Monday, May 8, 2017

Moving On . . . Sort Of.

Greetings, WYMOP readers!

Yup. I’m moving. Sort of.
Yeah, this is going to be weird, but this’ll be my last WYMOP post for a while. Now, before you get all teary-eyed, let me explain.
Wow, how to explain . . .
I started While You’re Making Other Plans way back in—hold on, let me check the actual blog—May, 2011; pretty much six years on the nose. I’ve closed WYMOP down before, temporarily, because I was too busy with other writing, and to be honest, that is part of this sort-of move.
Anyway, I started WYMOP back in 2011 mostly in response to the people around me. I’d begun writing about seven months earlier, and what was coming out of me was a little on the dark side. Ghost stories. Stories about bad things happening to good people. Stories about fear. Not the kind of things you’d expect from a happy person—though I am a postal worker, so there must be something wrong with me. A few people asked me if I was okay; mainly family at first, but then a few friends, including one who lived 3,000 miles away.
I was fine, I told them. I still like to laugh and make other people laugh. I’m not depressed (at least, I think I’m not, so I’m sticking with that story), but when I sit down to write there’s a certain dark little twist to what winds up on the page. Some people still seemed worried, though, and I assumed that they assumed my writing was some sort of window into my subconscious.
To be fair, it pretty much is, but not in the way they thought.
So I started a blog where I could reassure them, where I could write down some of the other stuff that occurred to me. I was shooting for funny, or if not funny, at least amusing—hell, maybe even touching and serious; just not horror. And I was writing as me, not some character, so it was even more of a pipeline from my subconscious, right? So I was writing over here as myself, and it would have nothing to do with my fiction, and it would reassure the hell out of everyone. That was the plan, and I stuck to it.
For while, anyway.
But I’ve done a lot, writing-wise, in the past six years (the technical term may be a shitload). As I’ve worked on getting better at it, writing’s become more and more a part of my life, to the point where I was having quite a hard time not writing about writing. I know I’ve slipped up here and there along the years—especially recently—and I apologize for that if it wasn’t what you were here for.
The problem is time.
Time changes things. Handsome, once a huge part of this blog because we did so much together, is almost fifteen now. He has school, and homework, and computer games, and a girlfriend, and a lot less time for hanging out with Dad. Besides, you’d be hard-pressed to find a teen out there who wants to hang out with their parents. I remember being the same way—it’s like we’re genetically programmed to be embarrassed by family members over a certain age once we hit thirteen.
My job at the post office used to be a big part of my blog, but time’s changed that as well. I used to like my job, but as things have become more corporate and less local, the focus shifting from the people and customers to the numbers, I’m not all that fond of the place I work anymore. I could write about work every week, but most of it would be me bitching and complaining, and even if I tried to make it all funny it would get monotonous pretty damn quick—for you and for me.
There’s also my website. Did I mention I have a website? I do. It’s about me as a writer, and it’s where I direct people if they want to find out more about me. It’s included in the bios I send in to anthologies that publish me, and in the back of my own books. I mention it whenever I do an interview, either in text or audio . . . and it needs work.
Serious work.
Here’s the thing: publishers, when they’re thinking about working with you, take many things into consideration. One of the things they look at (I have been told, by people who would know) is your web presence. They look at your Facebook page, your Twitter account, and your website, if you have one. I do have one, and I’m directing people there all the time, as I said, but from the look of my website I’m a lazy guy who doesn’t keep up his own URL, so how hard am I going to work for this hypothetical publisher who’s looking into me?
Not only that, but people who read my work, and like it, and are looking for more of it, they don’t want to see that all I have going on at the site I sent them to is a six month old blog post. Did I mention there’s a blog on my website? Well, there is, and compared to WYMOP it’s pitiful. Anemic. Emaciated. And it’s not doing anyone any good.
The whole site isn’t doing me any good, and that’s a problem. At the moment I’m working on two novellas, co-writing a novel while another waits in the wings, polishing a couple of short stories, writing a monthly movie review column, working as part of a writers’ collaborative, and I’ve helped edit two books in the past six weeks with S & L Editing—but according to my website, I’m a bit of a shlub.
So here I have one blog where I’ve got a few readers but I’m running out of material, and there I have this separate website that I probably have more material for, that’s actually a little hurtful to me at the moment. I need to fix this, but to fix it I need time, which is one of those things in limited supply. So here’s the plan—and it’s a flexible plan; I just hammered some of it out less than an hour ago: I’m changing and cutting back on my blogging.
Rather than posting to WYMOP once a week, I’m going to be here once a month. Once a month I’ll also be posting on my other blog, Writer in Progress. A post every other week, on alternating blogs. Sound confusing? Yeah, to me, too. Look, I’m just writing all this down on the fly, trying to write to a deadline that’s 12 minutes away.
If I’m blogging over at The Storyteller (my website), even just once a month, it’ll show some activity to anyone looking into it. And those two off weeks, when I’m not blogging? Well, hey, I can use that time to pump my decrepit website back into shape—and if there’s any time left over, I can spend it on the writing all this is supposed to help promote. This sort-of move will be win-win for me (I hope!), and is something I kind of need to do if I want to look like I’m taking my writing seriously.
And believe me, I’m taking it seriously.
So if you usually get to While You’re Making Other Plans via the link I throw into Facebook each week, I’ll see you in about two weeks with a link to a new blog post over on Writer in Progress. I’ll be the same guy, whether I’m writing over here or over there, so if you’ve liked WYMOP you’ll probably like that, too. Please give it a chance. Either way, I hope to see you back here next month, when I’ll be once again typing Greetings, WYMOP readers!

Until then, I’ll talk to you later.

P.S. Oh, and feel free to check out the decrepit website—there’s a link to Writer in Progress up there in the navigation bar, and from there you can, of course, get to the whole Storyteller site. There’s no new content over there, but I’m working on revamping the whole damn thing, so a bunch of it may change, hopefully soon. Poke around if you like. See what’s what. Be my guest—I’d love to have you.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Sunday, Sunday, The Best Day Of The Week


Greetings, WYMOP readers!

It was Sunday, and I was heading out to Salem Con, a spooky extravaganza in lovely downtown Salem, Massachusetts, put on by the Massachusetts Ghost Hunters Paranormal Society. I was checking it out as a place to maybe get a table and sell books next year, but also because it’s right there in my hometown, and I was fairly clueless about it. I had no idea what it was like or how large it was; all I knew was it was all happening at the Hawthorne Hotel. That was terrific for two reasons: it was a ten-minute drive for me, and there was parking right there behind the hotel.
I was half right. Ten minutes after pulling out of the driveway I was indeed zooming around the parking lot behind the Hawthorne Hotel; what I was not doing was parking. Every spot was filled with vehicles bearing license plates from all over New England: New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont. Never saw one from New Hampshire, though. But still, maybe this thing was a little bigger deal than I thought?
I wound up parking about three blocks away, at the Church Street lot. I locked the Mini and hustled toward the hotel, giggling quietly at the out-of-towners gathered about the parking kiosk. Parking’s free on Sunday, suckers, I thought, satisfied in the knowledge that I wouldn’t have to wait in line behind those five to get into the demonology Q&A I was on my way to attend.
I went into the Q&A intending to quietly laugh up my sleeve at the whole show, but it was actually a lot of fun and very informative. It was also a little scary—not the part about demons and spirits, but the audience of more than a hundred people. These were some diehard believers in the supernatural—and one animal communicator—and the thought was at the back of my mind the whole time that one of the presenters was about to go all stiff about the neck and shoulders, point to me dramatically, and boom, “It seems we have an unbeliever among us!” If that happened I was pretty sure the crowd would have knocked me down, taken me up, and carried me, kicking and screaming, to the roof, where they would burn me up in a big wicker man.
Luckily I flew under the radar on that one. For the record, I’m neither believer nor unbeliever; it depends on when you catch me. By the light of day, surrounded by people, the supernatural is something to laugh at and make fun of. When there’s an unexplained noise when I’m alone in the house at 3am though, you better believe ghosts are real, as real death, taxes, and Milk Duds, and I don’t joke about Milk Duds.
The event as a whole was better than I'd expected. Like I said, that Q&A was fun (except for the wicker man vibe), and the dealer rooms were fairly busy. I saw a couple of local vendors I knew, as well as a small publishing house I've spoken with before. It was that small publisher who broke the bubble of happiness that had grown about my head as I’d enjoyed the event.
“I just have to hustle back to Church Street and get my car,” I said. “You know, before the exit rush ruins the traffic.”
“Church Street?” She looked puzzled. “Why didn’t you just park in the garage down the block? It’s like twenty-five cents an hour.”
Partially because I didn’t know that. But I wasn’t going to let her know I didn’t know. “It’s about the same distance,” I said with a smile. “Besides, parking’s free on Sunday.”
“But this is Saturday,” she said.
“Um, what?” I said.
“It’s Saturday,” she repeated—and now she was smiling.
“Um, what?”
“It’s Sat—” she began again, but it was too late; I was gone, hustle-walking through the crowd (you know, that tight-assed, lotta-hip walk that covers ground faster than a jog, looks a little like a speed-walk, and just emanates a whole bunch of move along, move along, nothing to see here) muttering to myself, checking the calendar in my phone every sixth-through-eighth steps to verify that it was indeed Saturday, and I’d just spent three hours shilly-shallying around with ghost hunters and demon wranglers and giving the real horror all the time in the world to pounce:
The meter maid.
Did I find a ticket on my car? No. But it was raining, so I fully expect to receive my citation in the mail. If there’s one thing in this world that’s real—even realer than Milk Duds—it’s parking tickets.
Damn you, Saturday. Damn you to hell!

~ ~ * * ~ ~

Now, on a more serious note, I’m moving.
No, not moving house. If I were doing that you’d have heard me bitching about it long before now—with or without this blog. What I am going to do is a bit of a hop from one blog to another. I was going to do it this week, sort of surprise you all with it, but things didn’t quite work out the way I’d planned; that story in itself is something that belongs on WYMOP.
I’ll explain it all next week, in a much better way than I was going to (I was rushing myself a bit). I’ll tell you where I’ll be going, and why, and most of all I’ll be inviting you all to join me over there. In fact, I dearly hope you will.
But enough about that. I’m about to get maudlin, and if I do that now, what will I have for next week?
Ah! Something for you to look forward to.

Talk to you later!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Fish Story


Greetings, WYMOP readers!

A friend recently directed me to a submission call for an anthology to be titled Death by Water.
This should be an easy one, I thought. Sweat free. Zero perspiration. Hell, I live on the coast. I work on a peninsula, with water, water everywhere. I even love to fish, canoe, and kayak—but I’m not the best swimmer out there. Mix all this with the fact that I usually tend to consider the worst—I write horror, for Christ’s sake—and putting something together to submit for this anthology should have been a walk in the park.
Should have been.
I decided to try a fishing story. It’s spring, and I’ve been seeing folks out there, casting from shore or sitting in small boats, though I haven’t had time to wet my line myself. It’s been quite a while since I’ve had the chance to do any fishing, and I have to say I miss it, so what with seeing it happening all around me, it’s been on my mind a bit.
Fishing story. No problem. Sweat free.
. . . And right off the bat I ran into a problem. Fishing, just like anything else, has a lot of regional terms. For instance, the skipjack tuna is also known as the aku, arctic bonito, mushmouth, oceanic bonito, striped tuna, and victor fish. Which term is the most common? And if I refer to a particular fishing rig, or technique, am I just calling it what I call it? It seemed I’d have to do a little research and verify my terminology to give my story a wider appeal and maybe get it accepted for that book.
I started with a few actual articles on fishing terminology. Some of the techniques described, though, sounded like the kind of thing I’d like to incorporate into my story, but I’d have to see them in action first. A YouTube search on a few key terms turned up quite a few videos covering the techniques I was interested in—and, wonder of wonders, there in the sidebar was a list of clips showing people using these techniques to catch monster fish. Monster fish? This was perfect research for my story! How lucky could I be? I clicked into the first video.
There was a dude in sunglasses and hat, and he was fishing, though it was hard to make out exactly what he was doing since his buddy was making the recording with his phone. What with the rocking of the boat and—whoa! That fish was huge! I hadn’t seen the technique in action very well, but it had damn sure been effective. Maybe the next video would show what the fisherman was doing a little clearer?
No, this guy was fishing solo and using a tripod, but he kind of had his back to the—holy cow! That was the biggest striper I’ve ever seen! The fisherman kind of took it in stride, but I’d have been thrilled to catch something that big. I looked at the sidebar and saw the next video in line was titled “Ultimate Monster Striper,” but there was no way it was as large as the one I’d just seen. Just no way. I clicked into the video . . .
It’s three days later, and I’ve seen huge striped bass, giant tuna, leaping sailfish, what has to be the world’s ugliest wolffish, the catfish that ate Chicago, and, and . . . and I’ve not even started that fishing story yet. It occurred to me this morning that I needed a blog for today, and I need to write something from all this research . . . so guess what you’re getting?

Talk to you later!

Monday, April 17, 2017

A Scene From Writing Life: Day Gone Awry

Greetings, WYMOP readers!
The following is a note—mostly to myself—I banged out Thursday afternoon, after a slightly frustrating morning. Lacking a really great blog to throw your way—and realizing it’s Monday night, and far too late to try to summon something from scratch—here are my notes on a writing day that wasn’t going to plan:
~ ~ * * ~ ~

So this is my day so far.
I wanted to work on the collaboration I’m part of—it’s my turn to write a chapter, and I’m taking too long to do it—but my partner had left a note at the end of her last chapter saying she was unsure if it should stay the way it was or undergo some kind of major rewrite.
I messaged her at just after 10:00 to say I was fine with what she had, and I could very well run with it, but wanted to make sure she didn't want to change it before I got to work on it. I hadn’t even thought of the direction she’d taken the story in, but I liked it. It would have sucked to write a whole chapter based on what she’d done only to find out afterward that she’d been working on a rewrite the whole time. That would be a time of great weeping, the rending of garments, and the gnashing of teeth.
Ugh.
While waiting for a response (that’s the problem with texting: you have no idea if the other person is sitting right there paying attention or out walking the cat, re-roofing the house, or even killing a transient and hiding the body, there’s really no way of knowing), I decided to try and re-submit a story I received a rejection on yesterday. I got to work looking for a suitable place. The problem was that most publications that might be looking for a story like the one I have also have word caps too low for me to submit it. They’re looking for stories that are a maximum of four or five thousand—maybe even six—but my story’s almost seven thousand.
Crap.
My partner got back to me in about 40 minutes, but I was on the hunt by then, and kept looking for places to submit. I looked for two hours before finding a magazine taking stories up to ten thousand words . . . but it might not be exactly what they’re looking for. What the hell, I thought, I’ll give it a try. At least it won’t be rejected out of hand for length.
They have an automated submission system, so I got to work filling in the boxes and rewriting my cover letter to fit the new market. Everything was great until I tried to attach the file. This particular magazine was asking for the story file to be in a specific Word format, and not the newest one at that. Up until this point I’d done all my work in Google Docs, using OpenOffice (a free Word knock-off) whenever I needed to convert a file to something Google Docs couldn’t handle, but this format appeared to be beyond OpenOffice’s capabilities: it would save it in the correct format, but would also insert random blank pages, lines written in gibberish, and stripped out the letters T, F, and all vowels from the text, rendering my carefully-written story into something cut-and-pasted together, ransom note style, by a spastic three-year-old with a substance abuse problem.
I’m exaggerating. A little.
I finally broke down and decided to join the 21st century writing world and buy Word. The problem now was figuring out which to get—there are so many versions of Word and Microsoft Office out there—so I texted my partner. I should have gotten Word months ago just for doing S&L Editing work, but I’d been being kind of a dick and sort of forcing her to do the final formatting on everything before sending it to the clients. Whatever I got should (hopefully) mesh well with what she has.
Once she finished burying the transient on her neighbor’s property (or, you know, whatever) she got right back to me. She has Word 2013.
I could not get Word 2013.
Oh, I could get it, but as a CDROM sent to me in the mail rather than as a direct download. I’d come this far, squandered my morning searching and shopping, and I wanted something to show for it. A story submission would have to do. I settled on Student Office 2016, bought and downloaded it (it's tax deductible!) and submitted my story . . . and I’d only started searching three and a half hours earlier.
I'm giving up on writing for now. It’s 1:30 in the afternoon, and I’d planned to be done writing by 2:00 anyway, as I have errands to run and chores to do that require a little daylight. I’ve barely done anything I meant to do, writing-wise, and I took almost six hours not doing it. I haven’t eaten anything yet today, and I suspect that funny aroma I’m smelling is me. Maybe raking the yard or cleaning off the back deck will give me a sense of accomplishment. Or even just going to the bank.
But first, I need a shower. And maybe some pants.

Talk to you later.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Diorama-lama-bo-bama (Or: Scenes From a Growing Boy)

Greetings, WYMOP readers.
So, this happened:
“Here, I wanted to show you this,” said Handsome, striding into the dining room with bounce in his step and a box in his hands. “It oughta look familiar to you.”
He put the box on the table in front of me, and I saw that though it had started life as the container for his most recent pair of sneakers (size sasquatch, and still growing), the lid had been cut off and there was something other than shoes inside. The bottom was now lined with gray and white marble-patterned paper which looked a lot like ice. Skirting the ice along one side of the box was a white paper snowbank, mounding high and sloping toward the water as lake shores often do. Out in the middle of the box were two little paper men, cut from a printed picture, dressed for the weather and working a miniscule auger through the frozen lake.
“Never seen it before,” I said. “Ice fishing diorama?”
“We had to make a diorama for school,” he said. “A scene from a book we like.”
“Okay,” I said. I knew he really liked the Shadowmagic Trilogy, but I couldn’t remember any ice fishing in it. I sat there wracking my brain, trying to remember anything I knew he’d read recently—hell, at all—that might have had a scene like this.
I finally gave in. “And I should know this?”
“Yeah, you ought to know the book. Well, the story.”
My mind flew to a story I’d written a long time ago for Dead of Winter, called “Fishing Hole,” that was all about ice fishing. But so far as I knew he’d never read Dead of Winter. And there were four guys in that story, not two. And—but wait. Even longer ago than that, I’d written—
“Is this my Christmas story? ‘Fishing Buddy?’ ”
“The one where two guys go ice fishing on Christmas Eve, and one of them turns out to be Santa?” he said with a grin. “Yeah. I like that story.”
“Me, too,” I said, looking at the diorama again. He’s going to be fifteen in a few months, and he was just ten years old when that story was published, but there they were: two guys ice fishing on Christmas Eve. “This is really cool. Thank you.”
“I thought you’d like it,” he said over a shoulder, heading back into the kitchen.
I sat there checking out the diorama again, and though I will neither confirm nor deny that I wiped away a tear once he wasn’t looking, yes, I liked it.
I liked it very much.
Talk to you later.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Lattice Entertain You


Greetings, WYMOP readers!

People tend to like the characters I write into my fiction, in part because they seem so real. Well, to be fair, in part they are. I meet people every day—quite often on my route at work—who form the basis for characters who then find their way into my writing. I mean, let’s face it: sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about—and not even that extreme an example.
There is an older woman who moved to my route a couple of years ago. She’s not gone whackadoodle, as some older folks do, wearing her underwear on the outside of her pants, or forgetting the pants entirely (I’ve heard of both) or anything like that, but she does have one quirk: though I park in front of her house, and as soon as I have my mail bag on my shoulder I’m going to walk straight to her door, she feels the need, when she sees me, to pop out of her house like a life-sized jack-in-the-box as soon as the truck grinds to a halt. She marches right up to my door to call in my window, “Can I have my mail?”
She doesn’t necessarily want to talk—some people do, they’re friendly and just want to say hi—but she needs her mail. ASAP. Now, if not sooner. She’d oft-times get it quicker if she weren’t crowding me, making it harder to get out and around to the rear of the vehicle where her mail actually is. Sometimes, though, I’m speedy enough, or she just doesn’t see me until it’s too late, or maybe the weather’s just too awful, and she instead meets me at her door, opening it a crack to thrust her claw through the gap with a cry of “I’m right here!”
Then there are the rare, rare times when she misses me entirely, and I actually get to use her mailbox. This had been one of those times.
Now, I can understand why she tries to meet me at the door, especially on cold days or when the weather isn’t otherwise especially human friendly. There is a sort of arbor over her door, a roofed but lattice-sided box about three feet deep forming a sort of outside entry hall. The former tenants had their mailbox mounted inside this arbor, beneath the small roof and right beside the door: open the door, stick your hand out, grab the mail. Hell, they could have done it naked—probably did—and no one would ever know.
The woman in question, however, despite my suggestion to the contrary, afixed her mailbox to the wall of the house outside the arbor, necessitating a walk out and around the lattice wall, a full-body immersion into a cold winter day or complete exposure to wind and rain when fetching the post. I don’t blame her for not wanting to make that trip, if she can avoid it . . . which leads me to a couple of weeks ago.
We had snow. Not a whole hell of a lot—not nearly as much as they’d predicted—but enough to be a pain in the ass for working outside in. I parked, filled up my mail satchel at the rear of the truck, started at the jack-in-the-box’s house, then walked about delivering the whole street. When I got back to my truck I heard a call from behind me, thin and reedy and fairly familiar: “Excuse me, could you hand me my mail?”
“Yes, ma’am,” I called back, slung my truck door closed, turned, and stopped.
There she stood, one foot inside the house, the other out. Not wanting to step out into the dusting of snow on the ground, she’d managed to worm one large and bony hand through the lattice, her spindly wrist—about as thick around as two broomsticks lain side-by-side—fitting quite comfortably in the gap. She’d opened her box, grabbed tight her mail . . . and then discovered her fist, which was probably as large as mine, wouldn’t fit back through the hole. Even as I watched, she twisted her hand this way and that, looking for the magical angle which would let her squeeze that big bundle of knuckles back through the lattice while still clutching her prize.
Now, she could have dropped the prize, then simply stepped around the lattice to retrieve it once more. Barring that, she might have put the mail back in the box—it was obviously within reach—keeping her mail out of the snow and her from having to bend to pick it up. None of this occurred to her, however. So focused was she on having that mail, I think that if I hadn’t come back to my truck, or if she’d tried the stunt after I’d driven away, she might have stood there until her daughter came to visit; half-in, half-out of the house, wrist stuck in a handcuff the size of her house.
I took the bills and junk mail from her trapped mitt and she easily pulled her hand back through the lattice. I stepped around and handed her the bundle, which she accepted with a smile. “Thanks,” she said. “I won’t try that again!”
And she hasn’t. Yet. But I make sure now, when I get back to the truck after delivering her street, to take a peek into her arbor, waiting for the day I hear it again: Excuse me, could you hand me my mail?
So, at some point in the future is the can I have my mail lady going to wind up in a story? Sure, if the story calls for a perfectly normal person with just one little quirk, one odd obsession. I may change it some—maybe write a man who’s just like everyone else, except he’s got one particular brand of gum he needs, or a woman who needs to stop the car so she can get out and smell wild lilac whenever she drives past it—but I’ll probably have the can I have my mail lady in mind when I do.
Because truth is stranger than fiction.

Talk to you later!