Power Pop Wednesday: Back From the Capital of Obsfucation and Misdirection, Enjoy Some Smoke and Mirrors

OK Go – The Writing’s On the Wall from 1stAveMachine on Vimeo.

The family and I visited Washington, D.C., earlier this week to do the required introduction of the young ones to Our Nation’s Capital. I might post some pictures if I feel so compelled to share.

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OK, you convinced me with your infernal whining. Here you go.

 

Overall, the city was much nicer than I remember it being during my last trip, when I was my son’s age and it was the 1970 and cities felt it was their duty to be as skanky as possible.

Regardless of the bad rap that D.C. gets from pretty much everyone, I found the people to be exceptionally friendly, and not just in the tourist-centric spots. The streets are quieter, the public transportation cleaner and people just seem generally more polite. It’s a reminder that even though lots of folks in my home state of South Carolina consider it “The North,” the heavy-duty influence of southern Maryland and Virginia made it very much a Southern city. Continue reading → Power Pop Wednesday: Back From the Capital of Obsfucation and Misdirection, Enjoy Some Smoke and Mirrors

Happy Tuesday: Your Complaints About Daylight Savings Time Are Now Invalid

Get up, get moving and quit your bitching about the time change. You’re a grown-up, not an infant. If scooching the clock back and forth an hour messes with you that badly, go see a sleep therapist and spare us all your insufferable whining.

So you lost an hour of your life? Here’s a news flash: That happens every time you get on Facebook or let yourself watch two CBS sitcoms back-to-back. Suck. It. Up.

Extended daylight (not an extra hour of the day) is a gift of modernity (and Benjamin Franklin, who thought of the idea in the first place). Embrace it. Like the man in the video says – right thoughts, right words, right actions.

Positive thoughts, people. Positive.

Happy New Year: They’re Not Resolutions, They’re Just Things I Try to Do

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My wife asked me a few days ago if I had any New Year resolutions. My answer, as it has been just about every year of my life, was no.

I do, however, maintain a mental list of things that I always want to do differently or better. Naturally, with the rollover of the calendar, those things fall under the spotlight a bit more, but they really don’t change much from year to year. Continue reading → Happy New Year: They’re Not Resolutions, They’re Just Things I Try to Do

Inspiration For the Last Monday of 2013 – Make It Count

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I can’t emphasize this bit of advice enough. Part of what has helped me be the writer I am (good or bad, you can judge that yourself) is that I have embraced the opportunity to do stuff.

Granted, we have to keep that stuff in perspective. Have I mushed across the polar ice cap, learned to fly or jetted off to Paris or Mozambique on a whim? No. And honestly, I – like many people – have probably spent too much time in a room in front of a screen of some sort when I could have been doing six dozen other really cool and interesting things. Continue reading → Inspiration For the Last Monday of 2013 – Make It Count

For Your Holiday Book Shopping Pleasure, Here’s How To Get Inscribed Editions of ‘Immaculate Deception’

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The holiday gift-giving season is here, and one of my favorite ways to say how much I care about someone is to give them a book that I either know or suspect they’ll really enjoy. Usually they turn out to be books I’ve enjoyed myself.

What makes this sort of gift really special is having it signed or inscribed by the author. So if you’ve considered purchasing a hard copy of Immaculate Deception as a gift for someone this year, here’s your notification that there’s only one way to get a custom inscribed and signed copy of the novel, and that’s  either by bopping over the Novel Pursuits page to click the “order your very own signed copy” link or clicking here on this very page.

When you click the link, you’ll be redirected to PayPal. To request an inscription, simply type what you’d like me to write in the “Add special instructions to the seller” field, then complete your order. Charges will appear on your PayPal history or credit card statement as Write On Time LLC. It’s that easy!

Please note that since the Codorus Press crew is finished with live events for 2013, this is the only way you can receive an inscribed and signed edition (other than, you know, bumping into me on the street) in time for the holidays. Sorry, but I can’t guarantee that orders placed after Dec. 16 will arrive in time for Christmas Eve delivery, so make your orders soon!

Thanks, and happy shopping!

An East Coast Gringo Embraces Day of the Dead (Line)

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When I moved to Yuma, Ariz., in 1996, I was the freshest of fresh-meat gringos you’d ever want to meet.

Prior to crossing the Mississippi River on my way there, it was my first time ever doing so. I had never been into a western (or really, even Midwestern, state). The farthest west I’d been, I suppose, was the mountains of North Carolina. Or maybe West Virginia.

So when I pulled into Yuma, which sits just north of a little notch carved into Mexico and directly adjacent to California, I had a lot to learn about how things were done in my new home.

First lesson, learned during my orientation week: If someone tells you his last name is Cruz, do not leave a note for the sports editor spelling it as “Cruise.”

Second lesson, learned two months after my arrival: There is nothing weird about spending Halloween weekend picnicking in the cemetery to honor and celebrate your deceased loved ones.

This, I soon learned, was a perfectly normal celebration of Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. So dear departed uncle Hector loved beans, rice, and tortillas washed down with Tecate with Tejano music playing in the background? Excellent! Cook up a mess of Southwestern soul food and bring the party to him at he gravesite. It’s a family thing.

When you think about death and mourning rituals, it all makes perfect sense. But as I was the most gringo of gringos – and had no departed relatives buried within 3,000 miles – I chose instead to adopt little pieces of Day of the Dead to incorporate into my own personal life.

The most important was the image of the skeleton performing some typical earth-bound task or profession. These fantastic folk art figurines are nearly ubiquitous during Day of the Dead celebrations, and I spent a lot of time and energy in nearby Algdones, Mexico, looking for one that represented a writer or journalist. No luck, but I’m still searching, so if you know where I can get one please let me know.

At that stage of my life I was single, in a new town and learning not just the ropes of a new region but basically an entirely foreign culture. But because I had a lot of time on my hands outside work, I spent LOTS of it during that period working on the third or fourth draft of Immaculate Deception.

One of the images that really kept me on task was – you guessed it – culled from the Day of the Dead tradition. It was a clip-art cutout of a skeleton wearing a vintage biretta – the pom pom-topped headgear worn by some Catholic priests – and holding aloft a hourglass.

This picture remained taped to the border of my computer screen for my entire time in Yuma and for many years beyond. The purpose? To remind me that time is short. The Reaper always waits. If you don’t get it done today, there’s no guarantee you’ll have a chance to get it done tomorrow.

Reminding yourself of impending death seems like a drastic means of motivation, I know, but I’m convinced that if more of us stepped back and considered that our time on this earth is finite, we’d be motivated to get a lot more done. And more of what we did would be of consequence and value.

It’s My Birthday, So You Get the Presents (Spoiler – It’s FREE EBOOKS!)

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Hi, yes … that fateful day has arrived. Today I turn 45.

Given the new realities of the lifespan of healthy humans (and the fact that genetics are working in my favor here), unless I do something (else) monumentally stupid, I fully intend to live at least until the age of 90.

That puts me squarely at the doorstep of midlife. Half my life down, half yet to go.

MV5BMzE1MzMzMTExOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTk0ODkyMw@@._V1._SX640_SY923_For lots of folks (particularly men), this is a time of re-evaluation. To paraphrase Edna Mode in The Incredibles, men this age are often … unstable.

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Me at 45 – A TSFW (Totally Safe for Work) Selfie in Brown

Well, hopefully no more unstable than on any other day. I won’t be going out shopping for a red Porsche Boxter convertible in which I’ll install a significantly younger woman. I married a significantly younger woman, and if there’s any toodling around in exotic sports cars to be done, it will most certainly be done with her.

And any instability anyone might notice was, honestly, probably there already. Folks working with a full deck rarely go into writing for a living, and they certainly don’t become newspaper reporters or novelists.

So, there’s that.

What I do have, however, is a pretty decent sense of accomplishment. I noted in this space not long ago that Stan Lee, dean of Marvel Comics and the creator of most of its characters, didn’t create cornerstone superhero Spider Man until he after he turned 40. Stan is now 90 years old, which means he’s spent the last 50 years not as Stan Lee, but as STAN-friggin’-LEE!!!, who still runs a media empire, hosts a TV show or two and maintains a busy schedule of sci-fi and comic book convention appearances.

colt_45That carries a lot of weight with me because I admire late bloomers. I never aspired to be one of those pain-in-the-ass writers who busts out of the gate at 25 with a Pulitzer Prize-winner (mainly because what those sort of writers produce is usually self-absorbed, whiny crap, but that’s another blog posting).

As someone who got carded for booze up until his 32nd birthday and took 20 years to write his first book, I realized it might take me a while to grow into this whole novelist thing. But once I managed to give birth to that 300+ page baby at the (entirely appropriate, given my genre) age of 42, there’s been no looking back. If I never write anything again, I can rest assured knowing that I have added my own little piece of original creativity to the universe.

And there are other, perhaps more significant, accomplishments, too. I have amazing friends, cultivated over decades, who remain the sort of people I can talk now exactly the way we did when we were in high school or our early jobs. They provide me with a constant source of encouragement and inspiration and I am in awe of a great many of them every day. I can only hope I send back to them just a fraction of the love, support and laughter they send my way.

And most importantly, I have an amazing family – a beautiful wife who supports me with warmth, patience and love through all the ups and downs of this writing life and frequently jumps in to help with a needed dose of reality, and two spectacularly smart, funny and kindhearted children who are always proud to tell their friends and teachers that their daddy is a writer.

But wait a minute. Let’s put the brakes on the sentimentality. Weren’t you promised presents?

Indeed you were.

Without you, the readers, my family and friends would still be with me, my work would still get done and my book – and those I still hope to write – would still be out there. But without readers, a book is only words on a page.

Once you – a stranger – pick it up and begin that first chapter, you become a willing participant in a reality that another has created. It’s like telepathy in a way. I’m putting my thoughts into your head, and in the midst of the trance-state we call “reading,” those thoughts are manifested in your own mind as an alternate reality. Other than unconditional love, I believe it’s the closest thing to magic any of us will ever really experience.

So as my gift to you, starting today I’m offering the Kindle version of Immaculate Deception free for three days through Amazon, in the hope that if you enjoyed it, you’ll be inclined to let others know that they can, as well – and with minimum risk. Other than individually shaking your hands or giving you big, wet kisses, it’s the best I can do.

Really, thank you ever so much. And here’s to another 45 years.

Today’s Funky Friday Brought to You by The Roots and … Elvis Costello? (A Rumination on Genre Busting)

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OK, lemme ‘splain.

Anyone who’s read this blog … you know – ever – has a pretty good idea that I’m an Elvis Costello fan from way back, and there’s a good reason: I consider my discovery of Costello on par with my initiation into a musical world that included the Beatles as its foundation.

But I’ve never really explained why.

Better than why, I’ll explain when. It was 1983, and I was 15, riding with my dad in his tiny Chevy pickup truck to help him out with a rehearsal for a play he was directing at the Chapel Street Playhouse, a tiny but very active community theater in Newark, Del. As we got closer to the theater, this song came on the radio – likely longstanding Wilmington, Del., Top 40 station WSTW. Something about the opening piano chords with the bass guitar right up front grabbed me, then the singer’s falsetto kicked in, followed by a more normal register, and the sound of the female background singers.

That’s about 20 seconds into the song. And man, I was hooked. I did something I rarely did. I asked my dad to just sit there in the parking lot and leave the radio on while I listened to the rest of the song, which turned out to be about a lovelorn writer using literary imagery to explain the ups and downs of a romantic relationship.

OK, I thought. You got me. I’m done. Who is this guy?

But the DJ didn’t say. Because this was the Stone Ages, when there was no handy digital display to tell you the artist if the DJ neglected to, I was in the dark. When I got home, I was doubly in the dark, because my family had no cable TV, and thus no MTV. That might have been the last time I heard it on the radio.

Sadly, even though the song was on the 1983 album Punch the Clock, it took me until 1985 to actually own the song with the release of Elvis_costello_best_1985The Best of Elvis Costello and the Attractions in 1985. It contained the single I had heard – “Every Day I Write the Book” – as well as enough cuts from his back catalog to make me want to investigate further.

What I found was not a gold mine but a friggin’ platinum mine. Here’s this skinny dork (hello, 115-pound theater nerd 11th-grader) who not only rocks with this weird amalgam of new wave pop and pissed-off punk, but who is obviously literate. His songs, dense with words and metaphor and cross references, were like novellas in themselves.

Since then I’ve been a permanent fan, and pretty much anyone who knows me well is aware of this. Example: When I met up for lunch with a former college girlfriend a few years after graduation, one of her first questions as we made awkward smalltalk was, “Still like Elvis Costello?”

I wanted to say, “Yes, because he A) Didn’t break up with me, and B) Writes great brokenhearted nerd songs that helped me get over you.”

But it was more than that. I admired not only the literary quality of the songs, but the fact that his style was all over the map. One minute he was channeling pop-punk rage, while the other he was crooning a country song or paying homage to the sweet harmonies of Motown.

It was that ability to adapt and cross genres that, in the end, kept me as a fan. And, as it turns out, those same qualities are frequently what I look for in the authors I read and the ones I try to apply to my own writing.

As much as I love science fiction in books, film and TV, it’s the work that is able to admit that it’s other things that really grabs me. For instance, one of my favorite authors is Christopher Moore. If you’ve ever read his work, you know he’s hard to pin down as far as genre. Does he write humorous fantasy? Fantastic humor? Is it horror? Scifi? Occult? Why does he say the F-word so much?

Exactly! You never really know where he’s going – only that along the way you will be taken on an absurd and ultimately sweet adventure. Whether it’s a Pacific Island cargo cult, a pesky Native American trickster spirit or a rumination on what happened during the “lost” years in the life of Jesus, you will laugh and you will encounter elements of the weird, fantastic, science-fictional and – occasionally – the kinky and naughty.

Another example: I just watched the movie Safety Not Guaranteed, about a team of magazine writers pursuing a story about the guy behind a classified ad seeking a time travel companion.

Is it science fiction because there’s the prospect – real or imagined – of time travel? I say yes. But what makes it great is that around that conceit is a deep story of real people trying to recapture lost time or bygone days. The emotions are true and the situations believable, even if, at the center of things, is a concept that goes back to the earliest science fiction novels. The same could be said for films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.

So, how does this all relate back to the funk mentioned in this post’s title?

In his latest collaboration, Elvis Costello has teamed with perhaps The Best Band in the World, The Roots (hailing from my adopted metro area of Philadelphia), working together to fuse The Roots’ particular brand of neo-soul, funk, hip hop and R&B to Costello’s dense storytelling. It’s what makes me love Costello still, repackaged and re-purposed with a funky back beat, a driving horn section and a noir feel that he hasn’t inhabited in years.

There’s no fear as both he and The Roots venture into uncharted waters of creativity, and the result, as it frequently is when fear is cast aside and new frontiers are explored, are extraordinary.