Thursday, June 29, 2017

Half Year Review

Instead of a monthly recap, I decided to do a check in half way through the year. So, here's the what I've been up to in 2017 thus far.

I've killed it in the reading department in 2017. Taking Lent off from social media helped, but I've crushed reading in 2017 and I intend to continue that trend. I've read 84 books so far this year. That's more than I've read in any year in my life. Seriously. And I'm reading more pages per book than I have in years past. Here's the breakdown of what I've read this year so far:

  • 40 graphic novel collections
  • 28 novels
  • 8 writing books
  • 3 nonfiction books
  • 3 movie/tv show art books
  • 2 memoirs/autobiographies/biographies
Sure, you could look at it that I've padded my numbers with graphic novel collections but I do enjoy them. I'm hoping to finish out the year with 120 books. I'm hoping to delve into some of my epic fantasies I've wanted to "study" do a while and I've got a drawer full of potential books. I still want to make a run at finishing WHEEL OF TIME. I want to dip my toe into some Rothfuss and maybe give Tad Williams a run. But I've got about seven books I want to finish first, between ARCs and library books. Now, what you're more interested in. What are the best books I've read so far in 2017 and why. So, here we go:

  • ROYAL BASTARDS by Andrew Shvarts: A great example of what a good YA fantasy is and helped see some of the mistakes I made in some of my attempts. 
  • THE DUKE OF BANNERMAN PREP by Katie Nelson: A terrific retelling of Gatsby without being just a retelling of Gatsby. 
  • THE SECRET LIFE OF THE AMERICAN MUSICAL by Jack Viertel: An interesting look at the structure of a musical and how to use that as a writing model. 
  • THE IMPOSSIBLE FORTRESS by Jason Rekulak: A nostalgic look back at a time when "pornography" came wrapped in cellophane not accessible to anyone with a phone.
  • THE REST OF US JUST LIVE HERE by Patrick Ness: Not from 2017, but a near perfect execution of a perfect premise: what happens in the "Chosen One" stories when the characters aren't the chosen one? 
  • WHITE TRASH by Nancy Isenberg: The entire last election cycle explained. 
  • LUSTLOCKED by Matt Wallace: The wedding of the year goes awry and only a magical catering company can stop it. 
  • MYSTIC RIVER by Dennis Lehane: Another older book that is just a master class in novel writing. 


It's been a good year of reading so far. 


I've had a decent year writing. Looking at my goals, I scrapped almost all of my writing plans. I hit a wall, unable to decide on a project. I think I became disenchanted with fantasy because I was failing so miserably at finding something that was noteworthy. I think what I wrote was good, but I don't know if it was outstanding. Or at least that it stood out. I set out to write around 350k words for the year. So what have I written so far?

  • Finished first draft of THE PENSIONER'S BROOCH (34k)
  • Finished a requested rewrite of WINTER'S DISCORD (135k)
  • Working on first draft of THE GIRL IN THE PICTURE (34k)
So that puts me at about 203k for the year. Well on pace. Just have to keep it up. I'm really excited about the new project and I'm hoping to finish it before the end of July. I'm intending to work on some planning for the next project after that as well during the month. So, I'm happy in that regard. 

I've gotten some requests from agents to look at some of my work, including a project that I didn't think would get the traction that it's getting but it is. We'll see how that plays out. 


School is over, so that's good.

Summer school starts in a week, so that's meh. But there's still time to write.

Still recovering from the fire, which I'll talk about at some point but not now. I'll have time to write, which is good, but I'll have other things to do.

I'm working out again, getting stronger. I'm signing up for a strongman class. I've lamented I don't have a hobby...I'm hoping I can make this my hobby. 

I'm planning on trying to really step up all my writing in the coming months. I'm going to give a run at blogging every day. I'll talk more about it on July 1. 

Alright. Let's roll. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

An Addendum About Dreams

I thought a lot about my post over the last 24 hours and I almost made this addendum on in the post, but I decided to keep the post as is, but decided I needed to address something that was bothering me about it.

I am in no way, shape and form unhappy in the way my life has turned out. I have an amazing wife that I love more today than when we first fell in love twenty years ago. I have two amazing children that fill my heart and soul to bursting. If you've met me in person for five minutes, you know how much my family means to me. I have a decent job that I like and could see loving under the right circumstances, but I'm not as miserable as some people are at what they do for a living. I'm still writing. I haven't given up that chase in the least. I've just have different priorities now.

Had the older me come to talk to the younger me about taking my writing a little more serious, I wouldn't have the life I have now. And seriously, is that the life worth living?

Hey, maybe the older me did have the opportunity to go back and tell the younger me what to do. He just knew better.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

On Fathers, Dreams and Regret

This past weekend I took a road trip alone with my father from my home in Liverpool, New York to a piece of property in Delaware. Twelve hours in a car with my father. We're both talkers, so lack of conversation wasn't going to be a problem. Conversation wandered from the sordid hillbilly epic of my father and his Delaware neighbors that was the reason we were going down there (my father has a friend named Snake and it wasn't the guy from the Simpsons) to how he believes that Donald Trump will make America great again (that wasn't a great conversation and was changed quickly) to how he thinks people that hate Muslims are morons (my father is a paradox). After taking care of everything and headed home, we talked some more. It was mellower and somehow deeper conversation.

Now, first let me add some brief context to this. While we were in Delaware and my father was conducting the business he needed to, I managed to finish read Dennis Lehane's MYSTIC RIVER. My God, if you haven't read this book, it is a master class in novel writing. I can't think of a book that moved me this much since maybe GAME OF THRONES. No, really, That level. Anyway, there is a great passage in that novel that I read while at my daughter's lacrosse practice that made me gasp so loud that I was afraid the people around me thought I was having a heart attack or something. It was a short, two sentence paragraph that just blew me away:

"It seemed to Sean-sometimes-that he and his father may have once talked about more than just incidental things, but for the life of him, Sean couldn't remember what those things may have been. In the fog that was his remembrance of being young, he feared he'd invented intimacies and moments of clear communication between his father and him that, while they'd achieved a mythic stature over the years, never happened."

There are many sons out there that read that right now and probably had the same reaction. There are many sons out that that read that paragraph and shook your head because you have no idea what that's like. I think most of us sons fall into one of those two categories. I fall into the former not the latter. And I'm okay with that. But as my father and I talked in the car, I talked about dreams.

One of my students' favorite questions is what would I have told the high school me if I could go back in time. I tell them that I would've told 16 year old me to take his writing a little more serious than I did. I follow that up by telling my students then they would've never met me. When asked why, I tell them that'd I'd probably be writing televisions shows instead. When I told my father this, he said what a lot of people do: it's not too late. I laughed.

I'm a 44 year old father of two. I have responsibilities that supersede my dreams. My father scoffed at this. This is a sticking point between the two of us that I won't discuss here. I'll save that for the therapist. As selfish as I think I am sometimes, I don't have that in me. My whole job now is to do the best job to provide for my kids, emotionally and financially. I can't follow some whim that I dream of being a writer so I'm just going to quit working to go follow some dream. I said that I missed my shot. My shot now (writing novels and such) is down the priority list and my father again scoffed. Then I said my sole job was to do everything I could to make sure my kids could achieve their dreams. It was at that moment that I realized I had kind of unconsciously taken a swipe at my old man. And that was not my intent. I'm uncomfortable blaming my parents for any of my errors, habits, mistakes, psychosis and hang-ups,

This was a good time to shut up. But you know how that goes. So, I kept talking and I mentioned regret. I don't have a ton. I really don't, but I recognized an aspect of my personality that may have held me back. First, I don't take risks. My father agreed with that. I always took the safe, comfortable route. Comfort being the key word. The path of least resistance. There was so much I should've done, moved outside what I was comfortable doing and take a risk. Why did I stay working at Wegmans when I could've lived with my dad in Queens and experienced New York City? Why didn't me and my friends leave to go southwest or to Florida? Why didn't I just pack my car up and go somewhere? Because those were risks and I didn't like taking a risk. And I was never willing to sacrifice that comfort to take a risk.

So, now here I sit. A weary high school English teacher that secretly dreams of being a television show writer. Maybe I'm the paradox.