Monday, March 12, 2018

Another day...

...another winter weather advisory.

Roughly a third of the snow that has fallen on my corner of the world has come down since March 1, according to the National Weather Service. It feels like this has been the case for at least the last four years or so. When we moved here 15 years ago, most of the snow fell in January and February, but it's been shifting later and later. As have the seasons in general.

At least this storm doesn't look to be too bad here, just four or five inches. Folks on the coast look like they could  get slammed (again--it's been a tough couple of weeks out there). Hopefully, we won't see a lot of power outages again.

That's about all I got today, sorry to say. My brain appears to be in a bit of a down cycle. What's new with all of you?

Monday, March 5, 2018

In search of judgment

The greatest gift for every writer is judgment--Obari Gumba
 Back in December, Agent Carrie and I had our annual strategy session, where we set the course for the upcoming year. One of the things Carrie wanted me to do, once I was finished writing the first draft of the WiP, was to take a new look at an old project, one long-time readers will be familiar, first as BARTON'S WOMEN, then as POWERLESS. (Quick rundown: this was the project that received the offer of representation from Carrie; it went through several submission rounds before we opted to pull it). The story was deemed by some editors as being a little too dystopian, and dystopia was dead, in the wake of several years of Wool and Divergent and The Hunger Games.

But Carrie had been hearing rumblings, that publishers were opening up again to dystopia, and she encouraged me to take another look and consider potentially revising it and putting it back out there, so I did (take another look at it, that is).

It was a bit of an eye opener.

Last summer, I took an online course through the University of Iowa's Writers' Workshop (written about here and here), which is where, in the first week, I encountered that quote from Obari Gumba. There was another quote, from novelist/playwright Kia Corthron that I wish for the life of me I had written down. I thought I did, but I couldn't find it. (I may not have written it down because I think I thought at the time I'd have access to all class materials, including lectures and transcripts, forever; I do not) It went something like this: "The first draft, say your point clearly; say it again a little quieter; say it again a little more subtly still." In other words, subtlety is your friend. Don't spoon feed the readers.

Looking back through POWERLESS, I am amazed (and disturbed) by how obvious and heavy-handed I was, not just with some of "the points" I was trying to get across, but just with character thoughts and emotions. There's a hell of a lot of explaining going on, a hell of a lot of spoon feeding, a hell of a lot of making sure any future readers will get exactly what I was going for, no room for interpretation. There was little subtlety, little good judgment. Ugh.

I'm hoping I've moved past this. Some time in the not-too-distant future, I'm going to crack open the WiP with the responses of beta readers to guide me. What will I find? Spoon feeding? Explanation? Dictation? Or will I find I've exercised judgment, given my readers space to fill in some of the gaps themselves, a demonstration that I've learned something in the last few years? Time will tell, but I know what I'm hoping for.

Have you ever had similar reactions to your past work? Have you found your judgment has improved over the years?

Monday, February 26, 2018

Hello, Square One

Oh, hello, Square One, I...wasn't expecting to see you here. How are you? It's been a while, hasn't it?

Four years? Really, that long? Time flies, huh? Sorry I haven't kept in touch, you know how it is.

Well. I'd love to stay and hang out, but--

Yeah, sure, we can hang out a little. Catch up a bit, sure, I guess I can do that. Is there anything you'd like to do?


Sure. Yeah. I guess we can look at the old spreadsheet. I guess it's around here somewhere...yeah, there it is. Geeze, what a lot of work we put into that, huh?

Yeah, I guess we can update it. Wow, what fun. You really haven't changed much in four years, have you?

Wait, you want to do what? Query writing? I haven't written one of those in...four years. But I do sometimes write query-like paragraphs, so I'm not totally out of practice. Oh, but guess what I still do a lot of? Waiting! Yeah, I'm still pretty good at that.

Well, it sure has been fun catching up with you, Square One, but I'm sure you've got places to be and I don't want to hold you up, so....

Oh, you've got time? Lots and lots of time?


Yeah, that's great. Just...great.


Welp, as you may have figured out, I am once again agent free. It's a business decision, one of those things that happens from time to time. I want to express my gratitude to Carrie for taking me on, showing faith in me and my work, and working on my behalf, and I wish her well in her new position at Laura Dail Literary Agency.


Interestingly, on my way to work on Tuesday (before I became a free agent, so to speak), I heard this song on the radio, and remembered how much I like it, and considered slipping it into a blog post somewhere soon. Now, it's more appropriate (I also think I may have done this once before, but if I did, I didn't tag it specifically, so if it's a rerun....). The song is, when you get right down to it, pretty sad. Chrissy Hynde wrote it shortly after the death of Pretenders guitarist, James Honeyman-Scott from a drug overdose, which itself came about two days after the band fired bass player, Pete Farndon for his drug use. Despite this, I've always found something optimistic and uplifting here, and I'm going to be positive. Hope all is well with all of you, what's new?


Monday, February 19, 2018

We've been here before

Recommended reading if you haven't already run across it on Facebook or elsewhere:

Fuck you, I like guns.

I may have said this before, after some other school shooting, or a mass murder in a gay nightclub, or a massacre at a movie theater, but I'll say it again: I'm not anti-gun. I don't want to take your guns away--not exactly. But I do want to see something meaningful happen here. The majority of people in our government are more interested these days in restricting the voting rights of a large segment of our population than giving even the barest hint of increasing control on gun ownership in the slightest. Yes, that's a convoluted sentence; it's supposed to be. It matches the thinking of lawmakers who insist this is not the time to talk about this; of a president who first shifts blame to the community, then to law enforcement, and then manages to make it about himself.

Gun rights have long been seen as a Red vs. Blue, liberal vs. conservative, Republican vs. Democrat issue. It's time to stop thinking about it in party lines. It's time, really, to stop thinking about everything in party lines, because this, I fear, is where the true downfall of our country comes in, but maybe that's the basis for another post, or a stunning piece of fiction. It's time to start thinking about it as a human issue, because that's what it is.

After last week's post, I told myself I wasn't going to be political, and that I was going to write about writing again. Sorry. Maybe next week.

Monday, February 12, 2018

One of the big problems with this country, summed up in a single sentence

According to a story on CNN's website this weekend, during a 2006 meeting with employees angered over a new rule that would force them to share tips with their supervisors, casino mogul Steve Wynn said this in response to a woman who stated the rule would cost her fifteen to twenty thousand dollars a year:

"If $15,000 to $20,000 a year makes that big a difference in your life, you're doing something wrong."

Steve Wynn is worth an estimated 3.4 billion dollars.

There's a lot of people in our government--on both sides of the aisle, but predominantly on the Republican side--who think this way. Back in December, while discussing the elimination of the estate tax (which only impacted individuals worth more than $5.5 million, or couples worth more than $11 million), Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley said "I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing, as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it's on booze or women or movies." Nice. Oh, and by the way, Chuck Grassley has an estimated worth of 3.76 million dollars.

The attitude from the likes of Wynn and Grassley is that those who have wealth are deserving or more able than those who don't. I'm not going to doubt that these folks have worked hard, or that they're able. At the same time, as someone who would benefit greatly from an extra $15,000 to $20,000 a year, I'll readily admit to the mistakes I've made in my life that have put me, at times, behind the financial eight ball, starting with a career choice made thirty-plus years ago that set me on the road to being a person who is "doing something wrong." But I've also worked my ass off (and I'm good at my job, dammit) in a field that does not really reward its people with riches, and while I'd like to have a Scrooge McDuck money pit like Steve Wynn and Chuck Grassley and pretty much every appointee and "special advisor to the President" hanging around the White House, it's just not gonna happen. And I'm okay with that. Just don't say I'm worth less because I'm worth less.

On a different note, last night the wife and I went to see Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. Very good film. Very much like a Coen brothers film, funny, but also very heavy, and unconventional. Great performances from all, especially Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson. I recommend it.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Musical Monday: Jackie Wilson said what?

It's a Monday, there's something like eight inches of snow on the ground (despite the forecast that told us we'd have half that, at most), and I'm kind of tired and achy, hoping it's not something coming on. So, we'll have some rather chipper music today! About two weeks back, I completely got Van Morrison's Jackie Wilson Said stuck in my head.

But it did get me wondering:  What did Jackie Wilson say? According to Van Morrison, it was 'Reet Petite', whatever that meant. But since Morrison has a rather...unique...vocal style (as my wife says, "He swallows his words," which is a pretty apt description), what you hear may not come anywhwere close to reality. After all, for years I thought the chorus line in Jackie Wilson Said went either "What did Billy want" or "Bop en diddy wah" when it's really "I'm in heaven when". So, I did a little searching.

Turns out, Jackie Wilson really did say "Reet Petite"! Reet Petite (The Sweetest Girl in Town) was Wilson's first solo hit way back in 1957, and got a second burst on the charts almost thirty years later, when the following, somewhat bizarre) video was made (three years after Wilson's death).

Well, that's it for me. Just about time to go and shovel. How's things by you all?

Monday, January 29, 2018

Thoughts on Sleeping Beauties, Part I

A couple of weeks back, I wrote about the Netflix series, Godless, a good show on many levels but one that fell far short on living up to the promise of its preview, which looked to be a lot more woman-driven than it turned out to be. This week, I'm finally coming back to Sleeping Beauties, a 700+ page fantasy/horror novel by father-and-son combo Stephen and Owen King, a book I've been turning over in my mind quite a bit as I've thought about this particular post.

The basic premise of Sleeping Beauties is fairly simple: a mysterious 'flu' spreads across the world. Any female, from the tenderest infant to the most withered hag who falls asleep is quickly enshrouded in a cocoon of some mysterious substance. They're still alive, but woe to the person who removes the cocoon: doing so causes the woman to turn into something like a murderous zombie who destroys the fool who opened the cocoon. Having dispatched the offending sap with whatever is at hand (including hands, teeth, a rock, whatever), she falls back asleep and is re-wrapped. What is the world to do?

The sharp-eyed critic of media and society that lives in my house (aka, The Magpie), kind of sneered at the book when she saw that I had it, having heard of its premise on line and having read some reviews. When presented with this bare bones outline, it sounds inherently misogynist. Yet King the Elder at least has never shied away from putting women in starring roles (heck, his very first novel had women in pretty much every important role), and he is quite capable of delivering fully-fleshed out women who are not just damsels in need of man for either rescue or a good lay, or to serve as the sacrificial lamb to spur the hero on to Great Deeds. There are plenty of the latter in his books, to be sure, but not all of his heroines quite fit this mold.

And there's hope at the outset for Sleeping Beauties. The action centers on the down-at-its-heels town of Dooling, West Virginia, and Lila Norcross, town sheriff, and her husband, Clint, who is the psychologist at the nearby women's correctional center. When the story opens, Lila is coming home from a night shift while Clint is about to leave for work. Lila, who is brooding over a particular problem in her marriage, is just about to fall asleep when she gets an urgent call. She spends the first half of the book waging a heroic battle to stay awake and keep order in a rapidly unravelling situation. Predictably, the men of the world--and Dooling--start to come unhinged as the women of the world conk out and get cocooned.

As writers, we're told that one of the things that makes for a strong character is agency, namely, that the character makes choices and decisions based on his or her motivations and desires, and that these actions change the world around them. Without giving too much away (I hope), it's ultimately the women of Dooling who hold the fate of the world--our world, as we know it--in their cocooned hands. The Kings take a great deal of time (too much time, in my view) exploring SPOILER the Man Free version of Dooling that the women of the town find themselves in.END SPOILER The choice the women make, and how they make it, takes a back seat to the action taking place in the man's world.

And that's part of what disappointed me. Despite the huge amount of page time Lila Norcross gets, this is really her husband's story. Clint Norcross has a backtory, one that includes living in The Most Awful Foster Home Ever, which drives so much of his behavior. Lila, on the other hand, seems to have been born Sheriff of Dooling and Wife of Clint. We never really get to know her, not in the depth that we get to know Clint, anyway. In fact, we get more backstory on a lot of the side characters than we get on Lila, and that's too bad.

OKAY, this little post is already too long and I have more to say on this book (some of it good), but it's going to have to wait for next time. How's things by you?