Sunday, August 30, 2020

The Maradaine Saga

I like supporting good people that create good art. (Hell, I'll support good people that create so-so art.) Especially people that are nice to me and come from the same place I do, Central New York. Even though he's a Texan now, you never quite lose being a CNYer. So I'm here to support my friend Marshall Ryan Maresca (friend might be a stronger word, but it sounds better than Internet acquaintance), the author of the Maradaine Saga.

Today is Sunday August 30th and I've decided to embark on a quest and I'm inviting you to accompany me to the Archduchy of Maradaine. We're on a tight schedule since the final book of the Maradaine Saga, THE PEOPLE OF THE CITY, comes out on October 26th. I've come up with a plan for us to finish the eleven books that make up the Saga and smoothly transition into the final book. 

I've preordered my copy, you should too, preordering is important. Like all quests, we need a map, so I've created a pacing guide (I'm a HS English teacher, I can't help it) for you to follow to get you there. I'll post something here on Fridays where I'll discuss what I read and any of you can respond. So, here we go and I'll see you on the other side. 

So you understand, the number is the last chapter you should read for that day. 

Here's the link to the pacing guide.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Hey Netflix, How About This?

 A few weeks back the Internet was ablaze with the rumor that Netflix was looking for the next "family friendly fantasy story" a la Star Wars or Harry Potter. I sort of read it as they were looking for something original and I have ideas. As as joke (but not really) I posted an "ad" on Facebook about anyone wanting to work with me on creating said project. A few nibbled by bringing up IPs they were interested in and one grabbed my attention. I was initially opposed but the poster convinced me that it could work thanks to THE WITCHER. So I set about planning the seasons for said IP. (I spent a whole day planning and casting two seasons of a fictional OFFICE-esque series about where I work and it's amazing.) So, without further adieu and gilding of the lilies, may I show you my plan for DRAGONLANCE: THE WAR OF THE LANCE.

So, I always felt as formative as DL was to me, reading it as an adult left me wanting. There was so much potential for the books that a TV series could bring back. We'd need three seasons, one for each of the book. The first season should be 8 episodes, second and third 10, with some expansion of what happens in books 2 and 3. So, using the chapter epigraphs, I came up with the titles. So, away we go.

Season One: Dragons of Autumn Twilight 

Best cover by a mile and the "smallest" of the three books. There's not much I would add to this. The desire to put Kitiara in this part is strong but she belongs in season 2, especially since she's maybe the most important casting besides Tanis and Raistlin. I don't know about casting but if Kelsey Asbille isn't Goldmoon, I might fight people. Anyway, on to the episode titles:

  1. The Old Man's Party
  2. Message In the Stars
  3. The Forestmaster
  4. Smoke In The East
  5. The Broken City
  6. Night of Dragons
  7. The Speaker of the Suns
  8. The Dragon Highlord
Season Two; Dragons of Winter's Night:

For this season we expand a little bit and pull in some stuff from out of trilogy books to bulk up our story. I almost bumped this to 12 episodes, but 10 is enough. We add some more of the infighting and politics among Solamnic Knights, give Kitiara some time to shine and I for one can't wait to see the ice boats. So, episode titles (these are the first batch that contain non-epigraph titles, enjoy):
  1. The Hammer of Kharas
  2. The Blue Lady's War
  3. Tarsis The Beautiful
  4. Waking Dreams
  5. The Song of the Ice Reaver
  6. The Red Wizard and His Wonderful Illusions
  7. The Oath and The Measure
  8. My Honor Is My Life
  9. The Shattered Sun
  10. The Princess and The Blue Lady
NOTE: I'm really proud of 9 and 10. Episode 9 is going to be the "Red Wedding" episode for a lot of people. It's truly one of the more beautiful moments of the series. 

Season Three: Dragons of Spring's Dawning
When I re-read this a few years back, I was so disappointed in this book. It's the shortest by far. The war was over in one chapter. I get that they wanted to focus on the main characters and I'm sure the authors were under tremendous pressure to finish (I'd still love a "director's cut" of the books) them, but I felt this book was rushed. We have another ten episodes for this season and some expansion is necessary. So here's my episode titles and again we've gone off the tracks with episode titles, though most are from the epigraphs.

  1. Flight from Darkness Into Darkness
  2. The Chronicler and the Mage
  3. The Oath of the Dragons
  4. The Council of Whitestone
  5. The Golden General
  6. The Penalty of Failure
  7. The Old Man and the Golden Dragon
  8. The Queen of Darkness
  9. The Debt Repaid
  10. For Good or For Evil
So, that's how I'd break down the Dragonlance trilogy into a three season, 28 episode series. There's more details, but I spared you from them. So, Netflix...HBO...Hulu...whoever, I'm here and available. I think there are parts of Central New York that would be great for exteriors and I'll bet we can get some tax breaks, especially with a CNYer at the helm. 

Sunday, August 16, 2020

The Imposter Syndrome

 A few months back I was catching up with some of my "boys" via Zoom. It was in the middle of the first month of the pandemic and I think our little group was jonesing for some interaction with people we didn't share DNA. One of the things my wife says is that I need to be more social and she's not wrong. (Yet she thinks that my having a writing session once a month with my friend Brian is weird.) She's joked that I've been more social since the pandemic started. 

Conversation from our little group chat moved from what we were drinking to what we've been cooking (lots of sourdough) to how we've been staying in some kind of shape (my complaining about walking stairs 3-5x a day to some of them running 7 miles a day). It was nice to talk to adults about adult things. (Again, not that I don't talk to my wife but sometimes you need more!) At one point in the conversations someone said something about writing and I griped around the malaise I was in related to my writing. This sparked something in one of my friends and he asked me perhaps the most terrifying question you could ever ask a writer: What motivates you to write?

I froze. I never have a good answer. Or at least the way that I feel.

Before I continue, confession time: I always feel that when I talk about writing with people, I bore them to tears. It's the reason I know that I'll never do a TED talk. It's not that I'm not passionate about writing or that I have what I think are interesting things to say about writing, it's just every ounce of self-loathing and self-doubt bubbles up slides on up to the front of my brain and makes me feel boring. (Comically, I don't have this problem with students.)

My friend asked the question earnestly. He doesn't know me very well so he hasn't lived through all my trials and tribulation of trying to be a famous author. The question really crippled me. I'm usually loquacious but I couldn't talk. A voice in the back of my head snickered and whispered, "Yeah, smart ass, what motivates you?"

I could say something poetic like the written word is the very marrow of our souls.

Nah, not me.

I could say that I hate blank paper and I need to fill it up with words.

Closer, but not quite there. 

Because I want to be rich.


"Because I can't not write," I answered. It's a stock answer for me. But it's also incredibly true. In the chat, one of my friends that's read my stuff commented that I'm a very good writer. I was embarrassed and humbled. I always feel weird talking about my writing out loud, it's really a sort if imposter's syndrome. 

Imposter's syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize and accept their accomplishment. This is me to a T about just about everything I do successfully in my life. I'm never satisfied when I cook and I'm constantly trying to get better, though my ribs are so good you can't talk loudly about them or the meat will fall off the bone. There's always a voice in the back of my head nibbling at any sense of accomplishment in my head. I always feel like when someone asks about my writing, I always feel like I can see their eyes glaze over as I'm talking. It's hard to see glaze on a computer screen. As I tried to expand on my answer, I heard the voice in my head, so I talked faster so I could think it before they could. 

"You're a fraud."

Two agents, one abandoned the other I fired. A few very close calls with publishers. 

"You talk a big game."

My friend that's read my stuff props me up by earnestly saying how good my writing is and I aw-shucked my way through that. When I said something about it being boring, they said that it's really interesting and that they can see my passion.

"They have to say that."

I don't know if they do or don't but it felt kind of good to talk about it out loud. 

"Usually you have to pay $100 an hour for that, ding dong."

Imposter or not, I write because I can't stop writing, God have mercy on your soul.

"He won't, he made you a writer for Chris-okay, okay, I'll stop there."

Friday, August 7, 2020

A New Hobby

At the start of summer, my son Cooper asked for a birdfeeder. I'm not 100% sure why, but it's not an extravagant or out of left field request, so we bought it for him. It took me a week or so to buy the seed then another week to set it up. Since I put it up, I can't get enough of it, seeing if I can identify the birds that visit my little bird feeder. I obsess over seeds and making sure there's enough for them. I'm not this diligent with my dog. You know it's weird when your wife says that she got you a surprise and when you find out it's a 40 pound bag of bird seed, there aren't enough kisses to show your appreciation.

I'll perch on the front porch as quietly as I can, my writing notebook and pen in hand, though I don't write when the feeder is busy, I'm too busy meeting with my new friends. There's been the requisite robins and at least three different kinds of sparrows. I call them the Jets (Robins) and Sharks (Sparrows). Lately the Jets haven't been visiting as much. Quite a few doves join the mix along with a real gang of grackles  that unsuccessfully tries to intimidate the other, smaller birds. A few couples join the buffet. A pair of cardinals, Ralph and Alice, that visit several times a day while a pair of pigeons, Henry and Karen, show up the same time every day to partake (Bonus points if you get the reference, double bonus points if you REALLY get the reference). On a rainy afternoon the smorgasbord was attended by a pair of orioles. They're aristocrats names Thurston and Lovey. I saw a bright yellow goldfinch and a red crested lark.Then there's Bart the Blue Jay. That little bastard will sit on the power line and squawk at me until I go inside. I won't even go into the mammals that join the group, which has included several rabbits, two chipmunks and possibly a raccoon.

A few days ago, I gave my wife the rundown of what I'd seen that day. She looked at me with something short of incredulity and said, "I didn't know that you were that into birds."

"Neither did I," I responded. 

Bird watching is serious business and I don't know if I'm built for it. This is not a disparagement of the activity. It requires a great deal of patience and diligence, two things I am not equipped for. But I'm trying.

A few afternoons ago, I was returning home from running errands. As I walked up the driveway, I looked over to my, I mean my son's bird feeder. It was in need of a refill. I scanned the remaining area and saw at least 20 birds staring back at me like the movie THE BIRDS. I'm old enough that it still scared me. I moved a little faster as I waddled my way, penguin-like, into the house. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

The Gut Punch

One of my favorite parts of reading is when you come across something that is so well written that it causes your body to react. The author's words come off the page, blast through your emotional dampeners and cause a visceral, physical reaction. We're talking gasps, tears and outright sobbing. And it's always from a book you don't expect it to come from. Sure TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE is going to pull at your heartstrings but a book about baseball cards? That's when that gut punch is the best. 

Yesterday morning was a damn near perfect morning in Central New York, so instead of staying inside I decided to sit on the front porch and read. I sipped the Dunkin frozen chai my sister-in-law delivered to me on her way to work (I really did marry over my skis in so many ways) and started reading "The Battery" in Brad Balukjian's genius book THE WAX PACK. The chapter is about little known pitcher Jaime Concanower. A card my friends or I would've used to put in our bicycle spokes. Balukjian went all the way to Arkansas to interview him. The last page and a half of the chapter quite literally reached off the page, opened my rib cage and punched me repeatedly in my heart. In front of this virtual stranger, Concanower breaks down about his wife's battle with breast cancer. I shut the book, took a deep sigh that morphed from a gasp to a full on chest sob. Holy shit. It was the perfect combination of story and writing. It was a moment I both envied and appreciated. 

There have been plenty of moments where this has happened. Something so powerful in the written word that my body reacts. The death of Ned Stark. The Red Wedding. The entire chapter "Speaking of Courage" from the THINGS THEY CARRIED. Sean Devine ruminating about his relationship with his father in MYSTIC RIVER. Act I, Scene III of FENCES. All moments where I reacted both emotionally and physically. Gasps and sobs that caused people around me to check on my well being. Even now, in reflection, I'm have allergies. That happened again whole reading "The Battery."

I don't know if it's my father's battle with cancer.

I don't know if it's my unbounded love of my wife. 

I don't know if it's being cooped up in a house for so long.

And maybe it's just a combination of some or all of these things. 

It's 24 hours later and I'm still thinking about it. The sounds of my family's shenanigans filling the house and making me smile. But I'm thinking about Jaime and Gini Concanower, hoping they get to enjoy as many moments like the one unfolding in my house right now.

Mr. & Mrs. Concanower, I doubt you'll read this, but if you do, know that we're rooting for you in Liverpool, NY. 

Sunday, July 26, 2020

The Mixtape Era Part 2

A few days ago, I wrote about my love of the "mixtape era." I'm not huge on sharing my fiction on this page, but I thought I'd share a snippet of my 90s set YA coming of age novel, FRESH TRACKS (thanks to Aaron Starmer for the title), that's basically a novelization of my high school's "ski club." The frame work is going to be a mix tape. This is the omniscient opening to the novel. Enjoy and feel free to leave comments
Tape One: Blue Squares and Black Diamonds

Side A: Hart’s Way
1. Missed Opportunity-Hall And Oates
“Keep on missing each other
Our world's out of order”
The first time Ellie Brown and Jonah Cassatore met wasn’t supposed to be the first time they met. The first time was a bright, sunny afternoon in Blossom Meadows park in the summer of 1989. Ellie was trying her new Rollerblades out at the winding, asphalt trails at the park with her friend Cassie. They would’ve been hard to miss in the clunky boot-like skates and short shorts as they clumsily made their way around the park. Jonah and his friends were busy playing a complex, made-up sport involving tennis racquets, blue handballs and a rotating, often contradicting set of rules often made up on the spot by Jonah’s friend Chester that resembled a cross between baseball, cricket and tackle football. At one of his turns, Chester smacked the blue ball a mile. Jonah was supposed to misread it and bull into the brown haired girl just beginning to understand how to use a pair of Rollerblades. But that didn’t happen.

As if the Universe itself conspired against them, gravity seemed to lighten just in the spot where the large Jonah stood, making him far lighter on his feet than he ever had been so that instead of the ball bouncing over his head, he almost caught it. Almost. Instead he sent it careening in another direction, towards a sunbathing Rachel Michaelson, who Jonah instantly became smitten with when he saw her lying on a towel in her bathing suit.  

The second time was a cold, wet Friday night on the campus of Milstead High when Ellie’s’s high school, Giammatti High, was playing Jonah’s Milstead Titans. Ellie went to the game with her friends, piling into her beat up Bronco mostly to watch Cassie’s sort of boyfriend Johnny Camacho shred the Milstead defense and win the game. At halftime, they made their way to the Milstead side of the field for hot chocolate. The Milstead side was crowded and wet and on a slope. Somehow, the normally surefooted Ellie got turned around and disoriented, slipping on some mud and stumbling into a wet, muddy, sweaty mass of the uniformed Titans. She nearly fell when Number Seventy-Two plowed into her, nearly sending her sprawling except for a strong arm grabbing her and gently shoving her aside. Number Sixty-Seven, his painted face crammed into a white helmet, started to say something when one of his teammates barreled into him and said, “Come on, Braciole.” 

It was that close. In an abstract kind of way, they did meet. He was Sixty-Seven. She was Clumsy Girl. But really that’s not who they actually were. The rest of the night, after the game, Ellie wondered who the dark eyed Sixty-Seven was. He looked like he wanted to say something else, but he had a game to play and all. And Jonah thought about the cute girl with the ski jacket. It almost made him forget about seeing Rachel Michaelson making out with a kid from another school at an after game party a week earlier. And just as Ellie was about to go to the ticket booth for a program, she heard someone call her name. She turned and her jaw dropped.. It was Roger, her sort of ex-boyfriend, in a crisp Marine’s uniform. Sixty-Seven was forgotten. 

The third time was one of those super cosmic things where it seemed like the Universe was really conspiring to get them together but couldn’t quite get its shit together. Over the course of four days of Christmas Break, there were dozens of times that they should have met. A waitress at Friendly’s smoked two cigarettes instead of one before delivering the check to Jonah and his friends, causing them to miss Ellie’s arrival. Ellie dropping a ten-dollar bill in line at the record store just as Jonah and his best friend Meechie walked by. Jonah spilled hot chocolate on his lap just as Ellie pulled up next to him at a stop light near the mall. The two of them, in the same bookstore, looking at books on the opposite side of the display shelf like in a really bad romcom.  Ellie and Jonah were literally ships in the night. Ships maybe, just maybe, not meant to meet until that cold, gray late morning on the Hart’s Way chairlift at Black Mountain. 

Friday, July 24, 2020

The Mixtape Era

It's been a while. You would think that the midst of a massive quarantine would be the prefect time to write. Turns out that's not entirely true. I've been writing, but nothing consistent or cohesive. And definitely nothing worth sharing with anyone. A little while back, I had a very brief Twitter conversation about my unadulterated love of the "Mixtape Era" of the 80s and 90s. We live in a day and age that enthusiastically embraces nostalgia, it makes sense to take some time to talk about mixtapes.

I loved making mixtapes. Those slender plastic cases and toothed wheels were the very fabric of our teenage years and where we put our stories. We listened to them in stereo systems, boom boxes, Walkmen and, if you were lucky, car stereos. It was a glorious time where you waited with breathless anticipation for your or that special somebody's favorite song to come on the radio so you could record it. If you were good (I was), you could get it without recording the DJ introducing the song. (This was a serious faux pas.) Honestly, who could afford to buy all those tapes? Unless you joined Columbia House (I did) and gathered up those seven free cassettes/CDs for a penny.

I didn't half-ass my mix tapes. I was persnickety about the actual cassettes I used. I liked the funky, multicolored Memorex cassettes, usually 90 minutes in length. If you were tight, you could get 8-10 songs on a side. I actually preferred the longer 120 minute cassettes and eventually switched to the "chrome" cassettes, in the name of better quality. There was a plan, sketched out in my mind of what to put on that tape. If someone handed me a cheap tape, I'd scoff and buy one of the ones I preferred. It was a sign that this mattered, this was important and that I put effort in it for you, the listener. I like to think that they knew all of this.

I had a reputation for assembling mixtapes. I did't think of them as collections of music but epic stories. I'd create thematic "chapters" in my mixtapes with the occasional interlude of movie dialogue or scenes thanks to a stereo system and my mother's vast collection of pirated VHS tapes (Thanks Video Joan!) Side A might have one with songs like Johnny Gill's "Rub You The Right Way" and "If It Isn't Love" with an interlude of the "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" scene from Top Gun. The next section might continue the upbeat fun with "Brown Eyed Girl," Bon Jovi or "Magic Carpet Ride" by Steppenwolf. It was assembling a story and hunting through cassettes and CDs to find the right song in the right place on the mix.

I'd carefully write on the labels with my creative titles for each side. On the cardboard insert, I'd painstakingly write out each song and artist. I'd label "sections" if there were sections. I'd make sure the cassette was rewound and ready for play. Then I'd walk away, hoping they were happy with the result. I like to think that they were.

I know that vinyl is all the rage, but I miss cassettes. They were MP3 players before there were MP3s. With vinyl you don't have much in the way of choice while a home made mixtape gives you a procured collection of what you want to listen to. It's these ideas that continue today and may be why there is no cassette revival they way that vinyl does. And now mixtapes are playlists and easy as a drag and drop. But there's something missing, something impersonal about playlists. So, I made you guys a mixtape to enjoy.