The Death of My Routine

I can’t remember—does summer mean my whole schedule goes out of whack?

(Okay, I know it’s not summer yet, but part of my mind has already entered “summer mode” and I’m already making some summer preparations.)

I’m usually easy-going with change. I like how my work activities are different each day, and I like thinking of new ways of doing things. I also like surprises (if they’re good, at least). But I don’t like when a routine I enjoy is disrupted by an activity I don’t like, such as when, a few days ago, I realized that I wouldn’t get my Saturday morning Wii Fit or jog or writing time or me time because I have to spend the whole day (whole weekend, actually) opening the pool. (Swimming = Fun, Pool Opening = Not Fun; no swimming this weekend because the water’s too cold and yucky from winter.)

I was stressed about this yesterday but am resigned to it today, and now that I’m past it hopefully tomorrow morning I can summon the energy and enthusiasm I’ll need to drag those chemicals across the lawn in what will most likely be a thunderstorm.

This won’t be my only disrupted weekend. Next weekend is shot, though by much more fun things: a day with a college friend and then a day with my brother, who’s about to graduate from college and move away. Then the next Saturday is his graduation. Also, at some point in the near future, me, my friend, and, minimally, her dad, will be planting the garden, and that takes a whole weekend too.

I think this is how summer works, but it’s still fun, and I’m really looking forward to it. I guess I’m ready for a change in routine. Hey—even my diet will be shaken up. Instead of eating the same grocery store-bought foods every day, I’ll be having the same garden grown foods every day! Change is wonderful!

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What I Want to Be When I Grow Up

My progress on my new book is going pretty well, considering I mostly write in my work’s parking lot after rushing to get there as early as possible and during my “free” lunch breaks (the ones I don’t have a staff meeting during or have to spend half my time cleaning out the turtle tank). On a side note I am so looking forward to the summer when we don’t have staff meetings and I might get the chance to sneak in a turtle tank cleaning during the workday instead of on my time.

Anyway, in my new book I’ve almost gotten to the point where I’ll be introducing an important character, and today I’m doing some work in his point of view.

Jax Conley is 14 and feels pretty isolated from the other kids at school, both by choice and because of his living situation. This post comes before he’s met Lindsay, my main character.

Jax

At school they’ve asked us to write about our dreams for the future. We freshman have our entire lives ahead of us—many, many years of possibilities, so most of my peers go big: sports stars, rock stars, movie stars, surgeons, lawyers. I’ve tried, but I just can’t picture an amazing future for myself. The problem is that big, impossible dreams are what teachers expect to see, so that’s why my paper came back with a C—that and I had run-on sentences. And I started some sentences with “And” and “But.”

I guess you want to know what I wrote about.

Okay, so there’s not real chance I’d get a scholarship to any college, and if I went anyway, the job I’d end up with would most likely leave me working ‘til I’m 80 just to pay off the student loans. What I’m going to end up doing is what 1 in 2 kids in this town will end up doing—working at the factory here in Sterling Waters.

Actually, I’m looking forward to turning 16, when my mom will let me get a real job and I can do something besides mow neighbors’ lawns and clean out the gutters for the old lady next door. I would love to get my own steady income. Then we wouldn’t have to worry so much about how to pay all our bills, and my mom wouldn’t have to embarrass herself giving food back at the checkout line because she didn’t have enough money for everything.

My mom does her best, but she works 2nd shift and has another job on weekends, and since I’m around and able-bodied I’d be a real jerk if I didn’t help however I could.

Also, maybe if I had a job I wouldn’t be sitting in class distracted by thoughts of whether the money I’d deposited will show up before the power company tries to cash the check or if the house is flooding because the hack job I did at sealing a pipe the night before failed. Kids aren’t supposed to worry about that stuff. We’re supposed to be thinking about our crush and how we’ll get into the big party on the weekend, right?

But that’s how life really is, and even if you think you’ve found a way to escape and kick back a little, if you’re lucky enough to find a real friend, enjoy it while you can because that diversion won’t last for long, and when your friend is gone and reality jumps back in, all those responsibilities will still be there, probably worse than ever.

Okay…so I got into this a little deeper than I’d planned…it was definitely more than I’d put in my paper.

Maybe I can wrap up on a positive note.

Well, I guess there’s one thing I’d like to do after high school. I’d like to get my associate degree in something practical—so when I need to fix the sink or if an outlet stops working I’ll actually know how to repair it the right way instead of making it up as I go. That’s my dream. Pretty impressive, huh?

Don’t You Know Your Parents Will Be Reading This?

First of all, we have the choice whether to pick up a book and start reading or to do something else, like leveling up our Pokémon or watching a repeat of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. We also can decide to put a book down and never look at it again (or throw it out the window of a moving vehicle, or donate it to a prison library). So if you find yourself reading something that’s too graphic, you know what to do (maybe not the prison library option if it is really that graphic—they don’t need any new ideas).

On a side note, I find it interesting that books haven’t been subjected to a ratings system like every other entertainment medium (TV, movies, video games)—especially YA books. No one has even gone the music industry’s route by slapping a “parental advisory” on the covers of more explicit books. Do people think that because there aren’t any pictures or audio that a book can’t be that graphic? Because that is so not true. The most graphic and explicit things I’ve ever encountered have been in books (and it’s not like I was seeking that sort of thing out either).

I finished those explicit books (and read more by the same author), so I’m certainly not promoting such a rating system if it would limit people’s access to an excellent story, but I’m not denouncing it either. I do think it’s good to know what to expect when you start a book. You don’t want to go to a movie expecting a comedy and find yourself sitting through a tearjerker, just like you don’t want to start what you think is a romance novel and find yourself reading from the point of view of a sadistic serial killer. Knowing the genre of the book helps prepare your imagination for what to expect, and maybe a ratings system would help too, who knows.

Anyway, when I write, I concentrate on doing what’s suitable for the characters and the story. I don’t put in sex to give cheap thrills, but I have had sex scenes to varying degrees in most of my books because it’s usually a very dramatic step for a character (and if it’s a common occurrence for them then obviously it would come up at some point as well, though in that case I wouldn’t give it the same level of focus as a first-time coupling).

As for foul language, I don’t have anything against occasional cussing. I love how every word in our language has its own meaning and implication, and “drat” or “phooey” just don’t express the same level of emotion as their counterparts. Every once and a while even I will yell out a choice profanity, and voicing my pain/anger/frustration helps me feel better.

But there’s a time and a place for dirty mouths. My defined time and place may be completely different from yours. Just like in a story there are some characters who don’t hesitate to drop an F-bomb, and there are others who blush after just thinking of a dirty word.

Censoring your own characters because you’re uncomfortable using those words would end up sounding as dumb as when network TV shows a movie that has been “edited for content,” and the gangsters groan, “Oh shucks,” or scream, “Flub you!” (I’ve heard some pretty funny ones before.)

Now, if I tried writing a middle grade or younger book, would I make a story featuring a hardened gangster who has an explicit vocabulary? Most likely not—I don’t like to rule out possibilities when it comes to writing, but I’d also want the finished product to be publishable.

Like I said before—it’s all about choices. Writers and readers have to decide how far they’re willing to go—where to draw the line.

I’ll use my manuscript The Hollywood Effect as an example. In the story, Valerie’s movie has to have scenes that she’s ashamed of people seeing, so there is sex, cussing, violence, and nudity. I did my best not to hold much back when I wrote it, and the best compliment I’ve gotten for it so far was when Brian A. Klems (here’s a link to his blog), an editor from Writer’s Digest, told me that he found the inciting incident—when Gwen is mugged—hard to read (he meant it in a good way).

In contrast, Valerie’s scenes in the rest of the book are much different. She’s not a saint or a prude, but she is nothing like her character Gwen—at least at first.

I want this blog to be accessible to everyone, but I also don’t want my characters–therefore me–to be censored, so I’ve made the choice to put a little warning before any posts with explicit language or scenes to let you know what to expect.

Villain Blog 1: Sam Kinny

As the title suggest, this blog topic concerns one of my favorite kinds of characters: the villain. A top-notch villain is not 2-dimensional. He or she thwarts the main character at every turn but intrigues the reader at the same time.

I am not the only one who loves a good villain. I noticed the other day that many of the preschool kids I teach prefer to play the part of the Big Bad Wolf in our Three Little Pigs puppet show.

Not all of my stories have a clear-cut villain. Also, in some cases, to introduce the villain would give away the ending, but for this topic I will give voice to my defined-from-the-start antagonists. The first will be Sam Kinny. In my manuscript, The Hollywood Effect, Valerie stars in a movie, and Sam is her character’s husband. WARNING: Sam uses some explicit language.

Sam

I would like to stress, first of all, that I am not a villain. Nothing is wrong with having money if you worked hard to get it, and I worked my ass off. I deserve the rewards I’ve earned.

The ones who should be branded as villains and criminals are the lazy people who live off the government or someone else and lie around all day with no plans, no ambition. My wife is an excellent example.

I know there are times when I come off in a bad light. I can lose control from time to time. But anyone who had to put up with Gwen on a daily basis would turn out the same, if not worse. I think it’s extremely charitable of me not to have put her out on the street a long time ago.

She’d probably be able to make a decent living on the street anyway, considering the amount of whoring around she does now. Hey—isn’t that a pretty villainous thing to do? Cheating on your spouse isn’t an admirable trait, that’s for sure. I don’t see why she’s the big star when here I am victimized at the same time I’m toiling away to support her.

Yes, I’ve cheated before too. That’s not the point. The point is—oh, who the fuck cares. I don’t have to prove anything to anyone, and I certainly don’t care what you think of me. I’m done with this shit.

(Super) Advance Sneak Preview

So, this morning at 3 a.m., after I groggily remembered with glee that today was Saturday, the start of my long weekend, and I could sleep in and would have the day to do whatever I wanted—I had the shock that I had not prepared my blog post for today (Yes—I actually prepare these in advance). I hadn’t even thought of this blog once until 3 a.m.

I knew yesterday there was something else I was supposed to work on between washing stacks of kids’ lunch dishes besides reading the baseball preview in Sports Illustrated (they predicted the Reds would be 3rd—that they would do better than 3 other teams in NL central!).

You see, on Tuesday I started actually writing my new book, and so that has monopolized my free time—it’s all I can think about when it comes to writing right now. So at least until the newness of my book wears off, and I start looking for anything to write other than it (I am so optimistic at 3 in the morning!), my posts may not be as substantial or regular as they’ve been.

I never do this—I never let anyone read a draft until I’ve finished and heavily edited it, but since no one reads this anyway—sorry, since so few read this (I certainly don’t want to insult the 4 viewers I do get)—I’m going to be generous. (Wow, I use a lot of parenthesis and super-long sentences at 3 a.m.) I am going to let you read the first paragraph of my new book. (Keep in mind that the finished version will most likely be completely rewritten.)

Here you go:

The man in the leather jacket with his hand at his waist was a cop, and he was here for me. I dropped my spoonful of greasy Chinese mid-bite. He was still on the other side of the food court, and he hadn’t seen me yet. I thought of running for the bathroom or just plain straight out of this crowded mall and down the highway, going as fast as possible until my body gave out, but that would be stupid. Maybe I was wrong and he wasn’t really after me.