Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Power of the Internet

Been away for awhile again.  Writing, don't you know.  And the business end has been giving me...well, the business end.  Hope your holidays have gone well, whoever you are.  Now for a few quick things:

--I recently described my writing process this way:

"I let the whole thing fester for awhile--unless it's just suddenly springs on me and I MUST write it down--and then I just write and write and look at whatever comes out. Sometimes I get a lot in a linear fashion; sometimes I get a lot of fragments; sometimes I get the beginning; sometimes the ending. Whatever comes, comes, and then I have to sort it all out. Lately I've been getting fragments and multiple POVs. Cursing was linear, and "Hide the Weird" was, too. A couple of other short stories were. But not too often these days. I often, but not always, try and get down the very beginning, the very end, and hopefully the very middle. Somewhere in all this, at the editing and re-re-re-re-re-editing stage, I fill out an outline of what I've got, to make sure it all makes sense, and to plug in any very obvious holes. By that time, it's been well paved, and I see what I've got, and then I edit again, finish, etc. No strict formula for writing for me. Just go get 'em."

While this is a very accurate description of my writing method, it strikes me as a little all over the place.  Is this typical?  If you're a writer, please comment or send me an email and let me know.  Thanks!


--I recently responded to one of my Goodreads threads, one that asks if there's any book you've been thinking of lately that you remember a bit, but some of it is fuzzy, and you can't remember the title, and you've been looking for the book awhile without success.  You respond to this thread, giving as much information as you can, and the hundreds?  thousands? of Goodreads members who are game try to figure the book out for you.  So I did this about a book I've been thinking about for years, one I read when I was maybe 11, and it made a big impression on me, but I couldn't remember the title at all.  I'd been looking for it at yard sales, library sales, indie bookstores, etc.  I stumped the experts at first, but then someone nailed it!  It's called "The Tunnel to Yesterday."  So I ordered it from Amazon, cost maybe $6 total to ship to my door (free delivery!) and I just finished reading it earlier today.


Now that's the power of the internet.


And, by the way, if I don't get another chance to say so, Happy New Year everybody!!!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Shoveling with Lyn

While shoveling parts of the blizzard today, and viewing the snow-capped trees of my area, feeling the very blustery wind, and warming myself afterward because of the biting cold, I wondered why I liked those sensations while shoveling, and why they make me feel like writing so often when I'm done.  I think now that it's because these are not common sensations to me.  Though I am used to the cold, the snow, and its beautiful aftereffects, I don't see them all the time, or even consistently.  Snow, though common around here, isn't an everyday thing, even in the winter.

And then I thought of Lyn Fuchs, a writer friend of mine who has recently released his first book: Sacred Ground & Holy Water: Travel Tales of Enlightenment.  This tome contains seventeen separate pieces that catalog his travels.  From Africa to Central America to India, and currently in Mexico, I believe, Lyn has seen it all--and he's been there, too.  He has seen brilliant sunsets in places that are as hot as the sun; he has seen the rainforest; he has seen natives of tons of far-away lands.  He has, literally, been there and done that.  And he's written about it, now, too.  It's a good read, and, because it's broken down into 17 smaller pieces, it's comfortable reading for those of us who are too busy for our own good.  Read a section, let it take you to lands you've never been to, and people and things you've never seen, and then put it down and do whatever you've got to do.  Go back to it later, and repeat.  Let his writing take you where you couldn't imagine yourself to be.  Sit back and enjoy.  The sections are quick and easy to read; they are amusing in spots, abundantly detailed in others.  I offer below an interview with Lyn so you can get a feel for the writer. 

Interview:

1. When did you decide to start writing?

My writing habit began when heavy snow sealed me for weeks into a log cabin, amidst the thick timber of Canada's craggy mountains. Life was forever changed. With nothing to do but observe minute details and reflect upon them, I spent silent solitary hours grasping for exact words to convey my experience to others, for when that connection would be restored. Meditations transformed into magazine articles. From eye to mind to pen, the journeys of my life were distilled into the stories that now make up my first book, to the very last one written on an isolated Mexican ranch under a fiery sunset and the influence of tequila. My spirit is within the pages too. If you aren't currently holed up at a snowy cabin or a sunny ranch but wish you were, I hope you'll let Sacred Ground & Holy Water take you there.

2. What is your genre and why did you decide to write a book in it?

One reviewer called Sacred Ground & Holy Water “the guy-friendly Eat, Pray, Love.” I have been kind of stubborn in my insistence that more writing should respect both yin and yang. I try to include both meaningful spiritual insight and raucous primal humor, a sensitivity to the beauty in the world and the guts to face its harsh realities. Sometimes this just offends everyone, but since I really believe that both male and female natures bring balance and value to life, I'm just going to keep doing it till somebody tells me to stop...and maybe even after that.

3. Were you worried about the word count of your work?

No, I tend to be very minimalist in my prose, so you won't find a lot of excess baggage.

4. Do you have any writing quirks and what are they?

The combination of the sacred and the irreverent, the romantic and the animalistic. I think God is secure enough to be funny and sexy. Not everyone agrees.

5. If you can describe your book in one word, what would it be and why?

Brash. You'll see.

6. How did you decide on the title and what does it mean?

Sacred Ground & Holy Water combines new and old world spirituality with reverence for nature, which are basic themes in this book.

7. What do you hope your readers will get out of reading your book?

Loyal readers of my magazine articles can rest assured that this work continues my quest for captivating wordcraft, inappropriate humor and profound observation. This book won't let you down. To those investing in my writing for the first time, I'm honored to have you aboard and confident these stories will make you laugh, ponder and probably get misty-eyed. Thanks for reading my stuff!

8. Tell us a little about your road to publication.

My name is Lyn, but I should be called Lyndiana Jones. I've survived enraged grizzlies, erupting volcanoes, Japanese sword fights and giant squid tentacles. I've been entrapped by FBI agents and held at gunpoint by renegade soldiers. I've sung with Bulgaria’s bluesmaster Vasko the Patch and met with Mexico’s Zapatista Army commander Marcos. I've been thrown out of forbidden temples in southern India and passed out in sweat lodges off the Alaskan coast. My navel has been inhabited by beetles and my genitals have been cursed by eunuchs. I've shared coffee with presidents, beer with pirates and goat guts with polygamists. I've contracted malaria, typhoid, salmonella and lovesickness around the world. It's hard to live that kind of life without gleaning a little wisdom, a wicked sense of humor, and some good stories to tell. Finding editors, publishers and readers willing to reap the benefits of my lunacy without the pain has not been that hard.

9. What advice can you give other aspiring authors out there?

If you are a travel writer (as I am) tell people the truth (as you perceive it) about what's “out there.” People get enough politically-corrected views of the world within their own society, they certainly don't need more of the same claiming to be dispatches from afar. We all need the wisdom that comes from other cultural perspectives, even though those perspectives are not sugar-coated for easy swallowing. If travel writing doesn't challenge the ideas of the reader's culture, did anybody really travel?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas--or Happy Holidays--Everyone!!!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Guard on YouTube

I wrote a few more pages of the still-untitled WIP.  It's coming along very well; so well that it's almost time for me to fill out an outline.  But oh boy is this depressing!  I've been watching real clips of Auschwitz and other death camps on YouTube.  I found one picture (actually, I made a still of one of the images in one of the clips) of Hitler with some young guards behind him.  They're in their early 20s, I'd guess, and there are a couple of older guys with them.  They don't look nuts, but then again only the clinical ones ever do.  The picture is amazing because, when I saw it, I knew I had one of my POVs: the guard who sees what's going on.  I've already written his opening scenes.  And I saw, with him, a few of the other characters in his POV sections.  Interesting, scintillating, very dreadful.  I'll try to post a clip of that for a photo so you'll see what I mean.  If I do that, I want to do it right, with credit to the creators of the clip, etc.  This will be one of the more awful, yet morbidly fascinating, things I've ever written and researched.  I hope I can do the whole story justice.  I think this one will be a bit different than what others have seen and read.  If I can't do it well, without maudling and without using the atrocity as just another novel to write, then I won't do it at all.  I give you my word on this.

Okay, no clip's going to happen, so here's the link:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UWwl-lr9wNc&feature=BF&list=QL&index=1.  The guard for the POV is the one on Hitler's left on the photo at 2:05 into it.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

New Novel and New Links

Photo: Boy Hiding from Hurricane Earl.  I think this picture is a perfect figurative match for the new novel.


The sites I follow are now to the right.  Please check 'em out.  They are interesting, informative, helpful and amusing, often all at the same time.  One of them is a friend's site; alas, though not famous (yet) in the publishing industry, she is a household name (especially in her own) regarding American-Nepali relationships.

I conducted an interview for my latest book and learned a few things.  Namely, you can't say to a concentration camp guard that he needs to NOT shoot the young boy who cannot sing or hold a note (because of puberty) because the boy's voice is deep and resonant enough that it is needed to balance the chorus as a whole.  Turns out, that doesn't make any sense, and won't hold true in reality.  Ah, I said, but would an unknowledgable guard know that?  Someone who's not familiar with how to run a chorus?  That doesn't matter, either, I'm told, because his lack of vocal control and his inability to hold a note or carry a tune would derail the entire chorus.  Ah, I said, with a thought, but couldn't the chorus teacher hide the kid in the chorus and make him mouth the words, and not sing?  Yes, she said.  Happens all the time.  But what happens when any guard at all, or another angry or jealous child, or any one of the camermen or reporters (this is a camp the Nazis used for good public relations, to show how "well" they were treating the Jews) asked the kid to sing?  That, I said, is why I'm asking you these questions.  That's the drama!  That's the pivotal scene of conflict!

What are you gonna do? she asked.

Well, hell, I don't know.  We're just going to have to find out.

An excerpt is to come.

I've been away for a bit: Christmas shopping; writing new novel (excerpt to come); editing pages of new novel; researching; wrapping up the job before the Christmas break; and getting overall run-down.  Yesterday's news was that I had a sinus infection--"Worst I've ever seen with you," my doctor said, which is bad, because he's seen me horrendous.  Also an infected sinus polyp (sorry T.) and he even gave me a pnuemonia shot, just in case.  That part of the arm still hurts.  So now I'm on an antibiotic (for 10 days) and a steroid (in decreasing dosages over 6 days).  I thought the latter would make me a slightly-crazed productive machine, with a little extra Grrrrr! like the last time I had to take a steroid, a few years ago.  Nope; it just wiped me out.  I'm exhausted and yet focused at the same time.  I can definitely breathe better, and my face isn't swollen and puffy anymore--except beneath my eyes, which is now worse--but I'm not a raging lunatic running for the urinal every ten minutes like I was a few years ago.  Not that you needed to know that, but there you are. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Writers Group and New Novel

Photo: Faed's Shakespeare and His Friends at the Mermaid Tavern


Hello to all the new faces at the writers group tonight!  Nice to meet you guys; good to see the familiar faces, too.  Some pockets of great writing in all the pieces covered tonight.  I look forward to seeing you guys next month.  Can you believe it'll be 2011?!?  Obama's been president for over 2 years, by the way.  Weird...

Speaking of writing, I'm happy as hell to announce that I've started the novel about the concentration camp, about how the prisoners must know a creative talent to make their captors look "good" to the world via forced and fake propaganda.  I found a comfy place to write--in a huge comfortable chair, which I can curl up in, in the living room with my better half--and I handwrote the first eight pages of this new novel.  Eight pages of my tiny handwriting is about 10 full pages of type.  Not too bad.  And I've never written fiction in front of someone before, in the same room as someone.  Harlan Coben once told me that he wrote in restaurants, in parks, etc. all the time, that he hardly ever wrote in his own office.  I can't imagine that, but it would be much more convenient if I could do that.  So I am going to try.

If I'm confident enough with this new writing, I'll place an excerpt here sometime soon.  My better half said tonight: "Wow!  You're really great at starting things!  But you're terrible at finishing them!!!"  (She's wanted me to finish Apocalypse before I started something new.  This advice will undoubtedly prove to be correct.)

So true, so true.  But I'm gettin' there.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Just Do It

I told a friend of the new novella/novel idea expressed in the last blog, and he said, "Another one?"  Then I told my better half about the idea, and she said the exact same thing.  And so it's occurred to me that I've got too many things going on at the same time, and not too much time to write any of them.  Doubly frustrating!!!

Right now I'm working on:

1.  Novel idea expressed last time.
2.  The Gravediggers--one of the Novels in Progress that may form a trilogy with...
3.  Apocalypse--one of the Novels in Progress that takes place right at the end of a major world calamity and the end of WW3.  Most of it takes place in Kansas City, NYC, Rhode Island, and occasionally at a few other points throughout the world.  A couple of excerpts of this NIP are in blog entries below.  This is the NIP I'm probably furthest into, and will probably form a trilogy with The Gravediggers, and with...
4.  The novel about the plague(s) throughout history, one of which will happen in the timeline of Apocalypse and The Gravediggers, but that also took place in places like Eyam, England, a similar locale of which forms the backbone of this NIP.  See excerpts and research in blogs below.
5.  The Observer--a NIP that I really like, on which I've written many chapters, fragments, etc. over the years, but which I'm maybe still not ready to fully get into.  You can just feel that, you know?

So that's, what, 5 novels (or NIP)?  That's a lot.  But also there are...

6.  A long article on Pedro Martinez's peak brilliance, as compared to the peaks of others, in our time and before, using some stats (and common sense) that I have not found on baseball-reference.com, or in anything by Bill James, or in Baseball Digest, etc.  Maybe excerpts of #6 and #7 on my sports blog?
7.  A long series of articles on the Hall of Fame voting for MLB.  This series is unique because it focuses not on the fact that HOF players got into the Hall, but on the number of voters who felt that they didn't belong.  Large numbers of voters felt that Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, etc. did not belong in the Hall.  There has never been a 100% unanimous selection to the HOF.
8.  Research for short story and novel submissions--and the actual submissions themselves.
9.  Critiques for the pieces submitted by members of the three writers groups I belong to.
10.  My house, my better half, and the fact that I have an actual life, which also includes my career.

I need to set some sort of schedule.  I just finished my grad. class, thank God.  Now I have to pick one of the novels above, just go for it and finish a draft, while spending time with the submissions as well.

And the energy to do it all.  I heard that J.K. Rowling woke up at about 4 a.m. and wrote until 6 a.m. to get her kids to school, and then wrote until she had to pick them up, and then wrote after she put them to bed.  And then over and over again.  Good Lord, give me the strength!  How?!?  I guess...just do it.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

An Open Door: The Nazis, A Piano Player and A Lot of What-Ifs

from Wikipedia article; picture taken July 2006.  Translation: Work Will Make You Free


Okay, so this is how my mind works.  There's definitely something wrong with me.  On one of my online book/reading/writing clubs is a mention of how one of the members was doing some work on a site.  So I go to that site, and there's a mention of how there's this documentary made about this woman who turned 107 in November--this woman is the oldest Nazi concentration camp survivor.  This 2-minute video blurb tells her story--I'll find the name of the documentary so you can watch it, or I'll at least post the link to the excerpt here.  (Okay, here it is.  The documentary is called Dancing Under the Gallows.  Watch this.)  But I digress, let me finish.  So the camp this woman was in was the one the Nazis used to show the rest of the world how "well" they were treating the Jews.  Things were a tiny bit better than the ones, for instance, in Schindler's List.  For example, women were not separated from their kids here, for the cameras.  The one mandatory thing about this camp was that you had to have some sort of artistic talent so that you could make the Nazis look good on camera.  If you couldn't do that, what good were you?  And if you had no useful purpose...You get the idea.

So this woman could play the piano.  Well.  Really well.  Her son was there, too, and he could sing.  She was 39 when put into this camp.  That's older than I am now.  I try to imagine what that must've been like, for someone a little older than me to be put in a camp and to literally play for her life.  I can't do it.  Can you imagine the stress?

That last question is what led to my idea, as dreadful as it is.  Remember that I'm the same guy who's writing a story about what it must've been like to live in Eyam, England as that town voted to quarantine itself, and then watch as 75% or more of its inhabitants died off.  What if, I thought, I lived there at that time, and dying, one by one, were each member of my family that lived in the Rose Cottage (see blog entry, picture and link below if you're interested).  And, oh, you're immune to the plague, but of course you don't know it, so you think you'll die any second as well.  So, anyway, this led me to think: What if you were brought to this concentration camp because you were the son of a woman who could play the piano, or something--and you couldn't?  And, you couldn't sing, or dance, or play any instrument at all.  But you had to learn.  And you tried.  But you couldn't play anything, or sing anything, to literally save your own life.  And the guards come closer, and closer...and you know if you can't sing or play...and you can't.  This other kid can; this other girl can sing; this other girl can dance.  You see each of them saved by their talent.  And you can't.  Until suddenly you're taken away, pushed roughly against a stone wall, a gun is pointed at your ear...and you sing.  Or you don't.  I haven't "seen" the ending yet.

And there's someone else there who's in charge of teaching the singing, or the dancing, or the playing of instruments.  And you, the teacher, know that if you can't teach this kid who can't sing or dance or play a damn thing...Do you lie for him?  Is anyone there such a good judge of singing that they can't tell?  Maybe you put the kid in a chorus full of people who can sing, and make the kid just mouth the words.  To hide him.  To save him.  Would a guard take him aside and make him sing on his own?  Could you, the teacher, tell the guard that it doesn't matter that he's off-key because he's got the perfect pitch to evenly complement the others in the chorus so that, as a whole, they sound better?  Is that even a valid thing to be able to say?  If not, does it matter?  Is it believable?  I know a chorus teacher at a high school I could ask these things to.  I suspect that there's a chorus teacher somewhere in this country who has done this to a kid who just can't sing a note, but, hey, the Christmas concert is tomorrow night, you know?

Whose POV for this story?  The teacher?  The kid who can't play anything and can't learn?  A guard's?  (Someone has to be able to see the chicanery happening.)  Third person omniscient?  If it's all of them, we're talking at least novella length now, and goodbye short story, hello another novel to work on.  (Don't get me wrong.  Having too many ideas is a VERY good problem to have.  I'm not complaining.)

So, this is how my mind works.  It is a scary place to be, I don't mind telling you.  But it's interesting!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Dan Brown's Robert Langdon Trilogy (So Far)

Photo: Da Vinci's The Last Supper.  Go to the back of the class if you didn't know that.  But don't be ashamed if you didn't know that the real name is Cenacolo.  You didn't expect a guy who spoke Italian and Latin to name his painting in English, did you?  Did you?!?


A couple of comments on Dan Brown's Robert Langdon Trilogy:

Angels and Demons:

Maybe better than Code.  One of the better 1-2 punches in recent literary history.  I wish the public could've let Umberto Eco or Iain Pears do the same for the genre, but at least someone put the genre on the map.  I'll bet the better writers like Eco and Pears benefited from Brown's success.  Creepy bad guy, and Brown shows how pace and history/description (with the occasional hysterically false entertainment) can be done.  Again, like Code and Harry Potter, it made non-readers want to read.  That's good enough.

And the Annotated Angels and Demons is even more cool.  Buy it, and Google the interesting stuff.  It's like having Wikipedia in a cliffhanger book.  You know how you read some books for the recipes, or for things that have nothing to do with the story or writing?  Read this stuff for the interesting artwork, (occasionally correct) history, and real-life historical people, and then Wikipedia them or Google them.  I'm nerdy like that.

The Annotated Da Vinci Code:

Much cooler than just the novel alone.  Great pictures of artwork a must to see what Langdon was seeing.  Good page-turning pot-boiler that isn't meant to be more than it is.  Intelligently gripping, though not quite intellectual.  Nice Gnostic touches, though, and a little bit of common sense never hurts.  The intelligent reader will be able to sift through the material and separate nuggets of intelligent coolness from the hysterically false entertainment.  Made non-readers want to read, so what's not to like about that?  Cardboard characterization a la Crichton, but the best of its type.  Angels and Demons may be better.

I repeat the Wikipedia/Google comments here.

The Annotated Lost Symbol:

Disappointing sequel, but anything really was going to be after such mega-sales from the previous two.  Made me see D.C. in a different way, though I knew much of the history in the book already.  Didn't know about the creepy, Washington-as-God painting.  Googled it--really weird.  But the most disappointing thing about it is how Brown (aka Langdon) immediately backed down from the controversy Code made about the Church.  (SPOILER!)  Third-person POV says that Langdon was surprised at the public's occasional vitriol towards him because of the controversy "he" made by publishing "his" book about what happened, but, hey, c'mon, Brown wasn't TOTALLY off-base, and it helped make the Vatican at least a little culpable about the other, more real and modern-day problems it has.  It all made some people (outside Bible-belt America, apparently) doubt and take a step back--and actually think for a moment.  What's wrong with that?  Don't back away from that!  Be proud of it!  Weak "author intrusion" made an already-disappointing book worse.  Put a bad taste in my mouth about it.  ::sigh::

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

My Sports Blog--formerballplayer.blogspot.com

Photo: Me, in Fenway Park during Picnic in the Park a couple of years ago, standing with the 2004 and 2007 World Series trophies.

I've decided that I have enough to say about sports--mostly baseball--that a new blog became necessary, so here it is.  The post below is probably the only sports one you'll see here.  Go to My Sports Blog and read what I said about the Adrian Gonzalez trade, and its aftereffects, as well as some background info.  Please and thank you.

Boston Red Sox 2011

Photo: Me, in front of the Green Monster, during (see photo) a couple of years ago.

Okay, so this post is for my friends who've been talking non-stop about the trade.  I apologize to my readers who are not into baseball.  You can skip this one.

Well, so here it is.  Gonzalez is a Gold Glove at first, who transplants Youkilis, who was Gold Glove at first, and moves him to third, where he may actually be a little better.  So both corner positions are Gold Glovers, which you had last year before the injuries.  Under the plan beforehand, Martinez would've been your catcher/1B, and, though a good hitter, he is defensively challenged at both positions.  Youk and Gonzalez are clearly better at 1B defensively, and are both clearly better at the plate.  So Martinez is out of the picture at first.  Now, do you pay him 4 years for $50 million to be your full-time catcher and occasional DH?  In other words, do you pay him $12.5 million for the next four years to just catch for you, knowing that you'll have to give him about 30-35 games off, minimum, per year to save the wear and tear so he can be an effective hitter?  With his questionable defense and play calling, knowing he won't be at first or DH?  No way!  If you could put him at first on his days off from catching, maybe, but even that's a stretch.  I'd want to keep him, but not for that money.  And you clearly have to get Gonzalez if he's available, because he's a better hitter and defender than Martinez.  So, once you have all this figured out, Martinez is gone.  Fine.  A shame, and you get nothing now for Justin Masterson--who I was never a fan of anyway--but that's okay with me, too.

The biggest shame out of all this is that you lose Adrian Beltre and Casey Kelly, the latter of which I think can be a future ace of a staff.  But as Brian Rose and Carl Pavano (remember those guys?  the twin sure-things who both fizzled?  Pavano's still pitching, but he clearly stuck it to the Yanks) taught you, one definite is better than one maybe, so getting Gonzalez again is a no-brainer.  The other two prospects in the deal are also potential very good players, but that's why you draft such guys--to help your team on the field (Youk; Pedroia; Papelbon) or to help you in trades (Kelly and the other two).  Remember that Pavano and Rose got you Pedro Martinez.  That worked out pretty well, right?  And if Gonzalez can be 30/100 in San Diego, in a terrible hitters park, he can be 35/120, minimum, in Fenway, and the American League in general.

So then there's Adrian Beltre, who clearly has a perfect swing--down to one knee--at Fenway, and is a Gold Glove at 3rd base, too.  And a 35/120 guy himself.  (Youk is another 120 RBI guy, with fewer home runs.)  But where do you put him?  You have to keep Youk, who's a Fenway Favorite ("YOOOOOOOKKKK") like Ortiz, Pedroia and Papelbon are.  But he had nowhere to play now in the infield, and I'm a little worried at how he only has had monster years during contract years, and his 49 homeruns one year was due to a word that we will not mention here.  That's worrisome, though in his defense I think he enjoyed Fenway and would've put up great numbers and played great defense there every year.  I will miss him, and I think Kelly (whose autograph I have somewhere) and the other two prospects will turn out to be great players, but that's the business side of the game, which is just as important as the balls and strikes.

In short, you now have great hitters and Gold Gloves at every position in the infield (except at short, but Scutaro is unspectacularly solid), and you have Gold Gloves in the outfield with Cameron (when healthy) and Gold Glove caliber with Ellsbury (when healthy) and Drew makes it all look so easy when he glides after a ball, when he feels like it, and when he graces us with his outfield presence.  I wouldn't mind seeing Ellsbury back in center, and then a platoon in right and left between Drew and Cameron, and take your pick between the guys who did a good job subbing last year.  None of those guys, including Drew and Cameron are full-time players anymore--and excluding Ellsbury--so I wouldn't mind seeing Carl Crawford out there (the Nationals overpaid sickeningly for Werth).  BUT, you have to replenish your relief corps first, and if you do that and then don't have enough money left to sign Crawford, I am totally okay with that.  They fielded practically a minor league team last year in the outfield for most of the year, and were still second in the majors in offense, so they don't need another outfielder.  Get Beckett and Lackey back on track, and get a solid middle reliever or two, and if that's all you do, you're still going deep in the playoffs next season.

It Is Accomplished

 Photo: Dojran Lake

Okay, so no posts the last two days because I was working on my paper.  Turns out, I was able to do the whole thing in two days, Sunday and Monday.  I stayed at my job until 9pm Monday getting it done.  I was on a roll and didn't want to stop because I knew I could finish in time for the game.  So I worked on it for over 7 straight hours and got it done.  Yes!  I think it turned out fairly well, and I think I can conclusively say (as far as such things are said) that Alice Munro definitely had a copy of Chekhov's "The Kiss" opened in front of her while she wrote "Floating Bridge," which essentially is the Chekhov story told in reverse.  And I spent about 18 pages proving this.  In the meantime, I found a great library to work in, and I'm now free (until the next class) to work on my writing and my office to get more done.  My next goal is to move the two or three stories that I still haven't sent out yet, plus work on a few more.  I also joined two other writing groups, both much closer than the one I've been going to for the past two years, so hopefully that's all good.  I'm very excited about all this.  I'm looking forward to writing more, and writing better.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Different Library and the T206

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e9/HonusWagnerCard.jpg
Photo: National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

I'm sitting here now at a different library than the one I'm used to.  This one is practically across the street from Borders, so I can quickly go there to work on my paper when the library closes.  I am enough of a literary freak to really appreciate libraries, and different places to write in general.  The best I've ever been in is the New York Public Library in Manhattan, which is beautiful beyond description and even owns not one, but two (!) Honus Wagner T206 cards.  One of them was pasted to a piece of paper a long time ago, and each time I see that one I want to scream.  What a waste!

But I digress.  This library is better, but worse.  They are on guard for all things liquid, so my iced coffee resides behind the reference desk.  The guy next to me has his in his cubicle with him, but I won't turn him in.  Not that kind of guy.  But they wouldn't even let me put it on the big table behind me.  I'm clearly over it.  These cubicles, though, are very cool because they have three plugs built into the left corner of each one, so I don't have to trail my Mac's cord across a room to plug it in.  My cubicle seems to be the main one, too, because there is also a large surge protector beneath it, in case I had 27 more things to plug in.  This cubicle also has a shelf just above those plugs, and the desk of the cubicle itself is big, so that the whole situation is very convenient.  Nice!

I also noticed that there are a ton of books about the Middle Ages, and even some that are encyclopedias of everyday life of various eras.  How cool is that?!?  So I know where to come and research for the chapters of the past for my plague novel (research for much of it you will find in previous blog posts, below).  This area is also relatively quiet, especially now that the buffaloes behind me are gone.  They had been playing loud games on the library computers and, after pausing, talking loudly about them, like they were in their 80s and wearing hearing aids.  Why didn't the coffee police speak to them?  Never mind, I'm over it.  Clearly.

The paper is going well.  I found a story by Chekhov and one by Munro that both contain the following things: remote location (this works literally and figuratively); thoughtful and reflective characters; a sudden kiss by an unexpected person; epiphanies caused by the kiss; a bridge at the end (also effective for literal and figurative purposes--and structural ones, too); minor characters who do not think or reflect as often or as deeply; minor characters who do not seem to suffer--or to be as aware--because of this; and overall examples of the everyday and their ordinary characters' responses to these everyday things.  I have so much, in fact, to comment on, and to cite, that I might not have the space for a Carver comparison after all.  Fine with me.  We'll see.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Chekhov, Munro and Carver

I haven't posted in a few days.  Working hard on my latest paper for the present grad. class, and besides I've been just plain exhausted.  I even took a nap at home after work the last few days, which is not common for me.

So, this paper.  I've decided to show the similarities between Chekhov, Munro and Carver, since the latter two are often compared to the first.  Munro was famously called "our Chekhov" by fellow writer--and Canadian--Cynthia Ozick, and Carver wrote a short story about the last moments of Chekhov, who was a favorite of Carver's.  Carver spoke of him exhaustively.

This paper will start with several quotes of people who compare Munro and Carver to Chekhov, because of structural and textual reasons.  Then I begin the comparisons themselves by comparing Chekhov's "The Kiss" to Munro's "Floating Bridge."  I do this because both stories are structurally similar.  They're both essentially plotless--things just kinda happen.  Then there's the primary image, for which both stories are titled.  Both end with the characters standing on a bridge, both literally and metaphorically.  In Chekhov, this bridge is, of course, one of despair; in Munro, it is, of course, of a hopeful epiphany.  It'd be wonderful if I could also do this for one of Carver's stories, but for now a similar story with this many similarities escapes me.  But I checked out his Complete Stories, so I hope to find one.

I have decided all of this today.  This paper is due Tuesday at 4pm, and I have to work Monday and Tuesday, so I basically have tonight, all day and night tomorrow, and then Monday night, to type the whole thing.  Final product must be 12-15 pages, MLA, all that.  Wish me luck!!!

Monday, November 29, 2010

View from the Bridge

Photo: Charles Stanford, 2008.


This excerpt says it best:

"For centuries Christians have gotten it backwards; we have presumed that we are to take the gospel to the poor. Instead, I invite you to receive the gospel from the poor. These true stories of the least, the lost, and the forgotten will bring you face to face with the Good News in the midst of poverty and injustice in a way that inspires you to join the fight for justice."

For those who know me, you know I am not an extremely religious person, though if pressed I would agree that there is a higher power, an infinite "being," perhaps even a stronger source that guides and defines our ends, but here is a woman who has a purpose, a goal, a voice, an anger, a directness, and, yes, great writing, that dispels with the BS and gets to the realistic point: Helping the poor of Richmond, Virginia.  I, in true fairness, do not share the totality of her religious belief, but I support her nonetheless.  Her weaponry of choice would not be mine, but I do dare to say that we fight the same evil.  And she has done more than I.

Those of you who know me also know that I am no fan of what is commonly called "organized religion."  Despite my beliefs and wails, I have done little to justify my disbelief with organized religion; I have not put my powers, such as they are, to use, and not just fall back on the once-a-week visits on Sundays.  Ms. McCaig grew disillusioned, but, then, unlike me and others like me, she went out there and did something about it.

This blog is her ongoing description of her fight.  I urge you to, at the very least, look at her blog.  Maybe someone with the same ideals can start such a movement in his/her own neck of the woods.  I would not mind doing so around here.  For some exciting reading with a powerful message, a strong purpose and relevance, and very strong voice and honest emotion, go to this blog: http://wendymccaig.wordpress.com/.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

I'm in the Mood for Something Random

Random thoughts:

I've put pictures on most of the blog entries on this site.  Go look at 'em.

Most overlooked Christmas movie: Die Hard!  Sure, A Christmas Story is funny, and Charlie Brown cartoons are cuter and more nostalgic, but who can deny that Die Hard kicked Christmas butt in the 80s?  I still quote Alan Rickman saying: "When Alexander saw the breath of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer.  Benefits of a classical education."  I remember seeing it in the theater and people laughed A LOT, and we were blown away by the sound.  One of the first to use the new sound technologies.

I'm seriously jonesing Sherlock Holmes.  Don't know why.  Haven't seen the latest Robert Downey movie.  But I did just buy an awesome huge book of the short stories as originally published in The Strand Magazine, with the original drawings by Sidney Paget, and the original type from that era.  Cool, man.  I'm listening to a reading of Sherlock Holmes by the guy who does Shut Up and Think!  Go there and check him out.  He sounds a bit like Rush Limbaugh, but I'm not holding that against him.  He must get a ton of traffic, because two ads precede everything you click on.

Gotta work more on my writing and on my paper.  A bit of anxiety is beginning to creep in about both.  Paper is due December 7th or so.

Losing weight isn't hard.  A few simple rules: Burn off more calories than you consume.  Do more, eat less.

I will never be able to clean out this office.  I fight an avalanche of paper and mountains of books every day.

I'm busy almost every second of the day, but I never seem to get everything done that I want/need to get done.  How can that be?

I have more books to read than all books combined that I have ever read.  Or it just seems that way.

Baseball season couldn't start soon enough.  I'm hoping that it'll be so cold this winter that it won't snow.

I'm feeling so overwhelmed that I Googled daily planner forms and printed them out and am using them.  I can't tell if that's responsible, or pathetic.

I have at least three short stories I haven't sent out yet.  I have three novels I'm trying to write, all at once.

I go back to work tomorrow.  It's been 4 days and I haven't come close to accomplishing everything I wanted.  I realize that I'm coming across as a bit of a nut about this.  I feel like I'm losing time, but for what?

I'm tired of the Blogger stats not working.  What happened?  Blogger says it's working on it.

I got accepted to RIC and URI networking sites on LinkedIn, but when I scrolled through the members, I didn't know any of them.  I'm a member of 20 groups, just on LinkedIn alone, which seems like too many, and not enough, at the same time.  I become exhausted and eye-strained just responding to all those things.

Josh Hamilton and Joey Votto will be one-hit wonders, especially Votto.  His 328 total bases for an MVP has to be amongst the all-time lows.  Hamilton has a few more good years if he keeps his eyes on the prize.

That's enough randomness for now.  There'll be more to come, believe me.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Gotta Cut Back

I haven't officially recovered from Thanksgiving, but I am already ruing the fact that I can't eat everyday what I ate then.  Baked mac and cheese; bread; five different desserts; lasagna; cornbread; mashed potatoes; a few other things I've already forgotten--all that while visiting with my better half's clan.  Then, at a friend's, one slice of apple pie, one slice of pumpkin cream pie, and one slice of chocolate cream pie.  Surprised I could walk the next day!  Whew!

As I write this blog, and comment on the 20 groups I've joined--and that's just on LinkedIn!--and update my profiles on all those sites, and more, it's occurred to me that I'm doing so much to advertise my writing that it's prevented me from getting any writing done!  How absurd!  So I've decided, starting now, to only spend an hour commenting on these things per day, and unfortunately I'm going to have to completely put aside all of the mss. I said I'd try to review for this blog and/or my site.  (In my defense, I gave all those folks a lot of IFs, but I still feel badly about it.)  I just can't do it all, plus my actual career (which itself would exhaust most normal people), plus take care of the house and have something that at least mimics a life.  And, oh yeah, the reading and writing that must get done.  I mean, I just realized right now that I've left a blanket in the washing machine for a few days, and my hallways look like mineshafts.

Gotta do less to do more.  I need some sort of daily schedule, like Ben Franklin kept.

And a special get well to my better half's mother, who was not feeling well on Thanksgiving and had to stay in.

That just ain't right.  Better than on Christmas, I guess.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Taking the night off to recover from the day's eating.  Hopefully I'll get some reading and writing done, too.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanks

I'm thankful for my better half.  I'm thankful for her tolerance!  I'm thankful that I have so much spare time that I can operate a site and blog.  I'm thankful I have enough spare time to check up on them maybe more often than I should.  I'm thankful for my career at a time when jobs are scarce--and job security perhaps more so.  I'm thankful for my home--and for my ability to afford one--at a time when others are in such forced chaos.  I'm thankful for my ability at my job.  I'm thankful for my imagination; it saves me from the tedium that destroys some lives.  I'm thankful for my writing ability that allows me to express this creativity; others better than me are frustrated by their lack of expression.  I'm thankful for my life thus far; others far greater than me have died younger.  I'm thankful for my future chances; others have prospects much more dim.  I'm thankful for my books; they give me the safety that sometimes my writing does not provide.  I'm thankful for all the (seemingly thousands) of books that I have read, for they have created the mind that I have (such as it is).  I'm thankful for all the books I have that I have not yet read; I look forward to the creativity many of them will inspire.  I'm thankful that I have talents and hobbies outside of my job; they have saved me from the frustration that others in my profession far better than me have been burned out from.  I'm thankful for the ones I have inspired and who have inspired me.  I am thankful for the ones in my life who have tried to derail me, for they have taught me much.  I am thankful for those who have taught me; some of them have given me the impetus to begin and enjoy my current profession.  I am thankful for the bad ones, for they have done the same.  I am thankful for those who have taught me what not to do, whether they tried to or not.  I am thankful for my annoyances, for they have grounded me.  I am thankful for those who have gone through much on my behalf.  I am thankful for those who have raised me; some have no one.  I am thankful that I am now thankful.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Another Apocalypse Fragment

I don't know yet where in the novel this will go.  The setting is at a Kansas City, Missouri community of survivors.  This area is now largely arid, wasted land.  The "I" is the main character, David Bancroft.  Those of you on top of your Old Testament will recognize this as the dinner shared by the elders and...well, you'll see.  The reactions of both are derived from the Old Testamental story.  I remind you that this is a rough draft.

[By the way, for those of you having trouble posting from Word to Blogger, use Notepad as an intermediary.]

An Immense Dread  

I felt an immense dread that transcended simple feeling.  It was a weight that pushed on me; I was scared, full of terrible wonder.  The wind was a hurricane that howled and knocked upon my door like a demon.
    I opened this door and found outside a dust-storm.  The red sand obliterated most of the sun; it flew in a puckered sheet right to left, and what sun shone through was a fixed red eye, a fireball, a barrel, locked and loaded, pointing at me from forever.
    And yet I saw to my right a large table covered by an overflowing white cloth; upon it lay more food than this camp would ever see—and four tall candles of white wax, their flames a solid life unwavering in the breeze.  Sitting in simple wooden thrones were the other seventy-three, each side holding thirty-six, all of them smiling, speechless, every eating movement slow and without noise.  The throne closest to me, with most of its back to me, sat vacant, turned slightly to the left, waiting for me as if it lived and breathed.
    Then the wind stilled and I was filled with terror.  A moan I didn’t recognize escaped from my dry, dust-covered lips; an indescribable dread chilled my heart so that I could not feel it beat.  A mania of awareness surged through me in this terror.  The sun was still a red eye, despite the stillness.  Again it seemed to me a red eye, unblinking, aimed at me directly.  In this dread I looked again at the people, at the table, and finally beyond them.
    And there, at a distance, beneath the frozen grey clouds, from out of the air and dissolving mist, appeared the giant figure that had always been there, now discernable in the stillness.  He crouched like a catcher, the toes barely touching the red dust and earth, the heels and large rounded knees not at all.  A huge muscled hand cupped each knee; the hands were bony, etched, despite their size and muscle.
    The massive face wore the color and lines of the desert on it; the blues of the eyes startling in a bright sea of whiteness.  This figure appeared and disappeared and appeared again in this stance, as if a cartoon character drawn incompletely on flipping pages that did not catch each small movement, causing it to flit in and out of this reality.
    As I walked slowly towards the table, trance-like, full of dread and terror, I saw that everyone else watched this image also.  All were transfixed and open-mouthed, unsmiling as I was, full of awe and terror.  A scream rose in my throat then, for as we watched this fleeting figure, as we gazed upon him, so he too watched us, gazed upon us.
    And his face was as terrified as ours, unsmiling, mouth open; as he moved his face closer, closer, still closer, his brown eyebrows descended into a solid wall that covered the upper-corners of his eyes.  Deep furrows dug into his forehead, and a feeling of death, of something beyond dread and terror, consumed me so that I felt that I would never stop dying, even as I lived.
    His cheeks thinned as he inhaled.  Its vacuum-wind blew out the candles, creating a three-second darkness that died when we were consumed by the red-eye sun that finally blinked and fired.
    And then he breathed.

Monday, November 22, 2010

New Novel Fragment

I write novels in fragments, sometimes entire chapters, but hardly ever in a linear fashion.  An image, an idea, or whatever occurs to me, and so I write it.  It just happens, and I piece it all together later.  How much later?  When I have to.  I'll know it when it happens.  I don't outline because I just report what happens; in that way I'm more like a reporter than a writer.  I did finally outline towards the end of Cursing the Darkness, and I filled in a few glaring holes that I wouldn't have caught otherwise, but I'm happy overall with my design.  I think all of that might change with this newest novel, Apocalypse.  I see a trilogy forming here, one mostly focusing on flu or plague dominated scenes, and their aftermath, and all of their intricacies, told from 1st person limited POV and 3rd person omniscient POV, as well as journals and diaries, and some of the characters may intermingle with others who are also telling the story, and I'll jump around, too, telling this story from both 1665 and 2022, and maybe points in between.  I've already discussed the Eyam scenario (see posts below), but how about a diary entry written from sub-Saharan Africa, from the epicenter of the AIDS virus, while it was wiping out entire villages in the 60s and 70s and nobody knew what the hell was going on?  For that matter, how about such a scenario now, when everyone does know what the hell is going on but the numbers are the worst ever, and getting worse?  Imagine being someone in sub-Saharan Africa, or Eyam, England, and watching everyone die around you?  I see some social criticism seeping into this novel as well--How couldn't it?

So here's a little fragment I wrote today:

H7N1.  Sounds like a Bingo call, a Battleship turn.  Not a virus strain.  Not like somthing that killed millions.  Like coordinates.  Like a code.  They say it started in chickens, in fowl.  In crows.  On the streets of Singapore.  India.  China.  It's always been around.  But then a slight mutation.  A simple virus, like a cold.

It all started with a sneeze.  A handshake.  An opening of a door.  It ended the War.  It ended the world.

(Me again.)  That's it.  I have tons of other fragments.  Sections.  Chapters.  It's taking shape; I can see it more clearly.  That's how I know it'll take three books to tell it, each veering in a different direction once The End of Days happens.  (See a recent post, below.)  I've got the design of Book 1 figured out, or at least I think it'll be the first of the trilogy.  I won't know until I work more on it.  I won't force it.  If the second or third one comes out first, so be it.  You can't force such things.  "The War," by the way, refers to World War 3, don't you see, and the fact is: You can't fight it if you're too sick.  It can't be fought if there's soon to be a lack of people to fight it.  Three or four things happen at once, a perfect storm of events.  Something else happens that stops it all, too.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

An Older Lady, A Table and Two Chairs

This made me smile.  I'm sitting here in the Borders cafe, reading Daniel Dafoe's Journal of the Plague Years (free, online), when this little old lady wearing a long, thick black coat, with her hair done up and sprayed rather heavily, walked slowly to a nearby table, dragged slowly back to her table the chair that those people had borrowed from her table, set it firmly on the other side of her little table--I'm looking at it now, the two chairs are fitted perfectly across from each other, pushed in, just so--and picked up her napkin, threw it away, and picked up her magazines, put them away, and then looked over her table, realized that it was neat and the way she had found it--if not better--and walked away.  All of that very slowly, very deliberately, and with no other purpose than that's the way it's supposed to be.  That's what you do.  You clean up after yourself, throw your own napkins away, put your own magazines away, and replace anything that had been taken back to where it belongs.  The people who had borrowed the chair from her table hadn't returned it to her table, so she went and brought it back.  Slowly.  This lady must've been 75 if she was a day.  People half her age--hell, a third her age--are not as well-mannered as this.

I'm probably not, either.  Maybe you're not, too.  This is a dying trend: the belief that things should be just so, and that you're responsible for making it that way.  Especially if it had been that way when you got there.  You clean up after yourself in this life.  I'm looking at the table and chairs again: the chairs are perfectly opposite each other and both pushed in as far as they can go, both touching the round base of the center leg of the table.  They are EXACT, facing each other, and this lady was not suffering from any sort of anal retention/obsessive compulsion behavior.  She just put things back the way they were.

This struck me as so unusual and wonderful that I just had to write about it.  I took a picture of it with my cell phone--again ruing the fact that I never take my camera with me when I know that moments like this happen to me all the time--and I hope to put the picture with this entry.  I did it!!!  YAY!!!

And I have to say, for those of us of a certain age, that there are two important things here: that it seems as if fewer people are raised this way (as this lady had been) and that, hey, I took a picture with my cell phone, emailed it from the phone to my email, saved that picture from the email to my Mac, and then uploaded the picture from my Mac to the blog.  This is quite unbelievable to me.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Internet Groups

If you have time, join one of these groups.  (I don't have the time, but I joined anyway.  I'll just be a sporadic responder.)  A reader named Jan was good enough to ask where the sites are, and I have to admit that I goofed when I didn't originally mention that these are all Goodreads sites.  So I edited the post to let y'all know.  Thanks, Jan!  (If anyone has a question about anything on my sites, please feel free to email and ask.)

Stephen King Fans
The Next Best Book Club
Book Lovers
The Novel Ideas (request still pending)
Book Haven
The Mystery, Crime and Thriller Group

Lots of cool discussions about an unbelievable number of things!

Friday, November 19, 2010

An Epigram for My New Manuscript, Apocalypse

photo credit: Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty Images


"Make your own Bible. Select and collect all the words and sentences that in all your readings have been to you like the blast of a trumpet."

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

I'm using this one as one of the epigrams for one of my novels-in-progress (Aren't they all?), titled Apocalypse.  In this work, which is written as a (literally) new Bible from a survivor of what the writer thinks is The End of Days, each chapter has the same name of the chapters of the actual Bible, Old and New Testament.  The narrator, essentially epistolary, except for when the third-person omniscient narrator tells the story, compares himself to the writers of the Bible, and states that if his time is not the time for a new Bible, it is at least time for one that can maybe go hand-in-hand with the Catholic Bible.  I admit that this is potentially blasphemous, but the ms. is not written in an offensive manner, and no one would think that the narrators are (overly) rebelling against anything.  They're just writing it down.

I'm thinking of putting a chapter or two (or fragments) on my website, www.stevenbelanger.com.  Look for it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I'm All Business

Completely finished "Pink Lemonade."  It's only 3,200 words, so that bodes well.  I didn't notice--and I don't think anyone from the group observed--that I never once mentioned the first person narrator's name: Foster.  Oops.  Fixed that, and put in a small tidbit about profiling, when the ADA's giving him the case.  A few other odds and ends, and now it's done, ready to go out with "So Many Reasons..."  Things to do, things to do...

Waiting to hear on another one out there, plus a few other things.  I hate waiting for others to send things back to me.  In this business, each one could take months.  I don't get why some pros in this field still don't accept email submissions.  I would assume it would be quicker and more beneficial to both parties.  Someone will have to clear this up for me.

Also finished a couple of things about Cursing the Darkness.  Hopefully there'll be good news of that soon.  Sent out a few emails; put together a couple of packages.  All business tonight.  Little time for actual writing.

Step outside, look up, and see the meteor shower tonight.  There are more things, in heaven and in earth...It's a clear night here, and very breezy.  Perfect for watching.  Hope you catch one.  If you do, make a wish.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Two Existentialist Epigrams

Photo: Soren Kierkegaard.  Very, very awesome existentialist.  Read his Fear and Trembling and Either/Or.  Very good Wikipedia page about him, too.


A quick shout out to my writers group.  Thanks for the help Tuesday, and thanks for coming here.  You rule!

And now, because I'm in a mood caused by the fall breeze and the falling leaves, two of my favorite epigrams:

But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
And all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.

Andrew Marvel, "To His Coy Mistress"

We live, as we dream--alone.

Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

These express one of my favorite (and most empowering, and sometimes depressing) things: existentialism.  These epigrams are not about loneliness, but they are about alone-ness.  If you're in a plane that's going down, you're going to die alone, even if you're surrounded by 200 other people.  If you understand that--if you get that you're always alone, even in a crowded room, then you get all there is to know of existentialism.

Welcome Again, and House

Okay, got a little done.  Not too bad.  Dabbled at a few things; no new breakthroughs.  But that's okay.  The newest short story is ready to go, and so are a few others that you're probably tired of hearing about by now.  Send them out already!  I will.  After the day job tomorrow, after a meeting, I'll come back and get it done.  Very determined.  I could use more sleep tonight.  On fumes at the grad. class, but I got the three long-ish works read that I needed for the class, and I commented in my notebook and during class.  (For the writer and work, so previous blog.)

Welcome to the new visitors, by the way.  Quite a few of you guys (and gals) lately, and I've been remiss not to tip my hat and say hello.  Please feel free to leave your site or blog address in a comment (below) or email to me (see above for address) and I'll definitely see your site and say hello back.  Nice to meetcha!

Time to get REAL serious about another one of the several novels I'm working on as well.  Let's get one of those babies finished.  As a last random note, saw the DVRed episode of House from yesterday; one of the better ones of the season.  Not sure of what to make of the Amber Tamblyn character, but she sure saved his bacon today!  Looks to young to take her seriously as a soon-to-be renowned doctor, but so was 13 and no one complained about her.  For obvious reasons.  House is, by the way, the only (non-sports) television show I watch.  Period.  I watch a couple of others my better half records, but if she didn't DVR them, I wouldn't watch them.  Between the day job (which is also the night job), and the grad class, and the writers group, and the writing, and all the business for the writing, who's got the time?

Off to the writing, before I fully pass out from exhaustion.  Be good.

Unaccustomed Earth

A quick plug for Jhumpa Lahiri and Unaccustomed Earth, as I posted on my Goodreads.com page:

As the Pulitzer and many other accolades will tell you, a very talented writer whose work is void of immature characters doing immaturely self-destructive things--a rarity considering most of what I've read for this Masters class.  Eight interconnected stories from differing POVs, none of them with a clunky sentence.  Literature that is easy to read, not highbrow or condescending.  Highly recommended.  30 editions since the 2008 publication date also shows you something.  Very accessible.

I feel like I'll create something tonight, and not just do the business end of sending the stories out, but right now, after running around for the past few weeks, and the past few days, and the last 12 hours, non-stop, I need to re-charge the ol' batteries.  I hope to post later that I got more creating done.  If I don't, I didn't.  That's bad.

Silence

The writing group went really well tonight.  Met some new people and met up with friends I haven't seen in months.  We had discussions about profiling (as per the Behavioral Sciences type, like those shown in The Silence of the Lambs) and about my short story, which received mostly positive reviews.  Time to polish up that baby and send it out, ASAP.  That's "Pink Lemonade" that I speak of.  Look for it!  The grad. class happens tomorrow, so I'll have to do the day job and then freshen up on the work due for that.  Maybe I'll have the time (and energy) to send the story out tomorrow.  Here's to hoping.  If not tomorrow, then Wednesday.

So I'll remind myself to remain positive and focused on this site.  Been a little mawdlin' lately.  Can't have that!  I'm way ahead of the creating game, especially compared to those with kids, so what am I even minorly complaining about?  Get it done well and send it out, and stop yer yappin', I say to myself.  So you work a lot?  Who doesn't?  Be thankful for your creative energy and outlet, for your imagination, for your ability, and for your day job that pays the Man when many people don't have even that--and shut up!!!

I have to be thankful, and remember that.  Where's my copy of The Secret?  I'm not too proud...

Monday, November 15, 2010

Frustration

Did the job today, all day, and household things.  I'm ready for the writers group, will have the critiques ready for 7pm tomorrow, but didn't have time to send anything out or to write anything new.  I have all these ideas (and all the research you've seen recently), but no time left to do any of the writing.  Frustrating!  If good writers need to write every day, which I'm sure they do, I am not keeping up my end.  And I have so much good stuff to do!  And I have my Masters class to prepare for after the meeting tomorrow night...There just isn't enough time.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Balance

I finished "Pink Lemonade."  Originally I'd written it in third person the day after I'd experienced most of it.  My friend Chris and I had gone to Unos, as usual, before the Red Sox game, and...well, you'd have to read the story.  I didn't like it in the third person, so I spent a few days revamping it into first person, so Foster's voice could be part of the story.  Just sounded too mechanical without him.  I finished 99% of it Thursday, then did the rest today, and then spent a few hours more editing it, tightening it, fixing a few discrepancies.  Then I posted it to my writers group.  Two days before the group meets, awesome group member that I am.  After a few comments there, and maybe some more editing, off it goes to pound the internet pavement.  That one, and two others I still have to send out yet.  The last story I got published, "Hide the Weird," I sent out before my time came around for the group review, so that it was accepted by the magazine, and then the group reviewed it.  That was unusual.  It's too late to try that now, but I do things--even somewhat ridiculous things--when it's been shown to work.  The story wasn't accepted because it was sent out before the meeting, but still...I'll send the next one out before the next meeting...

This is a good problem to have, but it's frustrating to be completing projects and then not sending them out.  The Man gets in the way, doesn't he, when you have to create and do the business end of creating?  Sounds ridiculous, but it's true--there is a business end to creating.  It takes more time, in fact, than the actual creating.

I hope that tomorrow I can finish the job's requirements early, so I can send all that out.  And the actual life stuff, like laundry, dishwasher, picking up the entire house?  That'll all have to wait.  I need an assistant.

I would be very interested to learn how to better organize my time, so that I don't feel as impossibly rushed and frantic as I do--which isn't good for the creating process, nor the business end that goes with it.  How do you write a lot, work a very busy day job that is in itself very draining (though rewarding), and yet still meet life's other requirements?  I wake up much earlier than I used to, seven days a week, and I go to bed as late as I used to, which, being an insomniac, was always late to begin with, anywhere between 1 to 3 in the morning--to wake up and be at work just after 7.  And yet the house, the office, and, well, myself, all need tidying up a bit, all the time, and the work for the day job and for my writing never seems to be completed.

Anyone have any advice about how to better complete things, or to be more balanced with everything?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Pink Lemonade

Photo credit: Ruzova Limonada (Pink Lemonade) by Honza Groh from Vlastni Fotografie (Own Works)

Right now I am admiring the technology that allows me to type on a Mac at a Dunkin' Donuts, yet still connect to this blog and share my ideas and writing situation.  Truly--what a world is this, that we can so easily connect to others, and yet still so often don't.  Sometimes I think that the connection we forge with others over the net--most of whom we don't even know--come at the cost of those whom we see every day.  We connect, yet we drift...

Well, anyway, I mostly finished another Foster short story that I can submit to my writing group and then, after changes, send out.  The rough draft was written awhile ago, after a friend and I had returned from a very drizzly night at Fenway.  We'd gone to the Unos that's really there, that's also in the story, and we'd really run into--or, more accurately, profiled--the same two people depicted in the story.  One major difference is that we'd shared our thoughts and suppositions with our waiter, who'd also served them, and we had him in hysterics.  We had ourselves in hysterics, too, I have to admit.  My friend had dared me to share our suspicions with the waiter, and so of course I had, because I have brass buttons, for some reason, on our Unos excursions before hitting Fenway.  Our most famous incident is another story, maybe, for another blog.

Anyway, the food items--the salad, the chicken fingers--are all the same, as are the drinks: Sprite for her; pink lemonade for him.  She really did pay the bill, as in the story, and they really did look exactly as described in the story.  And, ultimately, especially after we noticed the pink lemonade towards the end of the night, just like in the story, we had the waiter in agreement with us.  He thought we were so cool and hilarious that he bought us a round of beer, each.  Very cool guy.

So we drew the same conclusions for the same reason as Foster did, and I admit now, as in the story, that people-watching is unbelievably amusing and interesting, but not altogether fair because of the conclusions you sometimes draw, often in spite of yourself.  As Foster says, profiling is not an exact science.  But you play the odds, and so by definition your suppositions will be right--most of the time.

I hope this story gets accepted and published quickly, so that I can share the link with you, and so you'll know what the heck I've been talking about here.  So I wrote the rough draft literally the next afternoon, in a few hours, but I did it in the third person because Cursing the Darkness, the novel on my website (see above) where Foster is the main character, had been in first person, and I wanted to see if a Foster story could survive well without him telling it.  In other words, is it the story that makes Foster shine, or is it his voice?  I decided that the third person with Foster was too mechanical, that the tone was lifeless, and that I needed him to tell it.  And so today I re-worked the whole thing in the first person, and I was 95% of the way done with it before I lost concentration, couldn't get it back, and so spent the next couple of hours catching up on work for my day job instead.

But not a bad night--finishing an entire short story by drastically changing the POV and voice, making the hard decision to do so (see an entry below; writing decisions are hard), and then catching up on work that really needed to be done for my job.  I could've been derailed by losing that creative focus, but I managed to salvage the night and get a lot done.  I tell you, for writers, that's rare.  Very rare.

So now I feel good.  I got a coffee for tomorrow, and an iced pumpkin latte for my better half, and soon I'll go back and hopefully finish the last 5% of the story.  If not, there's tomorrow.  But definitely tomorrow.  Then I'll have yet another story to send out--adding it to the other two.  This weekend, after I finish the rest of the work for the job, my next priority is to send out those stories.  Wish me luck!!!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Borders vs. B&N; 1985 and IT


Photos: Sidewalk and lights outside of my local Borders; IT cover, from stephenking.com

Okay, so...to catch up.  You may have noticed that I've been researching a lot lately--over 10 hours over a couple of days at Borders, where I went through 8 books, emailed a ton of notes to myself, and didn't have to buy anything.  (Sorry for the downer info. of HIV/AIDS, Measles, Ebola, and other scary as hell filoviruses out there.)  Researching is better there than at a library because at a bookstore you get all the latest books and information on a subject.  In the library, not so much, at least not around here.  All the while sipping coffee or espresso, seeing friends--and talking out loud to them.  Yes, another reason to prefer Borders over a library.  I also prefer Borders over B&N, too.  B&N has a better selection, especially for artsy books.  But...the atmosphere at Borders is better.  More sitting room in the store and in the cafe.  Bigger tables in the cafe, too, which is important when you're slogging through 8 books and emailing notes to yourself on a laptop.  I never had to place the laptop on my lap, which I hate to do.  I also know a few people who live near the one I frequent; I practically have my own table there like I used to at a local college at Donovan Dining Center.  Seriously.  About 11-12 years ago, students and faculty alike would find me there, upper floor, go up the stairs, first table on the right against the window.

Anyway, I also got Stephen King's new book, and may read it after (or, what the hell, during) the current stressful time--important stuff going on at the job, don'tcha know.  I thought I would pose a question:

Which Stephen King book, or movie, is your favorite, and why?  Readers may answer it either via an email to me--see above--or via a comment--see below.  Just write the title, and I'll post about the one with the most votes in a week.  If the answer is none, say that, too, but, c'mon, how can you not like any film or book of his after all this time and permeation of our culture?

I'll start by saying that my favorite adaptations are Shawshank Redemption, Stand By Me, Misery, The Shining (for technical brilliance and imagery only), and the original Sissy Spacek/John Travolta Carrie, in that order.  My fave books include: IT, Misery, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, The Stand and The Shining.  If forced to pick one, I'd choose IT, for many reasons, not the least is which because I can clearly remember getting on my Huffy 5-speed bike in 1985 and pedaling to a local Stop & Shop, where I bought the book in hardcover and read the whole thing in fewer than three days, almost around the clock--school, read, sleep (just a couple hours; I've always been an insomniac) and repeat.  With my father shutting my bedroom light off on me all the time.  He'd leave; I'd flick it on, and round and round we'd go.  And it gave me a little mantra in times of crisis; for some silly reason, it's always worked:

He thrusts his fists against the posts and still insists he sees the ghosts.

And the scenes: the haunted house at Kansas Street; Neiboldt Street; the kid shouting, "That would've been out of ----ing Yankee Stadium!"  Pennywise the Clown, of course.  Beverly Marsh and the old lady who wasn't an old lady.  And, hell, I miss the excitement of riding my bike to buy a book, all that youthful energy, the anticipation...Today I drive to buy books; couldn't imagine riding my bike there.  Back then, it was done without a thought, no problem, see ya in a little bit.  Today the thought of it makes me groan.  I'm gettin' old.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Under-medicated and Overweight America, Take 2

I want to expound upon a point made below, a quick jibe at the pharmaceutical industry, which over-medicates those who can afford it (and often don't need it) and which under-medicates the poor, and/or those without healthcare benefits, by overcharging them.  I realize, again, that I am breaking my own rule about sticking to topics of literature and (my) writing, but this riles me enough so that I may write a novel someday soon that at least glances at this issue.  Plus, this blog is not a democracy.

I didn't mean to suggest in the post that it's the result of a stereotypical lazy-American, or passive-American, syndrome.  You'll find lazy people in any culture, and they don't all get overweight.  I don't have that Roman attitude--remember that Caesar wanted to be surrounded by overweight, bald people who slept well?  Anyway, I digress; I meant to imply that meds cost way too much ($53 for 30 pills?!?  For an acid reducer???  A glorified TUMS???)  And that candy (and alcohol) are too cheap and prevalent.  People can't get well if they can't afford to; people will consume what they can afford.  Keep in mind, too, that fast food places and liquor stores abound in the poorer places, and that the healthier the food, the more expensive it is.  WholeFoods, after all, does not have a dollar menu.

People will eat more the more depressed they are--and if they can't afford the meds they need, they will eat more candy, especially when candy's on sale, two for $1.  Though clearly not a health-food freak, I'm also not exactly slovenly, and when I saw that my 30 pills were $53 (and, I know, that's cheap compared to what many people pay for more important pills), I got gloomy enough to buy the on-sale candy, and race to submit the post.  And, lastly, there was no generic available for my med, which is important for me.  You'll find that the more important, or high-selling, the med, the less a chance you'll find a generic for it.  It took an expiration of the patent before even Claritin finally went in front of the counter.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Flu Notes for Virus Novel, Still Untitled


Photo #1: Human Host, by Scott Camazine/Alamy, from nationalgeographic.com:  Human lungs are the most terrifying tools of the plague. Pneumonic plague, seen affecting both lung fields in this x-ray, is the only form of plague spread from person to person. It is transmitted by coughs and sneezes. The fatality rate of pneumonic plague is a staggering 95 percent. Treatment can be effective during the first 24 hours of infection, but plague is often mistaken as the flu. Victims are lucky to live more than 48 hours.

Photo #2: Plague Warfare, by Jason Lee/Reuters/Corbis, from nationalgeographic.com:  This building near Harbin, China, was host to Japanese germ warfare experiments during World War II. The boxes were for breeding rats, the vehicles for fleas infected with plague. Upon release these rat agents carried the Black Death—as well as cholera and anthrax—to infect enemy Chinese. Plague is still studied by governments and terrorist organizations for possible germ warfare applications.

It's worth mentioning that every source I've read says that the world is overdue for a super-virus that would devastate worse than the 1918 flu.  Wish me luck as I work on this novel.  I've already decided that the work would be present-day, but with flashbacks to other epidemics.  You'll see what I mean (I hope).  I already have a lot of images in my head about this; I can't wait to get them down on paper.   

More ominous notes from the book mentioned in yesterday's blog:

1918 flu virus: more than 40 to 50 million people died of flu in 1918-9 in less than one year, over 4 times the war casualties.  Pg. 306.

An estimated one-fifth (20%) of the world’s population was infected, and 2 to 3% of those died.

Major influenzas of 1957 and 1968 were mild, 1 to 1.5 million died worldwide each time.

1918 flu was unique because, for the first time, the very healthy died, not just the infants and elderly. 

Word “flu” first used by W.H. Auden: “Little birds with scarlet legs/Sitting on their speckled eggs/Eye each flu-infected city.”

91st Psalm: “You need not fear the terror by night,/nor the arrow that flies by day,/nor the plague that stalks in the darkness.”

On November 7th,1918, the ship Talune introduced the disease into islands of Upola and Savii.  Within 3 months, over 21% of those populations died, as did similarly those in Fiji and Tahiti.  “It was impossible to bury the dead…Day and night trucks rumbled throughout the streets, filled with bodies for the constantly burning pyres.”  Pg. 308.

See typhoid in Plymouth, PA in 1885; yellow fever in Philadelphia, 1793.

The plague killed 14% of 1665 London in 7 months.---Warren Vaughan, American Journal of Epidemiology, 1921.

See Numbers 11:31-34 for description of bird-caused plague.

Flu travels through the air in droplets launched by coughing or sneezing.  Victim incubates virus between 24 hours and 4-5 days before symptoms are obvious.  First signs are headache, chills, dry cough, fever, weakness, and loss of appetite.  Generalized fatigue and, in some, bronchitis and pneumonia follow.  Total recovery takes several weeks or longer.  Influenza is a distinct entity; it is not “flu.”  It is a virus and can be transmitted between people, dogs, pigs and ferrets, interchangeably.

The influenza viruses that strike humans are divided into types A, B & C.  Influenza A is the historical one, infecting man, pigs, horses, seals and birds.  This virus and its hosts have adapted mutually over many centuries and created a reservoir that ensures perpetuation of the virus.  It likely originated in aquatic birds.  When such viruses or their components mix with human influenza virus, dramatic genetic shifts can follow, creating the potential of a new epidemic for humans.

Tissue taken from a 21 year old private who died of 1918-9 Spanish flu and those of a native Alaskan who died in 1918 and was buried in permafrost were used to resurrect the extinct 1918 influenza virus.

Resurrected 1918 virus is 100 times more lethal than other strains; it produces 39,000 more virus particles than other influenza strains. Pg. 321.

H5N1 bird flu, first isolated in 1997, had by 2008 killed about 60% (236/373; 63%) of those with it, but had not jumped repeatedly or easily between humans.  75 million drug courses available in US today would treat only 25% of the population.  See http://www.whitehouse.gov/homeland_security for info. on US’s plan to control a pandemic.  Also www.pandemicflu.gov.

Outbreak of April 2009, human to human passage, led to WHO phase 5 alert.  Occurred in spring (rare), infects young adults, spreading rapidly.  Type of this H1N1 was similar to that of 1977, so those aged 32 and older should have some protection against this latest outbreak.

Possible future devastating outbreaks of measles, influenza, smallpox, and HIV/AIDS.  In US, 40,000 new cases of HIV/AIDS every year; anti-viral triple-drug therapy has increased life span so much of those infected that they will likely die of something else like heart attack, stroke, etc., but it still remains within them, and if it mutates…

Soviet Biological Weapons Program created new smallpox by inserting genes of Ebola with it.  This disbanded, but where did those scientists go with their stocks of smallpox?

Cholera

Pg. 243: “…infect ten people with Ebola in downtown Manhattan and you could kill a million, or more.”

“If the two viruses [H5N1 and ordinary flu] did encounter each other inside a human host, a far more ominous strain of H5N1 might emerge.  It could be as infectious as the influenza bug that swept the globe in 1918, but several times more lethal.”  Pg. 246.

There were two waves of 1918 flu.  The first, in the spring, make people ill for just 3 days, then they recovered.  But the second wave, in the fall and winter, the genetic makeup had changed since the first wave, and this second one did all the damage.

20% of infected get mild dose of normal flu and get better.  But the rest get 1 of 2 things: so much fluid in the lungs that they can’t get enough oxygen and they suffocate.  They die in days or hours, delirious with high fever, gasping for breath, fall unconscious and die.  Second possibility started with normal flu symptoms—chills, fever, muscle aches.  But by day 4 or 5, bacteria swarms into their injured lungs and they get pneumonia that usually kills them.  Faces turn blue or black and they cough up blood.  Bodies were stacked at the morgue like cord wood.  Pg. 16. Those with black feet would not live.

There's more scary stuff about West Nile, Mad Cow, Ebola, and others, but you get the idea by now.  Makes me want to wash my hands every 10 minutes.