Monthly Archives: July 2010

Hitting the Lottery

Today’s the anniversary of the day I hit the lottery.  A whole lot of years ago, I married the woman who remains my best friend to this day.  I still can’t believe how lucky I got.

Since this website is focused on writing and the creative life, let me connect the dots.  If you’re pursuing any kind of creative endeavor, you’d better surround yourself with people who will support you.  If the voices you hear are always tearing you down, it’ll be like trying to run a marathon with a couple hundred pounds of concrete strapped to your back.

And no voice is more important than that one you hear when you wake up in the morning and when you go to sleep at night.  (And in the case of my wonderful wife, all freaking day long! 🙂 )

I’ve had some nice successes with my writing in the last couple years and based on a number of factors I’m very confident that some major breakthroughs are on the way.

But I wouldn’t have gotten this far without The Kid, always by my side, picking me up after the disappointments and rejoicing with me after every piece of good news, big or small.

I consider myself the biggest lottery-winner of all.

Author Photos: Going with “The Big Goofy”

Some people seem to have been born in front of a camera.  In every photograph, they look flawless.  Perfect smiles.  Hair never out of place.  An illustrated dictionary would include a shot of them under the entry for photogenic.

Not me.

If I adopt a serious pose, I look like a serial killer. And unless I’m flat out laughing, my tortured grin conjures images of a hostage told to smile despite the gun sticking in his back.

On a photogenic scale of zero to ten, I’m somewhere above absolute zero but it’s a pretty small fractional number. And if my wife is taking the picture, I lose even that fractional number. I adore the woman, but you might say that she’s the Mr. Magoo of photography.  If she’s taking a headshot and actually gets the entire head in the picture, it’s close to a miracle.

So when Mark Harding, editor of Music for Another Land (which will include my short story “Blue Note Heaven”), wrote asking for a headshot for the ebook version of the anthology, I winced.

I dutifully borrowed my daughter’s digital camera and tried the combo from Hell: my wife, the world’s most incompetent photographer, and me, the world’s worst subject.

The following wasn’t the worst shot; it was a typical one.

After one look at these results, my daughter rode in to the rescue.  We met for dinner and she took a couple dozen shots, a few of the serious author look — a.k.a. Dave the Serial Killer — before coaxing me to laugh if that’s what it took to get rid of  Dave the Tortured Hostage.

I was left with a choice between “Serial Killer” and what I came to think of as “The Big Goofy.”  Surely I couldn’t go with the latter.  Authors are supposed to be dignified and serious, aren’t they?  I’d need to go with a shot like this:

Then I began looking at other author headshots and, no offense to my betters, but a lot my partners in crime also looked like serial killers.

Which got me to thinking (always a dangerous thing).   I’m a very happy person.  Not every minute of every day, but I wish I had a dollar for every time I turned to my wife and said, “Isn’t life great?  I’m living a charmed life.”

I’m really a smiling kind of guy.

I also enjoyed writing “Blue Note Heaven.”  Not every minute of it, of course.  There were those inevitable slam-your-head-against-the-wall moments, but I liked writing it and I’m proud of the result.

And I’m delighted that Mark Harding is publishing the story in his anthology.  It looks like a winner.

So why should I look author-serial-killer  serious?  Shouldn’t I look happy?

Of course I should.

So when an e-book reader of “Blue Note Heaven” sees my photograph, they’re going to get “The Big Goofy.”  I hope they look at it and say, “He’s having fun.”

Printer Troubles

There are some stories you just shouldn’t print out at work.

But, hey, sometimes it’s just too convenient.  You’ve gotten a rejection and you don’t want that sad puppy staring you in the face.  You want to print it out and drop it by the post office on the way home.

At my day job, this sort of thing is allowed as long as the privilege isn’t abused.  Everyone takes advantage of the convenience.  You see the oddest of things in that print tray.  But no one abuses the privilege.

Once, I got to the printer a few seconds too late and someone was reading the first page. 

“Hey, this looks pretty interesting,” the guy said.

I took it as a compliment, but it was the only time anyone has sampled my stories that way.

Yesterday, however, I printed one out that might have caused problems.  It was a story that came out of a challenge a number of my writer friends took on, writing a piece based on some piece of spam we received.  I wrote a humorous story based on my favorite topic.  (No, not food.  My other favorite topic.)

The problem this time, however, was that the printer was in a bad state.  I arrived to see several people surrounding it, having no luck at resuscitation.  The guru for this printer was gone for the day but she’d be back at the crack of dawn.

Only then did it register that I didn’t want this story sitting in the output tray for anyone to read it but me.  I went back to my desk and cancelled the print job. 

No big deal.  Except that the printer queue showed that it was cancelling the last half of the job.  Presumably, pages one through eight were lodged firmly in the printer’s memory, ready to be spewed out as soon Ms. Printer Guru arrived the next morning.

Oh, crap.

Why did it have to happen with this story?  Almost any other one would be better than this one.  Hey, I think it’s a heckuva story and have been told the same thing by highly respected writers.  I’ll be very proud when it’s published and will let all of you know about it. 

But I didn’t want it to be read by anyone standing by that printer.  Least of all, Ms. Printer Guru.  I’d rather my resume be stuck in that limbo than this story.

So I went to the printer, tried some more to fix it.  Hey, I’ve got a brain too.  At least allegedly.  I pressed “Cancel job” about fifteen times.  Then I pulled the plug.  That would have to flush those first eight pages (or at least pages two through seven) from the printer’s memory, right?

But what if it wasn’t really a printer’s memory (lost and gone forever), but instead a small hard drive within the printer?  I doubted that was the case, but this was a high-end model. 

Could those pages be stuck somewhere still waiting to be printed?  I cursed myself for not printing something safe first just in case.

I went home thinking I was probably okay.  Almost certainly okay.  But my subconscious still woke me up before the crack of dawn and I beat Ms. Printer Guru into work.  When she arrived (and finished chatting with someone for ten minutes that felt like an hour), I casually mentioned the problem and she promptly showed why she’s the printer guru.

And the only thing extracted from the printer’s maws was somebody else’sembarassing personal document.

Yippee!  I could stand there and, pure as the driven snow, mutter bemusedly about the stuff some people used that printer for. 

I have, however, learned a lesson.  Some stories are best printed at home.  And if I just can’t wait, I’ll try something safe first.  I’ll print out my resume.

A Writer’s Health

If we’re smart, we want to be like P.D. James and Frederick Pohl, writing productively into our late eighties or nineties.

I mean, that is the goal, isn’t it?  A long and healthy life filled with enjoyment.  (You do, um, enjoy writing, don’t you?)

Sadly, there are the counterexamples like Charles Grant, whose cigarette smoking and the resulting lung cancer put him into an early grave.  Or those whose obesity similarly killed them before their time.

As for me, I’m hoping to be creating stories that readers enjoy when I’m ninety.  With further technological advances, maybe even a hundred. 

There are some elements of genetics I can’t control.  Both my father and grandfather died before reaching retirement age.  On the other hand, my mother is now in her eighties and is more than just still around.  She’s still working at a job for my brother’s company where she gets fulfillment and the work keeps her mind sharp. 

While the genetic hand I’ve been dealt is somewhere between Aces and Deuces and I’m powerless to change those cards, there are a number of factors I do have control over.  I’m redoubling some of those efforts so that I can be healthy and happy and yes, writing, when I’m ninety.

I’ve never smoked nor taken drugs.  My alcohol intake typically is limited to a glass of red wine — good for the heart — once or twice a week.  (Usually, it’s the cheap stuff unless I’m out to dinner with my brother Steve and he’s buying.) 

But I do have my weaknesses.  I like to eat.  No, make that I loveto eat.  I try to keep the fat content down, but I’m heavily into volume.  (The word choice of “heavily” was not accidental.)  Near the end of the two-week Master Class run by Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith, a fellow student who’d been watching me eat at the communal dinners spoke up.

“Dave, I am so impressed with you,” she said.

My chest puffed out and I awaited praise for my dialogue, characterization, or sharp wit. 

“I can’t believe,” she continued, “that with as much as you eat you don’t weigh four hundred pounds.”

My ball-busting brothers could not have skewered me any more effectively.

I’d argue that the reason I’m not four hundred pounds is because I try to reduce fat intake and when I work out, I work out very hard.  My friends at the fitness center joke about the moat my sweat creates around the stationary bike.  It’s hyperbole, of course, but there’s an element of truth to it.

When I work out. 

Which isn’t often enough.

And although I’m not four hundred pounds, I do have a few to lose.  If I can lose them the right way, then I’ll increase my chances of joining the ranks of P.D. James and Frederick Pohl.  So here’s the game plan.

Twenty-five in fifty-two. My goal is to lose twenty-five pounds in the next year.  How am I going to do that?

Exercise from three to six times every week.  Every week.  In the past, I’ve had good weeks and bad weeks.  The key is to eliminate, or come close to eliminating, the bad weeks, those stretches when the day job demands (and everything else) squeezes out the time needed for exercise. 

I’m now taking the approach of the cartoon which shows an out-of-shape guy at a doctors office.  The doctor is asking, “Do you have time to exercise an hour each day or be dead twenty-four hours each day?”

Good question.

A friend of mine at work schedules into his calendar a “meeting” at 11 a.m. every day.  That’s his workout time and if anyone calls a conventional meeting for that time slot, he tells them he has a conflict.  I don’t think I can go that far, but I need to go further than I’ve been going.

I’m going to put together a workout schedule each week that insures that I get at least those three workout days in.  No matter what.

Improve my diet by becoming a five-day-a-week vegetarian (plus fish).  I’ve always envied the health benefits my vegetarian friends enjoyed but never managed to stick with it myself for very long.  That’s because of my inherent binary nature.  I tend to be all-on or all-off about most everything.  I’ve been called The Binary Guy before and for good reason.

So in the past I felt I had to be all-vegetarian or not at all.  And I’d last until the first juicy cheeseburger came along because I knew I couldn’t go forever without one.  Like an alcoholic fallen off the wagon, I’d go whole hog.  (Word choice intentional.)

This five-day approach, I believe, will work for me because I can be all-on for five days without feeling that I’ll never be able to eat chicken or red meat again.  And because of that, I don’t think I’ll go whole hog in the other two days.

It’s a choice that I think can work for me.

My approach will emphasize fruits and vegetables.  The Mediterranean diet (I hesitate to even type that most loathsome of all four-letter words but it fits) may be a fad right now but medical researchers have connected this approach with significant health benefits. 

As of yesterday, I’m caffeine-free.  Because I’m sensitive to caffeine and have a history of infrequent but brutal migraine headaches, I’ve slowly weaned myself off this drug over the past three weeks.  In the past, caffeine gave me a jolt when I thought I needed one, but it also left me with the dreaded “caffeine crashes.”

No more.  Caffeine, coffee, and colas are in my rear view mirror.

As, I hope, will be those bad weeks of no exercise and those unwanted twenty-five pounds.

Your mileage may vary. Perhaps for you, the goal will be to quit smoking.  Please, do it.  Don’t join the ranks of Charles Grant.

Whatever your focus, write down your health goals and make yourself accountable.

2011 Workshops

I’ve mentioned before and will mention again how much I’ve learned at the great workshops offered by Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith.

Here’s a schedule of the ones they’ll be offering in 2011.  I highly recommend them.