Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Post Book Deal Writing and the Six Week Wait

LIFE IN BOOLEAN VARIABLES is done. The first draft, at least. Any writer, published or aspiring, will tell you first drafts do not really equal "done", but it feels good to use that word right now. I have a complete manuscript and an official follow-up to I AM DRUMS.

It feels especially good because LIBV gave me a lot of trouble. I almost abandoned it for another project multiple times. I thankfully discovered through my fellow debut authors at Fearless Fifteeners that the second book (or, in most cases, the first book post book deal) is usually a terrible process. Expectations are all over the place. You want to assure everyone who has invested in you that you are not a one trick pony. This is all ridiculous thinking, but try telling that to me several months ago.

Some articles by fellow writers have helped me feel less insane about the whole thing:

N.K. Traver wrote an excellent blog post called "Second Book Syndrome". She discusses this whole thing with better words than I am using in this post.

Robin LaFevers wrote an article, The Crushing Weight of Expectations, which covers almost every fear I've experienced since the book deal went through.

In reality, the worst thing you can do is worry -- all it does is freeze you in place and make you question the authenticity of your writing when what you should really be doing is WRITING WRITING WRITING and seeing what comes out. I've never benefited from expectations, genre-chasing, or questioning my literary credentials. I've benefited from putting my ass in a chair and writing.

Now that LIFE IN BOOLEAN VARIABLES is done, I have set a date on my calendar exactly six weeks from the moment I finished. That is the minimum amount of time I must wait before reading through and spotting all the silly grammatical and plotting mistakes I've made. It provides distance from your role as writer and helps you to see your work through an objective reader's lens. Last time I used this model, I ended up with a book that was bought by a real publisher. It probably won't hurt to do that again.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Visiting New York, Part Four

This is the fourth part in a series of posts about my long-in-development trip to New York with my wife.
Here's Part One.
Here's Part Two.
Here's Part Three.

Our last full day in New York started out with a quick deli breakfast and coffee. After that, we headed straight to Central Park, where we knew we would spend at least four hours.

We had a plan to rent bikes, but that went south the second we realized how many places we wanted to see that weren't accessible from the bike path. So we went on foot, following paths in all different directions, stopping at the Central Park Zoo and making our through beautiful trees and ponds.

The big thing about Central Park, for me, is that my closest comparison is something like Grant or Millenium Park. One look on Google Earth showed me how silly a comparison that was. Central Park is huge -- it's a giant rectangle full of smaller sites I could explore for days.

We took a lot of paths, and ended up at Strawberry Fields. I still don't understand the appeal of lying on the IMAGINE circle and taking smiley photos, but maybe I'm just dramatic.

We took a different path out of Central Park, and swung southeast to drop in at FAO Schwartz. It was a cool store, but I left a little disappointed in the "foot piano" from BIG. I did, however, have to tear myself away from the remote-controlled helicopters after seeing them in action.

We ate a place Anna remembered from her previous visit called Ruby Foos. It was right at the end of the block where we were staying, so it was a nice, easy dinner. I still have yet to enjoy a cup of sake, however.

We went on a Circle Line Harbor Lights cruise after dinner. This was a really beautiful way to see the city. So many of the buildings we walked by, including the Freedom Tower and Empire State Building, look amazing from the water. And for someone who has no interest in climbing the Statue of Liberty, this was a great way to experience it without having to set aside specific time for a visit.

Here are some photos.....

As I was saying, I kind of like seeing the Statue of Liberty from this angle better. It was also surprising to discover that almost half of her height is the base she stands upon. Ghostbusters 2 made me think otherwise. :)

We finished our night exploring a few more neighborhoods and jumping on a few more trains until we ended up back by the Comedy Cellar. We hoped and wished they would have room in their 10:30 PM show, but this was not the case. As a result, the Comedy Cellar became the one thing I really wanted to experience that didn't work out. Such is life.

The good news was we were less than a block from a place Eddie suggested we try. He warned me that Artichoke Pizza was not true New York pizza, by any means, but it was delicious if we found ourselves wanting something different. We did, and it totally paid off because Artichoke Pizza was balls to the wall excellent, and I don't even like artichoke. The moral of the story is, "Listen to your agent, especially when he suggests a pizza place." Anyone want to invent a clever way to ship a few slices to Chicago?

That was our third and final full day in New York. Tomorrow I'll cover our final day and post some final thoughts/reflections about the trip.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Visiting New York, Part Three

This is the third part in a series of posts about my long-in-development trip to New York with my wife.
Here's Part One.
Here's Part Two.

As mentioned in the previous post, I've Deathly Hallows(ed) my second day in NYC and split it into two posts.

This one begins at about 5:30 PM, with me heading back to the offices of JABberwocky in preparation to head to The Museum of the Moving Image with Joshua and Krystyna. It is oh-so-nice when city natives take the reigns on subway traveling. I just relax and follow the leader, knowing the less I'm involved the less likely I am to get lost.

The museum is in Astoria, a very cool neighborhood. Word is it was not always so, but after spending a day and a half in Manhattan it was nice to see a toned down, quieter version of New York. Joshua showed me Kaufman Studios, right by the museum, where they film Sesame Street. I kept my eyes out for Bob and Gordon, but they were nowhere to be found. Yeah, I'm silly like that.

We saw the opening for WHAT'S UP DOC?. a Chuck Jones exhibit. Taking familiar characters and diving into concept art, storyboards, and scripts is pretty fascinating. It prompted some cool conversations with Krystyna about Calvin and Hobbes and an excellent documentary about voice over work -- this one is different from IN A WORLD. The title escapes me at the moment, but it's going to the top of my to-watch list as soon as I remember the name!

My favorite part of the exhibit? The eight rules for Roadrunner cartoons. Seriously, these are spot on, hilarious, and as far I know, were never broken, not even once. The rules were things like (and I do paraphrase here), "The Roadrunner may only harm the Coyote by saying the words, 'BEEP BEEP'" and "The Coyote could stop any time he liked, if he were not a fanatic."

Joshua asked me at the end what else I would like to do. I had nothing.

"You're the guest of honor!" he said.

"But I'm not used to being important!" I said.

I ended up asking him to take me to a good NY pizza place in Queens. He took me to Sunnyside Pizza, where his personal preference was. It was really good -- it reminded me of Bacci back home, but with a much better sauce. I definitely see the appeal of New York pizza, but I'm still biased towards Chicago's, and I'm talking thin crust as well as deep dish (despite what most people think, Chicagoans  eat way more thin crust than deep dish or stuffed. I know... that's crazy).

After that, I got to learn something interesting about Joshua. He knows every building in the city, including what it was used for twenty years ago. The man is a wealth of information, and can answer most any question you have, and correct any inaccuracy you previously believed. I'm pretty sure he could give me a tour of Chicago. That's how much he knows.

He also showed me an excellent view of Manhattan from the other side of the river, a place where you can look right between the buildings and see all the way to New Jersey, and took me on a "movie theater graveyard tour", where I basically learned where all the old movie theaters used to be.

It was a pretty excellent night. As if I needed more reminders of how lucky I am that Eddie pulled me out of the slush.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Visiting New York, Part Two

This is the second part in a series of posts about my long-in-development trip to New York with my wife.
Here's Part One.

Our second day in New York started with my discovery of the New York deli. We stopped by EZ Deli, across the street from the humongous Conan O'Brien billboard for "Sharktopus VS Pteracuda", which Conan continues to play straight as can be. I probably could have eaten three meals a day here and not gotten sick of the numerous things they had, but an egg sandwich and coffee was fine for this particular morning.

We jumped on the train and headed over for the 9/11 Museum in the financial district. It really was a surprising experience. I expected it to be an emotional exhibit, but it was quite a bit more than that. We had planned to spend an hour there before heading to lunch with my agent and editor, and we ended up spending twice that time seeing the sheer amount of material on display. We could have spent even longer. Anyone planning on going to the 9/11 Museum would be wise to purchase tickets in advance (we were thankful we did) and set aside 2-3 hours to spend there.

There is one particular exhibit with a warning to let visitors know that the material within is intended to show the true violence of that day. They weren't kidding -- they don't shy away from the dark and depressing stuff. There's raw news footage, flames, and New Yorkers with faces covered in dust and debris. Walls and timelines are lined with quotes that are as brutally honest as they are emotionally moving. I'm glad I went, but it's a solemn moment that visitors should be ready for.

By the time we finished up, we were on the verge of running late for our lunch with Eddie and Jordan. We checked out the trains heading to the neighborhood we needed to get to, but ended up jumping in a cab when we saw how long it would take. FDR Drive ended up saving us on this one. We thankfully made it on time, but discovered that the restaurant where we had a reservation had a front door that wouldn't open. The folks inside just kind of shrugged and said, "Sorry!"

The good thing about hanging out with people who know the city, of course, is you're HANGING OUT WITH PEOPLE WHO KNOW THE CITY. Within minutes Eddie came up with a great place, and we were walking a few blocks to an excellent Indian restaurant with great curry, a diverse buffet, and plenty of naan.

I'd met Eddie in person at ALA back in July 2013, but I'd only spoken to Jordan through emails and a few editorial calls. There is something to be said about the experience of face-to-face interaction in an industry where there often isn't much of that sort of thing (it generally isn't necessary, per se). I would recommend this kind of in-person interaction at least once to any debut writer considering the idea and in possession of the cheese to pay for it.

Next, we headed over to the Egmont office, where I got to meet a bunch of fine people and talk about anything and everything.

I should probably mention that the two coolest things about meeting publishing people are:

1) They're really nice people who care a lot about books.

2) They LOVE giving visiting authors free books.

Unless I've just been lucky with number one, and the other 95% of the industry is a cesspool of A-holes, number one is really true. And number two.... seriously, my to-read list is jam-packed now.

If I was hard pressed to list a third coolest thing, it would be THEY GIVE YOU COOKIES (thanks, Margaret!).

Next was our visit to the agency office. It's nice to put real faces to the real names I've heard so many times. And I finally got to meet the legendary Joshua Bilmes. You either know what I mean by legendary, or you're never going to understand what I mean anyway. Anna, Eddie, and I shared one of those black/white cookies that taste like a pancake with frosting and discussed lots of cool stuff about what's going to be happening between now and September 2015.

So I met a lot of excellent new people, and even though day two is only half over, this post is becoming rather long. I'm going to pull a Deathly Hallows and split my second day in New York into two posts. My trip to the Museum of the Moving Image and tour of Sunnyside with Joshua and Krystyna will not fit here.

Until tomorrow.....

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Visiting New York, Part One

This is the first part in a series of posts about my long-in-development trip to New York with my wife.
Here's Part Two.

My wife, Anna, and I talked about visiting New York for ten years, maybe more. When I first signed on with Eddie Schneider at JABberwocky, Anna and I made a deal... it went something like this:

ANNA: When Eddie sells your book, we're going to start planning a trip to New York.

MIKE: IF Eddie sells my book.



ANNA: Positivity, Michael!

MIKE: *grunt*

And that was it. If/when I AM DRUMS finally sold to a real publisher, we would plan our long in development trip to New York. This week, we finally went, and had an amazing time.

It started a little odd, of course. It's hard to leave a two-year-old behind, but we'd already brought him with us on two free trips -- he would not be the happiest camper on this one. We left him with family and immediately started freaking out halfway to Midway Airport. That's normal, I know, and we did get over it eventually.

A friend of ours recommended prepaying for a shuttle from LaGuardia, which ended up taking almost as long as the flight itself. I'm planning to splurge on a cab or fight my way to public trans next time.

Hours later, when the shuttle finally dropped us off at our very slender hotel in Midtown ($126/night, not bad for that area from what I'd heard), we dropped off our things and spent the first 2-3 hours wandering the neighborhood and finding familiar things. We stopped by Rockefeller Center, Times Square, Radio City Music Hall, and a few random stores. We stopped in at the flagship Nintendo Store, because Anna and I are not so secretly dorks. My trip would have been perfect had I found a THWOMP shirt, but no such luck.

At about 5:30 PM, we jumped on a train and headed for the Orpheum Theater. I have to apologize to my Chicago friends before saying this, but MTA really does put CTA to shame. I know there are complicated reasons why CTA cannot pull off in Chicago what is possible in NYC, and the media here already makes CTA workers feel like a lot of us teachers do lately. I happen to have a writer friend whose day job is spent working really freaking hard for CTA. But MTA is really fast and efficient in comparison -- the layout of the land is more conducive to public transportation, and I never found myself in a location where a viable train was not close by. Plenty of New York natives, of course, would love to tell me about some of their delay horror stories and thus spoil my immaculate view of their subway system.

The neighborhood around the Orpheum Theater reminded me of what Wicker Park used to be ten or so years ago. There was even a place called Bar Virage that reminded me a lot of Rodan, where I used to watch the guitarist from Tortoise play avant garde jazz on Thursday nights.

Then Anna and I actually got to see STOMP live. I'd seen STOMP OUT LOUD and a few television performances/clips, but the second you enter the room and see the big fat mic at the foot of the stage, you realize that this is the way it's supposed to be experienced. It's not as popular as it used to be, but it's still jam-packed with amazing percussionists, and the old ideas (brooms, garbage cans, basketballs) are mixed in with plenty of new tricks. The zippo bit was especially effective, even if I easily spotted that only two percussionists on each end had real zippos while the rest had tiny light bulbs.

We walked through the NYU neighborhood afterward and made our way to the Olive Tree, where we ate nachos and waited for the 11:30 show at the Comedy Cellar. Unfortunately, that was also the point at which Anna and I realized we were both exhausted. We had an agent and editor to meet for lunch the next day, and it would seem unprofessional if we fell asleep at the table. We cancelled our reservation for the Comedy Cellar and headed back to the hotel, where we enjoyed the sleep of two exhausted travelers.

That was my first night in NYC. Days two and three (and maybe four) are still to come!