Wow. I haven’t been here since April! What’s up with that? If you actually follow and read my blog, you’ll know that I’m a full-time teacher, father of an 18-year-old high school graduate and soon-to-be-college freshman, a 3-year-and-9-month-year-old, a husband, and going through my master’s degree program online. I’ve been busy this summer, too. It will end, someday. Truth be told, by the end of this school year, one which was one of the worst of my career, I was ready for a nervous breakdown. I’m really not exaggerating on that, either. But here I am now, and here you are now, and I thought I’d skip the homework I promised myself I’d do to say hi to my old friends, my blog readers.
I’ve had so many ideas that I wanted to write and post here. Whether I will or not remains to be seen. I’ve got just over a month of vacation left and my little one goes to day care two days of the week, but we’ll see. For today, I wanted to say hi, give a few updates, and maybe talk a little about writing. You with me? All right. As my little one says, “Let’s do yit!”
First the update. I’d sent a query off to one agent so far for Echoes on the Pond, and that was back before Christmas. Since then, classwork has kept me busy, as well as waiting for a few friends to read the most recent draft and give me their feedback. The feedback in question has me on track for One Final Draft. I’ll pause so you can join me in laughing at that. Done? All right, let’s carry on. This final draft shouldn’t take long, as I pretty much know where to go in with the knife, and also what needs rewriting. It’s not an overhaul by any means, though the ending will change a little to be stronger. Trust me. When the book comes out, you’re gonna love it!
I also started a new novel. I wrote a bit back in late winter, February through March, and only recently was able to return to it at all. More on that below. Besides those things, I also have an idea for a new short story that is so weird, I may just have to write it just to see what the fuck it’s about!
However, most of my writing these last few months has been for my master’s program. I have an 18-to-20-page paper due next week. Tonight I have a discussion board post to write and put up about the 1777 play The School for Scandal by Richard Brinsley Sheridan. It’s an enjoyable play, but it held me from seeing Ghostbusters yesterday, a movie I can’t wait to see.
All this leads me to….
The common advice you see from professional writers to beginning writers is Read every day, write every day. This is awesome advice and I agree with it wholeheartedly. I also know that it can be difficult when you’re working full-time, parenting, expected to be an active participant in your relationship, etc. Before my grad classes began, writing every day was a challenge but doable. Since it’s started, it’s damn near impossible. In the past it would’ve depressed me, angered me, and got me all ready to join the Dark Side, Dim Side, or just plain Hulk out. It still does sometimes. When the voices in my head, all characters from current and future projects (and the occasional past project) who want to be heard, want a chance to run in the sunshine, become too much, I can be nasty, depressed, unlikable. Well, more unlikable than normal, anyway. Still, I’ve come to understand something about myself: The stories are still there when I’m ready to return to them.
Look, I’d love to sit down every night after Pamela and G go to bed and work on the books and stories (and blog). I’d love to try writing articles to make some side money and get my name out there more. But I can’t. I have a discussion board to write. Or a journal about this play or that story or that novel that I didn’t get to read all of. I have a major paper to write. Vacation time with a toddler is hardly a vacation. My two days with her at day care are mostly catching up on school work. I did get to write a little bit in the new project a week or so ago, but only a little.
I was asked by a friend last week, “How do you finish what you start?” Because of two little ones running around, I don’t think I actually answered, but the main answer is: Determination. I want to see it through to the end. There have been plenty of stories that have fizzled out on me before I got to THE END, but even those usually reserve a room in the back of my brain and wait for the right time to be written, like Under the Dome and 11/22/63 did for Stephen King. I sit down every day that I can and work on it. And work on it. And work on it. I may work on something else between drafts or because I need to at a certain time, but usually it’s just work on the project until you can’t anymore.
Which is why, unless an agent or editor asks for rewrites, this next draft I’ll do for Echoes on the Pond will be my last. I thought of a few things I can do to make the story stronger based on having it sit here so long as I attend to educational matters, and based on what friends have suggested that are good. See, not every suggestion that’s made gets followed, but when one comes in that gets you excited, you’re a fool not to follow it.
That’s how it’s done. I can’t write fiction every day right now, but when I can, I do. I know that once grad school is over, I’ll be back in the saddle every day. Once my little one is a little older, I may be able to easier, as well. But right now, I do what I can. And I’m all right with that.
It’s here! Discoveries: Best of Horror and Dark Fantasy, edited by James R. Beach and Jason V Brock, published from the great Dark Regions Press. Not only can you get it through the above links, but you can order through Amazon as well. Besides my story “The Umbrella People,” which I wrote about last time, there’s a ton of great stories in the book. So go get yourself a copy, already.
That handsome cover belongs to a reprint anthology my story “The Umbrella People” is a part of. There are stories by others whose names make me giddy, like Ray Bradbury, Kealan Patrick Burke, Elizabeth Engstrom, Tim Lebbon, John R. Little, William F. Nolan, John Shirley, Tim Waggoner, and so many others that my head’s a-spinnin’! I’m very proud to be a part of this group of writers.
This will be the third printing of this short story. Its first publication was in the first issue of Dark Discoveries, which is what qualified it for this antho. Its second publication was in my short story collection Catalysts, which was actually published by James R. Beach and Dark Discoveries Publications. I decided that, in honor of this publication, which is due to be released from Dark Regions Press this Tuesday, that I would write a few words about the story.
“The Umbrella People” came to me around 2003. At the time, my parents took me, my then-wife, and my older daughter out to dinner every Saturday to a pizza place in a nearby town. It was a good little restaurant. Their pizza was great, and so was a lot of what they cooked, comfort food meals. It was raining and as we sat in our booth, my mother put her umbrella under the table.
“Don’t let me forget my umbrella, people,” she said.
“Where are they?” I asked.
“Where are what?”
“Your Umbrella People.”
She called me a smartass, we all chuckled, and went on with the meal. For some reason, though, the idea stuck with me. And, like most ideas, the longer it stuck, the darker it became. The world itself was growing darker. I was unhappy in my marriage. I was restless and confused. And the world was going crazy. We were about to go to war over lies that our own government was telling us and things seemed, at the ripe ol’ age of 24, bleak. A storm was coming, it seemed.
And so I began writing.
At the time, I worked at a bus station, behind the counter. An entire wall was made of a mirror above the counter if you stood in the waiting area. From my vantage point behind the counter, it was a window. I would bring my Olivetti manual typewriter to write, after January 2003, I brought my notebook computer, a Toshiba Satellite that lasted me until 2010. I wrote the story at the bus station.
It was during a fairly productive time in my life and I was doing a lot more writing than I have time for now. The story flowed out without many issues. I remember thinking how odd the tale was how strange. I was very proud of it.
Now, thirteen years or so later, I’m still very proud of the story. I know James Beach loves the story, and it was a major impetus for him allowing me to write a column for Dark Discoveries between 2004 and 2011, as well as taking a chance on my first collection of stories. Others who’ve read it also seem to really like it. I wrote a short film script based on it and intended to try to make the movie myself for a long time. These days, I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to make it happen.
I also think about the Umbrella People sometimes, and wonder what happened after the story. I think there may be a novella there, but it’s still unknown to me, foggy. Maybe someday, a character will speak to me and I’ll be able to find out what happens next, and then let you know. Until then, I’m happy the story has found a new, really cool home and I’m looking forward to you making this particular Discovery.
All right, let’s do this!
Yeah, I don’t buy that enthusiasm, either. Term 1 is done and so is my first grad class, which I passed with an A. I’ve already begun term 2. Go me.
Echoes on the Pond, aka the novel, is finished. For real this time. It now weighs in at 114,800 words, which is still long for a “first novel” but it’s what I could do right now. I think the novel is strong and, as of about two minutes ago, I just sent a query letter to an agent. So we’ll see where that goes. I suspect that by next week, I’ll have signed the Standard Bestselling Writer Contract. Yeah, and maybe pigs will fly outta my butt.
Star Wars is opening tonight. I’m here. I’ll see it tomorrow. I’d planned on doing my movie essays about the previous six, but, as the lady said, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.” This is the first Star Wars I haven’t seen opening night since I was a kid. Ah, well, that’s what happens when you grow up and your friends move away.
I already know the next novel, so I’m itching to begin it. I want to do a little more work on synopses for Echoes before I begin the next novel.
I’ve had a lot to say lately but little time to say it. I began first drafts of two posts that never made it here because I didn’t think they were good enough. So here’s what you get.
Take care, and have a great holiday season!
I posted a quick update at the end of week 1 of my grad school online course and wrote, “when I look at the syllabus, I see that the remaining nine weeks are going to be very busy.” I am at the start of week 8 of 10. I haven’t completed week 7 yet. I shouldn’t be here, but fuck it. I drank coffee between 8:30 and 9:30 so I could work on a paper that was due tonight by midnight and that I’m still working on because…well…I’ll get there. I promise.
First, the good news. I’ve been maintaining a mid-90s grade. For weeks I was at 94. I dropped to 93 last week, then to 91, and now back to 93. I’m happy. Considering I have little idea of what I’m doing, I seem to be doing it well. I do feel as though the readings have been sinking in, though I rarely understand what I’m reading. I keep looking at the novel I began reading in August, The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne, which I’ve read tiny snippets of in between Freud, Marx, Lacan, Jackson, Conrad, Woolf, and many more, and want to cry. I’ve loved Byrne’s prose since beginning it but, goddamn, no time. I have Stephen King’s new collection, The Bazaar or Bad Dreams, Christopher Golden’s new novel Dead Ringers (about doppelgangers, which I fucking love), two collections by Charles Beaumont, and more novels that I’m eagerly awaiting to read. Shit! I forgot! The PS Publishing collectible re-issue of Harlan Ellison’s Ellison Wonderland that I’m so eager to read….
But…work. Work-work. School-work. Report card grades were due in the last few weeks. Discussion posts, prospectuses, proposals, analyses were all due in the last seven weeks (and still more are due in the coming three), and that’s not the personal stuff.
Pamela’s car died at the end of September. My computer died this past week, which means this is the first thing I’ve truly written on my brand new HP Pavilion All-In-One desktop computer. Whee. Well, that I’ve truly written that wasn’t for my class. Oh, and my teenager got her driver’s license and my toddler turned three. I found out that my sudden (and by sudden, I mean since the spring) exhaustion is not anemia but may be related to my Crohn’s Disease, so my meds have changed a little, but only in the last two days. So I’m still a refugee from a George Romero flick most of the time.
But, Bill, I hear you say. What about the novel? Are you working on that? We’re waiting for this masterpiece you’ve spent the last century or so talking to us about!
First, it’s not a masterpiece. It’s good, I promise, but not masterpiece material. Maybe future classic… But seriously, I’ve worked on the last edit three times since starting the course. I intended on working on it this weekend when my notebook died. That threw out that idea. However, perhaps later this week. I have about 50 pages left to edit, and then I’m bringing the edits to my manuscript. I still have to check to see if my queries that I’d written had been backed up to Dropbox. I believe they were but I’m not sure. Honestly, I’m afraid to check. I may try to see if I can get the stuff from my hard drive soon.
Anyway, I’m still alive and still dreaming. My goal is to have the novel completed and have begun the query process by the end of the year. I can’t wait to start writing the next book, too. It’s about a man and his child and…oh, you’re going to have to wait. In the meantime, I’ll be returning to the world of the girl, her therapist, and the ghost to tie up loose ends, and working on my grad school work.
Be good to yourselves and good to others. The world needs more of that right now. I’ll try to check in again around Thanksgiving.
It was about a week before the new school year was to begin, this past summer, almost two months back now. Pamela and G had just gone to bed so it was sometime between 8 and 8:30. I was in the kitchen, reaching for the sugar to make my tea and thinking about the following week, the big ol’ return to school and another year as The Best Teacher You Will Ever Have when I had an epiphany: I’m a really angry guy.
If you chuckled when you got to the end of that paragraph, shame on you. This thought chilled me. I mean, I know I’m angry in the same way I know I’m a man, that I have brown hair, too many moles, and ten fingers (one of them weirdly crooked). I know this like I know I have a wife, two daughters, living parents, and friends. But every now and then I still look around and think, Damn! I have a beautiful wife who is able to deal with my stupidity! or Damn! My teenager is pretty freakin’ awesome! or Damn! The toddler is really smart and beautiful and empathetic! It dawned on me that the years of therapy, the growing up, and the calming down that I have endured have simply really been sleight of hand. The anger is still there. And it scares me.
I have near my workspace a quote from Nikki Giovanni that goes, “Rage is to writers what water is to fish.” This seemed really cool when I first found it and taped it to my notebook computer (dead five years now) ten years ago. At 28, being an angry young man seemed like the thing to be, which was good for me because I was an angry young man. I saw all, knew all, and wasn’t afraid to let you know it. At 38, I don’t want to be angry.
I know the anger is a part of me, and it’s a large factor in why I write, why I create, why I insist on trying to succeed in my goals and dreams. I’m still working on grudges that began in elementary school. It’s such an ingrained part of who I am, that I forget just how angry I am, all the time. It’s exhausting.
There’s a scene in Marvel’s The Avengers that comes at the end. There’s been talk throughout the movie about how Bruce Banner is able to not be the Hulk all the time, and he said he had a secret. It all comes to a head at the end of the movie.
When Banner says that line, “I’m always angry,” the audience erupted in applause both times I saw the movie. It’s become a popular meme on the ‘Net. For some reason, anger, and the lack of control of anger, has become a sort of thing people are happy to have and will applaud.
It fuckin’ sucks, though. To have this fire burning in the pit of my stomach, day in, day out, never quite sure when it’ll flame up…it’s tough. People will say things like, “You need to learn to chill out,” or suggest meditation and all that, and I do it, man. I do deep breathing exercises, I write, I journal, I go to happy places, I look at all the good things in my life, all that stuff. But the anger is still there.
I’m angry right now. Something at work got me angry. A few somethings, actually. I’m angry about grad school. I’m angry for no real reason except…well…look at the world!
I’m only writing this because I want you to know that this is not fun. I don’t consider this a plus to anything in my life. I think my writing would be just as good without the anger in the same way that I do my best writing when I’m happy and not depressed, despite what the popular mythology surrounding writers is.
So, yeah…that’s my secret, I guess. I’m always angry.
This is the last time, I promise. Until the next time, anyway. I’m currently printing out the 3rd draft, the “final” draft, of my novel Echoes on the Pond. It’s not so I can just look lovingly at the brick of pages but so I can do another draft. I know, I posted that I thought I was done back in May, but I’d said I was 98% sure I was, and, well….
But that’s my method. Until the piece is published, I tinker. Maybe not in any kind of routine way, but whenever the fancy strikes. In this case, it’s because I’m gearing up to look for a home in it and I had a fateful conversation with one of my readers that corroborated a few things in my head and something my wife kind of pointed out.
My goals with the 4th draft aren’t too drastic:
- Tighten up the story a bit…look for typos and silly turns of phrases that I may have missed the last two times, or created during the last draft
- Make sure the characters are being themselves and are true to form
- Specify a few vague places (and I can only think of two that were mentioned)
- Delete a character’s onscreen presence
That last will be the closest thing to real rewriting that I’ll need to do. Pamela had mentioned the character in question as early as the 2nd draft, and when my other reader mentioned her, I knew the small feeling in the back of my mind was right, she needed to go. This means several deleted scenes and one heavily rewritten scene. Basically, this 4th draft should take long and it shouldn’t hurt the work I’ve done on the query letter or synopsis.
It’s the game we play, trying to make sure the story is what we want it to be. You have to be passionate about this if you’re going to try to make a go of having a career in the arts.
I’m rather obsessed with writers’ workspaces. Their desks, offices, writing sheds, whatever it is they use, however they use it. I know I’m not alone on this, but I think the first manifestations of this obsession occurred before I was even aware of it.
Stephen King’s novel The Shining made me want to be a writer, which I’ve written about. I’ve also written about the television segment that led me to buy the book. It was an episode of ABC’s Primetime Live that aired on August 23rd, 1990, the day before my 13th birthday, that got me interested in buying King. As I was reading The Shining the following day, I turned to the About the Author page and saw that King lived in Bangor, Maine, which had to be nearly as uncool as New Bedford, Massachusetts, the small coastal city where I lived, if not even more uncool. Beyond that, though, there was an image in the Primetime Live profile that kicked open the doors of my mind. The image was of King sitting at a manual typewriter, clacking away. He was in a dark room, alone, with no other apparatus around him. Even at 13, I understood this was a set-up shot, done strictly for the television piece.
The power of that image rocked me, though. It made me think of Billy Crystal at the end of Throw Momma From the Train, where he’s sitting at his desk, finishing the last paragraph of the novel he never thought he’d be able to write. It made me think of Chevy Chase in Funny Farm where he’s trying to write a novel that never really seems to come out for him (though his wife writes a children’s book). I’m sure it made me think of Richard Dreyfuss in Stand By Me, working on his tale. Who knows? Maybe somewhere in the flotsam of my mind was Kathleen Turner at the beginning of Romancing the Stone, finishing her novel in a most unglamorous way. The thing with the image of Stephen King sitting at the typewriter, though, was that he was a real writer. He wasn’t an actor playing a part, he was a guy who was paid (a lot of) money to write books. And from what I’d seen that morning at Waldenbooks, he wrote a whole bunch of them, too! There was even a book club devoted to his work that ran commercials on TV! Remembering that image and reading a novel by him walloped me like a trailer truck come to life to mow me down. Later that day, I set up two or three milk crates, put my Royal Quiet De Lux manual typewriter on top, and began writing.
Something very similar, yet very different happened, happened several years later, again involving King. For a time in the 1990s, former King chronicler George Beahm, who’d written three books on Stephen King, began publishing a fanzine called Phantasmagoria. I don’t know how I came across it. Maybe from the Stephen King column in Cemetery Dance? Probably. Anyway, I subscribed to it. In one issue there was news that King was one of many writers who were featured in a photograph book about writers at their workspaces. It was called The Writer’s Desk and it was by a woman named Jill Krementz. I’d find out soon enough that Ms. Krementz was married to the writer Kurt Vonnegut (who appeared in the book, of course). I was working at a big chain bookstore at this point and decided to order it. It must’ve been summer or fall of 1997 because my girlfriend (who would become my wife, and then my ex-wife) was pregnant with my teenager. I remember that because the book was $35, which was too much money to spend considering how my life was really about to change. But I ordered the book because I knew that I wouldn’t have to buy it (it was the company’s policy) and I figured I’d look at it on break and then shelve the book for someone else to discover and buy.
Before I even opened the book, the cover mesmerized me. I had no idea who the woman on the front cover was (it’s Eudora Welty) but on the back cover was Toni Morrison, whom I knew though I hadn’t read yet; Tennessee Williams, whom I also knew but hadn’t (and still haven’t…and I don’t think I’ve seen any of his plays, either, which saddens and shames me); and Stephen King. I began looking through the book and found the huge quantity of writers and pictures that went back into the early 1970s. The photos were accompanied by quotes, or small musings on writing, or their desks from the writers. There were many writers whose names I recognized even though I hadn’t read their work. There were many more who were introduced to me by this book. I knew before I got halfway through flipping through the book during my break that I needed to have it.
It gave me a charge. To see where these people produced their work made me want to work. To see how simple it really was, this so very difficult task of wordslinging. Some of the writers have work spaces that are stately and well put together, organized. Some are a mess. Many used typewriters (remember, the book was published in 1996 and many of the pictures were taken in the ’70s and ’80s) though quite a few used computers. There was even a few who had notebook computers. Quite a few of the writers were working longhand.
I found myself cutting out pictures of writers at their desk should they appear in magazines or in the newspaper. Once I got a computer I began finding writers at their desk online and, for a while, kept a folder of images. I still have the folder though I hardly save to it anymore. There’s no need. A quick Google search (or a few, depending on your word-use) will come up with thousands of pictures. I’ve also discovered I’m not the only one obsessed with this. There are at least two blogs I know of, Write Place, Write Time and Writers at Work, that share photos of writer’s work spaces. Write Place, Write Time was cool because it had photos taken by the writers they featured, as well as a small piece about their work environment. Unfortunately, after a strong 2011, the posts began to be few and far between until they seemed to stop in June 2013. Still, it’s fascinating to take a look at. Writers at Work collected photos from around the ‘net and posts them. Some of the pictures are sent in by blog readers.
As I said, a quick internet search will show that writers and their workspaces are quite popular. Why is that? I think it’s partly because writing is so solitary, and so personal, that one wonders if they’re weird. So to see the famous French mystery writer George Simenon has an arsenal of pipes ready to go while he works, or that Tennessee Williams has another typewriter leaning back behind the one he’s using in case there’s an issue, he can just swap out (anything from a bad key to a change of ribbon; there’d be no slowing him down when he was hot!), makes me think maybe my rituals and quirks aren’t so weird.
I think the other thing it does is inspire. And I don’t mean that in some mystical, mythical sense of the word, either. I mean seeing writers, past and present, at their desks and knowing that from that person came a body of work, sometimes huge, sometimes not, all important, really makes me want to sit at my modest space and work. It makes me feel like if they can do it, and they basically have the same tools I do, then maybe–just maybe–I can do it.
Writers have been called professional liars. I know I’ve heard Stephen King and Peter Straub say it. I think I’ve heard Harlan Ellison say it. And there’ve been others along the long, long road I’ve taken from the age of 13 to now, a month and two weeks away from my 38th birthday. Hence, the lie in the title. I just wanted you to read my blog. But while I have you here talking about the lies writers tell, I want to remind you that while fiction is (usually) wholly made up, the real reason fiction is important is for the truth it tells. It doesn’t matter what genre you write in, what kind of story you’re telling, the truth of the characters, the situation, the emotions are what keeps the readers coming back.
Anyway, I haven’t posted since May because I lose track of time easily, it happens, but I’m here now and I’m working on an essay for the blog that’ll go live either tomorrow or Sunday (Monday at the latest, I promise). It’s not one of my movie series essays, though I plan on writing about two different series this year (I’m sure you can figure them out considering my nerd pedigree), but I think you’ll like it. For now, a small update.
As I mentioned back on May 12th, Echoes on the Pond is (I think) done. I’m sure I’ll be called back to tinker here and there, but I’ve begun the process of writing a query letter for possible agents or publishers. If you don’t know what a query letter is, it basically pitches your book to an agent for representation in helping sell it, or to an editor, in the hopes of buying and publishing it. Think of it like this, Echoes on the Pond weighs in at 126,500 words. In it’s current manuscript state (Times New Roman, 12 pt font, double-spaced) it is about 490 pages. The query tries to boil that down to 150 words. I have a few other things I want to work on regarding submission, like a synopsis and outline, in case they’re asked for. I already have a few agents I’m interested in querying so we’ll see how that goes.
I also wrote a short story. The first draft weighs in at a hefty 8,400 words, which will definitely be whittled down later, after it’s been given time to settle. The story came to me one morning while driving to work. The teenager was sitting in the passenger seat, quietly hating Monday (or Tuesday) morning, and for some reason, the idea came and I instantly knew I had to write it. I didn’t start until the end of June and finished it two nights ago. It’s an unpleasant little ditty with unpleasant characters and chocolate, and that’s all I’ll say right now.
So right now, I’m trying to decide which big project to work on next, since there are several that I’m pretty passionate about.
Anyway, that’s the check-in. We’ll talk soon.
See that? That’s what’s at the very end of my manuscript for Echoes on the Pond. The reason I’m showing you is because—and I say this knowing it’s not 100% true, but roughly 98% true—I’m done with it. I have a few people giving this third draft a read, and if they all hit on things that have popped up in my head recently, or hit on things the other readers hit on, then I’ll do another sweep of the novel, but it’ll be a short one. The kind that takes a week or two instead of months. Of course, if an agent or editor at some point asks for changes that’ll make the novel better, I’ll be more than happy to oblige.
As you can see, I’ve been on this bastard for a long time now. When I began the novel in April 2008, I thought that I’d finish the first draft in three/four months, the second draft within six months, and then have the third draft to shop around in 2009. All long-form writing I’d done prior to this book indicated that should have been the case. Of course, things were different.
It’d been four years since I’d started—and finished—anything of significant length. Between 1998 and 2004, I wrote many novels. Most were pretty bad, few were terrible, and a couple were…good. For the time. They were written by a younger guy, of course. I turned 21 in 1998, so being in my early-twenties, I didn’t have much perspective on life, but I had an itch to tell stories and the insanity to think I could do it.
By 2008, I was in my early-thirties, had been through a divorce, severe depression, some of the hardest times in my life, and hadn’t written anything worthwhile except for several abandoned novels, garbage short stories, and little else of value. Well…that’s not entirely true. I wrote my late, great column American Gauthic for Dark Discoveries, a gig I really enjoyed doing and would love to do again, given the opportunity. I’m proud of those essays, though I admit that some of them are a little…well…wince-inducing. I also wrote papers for college, lesson plans, and blog posts.
But here I sit, twelve days after finishing what I consider to be my final edit, and I’m looking forward to what’s next. I have about six book ideas. Two horror(ish) novels, two “mainstream” novels (that I think may be darkly comic), and two YA novels. Way back in my mind are the science fiction novel takes on two Shakespeare plays that I’ve wanted to do for a long time now.
I think I’m going to do one of the YA novels. I want to do it something that’s fun, plot-driven, and fast. In other words, the kind of book I would’ve wanted to read when I was a kid.
Other than writing, I’ve got the real work ahead of me on Echoes…: Figuring out what the fuck to do with it now.
It’s a good place to be, though. Actually, it’s a great place to be.
On Monday, March 30th, I figured that I’d be done doing pen-edits on Echoes on the Pond by the end of the week and work would move to the computer to begin editing the manuscript. I had about 50 or so pages left and had been editing about 10 pages/night. This took me about 20 minutes or so, which was great. I felt accomplished and it allowed me to rest for the marathon that would be the computer edits. I knew, however, that the last 50 pages of the second draft of Echoes on the Pond were going to be the toughest to edit. This contained the most new material, an ending that I wasn’t completely satisfied with, and a bunch of things that needed fine-tuning. Meaning, unlike the rest of the 450 pages that preceded it, the last 50 pages were almost like a first draft.
By Thursday, April 2nd, with only 35 pages left, I realized I needed to add some stuff. There was a leap in the story that was all right but felt, to me, slap-dash. My thinking was that if I felt like it was slap-dash, and I wrote the fucking thing, then any reader would feel similarly. So I decided to write this new stuff while I was in the midst of the chapter. I also chose to write it out by hand in a notebook, for the helluvit. I’ve been reading up on writers who’ve given up the word processing program for the pen and paper. Writers I admire like Joe Hill and Neil Gaiman are but two who are big on handwritten first drafts. So I figured I’d dip my toe in for this new stuff. I worked on the 3rd and 4th, and meant to on the 5th but was too tired from driving for four hours, to and from Western Mass, where my in-laws live.
And then came the bug.
I got a bad stomach bug that knocked me on my ass Monday and Tuesday. Then came grading that needed to be done by Friday on Wednesday and Thursday. By Friday night, I was wiped out, so I just read.
Last night I finally returned to the novel, and wrote some more by hand. I’ve done 9 pages by hand so far and will probably be done with this new section tonight. Then I’ll have about 25 pages left to edit. Still, I’m sure there’ll be some funky stuff in there which means that it might take me more than three days to finish my edits.
A part of me feels like I’m stalling. I’m a little freaked out about beginning the research into publishers/editors, which I intend to do (as well as get my grad school stuff in order) once I’m on the computer every night again. But mostly I’m not worried. This novel hasn’t come easily for me but I’m fairly happy with it, and that means a lot. And that’s the thing I keep rediscovering as I work on it: I’m happy telling the story. Sure, it’s taken me from 2008 to work on this novel, but who cares?
When you’re writing, it’s the act that counts. It’s telling the story to the best of your ability. The fun and challenge of it.
Either way, the end is near. And I’m going to enjoy every minute of it.
And then start it all over again with a new project. That’s what we do.
I may be exaggerating a bit. I don’t know that’s it’s a regular flu, never mind a superflu, but I know that we’ve all been sick since roughly 1971. The two-year-old began with a runny nose last Saturday (January 10th, for those keeping records)(and if you’re keeping records, just stop. That’s creepy). Then she had a fever. A low-grade fever, but a fever nonetheless. Then Pamela began feeling gross. I’ve been fighting some sort of cold/sick off since before the holidays so it didn’t surprise me that I began getting it. Hell, even the teenager, who technically resides with her mother but whom I see every day, has been sick since the New Year.
Now I write this between coughs, nose drips, and with a voice that’s barely existent. Pamela stayed home with G all week until Friday, when I was finally too sick to go to work (not to mention that I had little-to-no voice).
Why am I telling you this? Because the work, the writing, stalled. I was doing so great. January 1st through the 7th are all X’d out on the chain calendar. I must’ve felt too tired or drained on the 8th, but I was there for the 9th. After that, blank boxes until this Friday, the 16th, when I had a little perk that night. A perk that left in the wee hours of the morning, when the mucous in my head came alive and tried to take over.
Anyway, I’ve edited for the last three nights.
Why am I telling you this?
Because I feel like I need to answer to somebody. Because no matter what the pro’s sometimes say, the Day Job, the one that pays the bills, sometimes has to come first. Luckily, I enjoy my day job and feel like I’m doing Good Work with it, just as I do with my writing, so it doesn’t feel like a trade-off. But I wanted you to know that as soon as I felt a leeeetle better, I grabbed the ol’ lap desk, grabbed the novel, and did some low-intensity work.
And you should, too.
Lastly, happy birthday to my awesome, wonderful, amazing wife. I often don’t feel like I deserve her. I can be such a fuck-up and asshole at times, but she puts me in my place and everything gets better.
I love you, babe.
So I didn’t do an end-of-the-year review for 2014, or one of those lame-ass Facebook “This was my pretend year” thingamijigs, but I’m here to post my First! Post! Of! 2015! post. Sure, it’s a day later than most bloggers, but if you follow my blog (and thank you if you do. Thank you even more if you actually read it!) you’ll know that I’m not as constant as I’d like to be. I could say that one of my goals for 2015 is to post more, and that would be the truth, but you and I both know that probably won’t happen. We’ll see. In terms of 2014, it began with my one-year-old daughter (who is two now, if you’re new to this site) having an issue and us taking her to the emergency room, and that pretty much dictated the kind of year it was. The best part of 2014 is that G is healthy, happy, and oh-so-wonderful. There were other good things, too, but I’m not looking back, I’m looking forward.
The one thing I do want to look back on is the writing chain I first wrote about back in July, and then again in August. With 2014 packed away, I thought I’d share the chain for last year to see how it shaped up.
As you can see, my worst month was December. I’d finished the second draft of the novel in October, worked on stories and other stuff throughout the latter part of October and through November and was burned out from work and life by December. My wife has a stupid hectic schedule for her job and that means I’m handling the toddler by myself more. As well as shopping, getting work stuff done, and generally just being exhausted. I don’t feel guilty. Well…I feel mildly guilty.
When I added the numbers, I wrote 234 days out 365. That’s more than half the year. And while I’m not thrilled with the 131 days of not writing, I got back on the bike in a big way in 2014 and hope to do even better in 2015.
The other thing I do, besides the chain, is I keep a writing log. I began this back in 2000. February 23rd-24th, 2000 to be exact. It started because I friend of mine (whom I haven’t seen or heard from in over a decade, probably because I said something wrong–which I believe I did) wondered how much money I’m making an hour with my writing.
At that time, it was easy to tell him: $0/hr. But I was working on a novel and I thought maybe, once the big payday came from that novel, I could figure it out and show him, Mister Scientist that he was!
There’ve been breaks in the log, but I started it back up again last year.
So that’s another way I’ve been keeping track. The log stopped being about the money almost immediately. As I’ve pointed out, my writing isn’t–and never has been–about the money. I just like to see what I’ve done, and when. It’s also an amazing way to remember things that were going on in my life.
Anyway, G woke up from her nap right after I uploaded the log’s picture and she’s been sitting on my lap for the last paragraph, and this one, waiting for me to rock her and sing to her. While she’s a bit big and heavy at this point, it’s giving me muscles, so I’m not complaining.
Happy New Year, a day late. I hope it’s a great one.
Like a mother about to give birth, writers–and probably all creative types–tend to find a billion things to do before sitting down to work. I know this because of interviews with writers I’ve seen and read, books and articles about writing by writers both little- and well-known, and other blog posts I’ve read from other writers, most of whom are better than me. For mothers, it’s called nesting syndrome, or nesting instinct. Animals will prepare a nest or a spot for the birth of their babies. For humans, mothers will often clean the house, do things that they’ve been putting off for one reason or another. I don’t know if it has a name for creative people, but I’m in the midst of it right now, which is why I’m posting here.
It’s 9:29 PM on December 28th, 2014 as I write this sentence. So far, I’ve organized some of G’s Christmas gifts, which included straightening my desk. I’ve gone through some of the gift bags that we hadn’t really gone through yet. I balanced my checkbook. I posted my musing on the nesting syndrome on Twitter and Facebook. I remembered that I haven’t posted a blog since I last posted a blog (a few weeks back…? [Eight days ago]) and decided that I must post at least once more before 2014 ends and 2015 begins.
This week I printed out the 2nd draft of Echoes on the Pond and it’s sitting in a box behind me, and I know that I have to get to it. The blue Pilot Precise V5 rolling ball pens that I use are ready. The manuscript is ready. I’m ready! Even the toddler is ready!
Yet, here I sit, writing a blog post that will…do what? Add to the white noise that social media has become? But I’m compelled. I have no choice. Nesting syndrome.
It’s not that writers dislike writing. Well, most writers. There’s that famous quote from Dorothy Parker that goes, “I hate writing, I love having written.” Maybe she did. I’ve heard other writers say that sort of thing, too. I don’t feel that way. Most of the writers I read seem not to feel that way. For most of us, it’s too much work for too little gain. I mean, right now I have a contract sitting here that I need to read, possibly haggle about, and then sign and return to an editor. The pay day for said contract is small. It’s a reprint, and it’s for a friend, but still. I’ll do the professional Haggle Dance (that I should’ve done on another contract from a different editor/publisher that I think I got screwed over on–oh, boy! Live and learn!) and that will be that. Then I await payment. It could cover the cost of half a take-out order.
I’m not writing for the money (I’m publishing for the money, but that’s another post for another time; when I really have something to say about it), I’m writing because I fucking love it. So are most writers. People who think Stephen King hasn’t written a book with his name on it since the 1970s don’t get it. People who question the “prolificacy” of writers don’t get it. Sure, you have your James Pattersons and Tom Clancys who hire people to write from outlines they provide while turning out a book a year or every two-to-five years, but most writers who have large quantities of books under their belt do it because they love it. As I’ve often said, writing is like playing with the action figures I grew up with.
So why the procrastination?
Anyway, I really should get to it.
Although, there is that contract that needs to get looked at….
As I stated a few posts back (or my last non-Batman post), I finished the second draft of my novel back in October (the 18th, if you’re keeping track). Since then I’ve worked on a short story, the final Batman essays, and other assorted small things. Mostly, I’ve been doing grades, relaxing, and trying figure out a next step in several areas of my life. Teaching has been kicking my ass.
But now…Holiday Vacation! And not just that, but the two people I’ve asked to read the second draft of the novel have read it, given me their notes/feedback, and it’s probably time to begin the third draft.
This is what I try to tell my students, most of whom wish to work in a media-related field. There is very little downtime when you’re trying to make a name for yourself. And that’s okay, because a friggin’ love to tell stories.
I swear I thought it was only a month or two ago since I made my last non-Batman-related update. Oops. So, here’s why you haven’t heard from me save when I’ve been writing about men wearing rubber bat costumes:
I know, that’s broad. I’ve been writing as much as possible since school started back up again in late-August. I finished the second draft of the novel on October 18th. I’m not sure how it is. I’m waiting on a couple of people I trust to read it and give me the lowdown before I start the third (and, I hope, final) draft. When I wasn’t working on the book, I was writing the Gotham to Gautham Batman essays. I even wrote a 5,000 word short story last week.
When I’m not writing, I’m either reading (should finish Stephen King’s superb Revival tonight) or vegging out because teaching is hard motherfuckin’ work.
Before I go, I want to recommend two things to you:
Thing the First. If you haven’t checked out Mason James Cole, you really need to. His Pray To Stay Dead is a great zombie/horror novel. I’m not a huge fan of zombie books, but I loved this. Even better is his much shorter novel Buster Voodoo. I consider him a friend from afar, meaning he connected to me via Facebook at some point in the last five years or so, and we found that we had a huge admiration (obsession?) for the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, Stephen King, and basically nerd stuff. All that means nothing to me when it comes to the writing. Cole is the real deal, I promise. His writing reminds me of King’s, but definitely is his own. I can’t wait to see what else he has up his sleeve.
Thing the Second. Richard Chizmar, owner, publisher, and editor of Cemetery Dance magazine and Cemetery Dance Publications, recently launched a new endeavor called Stephen King Revisited. With associate (and a really good writer himself) Brian James Freeman, Chizmar is re-reading Stephen King’s books in the order they were published and then writing essays about them. They remind me quite a bit of what I’ve been doing with my movie essays. Funny enough, I’d thought about branching off into the King books, too, but am now thinking that maybe I shouldn’t. Either way, you should definitely check this site out. It’s entertaining, insightful, and will bring you back to the first time you cracked open one of King’s novels.
That’s it for me. My essay on The Dark Knight Rises should be up within the next few days.
Here I am, peeking in just to say hi. Sadly, I broke the chain the other day, Thursday, September 4th. I was just too goddamn tired and depressed to really motivate myself to do the editing I needed to do. So between June 24th and September 3rd, I wrote every day, mostly on the novel. That makes a 72-day stretch. I’m very happy. I worked last night (Friday) and tonight so a new chain is forming.
If you’re following my From Gotham to Gautham Batman film essays, rest assured that they’ll come. I already have the next four essays written, and have gathered the pictures for the next installment, Batman Returns (1992), I just have to format them, place them, and revise the essay. I also have to re-watch Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy.
So keep watching this space. I’m running as fast as I can.
It’s 8:56 PM as I write these words. At this time next week, I will be tired after having gone to work for the first time since mid-June. I’m depressed. Now before you give me the Well, I work all year round, get two vacations, and have to work on weekends speech, please rest assured, I know this. I used to, too. My wife has to work like this, and she reminds me of this whenever I kvetch too much or too loudly.* As she should. But here’s the thing about teaching, the 7:30-3:00 day (which is really more like 7:15-3:15, or 4) isn’t the only thing required.
If I can, I try to get all my grading (I hate the term correcting, but I’m not a math teacher, either, so…) done during the school day so I don’t have to take anything home. Luckily, with what I teach, I can do this more often than not. It’s about time management and finding opportunities when they arise. Kind of like writing when you have a full-time job and a family. Still, I do occasionally have to bring work home. Hours of work.
Then there’s the planning. I haven’t been back to work since June. I will go in this week to get my room prepared and to get some supplies I need for my first day. Because I teach freshman, there is more stuff I have to do on Monday than many of my colleagues, who will be setting up their classrooms that day. I haven’t actually even opened any files that are work-related. To the untrained civilian eye, I have done nothing for my job since mid-June.
I’ve been thinking. See, teaching is an art, or a craft, like writing. My life as a writer as helped me be a teacher as much as being a parent has helped me be a teacher (maybe someday I’ll tell you how being a teacher has helped me be a parent). So when I’m sitting at my desk, or on the couch, or at the table, or in the car, and it looks like I’m doing nothing, my mind is going. Racing, really. Sometimes it’s in Writer Mode, thinking about the current draft of the novel (almost done! Ayiiiiii!) but more and more frequently I’m thinking about work. Lesson plans. Ideas. Ways to present the information. Ways to present myself. Two weeks ago, my two-mile walks were mainly me thinking about the book or stories I want to write between drafts 2 and 3. Last week, my two-mile walks were split between writing and teaching, with teaching taking up more and more of my thoughts.
I’m about to start my 8th year as a teacher, and I’m revising in my mind. By the end of the weekend, I’ll begin writing notes. By Wednesday, my third day (and the school’s 2nd day), I’ll have a bunch of handwritten lesson plan notes that will eventually be typed up and submitted to my boss when the time comes. Some may tsk-tsk. You should have your lesson plans before you step foot in the classroom, they say. I do. I have last year’s. My springboard. It’s how I work and it works for me, so back off.
I love teaching, no doubt about it. But I love writing more, and I worry that my writing might stall as the Day Job takes up the mental and physical energy required to do it. I’ve known teachers who didn’t give it their all, who made their jobs easy. I sat in with an English teacher once who actually sat at their desk the entire class, every class. The kids were bored. Sure they learned something, maybe, but they didn’t have to think. Everything was fed to them. Everything. I knew a different teacher who taught straight from books and slept at their desk. Can you imagine that? Neither are in the profession anymore and I’m glad, because their students were at a disadvantage with them. I can’t do what they did. I can’t go the easier route so that I have more energy, more time. So I give it my all, teach my lessons like Robin Williams did stand-up comedy, or like Bruce Springsteen puts on a rock concert, and come home to be Daddy, and then Honeybun, and then…Bill Gauthier, writer of such books as Alice on the Shelf and stories such as “The Growth of Alan Ashley.”
And that’s the thing. This summer, I was a stay-at-home dad. From the time I woke up until the time G went to bed, I was Daddy. When Pamela got home from work, I was Daddy and Honeybun. When she went to bed, I allotted two hours for myself. From 9-10, I was Bill Gauthier, writer. From 10-11, I read. Sometimes I fuck around online, but more often than not, I read. I’m a slow reader and need all the help I can get.
About a month ago I wrote about not breaking the chain. I haven’t. This blog can be my X for tonight, though I still fully intend on working on the novel, too. Here is what the chain looks like now:
I’ve been busy, and the goal wasn’t just to not break the chain but to also get myself into the habit of using 9-10 for writing. I still have to get my Master’s degree, so this is going to be especially important. I know that once school starts back up, the chain will break. My goal is to postpone that from happening as long as I can (that said, my money is on next Monday night, Tuesday maybe). I don’t know if I’ll succeed, but by now, even when I don’t want to write, I find I’m able to manage something.
So if you know a teacher who’s about to go back to school, or has already gone back to school, don’t give them a hard time about going back when they complain about it. There’s no need to remind them about their vacations or holidays. Remember, I didn’t even mention how the kids’ lives seep into ours as we grow concerned because this one has that issue and that one needed to be brought down to guidance and that other one is failing even though they’re brilliant. I didn’t mention the silly politics or the things that don’t work that should work, or….
You get the idea.
I’ve inadvertently written 1,152 words. My intent was to write 500 or so. Oops.
* I love my wife more than anything else in the world, and am not trying to make her sound like a nagging wife. She puts up with my shit but she does not take it, if you get what I mean. Her reminders when I start complaining about having to go back to work aren’t meant to belittle my feelings, but rather to remind me that it could be worse. Just so you know.
Last year, I don’t remember when exactly, a piece about Jerry Seinfeld popped up on my Facebook wall that actually made me click the link. I don’t hate Seinfeld, I actually think he’s a goddamn funny guy, and I love his show Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee (which reminds me, there’s a new season I have to watch!), but I’m not likely to reminisce about his sitcom (I haven’t watched that many episodes) and generally not likely to click a link about him. But two things piqued my interest about this particular link: 1) I’d heard Seinfeld on Howard Stern in a great interview, and 2) it was about writing. Because of the Stern interview, I knew that Seinfeld still wrote every day. The guy’s worth gazillions of dollars but he is dedicated to his craft as a comedian and does the work. So, I clicked the link.
In the article (which I’m not linking to because I’ve forgotten which place I read it on, but if you search Seinfeld break the chain you should find one of several articles about it), it says that Seinfeld told a man once, way back, that he writes every day. When he was asked how he keeps motivated, he told the man that he had a giant calendar on the wall above his desk (or something) that has every day of the year on it. He then crosses out a day after he’s done his writing. Sooner or later the Xs form a chain. The goal: Don’t break the chain.
Always looking for motivation (because, you know, spending time in my own fantasy world the way I did when I was a kid playing with my action figures isn’t enough motivation) this stuck with me. I even looked up some calendars online. Still, I didn’t take action. Around the end of the year, I remembered the idea and decided I’d begin on January 1st.
So, on January 1st, I began forming my chain. I wish I could say that I haven’t broken my chain. Unfortunately, if you go back to the 1st of the year with my chain, I’m afraid it wouldn’t hold a damn thing. That said, I’ve still been using it. And it looms over me. When I haven’t put an X on a day, I feel bad. Doubly bad, really. Not only have I broken the chain, but I’ve deprived myself of the joy that writing, that creating characters and getting lost in my own imagination, provides me.
Like I said, I haven’t exactly built a great chain. More like a bunch of small chains, and even a few random links. However, I’m particularly proud of the chain I’ve been working on since June 24th, when I counted a blog post I wrote that day to be my writing. Technically, by my own rules, when I’m done with this post, I can add a new link to the calendar even though I fully intend (need) to get back to the novel tonight. And because I’m obsessive, I even write in the margins how many days I write and how many days I don’t. January and June have been my best months. March, my worst.
I don’t know if it’s working 100%, but I like it. It gives me a sense of accomplishment and I’ve gotten back the feelings that seduced me into writing way back when I was 13 years old. The feeling of creation, of problem solving, of putting something down that wouldn’t exist without me. Life has hurt that, I guess. But this calendar has helped get it back, and that’s something I’m quite happy about.
While I’m talking about writing, I want to mention WritingChallenge.org and the very cool Kristy Acevedo. Kristy is a fellow teacher in the school I work (which, oddly enough, we’ve only met once or twice and have maybe said one or two things to each other in the real world. With my social awkwardness, that’s not much of a surprise, really) but she’s also a writer. We began following each other on Twitter because of a former student we had in common and have spoken there a bit.
Right after summer vacation started, she decided to issue a challenge to the writers following her that, for the month of July, she would try to write at least 500 words a day and then post the results on Twitter. Others began doing it and it’s become a thing of it’s own. Like Frankenstein’s Creature, it’s off to terrorize the countryside. So if you’re a writer and aren’t aware of it, check it out. I’m not a regular because with my current work being revisions (and as followers of this blog know, these revisions have been going on forever) I don’t have many word count days in the way I would writing a 1st draft, but I chime in every now and then. Like a support group whose goal is to encourage its members. You might even–egads!–make friends.
This Saturday marks my 5th wedding anniversary to Pamela, and I have to say that I’m a little surprised. Surprised that five years have passed, surprised that she’s been by my side for seven years, and surprised that I haven’t somehow fucked the whole thing up. There’ve been near-misses, but here we are with an awesome 19-month-old girl and still crazy in love.
Sunday marks the 11th anniversary of the e-mail that would change everything. I know it because it came the day after my best friend’s wedding to his wife. The e-mail was from Elizabeth E. Monteleone telling me that my short story, “The Growth of Alan Ashley,” had been accepted to Borderlands 5, the fifth volume of the cutting-edge horror/dark/weird fiction anthology that I’d only grown up reading. She and her husband, the writer Thomas F. Monteleone, co-edited the anthologies that had published some of the biggest names in the field, and several newcomers who would go on to become Elder Statespersons of the dark genres.
For me, the sale would be true recognition of hard work. Within 24 hours of the acceptance, their publishing company, Borderlands Press, released their first advertisement for the book. This ad listed all 25 contributors, including Stephen King. This was a dream come true.
“The Growth of Alan Ashley” appearing in Borderlands 5 (and its subsequent paperback from Warner Books, From the Borderlands) opened doors for me. Some I walked through, some I missed, some I still hope to walk through more than a decade later.
A lot has happened in the last 11 years. My life had been turned upside-down and rightside-up and everything in between. Still, I am hugely proud of my association with Borderlands and with my story. “The Growth of Alan Ashley” is a piece that I can look at and think that, at least once in my life, I wrote something that was as good as any other writer working at that time.
The story was reprinted (slightly edited) in my collection Catalysts. Since Catalysts sold out, it’s been out of print.
Borderlands 5 is now available as an ebook from Borderlands Press. Some of the reprint rights for some of the stories weren’t granted for this edition (for instance, no Stephen King) but it is still an amazing roster. I can’t go through my favorite stories entirely, because it’s been 11 years since I read the book, but I remember being blown away by Gary Braunbeck’s story “Rami Temporales”.
I hope to be able to get Catalysts republished in some form sooner than later, but for now, for a damn fine read, I can say that buying Borderlands 5 will be the best $3.99 you can spend. Honestly, I’d splurge and get all the Borderlands anthologies.