Tag Archives: summer

Returning from That Summer Place

It’s almost back to school time here in southeastern Pennsylvania, which means the kids will be terminating their summer brain dumps, rushing to catch up on assigned reading and trying to remember how to convert improper fractions to mixed numbers. That usually means time for the grownups to start getting their acts together, too.

I admit that I’ve slacked off this summer in a few areas – writing every day being one of the biggest. But where spring has always been the traditional time of renewal for nature, back to school time is, for kids and adults, typically the start of something fresh. It’s an opportunity to establish new routines and actually stick to them because so many other scheduled events depend on things running smoothly.

Yeah, this summer my word count for Novel #2 has fallen off, but I’ve also gotten the chance to do some things that will help make that book better even though I’ve spent a few weeks not actively banging away at it. One of those weeks was spent at our family’s own summer place, this one deviating from past years by switching the Outer Banks of North Carolina for Folly Beach, S.C.

New places equal new inspiration, so in lots of respects it was a worthwhile trip. I’m hoping it ends up as a salable travel story for the freelance writing side of my work, and there are always little details I can pick up from somewhere new to add into a story. Plus, as someone who sets his books in South Carolina but is based full time in Pennsylvania, it’s good to get back once in a while and get in touch with the people you’re writing about.

It’s also been good to go down some roads in my own reading that I don’t often travel. I tilted more toward the fantasy side of things with Fran Wilde’s Updraft and delved into the world of the Mafia – particularly as it relates to Philadelphia and Wilmington, Del. – in Charles Brandt’s I Heard You Paint Houses (look for an upcoming story on Charles and the forthcoming film version of his book in September’s Out & About magazine).

Novel #2 includes more of a criminal enterprise subplot, so it was great to read Brandt’s book and get a window into mob life beyond that provided in the Mafia film pantheon of The Godfather, Goodfellas, etc. And it’s always interesting to see what styles other writers adapt. Wilde’s is lean and tight, which keeps her sprawling, world-building tale to a reasonable and accessible length. While I’m not creating new universes out of whole cloth this time around, I’m trying to keep things leaner myself, so reading other writers who can do so is a bit like taking a master class in how it’s done.

So, here’s to parlaying my non-writing experiences and unassigned summer reading into some good, solid work on Novel #2 once everyone in the house gets back to their school year schedules. It might not be lounging on the beach or by the pool, but there will be plenty of that again next year.

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Happy (Slow Going) Monday!

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Summers for the freelancing parent mean two things – more time enjoying the warm weather and time off from school with the kids, and more late nights working on all the assignments that normal people would be doing during the daylight hours. The result is some groggy mornings, particularly when the work to be completed wasn’t finished until 2 a.m.

Thankfully, there’s coffee (or carrot juice, if you prefer) and plenty to resume working on today. Because when there isn’t more work is the time to become worried.

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Download It and Turn It UP! My Summer 2015 Playlist

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Summer music is a genre unto its own, and can’t be easily qualified or quantified as a particular “type.” But I’ll give it a shot.

Bright, breezy, pop or soul that doesn’t drag you down with burdensome weight. But that doesn’t mean it can’t have some guitar crunch and (maybe) a message. You just don’t want it slapping you upside the head and harshing that sweet beach or pool vibe you’ve got going on.

I’ve written here before about my own early music history, and how much of my taste (and career choices … and romantic history) was likely influenced by spending summers by the community pool in my Summerville, S.C., subdivision circa 1978 and ’79 listening to WTMA, the Charleston AM Top 40 station.

Songs like “Cruel to Be Kind,” by Nick Lowe, “Is She Really Going Out with Him?” by Joe Jackson, “The Logical Song” by Supertramp, “Let’s Go” by the Cars, “Sweet Talkin’ Woman” by the Electric Light Orchestra, “I Want You to Want Me” by Cheap Trick, and “My Sharona” by the Knack burned themselves into my preteen consciousness. Continue reading

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Power Pop Wednesday: Back From the Capital of Obsfucation and Misdirection, Enjoy Some Smoke and Mirrors

OK Go – The Writing’s On the Wall from 1stAveMachine on Vimeo.

The family and I visited Washington, D.C., earlier this week to do the required introduction of the young ones to Our Nation’s Capital. I might post some pictures if I feel so compelled to share.

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OK, you convinced me with your infernal whining. Here you go.

 

Overall, the city was much nicer than I remember it being during my last trip, when I was my son’s age and it was the 1970 and cities felt it was their duty to be as skanky as possible.

Regardless of the bad rap that D.C. gets from pretty much everyone, I found the people to be exceptionally friendly, and not just in the tourist-centric spots. The streets are quieter, the public transportation cleaner and people just seem generally more polite. It’s a reminder that even though lots of folks in my home state of South Carolina consider it “The North,” the heavy-duty influence of southern Maryland and Virginia made it very much a Southern city. Continue reading

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May the 4th Be With You! Here’s some Star Wars-Themed Disco to Help You Celebrate!

As I constantly remind my children (and pretty much anyone under 30 who will listen) I was fortunate to appreciate the arrival of Star Wars in its perfect, undistilled and most innocent form – in the theater in 1977 when the first film (and A New Hope will always be the first film) hit theaters.

Along with all the other cultural touchstones brought on by the film and its two sequels, it’s often lost on the younger folks of today that Star Wars landed in the cultural consciousness smack in the middle of disco’s surge out of Studio 54 and into the American mainstream. So naturally, we’d have to have a disco version of John Williams’ iconic Star Wars theme music, along with disco-beat hand claps and awesome pew-pew-pew blaster fire sound effects in the background. Continue reading

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Summer Reading Can Still Be Foundational Reading

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So I spent a good portion of the spring and early summer slogging through an exceptionally dense non-fiction tome on Napa Valley that was serving as background for a large scale co-writing project that, unfortunately, tanked hard in mid June.

I don’t consider it wasted time, because I’m one of those folks that considers any reading good reading. And in addition, I learned some things I didn’t know before, so it all evens out. Also, now if I ever want to set a story in California wine country, I’ve at least got a jumping off point.

But with the burden of research-related reading lifted, I got to return to some writing by several of the authors that have really inspired me along the way.

The gentlemen represented here aren’t going to be taught in high school English classes anytime soon, but I’ve immersed myself in their work over the years nonetheless. And that’s not to say that I haven’t spent my time with some English class stalwarts – diving back into the pool with Ernest Hemingway helped me learn how to write with a bit more economy. Then again, a few walks along some long dark alleys with pulp-master Mickey Spillane (who, incidentally, lived the last years of his life in Murrells Inlet, S.C., just down the beach from Myrtle Beach, where Immaculate Deception is partially set) helped me pull some tough-guy detective fiction tricks out of the bag, too.

But as far as modern-day writers who are still busy writing go, these guy are my boys. If you’ve read Immaculate Deception, you can probably see each of them peeking through the narrative, the subject matter and the writing style here and there.

Derivative? Some might say so. But others – mostly other writers – will be the first to tell you that the way to get started writing like yourself is to write like the people you love to read. What comes out after it’s passed through the creative filter of your own unique brain is – shazam! – your style of writing.

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The Lawnmower: My Nemesis, My Muse

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Thanks to the borderline monsoon conditions we’ve been experiencing on the East Coast so far this summer, I’ve gotten exactly zero reprieve from my weekly task of lawn length maintenance. In fact, it’s probably what I’m doing right now.

Unlike the winter, when I can sit and pray, plead and sacrifice small animals in the hope of no snow and thus (if all that works out) save myself the task of shoveling my driveway, in summer there’s no escape from the weekly toil. The best I can hope for is a dry stretch – which, in the bigger picture, isn’t such a great thing for stuff like crops and drinking water.

But there’s been nothing dry about this summer. We in Pennsylvania have been getting a little taste of Florida life with almost daily afternoon thundershowers. The result, if you stand outside and listen closely, is that you can actually hear the grass growing. OK, maybe not really, but you get the picture.

And while mowing 3/4 of an acre in conditions approaching 100-percent humidity doesn’t really thrill me, it does provide me something that I don’t get a lot of the rest of the year – time alone to think.

For me, mowing the lawn is probably the most zen thing I do during the week. While it’s physically challenging (I use a walk-behind, rather than riding, mower), there’s a set pattern that never changes. As such, even though I have what amounts to a mechanized death machine rolling along in front of me, I’m able to partially remove my brain from the task at hand and allow it to focus on other things.

This time is really crucial to the working writer, because it’s when lots of things can get sorted out. I find that I can – for lack of a better term – program my mind to work on writing tasks that in no way relate to lawn care. Whether its addressing plot points that need to be organized in my second novel or just coming up with a few good short story or magazine article ideas, this period of intellectual emptiness results in a brain full of ideas – so much so that I make sure to pack my smartphone in a pocket so I can quickly type them into a notes file.

Letting your mind churn away on a task while you’re in the middle of doing something else has historically been known by non-creative people as daydreaming. But while “normal” people see that as a derogatory term, it’s in fact a creative person’s greatest ally, and I would argue that time to daydream is something that’s in terribly short supply these days.

In the workplace, any appearance of non-productivity can make your supervisor wonder what you’re up to. Meanwhile, periods of non-activity that were once fertile ground for coming up with ideas, crafting fantasies or envisioning your future – your daily commute, lunch break or tedious meetings – are now filled with inane and non-creative pursuits like using your smartphone to check your Facebook status. (I mock, but I’m just as guilty of this as anyone else.)

There’s lots of noise in life without supplementing it with more. You can’t get in the damn grocery line without a TV blaring at you, for crying out loud. But as my zen lawn mowing proves, sometimes the thing that ends up making the noise fade away and your mind open to what’s possible in your work ends up being your loudest job of the week.

 

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Hulk SMASH deadline!

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.

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Another Satellite Office

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Summer weather is here and with it the joys of answering work e-mails poolside. Sometimes freelancing can ironically leave you feeling trapped at home, and sometimes it really frees you. Still wouldn’t trade it.

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Satellite Office

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Temperatures spiked to a summerlike 87 degrees today, so I decided to take things outside. Not to say that my job is better than yours, but there are worse ways to get stuff done.

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