Confronting the Blank Page

Thursday evening. The digital display on the front of the dust covered cable box reads 9:11. The house is empty and quiet. Kim had to work late and Fiona, my youngest daughter, the only one that has not headed off to college yet, is out at a concert with a friend.

There are still thousands of unread emails in my inbox beckoning to me, but I have done enough on the computer today. I read emails, visited various blogs, wrote a few replies, comments on blogs and a post for my own blog. I also did a little programming for a project that is winding down with a frustrating denouement and did some investigating for some future projects and blog posts.

The hum of the computers adds to the empty feeling of the house. After I prepared my one person dinner; a steak I was supposed to eat with Kim last night, but worked too late to be home for dinner, along with some tomatoes from our weekly community supported agriculture delivery, I fled the house in search of something; something to foretell the next great adventure.

In less than two months, I will start on my next attempt at writing a novel. November is National Novel Writing month. I wrote a novel in 2007 which sits on my hard drive. 2008 saw false starts which ended up without a novel being completed. This year, I have my story in mind and the characters are fighting for recognition and definition.

One thing I did not like about my 2007 novel is that the characters were not as complicated as I would have liked. They did not grow or change as much as I wanted. I’ve been reading Irvin Yalom’s “Everyday gets a little closer”. It isn’t fiction. It is the recounting of a person in therapy with Dr. Yalom and provides lots of depth and growth of the main character.

A friend of mine is fighting leukemia. In a recent journal entry, she spoke about “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society”. I checked online to find that it is not currently available at the public library. Yet I headed over there to see if a librarian might suggest a book somehow like that.

After a brief discussion, where we found most of the suggestions where also all checked out, the librarian suggested “The Reader” by Bernard Schlink. She mentioned that it was much better than the movie, which I hadn’t seen. Yet as I stood at the shelves, I decided to check out both, “The Reader” as well as “Flights of Love” by the same author.

I headed up to bed to quietly read while I waited for Kim and Fiona to get home. I was struck by the detailed descriptions in the beginning of “Flights of Love”. This is another area where I am weak in my writing and I’m thinking of trying to work on this as well.

I have been writing every day for my blog. I believe that the discipline has helped my writing, however, I still need to work extensively on describing setting and exploring the evolving characters in my stories. This is not something I really work on in my blog posts, but I may try doing more of that as writing exercises.

As I thought about this, my thoughts returned to Wednesday evening’s open house at my daughter’s school. Her teacher talked about how everyone claims to read with their children, but writing is also important and who talks about writing with their children? He will be sending home writing prompts for Fiona. I may get Fiona to put her writings in a blog. We’ll see. I wondered, should I write my own responses to the writing prompts? I don’t think that would be good. She needs to write her way and not have me writing about the same things. So, I will look for things to write about to expand my descriptive writing abilities.

The little display in the lower right hand corner of my laptop tells me it is now 9:40 as my wife walks in the door. The house is no longer empty the way it had been. I have confronted the blank page and written a long blog post. I will reread it and edit it in the morning.

Friday morning. I have completed my edits and will post the blog post. I pause to wonder about my audience. Many different people approach my blog from many different perspectives. What will they, what will you, get out of this blog post?

NaNoWriMo Publishing

Over on Communication Exchange is a blog post entitled
Fiction Writers: Find a Publisher? Self-Publish? Or Is There a Third Option?
. It explores options for publishing works of fiction. I posted a comment there (which appears to still be waiting moderators approval). However, I thought it was important, so I am posting it here as well.

I would like to suggest that there are actually many different ways to be published that exist upon a continuum. At one end of the continuum is the traditional publishing where you send a manuscript to a publisher and hope to get them to do all the work.

The other end of the spectrum is the vanity press where you send a manuscript and a large enough check, and they publish your book for you and you store many books up in your attic. The former is regarded highly, and the latter, less so.

Yet all of that was based on a day when typesetting was complicated and you had to make some large number of prints to make it worthwhile.

Today, we live in a world of publishing on demand. You can publish your book at a good POD publisher and they will print out a copy whenever someone orders one. Lulu press does a great job of this and is very popular with the NaNoWriMo crowd. My middle daughter has recently published her second novel on Lulu press. Two years ago, she published Subtle Differences. This year, she has published The Silent Serian.

It has been a great experience for her. Friends and relatives and a few strangers have bought copies of her books and she has made a small amount of money off of her books.

Yet with a press like Lulu, you need to do everything, designing the cover, editing the text, laying it out, and marketing.

In these days of social media, there are a lot of new marketing opportunities and I'm starting to explore some of this with my daughter the writer, as well as my daughter the sales person. We are kicking around ways to provide editing and marketing services to self publishers on some sort of commission basis which would keep POD publishing viable for NaNoWriMo type writers.

One group that already provides a service something like this is the Writers' Collective. They act like a traditional publisher in terms of accepting, editing and marketing a book, but they use POD publishing methods to keep costs under control and make their services more accessible to smaller, less known writers.

I'm sure there are other similar efforts and I would be glad to collaborate or share ideas with people interested.

I wrote my first novel as part of NaNoWriMo two years ago. It sits partially edited on my hard disk. I'm gearing up for another effort this year and my daughters are excited and gearing up to help me market the book.

So, let's hear what others are thinking about.

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Julie, Julia and I

Last night, Kim and I went to see the movie Julie Julia. It is about cooking, and blogging, and this is my review of it. Well, not exactly. It is my chance to use someone's famous name to talk about myself in hopes that someday, I will get discovered for what I am passionate about, and maybe get a book deal, or maybe even a TV show or even have a movie made about me. But, that is what the movie is about as well, so I guess it all fits.

One sign of an effective book or movie is whether or not you could see yourself in the same situations as the main characters. The movie I saw most recently before Julie and Julia was the latest Star Trek movie. Yes, it touched on universal themes, rebellious youths learning to channel their energies to overcome some great evil. I could relate to that part of the movie and enjoyed the escapeism, but it was very different from my lifestyle sitting in a small rented house in Woodbridge, CT.

Julie, Julia, however, masterfully captures the hopes and dreams of so many bloggers, like myself, busy pecking away at their computer keyboards and hoping for some sort of recognition for their passions. It ties back to Victor Frankl's great book, Man's Search for Meaning. The desire to be recognized for our passion is as basic to our own stories as the hero myth of Joseph Campbell is to so many great stories in literature.

The movie explores how blogging relates to our marriages, our families, our work, how we see ourselves, and how we support these explorations, financially and through our circle of friends.

Julie is presented as a frustrated writer. All her friends are having wonderfully successful careers while she is working away at a miserable job in a cubicle. She's written half a novel and can never finish anything. Well, through the discipline of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I've written one and a half novels, although I never completed editing the first or getting it published. I had a horribly successful career on Wall Street, but now I spend more and more time on my writing and less and less time consulting to the financial services industry.

Julie decides to put a PayPal button on her blog. That was years ago, and I think I did that at one point as well. However, I never received the recognition Julie has and never really received any Paypal donations to speak of either.

Now, so many bloggers are scrambling to find other ways to monetize their blogs. I've written about this from time to time, and spent a bit of time yesterday talking with a person who is planning to launch a new scheme to help bloggers monetize their blogs. He wanted to know what really makes bloggers tick, so that he could be more effective in recruiting bloggers and setting up a system that would be more successful for himself and the bloggers he hopes to recruit. He is wise in reaching out to bloggers to get a sense at what makes them tick. If he really wants to get a sense, he should go see the movie Julie, Julia.

Another theme explored in the movie is narcissism. Bloggers often get a bum rap by people who don't get blogging. They are accused of being narcissitic. To a certain extent, this is true. Yet it may not be as bad as it seems. In elementary school, one of the important reading skills is learning how to relate a story back to ones personal life. This is a skill that many bloggers have mastered. See, I'm relating the movie back to my life. When you get older and start learning creative writing, you are told to write about your own experiences and things that you know and have experienced. This is done wonderfully in Julie Julia, and drives my writing as well.

The problem with narcissism is when it does not relate to the world around it and somehow share in the human condition. That is what differiates between the narcissist as self absorbed jerk and the narcissist as the great writer. I'm probably still too close to the narcissist as self absorbed jerk, which is the problem with so many bloggers. I believe we all need to strive to be more in touch with the people around us if we wish to be great writers. We also need to strive to be more in touch with the people around us for plenty of other reasons as well, and that drives much of my political activism.

In the end, Julie and Julia have both won the recognition they have sought. Meanwhile there are millions more bloggers out there, pouring their hearts and souls onto their keyboards in hopes that some day, they too, will be recognized for their passion. All it takes is a blog and a dream.

#NANOWRIMO – Subtle Differences, The Silent Serian, To The Clubhouse and Liza’s Party

National Novel Writing Month, commonly referred to as NaNoWriMo, is still a few months away but ideas are fighting in my mind for their chance to be written.

I’ve been interested in NaNoWriMo for several years. Back in 2006, my daughter Miranda Hynes wrote her first novel as part of NaNoWriMo. Subtle Differences explores discrimination in a young adult fantasy. She published the novel on Lulu press.

Then, in 2007, I wrote my first novel, Family Markets, as part of NaNoWriMo. It was a story about fraud and market manipulation in stock markets in a virtual world. It sits on a hard disk waiting further editing. It was Miranda’s first year of college and she attempted NaNoWriMo, but it was too close to finals and she couldn’t write a novel at during final weeks of classes.

In 2008, I set out to write another novel as part of NaNoWriMo. I started off with a story about foreclosure and bankruptcy, but it was a little too close to home and I had problems separating the novel from real life. I set the idea a side, and started over with a science fiction work about human genetic modifications and the problems with monocultures. It is a good story, but changing course in the middle of the month left me too far behind to catch up and after a few days, I set aside the effort. Five chapters and various notes sit out on my hard disk in case waiting for me to get a chance and a desire to restart the effort.

I am not sure if Miranda wrote her second novel,The Silent Serian, as part of NaNoWriMo 2008 or if it was part of a different effort, perhaps from 2007. She has published this on Lulu as well. It dives deeper into exploring human relationships as another young adult fantasy book. I strongly encourage people to buy and read a copy of this book.

Now, a few months before NaNoWriMo 2009, ideas are fighting in my mind for their chance to be this year’s novel attempt. Leading the list is “Liza’s Party”. On a mailing list of group psychotherapists some friends of mine got into a discussion about Pygmalion. The ancient Greek myth is about a sculptor named Pygmalion who creates a sculpture so beautiful that he falls in love with it and the gods bring it to life out of pity for him. It is a great theme to explore both in literature and in therapy. In literature, it is perhaps best known for the play, Pygmalion which was later turned into the musical My Fair Lady. In therapy, it may be interesting for people to explore their roles in the Pygmalion myth, either as the creator, the created, or perhaps even the gods granting the wish of the creator.

For me, I’ve been kicking around a twenty first century remake of Pygmalion. Riffing off the names from My Fair Lady, Liza is the created. Hank, meets Liza through an online personal and with the encouragement of his friend Pickles, tries to form Liza into his idea of a proper twenty first century lady. Beyond this, I’m likely to vary from the original story as I introduce a female friend of Liza’s, an online therapist for the female friend, and any other characters that fight their way into my thoughts.

Yet today, another idea was emerged, fighting for its place. It takes Virginia Woolf’s novel, To The Lighthouse, and twists it around the story of bankruptcy and foreclosure that I couldn’t write last year. Instead of the lighthouse, it becomes the clubhouse.

The Woodbridge Country Club went bankrupt and is in the process of selling its property to the town of Woodbridge. The town, through a manager, is trying to put the club back together as the Country Club of Woodbridge. We’ve joined the club with a swim and tennis membership. We’ve been in the pool just about every day since it has opened. We’ve chatted with the lifeguards who used to work for the private club. We’ve gotten to know the golf pro, who is really spearheading this effort, even though we, ourselves, are not golfers. Yesterday, we had dinner in the clubhouse.

Instead of the Ramseys at their summer house planning a trip to the lighthouse, we will have some Yale professor, perhaps one whose area of expertise is the work of Virginia Woolf, arranging a trip to the club to go swimming. When we return to the club, years later, as it emerges from bankruptcy, we find the character based on Mrs. Ramsey has died of cancer. The character of Andrew replaced by a young man from Woodbridge killed by an IED. “What does it mean then, what can it all mean?” a modern day Lily Briscoe must ask herself as she walks around the once bustling country club.

But it isn’t November yet. It is two in the morning on a clear, cool, full moon lit August night. I should be sleeping. It is time to send Lily and Liza back to their rooms in the corners of my mind where they can plot with other potential characters about how to tell their stories when the time comes.

What about you? Will you write a novel this year?

Words and Music

In a couple hours, we will be in the car on our way to Cape Cod. We spent yesterday packing, and doing all the odds and ends that need to be handled before we could leave. The house sitter will arrive soon to make sure the pets are properly cared for.

Unfortunately, the local libraries were all closed, so Kim had to resort to a local bookstore for her beach reading material. She didn’t get a chance to check out any books on tape, so I made my own.

Librivox is a site where volunteers read books in the public domain and save them as MP3 files. You can download a great variety of books. The first download I tried was Buster Bear by Thorton Burgess. I burnt it to a CD-RW using Microsoft Media Player. It plays in some audio devices, but not in the car. I then downloaded Anne of Green Gables. I used Roxio to burn the first few chapters and wrote it on a CD-R disk. This one played nicely in our car, so I burnt the remaining nine CDs. Kim labeled them for us, so for the cost of ten CD-R disks, we have Anne of Green Gables on CD. We will probably listen to this during a bit of the drive to the Cape.

For my reading, I received an electronic copy of the novel The Silent Serian by Miranda Hynes. This is Miranda’s second novel. It is a young adult fantasy novel and a great read. I read the first four chapters immediately, and will try to finish it when I have more computer time. I’m also trying to spread the word about it, so please, digg the book, share it on Facebook and other sites, and be sure to go out and buy a copy yourself.

I have also been listening to the musicians selected to be in the Emerging Artists Showcase at Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. I’ve downloaded some of the songs and may try to burn a CD for the road trip. I wanted to get a review up by now, but it will probably have to wait until I am back from Cape Cod.

However, as I started searching out the emerging artists and looking at their websites, I found a link to most of them on SonicBids. Each one that I’ve checked has an Electronic Press Kit where you can listen to, and in some cases download some of their music. I’ve now listened to songs by everyone who is supposed to be performing and I need to organize my notes into something readable.

Soon, we will hit the road listening to a great collection of words and music, and I’ll try to get some posts from Cape Cod up when I get some time.

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