Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Like A Bolt Of Lightning

Not a new idea.  My manuscript is in the hands of beta readers, so I'm just waiting for inspiration to strike.  I just came across this video and thought I'd share.

Lightning strikes three of the tallest buildings in Chicago at the same time! from Craig Shimala on Vimeo.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Blogging From South America

I'm in Lima, Peru, where I've been a few times before, but not since I started blogging. So I figured a shout out from beneath the equator would be fun.

Someone must have confused me for somebody important. I'm staying in a suite that until now had only existed as legend and myth. Too bad iPad doesn't have a camera. Picture wrap around windows on three walls, a large jacuzzi, separate shower, private balcony and a sauna!

Too bad I'm only here one night. Really that's okay. Once you've seen one large city they all look alike. Lima is big, among the largest, most crowded cities in the world. And always busy. Any day of the week the streets are crowded, day or night. But, like other large cities, Lima has it's share of problems. Perpetual grime cakes every surface. It doesn't help that a semmingly never ending fog shrouds the coast. It was my third time here before I experienced sunshine and realized there were large mountains surrounding the city. Of course, Peru is in the Andes, the second highest mountains in the world. How I would like to see them.

"But Matt," you say. "you must see them from the air, right?"

If only. We always fly at night. It is cool to see lights frm villages tens of thousands of feet up though.

Many of the buildings here are in a constant state of construction. It looks like a war zone in some places. Just across from the hotel is a building with unfinished floors, looking like they were bombed, above which people live in finished apartments.

Plenty of history abounds. I last visited a church built atop ancient catacombs used as burial grounds for centuries. There are bones strewn throughout.

A popular stop for airline crews is the blue market. I'm not convinced this is the correct translation. With my limited Spanish, I've had minimal success persuading cab drivers to take me to 'el mercado azul.' cheap stuff galore. $8 Lacoste shirts, $1 DVDs, the Rosetta Stone language software for $5. When I say cheap, I mean cheap.

So, that's Lima as I see it. I'd like to see more, like say, the mountains and the rain forest. If I were convinced I could hire someone to drive me out that way, and bring me back alive I'd do it. Until then, I'll stick to my fancy suite.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Return Of The Behemoth

It must be summer vacation.  The next door neighbors are gearing up for a week at Disney World.  I mean, well...it could just be a random weekend.  For that matter, they've never strictly kept their Disney going to off days from school.  In fact, given the always hot and humid weather, it could be any random day of the year.  Not that it matters, because it is now, and the behemoth has returned. 

I mentioned a few days ago that Moira had asked me to tend their mail while they were in Orlando for a week.  Having not specifically stated Disney as the destination, I had hopes they might be branching out, perhaps with a visit to Universal, or Sea World, or heck, maybe even Gatorland.  Alas, yesterday I ran into Howard, displaying his own personal behemoth (he was running around the yard with his shirt off) and he confirmed, seemingly quite irritated I had not already surmised as much, that Disney is indeed the destination. 

"I thought you used up the last of your passes when you went two months ago," I said.

"I don't want to go," he snapped.  "I wish we weren't."

But they are.

Then he pointed out his weedy yard.  Not really necessary, but to be polite, I agreed it looked a mess.  When I inquired why he didn't mow the lawn, he stated, quite exasperatedly, that his wife wanted to go to the store.

I'm still in pause mode while I consider that excuse.  Next, he complained about the heat.  I would point out how hot it will be at Disney in June, but he knows. 

Oh well.  I look forward to a week without them and their lazy, hoarding, hillbilly ways.

It seems I can no longer abide these people, or their homestead.  We are considering a privacy fence.  I'll listen to any suggestions on how to breach the subject.  Or is it broach?  I am a mess.

Monday, June 21, 2010

When The Saints Don’t Want You Marching In

A couple of months back, Mrs. Sarcasm and I toured some of our National Parks, among them, Zion National Park in Utah.  Not far from Zion, on the Utah/Arizona border, is a tiny enclave called Colorado City, AZ.  This is where our story ends.

It begins, however, nearly 200 years ago, in upstate New York.  There, a young fellow named Joe, who’d made his living as a con man, had fallen on hard times.  So it was with some fortune, Joe had a dream one night.  In the dream an angel revealed celestial secrets, opening Joe’s mind to new religious possibilities.  When Joe told others of his dream, he was delighted to find that some people actually believed him, and were willing to shell out their hard earned cash to learn these secrets too.

A new religion was formed, and Joe’s followers, called Saints, followed him all across the USA, looking for their fabled promised land.  With Joe as prophet, life was good.  But, Joe had a problem.  You see, Joe liked the ladies.  And the ladies liked Joe.  But one person didn’t like the ladies liking Joe, and liked Joe liking the ladies even less.  That person was Joe’s wife.  This caused Joe some consternation.  But, as luck would have it, Joe, as prophet, had something of a hotline to the Almighty.  And wouldn’t you know, the Lord let it be known that Joe’s dalliances with the ladies were okay, so long as he married them.  All.  At the same time.  And so, plural marriage, the taking of more than one wife, became the law of  Joe and the Saints.  Joe’s wife wasn’t necessarily cool with this, but he was, after all, prophet.  Not much she could do.  Once again, life for Joe was good.

Eventually Joe and his many wives earned their celestial reward, but the Saints left behind faced growing criticism by those outside the faith, known as Gentiles, who didn’t have the same reasonable tolerance for the principle of plural marriage.  Eventually, the Saints decided the bad PR was no longer worth it.  The Lord, it seemed, had made a mistake.  Plural marriage – not so good.  They turned their backs on Joe’s testimonial.

Here is where our story makes its way to Colorado City.  Some Saints were none too happy with their leaders turning their back on Joe’s ways.  They split off and formed their own faith, one in which Joe’s principles are still practiced today.  They have many compounds throughout the land, but the most famous is Colorado City.

I first read about this most bizarre community in Under the Banner of Heaven, by Jon Krakauer.  I was fascinated by the isolated lives of the residents, whose existence is closely monitored by their current prophet, the venerable Warren Jeffs, now serving time for multiple counts, including sexual misconduct with minors and incest. 

While the esteemable Mr. Jeffs may be serving hard time, his, and Joe’s followers, are still serving the principle.  When I learned just how close Colorado City was to Zion National Park…well, a side trip seemed in order.  I expected a walled compound with armed sentries, but instead found an unassuming town at the base of desert peaks.  If you are a fan of HBO’s Big Love, this town was the model for Juniper Creek.

It was all there.  Pastel colored prairie dresses.  Bouffant hair.  Houses with random additions for the many children of the many wives.  Hundreds of bicycles, giving the illusion of a school playground, in each front yard.

Of course we didn’t fit in.  Within minutes, it was obvious we were being followed.  Monitored.  Gentiles not so welcome.  We booked out of town after about ten minutes, but not before Joe made his presence known.

On the way out of town, the cell phone started ringing.  It was off.  Yet ringing.  There was no answering it.  Or shutting it down.  Only by removing the battery could the phone be killed.  Much like Joe had been killed in a gunfight by Gentiles who didn’t believe in the principle.

Message received.

One visit was enough for me.  But if you’re in the neighborhood…

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Striking Out On Blogging

Please don’t picket my online inactivity.  I’ve been a bad blogger of late.  One, maybe two posts a week, is not what I’d envisioned when this blog was born.  I’ve certainly not run out of things to write about.  My life has been a bit of a whirlwind lately.  I’ve simply been unable to grab onto any of the craziness swirling around.

Work has been on and off hectic.  Re-writes consumed a good deal of my free time, but so has laziness.  Our journey toward adoption has taken a few twists.  I’ve also discovered a tremendous number of new blogs.  Far too many in fact.  How can a mere mortal be expected to read, comment and post all by one’s self?

Work issues have settled.  For now.  My re-write is in the hands of one of my critique partners.  Adoption is now just a waiting game.  And I must get cracking on some of my other writing projects.

So, loyal readers, I hope to have more to blog about soon.  There is no shortage of fodder from the next door neighbors, who are taking yet another Disney vacation at the end of the month.  This time for a full week.  I’ve been tasked with bringing in their mail.  Expect some great stories to come out of my excursions into their house.  (I’m tempted to post some pictures, but fear that may be too great a violation of their privacy.) 

Enjoy the rest of your weekend.  Happy Father’s Day to those who have earned it.  The longest day of the year is here.  Make the most of it.  Unless you live in the southern hemisphere.  In which case, settle in for the winter.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I'm Bored

Since I have some extra time on my hands from not working these last few days, I decided to take a break from not working and rest my feet.  The curious and savvy can do some research and figure out what that means.

For the rest, I thought I would read through my WIP.  I finished the re-write last week, but haven't gone through it line by line to ensure it makes sense all the way through.  I've read 83 pages thus far today, and guess what?  I'm bored.  I really don't think it's such a bad story, but I did cut a lot to get it under 60,000 words.  Has it suffered?  I don't know.  I know there is an unwritten rule to set it aside for a few weeks before reading it again.  Maybe I'm still too close to it.  But I want to get it out to beta readers and if it sucks before they see it, then what's the point.

So help me my blogging friends.  In an unprecedented move, I've decided to post the first 838 words.  I figure if an agent is going to like it or not, it will be decided that quickly.  I actually think the first chapter is pretty good.  It's the next 80 pages that lag.  At least to me.  Sorry it makes for a long post, but I need to know if I'm wasting my time.

Comment.  Please.

 “Skully? You finally awake?”
Not waiting for a response, the quartermaster burst through the hatch.
Well, this can’t be good, thought Skully. He was in his hammock, strung up above some stacked crates, a small desk turned on its side, and a lone chair—there was no room for anything else—in the cramped cabin next to the captain’s quarters. Wishing he were anywhere else.
Pirates were surprisingly cordial to one another, but several weeks of boredom on an over-crowded ship led to a few fights. The quartermaster doled out justice. That could mean lots of things. Nothing pleasant.
Gladwyn was big. Giant big. With dark skin, rippling muscles and strange circular scars. He never wore a shirt, either because he didn’t own one, or they didn’t come in his size. He had an enormous head with yellowing eyes. His hair and beard, like spongy black cotton, circled his face.
“I didn’t do anything,” Skully said, sitting up too fast and banging his head on the bulkhead.
“Now, who said you did?” Gladwyn asked. “I asked a simple question.”
Skully’s life stopped being simple the day they started calling him Skully. Normal went on holiday. Complicated moved in. Became a constant companion. Along with a rather vicious case of seasickness.
The lines across Gladwyn’s giant forehead softened. “I have been worried about your ear. It was bleeding again last night.”
Beneath tattered bandages, what was left of Skully’s ear felt like it was on fire. The hammock swung back and forth. The ceiling swayed. He squeezed his eyes shut. His hands were shaking and his legs felt weak. His stomach lurched amid the constant rolling of the ship. The inescapable stench of a hundred men, months past bathing. The putrid stink of rancid water, rotting fruit and moldy bread.
Wishing he were dead, Skully leaned over just in time, scattering chunks onto Gladwyn’s boots.
So much for wishes.
The dead didn’t get sick. They didn’t do anything. Except die. That, he knew firsthand.
Gladwyn looked up from the mess at, and on, his feet. Puking, it turned out, wasn’t widely tolerated by pirates. Something of a shame, then, that Skully now lived among them. Not that he had much choice. But Gladwyn did not scowl. He did not frown. Or yell. If anything, he almost looked amused.
“Where are we?” Skully asked.
“Somewhere in the middle of the crossing, I estimate,” Gladwyn said. “A little closer than yesterday, but still weeks away. Of course, I have only made the journey one time, so I cannot be certain.” Gladwyn shuffled across the tight space, to open the porthole. He stuck his head out and inhaled deeply. “The captain wonders if there is anything you wish to tell him.”
The captain. That was not what he’d called himself a week ago. It left Skully a bit untrusting.
“Are you feeling alright?” Gladwyn asked. “I can give you some more unguent.”
“No way. I don’t need any more of that.”
The first night aboard, Gladwyn had mixed up a strange concoction that numbed Skully’s ear and sent his mind wandering. It took a few days to recover.
“My apologies,” Gladwyn said. “I may have overestimated the dosage. I do not usually treat children.”
“You’re not a very good doctor”
“I am not a doctor. A healer—maybe. How do you feel?”
“Hungry.” He wondered if it was because he’d thrown up, or in spite of it.
“You should get some grub.”
Grub was the right word. In the week since he’d come aboard, Skully had yet to eat a decent meal. Or anything that resembled a meal. What passed for food on a pirate ship would not have been served in a prison back home.
“I’ll be there in a minute,” Skully said. “I just need to…just give me a minute.”
Once Gladwyn had gone, Skully climbed out of his hammock, avoiding the vomitty mess. Wind whistled through the porthole, followed by the crash of waves. A gray-blue wake, topped with white foam, trailed the ship. Skully dragged the chair to the porthole for some fresh air. Kneeling with his arms on the ledge, he watched the rolling swells.
Never before in his twelve years had he claimed to be a pirate. Nor had he said his name was Skully. But that’s what they were calling him. So that’s who he’d become.
Skeletal nickname not withstanding, Skully was all too alive. All elbows and kneecaps, he had pale skin and blonde hair that he used to keep quite neatly combed. He had been a stay at home kind of kid, who wore fancy clothes and meandered, unnoticed, among his grandfather’s high society friends. Mostly because his grandfather insisted he avoid less desirables—those who existed beyond the grounds of the grand mansion known as Admiralty House.
His grandfather, Admiral Alban Ironskull, would certainly not have approved of Skully traveling with the most despicable excuses of living creatures—as he had often described pirates. Okay, so maybe they weren’t all missing limbs and trailing bloody entrails. But Admiral Ironskull wasn’t just any Navy admiral; he was The Admiral, and knew what he was talking about. There was no questioning his word. Of course that, along with everything else, had now changed.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

You Wanna Exchange Numbuhs?

It was quite a three day trip.  I'd flown with the guy before, but it had been a while, and never more than out and back on the same day.  All I remembered was that he wore designer frame glasses.  Prada.

He looked like a cross between Jon Favreau and one of the annoying husbands from the Real Housewives of New Jersey.

I said hello and extended a hand to shake.  He didn't look up.  He was in too much of a hurry.  For three days he did nothing but hurry, all the while mumbling like he was the last link to Marlon Brando's Godfather.  Of course, he's from New York.  But moved to Florida.  Just like 90% of all people in Florida who aren't Cuban.  But, in a rare twist, he actually complained about New York.  I think it was for show.  If pressed, I'm certain he would extol the virtues of the only city on Earth.  The one so many like to praise, after having abandoned it.

So after a minute, he says, "You wanna exchange numbuhs?  In case we need to catch up."

No, I thought.  What catching up will we have?  We're sitting next to each other for the next three days.  During which time, he micromanaged to the point, I don't even remember what my responsibilities are anymore.  I was apparently too slow, so he pretty well did my job to his satisfaction.  All the while he talked about himself.  This is a trend I have mixed feelings about.  On the one hand, I'ven't the least amount of interest in anything even remotely having to do with your life.  Then again, it saves me from having to talk about myself.  Not that anyone ever asks.  I'm just saying.

One thing I learned was how he wants to buy a $750,000 airplane, because he drives three hours to work, and it would change his life.  He had lots of plans for his money.  Lots of things he wants to buy.  Lots of investments he wants to make.  Lots and lots and lots.

And then he told me he is in bankruptcy.

I pictured this...

The best part came on final approach.  Its been a tremendously stressful week for everyone at our airline.  Come midnight Friday, it could all be over.

He turned to me and said, "It's been a real pleasure working with you.  Give my best to your family."

Who he's never met.  And never will.  God willing.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The First Chapter

Did I ever explain the origins of my current work in progress?  I didn't?  Oh, you mean you weren't paying attention?  Or you forgot?  So be it.  Pull up a chair.

Some years back I wrote a story about a kid who lives on a pirate ship.  It was a grand adventure set in a world already familiar to our characters, who'd been running around on the high seas for a few years already.  As my first attempt at novel writing, it came in around 100,000 words.  A bit on the high side for middle grade, but what did I know?  I'd written the greatest story ever told.  It had only one weakness.  I didn't like the beginning.  So I went back and tried to re-write it.  It didn't work.  I tried again.  No luck.  I must have tried five or six or a dozen new chapter ones, only to toss them all in the trash.

Then, I wrote one I liked.  It explained the origins of our hero, and how he came to live on a pirate ship.  And then I screwed the whole thing up by jumping ahead a bunch of years to chapter 2 of the already completed story.  That didn't feel right either.  After all, a whole heckuva bunch of stuff happened in those intervening years.  Why not tell those stories?  The whole story.  So, my already written, way too long novel, was set aside while I  wrote the origin story.  Guess what happened?  I became a much better writer along the way, and wrote, what I believe to be a much better story.  After meeting a few other writers and some agents at a conference in January, I decided it needed a re-write.  It was still too long so I set a goal of cutting it down to less than 60,000 words.

Goal accomplished.  It is now complete at a tightly written, 59,909 words.  I will soon send it to beta readers and then off to queryland.

There's just one problem.

I still don't like the first chapter.  Bits of it I like, but I need to rearrange it.  And cut a little more.  You can never cut enough.

Does anyone else suffer extreme disappointment at their opening chapters?  Tell me I'm not alone.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Bret Michaels Called. He Wants His Headband Back.

It's been a while since I blogged about the neighbors.  It's not that they haven't intrigued me, what with their increasing hillbilly behavior.   I'm just so fed up living near them, it pains me to admit they are part of my life.  For Memorial Day they brought out the Behemoth.  This is the ever growing contraption they use every time it becomes necessary to take little Sammy out of school.  Take one part giant pickup truck; add one camping trailer; throw a stolen golf cart into the bed of the truck, and then strap Sammy's bike* to the back of the golf cart and you have the Behemoth.

Add to the Behemoth the three foot tall grass in the backyard, the weed barrier growing around the the golf cart, in it's preferred parking spot in the middle of the yard, the debris field that has become their screen porch, with the bottom of the screen flapping in the breeze, and you have the hillbillies of south Florida.

Even hillbillies like their rock and roll.  So imagine the sight of 43 year-old Moira, still carrying around the baby weight from six months ago, not to mention the pre-baby weight from 42 years ago. Dangle a cigarette in her mouth and the baby seat in one hand, (WTF?  Doesn't anyone actually hold their babies anymore?) slap a Bret Michaels headband around Moira's forehead, and you've got a fashion trademark.

Thank God it's 95 degrees and 100% humidity.  I will not be outside when she comes home, all hot and sweaty.

*Sammy, age 7, taught herself how to ride the bike, because Howard couldn't tear himself away from NASCAR.  She even unbolted the training wheels.