Wednesday, October 17, 2012

'Let's Go to Work!'

I took Millie to the airport yesterday. It's time to get back to work.

I used to have a bosse named Joe Bologna. Seriously, "Joe Baloney." About 5 foot 4, just a tough piece of leather. And every day, at the stroke of 7 a.m., he'd walk out of the office into the yard, a Pall Mall red dangling from his lip, and in a voice that must have reached every corner of the harbor, shout, "Let's go to work!"

And that's what I feel right now. "Let's go to work!"

I just need to fall back into a routine. Get Tori and Max off to their respective school's each morning (and sometimes that will mean driving Tori to Lafayette, sometimes just getting her out the door on time,) then settling down with a cup of coffee and writing. For hours.

During the interim I've certainly been thinking about the story, and like where it's at and where it's going. I just need to stop horsing around and write it. Thinking about a story is not the same as writing a book. You may quote me.

I'm at a tricky place. I intentionally delayed giving a lot of the exposition that would normally come earlier. Wanted to just dive into the action. And that works. But it's time. I've gotta get some information in. I've barely mentioned they're on Jamaica, and have given no indication about the era other than to mention a carriage drawn by a pair of horses.

My favorite Muppet movie is "The Great Muppet Caper." Partly because of the fantastic scene with John Cleese. "No need to go out, dear. The weather's been most disappointing ..." "And you said the pets are dead?" But there's a great scene near the beginning when Diana Rigg rattles off this long speech about how she's a fashiopn designer, and she doesn' trust her brother Nicky, who might even steal her largest and most valuable jewel, "the fabulous Baseball Diamond," and doesn't understand why his bow ties are always crooked.

Miss Piggy says, "Why are you telling me this?

"It's basic plot exposition," Rigg replies airily. "It has to go somewhere."

It does have to go somewhere. And this is where. Let's hope not as faux-clumsily as the Muppet writers did it, but it worked there because it was so damn funny. Brilliant.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Haven't Done Squat

Some people would call it writer's block, I suppose. I don't. I call it having a life, and you know what they say about that. Life is what happens while you're making other plans.

As I explain in our family blog, which I've also been ignoring, things have been pretty hectic around here. Mostly, good and busy, but hectic.

I was really hoping today to a) get some rest and b) get some writing done. But Millie has the day off  from work and needs to get errands done. She leaves to go back to college in two weeks and has a lot of stuff to take care of. And this time when she leaves, she probably won't be back except for visits. She'll finish her program at AMDA in the spring, then get on with the challenge of trying to make a life in the very difficult career path she's chosen – show business.

Part of me heaved a sigh when she asked if I could keep the car today (instead of letting Tori drive to work.) I was really looking forward to not driving today.

But I've got all fall to finish the second draft of the book. I've got Millie for two more weeks. So as soon as she's up and ready, we'll be off.

(Oh, and I don't believe in writer's block, but that's a different discussion for a different day. I know exactly what I want to write. Carving out time to write it is the problem. That's not writer's block. That's being a dad.)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Plugging Away

About 700 words today. The last chapter was a) a little short and b) too much exposition, not enough excitement. Tori is adamant about "a dragon in every chapter," and she's right. I went back and added the new ending to the chapter and it's a) the right length and b) adds the element of danger.

Altogether a better chapter now.

And 6,112 words. It probably doesn't work out, adding up the word totals each day. I'm a writer, not a mathematician. It's just about having a way to keep track of where I am.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Settling Down

We have a guest visiting us on his way back to college in Canada, so we spent yesterday showing him the city – at least as much of it as we know. Had a great time in the French Quarter, and walking the bank of the Mississippi. Went to a Chinese restaurant for dinner. Yeah, I know, nothing particularly Cajun or New Orleans or even southern about Chinese food. But the kids decided they wanted Chinese. What are ya gonna do?
The upshot being, didn't write Sunday. But I'm settling into the story as soon as I post this.
And maybe this afternoon I'll post some of the video I shot downtown yesterday, including the stuff from the cemetery. Pretty cool
UPDATE:  For today, 1,021 words, bringing the total to date to 5,461. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Hot Work

It was too hot to sleep last night – we're still waiting for our power to be turned back on. As they say on St. Croix, "We got no current."
So I lay on top of the bed, sweating and thinking about the next chapter, exactly what I wanted from it. Except - I'll admit it – when I was thinking about how I'd start the movie script of "Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter," when the time comes. Nothing like planning ahead confidently. 
Anyway, when I sat down to write this morning, it all just flowed out. Really, there as no hesitation. And it went better than I expected. Today I wrote 1,696 words, bringing the tital to 4,429
And I really think they work. I introduce the nemesis much earlier, chapters and chapters earlier than in the first draft, develop Spider better in this chapter than I did in the entire first draft. And realize I have two new characters, which will work well.
All in all a very productive day – something of a miracle considering we still don't have power and it's hotter than hell.
Now to double down – raise the stakes again and get ready for the crew to go to sea.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Best Laid Plans

So a week ago I bravely said I'll get back to work. And I did. Then Isaac came.

Lost a lot of time to the storm, and to prepping for the storm, and cleaning up after the storm. But I did get moving. Monday I wrote 1,300 words, got off to a good start on the second draft of Scurvy Dogs! Tuesday and Wednesday not so much. Thursday I wrote 1,506 words, took the second chapter exactly where it needed to go (and didn't in the first draft) and now I'm poised to take the story in a very exciting place.

I'm sticking to Anne Lamott's main advice in Bird by Bird. Small assignments. I don't have to write the story tomorrow. I just have to write the chapter where we meet the nemesis and get the young heroes dragge4d into a maelstrom of danger – at the end of which, may be treasure, may be death!

I didn't get a chance to write today, but I know what the chapter has to say and how it has to say it. Isaac left us without electricity, but the laptop is fully charged now and tomorrow I should be able to knock out chapter 3.

You know the old saying – Life is what happens while you're making other plans.


Monday, August 27, 2012

Yeah, We Get It

We are aware of the black humor – not irony, because it was totally predictable – that we moved from the Caribbean, where Isaac passed by as a relatively minor tropical storm, to New Orleans, where the same Isaac is now taking aim as it builds up steam across the gulf.

It's a strange feeling. The weather's lovely right now, the storm is still about 36 hours off. People around here are kind of freaking out, and you can't blame them, what with the recent history of Katrina. We are watching warily and getting our stuff together.

But there's one big difference. On a small island, when a hurricane comes there's no place to go. You HAVE to hunker down. There's no alternative. I don't look forward to the idea of long lines of evacuation traffic, but the point is, if we have to go, there's someplace TO go. And we trust that authorities will tell us when it's time, and we will listen. In hte meantime, just in case, we're pulling a couple of suitcases together and gassing up "The Beast." At leaast it's big enough that, push comes to shove, the kids could sleep in it.

Anyway, we're getting ready, but we're not panicking.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Back to Work

Summertime, and the writing is non-existent.

As I have observed, summer is not the time I am most prolific as a writer. And this summer has been less so than usual.

It's hard enough when your schedule changes, with family out of school and everybody home. Instead of sending people off to school, then settling down to write in the empty house, I have to accommodate other people's schedules and presence. It's hard under the best of summer circumstances to get three or four or more hours in the chair, uninterrupted, every day.

And this summer has hardly been the best of circumstances. Without going into details, which are still difficult to write about, this has been far worse. I've explained it here and I'm not up to doing it again. Bottom line – not only did I not get much work done, I didn't get any work done on the project. It's a misnomer to call it the Work in Progress because I haven't worked on it and there's been no progress.

I have thought about it quite a bit, but haven't written a word. But that's got to stop. I have work to do. So I'm back on the beat, so to speak. For now, I've decided to put up the story I thought I would be writing this summer and get back to Scurvy Dogs! Time for the second draft.

I have been playing it over in my mind for several weeks and I know what needs doing. It's just a matter of doing it. And this log is part of doing that work. There are a couple of minor tweaks to the story, and a couple of major changes. The general idea is good. but I need to raise the stakes. Not just by making the action more dangerous and the drama more compelling, but changing some of the relationships in the story. 

I also realized there was a scene I had envisioned very early in the writing that was going to be great, very touching and at the same time very funny, and I completely forgot to include it in the first draft! Completely! 

Scurvy Dogs! is going to be good. But it'll never be worth a damn if I don't sit down and get plugging. So I'm back on the job.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Someone a lot smarter (and more poetic) than me

"Dear, damn'd distracting town, farewell,
They fools no more I'll tease.
This year, in peace, ye critics dwell.
Ye harlots, sleep at ease."

Samuel Johnson? Don't recall. It's apropos, though.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

No News

Not much to report. I wish I could say no news is good news, but right now, no news is just no news.

It's always complicated at the beginning of the summer, working out the schedules. Hard to get any work done until we start falling into a routine. And the Source has been keeping me busy as well, which is handy for paying bills.

With n news I guess i didn't have to post, but I happened across my last notebook/journal and was flipping through it and realized doing the journal is part of what helps me get into a new routine.

So here it is. Now I need to get back to work on the WIP, because I ain't gettin' any younger!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Drives Me Crazy 3

One of my favorite websites is Wordsmith.Org's "A Word a Day," which every morning sends an email with a word and its definition. But even the Wordsmith makes the occasional mistake – and I'm not talking about the time a few years ago when he let me be the guest wordsmith for a week, doing a series of pirate themed words. One of my highest honors, up there with getting Talk Like a Pirate Day as the theme of a New York Times crossword puzzle.

This morning's word-a-day e-mail came with this opening:
"Which came first, the chicken or the egg? We can ponder endlessly without ever solving that paradox."

Not if we were listening during biology we can't. The egg predates chickens by hundreds of millions of years. Dinosaurs laid eggs. The earliest fish laid eggs. Eggs have been the preferred means of reproduction long, long before there were chickens.

The question should be asked: Which came first? Eggs or things that lay eggs? Or possibly: Which came first, the chicken or the chicken egg? And I'm pretty sure either way, biologists would look at you with pity for asking something so simplistic, then spit out an answer.

Or, if you're a biblical literalist, the answer is easy. Genesis said God created all the animals, the beasts in the field and the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky – presumably including chickens –  in a single day. It doesn't say anything about creating their eggs, then waiting around for them to hatch They would have gotten around to laying eggs some time later.

Either way, the chicken or the egg question is no paradox. It's just a way of trying to sound profound without thinking. Drives me crazy.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Terror on the Road to San Francisco, Part 2

Back in February I wrote the first part of this story and promised you the second. I even had most of it written. Then my son spilled a Coke on the computer and that was the end of that. It took a little while to get back on track.

First, a reminder for those who wonder why the hell I'm writing this. Last year I wrote about the experience of having to go out and sell your book and how hard that is – “The Abject Poverty Book Tour.” I said you should "make personal legends out of horrid experiences." Sometimes bad things happen, but if you're lucky at least the bad things can make a good story if you tell them right. This is part of one of those tales.

To pick up the story, we had driven to San Francisco for our very very first book reading, and had been caught in the most hellacious traffic the world has ever seen. San Francisco is always a traffic nightmare. On Gay Pride Day it is simply suicidal. Somehow, we made it into the city and thanks to Tori we commandeered the very last available hotel room. That's where I left off.

The next morning dawned bright and clear and we were feeling a little better. We checked out of the hotel, had breakfast in a delightful coffee shop named Max's, and headed uptown to find the store where the reading would be held later that afternoon. We found it with little difficulty.

We had communicated with the manager only through e-mail, but she was expecting us, which after our Yachats fiasco was a big relief. She was delighted but puzzled to see us. We were really early, the event wasn't happening for another five hours. Having had the problems on the road the day before, we were taking no chances. We found the place, got there early and stayed put.

But we hadn't done much actual planning for what we were going to do. So after on hour of cooling our heels we went across the street to a restaurant, ordered a pair of hamburgers and started planning what we'd read.

I suggested I might read the opening of the book, then Mark could read a passage I'd picked out, short and funny. He looked it over and said, “Yeah, that's funny. I like that.”

I was puzzled. His tone implied he didn't recognize the material.

You don't remember that?”

No, I've never seen it.”

Mark!” I said. “You wrote it!”

I did?”

Word for word.

Mark and I work in a ping pong fashion. I'll write something, shoot it to him, he'll improve it and shoot it back, I'll take out the improvements, send it back, and it keeps going back and forth until we're both satisfied with it – or in some cases so bored with it that one us us finally just backs down. But this particular passage, about a page and a half, was virtually unedited. He'd sent it and it was perfect as it was. So it went in the book just the way he'd sent it to me. And he had no recollection of it.

That's how I discovered that he doesn't remember our writing. Once it's written, he's done with it. It shocked me. I can still, almost 10 years later, go through the book and tell you who originated almost any passage, and in general what kind of changes it went through. And I could do the same for Pirattitude!, The Pirate Life, and our Festering Boil series.

I'm an NOT saying this makes me better than Mark. Far from it. It's just the way my brain works, and the way his works. He's able to come up with crazy funny shit, inspired, but once he's tossed it out there, it's gone. He just doesn't remember it. My approach is more technical, more controlled and hence less inspired. Or as I sometimes say: He's the funny one. I'm the one who knows where the commas go. Which misinterprets both of us, but isn't that what humor is all about?

That discovery was the most important part of the hours leading up to our first public reading. The event itself was also memorable in several ways, and it was a book reading so it really bears mentioning in a writer's blog. But this has gotten WAY too long already, so I'll save it for a third installment sometime in the future. It will includes the reading and a rude audience member who wanted to talk but didn't want to buy our book.

Monday, June 11, 2012


Let's see. In the last five days I have written almost 5,000 words. That's good. They weren't words in my Work in Progress. That's bad. They were words in stories for the Source, and I get paid by the story and that helps pay my rent, so that's good.

Anything else? No? OK, so I guess the balance is, it was a good five days. I just wish I could have gotten some work done on the book. I hate not working on the project. I lose momentum and have to dig in all over again.

Another good thing – Millie's home! She went away to music and drama school in L.A. last fall and we haven't seen her since, though she called almost every night. She now has calves you could break some hard to break thing on, what with all the tap dancing and ballet and jazz.

And this is an older blog post I stumbled on that is so true. The problem with self=promotion is that doing it sucks, never feels good.

Tomorrow I've got another story for the Source, then a couple of days on the schedule where I might actually get a little work done on the book.

Friday, June 8, 2012

WIP Update

Wednesday I wrote 2,335 words in the new work in progress (WIP) and I am loving it.

The story has a lot of promise, the main character is fun, and like the style. A new character already intruded and I love her, a bossy computer with a maternal instinct. (I did mention, didn't I, that this is NOT a pirate story?) 

Thursday, alas, I had to cover a meeting of accountants and investors and it was all I could do to stay awake.

My brain hurts.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury owned Mars. And summer, and Halloween.

He owned them. He had written about them so compellingly, so convincingly, that they belonged to him.

And his death at the age of 91 Wednesday doesn't really change that. They will belong to him as surely as the X on the map marking Treasure Island will always belong to Robert Louis Stevenson, or rude, impertinent cats will always belong to Dr. Seuss.

I was fortunate to hear him speak once, at our high school back in 1973. He was inspiring. He brought up the fact that he owns Mars, not to show off, but to show us how we too could stake out turf in the cultural zeitgeist and make it our own.

A great irony he pointed out was that, though he was best known as a science fiction writer (though he protested that wasn't so) he didn't like, didn't trust machines, He couldn't drive – our high school student body president had to pick him up at his home and drive him to our Southern California high school, then drive him back afterwards. It was a task she had no objection to. He also said he had never flown in a plane. This was in 1972, when he would have been 51.

He was always going to be a writer, that was what he was going to do and no one was going to stop him. He just kept writing, and at first, he admits, his stories weren't that good. But over time, quantity began to make up quality. He didn't expect to get it right the first time. He kept working at it.

I know you've heard it a thousand times before. But it's true – hard work pays off. If you want to be good, you have to practice, practice, practice. If you don't love something, then don't do it,” he has said. “I spent three days a week for 10 years educating myself in the public library, and it's better than college. People should educate themselves – you can get a complete education for no money. At the end of 10 years, I had read every book in the library and I'd written a thousand stories.”

Not all of those stories were published, or even any good. But they made him good. And by the time he broke out, he was as pretty much as good as anyone gets.

He's best known, I suppose, for Fahrenheit 451, Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Martian Chronicles and The Halloween Tree, and more than 600 short stories. But my favorite work is the magical novel Dandelion Wine. It's set in the 1920s, telling the story of a boy in a small American town and the way a child experiences life – The feel of a new pair of tennis shoes, how you feel suddenly like you can run forever; the awful realization that comes when you realize your parents, who have always seemed omnipotent, can feel fear; the death of a loved one, the loss of a friend. It's just an amazing book, and though it's set in another time – the time of Bradbury's own boyhood – so much of it rings absolutely true today. It still has the power to move me, to transport me back more years than I care to think about, to when I was that age.

He was a giant.

Here are a few more quotes from Ray Bradbury, culled from the site, Brainyquote.com

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you

Don't think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It's self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can't try to do things. You simply must do things.

Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me.After the explosion, I spent the rest of the day putting the pieces together.
I don't try to describe the future. I try to prevent it.
If we listened to our intellect, we'd never have a love affair. We'd never have a friendship. We'd never go into business, because we'd be cynical. Well, that's nonsense. You've got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.

If you don't like what you're doing, then don't do it.

Love is the answer to everything. It's the only reason to do anything. If you don't write stories you love, you'll never make it. If you don't write stories that other people love, you'll never make it.

Fall in love and stay in love. Write only what you love, and love what you write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for.  

My stories run up and bite me on the leg – I respond by writing down everything that goes on during the bite. When I finish, the idea lets go and runs off. 

Stuff your eyes with wonder, live as if you'd drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It's more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The 'Aha!' Moment

Read a pretty good one the other day, a YA or middle school mystery called “Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief.”

Published in 1998, the book won an Edgar Award for best children's mystery and spawned a series of “Sammy Keyes” books for the author. It's got all the qualities kids like in a mystery, and for the person who wants to write in the genre, it's a must read. It will amply reward you.

Kids like to be smart, like to figure things out, love the “Aha!” moment when they get it without having to be told. And Samantha, the main character, provides them. The book has so many layers, so many levels, and the author doesn't spell things out. She let's the kids discover the story for themselves. There's the mystery of the hotel thief, of course, and the questions about Samantha's grandmother and why the girl has to pretend she's not there at nights and keep quiet during the day.

There's never a paragraph that says, “Samantha's mother dumped her on grandma and went away to be an actress, but grandma lives in a seniors only building and …” It's all there, spread out during the course of the story, and the author trusts her young readers to figure it out without her having to hold their hands.

And that's the kind of thing kid readers love. They don't want you to force feed them. They want to figure it out for themselves. The best book I've read in this regard is “Holes,” which never overtly comes right out and ties it all up in a neat package with a bow at the end. The kids put all the pieces together themselves, and that makes it all the more satisfying for them.

And there's plenty of other stuff in the book, the problems with starting middle school, and Officer Bosch, and Samantha's rich friend. All of them add depth and complexity. There's a lot in it for a book that is really a very quick read.

So that's two things I picked up over the weekend from “Sammy Keyes,” the need for layers and layers of story in the new project, and several ideas have already occurred to me, and the advisability of not spelling everything out.

Leave the kids something to go “Aha!” about.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Ending and Beginning

A very big day today! I just read the class the last three chapters of Scurvy Dogs! And I'm already a chapter into the new book.

Scurvy Dogs! came out much as I'd hoped for a first draft, but there's a long way to go. As Chuck Wendig says, the first draft is when we write the words down. The second draft is when we make them not suck. But I need a little distance before I dive back in.

Mostly, I love where the story went and the exciting ending, with cave ins and cliff hangers and fighting off pirates. In reading to the kids this morning, I warned them that something shocking happens right near the end. But it still drew a lot of gasps and one girl even cried. But I also told them I'm not sure it happened to the right person. Oddly, they convinced me that it does, even though they hated it happening to that character. I'm pretty sure they're right.

What I have to do is go back and really take apart the first half of the book so that the stuff that happens in the second half has the proper setup, a strong foundation. The first half, in retrospect, feels a little like I was floundering around trying to find the story, although I thought I knew it. Now I know what the story is about, and I know what I need to do to tell it well. And I should admit that a lot of what happens in the last few chapters I did not plan. The characters just did things and revealed things about themselves that I hadn't suspected. I love it when they do that, it's always a good sign, but it means I'll have to adapt.

But in the meantime, I've already started the new story. This is not a pirate book at all, nor is it like The Skeleton in the Closet, where I tried to write something in a genre because I knew it was popular. That was a mistake I'll never repeat. This is about a young man I first wrote about in February 2011. He just jumped into my head and demanded I tell his story. Good thing I waited, because I was completely wrong about what his story IS. He's much more complicated – and interesting – than I'd dared to think.

So on we go, I'll write the first draft of the new one, put it aside, then revise Scurvy Dogs! So I've got my summer planned out for me,

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Foreign Languages are Tricky

Look, sometimes it's hard enough to make sense in English. Why compound the trouble by going into a foreign language?

Two examples in the last two weeks from the same writer, a really good sportswriter name of Don Banks at Sports Illustrated. So the guy's no slouch. But foreign languages bedevil him. Just before the NFL draft he wrote, "So without further Adieu," meaning of course, "further ado," as in much ado about nothing.

This morning I see his story about competition in training camps, and it was headlined "Man A Mano," which everyone knows means "Man against Man." Except it doesn't. That's one of those things that everyone knows that's wrong. It actually means "Hand in Hand," which makes no sense in the context of the story.

I suppose we can't blame Banks for the headline, those are written by editors and we all know what Mencken said, "All editors are vermin."

In the meantime "Scurvy Dogs!" is going well, coming up on the finale now. I have jotted some ideas down for a new book that's kind of exciting. And still waiting, Anxiously.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Crap for Kids

I was thinking the other day about a book someone sent me a year or so ago. It was terrible. I won't mention the name, because I honor the effort even if the result is a dog's breakfast. But I have given it a lot of careful consideration, really seriously thought this over, and I honestly believe it to be the worst book I have ever read in my life. Of the thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of books I've read in my many years on the planet (and I got my own library card when I was 5) this was far and away the worst.

I don't say that lightly. I've read some really, really bad books. I've read several pirate books sent to me for review that were so bad I wanted to contact the authors families and tell them to make him or her stop. But nothing was as bad as this one.

The reason this comes to mind more than a year after the fact, the only point in writing this, is that two friends who also review pirate literature gave it tepid but approving critiques.

I was flabbergasted. It really was awful. I was so surprised by this I actually called them and asked, "How could you have said this was OK? Didn't you notice that the main character was the most unpleasant heroine in fiction? The nicest thing you can say about her is she's pigheaded. That's her best trait!"

Yes, they agreed, that was certainly true. The main character was awesomely unpleasant. Why anyone would want to spend the time to write such a character is a mystery.

"And the story was absolutely idiotic. Even if that could have happened, it couldn't possibly have happened the way she describes it! And no sane person would behave that way except because the author was arbitrarily forcing her to."

Again they agreed. And they agreed with another couple of points I made as well. In the end we agreed that the best thing about the book was that it had a good, strong binding. I know because I'd thrown it across the room several times and it held up. Really. It was that bad. The book took a licking and kept on sucking.

"So why," I asked, "did you give it such a good review."

"Well," they both said - in separate conversations mind you, they both said almost exactly the same thing. "It's for high school readers and they'll probably like it."


No no no.


Don't blithely say, "Oh, high school kids, they'll accept crap." Don't sit there and tell me that it's OK to write crap for them because they're young.

If anything, the middle school through high school readers are the ones you really want to court, give them the best stuff. Entrance them, beguile them. Woo them. You need to keep higher standards for them. You want to present them with books so well written, stories so well told, that they become hooked. They're readers for life.

But if kids are faced with too many pieces of crap like ... Well, I'd love you tell you the name, I really would. It was SO bad, deliciously awful. But I promised myself I would never do that. There's such a thing as karma. Seriously if kids, have to read too many books like that one, they'll give up. We could lose a whole generation of readers because someone said, "Oh, they're just kids. It doesn't really matter."

It does matter. It matters a lot.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Drives Me Crazy (2)

I like licorice. I do. I like it a lot. What I hate – and I mean HATE – is when people say, "I don't like black licorice, I only like red licorice."

There is no such thing as red licorice. Let me say that again – There is no such thing as red licorice!!!

ALL licorice is black. Licorice is not a shape, it's not a particular style of candy. It's a flavor, and the ingredients it's made of, mostly anise, I think, make it black. There can be different shades of black, I suppose, but licorice is always black. ALWAYS.

Those red vines that people insist on calling red licorice? They're strawberry flavored. Those are red vines, or strawberry vines. There is nothing licorice about them. NOTHING! There is NO red licorice.

And then there's this. A story in the Source the other day reported on a guy all excited about his new job. "He said he was anxious to begin the new project." Anxious? Really? He's afraid? I thought he was excited.

As I admonished my co-workers (I'm a real popular guy, as you can imagine) anxious means nervous, edgy, bordering on afraid. It comes from the same root as anxiety.

I suspect that the guy in the story is eager to begin his new job. Eager and anxious are NOT interchangeable. They have completely different meanings.

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.

Drives me crazy.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Another View on the Waiting Game

The subject of waiting for news reminded me of a blog post written seven years ago by author Keith Thomson.

I've known Keith since about the time he posted this, though we've never actually met. We've traded many e-mails and had a longish phone call once when he was exploring co-marketing strategies. Kinda guy he is, thinking ahead, looking for angles. He read and gave me good feedback on Chance.

He's also a damn good writer. His Twice a Spy recently came out in paperback, following his first thriller named (you guessed it) Once a Spy. He also blogs for the Huffington Post, but most notably he wrote Pirates of Pensacola, which I still say is as funny as any novel I've read. (And yes, I've read Terry Pratchett, Doug Adams, Dave Barry and Christopher Moore.) I couldn't find this blog online, so I wrote to Keith who sent it to me, along, with his permission to post it here. So what follows was written by Keith Thomson, NOT by me. Thanks for letting me share it, Keith. And you can read lots more about Keith here.

How Selling A Novel Can Kill You

D-Day, landing at Normandy, unsure whether you’ll live or die: that’s more suspenseful than the wait once your agent has sent your manuscript to publishers. With a good literary agent, whose recommendation can have editors reading within hours of receiving it, you’ll know whether you are an about-to-be-published novelist or not within two weeks. Two weeks that will seem like five years. If you have a crappy agent, take consolation that the process will be more months long, offering you hope relatively ad infinitum. I have a good agent. Nothing I’ve experienced was as suspenseful as the days following his sending out my manuscript to potential publishers ... I spent two solid years writing Pirates of Pensacola. Authors routinely devote half a dozen years. You hope yours will sell of course. You dream of nothing else. But if it doesn’t, not only will you feel devastated and ruined and judged as crap by an expert panel, you’ll have to face your friends—and worse, your enemies, and even the best answer to “How’s the writing going?” will still eat at chunks of your guts each time you give it. Also you’ll have to put up with your father telling you he “told you you should have gone to law school.”

Here’s how the process might, hypothetically, go:

Day 1: No sweat. You feel good actually. All 350 pages of your ms (publishing lingo, which you’re hearing now, and think is cool, for “manuscript”) have been xeroxed, boxed, and messengered out! After two long years sitting and drawing blood from a stone, a large, powerful agency is sending your ms to a bunch of great publishing houses.

Day 2: No word. You know that sometimes editors will read a hot property that night. Ergo yours is not a hot property. You’re a loser.

Day 3: Still no word. You resist impulse to be like every other client and bug your agent for word as to whether there might be word of potential word.

Day 4-5: Still zip. See day 3, multiply by five and subtract two years from your life due to anxiety. Get prescription for anxiety medicine, triple whatever amount doctor prescribes (unless doctor has had a manuscript up for option, then just double it).

Day 6-7: Weekend, so no word expected. But still, part of you hopes some editor reading it will love it and not be able to contain herself ’til Monday. So you’re discouraged the phone hasn’t rung. Then you realize it was ridiculous to have expected smart, literate, busy, busy publishing people who are deluged with books and proposals to be reading your stack of paper at all, let alone on a weekend. You go online for applications for law schools and to investigate loans. Make note to google Peace Corps.

Day 8: Monday. Agent calls and tells you there are bites per weekend reads. This is wonderful news, but you know with certainty that the Fates have it only to make the fall harder for you. In unlikely event that the Fates have finally grown bored of conspiring against you, you sit by phone like a fifteen year-old girl and eat your remaining nails (interestingly, prior to this auction, you didn’t bite your nails. Also, though you’ve been eating compulsively, you have, oddly, lost eight pounds. Likely from the pacing.)

Day 9: Agent calls and tells you to go at once to your church or spiritual equivalent and light candles or whatever you can light that a particular editor who liked it’s boss now likes it. You know 4 in 5 who have read it have not liked it, so odds that this new guy will prompt you to consider. Also, given that it’s your ms, the Fates, those bastards, will somehow ensure the guy has heartburn while trying to read it and/or his sixteen year-old son will total his car.

Day 10: You awake (somehow you finally got to sleep) to e-mail from agent that you have a publishing deal. You suspect it’s a practical joke. You call your agent and delight in hearing even the most mundane detail, like the floor number the editor works on.

Day 11-14: You notice yourself humming hallelujah a lot. And the feeling of hot chocolate warming you on a cold day? It’s 24/7.

Day 15: You get advance word of some of the edits the publisher wants. You realize the Fates were behind the whole deal from word one.

Friday, April 13, 2012

A Surprise in the Story

Got back to work on Scurvy Dogs! and Wednesday was a good day, 1,490 words by noon. Good thing too, because work kept me busy Thursday. I'll be back at work on the story this morning, and am reading a couple of chapters to the kids this afternoon.

Not only was Wednesday productive, but some cool things happened in the story, including something I didn't expect at all. A character I had always assumed was something of a milquetoast, a dandy, just proved that he must be a whole lot more under the surface. That's always cool, because you like to see characters prove themselves to be more than they seemed. As long as it can be done without sacrificing the integrity of the story, and this can. It'll require very little adjusting, but this will work very well.

It's just odd, because I never saw it coming. I literally I had no idea that the tutor would end up as some kind of pirate. That was never the role I'd planned for him. But I suddenly realized that for the situation I had laid out to have happened, he MUST have been pretending all along. Now I'll have to go back and see if he gave me any clues that that's who he really is.

The best part, of course, is that if the author never saw it coming, odds are the reader won't either. Although I have always suspected that the readers are a lot smarter than I am.

I'm also reminded of the actor's maxim - If you'rew supposed to play the devil, find the angel in him. If you're playing an angel, find the devil in him. In other words, one-dimensional characters are boring. And most people aren't like that, all good or all evil. What makes us interesting is our quirks and inconsistencies. So having a foppish character suddenly turn into something else is great, even though he isn't a major character.

At least, he's not yet. But he may be one of those fictional characters who keeps forcing his way into a more and more pivotal part in the story. Can't wait to see how it plays out.

UPDATE: Just finished the chapter, 1,290 words today. Off to read.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Waiting Game

This is an exciting time. Also a scary time. Nerve wracking, even. After months of being crazy busy, now all I can do is wait.

Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter is going out to publishers this week. Fingers crossed.

I finished the latest revision about a week ago, then wrote synopses for two sequels. Not that I have to slavishly follow them when it comes time to write them. The purpose is to give an editor something he or she can get excited about and take to the publisher to offer us more money, which I think is just a great idea.

So it's all been sent off to Eddie the Agent, who start sending it to publishers this week.

I've been here before, so I'm not getting my hopes too high. Chance was out there for two years. One publisher had it in the system for nine months. This was a big house, so my then-agent gave it to them exclusively. I actually did two rewrites for them to address different issues they had. The book made it to their final meeting, the one where they decide, this is what we're putting out next year. That was very exciting. Then it just died and I never did find out why they decided to pass on it. At that point my then-agent sort of gave up, It went out to a few more houses, but I could tell from his e-mails he was no longer interested. He'd taken what he thought was his best shot, it came up short, and he fell out of love with it.

So I'm going to stop talking about the possibility that Chrissie will be the one that finally breaks through. It's good. I'm confident in that. I'm satisfied I've done my best. Now it's really out of my hands. The next time I mention how Chrissie is doing, it'll be to say the book (or books!) have been sold or are no longer in play. Certainly I hope it's the former.

And of course, I have Scurvy Dogs! to finish, There's a about seven weeks of school left, and those kids are going to get the whole story. That's a promise. It's a good story that I'm excited to work on, and it'll give me something to do while I wait.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Revision: Some Characters Now Out of Work

Sent off the latest (last?) revision of Chrissie Warren today.

The major change in the middle, telescoping the action down from one night to two, works very well, but had some unintended consequences that had to be dealt with down the line. For instance, there were two characters introduced between the two nights who now had no place to go and no role to play. I was able to find Thorne, the former privateer turned honest merchant seaman, a job as a sergeant in the Royal Marines. But his buddy Sullivan, is now gone.

Oh well, maybe I can find him work in the sequel. Which is what I'm working on today.

It's worth noting that the second draft of this book was 88,000 plus words. This is the fifth draft and it's now 75,000 plus, a 12-percent cut, but more things happen in it. It's a better book this way, tighter, moves faster. A classic case of "less is more."

But I resisted the urge to tighten the dialogue. I can hear these characters. How they talk is as important as what they say. It tells you about their personalities, their characters. Chrissie is very guarded, very reserved. Makes sense for her lines to be short, terse. But her father Dan is a raconteur, a born story teller. He'd never use four words when sixteen are available. So even though the meaning of a sentence might be the same, the difference is important. "Never fear" doesn't work. "Never you fear, me darlin'" tells you a little more about the character than the fact that he doesn't think his daughter should fear. (And "Never fear" sounds way too Dudley Do-Right.)

So anyway, it's been sent, Fingers crossed.

Friday, March 23, 2012


Any day that begins with a broken coffee machine has got disaster written all over it.

Fortunately yesterday's work on Chrissie went pretty well. Because even though the sun is shining, there's not a cloud, it's a beautiful bright island day, I somehow sense gloom and foreboding. I don't know about any other writers out there, but this one is caffeine powered.

Update: Just minutes after posting this, I started hearing a big truck engine outside. This is a one-way street, and very narrow, maybe half the width of a normal residential street in the states. The rumbling persisted, so I finally went out to look. WAPA is replacing all the power poles on the street. I suppose that's a good thing, but what a mess this day is going to be.

See? I told you.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Someone a Lot Smarter Than Me (18)

You can't fix a blank page -- Nora Roberts

That's way more eloquent than I usually say it, but it means the same thing. Don't sit there kvetching. Write something down. Write something great. Write something crappy. But write it down. You can fix it later. But as Ms. Roberts reminds us, you can't fix it you haven't written it.

For my own update, I've been buried all week in the latest revision notes from Eddie the Agent. He thinks it'll probably be the last, and then it's ready to start showing. The work is going very well. And then this happened.

Tori is off island, chaperoning the high school seniors on their senior trip, a cruise to Barbados. (Yeah, tell me about it.) Well, I don't sleep well when Tori's gone, never have, never will. So I was laying in bed trying to get some sleep because I had a meeting to cover this morning. And suddenly I was sitting bolt upright - literally. I had one of those blinding stabs when I realized what I need to do. It had to do with the number of trips into town when the boat is docked at Nevis. Since the day I wrote this section two years ago it's always been two trips into town and the various adventures that befall them, including a run in with pirates.

Last night I suddenly realized how stupid that was. Or, to be completely honest, I realized how stupid I am.

There's no reason - no reason at all - it can't happen in one trip. I just have to reorganize a couple of things, and then it becomes a much more exciting event. Really picks up the pace. So I've been waiting all day to finish with this news story so I can get to work. I'm now waiting for the e-mail that tells me tonight's editor has no questions and I'm all done.

It's a great idea. I just wish I'd had it two years ago. As the old Mennonite is sometimes alleged to say: "Ve are too soon old, und too late schmart."

Thursday, March 15, 2012

It's Hilarious

OK, I was wrong about rhyming books when I said the only successful author of a rhyming book was Dr. Seuss.

It turns out Go the Fuck to Sleep by Adam Mansbach, while not technically a kids book, is hilarious. HILARIOUS!

But don't buy the book. Seriously, don't buy the book. You want the audio version because it's read by Samuel L. Jackson. Ohmidog! It's as funny as anything I've ever heard. Seriously. "No you can't go to the bathroom. You know where you can go? THE FUCK TO SLEEP!"

In other news, I have the final revision notes on Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter from Eddie the Agent, who is exuding confidence. He's off to Italy next week for the Bologna Book Fair (My book fair has a first name ...) and when he comes back I want it to be done and waiting for him. I'll have plenty of time because next week is spring break and Tori has been invited to chaperone the senior trip. They're taking a cruise that includes stops in Barbados, St. Lucia and St. Martin. The seniors picked her because of their experience working with her on A Midsummer Night's Dream a year and a half ago. Her ticket is paid for by the senior class.

Everyone sing along with me: Nice work if you can get it.

Anyway, the notes aren't very extensive this time, mostly line notes and an admonition to tighten up a couple of spots. Almost there! There were other conversations with Eddie the last two weeks, but I'll save them for another time.

Meanwhile, still splitting time between work and Scurvy Dogs! and between them I'm not getting much sleep. Gotta get to work right now!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Slow Week for Scurvy Dogs

Just an update on progress. Damn little.

Wrote a thousand words yesterday and a thousand the day before, but that was news writing for work. Good stories, big news. The hospital laid off 85 LPNs ands nursing assistants and people are understandably upset. But when your hospital is $28 million in debt and the new management has been saying for a year that if something doesn't change (a big infusion of cash from the government) we're going to have to lay off a hundred people, well that's what happens. It almost doesn't qualify as news. "Hospital Does What It's Been Saying It Will Do."

Busy morning. I really want to read a chapter to the kids today, but that means I've got a morning to knock out most of it. So I need to stop this and get to work!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Drives Me Crazy!

I wrote in a blog last year about a couple of phrases that just made me nuts. "Free gift" was one. "Rather unique" was another. Well, there's lots of those out there, people just insist on being wrong headed about language.

A friend just wrote that he was waiting for something "with baited breath," then added "I probably should stop eating worms."

A change of diet might be in order, but it has nothing to do with his breath. The phrase is "waiting with bated breath." Short for abated, as in curtailed. Waiting with bated breath means you're so excited you're actually short of breath.

Drives me crazy!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Feeling like a writer by reading The Writer

Yesterday's mail brought the new issue of The Writer magazine, and there's a lot to read in it this month. It's a little like reading several writing blogs, only they're all right there in your hands, all you have to do is turn the page instead of click on the links.

"10 tips for getting your novel published" includes some good advice, including a couple of things you've been told and told but really, they mean it. Read other books in your genre to learn what's selling and what readers expect, learn what agents want to you to send them (and the unspoken corollary, don't send them stuff they don't want.) There's a timely article on what writers should know about taxes (and we all hope this becomes a major issue soon.) But my favorite was about a guy who was in New York on 9/11 and the event caused him to re-evaluate his life. He moved to L.A. and, by sheer perseverance and hard work, became a writer on "Law and Order: SVU." It was kind of inspiring.

There was a really good article about writing for the children's market in the previous month's issue, and an article on the values and pitfalls of self-publishing, told by six writers who have gone both routes.

If you want to be a writer, write. But more than that, shape your life to support and reinforce the idea that you're a writer, and never use "support and reinforce." It's redundant. But perhaps you want to belong to a book group. Read writing blogs. Take a class. Things that repeat the mantra in your mind, "I'm a writer."

Over the course of the month I'll read pretty much everything in there. Besides any enjoyment or information I get - and there's plenty - it reinforces that feeling in me that I'm a writer.

On another note: Had a brain storm on Scurvy Dogs! that I'm excited about. I was sitting in a Board of Elections meeting when it hit me. I immediately flipped my note pad over and started jotting ideas down. It'll require reworking the front end to set up, but I already knew I have to do that. It'll help bring the whole thing full circle, and it'll be really cool. Need to do a little research. Gotta find my copy of Empire of Blue Water. Which by the way is the best pirate book I've ever read.

Friday, February 17, 2012

More This and That

Reading the two chapters was a success! The kids looked all concerned when the rock slid out from under Jamie's feet, leaving him dangling from a rope 400 feet above the sea. They groaned when I said, "And that's the end of the chapter!"

And they cheered when I said, "But wait, I have a second chapter to read today." I confess, I like it when my audience cheers.

So that worked very well. It also gave me (and their teacher, who is dead sexy and just the best teacher ever) a chance to talk about cliffhangers and "The Perils of Pauline," which were on the screen back when my dad was a kid. I'm not sure Tori's students believed me or even noticed when I said something about "silent movies" because what could that even mean to kids who can watch movies on their telephones.

Tori also had a really cool idea for a project to go along with the reading, and now the kids are all designing covers for Scurvy Dogs! I'll share some with you when they're done.

It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing: A woman sent me a copy of her book, hoping I'll review it in the Talk Like a Pirate Day newsletter, The Poopdeck, and spur sales for her. I'm not going to because it's not very good, and like I've said before, I honor the effort even if I don't like the result, so I'll not mention it by name.

It's a good idea. It's about using pirate talk in speech pathology to get kids to properly pronounce the letter R. Clever.

But why oh why oh why do people insist on writing children's books in rhyme? Especially when they don't have a clue about meter or making it scan. People think "Oh, it's a kids book. It has to rhyme." Wrong wrong wrong. I have read hundreds of books to my kids as they grew up.We all loathed the rhyming ones, with the obvious huge exception, Dr. Seuss.

In fact, I'll just say it flat out. There has been exactly one successful children's story author who wrote in rhyme. His name was Dr. Seuss. If you're not Dr. Seuss, don't even try. Unless you actually don't care what people think. If it gives you pleasure to write in doggerel, by all means do so. It's your right. But please don't ask me to read the book to kids.

And it's a fact that if you want someone to publish your children's book, don't write it in rhyme. Children's publishers DO NOT WANT rhyming books. Most of them say it right on their web sites, and any agent repping children's books will tell you the same thing. They won't even read them, because they can't sell them.

Must have a lot of friends. I have almost finished reading a book I started four months ago. I'm determined to finish it. There is nothing particularly wrong with the book, no place where I can point and say, 'See! What a hack writer!" It's well researched and competently written on what should be an engrossing subject, a spectacular murder case that convulsed England in 1860. It's just kind of boring, and it's hard to understand why. I guess that's why I keep plowing ahead, just to see if I can figure out what my problem with it is. Because it's my problem. The book won all kinds of awards and the back cover contains all kinds of great blurbs from reviewers.

"A real page turner," one reviewer called it. "Gripping," "a remarkable achievement." Really, if you're going to write jacket blurbs, you ought to read the book first. The only way the reviewer for the Sunday Telegraph could have called it "unputdownable" is if he'd had an accident with a glue pot while reading it.

But I suppose something like , "Meh. I've read worse," would probably not have sold as many copies. All I can say is, the author must have a lot of friends who write dust jacket blurbs. I'm hoping to have similar luck when Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter finally is published.

Boy, reading this I sound pretty damn cranky. I'm usually such a positive guy. I'll try to perk up, although I have to run cover the Board of Elections meeting in an hour, and that would make anyone a little dyspeptic.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

There's a Reason They Call it a Cliffhanger

Two days ago I wrote about 900 words in Scurvy Dogs. Yesterday I got 1,400 words in on it, plus another 800 to 900 words on Source stories. Today I've just gotta clean up a little at the end of the chapter before I dash out to cover the Senate.

Senate should be short, and it better be, because I have two chapters to read to the kids today. And I'm going to.

The last reading they were spellbound by the boat running aground and someone shooting at them. So I want to keep that up - it fells good, ya know. And since I already put a cliff in the scenery, I figured what better way to hold the kids attention than by actually dangling one or more characters off the edge of it! We'll see how it goes, how the kids like it.

In the meantime, I'm also looking for a replacement for the dead Macbook. I've got to resolve that, because shifting from Kate's PC to the old iMac we bought for Alex when she went to college six years ago. Everything is harder and slower -- and that might sound like a good thing but it's not.

Oh, and one of the things lost in the computer crash is the second half of the San Francisco story -- which I've got to finish because it's funny, and we learn important things about Mark and about me. Under the current computer situation that might tale a little longer, but I'll try to get it by Monday or so.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Someone a lot Smarter than Me (17)

"I am a great believer in luck, and find that the harder I work the more of it I have."

Thomas Jefferson

This was my dad's favorite quote. So actually that's two people a lot smarter than me. Dad was the best storyteller I've ever known; everything I know about spinning a tale I learned from him. He died 10 years ago last Friday and there's still hardly a day goes by when I don't think of him. And, with that as inspiration, I'll get back to work. Because the harder I work the more luck I have.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Heads Up!

Important lesson for today. Backup your files.

A week ago my son Max spilled Coke on the laptop computer. It's now a former computer. Not sure what it is, but what it's not is a computer.

I have multiple backups of Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter, including the most recent revision I sent to Eddie the Agent. I've also got multiple copies of Chance stored in a couple of places. One of these days soon I'm going to take a look at revising that. I think I know what it needs.

What I did not have was a backed up copy of my work in progress (WIP, as it's called) Scurvy Dogs. Not, at least, a copy that would be easy to recover. There were the hard copies of each chapter that I had e-mailed to Tori for reading to her class, but that would mean retyping the whole thing. And there is the possibility that it exists somewhere in her e-mail account, chapter by chapter, although she's pretty good about cleaning out her in box, and in my sent file. So it wasn't completely lost, but looked like it would be a pain in the ass to recover.

I got lucky, if anything that involves a popular soft drink and the innards of a computer can be lucky. The technician who told me, "Yep, it's dead," was able to pull up the hard drive long enough for me to pull off a couple of files, including the full copy of Scurvy Dogs. So I dodged that bullet.

While I work out how to replace the computer I'm working on either my daughter Kate's PC and a 6-year-old iMac we got for daughter Alex when she went off to college. Either way, I get frustrated fairly easily. I can do everything I used to be able to do on the MacBook, but everything takes longer and is more complicated. And moving back and forth between computers is not easy. I have lost pieces of chapters that way. Should be easy, but it's not.

I did write a really good chapter this week, had some funny bits with the grandfather snoring, and a shipwreck and some unknown person shooting at our heroes. So it was pretty exciting and the kids were hanging on every word when I read it to them. Feeling very good about the story.

But before you do anything else today, back up your important files! I am reminded of the very first computer class I ever took, the opening of a three-day workshop back in 1990. During the intro the guy said, "Back up your files every day, because your computer hates you and is always looking for a way to piss you off. If you don't back up your files it will crash and you'll lose everything. But if you do, it knows it can't hurt you that way, so it won't bother crashing." (Same guy also said, "No one ever learned anything by pressing 'cancel' in a dialogue box." Not related to this, but I've always loved the advice.)

So back up your files. Do it now. You never know when that can of Coke is gonna hit the keyboard. That's why the call them accidents.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Terror on the Road to – San Francisco

This is the second in a sporadic series of posts based on my admonition that you should "make personal legends out of horrid experiences." It's all part of creating the mythic persona you want to project as you go out to sell your writing – and yourself. Sometimes bad things happen, but if you're lucky at least the bad things can make a good story if you tell them right.

Or as I said in last year's post, there
is an upside to the "Abject Poverty Book Tour." It can be funny, once you get home and get some perspective. As I said, "Ask us about Modesto, or San Francisco, or Yachats." And a friend challenged me t tell the stories.

The first "business trip" Mark and I took was told last year in the Yachats story. While Yachats didn't go perfectly, it was a picnic beside the trip to San Francisco about a year later.

This is the story of our very first ever book signing event.

It came about shortly after Mark and I (Cap'n Sappy and Ol' Chumbucket, in our pirate guises) had self-published Well Blow Me Down. We had arranged to have our first reading at a shop called 826 Valencia in S.F. Long story short, it's actually a reading program that turns kids who can barely read into really good writers. It operates citywide out of a storefront at that address, 826 Valencia, in downtown San Francisco. In a pirate themed store, oddly enough. A pretty cool one.

Mark and I drove down on a Saturday for the Sunday event. The plan was to get to the Bay area, then stop at a hotel just before crossing the Bay Bridge into S.F. It was a good plan. But we were making such great time we didn't want to stop. Mark was at the wheel as we drove through Berkeley and Oakland, no problem, so we decided to drive on into the city and find a hotel room there. We got onto the Bay Bridge – and traffic stopped dead.

I mean, I've been in parking spaces where the traffic moved faster. It was solid, unmoving, lane after lane of no motion. Every now and then cars would creep a few feet forward and stop again. It took almost two hours to cross that bridge.

As we crawled down the slope of the bridge into the city, we could see that things ahead of us were even worse. There was just this huge mass of humanity – some in cars and some on foot – and the whole mass seemed to be: a) directly in front of us, blocking our way, and b) happy to be right where they were and not even slightly interested in moving.

I got out the cell phone and called Tori back home in Albany. This was the early days of cell phone and we had bought the thing specifically for this trip, thinking it might come in handy. We had been right.

I explained the situation to Tori, who went on line to check things out. When she came back, she had an explanation.

It was Gay Pride Day.

Yes, we had unknowingly driven into San Francisco on Gay Pride Day, the biggest urban festival on the city's calendar. One of the biggest urban festivals anywhere, and certainly one of the most boisterous and colorful. By Tori's reckoning, the big parade had just ended. The hundreds of thousands of people thronging the streets in front of us were all trying to find their cars and drive. On the best of days S.F. is almost impossible to drive in. On Gay Pride Day? We were screwed.

My first thought was just to get us out of the traffic mess. Mark is a good driver, but he wasn't handling the absolute chaos of the moment well. This is when I learned that Mark does not react well to stressful traffic.

The impassable traffic seemed to run north-south but not very far west. If we could get across one or two streets we'd be clear of most of it. So I urged him forward – straight ahead. Somehow we got across the first intersection. The next was much easier. By now Mark was driving in a kind of horrified fury and swearing a lot. I'd never seen him like this. We weren't sure exactly where we were and had no idea where we were going, but at least we were going. If we kept going west we'd hit the ocean eventually. So that's what I kept telling him. He mostly answered with a series of snarls and oaths, and repeatedly vowed we would never return to 'Frisco. Ever.

At least that's how I remember it. He may have a different recollection, but this is my blog.

Meanwhile, Tori had been busy online She called back and told us she had a hotel reservation for us near the S.F. airport. It was not only the last room at that particular hotel – it was the last available room in San Francisco. All we had to do was find it.

We made it to the city's west coast and turned south trying to reach the airport. I won't relate the whole brutal ordeal. It took another two hours and a pretty serious "we're lost" moment before we finally got there. Towards the end I remember we could see the hotel, maybe half a mile away, but the road we were on did not go there and didn't connect to any road that did.

When we finally got there the hotel bar was closed, which was inexcusable. But after we got something to eat across the street and a six pack of beer from the convenience store our spirits started to rise. After all, the next day we'd have a reading. With fans. Buying our book!

But the Gay Pride traffic was only the beginning of a memorable trip. The next day had its own amazing moments. And I've written enough already, so I'll save the rest of the tale for another post.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Thoughts as I head out the door

Just a few notes before I head out the door. Gotta cover the Senate again but this shouldn't be too bad. A hearing on alternative energy options for the VI. Maybe 15 minutes of actual information and an hour s so of political posturing and pontificating. I'll be out of there before noon.

Fingers crossed: I sent Eddie the Agent the latest final draft of Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter. I really think he'll like it. I certainly hope he thinks it's good enough to start selling, because I'm ready to be sold.

Moving on: Now it's back to work on Scurvy Dogs! Haven't been able to work up a head of steam on it yet because there's been all those other things. But with Chrissie off my desk – at least for now – and my Source colleague due back on island so I won't be picking up so many extra assignments, I should be able to give it the attention it deserves.

Taking a Chance: Thinking about Chance, the first YA novel I wrote, the one that hasn't sold, that's going to need some serious work. It's a good story, I like it a lot. And some great characters, including Cooley and Captain Felix O'Toole – who was inspired by going to a Who concert. Before then, he was a generic pirate. During "You'd Better You Bet" I turned to Tori and said, "I have to rewrite Felix O'Toole so Roger Daltry will want to play him in a movie!" It helped the book a lot. Chance was also a great learning experience. And in thinking it over I realized how much of it I incorporated into Chrissie. They're different stories, but they both involve 14 year olds at sea 300 years ago. It was inevitable that Chrissie would have borrowed from her big brother Chance. So I'll need to go over it carefully to separate them again.

That'll have to do. Gotta hit the shower before I run cover the politicos.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Better late than never? I think not

Got a response yesterday from an agent. One of the scores I had queried in my search.

It was the usual, "Pardon this form response but we get so many that if we're going to reply in a timely manner ... blah blah blah ... doesn't fit our needs ... blah blah blah ... perhaps another agent ... etc."

I looked it up in the list I kept of every agent queried and their response. Wow. Turns out I queried this agency last June, eight months ago. I'd hate to think how long a reply would have taken if they hadn't used the form response! And that was an agency that didn't request any pages so it's not like they had a long manuscript to wade through. Just the query, which I kept under 400 words.

I thanked them for their reply and said indeed, another agent had signed me, six months ago. No reason to be any cattier than that. Karma, don't you know.

But for future reference, if more than, say, four months have gone by, you can safely delete it and move on. Because I sure did.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Finished, Again, for Now

Finished the revision of Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter that Eddie the Agent requested. I'll be sending him the latest draft as soon as Tori has had a chance to eyeball it one more time.

It's pretty good, and almost 5,000 words shorter. Some chiseled away carefully, word by word, letter by letter. Others hacked out in mass purges where I realized the scene might be very nice, might be particularly well written (usually not) or amusing or interesting, but had nothing to do with advancing the story. Again, that's gotta be one of your top rules – know what the story is and don't put in anything that doesn't advance it.

And it really amazed me a couple of times. Tori had marked a couple of places, underlining the text where she thought the writing wasn't right, the tone was off or I was wordy, or she could hear Morgan Freeman. And almost every time I realized the writing was clumsy because it didn't advance the story. It was superfluous – just me showin' off how smart I am, I'm afraid – that it stuck out like the cliched sore thumb. I was supposed t leave those underlined so she could find them again after I finished and see if the fixes worked any better. Instead, I was able to just whack almost all of them out. It wasn't that the writing was so bad. It's that they didn't belong in the book.

So she'll give it one more look, then I'll send it off to Eddie in the morning and get back to work on Scurvy Dogs! And commence waiting anxiously for his reaction to the changes. And I don't pretend to believe it's now perfect. It's much better, I really believe, but I'm not stupid. I know there's a long way to go, and probably several more revisions.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Is it Friday already?

Is it Friday already? What a week.

Last week I wrote a chapter of Scurvy Dogs! that Tori's class loved (including two great pirate names) and almost finished the revision of Chrissie Warren. This week has been almost all about the Source. Wednesday I covered two Senate hearings and Thursday I covered one all-day Senate hearing on the closure of Hovensa. The Senators were grilling company executives and apparently weren't listening to each other because they asked many of the same questions over and over. The CEO of the company had to tell them how many people he employed four different times, and that information has been in all the media and common knowledge for more than a week. And that wasn't the dumbest thing the senators said. There's a reason they're politicians, not business people.

And to make it worse, Tuesday night I somehow came down with a massive cold. I went from everything's fine to barely able to breathe in a matter of minutes, and I've been fighting it ever since. Sitting through two days of political grandstanding by our elected officials while fighting this cold practically made my head explode.

Now I'm back to work. I'll have Chrissie finished this weekend. Except my brain won't quit working. Driving home the other say I suddenly thought – Wait! What if the book starts there! Just cut all that stuff in front. I'd have to do some serious rewriting, create a couple of new ... "

I told myself to shut up. The book is good. Almost done. If Eddie the Agent still thinks it needs something, I'll suggest that. But right now it think it needs to be finished.

Hamlet. What if we cut the first couple of acts and start it with Hamlet killing Polonius? You see, it never stops.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

I have to fire Morgan Freeman

Morgan Freeman is a wonderful actor, maybe America's most beloved these days.

But I have to fire him.

Not that I actually hired him in the first place. And not that he knows he's working for me.

It's all about point of view. I am writing Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter, from Chrissie's point of view. Nothing happens that she doesn't know about, and everything that does we see from her POV. Most of the time. Almost.

Last night Tori was pointing out a couple of place in the first few chapters where the POV shifted to the classic omniscient narrator. The writing also took on a slightly different tone.

She told me, "When I read it, I hear Morgan Freeman narrating, like in the penguin movie."

Then she read a couple of passages. Something you should know about Tori is she's a great mimic, she can do some of our friends so well that if you weren't looking at her talking you'd swear they were in the room. And last night she was doing it with Morgan Freeman. I could hear him saying, "It was in that guise late one afternoon in September that she passed three young men launching a skiff. She paid them no mind until she heard a voice she recognized."


"In the years that followed that was the pattern of Chrissie's life ... Her father came and went, sailing into port, staying a few weeks or months and then shipping out again. Chrissie was always happy to see him when he arrived and sad when he left. She loved his swagger, the way his eyes lit up when he first saw her and exclaimed over how tall she’d grown. She loved listening to his stories, his voice filled with mystery and wonder."

It's a little too flowery, a little too narrated. And thanks to Tori it's a little too Morgan Freeman. So I'm going to have to let him go. Which means of course that I have to rework those passages so they’re Chrissie's POV. It'll work. And it'll make the stry wrk so much better.

But when someone decides to make a movie of the book? There's one character, Nathan, an old Caribbean fisherman, that Morgan's perfect for.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Revision finished; Fear faced

How could I have thought it was done? How could I have thought it was finished before?

I completed the revision of Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter, and it's a good job, I think. I'm waiting to hear what Tori (My Trusted Reader) has to say before I ship it off to Eddie the Agent, but I think it answers all the questions and problems.

As I worked – at the end it was three solid days, hardly moving from the keyboard – I kept asking myself that question. Why didn't I see this? How could I have missed making that connection? What the hell was that doing in the story?

Eddie the Agent wanted me to compress the first six chapters into three. I did not. It seemed like almost everything I tried to trim out made the story flat, uninteresting. I shortened and tightened it a little, but the problem, I realized, was that not enough happened in those chapters. Not the right things, anyway. So I actually crammed more in, more detail, more action, before the main character makes the choice she has to make, and did it in slightly less space. Because the details tell you why she makes that choice, so how can you just throw it away? You can't.

That, of course led to other issues. The scene with her father giving her a brooch from India on her birthday was a nice one, but it didn't advance the story so I took it out. But if Dan doesn't give her the brooch before he leaves, she can hardly bring it with her when she goes to find him, can she? Things like that. How could I have gone two years without realizing that the guy she meets in the tavern on Nevis should be connected to the problem she had earlier in Hampton – they can't be two, unrelated things, they've gotta mirror each other, or what's the point of either scene?

That's the question you've gotta keep asking yourself. What' the point of this scene? How does it tell my story? And if it doesn't, cut it out. It may be the most beautiful or wonderful or action-packed scene ever written, but if it doesn't tell your story, what the hell is it doing in the book?

So the book is a little tighter, 84,468 words now, compared to the 85,086 words I had foolishly labeled as the "final" draft last year. And there may be another draft or two before all this is over, I recognize that. Who was it who said, "A book is never finished. It's eventually shipped off to a publisher, but it's never finished."

But the biggest thing – I faced my fear. I don't know if I beat it, but I faced it.

I wrote last year about a visiting author with great lessons for Tori's fifth graders – and for me. I bought a couple of his books including "Wiff and Dirty George," a chapter book for I would guess third/fourth graders.

The two boys in the book are about 9 or 10. There's also a girl of that age in the story and the boys are painfully, shyly, comically aware of her and the fact that she's a girl.

That is more sexual tension than I wrote in either of my two YA novels. And that's a problem.

Because YA readers, middle school and high school students mostly, want a little romance, want a little sexual tension. Especially the girls. Not sex, good god no! Not romance even. Just that heightened awareness you get when you notice someone for the first time. That flutter in the gut. That tingle.

And that, my friends, is my greatest fear as a writer. My Achilles heel. I'm trying to write about a 14-year-old girl noticing a guy for the first time in her life and how that makes her feel. Next month I'll be 57. I'm a guy. The flutter in my gut is definitely not puppy love.

I am not writing a passionate teenage love story. This isn't Twilight, only with pirates instead of vampires. This is the story of a girl who sets off to rescue her father from pirates, and on the way meets a young sailor who makes her kind of flutter inside and she's not sure why. I've raised a few teenage girls in my life, and I am confident they can and will fill in the blanks.

I think I handled it OK, but I'll wait and see what Tori has to say about it before I ship it back to Eddie the Agent. Then he'll try to sell it, and then I'll find out how close it is to finished.