Friday, August 31, 2007

Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho, It's Off to Work I Go

I may have told you before that I had joined an on-line critique group through Guppies. Well, it's dividends have come to fruition, and boy am I happy!

The three other members of my group have read my manuscript and have all had good suggestions. Several of them say the same thing (your language isn't strong enough; don't use passive voice); and several of them disagree (I love the film references; There were too many film references at the beginning - it made me sick). But they all brought their own unique view to my novel and have forced me to see it through their eyes, if only just a little.

To all of them, I thank you, and I offer you a little Friday Afternoon Huey:

I've got a short story rattling around in my brain that I have to get out on paper, but then I'm going to take a serious look at the novel and create a significantly-altered Next Draft. I think this will be the last one. As has been made clear to me, this particular sub-genre is not where I feel most natural. If I can make it work, that's great, but if not, I would be better-served starting on something else.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Kindest Cut

I've been behind for a while now. I've needed to catch up by eliminating two teams in a single week. I've thought about doing a bonus World Series Survivor post one week, and then I keep putting it off. Now, I know that I just need to bite the bullet and do it. So, here we are. The Atlanta Braves and the Philadelphia Phillies are the two top-hitting teams in the National League. Unfortunately, their pitching has just not held up to the challenge. Beyond John Smoltz, the Braves are very thin. Whereas the Phillies have just about no one in the first place.

They are both fun teams to watch, with exciting young players on their roster that deserve their time in the October prime. It just won't come this year.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Oh, Dan, Please Forgive Me...

It's getting to be crunchtime in Major League Baseball, and in World Series Survivor. Everyone still alive has a legitimate chance to go to the playoffs, and as we know from last year's strong showing by St. Louis, anyone in the playoffs has a chance to win. So now I need to look deeper at the teams. I need to look 6-8 weeks into the future and decide how each team is going to be playing and figure out what kind of a chance they have to win it all.

Unfortunately, the Brewers are the only team left that have given up more runs than they have scored, and their starting pitching has looked less than stellar of late. This means that I am going to have to say goodbye to Milwaukee until next year.

I know this is going to break Dan's heart, but the team is young, they have gotten a lot of experience this year, and a winning team is cause for celebration and encourages the owners to go ahead and take that next step in the offseason. Let's hope they do even better next year.

This leaves me with an odd situation, in that there are no teams left in the NL Central to eliminate, but there are still 3 teams alive in each of the other two NL divisions. Will the World Series be going home to one of these cities? We'll have to wait and find out.

Friday, August 17, 2007

I Wanna Be John Waite

I was off running some errands over lunchtime on Wednesday of this week, and I happened to drop into the Borders in Henrietta. I saw a sign advertising an appearance hanging in the front window. Then, as I got closer, I realized that the date and time matched with what my watch was saying: 8/15, 1pm. I read the name, shook it off, then got closer and read it again. Nope, I read it right the first time. John Waite was playing inside the Borders right now.

Who's John Waite? you might ask. People that are younger than me might not remember, and those older might not know. Heck, even those of the same age might be hard-pressed to put a name to the song until they heard it, but I bet a ton of you remember this:

"Missing You" was a big hit back in 1984, and got played in fairly heavy rotation seemingly every summer after that. I liked it at the time and it definitely hits the right nostalgia chord every time I hear it on the radio. And, being a child of the media as well as a child of the 80s, I knew who sang the song when it did come on.

Then, in the late 80s, he joined the "Super"Group Bad English and hit the big time again with this power ballad:

So, what was this man, who had been at the top of his profession at least twice in the past, doing playing an acoustic set at my local Borders?

The answer: What everybody else does. Work. Apparently, he's got a new album out that he's been touring in support of. He played a few cuts from the album and was signing afterwards. He was out there, promoting his product and meeting the people who like what he does and put their increasingly-hard-earned money down to purchase it.

I've been to enough writers' conferences and book signings to see how it works, and I recognized what John Waite was doing and appreciated it. He could easily retire or fade into the bliss of nostalgia, but he loves his music, and is willing to work to promote it. His professional life is not in the past, but in the present, or the future. He continues to create and work toward making sure he can continue to create.

Should there come a time when I am able to get paid for being creative and have people read what I write and like it enough to spend money on it, I'd like to think I would be willing to work to cultivate that situation and make it work.

If I become a writer, I want to be like John Waite.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

On Reading

I'm currently in the process of reading two, yes two, books that I've already read before. Now, i know some people who would never EVER read a book, or watch a movie, or even a TV show more than once. There's no surprise for them, which is apparently what they're looking for.

But I'm here to tell you that they're all sdrawkcab.

There are so many surprises you can find on a second read, or a second viewing. Sure, it may not be in the narrative, but it is in the presentation of the narrative. There are things the author may have put in front of you that you didn't recognize as relevant the first time around (especially in crime fiction). There may be a turn of phrase or particular transition that takes on greater meaning in the context of what you already know. Maybe you picked it up the first time around, maybe you didn't. But I can tell from personal experience that you experience the craft much better on the second (or third, or more) time around. And the same goes for films.

And I'm also here to tell you that if you're still surprised at every narrative you come across, you're just not paying attention. There are patterns that become readily apparent if you watch or read enough and PAY ATTENTION! There are stock characters, there are cliches, there are standard formats of storytelling that guide you in a particular direction, and if you can recognize those patterns, there will be no surprises in the poorly crafted stories. It's the good ones that give you all of the above and still surprise and satisfy you. Or, as I particularly like, the ones that take those above and use them to their own purposes, playing with you as much as they play with the archetypes.

So, what am I reading again? Well, the first is OUT OF ORDER by Charles Benoit. Mentioned often, he is a local author whose book I was reading in public to try to give some publicity to. It is a quick Indian adventure mystery that takes us on a whirlwind murderlogue of maj0r sites of the paradoxical country.

The second is LORD FOUL'S BANE by Stephen R. Donaldson. The first of six fantasy books published in this series in the 1970s, it, along with ENDER'S GAME by Orson Scott Card, has got to be one of my most-read books. I revisit it every so often and get more from it each time I read it. Donaldson is in the middle of putting out the "last" four volumes in the series, so I thought I'd revisit them again before I dug in to the new ones.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Woo-hoo! I Found Another Loser

Er, well, that is to say....

The Twins have a losing record right now, making them the easy choice to be eliminated from World Series consideration right now. They are 8 games out of the wild card, and any other team I might pick is 3 games out or closer. And there are still three teams alive in half the divisions. But, I'm sorry to say for Mauer and Morneau fans that their Division crown will not be defended and their Winter will be made ever colder without a Championship to warm them.

Friday, August 10, 2007

On Writing

No, this is not about Stephen King's book. Although, I find it to be an excellent read and a good investment if you want to read it over and over...

No, this is about my writing. Or, more specifically, the lack of it. I haven't been writing a lot lately. Yes, I know that I should be, and I also know that not all other writers write all the time. Some go in spurts, as my last novel seemed to. But I'm caught in the middle here. I FEEL like I should be writing. I feel like I should be getting practice in, taking my hacks, to put it in baseball parlance.

But on the other hand, I want to learn. I want to know what I did wrong. I want to know what I screwed up last time, so I don't make the same mistakes again in another book, another short story, whatever. This is where feedback comes in. I had a friend read the ms, and another that read the first 50 pages. I have still another whose feedback is supposed to appear in my mailbox any day now. They all had good things to say, and good suggestions for change. But I need it all together, to make it coherent, to get a larger picture of what an aggregate group thinks, and what I agree with and what I don't.

Into this story walk the Guppies. One of the Guppies is in charge of coordinating critique groups and setting people up to have them read each other's work and commenting on it. I have already met some great people and have already gotten one ms feedback. I have read one manuscript myself and sample chapters of another, and have added my (hopefully useful) comments. I feel like I am nearly ready to tackle the ms again. I have 3 good sets of comments, at least one on the way, and a few more people in my critique group to access. I believe there will have to be some wholesale changes. There is a question of believability of motivation, which undercuts the tension. How will I deal with this? I don't know yet. I am a victim of the passive voice. I need to change a lot there (but not all).

So, into August and September I go, pushing on toward the end of the baseball season, and hopefully on to another (and better) version of my book. I will keep you posted, because I really want to get it done. I know what the next book is. It's very different, and I'm very excited to explore it in more detail.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Not in the Cards

Oh, Boy. Here we go. I'm really getting into the good teams now. But there are very few teams left to eliminate that have losing records. In fact, the only one left is the St. Louis Cardinals. Yes, they won the World Series last year, but their pitching staff was gutted by Free Agency in the offseason, and the injury to Chris Carpenter in the preseason. They hung in there for a while, but have recently fell off, yielding second place in their division to the Chicago Cubs, and are currently riding a 5-game losing streak. St. Louis is a great baseball town, but it might be time to start looking at Rams training camp.

As an update, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays currently have an elimination number of 34 from the Wild Card race. They may be officially eliminated by the end of the month. As teams get eliminated, I will keep you updated.

Also, there have already been some mistakes I've made this year. As I said, the Cards are the last sub-.500 team to be eliminated, but that doesn't mean I haven't eliminated some plus-.500 teams. The Rockies and the afore-mentioned Cubs are not only winning, but in the playoff race. But the real surprise is the Seattle Mariners, tied with the Yankees, only a half a game out of the Wild Card. Hopefully, they'll fall off. We'll see.

Friday, August 3, 2007

It's Just a Movie

Last week, right here in our little 'burg, The Simpsons Movie started with a midnight screening in several of our theaters on the Thursday before it opened. In one of these theaters, there were young people trying to get into the theater without paying. They were knocking on the outside doors, trying to get people to open it and let them in. No one did. They tried other theaters, where the movies had already ended. They moved to the exterior doors. They finally managed to break in to one of the exterior doors, making a ruckus and attracting the attention of two employees.

When the trespassers were confronted, two of them ran directly at the employees and through the theater to another exit. One of the employees chased these two while the other employee was left to deal with the other intruders. They were told to leave, but instead attacked the employee, putting him in a headlock and striking him, then throwing him against a wall before they, too, fled.

Now, I love movies. I love the art, the atmosphere, the experience. I know that I would not be where I am or who I am today without the influence of film and my pursuit of my place in the world in relation to film. But there is no reason that we need to come to blows over a film, even if it's a hotbed of controversy.

But this is just stupid. I don't care how good the movie is, or how your social status is affected by being one of the first 500 people to see the movie at this location, which will be shown again in 11 hours, on multiple screens, likely 6 times a day for at least the next two weeks. There is no reason to do something like this just to see a movie. It's got to be easier to steal $7-$10 and pay for the movie, rather than risk assault charges.

My advice to other such stupid criminals: Don't do it. It's just a movie.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The Day Job

Every once in a while, I get interviewed for something having to do with the Day Job, which is, being the cataloger for the Motion Picture Department of the George Eastman House. Something I'm proud to do, in a place I'm proud to work. But it's not every day that I get quoted in the Chicago Tribune. I mean, this is the same paper that Gene Siskel wrote for! Cool!

So, I thought I'd share this with you. It's a small quote in a big article, but I'm glad the reporter used a quote that is pretty central to my philosophy.

Read it here.