Sunday, January 31, 2010

What Would Larry Do #5


Now that that’s out.

Thanks to a certain feline with litter box issues – as in, gee, that couch would make a good litter box – I was off to the local Swedish furniture store.  Normally, I would employ my next door neighbor, Howard, and his oversized pick-up truck, to get the new couch home.  But since they’re both at Disney World, I headed to the home delivery desk, to pay way too much.

“Can’t deliver today,” I was told.  “Any day this week.”

Well, I’m on call for work all week.  I can’t be certain I’ll be home any day.  The best I could do was next Sunday.  Might as well call Howard.  At least I won’t have to wait an entire week.  He agreed.

“Okay,” said the delivery desk guy.  “Just head over to the return desk.  You can get a refund.”

“Wait,” I said.  “I don’t want a refund.  I’ll just come back in a day or two to pick it up.”

“That’s our policy.  Once you buy it you have to take it.  Otherwise you can return it.  Then, when you’re ready to take it home, you can come back and buy it again.”

“That’s your policy?”  I did a double take.  Then I did another double take.  “That’s a ridiculous policy.  Why can’t I just pick it up in a day or two.”

“We don’t have room to store it for you.”

“But you’re storing it right now.  You were storing it before I bought it.  You were going to store it until it could be delivered, any day this week.  How are you suddenly out of room now?”

He called a manager, a barely twenty-something chick with bubble gum cheeks, wearing a tiara.

“That’s our policy sir,” she repeated.

“Yes,” I said.  “I’m familiar with your policy, now.  Had someone explained your policy before I made my purchase, I would have waited.”

“They should have explained it.”  She said this, but didn’t seem overly concerned.

“I agree.  They should have.  But they didn’t.”

“Well,” she huffed.  “There are signs all over the store.”

“Where?  Can you show me one?”

“Sir, I don’t have time to walk the whole store with you.”

“I’m not asking for a tour.  I just want to see one sign.”

“Well.”  Her eyes darted nervously.  “There.  There’s one right there.”

It said something to the effect of – take it home yourself, that way you don’t have to wait for it.

“That says I can take it, not that I have to.”

“Well, you could have us deliver it.”

Or I could return it and buy a couch elsewhere. 

“I’m not paying you more money after all this,” I said.  “This has been a colossal waste of time.”

When the store opened a few years ago, I drove down to check it out, only to find such crowds that the parking lot attendants guided me right out without finding a parking spot.  I vowed then never to return to that store.  Wish I’d listened to myself.   And I really wish my couch didn’t smell like a litter box.

Friday, January 29, 2010

A Skully Update

After re-writing the first two chapters, I’m still not certain which should be chapter one and which should be chapter two.  More likely chapter two will become chapter one and bits from chapter one will get worked in elsewhere, either as flashbacks, or some such thing.

And, I’ve taken the plunge.  I just did find and replace.  Schmitty became Skully 1393 times.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


That's what you say when a 67 year-old woman in a towel asks you out.

With Howard and his brood off to Disney World for five days, I was tasked with looking after his house; taking in the mail, the recycling bins; et al.  At least there are no more fish for me to kill.  After a good deal of yelling, they got under way yesterday afternoon.  Ah, sweet silence.  Despite Mrs. Sarcasm's prediction we'd still here them yelling from 200 miles away, we have not.

However, I did see some lights on inside their house last night and someone was watching telly.  I also know that Howard's mother is in town for a month, but she's been staying at a motel because they didn't want her around.  This begs the question: what kind of people complain that their kid's grandmother doesn't spend enough time with them, and then leave town when she's here? 

Well, if you've been following this saga, you know.  If your new here, might I suggest you read the shower groomer post.

At any rate, I thought it prudent to knock before entering Howard's home with his mail.  It took a few minutes, and I heard some rattling around inside.  Finally, she said my name through the door.  Seems she'd just gotten out of the shower and couldn't unlock the front door.  Not because she was naked, but because it requires a key on both sides.  Not to worry, I said.  I had mine.

Little did I realize she actually had just gotten out of the shower and stood there, dripping wet, clutching a towel to her old-lady parts.

Awkward a bit?

Just checking, I assured her.  When I explained that Howard had asked me to look after things she rolled her eyes.  The dog was home.  They obviously knew she was too.  I wasn't too sure, thinking they wouldn't want her in their home.  I'm wondering now if I was set up.

Avoid the towel, I thought.  Look at her eyes.  Look at her eyes. 

It was white.

And wet.

Look up.

Is that a cross around her neck?

THE EYES, damn you!

"I'm here for two weeks," she said.  "We should get together.  That would be fun."

"Uh huh."

Must. Go. Now.

"Good seeing you," she said.

Seeing.  Good?  Baaaddd.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Skully? the Pirate

After the SCBWI conference, I came up with some plot devices that not only improve my story, but will allow me to trim many, many words.  Still, I’ve had a nagging problem from the get go with GRIMSTOKE’S CURSE.  For reasons that escape me at this moment – it’s late.  I’ve just been to New York – I decided Schmitty needed to have amnesia.  For some reason, I decided it was important he not know his father, Captain Schmitt, was his father.  I went to great lengths to keep people from referring to Captain Schmitt by name whenever Schmitty was around.  It was exhausting.  I think I pulled it off, but the new plot devices bring up the old problem.  Then, tonight, I had a thought.
Skully the Pirate.  Skully the Pirate?  Could it be that simple?  One minor change.  Just a few letters, really, could solve a whole bunch of problems.  In the book, Schmitty doesn’t like his father.  He doesn’t know he’s his father for a while, and when he finds out, it rocks his world.  Well, wouldn’t that make more sense if they didn’t have the same name? 
Yes it would.
Then, I started asking: What if?  I love that question.  It opens so many doors.
What if Schmitty’s mother kept her maiden name?  After all, Schmitty’s never met his father before.  Maybe the truth, that his father is a pirate, has been kept from him.  This makes sense because Schmitty’s grandfather, Admiral Ironskull, has instilled a hatred of all things pirate in his grandson.  So maybe Schmitty’s not named for his father, Captain Schmitt, but for his grandfather.  Therefore, his name becomes Skully.
And it’s not a stretch either.  I named the Admiral Ironskull because he’s hard-headed.  So is Schmitty.  I mean Skully.  Maybe.
It also solves another, less obvious, but potentially harmful, problem.  Last week, I quoted the good things Michael Grant had to say about my series idea.  This is what I didn’t print:
I'd think about the name Schmitty.  Hard to spell, hard for a kid to be sure how to pronounce it.  Also you're making it awfully easy for them to transpose a few letters and come up with Shitty the Pirate.  So if it was me I'd be looking at a different name.
So now I am.  And this problem came up a few years ago.  I mentioned to my friend Joe that I’d feel I was a success when Schmitty became a breakfast cereal. 
“Sure,” Joe laughed.  “Just add chocolate milk.  Shitty Schmittys.”
And I’m whispering here, but I think I like Skully.  A lot.  Better.  It rolls off the tongue, don’t you think?
It’s hard to accept this.  He’s been Schmitty for so long.  I can’t even type Schmitt without inadvertently hitting the y.  Still, if it’s for the better….
Is it?  Somebody tell me its okay.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Who Needs Pants? – A Howard Sighting

It’s been awhile since I blogged about the neighbors.  I think you’ll enjoy this.

I’d been gone a couple of days and, turning the corner toward my house, I had the strange sensation (call me preministic, if such a word exists) I would see Howard’s RV.  After all, 2010 was nearly 23 days old, and, to my knowledge, he’d yet to take the brood to Disney World.  It’s important they go as often as possible, he’s often explained, while now-eight-year-old Sammy still believes.  Just what she believes I’m not exactly sure.  If it’s that seven foot tall felt mice really do wear tuxedos, I may just pull her aside for a little chat.  While I’m at it, I’ll try to convince her to take the training wheels off her bike.  Not that she’s had a chance to learn to ride without them.  Howard doesn’t even walk the dog.  You can’t expect him to spend time playing with his kids.  Still, these are the type of people who would take two-month-old Eddie to a restaurant to the detriment of the other diners.

UPDATED!!!  Shortly after I posted this, I walked outside to find the whole clan.  Not only did they confirm the Disney trip – Wednesday to Sunday – Um, doesn’t Sammy have school?  Oh right, they pull her out about 10 times a year for crap like this – they were, in fact, returning from McDonald’s – a restaurant – baby in tow.  I’m brilliant.

  • Note to self:  When I have children I promise to sacrifice my social life in order to spare others.
  • Another note to self:  Be sure to get a social life so that when you have children you can sacrifice it in order to spare others.

So I pulled around the corner about midnight and, sure enough, Howard’s RV was parked in his driveway.  I was sort of pleased with my precognizance.  Then I saw Howard’s giant pick-up truck in my driveway.  To be honest, I don’t really mind.  There’s room.  Though I have to wonder why he didn’t move his dead father’s pizza delivery car (yes, that’s another story) out of the driveway, then pull his truck into his garage, then put the pizza car back.  Too sensical? Sensible? Am I making up words?

No sooner had I gotten out of the car, when Howard appeared at his door, giant pasty thighs bathed in the soft yellow glow from the living room lamp.  Howard apologized for parking his truck there.  I said it was fine.  He’s leaving Wednesday and had to clean the RV.  He spends so much time cleaning that thing, you’d think some would transfer to his house, but no.  I don’t even think the people from the TV show Hoarders couldn’t help.

Well, the whole point is, while Howard was at his door, I was never more grateful to see such flabby folds of flesh, all hanging in the right places.  Because Howard, you see, wore no pants.

UPDATE#2:  Howard just came over, needing to borrow a tool.  I greeted him with Hello Howard.  I have to be more careful with these fake names.  They’re becoming all too real to me.  I told him his problem sounded like one I would come to him seeking help for, but I would go over to his house and check it out.  Whilst there, Moira let loose a curse laden tirade at the dog, who’d run away and then come back; Howard’s mother, who is visiting from Maine for a month, but forced to stay in a motel (I think she’s better off); and eight-year old Sammy, who needed to go to the bathroom, but didn’t want to go to the bathroom.  So she used one of Eddie’s diapers.  I was the only one disturbed by any of this.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Won’t You Join Us For Supper?

Lost Wanderer offered a fun challenge: Present a dinner party featuring characters from published books. Herewith, I offer you:

Frankenstein’s monster – Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

Captain James Hook – Peter Pan, by JM Barrie

Bellatrix Lastrange – Harry Potter, by JK Rowling

Edward Hyde – The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stephenson

Charlie Bucket – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl

Things weren’t going at all the way Charlie Bucket had hoped. It wasn’t often he hosted a dinner party. Rarer still; no one had ever before accepted Charlie’s invitation. But here he was, ousted from his place at the head of the table.

“What is that horrendous smell?” asked Captain Hook. He slouched sideways, resting an elbow on the table. At the end of his arm, Hook dangled a bunch of grapes from his hook. Pluck a grape. Eat it. Pluck a grape. Bounce it off Charlie’s forehead.

“That’s cabbage soup,” said Charlie. “My mum’s recipe.”

“Cabbage soup? And the main course?”

“Um, sorry?”

“Do assure me boy, that something more scrumptious stews upon the stove.”

“I think you’ll like the soup Mr. Hook,” said Charlie. “And there are potatoes.”

“Captain Hook,” Captain Hook corrected him. “To not address one by his proper title shows bad form.”

“I’m sorry. Captain.”

Another grape bounced off Charlie’s forehead, before rolling down to the other end of the table. There, Charlie’s other guest scooped it up with barbaric grace and swallowed it whole. A thin, pale tongue lipped yellowed lips, which then smacked together in utterance of a low moan.

“Why have you forsaken me?” cried Frankenstein’s monster. He leaned across the table, reaching toward Charlie and Captain Hook. “So far. So alone.”

Charlie gulped, sensing the monster might overturn the table with his long arms.

“I thought you might prefer the extra leg-room,” Charlie said.

The monster buried his head in his hands and began to sob. Captain Hook narrowed his eyes and leered at the monster. “When do we eat?”

“It would be impolite to start until everyone’s arrived.”

At this, Hook raised an eyebrow and slowly nodded.

“Certainly that is good form. However, pointing out good form is such bad form.”

Before Charlie could respond, there came a rap on the door of such aggression it caused the monster to jump in his seat. The monster’s knees caught the table’s underside, sending the place settings crashing upon the floor.

Charlie moved to answer, but before he could reach it, the door exploded in a flash of light and smoke. Wood splinters shot across the room, catching the guests ill prepared. Frankenstein’s monster spread his arms and legs in fright, sparing both Charlie and Captain Hook the brunt of shrapnel.


Bellatrix Lastrange flourished her wand with manic delight. She snapped her head left, then right and then stepped through the shattered doorway. “Come on Eddie,” she said.

A huddled figure with a grim face, hideous beyond description, shrank from the entryway.

“Mr. Hyde?” Charlie guessed. “Won’t you please come in?”

Charlie looked over the shattered remains of both the door, and his mother’s only dishes, hoping his guests wouldn’t notice.

“I should like to retire.” Mr. Hyde spoke in a gravelly hush.

“But we’re about to eat,” said Charlie.

“Upon what?” asked Captain Hook. “I would be remiss not to engage the point. There are no dishes from which to dine.”

“Relax Jimmy baby,” cackled Bellatrix Lastrange. “Stop snapping your snippers and sip some Sanka.” With that, she waved her wand and Captain Hook’s hook transformed into a teacup, complete with saucer, which plummeted to the floor and smashed.

Aghast, Frankenstein’s monster reeled from the unholy mutation. Rising from the table, he raised his chair above his head and threw it at Captain Hook. Taking offense, the captain likewise tossed the contents of his teacup, scalding the monster with decaffeinated brew.

The monster recoiled, cradling his steaming arm. He lashed out, tearing away Charlie’s dining room wall. Howling, crying?—it was difficult to tell—Frankenstein’s monster tore across Charlie’s yard, broke through the fence and hobbled into the cold night. The screams of terrified villagers carried across the blocks.

“Plenty dandy,” sang Bellatrix Lastrange. “More for the rest of us. What’s this?” She bent down to pick something from the wreckage of the dining room table.

“Toothpaste,” said a cheery Charlie. “One for each of you. And, well…There’s one extra now. You can have it. There are extra caps.”

“You think I’ve bad teeth?” wailed Bellatrix Lastrange.

“Oh no!” Charlie hadn’t meant to hurt anyone.

“Oh yes,” said Captain Hook. “Such a shame. All that fantastic magic. Yet look at yourself.” He clicked his tongue and shook his head. “Bad form, indeed.”

Bellatrix Lastrange frowned. She leaned in next to Hook, resting an elbow on his chair. She imitated his clicking tongue. Then, she stepped back, mouth wide open. Her tongue hung out, not moving. The clicking continued.

Tick tock. Tick tock.

Captain Hook jumped from his chair. Mouth agape; he stared wide-eyed at his arm. Green scaly skin replaced the teacup. The room was silent, but for the ticking of an unseen alarm clock. When it rang, the crocodile on the end of Captain Hook’s arm awakened.

Screaming like a frightened little girl, Hook ran from the house, pursued by his own crocodile arm, snapping and thrashing. Hook tripped over the fence and rolled into the street, where Frankenstein’s monster promptly seized him. Some villagers, having pursued the monster back toward Charlie’s house, set the two ablaze.

“I see,” remarked Charlie. “Three for dinner then?”

“I can think of nothing more interminable,” said Mr. Hyde. “I shall take my leave.”

In an alarming pirouette, Mr. Hyde tossed his cloak over his shoulder and fled the scene. A disappointed Charlie turned to his remaining guest.

“Nitty bitty,” said Bellatrix Lestrange. “’s’abit drafty here. Hate the cold.”

She walked through the hole in Charlie’s wall, and sat down to warm herself in front of the Hook-monster pyre.

Charlie sighed. Maybe next time, he thought. At the very least, the view from the dining room was now more stimulating than the old dingy wall. Charlie retrieved a pot of potatoes from the stove and sat down to watch the villagers dance around the fire. Charlie rather enjoyed potatoes.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Old San Juan

Impossibly narrow cobblestone streets.  The scent of incense hanging in doorways.  Old world charm.   As I see it, Puerto Rico has exactly one thing going for it.  It’s not New Jersey.  I wonder if natives of Jersey, just off the coast of the UK, upon hearing of New Jersey, fancy a new and improved Jersey, crossing the pond with grand expectations of a better Jersey based on the old.  Imagine their disappointment when discovering a land incorporating clich├ęd2283730661_4c6e3b8214 mobsters with Gotti Boy hair, bad fake tans and jewelry.   (Just so we’re clear, there’s no excuse for a man to wear any more than a wedding ring and/or a watch.  A medic alert ID, maybe.  But that’s it.)

So I find myself in a seaside hotel, my room overlooking a courtyard.  Of course, someone forgot to add the yard to the court, ‘cause all I see is concrete.  After wandering a while, surprised not to encounter packs of wild dogs or chickens  (I did run into large mobs of cruise ship passengers though) I took a chance on a Mexican restaurant in the shadow of the ships.

There I sat, beneath a thatched roof, listening to samba music and Pink.  I seated myself in a corner.  Who wants to stand out when dining alone?  I didn’t realize I was beneath the one tourist trap in the place – a neon blue adobe sun, hanging above my table.  If I never make it as a writer, at least I’ll live on in someone’s vacations pictures.

It seems good service stops at the dock.  I already knew this of course.  Living so close to the world’s greatest Mexican restaurant only sets me up for disappointment elsewhere.  Lesson learned: Leave the Mexican food to the Mexicans.


On the weird front, the Bermuda Triangle front, I took this picture as we passed the Eleuthra Island chain of the Bahamas.  Is anyone out there a meteorologist?   And no, those aren’t shadows.  It’s land.



On to good news.  Michael Grant, author of the GONE series, as well as many others, including ANIMORPHS, was quite complimentary after reading my pitch for SCHMITTY THE PIRATE.  Among other things, he said:

This is definitely a potential series concept -- you can spin story lines out forever. . . I don't think there's anything similar out there, but I actually believe in "counter-programming" the market, going into new directions.

This from a guy who’s sold 30 million books worldwide.  About my idea.

So San Juan be damned.  I’m feeling pretty good.  Pretttyyy, prettttyyyyyy, pretttyyyyyyy good.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

What I Learned At SCBWI

It was a crazy, busy weekend.  Writers, agents, publishers, editors and illustrators gathered in the sunshine state in time for the first warm weekend of the year.  Counting on the opportunity to interact with so many literary geniuses, I revved up to full speed, willing to accept nothing less than a five figure deal.  Here’s what really happened.
  • I learned you don’t have to be a great speaker to be a fantastic writer.  It would help, however, if you prepared something ahead of time.  When my turn comes to wow an audience with tales of my first novel, I hope I’ll have something good to say.
  • Very few children’s writers are men, at least the wannabes.  Yet, I found the most fascinating speakers, among lots of fascinating speakers, were Michael Grant and Richard Peck.
  • Think e-readers are bad for the book business.  Just wait until you’ll be able to download direct from an author for a few bucks or less.  Bad for traditional publishers and bookstores.  Good for writers.  It’s given me a new perspective on self-publishing.
  • Agent A doesn’t respond to query.  Agent’s website says if you don’t hear in 8 weeks, they are passing.  Cornering Agent A with your proposal (without mentioning the aforementioned submission) will result in an enthusiastic invitation for submission.  They’re people, people.  Not gods.
  • As good as I think it is, my manuscript can be improved.  New ideas began to form on my way home.  I envision a grand re-write in the weeks ahead, before the next round of submissions.
  • Don’t rely on the conference schedule.  Ask questions ahead of time.  I signed up and prepared to present a series pitch to Michael Grant, author of the GONE series.  After he began today’s presentation, titled ‘Building the Series,’ I realized the actual pitch session was yesterday.  Doh!
  • Sometimes it pays to screw up.  When I told Michael Grant how I’d gotten the schedule wrong, he not only gave me his email address, inviting me to send my pitch, he also gave me a jump drive with a few chapters of LIES, the yet to be released third novel in the GONE series.  He’s a cool dude, and GONE is awesome.  I’m only halfway through the first one, so I don’t want to spoil it, but he did encourage me, and a few others, to post his chapters on our websites.  Look for it in the coming weeks.
All in all, it was a productive weekend.  My writing can only improve as a result.  Even if you’re not writing for kids (YA, Middle Grade, Picture books, etc…) if you can get to one of these conferences it is time well spent.  Believe me, I got more than my money’s worth.
In other news…
Look for my entry in Lost Wanderer’s dinner party challenge.  Now that SCBWI is done, I have time to work on it.  Expect it some time this week.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Passive Voice And Other Gremlins

Here’s a helpful tutorial to clean up such godawful things as passive voice and whatever else you can’t train yourself not to do.  If your using Microsoft Word, under tools, click spelling and grammar.  Then click the options button.  Next, click the button for settings and you can check, or uncheck far more things than I knew existed. 

I only discovered it this week.  A little more than halfway through my manuscript, I’ve managed to cut three thousand words without loosing any content.  It seems a lot of people don’t know about this so I hope this helps tighten everybody’s writing.

Sorry Mac users (and I’m one too most times) this is one area where PCs rule.grammar settings

Now it looks for passive voice.

passive voice

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Series Pitch

This weekend’s creeping up on me, so I thought I would avail myself of you, my loyal readers and fellow scribes. I’m being given one page and five minutes to pitch a series to a real live author at the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference. Having no clue how to do this I took the advice to make it sound like a query. After several attempts, this is what I got…
Eleven-year-old Schmitty believed pirates were the most despicable excuses of living creatures; less than human, with missing limbs and bloody entrails. His grandfather had told him so. And his grandfather knew. After all, he was not just a Navy admiral. He was the admiral. So imagine Schmitty’s surprise when, upon his mother’s death, he was sent—well, not exactly sent—to live with the father he’d never met, who just happened to be captain of a pirate ship.
Add a tendency for seasickness, a half-missing ear and a rather annoying case of amnesia, and Schmitty’s pirate career doesn’t start out too well. Worse still are nightmares reminding him of a friend he cannot remember and a death he cannot forget.
As Schmitty adapts to life among the pirates of San Iguana, he befriends Robin, a wisecracking cockatoo who would prefer to be left alone, and sassy Wendy Blackthorn, whose favorite solution to her problems is to run away.
Schmitty will need their help, because not all is what it seems. His mother’s death was no accident. It seems a mysterious ring, which somehow ended up on his father’s finger, is cursed. Now, a secret society, the Sons of Orpheus, believe Schmitty is the key to finding a mythical, lost treasure. Find the treasure - rule the world. Simple enough, but breaking the curse could lead to answers he may not want to hear. Or it could lead to certain death.
SCHMITTY THE PIRATE AND GRIMSTOKE’S CURSE is the first of a series following Schmitty’s adventures on the high seas, through deadly jungles, and beneath underground crypts in a race to find the greatest treasure ever lost.
Along the way, Schmitty must uncover traitorous lies, learn to be a son to a reluctant father, and, maybe, even fall in love. And, if he stays ahead of the Sons of Orpheus, save the world.

Monday, January 11, 2010

I Think I've Had This Conversation Before

So I spent the weekend trying to escape the cold. San Juan was nice, but I was barely there long enough to sleep. Just as well, because my head's been spinning since the moment my captain opened up his mouth.

Pleasant enough, he's the kind of guy who likes to hear himself talk. And good thing too. He'll never get bored. I swear at any given time there are no less than a baker's dozen thoughts competing to escape his mouth. It's quite a battle too, with one thought overtaking the next, often mid-word. Too bad he can't keep up with himself.

Except for the listening, it sure is easy on me. I never have to say a word. Sometimes, however, that leads to some predictable conversations.

"This new iPhone I got is great," he said.

"I know," I responded. "I've got one too."

"They've got these apps," he says. "You can download 'em. They do all kinds of stuff."

"Yes," I nodded. "Mine has that too."

And he proceeds to tell me all about the different apps, how I can get them, and what they're used for. I gave up.

Later that day...

"I was watching this movie with Ben Stiller. In my room. It was called The Heartbreak Kid."

"Oh yeah," I said. "I saw that movie."

"Ben Stiller gets married. And she's crazy."

"Yep," I nodded. "Saw it."

And then he proceeds to tell me the plot of the movie. Scene. By. Scene.

I can indulge, because like I said, I don't have to talk about myself. But some day I'm going to have to fly with this cat again. And since he doesn't pay attention to himself, I suspect we'll have this conversation again. That day I'll run a re-post of this post.

So you'll know. And you won't have to comment.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Here's My Problem

Apparently, I have a penchant for telling someone what their problem is. i.e.: "You're problem is..." Supposedly I've done this a lot with Prissy Bower. And while some point to this as a character flaw, I prefer to think it a gift. After all, if you had a problem, and I knew what it was, wouldn't you want me to share it with you?

Now, as it turns out, I have a problem. Lucky for me, I'm in my life to point it out to myself.

I've been driving myself nutso trying to put this series pitch together for next weekend's SCBWI conference. How the heck does one go about this? Am I supposed to present an overview of the characters and the world they live in? Am I supposed to outline each book in the series? I've tried both, none of which make me happy about the one page/5 minute timeframe with which to pitch this series.

But that's not my problem.

I spent a good chunk of yesterday questioning whether to bother with writing at all. I've got a good job, earning a pretty decent living with minimal exertion. Why can't I be happy with that? Because I've never been satisfied. I've spend most of my adult life in search of the next best thing. The chase, for me, is where the excitement lies. The idea of becoming an airline pilot was much more exhilarating than the reality of it. I hope that's not true for the dream of being a published author.

I'd like to think each new story brings a new challenge. They're all new worlds designed to prevent boredom. But here is where my problem lies.

I spent a number of years writing the first Schmitty the Pirate book. Certainly, boredom took hold a time or two. I'd put it away, come back to it, and so on. I never liked how it began. I must have written ten different opening chapters. When I finally found one I liked, it didn't fit the story I'd written. So I wrote a whole new story. And, with it, I found the passion again. By the time I was querying, I was ready to write the next one. But then, I got sidetracked with the idea for Sister Very Pretty. I love the characters in the Schmittyverse, but it was refreshing to step into a new world. I decided to focus on Sister Very Pretty.

And then, this stupid conference came up. And then, the opportunity to pitch a series came up. And I found myself back on the island of San Iguana, with Schmitty and all his friends and enemies. Suddenly, I had a dilemma.

My problem is, I'm supposed to be focused on one thing, but keep getting sucked back into the other. And now, I'm totally jazzed to dive into Schmitty book II and...

"Well, who says you have to stick to one thing?"

"Huh? I...well, I do."

"So who are you?"

"Well, I'm the writer."

"So you say. But what are you writing for?"

"I don't get it."

"Why are you writing this stuff? Are you on a deadline? Is someone paying you?"

" Not yet?"

"Maybe not ever."

"Well, maybe."

"So what are you so worked up about? Write what you want to write."

"Well, that's awfully simplistic."

"Why shouldn't it be? Look you said it yourself. You have a good job. Your not sleeping in your car. You don't have any of the sob stories so many famous authors tell about when they got their big break. Face it, that's never gonna be you. Quit pressuring yourself so much. Think of it this way: You've got nothing to gain, so why not have some fun?"

"That's a good way of looking at it."

"That's what I do."


"I'm always here."

Huh? Problem solved...I guess.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Pitching A Series

Well, I've gotten myself into it.

The upcoming SCBWI conference in Miami is offering a series pitch session with author Michael Grant, whom I suppose I should research. The deal is you get 5 minutes and one page to pitch a book series. Seems good to me. I envision Schmitty the Pirate as a six book series. What could be a better opportunity? Except for one thing. How the hell I am supposed to do it?

Advice? Help?

Sweet Holy Moses!

P.S. Is anyone a member of SCBWI and going to the conference?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Who Needs An Editor?

I know, two posts in one day, right?  Well how do you spend your birthday?

Ugh!  I’m all fired up.  I just got a call anticipated, and dreaded with equal fervor.  Some time ago I posted about someone close to me who considers himself a writer.  I refused to name him then, and I won’t now, but I will say this.  He is my brother.

We have nothing in common beyond our family.  And none of us are close.  We do, however, maintain a false sense of caring by calling each other on our birthdays.  Usually no big deal, but this was one call I didn’t want to take.  It’s inevitable the conversation will be skewed so it’s all about him.  I think he could call anyone on my birthday and have the same conversation.  In fact, the last three times I talked to him he asked me the rather odd question, “So, what do you and Mrs. Sarcasm do when your together?”

First of all, WTF?  And second, and third, why weren’t you listening the first two times I told you.  But then, it wasn’t about him.

So less than a year ago he told me he was writing a book.  This after asking to read an early draft of my novel, but then never actually reading it, just letting me wonder for three years what he thought.  During this conversation I learned he knew nothing of query letters, his wife was his proofreader, and he only needed to write one draft.

What more did he need? he asked.  After all, he runs a website for syndicated columnists.  He’ll have no problem getting published.  “I’m not,” he said, “just some guy who decided to write a book one day.”

Like me.

I never go to the family Thanksgiving, and I’m so glad this year, because my sister informed me my brother invited her to his book signing at Barnes and Noble in our hometown.  The same town that is the setting for his book, but which he left more than twenty years ago because there were better places to live. Now has an unexplainable affection for this place and takes his young son on a tour every year and they spend the night in one of the local motels.  In fact, I used this very hotel in Sister Very Pretty.  Here’s an excerpt:

The brisk air nipped at Seymour’s cheeks, but he was only going a couple of blocks and saw no need to further strain his ten-year-old car. Monty’s Grill, a diner just down the street from Perpetual Martyr, was a magnet for the underemployed, downtrodden and morally inept. Attached to a $30 an hour motel, Monty’s was cast in a hazy film of kitchen grease and cigarette smoke. Grimy windows concealed a collage of humanity Seymour wished he weren’t a part of.

Now, before you start throwing jealousy accusations my way, let me be clear.  My brother has done nothing to be jealous of.  I might be jealous of an accomplishment, but he self-published.  Anyone can do that.  The problem is most people buying books don’t know the difference.  And the people who find out he’s a “published” author will now laud false pride.  I made my feelings on self-publishing quite clear here.  I tried to explain it to my parents but I’m sure to them it came off as jealousy as well.  So be it.

Here’s the rub.  I knew he was going to call.  I knew he was going to bring up his book, and his forthcoming book signings.  I gave myself permission to go off on him.  It is my birthday, after all.

Sure enough, he asked if anything was happening with my writing.  Bait.  I knew it.  I took it.  I was prepared.  This is how it went.

“Maybe you don’t know this,” he said. “My book came out this week.”

“Your book?” I played along.  “When did you get an agent?  And a publisher?”

“No agent.  I have a publisher.”

“How’d you do that?”

“I just called ‘em up.  We made a deal.”

“What kind of deal?” I asked.  “Who’s this publisher?”

He told me, and I said, “I’ve heard of them.  That’s self-publishing.”

Of course he tried to spin it.  His reason for doing this was that he wanted to be published by the end of the year.  He’d heard from someone bragging about 150 rejections.  He didn’t have time to waste on getting rejected.

“Did you have an editor?” I asked.

“They proofed if for me,” he said.  “I edited it.  I don’t need some editor telling me how I should write my book.”

And that pretty much summed it up.  I imagine he expected gushing praise, but frak!  No one hijacks my birthday for their selfishness. I let him know I had the time and patience to go the traditional route, using real publishers and real editors.  There were a few moments of awkward silence.  And no congratulations.

We’ll see if he gets a birthday call this year.

Dead Dreams

Today begins my thirty-(cough ack huwazahhpffftzzzz)th year on this earth.  Believe it or not, I don’t feel much different than when I was a teenager.  Sure, I might be a little rounder, a bit more weathered in some places, a bit creaky in others, but I still think like a kid, which makes me feel like a kid.  I’m wiser, to be sure.  Smarter?  I don’t know about.  But at least I have all my hair.  Still in the original color.

christmas-massacre On our nightly walk last eve, Mrs. Sarcasm commented that the deflated Christmas decorations still on folks’ lawns reminded her of dead dreams.  This led to a myriad of thoughts reflective of the things we want to accomplish when we’re young versus how many ever actually get accomplished.

Throughout my life I’ve wanted to do a lot of things.  I wanted to be a TV star, so I got a degree in broadcasting.,  But I never worked in TV, something I occasionally think about, but never really regret.  Some years back, I wanted to become a pilot.  I talked about it for a long time.  Then one day it dawned on me, talk accomplishes little.  So, I made that dream happen.  There have been times I’ve regretted it, but after sitting in ground school for ten hours a day last week, I’m ever more grateful I don’t go to an office every day.  And, I’ve said it before, I finally have a job I don’t hate.

Which leads me to my next dream – that of being a writer.  The path of my life led me places I could never have predicted.  I dabbled in writing but was never serious until one day based in the complete opposite of serious gave me the kick I needed.  It’s funny the things that lead us to make certain choices.  If not for a certain ride, at a certain theme park, who knows where I’d be today?  What passions would I have?  What dreams would I still strive to make come true?  And which dreams would be dead?