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.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

the dinner party

So, I'm throwing this up here quickly because I just realized I will be gone all day and then I have a dinner party, thing, too, so I won't be home till really late.

Don't do anything while I'm gone.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

falling objects

in the path of falling objects is two stories that unfold at the same time. On the most immediate level, it is the story of Jonah and Simon, two abandoned brothers who leave their home in search of something they dream they will find. The story is told through Jonah's "map," a collection of drawings and writings that chronicle the boys' ride through the desert in a car with a psychopath, a lost girl, and a tin statue. On another level is the story of their older brother Matthew, a soldier in Vietnam, told through Matthew's letters to Jonah.

When I was a kid, my older brother served as a soldier in Vietnam. I still have the letters he wrote while he was there. They helped make the writing of Matthew's story a little easier.

I think letter writing is a lost art, but when I was a kid, I wrote to my brother consistently -- every week. And I could count on getting a letter from him regularly, too. Now, it's all email and IM speech -- OMG and LOL -- and the conventions and mechanics of writing have evolved -- or devolved -- away.

I thought about this for a couple reasons. First, when I look back through my brother's letters, I am impressed by his handwriting and the obvious effort to spell and punctuate correctly. Sure, he's a smart guy, but when he was in Vietnam he was just 18 years old, too.

I've had the opportunity to speak to hundreds of high school-aged kids in the past weeks since Ghost Medicine was released (looking forward to Newbury Park High School on December 2), and kids regularly ask me for advice on what it takes to become a writer. So, in honor of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), my general topic of advice to writers when I'm not overly angst-ridden this November, and, for the kids, I thought I'd offer my deflated two cents:

First cent: There is no substitute for experience. And I don't mean experience as a writer -- that's called practice -- I mean experience at life. If you shut yourself up and don't get out into the real world, you'll never be able to write. I've traveled all over the world and met countless different kinds of people, lived on my own by the time I was 17, I have actually been in war-torn countries during conflicts, and I've done so many crazy things that I sometimes wonder how I ever managed to live this long (one day, remind me to write about hunting crayfish in Sweden). I think young people who want to write frequently default to writing fantasy -- just because they get to "make up" all the experiences they've never had, and there are no rules to reality. And that's good practice, I suppose, but it's not really writing.

So my advice to the young is to breathe, relax, be patient, and get off your butt and out of your house.

Second cent: I hear so many writers that advise others to "read everything in your genre." Nonsense. I don't read very much Young Adult fiction at all. There's no reason to. But I read constantly... all kinds of things, but mostly fiction, mostly adult. When I think about the genre-specific advice, I wonder if a writer like Ray Bradbury ever constrained himself to reading Science Fiction. He's got a voice, rhythm, and technique that is not much like most of the Sci-Fi authors I've ever read... actually not like any of them. And, although I tell kids that I am not a fan of Fantasy or Sci-Fi, I will say that I've read a lot of those titles, a LOT of Bradbury, and I think he's a brilliant author.

The genre doesn't matter. Good writing is good writing.

Is good writing.

Which is something that -- WTF -- kids aren't taught how to develop anymore.

Happy NaNoWriMo.

Monday, November 17, 2008

irregular maintenance

Okay. I know I'm high-maintenance. And I know I'm a basket case, too. At least I did get to read a bit today (I'm in a good part of the book I am currently reading).

Welcome to today. Especially crappy.

I started off this month writing a little bit about New Authors' Moments of Panic (NAMOP), and I thought of one that particularly afflicts obsessive losers like me.

When I send emails, I usually re-read them several times before actually hitting the send button.

Spelling, grammar, or punctuation errors make me crazy. Well... crazier than I am, that is.

Then... if I go back to my Sent folder and look at the email I just sent moments ago (like... let's say to my editor), I'll see, of course, a freekin spelling error. And, of course, me being the obsessive loser that I am, I start panicking... like my editor will think I am a complete moron who doesn't know how to spell. So I send a random, one-lined email to my editor that says something like:

... I purposely meant to misspell the word "Ohio" as "Penis." Ha ha ha... isn't that funny?

And then, my editor, or the other career-breaking person I just sent this correction email to becomes convinced that I am, indeed, a panicky, high-maintenance, obsessive, perverted, moron who can't spell.

Oh. And not only that... then, I'll go back to my Sent folder and see that I have accidentally CC'd everyone in my address book that same correction email.

Yeah. I'm a loser.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

the clue-in

This is probably going to be one of those rambling, I-am-frustrated-because-I-didn't-get-to-do-what-I-wanted-to-do-today-like-READ posts, so... my apologies in advance.

I got an email from a fellow writer who is going to print her review of Ghost Medicine in our little local mountain paper, and she asked me the following:

I wonder if you could let me in on how you chose to plot the location of your story, and how close it is to the actual geography around here. I can’t recall you ever pinpointing this as Southern California, or near L.A. Maybe I missed this, or maybe you were purposely vague. Also, I wasn’t real clear about the time period. Obviously there were TV’s and trucks, so it wasn’t too far in the past, but the I wonder if there really are such vast expanses of empty land now, where boys could ride for days and find abandoned cabins. To me it felt like something from the past, but I never got a handle on that. Again, maybe you were purposely vague to make this a timeless epic. And that it is!

Well, first of all, that's a really nice thing to say. But, second, I just made everything up. Well... except for most of the stuff that happens to the boys (a lot of it really did happen to me). But the places in my books are totally nonexistent.

Actually, I do that in all the books I've written.

Next year's book, in the path of falling objects, starts off in a place called Los Rogues, New Mexico. Guess what? That doesn't exist, either. But the story does wind through Tucumcari, Farmington; and in Arizona: Tuba City, Kayenta, Sedona, and Flagstaff (all real places). But there are plenty of other geographic mentions that are not on the map at all: Everett, New Mexico, and the Rio Cruces, for example. Just in case you were wondering... even though I know people are going to ask the "where" questions after that book comes out, too.

At least in the path of falling objects is very specific about the month and year in which that story takes place: August, 1970.

If you're curious... good. It won't be too much longer till that one's out.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

the murderer in the garage

My cat, the cat that kills things, is a freekin witch or something.

I knew that cat was like Judge Holden from Blood Meridian the day I saw it fighting with a rattlesnake on the side of the house. So... what can I do? No one screws with the judge, and when he asks you to trade something with him... well... it's the judge.

I went out to the garage this morning shortly after waking up. And I saw the cat had eaten a bird on its little tie-dyed bed. Okay... the cat is also a hippie, kind of like Mitch from in the path of falling objects, too. A psycho hippie. And when Mitch asks you to do something... well... you know.

But the cat had arranged this little killing shrine there, carefully placing a 4 of Spades and an empty peanut shell within the murder scene. And I have no idea where those things came from... it's not like I have peanuts and playing cards spread out all over the garage floor.

I am aware that to admit to superstitious belief is a confession of frailty and ignorance, but... you know. I'm a loser. But I consulted the "meaning of the cards" (you could look up the four of Spades on Google) and found this:

FOUR OF SPADES -- FREEDOM -- Lifting of oppression; the inner power of the individual stands unchained.

Okay. I know I've been a bit oppressive to this particular cat at times in its career as a murderer, but I didn't think the consequences of an occasional chase-around-the-house with a squirt gun would include the employment of the darker forces to unchain the cat's inner power.

Now what do I do?

This thing isn't going to be satisfied with the infrequent helpless bird. It's a monster wrapped up in black fur.

It's me or the cat.

I knew it would come to this.

I saw it playing a fiddle and dancing naked out there in the garage last night.

I'm going to need to do something to level the playing field. If you don't hear from me... have them look for my remains on the tie-dyed cat bed.

Friday, November 14, 2008

q and a (part 2)

Okay. I spoke before a total of about 500 High School kids today. I am jet-lagged, wiped out, and have no voice left, but it was a terrific day. And, as is often the case, having flown this week has left me sick with some stranger's anti-American phlegm virus. So I am heading for bed.

But the kids asked me so many amazing questions, and I was happy for their interest and insight. When, as inevitably happened, I was asked by one student about my favorite authors, I found myself talking, once again, about Melville; and I realized how Melvillian some of the structures in Ghost Medicine are. Oh well... I must be delirious.

So... here are a few of the questions and responses on the day:

You write about kids. What was your life like when you were young?

I was the son of a military officer and an Italian mother; so my three brothers and I lived in all kinds of places growing up. In fact, I was the first kid in the family to be born here in America, and we lived all over the country after that. I also spent a lot of time growing up in Italy, too. Probably my favorite place we lived was in Kitsap County, Bainbridge Island, Washington, because there was so much outdoor space and so much for boys to do. I think that connection with nature I felt as a boy became a big part of the story behind Ghost Medicine. Of course, we were never big television watchers, and I still don’t watch it as an adult. In fact, I know a lot of people will think this is weird, but I have never even seen a minute of an episode of shows like The Office, The Sopranos, or Mad Men. I couldn't even tell you the first thing about those shows. But I hear lots of people watch them.

Why did you start writing for kids?

I don't think I ever consciously decided to write for kids. I just wrote. And I think that writers of Young Adult fiction kind of bristle at the term "children," even though we end up being lumped into that broad category, because our audience and characters really aren't children. That said, I guess I started writing stories ever since I used a really fat pencil and wrote on that paper with the really wide lines. I always knew I would be a writer. But when I was in high school and told my parents that I wanted to be a writer, they just about choked on their dinner. I remember them saying, “But what do you really want to do?” It didn't matter to me, though, because I paid my own way through college and I was dedicated to becoming a journalism or literature major. My first actual job was writing for a newspaper, too. In those days, we got paid by the inch of copy, too, which, I believe, accounts for some of the long, long sentences in Ghost Medicine. Old habits die hard, I guess. I ended up not enjoying writing for newspapers and, later, radio stations, and I eventually drifted around all over the world.

What is the most valuable advice you can give to a newly published writer?

Well, I don't know how valuable my advice is... but I'd say that the best thing you can do if you're a newly published writer is to start on your next project. Personally, though, I do have to take a little recovery time to rest after finishing a novel, because the process for me is pretty mentally and physically draining. I think that, after a debut, many writers get scared that they won't be able to come up with a second novel. When I wrote Ghost Medicine, I almost convinced myself that I wouldn't be able to write another novel; that I was somehow emptying myself out. In reality, my next four novels became easier to write.I found that a quick return to writing something new made the whole process easier and more natural.

Ugh. Goodnight.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

back in the usa

Okay. I'm back, feeling much restored.

I'm not going to say I have a new lease on life because I've never been a conscientious tenant of that which I've leased. But I was just throwing a typical high-maintenance tantrum when I said in an earlier post that I was going to quit writing. So I will confidently restate the Smith calculus: I could no more quit writing than I could quit urinating. Not urinating equals exploding. Not writing equals exploding.

There. Unarguable in its perfection.

But writing does kind of make me feel like I'm imploding. Sometimes. When you do it right, I guess.

I'm writing a new book right now. Well, not right now, because I'm doing this -- blogging -- which is not writing. But, yeah, it's good. And I'm not going to write it as quickly as I did the last one because that was too painful and self-destructive.

A couple nice things happened while I was out of the country. Oh... and one horrible thing... I almost got arrested. I had visions of showing up as the subject of one of those prisoners-in-a-foreign-land-ruled-by-oppressive-and-soulless-tyrants documentaries.

Oh... I just remembered while typing this. A few days ago, I sat down and ate at a restaurant where they were serving cooked crickets and worms. I kid you not. Not that I want to come off as some sort of stuck-up, whiney ethnocentrist, but I thought that was really cool.

So. A couple of the nice things that happened: I got a really uplifting email from a fan of Ghost Medicine in Wisconsin (one of the most beautiful states in the union). It is the most awesome thing to make a connection with people so distant by just having put something out there that I never really wanted anyone to read, and felt so torn-up guilty for taking money for it; like I was prostituting my own child or something. Oh well... I digress.

I also got a couple ultra-cool messages from editors and others in the publishing/agenting world who'd somehow got to read in the path of falling objects, and they really boosted my subterranean level of confidence. So, thanks.

And... last night, I had a great talk on the phone with my agent, who was in Tokyo. The coolest thing about that is I could actually ask, "Is tomorrow going to be better than today?" and my agent could answer with absolute certainty*.

*Note-- it was tomorrow in Tokyo when I talked to said agent, but it was today when I was talking.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

time zones

Last night we had Thanksgiving dinner with my brother-in-law and his girlfriend, who were visiting from Maui. We won't see them before then, so we thought we'd have our reason-to-be-thankful dinner now, and it was really nice.

I guess we do have plenty for which to be appreciative, even if the state of California seems to have some issues at the moment.

Anyway, as I said, I've had a bit of the "November in my soul" lately, so I am packing up, got the passport and airline tickets, and am leaving the country for a week. So this is the last post for a while.

I did just want to say that yesterday I received a very uplifting email from a librarian in Washington State (this is why I love librarians, particularly YA librarians). She told me that Ghost Medicine was the best Young Adult book she'd read all year.


And, given the fact that it's November (inside and out), I guess there's not much of the year left to go. Anyway, it was a really great email to receive, and I am truly thankful for it, especially coming on the heels of such a downer of a week for me.

I'm outta here.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

mental november

I'm not going to write about the same thing that 99% of the other bloggers in the world are likely writing about today.

I'm going to write about Herman Melville. I love Melville. Of course, as is my habit, I even mention him in one of the books I've written. This also explains my references to, and reverence for, Nathaniel Hawthorne, for those out there who know a little bit about these writers.

There's a lot about Melville I can empathize with, too. He devoted himself, poured himself, into his writing, often at great personal expense; and although Melville attempted to make his living from writing fiction, he struggled with finances and even his sanity.


In Moby-Dick, or The Whale, Melville crafts some of the finest prose I've read (and I will admit openly that 19th-century American fiction is an acquired taste, so don't go out there and buy anything you can find from Melville just because I said it was good). In the opening pages, the narrator, Ishmael, talks about his need to get away from land, saying his journeys become necessary... Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses...

I mention the passage from Ishmael's thoughts because I can empathize with that, too.

So, I'm going to pack (I always somehow delay this part until I'm on the brink of missing my flight), my passport is in my pocket, and I'm leaving for a while. Oh... barring any unforseen events of a religious magnitude, I will be back next week sometime, but this (or possibly an early shot tomorrow morning) will be my last post for a while.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

watcher's block

Okay, now that I've decided to quit writing entirely and concentrate all my energies into television viewing, I am greatly relieved.

This is the life.

Why didn't I think of this years ago? It comes so naturally and effortlessly to me. I am really good at it. In fact, I love it. I'm thinking of joining a group, too, where we sit around and talk about how we watch television, and critique one another on style issues like our posture and what we wear while watching.

Last night, though, I encountered something other television viewers had warned me about: watcher's block. I don't know what to do about it; in fact, I'm kind of crying right at the moment as I write about it (but I'm not really writing because I am all about quitting that destructive habit).

I just sat there in front of the TV and I couldn't bring myself to turn it on. I was too afraid to commit myself to watching something because I was worried that it wouldn't be great.

Yeah... I got watcher's block big time. I just stare at the green-grayness of the flat screen and come up with all kinds of childish and self-deprecating excuses about why I can't turn the bastard on.


But I really am quitting writing. No more. I think I want to be a gardener now.

Just as soon as I finish this bitch of a book I started writing. Then that's it. I swear.

I'm done.

Monday, November 3, 2008

moments of panic

Okay... so I was going to write some posts about New Authors' Moments of Panic, and, believe me, I have lots of them. Every day.

But I worked so hard over the weekend that my eyes are still blurry and my head feels like it's going to explode. And when I get that way, everything I hear seems portentous... cryptic and negative. Which leads to moments of panic. So, yeah... it's been one of those painfully difficult days and I don't think I can write, which is rather Zen-like because here I am, despite feeling like an utter failure who's wasted his entire life and is going to quit writing and go and watch television.


Sunday, November 2, 2008

phone calls from hell

Okay, so I thought I'd post some entries this month on New Authors' Moments of Panic in honor of two things: first, it's National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and second, I seem to have incredibly frequent moments of panic.

Phone calls can definitely panic new authors. Not making them (I never make phone calls), receiving them. I remember the day I got "the call" from my agent. When her name popped up on my cell phone, I thought, yeah... she's calling to dump me.

Of course she wasn't, she was actually calling with very good news. But, again, I always tend to default to panic mode.

One thing I've learned about phone calls in the publishing industry is this: when someone in the industry tells you something like "I'll give you a call on Monday," it's like, yeah... okay.

Because in the publishing industry, such a statement really means this: there are 52 Mondays in a year, and I will call you on one of them.

What's worse is if someone in the publishing industry says, "I'll give you a call on Monday or Tuesday."

Again, you're bound to think that means the next Monday or Tuesday that comes along, but the person who made that statement, given the recurring frequency of Mondays and Tuesdays in a typical year, has just granted themselves nearly one-third of the year in wiggle room.

So, panic sets in.

If you are a new author... breathe... relax. 'Cause this is how it goes.

Just sayin'.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


Ahhh... welcome to November.

I've got a special series of blog posts I'll be doing this month I think you'll enjoy. I'll explain momentarily, but I will begin by saying I don't expect to blog every day this month since I'll be out of the country this time next week. I will probably disappear from here by Wednesday or Thursday... but, not to worry, I will have my trusty iPhone and email, for those people who need work out of me (or just have some good news to share).

Yeah. Right.

I still don't know what that phone sounds like when it rings.

And I thought I'd mention, too, that I finally resolved that issue I was having over ONE WORD in the final version of in the path of falling objects, so I'm pleased with that. Really, it is a burden being so compulsive about those kinds of things, and constantly over-thinking them.

Because I'm a loser.

The problem is, that one word, in its various forms, occurs in the book 33 times. That may sound like a lot of echoing going on, but keep in mind the book is just under 85,000 words long. So... it's fixed. It's good. It's ready for cover art and a galley printing.


Now, to explain the title of the post and what I'll be offering up from time to time this month...

Since November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and there are always so many people out there who try to write a novel for the first time during November, I thought I would tell a few stories about New Authors' Moments of Panic (NAMOP).

I've had lots of them.

Almost too many to count.

Because I'm an over-thinking compulsive loser.

Like the ONE WORD, for example. Oh yeah, those moments do not diminish simply because you have more than one novel out there. Well... not, at least, when you're an over-thinking compulsive loser they don't.

Anyway, most of these will be funny. I think. And not designed to discourage any new authors out there, either. They just happen, so maybe I can talk you down from a ledge or something when they happen to you.


And I invite my author friends out there to share their NAMOP stories too. Oh yeah... two things... one) friends??? are you kidding me? and, 2) these things, in reality, probably don't happen to any other new authors because it's me... the over-thinking compulsive loser.

But, anyway, if you do have NAMOP stories... share them.

My first, phone calls from hell, will be posted later today or tomorrow.