Thursday, July 30, 2009

Back to the Re-write

What a stinking, rotten mess! This laptop went down like a ton of bricks, came back up long enough for me to pull "Lunch" and "Moon" off the hard drive, then it crashed hard.

I've changed out memory, ran and re-ran (repeat 10 times) the scandisk to fix errors, reinstalled windows, backed up the documents folder, reinstalled the software (twice) and still lost all the pictures from Ashtabula.

To err is human to really fubar your life - it takes a computer.

The good news is that as of 1 am last night, I had "Let's Do Lunch" back, and printed the first 60 pages. (Which is more than the first 3 chapters.) Scary blank pages aside (yeah well I didn't want to print it twice) I think I'm done cutting. There is the usual clean up work, that never ends. Since two days ago I didn't have a current copy (a two week old backup doesn't count.)

Have I gotten the pace fixed well enough that the editors of Black Lyon will ask for the rest? I don't know. (God, I hope so!)

For now I'm back on the newly washed porch, the dogs at my feet, the Eagles playing in the background, my laptop battery charged and the novel at my right hand.

Back to work.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Character Shopping - er - Building

My laptop died today. While I've been trying to pull my novels off of it (snark) I've had time on my hands.

I've got another character for Novel #3.

I've had my antagonist - a female politician, perky, plotting and Palen-esque.

Today I've got my Male Lead. Leo, an overgrown tomcat from norther Michigan. He rides a Harley Screaming Eagle, flies colors (USMC, American flag, and a slogan "Jesus hates a pussy"), chews Bic pens and needs knee replacement surgery.

His first line will be: "My fraking luck, three tours in Iraq and I get nailed by a broad on a cell phone!"

I like this guy already.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Astabula Harbor - Part I

The District that Refused to Die

I've always loved the Harbor; it flips the rest of the dying city 'the bird' and continues on. There were more shops on Bridge Street than I've ever seen before (all but three of the bars are gone.) The Harbor refuses to die – it appears to survive by defying the rest of the city, as stubborn and defiant as any Finn who ever walked the cobbled streets.

Carlisle's Home in the Harbor is the remnant of a very old business. They got their start in the Harbor in the 1800's – and thrived for years in a four-story building on Main Street. The store moved to the Ashtabula Mall in the 1990's – where it faltered, unable to compete with Wal-Mart and Kmart, both only yards away.

Now it is a tiny boutique on Bridge Street.

The fact that Carlisle's store is now in the same building it left so long ago is ironic; a tasty morsel for my twisted sense of humor.

Back in the 1970's there was something to hit town called "Urban Renewal." I recall, perhaps in error, that it was a two-part program. Part one was to put a parking garage on Main Street, turning the center of town into a 'walking mall.' The second part of the plan was to bulldoze the empty, eyesore, skid row, buildings of West 5th Street on the Harbor.

What they planned to do with the resulting open space was never mentioned.

My mother had just purchased two buildings on what was West 5th Street at the time. A widow – in economic times worse even than the present – she was frantic to keep us from starvation while the auto industry factories of Ashtabula closed one by one. There was one industry that would continue make money even if all the factories closed.

She bought a bar.

To Be Continued

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Back at Jordan's Croft

We are back at Jordan's Croft. I wasn't able to find everyone I wanted to see. However I was able to have quality time with more people than I expected to see.

I came home with a full heart. Full of connections, full of news from dear friends, long lost family and acquaintances thought long dead. I also felt sorrow for those who struggled, with a dash of hope.

Life is hard in Ashtabula. There are so many people, places and things that can distract and derail the unwary. A single bad decision can put a person into the depths of poverty, never to regain their footing.

While Main Street was a ghost town, complete with weeds growing in the streets, the Harbor is still trying to grow. Bridge Street has a Sunday Farmer's Market. Yes, it was tiny, four vendors – Maple syrup and sugar, artisan bread, two tables with farm fresh vegetables. But I saw people walking away laden with goods.

In my mind the Farmer's Market is a great step forward for the Harbor.

Why? Because only small-scale, value added products like bread, maple syrup and vegetables – will turn that economy around. Micro-businesses enmeshed in each other; trading money and services will help people survive, maybe in thrive in time.

There has to be money coming into the county that stays in the county. Grocery stores take more money out than they put in. All that food money comes in but there are only a handful of employees. Unless the owner of the store lives in town, the bulk of the money goes elsewhere.

In a small-scale economy the farmer grows food, takes food to market, person buys food. The farmer reinvests that money the next year (maybe to hire help) to grow more food. The person gets fresh food and better health in return. The farmer is the basis for all economies. Everybody has to eat. When the farmer prospers, the county prospers.

Ashtabula will never be an industrial center again. Never, ever - not even if they hold their breath until they turn blue. The lake is all they have to offer in tourism – the Harbor is it. Seasonal work, seasonal money – making enough in the summer to survive over the winter.

I hated living like that; it sucked in 1980's, it sucks now.

But for the citizen of Ashtabula – that's all there is.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

School Days Revisited

My High School Reunion was very interesting. There were the former cheerleaders running the show. About 60 people, including spouses, were there drinking local wine and exchanging gossip. They featured a local band that used to play in the Harbor when I was writing for the Harbor Journal.

Many of my classmates still live in 'Bula. I wonder how they survive.

My husband and I are staying in the Harbor – a cute little bohemian district of little shops and restaurants, Victorian houses and fabulous lakeside homes. I have always loved the Harbor, it has its quirks and characters; it quietly thrives (for the moment) while 'uptown' has gone to rack and ruin.

Main street is a ghost town, there is literally nothing in the old shops, and weeds grow in the street. It is appallingly poor, in a shocking state of disrepair. If I get the chance I will go back and take pictures. It looks like the Harbor did in 1970 before my mother opened her business there.

The class reunion was okay – interesting like I said. But I've been able to hook up with some dear old friends (from my wasted youth) and relatives.

We've had a great time.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Greetings from Ashtabula Harbor

Yes, we arrived at the Harbor today – checked into a Cahill House Bed & Breakfast, went to Walnut Beach and ate Capo's Pizza. Everything we could want is in walking distance – restaurants, little shops, bars, the beach, a museum and a library.

We are in a bay window of a house well over a hundred years old. The sounds of the docks, the trains, traffic down the cobbled streets are so familiar that the hair on my arms is standing up. The breeze off the lake is sweet and cool. There is no whiff of the river, or the storm drains as there is on Bridge Street, only two blocks down.

Has the Harbor changed much from the days of my 'wasted youth'? Some of the buildings are gone, most have changed hands; I hear there is a gang war going on – to be sure to have everything locked down tight. So no, not really, the Harbor was always an odd place, as beautiful and treacherous as Lake Erie herself. This is the perfect setting for characters like Van Man Go and Iris Winston.

In case you are curious this is the site for Cahill House: as you will see it is a lovely old house.


Monday, July 13, 2009

When is a Rejection Not a Rejection?

I received a very encouraging rejection letter from the publisher who asked for the first three chapters of "Let's Do Lunch." Here is the good news: "We loved the opening pages, the setting, your (sic) writing style and the premise."

It seems that I have corrected the hook issue on the opening pages – but there are still problems. Pacing is the big problem, but then there was this:

"We also could have sworn the scruffy ponytailed customer was going to come back the next day (cleaned up and looking stunning) as the hero who was interviewing for the cook position! As a secondary character, he really took over the scene and left us a little disappointed with the actual hero."

That rascal Tag McTaggart stole the show so thoroughly that Brandon fell flat on his pompous rump. No one wants Lindsey to fall for Brandon; everyone likes Tag, even when he's waitress-baiting.

I wrote them a thank you note – with this caveat : "That first act is a bit of a fooler. The scruffy customer is Tag McTaggart, the Hero. He is a very strong and compelling character, isn't he? Brandon, the cook, is the villain, he uses the restaurant as a front to sell drugs. I guess that plot twist didn't work, so sorry." Then I told them I was grateful for the encouragement.

I thought that would be the end of it – guess not. This came in: "We're excited to know Mr. Scruffy turns out to be the real hero! If you can tighten the pace, that plot twist will likely work well, and we'll look forward to your resubmittal. Thanks, again."

WOW! I have work to do.

FYI - I will be in Ashtabula from July 15th through the 20th – researching the Harbor for "Swallow the Moon" and going to a high school reunion. I need to take some pictures of buildings, specifically the old Fire Station, and the Iroquois Club. I'm playing with the idea of creating a Face Book page for "Swallow the Moon" as a promotion.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Characters in the News - Caribou Barbie

We have been dissecting the people in the news – the top two are the King of Pop and a governor I will call Caribou Barbie.

I have a curious fascination for Barbie. One because she has the same hoof-in-mouth disease as the former President. Two because she's as close to a leader as the Neo-Cons have right now. Three because she's always on the tube, doing something unexpected.

Rev. L. Jackson has called her a "muppet." I disagree with that statement. If she started out a muppet she slipped her leash a long time ago. She's been on the loose, is still on the loose, only now it sounds like she may get out of the spotlight. For a time – or for all time is anybody's guess.

She's a great character! The trick is to do present this character without 'overkill' because she's already larger-than-life: A young woman with 5 kids and limitless energy, fit enough to drag nets of fish all day long, who has dedicated herself to the 'superwoman' myth AND run for the 2nd highest political office.

There is no doubt in my mind that I could do much worse than casting an antagonist in her mold. I can see her in a dozen different roles: anything from a sincere (but misguided) conservative politician, or an out-of-valium PTA mom, to a raving, hell-fire and brimstone crusader, b@lls-to-the-wall with no off switch.

The only thing I can't see her doing is sitting in a pond on a lily pad singing "It's not easy being green."


Saturday, July 4, 2009

Don't Touch that Dial

No, really. I'm serious and here's why:

Current events like the King of Pop's death are lessons in plot and characterization. I'm not using names, because I don't want to call attention to the fact that I'm going to dissect this media circus and turn it into a writing lesson. (I was going after a politician but he's been forced into the background. Pity. Cheating husbands are so much more fun to dissect.)

What we are working with is the following:

A disfigured, tormented, King of Pop - a man as talented as he is addicted, dies under mysterious circumstances.

His bitter, shattered father who was powerless to save him comes off looking like a villain because he can't face decades of pain. (Okay, I stand corrected on this one, but – hey – I just wanted to give everyone the benefit of the doubt.) Still he's the bitter father who lost his cash cow, he's got to be pissed off.

Cowering toadies who would do anything to curry favor – including supply endless amounts of drugs – scatter as the police swoop in to sort through the wreckage. Including someone who may have been a doctor or may have been a glorified drug pusher.

Media sharks in a feeding frenzy – knocking legitimate news off the small screen for ratings, Ratings, RATINGS! as the blood pours from the wounded survivors. The lawyers come in to town in shining jets like cleaner fish.

That's a great plot. It proves that fact is far stranger than fiction would ever be. No one could have sold this as a book deal, not even Jackie Collins or Nora Roberts, until after it happened. (Stay tuned. The whole thing will come out in print in about six weeks.)

Now for the characterization part of this disaster, watch the media. We will see bits of character in all of these people. Very little, since it is television – a media that conceals more character than it reveals – but if one looks for the clues and hints we can pick up on who the major players were in the singer's death.

The poor addicted soul who is the center of this – hmm, I don't have a polite phrase for it – media feeding frenzy will have to do – Has been portrayed in the tabloids far less kindly than I shall handle him or his family. There are hints of his character in back issues of every magazine.

To me, inner conflict is the difference between what a person says and what they do. There is a huge contrast between the famous singer the media saw, and whom he thought he was. This is inner conflict in its most blatant form.

Take the statement: "I love my family." Apply it to every member of that family. Should anyone care to write down the difference between those words and a person's actions in the following months a pattern will emerge.

Wow! What a conflict!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Hostages of Neverland II

Part of what makes me a good writer is my willingness to trade places with people to get inside their heads. It's a form of reverse engineering. The last few days I've been asking myself – what would lead me to that?

Denial is a force to be reckoned with for all of us. In this case we aren't talking about an old, obese, tattooed woman in a tube top and Daisy Duke shorts, (or a drag queen with a 5-o'clock shadow) We are talking about a handsome black man who turned himself into a cartoon character.

Back in my wasted youth – we had the adage: "Live fast, die young and leave a good-looking corpse." King of Pop appears to have missed out, by about 20 years, on the last part.

Initially my mind rejects the concept of plastic surgery addiction. Nobody wants to look like that! Of course not, but I can't confuse the end result with the beginning slide down the slippery slope. On the cover of "Thriller" he was a stone cold fox. The rumor mill suggests that his surgery odyssey started with burns from exploding fireworks on a set. Burns are hellishly painful. Okay, I’m there without a problem. So you have pain, get addicted to opiates – then the script runs out and craving sets in.

The King of Pop can't hit the streets looking for heroin. The mind says: "Hey, I need a nose job. Then I can have some more of that wonderful stuff." That twisted thinking is the trademark of an addict – right up until the "oh shit" moment when the plastic surgery goes wrong. Then there is the even greater pain of disfigurement that needs to be eased.

There you have it. Who is going to tell a very rich man that he's gone over the edge? A father might get into his son's face and tell him the truth: "You're a junkie! You're destroying your life!”

What is stronger: the truth or denial and addiction? (That's a no- brainer.)

If you want to add a twist of the knife – rumors of savage abuse suffered at the hands of said father, just to make sure that Dad can't do anything to help his son. (The irony that the abuse charges ricocheted back isn't lost on me, either.)

The result is an estranged, bitter father who watches his fabulously talented son degenerate until he has to disown that son in his heart or break from the pain. How could he not be heartbroken years before the singer's death? Heartbroken to the point where his son's death is a relief – you betcha! Shattered to the point where he can't even talk about it – but babbles about anything else because he can't stand the pain?

There you have it; another WTF moment brought to you by the makers of Oxicodone.

I have nothing but compassion for the hostages of Neverland. Their ordeal isn't over by a long shot.

"This carnival will be in town for a long – long time." (Keith Oberman, MSNBC)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Hostages of Neverland

The legal battles are getting started before the King of Pop is buried. As one news commentator said: "This carnival is going to be in town for a long - long time."

What about the three children who have been left behind? Orphaned in the truest sense of the word, regardless of who their biological parents may be, their nightmares are only beginning.

Being raised by an addict is difficult enough, then to loose the only parent you know, no matter how eccentric that person may have been, is a horrible shock. Add to that the media circus that is going to continue for years, you have the makings of a soul-destroying experience.

That's before any of the OTHER craziness that was the King of Pop's legacy to his children is thrown into the mix: Money, family, fame, biological parents, legal status, the debts owed by the estate, possible future revenue that some people will do ANYTHING to obtain.

Is anyone naive enough to believe a 112 lb addict (with a $100k pharmacy bill) who had plastic surgery until he was disfigured beyond recognition was a "wonderful" father? The notorious legal problems that the King of Pop faced are an added burden for these three children. Someone is going to grill them about their father's behavior. The custody battle could go on for a decade.

The King is dead. His children remain hostage to the chaos that was his life.