Good–Reading has begun on the Governor’s Scholar applications and I’m currently on number 120.

Bad–The applications thus far have been models of mediocrity. I’m already tired of people telling me how music makes them unique. Let me say it again–if you play the piano, you are not unique. Lots of people play the piano. If you play the harpsichord, that’s a little better.

Good–The boss complimented me to his boss today at work, saying that I’m well on my way to becoming a “superstar”. Neve rmind that I’m better than most of the people in the position above me and am the go-to person for everyone in the store. I’m well on my way.

Bad–A little old lady returned a bottle of perfume this afternoon. Unfortunately, when I picked the bottle up to check it out, I didn’t know that she was returning it because it leaked and spilled approximately a quarter of the bottle on my left hand and forearm. I left the store smelling like a French whore and was nearly overcome in the car on the way home, so much so that I had to roll down my window and stick my hand outside at one point just so I could breathe. It was so bad that I thought about doing the Evil Dead “lop it off at the wrist” just to save myself from inhaling any more. I’ve washed my hands a dozen times and taken a long shower and, thankfully, most of the reek is gone, but not all. Not nearly enough.

Really Bad–Perfumes are mostly alcohol. I have a rather nasty cut on the index finger of my left hand. You do the math.

Good–I’m over my cold from last week and feeling much better.

Bad–My son, and now my wife, have both been struck by a stomach virus and, as I write this, I feel some churning and bubbling going on in the belly. It’s probably nothing, but . . . .

Good–The edits for the new book are done and I’m ready to start submitting to agents.

Bad–Still no title I like. I think from now on, I’m doing things in reverse, starting with one of those random title generators you see on the web. I already have titles for the next two books I plan to write, but not for the one I’ve already written. Leave it to me to do things the hard way. Perhaps I can use the high I’m getting off the spilled perfume to come up with something good.

Posts on here will be appearing less frequently for the near future as I deal with a few things that take priority over writing stuff nobody will read. First of all, I’ll be working on my final edits and query letter for the new book (and perhaps a new title, as well–that’s currently in discussion). I’ve finished the major rewrites and minor housekeeping items and now I just have to go back through to make sure it all makes sense. I’ll also be working on the letter amidst all the other things going on, so I’m already looking to be busy over the next few weeks.

Also, I received a box from UPS on Friday containing the first 1000 applications for the Kentucky Governor’s Scholars Program. This is a wonderful thing as I normally have just two weeks to score all 1900 or so and starting a few weeks early will let me do things at a little better pace than usual. I’ve scored the first 35 and, so far, the quality is not promising. (Just in case someone googles the program here and finds this post, all the apps I receive are anonymous so save your bribes.) This process will soak up a lot of my free time, so work on the new book is also delayed until I get the GSP work done.

For anyone looking for more information about the Kentucky Governor’s Scholars Program, though, check out http://www.kygsp.org. You can also read some of my thoughts on what I do here and here.

Sometimes you can’t just stick a Band-Aid on a problem in your story. There are times when the simple delete key or the clarifying phrase fall short of fixing what is wrong. These are the time of the rewrite and they are hard times, indeed.

To understand the difficulty I have with rewriting, you must first understand how I write in the first place. For me, the process of writing is less about creating a story than about seeing what, for me, is an event already happening. I see the story in my mind and write what I see. There is a creative act taking place, sure, but that is all behind the scenes. The last thing I want to happen is the mechanics getting in the way of the ride. If I’m too concerned about how I’m doing it, what I’m doing won’t be worth reading. I see; I write. That’s what works best for me. I’m not saying that anyone who outlines or does extensive work before and during the composition is wrong, only that such is not the way I do it.

When I come to a part of my novel that requires not the scalpel of the simple edit, but the bone saw of the rewrite, I run into an interesting paradox. When I write the first draft, I put down what I see as I see it. When I rewrite, I have to go back and see that same thing, almost a memory, in a different way. It’s as if I’m recalling the birth of one of my children, only it’s somebody else’s child being born. For those of you familiar with Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, it’s a bit like Roland’s conflicting memories of Jake Chambers in The Drawing of the Three–two separate memories of the same event and the agonizing knowledge that they can’t both be true, but are true nonetheless. It’s Bill Buckner missing the ground ball in the ’86 World Series and Bill Buckner scooping up that grounder and making the out leading to a Red Sox championship.

This may seem like an extreme, but for me it really is just that way. Rewriting is hard because it’s like erasing memories and rewriting them in a new way. Still, the more I do it, the better I get at it and the more effective the result is. I always respond positively to challenges and this one was no different. For this book, I had several section to rewrite, but I took time to reevaluate each one and decided what I could keep and what (usually most of it) had to go. This actually grew almost fun as I went along, allowing me to feel like I had more control over the story. I’m not sure if this control is good or not, but the result turned out pretty well this time around. Normally, I prefer for the story to be in charge, but there is a point, I suppose, where I must acknowledge my own role in its creation.

So, I’ll do another read of the book while I’m working on the query and probably over the next week begin the submission process in earnest. I’m excited about this new aspect of the process, but I’m more excited about being free to now start something new. I’m fine with the business side of writing–working my entire adult life in retail has prepared me well for that–but it’s the act of composition that I enjoy the most. I’m currently in Kentucky for my oft-postponed trip to see my daughters and will return to Tennessee tomorrow. This is my first trip up here since the massive ice storm and, even in the dark, the countryside more closely resembles the old photos of Tunguska–downed trees and devastation everywhere–than of my old home.

For now, though, it’s more cold meds and off to bed.

I have been struck down again by a vicious cold and, in light of my being a bit off thanks to the cold medicine I’m taking and my general state of ick, I’ll fall back on another episode of my failings as read and corrected by my readers:

I like these sentences & the image, but not here in this context. It seems too light for something so serious as conveying condolences for the death of someone’s parent.

Since Micah has a temper and normally would lose his cool here, it would be nice to emphasize the change in him by having his voice be low, cold, yet strong and cutting. Hey, The Man With No Name wouldn’t need to raise his voice. Just my two cents.

Lee, parts of this chapter are really good. (I liked the imagery of the carbon copy smiles, the mob movie similarity, and the drops of sweat to replace the tears that would not come, for example.) But there are parts that I think weren’t up to your standard, specifically in the first part of the chapter.

Don’t get me wrong – this chapter is fine. It is just not your best. And I think you now know me well enough to know that if I didn’t tell you that it could be better, then I wouldn’t be your friend (and I’d be staying up at night feeling deceitful).

This, as is the sentence in parentheses below, are fine, but they imply a more detailed, logical thought process.

I like the chapter and how you allowed Micah to grow into the man he becomes – it seems natural that while he is successful as a business man, he remains stagnant – a lonely teenager still living in his childhood home – in his personal life.

Lee, this is excellent.

I like this image a lot, but it is too reminiscent of the Native American in the anti-pollution commercials from the 70’s, so I’m afraid it may seem cliché.

Lee, I think HW’s voice is much clearer and stronger than LE’s. In this chapter, HW speaks with some great imagery (the 6 as sheep; cutting them down like wheat) – it makes his voice very distinct. Not meaning to be repetitive, but I wish you can do the same for LE.

This was great. Just the right amount of touches that make your writing so you, enough background and explanation of the woman Lauren has become & the life that she’s chosen, and enough spookiness to make me reconsider reading anymore of this now that it’s night and I’m all alone in the study.

Here, I’m thinking of pace. Mindy just received an intense shock – so I’m inclined to make faster the actions in the parenthesized sentence – and shorten the sentence – to match her feelings &/or thought process.

Again, another solid chapter.

Also, in this chapter, previous chapters, and in one of the last chapters, you have the friends refer to themselves as “misfits” and “outcasts.”

We need to talk.

Brandon was the smartest kid in school, Mindy was the second smartest, a great athlete, and voted most likely to succeed. John was charm, wit, and fun. Lauren dated a star football player. I never got the impression that these kids would be considered outcasts or misfits in high school. As a true high school outcast & misfit, I would’ve traded places with any of those guys any day, any time, any where. So either we are using different definitions, or your high school was waaay cooler than anything I can imagine.

This set of comments closes out part one of my manuscript and takes us a few chapters into part two. Think about that for a moment–I’ve posted now five fairly long lists of comments, picking out only those that had some meaning outside of context, and have only now drifted into the second half of my book. It’s quite telling that so much was wrong with my story before I sent it out and I’m very glad that I had my readers to look it over before I sent it out to agents. I always want to catch my mistakes in rehearsal rather than during the actual performance.

I would particularly like to point out the comment about the Native American anti-pollution ads. I am barely old enough to remember, vaguely, what she is talking about in that comment, but I would never have made that connection on my own. An agent though, many of whom I plan to query are older than me, would likely make the same link and ruin that moment in the story. This is the value of not only having other people read your book, but also choosing a diverse group of people who can catch a lot of things that you as the writer, with your limited experience and knowledge, might miss. Google can’t simulate the jumps made by the human mind.

You may also notice, if you have been following along (yeah, right), that there are a few more positive comments sprinkled in among the oopsies with this set. I’ve said before how important these are to a writer, propping up our tottering egos, but it’s important to notice how often these come when they come at all. I know I did a much better job with part two of the book because I found many more of these gems amidst the comments. They not only helped me feel good about the work I did, but also let me know where I needed to focus the bulk of my rewriting. If parts of your book are not that good, not good enough to garner some positive commentary at any rate, you are looking less at mild cutting or changes than at significant rewriting, something I’ll discuss in another post. Perhaps tomorrow’s.

Anyway, I’m on the front end of a four-day weekend, one that I will use for recuperation and, hopefully, finishing the involved work needed to correct the remainder of the comments offered above. I’ll have probably one more post of comments before I wrap them up and begin the actual query process. In the meantime, I’m also planning on heading up to Kentucky this weekend to see my girls, especially after my middle daughter broke her arm at school this week. I’ll have the younger two with me on the road and, with their mother staying at home, I’ll have an interesting trip.

I was sitting with the wife this evening watching The Wedding Singer after a nice dinner of chicken pot pie soup. I had somehow missed seeing this movie over the past eleven years since it came out and, last night at the video store, I set out to fix that. There are a few movies that everyone else has seen that I haven’t, but sadly not as many as I would have thought. Apparently, I like stories, even ones I don’t have to read. Go figure.

Anyway, while my wife and I were enjoying our movie, my children were watching Shrek in one of their rooms and it occurred to me that we were watching the same movie. Think about it–boy meets girl, girl is spoken for, boy spends time with girl, boy falls for girl, girl falls for boy, boy and girl fight, girl plans to marry jerk of a guy, boy sets out to stop the wedding, jerk gets eaten by dragon/billy idol, boy and girl get married.

I think this is what they call “archetype”.

I’ve nearly finished the last big edit on Gifts of the Hirakee, although I’m now leaning toward the more ambiguous, but catchier Mixed Blessings as the title I’ll submit it under. I’m still waiting for feedback on this title from my readers, but nobody’s come up with anything better so far, so it’ll probably stick. If an agent likes the story and a publisher buys it, they can name it any damn thing they want, so I’m not going to obsess. Well, not any more.

I’ve also started on the next book, an urban fantasy novel set in Nashville which I now dub as (working title) Wielder of the Soul. I’m pretty exited about starting this one, as I am every time I start one, but I’m seeing this one better and better every day and I think it could turn out really well if I do what I think I can with it. I will, of course, post regular updates on my progress on here for no one to read. I even have a soundtrack already. Now, I just need to write the damn thing.

I wanted to do a couple of short stories in between the two novels, but I’m a bit short on shorts right now with this big story blocking out my view of everything else. I have a novella I might work on in between times, but we’ll just have to see.

I have a lot of things going on right now–last of the edits, new book(s) started, working eight days in a row, Valentine’s Day, ice cream calling my name, etc.–but unfortunately none of them are very interesting to write about. I’m too tired to think of anything worth posting about outside of what I’m doing either, so I’m left with no alterantive but . . . . REO Speedwagon!

If that doesn’t make you want to write urban fantasy, nothing will. As for me, I’m going . . . out.

Tonight was the “Me and My Guy” dance for my daughter’s Girl Scout troop. A good time was had by mostly all and, to top it off, yours truly won the “Pretty As a Princess” competition thanks to some wonderful spackle . . . er, makeup . . . work by my daughter, Devyn, and her friend, Aly. I was positively ravishing and, if someone gets me drunk enough or sends enough money, I might even post pictures. Assuming that no one else posts pictures, that is, and I’ve already begun to systematically murder each person at the shindig tonight who even touched a camera.

The highlight of the evening, though, had to be myself and a local doctor sitting in our respective chairs singing “I Feel Pretty” as our daughters made us up to look like French whores.

Really, does life get much better than that?

I had been shopping around my novel, Dead and Dying, for quite a while before I ever read Twilight by Stephanie Meyer. I had heard the press, seen how my 13-year old daughter swooned over the mention of Edward Cullen, and had estimated the money Meyer made from the series at roughly a bazillion dollars, but I was a little late to the reading party. So, you can imagine my surprise (and disgust) when I found that two of the vampires in her novel–Jasper and Victoria–shared the same names with the two vampires in my novel.

Now, the problem with a situation like this is that when I submit my novel to any agent who has read Twilight, it looks as though I ripped those two names off of Meyer in a stupid attempt to cash in on her success. I say now, with absolute honesty, that I named my vampires Jasper and Victoria long before I ever heard of Twilight. Granted, the two stories are completely different, but that similarity is enough to both make me giggle that I was thinking along the same lines as an author making a heap of money and make me nauseous over the prospect of changing my characters’ names. Names are very personal things for an author and, after you have spent weeks or months or even years recording their story, they feel like people you know rather than constructs of your own imagination. To have such a long relationship with two people, almost as real to me as my actual friends, and to then have to change their names is troubling to say the least.

Care for another example of coincidence?

Today, I was sitting in Subway reading Neil Gaiman’s wonderful Neverwhere, a fantasy set in and below London. In the scene I read today, the main character, Richard Mayhew, goes to an place of unreality called the “Floating Market” which, as chance happened to place it, inside the Egyptian Room of Harrod’s department store. For those of you unfamiliar with Harrods, they have a massive area of their store decorated in the style of the Egyptian pyramids, complete with hieroglyphics and golden sarcophagi. This is odd because in my nearly-abandoned Harry Potter fan fiction piece on Mugglenet, Harry Potter and the Golden Sepulcher, I have a scene already written in that very same room and another one planned for it later (sorry for the spoiler). Yet another case of me thinking like people who are making gobs of money for doing what I would love to make gobs of money doing.

Now, the difference, of course, between writing something with a similarity to Neil Gaiman and writing something else similar to Stephanie Meyer, is that Gaiman is an excellent writer while Meyer, to quote Stephen King, “can’t write worth a darn”. Gaiman just won the Newberry for The Graveyard Book, which I have picked up and plan to read as soon as I finish Neverwhere in the next week or so. I have read Twilight, as I said, but I couldn’t make it very far into New Moon before I thought I was overdosing with the literary equivalent of some sleeping pill. My daughter may love it, the teenage girls working for me may love it, but I’m just not that bored yet.

Speaking of good books, if there is anyone reading this who is looking for one, but can’t read anything until the end of March, preorder the debut novel from Jaye Wells, Red-Headed Stepchild, here. She’s been part-friend, part-mentor, part-competition for me and I promise you won’t be disappointed by her writing.

I didn’t post about our new president around the election or the inauguration because, well, because I just didn’t want to. It’s my blog, dammit. Now, however, with the man in office, I’ll expound a bit on what I think about the whole thing in this second installment of Topical Tuesday.

First of all, in the interest of full disclosure, I did vote for Obama. I like John McCain as much as I like any Republican, I suppose, and was sorry to see him lose, but not sorry enough to vote for him, even in this “reddest state in the country”. I had hoped he would have emerged as the GOP candidate in 2000 ahead of that wonderful orator we ended up with, but we can’t have everything, can we?

Barack Obama is a lot of things. Most of those things have already been beaten into the ground by the press until we are tired of hearing about them, so I’ll try to steer clear of those old chestnuts and look at things from a different perspective. For example, out of all the candidates available, even during the primaries, I believe that Barack Obama represents most closely what America is. We, as a nation, are not what we would like to be nor what we tell others we are. We like to think of ourselves as hard-working, success-driven, world-leading patriots who deserve the respect (and, in some cases, obedience) of other nations everywhere.

That is not who we are. Sorry, it’s just not true. What we are, my fellow Americans, is the world’s reality television show.

In this week’s episode, the country is turned upside down when a black man is elected President . . . .

We are not the nation we were fifty or a hundred years ago. We are now a country of flash and glitter, of sitcoms and microwave popcorn, of staggering obesity and decadent forms of entertainment that has become our chief export. People overseas may not purchase American-made cars, but they’ll sure watch dubbed episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. We have lost a great deal of our substance in our worship of the glass tit and our constant struggle to stay above the waters of depression.

What does this have to do with Barack Obama, you ask? Everything. Obama is the iconic American, the image of ourselves we would like to see in the mirror. He is well-spoken. He is successful. He is intelligent. He can hit a jump shot. In short, he is everything we would like to be–would be–if not for our increasing dependence on McDonald’s and Xbox and American Idol. Obama got the job, not because he was the most qualified, but because he most represents the identity we want as a nation. He is another figure on television for us to live our vicarious lives through while we sit on our sofas eating potato chips and loathing ourselves. Through this shining new example of the democratic system, we can quiet those voices in our heads telling us that we are losing our collective grip on our rightful place atop the world order.

We value this country as a land of equal opportunity and this election has proved that ideal. A hundred years ago, the idea of a black man becoming President was as laughable as the idea of half our children being obese and a larger emphasis being put on leading the world in entertainment rather than in math and science. It is truly an era of revelation!

I believe that people tend to receive the leadership they deserve and I hope we are better than we have been lately. I hope we have chosen wisely. He is certainly a better choice than who we had for the past eight years. Obama exemplifies another American ideal–the greater the risk, the greater the reward–and I hope by risking so much on him that we reap a reward greater than we have earned in recent years. If not, then the flash and glitter that has us so hypnotized will extend to the White House and we will fall deeper into our current role as the court jester of nations.

The weather here in northwest Tennessee was unseasonably nice today, so the two younger children and I walked over to Bethel so I could get my first bit of tennis in for the year. I haven’t played since last summer, so I was anxious to get back out and see how much rust had developed on my shots.

Quite a lot, it turns out.

The day was very windy, on top of warm, so I’d like to blame that for my poor performance. The truth, however, is that I’m not as young as I used to be and it takes me a bit longer to get in playing form than it did back in college. I played for an hour and a half or so–not really even played, just hit around with the kids–and now I feel like I would be in less pain if I ripped my arm off at the shoulder and ground coarse sea salt into the wound. I tore my rotator cuff about seven years ago, serving during a doubles match, and it’s never quite been the same since. Once I start playing more regularly, it will loosen up, but for the first month or two, it will feel like I’m coming apart at the seams every time I play.

I do enjoy tennis, though. I started playing in high school, taking it up as rehab for a blown knee from baseball. By the time I graduated, I was better at tennis than baseball and played for a semester in college before the school realized that there weren’t enough people there interested enough to support a full team. Now, I enjoy playing matches when and where I can find them. I even enjoy playing by myself, and keep your comments on that to yourself.

Now, one last thing is what my son said while we were at the tennis courts. In response to my daughter’s question of what a piece of plastic attached to the net was used for, Nic replied, “That’s for dirty, dirty balls.”

Okay, now you can comment away.