Wednesday, December 31, 2008

last post of the year

This is the last post of 2008, and, with it, I am concluding my Gratitude Experiment.

I think it's been worth it as an experience, and it made me realize that there are far more things that I appreciate than I originally considered. Of course, there are lots of things that I didn't get to list in the past month, like being grateful for the Funfetti Cake we are going to eat tonight for New Year's Eve; grateful for the neighbors I've lived near for twelve years; grateful for the opportunity for my kids to grow up in a tiny community where everyone knows everyone and the entire school district has only about 400 kids in it. But I am especially grateful for my family... because as much of a loner as I am, I kind of like sharing space with them.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

advice to writers, 2009 (a graphic blog, part 8)

Okay. I know I said before that I am grateful for books, but on day 22 of The Gratitude Experiment, I'm going to be a little more specific. I'm going to talk about my picks for the five best books of 2008, all of which, I may add, I am better off for having read.

This list may disappoint you on a number of levels. First of all, I am not going to list the titles or authors. I am just going to write a short comment on each book. If you can guess what books they are, you win a prize. If you're not ugly, maybe it will be a date with me or something cool that will change your life forever.

The other thing is, in all honesty, I'd put Ghost Medicine on that list, because it is good, but these five books exclude my own efforts. Also, I'm pretty sure that these books don't show up on other "Best of 2008" lists (and I read A LOT of such lists, which makes me wonder how much work truly gets read by certain reviewer-types, as opposed to regurgitated/passed around/or wait-and-see-Oprah's-picks kind of thing going on...) That means, without a doubt, because I read so damned much, that my list is the best.

So, here goes:

5. Outstanding story, told in a very different format that really seemed to stretch the author's craft. Nice job, and it makes my list at number five.

4. Very brave book. I think it will make an impact on many lives. I know a book is good when I think about it as much as I did this one. I could tell the author was writing about an unfamiliar setting, though (I think), because the author got some things wrong. Still, that's excusable, and the book makes my list.

3. Nice job. Funny and smart, and I really enjoyed it. Now I think it's time for you to start writing something with a different plot and different characters, as opposed to writing THE SAME STORY (but you're still a good writer) in a new setting, with new names, and new hairstyles.

2. The first hundred or so pages were amazing. Then I started wondering if you were pulling my leg; mocking the conventions of the art form you were creating. Some of your conventions got a little too predictable, but, all in all, a remarkable story and a monumentally brave effort.

1. It is sad that I haven't seen this book on ANY lists, or talked about in ANY forum. It was brilliant and horrifying, and I couldn't put it down. As much as I wanted to grab your characters and shake some sense into them, it was like slowly driving by a car crash and being mesmerized by the pretty colors. That said, I think you could have ended the novel without including the last two chapters. To me, they were unnecessary, but I understand how a writer sometimes can't let go of certain things. Also, some conventions and word choices echoed with annoying frequency. Still, by far, the best book of 2008.

Day 22

Monday, December 29, 2008

advice to writers, 2009 (a graphic blog, part 7)


Day 21 of The Gratitude Experiment: This morning, I am grateful for the 11 hours of sleep I just woke up from. I think that qualifies as a recovery from a coma.

Day 21

Sunday, December 28, 2008

advice to writers, 2009 (a graphic blog, part 6)

Day 21 of The Gratitude Experiment: I am grateful for the sunrise I am watching through the east window right now.

Day 21

Saturday, December 27, 2008

advice to writers, 2009 (a graphic blog, part 5)

Well, here I am at day 20 of The Gratitude Experiment. Today, I'd like to say how grateful I am for the quiet sanctity of my office -- the place where I write. It's a great writer's office for lots of reasons. It has amazing views of the mountains and my horses, and is full of junk, piled in heaps; the stuff I've collected over the years. I have eight skeletons hanging behind my desk (I'm a big fan of Day of the Dead Mexican folk art), a nineteenth-century Japanese watercolor, four guitars, a mandolin, a stick-pony named Blackie that we've had since my son was born, various likenesses of Ganesh, a rhinoceros' head, and a rice container that Autumn Cornwell gave me. Lots and lots of other stuff, too, but I can't list them all. Best anti-writer's-block office ever.

Friday, December 26, 2008

advice to writers, 2009 (a graphic blog, part 4)

The upper deck on my house is maybe 30 feet above the ground. Directly across, past the line of fence that separates the lower horse paddock, there is a row of tall cottonwoods. At eye-level from my upper balcony, there is a huge hawks' nest. It is particularly visible this time of year, when the leaves are gone and the hills behind are white with snow. Every year, the same pair of hawks raise their young here. I don't think they've taken any of our chickens. They may have, but I wouldn't care. It's pretty cool to watch them. That's my entry for today's The Gratitude Experiment.

Day 19

Thursday, December 25, 2008

advice to writers, 2009 (a graphic blog, part 3)

And on day 18 of The Gratitude Experiment, I'd like to say how grateful I am to have a friend like Kelly Milner Halls, whom I've known since we were kids. Kelly was really the one who made me start writing again, after so many years of drifting around from situation to situation and place to place. And she is tough, too... capable of withstanding all my stubborn poutiness. She has helped me immeasurably.

Day 18

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

advice to writers, 2009 (a graphic blog, part 2)

Day 17 of The Gratitude Experiment: As weird as it may sound, I am grateful to wake up to the sounds of the roosters.

Day 17

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

advice to writers, 2009 (a graphic blog, part 1)

Oh... and lest I forget, day 16 of The Gratitude Experiment: What else? Of course I am grateful for free blogsites like this. There are some I follow regularly (not political ones, though). I guess that makes me a kind of stalker...

This graphic blog will continue over the next several days.


Day 16

Monday, December 22, 2008

on 2008

Today, I'd like to say how grateful I am for 2008. Sure, the year has ended up a little weird, with the financial crisis, downsizing at publishing houses and so on, but there were some pretty great things about 2008, too.

Like my first book, Ghost Medicine coming out, and all the great reviews and notices it's received. So, I just have to say that I am greatly looking forward to 2009 being even more exciting, as I await the publication of my second book, in the path of falling objects.

Last year at about this time, I posted a piece on Advice for Writers, 2008, and this year I am going to post a short series of graphic blog entries on Advice for Writers, 2009. Don't take them too seriously, though. It's all in fun.

Day 15

Sunday, December 21, 2008

shortest day of the year

I hate shopping.

I know that's not the most acceptable way to begin day 14 of The Gratitude Experiment, but I couldn't help myself. This morning, I went out to breakfast with the family, and, afterward I was presented with yet another lady-or-the-tiger dilemma: I could either go shopping with my wife and daughter, or I could shovel snow out of the driveway.

Don't take this the wrong way, but I'd rather do the snow thing.

With a chopstick.

Okay. So I'm out there shoveling snow, getting all sweaty and stuff, and I'm thinking to myself, isn't getting sweaty in the snow like the one thing that Bear Grylls and Les Stroud always warn about? Maybe I should stop for a while and have a beer. Why is it that those guys can build a freekin igloo and get a fire going inside it in like 45 minutes (and a chopstick would be a luxury), and I have yet to uncover one square yard of driveway concrete?

And I'm not even going to get into the Bear Grylls vs. Les Stroud argument, 'cause it's a no-brainer who could kick whose ass.

Okay. I must be getting delirious from all this shoveling and sweating in the snow. Time to sit down and have a beer.

Even though this is the shortest day of the year... two females shopping is good for a good six hours in my estimation. I wonder if Survivorman would concur.

Ever since I embarked on this writing career thing, I've made some really cool friends. Today, I would like to say I am grateful for meeting and becoming friends with a very talented author, Lewis Buzbee. Not only are Lewis' books amazingly good (The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, Steinbeck's Ghost, After the Gold Rush), --

Note to self: I have to ask Lewis if he is a fan of Neil Young. I bet he is. My wife is somehow convinced that we conceived our son at a Neil Young concert, so I'll have to take her word for that.

-- but Lewis is actually the kind of person who takes the time to write incredibly thoughtful and insightful emails... kind of, I'd imagine, the way that some people used to actually correspond by writing letters. I love getting emails from Lewis because he writes so well and he really takes the time to consider the questions I (being the inexperienced nobody that I am) ask. And many are the times when his calming responses have talked me back inside from the ledge.

Not that I have a ledge, but I probably could get a wicked sprain if I jumped off the upper deck.

Well, I'm done sweating now, and that goddamned snow isn't going to shovel itself.

Day 14

Saturday, December 20, 2008

the headless snowman

No, this is not a wintertime horror story. Yesterday, before dinner (supper, as they say in some parts of the country), my little girl went out back to build a snowman.

She's very creative, into crafts, painting, sculpture, and such, but yesterday she took on the challenge of actually creating a man. I was pretty surprised, too, at the size and detail of her finished product.

During the night, his head fell off.

I had to explain to her that sometimes these things just happen naturally (not like what happened to my head the other night). Well, she took it in stride and is currently outside making a new head for her man.

Today, I'd like to say how grateful I am for books. I am on my third book (reading... I don't write that fast. Yet.) this week. The first book I read was great... probably one of the best books I have ever read. Top five, at least. The second book was terrible. In fact, I can't believe I finished reading it because I really didn't like the protagonist (and I know it wasn't the writer's intention to elicit such a response from a reader), and the ending was a complete letdown. I mean, nothing changed at all from the first page to the last. Usually, I won't finish reading a book like that, but since I was stranded, I had no access to my "to be read" stack. Ugh. I will not recommend it to anyone, and am going to bury it at the bottom of a desk drawer or a box or something.

The third book, the one I am reading at the moment, seems to be very good. Not one I'll toss out, to be sure.

I almost never rate or review books online. Sometimes, I feel like writers don't have any business giving public reviews of books. But I will sometimes mention another writer's work if I am totally blown away by it, or if I think it has an important contribution to offer its audience.

So I will say I'm looking forward to reading a couple books that are due out this spring: Killer Pizza, by my friend, Greg Taylor (it sounds really cool), and The Heights by Brian James, because I am very intrigued by the summary blurb I read about it.

Anyway, I am grateful for books... past, present, and those future ones that keep you looking forward to the next season.

Day 13.

Friday, December 19, 2008

finally home

Okay. I will say, first off, that I am so grateful to be back home. I had been snowed out for two days, and this was really stressful and frustrating for me because, well, I like being home.

So I have to make up now for two days of missed posting, and missed expressions of gratitude. So here goes:

Well, on day one of my ordeal when my son and I were caught in the lowlands and my wife and daughter were up at the house, getting hammered by about 3 feet of snow, I decided we'd spend the night in a hotel. The roads were shut down, anyway, and where I live is so remote and un-commuterized that they just don't often bother to plow the roads.

Note: While the following events took place, my son was happily enjoying the plasma TV and Room Service menu upstairs. No worries.

So I am very grateful that some of my best friends: John, Dave, Casey, and Brian (who live down below) came out and met me at the hotel bar, where we all decided to try our best to run up the biggest bar tab I've ever picked up. I'm pretty sure we did, too. Then Brian, Casey, and I walked to yet another bar, where we got pretty silly... well, I did, at least.

Vague recollection of tattoos... but I don't know what that means.

Anyway, grateful for my buddies. I had a blast.

The next day I spent a good deal of the morning looking for my head. I was certain it had somehow become detached. I am grateful it, in fact, was not.

When we tried to drive home, our little winding mountain road was still closed. But, I am exceedingly grateful for the sympathetic Highway Patrol Officer who allowed me to drive beyond the ROAD CLOSED barrier (since I have 4WD) and just cautioned me to "be careful."

So, yeah... I finally made it back home. And I am never doing that again.

The driving out in a snowstorm thing, I mean.

(Days 10, 11, and 12)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

december with teeth

Well, it's not technically winter, even if it feels like it.

I'm going to make this quick because it's been a long and hectic day. But working on this Gratitude Experiment as I have for nine days now really has had an effect on me. Not that it's changed my attitude in any noticeable way. I'm still cynical and aloof. But what it has done is really made me focus on things for which I am grateful. And I find it hard to narrow in on just one when it comes time to adding it to a list.

So, today I am going to say that I am grateful for horses. I know... that's like the girliest thing I have ever said, but it is true. And my horses contributed so much to my writing of the novel Ghost Medicine.

I have three horses: Reno (he's very kind and noble, with an incredibly patient and accepting personality, just like the Reno in the novel), Arrow (stubborn and cantankerous... sound familiar?), and Dusty (not much like the Dusty in the novel, although a silver buckskin... but very prissy and self-centered).

So, pretty much everything the characters say about horses or horse medicine in the book is true: horses do have their own personalities and they are spiritually powerful. I know that idea may be hard to grasp for a non-horseperson, but it is really true.

Day 9

Monday, December 15, 2008

on cake and horses


I have a lot to be grateful for today, on day 8 of The Gratitude Experiment.

I woke up this morning very early, as always, because that's when I write and go running and stuff like that. This morning, I saw that it was snowing like crazy.

Normally, I'd like that, because it would mean staying at home by the fire and watching it come down all day long. But not today. Now, I have a responsible teenager living with me.

Could anything possibly be more revolting?

He insisted I drive him the 26 miles down the mountain to his high school because he was doing an important Physics experiment.

Oooh... save the world, Einstein.

(Side note: in light of a recent post of mine complaining on the over-emphasis of math and science at the expense of creative writing and the arts, let me clarify that my son is quite a talented writer, even if he does like physics, a subject for which I have absolutely no tolerance or patience.)

So, driving him down was like the freekin' Donner Party. I even magnanimously offered that if I died first, he had my permission to eat me.

Okay. I know I'm getting a little worked up. So I would like to express how grateful I am for:

1) Four-wheel-drive

2) My responsible son's dedication to his schoolwork.

I do have pretty great kids. But I didn't even get to write about the cake and horses.

Maybe tomorrow.

Day 8

Saturday, December 13, 2008

letter from congress

I got a letter from a member of Congress the other day.

It wasn't irate or anything... and it was hand-signed, a rarity in this day of pre-stamped stationary.

Yeah... I'm a sucker for stuff like this. And it's not like I could vote for this particular House member, either, because I live in his neighboring District. But... I will admit, honestly, that when I did live in his district, and despite his being from "the other party," I voted for him in the past.

Anyway, the letter was a congratulations for Ghost Medicine, and also a very nice comment about my setting an example for kids and the community.


And so, while I'm on the subject of appreciation and gratitude, let me continue with my Day 6 of The Gratitude Experiment. I am so incredibly grateful for all the people I've never met who somehow managed to find my book and read it. I know I'm not in the same category of visibility of some YA authors, and being a debut novelist (particularly right now) is especially hard, but every couple of days it seems I find reviews or get email from people all over the country who have read -- and like -- Ghost Medicine.

That's something that I never considered in all the years I spent writing stories... that I could actually make a connection to people whom I'd never even seen. Part of that, I guess, is because I never considered even jokingly attempting to get any of my fiction published. It was too personal and put me at too great a risk. So, being the spineless, noodle-backed coward that I am, I never gave the publishing thing a shot until I'd finished Ghost Medicine, and even then, I didn't take myself very seriously.

I must have been drunk or something.

I mean... what was I thinking???

Oh well... I never quit once I start something. So now I'm stuck with this gig and it's stuck with me. But thanks, all you people... all over the place.

Day 6

Friday, December 12, 2008

tales from the outside

Warmest climes but nurse the cruelest fangs...

Yeah... everything's fine, everything's great... you're doing a terrific job... I like what you do... and...

WHAM! I get kicked in the balls.

Today, day five of my Gratitude Experiment, I'm going to say how grateful I am for books and reading. I constantly read. Every day. If I'm not simultaneously reading a great book, and working on my own writing, I feel like I'm dying. And I don't mean dying in a colloquially-exaggerated way... I mean actually, physically, going to die.

And today I finished combing through the galley pages for in the path of falling objects. I'll be honest. It's very good.

I think sometimes it's difficult for a writer to get out of himself and read his work as a reader, if that makes any sense. I think you have to step away from it for some time in order to allow a sort of emotional distance to establish itself.

And it had been a while since I'd looked at the story, so coming back to it was kind of a trip. I kept finding myself wondering who actually wrote this story.

It's not to say that I think it's perfect. I found plenty of mistakes, questions that I had about what I meant, and I toiled over a few sentences here and there... changing them, then changing them back, then changing them again.

But all things considered, I'd probably let just about anyone read this galley copy the way it stands now, and I'm not certain I felt that way about Ghost Medicine.

This brings me to a second subject of gratitude: the editorial team at Feiwel and Friends. I often talk about the people I work with as a "team" when I give talks to high school kids, because that's what we are. We all have a common goal in mind, we all pull our weight and do things that other team members count on, and we all trust one another. Working with my team has made me a better player (writer), too.

Or, at least I think so.

No. I am pretty sure... I just read the book.

And I know I don't know everyone who was involved in every capacity, but I do want to express my gratitude and appreciation for Allison Remcheck (who I know is going to be a great writer one day), Dave Barrett (who, I am thinking, is a kind of kindred spirit, even if he is on the opposite side of the country), but especially to Liz Szabla, my editor, from whom I learned more about writing than I ever did in any schoolroom, university lecture hall, or newsroom when I was a young punk trying to learn my chops.

Day 5

Thursday, December 11, 2008

about the writing thing

This is another picture taken out in front of my house. Now you can see why it's a no-brainer why I am grateful for where I live. (It hasn't snowed yet this year)

When I was a kid, so many of us wanted to grow up and be writers. Now that's something I never hear. I have a lot of theories why that is, and if you've read my blog steadily, you'll remember how much I've written in the past about turning boys away from reading and writing. And the big headline this week (well... at least in education) praises gains in math and science for fourth and eighth-grade students.

That's part of it, too. And I know that there will be some physics and math dudes out there who get their panties in a bunch over this, but the over-emphasis of cut-and-dry, non-interpretive disciplines is taking a toll on the arts, creativity, and critical thinking.

The consequence of this is that when we DO pull out of this recession, we will be actually LESS capable of competing with world economies on those things that precisely made America great -- innovation and creativity.

Okay, math and physics dudes in panties, bring it on.

So, when I go out and talk to high school kids, I get the most amazing reception and reactions from students and teachers because I talk to them about growing up and becoming a writer -- as a profession. And they're like... duh... I never thought you could do that. I guess I don't have to wear these panties.

Seriously, though, it's something that kids never talk about or explore in schools anymore, and that's a shame, because so many kids, teachers, and librarians send me e-mails after my little shows and tell me how inspired they are about one day becoming a writer.

So this brings me to today's reason to be grateful. It's a personal one. Because all this sharing I get to do, all the places I get to go, all the amazing, incredible people I get to meet have all been brought to my life because of my agent. I am really grateful for her.

I know a lot of writers who've never even seen their agent, but I sat down to lunch with mine and had a terrific conversation before I even signed a contract with her. And since then, she's become a friend -- someone I can really count on through all my high-maintenance-moody-tantrum-throwing-don't-bother-me-now-I-am-in-a-manic-writing-frenzy-and-suddenly-I-want-to-give-up crap.

And not only is she a great coach and encourager, she is academically brilliant and creatively gifted. I'm not even going to ask her if she likes physics and calculus... I'm afraid she'd be an expert at those things, too.

So, thanks.

See... this gratitude experiment, I am finding, forces you to consciously think about expressing your appreciation. Sure... we all go along quietly enough, day after day, with a kind of white noise of yeah-I'm-thankful-for-that humming along unexpressed somewhere in our minds. But keeping track of those things and taking the time to actually concentrate on defining them as words (which is what we writers do, kids) is quite an enlightening experience that nurtures the heart.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

december tenth


December tenth, a very significant day in my life that I just can't forget about.

So I may as well just start off with the gratitude experiment, day three:

First of all, there are so many individual people I am grateful for that if I listed them all individually and told why, it would take more than 30 entries. But I do plan on listing a few of those people throughout this month-long experiment.

But today I just wanted to say how grateful I am for my fireplace, especially at this time of year when it gets painfully cold up in the mountains. I know it may not be green, but the only way we heat our home in wintertime here is with our wood stove. It's enormous, and we like to leave the door open when it's burning.

Yeah... we do have central heating and central air conditioning, too... but we have NEVER used them in the twelve years that I've owned this house. So, at this point, I'd be scared to try, anyway... and I didn't choose to live somewhere that's 20 miles from the nearest grocery store or traffic light so that I could run an air conditioner and watch satellite TV (you know I don't watch TV, anyway).

I am also grateful for coffee. Black only. Very strong.

I am not at all grateful for those free coffee makers they put in hotel rooms when I travel... you know, those ones that have a floppy-disk complimentary coffee bag? They are consistently horrible, yet every time I travel I always succumb to the temptation -- the self-delusion -- that they may actually make real coffee.

But they don't.


So that's all I want to talk about today. I'm going to do a little work now.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

on politics

The people have spoken. This is why the people can't trust Jonah.

That's a line from in the path of falling objects, a moment when the psychopath Mitch launches into a tirade and uses his version of "democracy" to prove he's right.

Okay, yesterday I was homo economico and today I am going to be homo politico. As you probably know, I don't ever express political opinions on my blog, but I am going to today because this has been eating me up for a month now, and this gnawing feeling was made even worse yesterday when I read an article that quoted some ridiculous and offensive comments made by Pat Boone, who I honestly thought was dead... and maybe he is and his wizened and desiccated corpse is being used as some kind of Knucklehead Smiff for a hatemonger ventriloquist.

Oh yeah... I am going to cuss, too.

Here goes:

California, are you fucking kidding me?????

The people have not spoken. This Prop 8 crap, Pat, is not democracy. In fact, it is exactly what James Madison warned our republic about more than 200 years ago: the dangers of a minority faction capturing the political process by spending cash as a means of exerting its power.

Hear me out... and here's the deal:

We have state legislatures to pass laws in the interests of the people. Almost 100 years ago, those legislatures were largely controlled by big business and corrupt political party machinery. Forward-thinking states like Wisconsin and California initiated progressive reforms that reduced the power of parties and big money, but those progressive reforms have now been captured by big-money minority factions... sorry... like churches.

It's ridiculous. California's initiative procedure basically paves the way for well-financed fringe groups to pass legislation. It is not what was intended when Progressive reforms ushered in a new era of politics in the 20th century.

And don't tell me it was fairly and properly put before the voters, Pat. Propositions are deliberately misleading, and the California ballot is routinely so bogged-down with CRAP that voters often skip most of it so they can simply do their duty -- electing officials who act responsibly with their constituents' interests in mind.

If the people want to vote on every single freekin' law, then let's do away with the state legislature entirely. Then we can work out things like budgets, tax codes, environmental standards, and education policies by voting every couple days or so.

But... come on!!! these propositions all start with big money launching campaigns that invariably begin with paid signature collectors who camp out behind folding card tables in Wal-Mart parking lots.

California, do you really want our state's laws proposed, debated, and decided in Wal-Mart parking lots?

No matter what it is, California, vote NO on it if it appears as a proposition on the ballot. No matter how good or emotionally satisfying it sounds, vote NO. Let's give legislative authority back to our republican architecture of government. If your legislator doesn't perform... vote them out. But shame on any church or business who pours millions of dollars into manipulating our state's laws.

That is the essence of anti-Americanism, and it is precisely what the Framers of our Constitutional system of government warned about during the 1780s.

Get a grip, Pat... or Knucklehead... or whoever you are.

There. Now, on a positive note... today I would like to say how grateful I am for where I live... not just the great State of California, but the specific "where." It is beautiful, quiet, and tranquil... the best possible setting for a writer. In fact, that picture at the top of this blog post was taken last spring while I was running with my dog in the hills across the lake from my home.

I am also grateful for Jen, who got me thinking about this gratitude thing enough to try the experiment for myself.

See what happens?

Day 2.

Monday, December 8, 2008

raising loserdom to a new level

Okay... just let me tell you how much of a loser I am.

Last night, I made dinner. It involved chopping up jalapeno peppers. Oh yeah... I wear contact lenses because I'm not just a loser, I'm a blind loser. So, when I took my contacts out at bedtime, it was like... sweet mother of God. It felt like being skinned alive, childbirth, breastfeeding a lamprey, all rolled into one.

Okay. So that was bad enough. But it was kind of cool because it had been a while (like two days) since I'd cried myself to sleep.

And I figured that when I woke up, everything would be okay. But no. Contact lens solution does not wash away jalapeno juice. So when I put them back in after my shower, it was flashback to the skinned-alive-childbirth-lamprey sensation.

Yeah. I know.

I'm a loser.

And, speaking of losers, I was thinking I'd put on a different hat today and write a bit about the economy and what I predict we can look forward to (Smith, having not just an advanced degree in loserosity, but a solid background in the dismal science... was that Malthus or Ricardo? Hmm... but I digress).

Here's the deal, and I am quite willing to debate this issue with anyone except Paul Krugman, maybe, but those favoring a monetary approach to our current economic recession are taking the entirely wrong approach. The Fed can't expect to see results in aggregate demand shifting by lowering interest rates and allowing commercial banks to increase M1. We've seen as much demonstrated already because the bailout money is largely being horded and has yet to produce any results along the credit lines.

And why would you expect it to? Who would sanely take out credit for investment given the outrageous level of unemployment and the prospect of a potential deflation-crash depression?

The only thing that can be done (and we know this is true, but it is going to take some BALLS, is massive government spending. That's it. The only way. And don't give me any knee-jerk proclamations of socialism. You're an idiot if you don't prefer being a well-fed "socialist" (if that's the name you want to use) as opposed to an emaciated and tubercular laissez-faire capitalist.

So... I predict the following: Massive government spending legislation on President Obama's desk by inauguration day, and an extension of the Bush tax cuts. It's the best, but ballsiest, approach -- solving this crisis fiscally as opposed to monetarily.

Okay... I am done being an economist for today.

And, finally, I have been inspired by my friend, literary agent Jen Rofe. About a month ago, she wrote every day for a month about things she was grateful for... I think she called it The Gratitude Experiment (correct me if I'm wrong, Jen).

I figure I've been too sour-pussy lately, so I've decided to give it a go, too (and adhere to her restriction on material possessions... which I honestly do not care about, anyway).

So... here goes for day 1 of things I am grateful for:

Kids. Not just my kids, but kids in general. They are awesome without going out of their way to try to be. In the last month, I think I've spoken before about 1000 kids at various high schools, and each time I've been so uplifted by their insights, inquisitiveness, and their energy.


Let's see what I'm grateful for tomorrow (and it won't be my accomplishments in loserosity).

Sunday, December 7, 2008

now get to work

I went out of my way to make sure nobody could ruin my day today.

I stayed inside and sealed the door with duct tape.

That's not crazy, is it?

Well, after yesterday's debacle when my day was entirely ruined, it's not that crazy. I guess in some ways, I'm kind of conservative. I like things to go as planned, to be predictable, because I'm always considering the opportunity costs of what is expected of me... what I'm giving up to fulfill some task that people are counting on me to complete in a competent manner. In yesterday's case, I could have been doing something much more productive than what ended up transpiring. Like working.

So I spent much of today looking through the galley pages from in the path of falling objects, and I have, so far, found them to be much cleaner than the galley pages were for Ghost Medicine.

But I'm not more than 100 pages in, and there may be some surprises. Who knows?

That's it for today. I still kind of have a headache from yesterday.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

portrait of the artist as a tantrum thrower

You know I don't cuss. Honestly. And I'm not going to today, either.

You know I don't tell the whole truth on my blog. And I'm not going to do that, either. I mean, I don't make things up on here; I leave them out. I will leave some things out. And not just the cusswords.

So here's the true-but-leaving-some-key-details-out story. I threw a tantrum today.

Yeah... I know. Call the papers. Breaking news.

And I refused to read at the Lit Fest, and I left.

That's it. No more details. Entirely my fault for being such a colossal, tantrum-throwing loser.

Okay. But I did end up meeting and hanging out with Greg Taylor, a screenwriter of notable accomplishment, whose first novel Killer Pizza is coming out this spring from Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan, and that was pretty awesome, because I am always in such awe of meeting real writers. And Greg strikes me as the type of writer who never throws tantrums, but, to be honest, I think I saw his eyes light up knowingly when I talked about how many times I've folded my arms across my chest and stamped my foot down and said I am never going to fucking write again, so leave me alone because I am no longer speaking to the fucking world.

Like today.


My bad.

Anyway, while I still can, I am putting in a request for an ARC of Killer Pizza, because it sounds... well... killer.

Now I am going to go outside and break something big.

Friday, December 5, 2008

now you really did it


Now they really did it.

So, about fifteen minutes after I shut off the computer yesterday, the dogs started barking. A package arrived. I was finally holding the galley pages for in the path of falling objects, and they look incredible.

I know... what do you expect? It's not like you'd find a parent complaining his newborn is ugly or anything. And it's just black print on white paper, after all. But there's more to it than that, and I think people outside the publishing industry sometimes don't realize all the intricate steps involved in making a book. And how the words look on the paper is a lot bigger than you might think.

Well, I think the artist involved in this step "got it" on a number of levels.

First of all, I really wanted the title of the book (and my name) to be kept as all lower case, and the artist did this, and chose a perfect, rounded, and subtle typeface for doing this.

But it's the inner pages that really work for the story. First of all, in the path of falling objects is told on a number of levels: there are little bits of verse (very little), letters, chapters with punchy headings that are frequently assigned to different characters, and jarring, short blasts of tense/voice changes (I won't explain any further); and all of these elements contribute so much more to the completeness of a "book" when they present properly: with balanced white space, pagination, orientation, and size.

I think you'll agree when you see the book. It really looks great.

Now, time for me to comb through it for any mistakes.

Oh yeah... tomorrow I will be reading from Ghost Medicine (and maybe I'll read a bit of in the path of falling objects, too) at the Santa Clarita Valley Literacy and Arts Festival at William S. Hart Park in Old Town Newhall starting at 11:00.

Maybe I'll see you there.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

seeing the pages

Well, I purposely held off on my routine-of-late, posting on the blog at around 3:30 a.m., because I've been waiting for the delivery of the unbound galley pages for in the path of falling objects.

If I've timed it right, any minute now the dogs will begin barking (for some reason they loathe the delivery man), and I'll be able to have that first glimpse of what the book will actually look like when it comes out in 2009.

The galley pages are the unbound layout for the book, typeset and designed exactly like the final product... so they're a beautiful sight. Well... at least they are to me.

For a writer and his editor, this is one of the last chances to catch any errors (weird ones seem to pop up at this stage), or make any changes before the paper-bound ARCs (Advance Review Copies) come out in a few months. And those mark the last time changes and corrections can be made.

Come on dogs. Bark.

40 minutes later... Still no delivery. But delivery dude has come as late as about 50 minutes from now, and being such a remote a location as where I live, he could be hunkering down like the Donner Party, stranded on the mountain, wondering why he didn't pick up a snack-sized hitchhiker when he had the chance closer to L.A.

Well... I'm going to go ahead and post. I'll let you know what the pages look like tomorrow. If you want to read little snippets, just go to the in the path of falling objects website.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

the day at nphs

So I spent the day yesterday out at Newbury Park High School, and it rocked. I spoke before two assemblies of classes, that each had a couple hundred kids in them, about writing professionally.

It was really cool for a lot of reasons... First of all, I spoke in the school's Performing Arts Center, which is a beautiful building, and I had this enormous screen behind me, so I could show the kids all kinds of pictures while I spoke (I am a very prop-oriented speaker).

The other thing was that this was my old school, the high school I graduated from, and I hadn't been back there in decades. The community is easily ten times larger now. The kids laughed when I told them about a girl named Faye who once rode her cow to school when I was in eleventh grade. And my English teacher came back to see me (she currently serves on the Board of Education). She was most definitely a teacher who made a profound difference in my life.

The school's librarian, Lucia Lemieux, set up the event after she'd met me at a book signing at a nearby Barnes and Noble. She's a terrific host, and runs an awesome library for the kids. She is exactly why I think Young Adult librarians are so cool (and more important than most people give them credit for).

Barnes and Noble had also sold copies of Ghost Medicine through the library, so I stayed around at lunch and signed copies for kids and teachers, too.

Thanks for having me out, NPHS. I'll be going back soon to spend a little time with their Creative Writing class.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

my old school

I may post something else later today... depending on when I get back.

Today, I am heading out to Newbury Park High School to speak to the kids there about writing and my books. It should be a great day, and I'll be sure to recap any highlights here.

But the other day, a friend of mine told me that he'd seen the new website for in the path of falling objects, and he said, "So I take it you have a penchant (who actually uses that word???) for writing about sad things?"

I shrugged. While I'll agree that Ghost Medicine is a pretty sad book, I don't think that in the path of falling objects is. I don't know... you'll have to be the judge. The thing is, some bad things do happen in the story -- just like life -- but, the story itself is kind of exciting and ends up being... well... I better not say, I guess.

I'm very excited to get the galley pages in my hand this week, though.

Monday, December 1, 2008

i am shrinking


I have a few random thoughts to kick off the month of December. Horrible things, really. But I realized today that our next president is (and let me emphasize just barely) younger than I am. So, I'm like... WTF? How can that happen? I mean, I can remember going through the oh-that-pro-athlete-is-younger-than-me realizations through all the various sports. Now I don't think there is a single pro athlete who isn't younger than I am... well, except for the PGA Senior tour, I guess, where everyone -- thankfully -- is still older.

But golfs better.

Man... I now realize, too, that I elevate sucking at golf to almost religious proportions.

Hmmm... I guess this is not one of those great-for-Smith's-self-esteem days.

Because the other day I was with some family members, and one of them looked at my 14-year-old-son and said something like, "Hey! You're actually taller than your ancient, older-than-the-president-and-any-pro-athlete-on the planet Dad, who, by the way is a terrible golfer!"

Well... okay, I embellished it a little. And yes, when it comes to my life, I am a highly unreliable narrator.

But my son, ever the diplomat (where the hell did he get that from???), said, "It's just because of my shoes."

I wasn't barefoot. Fourteen-year-old yeti-boy is actually taller than his father.

Yeah, world... just keep piling it on.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

the last of november

I can't say I'm sorry to tear this page out of the calendar.

And burn it.

So... here we are, stuck in the limbo between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. And, since nobody has claimed this day, I would like to officially proclaim the Sunday between BF and CM from this day forward shall be known as Shop Like Gandhi Sunday.

I mean... are these count-your-money-before-it's-spent days really necessary? Have people really become so commercially brainwashed that they've devolved into Pavlovian ATMs?

Don't answer that... I know the answer already.


So long, November 2008. Glad to be getting rid of you. In the future, try to be a little more June-like, okay?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

coyote holiday

I used to have one more chicken than I do this morning.

A coyote must have got one of the dumb black ones the other night. I don't like the black chickens, anyway, but the least the predator could have done was to take one of the roosters. I hate roosters.

Oh well. Coyotes have to eat, too. I hope it had a nice feast on the chicken.

We let our chickens go free-range. They have a house (there are two separate flocks), but they can come and go as they please. Or as predators please, I guess. We don't normally have much of a problem with predation because of our other animals -- horses, dogs, and goats, which, I think, most predators are probably afraid of. Well... not the goats, I guess.

I think I would give just about anything to have some chupacabra-esque predator swoop down and take my goats away. I mean... how long do goats live, anyway? We bought them maybe ten years ago to clear brush on our property. The brush has been cleared, but the goats are still here.

And to say they've outlived their usefulness would be behind the times by about ten years, I guess. When I was building my barn, one of the goats came and ate a bungee cord that was hanging out of my pocket. Well, he didn't swallow the whole thing... only about half of it. The other half, and the hook, were hanging from his mouth as he was attempting to get it all down.

This is why I don't find any quality of the goat to be endearing. I would tell you what I did next, but people would likely complain. Suffice it to say, I got my bungee cord back, and the goat is still alive.

I've even tried to encourage them to wander off into the hills and seek their freedom, but they keep coming back. Goats hate getting wet, and they know there's an open barn here, and plenty of bungee cords to eat.

Friday, November 28, 2008

big big black day

Well. A couple things: I do not shop on Black Friday. Ever. I don't like crowded places, and I avoid malls as much as possible.

The in the path of falling objects website is all up and running, and I must say it looks very slick. It's simple, and there are a number of small excerpts from the novel that, I think, would arouse the interest of just about any prospective reader. You should pop over there and check it out.

Before you know it, the galleys will be out and we'll be counting down to yet another pub day.

The other thing is that I wanted to share a bit of an email from a friend of mine who asked a question about writing. She began with a quote:

"Writing a book is its own reward, but reading a book is a commitment of time and money that ought to pay clear dividends. If you are not educated and entertained, you deserve to be returned to your original age and net worth." ~Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness.

I was thinking about this from the author's perspective. Do you think about this when you're writing? Like, do you write what YOU want to write, or do you write what you think your readers will want to read? Is writing a book a purely self-gratifying task, or do you do it to satisfy readers?

I like getting emails like this... and, thanks for the blog topic. I'm going to paraphrase my answer here (because I used some blunt vernacular when I responded to my friend), but, generally, my answer was this:

I have almost never read a book that I didn't like, or that I didn't get something out of. That said, though, I have stopped reading books that were simply horribly-written, with characters that were flat, never seemed to grow, and completely predictable, because I knew they would not get any better. But I could never imagine finishing an entire book and then feeling like I was cheated out of part of my life. I mean... come on!

And, yes, I write what I think readers will want to read... at least, what I would want to read. I also like to think I am not writing for a market niche (like... I don't know... vampire/zombie/dead-but-they-don't-know-it teens), but I believe that if the work is comparatively unique and well-written, that's the big prize -- and the book will find readership.

So, I think then, that I do write to satisfy readers more than anything else. I don't think writing is self-gratifying. It's miserable... really. But when I come home and see I've gotten an email from somebody on the other side of the country that I've never met and they tell me my book is the best book they've ever read, well... that's all kinds of awesome.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

thanksgiving alone

Okay. I am spending Thanksgiving Day alone.

I am not trying to play the sympathy card, though. On the contrary... I really like being alone. I sent the kids off to their grandmother's house. Her mom just passed away last week, so she needs a little ghost medicine, I think... and what better way to dispense it than with kids?

And I'm not especially moved by holidays, anyway. I think that's a guy thing, too. I'm not a sourpuss or anything. I just look at every day with equal amounts of enthusiasm, joy, and dread.

But today is an incredible day. The storm has passed, the trees look incredible, and the air smells so amazing (in a very non-turkey-and-gravy way). So I slept late, fed the horses, ran five miles in the hills (awesome), and now I'm going to go sit in my sauna and read.

Now that's a great day, I think.

A couple of years ago, I had to spend my birthday alone. During the middle of the night (I think it was around 2 a.m. the morning of my birthday) the police drove through our little town announcing an evacuation. There was a terrible wildfire and it was cresting the ridge on the hills behind our house, where firefighters had lined up to make what they said was a "last stand." There are no homes behind mine, just open space.

Well, I sent my wife and kids away, but I decided to stay because I wanted to be able to at least let our horses go if the fire got down onto our property, because I figured they'd be safe if they ran down to the lake (sound familiar? Well... it would if you'd read Ghost Medicine).

Anyway, the horses were fine and the fire never crested the ridge. But all that day (my birthday), it was so eerie, because it was like the world had been destroyed and I was the only survivor. Nobody was around at all. All the other homes were dark and abandoned, and it was so quiet. And my wife and kids were prevented from coming back home for the entire day.

So that was an interesting birthday, to say the least.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

coming up

It's pouring rain. I'm sitting inside. I got the fire going, and in a minute I'm going to sit by it and read.

I've got a couple things coming up after Thanksgiving. First, I'll be visiting Newbury Park High School in Newbury Park, California, on Tuesday, where I'll be speaking for about 500 kids. The last time I did one of these, it went really well, so I am looking forward to it.

Thanks to Michele Kantor, the Community Relations Manager for Barnes and Noble in Thousand Oaks, who has arranged to sell copies of Ghost Medicine to the students and donate a portion of the proceeds back to the school, and Lucia Lemieux, the school's librarian-teacher, for inviting me out and setting up the event.

Then, on Saturday, December 6, I will be at the Santa Clarita Valley Literacy and Arts Festival at William S. Hart Park in Santa Clarita, where I will be reading and answering questions at 11:00, and then signing copies of my book, which are also being made available by Barnes and Noble in Valencia. I'm also looking forward to meeting fellow Feiwel & Friends author Greg Taylor at the event.

Oh... and there's a new website listed in my links. It's the official in the path of falling objects website.

Yeah... there's nothing on it, really. But it's going to be, of course, ultra-cool.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

back in the day

I realized something today about the way I write. Well, it wasn't like I didn't already know it; I just never put it into words until someone asked.

I was asked recently if I always knew how my books would end before I wrote them. I'd have to say that when I'm writing a book, I have at least two major -- and different -- endings in mind. But what invariably happens is that as I am working through the script, characters begin making choices that grow increasingly complex as their personalities develop. Sometimes these choices surprise me and end up presenting the possibility for unforeseen conclusions to the story.

So... the bottom line is, no, I really don't know how one of my books is going to end before I write it. I just let nature kind of take its course.

I will, however, make a plot outline... nothing more than a numbered list with usually no more than one or two words at each entry... just to keep my mind focused on what I want to happen. But this is usually only done about five steps in advance. You can kind of see this mechanism in in the path of falling objects, because I actually use chapter titles in this book... and they are all (with only a couple exceptions) just one-word titles.

So, I got an email from an old friend from back in high school. He has become, of all things, an English teacher. I really do believe that the fundamentals of writing and love for literature I learned in high school really brought me to where I am today.

I want to share an excerpt of his email with you... and my comments are in red:

Just thought I'd share what I remembered about you (and myself) when I'd learned of your success in publishing--a telling memory, it turns out.

Remember 10th grade English with Mr. H(I am omitting the name of the teacher because I am afraid of English teachers)? Maybe you recall the day Mr. H had the class read two different poems.

After several minutes, he asked who liked the first poem better. Almost everybody raised their hands. H pinched his lip, as he always did when something sort of stumped him.

Then he asked who liked the second one better.

Only you and I (and maybe one girl--flower child Tina R? Couldn't have been Tina... I think the only time she ever raised her hand was to hoist a clenched fist and proclaim something about power... or something) put our hands up.

The first poem was a trite rhyming something by an anonymous poet H dubbed "John Noman" (to this day, I'm quite sure a line of the poem was, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going.") The poem that we liked, though, was nothing less than Dylan Thomas' "Do not go gentle into that good night..."

Small wonder that I went on to become an English major (and teacher) and you became a writer.

Nice story. And I totally remember that day. And I will never forget that poem, either.

But that's what good teachers do.

Monday, November 24, 2008

simon says

Okay... so I've played it out as long as possible.

I mean, I did get the I need to see you so I can yell at you email from the new Assistant Principal, Ms. I'm-a-little-too-bubbly-and-take-my-job-a-little-too-seriously-so-I-have-no-time-for-losers-like-you-Smith-who-never-tire-of-mocking-the-leviathanic-powers-conferred-on-people-such-as-me today.

But, as luck would have it, I guess Grandma Betty was smiling down on me and facilitated the use of the "family funeral" excuse, and then a sick kid staying at home today, and so, before you know it... it's practically Thanksgiving. I was hoping she'd forget about my transgressions, but no chance of that.

So, tomorrow, I have to go and see her. I hate being scolded, especially by someone who, at best, is only marginally qualified to do her job. But some parts of it are fun. For example, I wonder what she means when she says she is looking to close any and all communication gaps?

I mean, honestly... who the hell talks like that? To people?

To me, that means, I want to yell at you and assert my superiority, face-to-face. I mean, am I wrong about that? After all, I don't feel a "gap," man, (that's seventies hippietalk if you ask me).

So, here's the deal. Really. I will state my case with absolute objectivity. We had a "disaster drill" at school, and Ms. (see above) insisted that the kids be made to sit down out in a field for the duration of the drill, which was about 45 minutes long. I told the kids in my care that they didn't need to sit down because the field was wet... and fieldy. It was icky, in fact. So I let them stand up.


That's it.

Now it's like she's having the woodshop geeks assemble a Smith-sized crucifix or something. Give me a freekin break.

So, I can hear it now. She's going to say, "When I say 'sit,' you sit."

This is why I've always had a fondness for people like Mao and Stalin. I mean, they give so much inspiration when otherwise none would be available.

Ack... no one in the world cares about who's champ at Simon Says.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

write, run, read

I am back.

With words, but not too many.

Today, I wrote, ran, read, and then did some rugby. I am writing a new book (# 5, if it matters), and I ran five miles, too. And I'm always reading, but right now I am reading one of the best books I've ever read.

Today, also, we set up a new website:

Don't bother going there yet, we are just in the process of determining the content. The novel, in the path of falling objects, won't be out until fall, 2009, so we're slowly building toward what would be a pretty cool website. I would imagine there'll be a clickable map on it, because mapmaking plays a big role in the story; and then there will probably be some real-life photographs of some of the "characters" in the book, too: Don (you'll have to wait and see who that is), and my wife's 1940 Lincoln Cabriolet convertible -- an amazing car that, we are told (and have a picture to show it) was actually used by presidential candidate Wendell Wilkie when he ran against FDR in the 1940 election.

So... I guess, the best way to deal with a downer of a week is to keep yourself so busy you don't have any chance of lying awake in bed thinking about what a downer of a week it's been.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

(no words) manifest destiny

click on image to enlarge

Friday, November 21, 2008

look out

I'm writing a book.

Look out.

Well... it's what I do, anyway. But this is the special part. Because how I write is -- I'll spend a long time putting a story together in my head, researching stuff I don't know about, and so on. And then, when it starts coming out... look out.

That's when I get especially crazy.

It's going down on paper (well, virtual paper, I guess) now. So I will be... um... not myself (?) for a while. Whatever that means. Who knows how long? Maybe a couple months.

All things considered, this has been especially crappy week. I even talked to my wife again last night about my quitting writing. I said it would be a lot easier than she thinks and then maybe we'd both be happier. She told me not to. I wasn't kidding. Now it's too late, though. It's coming out.

And I have to go to a funeral tomorrow. Grandma Betty died last week. She was my kids' great-grandmother, and they were really close. Her husband, Howard, fought at the Coral Sea. He died a few years ago. He used to crack the kids up by dislodging his upper plate.

They were really great people.

At the end of her life, I could just pick Betty up in my arms when we'd move her from place to place... it was like she was disappearing. My uncle Gene and I drove her to her assisted living home, a house she shared with other elderly people, and we'd flirt with her roommate, Sylvia.

Grandma Betty was cool.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

off the face of the earth

Okay. So I went to this dinner party thing last night to meet some people who'd read Ghost Medicine and wanted me to chat a bit and sign their copies of the book.

What an incredible treat that evening turned out to be. It really was such a monumental feel-good event for me to sit down and sip wine and discuss my book with such a large group of people who not only read my book... but liked it (if I may be so presumptuous... I think some of them more than just liked the book).

Ultra-Cool Story # 1: I didn't know where I was going, had never been to the place before, but the hostess of the event (whom I'd never met) was dressed up as a character from the story (she was wearing Troy's "number" from the Biathlon), and her house (no offense... to call this place a house is akin to calling Everest a "speed bump") was decorated with all kinds of horse stuff. She even made a little display of chewing tobacco and Jack Daniel's whiskey (both of which, sadly, and despite encouragement from those gathered to the contrary, went unopened on the evening).

U-C S # 2: The hostess told me that when she read Ghost Medicine, she pulled into the parking lot of a supermarket so she could read the last two chapters before going home, and it made her cry.

Okay... I'm not really cool with making people cry... but I do "get it" that an emotional response like that is... well, kind of gratifying to me, too.

And then... the most unbelievably U-C S # 3: The husband of the hostess happens to be one of my all-time favorite MLB Hall of Famers... who also played some of his best seasons for my all-time favorite baseball team.

And that just totally blew me away.

I mean... it's not just that I was treated so nicely by such gracious people (who didn't even know me), but, then, to find myself in the home of one of my baseball heroes -- a guy who truly played throughout his career with integrity and honor; the kind of guy you're proud kids look up to -- well, that just was something else.

So... thanks to everyone who had me out there last night. I really didn't want to leave.

LOSER UPDATE: I got in trouble at work today.


Let me make an absolute and firm confession here... hmm... in the eyes of the new Assistant Principal, Ms. I'm-a-little-too-bubbly-and-take-my-job-a-little-too-seriously-so-I-have-no-time-for-losers-like-you-Smith-who-never-tire-of-mocking-the-leviathanic-powers-conferred-on-people-such-as-me... yes, in her eyes, I am entirely guilty of the most heinous of offenses:

1 count of mockery

40 counts of letting kids have fun

(I'm going to attempt to plea bargain so they drop the complaint about the army of trained monkeys).

God! I am such a loser.

I hate my life.