Lessons from the Fire – Part Two

Fans and a large dehumidifier cope with some water damage on my floor.

So, late one afternoon, my building caught fire. My apartment was fine; other people weren’t so lucky. This is part two of lessons learned. Check out part one for my initial thoughts on having a backup plan and other realizations.

Stuff Matters!

It would be nice if I had a zen-like approach to material possessions. I think I lead a fairly minimalist life but when I couldn’t get back into the building, all I thought about was my stuff. I knew the fire didn’t reach my apartment but I was worried about water damage. I pictured water pouring down on my brand new MacBook Pro and soaking the pillow-top mattress that I like so much. Plus, books, photos, art, letters from friends, keepsakes, personal items, clothes and everything else.

I’m glad that I have renters’ insurance (that’s really a must) but so much of the analog stuff that really matters is irreplaceable. Continue reading “Lessons from the Fire – Part Two”

Two Novels by Mario Vargas Llosa

The Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa was awarded the the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature. It’s a brilliant choice. Unlike some of the Nobel committee’s more dubious awards, Vargas Llosa is a storyteller with an important message to share. Moreover, he is not some stuffy academic – he’s been actively engaged in the world, a voice for moderation in fanatical times.

And most importantly, his books are a joy to read. He’s frequently compared to another South American, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who won the Nobel Prize in 1982. Both writers are part of the Latin American Boom. While many American writers retreated into the minimalism of Raymond Carver, the Boom authors wrote sprawling, worldly, intensely entertaining works that hovered on the edge of reality. The multi-generational saga of the doomed Buendias in One Hundred Years of Solitude is an excellent example of Boom fiction.

Two great books show the incredibly range of Vargas Llosa.

Aunt Julia and the Script Writer is a deranged masterpiece, a comic coming of age story about young Mario, who has fallen in love with his sexy aunt. Interleaved with this story are the tales of a Bolivian script writer, who has enthralled Lima with his radio soap operas. The book grows progressively more absurd and surreal, as the comic inventions of the script writer lead to real-world chaos.

A reviewer on Amazon referred to The War of the End of the World as “Macondo meets Jonestown”. That’s an apt description of this epic novel, based upon real events. Set in Brazil in the 19th century, the book is centered on Canudos, a religious cult that essentially secedes from the rest of the country. It becomes a safe haven from oppression, until the army decides to wipe them out.

What makes Vargas Llosa’s work so appealing to me is his concern for individuals, not mass movements. He’s been an a foe of dictators, whether they be Fidel Castro or Alberto Fujimori (who he ran against in 1990). Suspicious of ideology, he was lauded by the Nobel committee for:

“his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt, and defeat”.

There Are No Rock Stars

You do not need to take a class with a “rock star” to be creative. This faith in the magical ability of experts to transform lives is ironic in our secular  society. Gurus, rock stars, life coaches, Oprah – they can make you change. Most people don’t go to a priest for career advice yet believe that taking the workshop of a famous person will cure their creative funk.

I was thinking about this after reading comments by a talented photographer friend of mine, Mary Kate McKenna. She was writing about “rock star” wedding photographers and their high-priced workshops:

REALLY tired of newbie photogs (I still consider myself a newbie in the industry!) doing workshops for other professionals, charging a lot of money, with no real business skills and embellishing the amount of money they make in the industry. Before attending a “rockstar” workshop, do your research. Continue reading “There Are No Rock Stars”

2009 Highlights

steps

It’s the end of the year, and the end of a decade. What were my favorite projects of 2009? What did I have the most fun working on?

Murder in Ocean Hall

I can’t help myself, I like to write fiction. People have asked me how I could leave my job and then spend countless hours alone, in a coffee shop, writing a novel. I’ve offered advice on setting a schedule and being committed, but the truth is that writing a book is a huge sacrifice and something that you must really, really want to do. And something that you must enjoy doing more then anything else. Continue reading “2009 Highlights”

Writing About Creativity for the Pink Line Project

I’m going to be writing for the Pink Line Project.  What’s Pink Line?  Describing itself as “a catalyst for the culturally curious”, the site is a guide to DC’s art and cultural scene.  If you’re looking to attend fun art parties in Washington, and learn more about the arts, it’s a great site to check out.

From watching rollergirls arm-wrestle to dodging skateboarders at a photo exhibit, I’ve enjoyed the Pink Line events immensely.  It’s an unexpected side of stuffy Washington that’s much more interesting than some boring Capitol Hill cocktail party. Continue reading “Writing About Creativity for the Pink Line Project”

The Disintermediation Moment

With the advent of the Barnes and Noble Nook e-reader and the growing acceptance of e-books among readers and writers, it’s safe to say that we’ve reached what I’d call the Disintermediation Moment. This is the time when industries collapse, driven by changes in consumer behavior and expectations. Technology offers new solutions, eagerly adopted by ordinary people, but resisted by middlemen and gatekeepers who want to retain their status, control and income. Continue reading “The Disintermediation Moment”

Murder in Ocean Hall – Where'd the Idea Come From?

Since I finished writing Murder in Ocean Hall, I’ve gotten questions from friends and family regarding the book. Creating something from nothing seems enough of a magical act to inspire some questioning. The question I’ve gotten most is:

Where’d you get the idea from?

I originally planned to write a much different book, something much more serious and literary. It’s a manuscript that I’ve worked on for three or four years and exists on my laptop as a mix of disparate scenes and ideas that have never quite come together. The novel that I had in mind was a much grimmer story, about DC during the summer before 9/11. The book is about people chasing success, unaware that their world is about to be undone.

Finishing that big serious book was my plan. It’s why I decided to leave my government contractor job. Continue reading “Murder in Ocean Hall – Where'd the Idea Come From?”

Murder in Ocean Hall – Almost Done!

I’m in the final stages of my book, Murder in Ocean Hall. I’ve spent a lot of time at Caribou to get this far. Right now, I’m busy proofing the book. I’m done writing it, have edited a couple times already, and am going through the book once more. I’ve printed all 235 pages and and am closely reading the book to catch any mistakes.

Am I really done with the book? Hmm. I could probably spend the rest of my life tweaking it but eventually you have to send it off into the world. “Real artists ship,” to quote Steve Jobs.

Am I happy with the book? Yes. It’s got a beginning, middle and end, interesting characters, some good info on ocean exploration and urban life in DC, and a couple of plot twists. It might meander at times, a bit.

Is it perfect? No. Nothing is as perfect as it is in your head. By putting your idea to paper, you take it out of the ideal world and put it into the real one. This fear of sullying your own creation is a cause of writer’s block. It causes many people not to write anything because they know it won’t be perfect.

What’s next for my book?

Plan A – The Traditional Route.  Look for an agent, try to sell the book to a publisher, and then wait for it to appear in bookstores.

Plan B – The Nontraditional Route. Self-publish it using Lulu or Blurb. Sell it online using one of these print on demand services.

The first path is more prestigious and accepted but the print publishing world is in really bad shape these days. The second road is much easier – I could have a paperback version of the book next week- but it’s more of a DIY project.

Five Ways to Find an Agent

Paige Wheeler is a literary agent and founder of Folio Literary Management. On February 22, at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, she gave a wide-ranging talk about a host of topics pertinent to writers such as the publishing process, how the downturn has effected the book industry, the economics of writing, contract pitfalls and the advantages of having a literary agent on your side.

But how do you find an agent? She provided five really good tips:

  1. Attend writer’s conferences. No matter what genre you write in, or where you live, there’s bound to be a conference for you to attend. Conferences offer opportunities to network with writers, editors and agents. Fellow writers can be a good source of information on agents and what they like. Also, the writing business is based upon relationships and attending conferences are a way of making those connections. 
  2. Contests. Agents and editors judge writing contests. Winning a contest could lead to a book deal. Be sure to check out who’s judging the conference to make sure it’s reputable.
  3. Guides to agents. Your bookstore has several guides to literary agents, such as Writer’s Market and Jeff Herman’s Guide.
  4. Dedication pages of books. Does your favorite author thank their agent in their acknowledgements?
  5. Online sources. AgentQuery, AAR Online, Mediabistro and Publishers Marketplace were all cited by Wheeler or members of the audience as good resources.

Wheeler strongly suggested doing your research before querying an agent. Few things irritated her more than a query letter pitching a project (like a screenplay) that she doesn’t handle.

This is just a fraction of the valuable information she provided in a two-hour long session with a lot of questions and answers. Wheeler is a new member of the Writer’s Center faculty and will be conducting a workshop in the spring.

Friday's Links

Here’s what’s interested me in the last week:

How Phony is Shepard Fairey?
There’s a fine line between art and plagiarism. 

Apple Store Design Hits a Glass Wall Again
Who is the Old Georgetown Board and why are they holding up Apple coming to DC?

How Will We Survive Battlestar Galactica’s Radioactive Future?
Some practical suggestions.

Christian Bale, Hero of the Set
I find this a little hard to believe – a movie set being terrorized by a DP?

Writers Need to Promote Their Books
Seems obvious, but just because you’re published, it doesn’t mean that your work is done.