My Amazon Addiction – 2013

Saw a post on Gawker this weekend where someone detailed all the things they had purchased off Amazon in the past year and thought it might be an interesting experiment for me. There was a point where I was spending $40-50 every two weeks or so on books and DVDs and things that mostly went unread and unwatched as they piled up at an alarming rate.

The wife and I made a trip to IKEA (our third in the past month) so we could buy some more shelves and it finally hit me that I’m an idiot. Well, I mean, I already KNEW that, but still.

I actually stopped buying things, other than gifts and Kindle apps for the kids, sometime around Labor Day. Granted, this coincided with a necessary shift in funding towards beer for the college football season, but it also had to do with the fact that there was a stack of a dozen books on my nightstand with a quarter inch of dust accumulated on them. I’m fairly certain my 3 year-old scrawled “REDRUM” on top of them with her strawberry jelly tipped fingers.

Anyway, here’s a list of all the things I bought for myself on Amazon in 2013, with appropriately sad commentary…

JANUARY

Busy Monsters – William Giraldi
Gun Machine – Warren Ellis
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan
Truth in Advertising – John Kenney

Yep…right off the bat, the unread pile of novels begins. I was so excited for each of these books, in its own right, yet haven’t managed to even crack the cover on any of them.

One Trick Rip-Off/Deep Cuts HC – Paul Pope

I’m a HUGE, like, completely GIANT-SIZED Paul Pope fan, so this was a no-brainer. However, it just sits on the shelf, unread. I’m a Pope completist to the point of spending hundreds on old posters and dealing with Mr. Pope himself to secure some things I couldn’t track down otherwise. I have a bit of Batman Year 100 preliminary artwork and the pre-press digital proofs of his Pulphope book. Hell, I even named my cat after him.

The Prince of Cats – Ron Wimberley

Speaking of cats, I heard this was a pretty cool comic book hip-hop retelling of Romeo & Juliet. Maybe one day I’ll actually read it.

I also bought the Die Hard 25th Anniversary Collection on Blu-Ray, because it was on sale and also because…DIE HARD.

And I bought a book that I already owned, but this was partly Amazon misleading me in the description and partly me being lazy. Luckily, my dad was more than willing to take the copy off my hands.

FEBRUARY

The Rules of Attraction [Blu-ray]

I have this instant gratification slash nostalgia thing where I have to have something that I just watched on TV because it reminds me that I watched it at some other point in my life on TV and I need to be able to relive that experience whenever I want (even though I just relived it and I’ve never thought about reliving it prior to that…nor will I think about it again now that I own it on Blu-Ray).

We Live in Water: Stories – Jess Walter
The Miniature Wife and Other Stories – Manuel Gonzales

I decided, prior to writing my third novel, that I was going to get into short stories, little bursts of fiction that I could sate myself with while I tried to squeeze out my own scribblings. The Jess Walter book was beyond amazing (leading me to buy Beautiful Ruins…and, subsequently, not read it yet). Oh, and lest it remain unsaid, I haven’t read The Miniature Wife either.

MARCH

Imperial Bedrooms – Bret Easton Ellis
Lunar Park – Bret Easton Ellis

Obviously, seeing Rules of Attraction made me think about my past love of Ellis and how I was missing a few of his books. Of course, the reason for this is that I had outgrown his writing (both content and style). But I never let that stop me when I’m bored at work and trolling Amazon. I still haven’t read these either.

Hawkeye, Vol. 1: My Life as a Weapon TPB

Read it as soon as I took it out of the box. Love me some Hawkeye.

The Shade TPB

Loved James Robinson’s Starman…or at least what I read of it. I have all 7 hardcovers, but trailed off reading them somewhere around four or five. I was very excited when this Shade project was announced. So excited, in fact, that I took this out of the box when it arrived and promptly shoved it atop my bookshelves for 10 months. I moved it last week when I put the new bookshelf together. I like to think of the dust as a protective cover, like Gorilla Glass.

Great Pacific Volume 1: Trashed! TPB
The Unwritten, Vol. 7: The Wound TPB
The Massive Vol. 1: Black Pacific TPB

I read two out of three. Finally stopped collecting The Unwritten after purchasing but not reading the last 5 trades. It’s a good thing Scalped ended with 10 volumes, otherwise I’d still be buying those.

Numb – Sean Farrell
Battleborn – Claire Vaye Watkins

If ever there was a book that made me hate myself for even pretending to be a writer, this is it. Simply put, it’s a beautiful, effortless collection of stories that had me alternately chuckling and cursing its uniqueness.

Literary Rogues: A Scandalous History of Wayward Authors – Andrew Shaffer

Pretty good bathroom reading. Writers are a mess.

Samsung BD-E5400 Wi-Fi Blu-ray Player (Black)

Is there any other color? I think I bought this while we were on vacation at Disney World. No idea why. Was it on sale?

APRIL

Slow month. That Disney trip really fucked with our bank account.

Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation – Michael Pollan

Absolutely LOVED In Defense of Food and enjoyed most of The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Saw him on a speaking tour too (as well as Anthony Bourdain). I got really into food politics and cooking for a while when I was writing my first novel. Still enjoy cooking, but reading about food has fallen down my priority list. Haven’t read this one.

SUPERMAG – Jim Rugg

Street Angel is an amazing comic. Jim is a super nice guy. We met when I owned my comic book store. This book is sitting in a drawer in my nightstand, paged through but never really read.

The Rockford Files: Season One DVDs

Blame Matt Fraction. He kept comparing his early Hawkeye run to the Rockford Files. I was aware of the show from growing up in the 70s and 80s, but never really watched it. Decided to buckle down and watched the whole season in one weekend. Totally hooked.

MAY

Modern Vampires of the City – Vampire Weekend

People still buy CDs?

The Paleo Slow Cooker: Healthy, Gluten-free Meals the Easy Way
You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack: Cartoons – Tom Gauld
Walt Disney’s Donald Duck: A Christmas For Shacktown
Walt Disney’s Donald Duck: The Old Castle’s Secret

Two volumes of Fantagraphics’ amazing Carl Barks Library. I bought an Uncle Scrooge volume when I was in New York in 2012 to meet with my agent. I love me some ducks.

The Rockford Files: Season Two DVDs

Yeah, that’s right…

JUNE

The History of Vegas – Jodi Angel

Another short story collection. Gave up on it about three stories in. Didn’t like the voice.

This Is Portland: The City You’ve Heard You Should Like – Alexander Barrett

My wife and I took a trip to Portland at the end of July. This cute little book actually helped us out quite a bit.

The Rockford Files: Seasons Three through Five DVDs

The ‘rents gave me an Amazon gift card for Father’s Day. These box sets are still in the original wrapping. I never finished Season Two.

JULY

Soludos Men’s Dali Shoes, Color: Charcoal, Size: 44

I bought espadrilles for the Portland trip. Comfiest shoes EVER.

Fugitives and Refugees: A Walk in Portland, Oregon  – Chuck Palahniuk
I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains – Chuck Klosterman

Unwritten rule: I never fly anywhere without taking at least one book of essays by a person named Chuck.

AUGUST

Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe – Tim Leong
The Legend of Korra – Book One: Air DVDs
Wonder Boys DVD
Get Shorty Blu-Ray

Nostalgia, pure and simple. Dennis Farina had just passed away. The Get Shorty Blu-Ray was less than eight bucks (Unrelated to Farina, I think the Wonder Boys DVD was six).

SEPTEMBER

The Iron Giant (Special Edition) DVD
WWE: Legends of Mid-South Wrestling [Blu-ray]
WWE Presents: The Spectacular Legacy of the AWA DVD
The Triumph and Tragedy of World Class Championship Wrestling DVD

Decided I needed to do some research for Book #4. Can you tell it may have something to do with professional wrestling? My dad and I just watched the WCCW DVD on New Year’s Eve (only 3 months after buying it!). The others? Unwatched to date.

Oh, I also finally bought an HDMI cable for that “new” Blu-Ray player I got in March. I’m on top of things.

OCTOBER

Nothing! See? Beer money.

NOVEMBER

I got some birthday cash, so…

Cards Against Humanity

I have no friends, but if I did, this would be a fun game to play with them.

The Squared Circle: Life, Death, and Professional Wrestling – David Shoemaker

Excellent book about mostly dead people. “Memory/All alone in the moonlight/I can smile at the old days/I was beautiful then…”

Redken Clean Brew Extra Cleansing Shampoo for Men, 8.5 Ounce

Beer shampoo!

Motorola Moto X, Black

New smartphone!

DECEMBER

Nothing (for me personally).

And that’s that.

I’ve made a conscious effort to try to catch up on those dusty bedside books, while also reclaiming some sort of workout regimen, cooking more, caring for my three children, satisfying my wife, and (somehow, somewhere, at some time) returning to a regular writing schedule.

I figure, with enough distractions (and illegal internet downloads), I’ll stop buying everything forever!

42 – The Meaning of Life

For those who don’t know, that title up there is a bit of a literary reference. I had a rather significant birthday last weekend, as far as idols and inspirations go. I met Douglas Adams at the Miami Book Fair back in…92? 93?…something like that. Clive Barker was there too. Two of my favorite writers growing up (along with Michael Moorcock…you’d think I was British, huh?).

Douglas Adams taught me that you can write genre fiction that’s intelligent AND funny. He made me want to be clever. Vonnegut reinforced that feeling in me, as did Twain and Klosterman and Coupland and even Bret Easton Ellis.

I now have a delightful “42” tattoo on my left wrist (my writing hand) to remind me why I’m writing.

Nothing much to report on that front. Book #3 has been with my agent for over 3 weeks now without a peep. I’m not bothering him. I’ve got football and beer to keep me company through the season. I’ve begun sketching out the two main characters for my next book. Still a long way to go before I put pen to paper. That should be a mess.

If anything happens, I’ll let you know.

End of Summer Summary

The trip to Portland was eye-opening. We’d move the family in a second, if we could. A few things need to work out first.

School is back in session. That means my schedule has changed. After surviving high school and doing some creative course selection in college, I never thought I’d be a morning person again. Welcome to adulthood. I hope I won’t be staying in this weird place too long.

As far as writing goes, there’s some bad and worse news…

After my last check-in with the west coast branch of my agency, they decided to close the place down. My book has been relegated to Hollywood limbo, most likely forever. I begged my agent to submit the manuscript to a couple smaller publishers in a last ditch effort for publication. Nothing else to report there right now.

As soon as I’m done here, I’m going to finish typing up the last few pages of Book #3. My agent then asked me to sit on it a month and re-read it to make sure it’s as good as can be before we try to throw it at editors. We’ve surmised that this is the most mainstream thing I’ve written (and plan to write at least for the next two or three books), so it’s best to take our time and perfect it.

In the meantime, I’ve ordered some research materials for Book #4. It’s going to be a fun one, so I want to take my time with it. Always need to have something in the pipeline to distract me from the crushing emptiness of reality, right?

Keeping the Plates Spinning…

One month later and there’s still no word from the West Coast. All I know is that the producer has given the book to the director. From what the agents tell me, this is Step #1 on a list of steps that continues to grow as the days go on. Apparently, from here, the two of them decide if they want to pursue the book as a movie without paying me up front for it. If not, then we’re back to square one and my agents will re-submit it to the next producer on their list.

If, however, this producer fancies it, then we move on to the next step which also does not involve me getting paid. In fact, I’m not exactly sure where on this list of steps that payment to me actually comes into play. It’s the thickest onion, layers-wise, and it’s already making me cry.

From what I can gather, the producer then shakes my script at some studios, some investors, maybe even a famous actor or two, and sees who is willing to throw money at it. Then there’s a screenwriter involved. Some casting decisions. Maybe a caterer. I dunno.

I won’t lie. It’s both a fun process and an infuriating one. When book #3 stalled a bit, the non-action on Sleep Suits Irish was driving me crazy. I have no patience. Now that I’ve gotten back on track and only have about 100 pages left in the new book, my focus has returned and I feel better about things.

Plus, you can’t help but be excited when you know that the producer-director team responsible for one of the most famous late 80’s action-comedy movies is considering adapting your book for the big screen. I mean, the film these two did basically created a new genre when it exploded onto the scene. It was the biggest box office success of the year, even garnering an Academy Award nomination.

We shall see.

In other news, I’ve got pages of notes for book #4 and I’m very excited to start writing it. I’m going to be exploring some new formatting and digging into some of my favorite childhood pasttimes. Book #3 is rounding the last corner and getting ready to hand off the baton.

Also, the wife and I are heading to Portland, Oregon at the end of the month. We’re on a bit of a recon mission, hopefully considering a relocation at some point. If anyone has any places we should check out, please let me know…

Irish on the West Coast

Quick update: The west coast branch of my literary agency liked the rewrites on Sleep Suits Irish and have submitted it to a producer.

I won’t give any specific details, but I will say that this producer is a former studio head who helped shepherd, develop, and release some of the biggest movies of the eighties and nineties. He now has his own production company and, interestingly enough, I’ve been told that he’s looking for a project for a director who’s trying to make a comeback in the industry.

Could be a win-win for everyone involved.

THEN, if the film rights sell, we go back to the publishing houses with that small trophy and wave it around a bit hoping that someone will want to publish a book based on a possible movie that’s based on the book itself.

I think I need a drink.

 

Not Quite One Third Plot-wise

I lied.

First of all, I haven’t been sticking to my writing schedule. Or at least I’m not sticking to it EXACTLY. See, I had a lot going on last week…in fact, today is my first full day of work at my office since the end of May. I ended up taking last Friday off and had HOURS that I could’ve written something.

Instead, I took a nap. Unintentionally.

See, I thought I was at “that point” in the book where I was ready to bring all the plot points together and start snowballing the whole thing. Last Friday was supposed to be the day that I began that chapter. The only problem was, I had no idea what I was going to write. It turns out that the book was nowhere near where I thought it was. I have this thing in my head, I guess you could call it a defense mechanism of sorts, where I play out a book from beginning to end. Then, when it comes time to actually write it, I don’t want to. I want to move on. I feel like I’ve already done it.

So, the second way I lied is by saying the book is a third of the way done. It’s not even close. I sat down on the couch last Friday and went over all the characters in my book (in between games of solitaire on my Kindle and actual napping), figuring out where they are now and what their destinations are by the end of the book. I realized I have some more development to do before the plotlines coalesce.

So I spent an hour outlining almost the entire book in a two-page summary.

Then, through a comical series of printer ink mishaps, eBay issues, forgetfulness, and general frustration, I ended up skipping library time and hating myself all weekend.

The good news is that I wrote yesterday, nearly 5 pages hand-written, and I’m following my new outline to the letter. I’m now writing chapter 9 and it looks like everything will come together in chapter 13…so even though I’m a third of the way through in page count (approximately), it looks like the climax of the book may actually happen at the halfway point. Seems appropriate.

And the book FEELS better now than it did before. All the foreshadowing leads somewhere. All the characters have a purpose.

It just sucks that I’m so impatient…I’ve already got the opening line to a new book in the back of my head…

 

One Third into Book #3

Book #3 is officially over 100 pages now. Finished chapter 8 yesterday. Word count is just under 23,500. That puts me one-third of the way to the finish line. More or less.

I don’t want anyone to think that I’m basing my book’s progress strictly on word count or page count, because that would be ludicrous and arbitrary. I’m only ludicrous and arbitrary in my normal day-to-day dealings (such as parenting, or driving, or mowing the lawn). Writing is much more serious to me.

No, I know I’m a third of the way through because chapter 8 was the last “set-up” chapter. I’ve established the setting and my main characters. I’ve created an introductory conflict and some inner turmoil. I’ve dropped in some background info that puts some other characters’ motives into question. The next chapter begins phase two where everything ramps up.

I’ve been playing with a new structure (new to me, at least) on this project. See, I basically have two protagonists that, so far, have been following parallel paths with their own problems. My narrative voice has alternated between the guy on odd chapters and the girl on even chapters. The narration is third person and doesn’t skew specifically to one character or another, but the story follows either the guy or the girl. It’s been an interesting experiment. I’ve noticed that the guy chapters move faster for me and have a lot more going on. The girl chapters are slower and more emotional. This has nothing to do with my ability to write female characters (which I think I’m rather capable of doing), but more about what’s going on in their lives.

With chapter 9 (or 10 at the latest), I merge the two storylines. From there, I’ll be able to focus on either (or both) of the protagonists as well as turning the narrative onto two of the supporting characters. I’d turn the narrative onto the protagonist too, but aside from a minor character who acts as a conflict catalyst, the book’s protagonist is really the setting itself and the circumstances that setting has caused for the characters. There’s also a Macguffin thrown in there that swirls everything up for the cast.

It’s all so meta, huh?

On a scheduling front, I’ve finally managed to make Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays my writing days…2-3 hours after work on each day. A bit of structure always helps and sometimes forces me to write when I don’t really want to. Poor me.

As for book #2: I’m waiting. My agents have the updated manuscript and are, hopefully, reading it now. Fingers crossed that it moves forward…

 

And Now We Wait…

Edits, tweaks, new chapters, punched up dialogue…ALL the rewrites on Sleep Suits Irish are done. AGAIN.

The whole thing ended up being just over 77,000 words and 352 pages. Sent it off to my agents (in NYC and LA) Wednesday night. The waiting is the hardest part.

If you think about it, I’ve already been through a long, drawn-out round of rejections, and now I’m setting myself up for it again (when I spoke to the LA folks I think I heard mention of sending the book out to 20 or so producers). That’s like asking the cute girl out to the prom, having her say no, then going back the next day and asking her sexy but crazy best friend when the cute girl’s out of earshot.

Now I need to decompress and get my mind right to climb back on that horse called Book #3. Hopefully a weekend of mindless drinking will do it!

I used to think, if I didn’t have to have a “real” job, that I could easily write two books a year (maybe even 5 in 2 years). Now, with the rewrites and the mood swings and the regrouping and the dashed dreams and the Phoenix rising once again, I’m thinking maybe one and a half. It’s all so draining.

But hey, that still gives me time to catch up on entire seasons of the Rockford Files on DVD, so I guess there’s a silver lining…

 

Rewrites Begin Anew

For the first time in forever, I actually mapped out an entire book. I was re-reading Sleep Suits Irish yesterday and started bouncing back and forth among four or five chapters, trying to figure out where I could insert a key element and where I could fix two other plot points. It all got to be too much, so I decided to chart out the book chapter by chapter, on one long sheet of paper with a brief sentence for each. Worked like magic.

Today I will write the first of two new chapters that should add a completely different flavor to the book and some of its characters and their relationships.

I was also able to pinpoint exactly where I can punch up dialogue, insert character mentions, and generally smooth things out in at least 10 other chapters.

Amazing what a little bit of rough outlining can accomplish.

I’ve never been able to outline a book while I was writing it, because I tend to make up entire references, conversations, and general feelings while I’m writing. It’s not until I’ve written a chapter that I have an idea what can happen next. I mean, sure, I’ve got the overall beats in my head. I know (generally) how a book is going to play out from beginning to end in terms of what I want the story to accomplish. I just can’t reason that far ahead on the details.

However, it’s nice to know that I now have a new arrow in my quiver as far as what I can do at the end of a book (in addition to spell checks and grammar issues, making sure names match up, and making sure plot points aren’t left dangling) before sending it out into the world.

I’m assuming this isn’t a new thing to other writers and their processes, but at least I learn something new every day.

It’s All Different a Few Days Later

Right off the bat, I have to admit that being rejected sucks.

You don’t even realize how much it sucks until a day or two after it finally happens. And it’s such an odd phenomenon, because when your book gets sent out, it’s not to one person at a time. There’s no receiving line where an editor shakes your hand, reads your book, and hands it back to you with a snort or a disapproving head shake. No, your baby goes out to a dozen or more editors at once…the “Big 6” publishers, smaller imprints, some indie houses…and the rejections trickle in over weeks or months. If you’re anything like me, you do a quick Google search on the editors your agent has submitted to in order to determine if you recognize any of their back catalog, if any of the books they worked on are staring at you from the shelves across the family room. You may ultimately have a favorite or two that you’re waiting to hear from and the others don’t matter as much.

The range of rejections is understandably odd too. Some editors just say “Sorry, it wasn’t for me” while others praise your strong voice and solid writing and go in-depth about what they liked and how much they liked it but there’s that one thing they didn’t like (that’s probably easily fixable) that made them pass. Some rejections you shrug off and others you go back to and re-read over the course of a couple days, trying to parse some hidden meaning from them.

When that closing day hits though, and you know you’re not getting any more rejections or offers, it’s a dismal feeling. I had held out hope for a month that the one editor would come through. He seemed to really champion the book over the phone. He was as excited about it as I was when I wrote it. When it didn’t happen it was like getting punched in the gut on the school playground and being left gasping for air while the other kids went off to play dodgeball without you. Not that that ever happened to me…

Basically, I was in a funk for the past week or so. Couple that with the fact that I hadn’t written anything substantial on Book #3 in a month, and you may be able to understand why I’ve been feeling like a failure, like nothing will every change, like I’m not even spinning my wheels but rather sitting on the curb staring at the parked car instead. My first two books went nowhere. My third book isn’t moving forward. Things look bleak.

My shiny little ace-in-the-hole is the fact that the agency’s LA office still likes the book. There’s still a window to sell it to some producer somewhere. The setting is gritty. The characters are complex. The plot is unique.

Well, I just got off the phone with the LA office and I can tell you they REALLY like the book. We had a great conversation…up to the point where we started talking about rewrites and I hemmed and hawed a bit too long for their comfort (I think). Last night, I had re-read a chapter of Book #3 and I had discovered an angle I didn’t see before. My interest in writing Book #3 was back on track and now this phone call happened.

My mind flashed back to writing Book #2 when I was doing rewrites on Book #1 and how odd and disjointed it all felt. My last blog post talked about how Book #2 was in the past now and I was moving forward.

Well, like any good writer, I lied.

Rewrites for Book #2 are happening NOW. I’m going to fix the ending, to satisfy the LA office. I’m also going to implement some of the changes that the one editor and I had talked about. I sent an email to the LA office telling them to give me two weeks. It may not be a full, comprehensive rewrite, but it should be adequate to fix some issues and reposition some characters. If I do enough, my agent may even send it back out to a few editors who gave us rejections along the lines of “I may have liked it more IF…”

Bottom line is: I’m rejuvenated.

Let’s see where all of this stands in another two weeks…