Sunday, August 31, 2008

setting smith off

Note: This is the second post today. So, I guess it counts as BEDFAM 7.5. I got an email from a talented author friend this morning, and I thought I'd share some of my (edited) response.

I've started to write you so many times. Yeah... I feel like I've fallen off the face of the earth. At least people are looking at your book. I haven't gotten into Booklist or SLJ... that's how much I suck.

And I really have been going insane.

I finished writing my fourth novel the first week in August. I think it's very good, but it's edgy (language). Anyway, I gave it to my agent. She's excited about it, but, crap, she has some majorly-huge clients and I am the god of nobody-ness.

But - finally! - I have work to do. When I don't write, I really go crazy, and I had timed finishing up my last novel with the expected revision work on IN THE PATH OF FALLING OBJECTS. I can't work on two stories at the same time. So, when that work ended up coming in late, I really went off the deep end.

No sleep. Just work. Thank God for having work to do, it's the only thing that's keeping me from taking a slow stroll in the carpool lane of the Golden State Freeway. I will finish this week. I have to. I won't have any free time after Tuesday. I'll be hiding from all the disgruntled people who want to throw dead cats and a hardcover copy of GHOST MEDICINE at my head.

Yeah... I could puke, too.

Sorry for the rant.

Are we there yet?


-- A.S.

writer's block

I bet you thought I was going to talk about not being able to write. What a bunch of crap.

Writer's Block is the Bigfoot of literacy. It does not exist. Sure, I've heard plenty of people complain that they've got it. I've even had people write me letters about how they have it. Think about that... how the hell can you write a letter complaining that you can't write about something?

Okay. Finished with my rant.

I am not an animal person, but here's an inventory of the things that live with me:
  • 3 Horses
  • 3 Goats
  • 5 Chickens (stupid ones)
  • 3 Dogs
  • 5 Cats
  • 1 Rabbit
  • 1 Parakeet
  • 1 Gecko
  • And I think there's some fish downstairs, too... but I haven't looked in a while. They might be floaters.

So, with a list like that, you'd think I was some kind of animal lover (especially because I live in a one-bedroom efficiency), but I am not. And all of those things have names, too (well... except for the stupid chickens. Chickens have to earn names... like my fabled, no-longer-living Buff Orpington "Lucky," who ended up not living up to her name), but I don't know any of their names... except for the dogs and horses.

And I don't care to know their names, either.

A while ago, when I came back from a run in the hills, that black cat up there was out in the side lot fighting with a rattlesnake. This presented me with a kind of moral dilemma: 1) the cat belongs to my little girl, 2) I wouldn't care if the population of cats declined by one, but 3) I supposed I had to be the good Daddy and try to save my daughter's kitty.

So... I go and try to snatch the cat up, and, of course, the rattlesnake takes a bite at me, missing my forearm by about two inches. Yeah... even the chickens would agree I am pretty freakin' stupid. 

I returned the cat, whose name I don't care to know, back to the care of my daughter and killed the snake with a kayak paddle.

Ahhh, nature!


It's nice to say goodbye to rattlesnakes and the month of August. Ghost Medicine will be in the stores in two days.

-- A.S.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

labor days

So I'm blogging every day for a month (BEDFAM), just to kind of keep an account of what it's like being a debut novelist when your novel pops out of the incubator and appears on the shelves of the bookseller.

I finally got a stack of work from my editor last night -- edits for in the path of falling objects. I am so happy to get back to work, because I'd been going crazy since finishing my last novel during the first week of August, and, knowing I had edits coming up, I didn't want to start anything new (even though I did) because I can't work on two different stories at the same time.

When I get editing work, I always follow the same routine. First of all, my editor is amazingly talented, and probably understands me better than just about anyone. When I get work from her, I will read it all the way through and then set it aside to let it sink in. This usually means I stay awake all night thinking about how to handle certain changes properly. So, I got to sleep around 3 a.m. and then woke up at 5:30 and began writing. At 7:30, I went out and fed my horses and went for a five-mile run.

That's how I do it.

When I came back, my daughter said, "Dad, are you excited your book comes out in three days?"

Ugh. I shrugged and said, "Yeah."

Thanks for reminding me.

I'll be honest. I am a high-maintenance person. But I'd never play the "tortured soul" card. I got an email from an author friend of mine last night, and he said something to the effect that I should relax and enjoy this part of the ride because this was something I'd always dreamed of.

I don't think so. I honestly don't think of having my novels published as being anything like a dream come true, and I mean no disrespect to anyone who writes or is involved in publishing. The truth is, I always knew I would do it... kind of like a salmon knows he's going to swim upstream, spawn, and die. But I don't think salmon dream of the day. Maybe they do, I don't know. And I don't mean to sound egotistical, either. Anyone who knows me knows I have absolutely nothing to be conceited about. I just knew I would do it one day.

So, here I am. Three days before Ghost Medicine hits the stores, and day six of BEDFAM.

Back to work.


Friday, August 29, 2008

that kind of day

It was one of those days when nothing worked out the way it was supposed to. I figure the best thing to do on days like this is read some Chairman Mao. My friend Josh, a teacher in China gave me a first edition of Mao's Little Red Book. Always thoughtful, that Josh. By the way, I sent him a copy of Ghost Medicine, so I can verify that my book has been read by several people in China.

I don't know if Mao played the piano. He did say, "Some play the piano well and some badly, and there is a great difference in the melodies they produce."

Wow. That's the kind of stuff that just keeps me going on days like this.

Okay. Some more eyes.

Four more days and Ghost Medicine will be in the stores.



Thursday, August 28, 2008

whose eyes are these?

Okay. So... I get asked this all the time, too: Did any of the things that happened in your book happen to you, and where did you come up with the characters?

Well, most of the things that happen, or even get mentioned in passing, in Ghost Medicine happened in some way to me. Yes, I did have to slaughter my own turkey, and I was happy to see him go because he was so mean to me. Like the character in the book, every time I'd turn my back on that thing, he would watch me with his beady little black, soulless eyes and then come jumping at me with his razor-sharp talons. I am not freekin' kidding. I hated that thing. I even hit him in the face one time with a rake and made him bleed, and I kind of felt sorry for him. Okay... I'm just making that part up. I didn't feel sorry for him. But I did feel sorry for me when I had to clean and dress his corpse.

I wonder why they call it "dressing" when you're ripping the bird's guts out and you're up to your elbows in blood and stenchy turkey goo.

Yeah, I became a vegetarian after that. For a couple years, too. In fact, I eventually had to force myself to start eating meat again (I did it as a New Year's resolution... honest story). One of these days, I'll probably make a New Year's resolution to start smoking.

The characters in Ghost Medicine are all composites of people I've known or grew up with. None of the characters is much like me, I think, but the character of Rose was really a person that we knew when we had horse property in Central California. To the letter... Rose was a neighbor of ours. Other than that, they're all made up.

As far as the eyes at the bottom of this post are concerned... I must say they have a certain Bill-Clintonesque quality to them. And the left eyebrow could use a waxing to get it down to the size of the right. But I'll tell the unnerving story about that guy in a future post.

Five days until Ghost Medicine is in the stores.



Wednesday, August 27, 2008

bedfam 3

So... about this Shrine of Protection... here are some of the things I've got in it: A statue of crawling Ganesha, a purple ninja, a Hawaiian tiki, a posable Elvis, a "glide action" Jesus Christ action figure with Kung Fu leprosy-curing grip (I am soooo not kidding), of course, the hammer murderer elf (described yesterday), a Mayan sacrificial Chac Mool with some of Bryce Heventhal's actual blood on it, a pack of cigarettes from President Reagan, and a rock shaped like a heart that the rugby team I coach carried down from the hills after I sent them on a long run. They seem to always bring me back ridiculous stuff from their runs.

All of these things will have pictures posted in the coming string of blogs. So far, the shrine has worked. And, like I said, I am in a room that kills people, so I need all the help I can get.

6 days until Ghost Medicine is in the stores.  But nothing's really been happening. I was interviewed by a newspaper the other day, and the reporter asked another very frequently-asked question: What was the hardest part of the path to getting your book published?

Most people seem to think that writing a book is difficult. It's not. It surprised the reporter when I said that, but maybe I'm crazy or something. Probably. To me, the hardest part was all the waiting around between certain steps... but the writing and editing parts were the best, and purely enjoyable. I know I've said that I hate writing before... and it's true. But I don't hate the words part of it, I only hate how it makes me crazy. Or something.

I put a picture of rugby on here today because I am really looking forward to playing again. It is definitely a crazy sport, but, by far, the best sport in the world. Rugby is a perfect game because every player on the team has to do everything: offense and defense, run, catch, pass, kick, score, tackle, and bleed. And players can't come out of the game, either, so they have to be in terrific shape. Or insane. Or both. It's one of the many reasons why the sport is superior to stale gridiron football: you just don't have these specialist players who come out on the field and play maybe a total of 45 seconds elapsed time in an entire game... it's just fifteen positions who are expected to last the entire non-stop duration of play.

BEDFAM (blogging every day for a month)

-- A.S.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

bedfam 2

Yeah. These are the cold eyes of a killing machine. Don't even try messing with me, soul-sucker. The little guy is part of the Shrine of Protection. You do not want to be on the business end of that hammer he's got in his hand. When you're stuck in a room that kills guys, you need backup like this.

Problem is, the little bastard gets into the booze cabinet at night and then makes all these shoes. Just left ones, though.

When I got my box of Advance Reader Copies of Ghost Medicine, I gave most of them out to kids... teenagers. Then they loaned them out to friends, and so it ends up that the book has accumulated a pretty wide readership. This week, a boy who'd read the book shook my hand and told me how much he'd liked the story. He asked lots of questions about it, and I'm going to include some of the questions I've been asked by kids in coming posts. But his was one of the most frequently asked, so I'm going to start with that one.

He asked, "So, where does Ghost Medicine take place?" When I get asked that question, I usually just shrug and say, "Anywhere." It's something that I did (and do in all my books) on purpose -- I leave some things deliberately ambiguous and unanswered. After all, there are always going to be things in every story that ever gets told -- truth or fiction -- that don't have complete and cozy answers.

So, I often ask people where they think the story takes place. And I get a whole lot of answers. I like that, because most of the answers individuals give me in some way connect to those readers' own experiences, and that's exactly what I was shooting for with that particular element of ambiguity.

Okay, it is bedfam 2 (Blogging Every Day For A Month, day two). Next Tuesday, Ghost Medicine will be on the shelves in the local bookstores. I still haven't decided if I'll go in and look or not. It's pretty weird thinking about it.

Still going crazy. More SOP pictures coming, too...

Monday, August 25, 2008

bedfam 1

Ghost Medicine will be in the bookstores next week. So, besides being stressed out and going crazy and feeling lost, I have decided that, beginning today, I will be bedfam (blogging every day for a month), just to keep a log of what goes on with a debut novelist's... um... debut novel. Or something.

Now, of course, everyone who's ever read my blog knows that I don't say very much about myself on it. And I don't intend to start now, either. So, if I run out of things to say on any given day... wait. I won't. Never mind.

Today, I received a message from my editor about the revisions on in the path of falling objects, which will be coming out in Fall 2009. My editor is awesome in her editor-epicness. She says we'll get it in one shot, which, for me, will take about fifteen minutes of work. Well... to be honest, it might take twenty-five minutes. We'll see.

My agent is fourteen time zones away from me. It's really hot here today. I'm in a super-pissed off mood because I forgot to construct my shrine of protection on my desk and I was trapped in a room where people had died. During my bedfam, I will put some pictures on the blog of the things I use for protection. They're pretty cool. You know you'll want an SOP (shrine of protection... duh!), too.

Yeah. So, I'm in a bad mood. It's hot. I almost had my soul harvested today. I completely finished writing and revising my fourth novel. I'm bored. And I'm going crazy. Oh... and where my agent is, it's already tomorrow... which creates a paradoxical kind of situation. I can actually, technically, respond to any emails I get from said agent before they are actually, technically, sent.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

football season

It's almost coming up on football season.

Real football.

Not the kind played with pads and helmets, oxygen masks on the sidelines, cheerleaders so the fans don't get bored, and action that lasts for about 15 seconds at a stretch before resting for two-and-a-half minutes. It's almost time to start playing rugby.

I'm not here to start any fights with gridiron football enthusiasts. There's plenty of room in this world for your underrepresented game. Heck, I understand they actually have a sport where they slide big rocks across ice up in Canada. But guess what? They play pretty damn good rugby up there, too.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

in between days

When I'm in-between projects is when I get the craziest, but I guess that's where the ideas come from. The last one was hard to get away from because I got so involved in it that I sent my wife and kids away on vacation so I could work alone. And when I was finished and put it away, it was kind of like a burial or something; so I just wanted to get myself back into work... on anything... just to try to get my head back. Like I said in an earlier post, I definitely do not love writing... in fact, I'm pretty sure I hate it. But the alternative is unbearable.

What of all those wayward priests?
The ones who like to drink
Do you suppose they'd swap their blood for wine
Like you swapped yours for ink, for ink

-- Johnny Flynn, The Wrote & The Writ

Sunday, August 17, 2008

on not getting it

There's lots of things I don't get. That's why there's so much ambiguous stuff in my books. Maybe it's 'cause I don't watch TV. I don't know.

There's lots of things I suck at. I can't play video games. When one of my friends asks me to play him in (insert name here, I don't know any of them), I usually say -- and I mean this, truly, in the most non-sexist way -- that I play video games like a little girl throws a baseball. Except for Wii Tiger Woods. I own at that. Well, as long as I'm playing my eleven-year-old daughter, who is, like, the only person I can beat. And then, when I beat her, I say, "You know why I won? Because you SUCK!!!"

Then she cries.

Okay, I'll be honest. I don't beat her. And I don't say that, either.

But I would if I could beat her.

She says it to me.

When I was a kid, I lived on Bainbridge Island in Washington. I used it as part of the setting in the novel I just finished writing. In fact, I've been house-hunting there. I showed my wife and kids pictures of what it's like there, how we used to take the ferry across to Seattle. I told her that, when I was small, my dad would scare me by holding me over the rail and dangling me above the Puget Sound.

My wife said, "No wonder you're so twisted. I can't believe he could get away with that around Nana (my mom)."

I said, "He'd only do it when Nana wasn't looking."

I never really thought that I got my twisted streak from Dad. But, oh well.

The other kind of game I totally suck at is the mind-game. Just don't get it, but for some reason, there are certain people who think I am always on the ready at the opposite end of the court. Go figure.

Oh. I got a really nice comment from a friend about the pictures on this blog. Yes, I take them all. I just booked a trip out of the country with my family coming up later this Fall, so I should get some cool ones then, too.

Friday, August 8, 2008

eight eight eight

I work with some of the coolest people imaginable.

First of all, I have this paper hanging on my wall behind the computer that says, "What would Liz do?" Liz is my editor, and she is kind of seriously amazing. And just thinking about that question helps keep me on track when I'm writing and revising my work. It definitely makes things easier, and I could not have paid for a better writer's education anywhere in the world than I've gotten from her.

The other thing is that she can just write one sentence, or one question to me... and it's like I know exactly what I have to do for an entire book as far as the editorial direction is concerned. At least, I think I do. I could be wrong... but, then again, I am a moron, anyway.

Yesterday, Liz sent me a kind of cryptic email, telling me to look for my mail today. This afternoon, a delivery truck pulled up and I got the first-ever copy of Ghost Medicine, hard-bound... not a galley, not a screen image... the real thing.

I'll be honest, it's kind of scary.

Oh well... back to work.

Thanks Liz.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

the streak

I try to stay sane by running, but I don't know if it's working. Lately, I've been getting in about 5 or 6 miles per day.

I’m a streak runner. Not like what they did in the 70s, though.

Streak runners run every day, no matter what... rain, snow, fires, whatever. With my current streak, I haven't missed a day in more than eight years. It’s an unfortunate kind of addiction, I guess, because sometimes -- like if I have a plane to catch or just a really busy day -- it might mean getting out for a run at 3 AM, a time when some of my friends are just going to bed.

You see things at 3 AM that you’d never see in the daytime. Where I live, that means seeing things like mountain lions or bobcats and deer, stuff like that. And on really warm nights, I’m always afraid I’ll end up stepping on a rattlesnake. A runner friend of mine did that once, and got bit.

I could carry a flashlight, but that's not very cool-looking, and I kind of like the potential dangers I can't see.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

twenty-four hours

Okay. So I finished my work, and right on time. Exactly when I said I would do it. Then I said I was going to take a week off and not write so I could clear my head before working on the edits for in the path of falling objects. Well, the week got shortened down to about 24 hours and I was back at something new today.

I couldn't do it. I was going crazy and pissing people off.

That's it. So here we go.

Monday, August 4, 2008

love, pee, and ink

Okay... I'll be honest, and I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings or make anyone feel defensive, but every time I hear someone say how much they LOVE to write, I kind of throw up a little bit in the back of my throat and then everything smells exactly like barf for about fifteen minutes.

I do not love to write.

Let me explain. I just finished writing, then revising, and rewriting an 84,000-word novel in five weeks. It was a lot of work, many hours every day, and while I definitely didn't suffer while doing it, I didn't love it, either.

I suppose I could no more LOVE writing than I could LOVE to urinate.

Not peeing = exploding.

Not writing = exploding.

Do not make the following false assumption:

writing = peeing

It does not, trust me. If it did, my incontinent dog would have a freakin' Pulitzer.