SPONTANEOUS FRIDAY

Cat yawning

Through my life I have had more cats than dogs. In fact I have had only one dog.

In an earlier post you read about my dog Copper.

SLIDE1.2

I loved my dog to the moon and back but still, most of my memories are filled with cats.

For the longest time I figured it was all by chance. One cat dies or one runs away or one is a little psycho. We once had a cat with the personality of Hannibal Lecter ….long story deserving of a post all to itself. We later gave him away to a junkyard dealer.

It ended happily.

I grew up with the idea that this cat thing was a cycle and nothing more but now that I am older and a tad bit wiser I have come to the realization it wasn’t a cycle at all. It all had to do with the obvious:

 A cat is one cool dude.

Sleeping cat

I like the way they handle themselves under stressful conditions. An outsider will never see them sweat. They keep their emotions in check no matter how dangerous the situation may be.

They go to sleep when they’re tired and wake when they’re rested. If you try to wake them in between they quickly remind you how foolish you are and you believe them.

They analyze a situation long before they make their move. A characteristic I wish I had. I’ve lost count the number of times I’ve jumped into the deep end of life regretting my decision.

Had I been blessed with a cat attitude I never would have driven a car with the poorest of engines up the tallest of hills. Never would I have chased the wrong girls or listened to wrong advice.

In essence, had I been blessed with the attitude of a cat I would have avoided a huge mess.

A cat is picky and shows no apologies. If you don’t believe me I dare you to switch brands.

They have their favorite chair, their favorite corner and sometimes your lap. When it’s your time for attention there is little one can do about it.

SLIDE4.2

They are dedicated, don’t get me wrong, but they are dedicated on their own terms. They are alone by choice, independence is their comfort zone. But sometimes they strive to protect and comfort one another.

A favorite example would be our two brothers. One enjoys water and dirt, the other does not. One day the anti-water brother got caught in the rain. Needless to say he was a mess.

As he dried off in the corner of the house his big brother laid near, his paw resting comfortably on little brother’s shoulder.

In a time of need they are there.

We all need a dash of cat. A one a day cat pill would do just fine. If that were possible our confidence would be high. We would laugh at our critics and choose our friends wisely.

If by chance you are not a cat person and one crosses your path, take a moment to admire him. But most of all remember:

A cat is one cool dude.

SLIDE4.5

Happy Friday Everyone!

 

Great Ideas – But are they good enough?

SONY DSC

Dusty Files

A couple of weeks ago I was cleaning out a bunch of computer files. It was supposed to be a ten minute job, unsurprisingly it lasted most of the day.

I found things I had long forgotten, both good and bad, and came to the conclusion if I ever had money to spare one of the first things I’d do is hire an assistant.

Clearly, being organized is not one of my strengths.

Curiously one of the files I came across was a novel that I had written way back in 1992. It was titled, The Cabin. It ran about 75,000 words. Every chapter appeared to its own little story and it seemed to have ended on a cliff hanger. Was part two in the works? I have no idea.

Cabin

Curious why I called it The Cabin, I ran a search and discovered not one word in the entire novel contained the word cabin. I kind of remember writing it but I have no idea why or where it was going.

I decided to keep it anyway. One of these days I will break it down and try to figure out what in the heck I was trying to do. It’s clear I had an idea at the time, it just didn’t translate all that great into a novel.

Ideas worth keeping

So here’s a question: What makes a great idea and is that idea good enough for full length novel?

I come up with lots of ideas and I’m always writing them down. I’m the guy you see with a notebook and pen in his pocket. I write down everything that pops into my head knowing full well only half will make the cut and some of those that do survive aren’t all great.

But that hasn’t stopped me from trying to create something out of nothing and if you don’t believe me I have a mystery novel titled The Cabin that contains no cabin coming to your town.

A Great Idea

Book 2

One of the lessons I’ve learned in this world of novel writing is to be honest with my self. The ideas may seem exciting but are they good enough for a novel?

Throughout the years I’ve learned to draw my ideas out. Can I see an ending? A middle or a beginning? But most of all does it feel right? Does it contain a dash of magic that pulls me in to their world?

Years ago I wrote a time travel murder mystery. The idea was great. Let’s face it, who doesn’t love time travel with a spic or two of murder and mystery. But not matter how excited I got the story fell flat.

I remember summer came and I rewrote it. Pleased with my newest version I shared it with a handful of people. Sadly it fell flat again. In the end my newest version was nothing more than pumping air into a flat tire.

Most of would have given up that sinking ship and moved on, which is exactly what I did. But a chance meeting with a brilliant high-school kid pulled the ship to shore. Now I can write. Now I can see it where I went wrong.

What do we do?

So where does that leave you and me and our lists of great ideas? Do we file them away and wait for a rainy day, do we pick one and give it a shot or do we hope we bump into a brilliant kid who can steer us away from the rocky shore?

The answer is yes and no. Trust me, I’m still trying to figure it out.

But the one thing I’ve learned in all these years, if an idea will not go away maybe there’s a reason for it. If this idea follows you like a lost puppy in a storm maybe it’s time to put on the breaks and listen. Clearly it’s trying to tell you something.

In the end take your ideas and give them a long look. Including the bad ones. The results may surprise you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a Cabin that needs to be inspected.

Cabin 2

SPONTANEOUS FRIDAY

A few weeks ago one of my favorite bloggers – Jennifer Brown Banks – wrote a piece about cooking: http://penandprosper.blogspot.com/2018/06/turn-up-heat-on-your-writing-with.html

She compared the creativity of cooking to the art of writing. Both require skill and imagination. Something I had never really thought of. But I’m glad Jennifer brought it to my attention because it got me thinking.

I am not the greatest cook. At the same time that doesn’t stop me from trying. I’ve been known to cook a mean sausage and a meaner chicken. Give me some pancake batter, a cup of buttermilk, a dash of lemon pepper and a heaping of olive oil, I can do wonders with a chicken leg.

If I do say so myself.

Sometimes I nail the perfect burger or do right with the burger bun. And hotdogs? Don’t get me started. I’ll challenge the best of them.

But as you can see, cooking isn’t exactly my blue ribbon thing. That award belonged to my grandmother.

SLIDE6.2

Grandma wasn’t much of a writer but what she lacked in the writing category she gained in cooking. She could take the simplest dish and create a bestseller.

A pound of hamburger, a chopped onion and a dash of sauce would equal the most mouthwatering meatloaf you ever had.

Yes, I said meatloaf. Anytime I hear the word loaf I run and hide, but Grandma did it.

My favorite time of year was my birthday. It was the only time I was allowed to dictate our dinner menu. The choice was easy: Homemade bread, green beans fresh from the garden boiled all day in bacon and barbeque steak.

I can still remember the smell of the bread and the sound of the boiling beans. The sound and the smell easily outweighed my waiting birthday presents.

Grandma would have been the first to admit she was far from perfect. Like any of us writers, there were moments when things didn’t work out and Grandma was no different. Sometimes things needed a tinkering or two and like a stubborn writer, Grandma found her way.

But of all the dishes Grandma made, the one that became her bestseller was her homemade chili. We’ll never know if it was the spice, the hamburger or the beans. Whatever it was she took the secret to her grave.

Believe me, we all tried to repeat her magic but failed.

Looking back, maybe Grandma’s creativity and determination transformed into my words. Maybe her imagination and sarcasm found their way into my veins and into my imagination.

If that’s true, I’ll take it. It means that every word I write carries with it a little bit of her.

Image4804

 

Happy Friday Everyone!!!

Pitching to Agents – The Good and the Ugly

Creator to Seller

On May 29th I posted a piece entitled – Your First Writer’s Conference. https://acrackinthepavement.com/2018/05/29/your-first-writers-conference/

One of the subjects in that piece had to do with pitching. I gave a brief description what it was and what to look for. But if you had read that piece you may have noticed a bitter tone.

Allow me to explain.

Pitch 1

First of all if this is your first conferences pitching to an agent is a great experience. You are forced to push yourself and when you think about it, it’s an excellent way to step out of your comfort zone.

A writer surrounds themselves in a safe and perfect place. We come up with ideas and from there we create. Add a November rainy day, a cup of hot chocolate and before you now it you have what many would call a little slice of heaven.

Pitching places us in an uncomfortable situation. There is no safe place. We are challenged. We are nervous. Our minds are suddenly pushed to work in different ways.

We go from creator to seller and the person we are selling to has heard our skit a million times. Not an easy thing to do.

 

A Great Idea….kind of

On the surface pitching is a great idea. Like so many plans when they are first drawn up I’m sure the creators were certain they had a winner on their hands.

Last summer I pitched to three agents. They were kind, professional and courteous. As a first time author and this being my first pitch I am happy I had the experience. It placed me in uncharted waters.

But I doubt I will ever do it again.

 

The Mind of an Agent

Job InterviewI tried to place myself in the mind frame of the agent. But every time I did I couldn’t seem to shake one thing – Ten Minutes is not enough.

The agent may have a winner of their hands. The writer and their work may be as close to perfection they have seen in years but in that short amount of time it’s nearly impossible to get to know them or their work.

From my vantage point listening to pitch after pitch comes across as a bad version of speed dating. That’s assuming there’s a good version. I don’t know how long an agent sits but after a while it would seem like a blur.

 

The Pit and a Better Way

The writers had a sitting area they called the pit. The nervous energy I experienced was so thick I doubt a chainsaw could have dented it. I witnessed pitches being memorized, blank stares, pacing and nervous glances at their phones. For a brief moment I feared I was auditioning for a play on Broadway. On the other hand I love New York City so I guess it would have been worth it.

I stopped being nervous after my first pitch. I realized after the first one that there must be a better way.

In those ten minutes a writer only has six minutes, seven tops, to talk about their work. In the other three or four minutes there’s small talk, pleasantries an so on. We all want to do something that separates us from the pack but in those 200 seconds it’s almost impossible.

Check that: Impossible.  

 

Another Face

Pitch 3

All three agents asked for chapter samples but I felt their request had more to do with politeness than anything. Let’s face it, I was just another face and the chances of making a connection with me or my story was close to impossible.

In theory, pitching is a great idea. Unfortunately it begins and ends there.

Yes, there are success stories and they deserved to be told, but still, I can’t help but think that there must be a better way.

What that is I don’t know but I’m positive something else is out there. A system of sorts that creates a connection, a bond, between writer and agent.

That’s all we want.

In closing I do recommended that a writer just starting out, either with the craft or conference, to give pitching a try. It pushes you and like I said, it takes you out of your comfort zone.

But I wouldn’t break the bank. I did three and at $25 a pop that was way more than this starving artist could afford.

If this is your first conference make it a priority to meet people. Talk, listen and learn. That’s where the real bond is created.

SPONTANEOUS FRIDAY

Book

Books and Mistakes

The other day I made the mistake of having a conversation with someone who doesn’t read.

Now that doesn’t mean I won’t talk to you if you don’t read, but I will be careful with the subject I choose.

I told him that I wrote a book. Mistake number one. I than told him the plot of my book. Mistake number two. Don’t get me wrong, my friends a good guy. He means well but his interests are narrow and if you go outside the lines you will remember to never do it again. Mistake number three.

 

Iron Man Overdose

Iron Man

My friend is a huge Iron Man fan. Not the comics per se, but the movie franchise. Over the last nine years Iron Man has pretty much dominated our conversations. Now, I enjoy Iron Man but not at my friends level.

Still, I do what friends do, and play along.

My biggest blunder was confessing that my book was a romantic/comedy. After a long pause, mixed with an uncomfortable stare, he begin to give me advice.

You need to blow things up, he said. A house, a car, an entire city. Whatever it is, blow it sky high and remember….there has to be death. Lots of death. Every chapter kill someone.

Intrigued by this I asked him to continue.

You need a hulk-like figure. Make him cool, like the dude on screen and make sure he throws someone through a wall.

Keep going, I said. I had to see where this was going.

Know your physics, he demanded. That Iron Man guy knows this stuff.

When I asked him if he knew anything about physics the answer was a quick no. With the physics portion out of the way the topic quickly turned to women.

They have to be sexy as hell, he said. Study Scarlett Johansson or add a photo of her.

Of course. I’m sure she’d be thrilled.

And finally, he concluded, add lots of pictures.

To summarize, my friend suggested I do away with my romantic/comedy novel and replace it with a plagiarized version of Iron Man. Complete with a direct copy of Scarlett Johannsson, very little dialog and lots of pictures.

 

Deep Sigh

Stock Car

Aside from Iron Man, my friend is a huge car racing fan. Car racing is not my thing. Thankfully Iron Man re-energized our friendship giving us something to talk about.

But what if I turned the tables? What if I peppered my friend with suggestions the same way he did with me? I have a feeling it would go something like this:

 

Race car engines are really loud

  • Need to quiet things down a bit.
  • Allow the fans to hear themselves think.
  • Two Words: hearing loss.
  • Communication issues between spectators.
  • Pretty sure this loud car stuff is all for show.

Way to many cars

  • Have you thought about bringing the number down?
  • Six tops.
  • Have it be more like a track meet.
  • Wait, I’ve got an idea.

Combine car racing with track

  • Drivers could sprint to their cars.
  • Use a baton like they do in track.
  • Probably a terrible idea but exciting.

Why so many laps?

  • After a half an hour of watching cars race in a circle I’m bored.
  • Have you thought of a square track instead?
  • If square doesn’t work how about trapezoid?
  • Irregular Quadrilateral? Hexagon?

 

In the end if any of you have that one friend that doesn’t get what you do, try to keep them around. They mean well and they’re reliable. The trick is to finding that one thing that both of you get. It all comes down to a friendly balance.

Now if you’ll excuse me, Iron Man and his sidekicks are calling.

Loki

 

Happy Friday Everyone!!!

First Drafts and Joy Rides

A Writers Board

Delete

A few months ago I was on a writer’s board. It was one of those boards I kind of forgot about.

I was scrolling down the topics when I came upon the subject of first drafts. Curious what the writer had to say I clicked on it and read her piece.

She had just completed the first draft of her first novel and wanted to share her enthusiasm. Her first draft contained roughly 95,000 words. Took over a year to write. A murder/mystery I remember her saying and it was clear she was extremely proud of her achievement.

I scrolled down to the comments where a handful of people congratulated her. Some included smiley faces while others included the always favorite first bump. But it was final comment on the thread that caused me to sit up and take notice.

The  commenter  didn’t mix words. There were no congratulations, what is it about, etc.. All I saw were two words:

Delete it.

 

Regrets

Regrets

Puzzled by this I read further. After a brief exchange of questions and arguing between the two the writer agreed that her first draft was nothing more than practice. In the end the novel she was so proud of was gone.

I noticed the date and saw that her post and comments were two months old. I sent her a private message and asked if she changed her mind and if she hadn’t could she could retrieve her deleted novel. No, she said. Worst of all she admitted that she regretted her decision. Not wanting to make the situations worse I dropped the subject and unfollowed the site.

 

Road Trips

Road Trip

I’ve never believed that a masterpiece is written in the first draft but at the same time that doesn’t meant it can’t be found if you look deep enough.

I’ve always said that the first draft is a road trip between the writer and the characters. I’ve always imagined a nice roomy mini-van complete with cooler and snacks. Everyone exchanging ideas and laughing at the mistakes.

Most important: A bond is created.

The first draft has more to do with the characters showing the writer their ways. I’ve learned that the characters we create were never actually created, they were simply waiting for their story to be told.

I’ve also learned that their patience is far better than ours. They are set in their ways and it is up to us to figure them out. But that only happens by way of their patience and understanding.

By the time the first draft is complete a connection is made. The magic of storytelling blossoms in that first draft. That’s why it bothered me so when the writer agreed to delete hers.

 

Dempsey

The earliest version of my novel, Dempsey’s Grill, was more of a novella than a novel. It came out to roughly 30,000 words but the idea was there. A tiny vision of who these characters would later be.

I can still remember my curiosity growing and before I knew it I had a 110,000 word epic on my hands. Was it ready to be read by a publisher or agent? No way. But the foundation was set and I was able to build.

Which brings me back to the beginning: Why delete your first draft?

I always wanted Dempsey’s Grill to be funny, warm and real. True, the first draft was a tad on the wordy side but the characters and their story was exactly what I had hoped for.

As with any first draft I added way to many subplots and a handful of unrealistic situations but that didn’t matter. The characters were growing and so was I. But most of all I was understanding who they were.

 

Flat Tires and Dusty Roads

In the end the first draft is all about a crazy road trip. It’s a flat tire with no spare in the middle of Nebraska. It’s a dusty road in the middle of Australia minus a map.

But somehow it works and we all survive and that’s how a story is told.

You’re going to hear a lot of opinions on how to handle your first draft but if you ask me I’d say it’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Beautiful Friendship

SPONTANEOUS FRIDAY

Blind Dates and Stormy Nights

Storm

I was never the type to go on blind dates. In order to go out I had to know them.

Either we were friends growing up, we worked together or we knew each other in school. In most cases we had the same friends and we were always running in to one another. Sometimes literally.

When it came to meeting my wife it was in college in the same dorm. Her cousin was my best friend. As you can see my dating life was safe. There was no walking on egg shells. There was no mystery. The waters were calm with no storm in the horizon.

Name-Less

Pat

But on an early summer day, a month shy of my 20th birthday, a storm rolled in. The storm had a name but for the life of me I can’t remember his name.

He was around my age. We sat next to one another at our local community college struggling with life and algebra. He was a nice guy, that I do remember, and our math struggles created a nice bond.

I remember the day my name-less friend arrived at my house It was a sunny June morning. Or was it a cloudy June afternoon? Some things remain a mystery.

He was in full panic mode. The girl of his dreams, who looked just like Pat Benatar, agreed to date him provided he found a date for her friend. His sad eyes and desperate plea gave me no choice and just like that a storm was born.

I arrived early on the evening of our date. I was the organizing type. Naturally a game plan was in the works. What was my mystery date like? Did we have anything in common? What music did she listen to?

These were questions I should have asked the moment he begged. It would be a mistake that would haunt me for the rest of the evening.

The Hair

Hair 2

We were knee deep in the 1980’s and she had lots of hair. So much that I couldn’t stop staring. It was dyed white and defied gravity. For the longest time I’m pretty sure I never saw her face.

Being on a budget – in other words, broke – we took our dates to the nearest burger palace. Our goal, according to my name-less friend, was to test the waters and look for waves. To this day I have zero clue what waves we were looking for but at the time I pretended I knew and agreed.

Our plan was to eat light. Have a friendly conversation, maybe a laugh or two, while my friend’s date sang Pat Benatar songs. Not really but I secretly hoped.

But I had a bad feeling. My date was as silent as an oyster and my name-less friend was nervous. The combination of the two put me on edge. To add misery to company we were in a diner that went by of Hal’s and the H was flickering. I have this thing with flickering lights.

With my faceless date on mute and my name-less friend nearing a nervous breakdown I decided this was an excellent time to order Hal’s world famous double cheeseburger and monster milkshake.

My plan worked. My name-less friend ordered the same and soon the three of us were engaged in a somewhat coherent conversation.

Chugging

Shakes

Sadly, my faceless date refused to join in. All she seemed to care about was the monster milkshake. Not just mine, I might add, but Pat Benatar’s as well. In a moment that I am positive broke several world records, my faceless date chugged both of our shakes empty. I’m pretty sure I fell in love for at least a minute.  

It was a surprisingly cool night as we exited to my car. With love in the air, thanks to the milkshake chugging, I turned the heat on, looked her way and smiled.

In a moment played out in the finest of romantic literature I watched as she parted her hair and revealed her face. Her eyes twinkled under the moonlight capturing her eyes for the first time.

I never knew their color but I pretended they were green. Noticing the smile on my face I watched with anticipation as she parted her lips and tilted her head. In an instant my mind raced in all directions.

An evening stroll, I pondered. Maybe a late night talk and endless stares into those lovely greens. Pat Benatar would sing her favorites. Album two side one to be exact and without warning John Cusack, the 80’s version that is, would whisper advice.

The Accident

Sadly my fantasy was interrupted as portions of Hal’s monster milkshake, mine and Pat’s for those scoring at home, landed on my dashboard, the window, the steering wheel, the ceiling and me.

I will not repeat what my name-less friend and Pat Benatar said but I promise you it rhymed with luck. For those hockey fans out there puck is probably a better word.

Speaking of luck, my faceless date and Pat Benatar lived a mile away. In an instant our dates disappeared into the night leaving behind me, my name-less friend and the memories of Hal’s monster milkshake.

I never saw our dates again. And my name-less friend? Well, he and I parted ways soon after. As for me my days of blind dates ended that night but I can assure you the memory never will. Trust me, I’ve tried.

To this very day whenever I smell vanilla and hairspray a sense of doom races down my spine.

Hals

Happy Friday Everyone!!!!!