Monday, October 24, 2011

Writer, Wroter, Reader

I love the website Daily Writing Tips!

I love multiple tips from lots of people!

One tip: Write the first draft spontaneously. Switch off your internal editor until it is time to review your first draft.

I did that, cranked out a good first draft, and happily discovered, after letting a few friends read it, with varying requests for their perspective, that the manuscript was a glorious mess!

That might daunt others, but I have an advantage this time of not having an invisible potential agent or publishing house query letter leader/rejecter leaning over my shoulder. I don't care what some editor 3,000 miles away thinks of this book. I may never go back to trying to published by what remains of the mainstream or small press houses. With so few opportunities, and such specific markets dictating what gets published, DIY authors are running loops around the traditional industry.

This NY Times article shows how is circumventing traditional methods, and publishers are worried.

I'm not. I sold more Kindle editions of my first three novels in the past four months than were sold in the past year. It took me a few hours, cost me nothing, and the little checks keep rolling in.

I've been much more open about sharing this new work than with previous projects. Perhaps it's because I'm on quite a roll at work, and everything I write there is for public consumption. Everything gets read, hopefully checked in advance, sometimes, corrected later.

One friend was nervous when I kept grilling him for mistakes or questions. Another dove in and helped me realize problems with the work, which led to thousands more words, which led to more problems, which led to even more fun.

Because it's really about having fun, or why the hell am I spending so many nights clacking away in front of my computer?

I get several requests from fledgling authors about the end game: How do I get published? How do I get an agent? How do I convert my novel to an e-book? How do I get more sales?

The answers are simple and complicated. First, finish the damn book before fretting! The other is, write a good book!

Really. Check out all these articles about fiction writing that explain quite clearly a lot of aspects of writing and publishing.

Now, go and write a good book.

Going the Distance

So, although the narrator in Every Time I Think of You is a distance runner, there isn't a lot of competition in the novel. I conveniently set the book after Reid's final high school cross country season, with just a little bit of track team activity and a marathon in the spring.

Reid's evolution as a person, and his steadfast nature, are more reflected by his being someone who goes the distance, not as a stellar athlete, but as someone who perseveres. The athleticism serves a purpose, but it's not the main focus. Don't expect a lot of intense details on competitions.

Having spent so many years immersing myself in wrestling during the almost ten years spent developing PINS, I knew which sports the two main characters would pursue, but it wasn't just about their athleticism.

I also had made the choice not to mention the pivotal book The Front Runner, written by friend and mentor Patricia Nell Warren. Inserting a mention of what The New york times described as "the most moving, monumental love story ever written about gay life" is setting oneself up for failure by comparison.

Reid might have possibly found the book, as did I, in high school, at a shopping mall bookstore. It might have even changed his life in ways. But Patricia's novel is just too big to include. So would any mention of Reid's probably heroes like Steve Prefontaine.

There's a strange thing in literature I call "Novel World," where much of literary fiction either completely ignores the setting's media - TV films, books- or layers pop culture references, as in another classic, Don DeLillo's White Noise. A close read of PINS will reveal that novel's influence. I did a lot of that in PINS, in fact making the main characters the subject of the media. I chose not to do that in Every Time... with the exception of a few favorite pop songs of the era (thus the title).

Like the pure sport of running, with Every Time, I set out to create a "clean" novel, one that isn't derivative, isn't too dense, yet still maintains a level of symbolism and a different voice than my other work.

Of course, Reid would probably have loved this song!

(Photos were randomly chosen and are not meant to imply anything about the subjects.)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Reel to Real

Here's another tidbit, and a slight spoiler about Every time I Think of You.

One of the retro aspects of the book is how one of the main characters, Everett, sends cassette tape mixes to his amour, Reid.

According to this Wall Street Journal article, some people still like cassette mixes.

So do I, but I've been converting my old cassette mixes to Mp3s via the Audacity application. I can enjoy those magical mixes on my phone and iTunes. Most of them have a specific time-based set of memories (mostly the 1990s, when I made the majority of my cassette mixes).

The WSJ article is in complete contradiction to a Yahoo article claiming that cassettes will be among the top ten formats that'll be outmoded and junked by 2020.

The iniquities of those mixes are part of the fun, as mentioned in the WSJ article:
Most music lovers don't miss the hiss, the background noise caused when the tape passes over the playback head. "Listening to a cassette for quality is like driving a Smart Car in the Indy 500," says Bob Lefsetz, author of a music newsletter and blog, who says the cassette is a poor music medium.

The hiss is part of the magic for cassette lovers. "Tape hiss has the same amount of charm as a little crackle when listening to a record has," says Mr. Thordarson. "It makes it seem more real."
As with most of my novels, music plays a strong part in setting the scene. I even have music mixes for each novel, which I often play while doing rewrites.

But now, with modern technology, I can download YouTube videos, add the audio for a mix, and much more easily make an audio mix through a variety of editing applications.

But no, nothing beats the retro analog process of carefully selecting the songs one by one for a mix tape. Thus, the references to mix tapes in my fourth novel.

Saturday, October 15, 2011


In the ten years I wrote my Sports Complex column, I never once covered lacrosse. It's funny, I've written about probably 60 different sports, from gay teams to gay players in mainstream sports, but never lacrosse.

Perhaps that's why it interested me to include it, albeit briefly, in Every Time I Think of You. Of course, it fits the kind of sport Everett would play at a private school. From my research, it was mostly limited to smaller schools in the late '70s, when the book is set. One of the "dude"-like aspects of lacrosse is how athletes call it "laX." Do they say it that way? I'm not sure, so I skipped any mention of it, unsure of the timeline of this nickname.

What I didn't know was how hot the guys are! Check out these few vintage photos from college lacrosse teams. Unable to actually attend a lacrosse match nearby, I had to resort to online data, videos and other fun stuff. I became interested in the specifics of uniforms then and now, rules and leagues, and the general history of the sport.

Similar to the more broad coverage of wrestling in PINS, I tried to present a balanced view of Everett's teammates, although they're all much more sketches than the more complete team dramatizations in PINS. Similarly, with Reid's cross country teammates, they don't serve as important plot devices as in PINS. But I hope the two characters' differing sports serve to reflect the nature of these two different kinds of teenagers.

And even though this is the second time I've used a serious sports injury in a story (the bike messenger accidents in Cyclizen sort of count, I guess), I'm certainly not trying to vilify athletics.

But a recent increase in head injuries in high school football have caused a lot of concern. Even professional football athletes have been seriously injured, and raised concerns about safety for athletes of all levels.

Being a former athlete and dancer, I remain fascinated by the wonders, limits and frailty of the human body. I'll be exploring this in other ways in future books and stories.

(The photos are random online finds, and not meant to imply anything about the subjects.)

UPDATE: A day after I posted this, the news of a high school football player dying during a game made headlines. Really tragic.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Wheely Scary

While browsing through my Netflix queue and suggested flicks, I decided to watch an old American International B classic, Die, Monster, Die! starring Boris Karloff, whom I've always admired, and Nick Adams, who, believe it or not, my mother went out with on a date! Fortunately, there wasn't a second date, and she met my dad only a few months later. Anyway, that's another story altogether.

What I noticed about Die, Monster, Die! is of course how Dr. Scott in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (and the musical play original) was probably inspired by Karloff's wheelchair-using character. The plaid blanket is a giveaway, although the ornate chair with gryphon ornature is not appropriated.

I wondered about the varied depictions of characters who use wheelchairs in films.

Bypassing the classics (Coming Home, Born on the Fourth of July, Murderball and the Hitchcock classic Rear Window), and acknowledging the top three (according to Alan Troop on Disaboom), I'll skip to one of my favorites, Monkey Shines, whose image search online led to this page, a whimsical round-up of the Top Ten Wheelchair characters in Horror Films. It's getting near Halloween, so it's worth a gander.

What's clear are the two Vs: Victim or Villain. That's pretty much the binary code, for the most part. Some die violent deaths, others commit heinous monstrous crimes. A few others are -shocker!- not actually disabled! Horror movies usually reduce people to archetypes anyway, so why should disabled people be treated any differently?

I've pretty much watched every single Scott Speedman movie I could get my hands on. Even the worst are sweet, and there are a few clunkers, because Speedman is so durn sexy and cute. He's also a good actor, I think.

Good Neighbors is no exception. An interesting premise, Speedman plays a wheelchair-using neighbor to two other stranger characters who may or may not be a suspect in this darkly comic serial killer thriller. It's definitely one of my least favorite genres, but Scott's in it, so there. Here's a New York Times review. Here's a Fangoria write-up.

I guess the point is proving that characters can be sexy even in wheelchairs, particularly when they're played by Speedman.

Yet there are some stranger scenes in other films, particularly Nightmare on Elm Street 3, in which a wheelchair becomes an instrument of torture, and The Changeling, in which a chair becomes a possessed attacker.

Others depict a perceived horror of becoming disabled, the fear of vulnerability by the disabled, or a fear of the disabled. In many films, it's a myopic depiction.

While Karloff's evil in Die is blended into lots of other creepy stuff, and his handicap is incidental, Monkey Shines remains a favorite for several reasons.

- Jason Beghe is gorgeous, and frequently naked.
- Despite some melodrama, and a hokey ending, it's a good story.
- The difficulties of disability, including romantic expectations and betrayal, are shown thoroughly and believably.
- Monkeys are creepy.
- Have I mentioned how gorgeous Jason Beghe is?

But probably the biggest horror that Beghe overcame is that he recently told how he finally escaped the cult, excuse me, "religion" of Scientology.

See more features about disability in films at Disaboom.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Heady Brew

So, this week in the Bay Area Reporter, my feature about UK choreographer Mark Brew setting a new piece on AXIS Dance company was published. I took another perusal of some online videos. Above is a montage of a few previously created AXIS dances, and Mark's work.

His "Nocturne" male-female duet is pretty amazing. I see it as a metaphor for romance or sex, since there's a bed. It kind of asks the question that people ask disabled people, and which I explore (perhaps a little too fully) in my book: "What do you do in bed?"

Well, Brew made a dance in and out of a bed. I'll have to ask him if his dance is that literal, but I doubt it.

I have to say, for the first time in years, I was a bit daunted to interview dancers Rodney Bell and Shonserée Giles; not because they'd been on TV. Duh. Just because they're pretty amazing dancers.

It was easier to talk with director Judith Smith about the production aspect, and to Brew about the abstract of choreography. But with the dancers, I basically was talking a lot between questions, while in my mind, I was thinking, "Wow. You're cool." Even though I'd danced for years, I still get a bit starstruck.

UPDATE: the opening night concert really amazing. As a former dancer, I can be a bit choosy about modern dance choreography. But the innovations the works undertook occasionally left me gasping. the daring moves that were accomplished, gymnastic tumbling on and off wheelchairs, and, in the case of Brew's work, a bathtub, table and easy chair, evoked a variety of dramatic inter-personal tensions. Dances by company member Sebastian Grubb, New Yorker David Dorffman, and Brew's commissioned new work were simply fascinating.

The audience, which included about 30 people in wheelchairs in the front non-seating area, really enjoyed it. At the reception afterwards, I got to chat more with the affable Brew and other company members and patrons. A great night!

Sunday, October 2, 2011


I like to brag that almost 20 years ago I saw the first live performance by Justin Bond as Kiki DeRange, at the former Lily's Bar (now Martuni's.).

Justin is unique. Anyone knows that. After leaving San Francisco, Bond became the toast of New York with an acclaimed cabaret act.

Justin eschews male or female identification, so notice how I'm writing about Justin to avoid using his/her... oh, frak it. Justin uses Mx. Innovative yet again, although I don't know how to spell the possessive version of that. Merx?

Anyway, Justin's new CD is called Dendrophile and you should buy it or download it. It's strange, artistic and has nothing to do with my novel, except the title, and Justin's affinity for earth-loving ideals, like that of Every Time I Think of You's main characters do, somewhat.

Here's "American Wedding," a chant-like song with beautiful video graphics.

Tree Entry

Okay, this is a little flaky, but sweet. I don't even remember how I found it, but hey, the boys in "Every Time..." have a close relationship with trees.

How to Listen to Trees

Listening to trees is either a relaxation or a meditating exercise, depending on how you choose to view it. Listening to the communications of trees (or rustlings and noises if you're really practical) is a way of attuning our hearing and paying more attention to what we hear around us rather than letting sounds invade our space unawares. Trees make for a wonderful subject of focus because they cannot move more than what the breeze blows, toning down distractions and causing us to relax and focus more clearly.

Learn more about communing with trees!