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.