Sunday, January 31, 2010

The week in Words

I haven’t blogged in a whole week because I’ve been knee deep in editing ‘The Forgotten Road’, integrating some changes suggested by the agent who rejected me a week or so ago.  It takes me about a week to get through a typical edit now, and I chopped out about 3500 words on this pass, wrote a new prologue, and tied some themes into the story.  I don’t know if a story is ever done, but I feel as good about this story as I have at any point in the last year, so here’s hoping the next round of submissions meets with some type of success.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading in the last two weeks as well.  I worked through Strunk and White’s ‘The Elements of Style’ and am about halfway through Christopher Vogler’s ‘The Writer’s Journey’.  Both should be required reading for writers.  S&W is not an easy read, nor would you ‘read’ it end to end more than once.  It’s a reference book, and it’s like reading the dictionary, but every lesson in there is worth learning.  I’ll probably pop it open to random pages once in a while and reinforce the lessons.
Vogler’s ‘Journey’ absolutely must be read by every fiction writer, and read early on in their career.  Actually, if you love movies, I highly recommend it as well.  It’s Hollywood’s Bible about characters and plots, and by the time you’re a hundred pages into it, you will be watching movies and reading books with a completely different eye.  For me, it helps to reinforce that I have done some things right, and missed out on a few other things.  It will definitely come into play in my next book, and should save me some time by eliminating a number of editing sessions.
I read two books by Jonathon Tropper in the last couple of weeks as well:  The Book of Joe, and How to Talk to a Widower.  I’d be lying if I said these weren’t a bit of chick-lit for guys.  Light and quick to read, with a good flow, they’re pretty good.  But I have a hard time believing they’re written by a guy.  But if you like Jasper Fforde (which I do), you’ll probably like these.
We actually got through a few movies this weekend as well:
North By Northwest – Classic Alfred Hitchcock movie with Cary Grant.  Great story, great dialog, and well worth the watch.  3.5 stars
Monsters vs Aliens – CGI Animated – not really for little kids, and honestly, the animated stuff has lost its wow factor for me (yes, I now take it for granted).  Maybe it was because I was sitting next to a 3 year old asking questions every 30 seconds, but I was glad it was only 96 minutes long. 1.5 stars
Yes Man – Jim Carrey – Not bad.  Very little gross out, mildly amusing.  Wow did I see the influence of “Writer’s Journey’ in this one.  Very formulaic.  2 stars
On a personal front, I’m proud to report that Lorelai has completed potty training, and is now diaper free 24 hours a day.
Reece is still working on it, much to our chagrin.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Birthdays and Fire Trucks

Both Lisa and the twins celebrated their birthdays in the last week.  We decided to do an outing for a birthday present instead of more toys, and got a tour of the local fire station.  It was a great time for all of us, and I learned a lot too.  I highly recommend it as a family outing.  Just call up your local fire station, and arrange a tour!

Here are some pictures of the parties and the station.

Lisa’s Birthday party was reserved affair

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Fireman Lewis had a couple of shy kids on his hands at the start.

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Lieutenant Babcock put on all his gear for the kids

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The shyness went away when Reece was allowed to drive the pumper truck.

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Lorelai likes being in the driver seat too

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Reece liked the ‘moving ladder truck’ the best

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A table of our own, with cousin Lily

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Time for cake!

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Videos later, I hope!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Handling Rejection

The last 72 hours has been a rollercoaster for my writing.  I have resumed sending out query letters for ‘The Forgotten Road’.  Writers who have been doing this a while, learn to set their expectations very low.  Sending out a query letter has the following possibilities:

  1. No Response.  If your query letter is crappy, this is probably what you’ll get.  Writing a good query letter is crucial.  It has to be perfect, and entire books have been written just on how to write a query letter.  You also have to know the targeted agent and what they are interested in reading.  Miss there, and you probably will never hear from them either.
  2. The ‘thanks but’ Response.  This is probably the most common, now that most agents, or at least the one’s I’m querying, work by email.  The ‘buts’ that I have encountered include things like not taking submissions right now or not a market we’re interested in.  The only thing you as a writer can do to avoid this response is to do better research.  But you will always get some of these responses, as no amount of research will tell you that just lat week that agent was slammed with 200 manuscripts, and they just aren’t accepting any more right now.
  3. The ‘We liked your work, but.’ response.  This is different from the ‘Thanks, but’ response.  This is definitely a step up from the ‘thanks, but’ response, because it means they got past your query letter and looked at your work, and there was something about your work that wasn’t quite right.
  4. The ‘We loved it.  When can we offer you a deal.’  I haven’t seen one of these yet, so I’m just guessing how it might look.

I got a #3 for the first time yesterday.  I sent out a query letter on Thursday evening, and received a reply back that they wanted to see my work.  They sent the note on Thursday, which either means they really liked the query, or they as fastidious about keeping their email in box clean.  Either is fine with me.  

On Friday night, I sent the first 50 pages to the agent, and they replied they would try to read it within the next two weeks.  Most agents say to allow 6-8 weeks for a response on submitted material. 

The response was in my inbox by 1:30 that afternoon.  It was a rejection, but they had read the entire fifty pages that morning.  That is pretty amazing, seeing as it was a Saturday.  An agent doesn’t work normal business hours, I guess.  I won’t post their feedback here, but the gist of it was that there is a lack of conflict, of foreshadowing, of ‘something happening’ in the first thirty pages.  However, they loved some of it, calling it ‘wonderful.’  They gave me a full paragraph of explanation of why they thought what they thought, and I agree with them.  So it’s back to the editing process, adding here, subtracting there.  I’ve got multiple ideas on what to do, but it’ll take me a few days to dig in an settle on a course of action.

For me, getting a rejection like this is inspiring.  It’s a step forward from the form rejection letters, and a confirmation from someone in the industry that tells me that I am close, that I have some talent.  I’ve heard that from friends and relatives before, but they don’t know the industry, and what it takes to sell.  So I won’t mind doing ‘1 more edit’ on a book I wanted to be ‘done done’, if it puts me that much closer to getting a #4. 

Friday, January 15, 2010

On Writing

This morning I finished re-reading Stephen King’s book ‘On Writing’.  Like I’ve said previously, I don’t reread books too often, but this one I read a couple of years ago (maybe it was just a year ago), and I remember getting a lot out of it then.  That was before I discovered that there was more to writing than just letting your fingers dump words onto the screen like a sinking supertanker dumps oil into the water.  I learned that you can’t be careless about your words in a story.  Every single one of them is important.  So I went back to this book because I was sure I would learn something new from it, and I was sure that I had misread or missed parts of it all together.

First, I had a direct recollection of Stephen King saying that a good sized book was 180,000 words, and a vague recollection that he also often wrote first drafts in the 380,000 word range.  I talked about this with people at the PNWA conference last July, and people thought I was misremembering.  I wasn’t.  King does say both things.  I blame Mr. King for making me feel like the first draft of the original ‘Nowhere Home’ was woefully insufficient at 139,000 words.  Little did I know it was almost twice as long as it should have been.

He also rails against laying out the plot of a book ahead of time.  The book is the book.  It will go where it goes.  Yes, to a point.  Writers with 50 publications to their credit can say that, and people will read it.  But for a new writer, writing without a plot can be deadly.  Not just for the book, but for the writer’s morale.  If a hundred pages into the first draft, you have no idea where it’s going, it’s crushing.  That said, I’ve written all three of my novels without a plot outline.  My next one I am outlining, because I want to write faster and better.  That’s not to say I won’t deviate from the plot if the story changes direction.  I actually hope to God it does.  But the outline is at least my fallback to keep me going when the ‘muse’ is taking a day off.

King also says he reads about 70 books a year.  That’s 1.35 books a week.  A very impressive number.  I would almost bet he didn’t read that much when he was working a full time job (or two).  I know I don’t have time to read that much, unless I am not writing.  However, it did point out to me that I still suckle from the ‘glass teat’  (television) far too much, and yes, there are bits and snippets of free time that I can use to get more reading done, or more writing, or more marketing for my work.

Those issues aside, I loved this book, and it is a must read for every writer.  In fact, anyone who likes Steven King at all should read the ‘CV’ and the ‘On Living’ sections.  The ‘On Living’ chapter brought tears to my eyes.  King puts you on the shoulder of that road in Maine after getting hit by the van in 1999, and you can’t help but to BE him while you are reading it.  After reading The Dark Tower Series earlier this year, the scenes are doubly powerful and interesting.

But the critical question I came out of the book with is ‘Why do I write.’   I would love to say I am as altruistic as King and I write because I can’t stop.  Sure, I have those moments.  But there are many other reasons.

I write in the hope that I may someday be able to do it for a living.  As a child I always wanted to be an astronaut.  That dream was given up sometime around 1994 when I squeaked through my last finals in college and realized I just didn’t have ‘The Right Stuff’.

Around the 5th or 6th grade, I realized that not only did I love to read, but I loved to write stories as well.  I plotted grand adventures inspired by Farley Mowat (Lost in the Barrens) and Robert Arthur, Jr (The Three Investigators)  and Edgar Rice Burroughs (Tarzan).  When I say inspired by, a lot of what I wrote was just pure copy, with my name instead of the original author.  Ruth Ann Jensen, my teacher in Grade 7, and the mother of a good friend of mine, really inspired me to start writing my own stories.  She’s also the one who, when trying to teach the class the meaning of ‘outspoken’, said:

“For example, Joe is outspoken.”  I looked at her slightly hurt, to which she replied.  “That’s not always a bad thing, Joe.”

But from the 7th grade on, writing was always my backup plan if the whole science thing didn’t work out.  In high school, when it came time to apply for colleges, I actually applied to a journalism school, but chose science instead.  Probably better for my pocketbook in the long run, and a better lifestyle for me, but there will always be part of me that wonders, what if I had gone the other way?

So writing is something I’ve always enjoyed.  It gives me power over the worlds I create and the ability to have adventures I will never have.  It allows me to escape from the mundane and to escape from a physical body that has been limited over the years by a progressive disease that will probably cripple me complete by the time I die.

Writing also allows me to feel productive.  I work hard at my job, but, by and large, the work I do is not Important, with a capital ‘I’.  It pays the bills (very well), and allows me to care for my family.  I don’t have any worries about not making next month’s mortgage, or putting food on the table.   I ride the train back and forth to work every day, and if I were to sit there day after day and do nothing but  read or do crosswords, I’d feel like both my life and my talents were going to waste.  Five years from now, most of the work I have done will be irrelevant.  No one will remember it, except that it has sustained the people who used it for that time.  There just won’t be anything of it left.  There are days where I go to work so I can ride the train and write.  If I ever become a full time writer, I sometimes worry that I’ll still have to get up at 5:00 AM and catch the train, because that’s the best place I’ve found to write since I was living in a crappy apartment in North York, Ontario while in college.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t want the fame and the money that goes with breaking out.  But that would be part of enabling me to write full time, and sometimes I fear that a rash of sudden celebrity would steal key years from my life with my kids, or destroy my desire to write.

But what writing really gives me, is a chance to leave a legacy.  A mark on the world, or to influence the reader in such a way that they feel better for having read my stuff.  I am supremely jealous of those who have done that in any art form.  I look at the Beatles, and the songs they created, and I wonder if they knew, way back when, what an effect ‘Eleanor Rigby’ would have fifty years later.  Did Beethoven know how long his Symphonies would be played? 

So I write so I can write more.  I write to make me feel like I am inspiring the next generation of adventures.  Hopefully someday, as mankind is setting out for a new planet, or a young boy (or girl) is deciding that they want to do something with their lives, that one of the stories I wrote somehow influences them for the better.  Hopefully, one of those kids is my kid, or my grandchildren, and they’ll have pleasant memories.

For now, I’ll just settle for people enjoying my stories and recommending them to friends.  Maybe someday, I’ll see some stranger reading my book on a train or an airplane, and I can smile to myself, open up my laptop, and be inspired to write the next page.

Book Review: Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell

I’m a big Bernard Cornwell fan.  I don’t think I’ve read every one of his books, but I’ve got at least one full shelf of his work, including the entire Richard Sharpe series, The Archer’s Tale Series, and the Uhtred the Viking Series.  All are great reads.  You know what you are getting with Cornwell’s stuff:  a manly-man hero in a historical setting, a small battle followed by a big battle, with one antagonist, usually, but not always, someone who is supposed to be on his side.  There’s always a woman as well, a love interest for the hero, put in danger because of the hero’s obligations.  The books are predictable in their characters.  But I -- and a great many other people -- love them not despite that, but because of that.

What having familiar (some might say cardboard) characters enables Cornwell to do is to focus on the story, which is the character we readers of this historical fiction most care about.  I love learning about eras of history of which I only had name recognition prior to reading a book.  In fact, some of my favorite parts of Cornwell’s books are the Historical Notes at the end of the books that let me know what was real, and what was literary license.

In Agincourt, Cornwell tells the story of three battles fought between the English and the French in the year 1415:  The Siege of Soissons,  The Siege of Harcourt  and the Battle of Agincourt.  The reader follows Thomas Hook, an English archer, through these battles, and through battles with people from his past.  The historical aspects of the story are wonderful, especially the second half of the book, with the focus on Agincourt.   Unfortunately, this time the cardboard characters are paper thin, the dialog forced, and the writing, well, a little bland and repetitive.   Not that it was repetitive from other books, but within this book I saw the same sentence repeated three times in different chapters. 

Perhaps I’ve been reading too much about good writing lately, and I start to notice things that should have been caught by an editor.  But this book just didn’t flow like the rest of Cornwell’s work, and the result was a little flat.  Definitely not his best work, but because Agincourt (the event) is such an important historical battle -- not for the military strategists, but for its place in historical context – I still recommend reading it.  If you are a first time Cornwell reader, don’t let it scar you into not reading more of his work.  If you’ve read him before, just go into this one with the knowledge that Agincourt (the battle) is fascinating and gruesome, while Agincourt (the book) is almost interesting, and a little gruesome.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Weekend Update

This was a pretty productive weekend, considering everything we wanted to do involved using cash because we are still waiting for our new credit cards to be delivered since the old ones were stolen last week.  But from what I hear, it’s happening to everyone these days, and it really wasn’t a lot to deal with.

Anyway, Friday night we finally broke down and watched ‘The Godfather Part III’, which, except for a few lines that are now social clich├ęs, was a pretty pathetic end to a great series.  Sophia Coppola, was bad bad bad. But that’s pretty much accepted at this point.  The most disappointing one was Dianne Keaton.  Felt like she was reading the words.  Glad we saw the whole series, and finally sent the movie back to Netflix after 3 months on our mantle.  But at 2 hours and 50 minutes, I was disappointed.

Saturday, we went furniture shopping for a bookshelf, some dressers and possibly bunk beds for the kids, though we won’t use the bunks until they are much older.  We were worried we wouldn’t be able to fit everything into the car.  Not to worry.  The bookcase we want takes 8 weeks to be delivered.  I think they have to plant the trees for it yet.  And we held off on everything else, so we came home with nothing but full tummies of Swedish Meatballs from IKEA’s cafe.

My thrill for the weekend was a forty minutes nap on Saturday afternoon.  That’s two Saturdays in a row now.  What a great tradition!

We then went back to South Center for our friend Dave’s birthday bash, at ACME Bowl.  It was a good time.  I didn’t have a gutter ball all night.  But then again, I wasn’t bowling.  Hey, with a shoulder the pops out while painting, and a thumb that can’t hold a French fry, it wasn’t going to be a good night for anyone nearby if I started swinging twelve pounds of rock in an enclosed space.

Sunday we had a great visit with Monika and Joe, and treated them to a Sunday morning of parenting.  Kids running around, riding bikes, screaming, fighting, hitting, crying, being cute.  It’s like a carnival ride.  Luckily for Joe and Monika, they could get off the train whenever they wanted.

We also watched “Terminator, Salvation” on Sunday.  A pretty good movie, well done, with a good story line.  I never even saw T3:  Rise of the Machines, and I don’t think I missed much.

That was the weekend, in a nutshell.  We lead such exciting lives!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Resolutions

I’m a type A – goal oriented person, which basically means I set a goal every year to make New Years resolutions, and I have to create a list so I can check them off.

Here are mine for 2010

  1. Get an agent.  I don’t know that I’ll get published this year, but by the end of the year, I want to be working with a good agent to develop the plan to get my books into the marketplace.  I can control the work I put into getting an agent.  I can’t do much about getting a publisher to publish my stuff, besides, of course, writing better stuff.
  2. Be more social.  I’ve been a bit of a social recluse the last three years as the focus has been on the kids and on my job.  But now that my job is stable, and the kids are not quite so demanding, I’d like to get out more and enjoy time with friends and do more adult things.
  3. Furnish the house.  We’ve very slowly added a few items of furniture over the past few years, but we’ve always had higher priorities or sudden unexpected expenses that prevent us from turning the place from somewhere we live, to somewhere we LIVE. All signs point to this being the year we finish the big furniture pieces, paint some walls, and find something to put up so the place doesn’t look like a beige mausoleum.
  4. Blog more consistently.  For me, blogging is a way to keep the family informed of what is going on, and a way of creating a record so we can look back on these years and remember what was going on during each period of time.  When I go such long times between blog entries, I know I really am going to miss out on things, and the years will go by so fast with no record.  The only problem with this resolution is that blogging is the first thing to get dropped when I am writing or working a lot, so something else has to go.  For me, my hope is that I watch less TV.
  5. Get my legs back in shape.  For those of you who don’t know, I used to be a long distance cyclist.  In 1996-1997, I could cycle a hundred miles in a day, and frequently did two hundred and fifty miles a week.  Now, I doubt if i could make it twenty.  I’ve been exercising my upper body as rehab on my shoulders, but my legs have really suffered, and I miss the power I used to be able to generate there, and the thrill of a long downhill ride.

Those are the top five new things for 2010.  4 out of the 5 things require more time, but to me, that’s just a matter of being more efficient with the time I waste on other things, and making sure that I spend less time at home working.  That’s a hard thing to do, especially for the type of work I do.  But it is a choice I can make, and I have the power to help instantiate change at my work.

I also am looking for the little things in my life that take up time that can be automate, or outsourced.  Not sure what they are, because I think I already run a pretty tight time ship.  But there has to be something.  Maybe I can get someone else to eat for me….

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Some Pictures. Finally

We went to Hawaii for Joe and Monika's wedding in November.  Somebody looks happy.



Reece on the rocks of the Black Sand Beach in Hawaii



Lorelai opening hjer Christmas Orange.  (We were all out of coal)


Reece loves his fireman hat


Captain Nemo, I presume?



Pretty damn cute.


Little Rascals

We all know this blog isn’t about me. It’s about the kids.  So I’d better give them some coverage before my sister throws a fit.

The kids will turn three in a couple of weeks.  They’re pretty psyched up for that, since just a couple of weeks ago was Christmas, and that was the first time they came to understand what PRESENTS were.  Reece has loved Thomas the Train ever since the first time daddy turned it on so he could get five minutes of piece and quiet.  Now, Reece will flip through the little catalogs of Thomas the Train gear that come with other Thomas stuff, ask us to read it to him, and say things like ‘I need that one.’  or ‘I don’t have Annie and Clarabelle, yet.’  We’ve gotten him quite a few of the little wooden trains, and for the most part, it’s been a good experience.  He’s definitely improved his hand-eye coordination putting them together, though the first week or so I wanted to slash my own wrists with the stupid little bridge that fell apart every time he jostled it.  We got the set for both of them, but Reece considers it his, and won’t usually let Lorelai play with it.  She doesn’t usually mind, but that depends on the day, and whether or not she’s in a mood to torment him.  The great thing is that there will be times he will disappear into the ‘playroom’ and be quite content laying on the floor, running the trains around ‘The Island of Sodor’.

Lorelai, on the other hand, is a social child.  And one who wants to be around adults.  Kids aren’t that fascinating to her, but if there is an adult conversation going on, she has to be there, and be part of it.  She usually just sits there, and has this giant smile on her face, but if there is a conversation going on, and she can’t be part of it, there will be trouble.  At Christmas, we were in Ephrata at my in-laws house, and Lorelai’s favorite time was sitting at the kitchen table with Aunt Lori, Grandma and Mommy and having a girls talk.

Other than trains, Reece’s favorite thing is fire engines.  He knows what trucks are pumpers, and what are ladder trucks.  If a TV show has a fire truck in it, it’s his kind of show.  Fireman Sam is a really annoying computer generated carton  from the UK that Reece just can’t get enough of.  Did I mention it’s really annoying?  We changed our TV setup around a week ago, and lost the channel that fills Reece’s Fireman Sam fix.  He didn’t take that too well.  There was screaming and crying and tantrums involved.

The big accomplishment lately has been Lorelai’s potty training.  I hate to jinx it, but she’s pretty much done.  I don’t think she’s had an accident in a month or so, and most nights her diaper is dry too.  We’re not quite sure when to stop putting a diaper on her at night.  She doesn’t quite go at night completely on her own, and we’re reluctant to go back to five wakeups a night.  But it sure is nice to be down to fewer bags of dirty diapers every week.

Reece isn’t doing as well in the potty training area.  You kind of reach that point where you start to wonder if he’ll ever get it, and worry you’ll be changing his diapers when he’s fifteen.  At this point, he eats exactly what we eat, and sometimes just as much, so you can imagine what the poops are like.  He knows he’s going.  He knows he supposed to go on the potty.  He just hasn’t connected the two yet.  I’m telling ya, sometimes the amount of crap in his diaper is just wrong.

Bedtime is an adventure now as well.  We tuck them in around 7:15-7:30.  Then they run around for half an hour, and we tuck them in again, usually after a potty break.  Then ten minutes later, we find them on the landing between the first and second floor, where they can see what’s on the TV.  Sometimes it’s a TV show.  Sometimes it’s a video game Daddy would rather not have them see.  Tuck them in again.  Twenty minutes later, they’re still singing.  Lorelai is the instigator here.  She is a night owl.  On his own, Reece would be asleep by 7:45 every night.  Lorelai keeps him up.  But Reece loves to fake sleep.  Where ever he gets caught out of bed, he just closes his eyes, and pretends to be asleep.  Doesn’t matter if he is standing or sitting, or laying upside down on a stair.  He figures it’ll get him out of trouble.  It usually does.

Winter in the Pacific Northwest is a balancing act between heavy rain, light rain, mist, and bitter cold.  The kids don’t get to play outside a lot, and I think we all miss that.  They get out to a lot of places with Courtney, our nanny, but on the weekends, we don’t do a lot of things.  Hopefully we can figure out a way to fix that.  For their birthday, we’re taking them to a fire station for a full tour.  I think that’ll go over really well.  The fire station may  never be the same.

A few weeks ago, Reece went through a stage where he would say ‘I don’t like this house.  I’m running away.’  Then we’d hear the front door open, and then close.  15 seconds later it would open back up. 

“Reece, is it cold out there?”

“Yeah.”

He hasn’t done it as much the last week or two, but I warned the neighbors just in case.

Our weekly trips to Starbucks have evolved lately as well.  Lorelai likes to order a Chonga Bagel with cream cheese.  The baristas there think that is very sophisticated, but we know she orders it so she can lick the cream cheese off the plastic knife.  That’s my girl.

Reece likes to have chocolate donuts, but we only do that when leaving him with someone else for the day. He reminds me of an outboard motor for a boat, with no boat, when he has that much sugar. Legs start to spin faster and faster, and next thing you know he’s running in crazy circles around you.

They both still love to read books, but had their nightly book reading privileges revoked when they turned 5 books into snow one night, like the people on Sesame Street did.  Paper everywhere.  Momma was not happy.

They got little medical kits and Reece got a fireman’s helmet for Christmas, and if you lay down on the floor for any length of time, they will try to ‘help’ you. Be forewarned:  You need to protect all places they might think a thermometer should go.

I’m hoping to post some photos and video’s tonight I’m on the train now), so hopefully you won’t hang me for all these words.  But this is what happens when a writer finishes a book.  The fingers still need exercise.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

I lied

Okay, not going to blog on family stuff.  I feel the need to go through the books / movies I’ve read / watched since my last media update.  OCD, that’s me.

These are in no particular order since I rearranged my office and cleaned up my shelves, so I have no idea what’s been moved where.

Books:

Hatchet – Gary Paulsen.  Young Adult Adventure classic.  Can’t believe I never read this as a kid, but I can’t wait to hand it off to Reece and Lorelai

Stephen King – The Dark Tower (Book 7 of the Dark Tower Series).  Okay, I didn’t just read this one, I read the whole series.  And it’s a long series.  Took me over two years to read it all, not like I’ve been busy or anything.  A couple of the books were real grinds to get through, and I do remember skipping four or five pages of fluff at one point, I think it was in book 6.  But the end of book 7, and especially the author’s notes, hit me hard, and really made me examine why I read, and why I write.  “The man in black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed.”  I will never forget that line, and hopefully the lessons learned from it.  There should be college courses taught about the Dark Tower.

The First Five Pages – Noah Lukeman – A must read for any budding or starving author.  I will re-read this one a few times.  Even Lisa read this one and liked it because it helps her to provide me with good feedback after she reads one of my stories.

A Writer’s Guide to Fiction – Elizabeth Lyon – I’ve been trying to improve my writing, and this book gave me some good ideas, and reinforced a lot of what Lukeman talked about in TFFP.  I’d recommend it for writers, even as just a reference book to flip open every once in a while and try to pull some point from the pages.

The Scourge of God – SM Stirling – Fourth Book in ‘The Change Series’.  This series and SM Stirling’s Nantucket Series are probably the one set of books I’ve read in the last few years that I can give the most credit to for getting me back into the writer’s chair.  This one isn’t as good as the rest of the series, but oddly enough, after reading the Dark Tower series, and learning from it, I think I appreciate this series more, and in particular, Stirling’s great descriptive passages.  There were a lot of negative reviews for this book from loyal fans, and a few months ago, I would have panned it too, but if you take a step back, and enjoy the journey of the reading, instead of just rushing through it to get to the end, it is an enjoyable tale.

Ender’s Shadow – Orson Scott Card – Great Book, probably as good as Ender’s Game.  Must-read science fiction

Lucifer’s Hammer – Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.  second time I’ve read this one.  Last time was in college.  Not as good this time around.  I don’t reread books very often (Patriot Games and Lost in the Barrens being the only two I can recall that I’ve read more than twice).  I remembered this as being a great book.  I was a little disappointed.

The Road – Cormac McCarthy – I was wary of this book because Oprah liked it, and it was very prosy.  But again, reading the Dark Tower made me stop and pay attention, and enjoy it.  And I couldn’t put it down and read it in two days.

Flipping Out & The Rabbit Factory – Marshall Karp – Good, quick, entertaining reads.  Don’t let the size of the books fool you.  You can read one of these in a weekend, even if you have a cold and the kids are hanging off you.

Sword Song – Bernard Cornwell – Another in the Uhtred of Bebanburg Vikings in 800 AD stories.  Nobody tells these like Cornwell, and I always seem to have another of his on my shelf.

That’s the books (I think).

Movies:

Traitor – Guy flick.  Nothing spectacular.  Ridiculous ending. 1/4 stars

Shake Hands with the Devil – Documentary about General Romeo Dallaire and the 1994 Rwandan Genocide -  Pretty Good, with some hard to watch footage.  But not as good as the book.  3/4 stars

Up – Not a little kids animated movie.  Adult stuff in here.  Funny at times.  Amazing how we start to take CGI for granted.  Show this to someone from 1995, and they’d be in shock. 2/4 stars

State Of Play – Better than average thriller. Russell Crowe helped  this movie.  Affleck did not.  2/4 stars

Gone With the Wind – I’d never seen this before, and it was on my bucket list.  Pretty amazing considering when it was made.  Good thing Scarlet wasn’t whiny the whole time, or frankly, I wouldn’t have given a damn about the ending either. 3/4 stars

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince – best of the Potter series.  4/4 stars

Angels and Demons – Tom Hanks, not the right person for this role.  He’s too… big for it.  2/4 stars

The Proposal – Silly chick flick, but not as bad as it could have been  2/4 stars

Appaloosa – Yikes.  Bad.  1/4 stars

Get Smart – About what you’d expect.  2/4 stars

I Love You, Man – A cover your eyes, it’s kinda a guy movie with bathroom humor.  I laughed more than Lisa did. – 1/4 stars

The Godfather Parts 1&2 – Great Movies.  Glad I watched them.  Godfather 3 has been sitting on out shelf since October.  We’re scared it will ruin the rest. 4/4 stars

X-Men Origins – Wolverine – bad. bad. bad.  1/4 stars

Saving Grace – British humor.  Barely. 1/4 stars

I’ll stop there.  Most people probably stopped earlier, and are cursing me, and asking me, where the hell are the kids? 

Soon.  I promise.

Getting Caught Up

Where to start… where to start?  I can’t cover everything in one entry, so I’ll make a series of short  entries for each topic that comes to mind.  No one wants to read forty pages all at once, anyway.

I’m writing this on the train, a time I usually reserve for writing stories or reading.  But I recently finished another draft of my third novel ‘Nowhere Home’, and am taking a little break before starting in on the next one.  I’m going to do a little more planning for this one to see if there is enough there to make the three book series a four book series before I begin.

I am still actively looking for an agent, or I should say that I have recently resumed actively looking for an agent.  I spent Sept-Dec splitting the original ‘Nowhere Home’ into two books:  ‘The Forgotten Road’ and ‘Nowhere Home’.  I rewrote a new 30000 word ending to ‘The Forgotten Road’, and carried through the changes to ‘Nowhere Home’.  TFR is now about 85000 words, while the latest draft of NH is about 67000.  Until I get an agent, TFR is probably at the ‘done’ stage.  I’m not planning any significant edits for it.  Sooner or later, a book just has to be done, and you move on.  NH still has a couple of edits left on it.  Lisa just finished reading it last night, and I’m sure she has a few typos and grammar errors for me to fix.  I also feel the need to add another 10000 words to it, but I want them to be good words, not just filler.  

2009 was the year I learned a lot about writing.  I had to go and read some books about the craft.  I spent far too much time editing, but in the end, I think that definitely taught me how to be a better writer, and I hope it shows in my future work, which should take less time to get to the completed state.  I want 2010 to be about new writing.  I’m aiming for a completed book per year while I am writing part time.  In the future, if I start writing full time, maybe I can do two.

Since I’m on my way to work right now, I’ll cover work next.  It’s been a very busy last few months.  I made a trip to Los Angeles in November for the Microsoft Professional Developers conference, which was fun and very educational, but exhausting as well.  It was the first time I was away from the kids since they were born.  I thought that would just kill me, but… gulp… it was a bit of a refreshing break.  It wasn’t a matter of getting more sleep (I didn’t), or staying up late and partying (I didn’t) or even having good food where you’re not rushed and trying to get your food down before milk spills or someone gets a timeout (though that was nice).  It was just different, and enjoyable.  And I couldn’t do it more than a couple of days a year.

We’ve been working on a couple of very large projects for one of my customers, and I spent a lot of evenings and weekends through October, November and December trying to get stuff to work.  We’re wrapping those projects up now, and we were all able to take a little break at Christmas and New Years and get a little recuperation time.  I spent four glorious days at New Years not responding to a single work email, and that really helped.

This year, the company has big growth plans, and I’ll be right in the middle of it all, so I expect it to be another busy year.  There are lots of things I plan on learning about, so I won’t be getting bored.  I do really notice how being connected 24x7 to email through my IPhone and working in the evenings affects my life and my health, so I’m hoping that growth means that we can mature as a company as well, and do a better job estimating work, and a better job getting the work done during business hours.  Working at home more than one or two nights a week really wears your down after a while.  Doing it 6-7 days a week for three or four months at a time is just plain  grueling.

Okay, train is almost to Seattle.  I’ll cover the family stuff in the next entry.