Sunday, January 30, 2011

Unpacking My Mind

Today my son and I built Expedit from IKEA. I got the one that is four by four squares, and the squares are pretty deep, too. Perfect for my monstrous and somewhat absurd paperback collection, which has been mostly boxed up since we moved this summer. I started unpacking and shelving, as part of my mad plan to have the ultimate basement office, but I have to admit that it wasn't too long until I got, um, sidetracked by some of the great books I've collected over the years. Every book I have tells two stories, to me--the story within the pages and a piece of the story of my life when I was reading it. Books like this one:

That's the original title. I love cover art and book design, and when the story is great as this one is, well then, everyone wins.

Ah, Raymond Chandler. As much as I love this edition, which I found at a used bookstore for a dollar this year, I actually like these better:

Mainly because those were the editions I read when I was a kid; I love the Deco-ish lettering and cover art. I picked one up because I was watching the Philip Marlowe shows on HBO starring Powers Boothe and I instantly was hooked, for life, on the stories.

Then there's these, which I have a couple hundred of:

I've often said that Stephen King, Gary Gygax, and Bill Gaines were the three most influential men that I wasn't related to in my life when I was a kid.

I've got over a hundred of these, too:

Still not a complete set, though. I guess I could get the few I'm missing off ebay, but where's the fun in that? Used bookstores and yard sales for me.

Although I did get this one off Amazon or abebooks or one of them:

Jack Yeovil is actually Kim Newman, who is one of my favorite writers working today. I think this is his first novel.

And then there's this:

What a cover! Unlike my Mad and Doc Savage collections, I do have a complete set of old Shirley Jackson paperbacks. I'll buy any of the old ones that I see because I give them away often (and read them to death, it turns out). Her ouerve, although not huge, had a huge influence on me.

Every book I unpack is like a brick, or cornerstone, of the city of my mind. I first read Czar of Fear, above, when I was about ten, and read it again in my twenties when I got it in my head that it would be a good idea to read them all again, in order. I read The Bedside Mad at least a hundred times between the ages of eight and fifteen, and probably a dozen since in various formats. The one I read the most though wasn't this one but the one with the Norman Mingo cover. I read the Yeovil/Newman book late 2009, after I went on a quest to read everything that he's written (still working on it, but The Original Dr. Shade (and other tales) is supposedly in the mail. Jackson and Chandler I read very young and re-read every few years.

I'm about a third of the way unpacked...

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Two Questions

I recently heard a profile on NPR on a new biography of one of my literary heroes, J.D. Salinger, and during the segment it was mentioned that he tromped all over Europe--and into combat--during WWII while carrying the manuscript of Catcher in the Rye with him. I came across an article regarding the new book, and the article mentioned that on a few occasions ole J.D. sought out Hemingway to discuss writing (as well as mentioning a recollection of J.D. taking cover under a table during a shelling so he could keep typing!). Those stories made me intensely happy, the first because it is an insight into the obsessive and passionate nature of my hero, a nature I believe is required to create art, and the second because I believe it is an insight into the humility and desire to learn that is required on the path towards creating art.

I can picture Salinger going to the by now widely published, and highly regarded Hemingway--what was going on in his head, what he hoped to learn, what he hoped to share. I can picture it because I've done it myself, time and again, not with Hemingway of course but with a multitude of writers whose work I loved and respected.

I don't believe for a moment that Salinger went to Hemingway with the intention of asking him how to get published, or if he could recommend a good agent, or if he could provided the names and numbers of contacts who could truncate his path to publication. These topics may have come up, but that would not have been the reason why Salinger went to Hemingway.

Salinger's questions would have been around the work itself--how did you create what you've created? What was going through your head, and how did you get it on the page? Why did you write it? And there would have been an exchange; it would not have been Papa pontificating without Salinger taking the time to discuss his thoughts on process, on story, on work habits and on why he needed to carry that manuscript around with him, through the explosions and the flames.

Okay, maybe my romantic notions spill all over reality and their conversations weren't anything like what I just described. Maybe the little vignette I just related, stitched together from radio and print fragments, is just a fantasy that allows me to point out the differences in the questions that aspiring writers, like Salinger was, like I was, (heck, like Hemingway himself was), ask of those who are professionals: there is a world of difference between "how do I get published?" and "how do I write something great?".

One of those questions is everything to a writer. Figure out the answer to the important question, and the answer to the lesser one will arrive before too long.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Flying High Again

Flew home from San Diego this morning, leaving my hotel room at 4 a.m. I am not a morning person. Fortunately, I fell asleep at seven the previous night.

Good thing I did, too, because I woke up ready write. Once I checked in at the airport, I ate a bunch of eggs. And I wrote. And I wrote. And I wrote. Then I boarded the plane, bidding goodbye to weather so beautiful it hurt. Then I wrote. And I wrote. I listened to music, and I wrote.

Eventually I landed in Atlanta, where I ate a sandwich and wrote. And wrote. Boarded the plane, wrote some more. I've been handwriting lately, something I haven't done in about five years. For whatever reasoin, it is really working out for me. At the end of the day I had fifty yellow legal pad pages--the drafts of one new short story, and another chapter or so of a new book I'm working on.

Maybe I should just turn my office into a guest bedroom, hang out in airports and fly all over the country. I'd probably get more done.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Complex Math Problem

Here are the facts:

I have 888 songs on an iPod playlist I call Blast! that I play on shuffle. This is the playlist that I workout to.

I workout on the treadmill for an hour about five times a week (since Thanksgiving).

I run somewhere between 5.5-6.0 miles during that hour.

The songs on Blast! range between 1 minute 23 seconds ("Walk Among Us", by The Misfits) to 11 minutes 15 seconds (Black #1, by Type O Negative).

All but 19 of the 888 songs on Blast! are the finest hard rock, punk or metal songs from my vast, vast collection.

In the interest of full disclosure, many metal purists would call quite a few of these songs "false metal".

At least seven of the 888 songs are cover songs. Of these, two of the originals also made the playlist.

The newest song that I've added to Blast! is "Say You'll Haunt Me" by Stone Sour, which is Corey from Slipknot's other band. The name of Slipknot's fan club is "Dead Generation". I am not a member.

Conundrum: How is it that, invariably, I listen to exactly 16 songs during my workout?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

This Year Will be Different, part XLII. And Also, Please Help Me Out With This

2011 is already giving me every indication of being a banner year, writing career-wise. The first week of the year is just over I've already had a couple of pieces of good news regarding some future publications that I'll be blogging about in the near future.

I did my usual year-end review of the past, and decided that it was a pretty good year overall, goal-wise. A few of the goals I knocked off last year: selling our house, buying a new house, and moving (about 98% of the credit for these accomplishments goes to my beautiful wife, who was able to handle contractors, realtors, inspectors and an insane husband with grace and aplomb). I was also able to scratch "Foreign language publication" off my list, in a year that saw Generacion Dead and Beso de Vida released in Spain. I was thrilled to have a short story published in the Kiss Me Deadly anthology, fulfilling yet another long-held goal. I didn't hit my whole list--in fact, I failed miserably at a number of the things I wanted to achieve--but, onward and upward. Bury your dead (unless they are differently biotic dead) and move on.

The second part of my New Years' ritual is the annual gaze into the future Looks bright, very bright. Note to self: buy sunglasses, wear sunscreen. I try to project what I want my year to look like and what I want to accomplish. I delivered my goals for the next year to myself (I'm a stern taskmaster) a few hours before the ball dropped. Or the Snooki dropped. Whatever it was we dropped this year. I reviewed what I had submitted, and we decided that the fifteen goals that I'd submitted were good ones. A nice mix of creative, business, family and personal goals, a few of them were holdovers from last year that I didn't accomplish--I'm determined to do a film project and a comic book/graphic novel project, and although I've done a lot of blah blah blah about both, nothing has happened yet.

I enjoy this process, I really do. And it always seems something like magic to me when one of the goals clicks into place--last week, just a few days after writing them, the mechanism to complete goal #4 clicked into place, clear out of the blue.

Anyhow, here's where the "please help me out" comes in. A bit of patience, if you please.

One of my goals, #14 is

"Renew focus on my Internet/Blog/Social Media Presence"

What does that mean, exactly? And why is that a goal for me?

Well, here's what it means now:

A.Continue to answer all reader emails and Facebook posts (I do pretty good with this one. I might miss a few, but I try my best)

B.Blog on at 52 times this year (I did horribly last year; 23 blogs in 2010, down from 77 the year before)

C.Have Tommy and the gang blog on 26 times this year (again, horrible--12, down 28 from last years' 40)

D. Update my status on Facebook three or four times a week (I probably do something like that now)

E. Continue to do the occasional online interview/guest blog when invited and schedule permits. I think I did a dozen or so of these last year, the most recent of which is Here at The Book Smugglers and is about my favorite YA book of the year.

I guess that is actually a bunch of little goals within the bigger/vague-er goal. So, why? Why do I want to commit myself to doing all that work this year?

Mainly because of something I realized when I went weeks and sometimes even months without blogging:

I miss it.

I miss it. I like blogging, and I love the interactivity of blogging; I said a lot of what I wanted to say about the topic in this School Library Journal Article Here and I'm kind of shocked, embarrassed and disappointed with myself for being such a slacker. Yeah, Inner Voice #8 is saying, you moved, you took a job, you have pre-teen kids, etc. etc. And then Inner Voices #3 and #7 say, "Shut up, inner voice #8. We don't make excuses here. And will you please put the cap back on the soda bottle tightly?"

So, a plea for help. Help keep me honest and on track with my goal. And if you are so inclined, let me know what you like me to blog about, and what bores the heck out of you. Let me know wheat it is that you like in your "Internet Relationships" with other authors, and what you don't (I should mention that I'm a little scared of Twitter; let me know if I need to get over that fear. Should I do a newsletter? Write about what I'm reading? Write about writing? Offer a free story here and there? Write about writing about writing? Create humorous videos? More dog photos (we have a second beagle now). Music? As I type this, "The Living Dead" by the London Suede is on, appropriately enough. That song nearly always moves me to tears. I'm thinking I should pretty up this site a bit, too. What else should I be doing? What do you think?

What do you think?

I'd like to end with a shout out to Brendan Halpin, who's blog Here directly inspired my fourteenth goal.