Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Dear Reader,

Summer is long, hot, and listless. It's only just begun and already the days seem to stretch out, hazy morning becoming humid day before transitioning into steamy night. Only the thunderstorms that roll across the Midwest break the stagnant routine. They keep a regular schedule, showing up around five and working a shift that any vampire could be proud of. Late at night I wake to the staccato taps of the first raindrops on my windowpane. The bedroom vibrates with the light of distant lightning and I count—one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi, three-Mississippi before the sound arrives. The seconds between flash and boom are breathless, alive in the way only the mysterious life of nature can be alive. I lay in bed torn between two halves of myself.

The kid inside me wants to run outside, feel the breath of the approaching storm on his face and the yearning warm grass under his feet. He wants to stare up into the roiling clouds and wonder at the arc light that flickers in their bellies. He wants to feel those raindrops, cool and refreshing, striking his face and driving back the heat of summer for an hour or two.

The adult worries about things like whether the surge protector in the UPS connected to his computer would stop a power spike. He obsesses over the gutter that the maintenance crew hasn't fixed, the one that will spill rainwater on the deck and send waterfalls streaming down the siding. He thinks about the National Geographic special on lighting strikes, how more people are killed each year by lightning than tornadoes, and how dangerous it would be to go outside to gawk at the storm even though he'd secretly like to.

We all lay, having this convoluted discussion among ourselves while thunderheads sail across the land. Their billowing sails reach for the stars and they eclipse the moon as they set an easterly course. It's as if the pilgrims arrived, took a tour of the country, and decided they were better off in the old world. They head for the dark and boundless Atlantic firing goodbye salvos as they go.

When the storms pass the night is still and ripe. Droplets catch the light of the moon's freshly washed face and lightning bugs scale grassy masts, blinking their intent to the darkness. The retreating lightning is nothing more than an electric postcard, sent from the east filled with memories of times gone by and finished off with a rumbling signature. I sink into my pillow and close my eyes, thinking about tomorrow and the tomorrows that will follow and all of their deadlines, disappointments, and challenges. But I dream about riding the wind on a hot summer night.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Dear Reader,

I apologize in advance for the fact that lately everything I'm adding to the blog seems to be about the impending implosion of my second job (that is the one that's not being a writer). Unfortunately, while waiting for the second edit of Time of Death to come back from the publisher and slugging away at the last half of my Cinder Girl manuscript the only events of note seem to be the steady goings of my colleagues.

Today was our HR representative's last day. Nobody mourns the going of someone from human resources. In the modern workplace it de rigueur to express contempt for all things related to the department. Maybe far too many HR reps don't represent anything human at all, instead being a corporate organ devoted to the enforcement of self-beneficial policy and obfuscation. All I can say is that, in the case of my small corner of the world, that wasn't the fact. Having our HR rep was a little like having an easily angered terrier in your corner – and I mean that in the most positive way possible even though it might not sound that way!

Regardless, nobody mourns. Perhaps after losing so many fellow employees, those of us who are left can't muster the spirit for heartfelt fare-thee-wells. I'm not certain of the reasons but there wasn't any card circulating around for signatures, there wasn't any goodbye lunch held at some noisy local restaurant, and there wasn't a group meeting to express thanks - only the quiet progression of emptying offices and disappearing faces. The rolling wheel of this last year runs over another victim and continues down the road.

107 days remain, and each promises to be a little more depressing than the last.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Hard Work

Dear Reader,

The real work started this week. I'm over half-way through the first edit of The Cinder Girl and it's time to go back to chapter one to start a hard edit.

Creating is fun; you're rambling along with the story and finding where it takes you. Every chapter is a new discovery. As an author, I believe it's the closest you can come to experiencing your novel in the same way your reader will. You're navigating a new country without a map (at least if you write like I do) and the only way to find out what's on the opposite side of that next mountain is to climb it.

Editing, on the other hand, is a bit like farming the ground you've discovered. Lewis and Clark might have mapped the Northwest Passage but they didn't build the roads and bridges, carve out the settlements, pull stumps from the fields, and plant the crops to sustain the townsfolk. To edit a novel is to work its soil, to improve its fertility and harvest every bit of creative fruit possible. It's hard work. In one week I've managed (along with writing two chapters) to edit just seven five pages of printed manuscript. In the process it grew to seven pages of (I hope) better constructed story. I'm telling you, it's tilling the soil!

The best things aren't the always the easiest, I guess. When the work is done I feel good about it, I'm proud of what I've achieved. Sitting in my office on a Saturday afternoon, hammering out paragraphs, it seems like it'd sure be nice to nail it the first time through, though!

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Demise

Dear Reader,

I should have done this sooner. It's something that's been a major part of my life for the last year and I haven't really made more than a passing reference to the fact that it's happening. Since April of 2009 some portion of my waking consciousness has been focused on this thing. It's lurked behind the good and bad news of the year passed, hanging around like smoke in the atmosphere. The dire thing I'm writing about, of course, is the closure of the office where I work and the displacement of the 300-some workers who've made their livings working there.

Until now I've never experienced a plant shutting down. I've worked places where I knew the company was taking on water but, in those cases, the company in question had so many other flaws I felt good to climb into a lifeboat. Hearing those companies went under never felt good but it did give me a certain feeling of validation – a feeling that I foresaw the coming disaster and had the wisdom to get myself out. This time, at least for me, the experience is different. It's different in two ways really.

Firstly, I've never stayed until all the furniture was gone and the doors locked. This time, as a part of my own succession plan, I'll be doing just that. It's like making your home in a hospice, every day someone else is gone. You hear about people who are moving on or will be moving on, you walk passed darkened offices where people you knew used to work, you see the possessions and files being boxed up and labeled for shipment, and the only constant seems to be your playing witness.

Secondly, I've never been working at a really good company when this happened. Sure, some of them were okay and some even had a few good people working for them – but the signs of their demise showed in petty managers, poor or adversarial policies, lack of direction, dry product pipelines, and a hundred other little ways. Not so this time. I can honestly say this is the first place I've worked that really had it all – it encompassed the close-knit feeling of a small company with the resources of a large one, the staff was damned smart, and the policies were geared toward doing the right things for the right reasons. In spite of all those things on October 1, 2010 this facility will close down and all of the jobs were transfer elsewhere. On that day I'll walk out the door for the last time and then the building will go quiet.

Maybe it's the last quarter of existence that's got me in a certain dark mood today. Maybe it's the realization that time is really short that's driven me to write about this subject in what is truthfully a writer's blog, not a diary. I hope you'll forgive my spending time musing over something that's not about writing but then, isn't it? Isn't a writer formed from the experiences they have throughout life? Isn't every moment, every encounter, and every chance happening, traumatic or benign, fuel for creating new characters and new stories? Possibly.

I'll keep you updated on the major happenings in these last months. Maybe something will spring from these missives and maybe it'll just be a record of how I felt in this time and space. Either way, I hope you'll pardon my occasional fixation on matters other than writing.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Website Updates and Progress on Novel

Dear Reader,

For a week of vacation, this has been a productive week! I have 40k words on my latest novel and I’ve completed a total revamp of my website. The site that used to be Ghosts of the Mind is now The Gentleman from Indiana website. I’ve reformatted the site and added new content, so take a few minutes to stop by.

As for the novel, I’m about half way through. The goal is to finish the first draft and edits by the end of the summer and to have it edited and ready for submission to publishers by the end of 2010. With luck it will be taken up by a publisher and you’ll be able to find it at your local bookstore after that. I’ll keep you updated on my progress.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A Working Vacation

Dear Reader,

Over the past week I’ve been hard at writing and doing it full time. You see I’ve been on a vacation of sorts. Not the type where you pack up your bags and board a liner bound for the great mysterious somewhere else or even the jump in the car, point the steering wheel in some random direction, and figure out what to do once you get there kind. I’ve been on a working vacation.

The gist of the working vacation is simple. You take time off work so that you can – work. In my case that means taking time off the bread and butter job to hammer out a few chapters in the new novel. Yes, I’ve traded days stuck in the office, staring at a computer screen for days in the home office, staring at a computer screen. For variety I huddle over a journal, penning passages that later are translated into the computer. It’s a thrilling life that only those with a strong constitution should endeavor to undertake.

I guess the general point, though, is the whole work angle of writing has really come home to me this week. It’s one thing to steal an hour during lunch or between doing this or that to pen a few paragraphs but a whole new animal to sit down at a desk with the whole day spread out before you and nothing but the story to kill the hours. Wonderful things happen when you’re that free but then, not so wonderful things do too. What’s more, you make interesting discoveries about yourself and your writing style.

I’ve discovered just how much I need change to write effectively. Many authors need a stable, quiet environment in which to do their best writing. They thrive on consistency, on feeling at peace. Personally, I need to shake it up a little to get the words flowing. I write well in a car or on a plane, I get a lot of good out of alternating between composing at the computer and in longhand, essentially I need to harvest the energy that comes with change. This doesn’t mean I can’t create while sitting in my office in the quiet. On the contrary, that is the time I get my editing, rethinking, reimagining, and refining done. While I can pen a new chapter while wedged behind the wheel of my car parked in a lot behind the local supermarket during lunch hour, I can’t edit for squat under those same conditions.

I like to think this makes me an interesting author. I’m not sure, maybe it really just makes me quirky. Regardless it reinforces something a writing instructor once said to me. There is no one right way to write – do what you need to do and you’ll get the most out of your talent

The Fountain Pen

Dear Reader,

You might have noticed my recent missive on the death of one of my favorite pens. It wasn't the cheapest of writing devices but, to be honest, it was a disposable pen. Still there was something about it, some kind of attachment that made me actually feel sorry when it reached the end of its life and spilled its last bit of ink on paper. It started me thinking about writing and writing instruments and, generally, the handwritten word.

The first functional fountain pen was patented by Louis Waterman in 1884. Earlier, ink-carrying writing devices preceded Waterman's pen – a Frenchman named M. Bion designed one in 1702 and Peregrin Williamson, a Boston shoemaker, patented a pen in 1809. Schaefer and Parker also had pen (or pen-like devices) before Waterman; however all were plagued by ink spills and weren't widely used. Waterman's design attempted to rectify some of the most irritating failures of previous pens by adding an air hole to the nib and three grooves inside the ink reservoir. The end result of Waterman's experimentation was a more reliable pen with fewer ruined documents.

It's interesting to think that, since the nib of a pen wore down according to the way the writer used it; a fountain pen essentially became broken in, conforming to the writing style of the owner. Up until the invention of the ballpoint pen (1945), pens were as personal as clothing.

The mention of the disposable ink pen brings me back to my old faithful Precise V5. Like the fountain pen, the V5 is far from the perfect writing instrument – the ink can smear, some V5's put down ink like a paint roller, they can leak, and taking one up in an airplane should only be undertaken if you have a change of clothing because the pressure will drive the ink right out of the reservoir. It is, however, one of my weapons of choice when it comes to putting word on page. I've been looking for a good fountain pen and I've even gotten a set of Pilot Varsity disposable fountain pens just for the novelty but the V5 will always be a favorite.

Recently, however, I've been using a new pen for my longhand composition. The Varsity is a disposable fountain pen made by Pilot. It is available in a range of colors (good if you're making corrections and notes on a manuscript) and unlike some disposable fountain pens I've used, has a metal nib. So far the writing is smooth and I haven't encountered any problems with smearing or leaking. Not a replacement for the V5 but a change of pace, for certain.