Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Night With Neil

It took a while to fall asleep afterward, to stop the thoughts and cease the replaying of events in my mind.  The close of a memorable evening gave way to a following morning in which the night had not faded in any way.  Even if the Sharpie writing on my arm had, just a bit.

Friday night Sharif and I made the drive in 107 degree heat (Why the hell did we move to Northern California if it's gonna keep acting like Texas?) across the Bay Bridge where it dropped thirty degrees in a matter of a tunnel.  We arrived one hour before the doors of the Geary Theater opened and two hours before the show started.  There was already a proper line dotting the sidewalk, but it wasn't too bad and we weren't too far down.  It's difficult to be bored waiting while in San Francisco.  The city does not disappoint.  People of all varieties hurry or don't along its up and down sidewalks.  We were entertained by a homeless man who told us cow jokes.  "What is a cow abortion called?  De-calf-inated.  What do you call a cow with no legs?  Ground Beef.  And in honor of the end of DOMA, what do you call a gay cow?  A Dairy Queen, Baby!" complete with rounded over the head snap and all.

People are pretty laid-back in California and even more so in San Francisco.  They are tolerant to a fault.  My Southern ass grew more annoyed as the hippy woman ahead of us in line allowed more and more folks to join her spot, to the point where I finally complained, "What the hell? Did she invite her whole g-damn Ashram?!"  But I was soon saved from having to kick organic ass as the line began to move.

We found seats about seven rows up.  The theater, though grand and gilded, is small and compact.  Neil Gaiman arrived on stage to raucous applause.  As he spoke, you could tell the people there were truly there for him.  They laughed a bit too much at his jokes, awed WAY too much when he spoke of his wife and wore a perma-smile for the entire night.  But as soon as Neil began to read, his voice an accented, hypnotic purr, everyone sort of disappeared and it was just you and Neil.  The reading wasn't long, which was good because I've never much cared for being read to, no matter who does the reading. Then he answered questions and Sharif and I felt that was the best part--Neil sharing with us some of the behind the scenes experiences with the illustrations of SANDMAN and how he writes his stories.  He then read from a new children's book he will be publishing in September and after a bow, the crowd's applause, the stage was set up for the autographing.  And we waited.  And waited.

Going on ten hours of waiting and not eating, Sharif and I assessed that we weren't really cut out for this waiting stuff.  But nothing would have made me leave.

 Through hunger and migraine we pushed until the reward came when we were summoned to stand on stage in line.  People had brought armfuls of books, they brought presents, they brought homemade crafts all seeking Neil's signature on them.  We had the book that brought us to the event, THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE and ourselves.  In my mind, I had been playing a scenario where I asked Neil to sign my tattoo of Delirium. I knew, from past experiences that if I played this out in my head, there was a good chance I wouldn't make it happen in reality.  But as soon as I stepped up in front of Neil, said "Hello" and he looked up, smiling and saying "Hello" back, I knew I had to go for it.

"Do you think you could write 'Tempus Frangit' on my Delirium tattoo?"  Without looking up from signing my book, he said, "Sure.  Come around."

It all got a little blurry after that.  I was still light-headed from the hunger and migraine.  I thought I would rest my arm on the table, but he had me squat beside him and rest it on his leg.  After saying, "I'm sorry, this is going to be awkward," he repositioned himself and began writing.

While waiting--too nervous to say anything--I remembered Kevin texting me before the event asking to tell him what Neil smelled like.  So I leaned in just a bit and took a deep breath, hoping he wouldn't look over his shoulder and ask, "Did you just smell me?"  He didn't.  And he smelled of Sharpie.

I walked away still shaking and waited while Sharif got his autograph.  I had noticed during my wait that everyone walked away from Neil with a smile on his or her face.  To everyone, it was a personal, magical moment.  I can't imagine it being that way with many authors--not the ones on Neil's level--or many heroes.  Neil stayed until everyone received their moment, until the wee hours of the night.  He said it would be his last book-signing tour ever.  We'll see.  He seemed to love being there as much as we loved having him there.  I imagine that love will nag at him, will draw him back.  And we'll be waiting, clutching our comics and AMERICAN GODS and readying a spot on our tattoos.

Monday, June 24, 2013

All Hands

I think it was a little over a year ago when something ended that, at the time, needed to end and those involved went their separate ways, though never really straying from another.  They continued to email, to Facebook and more frequently, most importantly they texted.  Texted about a movie they were going to see, a T.V. show they had fallen in love with, new songs they heard and sometimes just random "Halloo!" bits.

A little over a year and a half ago I was asked by three college friends who I became closer to once we left our shared campus to join them on a site called Three Hands in the Popcorn Bag where we reviewed movies together.  It has previously been an all-male cast, I added the XY perspective.

Well yesterday we returned, eager to once again share all of our talks on a greater platform than the inches by inches size screens of our phones.  That new site is below.  Check it out, we have interesting talks, we sometimes talk as though no one else is reading and sometimes we say funny things.

I sort of wish I had a photo of the four of us then and now, sort of all Stephen King IT-style, but as I said, we grew closer the further apart.  So I'll just leave you this link.  Enjoy.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Halfway There

I passed the 50,000 words mark in book 4.  And yet I feel like I still have SO much more ground to cover.  A lot of that 50k is rewrites; a lot of it is going to get cut.  I have to read through it and see if there's anything I can keep, anything that still applies or just moments I like and want to use.  But I'm sure a lot of it is just going to go.  The story has changed too much.  But what's going into Word now, I think is better.  I hope the reader will feel that way too.

As I sit at my bar writing, Sharif is making dinner - I like this set up.

Just watched that new Miley Cyrus video - I prefer her backyard sessions, but I also don't see what all this fuss is about with this new thing.  I'm kinda indifferent - both the song and the video are just sort of blah.  But I don't think any young-girl-trying-to-be-hardcore display will ever top Fiona Apple's "Criminal" video for me.  That one made me feel like I was watching something I shouldn't be.

Anyway, I'm almost done reading CLOCKWORK PRINCESS by Cassandra Clare.  I'm not sure if this is supposed to be the last of this series; I never really know with Clare's works as she sort of tends to just keep going.  I like her writing a lot, the book is fast-paced even though you look back and realize not much has happened, but she always seems to have something infuriating about her characters that, while in the midst of, you have no idea how she's going to pull them out of it.  Like the whole brother-sister business in The Mortal Instruments and now this love-triangle hoopla in Internal Devices.  I know in writing, you let the story take you were it wants to go and you want to take the reader someplace they haven't already been, but sometimes as you are typing, at least for me, there's a moment of "Is this going too far?  Will I be able to pull this back or pull this off?"  I don't see how Clare can do that with the point in the book I'm at now.  I don't know how I can continue sympathy for the characters or certainly respect.  But we'll see.  She's a great writer and a great storyteller and her books, her characters continue to draw me to them, hang around in my head when I'm away from them and that's what I think all writers hope to achieve.

Okay, back to book 4 of my own.  Will keep you posted.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Cats, Creeps and Twizzlers

Tonight I realized since Sharif has been in L.A. that I have lived on a diet of pizza and Twizzlers.  I'll probably regret that soon...

I turned Beth onto DOCTOR WHO.  I’ve created a Whovian!  I sort of feel like God only I won’t smite her if she ever decides she no longer likes the show…or maybe I will?  Our earnest telephone conversations have now turned from talk of books to Doctor Who.  I’m not upset by that.  There’s a lot of wit and fantasy and drama and intelligence and mind-bendiness in the canon that Who talk can be very rewarding dialogue.

In other news…I finished the chapters!  The dreaded chapters.  Gods, it's a relief.  The rewrites are complete, that part has been recorded and the story line completed so that now I can work towards laying the ties for the rest.  It’s kinda like building a railway line.  You drop down the ties and lay down the rail, bit by bit until you stand up one day, run the back of your hand across your sweaty forehead and look behind you at the long track you’ve made, curving away into the distant horizon.  Though sometimes I jump ahead.  Like next, I’ll probably write the ending.  So I guess that railroad metaphor is crap.  Sorry about that.  

Anyway, if you haven't read THE CHILD THIEF by Brom (Seriously, that's the dude's name, man is obviously a badass) then you need to.  I drew a lot of inspiration from this book.  It's gritty and dark and goes to places even I don't think I could tread, but it's one of the best retellings of a children's story I've read.  One that doesn't make you wanna gag trying to get it down, one that doesn't completely take the story and TRY to make it dark, try to take it some place else, to make it cool and modern.  This book, it just...well, it's kinda how you see that story actually happening and the fairy tale is the retelling.  Anyway, read it.  It will be worth it.

It did sort of feel like getting beat-up, writing those chapters.  I barreled through them.  Pushed through, sitting straight-backed at my wet bar in a pretty comfy leather stool.  I think it’s my new place to write. 

New spot. See? Bag of Twizzlers - it's an epidemic.

It’s very Roman, very disciplined to sit so straight and proper and tap, tap, tap away at the keys.  I had to roll my shoulders when I was done and try to loosen the rocks that had formed there where I carry all my stress.

MAN OF STEEL opens this weekend.  Somehow I’m talking Sharif into taking me, knowing full well he loathes going to any movie on opening weekend.  But I’ve wanted this movie for so long and have waited for it for it seems so long.  I think I’ll write a review of it, should I get to go, and post it here.  I haven’t done a movie review in a really long time.  I’ve commented my thoughts on movies on other blogs and in texted conversations (like my dislike of SKYFALL and LES MIS—seriously, too much and not enough.  They are the yin and yang of what I don’t want in my movie-watching experience) but it’s been awhile since I’ve done a movie review and certainly not at all on here.  So we’ll see; if it all works out, expect a review.  I’ll be especially hard on Lois Lane.  I have high standards for Lois Lane; I used to want to be her, even got a degree in Journalism.  Kate Bosworth was an awful Lois Lane.

Right now, "Creep" by Radiohead is playing on the Libratone.  I love that song, even if the band themselves hate it.  The dogs are not amused by my singing, though - it could give Anne Hathaway in LES MIS a run for her money in the over-emoting department...

I'll leave you with my cat, Killer.  She got to hang out on the front porch with me tonight.

Monday, June 10, 2013

June Reader Spotlight - Kevin Still, aka Mr. Bristle

This month's Reader Spotlight features a very good friend of mine with whom I share words on as frequent of an occasion as we can devise.  We've actually known each other for over 15 years now.  He's someone who strings together words in a way I envy, in a way that subtly forces you to follow. 

Please welcome Kevin Still!

Age: 35
Hometown/Where you live: 
I'm from El Dorado, Arkansas, home of the haunted Rialto movie theater where my buddy Xon was the manager and got me into free films during high school. Now I live in Bryan, Texas, home of two theaters that charge $4 a matinee ticket. We see a lot of movies.

Welcome to Reader Spotlight!  Share with our blog viewers out there your reading habits: What's your favorite place to read? Favorite time of the day to read?  If you could pick the PERFECT place to escape to with a book, where would that be?
AT HOME: Our living room windows gush loads of natural light. We do not turn on lamps or the overheads until late evening. My ideal reading happens in the mornings, perched on a couch near those windows, coffee on the side table, pen in hand, pug curled up by my side. I start my reading as early as possible due to sinking cognition in the early afternoon and evening hours. I prefer to read or write in the mornings, perform chores and house work in the afternoons, and engage films or neighbors in the evening.
IN PUBLIC: I'm a huge fan of good coffee and tables stuck off in the corner. I don't like those big, coveted comfy chairs. I want a small table with a straight back, uncomfortable chair that keeps me focused. And I want free refills, plenty of foot traffic for people watching, and low overhead music so I can easily eavesdrop. Although I'm a huge proponent of local businesses, I'm on a first name basis with most employees at Panera Bread Co. around the corner. Their iced coffee is perfect.

In order from least to most, what would you say your top three books are?
I'm answering this according to June 6, 2013 standards. Ask me again in six months and you might get a different list. Also, I'm not sure I have a most favorite book. Alright, enough disclaimers, here's three books I loved the shit out of: 1.) Horns by Joe Hill. I'm not sure I've read a finer novel, other than maybe A Prayer For Owen MeanyHorns is quite dark, which makes it difficult to recommend, but it's also impossible to put down, beautifully structured, and haunting as crap. I didn't pick up another book for several weeks just to allow Horns to settle. It's one I hope to re-read this summer. 2.) Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. It's been awhile, but there was a long season - couple years, actually - when I carried Tinker Creek on my person the way I once carried my Bible. Tinker Creekis gorgeous and breathtaking and chock full of perfect metaphors and sentences. Also, I feel totally awed that Dillard wrote this amazing genuflection on nature while sitting in front of a concrete wall in a library at night. This is a huge testament to the power of the human imagination and the writer's ultimate responsibility with words. 3.) Stranger Than Fiction by Chuck Palahniuk. This is an odd title to put on this list because it's not really a great book. I enjoyed it, but I did not immediately slough off a dozen emails and text messages recommending it to friends. Still, I think about this book more than I think about any other book. And I return to it more often than any other book besides Anne Lamott's Bird By Bird. Palahniuk says things here about writing, reading, community, friendships, and urgency that struck - and continue to strike - a major chord in me. So much so that I keep my copy close by and I use passages of the text in my classes. (You wouldn't believe how many of my college freshmen have never heard of Fight Club: film or book.) Although I would like to have ended my response here with some great classic by Willa Cather or Faulkningway, but I can't fake the funk. I'm also working my way through Palahniuk's canon, and it's a hit-or-miss study of literary structures, character development, and lyrical urgency.

Favorite author?
Flannery O'Connor. But there are a few other people I would read any and everything by: Joe Hill, David Sedaris, Jack Ketchum, George Saunders, Karen Russell, Chuck Palahniuk, John Updike. I always get desperately excited when Stephen King publishes anything new, even if I don't make an attempt to read it.

What do you look for in a main character?  Do you want him/her to be some butt-kicking badass, a level-headed pacifist, a hot-tempered hero?
Heroes are fun, but rarely believable or inspiring. As a die-hard John Hughes fan, I love characters who possess good intentions and great hope but still find themselves plagued by life circumstances or deflated self-esteem. My favorite genre is the "coming-of-age" story where we see the down-and-out kid overcome that one thing holding him or her back. They may not always save the day but they land squarely on promise. I'm not sure you can find anything more heroic than that.

What are your character pet-peeves? 
Two things drive me nuts. One, when a character simply fulfills a paper-thin stereotype, ie. the busty blond, the overly effeminate gay, the butch lesbian, the street-wise token black kid, the dopy obese guy, the prudish mousy girl, the skater pothead, the shallow or overly judgmental believer, the overly handsome blue eyed all American male with perfect abs who excels at everything he sets his bear-size hands to. Do these people exist? Yes. But shatter the stereotype. Two, characters who remain static. If people are not changing or growing or falling apart, I can't be asked to care.

What do you look for by the time you finish a book?  What expectations do you have going into a book?
My primary hope is to follow interesting people through a unique situation via vehicles of beautiful sentences and unique structure. Give me that and you've got my readerly devotion. I'm surprised that's not always easy to find.

What draws you to pick up a book in the first place, or more importantly, lay down some hard earned money on?
Besides a trusted recommendation:
1.) I'll purchase and read anything written or recommended by the authors listed in the "favorites" question.
2.) An author's interesting account of research or writing processes can pique my curiosity.
3.) I sure don't mind a good memoir by a super funny person, ie. Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Silverman.

What are you currently reading?
FOR INSPIRATION: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Damned by Chuck Palahniuk. My Bright Abyss by Christian Wiman.
FOR LEISURE: The Son by Philipp Meyer. And the current Entertainment Weekly is always folded open on the back of the ol' American Standard.

What kind of story would you love to read, but just can’t seem to find?
I want to read a story that explores a personal crisis of religious faith, particularly at a young age. Christian fiction generally strives to glorify the attainment and bolstering of faith. Mainstream American fiction often battles and degrades faith. I would like to see characters in a story earnestly grappling with faith the way many young people do. They've been raised in a particular faith system. They've seen it fail or they've discovered it's inevitable perversity. And then they strive to make sense of it. That's the story I would like to read, but I've never found it. So I started writing it this summer. 

Thanks so much to Mr. Bristle.  You can read more from Kevin over at his blog:

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Finding the Scene

And there it is.

I have it—that elusive scene that’s been plaguing me for weeks, that I’ve been avoiding like an obnoxious neighbor, that I know needs my attention, but I just can’t commit to mentally or emotionally yet.  It’s a big one. 

Quick aside, I keep calling these chunks of words, these chapters and paragraphs scenes because they play like movies in my mind.  The mental television clicks on and then the scenes unfold so they are scenes to me; sorry if that’s not very literary, but that’s how my books come about.

Anyway, this is a big scene—it’s a major moment, the consequence to prior actions, the come-uppance—and it needs to be grand, it needs to be destructive, it needs to be painful and cathartic on every level: physical, mental, emotional.  It was already written.  I wrote it probably about two years ago.  I hadn’t truly revisited it in over a year.  Everything about the story around it has changed and it’s been sitting on this metaphoric island waiting for me to cup it in my palms and reshape it.  Reading it now, I didn’t like what I had written before.  It involves almost solely a character I hold very dear.  And he deserved so much more than what I had given him.  So I knew I needed to make it better.  I knew that this needed to be a big moment for this character, but I just couldn’t see it.  I have to see it in order to write it.  It wouldn’t play in my head.  When I would pause a moment and focus on nothing, my eyes going hazy and dry—my normal routine to tap into that mental movie and take from it the sap of the story—it was blank.  Nothing appeared.  It was extraordinarily frustrating.  It almost pushed me to shelving the whole damn thing.
And then this morning happened.

There was nothing unique about this morning.  Nothing was different about my routine.  I sat at my desk at work, looking at data and numbers, doling out assignments to my employees, answering emails about boring mortgage guidelines and such and then that T.V. flickered on.  Just a bit.  So I continued on with my day.  And then there were haunting hints in the back of my mind—ghostly images overlapping reality.  A few more flickers.  And then it was there.  An image of a bright white floor with blood pooling on it, the figure looming like a shadow above.  And from there the rest fell into place, like reverse dominos. 
The next step is extracting that scene from my head and converting it to words.  But for now, the hard part, the frustrating part is done.  I was reading on Cassandra Clare’s blog a while back and she has a FAQ section and in that list is the desperate plea of an unknown writer asking what to do to get inspired.  How does Cassandra Clare get unblocked?  Ms. Clare basically said that if you wait around for inspiration, you’re never going to write.  She and other writers live by the AICHOK method: Ass In Chair, Hands On Keyboard.  Stephen King mentions this as well in ON WRITING.  He writes at least 1500 words a day.  Most of it is just crap, filler, dribble, but once he’s amassed enough, he goes back in and cuts a few.  King could also be accused of being a modern day Dickens, meaning you’d think he was getting paid per word, but I see what they are trying to say.  It’s a job and your job is to write, so just write and wade back through the sludge later.

I just can’t operate that way.  Maybe that makes me a bad writer.  Maybe if this were my sole profession and I had publishers and editors and agents waiting on something, anything from me, that I would be all about the toss some spaghetti on the wall and see what sticks method of writing.  For now, I have to see it.  And no amount of tapping angrily on the keyboard will bring that image into focus.  As long as it still appears, I don’t care either way.  Because today I’ll be punishing a character, I will be tormenting him and hurting him and finally get it done so he and I can both heal and move on.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Places to Write About and Other Observations

This weekend the husband and I took our first trip to Berkley to see a Mumford & Sons concert with the mother-in-law.  Arriving in California from Texas, you are aware of Berkley, you know it’s a college town, its history, and you know that’s where all of the hippies are.  Berkley didn’t disappoint.

Observations on Berkley:
1. There is a distinct aversion to deodorant.
2. They are allowing toddlers on campus and calling them "college students."
3. Everyone in Berkley has the same walk, a kind of lope.  I would imagine due to all of the drastic inclines and declines. (Seriously, I had to have lost five pounds just from walking.)
4. Despite the need to go natural with the arm pits, it is probably one of the coolest places I've been.

Speaking of places I've been...My junior year of college, I was selected to be part of a group of students to travel around the world with TIME Magazine.  It was a study tour, I earned college credits for it and the point was essentially to meet with the bureau chiefs, reporters, and writers and learn from them about the world of journalism that which we couldn't just read about for ourselves.  We traveled to twelve different cities in seven different countries in thirty-two days.  Mishaps happened, people were lost on the way (me, included!), and one of us dressed up like the pope using a towel, a bandanna, and a toilet bowel brush.  It was an incredible experience, one from which I draw little bits to use in my stories, but I’ve been thinking about using the entire experience for a story.  I see it all starting on a train…

I discovered this weekend that I am not a wine drinker.  Everyone said, “Oh, but the wineries know how to serve you, they’ll cater to your tastes and find you the perfect wine…”  Nuh-uh.  Didn’t happen.  Wine makes my jaw sides hurt.  And I can’t prevent making a bleck! face after each taste which I didn’t think the fancy wine dude appreciated.  The place was pretty in an old-wordly way and the people there were friendly with a hinting undercurrent of pretention and the guy that greeted us at the door burped when describing the place to us, which I suppose I can sort of appreciate given that he’s probably been pounding wine all day.  But at the end of the day, it was verifiably determined that I’m a beer drinker.

Reader Spotlight is to come shortly; with the family in town and traveling all over northern California because of it, RS was a little delayed, but I hope to post it soon and expect it to be a fun one.