Monday, May 30, 2005

Gotham Writer's Workshop Exercises: It's On!

Finally willing to post some actual writing that I've done, prompted by the Writing Fiction exercises...

Here's the assignment:

PAGE 30: Imagine the worst person you’ve ever met, or make one up. Then assign them a redeeming quality. Then write a passage with them in action.

Here's what I came up with, in terms of skeleton:
Self-centered bitchy snob: Ashley McCameron. Alcoholic, childless married for money fake-chested trophy wife. However, she has a soft spot for waitresses since she was one in the year or two before she met her 70 year-old husband.

And here's what I came up with. This was written May 23rd, 2005, from 11:00-11:45, with just a bit of (probably forbidden) tinkering--changed three or four words tops.

Ashley McCameron seethed. When she ordered a bottle of 1996 Dom Perignon for her table, she didn’t expect to be told that the St. Jacques Hotel supply of the champagne had dwindled, and that the last bottle of 1996 vintage was consumed earlier that week. However, it wasn’t her thwarted desire that had her ire up. What was raising the trophy wife’s blood pressure was the behavior of her lunch companion, fellow 2nd Wife Clubber Nicole Meredith-Neal.

“What kind of retards are they staffing this place with anyway?” Nicole spat.

“Miss, we’d be happy to offer you some ‘92, on the house…” the nervous waitress attempted to reply.

“Hey, retard? I’m through dealing with you. Get your boss over here. Hell, get your boss’ boss over here, too. I don’t give two shits if they have to walk to France to get us the 1996 we want. God knows we’re paying enough of your salary, which is probably too high as it is,” Nicole interrupted, steadily increasing the volume to low roar.

At this point, Ashley felt as if she were having an out-of-clique experience, as if she was watching some strange Elitism Security Camera from the upper right corner of the restaurant. She gently touched Nicole’s left hand, as Nicole’s right was currently occupied with its index finger poking the air sternly, pantomiming a vicious thrust to the waitress’ solar plexus.

“Nicole, let’s just drop this and eat,” Ashley pleaded. Snapping back into character, partly in response to Nicole’s expression: Et tu, Ashley?, she continued, “there’s no need to let this little person’s on the job training spoil our “girl time”. So… Leigh, right? Why don’t you just bring us the ’96, and make sure the manager brings it over to us with a smile, ‘kay?” Ashley felt almost more fake than usual when she delivered the driest, least sincere closing of her English-speaking career: “Thanks.”

Although Nicole was unsuccessful at repressing what she saw as boundless insult on the part of the St. Jacques, Ashley managed one secret, apologetic gesture on poor Leigh’s behalf. When paying the check (always much easier to wrest from Nicole than it should be, Ashley thought), she tripled the cost of the meal in calculating Leigh’s tip. When Leigh retrieved the bill and viewed it, she cast a nervous glance to Ashley, who returned a stern visage that didn’t exactly frighten Leigh; it wasn’t meant to. The waitress delivered a perfunctory thank-you, and walked away, keeping Ashley’s secret vulnerability just that.

Ashley Dukowski, Howie's Hot Pants and Hot Sauce Oasis, class of 2001.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Pass the Hat For Poor Javon Walker

Hot on the jock of Terrell Owens (and boy did that sound wrong), we see and hear Green Bay’s WR Javon Walker asking for a re-done deal, in light of his excellent 2004 season (be it breakthrough or highwater mark). Walker feels that he’s far outperformed the miniscule 500K a year he’ll get for the next two seasons, and suggests that he’s “one of the top five receivers in the league”. [Memo to Javon Walker: Inarguably, there are times to listen to your mother, like when she tells you to wear clean underwear or not to date Jennifer Lopez. This, however, is not one of those times. Top 5 in the league? You couldn’t beat out Anquan Boldin at Florida State, and he had one good knee for two legs.]

Holdouts, especially those by probable-flashes-in-the-pan like Walker, have always mystified me. I think agents are probably more than a little responsible for these little tantrums; they half-assed through your negotiation and didn’t tack on some seemingly harmless incentives for you to beef up your salary, so now they’re trying to get that 15% to amount to something by encouraging you to dishonor the contract they themselves told you was a good deal two years ago. When your own teammates are telling you to show up and play, rather than hurt the team concept with your selfishness, it’s time to quietly swallow your pride and give up, or at least tell the press you “don’t want to disrupt the flow by negotiating during the season”.

If you ask an absent player why he’s holding out, his answer will probably include some variation of the word leverage. Not that I think the player isn’t answering honestly, but again, that’s the agent with his hand up the player’s ass. In a signed-contract situation, leverage only exists when your holdout would almost certainly have real and undesirable consequences (see Emmitt Smith about 10 years ago, missing two Cowboys losses to start the season, then backing up the proverbial Brinks truck). If the Packers found the prospect of being without Javon Walker for an extended time (or his leaving as a free agent in two years) to be so horrible, the ink would already be dry on his Big New Contract.

Almost admirably, the Packers seem to be following the Eagles’ lead, reminding Walker of his contract, and not discouraging his teammates from expressing their opinions on the nearly destitute Javon Walker’s quest for enough money just to live. If I’m the GM in Green Bay, it goes down like this:

To: Javon Walker
Fr: Ted Thompson, General Manager, Green Bay Packers
Re: 2005-2006 season

This will be the only time the Packers will ask you to honor your contract. Should you fail to report in the next ten days, we will honor our end of the deal and pay you, but you will not be permitted to play in a game for the remainder of the contract, under any circumstances. At the completion of this existing contract, we will gladly discuss re-evaluation of your salary commensurate with your production; we will also be curious as to which NFL teams would offer a large contract to a player who either held out for two seasons, or didn’t play for two seasons. See you next week.

And that, my friend, is what real leverage looks like. How’s the taste?

I May Be 36, But I Don't Write A Day Over 50

"So how's the writing/studying writing/writer's group thing going?"


I love computers. I'm grateful on a daily basis for what they can do, both on the job, and around the house.Organizing, massaging and beautifying otherwise boring data, storing 150 albums worth of pictures on a single CD, it’s all the good life wherever my laptop goes.

I love writing. I can express my self without stammering or repeating myself too much. I can present finished thoughts to another person without going too fast or too slow for them. It’s great being in charge of an opinion when cranking out an essay, or to be the creator (or destroyer) of an entire universe when working on fiction.

I love the Internet. Reference galore, freely given; that one person in a million who loves/hates [insert odd person/place/thing/activity] more than you; ideas both preposterous and devastatingly better than yours; e-mail and instant messaging. The list is long.

What do you know at this point? We have my appreciation of the modern computer as a tool, my preference to write as a creative outlet, and my familiarity with the potential of the Internet. So then why isn’t this page overflowing with words yet? Given the previous paragraphs, this blogging thing would seem to be made for me to work with. Well, for starters, it ain’t a page, at least not to my old-fashioned sensibilities. It’s not a page, it’s an image on a screen—a picture of a page, to my way of thinking, or more to the point, my way of working.

Maybe a rambling analogy will help explain: I enjoy Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls, and a two-pack of those sugar missiles have gotten me through many a late night. At most all franchised bar/grill/lard-house restaurants, they offer fried cheese sticks, wheels, or wedges, and they’re always great to me (if not for me). On occasions when this grown-up needs a drink, Maker’s Mark bourbon is tasty to me. That said, if you delivered to my table a tall glass of bourbon with a snack cake and a fried cheese stick inserted in it, Bloody Mary style, I’d tell you to get it the hell away from me (as tempting as it might be to sample hooch-soaked fried cheese).

See? It’s possible to like several things with equal zeal, but also possible to disapprove of a combination of those same things.

What in the name of Chris Claremont is the point of all this wordy claptrap? Simple. I like to write, specifically using a pen and paper. Not sure why I prefer one method over another, even if the method I sniff at is more efficient, neater, faster, or whatever. Maybe it’s the delete key that gives me pause, with its carpet-bomb of editing. By keystroking an incorrect letter, phrase or grammatical construct, I can’t shake the feeling that I sometimes throw a baby or two out with the bathwater.

By scribbling on paper, I can scratch out and revise, use crude arrows to move whole paragraphs or to insert later and better ideas, all the while without losing all trace of the seeds of the work. It’s a hoot to see just how bad my first approach to a passage was, overcome but not erased by a second thought. It’s thrilling and rewarding to see a sentence fly from period to period without so much as an uncrossed t. Even cooler than that? When I see a bit of work that was crossed out, then rescued and restored because my first instinct turned out to be the best one.

Isn’t this a time-waster? Writing longhand, revising with a pen, not simply taking care of all of this electronically with the same result in half the time? Isn’t that what computers do for us? Maybe for you, Mr. Hypothetical Reader, but for me? Can’t see myself doing this any other way. Obviously, I recognize the need to involve my computer at some point, and I see the utility of the Web and this blog and all, but that’s just the presentation, not the process. For me, the quickest way to create something to present in the first place comes from the end of a pen. God knows I’m envious of anyone who can put their thoughts straight onto a screen, revising, reconceiving, critiquing as they go, but I doubt if that envy is powerful enough to change my methods.

Case-in-point: what you’ve just read (all 659 words) represents 45 minutes of ink-and-papyrus work, barely legible and certainly not approved by the Little, Brown handbook. Three-fourths of an hour of 70’s style brainstorming, followed by 20-30 minutes of 21st century typing and HTML-izing. I can hazard a guess that those 600-some odd words would have taken me 5 times that long to commit to solely through the use of Microsoft Word. And this piece would be imbued with the same emotional connection I have with my exterminator, or America’s Next Top Model.

So there. Finally, I’m working towards answering the question at the top. The writing/studying writing/writer’s group thing is going slowly, and the why is spelled out above. I didn’t say it wasn’t going well, just it was going slowly.

You’ll have to wait on a Big Finish… I’m still scrawling it on my TGIF receipt.

Friday, May 06, 2005

I'm Scheduling Art!

As mentioned on my partner-in-pipe dream's blog (which is fantastically more well-written than mine), I'm reading (and working through) Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide From New York's Acclaimed Creative Writing School, by the faculty of the Gotham Writers' Workshop. Sprinkled throughout are nifty exercises, called "Your Turn". One of the first "assignments": create a schedule for writing over 7 days. At least an hour per session, at least 5 hours over seven days, working on the same fiction project. Simple! To make a schedule, that is; any monkey can write a schedule. Keeping a schedule, now that's a monkey of a different color (and a metaphor of a totally nonsensical variety--this book came in the nick of time).

Anyways, here's how it's going:

Day One: Wednesday, May 4th.
Scheduled to write from 8PM-9PM. I don't feel my most creative in the evening, thanks to outside forces like my paying gig as an accountant, but the schedule itself seems to be the assignment, not the creativity I can/can't display. So clock in at 8 I do, and I'm suddenly a writer. Not working on a story yet, only the pieces of the story: rough idea of plot, lists of characters I'll probably need. Running critiques, all there sharing space with my non-story.

This was a struggle, and I kept looking at the onscreen clock. But I did write for an hour. If I'd produced something readable, I'd post it. Maybe the world will see something this week.

Day Two: Thursday, May 4th.
Again, I've only got time to write in the evening, but this evening's a good one to get some free time, 'cause the wife's engrossed in Survivor, a show I think is the sign of the apocalypse just before 'rivers of blood'. So I can work undisturbed.

Get a ton more done--actually wrote the first paragraph. Hard to believe for a cynic like me, but it actually is getting easier, and this is just the second day. And no, you still can't see what I'm doing. It's not remotely anything resembling a coherent story.

The "Friday" update should be more exciting. It's Friday night and I can stay up late. Yippee. I'm trying to avoid the drinking and writing thing, though. I've come to understand after many embarrassing e-mails and bulletin board postings that while I have no trouble firing off 1,000 words while tipsy, I really should find a way to have trouble putting out. Because that stuff was by and large kee-rap.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Let's all wear turtlenecks and smoke pipes.

There are a number of people in this world who think, based on wishing alone, that they could shoot a round of golf as well as Tiger Woods. There are probably a thousand times that many who believe that based on wishing alone, they could play golf professionally and make a living at it.

If for no other reason that there are a hundred times more types of paying gigs, there are probably a hundred times that many people who think they could make a living writing all day.

They’re all fools. If you found yourself muttering, “that’s me” while reading the above, you are quite obviously deluded and should probably down a fistful of psychotropics and go back to work at your law office, fast food joint, or college library.

I can say that, however jokingly you take it, because I’m one of those delusional Walter Mittys. Or at least I thought I was, until I actually thought about it while writing the 117 words that precede this sentence.

Key point of distinction: those people don’t want to be a pro golfer or paid author because they’d be fulfilled necessarily or because it’s something they’d love doing regardless of pay 24/7/365. They aspire to it because it beats the job they’ve got, and it’s made to look easy and rewarding by the most skilled folk that actually do those jobs for money.

So, I’d like to think I’ve got a leg up on those people, because I'm fairly certain I'll be writing (and enjoying having written) for its own sake for the rest of my natural life. And so are my colleagues, A.J., B., and T-Licious. Watch us as we actually form a writer's group.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Hello Cleveland!

And away we go...