First off, I’d like to go on record as saying that I was a big ol’ geek long before I was a journalist, and I have the well-worn science fiction paperbacks, 1980s vintage D&D dice and former subscription to Starlog magazine to prove it.
But I sit here, at 46, as both (geek by birth, professional journalist since the age of 21), and from that somewhat odd point of view, I have to shake my head at the folks from Rhode Island Comic Con organization. Not only have you failed to understand what media coverage is all about, but you’ve also come off as little more that what those who mock you would cast you as: big crybabies.
Why the hubbub? It seems the people in charge of setting RICC’s press coverage policy forgot a couple of things. For instance, that we live in the United States of America, where a free and open exchange of ideas is held sacred, and a relatively unregulated press is part of that. They decided that as part of their press credential application, media organizations would have to promise to avoid “insulting or disrespectful comments and giving a bad image of the show.” As a result, the Rhode Island Press Association (indicated by the tweet above) has chosen not to cover the event rather than sign such an agreement. Continue reading → My Rhode Island Geek Brothers and Sisters, You Have Failed PR 101
One benefit to having an “office” career that largely consisted of doing cool and unexpected things or meeting interesting people at any given moment – then writing about them – was that since I finished school I’ve only infrequently experienced the typical “Monday dread.”
You know – that Sunday evening feeling where it’s impossible to enjoy anything later than 4 p.m. because you’re already feeling the crushing weight of week’s first work day bearing down on you like a ravenous warthog. It’s like the tick-tick-tick of the 60 Minutes stopwatch is there to remind you of just how little of the weekend you have left. Continue reading → It’s Monday! Shout Geronimo and Leap Into the Void
Freelancing is a constant hustle for the new gig to both pad the revenue stream and have something to fill in the blanks should an existing client decide to bail or inexplicably run out of work for you.
I spent the last couple of days not feeling so well, so trying to gin up new work was about the only thing I was good for. And in doing so, I was reminded that people really have no concept of the fact that “artists” (a category that working freelance writers unfortunately fall under) are actually trained professionals deserving of pay on par with their similarly trained and experienced – but non-artistic – peers. Continue reading → After a Week Under the Weather, an Unrelated Complaint
When I moved to Yuma, Ariz., in 1996, I was the freshest of fresh-meat gringos you’d ever want to meet.
Prior to crossing the Mississippi River on my way there, it was my first time ever doing so. I had never been into a western (or really, even Midwestern, state). The farthest west I’d been, I suppose, was the mountains of North Carolina. Or maybe West Virginia.
So when I pulled into Yuma, which sits just north of a little notch carved into Mexico and directly adjacent to California, I had a lot to learn about how things were done in my new home.
First lesson, learned during my orientation week: If someone tells you his last name is Cruz, do not leave a note for the sports editor spelling it as “Cruise.”
Second lesson, learned two months after my arrival: There is nothing weird about spending Halloween weekend picnicking in the cemetery to honor and celebrate your deceased loved ones.
This, I soon learned, was a perfectly normal celebration of Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. So dear departed uncle Hector loved beans, rice, and tortillas washed down with Tecate with Tejano music playing in the background? Excellent! Cook up a mess of Southwestern soul food and bring the party to him at he gravesite. It’s a family thing.
When you think about death and mourning rituals, it all makes perfect sense. But as I was the most gringo of gringos – and had no departed relatives buried within 3,000 miles – I chose instead to adopt little pieces of Day of the Dead to incorporate into my own personal life.
The most important was the image of the skeleton performing some typical earth-bound task or profession. These fantastic folk art figurines are nearly ubiquitous during Day of the Dead celebrations, and I spent a lot of time and energy in nearby Algdones, Mexico, looking for one that represented a writer or journalist. No luck, but I’m still searching, so if you know where I can get one please let me know.
At that stage of my life I was single, in a new town and learning not just the ropes of a new region but basically an entirely foreign culture. But because I had a lot of time on my hands outside work, I spent LOTS of it during that period working on the third or fourth draft of Immaculate Deception.
One of the images that really kept me on task was – you guessed it – culled from the Day of the Dead tradition. It was a clip-art cutout of a skeleton wearing a vintage biretta – the pom pom-topped headgear worn by some Catholic priests – and holding aloft a hourglass.
This picture remained taped to the border of my computer screen for my entire time in Yuma and for many years beyond. The purpose? To remind me that time is short. The Reaper always waits. If you don’t get it done today, there’s no guarantee you’ll have a chance to get it done tomorrow.
Reminding yourself of impending death seems like a drastic means of motivation, I know, but I’m convinced that if more of us stepped back and considered that our time on this earth is finite, we’d be motivated to get a lot more done. And more of what we did would be of consequence and value.
Hi, yes … that fateful day has arrived. Today I turn 45.
Given the new realities of the lifespan of healthy humans (and the fact that genetics are working in my favor here), unless I do something (else) monumentally stupid, I fully intend to live at least until the age of 90.
That puts me squarely at the doorstep of midlife. Half my life down, half yet to go.
For lots of folks (particularly men), this is a time of re-evaluation. To paraphrase Edna Mode in The Incredibles, men this age are often … unstable.
Well, hopefully no more unstable than on any other day. I won’t be going out shopping for a red Porsche Boxter convertible in which I’ll install a significantly younger woman. I married a significantly younger woman, and if there’s any toodling around in exotic sports cars to be done, it will most certainly be done with her.
And any instability anyone might notice was, honestly, probably there already. Folks working with a full deck rarely go into writing for a living, and they certainly don’t become newspaper reporters or novelists.
So, there’s that.
What I do have, however, is a pretty decent sense of accomplishment. I noted in this space not long ago that Stan Lee, dean of Marvel Comics and the creator of most of its characters, didn’t create cornerstone superhero Spider Man until he after he turned 40. Stan is now 90 years old, which means he’s spent the last 50 years not as Stan Lee, but as STAN-friggin’-LEE!!!, who still runs a media empire, hosts a TV show or two and maintains a busy schedule of sci-fi and comic book convention appearances.
That carries a lot of weight with me because I admire late bloomers. I never aspired to be one of those pain-in-the-ass writers who busts out of the gate at 25 with a Pulitzer Prize-winner (mainly because what those sort of writers produce is usually self-absorbed, whiny crap, but that’s another blog posting).
As someone who got carded for booze up until his 32nd birthday and took 20 years to write his first book, I realized it might take me a while to grow into this whole novelist thing. But once I managed to give birth to that 300+ page baby at the (entirely appropriate, given my genre) age of 42, there’s been no looking back. If I never write anything again, I can rest assured knowing that I have added my own little piece of original creativity to the universe.
And there are other, perhaps more significant, accomplishments, too. I have amazing friends, cultivated over decades, who remain the sort of people I can talk now exactly the way we did when we were in high school or our early jobs. They provide me with a constant source of encouragement and inspiration and I am in awe of a great many of them every day. I can only hope I send back to them just a fraction of the love, support and laughter they send my way.
And most importantly, I have an amazing family – a beautiful wife who supports me with warmth, patience and love through all the ups and downs of this writing life and frequently jumps in to help with a needed dose of reality, and two spectacularly smart, funny and kindhearted children who are always proud to tell their friends and teachers that their daddy is a writer.
But wait a minute. Let’s put the brakes on the sentimentality. Weren’t you promised presents?
Indeed you were.
Without you, the readers, my family and friends would still be with me, my work would still get done and my book – and those I still hope to write – would still be out there. But without readers, a book is only words on a page.
Once you – a stranger – pick it up and begin that first chapter, you become a willing participant in a reality that another has created. It’s like telepathy in a way. I’m putting my thoughts into your head, and in the midst of the trance-state we call “reading,” those thoughts are manifested in your own mind as an alternate reality. Other than unconditional love, I believe it’s the closest thing to magic any of us will ever really experience.
So as my gift to you, starting today I’m offering the Kindle version of Immaculate Deception free for three days through Amazon, in the hope that if you enjoyed it, you’ll be inclined to let others know that they can, as well – and with minimum risk. Other than individually shaking your hands or giving you big, wet kisses, it’s the best I can do.
Really, thank you ever so much. And here’s to another 45 years.
I was in full-on magazine writer mode today. Cranked out 1,300 quality words for a freelance story with the able assistance of my neighborhood Cosi, their free wi-fi, and the 3/4 of my family who decided to go to the movies this afternoon (Monsters University, in case you’re interested – consensus from the 5-year-old, 9-year-old and 30-*cough*-year-old was “awesome”).
It’s always easy to talk about how we as writers should shoot for a certain number of words per day, but for the work-at-home writer (particularly with school out for the summer), getting any done is sometimes a challenge.
I find the biggest thing standing in my way isn’t writer’s block or something silly like that (I don’t think I’ve ever been truly blocked).
Instead it’s that lingering fear that as soon as I drop into a serious writing groove (and you other writers out there know just what I mean) where I just have to keep going, something or someone will interrupt. There will be meals to prepare, sibling battles to negotiate, some minor bit of home repair or housekeeping, oh, I don’t know … a freakin’ meteorite might decide to crash into my front yard.
(Honestly, some days it feels like that’s all that’s missing. Fate/gods/universal forces, don’t take that as an invitation, OK?)
As a result, when there’s a big deadline looming or some writing work that just has to get done, leaving the home base is often the best option for all parties involved. Let that meteorite smolder in its crater until I get home. If I don’t know it’s there, I’ll actually be able to get some stuff done.
There’s an old story about a woman who approached Pablo Picasso in a cafe and asked him to draw her something on a napkin. However, before he would give it to her he asked for an exorbitant sum of money because that tiny sketch represented the culmination of his life’s work up to that point.
Not many of us ever actually cross paths with a great artist, let alone get up the gumption to ask him or her to create something just for us. Still fewer will have an artist create on his own something so very personalized that it could only ever be yours, and then hand it to you as a mere throwaway gesture.
I was fortunate enough to have that happen to me thanks to a gentleman named Jak Smyrl.
He was the first staff artist for The State newspaper, the major daily newspaper that covers Columbia, S.C., and the surrounding area. His satirical map of South Carolina (rife with intentional misspellings and regional in-jokes) was first published in the late 1960s and since then has become iconic. His style mimics that of many of the best Mad magazine artists with a flair that was straight-up Southern.
Back in 1995, when I was a young reporter and columnist at the Chronicle-Independent in Camden, S.C., Jak, who had retired to Camden, was suggested to me as someone who could create a logo for Rockin’ Horse ’96 (top).
Rockin’ Horse was a concert that grew out of a newspaper column I wrote calling for more entertainment surrounding the Carolina Cup steeplechase event, which annually brings in more than 60,000 visitors and millions of dollars to the town of about 8,000 or 9,000 people. The concert was held on the grounds of Historic Camden as a benefit for the Revolutionary War historic site.
In the absence of our own newspaper staff artist I could hire to do the logo on the side (we got all our editorial cartoons from syndicates), one of the ladies in the layout department suggested I get in touch with Mr. Smyrl. She described him in loose terms as a former artist for The State, a description that really only scratched the surface.
We met at his home studio and I did a rough sketch of what I was looking for. He gave me an anticipated date of delivery for the final image and we worked out terms that were entirely too reasonable for someone of his stature (I seem to recall he asked about $100 for the image).
When I went to pick up the sketch, he was out of the house, but he had left it for me in a manilla envelope adorned with the personalized image you see to the right. As a result, an item that would otherwise have been recycled or tossed in the trash became, for me, a valuable work of art.
Jak, who died in 2007, is the subject of a new exhibit that was recently dedicated at the University of South Carolina. That means a significant number of people who actually know what they’re talking about considered his work a valid subject for study and appreciation.
I’m not sure where the rocking horse-and-jockey drawing I commissioned for the concert stands in that body of work, but I do know it adorned t-shirts, tickets and banners associated with the event. If you lived in or visited Camden in the spring of 1996, chances are you or someone you know could still find a Rockin’ Horse ’96 tee stuffed in the back of a drawer somewhere.
Maybe if I contacted the University of South Carolina they’d ask to include it. If so, I’d happily donate it to the collection.
However, as for that small bit of an ordinary manilla envelope that in a few pen strokes became something only for me, that I’ll treasure as my own little napkin from Picasso.
I did something last week that had been unthinkable for the first 13 years of my working life – ordered my own copy of the Associated Press Stylebook.
Unthinkable because in every newsroom in which I landed from the moment I started in the newspaper business (including my university paper, The Gamecock), I was provided with one as a part of the job.
The one you see here is old – ancient in terms of stylebooks – having the distinction of being the first and (up until last week) only one I had actually paid money for. It was purchased in 1987 at the University of South Carolina Book Store at the beginning of my sophomore year when I decided to make the switch from broadcast journalism to news-editorial.
After I graduated, it sat on a number of bookshelves across the country but rarely got pulled down because in the place I really needed it – the newsroom – there was always a more recent version sitting on my desk.
So now, 26 years later, I figured that it was time to refresh things a bit. The new version arrived last Friday and just paging through it I was stunned by how much has really changed.
In 1987, having a personal computer in one’s dorm room was a luxury (I had an Apple IIC with a thermal printer). There was no Internet as we know it (that would take another decade to emerge) and all the reporting one did was in person or over the phone. Social networking didn’t exist. As such, there was no reason to focus on anything other than what we now regard as “analog” journalism.
The new version of the AP Stylebook is heavy with new (and not so new) digital-age references and style points, including how to approach sources via e-mail, Twitter and Facebook. I love that today you can just cyber-stalk sources, where back in the day there were lots of editors telling lots of young reporters, “Sit in that bozo’s office until he comes out for lunch and get me that quote.”
It’s a stark reminder that between the time newspaper film classic All the President’s Mencame out (1976) and when I graduated from college in 1991, nearly all that had changed in the “modern” newsroom was the arrival of clunky, pain-in-the-ass computers with green-on-black CRT displays that still required 12-character strings of code just to format a headline.
Simply the fact that you can now subscribe to digital versions of the Stylebook is a big indicator of how much has changed. I remember thinking during the internet boom of the late 1990s that an online Stylebook would be incredible. Now you can access it on your smartphone – something that very few of us anticipated.
So, with my new edition in hand I’ll study up and try to catch up on all the “official” bits that I’ve missed by not having been in a newsroom for nearly 10 years. The old one, however, will stay, simply because it now serves as a great little artifact and time capsule of where we once were and how far we’ve come.