Monday, December 31, 2012

MMWUC - New Year's Day Resolution

A Monday Morning Wake-up Call (MMWUC) on New Year's Day Eve. I don’t think that's happened to me before. I know I should write about my personal resolutions, but being a few days short of sixty, I've been too disappointed by the number of resolutions I've failed to accomplish, despite attempts to lose weight, exercise more, control temper, get a date for a prom, work harder, blah, blah, blah. I guess I'm just not that big on laying out these self-imposed, stress-filled expectations that try to make one undo what they've become comfortable with--even if what one has become comfortable with is a life-threatening habit.

"Pass the pork rinds and another Bud. I'm breaking my personal best of 36 hours in the port-a-potty lounger. Don't forget my cigs. Hey look, STARS IN DANGER OF THE HIGH DIVE. Now that's entertainment. I'm sure they'll show the best belly-flops upfront. I bet they'll have a wardrobe malfunction with a honey. Damn shame this kind of stuff wasn't around for Marlon Brando, Orson Wells, and William Conrad. Those whales in the 1980s would have cleaned out the pool."

When I was one, I wanted a second pacifier. That was my resolution, as I recall. Did I get it? No. Maybe that set a pattern for me. I don't know why it took me so long to figure out that resolutions should be kept to one or two little objectives--baby steps can lead to great strides in a long trip in the pursuit of personal perfection. But the most important thing is--do something. And yes, I'll use the old Chinese proverb, because it is so true: A trip of a thousand miles begins with the first step. And so it is with resolutions.

I wonder what kind of NYD resolutions James Bond would make? Sherlock Holmes? Nero Wolfe? So writers, what one resolution would your favorite protagonist make?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Book Review: MFA in a Box or Rick Boxed Out

Philosophically Phunny

The book MFA in a Box explains why I don't have an MFA -- I don't get philosophy. I don't get the nuance of the nuance of the pinprick of a needle on the flapping of a butterfly's wing in Brazil that forms a tornado in Kansas in a week and how that affects your characters. John Rember has written a book about why writers write books. He has delved deep into the mythological stories to support his case. It is a case that some people will flock to like bees to my marigolds: others will run to Anne Lamott, StephenKing, and Donald Maass for their thoughts on digging into a characters psyche in more precise and succinct language.

He could have easily written, most writers don't dig deep enough. They are unable or afraid to dig deep enough into the psyche of the character to expose the hell in their soul, and then they don't go below, into the very fires of Hell to identify the source of the fire that rages, and that, writers don't sift through the ashes of that fire to parse out that infinitesimally small glowing ember that explains why not getting a blue fire truck for their third Christmas drove that character to slaughter nineteen women dressed in blue during months in which a blue moon occurred. Or, something like that.

Okay, he makes some good points, but his tortuously elaborate explanations sometimes drove me to drink, and I'm supposed to be off diet sodas. That is part of the reason it took two weeks to read this book -- trying to pay close attention, because I must be missing something. But, I agree with his overall premise: whether you are trying to emulate Jonathan Franzen, writing whirling waltz of his own creation, or pound out a genre book that moves to its own predetermined beat to satisfy the masses that like that familiar beat, both are served by understanding their characters to a level deeper than what we are routinely spoon-fed. I'd fail his class, but I'll give his book four-thumbs up.

Monday, December 24, 2012

MMWUC - Holiday Preparations

Unless your soul is in need of a quick overnight fix, complete with ghosts, time travel, and spirits, there is still time to prepare for the holidays. Yes, pull out that diary that you will write in for two weeks in January, coinciding with your New Year's resolution, and start now. Capture the essence of the holiday spirit while you are within it. You know you will only keep that resolution for a short while anyway. Who'll look back with awe at your new observations in January over weight loss, new friends, digging up old friends who barely remember you, digging up old friends who'd rather still be unfound, musings over the 20 minutes' walk per day you started on January 2nd that dwindled to every other day by mid-January and that was a mythic adventure by time you watch Groundhog's Day on February 2nd.

Write about what is happening right now. Like my wife popping out of bed at 6 a.m. after going to bed at 1 a.m. so she can start the preparations for the Christmas Eve meal. A meal that we could cook in our sleep. A meal that we could start at 3 p.m. and still be ready for the horde at 6 p.m. Write about the 7:12 a.m. call, after rolling over in bed and trying to go back to sleep from Afghanistan. Taliban? Karzai? Nope. Skippy! And it's his birthday. But I already sent him an online message 12 hours before December 24th, because I knew he was that far ahead. So, not being a big telephone talker, I greet him for a few minutes, and then turn him over to wifey who loves talking on the phone. And yes, I get a few more minutes of sleep until Sydney decides it is time for me to arise and start cooking the rice for fried rice. But I know the real reason. Sydney, a 20-y-o cockatiel, awoke and saw the rice cooker. His motivation is simple. Wake daddy. He makes rice. I eat rice. It must be a special day for me. Cockatiels are so egocentric. So the tapping on my forehead forces me to rise. I hear organ music in the kitchen. My wifey was an organist. I get every Christmas choral with the ambiance of the phantom of the opera as a backdrop.

The fire has died. The house is cool, not cold. Wifey stops the nonstop chatter to Afghanistan. "The fire's out. The house is cold." I can take a hint. And so the holidays begins in earnest.

And so should your preparations for the 2013 holiday season. Capture these moments so that in July you can write a 67 page holiday story and self-publish it on Amazon in November for $1.99 and annoy everyone with your emails, tweets, Facebook postings, Linked-In announcements, Pinned pictures portraying and praising your prose, so you too can be declared a best-selling author at capturing the spirit of the holiday. It is about giving, giving back what you experienced so that we can all benefit from the rising spirit, and as George Costanzo would say, "Happy Festivus for the rest of us." Now let's arm wrestle. I know I can take Sydney two out of three times.

Monday, December 10, 2012

MMWUC: Sleeping In

I slept in this morning--to 11:13 a.m. to be exact. Sydney flew over and sat on my head, "Whatcha doing?"

I rolled over. "Not much," I replied.

And therein summed up the whole situation.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Book Review: Two books--Seasonal and Thriller

Buy it here.
It's that time of year, so I read a holiday-themed collection. Seasons Readings - A Collection of Holiday Themed Short Stories popped onto my Kindle. And you can't go wrong with the nine offerings in this holiday-themed collection. Though none of the stories really break any new or startling holiday territory, they're a solid grouping of stories. The opening story, Home for Christmas by Lia Fairchild and the last one, Kate and The Irishman by Mary Pay Hyland give us our sugary sweet Hallmark treat for the holiday romantics.

Nestled between these to anchoring stories, we have an assortment and some with a mystery bent. Though I liked A Basketball, A Storm Drain, and a Choo-Choo Train by Sue Owen, it seemed odd to savor the holidays with a serial killer. Another strong mystery story with a Twilight Zone twist at the end was The Jade Elephant by Libby Fischer.

Eleanor's Christmas Surprise by Tania Tirraoro gives us a story with a sharp reversal at the end. I felt that if the author would have dug a bit deeper, this story could have commanded space and dollars at some of the better print magazines. The bugaboo I had with it is why give away the story with the title--drop 'Surprise' from the title--and don't tip your hand. Rounding out the selections were stories that will satisfy most readers. The collection rates a "4".
- - - 
Upfront disclosure: I read Premonitions when it was a head dump of a few chapters; read it again when it was a complete novel in need of love; months, years whiz by. Read Premonitions when was being shopped around by an agent. Ran through it again recently.

Buy it here!
There is something satisfying in watching the evolution of a head dump into a full-fledged novel of power and sass, tenderness and carrying, and, of course, much danger, death, and destruction. The author has woven a story that is every parent's nightmare on steroids where bad guys hold all the cards and their opponents are little kids and one kick-butt lady named Mallory with attitude to spare when it comes to her kids and her premonitions.

Like many thrillers, this is one best served and read in a single sitting. I'm not a devotee of thrillers. They rely on me suspending too much of my disbelief as my anal retentive, procedural-oriented brain sniffs minor cracks in the plans of both the bad and good buys. However, I never waived though in my belief that the author was going to take me on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and then some. Take Premonitions with you when you have the time to feast on the words and enjoy the story as a single meal. It is a solid "4".

Monday, December 3, 2012

MMWUC - Handicap Your Protagonist

Me and the missus have been very sick. We've gone to the doctor. She has the flu and is recovering nicely. I have the "respiratory infection from Hell" (the doctor's words) and am a step away from living out a Stephen King horror story, BYLINA AND THE GIANT BITE-ME BUG THAT HAS NO NAME OR CURE. Great. Now, I'm a step away from the CDC coming to quarantine my house. But, I do have some meds that hold the promise of me getting some sleep tonight.

Doctor's rendition of the
infection he saw.
(bylinous supersillious)
But fighting this superbug with a lack of sleep has given me a new perspective to our crime fighting heroes and their seemingly endless good health. My next short story book, Super Good Guys with Bad Hair Days, features the following--

* watch as Columbo, everyone's favorite rumpled detective, turns an hour long episode into a made-for-TV movie, when a bad case of incurable hiccups forces every interview into a word-pulling marathon. Rather than be subject to another long-rambling, stuttered accusation, the killer reveals himself by killing Columbo. Adrian Monk has to finish up the case. Killer commits suicide.

* stuffed-up with a bad flu for which he refused the help of Doctor Watson, Holmes misses the telltale sign of the dead woman's perfume on the suspect/waiter, fails to hear the drop of the small syringe on the floor, and doesn't detect the acrid taste of the poison injected on his breakfast muffin. Holmes dies; Watson emerges from his shadow.

* observe as 300+ pound William Conrad of Jake and theFatman runs down a another black urban youth and sits on him to await the cops. In my version, he limps from gout for 50 yards as the youth taunts him by running backwards. The Fatman grabs his chest, a heart ache in the making, the kid whips out a $50 from the stash of money. "Buy a Richard Simmons tape tubby." The money floats to the sidewalk, the kid steps backwards into small hole, and twists his ankle. Conrad stumbles forward, face crimson with pain and falls on the kid, trapping him for the police.

I'm rambling, but I have an excuse. What's yours? Throw your good guy a health-inspired curve ball when he least expects or needs it. Up that ante just one last notch.

And as a bonus, you can give him the eye infection I also have for which I have to put drops in my eyes. For me, this is a torture of unbelievable dimensions, but Sydney is not prepared to be a seeing-eye bird.