Monday, September 25, 2017

Goldenrod and cross-promotion

I'm going soft today.

I'm been working up to something bigger,something more outraged, as the result of yet another maddening meme I saw on Facebook this weekend, but I'm not quite ready to go there and I don't want to start my week off with aggravation. Instead, we'll go with something a little more "feel good."

Locust borer on goldenrod
As you may or may not know, I write a monthly column for a local newspaper. It (the paper) publishes once a week; my column once a month. While I enjoy the work, it often causes me stress, as I regularly find myself scrambling to beat deadline. And, much as I do with this blog, I will frequently spend several days banging my head against the wall on a column, only to change topics at the last possible minute. This month's column was one of those. After struggling for the better part of a week with...well, I don't even remember what I was trying to write about now...I switched gears at the last minute and wrote about my favorite fall wildflower, goldenrod. You can read that here. (Quick note: local papers tend not to do much editing, except for the headlines. All errors, grammar mangling, and leaps of logic are my responsibility)

In the week or so since this column was published, I've had several people tell me they loved it. Four of them were people I know (though I did not walk up to them and say, "Did you read my column, huh, huh? What'd ya think?" These were unsolicited comments.); one of them was a random lady in the bank who must have recognized me from the picture that goes with the column. Seems I am not the only person who appreciates goldenrod. And, I have to admit, it's nice to hear these kinds of comments. The ego needs boosting once in a while.

I mention this not to toot my own horn, because I hate tooting my own horn, but because it's important to know that, even in this digital age, people still do read things like newspapers. And they listen to the radio. When my organization has a big event coming up, we make a point of going to the local radio station and going on air for a few minutes. The number of people who call or register for programs as a result is impressing. In fact, two days after the goldenrod column ran, I was representing the organization at a local timbersports event and was interviewed live on air. Literally five minutes, someone looked at me and said, "Didn't I just hear you on the radio?"

Maybe it's a function of where I live--a predominantly rural, media-starved county with spotty cell/wifi and cable service that still doesn't reach all areas. The point, however, is that if you are an author (or any kind of  business person), you shouldn't be sitting around waiting around for Terry Gross or The New York Times to call you. Start local. There are people listening, and reading.

 (Photo by me. The locust borer is a harmless beetle (harmless unless you are a black locust tree, that is; then it could be a problem) commonly found feeding on goldenrod in fall)


Monday, September 18, 2017

An Interview with Nick Wilford

Good morning, all. Today is an auspicious day. Not only is it my wedding anniversary (yay!), it's also the launch day for Nick Wilford's newest novel, Black & White. Nick has been a long-time friend of the blog, and his comments are always welcome. I'm pleased to have Nick here today to answer a few questions. Welcome, Nick!

Hi, Jeff! Thanks for offering to interview me on the release day of my book. It’s great to be here.

First, let's have the Nick Wilford biography as it will appear on Black & White.

"Nick Wilford is a writer and stay-at-home dad. Once a journalist, he now makes use of those early morning times when the house is quiet to explore the realms of fiction, with a little freelance editing and formatting thrown in. When not working he can usually be found spending time with his family or cleaning something. He is the author of A Change of Mind and Other Stories, a collection featuring a novella and five short stories, four of which were previously published in Writer’s Muse magazine. Nick is also the editor of Overcoming Adversity: An Anthology for Andrew."

Okay, now tell me something about you that doesn’t appear as part of your official biography.

Well, I really don’t do much in my day-to-day life that doesn't appear in that biography, but I once went to a party dressed as a woman in a youth hostel in a far-flung part of New Zealand. It was de rigueur though – all the men were required to do the same, while the women were asked to fashion an outfit out of bin liners. Now that I recall, the owner was a bit odd...

Tell us a little about Black & White and how you came to write it. Was there a particular moment of inspiration or was it a series that came together over time (or something else entirely)?


I never planned to write a series, I actually started writing the draft of Book 1 as part of NaNo 2012 (so it’s been a long time coming together!) It’s actually quite hard to recall that initial spark of inspiration, but it probably came from being a househusband and taking care of the cleaning at home (which is managed quite haphazardly in any case). I was thinking how much more time I would have if the cleaning took care of itself, or if there was no dirt at all. But dirt is probably quite necessary. I think the series shows that cleanliness isn’t next to godliness – it takes more than that to make a perfect society. And once I’d finished the initial story there were many things that had to be addressed, so the series grew from there.

I think in the best utopia/dystopias, while the societies are distinctly different from our own, they also reflect current society and culture. In what ways does the society of Whitopolis reflect our own world?

In probably quite scary ways, and I think some of the issues addressed may be becoming more timely by the day. There’s the insular attitude of Trump and his supporters, the mistrust of outsiders. In my story, the government has created a fictitious idea of the outside world to cover up its crimes. It’s taken to extremes, but if things carry on like this, I don’t know...

It certainly seems more plausible by the day. Some authors very deliberately choose names for their characters, either as a way to pay homage to certain people, or as a symbol of what that character represents. Is there particular significance to the names of your characters (Wellebury Noon, Ezmerelda Dontible, others)?

There is no major significance, I just wanted names that sounded intriguing and memorable. I mention him a lot, but Terry Pratchett was great at making up outlandish names that seemed to suit the particular character perfectly. Esmerelda is the first name of one of my favourite characters of his, Granny Weatherwax (a witch), so there is a nod there, I suppose.

Stephen King has suggested that it’s not until we go back and re-read our first draft that we discover what our story is really about. Did you have a strong vision for what Black & White was about from the beginning, or did it change? Did you discover anything about the story at any point in writing that made you have to rewrite or rethink or substantially edit?

Well, I started writing the first book during NaNo 2012, as I mentioned – nearly five years ago, so it’s becoming a little bit lost in the mists of time! But overall, I did have a pretty good idea of the basic premise, although many of the details came as I was writing. I didn’t know about the various predicaments the characters get into, so had to deal with those as I came up. The substantial rewrites actually came in with books 2 and 3, but I’m keeping those under wraps at this point!
 
I’m always curious about how other writers write. Do you have a set schedule for writing? A routine? Any particular writing idiosyncracies or superstitions or rituals you have to follow? AND, of course, are you a plotter or a wingman?

Yes, I do have a schedule that I try to stick to. I’m a dawn writer, or pre-dawn really, getting up at 4am – or 4.30 if I fancy a lie-in! It’s quite a magical time, with peace reigning all around, and once I get going, I can normally get into the zone. I work at home, but currently have set hours starting at 6am, so I like to get my writing done first. No particular rituals, but I do check social media first (five minutes max) and will invariably be found with a cup of tea to hand. I'm a wingman, for the most part, although I usually have a basic outline for at least the beginning of the story. It’s fun seeing where events take me.

Black & White is part one of a planned trilogy. When you started out, did you know it would be a trilogy? How much has the story changed since you started it? What are the challenges of writing when you’re somewhat restricted by what you’ve already written?

I didn’t know it would be a trilogy to start, but as I was getting to the end of the story it became clear there were many more questions to be answered than could be dealt with in a single book. It’s hard to say how the story’s changed since I started, because it became clear in the process of writing... but I always had the sense of an underdog taking on a big machine, and I guess that’s always been there. For the last part of your question, yeah, that can be tricky – especially for an imagined society with all these specific quirks and traits. I’ve taken to keeping a file with details of various things, including simply keeping track of the various names. Not everything stays the same, however, so there is still invention going on in books 2 and 3.

Q. When does Black & White come out? Where can we find it?

 It’s out today – huzzah! And can be found at all the usual locations:
Add on Goodreads

Thanks for dropping in, Nick. Enjoy your launch day and best of luck!

Thanks, Jeff! This was a lot of fun.

Title: Black & White
Author: Nick Wilford
Genre: YA dystopian Series #: 1 of 3
Release date: 18th September 2017
Publisher: Superstar Peanut Publishing
Blurb:
What is the price paid for the creation of a perfect society?

In Whitopolis, a gleamingly white city of the future where illness has been eradicated, shock waves run through the populace when a bedraggled, dirt-stricken boy materialises in the main street. Led by government propaganda, most citizens shun him as a demon, except for Wellesbury Noon – a high school student the same age as the boy.

Upon befriending the boy, Wellesbury feels a connection that he can’t explain – as well as discovering that his new friend comes from a land that is stricken by disease and only has two weeks to live. Why do he and a girl named Ezmerelda Dontible appear to be the only ones who want to help?

As they dig deeper, everything they know is turned on its head – and a race to save one boy becomes a struggle to redeem humanity.
Giveaway:
Enter the giveaway for a chance to win a copy of my collection A Change of Mind and Other Stories or a $10 giftcard! a Rafflecopter giveaway

Anyone have any questions for Nick? 
  

Monday, September 4, 2017

Swapped!

Some time in the middle of last week, while tooling around the Internet, I came across an interesting tidbit. Lord of the Flies was getting a remake.

William Golding's classic 1954 novel about schoolboys marooned on a Pacific island had been adapted for the screen three times, most recently in 1990, so I suppose it was due, and with society seemingly in a death spiral, maybe it even seems timely. But here's the new wrinkle: this time, it will have an all female cast.

Hollywood has gotten fully on board with gender-swapping. In addition to last year's Lady Ghostbusters and the aforementioned Lady Lord of the Flies, we're also slated to see Lady Ocean's Eleven (i.e., Ocean's Eight), Lady Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Nasty Women), and Lady Splash--yes, Splash. All these films have two things in common: they are remakes or based on previous films, and they are getting the gender-swap treatment.


But what will the girls wear?
Hollywood should be commended for finally realizing that women, who make up slightly more than half the population and have considerable economic power, might actually like to see themselves with leading roles in films that aren't just romantic comedies. Even after the box office disaster that was Ghostbusters, women are getting more opportunities to carry films. As Kelly Konda noted, "Progress for women in Hollywood apparently means being allowed to fail financially."  Of course, Wonder Woman's status as smash hit should help even more.

So, it's nice to see women getting more starring vehicles. The problem, though, is that we're apparently seeing remake upon remake upon remake (and in the case of Lord of the Flies, said remake is being written by two men). In a post last week on Writer Unboxed, Jo Eberhardt wondered why we can't see more original stories with women. Says Eberhardt: "Imagine, if you will, a world in which movie executives actually think female protagonists can be authentic characters in their own right, and not merely gender-swapped versions of popular male characters." Eberhardt suggests that, rather than a remake, Ghostbusters should have conceived of as a sequel. "...it's thirty years later, and the ghosts are back. New York needs a new team of paranormal investigators. Somebody call Melissa McCarthy." What fun! And if the film had been called Ghostbusters III, it might have avoided some of the "They're killing my childhood" hand-wringing.

Gender-swapping is a tricky business. I have done it twice now, both times after discussion with Agent Carrie. One of the projects was very early, say a dozen pages and a broad concept; the other was further along, though still in extremely rough form. What I found was that gender-swapping was no simple business. It wasn't just a matter of changing names and pronouns, and maybe throwing in a reference to a skirt or bra. Changing the character from a man to a woman changed everything about that character, which in turn resulted in far-reaching changes in the story. Whether I did it well or not remains to be seen, though none of the rejections on the RiP said anything bad about my female point of view characters.

I'm hoping the two men working on Lord of the Flies will not sink to lazy writing and stereotypes, that they will not merely change names (Ralph to Renata, Jack to Jackie, Piggy to Miss Piggy), pronouns, and costumes--and on that front, let's hope they also choose not to overly-sexualize with palm frond bikinis; these are supposed to be pre-adolescent kids here. Some have gone so far to suggest that a planeload of girls crash-landing on a Pacific island would never turn into Lord of the Flies, that they would find a way to cooperate and live peacefully and build a utopia. I don't buy that. In any society, there's going to be some degree of inequality, and where there's inequality, there's strife. The question is, how is it handled? With rocks and clubs and sticks sharpened at both ends, or some other way? A gender-swapped Lord of the Flies presents us with some interesting questions. Let's hope, if the film gets made, we see those questions explored.

What do you think about the Lord of the Flies remake? Have you ever gender-swapped your characters? How did that work out?

 UPDATE: Not related to this post, exactly, but maybe of interest to some of you: Agent Carrie is looking for entries in her monthly Query Critique. Check here for how to enter! Good luck!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Weekend Update: Summer's (near) end edition

Well, we've hit the penultimate weekend of 'official' summer and already we're seeing the signs of the winding down of the season: one of the big baseball camps in the area is already empty, already moving in the bulldozers and heavy equipment for what will almost certainly be another expansion. The big camp is still open, still fielding teams, but at this point, the big crush of traffic 'in town' should start easing off, at least during the week. I have a village parking pass that allows me to park almost anywhere without having to feed the meters, but what good does it do when there's nowhere to actually park? Well, that headache is about to go away for about nine months or so.

THE BIG EVENT last week was the eclipse. Did you see it where you were? I'm happy to say, the eclipse glasses worked. I got to see the eclipse (partial only, alas), and I got to keep my vision! It was not a productive afternoon. Round here, we saw a slight 'dimming' of the day, a slight change in the color, but it didn't get dark.

SOMETHING I FOUND AMUSING If you read my newspaper column I linked last week, I recalled how, as a child, I was terrified of going out on a day we had an eclipse, lest I accidentally look at the sun and go blind. There's a family that lives on the property where I work, with two small children. The kids' mother also babysits other children from time to time (including my bosses' kids). It was a hot day, and they were all going swimming, but the kids wanted to swim at the gym instead of the lake because they wanted to be inside. At one point, they came over to the office after the eclipse started: all of them with their eyes glued to the ground, all of them making sun visors out of their hands. I guess it's good to know that kids do listen! We did let them use the eclipse glasses, and they were blown away.

THE CATBIRD flew back to school this weekend (actually, we drove her). The house goes a little quieter.

ACTUAL REWRITING has now officially commenced on the RiP which means, naturally, I had a moment of inspiration on the WiP yesterday. I may have to put an actual door on that back room.

CHESTNUT It's been a while since I posted a picture of my favorite little tree, so I ran out across the desperately-needs-to-get-cut front lawn and took a picture. I need new glasses--can't see close up well enough to take a decent photo most times (I've always had horrendously bad distance vision; now I can't see up close, either). This is what it looks like today:

It's not the greatest photo. On the left is the chestnut today. On the right is how it looked at the beginning of June. Hard to tell from this image, but it is definitely bigger, and while the new main stem is leaning a little, it has actually grown to the point where it is taller than that original main stem (seen on the left side of the leftern picture).

FINALLY some music. What made me look up this song late last week? I'm really not sure. It is a rather disturbing piece, but what the heck. Ladies and gentlemen, Ballad of a Thin Man, by Bob Dylan. Enjoy the day, enjoy your week, let me know what's going on!

Bob Dylan - The Ballad of a Thin Man from Vasco Cavalcante on Vimeo.




Monday, August 21, 2017

Celestial Events and other things

Semi-random postings for this ecliptic day.

* As you may or may not know, I write a monthly column for one of our local papers. This month's column is on eclipses. Take a read!

* That column is not exactly a "How to" guide for safe eclipse viewing. If you want that, go here!

* A friend of mine gave me a pair of eclipse glasses last week. I checked them out, they meet the safety standards set forth by the American Astronomical Society (AAS), but I have to say I'm a bit nervous about using them anyway. Personally, if I were the leader of a terrorist network who really wanted to screw with United States, I'd get a bunch of people working in the factories where they make these things and have them damage the glasses. It's all about the long game!

*I was heartened to see that the giant rally in Boston was peaceful, in that no one was killed or even severely injured. Not heartened to see that counter-protesters were apparently going after the police., or that they instigated some physical altercations with people who were there to attend the rally. Hands off, people. It may already be too late, but you do not want anyone to be able to legitimately lump you in with the other side.

*Writing! There is writing happening! It's still of the 'scribble notes and arrows and circles all over the printed page' but it is writing nonetheless! I'm a little excited about this.

* There can only be one piece (well, two actually, but you really can't play one without the other, if you ask me) of music for today. From Pink Floyd's landmark Dark Side of the Moon comes "Brain Damage" and "Eclipse."


How was your weekend? Any plans to view the eclipse today?

Monday, August 14, 2017

Short thoughts on Charlottesville

I had two uncles who served in the Navy in World War II. Another flew a P-38 with the 8th Air Force out of southern Italy. Three of my friends had fathers who helped liberate Europe. Two of them swept across France and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. The other landed at Anzio and was wounded in action. All of them are gone now. I can't imagine any of them would be especially happy with what transpired this weekend.

It sickens me to know that Hitler's ideals are alive and well and living in the United States. It sickens me that thousands of racists, under the pretense of "protecting our history and heritage," were chanting slogans right out of Nazi Germany (and if you are honestly upset about the removal of a General Robert E. Lee statue, and you claim you are not a racist, fine. But don't march with the KKK, and don't chant "Blood and soil" and don't Sieg Heil your way through Emancipation Park). It sickens me that so many people feel so sure of their beliefs, and so comfortable in our current climate, that they will gather and march in such numbers. It sickens me that our president will not condemn them, will not call them what they are. At this point, all calls on him to do so are pointless. He's made his statement with silence and vague words.

Heather Heyer is dead because of Nazis, because of hatred, because of racism and bigotry. She's just the latest in a long, long line that almost certainly stretches back to near the dawn of humanity. Sadly, she won't be the last. I don't know how we stop it, but I know we must.