Tuesday, February 23, 2010
And so it goes...
Anniversaries are for stories, and sometimes I make up 'Stories About Her.'
Here's what we do to honor her.
And here's a tribute by my son, performed at GCCC:
See you later, kiddo. I miss you.
Monday, February 15, 2010
Not "places" like to the grocery store or work. I understand the requirements of such environments. But "places" like a book conference, or a party, or a gala. 'Cuz let's face it: I don't have the wardrobe or style (or cash money) to pull off "gala."
I had to worry about this on the Thursday before Books Alive, when Debra and I went to a "dinner party" for Karen Z at the Clemons castle. On the following evening, I was not so concerned about the meet-and-greet party, as I'd been several times before and knew the routine.
(Daniel Wallace asked if he needed to go to the Gap to pick up nicer clothes for the Saturday "gala," and I knew I was in the right company. But he had an out. As I told him, "You're one of the guests of honor. You can wear what you like.")
(NOTE: We did not attend the gala. I'm sure he was dressed just fine.)
But then, I was stuck thinking about the next morning's Books Alive, and hoped I wasn't going too under-dressed. I decided on the black jeans and a button-up shirt. Then realized that I wanted to wear the David Bowie tour shirt Debra got me for Xmas, so the button-up remained half-buttoned up. Then couldn't decide if I should wear my black dress shoes or just go with the Converse One Stars. I chose comfort.
I made the right decisions. I was gratified to see that Daniel was wearing jeans, black Converse, a blue button-up shirt with a T-shirt showing. This is what the famous author wears; it's good enough for me.
They say you should dress for success. Dress for the life you want to live.
Well, it seems I've got the look. It comes natural to me. ... Now if only the rest would follow ...
What are you wearing?
Friday, February 12, 2010
Received in the mail this week an advanced copy of THE COLONY by Jillian Weise. Jillian was a middle school student more than a decade ago when she walked into the News Herald office and told me she was going to write a column for the weekly Education section. She was pretty awesome even then. She has had work in literary journals and anthologies, and her first poetry collection was The Amputee's Guide to Sex. I will be coming back with a review of the book and profile of Jillian in the very near future.
Also recently picked up a few books from the discount shelves in the past couple of weeks: Just Another Judgement Day, a Nightside novel by Simon R. Green; Between the Tides by my new acquaintance Patti Callahan Henry; The Book of Ballads and Sagas by Charles Vess. Also, I have two upcoming novels by local folks that I am behind on reading: The Universal Essence by Dean Lincoln Minton; and Miss Hildreth Wore Brown - Anecdotes of a Southern Belle by Olivia Cooley.
I am also trying to work my way through a gift of hundreds of comics from my friend Chris Arrant. Most recently, I have read the first few issues of a series called "Dead Eyes Open," a twist on the zombie tale in which the "returned" have all their memories and no desire to harm anyone, but because living people fear them, they are hunted and kept in internment camps. Spooky stuff.
And oh yeah, I'm also trying to do some writing of my own. So, you know, kinda busy these days.
What are you reading? What are you writing?
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Wallace, author of Big Fish, Ray in Reverse, and most recently Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician, collects prosthetic eyeballs. He calls the online search for them “his porn,” and describes his wife walking in on him to catch him browsing glass eyes on eBay. “You’re not bidding on another eye!” she said.
Glass eyes have figured in his work from the beginning, as they figured in his childhood and because so much of his writing is informed by the fables of youth.
When Wallace was in sixth grade and “everybody was new” at his school, he met a kid named Frank. Frank lived nearby, which made them “friends by default,” he said. However, in the heirarchy of coolness at school, Frank was somewhere behind Wallace. Wallace might not have been the most popular kid, but at least he knew Frank would always be the last one picked for teams.
Frank had a glass eye.
Some days, Frank would raise his hand and ask a teacher if he could go to the restroom to wash his eye. She always said he could. He always asked if “Danny” could go along, and she always said he could.
“She didn’t know — maybe washing a glass eye was a two-boy job,” Wallace said.
It was not, and sometimes Frank and Danny would barely even speak during the operation. Frank would take out the eye, run water over it, dry it and replace it. And they would go back to class.
Today, Wallace wonders whatever became of Frank. He would like Frank to know what an impact he had on young Danny. He wonders if Frank has read any of his books. He has looked for Frank for years, and is baffled that there’s no trace of his old friend on the Internet.
He says he learned many things from Frank, most of which was subconscious at the time. But one thing he learned ties to him being a “visual writer.”
Wallace, 51, has been seriously writing since he was 24. His first book, “Big Fish,” was published when he was 39. The movie version by Tim Burton was a “shocking development,” he said, and while it is very different from the book, he thinks the two have one thing that connects them.
“Imagery. Everything is being held together by images, things that get a story going and hold a story together.”
Like reflections in a glass eye.
Tomorrow: More of my time with Mr. Wallace during Books Alive. Converse sneakers, heart attack symptoms, nursing shoes, and catastrophic recalibrations.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Masha Hamilton was a foreign correspondent for The Associated Press in the Middle East for half a decade, then she worked another five years in Moscow as a correspondent for the Los Angeles Times. While in Moscow, she began to dream what she described as “fictional anecdotes.” Eventually, she realized her subconscious was sending her a message. She decided to quit journalism and follow a new path.
“I am closer to my fictional characters than I am to a lot of people,” she told the small gathering of writers-in-training at FSU that rainy morning. “They have revealed so much to me.”
In turn, Hamilton revealed a few trade secrets to her class. She says the first few lines of a story must make a reader invest in the rest of the tale. An editor friend wading through the slush pile of manuscripts in his office once told her, “I read that first paragraph. If I can put it down, I do.” He had so many pages stacked on and around his desk that every paragraph had to give him a reason to keep reading.
Here are Hamilton’s tips for beginning a new story or setting off on the adventure of writing a novel:
1) Start your story at (or as near as possible to) the moment everything changes for the character, when every-thing is propelled forward.
2) Provide an immediate feeling that something is at stake. “Suspense is what keeps the reader going to the next paragraph and the next, and turning to the next page,” she said.
3) Focus on a character that the reader can care about. “Characters are human. They must be flawed,” she said. In addition, you must know more about your characters than you reveal to the reader. To write realistically about a made-up person, you must give this person depth. Know incidental things like what is in that character’s refrigerator and medicine cabinet. What was his first kiss like? What is his belief about God? How does he handle money? (And so on.)
“You write the tip of the iceberg,” she says. “You have to know all the rest of the iceberg too.”
4) When writing a first draft, don’t over-think it. Don’t self-censor, or second-guess. Don’t let yourself be frozen. “The first draft is a process of exploration,” said Hamilton, who does not write from an outline. “Free write. Don’t stop. Don’t self-edit.”
5) For writing dialogue, Hamilton refers her writing students to Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants.” Look for subtext in the dialogue, she says. Beginning writers mistakenly have characters say too much, too clearly and with too much exposition, she said.
“Dialogue should reveal character, create mood, push the plot,” she said. “It’s the place to use lies, hyperbole, exaggerations. The best place to use subtext.”
6) At the climax, slow down the action. Don’t rush through it. This is what your readers have been waiting for, after all. Give them all the storytelling you can muster at this point. “You should vary the psychic distance throughout the story, but get very close to the character at a moment of suspense,” she said.
Finally, she had everyone in the room write down three small personal fears they have, and three BIG fears they have. Then take those fears and apply them to a character they are already writing about in one of their projects. This 25-minute writing exercise was supposed to include some physical details and dialogue.
Without revealing what six fears I wrote down, what follows is the narrative I wrote. The point-of-view character is Jonathan Maxwell, the grandfather of my Tom Caliban character. He has just gotten word that his daughter, Rebecca, was in a car accident and is at the hospital. Please recognize that this is a first draft, free written, as Masha said we should do:
All the long drive to the hospital, Jon kept imagining the fear and pain Rebecca had suffered. He’d been in one nasty crash several years ago, and he could replay the stop-motion memory of that wreck as if it were happening right now.
Surprise of impact. Tug of belts across his chest and waist. Glass peppering his face. Pain of his head striking the door frame. Vision of glass suspended in air before his eyes like a photograph of sleet as the car shifts to the right at the same speed as the glass flying within it. Glass raining as the car digs in and skips in the dirt shoulder of the road, turns and rolls forward.
What had Becca seen in that hot, frozen instant? What pain seared through her body? Did she lie in her blood and tremble, shake glass from her long black hair? Did she call out for him or Maggie? The thought of her suffering, alone, terrified — it shook him to the soul. He felt helpless before the cold fact of it. Small.
Jon carried a single scar from his wreck, a line of skin sensitive to the touch even decades later. It was hidden by his gray flat-top, but he could find it unerringly and trace it now with one finger as he cried behind the wheel.
He wondered what scars Becca would carry, and whether they would be so easily hidden — or as simple to put a finger on.
Maggie touched his arm and he turned to look at her. Her face was dry.
“Slow down,” she said. “The hard part is over.”
But Jon suspected that Maggie didn’t know what she was talking about.
Tuesday, February 09, 2010
A student asks McClure why she wanted to row solo across the Atlantic, and she says, “That's why I had to write a 300-page book. To answer that question.” But she considers it further and adds, “I did it to find my heart.”
Sunday, February 07, 2010
This last shot is from the last session of the day that I attended/moderated. That's Karen Zacharias, Daniel Wallace, and Patti Callahan Henry, left to right, who giggled their way through a discussion of how they got published, and answered questions about agents and movie rights and more. Please check the links for more about this great trio of very different writers.
Karen blogged about the happenings in PC and put up a photo of her and me that Debra shot, as well as a link back to my blog. She just scored a 10 on the Awesome Scale of Awesomeness, which I just created because she was so awesome.
(Speaking of awesome, I was so enthralled listening to Daniel during his morning session that I actually forgot to take a picture. Considering I'm supposed to be a journalist, I pretty much consider that Epic Fail.)
In the coming days, I'll post things I gleaned from listening to their presentations, and hopefully communicate some of the personality they shared as well. These are good folks, and fun to be around. I'm glad to have met them. You should check out their websites and order their books.
Friday, February 05, 2010
(Sorry about catching you all eating cookies, but unposed shots are always the best. Besides, you were all so happy at that moment.) I told Karen I had blogged about her book, and she had Debra take a picture of her and me, and said she was going to blog about that. Seems fair, I guess. One last shot: Kathie Bennett, publicist, and Janice Lucas, teacher, surprised to see me turn on them with the camera. Kathie represents several of the authors in this group, and has been a big help to me. I'm hoping we can do a project together soon.
Thursday, February 04, 2010
(Also present were friends and acquaintances including Michael Lister, Janice Lucas, Virginia Dixon, Bettina Meade, and many others.)
Debra used her phone to shoot this photo of me talking with Gerry (and I am reminded once again that I need to lose some weight). We had just come in from the deck, which overlooks St. Andrew Bay. It's a gorgeous view. An osprey lives in the area, and some mornings when Gerry gets up, the huge bird is perched on the deck rail.
The highlight of the evening was Karen reading from her new book and sharing great stories about the process. (Her agent sold the book based on the title; he called to tell her he had sold the book, and she said, "but I haven't written it yet!")Karen is a gracious lady, with a giving spirit and a real love of Jesus. It comes through in her writing and it becomes obvious when she's talking. She's a former newspaper journalist, but don't hold that against her. The result of that combination makes for a thoughtful, well researched, humorous, touching, and highly readable collection of essays about the people living and working and helping each other through this terrible downturn in the economy -- as well as those who are raking in the money by selling desperate souls on the false religion of prosperity.
Listen. You don't follow Jesus to get rich. And being poor doesn't mean you aren't godly enough, or that if you were closer to God you'd be blessed with riches. The men and women who tell you such things are false prophets, twisting the Bible to their own ends.
You should read this book. Not "The Secret." Read about the Entrepreneur, the Marine, the Redhead. You should read it, if for no other reason than for her chapter on the "jubilee" in Mobile Bay (a time of year when the oxygen level in the water drops precipitously and fish surface by the thousands, where they are picked off my gigs and nets and buckets).
Tomorrow, I will be following Kathie around to Bay High and Mosley High, and probably to FSU-PC, where I'll observe her authors in sessions with students and in writing workshops. Friday night is the pre-Books Alive "get acquainted" gathering at Bay Point, where guest authors meet their assigned moderators. I'll bring you some anecdotes and photos from those experiences. And then Saturday of course is the big event.
Maybe I'll see you there?
Tuesday, February 02, 2010
No promises tonight. Perhaps tomorrow will be more kind to all of us.
Monday, February 01, 2010
But the week leading up to the event is also jam-packed. Thursday, after a day driving to Port St. Joe to train Freedom Communications associates in video production/posting and how to post/edit articles and photo galleries, the wife and I are attending a private dinner party for a few of the authors at the home of former PC mayor Gerry Clemons. Friday, I'm using a vacation day so I can hobnob with a couple of the authors, attend their presentations at area schools and a workshop at FSU-PC; then in the evening, there's a cocktail party/get acquainted gathering in Bay Point for Books Alive volunteers and guests. Saturday is the all-day event. Saturday night is the closing party.
Sunday is a day of rest.
I will drop in here at unlikely hours throughout with photos, anecdotes and whatsoever comes to mind.
Meanwhile, I continue working on the umpteenth version of what appears to be my life's work. I started writing stories about a young magic-user named Tom Caliban while I was still in 11th grade. Maybe 10th grade. At the time, he owed more to Doctor Strange than anything else. He slowly evolved, as the years progressed, and one version of him was my own -cough-ripoff-cough- version of the Manitou movie. Another version had elements of a film I never even saw (I read about it in Famous Monsters of Filmland, I think) and the title of which I can no longer recall.
Back in 1994 I wrote what I thought was a definitive and highly original version. It had a mixed up timeline and lots of holes, however, and some friends who read it pointed out the problems. I have, off and on, returned to it in the intervening 16 years or so, including writing "later" adventures that have him 1) fighting vampires, 2) traveling to parallel earths, 3) trying to "undo" a planet of zombies, 4) spending a hellish night in a Constantine-meets-Payback storyline. I recently went back to the original tale, because these others simply can't be told without it, and am nearly halfway done with the latest, and I swear FINAL, rewrite. (Unless some nice editor suggests some edits prior to publication. ... Well, I can dream, can't I?)
So here's the first and last paragraph of each of the first three chapters, just for giggles:
Prelude: Ghost Dance
The tree stood. That is what it did, what it had done for all the generations of the world. It was Puja, the Grandfather tree, its roots tapping the depths of the world, its limbs reaching into the clouds, touching the stars. It was the pillar of time, the source of life, the place of truth. It was a holy emblem to Iskenaga’s people, who had lived in these lands under these trees and beside the little river for as long as anyone could recall. The people came to the Grandfather to worship, to speak truth, to seek healing, and throughout their memory, one of Iskenaga’s line of shamans always had been here to answer their call, to protect, to inform, to lead. ...
... In the last moment of his life, Iskenaga thought of his son. The future belonged to his people again, to his children. And he knew that, even when the braves had performed their awful task, when the Grandfather was long gone and the sacrifices made today were forgotten, his children’s children still would hold this place sacred. They would still come here seeking truth and knowledge. All time is one, he knew, and it was a good time to die.
Chapter 1: The Dead of Night
My mother’s black hair was long then, before the accident that changed everything, and it shimmered like silk in the light of day. Wind through the car’s open sunroof tossed it playfully. It tickled her oval face, snapped and flicked like wild lashes, whipped through the opening into the air above. She stroked her left hand through it, taming it, keeping it out of Michael’s eyes so that he could drive without the distraction. She produced a scrunchie and tied her hair into a ponytail. ...
... She will not recall the words I give her, the words that she will whisper to him the next time the both of them are asleep in the same bed — words that will make him see the error of his ways and leave her to a future of her own devising. There you are. I am such a meddlesome bastard.
(NOTE: The two graphs above are NOT about the same woman or told by the same narrator.)
Chapter 2: The Prodigal
The morning sun was just burning off a light ground fog as the Greyhound topped the hill above Junction, Alabama, and started its descent into the town. Junction lay nestled in a wide hollow between rolling hills covered in tall stands of pine and oak, cuddled by the soft curves of the earth, and embraced by the fast-moving, muddy waters of Big Escambia Creek. Further south, the creek became the Escambia River, and further still, it finally spilled into the Gulf of Mexico near Pensacola, its churning waters turning emerald with the journey. The morning of my mother’s return, the creek was invisible below the bridge, hidden by a layer of fog thick as a cumulous cloud. ...
... He struck a white-tip kitchen match on the doorframe, dropped it on the fuel, and walked away, carrying his black bag. If he’d had the time, he would have enjoyed staying to watch the barbecue. Though the house was isolated, long abandoned on a back road in rural South Alabama, he could take no chance of being spotted and connected to the fire. He hurried on his way. By the time someone noticed the smoke and firefighters arrived, he would be in another state. And by the time his enemy had linked him to this place, he would have killed again. Perhaps, by then, he would have killed the whole world.
So, anyway, hope you enjoyed the taste. I need to get back to it. Thus, hold on til tomorrow for a review of Karen Z's book mentioned in the previous post.
Gary Brookins ("Pluggers" and "Shoe") showed up in our photo archives last week.
Column about "Catching up on my reading."
Author of 'Big Fish' looks foward to visiting small pond
Be back tonight with a sample of the prelude chapter of my current "Caliban" project, and a review of Karen Zacharias' new book (due out soon) "Will Jesus Buy Me a Double-Wide?"