Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Got writer's block? I suggest you go for a walk...or maybe not. I'm currently 40 pages into the first draft of my third project--which I may have stumbled upon a title for today--and because of one little walk I now have a fourth. An overactive imagination may be key to a sustainable writing career, but it can also be a burden.

It really came from one little concept that struck me on my walk. Basically, I walked from my house to a little park with cute benches at the mouth of the Niantic River, just beneath the draw bridge, which is a bit of an eyesore. However, if you sit in the park on one of those cute little benches looking out on the river, the view is inspiring. And I mean that literally.

I found myself thinking about the Transcendentalism I teach in my American Lit classes, wondering why if mankind was ruining the beauty of nature, did this view look so much more interesting and spectacular with the little houses smattering the coast and dotting the hills on the horizon, not to mention the fleet of sail boats crowding the docks to my left. Sure the hills and the river would be pretty on their own, but it wouldn't be the same. Think of all those nautical paintings you've seen hanging in seafood joints. They're something special.

Then I pictured the boats and houses just stuck there on concrete or glass or gravel or something. Just plopped down in the picture without the green strokes of the hills or the blue ripples cascading across the river's skin in varying patterns. On their own, left only to the devices of man, they simply aren't spectacular at all. I had an epiphany. As is usual with most arguments, it isn't the artistry of nature or that of mankind alone that provides us with the most perfect look at beauty and inspiration. It's the balance of both.

Think of a beautiful man-made fountain with a cool sculpture without the flowers around it or the water to pour out into the main pool. Not nearly as inspirational--just dry, hard concrete. Bleh.

Then I thought of Boston. Though I love "The Big Apple," there's just something I find more aesthetically inspiring about "Bean Town," and it's not just the legumes. It's that balance of old, historical structures juxtaposed with a new, modern urbanhood that truly makes the city grand. You can gaze upon a rickety old church and graveyard with Paul Revere's dead body rotting six feet beneath your shoes with dilapidated cultural foundations crumbling all around, and if you tilt your head up just a few degrees, you can see a monument of modern economic domination towering above. One if by land, two if by sea, indeed! Lo! They've come by air!

I love these concepts. Everything in moderation is something we all sort of except as true, but what does that really mean. It's not just food, drink, and sex. It takes the old and the new. It takes tradition and impulsiveness.  Reality and fantasy. Conservative and liberal. Dogs and cats. You get the point. I often tell my students when there's a passionate argument where both sides are unwilling to budge, it's usually because both sides are wrong...and right. The answer is usually somewhere in the middle, or non-existent.

I want to capture this concept and show it working in the real world--and the imaginary. Think Anne of Green Gables and her Romanticism melding with Marilla's no-nonsense Realism. (Yes, I'm reading that book to my daughter now. What of it?)

Now, it's not just this concept that came to me out there on that hike. An entire plot, all of its twists, all of its characters...title and all, came to me on the half hour walk home from the point that had so inspired me. It wrote itself. It was an epiphany. And that's the title. Even a character's name. I love it when a plan comes together.

Now this blog is about the struggles and triumphs of an unpublished writer, so it wouldn't be right without pointing out that this poses a unique problem. As I said earlier, I'm 40 pages into my third full-length novel that I love oh so much and must, can, and will finish. So where does that leave me? I took a bunch of notes when I got home...on desktop stickies on my laptop. But will that idea still be as fresh and interesting to me in the year or two it takes to finalize this project? Well, let's hope.

If not, I can always go for another walk.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Train Wrecks

A fan fell to his death in Texas. I watched the video on YouTube. A few times. I'm such a sick bastard. I've also watched the video of that dude the song "Hey Man Nice Shot" was based on...some politician that blew his brains out on live television. I imagine the JFK assassination is one of the most watched videos of all time. So, why? Is it that "at least it wasn't me" feeling we get when we laugh at someone that just tripped and fell down the stairs? I thought about it, and then gave up. I don't know. But I can't stop looking at this shit, even if I regret it afterward.

When I was about seventeen I went to this party. There were like twenty or thirty of us crammed into this small living room in a "not-so-nice" part of town. There was a special room for the kids who were smoking "tree," which I avoided because I was such a goody goody. Anyhow, what happened is my friend Pat brought this video simply called "Sick." He explained it as a compilation of scenes from the most twisted scenes he or his cousin or somebody could pluck out of various pornos. We're talking some sick shit. We're talking a man screwing the body cavity of a frozen turkey, girls stuffing immense eels up their unmentionables--that's right, I said eels--guys with sheep, girls blowing dogs, you name it. And you know what, every single one of us watched this, laughing our asses off, trying to one-up each other with the best pun. We talked about it for months. A whole group of friends watched this with joy--not that we were turned on, but we had fun with it--and most people individually would never even admit to knowing such things could happen let alone watch it happen. Awesome.

How many times have you watched the video of 9/11? How many specials and documentaries have you watched on that horrible day? There's been three movies that I know of. It's started working its way into fiction. It's even been used as a small, off-hand plot point in movies. We're obsessed. Slipknot has a song called "Disasterpiece," and I think that might be the best way to describe these events in our lives that we obsess over but all agree are terrible. As far as creating a terrible tragedy, these shocking moments are the masterpieces. So perfectly awful, we can't help but gawk.

I'm currently reading Murakami's "Coin Locker Babies." Boy did this guy get that. Maybe it's just Japan in the eighties got it, who knows. But from the first paragraph, we're seeing things we just don't even want to acknowledge exist. And it's told so naturally, as if these things happen every day. Well, they probably do, folks. Sad but true. The book even goes as far to make a comment about this phenomenon of which I speak. Murakami predicts reality televsion by having a man blow his own mother's face off in front of live television cameras. The result, his brother's album skyrockets on the charts and sells like there's no tomorrow. We love this shit.

I'm trying to capture that obsession with what we see in these train-wreck, rubber-necker moments in my new book. The only thing is, when we see these snippets in the media, we rarely know the whole story. Murakami shows that nicely in his book. We gawk at the guy that fell to his death at a baseball game, but do we even think about his family, what else he does. We will, someday when someone writes a feature about him or more likely there's a ninety second clip on Sports Center. But while he's falling, do we wonder what he was thinking, if he was trying to land safely, or if he was just flailing in a blind panic? What a terrible moment. And don't get me wrong, I'm just as bad. I watched it three times. From different angles.

My book will try to explore the real world behind the headline-driven media of today. Think the media's obsession with pinning Columbine on the video game and music industries. There's always more than meets the eye. In order to see anything, you logically have to be missing something else. There's always something behind what you're seeing. Who's to say which is more important. I'm excited about this book. I'm excited about the story behind the story. Keep gawking!

Monday, July 4, 2011

He's Baaack

It's been a long, long time. With my MFA in the rear view, along with my second novel, I'm ready to get back in the saddle and practice what I've been learning over the past two years--writing. Novel three has officially begun production, and I think it has the potential to trump anything I've ever written before...ever.

The hard part is getting used to the idea of writing something completely on my own, without a mentor. I have a dear friend who appears willing to be my first reader along the way, and my wife will certainly chime in once the first draft is done and ready to be read, but not having a professional, published, successful writer to read every word along the way is a bit frightening.

Or maybe it's liberating. This puppy's mine...all mine! Muhuhahaha! I feel like I've spent so much time on classes outside of fiction writing, and revising works I almost don't remember writing, that's it feels good to get cracking on a new project. I hope to finish a draft over the summer and then truly take my time plugging away at revisions with no artificial deadlines. I'm pretty damned determined, so I don't worry that I'll slack knowing there's no deadline. I just want it to get done, be perfect, get published, and see this puppy in print.

However, I'm not giving up on novels one and two. I have an agent meeting scheduled in August, and I'm sending out queries regularly hoping to catch some fish. I think I've gotten both novels to come as far as they can, but I continue to read and revise as needed. In fact, I'll be reading from my thesis at WestConn in August as well.

Either way, I'm excited about writing as much as possible, whether it be working on this new novel, revising the other two, or blogging right here. Yes, writing is a Bittersweet Trail, but it's one we love strolling down. So, with all apologies to Whitesnake, here I go again on my own