Category Archives: Writing

The Acadamy Award Before a Man Booker Prize?

I’ll admit that most times in life, the book is way better than then the movie.  But, as I’ve been working through the editing process on my current novel today, along with jotting down a few sentences here and there for two new books (I have at least 14 ideas yet to turn into novels currently so writer’s block definitely isn’t an issue), I’ve been picturing one of my ideas in movie form.  And that thought has really been holding my attention this evening…

Moving away from the Minneapolis area wasn’t easy on me for a number of reasons, but one of them was leaving behind an area that held so many creative people.  When you can go to a cafe and see a sign asking you to add your information if you’ve written part of your novel there, you know you’re living among creative people.   And when it takes you a while to decide on which of the many available theatre performances in which of the theatre districts to attend on a Friday night, and the people you’re out on the town with are actors/actresses themselves, you know you’re in an area that really supports creative endeavors.

One of my upcoming novels will actually be using the idea that there’s a lack of a creative community here in Fayette County (actually playing off some similar structures to Nick Hornby’s  A Long Way Down – though without such a life and death issue about it).  A chance to kind of make a creative tribute to the lack of creative environment I guess…  But for this other idea I’ve been playing with, it frustrates me to be in a position where I don’t have those people out in such numbers.  Because I’d truly love to actually make this idea into a movie.  Maybe someone  working with me to put my ideas into completed script form, a few of us going out with handheld cameras, someone to hold some cheap lights to make it look right, some people willing to be in front of the camera, and someone to work with who knows enough to assist with editing.  That’s not too much to ask for, right?

And actually, there are really only two main characters in my story idea.  And one of them is deceased and would appear in numerous flashbacks (do I have you intrigued yet?).  There would also be a need for a rescue dog, another character who would become a secondary main character as the story goes into Act II and III.  Plus people willing to let us film in their restaurants, stores and other businesses.  And someone who wouldn’t mind their car being damaged a bit for a specific, necessary scene.  See…I’m not just throwing this out as a crazy idea that gets forgotten the next day…  I’ve actually put a little thought into it.

I’ve fleshed out the story and it just seems like something that would work so well in a visual way (and would be so much fun to pursue).  I have to blame some of the idea on Amy Shark since I was listening to her music as I was writing and a couple of her songs pushed my thinking into a whole different direction.  Leave Us Alone especially has the overall feel that the movie would pursue.  Seriously, listen to it if you’re curious.  I think I would need to ask her to use it in the soundtrack when we’re finished.

Sure, this movie would be as independent as an independent film could be, but does that matter?  Life only lasts so long and wouldn’t it be great to do something that so few people ever do?

So if you see me staring at you as I walk through Target, or the grocery store, don’t be insulted.  I’m just trying to see if I could visualize you as lead material, or if you could at least fit as background talent.  And if I seem to be following you through the parking lot, it’s just to see what you’re driving and to find out how attached to it you are.  You know us creative types…

The Messy Writing Process

Ernest Hemmingway’s messy desk

Writing is messy work.  At least it is for me.

As someone who has suffered the occasional addictions to The Food Network on those random lazy Saturday mornings, I relate it to being a chef who just can’t keep his workstation clean.  No matter what I’m working on, I have a tendency to bounce back and forth between typing it out on the laptop, and scribbling out barely legible words on the printed page. There are a number of binders spread across the desk containing hundreds of printed pages as well. And hopefully some extra ink cartridges buried in the mess somewhere. They’re always needed…

It’s like having every spice from the cabinet sitting out on the counter. Piles of vegetable peelings still on the cutting board. Dirty knives, measuring cups and measuring spoons still within reach rather than in the sink (or in the  dishwasher). It’s not the best setup, I’ll admit it. But it’s worked.

It’s actually a lot like my last trip to the grocery store.  I went to the closest one in the area as I only needed one item – garbage bags.  This weirdly unique store is huge, well-stocked, and completely matching the way I see everything in Fayette County – random in where absolutely everything is located.

I found their Christmas items.  I found paper plates and plastic silverware (7 aisles apart from each other).  I found lawnmower oil and canned vegetables- right next to each other. And I found hot dogs and rat poison so close together it made me think…  And, after twenty minutes, I’d found almost everything they had to offer before finally – completely by absolute luck – stumbling across the garbage bags, located directly in between the circus peanuts (they really still make those?) and the mustard.  Seriously?  I don’t think it could have been more random.  Though, when I took them to the register and had to wait for a confused employee to ring up romaine lettuce for the person in front of me, and she couldn’t find it in the system because she was trying to spell ‘romaine’ without an ‘R’, I thought I was simply being punked.

However…it made me think about some of my own processes and somewhat disorganized ways. And as certain situations have given me even more motivation to write lately, I’ve decided to take up a new approach. Writing software.

Has anyone out there used Scrivener?  That’s my new challenge. It seems like a great program, and it seems like there’s lots to do with it, but guess what… I always seem to skip reading the instructions.  It’s cool that I can add pictures to remind me what places and characters look like, and that there are places for all of my research and notes.  I just need to get used to it.

I have a number of characters to add in for my next novel, so it’s a good time to really start using it.  I was going to have a character who works part-time as a Walmart cashier.  But I may have to move her to the local supermarket. Even if that would mean I’d have to go in there often to do research.  And to see how they spell things like romaine…

The Crowd Funding Thing – Part II

 

 

Its been a while since I talked about working with crowd funding to self-publish my first novel.  The passion for doing it is still there, and I’ve heard from many people encouraging me to do it, but things have just been pretty crazy lately.  And, if I’m going to do it, I want to put in the time and energy to do it right.  Especially if I’m going to have proceeds go to charity.  After all, I want to raise as much as possible and, to do that, I have to do it just right…

So yes, my excuse at this point is that things have been crazy.  Like this…

I’m starting a new job in a couple weeks (gotta work until the writing gig becomes the full-time thing, right?), I’ve started building a site for another blog (though, while I love the look I’ve put together for it so far, I’m not impressed with the functionality and think I might be better off starting over with it), I’m looking into starting a part-time copy-writing business here in the area, I’m needing to prepare for an upcoming audition with America’s Got Talent (seriously), and then I need to study for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) that I’ll be taking in a few months.  Not that I’d necessarily want to be a full-time attorney someday, but I think it could come in handy to have the credentials someday and be able to help people and organizations that really need it.

I’ve also been communicating with agents regarding my other novel and, when you’re told that an agent loved your query letter and the 1st chapter and really want to see more, you don’t put that off.  And, on top of all of that, Graham has started eating a new food/treat that he absolutely loves.  So I’m dealing with a cat who’s starting to act like a complete addict and is asking (begging, pleading, threatening?) for more every half hour.  See…things really are a bit crazy these days.  I wasn’t exaggerating…  Sure, most all of it is self-inflicted, but it’s not like I’m complaining.

I’m also working with a new writing program on my laptop to put my novels together – something that should allow me to self-publish a lot easier – and I’m not the most computer literate person.  Or…maybe to put it in a more accurate way, I’m not the type of person who cares to read the instructions.  I’m more of a “try it out and see what happens” kind of person, and that doesn’t always work out the best when it comes to computer programs.  Not that I’ve started reading any of the instructions yet, even as I understand my issues and work with it and find myself struggling.  But I’ll probably reach that point before long (as each of the chapters look massively different and are located in different folders I didn’t really mean to create and don’t know how to delete.  Doesn’t that sound like fun stuff?

So, what I’m trying to say is this…  I’m still planning to do the self-publishing thing.  It’s just going to take a bit longer than I originally thought.  I think there’s more of an opportunity to raise money for charity through the self-publishing approach, so it’s still the plan.  I just need to make the time and get on it.

So thank you for all of the interest in that crazy idea of helping people through crowd funding and self-publishing.  I just need to make sure that I’m not stalling too much and letting too many other things get in the way.  So don’t stop kicking me in the tookis to make sure I’m on it!

 

The Ongoing Editing Process…

Peanuts by Charles Schultz

If I’m self-publishing, I’m in charge of the entire process, right?  So, if I misspelled things the first time around, or if I used a word in verb form rather than adjective form, or just completely wrote a sentence that doesn’t make sense, I need to make sure that it’s caught before its published.  That’s not the fun part of writing…

So now I’m working on finding the right editor and proofreader to hire to work on those aspects.  Then I need to find the right cover artist to make the book grab your attention as soon as you see it.  Etcetera, etc., etc.

But actually, if I’m starting from the beginning of my novel, the biggest thing I need to fix is the title.  Because…I don’t have one.  I have a title for my second novel, a title for another novel I’ve been dabbling with, and a pretty good idea of the title for the next four novels I’d write after that, and even the next one (can you tell that writer’s block isn’t going to be the issue with my career?).  But…for the first novel I’m looking to put out into the world, the first page of the manuscript simply states “TITLE” at this point.  Then, it’s saved on my laptop as “The Great American Novel”, but isn’t that the working title of every American writer’s first novel?  So I’ve got work to do there.  I mean, I have an idea of who I’m going to work with at this point to,have it published, but I can’t pick up the phone to talk about it when I can’t answer the question “So what’s the book called?”.

I was going through an email my dad sent me after being one of the first readers when I went home for a long 4th of July weekend years ago.  I’m glad he caught a number of the typos and mistakes, and definitely appreciate the notes about the sections that he really liked.  But no suggestions about a title.  I guess I’m needing to figure that out on my own.

So one book is going to be self-published while the other is being sent out to agents across the country.  I just hope I don’t end up having one of them as the ‘favorite child’.  People say that an author’s first novel is the most personal one.  But for me, it didn’t work out that way and it’s the second one instead.  But I need to treat them equally.  Even if one will be getting more attention for a while as I work through all of the publishing issues.

Like the problem of the dedication page.  After all, promises were made…

The Crowd Funding Thing

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about it.  And I’ve even been doing my share of research.  And…I think I’m going to do it.  But, if I do, it’s going to be up to you.  So…I guess I want to put the question out there and see what you all think about it…

I’m looking into self-publishing my first novel, with the idea of a large percentage of the proceeds going to charities that assist battered women and children.  And, I’m looking to do it through crowd funding.

If I could get enough people to contribute, I could have enough books out there to hopefully make a major difference.  And, because the novel deals with abuse, the idea of its proceeds funding charities that benefit battered women and children and allow them to achieve everything that they’re meant to with their lives would feel amazing.  So I need to quit stalling and go for it.  Right?  Right?

Hopefully within the next couple of weeks, I’ll decide on the right site to use to promote it and can have the entire project description out there for the world to see.  And here’s what I’m thinking…

If someone donates $25, they get a copy of the book.  For $50, they receive an autographed copy.  I’m not quite sure what to do for higher amounts though.  Sure, you could get multiple copies, but there needs to be something more interesting for the extra amount donated than that, right?  Any thoughts?  One thought I’d had was that I could give out a handwritten copy of the novel for like $5000 (because that would be a long process actually writing it out – and of course you’d have to be willing to accept the errors and scratch-outs that would occur when writing out 75,000 words).  But there would have to be benefits for donations that are more in the middle range too.

Part of it could be where the charitable donations are made.  I’m planning to donate proceeds to organizations in three areas – Minnesota, Illinois and Pennsylvania.  But, I’m thinking that, if people donate $200 or more, they could select where the organization is located that I donate the proceeds to. At least that’s one more thought about what we could do…  Any others?

Please keep an eye out for the upcoming details about this adventure because I’m going to need plenty of company to go on the ride with me.  And I think we can do a lot of good together once we get started.  So I’d better get back to the research and quit with the slacking!

Once a Northern Boy…

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Here in good ‘ol Fayette County the seasons are getting a bit confused.  We finally had our first snow of the season (if you count a dusting that was gone just about as quickly as it arrived) and there’s frost on the ground to start each day.  But then the leaves are still in the process of changing colors throughout the area.  On top of that, if you take into account the dandelions still trying to grow throughout the yard for some sick and twisted reason, you have three of the seasons represented just by stepping outside the door first thing in the morning.   It’s a crazy place to be these days.

I’m not ready for fall to be over.  And that’s not just because I should have mowed the lawn one more time before the temperatures started to drop.  And not just because I have no desire to shovel snow yet.  I’ve always been a northern boy and cold and snow are something to be expected and enjoyed in their own way each year.  I’d never be able to move too far south.  I’d miss having all four of the seasons to enjoy and experience as they all have their finer points.  But winter can wait just a bit…

There’s something too inspiring about fall to let it go too soon.  There’s a change you can see in the trees, a smell in the air, the feel of the cooler temperatures, the tastes you don’t get through the rest of the year, etc.  It feels like the chance to re-start.  And it’s invigorating.

That being said, I’m thinking about winter as I’m writing today.  All because of an email I received earlier this week. To let me know about some opportunities.  There are some upcoming writers conferences that will be going on and I’m actually thinking about traveling to attend one.  And how about this for extremes…?  This winter, there’s a writer’s cruise in Florida and a convention in Minnesota in February.  And the one that jumps out to me…?  Yep, Minnesota.  I never claimed to be normal…

Sure, there are more agents that will be attending that one so it will be better for mingling and making connections.  But there’s more to it than that.  Sure, packing more layers and trying to fit it all into limited luggage can be a pain, but Minneapolis/St. Paul is an artistic area.  There’s something inspiring about it.

Okay, so I used to actually live there and Graham is a Minnesota original (born and raised there before coming to Fayette County) so there are plenty of additional reasons to consider that convention location over ones in warmer climates.  And heck, I can’t even swim so why would I want to meet with agents on a boat off of Miami when even the lakes in Minnesota would be frozen over in February?  That area just fits me better.

So I’m going over the application and starting to study up on the agents who will be there.  Maybe one of them is looking for just the right new writer to mold into the next best seller.  And then, when I take off on my book signing tours, I can see some other parts of the country.  And maybe occasionally escape a cold, northern winter…

Represent Me, Publish Me, Love Me…

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I’ve never been all that great with setting deadlines for myself.  I’m too stubborn and I know myself too well.  So I don’t want to set myself up for disappointing myself.  Make sense?

But…throughout the rest of this week, I have a job to do.  It’s time to write out the query letter that I’m going to send out to potential agents.  You know, the letter that tells prospective agents ‘please read me, please love me and validate me, please tell me that I’m a good writer and please drop everything else on your plate to get me published’.  Ahh, selling myself and my work through barely disguised begging, and having it done by the end of the day on Saturday.  Now this project should be fun…

I wonder how many rough drafts it will take to attempt to describe my novel in a way that I’m ultimately happy with.  To take an 80,000 word book (that I’ve been re-working for months and months) and make it sound like the next best seller in a 200-300 word description, well…lets just say that I’m not expecting it to be easy.  I’d like it to stand out and seem amazing but, by the end of the week when it’s time to send it out, I might settle just for the final result not to be passed out among the agents’ office peers as a “look at what this schmuck sent to me” example.  After all, I want to entertain people, but not exactly in that way…

I guess I could ask those people who have read the novel for their opinions, but, well…since I moved here to Fayette County, I’m kind of missing that aspect of the writing process.  I’m missing those people who read through a few chapters at a time, give me their opinion and ask “But then what happens?”  So I’m settling for writing my own description about my own book which, if it sounds like that really shouldn’t be that difficult, it at least explains why I was fired from the only sales job that I ever had.  Okay, sure, it was selling magazine subscriptions over the phone while I was back in school, but who really wants to wake people up on a Saturday morning to try to sell them a 2-year subscription to Newsweek or Photography Today?  My one and only job review came with this criticism – “You always sound surprised when people buy something from you”.  And my response?  “Surprised?  I’m in flipping shock!”.

But I digress…

I believe in my novel way more than I believed in 12 issues of Better Homes and Gardens.  I’d just love it if the process of submitting it didn’t involve jumping through hoops and praising my work and could just have them read it and decide for themselves.  But…I guess the work will all be worth it first when I see it in print on the bookshelf and then…when I see the movie version up on the big screen…?  See agents and editors?  I do believe in it!

I think I just need to hire an assistant to do the dirty work of writing up those letters for me and kindly shredding all of the rejection letters when they come back.  Someone who will tell me the ones who rejected it are idiots anyway.  And will then ask me “But then what happens…?”

 

 

Any Resemblance to Actual Persons is Purely Coincidental

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The problem with writing a novel that’s realistic instead of being a murder mystery, or sci-fi or fantasy or anything else, is that people who read it are going to think that they’re actually in it.

There’s a reason why novels have some version of a disclaimer on the copyright page stating that it’s a work of fiction and that names, places, events, yada yada, are imaginary or used in a fictitious manner.   There’s some version of that idea written to make it clear that it’s pretty much everything that you’re going to be reading is all made up.  Sure…  Even the completely made up stuff is inspired by our less boring moments of reality though.

So I wonder…  Who’s going to be the first person to ask me “Is so-and-so based on me?” when they read my novel.  Sure. My main character has a dad, so is that dad character based on my dad?  The main character has siblings, so are they based on mine?  Are the ex-girlfriends based on my ex-girlfriends?  And on and on…

None of the characters’ names in the book are the same as anyone in my life.  I’m not going to say that “names were changed to protect the innocent” though because, after all, anyone from my life who’s been completely innocent would be far too dull to make it into the pages of the novel.  And what fun would that be?  So don’t be looking through the pages for your name.  If you’re in there, your name isn’t going to be typed out on a single page.

And, thinking of pages, on my bookshelf there are a number of books that have little scraps of paper sticking out of the top, marking the pages that have lines I really want to remember, lines that inspire me and lines that remind me just why I write.  One of the marked sections I pulled out this week highlights a line in The Book of Joe by Jonathan Tropper (one of my all-time favorite books and one that I very highly recommend if you haven’t gotten around to reading it yet) and it says:

Everyone always wants to know how you can tell when it’s true love, and the answer is this: when the pain doesn’t fade and the scars don’t heal, and it’s too damned late.

And I find that line pretty much sums up the concept of my novel.  Well, one of the major storylines contained in my novel anyway.  And it fits the overall style that I use when I’m writing.  It’s a lot like Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity.  Both authors – Hornby and Tropper – write the ‘male confessional’ kind of book and I’d say that mine fits into that general mold as well.

But the dangerous thing about that is having everyone try to figure out how much of the “confessional” is true, and where they figure into the story.  Because if the main character is telling you about his life, his feelings, his secrets and all of the good stuff, it’s just more fun if you expect that there’s some truth buried deep inside.

So where is that truth?  I’m not telling you.  If you’re located somewhere in those 300 plus pages (under an assumed name of course because you – like me – aren’t at all innocent), you can probably figure it out for yourself.  And that’s where the fun of reading begins.  Right? 😀

At Least The Mountains Have Rain

Who needs silverware...?

Who needs silverware…?

It’s like living in a B movie science fiction flick. The cicadas that have taken over all of the trees on every side of the house are making a noise that sounds like a cheap ray-gun buzzing.  I feel like I’m under attack whenever I leave the house.  Though, if you look at it in the right way, you can feel like the hero of your very own adventure, surviving the dash to the car and making the gravel fly as you hit the gas and gun it to safety.  Hmm…or maybe that’s just me…

It was supposed to rain all day today – a wet, grey day perfect for staying inside and writing.  But…the forecast was off yet again (where’s Ginger Zee when you need her?).  There were flash flood warnings half an hour north of here, and pea-sized hail ten minutes to the south.  And then there was constant thunder rolling in the mountains fifteen minutes to the east.  But here…?  Bright and sunny with 65% humidity.  It’s like being imprisoned in a dome when you can see the rain in the distance in every direction, but have to keep taking the cat out and sweat because it’s summertime without the gentle breeze coming in off the coast because southwestern PA is completely missing those beautiful beaches.

It’s not that I’m anti-summer.  Not at all.  Sure, it comes in behind fall in my own personal ranking system.  And behind spring too.  And I guess it falls behind winter too.  But summer is still in the top four in the “Best Seasons” category. All I ask is for the occasional rain to hit the yard before the grass turns brown and all of the birds decide that thy didn’t fly far enough north this year.

But maybe it’s just that I’m a fan of the rain…  There’s something cathartic about losing yourself in the writing of a book while water drops continually smack against the windows.  Plus, when the sun is shining brightly, I can barely see the screen of my laptop until after 1:30 in the afternoon when the sun has passed overhead and out of view of my office.  So that gives me too big of an excuse to find something else to do instead of write for that time.  (Like I have A&E’s new show Preacher on DVR and haven’t gotten around to watching it yet).  Wow…excuses are easy to find/create aren’t they…?

But the sun has gone down now, the air conditioning has the inside temperature down to 68 degrees, the laptop is fully charged, Graham has had a snack and is taking a nap, and I’ve run out of excuses.

So I’m opening up Word, pulling up my rough draft, and diving into chapter 42.  And, wouldn’t you know it?  It takes place on a hot, summer day.  Maybe I’ll have the main character borrow a friend’s boat and let him deal with his issues out on the lake.  Ahh…I love being in control…

Why Is That Running Through My Head?

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It happened again this morning.  Like it does most mornings after a full night of active dreaming.

I woke with a specific song running through my head.  It was one that I hadn’t heard in forever, but it had played a role in my dream for some odd reason.  This time it was that old 80’s song St. Elmo’s Fire.  I’m sure you know it, even if you don’t recognize the title.  Just pull it up on iTunes and you’ll have it stuck in your head for at least the next fifteen minutes.  You’re welcome.

My mind just keys on music.  It’s the way I’m hard-wired.  Songs pop into my head, and people, places and events are linked with music.  And even – apparently – my dreams.

Graham has songs that are “his” songs, and they have been for years.  Low Rider by War is one that fit him from day one.  And his kitten attitude earned him the song Breaking Dishes by Rihanna.  That one was given to him by someone else, as I couldn’t say that I’d heard the song at the time, but I understood the fit.

I’ve been starting every chapter of my novel with a song quote that somehow fits with the tone and/or attitude of that section and matches what the character in the chapter is going through.  It seemed like a good idea at the time, but it’s amazing how much time you can waste when you’re sifting through songs as “research”.  And how many different roads those songs can lead you down…

Someday, my publisher might throw all of those quotes out, telling me that paying for the rights aren’t anywhere near worth it, but we’ll see.  Because they’re emotionally necessary.  Of course I say that now, but if I’m struggling to find exactly the right fit for the beginnings of 48 separate chapters and that’s what is slowing down the process, I might have to re-think the idea.  But I have faith that I can work it out.

But then there’s the problem of the songs that don’t fit the novel…

I listened to Losers by The Belle Brigade today (I’ll be shocked if you know that one but you should check it out), and, the complete story of another novel popped into my head.  I know just how it would work from beginning to end, and I think it would be funny yet bitter and a bit painful.  It would have highs and lows and conflict and awkwardness and everything that’s needed in a good story. And I know that I just have to write it because that story is MINE to write (yeah, writers can get a bit possessive of really good ideas that come along).

I just need an editor because my mind bounces from one idea to the next at just a single listening to a song.  I need someone who can take my rough draft, tell me what they think, what works, what doesn’t, what needs to be twerked, reworked, rewritten, added to, toned down, etc. when my mind feels like it’s time to move on to something else.  Someone to inspire me to push through the harder part of the work once the fun of creating the story itself is basically done.

Admitting the problem is the first step, right?  And I can admit that I have that problem. Too many stories fighting to get out, and an attention span that needs a good kick in the hind quarters from someone else who wants to get the story finished and bound within a cool cover that just leaps off the shelf almost as bad as I do.

Because Writer’s Block is never going to be a problem for me.  Even now there’s a song by Thriving Ivory that’s speaking to me.  But I can’t afford to take on another novel idea.  Not until I get out a few of the ones that are already in there before they start to blend together and I write the first Literary/Suspense/Romance/Mystery/Historical/Humor/Young Adult/Political/Thriller novel.  But at least you could follow the plot based on the music quotes I use, right?