Alas, the Beavers' center banked in a three-pointer in overtime for the win. It's been that kind of a year, folks...
Alas, the Beavers' center banked in a three-pointer in overtime for the win. It's been that kind of a year, folks...
Corny, I know, but oh so true.
January has been a strong creative month for me in a couple of respects. Time away from the committee work, deadlines and grading at the college is restorative in its own right. And I've been able to go jogging almost every day, often out at the Spanish Pond or Atlantic Beach. But hitting the daily double at the computer has been the real key to unlocking a torrent of what feels like solid prose.
I've gotten in three or four hours of work in the morning almost every weekday this month. Usually I clean the place up around noon, eat a light lunch and hit a jog. I try to get my ass back in the seat by 3:00 or 4:00 and go for another hour. I've used the afternoon session, largely, to revise on the run. I'll go over the morning's work, tightening and tweaking, and then write a one-paragraph synopsis of where I'm headed for the next day.
I don't have the time for this, of course, when I'm balancing six classes over at the school, but it sure has been a blessing so far in 2009.
Come to think of it, double dipping is good in lots of things. I love the conference championships in football. Two weeks ago we had the AFC and NFC games in the same afternoon/evening. I love hitting a double feature at the movies. And twice is nice when it comes to a double-baker spud.
All great things.
If you can find the time to work on a project a couple of times a day, give it a shot. Try it on for size and see how the writing comes out.
Sad news that John Updike passed away today. He was 76 and suffered from lung cancer.
Updike was a very good writer. He created controversy, both amongst his peers and literary critics, but his writing was vibrant. He had a keen eye for detail and was an accomplished wordsmith. My students have always held his story "A & P" in high regard, making its discussion one of the more lively in American Literature.
Recent years have seen the passing of giants Kurt Vonnegut and Hunter S. Thompson. It makes me wonder if a new wave of "literary elite" will ever step into the public consciousness in anything close to the way folks like Mailer and Updike did in the second half of the last century.
Here's a decent overview of his career. It's interesting to note that, as much as he admired the scientific community for its thirst to understand the nature of the universe, he was never able to take the "leap of unfaith" necessary to distance himself from his Christian upbringing. Whatever you thought of him as a writer or a critic, it's certainly a changed literary landscape with him gone.
Rest easy, Mr. Updike, and thanks for the work.
The piece is a vignette; it feels like a great Raymond Carver story. There's not much context or character backstory, and no resolution. To his credit, Aronofsky does more with nondiegetic storytelling here than most. Both the opening and closing credits are vitally important to the story's impact. If, like me, you grew up watching wrestling in the '80s, then you need little more than the montage of playbills, photographs and publicity releases that establish the legend of The Ram early on. But if you aren't much of a grapplehead and you showed up because A.O. Scott or someone of that ilk gushed like a frat-boy at the Palm Beach Hooters about how cool the show was...well, then you likely left unsatisfied.
And please don't think I'm saying to skip this one. By all means, go and enjoy it. It's a hell of an entertainment and a worthy film. B+ (my wife gave it a C). That said, it's not up there with Slumdog.
Aronofsky captures much of the film from the over-the-shoulder perspective. He doesn't shy away from depicting some pretty visceral gore, either. The Ram's second match is hard to look at.
But look at it you must, because Rourke "brings the good heat" (wrestling term) for the duration of this film. He swings from bravado to self-doubt in subsequent shots. One of the film's better sequences shows him working the deli counter at the local supermarket. He slowly warms up to the human interaction of customer service, making the deli his own wrestling rink as he plays to the customers' affections. That's contrasted with a particularly gruesome come-down late in the film. The emotional range that Rourke displays here is really something to regard and applaud. He carries the film (although Tomei is hard not to watch herself) and brings it home.
Oh, and about that ending? I liked it. I know many in the theater didn't. I thought it was perfectly appropriate.
The criticisms I have mostly have to do with the narrative. The father-daughter subplot was wholly unnecessary. The monetary struggles seemed disingenuous in a few scenes. I think, if anything, the film would have benefited from another thirty minutes.
Usually I think the opposite is true.
Ok, here's what this all boils down to. These are my favorite wrestlers:
#4: Rick "The Model" Martel
The man came into the ring spraying the "scent of arrogance" around like he owned the place. Then he threw fools into the Boston Crab, effectively wrecking dozens of lower backs in the process.
The dude was just cool. The Stinger Splash was great, and he just had presence. You always knew that if Sting was in the building, things were going to be interesting.
Man, that wiki-entry is sad. It's not at all what I would have expected from the ghoul in zubas that would fly all over the ring and, at some critical point in the match, snatch his doo-rag from his head, scattering a thick cloud of flour around the ring, blinding his opponent. I watched him wrestle maybe ten or twelve times. He lost probably a third of them. He was never famous, never a main event. But he was awesome. He had moves and athleticism and would do just about anything in the ring.
#1: The Great Muta
Muta had it all. I rooted for him all throughout my wrestling years (probably when I was ten, and then two months when I was eleven). Watch the video. The man could rassle....
This story also broke this week: the 44th President of the United States was inaugurated on Tuesday.
Take a look at that picture of McGwire and make your own conclusions. Dude looks like he was taking bovine DNA injections. You could pull a sizable roast off one of the man's traps.
I read an article outlining home run production over time. The number of dingers hit each year steadily increased until--wait for it--2008, when Bud Selig pulled his head out of his ass and implemented strict drug testing provisions in MLB. Surprise, surprise, there were 800 fewer bombs hit in 2008.
So what happened to all the power? Well, marginal athletes (yes, we're looking at you Brett Boone) who inflated their numbers with pharmacology found they couldn't hack it without the help. They lost their jobs. Guys who were cranking forty round-trippers three years ago hit half that number in 2008.
Barry Bonds couldn't get a job.
Jay McGwire is having a hard time finding a publisher. It turns out he has "credibility issues." Sheesh. Sounds like he's perfect for the folks writing memoir nowadays. I think it makes sense that the market has dried up for this kind of thing. Outside of reading the skin-puckering details of all that syringe work, who needs a book like this to tell us what we all knew already:
McGwire was a cheater. So was Clemens. So were Bonds and Sosa and Palmeiro and more than half of the roster of my beloved Baltimore Orioles.
I've heard Mark McGwire is a nice man. I've heard that he's quiet, and contrite (although he's never fessed up about his drug use). He's turned down opportunities to coach (LaRussa asked him to become a hitting coach). He might be a nice guy, but he's no hero. He should never go into the Hall of Fame. He should always be held accountable for the injuries he's visited on America's pastime.
Rant over. Just writing this gets me geeked for Spring Training. I'm driving down to Lauderdale for the weekend to catch a couple of Orioles games (we signed Markakis) this year just before we have our little girl.
- Why burn that bridge by questioning a rejection? Why close a door on what could be a productive collaboration in the future? Art is subjective. If a piece doesn't strike a chord with a particular editor, move on to the next market.
- Why dump on folks whose work advances the field? Editors, from what I can gather, aren't the superstars of this here publishing food chain, pilgrim. They work long hours. The monetary compensation can be thin. The folks who give of their time and energy to create something worth reading deserve more than surly missives back in their inboxes. And again, if a piece doesn't strike a chord with a particular editor, move on to the next market.
- Why not try to improve the piece? Granted, not every suggestion merits approval, but writing is a give-and-take proposition. You wage this same battle with yourself (or at least you should) before you ever send a story into the world for consideration. So why is it any different in working with an editor? If you don't like the suggestions (if they don't strike a chord with you), move on to the next market!
I've spent the last week working with editors on a pair of stories. The tales are much improved for the extra attention, and I'm indebted to these individuals for their insights. I also received a rejection with a very specific set of notes. The editor invited me to try again if the piece took these insights under advisement. I've since played these comments over in my mind a couple of times; I revisited the piece and made substantial changes, tightening the piece and broadening its scope, I think.
I'll take another pass at it later in the week and then re-submit, thankful for the time and energy devoted to improving the work.
Every writing process is unique, of course. This is just my two cents. But if an editor is willing to be generous and specific with his or her criticism of your writing, why kill the goodwill with an adversarial attitude?
If you see a person in street clothes careening down the street, flipping garbage cans and produce crates behind him as diversions and bouncing off taxi-cab windshields, throw a hip-check if he or she enters your personal space.
This is good because a) You might end up a hero and, in that case, you'll get to meet Al Roker when you go on the Today Show and b) you don't want to look like a jerk-ass when the perp tries to toss you over with a grunt.
Thus is written the first in Uncle DP's life lessons c/o Hollywood.
I turned off the radio and kept at it. I had plans to get a jog in when I was done with the weights. I had already written for three hours this morning and I wanted the exercise. I didn't want to allow myself an excuse to cut the workout short, but the story kept coming.
Ok, I rationalized, I won't hit the the treadmill. I'll just finish lifting weights and then I'll go home and write it.
The damned story shot straight ahead. I couldn't stand it so I put the weights down and grabbed my bag from the locker room and came home and wrote it.
I like it. It feels like a neat little tale.
It's a fine line with some of these stories. I've had some that I haven't jotted so much as a brief note about. More often than not, those ones float away, lost to me forever. Some knock around up there, bouncing around the cage until you tell them. Some hold on for months and then you start to write them and give up after 2,000 words. Who can tell why that happens?
I've got one story that only exists as a title. I've got two that are pert near baked golden. I have a whole file filled with little paragraph synopses. No guarantee any of them will ever see the world.
There's a pen and a notepad next to my bed. It's filled with ideas, with sentences, with images. My wife gets a chuckle out of it when I read that little sucker to her. I do too, truth be told, because it's kind of a crazy salad.
So let me put the question out there. When the idea forms and begs to be written, what do you do? Drop it all and dash it off? Keep a note of it and get to it later?
As always, comments appreciated...
As I navigated the Timicuan Trail, what seemed an appropriate comparison occurred to me. The totality of the trail is the story's plot. The things you glimpse between the trees are your subplots, your characterization, your setting, your art.
And it also occurred to me that sometimes we find ourselves in such a rush to complete the task that we forget to extract any real pleasure from it. Sure, it's nice to burn off some steam on a fast run and it's satisfying to get through the exercise quickly because, in our culture, we typically measure success with things like speed or strength. But what gets lost in that compulsion to finish?
The comparison applies to cooking as well. Why are more Americans now obese than are merely overweight? We put a premium on eating quickly and efficiently, tossing aside the obvious merit (and enjoyment) of making something from scratch. Did you know it takes days to make a great loaf of sourdough bread in your own home? The start itself needs twenty-four hours. Sure, you can get a loaf of sourdough bread at the supermarket for a couple of dollars. It'll look just like its buddies, all wrapped up and perfectly shaped in that shiny cellophane, probably some caricature of a baker stencilled on the front. But what about that misshapen loaf that strikes the perfect balance between tangy and rich--you know, the one that just came fresh from the oven in your own kitchen?
I think the same thing applies to storytelling. I hear grumblings among authors that publishers now purchase ideas, not stories. I hear complaints that it's trends that sell, not substance. I read articles declaring that we live in the second (moments are too long; and eras? don't get me started) of volume. If it's loud, if it's immense, if people can talk about it in a string of symbols (gr8, lol!), then it's bankable.
So what do we do?
Today, I turned off my radio. I listened to the birds in the trees, the rustle of things crashing around in the ferns. I stopped at the birding platform and watched fish jump, listened to the creak of oysters. I watched a great blue heron spear the water for its lunch.
I often tell my students to turn off the radio in their car, to set their cell phone on vibrate. I ask them to think about their lives in terms of comparisons, just for a short time each day. Sure, mixed metaphors and scattered similes can absolutely kill a decent piece of writing. That's true. But I think it's there, in the space between the trees, in those unique individual scenes that come together to comprise a longer work, that we find the best of these comparisons.
And that's how you add a layer of texture to your work. I've read that Orson Scott Card sometimes instructs writers to work with an ending already in mind. I envy that approach; I wish I could adopt it more frequently in my own work.
But part of the beauty of the work is in getting there. Always has been.And as a reader, as much as I enjoy the satisfaction of finishing a good story, I often find the work all the more meaningful if a writer can show me the space between the trees along the way.
Card, by the way, is more than adept at communicating those things. His advice is sound because he understands the balance between completing the journey and describing what's in between all those trees.
That balance, I suppose, is a large part of what makes a story memorable and resonant.
Now, I wholly expect all of these books to be quite good. Priest and Ford are excellent writers, and I'm excited about reading The New Weird after looking at its intriguing introduction. I've also been reading select stories from The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror (2005). In looking at Ellen Datlow's notes on the year in horror (2004), it's clear that we've lost a lot of markets for dark fiction in the last four years. And in reading the introduction of New Weird, it's also pretty clear to me that there are persistent leanings within genre fiction to capitalize on whatever marketing notoriety might result from labelling a trend a "movement."
As I said, I don't profess to be any industry insider on what I write or what I call it. I don't subscribe to any horror newsletters. I'm not a member of the HWA. I don't know anything about what happens over on the various horror forums.
And I guess that makes it difficult to answer a question that comes up a lot with friends and family: what kind of writing are you working on?
When pressed, I usually tell them I write dark fiction. I often think of myself as a horror writer. And I often tell them that I write the kind of stuff I enjoy reading. That's Lansdale and King and MacDonald and Hiaasen, among dozens of other writers.
I keep hearing that, unless your name is Seinfeld or Fey or Frey or something like that, you'll never get published in this down economy and shifting industry. I keep hearing that writers need to pander to the market, and maybe adjust the content, tone, style, etc. of their projects to make a piece commercially viable. And all of that has merit.
But how do you go about doing that? How do you adjust your work so that it contains things, ingredients or elements or whatever you want to call them, that will make it more appealing to the gatekeepers?
How do you find a home for work in a pool of markets that seems to shrink by the month?
I don't know how you can. If you write the kinds of stories that you like to read, and you aren't interested in just posting them on a blog for free in a little corner of the internet, you'll just have to wait until the world of words comes back to your province.
I wish there was a better answer, and I'd love to hear any alternative theories out there, but whether you're writing bizarro fiction or post modern or gothic or new weird or stories suited only for left-handed-albino-midget-eskimoes, you'll just have to keep writing them and beating the bushes.
I know it's not the best answer for a complex subject, but I don't think the individual response should be that you begin work immediately on your vampire-romance set in a high school up in the Pacific Northwest.
Unless, of course, that's the type of thing you write...
I can't put my finger on why it happens, but I tend to go through cycles of insomnia. I'll be fine for four or five months straight, then I'll have a week or ten days where I can only get a few hours of shut-eye a night if I'm lucky.
I've been up until all hours of the morning over the last three days, reading and playing stories over and over in my mind. I keep paper and pen near my bed and I've had some neat ideas, which is always good. And I've risen a few times and gone to the word processor to flesh out a couple of passages.
But all in all, these stretches of fatigue zap me hard. I feel like a shell of myself a bit right now, and all the capillaries in my eyes are showing. Oh, well. I'm going to take a long run today and watch those Florida Gators tonight and here's to hoping that the sleep gods shine on me and I snatch ten hours of rest between now and tomorrow.
And the truly asinine part of this lack of rest is the vast amount of time I have in which to collect it. I don't have any responsibilities at the college for months!
Sheesh. I feel like poor Henry Bemis, that "charter member in the fraternity of dreamers" who only wants to read and, when the chance finally presents itself, finds it blocked by cruel fate.
Enough belly-aching. I finished the edits for my story "9 Curzon Place" yesterday. This tale is fairly strong, I think (hope), and will appear in the February issue of Something Wicked. I also received a very kind and helpful rejection (with an offer to re-submit) on a story I finished over the Christmas break. I'll visit that one first today, then hit the novel with an important plot sequence that needs some fine-tuning.
Any tips on dealing with insomnia I'll accept with gratitude in the comments section below...
This quote says it all:
"Given the stated objective of the incoming Obama administration of the importance of education to the US global competitiveness, we are hopeful that school districts will have the necessary funding available to ensure students have the appropriate instructional materials to use in the classroom and to take home."
I looked at this post not an hour after reading an article in today's Florida Times-Union. The T-U article, titled "Books may help schools' budgets," outlines the legislature's plan to potentially allow cash-strapped districts to use textbook funds to pay bills in the current budget cycle.
That headline is misleading. In actuality, it means no new books for writing students.
"It is still a verb, so we haven't changed the language arts that radically," Broward County School Board member Maureen Dinen told a House education committee Tuesday (Patterson).
I'm torn on this one. I use Blackboard as an instructional platform in most of my classes. The software allows me to link, fairly liberally, to both grammar content (theory and exercises) and essays, short stories and current events. It's all I need.
That said, these are college students I'm working with. Many have a firm grasp of composition fundamentals. Those are the skills they learned in high school, the skills that are directly impacted by the use of solid textbook.
Part of me feels that the schools could go without the texts. Another part of me insists that they purchase them in an effort to better prepare their students for life after high school.
My wife works at Forrest High here in Jacksonville. The language arts curriculum in Duval County uses workbook-style texts, so they are certainly reliant on replacement materials for the coming school year.
I don't know that there's a clear resolution to this debate, but it surely underlines a truth about education in America: our kids are getting the shaft.
The production quality of the sample issue on the website looks great, and this statement clearly speaks to a sense of self confidence:
The Golden Age of Horror Begins in 2009
Shock Totem pays a professional rate of a nickel a word, up to a $250 maximum payment. I think one of the things I'll be doing in 2009 is changing the complexion of my magazine subscriptions. To that end Shock Totem and Doorways are the early favorites for inclusion in my meager (four subscriptions) list.
By the way, those of you looking for a high-quality magazine of dark fiction should take a look at Something Wicked Magazine. It's consistently bursting with fresh fiction and interesting interviews. Also, John Connolly has written for the magazine. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Nocturnes (the collection I'm working on currently; cover at the right of your screen). Connolly's work is strong--vivid and chilling and beautifully written. "Some Children Wander By Mistake" is the best story I've read in a long while--up there with Gaiman's "How To Talk to Girls at Parties" and Joe Hill's "Involuntary Committal."
Great stuff. So, long story short--try Something Wicked and Shock Totem. Read John Connolly.
Enjoy your day.
Threshold, I suppose. A fresh start holds promise. And since our time here is finite (at least in this go-round), each new year represents a chance for improvement.
Anyone fall off the horse yet on his or her resolution? Just curious...
I didn't make any hard-and-fast resolutions, but my wife and I made a deal to limit eating out to once a month. I did set some goals, and I've adjusted my writing schedule to hopefully become more fruitful.
In On Writing, Stephen King says that he keeps regular business hours. He takes four days off each year, otherwise he works on two or three projects at a time, writing each day in the morning.
I'm not working at the college in the first two months of 2009. I'll teach a couple of night classes in March and April, giving me a four-month window in which to harvest a respectable word count. And, rather than put a limit on that word count, I'm going to try to sit at the computer, Monday through Thursday, from 9:00 until noon each morning. I'll jog, fish or read in the afternoon and then get back to the word processor around 3:00. I think I'll take Fridays off and work on short fiction during the weekend.
These are all guidelines, of course, and I want to remain flexible. I mulled over the opening chapter of book #3 last night for an hour before nodding off and, while I jotted notes on it, I want to get the re-write done on book #2 before I move on. My hope is this approach will distill the work, allowing me to focus on a project at a time until I knock 'em out.
I've written before that I'm pretty interested in the creative process. I like thinking about how these stories come to maturity and, while there's no direct road map, any number of methods lead to the same place.
Well, rather than focus on a weekly word count, I'm going to try this routine. It's more regimented than anything I've done before; I'll confess that part of my attraction to the uniformity of such an approach is guilt. I want to associate the morning hours with writing. I think that'll help keep my ass in the chair.
So what say you, sparse posters? Word count? Page count? Time limit? Strike while the iron is hot?
Make up stories about romances forged at prison camp fences?
Sorry, had to get that last one in. My faith in memoir as truthful commentary is slim to none right about now, so please forgive my cynicism.
But the question remains: how do you create art?
When I was a kid, I couldn't stand golf. My pop used to love it, and it seemed to go longer than church on those Saturday afternoons. I didn't like any of it: the announcers whispering as the players lined up putts, the eight hours of coverage that seemed to grind on for days and years, the fly-away shots of the course and the obligatory lavishing of praise for the aerial blimp shots.
The whole thing was exhausting.
Well, my attitude has changed, friends. I love golf. I love to play it, and I love to watch it. During golf season, I tend to camp in front of the television for hours at a time from Thursday through Sunday evening. There has never, to hear the pundits evaluate it, been this much depth on the tour.
And there has never been a player like Tiger Woods. Not in the history of the game. Sure, Jack is the man and he still holds the record for majors. But no golfer (maybe no athlete, save M.J.) has so thoroughly revolutionized the game as has Tiger.
That win last year in the U.S. Open was the best sports story of the year in 2008 (sorry Phelps fans--that's just the way it is, to quote Bruce Hornsby). Better than the N.Y. Giants Super Bowl win. Better than that awesome Nadal-Federer Wimbledon final. Better than that Baltimore Orioles win over the Yankees back in May.
And, from all accounts (Garry Smits is the golf writer for the Florida Times-Union, and he is excellent), Tiger is rebounding well from knee surgery and is looking to take the tour by storm again in 2009. I doubt he'll play more. We can probably count on his usual sixteen to eighteen tournaments. But I can't wait to see his approach. Tiger's mental game is the strongest part of his make-up, and I think it'll be fascinating to see how his strongest opposition (Kim, Villegas, Mickelson, Harrington, Choi, Sergio) sizes him up this year.
Golf is really a great example of blending the physical (muscle memory, power, precision) with the creative (shot making ability) and the mental (come Sunday, short putts often decide monetary values in the hundreds of thousands). And no one does it better than Tiger.
As an aside, I've been reading Arthur Machen in the first days of this new year. He's a good writer, and the volume on the right of your screen is more than a little creepy. Hit your local bookstore (Chamblin Bookmine Downtown, if you're in Jacksonville) and grab some of his stuff if you get the chance.
2008 was a difficult year on our planet. China was laid low by a devastating earthquake. Terrorists wrought havoc throughout India and Indonesia, among countless other locales. Israel and Palestine finished the year off by trading missiles and rockets like blushing fifth graders swapping notes in class. The American economy tanked, leading to record home foreclosures and the worst year for the financial markets since 1931 (!). The publishing industry finished '08 on shaky footing. California might be sending out I.O.U.s this year instead of state tax returns.
It was a trying year and a tiring year, but it wasn't without its merits.
I think the financial situation in America was a necessary correction. Years of deregulation in the lending markets artificially inflated housing. Many who shouldn't have leveraged themselves did (and were permitted to in this new lax economy), and our current financial situation rests wholly on that bedrock of poor decision making in the housing sector. Things will improve as the market adjust over the next year. And this had to happen. We need to get in better touch with ourselves and our needs, and stop catering to our desires. I think things will get worse before they get better (I've heard the idea of 10% unemployment bandied about for this year, and it wouldn't surprise me at all), but that we will adjust our attitudes about debt and come to terms with living within our means. Americans have already illustrated this in terms of our driving practices over the past six months.
I am encouraged by America's decision to honor intellect and optimism in its choice of our new President. While President Obama faces a litany of nearly unprecedented challenges, I think he's up to the challenge. The partisan political bashing will, I hope, subside in 2009 and our country can make positive strides as a whole.
From a personal perspective, 2008 was good to me. I enjoyed my work at the college. I think I worked harder than I ever have in higher education and, as always, my students inspired and surprised me with their growth and intelligence. My colleagues at Deerwood kept me on my toes intellectually, and we saw our school go through some phenomenal physical changes as the renovation ran its course.
I can't wait to use the new theater for our cinema course. If you're a student reading this, look for the summer offering. Lots of changes in store for that little beauty.
My wife continues to amaze me with her strength and spirit. She spent 2008 as a tireless advocate for the students she works with at Forrest High, and she's done it all while adjusting to her first pregnancy.
That's right, we were fortunate enough to conceive a child in 2008! She'll be joining us in about ten weeks.
I read a lot of books (roughly seventy, if you count cookbooks) and had a great time with the writing. I think I matured in my ability to tell a story this year, and I'm thankful to editors Lyn Perry, Emily Thorp and Joe Vaz for accepting my work for publication. Your confidence is much appreciated, and I'll work hard to get the word out on these magazines and venues.
I finished thirteen short tales in 2008. I'd like to complete at least fourteen in 2009. I wrote a novel last year. I want to polish it in 2009 and find a publishing contract for it before this time next year.
Book #3 begins soon.
2008 was dim in some ways, but luminous in others. I hope those who read this will embrace 2009 as a year for positive growth and development. Best of luck in the new year to all of you, and thanks for reading.