Open Wounds

Events

Sights, Sounds, and Smells

Fencers engaged in match

My friend and mentor Dr. Digby from CW Post LIU (my alma mater) has asked be to take her small English class to Manhattan to see the world of Cid Wymann first hand. They’re reading Open Wounds now. I’m going to talk to them about how you can make the past come alive in a historical novel.

I’m very excited about it (not the amount of work I will put into it – more than I need to probably but that’s my problem). I went to talk to The Fencer’s Club (on 28th) folks today to see what time on a Saturday October 20th, would be good to bring a dozen non-fencers to watch the goings on and maybe get a short talk about the history of the club – and… not get in the way of the fencing.

I’ll have them sit and listen to the sound of fencers going at it. I love that sound. Then there’s that smell of sweat from fencers who haven’t cleaned their uniforms in ages. Ahhh.

Then the Hotel Chelsea where Cid lives with Lefty down on 23rd. It’s under construction with a new interior renovation and new owners so we can’t go inside but at least the outside looks the same.

Then two avenues over to where I placed the fictional Gotham Fencer’s Club but where at some point prior to 1930 there was an author’s club near 28 West 24th Street.

Then down by subway – the R train – to the bloody angle (not from Gettysburg) in Chinatown on Doyers where the Rescue Society Mission used to be and where I placed an alley that leads down and deep underground to an opium den where Lefty tries to disappear from the pain of life.

Finally we’ll end up a little north at the lower east side on Grand where Siggy lived at the Amalgamated and over to Orchard where he worked selling pickles from a push-cart.

I might be a little too ambitious.

We’ll see.

I’ll let you know as I get closer.

Oh… and just ignore the fact that I’ve been away form a month and some. I’ll tell you about it later.


A Downpour of Broken Sticks

Have you ever had one of these kinds of days?

I’m walking to the subway from 23rd and 6th, heading towards 7th avenue. I’m on my way to AMTRAK up on 32nd at Penn Station. I have an overnight bag and my computer bag with me. It’s pouring rain. I don’t have an umbrella. I’m not late yet but I feel the pressure of the clock ticking. I have about fifteen minutes flex time.

The rain comes down harder.

I duck into Duane Reade and look for an umbrella. There’s a long line of ten people all waiting to buy umbrellas. I pick one off the rack and get in line. There’s only one cashier and he is slow. I wait ten minutes then ditch the umbrella and head back outside.

It’s raining even harder.

I go back in to get the umbrella – wait 10 more minutes on line then rip off it’s sheathe, open it and head into the rain.

The umbrella is small and my back starts to get wet. If I don’t hurry I’ll be running for the train at Penn, maybe miss it. My heart is starting to beat faster.

I’m almost at the 1/9 on 7th Avenue and 23rd. There’s construction and scaffolding over the stairs down that extend to Pong Sri, a Thai restaurant I’ve been to a number of times before. It’s crowded and I try to step to the side as a blind man comes out of the aisle next to the stairs. The rain is drumming. People step away. I have no place else to go. I bump into the scaffolding. The blind man’s walking stick gets between my legs and I snap it in half.

“You broke my walking stick!” the man yells. He’s maybe in his thirties, wearing a black tee-shirt and pants and is getting wet. I’m getting wet too.

“I’m sorry,” I say reaching down to try to put the two pieces together. I thought walking sticks were extendable and collapsible so maybe I could just fix it.

“It’s broken!” he says again and grabs my arm, threading his arm through mine and turning me around. “Now you’re taking me to where I have to go.”

“Sure,” I mumble, looking forlornly at the subway entrance only ten feet away. “Yes, I will.”

“You’re damned right you will,” he adds as punctuation.”

We start to walk faster together, him holding me tight. “Where are you going?” I ask over the sound of the rain. I look at him and don’t look where we’re going. Another blind man is in front of us. Before I realize what’s going to happen they collide shoulder to shoulder, my man pushing into me as he spins around.

“Watch where you’re going!” my guy yells then turns towards me. “You have to watch out for me.”

“Your mother!” the blind man who passed us yells over his shoulder, tapping away with his cane.

“Fuck you!” my guy shouts back still moving forward.

“Fuck you, you asshole,” the other man yells then disappears into the downpour.

“I’m sorry” I say. “That was my fault. I wasn’t looking.”

“Damned right it was your fault. You have to watch out for me as we walk.”

“Right. Now where are we going?”

“135 West 23rd street,” he says.

I look to the left and see the Council for the Blind building and guide him carefully past a few other pedestrians and into the front door.

“Thank you,” he tosses over his shoulder at me.

“I’m sorry again about your stick,” I say as the door closes. I don’t have my umbrella anymore. I don’t know where it went.  I turn around to head back towards the subway.

And the rain continues to come down.


Doing the Rocky Dance

I was away last week at the Virginia Festival of the Book. I did no blog entries. I’ve been in Charlottesville Virginia, moving between the Omni, downtown, Emmit Road B&N, Allied Road Charlottesville Fencing Alliance and Allied Yoga. Oh, and the AMTRAK station.

I took a seven hour AMTRAK ride down and wrote some while my butt rode the rail. That made me smile.

Here’s the other thing that made me smile besides the beautiful town, the nice and friendly people, and the warm weather and flowers.

Barnes & Noble in Charlottesville carried my book there. There’s no other B&N in the country that carries my book. But in Charlottesville VA, they carry it. That’s cool.

It’s in two different places, the New Teen Fiction section and the table with all the books from the book festival authors – at least that’s where it will be until the end of today when the festival closes. This was the best series of events I’ve ever done. Seriously. If you ever get the chance to do this as an author, don’t hesitate, do it.

Panel I, Fiction: Conspiracies and Obsessions – I did with three very cool authors – Alma Katsu (The Taker), Amelia Gray (Threats), Virginia Moran (The Algebra of Snow) – and an even cooler moderator named Meredith Cole. Meredith knows how to moderate (not as easy as it would sound). She gave us a series of questions she would ask ahead of time, met us 30 minutes before the event to get to know us and help us settle in, and read all four of our books so that when she introduced us and asked us questions she knew what she was talking about. Meredith rocks. And, she’s a heck of a good mystery writer herself.

There were over 60 people at the even at the Barnes and Noble in town. They were standing in the aisles and sitting on the floor. That was a very cool thing to see. I don’t know who they were there to see and I don’t care. We all had a good audience to talk to and the panel kicked butt. Seriously. These women were funny and interesting and I added a touch or two myself, but watching the ladies work, I wanted to be in the audience myself. I had fun and… sold ten books, at least as far as I can remember. j

The Festival volunteers were helpful. The B&N staff were helpful. I probably had too much coffee because my hands shook. Or it could have been the influence of the Christianity section behind us. Or that might have been my nervousness showing. In any case it couldn’t have gone better.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you about the fencing. Oh yeah, and Panel II with Elizabeth Nunez.


Symbiotic Stew

I travelled to Phili on Monday.

I took the day off from my job to teach a 1hr distance learning writing workshop to 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th graders at three Pennsylvania High Schools. There were about 40 kids in attendance at the three sites. I taught from the UPENN distance learning center, called MAGPI and it was a very cool thing to do. Each school shows up on a huge TV screen as a small 1 foot by 2 foot rectangle. I teach from the MAGPI studio – a small ten by ten space with three cameras, my laptop and Powerpoint, some notes, and a copy of my book to read from. The MAGPI folks don’t pay me for teaching and I cover my own traveling expenses,but I get to teach classes on writing to young writers and that makes it worth every penny.

Today I talked about first lines of novels and how they start the relationship between reader and writer. I’m into this relationship idea. Readers read and interpret and writers direct the interpretation through the words they write. I know this sounds very basic – like I should have gotten this before -but I didn’t. I just had it in my head that writers wrote and readers read – separate from each other. We’re not. We depend on each other, need each other. We’re symbiotes in a way.

The kids were great and I enjoyed speaking with them. They came up with first sentences for their own to-be-written novels that were terrific. I hope to see one in book form one day. It’s the second time I’ve done a workshop with the MAGPI folks and they’ve invited me back for a third workshop in the spring.

On my way home I stopped at a nearby public library and met Dan, their YA specialist. I gave him a copy of my book for the library. He had a big smile on his face when I gave it to him.

I love libraries.


Conspiracies, Obsessions, and Crossing Boundaries

Virginia Festival of the BookIt’s coming.

My first book festival in which I’ll be on a panel discussing a subject that has to do with my book.

I’m very excited about this. So far I’ve been to a few (3) conferences (ALA, BEA, and a NYC Dept. of Ed Librarians Conference) and each of them I’ve signed and done some author speed dating but no presenting on panels.

It seems like a cool thing that an author would do. I’m excited about it.

The Virginia Festival of the Book invited me (thanks to my great publicist JKSCommunications!) and as a Yankee, it’s a real honor to have been picked. Maybe the road trip last summer down south paid off. Whatever Goddesses were looking out for me I’m one happy camper.

I’ll be on two panels.

Panel 1: Conspiracies and Obsessions – novels of unravelling lives – with Alma Katsu, Virginia Moran, and Amelia Gray (and me). It’s an adult author line-up, not YA. I’ll have to think about the context but it sounds like a good fit for Cid Wymann and Open Wounds.

Panel 2: Crossing Boundaries – novels about family drama, love, and loss beyond borders – with N.M.Kelby, Jacqueline E. Luckett, and Elizabeth Nunez (and me). I can’t forget me. Also adult novels but I think I’ll fit in with Open Wounds just fine.

The festival is on March 21-25 and I’ll be on panel 1 on Thursday the 23 and panel 2 Friday the 24. If you’re in Charlottesille VA around then… come say hello. I’ll be the author with the big smile on his phiz.

And here’s the real kicker. The panels will be at a Barnes and Noble. They won’t carry my book normally in store (although they do sell it online) but I’m betting they carry it for the festival. Oh yeah. Uh huh. Oh yeah. I’m still stopping at indi New Dominion Bookstore – oldest in VA. That’s going to be even cooler. Maybe I can convince them to carry my book…

Here’s the link: Virginia Festival of Books


Got Teen Fiction?

Coming soon at Gotteenfiction, a new site I’ll be part of…

Two week count down for the online opening…

In the mean time I’m back to my book and the click-clack of keys.


Rambo, The Terminator, and the Hyper-masculinized Male.

  

Here’s three words I never thought I’d hear when someone talked about my book, Open Wounds: hyper-masculine, Rambo, and Terminator. I did an interview with Dr. Beth Erickson that will be airing today Monday, January 2nd. This was a difficult interview for me. Dr. Beth had some very specific ideas about how my book played out and on how it represents the role of fatherhood. I don’t agree with all the things that she said but I liked that her ideas were provocative and made me think about my work in new and interesting ways. People bring the most amazing things to work they read. Dr. Beth’s clinical background gave her an angle I’ve not experienced before and it made me uncomfortable. If anything, that’s a good enough reason to listen to the interview – my discomfort as entertainment.

Cid Rambo.

The Terminator Cid.

The hyper-masculinized man.

Here’s the link for the interview:

Relationships 101 Body Traders and Boys Coming of Age – With Dr. Beth


Four Calling Agents, Three French Editors…

Three things I learned this year about publishing (please remember I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. These are based on my experiences this year).

  1. It’s better to be published by a legitimate press than to be self-published. Even if it’s a small press – if you want your book to be carried in a store it has to be available from Ingrams, Baker and Taylor, and or Folio. These are the big distributors in the business. I found in every instance in approaching booksellers and managers in over twenty bookstores across the country that as soon as I told them I was not self-published and that the books were available from Ingram or one of the others I was treated instantly differently (ie: better).
  2. Marketing is like a second job all by itself. I now work a full time day job, teach yoga twice a week, write, and do marketing for my book. I spend at least 1-2 hours a day marketing (twitter, facebook, blogging, emailing, interviewing, reviewing books, etc…). And that’s probably low. Finding a balance between marketing and writing is key to surviving your first publication.
  3. The publishing business is crazy. Agents leave the business without telling you, publishers are put up for sale seemingly out of the blue, subsidiary rights can be sat on, writers are just as competitive as world class athletes when it comes to snagging a seat at a full table of librarians during author speed dating, books don’t show up at readings, managers who’ve been called ahead of time about your store visit can’t remember talking to your publicist even though it was only 24 hours ago, Goodreads is like crack (or craic) for writers, it seems no two writers have the same writing process though most would agree it’s incredibly hard work to do (find a writing process and to write), and finally once your book is published writers you’ve never met before will help you to sell it through blurbs (which are key to getting your book looked at by just about everybody in the business and many readers looking for a new author to read.

After Christmas I”ll have to come up with some writing resolutions. That will take some thought. Here’s something though. For the last twenty years I wondered if the coming year would be the year I finally published my first novel. This year I don’t have to wonder anymore.

And that’s a very cool thing.


A Good Friday Hang-out Dittie

It’s Friday. I love Fridays.

Today is an especially good Friday (no pun intended) because I’m meeting Andrew Smith this evening and hanging out with him.

I don’t really hang out much not being a real hang out kind of guy – but I thought I should say the words because they would make me sound cool. I got special dispensation from my family to have a hang-out night. I mean… it’s Andrew Smith.

So I’m going in to the city early and not working (really, I’m taking the day off). I’m going to have an hour or two of precious writing time before I meet Andrew. And I’m looking forward to it. This is after going to my son’s holiday show at school in which he will be singing with his class all kinds of christmas and holiday ditties. Now there’s a word, ditties, that doesn’t get used much these days. Maybe this post will help it make a come-back… probably not. And I’m really looking forward to hearing him sing. He’s been practicing a lot. Anyway it’s going to be a great Friday from beginning to end.

Oh yeah. I’m bringing my books to get signed too. Seriously. This chance won’t come around too often.

The Girl Next Door

Also I’m reading on Saturday in Manhattan in Gramercy.

Fellow WestSider Karen DelleCava (author of the YA debut novel A Closer Look) was invited to read at the NYC LearningSpring School Book Fair this Saturday and was kind enough to get me and another WestSider Selene Byrack-Castrovilla (author of Saved by the Music, The Girl Next Store, and Melt) invited too. All three of us will be reading from our novels and signing books this Saturday, December 10th, 247 East 20th Street NY, NY from 1-3pm. If you’re in the neighborhood, come on by.

A Closer Look



Espresso, Wool Jacket, and Bad Lighting

Espresso - my son in the background!

I read at Espresso 77 last night. My son sold books for me and gave out free mugs as gifts. Four friends, ten customers, and three employees listened in. I read the opening six pages of Open Wounds and the first five pages of the second part, The Bells of Hell – where Lefty is introduced to the reader and to Cid – the protagonist.

The shop turned off the music.

The customers looked up from their conversations and laptops, took out their earphones, put away their phones.

Just about everybody tuned in for twenty minutes. It’s hard not too in such a small space.

I stood by the register with my back to the milk and condiment cart. The owner’s art-work surrounded me on both walls.

I love this place.

Espresso 77

I wore my Espresso 77 t-shirt which says, “I love espresso,” on the front and Espresso 77 on the back. The writing is in white and red. The t-shirt is black. I wore my special, thick, writer-ly, wool coat. It doesn’t have elbow patches. It is slate black. And it is cool.

I may not be cool.

But my jacket is.

Espresso 77 Reading

My son sold three books – two to friends, and one to a customer who got into the reading and decided to give it a try.

It was just about perfect.

Earlier that day my son and I went to a local pool hall and played ping-pong – 30 pool tables, 5 ping-pong tables, 2 air hockey tables, and one foosball table. I introduced my son to foosball. He liked it – a lot.

If the sun had come out and it had rained diamonds it couldn’t have been a more perfect day.


Cold Nose and Fridays

Flyer at Espresso 77

My son asked me if I had a nickname when I was growing up. I told him yes. When I played rugby I was called Joe Nose, usually accompanied by,  “the Nose knows.” I broke my nose 9 times on the rugby pitch, so often that the last few times I had to push it back in place myself before it swelled and I had to go the doctor for rearrangement. Rugby players all have nicknames. I don’t know why. One guy we called IDK because whenever someone asked what his name was none of us knew. “I don’t know,” became IDK.

In Open Wounds Cid calls Winston Arnolf Leftingsham, his cousin from England who comes to get him from the orphanage he is stuck in for five years, “Lefty.” Winston has no left arm or leg (the leg is a wooden replacement) and is badly scarred on the inside and out from mustard gas fighting at Ypres in the First World War. Cid never calls him “Lefty” to his face because… that would be wrong. But the nickname sticks.

My son has had some nicknames so far, like Maximum Max, Maximo, and Maximillion, but nothing that has stuck yet like Lefty or The Nose or IDK. I hope he gets a good one. They’re good for character and myth building.

In case I forget later, I’ll be at Espresso 77 in my neighborhood on Sunday evening 7-8pm reading and talking about Open Wounds. If you’re in Jackson Heights, Queens, come on by and have a latte with me and talk books.

Espresso 77


The Honey Bee Latte

I’m doing a reading at my favorite coffee shop in Jackson Heights called Espresso 77. I have one of their mugs and a t-shirt at home. If they were a football team I’d be a fan. If they were a rugby team I’d play for them. As it is I’ll just have to settle for being a frequent customer.

Afzal and Julie are the owners and they are both wonderful people who’ve helped build community in our neighborhood through good coffee, food, and cool atmosphere. My wife and son and I hang out there a few times each week – and have done so since they opened up three years ago. I walk by it every day going to and from work.

I did an interview with the Queens Tribune on the bench outside the front door last summer. My son showed some of his artwork there thanks to Afzal (who is an artist also) and now I’ll get a chance to do a reading of Open Wounds.

If you’re in town and want to come by, it’s a small shop with Gimme coffee from Brooklyn (which is awesome if you like coffee) and well-trained baristas that make just about perfect cappuccinos and lattes every time. I’ll be drinking their seasonal Honey Bee Latte and reading/talking about Cid and Lefty and the Open Wounds gang for an hour. Most of the time I drink tea but once a day, late in the afternoon, when my energy is low and I’m on my way home from work…

There’s nothing quite like doing something this personal in your favorite neighborhood hangout.

Sunday Evening from 7pm-8pm.

Espresso 77.


Cambridge Library Author Trio

Going to Cambridge MA this week for two days. Cambridge public library will be hosting an Author Trio event this Wednesday the 16th that I’ll be a part of with the wonderful Amalie Howard (author of Bloodspell) and Leigh Fallon (author of The Carrier of the Mark). We’ll be reading and answering questions so I hope to see you there if you’re in the neighborhood.

I’ll also be visiting local indies in the Cambridge/Boston area and a fencing salle or two (Bay State Fencers on Thursday the 17th in the early evening from 5-7pm) before I head home late thursday evening.

OWS

Oh… and the pictures are of Occupy Wall Street Zuccotti Park. We went on Friday, Veteran’s day, and took a bunch of pics. I also gave their library a copy of Open Wounds to add to their reading list. I’ll be putting up pics of the demonstration all week.


Real Writer’s Write Right

Speed Dating Authors NYC DOE Library Services Conference

Authors who Dated at Speed

I took notes at the Library Services Conference in NYC on Tuesday.

One thing that really struck me (there were many things but this was the first) was a comment by Walter Dean Myers (yes, him again). He said he spends his time doing three writing tasks:

  1. Planning
  2. Writing
  3. Re-writing
It’s such a simple paradigm. When I heard it I thought it was brilliant. I like simple. Plus it resonated with me. I find the distinction between real writing (usually defined as the first draft) and all the rest of the writing process to be artificial. It’s just the way I see it. If I spend three months planning a project (researching, thinking, daydreaming, putting plot points together in my head in imaginary lines, maybe outlining, maybe taking notes, listening in on conversations my new characters have in my head, picturing them standing in front of me, listening to them breathe – what? doesn’t everyone do this?) that’s a very real and essential part of my writing process – and for me it’s writing. The putting down of the first draft is the most fun but it can’t happen for me unless I’ve spent the time before, planning. And then of course there’s re-writing or revising, over and over again. That can take even longer than the writing part depending on how the process goes. But no book is finished and ready for an editor’s eyes until it has been perfected in the revision process. Most writers don’t like the re-writing process, understandably. It’s the hardest part but for me too but it is also the most satisfying part because when it works and I find the right edits to make a manuscript whole, it feels wonderful. Searching for the edits sucks. It’s that simple. But finding them… ahhhhhhh.

1000 Pages a Year

Walter Dean Myers

I saw Walter Dean Myers today. Let me be clear. I didn’t meet him – though I wanted to – as he was swarmed by New York City Department of Education Librarians and I couldn’t get close. I went to a talk he was giving at a conference I had been invited to attend to do some author speed dating. I got there early to see him speak. He was speaking about his writing, the writing process, his family, the tapestry that is his writing life. He’s an amazing writer and an amazing man. I’ve only read three of his books so far and enjoyed each of them. He’s written, as of his own count, 102 (from picture books to YA novels to a memoir).

Don’t get depressed by this but here’s some figures about his writing life. If you are a writer look away as it may knock the wind out of you. He writes 5 pages a day, every day. He works on three projects at a time. He writes about 1000 pages a year and has contracts for books to be written through 2017 – as he says, “If I live that long.” Now granted he’s about 80 and has been writing full-time for a while. But this guy is not only prolific but damned good and prolific. Read his Vietnam war book Fallen Angels. It’s incredible.

So, if you are a writer, don’t despair. You’re not him and I’m not him. Obviously, yes, but still. Every writer has their own process, their own life, job, family, kids, dogs, cats, hamsters, fish, and coral snakes (coral snakes? don’t ask, don’t ask) to factor in.

I work full-time so I don’t get in writing every day on my book, but I do write every day – at least a page of something whether it’s blog, letter writing, or novel. I work on my novel all the time (and I mean all the time) in my head but on paper one or two days a week when I can get at least an hour to work with no interruptions. I can get a full draft of a novel length work done in  a year, six months if I push it and have no social life (social life?). I used to write much more but then my son was born and I try to make sure that he comes first – though I’m not always successful. I bring my computer everywhere with me in the hope of a few minutes to write. My son and my wife both complain that I’m staring at the computer screen and not them when we talk in our dining room. Sometimes I am. Well, my computer is in the same space and our dining room is very small and I am distracted easily by shiny objects. That plus I spend so much time in my own head it stops me from being the best listener. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

It’s my process. If you’re a writer you have your own process too. The more efficient it is (write when you can write, think when you can think, procrastinate rarely) the more productive you will be. Now it’s back to work.

I’ve got a day job to get to.

And if I let this go on any longer… I’ll be procrastinating.


Nadi Blood and Captain Aldo

Why did you write a historical novel and why did you want to write about fencing? This is a question from Ms. Maddy Black’s 8th grade class last week.

The truth is I had no desire to write a historical novel. I had no idea I had one in me. As I realized my story was going to take place in the past I even fought against it. I knew I would not be able to rely on my contemporary point of view for the novel and since I’d never worked without that before I grew overwhelmed by the concept of a historical novel very quickly. How could I possibly speak with confidence about what it was like to live in 1936 or 1942? I wasn’t even alive back then. And the more research I did the more overwhelmed I became. It seemed in order to be an expert on the era, or to feel competence in my knowledge of the era I would have to read an incredible number of heavy, thick, dry-looking books and microfiche newspapers.

But at some point my curiosity and interest in the period overcame my anxiety and I began to write. I even became so involved in the research that I overdid it and had to cut about half of what I looked up, out. I even found I enjoyed the details of life from that time period. I found it fascinating.

Also, my protagonist, Cid Wymann, was 7 in 1936 so I either wrote about him in 1936 or wrote about a different character. I’ve written before about the vision I had of a 72-year-old Cid dueling with épées on the roof of the Chelsea Hotel so I won’t go into it here – but those were my constraints. I either wrote about him when he lived or I wrote about someone else. but no one else haunted me the way Cid did. That image wouldn’t go away.

Andrew Smith (author of Stick, The Marbury Lens, Ghost Medicine, and In the Path of Falling Objects) says his stories come through him, as if he was a medium for a story that had to be told. I see writing very much the same way. The characters gnaw at me. They worry me like a dog with a bone until I start to tell their story. Writing for me is then very much a journey to figure out who the protagonist is and what his story is that needs to be told.

And why fencing? I have been in love with swordplay since I was a kid, fenced since college, and taught stage combat to actors. I find I write about things that I do, that I feel a passion for. And so the man on the roof of the Chelsea hotel was fencing and his tale began when he was 7 – when Aldo Nadi, the greatest fencer of the 20th century, perhaps of all time, came to New York City and gave a fencing exhibition at The Plaza and on the same weekend that Errol Flynn’s Captain Blood premiered. I guess you could say I had not choice. Open Wounds would be a historical novel and there would be swordplay in it.


Of Egos and the Red Pen of Perfection

This is the final question from a CW Post student from my reading there last month.

How do you deal with a returned and edited manuscript? It’s perfect when I hand it in.

The woman who asked this question was terrific. She knew exactly what she was asking and knew the answer but wanted to know how to deal with the red pen of perfection. Most of us think our work is perfect or close to perfect when we hand it in. Otherwise, why would we hand it in? Then an editor gets ahold of it and either slants it with language they like, find ways to make it better, punctuates it in another style, or challenges us with new questions that we have to answer in order to make the piece complete.

I knew exactly what she meant. Man did I know what she meant. Even though by this time in my writing career I’m accustomed to revision after revision after revision I still hate to see an editor’s red marks on my manuscript. It hurts. There’s no way around it. Why do they want to change my words or punctuation or thought process as filtered through the words on my page?  Usually it’s because… it could be better.

I think every writer gets to the point when they’re working on a book that they just don’t want to see it again – ever. I love my books, but I also want them to be finished. I always get to the point that I don’t want to work on them anymore, even if a little part of me knows there’s more work to do. For me it’s usually a good time to let the manuscript sit like for a month or three or six. Even a week’s break after an intense period of time with a manuscript can give a whole new perspective on the piece – especially if it’s not working – and I realize it’s not working – even if I don’t want to admit it out loud.

But feedback is always difficult to take in if it’s negative and if it’s true. Either one. Now saying this – know that sometimes editors are wrong. The same goes for fellow writers in a critique group and your life partner (but my wife is always right about my work – she just is). You just have to follow your gut as to what needs to be added to your manuscript, what needs to be cut, and what needs to stay the same. Over time working with someone on different projects you learn to figure out what to ignore and what to listen to.  And as a writer I think each of us learns to shape our work and give it structure that is true to what we’re trying to say. Your sense of structure – of beginning-middle-end – tells you you’re on or off target with what you’ve written.

So how do I deal with a red-inked manuscript? I take a deep breath, read through the edits, accept what’s better, and cross out what’s not. It sounds simple but it’s really a lot harder than it sounds, because it will only work if my ego is in check and I can honestly tell what’s better and what’s not. And the ego, my ego, is a tricky writing partner. But the subject of ego is for another post and a brand new, rollerball, red ink pen of perfection.


Can I Revise That Question as an Answer?

Back to the fifth question from the CW Post LIU reading last month. I got a similar question last week from an 8th grade student at MS161 but I’ll tell you that one in another post because it’s more business oriented and I answered better.

I want to get published. How do I go about it?

She was a young woman with a big smile and she asked the question with an earnestness that broke my heart. “I’ve always known I want to be published,” she said. “Always.” She stood in front of me, nervous, smiling, smiling, smiling.

“That’s great,” I said, smiling back. We both stared at each other for a few moments.  It felt a lot longer to me so, uncomfortable I forged ahead. I’d just had a conversation with a young man before her who wasn’t sure what he wanted to ask me and I’d had to investigate by getting some clarity from him about his needs. “Do you want others to look at your work? Do you want to be published?” I asked these questions because I know not everyone who is a writer wants to be published and I want to be respectful of that. Anybody who writes in any context is flexing an important creative muscle and should be encouraged to continue. Some people write just for themselves. Some for their friends and family. I’d asked him because I wanted to find out what his writing needs were. This woman with the big smile knew what she wanted, very similarly to myself when I was her age. I wanted others to read my work. I wanted to be published.

But I needed more information to be able to answer and she seemed stuck. So I asked, “Do you have finished work – a novel, or short story, or poetry?”

“No.”

We stared at each other a little longer. I took a breath and nodded. “Then… you should finish your book, or short story, or poem and… send it out. That’s kind of how it works.”

She nodded and her smile (I didn’t think this was possible) got even bigger.

Then I realized what an idiot I was being.

“Okay,” I said. “I mean try not to stress over how to get published until you have something ready to publish. That’s what I really mean. You know what I mean?’ Yes, I know I was getting more eloquent as I went on. Right about now I wanted someone to get a hook out and take me off stage with a yank. Or a brick and hit me over the head with it. But there was no hook or brick and I went on anyway. “And when you’re ready you can go to The Writer’s Market and search out markets to send to, unless you already have them in mind for your work depending on what you’ve written.  But, as my grandfather used to say to me, ‘How you going to get something published if you don’t send it out?’ So if you are the kind of writer who wants to see their name in print then sooner or later you’re going to have to do some marketing and The Writer’s Market is as good a place as any to start.”

“Thank you,” she said and she walked away.

Fortunately there was one more person behind her on line so I had one more chance to redeem myself. I’ll tell you her question tomorrow.


7 Years Lost and Hard Labor Found

I went to Harlem today to visit a middle school’s eighth grade – PS/MS 161M, Don Pedro Albizu Campos School on 134th and Broadway. It’s right next to City College where I spent a year taking graduate classes in their creative writing masters program. I ran out of money after one year and never went back, but it was a good experience never-the-less. My friend Leslie set it up. She’s an Assistant Principal at the school and, after reading my book, accepted my offer to come in and talk about it with her eighth grade students.

The Library/Media Center was packed with 40 eighth graders, one teacher, and the Librarian/Media Center specialist. They had a smart board ready for me. I laid out my fencing weapons – a foil, a sabre, an épée, and a stage rapier, then talked for twenty minutes, read for twenty minutes and answered questions for ten.

Q&A can be tricky with eighth graders. There can be a lot of silence. These kids were great but I was worried at first as only one girl raised her hand. A boy and another girl seemed to raise their hands but then put them down. Perhaps it was peer pressure or maybe they were just stretching.

I called on the girl with her hand still assertively raised. Thank God she had a question. She opened a notebook she had with her, gazed down what seemed like a list of questions she had prepared, and asked the first of half a dozen that she would try to get to. I don’t remember what her first question was because right after I answered it five hands sprang into the air, then another few right after that. And the questions were good and they kept coming. Here’s a sampling of them:

  • How does publishing work? How do you get a book published?
  • Did your parents support you in trying to be a writer?
  • When did you know that you wanted to be a writer and what made you come to that decision?
  • What do you think it takes to be a writer?
  • Are you working on anything new?
  • Who was helpful to you along the way – like teachers or other people?
  • Have you met famous authors since your book was published?

But this was the best. It wasn’t one of their questions. It was their answer to a question that I asked them. “Which would you rather do, take seven years to write a novel or one month? How many say seven years?”

Almost half the room raised their hands. I was in a bit of shock. I didn’t think any would.

“How many say one month?”

The other half raised their hands.

“Of those who said seven years, why did you say that?”

The girl who asked the first question raised her hand. “Because if it takes seven years then when I hand it in, it will be perfect.” Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

“And why one month?”

A boy raised his hand. “If it takes only one month then I’m writing really well, really fast.” Brilliant again.

I left three books with them – one for each class teacher and one for the library. How could I not? And whoever said middle school years were the lost years?


KLAATU and Keynote at the Historical Society

Queens Historical SocietyReading at The Queens Historical Society on Thursday evening. We were supposed to start at 6:30 and it was 7pm and no one was there. Well… there were three people there but two worked there and one was a boyfriend of one of the women who worked there. The young man and I were talking about fencing so intently neither one of us had noticed that it was after 7pm and no one had shown up for the reading. Don’t get me started talking about fencing.
I let a sigh out and said, “No one’s coming this evening.”
The young man nodded, looking down.
“Shall I present to the three of you?”
A woman appeared at the front door.
All three of my audience members smiled at me. We had a fourth and someone not related in any way to the three who were already present.
I talked for a while about how I got the idea for Open Wounds, then read from it – answered questions for even longer – took a tour of the museum, and headed home. There were only four but they were totally present. I enjoyed myself immensely. Back when I used to perform improv with KLAATU we would perform in front of one or two people all the time. Sometimes we even just performed in front of ourselves. But as Greg Sullivan, our troupe leader always used to say, “You have to perform as if the audience is full and it’s your first time doing it.”
That’s exactly what I did.
I also used my iPad to present with using Keynote for the first time. It worked very well mechanically – very efficient and it looked great. What a cool presentation tool – even better than my Macbook Air…

Of Grant Monsters and Historical Societies

I’m presenting/lecturing/reading at the Queens Historical Society tomorrow evening. This is cool. I wrote a historical novel that takes place in Queens and Manhattan and the Queens Historical Society asks me to come speak at their author lecture/reading series. I’m pretty excited about it. I better get drressed up.

But first I have to finish my grant application for my day job. It’s due this afternoon at 12pm which means it must be finished by 10 so it can go out at 11 to be hand delivered. I have one more line to cut. It’s a different kind of writing, grant writing. It’s not very pleasant but it’s a skill that helps my fiction writing so I do it. Oh yeah, and it helps me keep my day job. And I can’t give it up yet. So I cut one line. Sounds easy until you see you’ve cut everywhere else after reading it over and over the day before into the night. But I digress a bit.

I’ve never been to the Queens Historical Society. I don’t know who will be there or what kinds of questions I’ll get but it will be different. I’m going to speak about the creation of Cid, the protagonist of Open Wounds, and how he came into being. He’s from Sunnyside, only two towns – about 30 minutes walk – from where I live in Jackson Heights. The 7 train takes you there in five minutes. The 7 also takes Cid in to Manhattan to see Captain Blood on his first day of freedom.

The reading runs from 6:30-8pm. Here’s the address of the Society:

Weeping Beech Park
143-135 37th Avenue
Flushing, NY 11354

Why the Point is Quicker than the Edge

I’ve still got three questions to answer from CWPost. I’ll get to them. I promise.

But a birthday today got in the way, as did a grant proposal that I have to write for my day job in order to stay employed and keep my staff employed. So it’s important. And it takes up all my time for a few days – driving my anxiety up and me near into madness. Well… you get the picture.

So last week I did a fencing workshop/reading/Q&A at the Flushing Library with my friend actor/stage combatant/fencer Dave Brown. Dave’s the best because he does these things for me for no other reason than I ask him (and I take him out ot dinner). He is an extraordinary friend. We get to fence in front of an audience – and he’s the best fencing partner – totally trustworthy and only once in our time as fencing partners has he every hit me by mistake. Hah.

At the reading there were three kids who had read my book and who actually helped me give the synopsis of Open Wounds. That was the first time I’ve had people in the audience who’d read the book. Morya Haughton, the most excellent YA Librarian who invited me and rounded up the kids for the event, told me the library had six copies of my book and it was in constant rotation… and rarely on the shelves. That pretty much made my day.

So there were twenty some odd kids at the event and I didn’t know any of them and that was cool. They liked the swordplay – who wouldn’t and most of them stayed an extra 45 minutes after the event was over to handle the swords and ask questions about writing and fencing. Dave and I had a blast.

One young woman asked a question that really got to me. She was one of the people who had read the book. “Why is someone like Maddie (Cid’s grandmother) who believes in God, so cruel to Cid?” I had to stop a moment just to let that one sink in. My answer was pretty simple. “Because she is. Just because someone believes in God doesn’t mean they can’t also be cruel. It just works that way sometimes. It’s not pleasant but it’s true.” She nodded and looked away. It made me wonder what the question behind the question for her was.

I think human beings are complex and rarely all good or evil – usually a mixture of both to different degrees. Mad Maddie Wymann is like that. You know little of her past but it must have been bitter to turn her into the person she is. And when her son, Cid’s father, disappears, she grieves for him.

When she is lost, Cid grieves for her because she is all he has.

So it goes.

Flushing Library

I’m doing a lecture/reading/Q&A at the Queens Historical Society this Thursday. Let’s see what questions I get there.


Fallout: 9/11

Jackson Heights is underneath the landing line to Laguardia airport. Planes come low over Canelle’s French Patisserie on 31st avenue and 76th street shopping center. It hurts my ears when I look up at the underside of the dropping jets, their landing gears exposed. In my neighborhood closer to the elevated 7-line, further east and south, the planes look smaller, feel less massive, but they run across the sky still one after the other guided by air traffic control. When I walk home some days I still imagine them exploding, like bright flares pitching parts and incandescence in a shower of light. It makes my chest tighten a little. It’s only my imagination working overtime. It’s happened so often over the years I pause only a moment before I move on.

For months after 9/11 I still jumped at loud noises.

I was sitting in a meeting room at a university up in Albany where an AIDS Institute training center meeting was going on and outside the lid of a large dumpster fell closed and the crash made me visibly flinch. My co-worker, who was in tower two with me did the same thing. The speaker who was presenting stopped talking and my colleague laughed nervously. We looked over at each other and forced smiles on to our faces but it was good to see that she had done the same thing I’d done. I know we both felt comfort in that. It was just part of the environment now – something that we had lived through. I’ve dealt with an anxiety disorder most of my life and 9/11 exacerbated the problem for me – though I didn’t connect the two for a long time – as hard as that can be to believe.

Not many people ask me about that day and not many know I was there. My part in the whole event was small and I was terribly lucky. I was on a low floor, the sixteenth. I was in tower two. I didn’t listen to the announcer when he said to go back to our offices – that everything was okay. I was just out of the stairs and on the mezzanine when tower two was hit. I saw some things. I didn’t see others. I saw the hole in tower one. I saw debris falling outside my window.  I caught the last E train out of Chambers Street World Trade Center – last stop in one direction and first stop in another.

Sometimes people talk about that day when I’m travelling to do a presentation at a conference and we’re out at dinner afterwards. I don’t usually say anything other than nod and agree that it was a terrible thing. It was. My wife was pregnant with our son – some two months at that time – and I still think she had it worse, waking up and hearing what happened, worrying about me and wondering if I was alive or dead. Being there made time go faster and left me to worry much less until I was already out on 14th Street. That was when it all hit me. Looking down 6th Avenue and seeing the two towers from there gave me the whole picture. It let me know where I’d been and what I’d left behind.

What follows is my story of that day. It’s one of many and doesn’t feel special in any way, except of course to me. But maybe for you, thinking of those who are gone and all that has happened in the ten years since, it will have some meaning, some sense of time and place. Some days need to be remembered from different angles. This is just one.

FALLOUT

By: Joe Lunievicz

The sky is falling.

I look out my window and the sky is falling in large pieces of steel, concrete, paper, blood and bone.

###

It’s October 11th, 2001, thirty days since my office was destroyed on the sixteenth floor of the World Trade Center, Tower Two. I stand on 23rd street and 6th Avenue, looking up at the new office building we’ve just moved into. I squint because the glare from the skyscrapers around me is intense.

I watch as a plane comes out of the sky and hits it.

I watch it again and again before I blink my eyes and the sky clears. I step through the front doors and into the elevators.

We’ve been bombing the Taliban in Afghanistan for five days. My stomach still turns to jelly when I’m outside and a loud noise assaults me — when a car hits a large pot-hole, a siren blares, or a garbage truck releases a metal container that crashes to the earth. I resist the urge to duck but inside I flinch. My exterior is molded plastic, hard to the touch. It’s easier to exist indoors where the noises are muffled.

The critical incident counselor called these images intrusive thoughts. Intrusive, as if they intrude upon a tranquil place. Inside my head, if tranquility exists, it lies behind a door, far back in the dark….

Click here to continue reading the essay: Fallout- 9/11, by J.Lunievicz


Book Launch at Seaburn Book Store

"I've waited 33 years for this moment..."

 

Last week, on Thursday night, we launched Open Wounds. It sounds funny that way but it really felt like a launch. The only thing I didn’t do was break a bottle of champagne across the bow of the book – though that would have been an interesting sight to see. There was wine and pastries from our favorite French Patisserie Canelles. But more than anything there were people. We filled the downstairs room with friends, family, colleagues, writers, and some folks from the neighborhood – Astoria – who saw the advertisement and stopped by. There were over 65 people with many standing in the back. It was hot and thunder-stormy – humid and thick, even with the AC on. The fan had to be turned off so you could hear me read. And I did read. That’s what felt like a launch – the reading, the showing off of my work to others, the revealing of my secret life as a writer.

Before it filled up and overflowed!

And it was fun. And the book store sold 42 copies. The book store owner walked around with a big smile on her face.

My publisher/editor Evelyn Fazio, introduced me to the audience with some kind words and there were two other wonderful WestSide authors in attendance: Karen DelleCava (latest book is A Closer Look) and Selene Castrovilla (latest book is The Girl Next Door and Melt) to help cheer me on.

 

 

 

 

 

My father also came and I finally signed a book for him. He still hasn’t read Open Wounds but I’m waiting to hear what he thinks ’cause now it’s on his list. What follows is a picture of the inscription. The ship has launched and the party was a good one to send it on its way. I couldn’t ask for more. I’m only sorry my publicists Marissa, Julie, and Sami from JKS Communications couldn’t be there to celebrate with me – as it would never have happened without them.

Inscription for my father...