I don’t want to write a negative review of “The Lego Movie” here, because as is always the case when I disagree with the hype, I have to consider the fact that I have no frame of reference for the material. I find that this is sometimes the case with most of the comic book movies that are released lately, where when I'm not entertained in the least as a movie-goer, I'm told that this-and-this was something I’d only know if I’d read the source material. I don’t know if that’s the case here, but “The Lego Movie” was still lost on me.
There were times during this admittedly-upbeat film that I felt depressed, as though perhaps maybe I was really the cold-hearted sociopath I sometimes suspect I am, not amused by such things and wondering what else in life has possibly passed me by. But I don’t know that this was the case here. I went in ready to be dazzled, wanting to get lost in the 3D world, but was instead underwhelmed and cringing quite a bit.
I know this had everything to do with my not having that connection to the “source material,” in this case, never having played with the toys as a kid and thus not getting any of the inside Lego jokes. While I absolutely appreciated the theme of celebrating the innocent, imaginative spirit that frames the movie, I just couldn’t push that rather-late revelation (about 75 minuted too late, in my opinion) to the forefront of what was otherwise a disappointing experience for me.
I wanted to say a few things here about some recent news items that I have very strong opinions on, not that any of what I'm about to say hasn't already been said. I just want to go on record about where I stand on them. Some stories just don't have a shelf life as far as I'm concerned.
First I'd like to say something about the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman and the incredible backlash I've seen on social media about his being just another privileged star who killed himself and so on. Quite simply put, I see my friends when I see Philip Seymour Hoffman. I see an artist that has fallen victim to a very real addiction that no one has any right to judge the validity of in any way.
And that's simply because he made good art.
I also see a man who in death doesn't need to defend himself from a group of people who are finding the need to politicize it, making divisive claims that fit into a weird Christian agenda that sees both sides posturing according to their beliefs. I have people on my Facebook and Twitter feeds that are Christians, and most of them are raging alcoholics, yet they don't consider themselves addicts nor do they care about an artist that has done what artists do. Artists die.
Call me a lifelong Romantic, but there really are such things as tortured artists. Historically, what has tortured them is substance abuse. Addicts that were able to somehow compartmentalize their addictions to entertain us in some way created some of our favorite books, films and music.
Which brings me to one of my idols, Woody Allen. As artists, we can only dream to have been able to produce the body of work that this man has produced while simultaneously having to compartmentalize and navigate through a culture that is more than willing to be the judge and jury. I don't care what he's done, if the claims are true, or if Woody Allen is not only guilty but a heroin addict like Hoffman.
Unless we're going to do background checks on all of our artists and then judge their art accordingly, I suggest we learn to compartmentalize their personal lives much in the same way the addict does. Compartmentalizing seems to be one of Woody Allen's many talents. And after all of this, I can only hope that he can continue to produce the work that he has in this his postcard years (I call them this because all of his movies are like little postcards from around the world lately).
That's it, really. No main point. We're all addicts, we've all done shameful things, and the art is mutually exclusive and really all that matters in the end.
Many a blog has been written about where and when writers are at their most productive, with some even adhering to strict rules regarding their writing spaces and the times during which they can even begin to consider producing pages. Most would like to say that they can do it anywhere, because it goes hand-in-hand with the age-old adage that writers just write, and for some of us, that's what we have to do in order simply to stay content. Therefore, it should hold true that for writers to write, they should be able to do it anywhere the muse should happen to strike them.
Unfortunately, this isn't always the case, especially for writers who need a certain ambiance in order to do what they do, like environments that allow for background music, or for some the lack of any background noise at all. I have an office at home where I work, and in fact I've always had a designated place to write for as long as I can remember. But when I got my first laptop, back when iPads and such weren't as commonplace as they are now and desktops were the only starting points, I considered myself free to compose wherever and whenever. I looked forward to this freedom all my life, fixated on the newest gizmos that would allow me to take the writing desk with me wherever I went.
Time was never that important. When I was doing it full time, I treated it like any full-time job. I wrote and edited all day long, and the time of day became irrelevant, influenced only by when I'd run out of gas. Now, however, the time to write has become a commodity, and I was forced to find that perfect time in my schedule where I could do what it is that I need to do to sustain me.
So enter the bedroom, on any weekend morning, and you'll find me there.
I have found that during the waking hours, in bed, is where it works for me now. Sure, I still use my office, but that's for editing now. Saturday and Sunday mornings (regardless of a gig the night before) see me up and stumbling to the kitchen to make a pot of coffee. Then on the way back to bed, I grab the laptop.
Then the still-sleeping mind slowly unravels itself onto the keyboard.
Sometimes the thrill is not remembering what I'd done in those waking hours, because as it goes I'm strong for about three hours, and then I have to stop for fear of losing quality. I put the laptop back in my office, and the rest of the day is me walking in and out, sitting in front of the laptop for a tweak here and there before wandering off again. This works for me now, especially with this new manuscript, in which I've just hit ten chapters and over 100 pages.
Where is your sweet spot?
I'd like to start off this post by first apologizing to the few literary agents that I queried over the holidays. Leave it to the rookie to foul-up the game by not knowing the rules. But I'll get to that soon.
I sent the Fourth Round of queries out on October 6, 2013 after a lengthy revision process to both the manuscript and the query letter itself, making the whole package more accessible based entirely on what I'd learned from the first three rounds and from reading more books. That last part is important. I always feel the need to stress in this blog how I do indeed read in addition to write, but I suppose what I really mean is that I've read a variety of different books in different genres just to get a feel for flow and structure and so forth from one type of book to the next.
The result was not only a more readable manuscript, but also a grabber of a query letter that managed to get ... and may I get a broken snare-drum roll here ... my first request for a partial! Sure, it's since been rejected, but damnit if I didn't frame that thing! In a way, it was the most important correspondence I've gotten to date!
The months then went by as the rejections came in, as well as one more request for a partial that went unanswered. While waiting, and building on the idea that writers are always either submitting or writing new stuff, I continued to hammer out the first draft of a new book. In this area I'm back to my old self again, feeling that sense of peace that I mentioned in a previous blog, where nothing else quite compares. A writer is at their happiest when they're producing new pages.
On Christmas Eve 2013, I sent out a round of resubmissions to agents who I hadn't heard from in a while (who didn't specify on their website the "no response=rejection" policy) in addition to a new, Fifth Round of queries. The latter was a huge mistake, as some came back with immediate auto-replies saying that their offices were closed, while one in particular said that my query would be deleted. It made me wonder how many of the few I sent out in Christmas Eve were actually going to be deleted, and so I now plan to send them out again strictly as a technicality on the first of next month, hoping that these agencies will grant me the Mulligan. In the meantime, the Sixth Round will be put together with an updated query letter.
The lesson: there are bad times to send out query letters, one of which being the holidays. Some blogs disagree with this, but most simply explain the point by asking the prospective author to put themselves in the shoes of the agents and/or their assistants. Would you want to deal with anything at your job coming in when you should be heading out?
Likewise, the first week of January automatically puts you in the "resolution pile" of authors who vowed at the beginning of the year to finally get those query letters out once and for all. This can be an insulting thing to consider if in fact you've been querying all year. But again, put yourself in the agent's and/or their assistant's shoes, and all is understood.
And so it goes. I'm making progress in that the manuscript is floating around out there in some important hands, and maybe some not-so-important hands, and I can only assume that my name has been uttered by more than a few literary agents and/or their assistants. A new book is being written, and so far so good.
The following is a passage from the novel The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma (pictured):
Not even the touch on the skin of the delicious breeze heralding the arrival of summer, nor caressing a woman's body, nor sipping Scotch whiskey in the bathtub until the water goes cold, in short, no other pleasure Wells could think of gave him a greater sense of well-being than when he added the final full stop to a novel. This culminating act always filled him with a sense of giddy satisfaction born of the certainty that nothing he could achieve in life could fulfill him more than writing a novel, no matter how tedious, difficult, and thankless he found the task, for Wells was one of those writers who detest writing but love "having written."
There is so much truth to these sentences that it's as if I've found a sibling in this grouping of words, a truth that is so unlike a truth but rather a matter of fact, never having to prove itself as being otherwise. Like I felt about Woody Allen in his movie "Midnight in Paris," writers just get other writers and cater to them as such. Last night, I read my last completed chapter so far, and it left me stunned and so satisfied that I slept better than I'd slept in a long time.
I was going to post something here along the lines of, TED WILL RETURN, or something else that kept a place holder while I went along with what has become this new chapter in my life. Don't misunderstand, I've never stopped writing, and I never will. But over the course of the past year or so, there have been great changes that have elicited a great morphing in lifestyles.
I've paired my writing life with a professional one, the latter of which I've been forced to undertake due to the unfortunate event of Imran Rashid suffering a stroke while undergoing a procedure to remove a brain tumor, which ended my career as a musician. Such a thing is unimaginable, but it did happen. Like my friend Dave Rosser once said to me, "Be careful what you feed your subconscious, because life can get pretty horrible at any moment on its own."
Dave, if you're reading this, know that I'm paraphrasing.
And so I just want to check in here and say that I have become the perfect example of the writer who now has to find the time to write, and I do just that. My commute every day has forced me to take everything that is me with me, which means at all times I have my shoulder bag with my laptop, a paperback or other book that I'm reading at the time, and the luxury of my iPhone on which I dictate writing to myself. That last one is a real treat, and I remember as a younger man wanting and having a tape recorder with me at all times, even though the result was often drunken bullshit.
I work for an exporting company in beautiful Homewood, Alabama, a slice of liberal hipness amidst all the tide rolling and eagle warring that I despise. I often go to Little Professor Bookstore (pictured) to write new pages during lunch, and my days are now complete and necessary. When I'm not writing, I'm submitting, which are the only two activities that writers who want to get published should ever be doing.
And yes, there are new pages being produced for the first time in a few years. This is not unheard of I guess, to have as much time pass between new material being written due to the arduous thing that is the editorial process. But I enjoy both sides of the coin equally in their own ways, and usually when I'm sick of one I can't wait to engage in the other.
Now is no different.
Know this: E.L. Doctorow (whom I've admittedly never read) used to get up and write for two hours every morning before going to his day job. So, there. Work is relative.
As I celebrate my 41st year as a part of this universe, I consider myself fortunate to have had such an experience as I've had this past week. You see, I've found where wonder still exists. And it's this wonder that keeps those of the creative temperament firmly rooted to the unreal, real word of their imaginations.
There are many tricks to getting older, and depending on what it is that you do in the universe, approaching these transitions is different for everyone. Of course there are the medical problems, the sore and aching backs and shoulders, the eyes and ears that gradually lose their factory settings. But these things are all usually treated with medicine and exercise and procedures that are designed to get you through to the next year of dedication to whatever vocation you have been fortunate enough to discover.
Jobs are jobs, and I have had many and long to have more, but my vocation is my writing. And when the wonder starts to go away, in yet another more undetectable symptom of aging, there are places like Universal Studios in Orlando to apply once daily. In my case, it was once daily for two days.
When I was a kid, my family used to visit Walt Disney World in Orlando every year for what I am only estimating was seven years in a row (the number seven is arbitrary in my mind, as it may be the number of bikes that I'd had stolen as a boy). So I have a pretty good frame of reference as to what a theme park should be, and I mean down to the smells of the place. Disney has a "facility" smell, a maintained world that is heavy on technology and the research of "vacationing" that all add up to total escapism.
It is why when I first got to the first of the two parks that make up Universal -- the section simply referred to as Universal Studios -- I was feeling as though it was all a bit ineffective. I'm almost certain in retrospect that it had all to do with the sequence of what we'd chosen to ride or walk through first, because when we got to the "E.T" ride, I was reminded of what this was all about as I sat in a car hanging from a track and drifted past speakers and animatronic figures that told me I had indeed arrived.
The day picked up momentum as we went to all of the attractions we could jam in, including "Men in Black," "Twister" and "Despicable Me," and every one of them was more thrilling than the next. I felt the wonder again, regardless of knowing that there was an entire world beyond the facade that as I kid, I knew nothing about. It all worked, and it all brought back feelings of what I now refer to as "accessible wonder."
But it didn't stop there.
The next day we visited the second of the two parks, the aptly named Islands of Adventure. And it is here that we turned a corner and saw what you see pictured above, "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter." Just the walk to this area of the park was amazing, but as we walked through the recreation of Hogwarts to get into the ride itself, I realized that the technology has become heavy on the melding of CGI and motion-simulated cars that are no less real than the real thing. I was flying through the school, on broomsticks with Harry and his friends during a rainy Quidditch match, and I had the motion sickness to prove it.
The rest of the day was a total surrender to the freedom of moving around inside of one's own imagination, as we used our Express Pass to explore "Spider Man" and "Jurassic Park" and other sights and sounds that quite honestly put me in a trance. I knew when I'd had enough. I was exhausted and satisfied.
Maybe I just needed a vacation, a reminder that there was such a thing as a vacation where people go and do things during times away from their lives. It was a very hectic week as I went to my first hockey game in Tampa right before our Universal whirlwind tour, and right before that I'd done three shows in two days in two different states with the Eskimos. But I couldn't have had a better time and gone to a better place, a place where not only was I able to reintegrate with my fellow humans and do this strange thing they called "vacationing," but also where I could remember a part of the universe where "accessible wonder" can still be found and even stored away for later use.
A very conclusive Third Round of queries was sent out on February 6th, 2013, and I say that because for now I am content with the idea of waiting. This was another small round, but one of increasing amount which brings the total queries out now to a whopping twenty. For the Fourth Round, which will happen after a certain thing occurs which I'll mention here in a bit, will consist of twenty and will bring the query total to four rounds equaling forty.
More rejections have come this time around, making me think that this Third Round has been crafted well enough to be accepted regardless of the yeas or neas. Slowly but surely the rejections are trickling in, and I couldn't be more thrilled! The material is circulating this time, quite possibly being a topic of discussion in some New York offices as agents shrug and make their decisions with their interns and fellow agents alike.
This is fun to imagine.
On the other hand, it may be time to review the submission guidelines for the first two rounds and go ahead and either resubmit or mark them as "Rejected." It really doesn't make a difference when one considers that some agents have a policy of no response = rejection, and so why not clean up my list for this new revision that I ... uh-oh. The cat's out of the bag.
Yes, I am doing another revision of the manuscript that I'm currently submitting because quite frankly, I can and because I've done lots of reading lately and I need to bring certain things up to par. The Internet has been a great resource in this regard, following Twitter feeds of certain agents that literally walk you through their query review process and reveal what they did and didn't like. For an example of this, check out Ann Collette at the Rees Literary Agency on Twitter @Ann_Collette.
The Internet has also been invaluable to the imparting of wisdom to us writers, especially the ones who are knee-deep in the query process. While finding it hard for me to work on my next book with all of this query uncertainty, I stumbled across Noah Lukeman, President of Noah Lukeman Literary Management, and his blog where he says among other things:
Finally, there should never be any downtime in your writing. Writing is a muscle, and the more you write, the better you will become. When you finish one book, turn immediately to the next, and don’t use a submission as an excuse to take a break and not do the hard work of continuing to write every day. A writer should never be "waiting" -- only "writing" or "submitting." In fact, the word "waiting" should not even exist in the successful author’s vocabulary.
Wow, huh? Because of this very blog I have not only started up on my new book again, but I am simultaneously doing a very brief and more-readable revision of the book I'm submitting. It's as if I'm starting over again, and in this case, I couldn't be happier.
The reading research also continues with the recent completion of the very-successful industry goliath, Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James. I will say this: I understand the appeal, but this book was so horribly written that as a writer I found it hard to finish. It has thus gone right up there now with some of the most densest of dense English prose that I've ever had to wade through.
Fifty Shades of Grey walks that fine line with me of learning what I don't want to do, yet seeing what it was that someone did do in order to get published.
Early last month I sent out the Second Round of query letters to prospective agents in and around the New York City area.
With regard to the First Round, I didn't get so much as a bite. But there was a certain peace that came with the waters being that calm, knowing that I was learning how to swim by being thrown into the pond, and that this would be my first feel of just how cold the temperature of those waters really were. I'd read somewhere that email queries to literary agencies sort of exist on a quid pro quo basis, which is to say that emails in theory don't take much time to write and send, so why should agencies even bother with a response?
There were two lessons learned here.
The first lesson was that, at least for me, the obsessing over format right down to the font size of these emails was quite time consuming in itself. Even now as I get ready to send out my Third Round, I'm constantly modifying what I've sent the first two times according to what I think worked and didn't work, and this includes revising the actual Query Letter and Synopsis over and over again on an agent-to-agent basis. That being said, the bigger lesson learned was that these agencies receive hundreds upon thousands of these emails regardless of how much work was put into making the submissions beautiful, and they have every right to just not respond if the material doesn't fit their needs.
But I did get a few nibbles on the Second Round, if only just pecks at the hook as it dangled in the water, in the form of a grand total of two rejections to date. And as I knew would be the case, I was exhilarated, knowing that at least I was playing the game and getting some sort of return. Someone, somewhere, now knows that I want in.
And so the learning continues as I move forward with the Third Round (which I plan to send off this week), a batch that was originally intended to be a blitzkrieg covering both coasts, but has now been downsized to make room for more of those valuable lessons to occur. It's much more important to send out quality versus quantity at this stage, because if there is some sort of deal-breaking mistake being made on only your second round of queries, it's better to be able to take that data and refine it for fishing in the next pond rather than having no more ponds to fish because you've thrown out all of your hooks. Oh, look, I've burrowed deep into a new metaphor.
But I like the investigative reporter one better (see "All the Publisher's Men ... and Women" above)!
And as was the case the first time around, I read in order to get a better understanding of what it is that I write and am trying to sell. And it looks like what I write is the difficult-to-market, non-genre classification that has become a genre unto itself, the lofty-sounding "Literary Fiction." John Grisham's A Painted House was instrumental as part of this discovery, as I found myself missing the characters and their struggles long after I turned the last page of this modern-day and off-trajectory effort from the author, a To Kill a Mockingbird for this generation.
There is a shortage of book talk on this blog, and it's a shame considering that I do read them as well as write them, I really do. In fact, even before the process began of researching agencies, which in itself prompted me to begin reading a wide variety of books strictly to see what else was out there, I had a pretty good backlog of books that I wanted to not so much review here but highlight. An earlier post from August of 2011 emphasized what "inspired" me about Andrew Davidson's novel The Gargoyle, for instance, and this is what I plan to do here with this small handful of books in this my first multi-image post!
I'll start with the most recent, Dean Koontz's 2005 novel, Velocity. And most all of the reviews that I've read and even watched on YouTube say the same thing about this book, that the book's title says it all, with a story that is for the most part in real time as it races through only a few days in the life of our unfortunate hero. While being put to the task of choosing the victims of a killer through a series of notes and riddles, I was at first put off by the fact that I had stumbled onto another crime story, but then I was inspired above all by how much fun Koontz was having with the material.
Which takes me to the previous book I'd read, Richard Laymon's 1986 horror novel The Beast House, which is actually the second book in his Beast House Chronicles series. Here, I was treated to a book much like one in which I would structure, complete with multiple viewpoints and motivations and cinematic descriptions of the action that all added up to a novel that read very much like a "grindhouse" monster movie. I read this one during breaks in the morning hours and the Koontz book at night, and I suppose I lucked out, because they both sustained my attention and proved to be good picks to double-up with from our very own bookshelf at home.
Going back now a few months, I dove into the world of Joe Hill, and I did this first with his 2010 dark-fantasy novel Horns. Here I was impressed with much of the same things that I had admired about The Gargoyle, which was that there was really a minimal amount of plot in favor of character and insight that leant itself more to the genre of literary fiction than to horror. Our hero wakes up one morning from a drunken night with horns on his head, and why and when this happens is explored in a bit of an abstract and allegorical way, which in my opinion is perfectly acceptable.
But in Hill's previous outing, the 2007 straight-up horror novel Heart-Shaped Box, an aging rocker purchases a suit of a dead man that carries with it a vengeful ghost. This one was more accessible as it dealt with a situation, the premise of the suit itself being haunted, and it was explored and carried out in a satisfying if not poltergeist-bright-and-flickering-lights kind of way. Hill is the son of a lesser-known horror writer with the surname of King.
Which brings me to the novel with which I started the year, Anne Rice's 2012 return to her Gothic roots, The Wolf Gift. As you can guess, this is an exhilarating exploration of the wolf man (or, as she prefers to call it in the book, the "Man Wolf") myth, and it begins what will soon be another series by the author that started the inside-out re-imaginings of the legends of horror. I am still thrilled to have been called out by Ms. Rice herself on this blog regarding an early and speculative post about this very book, and it can be found here on the sidebar as my most-popular post to date.
Thanks, Anne, not just for the shout-out but for basically starting this whole writing thing that's consumed me since your 1976 novel Interview With the Vampire. But that's a love letter for another post. This was about books that have inspired me, about what I've learned about the genre that my books may or may not fall into, and about how I should move on in the new year with the business of being Ted Torres.