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#PitchWars Mentee Bio

This site doesn’t get a whole lot of work these days. I’m in the middle of moving (GAH!) and trying to learn new software (Adobe Illustrator, my old nemesis. We meet again.) and and and… Then again, who doesn’t have their attention pulled twelve different ways? I’ve been reading through the mentee bios so far posted on Christopher Keelty’s site and I’m floored and blown away in equal measure at the number of parents who are writing and on top of their jobs and on top of their writing.

That being said, I have no kids but I do have a dog. Though until we get all of our moving sorted out, the dog is in one state, my wife is another, and I am in a third. None of us are thrilled with this state of affairs, but soon enough we’ll be able to move in and then we can all reunite under one roof and it’ll be fabulous.

When our dog looked like the TinyBear that we call her now.

When our dog looked like the TinyBear that we call her now.

Aside from facts that you can glean in the Biography tab in the menu bar above, here are other random bits:

  • I speak Czech and Spanish.
  • I am the only member of my family who doesn’t speak Swahili.
  • I’ve been writing and/or dreaming of writing since I was 6.
  • Someday I would like to own a (domesticated) cat big enough that it scares people.

This is the third time I’ve submitted material to #PitchWars – the first time was in 2012 when my manuscript The Sovereign Palace was selected by Michelle Painchaud (whose debut novel Pretending to Be Erica just came out. I’ve read it. It’s great. Buy it or get from the library, but read it one way or another). I got 3 requests and no offers, but regardless of that outcome, I made some wonderful connections with other writers, something I’m hoping to repeat this time around.

This manuscript is an MG adventure. There’s a shoddy query letter in a post below – part of me seriously wants to delete that post because UGH the query but part of me feels like the drafting and learning process is well-represented, and that part of me is aided by the lazy part of me.

Which is not to say that I am a lazy writer or even a lazy deleter. If you pick me as a mentee, I will work HARD. As an example, I completely gutted and re-wrote my opening five chapters just a few months ago. If the work needs doing, I will do it.

Speaking of not being lazy, I am currently house-and-pet sitting, which involved dogs (of course), cats (of course), and chickens. Which are cranky and annoying and don’t want to go to bed. CHICKENS! WHO KNEW?

Obviously, many, many people. I was not amongst their number before now.

Be sure to check the #pimpmybio tag on Twitter and Christopher Keelty’s page for more bios. It’s an amazing group of people – somehow made possible year after year by the phenomenal Brenda Drake. Buy her book, too! Well, pre-order, but you get the idea.


The Writer’s Voice

I’m participating in The Writer’s Voice, a multi-stage writing contest of sorts hosted by Brenda Drake, Mónica Bustamante Wagner, Elizabeth Briggs, and Krista Van Dolzer.

As I understand it, now that I’ve made it through the rafflecopter, the next stage is that the four hosts each choose 8 writers for their team. That means cutting down to 32 participants from the current 150+ people like me who beat the random. After that comes coaching where those people polish up their writing, then eventually the agents will step in to express their interest.

Here’s a link to Brenda’s full description.

And here are my query and the first 250 words of my manuscript THE STORY OF THE STORY OF THE EGG.

Be sure to check out the other participants! There’s sure to be a lot of great stuff here.

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Dear [Agent],

Story City is not only a town in Iowa. It is also where all the stories we know come from and where those stories meet their authors. It is where Gone with the Wind discusses the finer points of plot twists with The Iliad, where beat-up Noir Fictions compare bruises and scars with dour Revenge Tragedies.

The Story of the Story of the Egg is a 59,000-word middle grade adventure that shares elements with Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series, Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching novels, and, I hope, will appeal to readers of Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth.

When Fin was seven years old, he wanted to grow up to be an Epic. Epics are cool. They’re famous. They’re amazing.

When he was eight, he was diagnosed as a Paradox, which meant he’s all opposites. He’ll never be an Epic or cool or famous or amazing. Paradoxes get the opposite of what they want and he’ll probably end up a Haiku or something.

Now he’s twelve and his “condition” is getting worse. He gets lost when he knows where he’s going and sometimes his shadow points in the wrong direction.

Then the malicious Epic Monkey King threatens all of Story City, causes a riot, and kidnaps Fin’s baby sister, who hasn’t even hatched from her egg yet.

Dragged into her rescue in spite of his best intentions, Fin is a problem for everyone who’s trying to stop Monkey King, especially his heroic older sister. He knows what to do, but he doesn’t like it.

Paradoxically, he’s got to become the villain.

My short story “Onionskin” was published in the online literary magazine Spolia (Issue 9: Disappearance) and my play Decaffeinated Tragedy won the Inspiration Award at the 2009 Prague Fringe Festival. Without question, writing fiction is the best thing I have done with the skills I learned getting my degrees in Folklore (which yes, you can still get).

This is a multiple submission. As per your submission guidelines, I’m including the first ten pages as an attachment.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

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Fin had a bad feeling about the day. Everyone around him was cheery and optimistic. Even his friends Ingot and Oriel were excited. It was terrible.

He stood in a group of students in the middle of a crowd under the shadow of a giant, hidden machine. A tarp covered it from its towering peak, thirty feet or so above the ground, all the way down to the cobblestones below. The plaza hummed with the noise of people talking about how the machine might solve the whistlegrass problem. Meanwhile, Fin’s teacher, a tall man dressed from head to toe in a bright green suit of armor was trying to get his class’s attention. On his shoulder rested a large, equally green axe. Despite his commanding appearance, his voice was a thin cry in the hubbub of the crowd.

And what a crowd it was. There were animals, people, but mostly there were creatures that weren’t simply one kind of thing at all. There was a man with a stag’s head and a golden lion’s chest, his pronged antlers curving in an unlikely halo. Next to him was a woman with a meerkat’s face, black rings around her eyes and a large pink umbrella tucked under one arm. A few even seemed to be made of stone or wood or water. Only the younger creatures looked only like animals, which included Fin and his class.

The truth was, none of them were animals at all. Each and every individual there was a story.


Update

It’s been nearly a year since I’ve posted anything, best intentions notwithstanding. There were several months working construction on Batman v Superman, and there’s been lots of work recently on a children’s education TV show (NDA is still in effect on that one). That doesn’t alter the fact that I was mostly unemployed throughout the winter and I could’ve picked up this ball again. I didn’t. Not sure why.

I’m picking it up now because of the consistently generous and incredible Brenda Drake, who’s got the Writer’s Voice going again. Somehow the rafflecopter got my number and here we are. I’ll be posting my query and first 250 later today.

If you haven’t been here recently (or before), there’s a navigation bar in the upper right. TELLING TALES was a serialized fairy tale experiment I was doing a couple of years ago. The BESTIARY is an ongoing sporadic project examining fantastic creatures – or, in the case of the peacock, for example – natural creatures fantastically understood. I don’t write REVIEWS any more, though it’s a great exercise and it’d be useful to get back to.

In the meantime, I’m sorry to say, Detroit hasn’t worked out and we’re packing up our house and getting ready to move again. So that’s my summer.
That and writing, of course. As much as I can.

Helplessness

You can only do what you can do. That’s not to say that there’s not room for improvement, but to think that you can fix something in someone else, that you can solve a problem that is not yours, is both arrogant (in believing in your own power) and unkind (denying that other person power of their own). There has to be a middle ground, good faith efforts on both sides.

I know this. I know this is true.

I know that being a good friend to someone on my terms does not necessarily mean that I am a good friend to that person on her terms.

A week and a half ago, Susan died. Barry called me on Monday afternoon nine days ago to tell me. She died at home, asleep. She’d called to him around 4:30 in the afternoon, he said, and was in good spirits. She wanted to know what the music was. There was no music that Barry heard, but Susan, for the twenty years that I’ve known her, has always been inclined to see and hear things outside of my experience. Not in a crazy way. Barry gave her some morphine to help her get back to sleep. The cancerous assaults of pain had been increasing in previous months, he said, which had motivated their return from California to Minnesota in January.

He wanted me to know how much our visit had meant at the end of that month. Given the progression of Susan’s cancer, Lisa and I had long planned on a visit. California didn’t work out, but Minnesota did. We ran errands for them most of a Saturday. A pharmacy. An art supply store for Susan – pens and pencils and notepads. Spiral bound for us 0ne-armed people! she said with a laugh, sounding so much like the person we knew and remembered. She was in hospice treatment at home and her meds made her anxious, however, so she would only talk to us through the patio door, unlike the person we remembered. We finished the day at a bar, drinking stiff liquor and talking about love.

And time. Because – of course. What else were we going to talk about?

Barry said that our time, even that one day, the phone call, the movies we picked up, the groceries, were important in her transitioning.

All of which is to say, when my phone rang with Barry’s name and number nine days ago, there was only one very likely reason he was calling. He was relieved in a way. He didn’t sound aggrieved or strained. Susan’s cancer, originally diagnosed as benign-ish and requiring only some radiation therapy along with the amputation of her right arm and shoulder, was only discovered a year ago. That’s a short time in some regards, twelve months, but even with her terminal diagnosis from September, seven months, that’s a long time to die. I expect that, as torn up as he was by Susan’s death, knowing that she was no longer suffering day to day was a kind of relief. Who wants to see someone they love in pain? Who wants to see someone they love gone forever?

That was really the two-choice option.

The memorial, he told me, would probably be scheduled for mid-April. Lisa and I talked it over and figured, between her workload and our lack of cash (I’m not working at the moment), we couldn’t afford to make it out. Barry completely understood and reiterated how much our earlier trip had meant.

And today Susan’s brother writes to say that Barry died last night.

And I can’t convince myself that if we’d said we’d be at the memorial that that would have made a difference.

But I can’t convince myself that I could have done more. Said more.

Even though I know I’d probably feel exactly the same way no matter what I might have done or said, however much.

Because – I think – in the end, when there is an end – it is never enough.

There is never enough love to make up for the time we do not have.


In the Light

Susan died over the weekend. Her husband called to tell me the news yesterday. It was peaceful and in her sleep and roughly one year from her original diagnosis of a relatively benign cancer that could be addressed with chemotherapy and the amputation of her dominant arm. Not just her hand, but her arm up part her shoulder. It is roughly 6-7 months from when they gave her a 6 month prognosis after a routine post-op check-up turned up lots of cancerous growth.

Also on that same day, friends of ours gave birth to twins. They’re in NICU but healthy and well.

I believe that Susan would appreciate that conjunction of life and death. For me, it’s simply a juxtaposition of joy and sorrow.


Unexpected Writings

In 2008 I ended up at a month-long artists’ residency at the Blue Mountain Center, which was amazing. I worked on two stage plays while I was there, one of which never went anywhere and which I’ve only recently begun to tackle again as a prose project. The second became a memoir play that I continued to draft throughout the following months. That became Decaffeinated Tragedy, a one-man show that I took to the Prague Fringe Festival in 2009, and which won an award there. At the time, I was using Blogger and writing about the Prague Fringe in general – those updates are here.

Decaf Poster v1 email

The script is about memory and friendship using art and coffee as the primary metaphors and devices for exploration. It focused on my friend Jen who died eight days shy of her 22 birthday back when I was a freshman in college. She was not only a talented artist, she was a really remarkable human being. She wore vibrant colors, made postcards to send to friends, and made jokes and comforted the people around her all the way to her final surgery that was supposed to keep her alive.

I’ve known and written about a couple of friends who’ve died here on this site, Anthony and Lucka in particular. It made sense and felt right at the time. I’m not writing about Susan in her current last months now for the same reasons – it makes sense and it feels right. We avoid death not simply as an end-of-life, but often as a topic-of-thought (The Order of the Good Death, rather irreverently, is trying to take a stand in the face of this nonsense).

self portrait more color copy copy

Jen, knowing that her life was perilously fragile – it always had been ever since she was born – approached it with much flair and with few reservations.

November 18.  Went to a bar in Dundas this afternoon with Sue, Darcy, Val, and Beth. I felt alive. I’m torn in half by waiting. I want to fall in love and wear my cowboy boots. I want to drive across the country, paint deserts. All these things I have to wait to do. There are so many things I want that take more energy than I have. But still, I’m coming to think that the peak of human experience is sitting around in a coffee shop, a truck stop, or a small town bar with a good group of friends. Today I felt just like I was dancing.

Her parents are currently working with a writer to see about publishing her journals. I don’t know much beyond that other than she hopes to be able to start querying this summer.

It’s obviously not my writing, but it’s still writing that is near and dear to my heart.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


Weekend Links, 17-18 Aug

So much for staying on top of things. Still, it’s remarkable how chill a 12.5 hour day can feel when you wrap at a quarter to three, instead of everyone’s expected 5-6am. No dawn for us! Magnificent. A 68-hour work week is so much better even than a 73. Unreal how much so.

But my travails (and joys! Deep, deep joys!) are not the subject here. I’ve been “favoriting” tweets to use as markers so I can come back for links, but I’ve apparently forgotten how to access them, so everything here is pretty recent.

From the always-marvelous (haven’t been let down yet), Jessica Nagy over at This Is Indexed has some thoughts about education. Click through and see other observations or hit the link in the sidebar.

Every Conversation You've Ever Had

The next two are words – inspiration for me, perhaps, to get an installation or two of the fairy tale up for the coming weeks. The first is an entry from a waiter who apparently spent most of an evening dropping Doctor Who lines to his tables. He got fat tips and a telephone number, so there’s a good evening. His story is here.

In an actual story-telling mode, here’s a short piece by Catherynne Valente, The Shoot-Out at Burnt Corn Ranch Over the Bride of the World. I still haven’t read her Palimpsest or Deathless (though given our common use of Koschey, I really should), but I’ve hit a handful of her short stories online and then there’s the September in Fairyland series, which I can’t recommend enough. She’s got amazing style and range and her world-building is consistently beautiful. Anyway. Go read.

Lastly, maps! One map, a map using ethnic data from the 2010 census report. Shown from a distance, cities look integrated, for example. Get up close? Not so much.

Click the map to head on over to the actual site and see the methodology and more details.

Demographic Map

And that’s it. If I get some more oomph, it’s back to writing and editing. The Story of the Story of the Egg calls! And at least one fairy tale, I hope. Maybe more. I’m not working again until Monday, and beyond getting my hair cut, my only goal for the day is to re-set my internal clock to get to work first thing Monday morning, instead of early afternoon. Here’s hoping.