Is This Music Spoiled?

Y’know how you buy ground turkey at the supermarket and you take it home and you put it in the fridge for, like, four or five days, and then you suddenly remember it and think it would be a brain-meltingly good idea to probably cook it or something? Then, y’know how, while it’s browning in the skillet and you’re desperately trying to ignore that funky smell, you daydream some sort of makeshift recipe featuring tamarind rind and blue cheese to hide the off flavor and gray color of the so-called meat?

Well, sometimes I think music is like that.

Don’t get me wrong. I listen to A LOT of music, like, ALL the musics (except country) ALL the time. I can appreciate classic rock and punk and disco and jazz and big band and alternative and such (as long as it isn’t country…did I mention I don’t like country music?). But, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that my likes have limits and most of them are based on expiration dates.

I was on my way back to the office after lunch today and the radio station I was listening to happened to play a clip of a new Bruce Springsteen song. If I hadn’t been busy shooting heroin directly into my eyeball at that very moment, I would’ve yelled to the heavens for The Boss to please stop. Look, I like Bruce Springsteen. I do. He’s a fine American. He has a solid sense of humor about himself. And he’s had some classic songs. I never would’ve made it through the summer of seventh grade cutting my grandmother’s lawn without the fine strains of “Glory Days” pulsing through my shitty Walkman headphones (or “Spin Me Round” by Dead or Alive…but that’s another story entirely). But enough is enough. You proved your point.

Some artists don’t know when to stop. Paul McCartney is a great example. Fuck him and that goddamn Christmas song of his. The Rolling Stones? Another PERFECT example of this phenomenon. I refuse to hear anyone who disagrees that nothing after “Sympathy for the Devil” matters.

And please don’t confuse my staunch opinion with struggling to hang on to my youth by blasting musicians far older than me. I take equal offense to groups like Two Door Cinema Club and Local Natives and Mumford & Sons whose second efforts were pale, distorted shadows of their debut albums. Granted, the sophomore slump rule comes into play here, so let me delve further into my own vast music library with more measured examples…

Jane’s Addiction: First two albums are amazing and brilliant and inspired. Ritual de lo Habitual, however, falls off the rails somewhere in the second act. At least I think that’s where it happens. I always fall asleep when “Three Days” comes on.

Red Hot Chili Peppers: Going strong through albums 1-4 and then getting a little too self-aware with Blood Sugar Sex Magik. I liked it, but they lost me after that.

Depeche Mode: Everyone, even Dave Gahan with his drugged out hallucinations of three-headed babies, wooden puppets, and garbage monsters, knows that this group peaked with Violator. Half of Songs of Faith and Devotion was likeable. Ultra had two passable songs. But “John the Revelator” was the only redeeming thing about Playing the Angel. I’ll give them credit at least for a slower, more dramatic flame-out.

U2: This is one of the few bands that has ridden the wave (see also: Nine Inch Nails and/or Beastie Boys). They hit all-time highs with The Joshua Tree, dipped into borderline irrelevance when they became smarmy caricatures of themselves for a few albums, and then resurfaced strongly with All That You Can’t Leave Behind, and held on by their toenails with How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. There is abolutely no excuse, however, for that fucking song on No Line on the Horizon about log-ins and Myspace chatrooms. That said, I will still probably buy their next album because I hate myself.

I know I can’t be the only person who sees this? Pearl Jam, Weezer, Afghan Whigs, Oasis, Liz Phair (I used to be sooooooo in love with her), The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Billy Joel, Elton John, KISS (hahahahahahaha), fucking Madonna…they’ve all hit a certain level of peak musical importance and then kept going to disastrous results. It needs to stop.

At first I thought it was just me being grumpy, tying life events and locations to certain songs, and feeling indifferent about new music. But it’s not. I LOVE new music…WHEN IT’S GOOD. The 1975? Awesome. The latest from Santigold? Good stuff. Tegan and Sara’s new one? A bit poppier than I’d prefer, but a solid group of songs nevertheless. But Vampire Weekend’s third album? Like bad weed…two hits and a buttload of MEH.

My plea to everyone: Either STOP MAKING SHITTY MUSIC or else please put a sticker on your best album so we all know, definitively, when we should stop listening.

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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.

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…

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…

 

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…

What’s the Next Step?

Project #1 was pitched last year. There seemed to be one editor interested in it. I went away on vacation in August, hoping to get a call from my agent that never came. That project has now been tossed in the archive…maybe some day, if I ever get published, someone will want to trot out a collection of my early work. If not, it’ll just rot.

Project #2 has now run its course. At least at the “Big 6” level. And at least through its first round of submissions. The question now is what to do with it next. Like I mentioned yesterday, there’s talk of trying to sell the film rights. I’m waiting to hear from the LA office about what that might entail. I’ve heard they want a “happy ending” for Hollywood, instead of the realistic ending I slapped on it. My question is, why rewrite it at all? Aren’t the film people going to just do whatever they want with it once they secure the rights? Maybe they’ll like my current ending. Maybe they’ll like everything. Hell, maybe they’ll go in and change all the characters names and ethnicities and have it take place on a cruise ship in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. At that point, check in hand, what do I care?

On some level, my agent is thinking about asking me to do a more substantial rewrite and try to re-submit it to the two or three editors who said “I might be interested IF…”, but I’m not sure I have it in me. There’s an old saying that’s been attributed to William Faulkner (or Twain or Fitzgerald or King or Christie or Nabakov) that says “Kill your darlings.” It’s meant as a warning to writers to not hold on to some bit of plot or character or dialogue just because you may like it. Don’t try to wedge it into your story because you think it’s so clever. If it doesn’t work, scrap it.

After having an idea in your head for more than 10 years and finally getting it out on paper, there’s a finite amount of additional time you’re willing to spend with it before it bores you, angers you, or disappoints you. I’m approaching that limit faster than a greased seal going through a bobsled course. When I conference called that one editor, and he was feeding me ideas for making the book stronger, I was all on board. When that editor ultimately failed to come through with an offer, I was deflated. Not sure I see the point of going through it all again on the slim chance it may succeed.

That brings me to Project #3. I just finished writing chapter 7 and I’m at 22,000 words and 98 pages. By the time chapter 8 is finished, I’ll be a third of the way through the book, which feels perfect for where the plot is headed. The second third gets into the meat of things. And then the final third brings it all snowballing downhill gracefully. I’ve been a bit lax with reading chapters out loud and marking them up. I still need to do so with 5, 6, and now 7. And, in a haze of rejection, disillusionment, and general laziness, I may have stepped on a few plot points that I wasn’t ready to accelerate yet. May need to go back and re-plot the next few chapters to cover it…or “kill my darlings” of dialogue and character interaction that I wrote. As long as I can keep busy, I’ll be able to slough off the frustration of having two novels fail to make it to print.

Oh, the fragile ego of the lonely writer.

At least I can look back at my past work and know that my writing is getting stronger. Maybe Project #3 will be the one. If not, I’ve already got numbers 4, 5, 6, and 7 germinating in my head (and in my notebook).

I hope to make these updates more often. And I hope to have some good news soon…