Sunday, May 24, 2015

Having an appointment with writing (also, cats at keyboards)

I like deadlines.

No, scratch that. I need deadlines. I thrive on them. I require them. Without them, I'm left to rely on discipline and good habits to keep myself focused on doing what I should be doing.

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a shortage of both.

That's why, whenever possible, I prefer for my writing projects to have a deadline attached. When it comes to professional work, that's usually a given. Your client is going to want their content by a certain time, after all.

As I write this post, for instance, I'm also tossing around ideas for my Sunday evening appointment with writing. See, for the last two years I have written a weekly beer column for the Philadelphia Weekly. Online, it appears as a series of (mostly) daily briefs on beers I think are worth trying, while in print it's a weekly spotlight on five great beers, usually focused on a certain theme, style, or whatever catches my fancy that week.

My copy is due Monday morning, which means that every Sunday night I have an appointment with the keyboard. Doesn't matter what I've been doing all day. Doesn't matter where I am. Doesn't matter if I'm tired or uninspired or out of ideas or just plain want to have a relaxing Sunday night.


That's not a bad thing. Yes, I could do the work earlier (and occasionally I do). In theory, I could even get a few weeks of material done ahead of time in order to give myself a few Sundays off (though I've never taken it that far). For me, though, having that deadline is a big part of maintaining the discipline needed to write on a regular basis.

For personal projects it can be a little trickier.

For the last several weeks, for instance, I have been consumed with putting the finishing touches on another experiment with self-publishing, Celebrating Mad Men: An Unofficial Guide to What Makes the Show and its Characters Tick. (For what it's worth, this was my first big one, not counting Pitched Vol. 1 and Pitched Vol. 2.)

It has been a lot of work trying to make this as professional a production as possible. After all, I'm going to be asking people to spend their hard-earned money on it! Cover design, layout, several rounds of proofing and corrections, fact-checking, fine-tuning the small details that separate a professional product from an amateur one, and on and on and on.

The crunch time I am currently experiencing on the project is by design, though. I've been working on the book for seven months or so with the knowledge that the end of the show was coming. The idea was to have it ready in the days following the final episode, that way it's out there when the show is still fresh in our minds and people are still eager to dissect it.

In other words, I built a deadline into the project. It's kicking me in the ass because it was meant to.

No, there is no boss hanging over my head demanding I finish it on time. I won't get fired or scolded or written up.

However, as a freelance writer, my ability to put food on my family's table depends on me being able to get stuff like this done. It's part of my livelihood. It's how I pay the bills. These self-publishing projects are not vanity projects, they're part of what I do for a living. There is no room for daydreaming or crossing my fingers and hoping success finds me. I have to go find it. I need to get things done, and hopefully those things will help me support my family while also being enjoyable to do (and in this case, I had a blast writing it).

Therefore, I try to structure things in such a way so that I'm forced to have an appointment with writing, "feeling inspired" or not.

Because me? I need deadlines.

Anyone who wants to write but who has a hard time getting work done should probably consider putting themselves in situations that force them to have deadlines, too. It's amazing what a difference it can make in your productivity.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Here is the self-indulgent writer's life post (yay!)

I started this blog however many years ago* for admittedly cynical reasons. I wanted to be more established as a Writer rather than a writer, and by all accounts having a blog through which you connect with people was an absolutely integral part of the equation. Supposedly, blogging is just what writers do.

It's me!
Since that time, I've had some books published, five of them by traditional publishers and three via my own sweat and blood.

I s'pose that's not bad.

Can't say this blog has had much to do with any of that or that it has helped in any way, though. I fully acknowledge that I haven't handled it well or the way you're supposed to or whatever, but that's neither here nor there. No need to second guess. The blog has just been a distraction, and that's okay.

Still, I feel like there is value here. There will be MORE value when I finally move it to my personal website (which needs a redesign), but for the moment, yeah. There is something to be had here. Maybe. Possibly.

So I've got something in mind. Two things, actually.

First is just to have more content. I used to do this a lot more often than I do now, 124 posts in 2009 (!) compared to just 6 in 2014. So yeah. More, then.

Second, and more importantly, I figure it's time to really talk writing. The business, the career, the life. What it really means to make this Who You Are and to do crazy shit like trying to pay your bills (gulp!) this way.

See, in late 2014, I finally abandoned full-time work for good in order to devote myself fully to the life of a writer. After more than a dozen years in the news business and then a few more in marketing, I decided it was time to be a Writer writer, with all the good and bad and body odor that comes of it.

For the moment it's just an experiment. A year-long plunge into cold water. We'll see how it goes.

But I figure I'm doing something a lot of other writers dream of doing, so why not chronicle the pains, problems, joys, and jubilation of this whole crazy scheme? It will not only be cathartic for me, maybe I can also help out some of my fellow dreamers, or at the very least help them see what they're getting into.

So that's the plan. That's the new mission of this blog, or at least partially (I'll still post nonsense now and then). Hope you enjoy.

Now back to the exciting task of organizing thousands of computer files ...

*In November of 2005! Holy shit!!

Friday, April 24, 2015

What should I write next?

After my Mad Men book is out, I plan to switch focus to fiction for a little while. Have two things in mind. Two novels that are DONE but that require my attention for the next few steps in the process. Help me decide which to focus on:

1) A children’s / middle grade fantasy novel that keeps with classic fantasy tropes/clich├ęs (think Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain books), i.e. young boy on an adventure, mouthy princess, dragons, etc. I think it’s fun and love the characters, but I don’t think I can sell it to a publisher – it’s too “standard,” and these days they want something unique – so I aim to start on the sequels and self-publish it as a series.

2) A dystopian science fiction novel about a cynical teenager who holds the key to stopping a militaristic madman's genocidal dreams, except she just doesn’t want to get involved in all that bullshit. Lots of high-action adventure ensues (some of it akin to Spielberg’s adaptation of “Minority Report”). Think I can sell this to a legit publisher, but it needs fairly sweeping rewrites first.

There are other novels in progress, but since those two are DONE they should take priority. So where do I focus my efforts first?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The writer who doesn't blog

I'm a writer. I have books and stuff. My latest, about how to be a good groom, came out yesterday.

But despite being a writer and having to do all that comes with the job description, I do a poor job of blogging on a regular basis.

All the modern wisdom about what it takes to make it as a writer in today's world says I'm going about this all wrong. You've got to build an audience, they say. You have to keep your name out there. You have to connect with people. You have to utilize the web -- blogs, social media, discussion forums, etc. -- to establish a readership and contacts and all the rest. It's a vital part of enjoying long-term success.

I agree with that notion, too. This blog post is not going to outline how and why I think that advice is overstated. Honestly, it's probably not. It's IMPORTANT to engage with people. Hell, I've gotten writing opportunities and made important connections thanks to my participation on Internet forums and social media, so I know firsthand how important it can be.

Yet I still fail to do it as much as I should.

Perhaps it's because I already do so much blogging. I ghostwrite for an array of clients, blogging about a dozen different topics every month and making literally dozens of posts during that time. When I don't have a deadline to meet, I prefer to focus my attention on a passion project. Maybe a book about Mad Men or a short story burning a hole in my brain or whatever.

Perhaps it's because Blogger just isn't a very good platform. It looks amateurish. I should get off my butt and add a blog to my website, that way this whole thing looks a little more professional. It would probably cause me to blog more often.

Perhaps it's many things.

But make no mistake, whatever the reason, it's a failure on my part. I'm a writer, and in 2015 a writer should probably be blogging on a semi-regular basis. Maybe not daily, or even weekly, but at least regularly.

Maybe in the days ahead I'll work to do better in this arena.

Of course, "maybe" is a pretty big word.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Music by Eric - "eight times alone"

How about an airy wall of sound to soothe the savage soul?

I've previously posted albums from my m2 project, which is walls-of-sound music I record at home. So I figured why not roll it back to 2007 for the second m2 record, eight times alone? It's hard to believe I recorded it eight years ago. Actually, released it eight years ago. Some tracks were recorded a decade ago. Still can't wrap my head around that.

I like this one. Some wacky sci-fi authors even use it as writing music.

If you're into this sort of thing, maybe you will, too. Songs are all available for download at the links below:

1) Preparing A Resume (6:43)
2) Creative Endeavors Abandoned (10:32)
3) Tea Leaves (4:55)
4) At Room Temperature They Leave, Don’t Call (6:28)
5) On Air (6:14)
6) Beast From Forbidden Planet (6:05)
7) It’s Lonely Here (2:42)
8) The Ramifications of Answering Machines (13:33)


(For previous postings from this music project, check out Dying Mother, the dialogue of narrow sorrows, Ashes, Six Stories, and The Endless Twelve)

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Zombie Apocalypse Scenarios Don't Make Sense To Me

Despite the misgivings I expressed a few years ago, The Walking Dead has turned into a good watch that gets me to the TV each Sunday, or at the very least one that gets me to binge watch once a year or so. It may not be AMC's best show, but it's still pretty darn good.

I can't really claim to be a zombie fan, though. I am a fan of post-apocalyptic stories. A HUGE fan of them, actually. Stories about survival after society has collapsed have always drawn me in, always will. Earth Abides, The Road, Lucifer's Hammer, Alas, Babylon!, portions of The Stand -- sign me up! So for me, the zombies in The Walking Dead are secondary to my enjoyment. For me it's all about the end of the world.

Plus, there's the whole thing about zombie apocalypses NOT MAKING SENSE and all.

Yes, yes, I understand you have to suspend your disbelief. I get that, and I DO suspend my disbelief. I can accept that in the world of traditional Romero-ian zombie plagues, zombies exist, they eat people, and yada yada. That's all cool by me.

My problem is that zombie plague worlds rarely play by their own rules. It's nickpicky bullshit, but hear me out: You get caught by zombies, they tear you apart and eat you, right?

So how the hell are there so many zombies walking around in the world if they eat everyone they encounter?

'Cause all those millions of zombies can't be people who were bitten but managed to survive until they turned. That just doesn't hold water. And they didn't rise from their graves, either. Zombies can't get through a buried casket. So where did all those zombies come from?

I mean, consider The Walking Dead. The group goes into a school or warehouse or other large building and it invariably had a few dozen zombies in it. How can that be? Based on the way the world works, once those zombies started chewing on people those people getting chewed on are torn up and eat down to pulpy little bits of goop.
So again, where the hell did all the zombies come from!?

It's nitpicky bullshit, I know. Sorry, I can't help it. As nitpicky as it is, it takes me out of zombie stories if those stories are set more than a few weeks after the outbreak, as The Walking Dead now is.
Basically, when I watch or read zombie stories, I always think the zombie population should be a lot smaller than it is. Most of the population should be wiped out, too, but if you make it six months after the zombie breakout you should be GOLD after that unless you're a total dumbass.

Nitpicky, sure.

But am I wrong?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Spielberg Knows What He's Doing. You Don't.

Okay, first off, that headline is needless antagonistic. I acknowledge it. Forgive me. I'm listening to punk as I write this. It just seems to fit my mood.

Anyway, prompted by Steven Soderbergh's interesting recasting of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the other day I was daydreaming and my mind wandered to action scenes in films, specifically why some sprawling action set pieces work and some don't. The Star Wars prequels were at the forefront of my mind at the time, but it led to a train of thought that is relevant to action movies in general.

Now keep in mind, I'm a big Star Wars fan, but not one of THOSE Star Wars fans. Saw the original in a shitty little theater as a kid, blah blah blah. You know the drill. I'm also not one of those people who froth at the mouthMy point is

The second prequel, Attack of the Clones, ends with a massive battle on Geonosis that goes on for 20+ minutes and has TONS of explosions and robots and shit. It's a huge, chaotic battle that attempts to one-up the Hoth battle from The Empire Strikes Back at every turn.

It doesn't. The battle lovely, but it's also rather incoherent. The entire scene is a lengthy series of impressive looking but completely empty explosions.

This is an issue in a lot of modern movies. The action is big and loud, but there is little sense of forward motion or narrative to it. Sometimes these scenes go on for 15 minutes or more, but it's all just a jumble of sound and image.

Not EVERY modern action movie, of course. I'm not an old fuddy duddy. The action scenes in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, for example, are well-staged, dynamic, and actually have a sense of narrative and physical space that is easy to follow. Love the car chase with Nick Fury:

Winter Soldier stood out, though, because it got action right when so many modern action flicks confuse cacophony for excitement. Have you SEEN the Transformers movies? Or hell, any post-Saving Private Ryan war film. Throw in enough shaky cam, fast cuts, and closeups, and no one can tell that your action scene doesn't have an interesting through-line because you beat their senses half to death.

Spielberg, however ... this guy understands that actions scenes are in and of themselves little stories, and the ones that work best have tight, impeccable visuals.

The opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan is rightly hailed as one of the greatest feats in cinema history. On the surface, it's 20+ minutes of bullets, explosions, and torn up limbs. It's relentless. An assault on the sense that more than a few filmgoers (including this one) found overwhelming.

Spielberg makes it work, though, because it tells a story. MANY stories, in fact. The core of the sequence is, of course, Hanks getting off the boat, up the beach, and leading his men to take the bunkers. There is a narrative that runs through all that hectic action, and one you can easily follow. Hanks goes through a clear journey over the course of this extended sequence.

But there is more. In a big battle scene like that, you want to cut away to other moments in order to show the scale of what's happening. You see this is almost all big action set pieces like this. Show this thing blowing up, show those people dying, show that amazing sight. What Spielberg does, though, is ensure every one of those little cutaways tells a miniature, self-contained story. Look close at the seeming chaos of that Saving Private Ryan scene and you'll notice that the "chaos" is all actually a series of focused moments, each intended to say something:

  • The doctor checking over a row of bodies and giving his assessment.
  • The guy who gets saved by his helmet, only to be shot a moment later
  • Burning the Germans out of the bunkers and then deciding to let them burn.

And so on.

These are small narrative moments that punctuate the action in meaningful ways. You come away not having seen an overwhelming series of explosions, but an actual narrative that fits together as a series of important moments that can be clearly followed.

That Attack of the Clones sequence, meanwhile, is an excuse to show off lots of badass CGI and cool robot designs, but can you spot the narrative in it? Can you remember any specific moments?

Spielberg is a storyteller first and foremost. Even in his most audacious, self-indulgent moments, he's laser-focused on sending the audience on a journey, and he does so in a way that generally needs no trickery or hand-holding. All that sprawl and spectacle has something to SAY. And because of that, it works.

I guess that's he is Spielberg and Bay is Bay.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

The power of music is astonishing

I love the power of music. Sometimes I'm astonished by it.

For a few years now, my son's favorite song has been Against Me!'s cover of "Here Comes A Regular" by The Replacements. It is, admittedly, a fantastic rendition. Check it out:

Thing is, it's a sad dirge about aging alone in a small, shitty town and finding your only solace in a small, shitty bar. Here are the lyrics.

My son is a teenager. He does not live in a small shitty town. He does not drink (and yes, smart guy, I'm sure of it). He is not a weary middle-aged man wondering where his life went. He should not relate to this.

But it stirs something in him all the same. He takes his own thing from it, he weaves it into his own life, and it means something to him, and it strikes a chord in him, and it's powerful to him. He CONNECTS with it through the sheer power of music.

I've had the same experience with many songs over the years. Songs that connected with me despite being the furthest possible thing to my own experiences or emotions or feelings. Songs that can make you feel sad when you are happy, or that can make you dance when you're feeling lazy, or that can make you pine for yesterday's you've never actually experienced.

I love that music is capable of this sort of thing.

I love music.