Confessions of a High School Amnesiac

The internet has brought the world closer together, there's no denying it. Businessmen from Kansas are exchanging idea's with College Students in Bangkok. Mother's and daughters on opposite coasts are twittering recipes to one another. But distance isn't the only the gap the internet has allowed us to bridge. We've been given the opportunity to travel back in time as well. For proof all you have do is take a look at the friends listed on your Facebook profile.


I have 59 friends listed on my facebook profile (what . . . you don't have 315 like everyone else?) and over half of them are from my high school years. These are people that I knew (some better than others) thirty four or more years ago. What does that tell you? What it tells me is that those four years were a special time in my life and I'll welcome any and all who'd like to help me celebrate it.


I moved away from the place I attended high school (Havelock NC) the day after graduation and I've never been back, although I have thought about it plenty of times. For decades my only link to that time was the yearbooks that were buried in a box, collecting dust in the attic. When it came time for the schools 25th class reunion I stumbled across a web-site promoting the gathering. I was intrigued and curious. What would the guys that I sat around a cafeteria table with talking about girls, be like now? What would those girls be like? I joined the site and started re-familarizing myself. As a result, I reconnected with my best friend (Greg) from school and developed a lasting friendship with a woman (Karen) I barely knew while I was at HHS. One of the most surprising things I discovered by surfing that site was how much I had forgotten. Or at least I thought I had forgotten. The more I messaged back and forth with my old classmates, the more that came back to me. And as the memories returned, I realized that my problem wasn't I had forgotten so much. The truth was that I really didn't know the people I went to school with very well, both then and now.


I am not one of those people who cry about hating high school, who cut class whenever they had the opportunity. I liked going to school. I got along with the majority of my teachers. I liked seeing my friends. Everyday was an adventure in social exploration. I didn't have all that many friends, but the ones I had were important to me. I know now that I was seen as being aloof, standoffish, but in reality I was just painfully shy. That prevented me from getting to know so many more of my truly intersting classmates.


I made it a point to tell both of my children (who are in college now) to always spread their wings, to try and make friends with their classmates outside their normal social circle. Even if it's painful or embarassing. Make the attempt.


The memories you really miss, are the ones you never make.

Passions - Music

So you can probably guess that one of my passions in life is writing. Duh! A no-brainer there. But what may be not so obvious are what some of the others might be? What is it that excites me? What am I enthusiastic about? What consumes most of my free time?

Music is another part of me that I am truly passionate about. Listening to it, not playing it. I tried to learn how to play guitar once, and got pretty good on some simple tunes, but unfortunately I was blessed with small fingers which proved more difficult than I could overcome. And I'm not a singer, but that has never stopped me from belting out a tune in the car or shower (just ask the family). But just because I'm not musically inclined, doesn't mean I'm not musically inclined.

My love of music developed late, but I made up for lost time with a vengence. The first album I ever owned was BTO's (Bachman Turner Overdrive) NOT FRAGILE, obtained during my senior year of high school. Coincidentally, BTO was the first concert I ever attended. When I graduated high school I probably owned a dozen albums. After the first year in college I owned about a hundred! This was back in a time when new release albums could commonly be found on sale for $2.99. My various roomates throughout college, as well as my other friends, all had wide ranging musical tastes and I listened to it all. Rock, Jazz, Bluegrass, Country, Orchestra, I took it all in and found something to like in every genre. And we weren't just listeners, we were students. We memorized every album cover, all the linear notes, anything and everything. When a tune played on the radio we would take turns identifying the song name, album it was on, the year it was released, and the group member names and instruments they played.

Music was a constant. It played in the background continually. I can't think of a time now when music isn't part of the memory. Sometimes the memory revolves around the music. My roomate going nuts the first time he heard Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. Another roommate playing the Urban Cowboy sound track over and over after breaking up with his girfriend. The song that was playing when you asked your first girl to dance. Those are the ones that are entrenched deep.

Still today, music is my constant companion. In whatever job I've had, I've always have had some kind of radio/cassette/CD/MP3 player churning out soft tunes. At night and on weekends you can find me at my PC with my headset on, listening to songs from the numerous music sites I visit, constantly searching for that new one to add to my collection. Last year I converted all of my old vinyl albums (approximately 700 of them) to digital files and put them on my Ipod.

I still haven't explained what it is about music that gets under my skin and causes me to go through withdrawl symptoms if I'm without it for very long. There have been much better writers than me who have attempted to literate the attraction, but my favorite qoute is from an unknow author:

MUSIC IS WHAT FEELINGS SOUND LIKE.

Music moves me. It lifts me up. It makes my heart race. It calms my soul. It opens my eyes to the creativity around us. It shows me that there is more to this world then just blueprints and formula's, just as there is more to music than just notes on a page.

I know that if I sat down and figured up how much money I've devoted to my music, it would be considerable.

And worth every penny.

Sex at the Drive-in

I was reminiscing with a co-worker recently and the topic of awkward first dates came up. I didn’t have to contemplate very long. My walk down memory lane led me straight to the drive-in, where a good portion of my memorable “date from hell” was spent. Now I have you thinking…drive-in…awkwardness…date from hell…SEX…this has gotta be good. Right?

The girl in this date, Evelyn, was a long time family friend who wanted to be more than that. When we were in our early teens and lived in Silver Springs Maryland, she had the biggest crush on me (ask anyone). I never really “clicked” with her though. Maybe it was because I had known her for so long and she felt more like family than anything else to me. Whatever the reason, I was relieved when my family transferred away and we didn’t see each other for years.

During July of 1976, I was at home on break from my sophomore year at LSU. Evelyn was 20 and living in North Carolina, but she and her mother were visiting my family in New Orleans for a week. Right away I could tell she was ready to pick up where she left off, wanting to take the friendship to “the next level”. I still wasn’t too keen on the idea. I hemmed and hawed as long as could before being pressured into a taking her on a date by the two mothers. I know that wherever my mom is right now, she is still snickering over that one.

Trying to make the date as innocent as possible, I selected Joe’s Crab Shack for dinner. It was very popular and busy, which meant the romance quotient would be low (no quiet candle lit dinners). Afterwards we would see a light comedy (heavy drama, sci-fi or horror tend to make dates clench onto you) at the local cineplex. I was feeling pretty confident. I was sure I could get through the date without allowing Evelyn the slightest possibility for physical interaction. That is until I learned that she discovered we had a drive-in theater just a few miles from where we lived. And it showed classic double features every Friday night, which she LOVED. I reluctantly agreed to the change in plans, my apprehension now twisting knots in my stomach that an eagle scout could be proud of.

The movies on tap for the coming Friday? Night of the Living Dead and The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Gulp.

The night started off well. The restaurant was crowded and our small talk had to be yelled across the table. I didn’t say much. I kept stuffing crab legs into my mouth so I wouldn’t have to.

My mood started to sour as we made our way from the diner to the drive-in, whereas Evelyn’s mood seemed to improve. We had arrived a little early, so we were able to pull my brother’s El Camino into an open slot on the front row. The borrowing of my brother’s car was another strategic move on my part. I wasn’t going to take my Chevy van, with all the possibilities that could offer. I told (fibbed) Evelyn that I was having problems with my alternator. She seemed disappointed.

The drive-in was older than I was and the deterioration over the years were evident everywhere. The front of the complex, underneath the screen where a recreational park had once been, was now overgrown with shrubs. A obscure breed of grey dog was roaming near the corner of the fence, sniffing for food. At least I thought so until I saw him raise his leg and relieve himself. A smaller dog, brown I think, was weaving in and out between the cars looking for a handout. All of the posts where the audio speaker boxes were housed were badly in need of a paint job. The enormous white screen itself was in surprisingly good shape, with only a slight tear in the upper left hand corner.

Not long after we had settled in other cars pulled into the slots on either side of us. On our left was an older middle age couple who were dressed in matching sweaters, and to the right were two couples of high school age kids. I noticed all of this because I was trying to focus my attention everywhere but inside my own car.

I quickly realized that I had made a tactical error in selecting my brother’s car to bring. Even though the van would have been a disastrous choice, it had bucket seats up front. My brother’s El Camino had just a single bench seat. No sooner had I turned off the ignition, Evelyn slid over to my side of the car as if she had a magnet in her pocket and I was made of metal.

Now my anxiety level was really peaking. I truly had no desire to “swap spit” or any other bodily fluids with Evelyn, but I also didn’t know how to say no without hurting her feelings. My mind was churning furiously, trying to think of anything that might ruin the mood for her, and be a reprieve for me. I rolled down my window and started reaching for the speaker when I noticed that it was missing. In the spot where it would normally sit was a small sign that read FOR SOUND TURN YOUR FM RADIO TO 88.1. Since my brother’s radio had a rotary tuner, it took a couple minutes to zero in on the frequency and just when I did the huge screen in front of us lit up, started to flicker, and the first movie had begun. THE INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS was first up.

We were about a third of the way through the movie when I could feel her looking at me. I continued to stare straight ahead, ignoring her gaze, pretending to be totally absorbed in the movie. When she didn’t relent, I gave in and turned to look at her, bracing myself for her to lunge and shove her tongue down my throat. As I studied her, sitting there just smiling at me, I noticed movement outside the car behind her. I craned my head to the side a bit to look out the passenger window, and I suddenly knew what I was seeing.

The Chevy Impala that the middle age couple had driven up in was rocking back and forth from side to side. The man and woman were no where to be seen and the windows appeared heavily steamed. The car was now shifting so violently that the rear springs could be heard squeaking. Evelyn followed my stare, turning her head to look out of the passenger window, and when she did I shifted my attention 180 degrees and looked out of my window to the car where the high school kids had been. Sure enough, although the car was motionless, there was nobody to be seen and the windows were steamed.

Beads of sweat now broke out on my forehead. My head rotated back to the forward position as I pondered my next move. That’s when I saw it. The sight of all sights. The piece de resistance. Directly in front of the El Camino, approximately 20 feet from the hood of the car, back lit by Kevin McCarthy destroying an alien pod with an axe, was the grey dog mounted on top of the brown one, humping for all he was worth.

At that precise moment I felt a hand grab my thigh, and I jumped. My right arm jerked instinctively upward, driving my elbow straight into Evelyn’s nose. She didn’t make a noise, but I knew that it had to hurt. I turned on the overhead lights to see blood pouring from her nose. She was searching unsuccessfully for something to stave the flow. I knew my brother kept old t-shirts behind the seat for rags, so I reached back and grabbed one, handing it to her. When the bleeding didn’t seem to be slowing after a few minutes, I pulled out of our slot and headed home.

Evelyn’s nose was fine after our mom’s applied a cold compress. Although the family liked to bring up that night often, the two of us really never talked about it alone. She and her mom returned home at the end of the week and our relationship slowly boiled down to exchanging cards at Christmas.

Cute story, huh? You know what the really funny part is? Remember the T-shirt I gave Evelyn? The day after our disastrous date I was putting it in the laundry when I looked at it closer. It was a Rolling Stones shirt depicting the cover of one of their classic albums.

Anybody remember what the cover of Sticky Fingers looks like?

Stuck

It's been almost a week since the last time I've worked on my book. I've tweaked my short story a bit, toyed around with a couple idea's for new short stories, and posted several segments here on the blog. But nothing on the book. I've had days where I've written three chapters in a twelve hour period, and there are weeks like this one where I won't write a single word. When I'm not writing on my book for an extended time, there is usually a good reason.

The explanation is simple. I'm stuck. No, it's not writers block, at least not in the way I always thought writers block referred to. I'm at a scene in the book that is really crucial and I'm unsure of how I want to write it. I'm not really worried though, I've been stuck before. For me, there are two things that grind my writing to a halt. One is that I'm unclear how to best stage the chapter to bring out all of the elements I need to, and the other is that I'm scared to write a scene.

Scared may be too strong a word. Maybe something more like apprehensive. Anxious. Nervous. Spinchter tightener. They all fit. There have been chapters that, as I approached them, I knew would really challenge my writing abilities. But the material was a necessary part of the story, and had to be included. But I was afraid the quality of my writing wouldn't rise to the level I had envisioned for the chapter. I'm usually proud of myself when I finally complete those sections, knowing that I grew as a writer during that time. But I know there are more chapters like those in my future, and I'm not looking forward to them. Just like I never look forward to going to the healthclub every other day to see if I can run farther or faster, lift more weight for more repititions. In either case, I'll be better off for it though.

I've almost worked out all of the details for the chapter I'm stalled on and I'll be back to work on the book soon. I'm crossing my fingers in the hope that the remaining five or six chapters flow uninterrupted. That way I can get onto the process of editing.

Where I might end up cutting away a scene I struggled with in the first place. Ugh!!

Confidence

Self-confidence isn't something I usually struggle with. I don't mean that to sound conceited, but in both my personal or professional life, I make sure I know what I'm talking about, backwards and forwards, before I open my mouth. I have a firm grasp of what my capabilities are (and aren't) and a belief that they will help me succeed with whatever I'm doing.

But when it comes to my writing, it's a whole other story.

There are days that I feel my vocabulary consists of a dozen words, and I keep using them over and over again. See that. I just used over twice. I'll write a scene in my novel one day, and when I read back over it later I gag on how bad it is. Then there are times when I write something that I consider fairly pedestrian, and when somebody else reads it they can't stop praising it. I am my own worst critic sometimes.

Stringing together a 100K words doesn't make a novel (although I've read some books from authors who might take issue with that statement). If we go out on a limb and stipulate that it does constitute a novel, that doesn't mean its necessarily commercial. Can it sell books? How many? What number of books does it need to sell before you consider it a success? Even if you're confident it will be a success, can you convince an agent of that fact? If there is an agent out there looking for just the type of book you've just finished, will you work hard enough (or be lucky enough) to get your manuscript in front of him/her at just the right time. Will she have PMS that week? Will he be suffering from a case of Hemorrhoids? Are all of the stars aligned properly?

I am not kidding myself here. I am well aware the chances that either of my novels find their way into traditional print (self-publishing will always be an option) are astronomical. But there are things that I am confident in . . .

* I am confident that my exploration into creative writing is a good thing.
* I am confident that my stories are entertaining.
* I am confident that the people who support me and nudge me along, do so because they believe in the work, not just in me.
* I am confident that failure to be successful won't be because of a lack of effort on my part.

and lastly,

* I am confident that I can expand my vocabulary to at least 13 words.

Getting Serious - Part 4

This must be getting serious, I'm up to part 4 already.

So what is my genius plan for getting an agent interested in my 135,000 word novel? Well, since that many words is too long for a first time novelist, then I'll just have to not be a first time novelist.

Huh? Let me explain.

After I finished Slow Dancer, which I wrote on a dare to myself, I was pretty much spent. In my mind it was a one time deal. The story was unique and it just felt like I needed to tell it. For months afterwards I stayed away from my desk and I didn't want to even look at a keyboard. But slowly the urge started to come over me again. I could feel myself being drawn back. I started thinking about story idea's and playing 'what if' games in my mind. Then one day everything just gelled together into an idea for a second book, and I was even more excited about this one. Slow Dancer is a hybrid between Romance - Mystery - Thriller, which was another reason why it was a difficult sell for a first time novelist because it didn't neatly fit into one genre. But my idea for this new book was a pure Mystery - Thriller, and I would make sure that it came in under 100K words!

So my genius idea was to write and pitch this new book, and if I was lucky enough to have it picked up and published, then I would turnaround and pitch Slow Dancer. Since I would no longer be a first time novelist, the longer word count wouldn't be an issue.

So for the past six months I have been learning as much as I can about the craft of writing, and working on my second book (Fallen Knight). I've also written a short story that I've been submitting to various contests. Having a short story that has done well in a contest is a good line item on a resume when it comes time to shop for an agent.

I have about five chapters remaining before Fallen Knight is ready to read and begin the editing process. I'm excited to let a few people take it out for a test drive.

Grading on a Curve

I walked into the classroom with a sense of dread, heading straight to my seat with my head down. I avoided looking anybody in the eye. I knew that my classmates could semi-mystically tell just how poorly I’d done on the first major test of the semester and would wonder what made me believe that I belonged in college. It was my freshman year at LSU and I was getting my first taste of just how tough college courses were going to be. This definitely wasn’t high school where I could give minimal effort and still generate grades in the high B’s or low A’s. But what was even more discouraging was the fact that I did study for the test, spending hours upon hours sequestered in the bowels of the library going over notes and highlighted book passages until I was confident I had mastered the material. But when I took the test a familiar feeling came over me. It was same disorientation you get when you sleep away from home and wake up not knowing where you are. That’s what I felt as I stared at the questions on the test. Where the hell did all this stuff come from? They expected us to remember that obscure formula? Crap . . . I’m sunk!

The instructor’s assistant called my name to return my test back to me and I raised my hand to indicate where I was. I could have sworn I caught a glimpse of a look from him that said “dead meat”. I put the test face down on my desk in a childish attempt to postpone the inevitable. When everybody had received their tests, I reluctantly turned mine over and my eyes immediately locked in on the score in the upper right corner of the cover page . . . .62. Ugh. I think that was the lowest score on a test I had received in my history of taking tests. Absently I started wondering what kind of job I might hope to find after I flunked out of school. Maybe some kind of manual labor at a construction site, or maybe a stock boy in a major grocery chain. But then my gaze drifted to the letter score that was written below the numeric score……B. WTF??!! How was that possible? Had I woken up in an alternate universe that morning? A universe where your grade was indicative of how hard you tried as opposed to what you actually knew? For a moment I considered testing this theory out by leaning over to the gorgeous blonde sitting in the seat next to me and asking her out on a date, but I restrained myself.

As it turns out that was my first introduction to the concept of grading on a curve. Although my absolute score was a 62, meaning I answered 62% of the questions correctly, my relative score was a B. It turns out that the majority of the class performed even more miserably on the test than I had, and when all of the scores were charted against a normal bell curve mine was slightly above the average, earning me my B. What an amazing concept Curving was! Of course it also has its downsides as well. If you scored an 81% on a test (normally a B), but everybody else aced it with scores higher than yours, that would make your relative grade a C or lower. Bummer. I spoke to a friend of mine who was taking the same class with a different instructor and he also received a grade in the 60’s, but his adjusted grade was only a C. It seems either his class was smarter than mine or the instructor gave easier tests. Relativity can be a fickle thing.

What got me thinking about this? Recently I was reading another blog where the woman author was discussing her husband’s relationship with their children. She felt he should be more involved in their day to day activities. He countered that he was already 100 more times more involved than his father had been with him. She admitted that was probably true, but it still wasn’t enough. This exchange struck a chord with me and I began to wonder whether we as parents, moms and dads both, are being graded on a curve. Here we are thinking we’ve aced the parent test because we are doing so much more for our kids than our parents were able to do for us, but the fact is our efforts might only merit a C when you factor in today’s societal norms and expectations. It hardly seems fair. How many times have you heard, “But Billy’s parents let him . . . “ or “Jane’s mom just bought her a new . . . “? Not only is the grading system changing generation to generation, but household to household.

It’s hard to score an A when they keep raising the bar, or shifting the bell curve.

Getting Serious - Part 3

So there I was with a 135,000 word novel I had just completed. What next?


With some encouragement from people I trust, I started doing research into what it would take to have it published. That involved hours . . . upon hours . . . upon hours, of scouring the internet, joining countless writing forums, and reading numerous creative writing magazines & books. What I found out was eye-opening, to say the least.


The most common way to see your work end up on a bookshelf is to find representation. Usually that's an literary agent. You can try to send your stuff straight to a publisher, but most of the reputable ones won't even look at it unless you have representation. The agents job is to match and sell your work with the right publisher. If they are successful they get a percentage of the book sales. So an aspiring authors first step is to find an agent that believes in your work as much as you do.


Agents, much like publishers, are very specialized. You don't want to send your mystery novel to an agent who only represents romance, or Sci-Fi. You have make up a list of the agents who take-on new writers in your genre, as well as what their unique submission requirements are. Some only except e-mail correspondence while others prefer snail-mail. The details of their submission steps are very important, because that will be your first encounter with the GATE KEEPERS.


The gate keepers are the people who work for these Agents who do the initial screening of the hundreds of submissions they receive each and every week. If your submission deviates from the guidelines as they have been layed out - REJECTED! Your material won't even have a chance to be read. The process is very un-forgiving.


Let's say you've followed the submission rules and your novel ends up in front of a prospective agent. There are certain characteristics of a book by a new author that the agent will be looking for that will help him/her quickly determine whether the sample of your book is even worth the time of reading. You see, the agents are looking for reasons to eliminate you from contention, not the other way around. They see so many submissions every day that it becomes a process of weeding the stack down to a manageable level. One way they do that is looking at word count.


As a general rule, a novel by a first time author that is over 100,000 words long will be tossed aside. Why? Because publishers won't see it as being worth the risk. The more words it is, the more it will cost to print, and the less likely they can recoup their money if the book turns out to be a flop. Books in the Sci-fi and fantasy genre by new authors have a little more leeway in the word count, but for everything else 100K is pretty standard.


Slow Dancer, at 135K, was doomed already. In order for me to get it in shape to be considered I would have to cut 35K words, or 26% of the book. I found out there were some other problems with it (structure issues, POV problems, etc.) but those were all fixable. I just couldn't see myself lobbing off a quarter of the story.


There was always self-publishing, which is becoming a growing area of the industry. I'm still considering that angle. But I came up with another idea that I'm actively pursuing. I'll write more about that next time.


Thanks for reading!

Thriller

I’ve known my best friend Jeff since I was a senior at LSU and he was just a high school sophomore. There is almost a ten year age difference between the two of us, but that's never really mattered. I met him for the first time when I moved into an apartment with two roommates, both of which had already been living there for a year. Jeff lived with his sister and their divorced mom in the same complex, and had struck up a relationship with my roommates (“Jeff, get me a coke”. “Jeff, run to the mailbox and see if we got anything”. “Jeff, do my laundry for me”.) Jeff would run errands and do chores for them and in return they let him hang out with “the college crowd”. So naturally when he showed up that first day, the first thing I did was get him to help me unload my stuff. He did it with no questions asked. Beads of sweat on his brow and a smile on his face.

It seems like all of my memories of that final year in college, in that apartment, involved Jeff. He was always around. He had only one friend from high school that I was aware of, a boy named Todd. The two of them were your classical mutt and Jeff (literally). Where Jeff was short, skinny, and energetic with long stringy hair; Todd was tall, chubby, and lazy with close cropped hair. We tolerated Todd because he was Jeff’s friend, and because he was a decent basketball player, which came in handy when we needed a third or fourth for the pickup games at the court the complex owned. Over time I came to think of Jeff as more of a younger brother than just a nuisance kid from the neighborhood, as some of my roommates viewed him. Little did I know that in time he would become the one person, other than my wife, who I would trust above all others and who would know me better than anyone else in the world.

Speaking of my wife, Jeff was instrumental in our courting. Shortly after I had graduated from college, for our second date, she invited me over to her apartment where she was going to cook me Lasagna (my favorite). The afternoon before that date I spent underneath my POS car attempting to replace a starter. Thirty minutes before I was scheduled to be at her apartment I was still without a car and starting to panic. I could have called and cancelled the date, but instead I called Jeff at the last minute and asked if he could give me a ride. Once again, with no questions asked and a smile on his face, he came through and delivered me to her doorstep (but not before making a quick stop at the florist). That night turned out to be something special and a key building block in the relationship between me and the woman I would eventually marry. All thanks to Jeff.

So you’ve got to be asking yourself by now, “How is this a Thriller?”, or “How does Thriller relate to this?” The reason is that the album Thriller, by the late great Michael Jackson, will be forever be intertwined with my memories of Jeff, and not because he cosmetically altered himself into a different species.

When my soon to be wife and I became a couple, we moved into a one bedroom loft apartment in the same complex where Jeff and I met. Jeff was still living there with his mom. The apartment was two stories, with the living area and kitchen on the bottom floor and a spiral staircase leading to a loft which was the bedroom and bathroom. There was a wall of nothing but glass windows that spanned virtually both floors and looked out into the walkway between neighboring buildings. Our furniture in the living area consisted simply of an old couch, a bean bag chair, and some shelves constructed from concrete blocks and wood boards stationed in front of the windows to hold my albums and stereo equipment. It was small and cramped, but it suited our needs, and my paycheck.

Although not as frequent, Jeff was still a common fixture in our home. Most of the time he would come over to listen to a selection from my rather extensive album collection. One night when my wife-to-be was at class and I was preparing to do some laundry, Jeff showed up. He knew I had the latest Michael Jackson album and he wanted to listen to it. I told him no problem, but knowing his propensity to crank up the volume and the fact that it was a little late, I told him to use the headphones. As I exited the apartment with a basket full of clothes I could see him searching for the record in the stacks.

Our laundry mat was located dead center in the middle of the complex, but was only a short walk from our apartment. After descending the stairs I turned left, then left again. I walked 30 feet down the path between two buildings, the one that our apartment overlooked, and into a smaller building where the washer and dryers were housed. Because it was the middle of the week, the majority of the washers were empty, so I picked out the one closest to the dryers so I could easily transfer the wet clothes when the load was done.

I had just shoved in a couple pairs of jeans when I heard a noise that made me pause. The sound was something unmistakable, but so out of place for a laundry mat that I shrugged it off. It was the sound that the needle of a turntable makes when it first makes contact with a spinning record. I remember a thought crossing my mind at the time, “surely he didn’t.”

Then the music started. If any of you remember the album, the first song on side A is Beat It and it starts out with these loud, rhythmic, BONG BONG sounds. I heard it clear as day, 30 feet away, through two solid walls. I dropped my clothes and took off running.

As I was sprinting down the pathway I passed a couple who had stopped walking to wherever they were headed and were staring up towards my apartment. I followed their gaze upwards and saw the windows of apartment vibrating as each bass note rang out. I was certain that they were going to shatter before I would be able to reach the apartment in time. I climbed the stairs to the apartment taking three steps at a time, reached the landing and pounded on the front door…..with no response. I hurriedly dug in my pocket for my key, jammed it into the lock and turned, then threw the door open.

There sat Jeff, on the floor in front of the bookshelves, legs crossed, headphones on, eyes closed, head bobbing up and down to the beat. The sound inside the apartment was so loud it was disorienting. I took two steps towards him and snatched the headphones from his ears, at the same time reaching to turn off the stereo.

In the dead silence that followed he looked up at me with a confused expression.
“What’s a matter?”

“YOU FORGOT TO TURN THE SPEAKERS OFF,” I yelled.

He had a blank look for a moment, and then you could see the realization spread across his face. And then he busted out laughing. Soon we were both laughing hysterically.

When the wife-to be returned home that was the first time, of many many times, that we recounted that tale. And now I’ve told it to you.

The story of my best friend, and the lead song on the soundtrack of his life.

I love you Jeff!

Everybody and their brother . . .

I wanted to take a time out from discussing the metamorphosis of my book and take a minute to talk about why I blog in the first place. It'll only take a minute, promise!

In these times when it seems that everybody and their brother is blogging, angling for on-line attention, then why would I want to compete with all of that. And I'm not even talking about Tweeting, which I don't consider blogging. The reason is simpler then you might imagine.

For me, blogging started out as a release for my inner voice. Those who know me well are aware that I'm shy, introverted, and reserved. But not when I write. When I'm in front of my keyboard, making words appear on the screen, I'm expressing a thought with meaning, or feeling, that would normally remain pent up inside of me. It is very liberating and satisfying. And I would be lying to you if I said that it didn't matter if nobody read my musings. I truly enjoy the fact that other people are entertained by some of stories that pour out of me. But I'm not competing for your attention against all of the other blogs out there. Promise.

Another reason I blog is that I am trying to become a published writer. Almost every text book, creative writing manual, and on-line short course give the same advice to beginning authors: WRITE. Write something everyday. So on those days when I don't feel like working on my book, or a short story, I plan on coming here and telling you a story. Some of my stories may be fiction, but most of them will be plucked from what I see around me. I'll also be updating you on the progress of my attempt to get my writing published. Hopefully it will be interesting and I won't put you to sleep. Maybe I'll write a self-help book about sleeplessness?

So that's it . . . that's why I'm here. Oh yeah, I promise not to write about politics, or religion, or anything that would provoke strong opinions. That's not why I'm here! It's not that I don't have opinions, I do, but I prefer to keep them to myself. Opinions are funny things. For some reason once you tell somebody your opinion, they feel obligated to tell you theirs. Go figure.

Getting Serious - Part 2

Hey look . . . I have followers. *Waving* Hi there. Wow, I'd better watch what I say now that people are actually reading. GULP!


Where did I leave off? Oh yes, I had just decided to turn my short-story into a novel. What was I thinking? Who was I to be writing an actual book?


There were two things that propelled me forward. First, I believed I had a fairly original idea for a story, one that was universal in its appeal. Secondly, it would be a way to challenge myself. It may turn out to be a piece of crap and never be published, but if I was successful I would be able to tell myself I had written a book once. If nothing else, I could self-publish and send copies to my relatives and friends. So I decided to go for it!


My original short story was 40 pages long. I know, not very short, more like a novella really. The premise of the story revolved around the main character (who is in his early 50's) going through his old album collection and stumbling across a song that unearths a long forgotten bitter-sweet memory. It was a memory of meeting his first true love during a week long trip to Florida while he was still in college. Not only does he remember meeting and falling in love her, but he also reminisces about his friends that made the trip with him. It was a tragic love-story though, because upon returning back to school and writing several letters that go unreturned, he discovers that his new love had been killed in an automobile accident while returning back home from Florida.


How do you turn something like that into a 350 page book? You start out by asking a simple question. What if the main character found out that the girl of his dreams might not have actually died?


The backbone of the entire plot was mapped out on the couch with my wife one Sunday afternoon. Then I started to do research about books in general. How many pages is in the average book? How many pages per chapter? Should I write it in first person (as my short story was written) or change to another POV? Once I had all of those answers (but as I learned later - not all of those answers were correct), I began outlining each chapter. I did this primarily because I still wasn't sure I had enough to fill an entire book.


With my plot and outline providing me the confidence I needed, I began the process of modifying my original 40 pages and then adding to it. I figured that a decent novel should be closer to 400 pages long, so that was what I aimed for. It took me seven months, but in November of 2008 'Slow Dancer' became a reality.


It ended up being 135,000 words long, and that was only one of its problems.


My wife, daughter, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law have all read it and of course lavished praise upon it (what can I say - they're relatives). But in the ten months since I finished it, I have learned much about the publishing industry and plenty of things that are wrong with it.


Next time I'll tell you about it's flaws and the barriers that will keep it from being published, as well as what I've been doing to overcome them.

Getting Serious

Let me tell you about the exact moment the light bulb went on.

I don't actually know what class it was, some kind of English I think, but I know it was during my junior year of high school. Our teacher broke us down into groups of five for a special assignment. She wanted us to produce a recording in the style of the old serialized radio programs like Dick Tracy or Little Orphan Annie, except it had to be from original material. We were given two weeks to write the script, record the show using sound effects and background music, and then result would be played in front of the entire class on a Friday. The whole group would be graded based upon the quality of our overall work.

I was assigned to a group with three other guys, and Vicki Marmarose. Vicki was captain of the cheer-leading squad at Havelock High. She was so pretty your eyes would ache if you stared at her too long and had a such a sweet personality that anybody who to talked to her would come away feeling sticky. I was so shy and withdrawn in high school (like I ever grew out of that) that I would have never have said a word to Vicki had we not been placed in the same group together.

At our first team meeting it was quickly decided we wanted to do something along the lines of Sci-Fi/Horror Theater, but nobody knew exactly what. That's when I suprised myself by volunteering to write the story. I had always been good with my imagination, and could put them into words fairly easily, so when I saw an opening to impress Vicki I jumped on it.

I came up with an idea of a mother (which would be played by Vicki) who buys a full length mirror from a yard sale and the things that start happening when her small son starts playing with a friend in the mirror. Everybody said they liked the idea, so I wrote the story the next day. It took us a couple of days to record the script using various sound effects and the eerie music from 2001 a Space Odyssey as a background, then it was ready.

On that Friday we presented our radio show. After the whole class listened to it we received generous applause. But the teacher was upset that we didn't use original material as were were instructed and wanted to know where we got the story from. I informed her that I wrote it, which she didn't believe until my team members all backed me up. When we finally convinced her, she was so enamored with it that she urged me to submit it to various contest.

That was when the light came on. I was actually pretty good at writing stories. I impressed Vicki Marmarose as well, but this isn't the type of story where the hero gets the girl. It's based in REALITY!

I never submitted the story to any contests, nor did much with my writing at all after that. I joined the school newspaper my senior year and wrote a couple interesting articles, but once I hit college my writing took a back seat to just about everything else.

It wasn't until I started getting involved in these social networking sites and writing my thoughts out in blogs, that my more creative side started to emerge. At first I wrote a couple of short stories that I only my wife was privileged enough to read. Then I wrote one in particular about the re-surfacing of a repressed memory of a brief romance, that was much longer and more involved than anything I had attempted before. Once again I let my wife read it, and she thought it was great (but she is my wife, so the requisite grains of salt was indeed taken). I had such a great time writing it as well. I was starting to think about what my next project would be when I had a thought. What if I turned my short story into an actual novel? Was it time to get serious about this writing stuff?

Next time I'll tell you what it was like converting my short story into a book, and why it might never be published.
 

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