Monday, January 25, 2010

Thoughts on the halfway mark…

So, I reached the halfway point in my new novel, The Wrong Magic. I’m 40,000 words in and assuming this book has enough to take me to 80,000 or so. For some reason, this book feels like such a big deal to me – you know, even though it’s my (scary) 17th.

I have some idea as to why this is. I think it’s because I spent the last year writing plays, churning out something like nine or so – I lost count. So, I go back to long-form, novel writing and all I can think is, “Damn, Ken. You think you should do this?” I mean it’s one thing to string together a bunch of jokes, which is sometimes what I think I do with my plays, and another entirely to create plots and subplots and story arcs and enough tension and dynamism to last a whole novel long.

Of course, I haven’t gone a whole novel long. I’m only halfway there. But I think I’m going to make it. Vicky is absolutely sure – underwhelmingly sure. To her, I write books and plays like some people change socks. She doesn’t realize how each project puts me on this journey of low self-esteem: Am I Good Enough, that sort of thing.

So, standing here in the middle of the book, I thought I’d share something it has taught me. That’s one of the wonderful things about creating art (if I dare call anything I do that); you get back as you give. Sometimes, what you get back is an insight you had never considered before.

In this book, that insight is this: A writer is someone who has opened herself/himself/itself up to the possibilities of the universe and can hear the words that go down on paper, can see the story they’re telling, can almost reach through the layer separating real from imaginary.

I’ve been writing about this and it has me thinking about how that place is so privileged and so misunderstood. I mean, I can imagine you, dear reader, saying as you read, “Open to the possibilities of the universe, huh? That’s just a nice way of saying he’s full of shit.” As a writer, I’ve often had people misunderstand me, which has taught me the need to focus my craft and learn the need to communicate more effectively. But with the comes a sense that what I do is something most other people cannot begin to know.

It’s not something only a few can do. I know I’m not so very gifted that I don’t benefit from something nearly anyone can access. Opening yourself and listening to the world, their own impulses, and imagination is surely something we can all do.

Our society spends so much of its time teaching children to ignore those voices that tell us stories, to shut down the imagination so they can focus on their jobs in life. It is still my hope to make my job one in which I can remain open to possibilities, to stories and imagination. I just think it’s a shame sometimes that so many shut themselves off.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

One of those moments…

I think we all have moments in our lives that seem to be teaching us a lesson. Some of us listen in those moments. I’m trying to.

I was at the gym this morning, jogging on the treadmill. A fat woman – a really fat woman – was put on the treadmill next to me by a trainer and told to walk for 20 minutes. So, a few minutes pass, and the woman increases her speed. Then, a few more minutes pass, and the woman increases her speed some more. Now, she’s obviously going too fast for her level of fitness. So, a few more minutes pass, and she increases her speed some more. Now, she’s holding on for dear life, tries to take a drink from her water bottle, and nearly slips.

At this point, I think, “She’s going to fall. She’s going to fall.” And thinking of her falling, all I thought about was how it was going to affect me. I thought, “She’s going to fall and I’m going to have to help her – have to help her – have to help her!” It made me so angry.

And, sure enough, she fell. She increased her speed some more and she fell. And I stopped my treadmill and hurried to her asking if she was all right. She said she was but she wasn’t. She was mortified. She was nearly in tears. I told her it was okay, don’t feel bad; what was most important was that she was okay.

Her trainer came over and asked what had happened, which was kind of clear but I said, “She fell.” The trainer got angrier than I was inside, and inside I was fuming because my workout had been screwed up. But seeing this trainer get so mad, nearly to the point of shouting, it suddenly flashed on me that what I thought I was supposed to be there for – to work out – was NOT what I was supposed to be there for. Dumbass, I thought, THIS is what you’re here for!

It all took only about thirty seconds. The trainer took the woman away from the treadmill to get some water – but it was clear she was just taking her AWAY FROM THE TREADMILL. And I stopped my work out early. It was ruined not because of the woman falling but because I felt ashamed for thinking that was more important.

Hopefully, I’ll remember this in the future.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Verde Merde…

I often talk about how much I love to cook on this old blog but I never talk about what a mess I make sometimes in the process. And I’m not talking about dirty dishes here… though Vicky will attest to that as well. (I swear, I dirty ten dishes to make one dish!)

You see, I’ve been saying a lot lately that I’ve wanted to cook with tomatillos. I love tomatillos but that side of the vegetable garden is out of my cooking forte. I am Cajun and Italian and that’s about it. So, it was probably a bad idea from the start to bring tomatillos into a kind of cooking I enjoy. Somewhere, I got the idea about making a kind of tomatillo etouffee…

I know. Stop cringing.

For those of you who don’t know… you will. Etouffee is a creole dish that starts with celery, onion, and bell pepper (the “trinity”). You spice that up nice and tasty, throw in some crawfish or shrimp or whatnot and serve it with rice and it’s good. Where I went wrong was that I thought tomatillos would add a fruitiness you don’t normally get.

There’s a reason why you don’t normally get that.

And I omitted the rice, too. Another big mistake.

What Vicky and I ended up eating could have kindly been called “hot vegetable mash”. It was just gross.

And, oddly enough, there were leftovers. Imagine!

I immediately looked for a way to redeem myself and this came thanks to a comment from Vicky. “Too bad you can’t just make chili verde out of it.” Actually, I could. What is verde sauce but tomatillos, peppers, onions, with some ect.? So, I made some rice. Then, I seared a couple of chicken breasts in a hot cast iron skillet. I took a hand mixer (“bolt motor”) to the embarrassing mix in hope of redemption, and made it somewhat smooth. I poured it into the skillet, covered it, and threw the whole thing into a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes.

Out came culinary love, redemption on rice. Whew!

So, if you screw up, don’t worry about it. Just keep yourself open to new strategies! Anyway, you’ll never find those new, exciting recipes if you don’t allow yourself to screw up sometimes.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Another book and another play…

This year began with a hint of optimism. I had an agent ask to read With Eyes to See. I had another agent ask to read Wormfood. I had a play entered into a festival in Georgia. I had another play chosen as a finalist for an evening of one-acts in Hollywood.

Since then, the theater in Hollywood has gone without choosing my play – but that doesn’t make things any less optimistic. I’m submitting more books and plays to agents, publishers, and theaters than I am applying for jobs, which I assure you is more indicative of the job market than any attempt on my part. There are just more ways to submit work than jobs to apply for.

So, I’ve been working hard selling the old stuff and also coming up with new stuff.

The new book I’ve been working on is called The Wrong Magic. I just completed the first quarter of that and can give some idea of what that’s about. Here’s your semi-official blurb: After eight years of marriage, Stephanie and Alex are finished. Moving to Cambria, Alex is mistakenly shipped more than just his half of the stuff. He also finds himself in possession of the unfinished stories he never encouraged his wife to finish. So, he decides to finish them himself but soon finds elements of those stories popping up all around him. And when redwood trees begin dislodging homes, a butler appears out of nowhere, and a bicycle race is thrown into horrible disarray, Alex realizes he can use a little magic to get his wife back – even if it is the wrong magic.

The first quarter of the book is set-up, of course. How did they split up? What’s their back story? That kind of thing. The first quarter sets them on their separate paths and new lives – call it Act One. Act Two will involve the stories. Act Three will involve the magic. Act Four will involve the resolution. It’s a lot of fun, returning to novel writing after all those plays, and I think this one is good and marketable. As I’ve often said, I will happily sell out and write marketable over artistic at every opportunity.

And with that said… there’s another new play on the horizon. I don’t know how I’m going to shoehorn this in but my current, unemployed state provides me plenty of time to do it. As much as I would love to sit around and play video games, I just never seem to allow myself that luxury.

The new play starts with a bizarre idea. Two characters, a man and a woman, are on a stage. They agree that they should have complete honesty in their relationship. No lies. So, the woman tells the man, “I’m an actress and we’re in a play.” This idea has been with me since before Christmas but I wasn’t sure where it went from there. I mean, once you have a character in a play admit that it’s just a play – there go the barn doors.

I’ve entered a distinctly deconstructionist phase, one which Vicky doesn’t really understand. Hell, I don’t understand it, either – but that’s where the muse is taking me. So, where would a play that begins that way go? That would be telling. Suffice it to say, I had no idea until I began diagramming out the situation the man and woman find themselves in… and once I saw it, then I knew where it should go. Now, I just have to write it.

I am positive that the day will come when I run out of ideas, so I write today with an appreciation for the fortune I have in this area, at least. Anyway, when that day comes I’ll be able to catch up on my video game playing…

Friday, January 01, 2010

Resolved… 2010…

Last year’s new year resolutions worked so well, I thought I would lay out some more for the new year…

Oh wait… last year’s didn’t work out at all. I resolved to buy more produce from local growers at farmer’s markets but I lost my job and couldn’t afford it. Oops… okay, so that one didn’t go quite as planned. BUT I did buy more locally grown produce thanks to the folks at my local Vons who bought more local produce. I’m not a big fan of the way they treat their employees but that was a step in the right direction. And we continued to shop at Henry’s, which buys locally as well. So, in as much as I could I tried to keep that one. My second resolution was to grow more produce… which also didn’t go so well. I mean, it had been a while since I gardened so I was a bit out of practice and things didn’t turn out so well. BUT I did grow a lot of tomatoes and they were very tasty and we had jalapenos and basil (my rosemary died a horrible death so let’s not get into that)!

So, they did work out… kinda…

So, let’s talk 2010!

Obviously, there are some things that go without saying. I’m going to continue to look for work, continue to write, continue to try to make a sale. I’m going to continue cycling, continue jogging, continue trying to eat healthy, and this spring I will plant another garden.

But, despite that… let’s face it. I know what I need to do. It’s looking back at me from the mirror.

I’m a fat fuck. Fat fat fat. Fatty fatty fatty. I’m a bit overweight.

Now, I’ve been doing a good job getting more serious about my health. I quit smoking. I took up cycling. Heck, I even began jogging again this year. But the fact is I could do better.

So, this year I am going to work on watching not just what I put in my body but how much. I have a terrible habit of loving food so much that I think more is better. More is not better. More is just more. But that’s my thing. I think “One burrito is good… so two or three or four would be wonderful!!” So, this year I am going to try and stop myself before I have a second helping or before I have a snack between meals. This isn’t something you can track but I think it’s a good idea to be aware of it all the same.

Here’s something I can track. Two years ago, I rode my first metric (which is 100 kilometers). Last year, I cycled two metrics. This year, I’m aiming for three. I’ve found a good, relatively safe route to take so doing more will be a bit easier.

Lastly, number three. The big one. Sugar. If there’s one thing I can do that would both help make this world a healthier place to live while also making me healthier, it is to cut back on my sugar. I love sugar. I love ice cream. I love cookies. I love pie. I love sweet drinks. I love sugar. But I know it’s not good for me and I’m only hurting myself by eating so much of it. So, I’m going to use 2010 as a time-out for sugar. I’m not going to go without, of course; I don’t know if I could. But I eat so much, I know I can cut my consumption considerably.

Those are my three things. Portions and sugar are going to be tough, so I’m asking Vicky’s help. She has expressed a desire to participate in the Disney Half-Marathon, so I’m going to be her partner in that. Together, I’m hoping we can help each other achieve our goals.