The 2nd Annual "Drunk At First Sight" Blogfest--SIGN UP NOW!!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Listen up, boys and goyls: do we have a treat for you!?!

If you're Irish, you know that St. Patrick's Day is next month--and in my book, that's just around the corner (you may know about St. Paddy's if you're not Irish too :D).

Last year a few of us got to talking and we asked ourselves this question:  "What could be better than sitting around on St. Paddy's Day evening drinking a (possibly green) beer?"  The answer is simple.  Sitting around drinking a (possibly green) beer and reading some great fiction, that's what!

And we pulled it off in fine style too!  (You can go read the entries here).

Things went so well, that we're gonna do it again this year: Announcing the SECOND annual "Drunk At First Sight" Blogfest! 

Here's how it'll work:

1)  Sign up below.

2)  Write a new scene or short story, or dust off an old one, about a love/relationship/situation that also includes one or more of the following elements:

     ---St. Paddy's Day as important event or setting
     ---Use of Ireland or anything Irish as a setting or prop
     ---An alcohol related event (party, hangover, cocktails, AA meeting, etc.)

3)  Just prior to March 17th (St. Pat's Day), post said story to your blog.

4)  On St. Paddy's Day, cruise around the interwebs, drink in hand, and check out everybody's amazing fiction.

That's all there is to it!  Sounds like great fun--and in keeping with the St. Paddy's Day spirit.  And please please please feel free to re-post the badge up top and get the word out.  As my good friend Bono sez every time I see him: "The more the merrier!!!"

P.S.  A careful reader may note that the Bono reference is simply me getting my fiction started early!

Nick Carraway For A Day

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Check out this interesting, if a bit simplistic game modeled on Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.  Though a bit rudimentary, I ended up burning an hour fiddling with it. 


Search No Longer

These days, managing information is a real challenge, especially when the goal is to understand the latest fiction and publishing trends, and also avail oneself of the best how to articles on a veritable cornucopia of writing related topics.

So, I was happy as a clam to read Helen Ginger's recent post highlighting a new tool that I think every writer should have in their toolbox: The Writer's Knowledge Base.

The WKB is a search engine for writers, pure and simple.  It was developed by Elizabeth Span Craig and a fellow software engineer to help organize much of the information she's mined from the interwebs.

And the results are nothing short of stunning.  As a way to test it, I entered a flurry of different search terms.  Each search generated a nice list of related posts.  It wasn't long before I realized I could be digging around in the tool for days if I wasn't careful, unearthing tons of great information.

I've certainly added it to my toolbox--and to my sidebar!--and will use it in the future.  Go take a look around and tell us what you think.

Charming Furniture

Saturday, February 19, 2011

No furniture so charming as books.
~Sydney Smith
To add a library to a house is to give that house a soul.
Your library is your portrait.
~Holbrook Jackson

I was in Ephesus, Turkey, recently on business.  For those of you who don't know, Ephesus was for many years the second largest city in the Roman Empire, ranked only behind the capital, Rome.  By the 1st Century B.C., the city's population had swelled to over 250,000 people, making it the second largest city in the world at the time.

The present day site conveys the size and extensive cultural development that occurred here during ancient times, although an estimated 85% of the original city still remains unexcavated.  From one end to the other, the ruins encompass an area of over four square kilometers, and include the Temple of Hadrian, the Temple of Artemis, and what is thought to be the largest outdoor theater in the world, in addition to many other smaller wonders (I'll post a few pictures from my trip in a separate post).

The photo above shows what is left of the facade of the Library of Celsus.  According to Wikipedia, "it was built in honor of Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus", the Roman Consul at the time, and was completed around 135 A.D.  In its day, the library housed over 12,000 scrolls and reportedly also served as monumental tomb for Celsus himself.  Burying a man with his books must have been considered a pretty high honor back then.

Standing in front of this huge edifice was a humbling experience.  I wonder whether the architects and builders who constructed buildings like this ever imagined that human beings would still be viewing them with amazement nearly 2,000 years later.

2,000 years from now, will people be touring the ruins of the New York Public Library in a similar manner?  Looking at this picture makes me feel like I could walk through the library doors and go missing for a month.

But I got to thinking about what kind of library I'd build for myself.  I have a collection of books now, stuffed in several book cases, thumbed often, reorganized occasionally, but I can't with a straight face tell you it's really a library.  With all the globetrotting and living on Navy ships and in far away locales, I've never really put together a reading/writing space that fits the library definition.  Nonetheless, I've always felt there's a proper library somewhere out there in my dreamy future.  Do you feel that way too?

Curious what others have done in this regard, I found this revealing article with pictures of a number of celebrity libraries (incidentally, that's Jimmy Stewart's library, not Rod Stewart's).

Finally, after a lot of soul-searching, which these days is called internet surfing, I found my dream library:

photo by Andrew Moore

(Read more about this amazing library here.)  What about you?  If time and money were no object, what kind of library would you build for yourself?

Einstein Was A Patent Clerk

Monday, February 7, 2011

In addition to being a patent clerk, it's note widely known that Einstein also was one of the founding members of the rock band Kiss, although he had to quit after two weeks because the music was making him "verklempt," he said.  He later performed with the Moody Blues, Blink 182 and occasionally, Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson (Willie, reportedly, was a big fan).

His other accomplishments, in addition to positing the theories of General and Special Relativity--essentially founding an entire branch of physics called Quantum Mechanics--include being one of the first people to solve the Rubik's cube blindfolded, inventing a new skateboarding maneuver called the Quantum Jump (involving bubble gum, sticky tape and some high-end mathematical gymnastics), and being an extra in such well known Hollywood blockbusters as Lethal Weapon 2, Shrek, and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (where he performed as one of the oompa loompas in the Mike TeeVee scene).

But it all started in that patent office.  I imagine him as a young man, a knowing glint in his eye, staying at his desk late into the evening, scribbling down formulas, referencing various arcane physics texts, performing thought experiments, projecting his view of the world into the future.

I wonder if he knew during those quiet moments the greatness in his future, the changes his mind would make on the universe and our understanding of it?

As writers, we face a similar prospect when we face the blank page.  Sure, probably not a one of us will rise to the lofty heights occupied by greats such as Einstein, but the process is the same.  We must project our current efforts into the future, have faith that what we are creating, even if it falls short today, will make a difference tomorrow.  If we don't believe that, then why keep plugging away?

Anne Lamott talks about the need for writers to be reverent, present, to stand in awe of the beauty of the world.  It's something I struggle with, but when I do find that place where my writing has captured some small piece of the universe, where it begins to talk back to me, it truly is something to behold.

And the more I struggle, the more those moments happen.

One of the keys, I think, is remembered that the greats all started somewhere.  Hemingway, King, Fitzgerald, Dostoyevsky.  They all started as patent clerks.

So maybe I haven't started any world famous rock bands recently, or discovered some heretofore undiscovered secret of the universe, or published a bestselling novel, or written a classic, but I am in the process of converting my home writing space into something like a patent office.  After all, "starting somewhere" worked for the greats.  Why won't it work for me?

What about you?  What are the things you tell yourself to keep looking forward, looking up?!

You've Come A Long Way Baby! Blogfest: Snowstorm

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

I've only been back and serious at the writer's game for about a year and half--so it's not hard to look around and see tons of folks who've been working with nose to the grindstone much longer, and to admire the wherewithal with which they've continued to pursue their craft, come thick or thin.

One of those folks is Christine H over at The Writer's Hole.  Christine has been working on the same WIP for over four years, and she's refused to give up or give in to the many voices telling her to start a  new project.  That's commitment, folks.  Christine has devoted herself to her inner writer and stayed with this project--and promises to see it through to the end.

To celebrate, she's hosting the You've Come A Long Way Baby! Blogfest, with prizes!  The point of the blogfest is to take a minute, smell the roses and realize how much we've grown as writers.

As part of the blogfest, we're each to post something written far in the past, to highlight how bad things once were--and I tell you, for me it was really bad.

Prepare yourself.  Or if you prefer, skip to the end!

I dug out this old chestnut from my "JP's Papers" file, a short unfinished piece of fiction titled "Snowstorm."  Since most of North America appears to be under a white blanket, it seemed apropos. 

I have not even reread it, but memory is enough to tell me it wasn't good.  Not even close.  And I'm not going to edit it at all.  I'm just going to type it into my post straight--although my wife will likely hear some groans and howls of laughter.

So here it is: Snowstorm.

    A sugar-spray of snow blew across in front of the headlights.  Up ahead, the bend of the road dissolved into the snowstorm and John realized he was lost.  Where the hell am I?
    The party would have started by now.  He imagined Justin laughing and playing with his friends, Veronica looking on with a forced smile.  In his mind's echo chamber, Justin said: "Daddy, you have to be there on time.  Please!  Promise me, OK?"
    "OK, Tiger.  I promise."
    He rounded a Rubbermaid trashcan that had blown into the road and gunned the engine, pushing up the hill in search of Garvey street.  Veronica and Justin lived in a 2/1, three from the end.  Red shutters, grey roof.  Veronica had brought Justin here after the divorce because she wanted Justin to go to a good school.
    The corner ahead looked familiar so John slowed the 'Vette to peer up at the street sign.  No luck.  This sucks...Who the laid out these subdivisions anyway?  Normally, he would never have gotten lost, but in this weather...he jammed the gearshift down into first and barreled on.
    He was late.  Veronica would be hot about it.  He imagined her pacing the living room.  Every two minutes, she'd check her watch.  John swore again.
    It wouldn't be the first time he'd been tardy.  Justin played drums in the band at school.  In the last four months, he'd been late to two of Justin's concerts, and missed a third completely.  There had been too many parties, too many late nights--always home before dawn with some girl he hardly knew, up early afternoon.  The guys at the construction site hadn't missed him.  He told Maria to tell them he was gone up north to Baltimore to buy sink fixtures, or to Philly to pick up the newest order of tile.  No one noticed.  Funny how it hadn't been hard to fall into that routine.
     He had sworn to himself that this time would be different.  If was Justin's 12th Birthday for God's sake!  he was going to open a few presents at the house with some friends, then head off to the skating rink.  He should have focused on  the importance of making it on time, this time.  Instead, he had spent the afternoon in a hot tub with a few of his closest friends, and a few drinks--way too many banana daiquiris--and he hadn't glanced at his watch until it was too late.
    Coming over a rise, the road dipped suddenly and John felt the steering wheel go loose in his hands.  The car spun left, then right, then back to the left as he tried to get it under control.  The wheels skidded in the salt and sand lain down by the snowplow crews hours before.  He pumped the brakes and watched in detached amazement as a sidewalk and someone's yard drew up in front of the car as the car came to rest, headlights illuminating the ketchup red front door of a house.  John sat there, looking out, his heart beating.
    Veronica would never forgive him.  He let go of the steering wheel, the engine purring quietly.  She'd meet him angrily at the door, pull him off to the side so she could hiss in his ear and start in the way she always did when they were married: "Why can't you do anything you say you're going to do?  Can't you see what you're  doing to this child?"
    John gunned the engine and turned the wheel hard, straightening the car.  He smiled grimly, feeling  the worry come over him like cold water.  Justin was different.  He'd waited.  A couple of years ago, right after the divorce, John had gotten a flat tire.  His cell was dead, so he couldn't call.  By the time he got the tire changed, it was after 10:00.  Still, when he pulled into the driveway, Justin was there waiting for him.  "He's been there for three hours," Veronica had told him.  "Do you hear what I'm saying?"
    "Yeah."  He had given the boy a hug, and it was like Justin never wanted to let go.  The same thing had happened at Justin's concerts.  He'd ignored his friends, everyone, even Veronica and waited for his father.  The night he didn't show, Veronica had been in tears, trying to drag him home.  Loyalty like that had to come from somewhere.  John didn't understand it, but he knew his son would wait for him.
    John tapped the gas the 'Vette started rolling forward.  The snow wasn't coming down as hard now, but still drifted like confetti falling from a black syrupy sky.  he could make out the houses--a blue one with a straw colored roof, another with a green Volvo in the driveway.  Then he saw one with a silver Mercedez Benz with personalized plates that said: "BE-ATCH."  John recognized that car.  Justin's house was around the corner.
    He pulled into the driveway, ready to see his son, expecting to see Justin standing on the front porch, expecting to see the lights on inside, even ready to take whatever Veronica had to dish out.  Instead, the house was dark, and the only light John could see were flecked with shadows cast to the ground by the fallinng snow.

Yeah.  Right.  I don't know whether to laugh or cry.  Ketchup red door indeed!  But yeah, I am embarrassed to admit that I wrote that, and I can see fifty mistakes/changes in every line, so I guess I have that to feel good about!

What about you?  Do you feel like you've come a long way, (and may I respectfully call you) Baby?

The View From The Office

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

First, don't forget about Christine's You've Come A Long Way, Baby! Blogfest tomorrow!  Go sign up here!  And check back tomorrow when I totally embarrass myself with an old piece of my really bad fiction.  I'm getting goosebumps just thinking about it.

As luck would have it, I'm flying every day for the rest of the week, which promises to put a dent in my fiction output--and also means, after tomorrow, you won't be hearing from me until the weekend.  Turns out internet access in Kosovo and Serbia is pretty spotty.

So I thought I'd share a few photos of my new office with you.  I've been back to flying about six months now, and I tell you flying a real aircraft is much better than flying a desk.

This is the mighty C-26 (pic by yours truly, on the ramp in Rota, Spain), the aircraft I'm flying now.  It's been nearly fifteen years since I flew a fixed-wing aircraft (the Navy trains all their pilots to fly fixed-wing first), and it's been a real joy getting back in the cockpit, and getting to see a little of Europe in the process.

She flies pretty nice, and she's equipped with some nice avionics and navigational equipment, which means it's easy to get from point A to point B without too much trouble.  It's a far cry from my Huey days when we used road maps to figure out where we were going.

We're privy to some pretty spectacular views along the way.  Here's Mount Etna, shrouded in clouds, off the right wing.

And this is a pic of the entire island of Corsica.  The visibility that day was truly amazing.

Yep, it's a pretty good time.  Just for giggles, I uploaded this short video of a jaunt over the Alps.  And of course, if you have any flying related questions, feel free to ask.  Enjoy the video, stay groovy and we'll catch up with you this weekend.

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