Monday, December 27, 2010

So this was 2010

During our road trip to Virginia for Christmas, the Charlie Brown theme song played over the radio a number of times. Actually the song is called "Linus and Lucy", but you know what I mean. Mom was riding shotgun and Crystal was in the backseat with her headphones on.

I kept my eyes on the road but I did engage in the head-bobbing Snoopy dance as we headed down I-95. Mom played air-piano along with the tune. This was repeated again on our return trip with me bouncing up and down in my seat.

Yep, that's my family.

The snowstorm cut short our visit to Virginia but it was good to see Melody, Joseph and the boys. I got all my nephews personal dog tags engraved with virtues I feel are important. It's funny how kids repeat the things you say even if they have no idea what the words mean. I'm sure Joshua has already stopped saying "You wanna do some shots?", but it was funny for me while it lasted.

As 2010 winds down, I am looking toward some big changes. I will deliver Black Saturday in January to my editor and then it will go to the publishers to haggle over. That is a good way to start 2011 I think.

But I would be remiss if I did not speak on the departure of Pepper and Paulie from the family.

It was no easy decision to put Pepper to sleep.

video

I remember when she first came to our house, she whined and cried night and day. She was a feisty puppy and prone to escaping her leash to run amok in other people's yards. Her pale blue eyes could hold you in place until she started nuzzling you to scratch behind her ears. Watching her bound through the snow was an endless source of fun especially when she chased poor Paulie, who did his best to flee on his short legs.

Paulie was a stray who wandered in from the streets. He was clever, fiercely loyal and reminded me of Courage the Cowardly Dog. But Pauly was a very brave little potbellied mutt and he adored my Mom. Giving him away for adoption was for the best given all circumstances.

video

That said, I still don't like it. It's just how it is.

So what did I learn in 2010? Life and family are ever evolving constants ;-) That I make some pretty tasty pumpkin-flavored creme brulee. And that confidence in my work + a great high concept sells books.

P.S. I will comment about what I think went wrong with Caprica and Stargate Universe in a separate post. These were high-concept genre shows that stumbled in their execution.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

That frosty time of year

Getting ready for the drive to Richmond. Looking forward to seeing the army of nephews. And I suppose it's OK that my sister is there too. :-P

I'm sure we'll all have a fine time together. Bringing the laptop for some more edits. I think I have a decent editor to work with and will send along the entirety of Black Saturday for the full review. If I stay on target, I'll move on to the next stage by end of January. (agents, then submission to the four acquisition editors who asked for a look).

That's really about it for now. I have to get cracking!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Auditioning editors

I haven't blogged much of late because I'm working on rewrites! :-P

Sent a piece of the manuscript to an editor for their "audition". Should hear back from them before Thanksgiving. We'll see if I work with them on the entire manuscript.

Every now and then someone asks me if I am self-publishing.

Let me be clear, the answer is NO.

I'm diving in among the sharks and going after established publishing houses including the ones I pitched in September.

When someone who works with A-list authors wants to see your work, you DO NOT SELF-PUBLISH. I am very tempted to namedrop but that is a quick way to jinx yourself (and probably get blacklisted).

I caught up with one of the guys from my pitch group, he is doing great on his rewrites. Pretty interesting high concept he has going. The conference really gave a lot of us a push and guidance we needed. Sometimes you just need a pro from the industry to say "this project sounds promising" to motivate you.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What I would like to see happen next in America...

Midterm elections are a wrap.

Congress, if you are indeed the voice of the people, you must get to work.

I want to see a plan that will drive strong momentum. A plan with bipartisan support. A plan people do not bicker over.

What do working families want? What do small businesses, the proverbial life's blood of the economy, need to grow again?

A quick, popular answer is to slash taxes. Get more money back in working people's pockets. My worry is, in general, we've done this in the past but eventually we ended up where we are now.

I want a plan that steers us away from the bad habits that led to the current state of affairs.


BEHAVIOR

In a previous post I spoke about introducing curriculum on personal economics at the pre-college level. We must foster the mindset of sticking to a budget much earlier in life, in every class room.

$500 in your pocket - $1,000 television = "I can't afford that."

I speak from experience: Trying to navigate life without a sense of personal budgeting is highly damaging to your future.

Some people say we don't do a good enough job of educating our youths, that we push some students along just to get them out of the system. How about we make it clear to students that their education is not only about broadening the mind for the sake of intelligence, but to provide the tools needed to live. It sounds simple enough but getting students on board is the hard part. Some people think they can "just get by" or that they have no opportunities available to them.

Others think we should let people make their own life decisions. Well, yeah, they are going to make those decisions eventually but before we see another generation caught up in another financial crisis, give them the right tools to make those decisions.

I hope the day comes where no one graduates high school without knowing how to budget their own spending.

Because the high school kids grow into adults, adults that will be in the workforce, own companies and hold public office.

Information is not a handout for the poor. It is reorientation of priorities. Show people how to function in this economy. No, we are NOT getting the job done in this regard. Making a decent living and providing for a family is not intuitive anymore. Reassess the basics to make the ground floor clear to all. Because right now people have their hands in the air in surrender with no idea what to do. They don't even know where to start rebuilding their lives.

You don't need a committee to figure this out. Make this part of grade school math. Make it relevant to real life. It won't solve everything, but it's a start.


GOVERNMENT POLICY & SPENDING

Here is where I lose most of you. Because my idea is more like triage than anything else.

First, stop all spending. ALL OF IT. From local to national government. Even the Post Office. Shut it all down for one week. Why? Give the people a look at life under an absolute absence of a material government.

No military operations. No cops. No fire department. No road construction. No state-funded schools. Lock the prisons then send the guards home. If it takes government dollars to get it done, you have to give it up for one week.

This also means no government regulation of any kind anywhere. Let the markets run totally free. Let businesses operate however they see fit. No checks and balances to keep people honest.

Let's see how we all behave on those terms. One week. Just one.

We need some pause, a chance to remember what is important and necessary. At the end of that week, you will have people shouting from mountaintops about what they really need. Not the pork and political favors that screw everything up. I am talking raw basics. Force ourselves to admit what we really need to live... and fight for it.

How about this scenario? We limit government oversight of companies, cut regulatory costs and let businesses mostly self-monitor with a caveat.

Give companies the chance to prove they don't need someone at their shoulders. Some people complain OSHA and the EPA for example go too far. Fine, we pull all that back and see how things go without someone to keep companies honest... but increase the consequences if you get caught.

No more inspections. No more regular reports to government commissions. HOWEVER, if your company ever gets caught breaking the law, you lose your company. shut down and broken up into smaller parts. Assets divided among your peers. Government gets nothing.

"But without inspectors, how would you enforce this rule?"

I will get back to you on that. My ideas are half-baked.

Here's another idea: In lieu of taxing the public, let government sell more of its services to pay its own damn bills. Something that creates funds for the public rather than takes it from our pockets. If we don't want taxes, the government should generate ALL of its own funds in a competitive market.


INDUSTRY

We have become victims of our own efficiency. We create systems that make our trades obsolete. Our brains are currently stuck on apps for smartphones. the public is crazed about apps, but how the heck is an app going to drive the economy?

Seriously, the gadget market offers prosperity for a very narrow part of the populous. The rest of us are just users. Someone once described smartphones as adult pacifiers. We coo and gurgle at each new feature, but at the end of the day these devices are just a means of being connected to others. You still have to DO something with yourself.

We have to embrace new uses for our skills. We must transition to new lines of production for goods that are necessary and vital to our lives. This effects me personally as I wonder how much longer print media will be around. Newspapers, magazines and books... written content will always exist but the necessity of paper is vanishing and with it goes the revenue models we were accustomed too.

Am I naive? Maybe. But I know what it means to take drastic action for change and we are not there yet. We may be scared but we have got to dive in with bold ideas AND not expect everything to simply be the same as it was. Don't be afraid to embrace the new.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Alas... CAPRICA

Not even Gaius-Frakking-Baltar could weasel his way out of the ratings hole Caprica plummeted into.

Viewership for the show dwindled faster than the human population during the final Cylon attack on the Twelve Colonies. With SyFy pulling the show with complete episodes yet to be aired, it speaks to a big shift at the network.

Caprica was an ambitious effort, something of a family drama in a science fiction setting. However, the show had issues with momentum. The characters and concept were smart but they just did not push you enough to keep watching.

It was probably a tough sell for fans of Battlestar Galactica who wanted a higher mix of action.

BSG hooked you with the character tension combined with the very real threat of humanity's extermination. Caprica did not have those kinds of stakes per se.

BSG and Caprica were very different shows, but there is a lesson to glean here in storytelling.

One of my favorite moments from BSG was the standoff between the Galactica and Pegasus. The last two military ships capable of defending humanity against the Cylons almost blew each other up because the stubborn commanding officers could not coexist. I remember my eyes went wide when both crews launched fighters ready to shoot it out.

BSG held your attention because of the internal and external threats, but moreover you wanted to see who survived.

You need to have some empathy for the people you are watching and the chatter I hear points to trouble connecting with some of Caprica's cast. They all had great layers of complexity. But the "higher concept" did not deliver enough to keep people watching.

In the end, the final blend must be greater than the sum of the characters' parts. Another prequel to BSG is in the works that will revive the action elements. Here's hoping it's enough to lure people back to the franchise.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Critiques and edits

I am going to take an editor for a test run on Black Saturday.

Before I hire them for a full review, I am giving their general critique services a try. This is the getting to know you, first date stage. It will help me determine their editorial proficiency and whether I want to work long-term with them.

To clear up any confusion, this is not one of the editors from the publishing houses who requested my novel. This is an editor hired to help improve the novel before it is submitted to the publishing houses.

Editor "A" helps clear up plotting, prose, etc. before you send the work to the publishing house.

After a good polishing from Editor "A", you get an agent lined up to represent your work to Editor "B" at the publishing house.

Though several acquisitions editors requested a read, Black Saturday must first be prepared for professional consumption.

Got all that? :-)

I know it sounds confusing but this helps avoid having egg on my face when I submit my work.

Because you know how I am about typos.

This means I will be out of the loop for a while...again.

BUT I think I might throw party in early November. Be hungry.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

I like voting. I hate politics. I'll pass on the latte.

In a few weeks voters will march to balloting centers across country and make their opinions known. I have always encouraged folks to vote, even if they have staunchly different views than mine. Government should not be homogeneous. If you fill a room with people who always agree with each other, you run the risk of stagnation. Diversity of ideas is necessary for a people to grow and innovate.

While I am a fan of voting, politics irritates me. Politics isn't even about government. Politics is about repaying favors, cutting sneaky deals and building influence.

These days I see and hear a lot of rhetoric based on politics.

How about we focus on what needs to get done rather than political agendas?

Here is what I would like to see, but doubt will happen:

Efficiency in place of bureaucracy. Responsibility in place of blame. Progress in place of false punditry.

This is commentary on the system, not a pitch for any party.

A great uproar has been made lately about which party controls the country. That is a distraction. Regardless of the party that fills the most chairs, government office is based on responsibility to the people. At least that is what it is supposed to be.

I've said this before and I will say it again: Even if your candidate does not win, your well-being is still the responsibility of those elected to office. Different groups may offer different ideas, but the big picture is supposed to be the same.

Do not wait until someone more to your liking gets elected. Push the issues you believe in. Demand, with proper courtesy, to be heard. If you spend your time grumbling but take no action, you become part of the problem. Keep moving forward and do not let those who scream the loudest sway you. The problems we have with the economy affect everyone, it just plays out differently for different folks.

For example, I watched a story about a man who lost his home to foreclosure proceedings that are now being called into question. On the advice of his attorney, the man took a hammer and attempted to break into the house which he claimed is rightfully his. The police arrested the man for busting in the window, etc. He quickly made bail and was released.

Before you rush to cheer this fellow as some sort of hero, this was a multimillion dollar home. The story did not reveal if the man had other properties that he owned. By all appearances, he was not "out on the streets".

So how did this seemingly affluent fellow lose that house? Unfortunately the story focused on the break-in attempt with little backstory. We can assume any number of things with the end result that he and his wife were overextended financially.

I have a hard time relating to millionaires who lose it all. I don't get how, for example, one of those Real Housewives filed for bankruptcy protection, auctioned items from her house then asked for and apparently got new diamonds for her wedding anniversary.

Yeah, life is REAL hard for her.

That example illustrates what I believe is the core problem that has held the economy back. This expectation of the party continuing without disruption is preposterous. If I have to listen to one more person in flip-flops sipping a latte make a quip about "survival of the fittest" . . .

If your big concern in life is what brand of champagne is in your mimosa, trust me, you probably will be okay. Or at least you should be if you took responsibility for their money instead of spending rampantly.

And I can use myself as an example here. I was deeply in debt several years ago, under the weight of high interest rates. I had to learn a different way of living, one where I became in charge of my finances rather than the other way around. I took drastic measures and cleared my debt, all of it.

That is what I think is missing from a lot of the political shouting. We all need to make better financial choices. Some folks have already done a good job of this. Some simply do not have the basic information needed to properly sustain themselves. Their is nothing intuitive about today's economy. Getting up and going to work is not enough anymore.

We created a system that requires much more forethought than we admit is necessary. How do we fix it? For starters, high school classes such as home economics should be about ECONOMICS rather than how to sew pillows or bake cookies. Teach people early on about creating a personal budget, credit, debt and nonvolatile ways of building equity. You should not be allowed to graduate high school without knowing these basics.

But there are others out there who do know better, are still partying like rock stars and don't want to pay their own bills. And if you tell me that kind of bad, excessive behavior is what our economy is built on because we are entitled to be irresponsible, we are SO SCREWED and it won't matter which party is in office.


P.S. The more I watch the political ads and debates from around the country, the more I see gamesmanship bent on winning rather than honest clear plans for good governance.

People aren't flinging mud, these are firebombs. And that includes independent parties. Showing people you are fired up about change doesn't mean you forget the purpose of political office. We all want a stronger economy but the pettiness of the rhetoric I hear makes me think these are tantrum-prone children running for office.

Monday, October 11, 2010

October...


One of my favorite times of year. There is a fresh produce stand within walking distance of my place. They have ginormous pumpkins as well as plenty of fruits and veggies. I might carve up a jack-o-lantern. Haven't done that in a few years.

So I am not going to the Celtic isles for Halloween as hoped. Between looking after Mom and the sudden demand for my book, it just was not going to work out. Thought about a repeat trip to New Orleans for the vampire ball, but if I flew there I should have gone all the way to Scotland.

I am sure I can find some outrageous Halloween gathering in Manhattan or elsewhere.

This past Saturday at the Liberty States Fiction Writers meeting, the guest was Mark Sarro, founder and lead investigator of the Chester County Paranormal Research Society. Sarro talked about a few of his experiences and notable sites of hauntings such as Gettysburg.

I've been to Gettysburg, it was a pretty happy time. Stayed at the Herr Tavern, I think. They had a great bananas foster cheesecake. Took in a ghost tour as well as other history stops. I don't have the video of the trip anymore but I remember the stories. The thing is most ghost stories are extensions of real history. You don't have to believe in the supernatural at all, the real interesting part comes from what the tale reflects about the actual people and events of the day.

I think I mentioned in a prior post I found some commonality between the ghost stories in Gettysburg with the stories I heard down in Fredericksburg, Va. Both towns saw major Civil War battles but not every ghost story is about a battle.

Sarro said some interesting things about TV shows about ghosts. There is a lot of hokum in the media these days done to boost ratings. Some shows have investigators that try to "bully" ghosts by trash-talking them. That's just sad on so many levels.

But Sarro said even Ghost Hunters, which has a decent reputation, has been caught in staged chicanery.

Anyway, this month is fueling me with energy for those rewrites on Black Saturday. Got a suggestion on a possible editor to hire to comb through my novel. I want to be in a position by December to send the book to those who requested a look.

I am considering hosting a pre-holiday season party. I have a number of new recipes I'd like to whip up and yes there will be dessert. I must redeem myself for the Labor Day brownie fiasco. I know people still ate and enjoyed them, but I can do better.

I'd like to take a crack at making different pies, flavored creme brulee, serving up some mulled wine and even some homemade egg nog. My thinking is the longer things remain tough with the economy, the more I should try to do good things for folks I know. Keep your calendars handy, I will pick a day soon.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Let the cutting begin

So I am in a tussle with the narrative for Black Saturday (nee Heritage Fields nee Heritage House). My way of telling the story is very confusing for others. There are a lot of POV characters and I am trying to narrow it down without losing the scope of who they are in the context of the story.

I want to give the book the feel of a town and not just one guy you have to watch clip his toenails and floss his teeth. However, Randall does need to play a more cohesive role.

I was afraid to centralize the novel too much on him because I want to introduce real threats to his existence and that means the narrative would have to shift to another perspective.

I am not a fan of books that include both a third-person narrative for subordinate characters and first-person for the protagonist. That's just too jarring for me. Which is why I am sticking with third-person throughout.

But, there must be some cutting. The draft needs streamlining. I just need to remind myself that multiple editors in Manhattan WANT to see this novel. :-)

They asked for it and, by golly, I'm gonna give it to 'em!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Where do we go from here...

Planting my feet back on the ground, it's time to think long-term about what lies ahead.

I need to work on the book A LOT. My draft is not a winner yet. It was firmly suggested I find an editor-for-hire who has also been a writer who can pick apart the story from top to bottom. Then I will reach out to agents with the preface that my work has been requested by specific editors from specific publishing houses.

After all that, I will submit my novel. It's not a race per se. The conference was a big step in validating my effort but it does not mean I get a contract, at least not immediately.

So I must get back to the primary work at hand, catch up on a lot stuff I let slip.

This does mean though, if I dig in, keep cool and continue making smart moves... this book will get published with more to follow.


So this is how I pitched my book at the conference with the changes and additions in parentheses:

Black Saturday (was Heritage Fields but no one liked that title) is an urban fantasy (originally I said a mix of Dennis Lehane's Mystic River but I was told to go with Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake series instead) with Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. I envision this as a continuing series. (editors want to know you have more than one book in you.)

Randall Toussaint left his hometown, Hapsburg, Pennsylvania, before the lure of magic landed him in jail or worse. Mages in the slums use their skills to pull small cons. The wealthy warlocks in town crave arcane power, use it to pawn off emotional guilt but someone always ends up taking the fall. Randall went “legit” as a corporate spin doctor, what seemed the perfect fit for someone who grew up brewing hoodoo and moonshine in his basement and ran confidence games on street corners.

Hapsburg is a town with three faces: The warlocks rule the evergreen estates, tourists enjoy ghost tours in Middle Village and the back alley mages sell talismans in the slums called Silt Town. (I left out this background originally)

When Randall’s cousin, Chaka, disappears in those slums, the d├ętente among rival mages begins to unravel. Chaka is a prodigy who pulled off the greatest trick of all: He raised the dead in the flesh without facing divine wrath.

Myla, head of the Toussaint family and Chaka's sister, demands Randall take up the search regardless of who gets in the way. (You must show there is a strong female element in the book if the protagonist is not a woman)

Chaka’s secret could erode the borders of magic and death, but not even the man who put a bullet in his head knows where he is. Now Randall must scour the town for the enemy threatening to destroy his family.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Well, don't I feel silly for whining the day before

I have to accept the fact that the market will always have its higher demands and no, my ideas will not always fit them. YA (young adult) is a hot market and you know what, I could REALLY sell Riding Ten Thunders to that audience. But that is a pitch for another day.

I have validation for Heritage Fields (the title is changing but let's keep things consistent for the purpose of this blog).

I know what comes next: Rewrites and repackaging the story to make it marketable. Lots of changes are ahead to keep my foot in the door. I have to pry it wide open, take advantage of this opportunity.

I still don't know what the heck I am doing, but so far so good! I will chat more later about the folks I have met during the course of this conference. That is a conversation for another day.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Chasing the money

There is a phrase in the entrepreneurial world called "chasing the money" which essentially means focusing your business on markets you have a high probability of getting sales. This also tends to mean not trying original ideas

It seems that I am NOT "chasing the money" when it comes to writing.

My pitch today struck a chord, which was good, but to have the group moderator vehemently steer me to the Young Adult audience...

That is not the product I am working on. None of the context works for a youth audience. The characters, setting, dialogue... these are grown folks and it would reduce the effectiveness of the story to handle it otherwise.

A YA story would have to start from scratch. Period.

Would you try to rework a Laurell Hamilton or Jim Butcher book and peg it to the YA audience?

If the editors I meet this weekend ONLY want YA fantasy material, I have nothing they want.

My book just doesn't work without the adult setting unless you want to lobotomize and sterilize the whole fucking thing.

Yeah, I am a touched pissed off about now. If publishers wonder why they don't sell more books, maybe they need to stop chasing trends and start leading trends instead.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Algonkian Conference is less than a day away

Tomorrow begins the four-day pitch conference. You get no points for just showing up. No one will pat me on the head for trying. Everyone selected to attend believes they have a moneymaker and you're damn right I feel the same about Heritage Fields.

The conference starts at 9AM sharp tomorrow and runs throughout the day. This will give me a crash course in the morning commute to Manhattan.

I am not as anxious as I am determined. You will not hear much from me until it is over unless there is some dramatic breaking news.

But let's keep our feet on the ground. This is competitive business.

There is a piece of strategy you should adopt when facing insurmountable odds. I forget if it is from the Book of Five Rings or the Art of War.

When outnumber and defeat seems certain, destroy your own wagons and remove the possibility of escape. Thus your soldiers will fight harder to achieve victory.

I'm paraphrasing but the sentiment is clear. Do not allow yourself to retreat. Move forward and win.

So... I am going to sell a book!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

In the homestretch for the pitch conference

The conference is almost here and I am surprisingly not nervous. That could change during the train ride into the city.

After some much needed cleaning around The Dojo, I will get back to sharpening my pitch. Even if I get a request from an editor to read a sample, Heritage Fields must be in top form.

I have been a bit frazzled trying to find the right work-life balance, but I think after this week I will have better clarity.

At the very least I can resolve my Halloween plans!

P.S.

Okay, I am starting to feel a touch intimidated and freaked out. I have to remember this week is about PITCHING the book, not the book itself. I have to sell it like this is the next big "thing". The publishing world, much like newspapers, remains fiercely competitive. Even a face-to-face meeting means nothing in the end if the person doesn't "get" the story.

I took time off from work to attend this conference and I suspect it will be an intense few days.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Nine years ago...

It started when I turned on the radio in my car while driving to work. The usual morning chatter was somber and concerned, almost hushed. No jokes or promotional antics. Just an indelible, yet vague description repeated among the DJs:

A plane had struck one of the Twin Towers.

Checking station after station, the magnitude of it grew. By the time I pulled into the parking deck in New Brunswick, the streets were almost silent. Before I got of my car, the second tower was hit.

Along the way to the office, I ran into one of the assistant managers from Old Man Rafferty's. I got lunch at their deli counter pretty frequently but I didn't remember the fellow's name.

"I just heard," he said in chilled shock. "They just hit the other tower."

It was a coordinated attack, that was clear. But my brain could not call up an image of what was really happening. At the time, I could not conceive such devastation taking place.

In the office, the news team gathered around the radio in the office trying to sort out details. Some of the other reporters found TVs to watch at local bars. The breadth of the attacks become more clear.

John Greenwald, our managing editor at the time, joined the newspaper just that summer and he brought a wealth of experience to the newsroom. He focused the team, got us calling people to find what information we could. It was outside what a business newspaper is expected to cover but our role was clear. We were journalist. The people needed answers. We had a job to do.

Back then, our online presence was negligible. The Internet was still establishing itself as a news platform. We publish weekly so the events of 9/11 would be days old by the time our stories reached our readers.

John shaped our plan well. We spoke to people who did business in Manhattan, found out where they were when everything happened. We asked what they did to check on their people, make sure they were safe. We spoke to people who lost colleagues and friends. We let them tell their own stories of handling a then-unimaginable day.

Many people have sought answers to what happened. We know the details of what took place, but people have a need to resolve "why?"

Here is my response: A malicious effort was made to wound this country, to scar the strong brow of the nation. The attacks were the work of cowardice, not Providence. It was spite, that man-made venom which lies in wait to strike. Throughout history, those who have committed violence have attempted to dress their actions under the color of authority. 9/11 was an act of twisted pseudo-politic flailing for legitimacy.

Providence, I say, was with the survivors. It was their rescuers. It looks after the families still coping with lost loved ones. And it shall be with all of us if we embrace our strengths and grow.

Friday, September 10, 2010

My strangest dream in years...

Last night I was pretty restless. Awoke suddenly before 5AM then tried to get back to bed.

That's when things got strange.

Suddenly I was in Manhattan, it was kind of rainy and my hat started to fall apart around my head. I grew annoyed, thought about going into a nearby shop to get another one but it also didn't feel like it was really my hat. Like my real hat was elsewhere.

From there I shifted back and forth in varying degrees of awareness. I knew I was dreaming but was also caught up in where I was.

I found myself inside what I assumed was my apartment, but in Manhattan and I was trying to go to sleep in the dream. I was exhausted in the dream and I grew confused. The apartment changed while I was in it. Suddenly there were big pots of flowers on the dining room table. The kitchen changed dimensions and the refrigerator was covered in a blue calico print.

It dim inside the apartment and then these people who seemed to know me started turning up. I did not recognize any of their faces so I grabbed a chair from the table ready to swing it at them.

I started shouting "Who are you? What are you doing here?"

I realized again I was dreaming. I remained inside the apartment but the rooms kept changing. It was much larger than my real apartment with additional rooms I was not using. It was like I was rediscovering this Manhattan apartment, or maybe it was a condo.

I could not grasp how I was connected to the strangers in the apartment but they seemed to know me. They were friendly enough and I didn't hit anyone with the chair.

But mostly I had the sensation of being tired and needing to sleep...

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Need a Plan B for Halloween

Gallivanting off to Scotland does not seem to be in the cards this year. I can do it, my passport glares at me daily demanding use.

Something in my gut tells me to stay stateside. Part of it is a desire to save cash but moreover, I have enough going on as it is.

Maybe I'll make some progress with editors and agents this month. Who knows what will happen.

BUT . . .

I will enjoy Halloween in all its outrageous glory. Where that will be remains to be seen. I could go back to New Orleans for another Endless Night Ball. There are other haunts to explore. Have top hat, will travel. Just point me at the dark, murky corner where the vamps and succubi churn their cauldrons.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The importance of personal reeducation

While at a gas station the night before, I watched a man refill a flat tire. He climbed into his car, then hopped out when the tire sagged down again.

He repeated the refilling process and spoke to someone via his Uhura-worthy Bluetooth earpiece.

"Do you think it's safe to drive?" he asked, adamantly ignorant of my headlights shining on him while I awaited a turn to get some air.

My tire looked a little squishy. I just needed to top it off. But the circus act proceeded for several minutes until the other driver finally backed his car up and let me at the air pump. I was done within 10 seconds.

As I departed, the other driver rolled toward the pump once more. At last his tire looked full. I made sure to be on my way before he got on the road.

Did he not have a spare tire? Did he not want to bother putting it on? Did he not know how to put it on? Obviously he had a wireless phone. What about AAA? Did he not understand the dangers of driving on a damaged tire? It could blow out while he drove and send him smashing into another vehicle.

He didn't patch the tire from what I could tell. Hope he got to his destination without incident, but he needed to have a better plan than that.

As an outsider, it was easy for me to point out what I thought he was doing wrong. The reality is, I didn't know what was in the guy's head.

It reminded me of some of my last conversations with my father. To recap, he saw some success and challenges in life that from an outside perspective could have been handled far differently. He was the first in the family to go to college and later owned a pharmacy. However there was no institutional knowledge within the family for him to build from. Some choices led to serious financial fallout.

When I asked about those choices, my Dad said he wasn't aware of various risks or options he could have explored. I know there is much I am still missing out on.

But it doesn't have to be this way. Here is a question I would like real responses to: If the majority of the country had a sound understanding of fiscal responsibility, would we be mired in such economic turmoil?

Ten years ago if you asked me what my FICO score was, I would have thought you were telling some sort of dirty joke.

People, myself included, who don't know the rules and risks of personal economics will fail. The basics of the personal financial system should be mandatory learning in high school education. Your credit report should be issued to you along with your W-2s every year.

Don't give me the "it's free country, survival of the fittest" stuff. I am not talking about a handout. We all need to know the rules of this game. You can't fix the problem if you don't understand that you are doing something wrong.

I consider myself a little clever, but no genius. But for all of the things I learned in high school and college, I was clueless about the structure of personal finances.

These days, things are different. The only expense currently on my credit card is the Alongkian Conference and that will be paid off before I attend my first session. I only got to this place after recognizing that I needed a lot of financial reeducation. You don't need to be an accountant to understand this stuff.

There are many other forms of reeducation I know I need, but first you must understand that you can't just refill that flat tire and get back on the road.

Monday, August 23, 2010

where things stand

Mom is at a sub-acute rehab facility "getting back on her feet". She could be there a few more days. It's a little complicated to to get into... so I won't. But she is doing better.

Made more cuts and edits to Heritage Fields. The more I think about how to market the book, the more the story is rethought. The plot remains the same but I am changing the way readers get into the story. Must get the book to sell itself, that's what editors want.

On a separate unrelated note, when clearing out contacts in your cell phone remember to also clear out the call history. That way you can avoid embarassing moments such as your [my] cell phone self-dialing in your [my] pocket when you are walking around and you call someone who does not want to be bothered by you.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Getting ready for the NYC Pitch & Shop Conference

I booked time off from work. I made my deposit. Now the only thing to get ready is...ME.

From my understanding, there will be some homework for the attendees before we show up. It sounds like I will be back in school for four days.

I've learned a lot since my last attempt at pitching. Mainly how totally unprepared I was that day. But now I am armed with a new perspective on the book and a better angle to approach the publishing world. The workshops at the conference are supposed to give attendees a serious look into the current state of affairs. The focus is on learning what the industry needs. Publishers are under intense pressure. Though e-books are available, they have not "saved the day" yet. Everyone wants a winning title to make people want to read again.

This will be a litmus test for me. Again, I will be pitching the concept. No one reads your book unless they ask to see it later. Those are the rules. You get one minute with each editor, four editors total across the course of the convention.

The naysayer might caution me that this is no guarantee of publishing. That success is a rare. But you have to try. And the list of scheduled editors makes my palms a bit sweaty because I see the potential to make my mark.

Mom doing better

My Mom is doing better, thanks for the kind wishes. Won't go into detail, but she may be at Robert Wood Johnson into tomorrow.

Sat with her for a while after work yesterday and she got to telling stories about the other patients and the hospital staff. Mom tends to pay close attention to the people around her. She's not nosy, just curious. ;-)

She likes to talk and tell stories in her "down home" way. She shares more tales of her growing up days. The stories are often shocking and amusing.

I will drop by and check up on her again today. I find that it is important to keep people's spirits up when they are sidelined by illness, especially if they land in the hospital. Giving folks hope of feeling better can be a substantial factor in recover.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Time to put up or shut up for Heritage Fields

So I got into the Pitch & Shop Conference.

Oh boy. I mentioned before, this could be a very expensive way of making a fool of myself. Or I can get a real jump on seeing Heritage Fields in print.

The conference runs four days with workshops to get your pitch perfected. Each person gets to pitch four editors over the course of the conference.

Cue JP's panic attack. I get nervous, okay? I'm easily tongue-tied, and yes I sometimes stutter when pushed. But I am working on it.

This conference will be a concentrated effort to get this project moving forward. It will be held at the tail end of September so I have one month to clean up my latest draft. The editors won't read the whole thing at the conference, they just want to hear the pitch.

But knowing the story from front to back will make the pitch that much better.

In the end, I will have a shot at pitching editors from publishing houses including Ace/Roc Books, Random House, St. Martin's Press, Penguin...

This is no bullshit. Time to bring the A game.

I may practice on camera a few times to critique myself. Maybe I will share the outtakes with you.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Be Aggressive, B-E Aggressive!

Yes, I am cheering myself on today. Last night was a very long. Worked on the query letter then fired it off during the wee hours probably straight into the slush pile but that is fine. No one ever got published by NOT sending out their work.

I recall someone talking about writers a while ago, maybe it was a professor, and there are some folks who think it would be scandalous to try and get published because they write for the art's sake or something. Like that makes you a sellout or some mess.

Yeah, JP needs to get paid, biznitch!

Just applied for the NYC Pitch & Shop Conference in September. The worst that can happen is they let me in...

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Mom's birthday

Did some celebrating with Mom for her birthday today. Made some marinated lamb chops for dinner and brought over a few gifts. Don't tell her I put garlic in the dish. she is not a fan of garlic but if you don't over do it and keep your mouth shut, she has no idea. ;-)

Mom makes every small thing you do for her seem like a big deal. Part of this you might say comes from her years as a teacher, motivating and encouraging young minds to believe they can do anything. But mostly this comes from her own ever youthful outlook on the world. Some folks wonder why I act rather goofy. I hope you can see where this comes from . . .

Please excuse the low grade of the video. Had to grab an ancient camera, misplaced my current one.


video

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Less stress, more lucid dreams

Last night I went to sleep mostly stress free and had a lucid dream. Both instances are pretty rare and having both at once is like catching a unicorn in the forest.

As for the dream, I was amongst a group of people gathered for some purpose. Almost United Nations like. It was inside some sort of secluded headquarters. A smaller group of us broke away to address the matter at hand: Some sort of disaster or calamity that needed to be stopped.

Each of us had to prove ourselves in tests of morality. I didn't see this as much as I felt this. As we walked down this humongous corridor that led to the central chamber, massive walls slid shut cutting us off from each other, forcing us into smaller and smaller groups.

I don't recall faces or names but I knew it was very important for me to look out for the people I was with. I had to take care of them or we wouldn't make it to the central chamber.

Wish I had more details to offer, for now I am just glad to have solid restive sleep for the first time in ages.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The next writing projects...

At the risk of courting controversy, I think I will do a series of short stories that tackle the topic of societal break down from an in-genre perspective.

A 5,000 word story is comparable to a single chapter in a book however some ideas I have can be done in about 2,000 words.

For me it is important to not only entertain but to examine some aspect of the human condition. And the break down of the system of governance disturbs me.

I don't talk politics. I express myself at the ballot booth and who I vote for is my business. My opinions are strong, but they are MY opinions and I'm not running for office.

However, I see a dangerous, dysfunctional trend in the way the public and government influence each other. It's all or nothing, do or die and that really concerns me.

Before anyone pitches me their position... I'm not trying to establish a platform.

In short, I believe a primary role of government, be it local, state or federal, is to find better ways for opposing groups to express their wants and demands without us doing bodily harm to each other.

That is something I think I can address in fiction without campaigning for anyone. Social breakdowns have been covered in the past, nothing new from the general notion but I think I have a few thought-provoking ideas.

A long while back I mentioned my "Voting Bloc" story. In a nutshell, a new colony is to be established for mankind with a total clean slate. But along the way to that colony, the "inmates take over the asylum." All laws for the future colony will be determined by blocs of prison inmates, the people who broke the laws of the old world. In order to pass legislation, the inmates engage in killing games. The bloc with the most kills during regulation time determines if the law is ratified or not.

The inmates form temporary alliances as needed to get legislation moving. In exchange, the inmates are offered certain privileges such as communication with a family member for two minutes. The idea is the inmates are detached from the direct outcome of the laws, at least in theory. There is more to say in the actual story.


The other idea has no working title. The country has fallen into highly divisive camps. No organized governments beyond neighborhood consensus. If you don't agree with your neighbors, you get driven out by force if they let you leave at all. G-men exist to safeguard banks and gold reserves but that's it. Everything else, you're on your own. Really extreme opinions are allowed to run loose and nothing exists to keep opposing sides from having at each other.

So there you go. Those are my next ideas for short stories.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Latest revision almost done

I will have the updated Heritage Fields up on Google Docs this evening. As mentioned before, I've added a new chapter 12. Trying very hard to only tinker with the later passages my wonderful, amazing volunteer readers have not gotten to yet. :-)

A story with multiple threads can spin out of control if you let too many ideas crop up. This latest edit is about weaving together some loose ends.

Hapsburg is a tricky place.

I must say, certain characters have surprised me during these tweaks. You never know when a seemingly one-off character will evolve into something more. Compared with my original idea . . . I'll save the genesis of this story for a later day.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Adding a new chapter

For my readers, please stop at chapter 11. I am adding a new chapter to follow. A few key points were bothering me, matters that needed some explaining. What you now have as chapt. 12 will become chapt. 13 and so on.

I will post a master document on Google Docs, then send you all the URL to access the file at your leisure.

Apologies for any disruption!

Friday, July 30, 2010

To my readers

When you downloaded your copy did it convert into the RTF format and open in Wordpad? At least one reader says this happened.

It probably makes sense to load the whole thing to Google Docs for ease of reading...

Can't take it anymore

I really tried not thinking about the book, but I can't. Too many things I know need work. Don't worry, readers, everything that's bugging me is in the later portions of what you have so please keep reading.

I will hold off on any changes until Saturday...unless Friday moves slowly.

And yes, I AM LOOKING UP HALLOWEEN TOURS. Will keep you posted on what I wind up doing.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Are the cops looking for me???

The other day I came home to find a business card intentionally tucked into my mailbox.

It was from the Plainfield Police Department. This is odd for a number of reasons. I don't live in Plainfield, have not been through there in months and that was just for vehicle inspection. They wouldn't cross the county line and go into another town to randomly leave a business card behind, would they?

The business card did not have message on it like "Please call regarding..."

Just a card, name and number. I called twice but got voicemail. Didn't bother leaving a message.

My mind ran through the possibilities: A case of mistaken identity? Did someone give a false address on a report? Are they investigating one of my neighbors? The secret behind the dangling card may be something rather simple...or sinister. At the very least it could be a great opening to a mystery novel!

So I will give the number a try again after work, this time I will leave a message. Then maybe I will know the real story.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Yeah, who am I kidding...

I did not look at Heritage Fields at all last night.

Not one page. Didn't even open the master file. I flopped on the couch, ate french fries and watched reruns of Avatar: the Last Airbender.

No sir, no rewrites last night.

Until I tried to fall asleep. That's when the brain kicked in with new fixes. Curse you, my subconscious. Curse you!

I did NOT go the computer and implement the changes though. That's both a mistake AND the best thing I could do.

I might forget the ideas I came up with last night, but I also need to make time for not working on the book.

Got to do stuff like exercise. I'm getting squishier. That needs to stop.

I also really have to make a decision on Halloween like NOW. Three months can vanish in a blink. I need to find a tour pronto and still don't know if I should go to Scotland or Ireland.

"Who is that black man roaming the haunted hills of the Celts on Samhain?" That would be me, but only if I get off my butt and book my accommodations.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Last call for readers

I have sent the first cut of Heritage Fields to everyone who shared their email with me. If you are interested in reading a copy but have not shared your email with me, do so ASAP.

I am going to kick back and unwind for a few days. No rewrites or edits. Clear my head. But at the end of the week I expect to get back in the trenches.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Wanted: Readers for Heritage Fields

I think it is time to get some committed readers together to read the entirety of Heritage Fields. I've posted material piecemeal here, but the completed work needs a thorough read by eyes other than mine.

I am not talking about copy editing. I mean content. Does the plot make sense? Are the character motivations clear? Those are the questions that must be asked. Because without that, the book won't sell well.

The challenge of course is who has the time? In many writing groups you may read a few pages of each other's work but that's about it. Don't get me wrong, it's great feedback but I need something more.

So I will offer bribes in the form of wine, desserts and anything else legal I can think of for people to read the manuscript front-to-back while sipping coffee in their free time. Maybe I should have a dinner party to get things started.

You will also be in the acknowledgements when the book gets published.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Today

Happy Birthday, Dad.

Doing my best to keep my promise. It's not always easy but hey, what is? Things should be more squared away by months end with the house. I will kick the butts of the contractors. I know the place is a mess but it will get done. Actually, Mom is giving them the business already. The sooner that's done, the sooner we can move forward.

Still have my laundry list of things to do after that, but at least a major hurdle will be clear.

I should get back to business. Happy Birthday. See you on the other side.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Focus

A few days ago I was chatting with someone who said they were seriously interested in writing, but they "only write on the weekends" when in the mood because they "don't want to waste their time".

Yeah . . . good luck with that.

Here's the truth: You have to write and rewrite constantly. The story, book, screenplay is not finished until it has been released to the public. THEN you are finished unless you release some sort of special edition later but you get my point.

I know what happens if you write when you feel like it. You never get anywhere. The story that led to Riding Ten Thunders brewed in my brains for more years than I want to confess to before I finally got to work.

But when I really got down to business with Heritage Fields, I was done within one year. When you hear about my updates and rewrites, that is me "tuning up" the content. And I didn't get to this point by writing when I felt like it. No one who ever succeeded did so by working only when the mood struck.

Any way, I sent out another pitch last Friday which was pretty wrong-headed on my part. Monday morning is the time to strike! Got to catch them when they are fresh in the office.

Also, there is another pitch & shop event in September. Didn't try to go last time, but I will see if this one fits my schedule. A lot can happen between now and then. The important thing is to focus!!!!!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Ghosts in Philly

The plan so far: Head down midday Saturday, explore some Independence Day history in Philly then in the early evening, take that ghost tour.

Not sure if I will drive or take a train.

Either way, I think it will give me some perspective on tweaks for Heritage Fields and the follow-up book I am already plotting: November Tomorrow.

It's been several years since I stomped around Philly, will be nice to give it another look.

Not thrilled with the summer run of movies...

The Last Airbender sounds like a steaming pile of Flying Bison poo. Thanks for that, M. Night. You screwed up a great franchise.

By all reviews I have read and from Jimbo's personal warning, you could have shown the episode "Appa's Lost Days" and done a better job in 22 minutes.

Next week Predators will be out. Gosh, another sequel/redux. There is no end to the cannibalizing in Hollywood.

The trailers for Despicable Me look amusing enough, but we shall see.

If the movie studios want to make money, they have to do a better job than this. Right now, catching reruns sounds more exciting.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

another odd dream

This is what I remember: I was getting dressed in a suit but I needed a bow tie. For some reason it had to be red or some other bright color rather than a black bow tie. It wasn't for a formal occasion, at least I don't think. But then why a bow tie?

Someone was insisting I wear this tie that I clearly didn't have and never had as far as I can recall but I kept thinking I did have an appropriate tie.

There was some other confusing mess happening, but that was all I remember.

Maybe I should not eat a whole pizza before bedtime.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Do I need more blood and beauty?

A good story has real risk and worthy prizes if the lead characters succeed. If there is no credible threat, it gets boring fast. If there is no satisfaction of desires, more snoozing. But if you throw too many buckets of blood on the wall or offer up gratuitous "fan service", the story turns into mindless dreck.

Then again . . . many books and other media that sell these days are very escapist with pretty people having exciting adventures. Even if one of the lead characters is average, their counterpart/mate will be some kind of ungodly beauty with irresistible eyes and awesome hair who makes the average character feel special. Yeah I'm calling you out, Twinkle-Twinkle Vamps.

OR there is over the top action that requires a dumbing down of the brain to make it fun. Over the weekend I caught bits of Transformers (2007) on TV.

Transformers is a train wreck I wish never happened. Though it made money and relaunched the franchise, it failed on humor, dialogue and any semblance of coherency.

I tried to find some rallying moment where I rooted for the heroes. Even several years removed, I still want Unicron to show up and devour them all.

Hmmm, who would win a fight between Galactus vs. Unicron?

Back to my original point about throwing blood and beauty into the story. I rather not have characters do stupid things that get them maimed. I also don't like tossing "hot" characters at the protagonists.

People want entertainment, believe me I get that. I also believe people can be smart readers if they choose. But I keep getting this nagging feeling Heritage Fields needs more scintillation to stand out.

Or maybe I am letting outside voices influence me too much and I should just stick to my guns.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Lame director's cut

I picked up a DVD of The Last of the Mohicans (1992), one of my fav movies and was seriously let down by this director's edition.

I was SHOCKED by the loss of some of the most memorable moments of this movie. With the exception of George Lucas chopping apart his original Star Wars trilogy, I typically trust director's editions. Imagine my surprise at the removal of character development with certain dialogue excised.

What was Michael Mann thinking???

This actually looked like a TV edit rather than an expanded vision from the director. This is an inferior portrayal of a personal favorite.

How about a version that keeps ALL of it together? The theatrical elements AND the additional footage?

I got this DVD on sale with a free bottle of Coke. At least the Coke lived up to expectations.

Friday, June 25, 2010

watching "wrastling" with Ma

So I am over at Mom's watching some WWE action and it is quite the show when this sweet little lady is shouting "BITE HIM! RIP OUT HIS GUTS! POW!"

Yeah, Ma likes a good brawl.

It's been a rough couple of days with the work going on at the house. Contractors coming and going, the job we thought would take a week is turning more into two weeks. The sooner they are done, the sooner things can move forward.

You know, as tough as things are for my Mom, she still cares tons about her full grown kids. I try to rein her in when she gets too anxious about stuff. I remind her that me and my sisters must look out for ourselves and we will be okay, but she worries.

Like the other day when she called me up at work to tell me she was proud of me. She knew I was in a black mood the past few days.

Some folks might call us overly sentimental and such, but if you are going to make a fuss about anything it should be your family, dammit!

And sometimes you need family to catch you when you get some foolishness in your head. :-) I made a promise a while back not to put the family through that mess that went down a few years ago (they and a handful of others know what I mean) and I am sticking to it. Just gotta keep on trucking, tackling the tasks at hand.

So I will keep watching wrastling with Ma on Friday nights, talk gossip about folks, and laugh like fools. That's better medicine than you can find in bottle or yammering away on a therapist's couch.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A reading from Heritage Fields

So here is that reading I promised, just the first five pages of Heritage Fields . . .

Reading a story aloud lets the writer get a feel for how the story flows. And it forces you to think about your word choice. Pardon the low-res video. It was late and I wasn't paying attention to the camera settings.


video

E-publishing...

A published author recently suggested I consider e-publishers for getting my work in the hands of readers. While this may hasten my pursuit of getting Heritage Fields out there, I have my misgivings.

A certain intangibility surrounds e-publishing in my mind. True, more e-readers are on the market with new models to follow. But does this mean electronic-only novels are being read on par with titles that are also on bookshelves? I do not have any numbers on that yet. E-publishing is more of an independent route, like a band that gets air play strictly through online sources.

Further, I have seen material get removed from the Web after it was already published. A story is lot harder to erase once it is in print on paper. I will explore this, but continue my original game plan.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Reading life out loud

Stories feel different when they are read out loud. It really gives you a whole new perspective on how the plot moves.

Think I might record a snippet from Heritage Fields for YouTube. It's good for me too because I can catch what doesn't work in the story.

I will do the opening pages first and see how that goes.


On a separate, unrelated note:

If you allow others to treat you like old comfortable shoes, you get tossed back under the bed when they get dressed for newer company.

Candor is always best... for everyone

Thursday, June 17, 2010

37 and counting!

Well look at that... it's my birthday and for once, I wasn't in a train station when the clock struck midnight!

Oddly I woke up and there was no stack of warm pancakes waiting for me. I guess my automated kitchen was not aware of today's significance.

Yes, today I am one year old. What's new this year? I am shopping Heritage Fields around, which may be some of my best work yet thanks in no small part to those who read bits of it and gave feedback. While it is genre fiction, it is also an allegory about me and my family.

No, we're not a family of street magicians who brew moonshine in the basement. But this book would not be what it is today without listening more closely to the people who are part of me. I may sound overly sentimental, but that is because I learned much about the importance of each person who intersects with your life.

Some folks will be with you for the long haul, others may flit in and out of your personal space but it is important to see how all the experiences shared create your landscape.

As for me in my 37th year... I will continue my aggressive pursuit of getting published. Market conditions are no excuse. If you have a kick-ass product, then go kick some asses with it!

I will explore more spooky places. A day trip to Philly for ghost hunting is in the very near future. And I should start planning my Halloween now. New Orleans was a good time last year, but maybe I will GO BIG this year and explore some haunted castles in Scotland or Ireland. Need a new video camera with nighttime "Spooky Skullhead Vision".

These little jaunts into the netherworld not just to scare myself, it's research for my books. Haunted places have rich history and often times good wine too! Perhaps the character of each town gets infused in the grapes.

For today, I will get some exercise and shop for Saturday's cooking adventure (stop by The Dojo if you are in the neighborhood and hungry, I'll have plenty of food). Forget the pancakes, I am getting myself a Belgian waffle maker today. Take THAT kitchen!

I'll drop by Mom's later and we'll sing Happy Birthday like a couple of kids with no adults around to stop us.

Having birthdays isn't about getting older as long as you continue to carry good cheer within. And THAT comes from folks like you who help make my day special.

Thanks for the well wishes everybody!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

NYC Pitch & Shop

Debating the notion of applying to participate in the NYC Pitch & Shop conference. It's competitive just getting in the door, only 60 spots are available to writers who want to participate. The conference is billed as an intensive event to meet with acquisition editors from publishing houses.

Deadline to apply is coming up quick and before you say "just do it", here's the caveat: This could be an expensive way to hear your work is drivel.

If you get selected to participate, the entry fee is about $600. While the chosen writers will probably be pretty solid and the opportunity is great, it still makes me hesitate dropping such cash. No, I'm not being cheap. Just practical.

I know you have to put yourself out there and connect with people to get a real shot at publishing. I could consider it an investment in my future (and possibly claim it as a tax write-off) but I guess I still need to justify the upfront expense.

Running around to conferences really doesn't matter if your writing isn't up to par. It still comes down to solid prose that hooks the reader. That's what you sell.

Then again, I could make a big fuss about this, apply and not get chosen.

In the meantime, I've got pitches to send out.

Friday, May 7, 2010

New day, another query

Sent a query this morning for Heritage Fields. No biggie, just making a record of when I send these out so I can keep track of who I pitch the book to.

You might think this would give me time to kick back. HA! I'm poring over each word now in anticipation of being asked to send the whole manuscript. It will happen and I will be damn ready for it.

Not exactly sure what we are doing for Mom this weekend. Melody and Joseph and the boys are on the way but we don't know when they are going to arrive.

Next week should be exciting on the job, going to a tech demo on the USS Intrepid for Panasonic Solutions: "We will be demonstrating the latest B2B products for professionals whose jobs depend on reliable technology, including PSC’s enormous 152-inch plasma, 3D broadcast camera and production editing displays, and command center mockup with multiple 103-inch plasmas.

Speakers will include PSC president Rance Poehler and Cpt. Richard Phillips, whose Maersk Alabama ship was hijacked by Somali pirates last year. In addition, we will be officially launching a new Toughbook rugged computer at the event."

Late in the month I'll be on a panel with other journalists at Princeton U. It's a pretty busy time!

Friday, April 30, 2010

It's pitching season

In truth, it is ALWAYS pitching season. But I have a certain list of agents in my sights and Heritage Fields is primed and ready. There is a narrow window of time though before everyone loses themselves in summer.

You can write a stellar query worthy of a bestseller but it won't matter if the agent or editor has tanning lotion in hand and sunglasses perched atop his or her head. If they are already immersed in their "vaca", you have missed the boat.

Meanwhile I am outlining the next book project. The new idea is a rather over-the-top genre story. In my prior efforts, I wanted to be so serious about the story. That kind of kills the fun of reading.

Don't worry, I'm not trying to cash in on certain trends. Such a move offers only short-term gains. You can emulate others only so much before the audience shrugs and returns to the original.

Every writer-I hope-wants to define their own market rather than let it dictate what they produce. That is more than a tall order when you are unpublished.

If I had my druthers, I'd attract readers who don't like ghouls, vampires and ghosts along with the hardcore genre fans.

Believe me, I appreciate the harsh litmus test agents and editors must use when approached by mobs of unknowns. As a journalist I see scores of press releases and take even more phone calls from folks trying to convince me their story is worth putting in print.

I am thinking about getting a ticket to a simulcast of this year's Nebula Awards . This is like the Oscars for the fantasy and science fiction publishing world. The actual event is in Florida, the simulcast is in Manhattan. I consider this an opportunity engage in the market and to put oneself in front of industry people. Who knows, get the ear of the right person and you might find yourself in the running in the future. Or not. Anyway, the Nebula Awards are in two weeks so I must decide quickly.

Dear Universe...

Dear Universe,

You can mess with me all you like, I can take it.

But hands off my Mom.

That is all.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Rewrites, nephews and a tangled subconscious

One of the most important parts of writing is rewriting. You don't know what you've got till you get to the end, take a step back and ponder, ponder, ponder.

I have a couple of plot shifts to make on Heritage Fields. Then I need to tighten the whole thing up, some scenes just ramble.

Other than that, the book is done. Time will tell if it was worth the effort.

This weekend I'll see all my nephews. Must clean apartment, childproof the furniture and shelves. Will take lots of photos, kids tend to get big real fast when you don't see them too often.

Had a lucid dream a couple of weeks ago. It was... off-putting. I was aware it was a dream yet had little control of the circumstances. I've seen a lot more technical flaws in my writing of late which is troublesome. My penchant for skipping words as I write has gotten worse. Writing fast is one thing, but it's affecting the day-job too.

Maybe I've got some subconscious distractions at play, but there is no time for that. The time is now and I have to get things squared away and pitch my work.

With Heritage Fields going in the finished bin, I can take Riding Ten Thunders out and give it the attention it needs for a revival.

Or I might get cracking on a new writing project, a new idea I've had kicking around the past few months. It's more action-demon smashing oriented. We shall see...


Monday, March 15, 2010

My story is about....

a lawyer, a unicorn and a potato...

Ha ha ha, if only.

No seriously, there are some lawyers in Heritage Fields.

Sadly, I do not turn into that "I'm on a horse" guy from the Old Spice commercials when people ask me to 'splain what the book is about.

"Ummmm there's a guy and his cousin is like uh... lost and then a ghost shows up."

Good grief.

Yup, that's what I sounded like on Saturday. I think the agent asked me to submit material out of pity after I stumbled all over myself.

As Boromir said, "One does not simply walk into Mordor."

Without writing, there is no book to sell. But you still have to get up and sell your work.

So much of the business is about the marketing aspect. This is a product we are talking about. While it throws muh brain off, I have to think like a marketer.

I learned that when someone says "You have a great product" in regards to your writing, that is a good thing.

This is a short version of my pitch. If only it came out of my face the same way:

Heritage Fields is an urban paranormal thriller about the men and women who use magic to force the weight of mortal guilt on the shoulders of the dead.

The story is set in a fictional town where present day locals cling to a haunted legacy of American freedom won through treachery. Randall Toussaint scours the town when his cousin, a social activist and street magician, disappears from Hapsburg's slums.

Randall hates magic and ghosts as well as the trouble both brought his family.

A history of moonshine running, knife fights and dark magic chased the Toussaints from the wards of New Orleans to Hapsburg. Now Randall must uncover the secrets the town and his family want kept hidden.


There, that's the short version of the pitch. Needs work as does my in-person delivery.

A lot of agents want to hear comparisons with other works they can recognize. "My book is like A+B-C" or some other literary equation.

THAT is something I haven't figured out just yet.

Then again my story just might be about a lawyer and a unicorn, hold the potato.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

One year later...

It's been one year since my father passed and there's still more work to be done. I didn't make a big fuss about this yesterday when I was over at Mom's because it would only turn her into a wreck. She's got a hair trigger when it comes to that and she's had a tough enough time. I just gave her an extra big hug and left it at that. Better to see her with her "big kid smile" than pull a dark veil over her. And I hate grief-mongering.

Things were a bit complicated between me and my father. I'll just say it: I was a whiny coward and he could be a real jerk at times. Neither of us saw it that way though. There were good lessons I learned and some things that didn't go so well. We each insisted we knew the best way to get things done but there really was a lot neither of us had figured out to be honest. There was a lot we could have been better at together.

Whether or not I ever become a father myself, I'll keep recording these lessons for my nephews. The key lesson is the same one I stated last year: Talk to your children and encourage them to ask questions. Don't leave things unsaid and assumed. Participate in what matters to your family and loved ones and they will learn in kind what is important to you. Do more than be there at the "important times", because every moment is important.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Writer's conference

Must. Finish. Book.

Yeah I am the one who said I needed more chapters. But I may need to work what I need into existing chapters or cut down the number of new chapters.

A friend at Liberty States Fiction Writers (LSFW) offered a possible lead with an agent. Never shrug at such an opportunity.

Got useful comments from yesterday's session of LSFW and I signed up for next month's conference.

Right now people really like the sections with Satchel Dan. He's a character that requires restraint though. He's best as a sort of wise, loud-mouthed commentator. Too much of that can get annoying and you get tired of the character.

Here's a sample:

“Look out boys,” Satchel Dan said. “Here comes the smartest negro on Malburn Avenue!” The old man tipped his grey fedora at Randall.

A taller man, equally ancient as Satchel Dan, saluted with a flaring hand.

“Yes sir, General Randall Toussaint has taken the field,” the man said in a rafter-shaking bass. “Praise God, our savior has come home!”

“Randall? Is it gonna rain tomorrow?” asked a heavyset man in a soft baritone. Full grinning cheeks hid his decades of standing at the corner. “Is the rain coming, Randall? Is it? I mean, being how you know everything about everything, I thought I’d ask.”

“C’mon now speak up, boy,” Satchel Dan said impatiently. “Tell us what tomorrow will bring. In Randall Toussaint we trust, right? Right?”

Randall’s eyelids drew down tightly. “Why are you in my face, old man?”

“Well you did call us broke, vagrant…vagrant, um–”

“Stank alley cats!” interjected the pudgy baritone.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Valentine's Day addendum

I know I already offered my two bits on Valentine's Day but I wanted to reiterate the personal value of the holiday. At least spend the day being nice to other folks.



Picked out a plant for Ma, hope she likes it. She's not picky but she does know her flowers. Taking her out to dinner tomorrow. :-)

She and I had a long talk today about family stuff. Sometimes you have to make hard choices for better things to happen down the road.

Anyway, I hope everyone has a pleasant day with those you hold close. Telling people you care can be as worthwhile as flashing a diamond ring.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

the rewrites have begun

So have started the rewriting portion of the project which will include filling out the additional chapters I have earmarked to complete the narrative.

I estimate the finished product will exceed 100,000 words. That is not awful but it is outside of the sweet spot I was aiming for.

I got a little bit done yesterday but feeling sick made it tough to put coherent words together. Shame to not make more of my snow day.

Any way, I will have a coherent novel ready in time for the writers conference in March. That will be an important step.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Sometimes you have to dial your brain back

If your story goes way off the rails, go back to a point where it still made sense and pay more attention to what worked.

That is all.

:-P

Monday, February 1, 2010

Brain screeched to a halt

I've gotten to 80,500 words. Have a few "half" chapters to flesh out here and there. Those are scenes I wrote and then moved onto other sections without finishing the original thought. I didn't write in sequence, it became inefficient for me.

I have one more full chapter, the climax, to write followed by a fast review for continuity. I wrote the bones of the falling action and resolution a while ago. Always knew how this one would end.

Rewrites of the draft will start next week.

This part of the process can cause brain lock. Please excuse any anti-social, un-chummy behavior.

I'm frazzled and would appreciate indulging in some of my favorite things right now (a night of opera, double PB brownies, vacation planning, Riesling, a steamy plate of sausage, peppers & onions) but I can't.

I said I would finish the first draft now and will do just that. Intense pitching shall commence shortly.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Keeping the drive alive

This is one of the more challenging final laps I've had to push through.

Times like this you need reminders of why you are doing this mess. Riding Ten Thunders also made me kinda nuts towards the end.

I don't care what others tell you, finishing is not it's own reward! It's a major step forward but there are times you need a juicy carrot dangled in front of you to keep yourself forging ahead.

Writing is a marathon, not a sprinting race. And MAN can it wear on your resolve. But it's time to finish harvesting the crop on Heritage Fields.

Pesky characters want to spiral the story off into the ether and I can't let that happen. Now is the time to fill in the gaps, not to create more plot holes... unless you want the novel to read like the script to a Michael Bay movie.

The first draft is never perfect but I find myself asking "Is this smart enough? Is the plot wicked sharp?" I don't want the reader to look behind the curtain and say "That's IT?!"

I much rather have you say, "Whoa... that was kind of messed up, JP. But I see what you're getting at."

Monday, January 25, 2010

Another lucid dream

Had a lucid dream last night. This one was rather complicated.

It involved my father on his way to make some sort of testimony on corruption. I think it had to do with extortion and organized crime.

While my father did own his own pharmacies as a young man and had to deal with people robbing his store at gunpoint, he never had to cope with any mobsters shaking him down.

Anyways, in the dream he is going to be driven to the courthouse in New Brunswick. The route was to go past the old office building I worked in. In the dream, the site is under heavy construction/demolition and there were live explosives in the superstructure of the entire block.

So in this dream I am just roaming New Brunswick when I overhear these shady guys talking about how the grenades they want to use to take out my Dad might trigger the explosives in the construction zone. They were arguing with their boss about finding another way to get the job done.

The dream ends with me trying to figure out what to do: I could grab gun and start shooting these guys. I could call the authorities but I was concerned about who leaked the info to the criminals.

I think in the end there was some shooting, but it gets really fuzzy.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A video blog for my nephews: How to be a man without being a jerk

Decided last night to get back into video blogs, but this time with a mission! Going to record some life lessons and junk for the nephews. The way I figure, I should do it now before I get any more grey and wrinkly.

I'll try to stick to a single topic in each clip, though I do have a tendency to babble off-topic.

The way I figure, the world is an big engine of learning and it's my job to help the young ones understand what to expect... or at least to learn from my faux pas.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

I can finish the first draft in a few more days

It will be nothing pretty. Simply the raw story. Only parts are worth reading in public at this point. But I can see the start, middle and ending.

Not the time to uncork champagne, but I think I can unwind a little.

Afterward I will get down to rewriting and editing. Good times.

The sooner I finish this the better. One of the characters is really getting on my nerves. :-P

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Inflammatory language (AKA Don't take the First Amendment for granted)

These days some folks use inflammatory language to attract attention to themselves.

I do not think keeping quiet about it does us any good.

Me, I am not big on raising my voice unless I have a damn good reason. You might mistake that for a lack of an opinion.

In truth, I have deep opinions on most everything however I do not believe it is my job to impose my thoughts on others.

Everyone needs to do their own thinking. The people I admire most do their own homework, get their own facts and form their own opinions.

Don't leave it to figureheads and people on TV to tell you what to do with yourselves. This is why I rarely vote along one single party line. I weigh each candidate individually. But this isn't about politics.

When someone like Pat Robertson spouts outrageous crap like he did yesterday regarding Haiti... you have to speak up.

The thing is, folks like Robertson actually get stronger when you don't denounce them. When you let such comments go unanswered, it sends a message to their followers and would-be converts that maybe this guy is right.

The sad truth is, some people are waiting for their heads to be filled with any kind of explanation that feeds into their own insecurities.

The world is a scary place that doesn't always follow a logical order. Some of our calamities come from forces of nature. Some of our troubles come from human foolishness. Sometimes unintended things happen that we can't find a cause for.

But we like delineating things in terms of good and bad. It makes it easier to process the events of the world.

It's no excuse to spout off wild notions that foster paranoia and fear. That's worse than shouting "FIRE" in a crowded movie theater. It's like shouting "FIRE" after the roof has collapsed and rescue teams are trying to save people from the rubble.

Find solutions rather than pour gasoline on the problem with your words.

Nightmare...or a lesson in truth

Or rather an extremely lucid dream with some deep connotations.

The short version: I got used as a decoy-groom at someone else's wedding to distract some assassins from harming the real wedding party. I got shot like a dog but survived.

Rather than interpret this as a fear of commitment, I think it's my conscience pointing out something else.

I don't want to be a decoy. Though I've never been married, I think it should be about building something together. You help each other evolve as partners and equals. Make something important happen by being together. Love is not some commodity you toss around carelessly.

But I am worth more than a decoy! I'm not just some placeholder for the "better man" to come along.

I do have concerns that I've grown...indifferent. Maybe disillusioned is a more accurate term. There was a devil Icarried on my back. I mostly want the same things that were always important to me. I've pushed myself to pursue publishing and there's my family to look out for. You have moments when you wonder what the heck is the point though. What am I really fighting for anymore? Guess I miss the bright-eyed optimism of former days. Or perhaps my expectations were never realistic.

Got some good advice recently from a buddy about just moving forward and such. I mean if I keep talking about this being a new year with a new start I gotta stop beating myself up over the past.

You want to find some kind of meaning behind the stuff you go through but a lot of times it comes down to self-made foolishness.

I wanted to marry Abby. Maybe seeing her last month triggered the dream. We talked about our families and such. She once offered to copy edit Heritage Fields but she's a busy lady. I like being able to listen, being there for people even in a small way. That's the kind of person my folks wanted me to be.

Our split turned me upside down though. I was the nightmare in 2006. I know my responsibility and the abject cowardice that ended things. I compounded my problems with even worse decisions.

Nice job, Mr. Ruth. You've left a wonderful impression. For me it's not enough to claim I cleaned up my act, I need to prove it.

And there I go again . . .

When you're a kid you might keep crying over the same thing, but grown folks suck it up and forge ahead. That's proof of maturity. Work to be a better man every day and let the world decide if it is ready for you.

Flame and Bone

When I was made from fire
Poured into the tender vessel of caution
That keeps my smoke from rising
Quickly did I discover that apart from crisp drizzles or falling snow
The world chilled my touched
Walking the narrow cornered gap between girders and cut stone
One learns to tuck his shoulders in or risk
Jostling a neighbor passing by rapt with want
For a clear path without the distraction
Of another man's boiling eyes
The tip of a finger
That oldest of all weapons
Grown deadlier and pristine in its invention
Gathers a mote of a cinder on its bare flesh
And turns pondering how best to scratch the impious itch
Prying open the tender seam
Where the oil of thought dews
Offering a new wick to ignite
Squirming alive as a salamander of mischief
That yearns for a taste of air it is so ready to devour
The steam of breath betrays me
Before the glint of orange spreads
In popping bright waves
Eroding the fibers feeding it
Leaving naught but ash
As my shell of quietude falls away