wilson Said went either "What did Billy want" or "Bop en diddy wah" when it's really "I'm in heaven when". So, I did a little searching.

Turns out, Jackie Wilson really did say "Reet Petite"! Reet Petite (The Sweetest Girl in Town) was Wilson's first solo hit way back in 1957, and got a second burst on the charts almost thirty years later, when the following, somewhat bizarre) video was made (three years after Wilson's death).



Well, that's it for me. Just about time to go and shovel. How's things by you all?

Monday, January 29, 2018

Thoughts on Sleeping Beauties, Part I

A couple of weeks back, I wrote about the Netflix series, Godless, a good show on many levels but one that fell far short on living up to the promise of its preview, which looked to be a lot more woman-driven than it turned out to be. This week, I'm finally coming back to Sleeping Beauties, a 700+ page fantasy/horror novel by father-and-son combo Stephen and Owen King, a book I've been turning over in my mind quite a bit as I've thought about this particular post.

The basic premise of Sleeping Beauties is fairly simple: a mysterious 'flu' spreads across the world. Any female, from the tenderest infant to the most withered hag who falls asleep is quickly enshrouded in a cocoon of some mysterious substance. They're still alive, but woe to the person who removes the cocoon: doing so causes the woman to turn into something like a murderous zombie who destroys the fool who opened the cocoon. Having dispatched the offending sap with whatever is at hand (including hands, teeth, a rock, whatever), she falls back asleep and is re-wrapped. What is the world to do?

The sharp-eyed critic of media and society that lives in my house (aka, The Magpie), kind of sneered at the book when she saw that I had it, having heard of its premise on line and having read some reviews. When presented with this bare bones outline, it sounds inherently misogynist. Yet King the Elder at least has never shied away from putting women in starring roles (heck, his very first novel had women in pretty much every important role), and he is quite capable of delivering fully-fleshed out women who are not just damsels in need of man for either rescue or a good lay, or to serve as the sacrificial lamb to spur the hero on to Great Deeds. There are plenty of the latter in his books, to be sure, but not all of his heroines quite fit this mold.

And there's hope at the outset for Sleeping Beauties. The action centers on the down-at-its-heels town of Dooling, West Virginia, and Lila Norcross, town sheriff, and her husband, Clint, who is the psychologist at the nearby women's correctional center. When the story opens, Lila is coming home from a night shift while Clint is about to leave for work. Lila, who is brooding over a particular problem in her marriage, is just about to fall asleep when she gets an urgent call. She spends the first half of the book waging a heroic battle to stay awake and keep order in a rapidly unravelling situation. Predictably, the men of the world--and Dooling--start to come unhinged as the women of the world conk out and get cocooned.

As writers, we're told that one of the things that makes for a strong character is agency, namely, that the character makes choices and decisions based on his or her motivations and desires, and that these actions change the world around them. Without giving too much away (I hope), it's ultimately the women of Dooling who hold the fate of the world--our world, as we know it--in their cocooned hands. The Kings take a great deal of time (too much time, in my view) exploring SPOILER the Man Free version of Dooling that the women of the town find themselves in.END SPOILER The choice the women make, and how they make it, takes a back seat to the action taking place in the man's world.

And that's part of what disappointed me. Despite the huge amount of page time Lila Norcross gets, this is really her husband's story. Clint Norcross has a backtory, one that includes living in The Most Awful Foster Home Ever, which drives so much of his behavior. Lila, on the other hand, seems to have been born Sheriff of Dooling and Wife of Clint. We never really get to know her, not in the depth that we get to know Clint, anyway. In fact, we get more backstory on a lot of the side characters than we get on Lila, and that's too bad.

OKAY, this little post is already too long and I have more to say on this book (some of it good), but it's going to have to wait for next time. How's things by you?

Monday, January 22, 2018

Thoughts on 'Summit Fever'

Last week over at Writer Unboxed, Annie Neugebauer wrote about the perils of 'Summit Fever,' a condition in which mountaineers allow the desire to reach their goal--the top of the mountain--to supercede good judgement in getting there (and back down again) safely. If the mountaineers are lucky, they make it safe and sound and maybe have a good story to tell around the campfire that night. If they're not so lucky, they end up the objects of a search-and-rescue, end up in the hospital, or maybe even dead.

"It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a mountain climber or even a very intuitive group of writers to see where I’m going with this, does it?" Ms. Neugebauer said, and I nodded as I read, because I knew exactly where she was going. Or so I thought. Turns out, I was wrong, because Ms. Neugebauer took the discussion in a completely unexpected direction (for me), as she started talking about burnout, because, "right behind that peak you’ve been headed for is another one. It’s higher, prettier, and juuuuust out of reach."

It certainly makes sense, because we're always chasing peaks, aren't we? Writing the next story, landing the agent (for some), landing the publishing deal or publishing yourself--there is always another peak. I understand Ms. Neugebauer's point, and I agree, but it's still not what I was expecting, because for me, Summit Fever is something different.

As I came into December, I was working on a second draft of the WiP. I had hopes of finishing it by Christmas, in part so I could give it to my wife to read (though in that case I might not have taken all of Christmas week off, because it's still hard to be around when she's reading my work, I don't know why). But life and a troublesome spot in the manuscript got in the way. Between Christmas shopping and decoration and picking up the Catbird at school and Christmas itself, and a snag that I spent a good three days working through, I didn't get it done. But I got closer. And when I passed the 350-page mark (out of 470-something pages, and shrinking by the day), Summit Fever started kicking in. By the time I crossed page 400, the fever was raging.

What does Summit Fever look like? Well, think about that three-day delay in December while I worked out a problem in the page 100s. I went through it a bunch of times and, even after thinking I'd fixed it for good went back to it one more time and fixed it some more. But, when I added a few things in the page 380-range and made some not-insubstantial changes in the post-400 section, I barely took a second glance, even though I knew it would not be as polished as other parts of the manuscript, and might have some glaring errors as a result. Why? Summit Fever. As I got closer and closer to the end, like mountaineers pushing toward the summit long after they should have turned back, I got more and more careless. And last night, my wife told me, "You have the same scene in two different places." I gave myself a 'Gibbs slap.' Summit Fever had caught me again.


I know what the solution is, of course. Like any fever, a good cure for Summit Fever is bed rest. Let the manuscript sit, let the fever burn down, then take another look. But for me, at least, Summit Fever is almost irrestible. Maybe next time I'll beat it.

What about you? Do you suffer from Summit Fever? How do you cure it?
 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Godless: Opportunity Missed

A couple of months ago, The Wife made me and The Magpie watch a trailer for a new Netflix show that was soon to be airing. Pretend for a moment you have neither heard about nor seen trailer or the show itself, and watch the trailer (just under two minutes):


I'm not necessarily a "Western Guy," but this made me sit up and take notice. Not just because it's a well-crafted trailer (it is), but also the concept, as presented here. You'd be forgiven if you did what I did and thought, "Whoa, an Old West town full of nothing but women trying to hold back the world of men! Count me in!"

On the surface, that's exactly what it is. La Belle, New Mexico lost almost all of the town's men "in five minutes" as the trailer tells us, in a mining accident. Two years later, only a handful of men are left, and we see the women making decisions for the town and doing things like rebuilding the church, which burned down (La Belle had a run of bad luck, it would seem).

There are interesting women doing interesting things. Outside of town, there's Alice Fletcher (Michelle Dockery, and it took me a long time to realize she played Lady Mary on Downton Abbey), running her ranch with her Paiute mother-in-law and her teenage son (Alice's husband was one of the few who did not die in the mine; he was shot in the back on the streets of La Belle, so she is not exactly tight with the ladies of La Belle). There's Maggie MacNue (Merritt Wever), who now wears her dead husband's clothes, can outdraw the deputy, and thinks things are running just fine, thank you very much. There's the town whore turned schoolmarm (Tess Frazer), and the high society lady, Charlotte Temple (Samantha Soule), who hopes to turn the town's fortunes around. These are capable women who have endured a terrible tragedy, yet they stayed on when there was really nothing left for them to stay for.  They persist, and their stories are interesting and deserve to be told.

Yet, if you actually watched Godless, you'd know that the music that should have been playing during the trailer is James Brown's "It's a Man's Man's Man's World," because at it's heart, Godless is a story about men. Most specifically, it's about the relationship between the awful Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels) and his wayward adopted son and protege, Roy Goode (Jack O'Connell), with a sidehelping of disgraced La Belle Sheriff Bill McNue trying to redeem himself. Seriously, at the outset, it looks like Bill's sister would make a better sheriff.

It's a good story, and it's (mostly) well-told, though there is an awful lot missing, and not just about the ladies. There's a lot of stuff dangled about Bill McNue that is never really resolved. The acting is high quality and the atmosphere is fantastic (though I will say some of the action in the climax looked a little cartoony and reminded me of some bad kung fu film I saw long ago. I also could have done without the obligatory romance between two characters, and the even more obligatory rape back story of one (of the characters). I enjoyed watching Godless overall, and would recommend it, though this is definitely a case where the trailer is misleading.

What about you? Did you watch Godless? What did you think?

Monday, January 8, 2018

Weekend Update: (Temporary) End of the Cold edition

Greetings, all. Woke up this day to a welcome sight: the mercury in our outdoor thermometer was above zero, which it hasn't been before sunrise in close to a week. Not that you can feel it, mind you; took the dog out and was surprised at how cold it felt, courtesy of a decent breeze coming up the hill. But I'm buoyed by high temperatures that, by Wednesday, are supposed to be pushing fifty. Unseasonably warm, as they say. I wonder if all the folks who have spent the last week sneering, "So much for global warming" will apply that same (flawed) logic to this week, or if they'll suddenly (correctly) say, "Don't confuse climate and weather."

I'm equipped to deal with this weather. This Christmas, I got a new hat to replace one I got probably our first Christmas in this house, since the fur was kind of falling out of the old one. When I put the hat on on Christmas morning, the Catbird said I looked like Vlad the Impaler. I'm not sure how I should take that.


"And who knows which is which, and who is who?"*

While I don't generally make resolutions (and didn't this year), I did want to get better about setting up blog posts ahead of time. When I expected to be done with the WiP by Christmas, I thought I'd be able to use writing time that week to get a head start on 2018 posts. Problem: I didn't get done with the WiP by Christmas, or by New Year's. In fact, I didn't get done with the WiP until this weekend (Yay, me!), though there are a couple of things bugging in the back of my head about the WiP, so I might need to go back and make some more changes before setting it sailing off to the Wonderful World of Betas. Back to the blog, though: I did start working on a post for today, but I fizzled out. Figuring I had enough of a base to be able to write on the fly this morning, I left it last night, but the brain power is a little low this morning, so you're getting yet another of these generic update posts. Maybe next week.

Last night, something unexpected appeared in my Facebook feed, a grant opportunity for New York state artists. They call it a fellowship, but it's basically a grant. No age requirements, no "Must have been/must not have been published" requirements, no requirement that you spend the money on an expensive retreat in the woods or anything. I can do this! It doesn't necessarily get me published, but it could get me a chunk of money ($7000), and that would certainly be nice and supportive. Deadline is January 24, so if you are living in the great state of New York and you're an artist, look into it, and good luck! Many of you live in other states (if not other countries!), but I expect your state (or province, or country) has something similar. Ever apply for one? Ever win one? 

Time for some music. Haven't  done this in a while. Bob Weir wrote a lot of weird songs with strange time signatures. This is one (two?) of them, written in 7/4 time. John Perry Barlow, Weir's primary songwriting partner, wrote a lot of songs about obsessive love--though when it comes to the point of obsession, you can argue that it's no longer love. "Lazy Lightning/Supplication," as performed at San Bernardino in January, 1978, will either wake you up or put you to sleep. Have a great week, all!


*From "Us and Them" by Roger Waters and Rick Wright

Monday, January 1, 2018

New Year and Old Business (Reading List, Part IV)

Well, good morning, and welcome to 2018, I hope it's a good one for you. Thank you to all of you who come by and spend a few minutes every week with me, and especially those of you who regularly have something to say. I always aim to give you something to come here for, and it's nice to know I'm not just shouting into the void (though I don't think I usually shout).

Speaking of that, early this morning, i.e., at the stroke of midnight, the Catbird and I continued what was a long tradition in my household. After saying "Happy New Year" and giving hugs and kisses, we stepped outside with a couple of pots and wooden spoons and bashed away. When my family did this back when I was a kid, we weren't the only ones to do it: we had a lot of Brooklyn and Queens people who had moved out to Long Island living around us, and it was fun to hear banging and clanging coming from up and down the block. I *think* I heard someone up hear do it once, some years ago, but it might have been the echo from me. Fun to do, even if it was really effing cold.

Took the dog out at 6 am into a morning that was like crystal. Navy blue sky. Lots of stars. Big, just-past-full moon low in the west. It was beautiful. I judged it to be about -14. The thermometer on the back of my house said -24. The National Weathe Service says -10, but their station is 20 miles away, and is at a lower elevation. Either way, it's effing cold. But still beautiful.

I've been off for the last week and a half, courtesy of excess vacation time, a holiday, and a boss who recognizes all the extra hours we put in throughout the year. It's been really nice to be home so much--and I've been hard at work on the WiP. I failed in my goal to have this draft done by Christmas, and I failed at having it done by the end of the year (holiday shopping/prep got in the way, as did a section or two that needed more work than I had initially thought). Right now, I stand at about 52 pages from the end. I don't know if I can make it today, but it should certainly be done by the end of the week. That's a good way to start off a new year!


And now, because this post is already longer than I expected, old business: I give to you the Reading List, Part IV:

Beauty Queens (2011), Libba Bray. Inspired to read this by the news of the all-female remake of Lord of the Flies. Fun at times, but a little heavy-handed in its messaging, and I'm not a fan of books that work at being overly-clever. Then again, I'm not the target audience. It was enjoyable.

Gerald's Game (1992), Stephen King. I haven't read this in a long time. Better than I remembered, though the link between it and Dolores Claiborne was just weird, man.

The Time Traveler's Wife (2003), Audrey Niefenegger. I wish I'd written that!

On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society (1995), Lt. Col. Dave Grossman. Research for the WiP. Probably should have picked something a little newer, but it was an impulse selection at the library.

Sleeping Beauties (2017), Stephen and Owen King. Heavy-handed in its messaging, overly-long, and I'm not sure it really did what the Kings wanted it to do...though, then again, maybe it did. I may have more to say on this in an upcoming post.

All Backs Were Turned (1965), Marek Hlasko, translated by Tomasz Mirkowicz. I think I came across this on some list like "20 Novels Everyone Should Read." Not sure I would agree with that assessment.

So, for the fourth quarter of 2017, I only read 6 books, which is a little low for me, but I was busy with revisions (RiP and WiP), holidays, etc. The total for the year: 31 books, total, down from 42 last year, and there were a lot of re-reads in there. I'll break down the list a little more in a future post, but it's safe to say, I'd like to up my reading.

That's it for me, hope you had a safe start to 2018 and that the year brings you good things!