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.