Tuesday, December 29, 2009

I Resolve to Call Her Up...

I'm not the biggest Police fan in the world, but I always liked the lyrics to "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic." And the line "I resolved to call her up a thousand times a day" fit me pretty well when I was a teen resolved to not being stuck only with unrequited lust — though I was certainly familiar with it.

But as I grew older and wiser, bolder and wider, I recognized that I not only was capable of experiencing happiness, but also writing about it. So now that I'm a family man with responsibilities beyond the occasional blog post, I have gotten into the habit of writing down my resolutions.

Not everyone is a fan of resolutions and that's fine. I used to resolve to not make resolutions, and you might say I still do that: I write down my goals for the year, with target dates for achievement. I split them into work-related goals, personal and family goals, and writing goals.

I thought I'd share a couple here with you, and I'd love to hear what writing goals you have and are willing to share.

o Finish the first draft of my current novel in progress by 12/31/10. Right now, I'm at more than 25,000 words, which is probably about a quarter of the way to the goal. Not the ultimate goal for that particular novel, mind you, which I expect to clock in around 80,000 to 85,000 words. But I'm shooting for 100,000 in the first draft. From there, I'll need to revise. During my first edit of a manuscript, I try to trim about 10 percent of the words, which will hopefully account for the mess and repitition and all out crapola that's inevitable in first drafts. As Anne Lamott writes in Bird by Bird: All first drafts are shitty.

o Send at least one query out for my "completed" first novel by 6/30/10. This should be an easily attainable goal, but I'm a bit of a perfectionist (or maybe just a coward). In all seriousness, I made a conscious decision several months ago to not send any queries out in 2009. With my newborn daughters, I knew I'd have precious little time to spend on editing or revising the manuscript, and if I were lucky enough to get a healthy nibble on my hook, I'd be hard-pressed to reel it in with revisions while still feeding my girls and remaining married.

Ok, that's way too much about me. Please, let me know what you're shooting for in your writing in 2010. It doesn't have to be overly detailed. Maybe "Write every day," for example. Indeed, that's an excellent goal for any writer. I might just try that myself.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.

Every once in a while, a nonfiction book crosses my path that amazes me. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy nonfiction. Heck, I write a lot of it myself — probably a lot more than I write fiction. But when I read nonfiction, it often seems to drag through example after example, factoid after factoid, until I can't wait to sink my body into the soothing waters of imagination and cover my head so that every possible dream and idea can be absorbed into my brain.

But Malcolm Gladwell had me from the first page of Outliers and he hasn't let go. This is a book that addresses the key questions of what makes one person more successful than another, and the answers can be amazingly simple. To be sure, luck and innate talent have a lot to do with success, and he would completely agree. But while two different baseball players at the same position may have similar skills and talents to succeed enough to make the major leagues, what sets them apart from each other — what makes Derek Jeter a superstar and Orlando Cabrera merely a former Gold Glove winner — might surprise you.

Actually, my example, isn't fair: Gladwell doesn't examine those two. But chapter one is about the differences between the top Canadian junior hockey league players and the kids who played in high school but don't get much closer than enjoying the game on television. It's not simply about talent.

This book also makes me think about myself: what is it that has allowed me to succeed where others might have fallen short; why have I fallen short when others I believe I'm better than have advanced?

Gladwell has had his articles published in the New Yorker for years, and I think several of these essays appeared there first. He's also the author of the now famous Tipping Point and Blink. I've not read those others, but I definitely will now, having enjoyed Outliers so much. The book is thought-provoking while remaining a real page turner. It's like no other nonfiction work I've read all year. Check it out.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Five Questions for ... Matt Sinclair

Victoria Dixon, a fellow member of the online community of writers at AgentQuery who blogs at Ron Empress, asked who among us was willing to subject ourselves to a short interview. Nothing too dangerous, just five questions based on her reading of our online Blogger profile.

Here's what we came up with. Feel free to ask me any additional questions in the comment section. I may just answer them!

1) What is your metaphysical reason to blog? What do you get from it beyond contacts, marketing tools, etc. (This is akin to asking why do you read.)

The short answer to your question is that blogs help me think. I read to know; I write to express. When it comes to blogging, it’s somewhat more complicated. I’m a chronic thinker, and blogs allow me to vent or ramble on a variety of topics as I try to think them through.

To me, blogs can be less formalized, less complete, than any novel or magazine article I write. But to layer on the metaphysical aspect of your question, I do like the element of permanence — or at least endurance — that an electronic compendium of my thoughts offers.

In my personal writing life, I write fiction because I love to imagine. We all have our own lives, our own realities; a great number of readers would prefer to learn about realities they’re not already aware of (i.e., they prefer nonfiction). I love to enter a world created by another writer. I love getting lost in my imagination, exploring ideas that wouldn’t come up in my every day life otherwise.

On another point, I won’t discount the marketing and contact aspects you cited, but those are not my chief reasons to blog at this time. If and when I have published novels to hawk, I’ll be far more targeted in the marketing of my blogs. One of my projects for 2010 is to create a Web site for myself as a writer of fiction and nonfiction. My wife and I decided to work on a book project together related to the work she’s done for the past twenty years. It’ll be nonfiction, but I think I’ll be able to get that published before I get a fiction agent and sell any of my manuscripts.

2) Speaking of your amazing number of blogs, what's the purpose behind each? This is where you get to remind your readership of some of the things you have to offer. :)

I’ve started several blogs, but I only have two that matter in my writing life. The first was Matt Sinclair’s Coffee Cup, which I created in 2004. I expected it to be basically a place where I could write some early morning thoughts on the day ahead or the day behind while drinking a cup of coffee. The posts were supposed to be no longer than it took me to write while sipping my morning caffeine. As such, the topics could go anywhere, and usually did.

One of the beauties of blogs is you can learn something about a writer’s personality through them — at least as far as the writers allow — even as they discuss the most mundane things in their lives. After my daughters were born in December 2008, I knew my blogging time would be vastly cut back. I was surprised at how much time I had to write during their first couple of months of life. I started a new section of posts, called “Matt Recommends,” about things that were really helpful to my wife and me as new parents. This was my attempt at recognizing the importance of advertising. I’ve worked for many years in magazines and I’ve never felt very comfortable with the (necessary) role of advertisers. “Matt Recommends” was my way to acknowledge that if I had any future in getting money out of my blogs, I’d have to push products that I believed in.

But once the girls were about two or three months old, the sleep deprivation hit full bore and my work schedule got tougher. Blogging regularly over coffee just wasn’t possible.

My second blog, The Elephant’s Bookshelf, arose not long after the first, but I wanted it to be focused on writing and reading. I had hoped it would evolve into a writing community — this was before I knew about AgentQuery — and I could get people to write book reviews, which I’d edit and post. I’m still open to that possibility, but I’ve not really pursued it. Elephant’s Bookshelf has also expanded a little beyond its original intent to include my thoughts on lots of things at least tangentially related to writing and reading — awards, contests (including National Novel Writing Month) films, the death of newspapers...

The others, including one you probably didn’t see in WordPress, were half-hearted attempts to discuss things like traffic in New Jersey, book stores, reviews of book fairs and readings, and other things that I’ve since forgotten. At least one was established so I could help teach a sibling how to create a blog.

3) In your favorite book list, you mention authors for the most part. What is your all-time-favorite, cannot-do-without book?

For me, that’s very hard to answer. I don’t think there is just one. But if I were forced to live in the world of Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451 and "become" a banned book until society allowed books to exist again, I might choose Michael Chabon’s Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay or John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany. I also loved John Connolly’s The Book of Lost Things, which now that I think of it might be the book I’d memorize. It has so much of what I love in a novel: intelligence, humor, a story that is both engaging and meaningful. That’s what I hope my works will offer readers. I like to share things I’ve learned without being too didactic.

4) If an editor/publisher came to you and said, "We'll pay you to write this book," what would be the worst possible topic they could think of?

One that I not only knew nothing about but which I had no interest in learning anything about. A history of defecation comes to mind. I’d call it “I Don’t Give a ...”

5) What would be the best?

The universe is my oyster! There are so many things I’d love to write about. If I could get interviews with all the surviving Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo astronauts, for example, I’d love to do something with that. But Andrew Chaiken’s already written A Man on the Moon and I don’t think that’ll ever be topped; it was the basis for the HBO series “From the Earth to the Moon.” Other topics could include something related to my first love: baseball. And if a publisher has a hankering for an interesting tale that takes place in Antarctica, well, I’m about 25,000 words into it.

But that barely scrapes the surface of the types of books I want to write. I have a list of a couple dozen novels, screenplays, short story collections, and other works that I hope one day to write. In all honesty, I doubt I'll live anywhere near long enough to write all I hope to write. But I'll do what I can.

Thanks, Victoria, for the opportunity.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Not Quite, but It Was Worth the Attempt

Well, I didn't quite get to where I wanted to go with my 2009 attempt at National Novel Writing Month. I had less than a thousand words to go with five days in which to write them, but between babies and other family demands, I wasn't able to spare any time. That happens.

Much thanks to all those who joined me in this and encouraged me to keep at it. I know several of my NaNo buddies topped 50,000, including a co-worker who I suspect is quite proud of herself — and justifiably so. She knows that 50,000 words is just the beginning; there's more to be written, revised, shaped, and decided. A novel doesn't happen in a month, but the writing can.

Congratulations to all you NaNoers who put in the time. Whether you completed the 50,000 goal or not, you should be applauded for making the attempt. While that's all well and good, if you truly believe you want to write a novel, keep going, regardless of your "winning" status. On the NaNo site, they often mention that "December is for revising." (Or do they say 'editing'? I may need to revise that.)

For me, I have 9100 words that I didn't have on October 31. That's on top of the 15,000+ words I'd written for this manuscript last November. Who knows what the next tweleve months have in store for me. I'd like to believe that by next November I'll have finished this particular manuscript, or at least written too much more to use Nano to complete it.

What have you written lately? Please share a story about your latest story.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

NaNo 2009: Two Weeks In

I thought I'd get much further last night, but all I ended up doing was starting a new chapter, jotting down a couple scenes, and then quickly outlining some thoughts I'd had throughout the day about where the story needed to go. It got me over the 7,000 word mark, which is less than a third of the way toward the overall goal, but still is farther along than I expected this year.

Of course, the main reasons my bar is set so low were crying much of the day, ill and uncomfortable. As probably any writing parent knows, it's not very easy to write when the kids are sick, especially when one parent is away for a business trip.

Back to the kids and computer, but before I do let me ask: How'd you all do?

I know that several of my NaNo buddies have topped 20,000 words and all I can say is congratulations and keep going!

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Nano '09: One Week In

What started off well has quickly fizzled for me. I wrote 2000 words the first and have been unable to match that total since, but I still hold out hope for today.

Meanwhile, the babies are stirring, calling me away from the computer once again.

Write on, fellow Nanoers!

[Update: I've topped 4300 so far and am diving in for more.]

Sunday, November 01, 2009

What Do You Mean You're Not Done Yet?

And so it begins: National Novel Writing Month. I'm about to embark on another writing adventure with the ultimate goal of writing 50,000 words within the month of November. I'm already more than nine hours behind!

I'll keep this post short and sweet. But I look forward to hearing of other people's successes at this wonderful challenge of imagination and dedication. As a writer who's not yet written 50,000 words total toward this project in the two years I've done it, Nano is not about the success as much as it is about the attempt to be more for tomorrow than who you are today.

Have fun, fellow Nanoers. Write well, write often.

Monday, October 12, 2009

T-Minus 20 Days to NaNo

I'm surprising myself. I'm getting psyched up for NaNo (National Novel Writing Month, or NaNo WriMo) and I already know I won't succeed. I'm not a pessimist. I didn't succeed either of the past two years I started NaNo novels, and I have even less time this year. I don't need to be an Antactic researcher to know it'll be a cold day in hell before I finish 50,000 words when I'm lucky to get five hours of sleep and four or five hours of family time per day.

Novel writing includes a lot of sacrifice. I'm willing to do that. Indeed, I've done that. But this year, not quite as much will be allowed.

Still, I'm getting psyched. Why? Because I've got Twitter friends who are encouraging me. Many of these are part of the online community of writers at AgentQuery, which is probably my favorite writing-related site, but I've also come across other NaNoers. Some of them even follow me through my work-related Twitter account, which is kinda cool.

I'm eager to get started, though I'll admit I'm of two minds about what to write. I could easily get back into my work from last year, which requires much more than another 50,000 words, especially since I only got about 15,000 written last year during NaNo and far fewer once December hit. (And virtually none after the closing days of the year brought me two bundles of happiness and poopy diapers.) But I also could return to writing funny stuff (well, funny at least to me.) And like many who've been treated like a cat toy over the past year, I could use a couple laughs.

Perhaps I'll post updates on Twitter like this: Fell asleep on the train again while writing 30 words. It's 30 I hadn't written before.

Regardless, I know that I need to get back into my writing. My girls deserve it.

Good luck fellow NaNoers. The most grueling days are before us. Keep your pens, pencils, and minds sharp.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Working Toward Nano?

With October just around the corner, I can't help but think about November, when National Novel Writing Month begins. I've done it the past two years (I've yet to reach 50,000 words total during my NaNo experiences), and this year with two small kids demanding the time they deserve from daddy I feel safe in saying I won't reach 50,000 words.

So I'm thinking it's still appropriate to work on the novel I started last year, regardless of the rules. I know I need to write more than 50,000 words before it's going to be "done," anyway, so I don't think I'm flouting the rules.

But writing doesn't necessarily require rules. Of course, grammatical rules should be adhered to, except when there's a point to side-stepping them. But point of view is something you can play with, as is the believability of the narrator. The novel can be structured in almost any manner these days. Personally, I prefer to have characters and story I can follow easily. I don't relate to characters in adult stories that are bananas or armoires. Still, when it comes to Nano, all bets are off.

What's my point? The point is writers write. Writers who are new fathers pine away wanting to write. But they write in their heads all the time. Ok, I write in my head all the time. I miss doing it on paper or a computer screen for myself. Over the next few weeks, I'll review what I wrote last year and try to get back into those people's minds. It won't be quite the same, but it's time for me get back into writing. My kids deserve it.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

My 9/10 Novel

Living in northern New Jersey, it's difficult, if not impossible, to not think about the events of 9/11, 2001. Indeed, it's probably bad for your mental health not to think about it from time to time if you lived through it here. I suspect I will always remember exactly where in my commute I heard about the first plane hitting one of the Twin Towers. I chastised myself for assuming we were under attack — especially after the guy on WDHA amended his comments saying that it had been a small plane, not a large plane as he initially had heard.

In between the time I parked my car and turned off the engine and I entered my office, the second plane had struck. It immediately struck me: We're at war.

This blog is focused on writing, however, so here's my point: By 9/10, 2001, I had begun my first novel and written about thirty pages. I was stuck not on what to write next but when did my story occur. Was the time significant? On 9/11, I realized that we had just experienced an important line of demarcation in history; there is a pre-9/11 world and a post-9/11 world. From there, I had to determine how this affected my novel

I decided to use it obliquely. My novel begins on 9/10, 2000 and ends on 9/10, 2001. Because such attacks were barely contemplated by the average person, nothing more than faint glimpses of fear and omen are displayed. The story takes place in Hoboken, New Jersey, a town I know well that lies directly across the river from New York City. Ground Zero is within view. Indeed, the clouds of smoke and debris floated above the river after the towers fell.

Whether my oblique references to the tragedy of 9/11 should remain part of my novel — and not an overt focus of it — has been a frequent point of discussion with my initial readers. Usually I bring it up, but some of my readers have anticipated the question. I still think it's more than just a moment of inspiration; I think it's important to the story, subtle though it remains.

So, each year, I think a lot about the people who experienced 9/11 first hand. I lost a friend that day and thank God that I didn't lose more people who were close to me. I lost some innocence as well, which is largely what my novel is about — not my loss of innocence, but the nation's; or maybe it's that our eyes were opened to the terrible possibilities. And I reflect on those fictional people who mean so much today who came to life on 9/11.

With my young innocents at home, I have had almost no time to work on the latest novel much less to send my "finished" one out to agents. I respect their time and my own too much to look for representation when I don't have the time to respond appropriately if I should actually get an offer. It's like going fishing without the strength to reel in the fish.

Remember 9/11, my friends, in your own way. It's important for all Americans, regardless of political party or ideology.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Dude, Where's My Second Novel?

Thanks to a co-worker, I'm reading what may be my favorite book in several years: Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys. Almost certainly, it's my favorite "new" book this year. I realize the book has been around since 1995, but it was on my list of books I wanted to read and hadn't (a long list).

Why do I love it? Because it's flat-out funny. Laugh out loud funny. This man leaves me chuckling on the PATH train, wishing I could share with someone. Chabon writes simple sentences that make me look back in awe.

For those who aren't aware of it, the story is told from the perspective of Professor Grady Tripp, an English professor at a college in Pittsburgh. He's been working on his second novel for the past seven years — more than a thousand pages in and the end isn't really in sight. On the weekend when this story begins, he's in the midst of a not-unexpected separation from his third wife, the totally unexpected pregnancy of his lover (who happens to be the married chancellor of the college where he teaches -- married to the chairman of the English department), and the imminent arrival of his editor, who's about to lose his job.

His editor is coming to the campus for a conference (WordFest!), and during Tripp's final class before the event, the work of one of his students is skewered by the class — a verbal disemblowling that Tripp doesn't disrupt much less discourage — leaving the young movie-buff writer contemplating suicide.

Throw in a drag queen, a dead, blind dog, the stolen jacket of Marilyn Monroe, and a roadtrip with the aforementioned student to attend Passover seder at the family home of Tripp's Korean-Jewish wife. Sprinkle in a lot of pot smoking and you have the makings of a comedy classic. But there is so much more to it than the surface story, as is usually the case with Chabon. I'm more than 200 pages in and I don't really want it to end.

Chabon writes like no one else. Do yourself a favor, read this book.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

McCourt's Ashes

After the sad passing of Frank McCourt recently, I decided it was time to reread Angela's Ashes. It must be almost a decade since the first time I read it, and I was amazed at how much I had forgotten. Perhaps the forgetting was a defense mechanism, for his tale is so sad and depressing that forgetting seems like the most appropriate way to deal with it.

But, as McCourt's life of survival and success would suggest, remembering it and talking about it makes all the difference. For Frank McCourt, survival was success. If you're unfamiliar with his story, McCourt was born in the United States to parents who were on the cusp of poverty and quickly fell deep into it as the children arrived with regularity. Two of young Frankie's brothers and his sister died from hunger and ignorant neglect. His father's alcoholism and inability to hold a job hammered nails into his children's coffins.

It is a powerful story, made doubly so because it is true. As a lover of fiction, even I must admit that this memoir stands above many of the greatest works of fiction. It is written from the perspective of young Frankie, and he hides nothing from his audience — not even his frequent masturbation — making him indelibly real in the reader's mind.

I haven't read his other works: Tis or Teacher Man, but he will be best remembered for Angela's Ashes. And I recommend it to all. It is a sad tale, but it is most certainly worth reading.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Wet Invigorated Toes

As usual, I have no time. But I wanted to get this information out to those writing friends who stop by from time to time. As some may recall, I noted a few months back that I'd stepped my toes in the water of the agent world by sending my completed (to distinguish it from the one I began in November, not to imply it's really done) to an agented friend.

Today, he called back and offered me some great advice about ways to improve it. Since I have the book out with another friend who's an editor, I don't want to offer the exact details here, but suffice it to say I believe I now know what had been aggravating me about my book. I knew it wasn't perfect (and if it's going to go to an agent, I believe a first novel should be pretty damn close to perfect — as far as a particular novel can be), but he pinpointed what was missing.

I still have little time to work on the novel, but I don't think it will require months of work. Indeed, there's some rearrangement of material, but not a lot of new writing. I may even need to remove some detail and add some more that I'd removed from earlier drafts. This is why I keep everything!

Hope you're all well and all finding time to write. It's not easy. But it's worth it.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Writing Freedom

I find so little time to write, much less to blog, these days. But with today being Independence Day, it seems appropriate to jot down a few remarks (or as many as I can before the babies arise.)

I was on the train the other day when an old friend said hello as we headed into our stop. I'd been writing on the train and was off in my own world, but I'd been writing about something that had angered me. She asked how my novel was going, and I explained that since the girls were born I'd had very little time to write. Yesterday, while taking the girls out for a stroll, I met a neighbor I'd only spoken with on the phone. I knew she was a writer — a playwright — and our conversations had almost always been about writing. Like my friend on the train, she said that I would have very little time these next couple of years in which to write.

I think I'll find the occasional moment to write, but I don't think I have the time currently to pursue an agent for my finished work. It's not merely the pursuit; if I actually got a bite, I'd not have enough time to respond appropriately.

It's frustrating, but the reality is that we only have so much time, and I already don't have enough time to spend with my girls. But the time I spend I hope is of quality.

Happy birthday, America. May your many wonderful freedoms continue, including the freedom to speak one's mind, to write one's thoughts, to pray to one's God — all without fear of being imprisoned for doing so.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Long Time No Write

The past month has been replete with opportunities — to work my butt off on things other than my personal writing. Aside from a 5-10 minute visit to my main characters in the Antarctica novel, I've done virtually nothing about that book except imagine. I value imagination. Indeed, it's crucial to developing a story and believable characters.

But it's not writing.

My time since vacation has been spent making the house acceptable to the many family members who arrived for the girls' baptism. It was a wonderful celebration, and I'm happy with how it all went (despite the mouse-induced hole in a hose to the dishwasher, but that's another story). But now it's done, and the summer is upon us — at least in New Jersey we define the summer as Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend. You gotta problem wit dat?

So my summer resolutions are about to kick in: sending the completed novel out to agents (yes, a repeated theme from many previous posts), working on the new novel, and reading to my children. I suspect these things won't happen in the order I've listed them. But as long as they get done, I'm fine with that.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Vacation Writing

This week of vacation is different than most of my previous vacations the past few years. This year, I'm not re-editing my novel. I have one copy of it out in the world and I will send others out either this week or soon after. (Of course, I've said that before.)

Instead, I've been working on stuff around the house and feeding and diapering children. But I should also get a chance to restart my new manuscript, begun in November. No guarantees, of course, as children will demand all sorts of attention and I'm willing to give them a lot.

Are you writing daily?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Rereading Is Like Falling in Love Again

I recently began rereading John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath — right after finishing John Connolly's The Book of Lost Things for the second time in three years. Of course, this isn't the first time I've reread something. I've read John Irving's The World According to Garp numerous times. (And what is it I seem to have for books written by people named John?) But it's interesting to go back to a world, an era, a setting that was familiar once and becomes even more detailed and nuanced again.

In the case of The Book of Lost Things, I had been singing the book's praises so much that I initially worried it might not be as good as I'd remembered. But I loved it once again. A coming-of-age tale set against well known fairy tales and laced with grim battles that would keep young children stocked with a month of nightmares, TBOLT vividly traces the path of an angry boy through a world of his fears and fantasies. Connolly, a gifted writer, can choose words that linger like a scar. And when one faces man-like wolves and crooked men that personify evil, that gift gets ample use.

Steinbeck was one of my first "adult" loves as far as literature goes. While some teens were discovering J.D. Salinger's Holden Caulfield, I was getting enwrapped in Steinbeck's simple declarative sentences. I'd forgotten where Grapes began; in my mind it was the scene of the "land turtle" that gets flipped onto its back, a symbol of the traveling Okies struggling to survive both the Depression and the Dust Bowl. And while I've been reintroduced to preacher Jim Casy, I'd forgotten how he recalled his trysts with the girls after preaching them into a fervor. (After all, it's been decades since I read this work.) But it's still the same gritty, difficult era that I remember and which still catches me surprised.

Perhaps saying that rereading a book is like falling in love again is going too far, but it's certainly enough fun that such dreams and sentiments are within the realm of possibility. And that's what good fiction provides.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Toes in the Water

I don't really have time to type this, but for those who've asked in the past about my completed novel (in italics because I know a novel is never finished until it's published), I have sent it to a friend who is an agented writer. He offered to take a look at it and consider passing it along to his agent.

I don't really expect anything to come of this, but at least I have sent it out with the intention of getting it to an agent. So I am celebrating my having done this ... not with actual Champagne but in my brain it is the first step in a long walk.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Readings From the Tenement Museum

An acquaintance of mine informed me about free events coming up at the Tenement Museum including a poetry reading in recognition of National Poetry Month. That same night, there is also a talk about sex and sin that sounds interesting.

For those in the New York metropolitan area, you may want to check out them and other free public events. Keeps the mental juices flowing.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Elephant Guy Says "I'm Still Here"

Don't worry, dear readers, subscribers, and followers. I've not fallen off the same cliff as the U.S. economy, science reporters, and little bits of dirt and rubble.

I've just fallen into the Daddy Zone. Not much time to do things as I used to. Even this brief missive is squeezed in between tasks.

But I promise to return very soon, hopefully with good news about looking for an agent and working on the new novel.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Portrait of the Artist as a Real Man

Ok, this is old news by now, but I still think the whole Shakespeare portrait story was pretty cool. To think that such a painting was simply hanging in some wealthy family's home boggles my mind and makes me wonder what else is out there, waiting to be discovered.

I'm not expecting anyone to find the Holy Grail — neither literally nor metaphorically — but it would not surprise me to read about a long lost writings by Mark Twain or Emily Dickinson. I bet there's the equivalent of another few dozen clay pots full of Jesus-era writings tucked inside a long-forgotten cave or tomb in Israel somewhere. It's happened before, so why not again? Again, I'm not expecting new gospels or major discoveries, but neat old stuff. An autographed original of Milton's Paradise Lost, perhaps?

Historical discoveries help counterbalance contemporary idiots like "Octomom." (Note to the Newsweek reporter: No, we weren't wrong. The woman's insane.) I'm not convinced the world needed her right now. Wait until the economy recovers, Octomom, before you look to capitalize on your 14-strong brood. (I'm confident most literary agents understand she's not going to have an audience for a memoir.)

I look at the face in that portrait of the man we believe to be Shakespeare and wonder what he'd blog about, who he'd follow on Twitter, what he'd think of contemporary society.... The man in the portrait appears to be of his time; I'd expect Willy Shakes to be a multimedia superstar today. Writer, producer, actor, director ... a veritable Roger Corman. ;-)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

I'm a Full-Fledged Twit

Or is that Tweeter? I've started to tweet, come follow me @elephantguy68

And if I've posted that incorrectly, I'll update it. This 21st century social-networking communication is still a little new to me.

UPDATE: I'm gathering up lots of new followers on Twitter, which I greatly appreciate. For those who're new to tweets, I'll be sending out info that I find interesting to readers, writers, and other literate folks whose IQs are at least above 100, and I'll let people know about the posts I place here in my little corner of the blogosphere.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

English Reader = Liar?

So, what good books have you lied about reading? According to a recent Reuters article, nearly two-thirds of Britons surveyed have lied about having read particular books. Their most popular book to lie about is George Orwell's classic 1984. (I swear) I re-read that after the start of the War in Iraq in 2003, to remind myself about the concept of doublethink. Other popular unread books were War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy and James Joyce's Ulysses.

I don't know what books Americans have lied about reading. Anyone care to venture the books you've falsely claimed to have read?

Liar, liar, pants on fire.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

More Foolish Stuff

It's amazing what slides in under the electronic door! In my elephantsbookshelf@gmail.com mailbox, I received a very nice note from the assistant producer of KQED, the public broadcasting network in San Francisco.

He wanted me to share with my wonderful readers (and followers!) that Christopher Moore recently stopped by their studios to record a chapter from Fool.

Having read the book, I know that it's a lot of fun (perhaps a bit too bawdy for some, but in a past life I was a groundling.) I'm going to check it out, if for no other reason than to hear what Christ Moore's voice sounds like.

Have fun, fellow Fools.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Christopher Moore's a Fool in Love

Ok, I'll admit, I'm a bit biased because I have inducted myself in the cult of Christopher Moore, not that I had any authority to do so, but that kinda goes with the territory. And it has nothing to do with the fact that we happen to look kinda similar. (It's the gray-speckled beard.)

Anyway, whether you're a Chris Moore fan or never heard of him or somewhere in the middle, you may want to check out this interview that ran in Good Reads. I'd never heard of Good Reads before this, and I may want to check it out myself, though I don't have much time any more.

So if you like Good Reads — or even the Chris Moore interview — I'd love to have you drop a note here — and let me and other readers know what it is we're missing.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Nonfiction Writers Wanted!

If you're a writer of nonfiction who's looking to get his book idea into shape for agents, you might want to visit and join AgentQuery Connect, where a nonfiction discussion group was recently established. For those of you who are familiar with AQC, you probably know that it's primarily populated with fiction writers, but nonfiction remains the biggest segment of the publishing world and AQC recognizes that.

I don't work for AgentQuery, I'm simply an active member of that community, and while I'm there to gain insight into getting my fiction published, I'm a working journalist with ideas for several nonfiction works, so I'll be an active participant in that area too.

There simply haven't been many participants yet, so come on in and join on the ground floor of an active online community of writers. I'm sure you'll like it.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Rabbit Died

John Updike has died. Possibly best known for his Rabbit novels, Updike was a consummate and prolific writer, chronicling the changing world and his changes within it. My condolences to his family and to his readers everywhere.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Tell Us About New Writers

As I've noted on this and my other blog frequently, I spend a fair amount of time in a community created on AgentQuery. (And for other writers who've not heard about it, this is a great place to get honest assessments of your work, including your queries or synopses, before submitting them to agents.)

But lately that has gotten me thinking about where do new writers come from — from a reader's perspective. I've been fortunate to have a broad array of books cross my path, most of which are from friends and family. Sometimes these are gifts, other times, they're simply recommendations people make. I suspect some of the books are simply neglected children that they know will find a good home in my collection.

But when new writers, like those people I've struck up friendships with in AgentQuery Connect (like Facebook for writers), finally get their big break, how do they get others to know who they are and what their writing is about? Obviously, that's a marketing issue, and the marketing of writers — including the added importance of writers promoting themselves — is a big business.

I think nothing is as important as word of mouth. So I'd like to allow you to share names of favorite new writers you've found. If it's yourself, that's fine, too. And if you can share a Web site, I'm fine with that. In fact, if there's demonstrated interest shown, I'll start a new link list of writers that Elephant's Bookshelf Readers recommend.

How do you find new writers and who are your new favorites?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

It's True, Fiction Is on the Rise!

Now this is good news! The National Endowment for the Arts is reporting that fiction is becoming increasingly popular.

After twenty-five years — a generation — the downward trend toward reading fiction has reversed. But this report asks people whether they've read at least one novel, short story, poem or play in the past twelve months. One. Uno. I believe most people have at least one imaginative thought per day. Can't more than half of America read more than one piece of literature during a year?

I'll take the good news and happily praise Americans for getting back on their duffs as long as they're reading literature — even bad poetry is better than nothing at all.

But I look forward to the day when at least 15 percent of Americans say they read at least one piece of literature per month. I haven't drilled down into the report to see how far off from that mark we are, but I don't expect it's anywhere near that.

So read up, America! Fiction, nonfiction, newspapers, poetry. Order a subscription to One Story or visit your local library. Imagine gas is still close to $5 a gallon and take the train, where you can read during your commute.

And while you're at it, imagine. Imagine a world without literature. It's a dark, dismal place. People are despondent, hopeless, angry. It's worse than what you see today, because half of America reads literature. But if everyone read just a little bit, I suspect the world would become a bit brighter, a bit more hopeful. Perhaps it might even spur the imagination and inspire ways to turn the economy around. Just imagine!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Writing in Float Mode

This week has been different. And now that the "work" week is over (I'm on leave), I find myself quietly hanging by the computer, an empty glass in front of me, trying to remember to let the kitten back in from the porch before I go to bed.

It's hard to write in this setting. As I expected, my latest novel has been on hiatus since the girls arrived. Despite the cold weather, it's hard to think about Antarctica when there are children to think about.

But it's important to continue. So, I get back up, brush off the grit that collected on the seat of my jeans, and start tapping at the keys again. It's Saturday. As if that matters.

Writers write.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Salinger 2009?

I can't help but wonder why the New York Times posted someone's book report on J.D. Salinger. Ok, perhaps that's unfair, but would this recent article — a fairly lengthy one that appeared on the final day of 2008 — have been published if it weren't the end of the year?

Now, it's true that Salinger's birthday was on Thursday; he turned 90 on New Year's, so an argument can be made that there's a news hook to attach to the piece. But otherwise, it's primarily a review of Salinger's last published short story. At times, the piece seems eager to poke at Salinger, to prod him as though he might start publishing again.

But honestly, what's the point? He's 90 and whether he's healthy and vital or old and infirm, he has made his place in the world of literature. If there is anything of his to publish after his death — and I suspect there will be — then why hustle in that new era of regard for Mr. Salinger.

There will be at least three periods of Salinger: his active writing, during which he penned some of the greatest short stories and wrote The Catcher in the Rye, where he developed at least one of the most enduring characters in American literature; his quiescence, during which Salinger was an enigma; and his literary resurrection. We don't know what will come of this next life. For sure, there'll be new devotees who emerge. He may come to redefine American literature again. Or he may show that he has been truly a hermit and his work has not advanced but merely rehashes his Glass families foibles, leaving Salinger like some sad scientist who can't turn away from his samples to see how the real world is changing.

Of course, I will read the next Salinger – living, dead, somewhere between or above. What writer wouldn't? Goddam, he's J.D. Salinger! But the thing about great literary writers is that they survive forever, regardless of when their bodies start to decompose. It's their minds that zombies like me devour.

So, I suppose I've answered my own question — the one about the book report and the Times. Because there's other people like me out there who love to read about J.D. Salinger, even if he hasn't published a word in four decades.