Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Existential Spelling Bee

Have you ever heard the old routine “Who’s on First” by Abbott and Costello? I’ve got one better. The following is an actual transcription of a conversation I had with my son Max when he was two and a half.

Let me put this in context with some background information first. At the time of our little conversation, Max was able to spell three words: Max, Mommy, and Daddy. I would write the words out on his Magna-Doodle and he would tell me what each one said.

What parent would not be proud of such an achievement in a toddler? After all, these are the days of spell-checker, texting, and instant messages on the computer. Spelling is a lost art. Punctuation, grammar, and basic rhetoric seem to be dying fast as well.

Max was well on the road to literary greatness; of this I was certain.

My perspective changed, however, when I discovered that just because you can say – and even spell – a word, that doesn’t prove that you know what it means. For Max, our conversation quickly shifted from basic spelling to a thorough treatise on his own transcendental sense of being. I was simply not expecting such a heavy conversation with a two year old.

Me: What does M-A-X spell?

Max: Spells me!

Me: No, it spells Max. M-E spells me.

Max: M-E spells you?

Me: No, Y-O-U spells you.

Max: Y-O-U spells Max?

Me: No, M-A-X spells Max. Y-O-U spells you.

Max: Y-O-U spells me?

Me: No, M-E spells me.

Max: M-E spells Daddy?

Me: No, D-A-D-D-Y spells Daddy. M-E spells me.

Max: M-E spells me?

Me: That's right!!!! M-E spells me!

Max: M-E spells Max!

Me: No, no…M-A-X spells "Max"…

And so it continued. Eventually he did sort out the differences between I, me, and you. Now he is nearly seven years old, and he has conquered more advanced linguistic challenges, like separating articles from nouns.

For example, he would say “How big will I be when I am an adult?”

What’s the issue with that, you wonder? Nothing, but it was soon followed by, “Are all an-adults as tall as you are?”

I never had the heart to correct him on this one. It was just too cute. He figured it out soon enough, anyways. Now his little brother is picking up where he left off.

Friday, January 30, 2009

For the love of a good read

Nothing beats a good book. Even a good meal, a glass of wine, a sunny vacation (or snowy, depending on your tastes) is no match for a story told by a master teller.

I few days ago I wrote in a post that I could probably make you hungry, and I believe it. I've read passages that have made my mouth water, that made me feel I was involved in the drunken melee, that I was the lover...

When I read, I get totally absorbed in the material. I allow the book to take me off to its world. I understand the *no spoilers* rules, because sometimes you want a story to tell you on its own. I don't wan tot know how the movie ends; I don't want to know what you got me for Christmas. I enjoy a good surprise.

My wife is finishing book 4 of the Twilight series, and she wants to tell me all about it. I keep stopping her, though. I know it frustrates her, because she loves it and wants to share, but I will read the series on my own, and don't want the plot to be unfolded before I get to it. Although there is some comfort in the fact that she is trying to summarize like 2,600 pages in two minutes, and it comes across more jumbled and confusing than my query letters ;-)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I come from the land of ice and snow...

The winter storm that swept up from the southern plains hit us last night. The snow turned to rain late in the evening, and it rained all night. Of course, this is central Ohio, and we can't have normal rain. We get freezing rain. When I woke up this morning, it looked as if there was white fluffy snow everywhere, but it was all frozen solid.

We're under a level 2 snow emergency. Max's school is closed. Vic's daycare is closed. The cardiologist Angie works for closed his office today. I work from home, so I don't get a snow day.


I get to spend all day putting together a contract for a prospective client. I'm not a lawyer, but I've done enough contract work as part of sales and business development that I feel I should charge people $500 an hour for a 5-minute conversation, and then go play golf. I bet I could actually drive the ball 300 yards today, because it would bounce and roll on the ice.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Fate's Guardian is my novel. The 120,000 word manuscript is complete, and I'm sending my query letter out to agents. I was fortunate enough to get a professional critique yesterday by Nathan Bransford, agent extraordinaire, as well as many readers of his blog.

Here is the synopsis for Fate's Guardian:

Gil Jacobs must die in order to save his soul. After living dozens of lives over hundreds of years, the events of his past are catching up with him, and he is powerless to prevent it…

In thirteenth century France, a Troubadour travels from town to town, but he is not just there to sing and perform, he also has an insatiable urge to kill. His murderous instincts do not get him into trouble with the law, but they do taint his relationship with a lady he loves. The Troubadour murders her abusive husband in order to win her affection, but in doing so he only alienates her further. Furious over her rejection, the Troubadour tries to kill her, but he cannot bring himself to complete the deed and instead takes his own life, leaving her on the brink of death.

The Troubadour’s soul leaves his body, but he refuses to cross over when the light comes for him. He is waiting for his love to die so he can finally be with her, but when she does die, he cannot go through the light with her. He is trapped as a ghost. The Troubadour wanders the globe, searching for people on the brink of death, trying to grab onto their souls as they cross over so he can go with them. Sometimes they slip away and make it through the light. The others he traps and consumes their energy, growing stronger with each soul he devours. As centuries go by, he forgets his past, his own thoughts clouded by the memories of the souls he preys upon. In 1968, he makes his way to rural Georgia…

Gil Jacobs is only seven years old when he witnesses a horrific double-homicide. His best friend’s father kills his wife and daughter, and Gil, who has come over to play at the wrong time, watches through the window as Julie Flaherty is killed. It is an event that will haunt him for the rest of his life. Literally.

The Troubadour is drawn to the Flaherty house, sensing the impending deaths. He captures and devours the soul of Julie’s mother. As he struggles to claim Julie’s soul, Gil’s presence at the window distracts him, allowing Julie to escape from his grasp.

The Troubadour turns his attention toward Gil and attacks, trying to possess him, but Gil’s soul is too strong. Something odd happens to the Troubadour when he is near Gil – memories of his long forgotten life begin to surface. Memories of the woman he loved, and the man he killed to have her. Curiosity turns to anger as the Troubadour ponders his past, suspecting that Gil played a role in his demise. Not knowing who Gil once was, and having no clear memory of the past himself, the Troubadour develops an intense hatred for Gil, and is determined to take his soul.

Julie Flaherty is alone, scared, and confused. Trapped as a ghost, she clings to the one positive memory of her life – her best friend, Gil Jacobs. She watches as the Troubadour attacks Gil. She can see that the Troubadour is not strong enough to take Gil’s life, but she watches in fear as the Troubadour preys on the weaker souls nearby, growing stronger with each one.

Years pass, and as his strength grows, the Troubadour becomes more persistent in his attacks on Gil. During one attack, the Troubadour catches a glimpse of Gil’s fate. Knowing the time and place of Gil’s death, the Troubadour realizes that he cannot end Gil’s life, but thinks that he may be able to extend it. If Gil misses his destined death, his soul will be thrown into an imbalance that will weaken it, leaving him defenseless.

Julie knows that there is only one way she can protect Gil. Using herself as bait, she lures the Troubadour far away, to other prey. She provides a temporary reprieve, and Gil grows to adulthood and starts a family. But living happily ever after was never part of Gil’s fate, for he is going to die in a car crash at the tender age of thirty-three. Unless, of course, the Troubadour can prevent the crash.

The Troubadour returns on the day of Gil’s destined death, trying like mad to upset the sequence of events that leads to the crash. Julie follows, and in the moments before the crash, she sacrifices herself to the Troubadour, providing the distraction necessary to facilitate Gil’s fatal end.

As the Troubadour devours Julie’s soul, his past memories come full surface, and he realizes that in her past, Julie was the husband of his lost love, the one he murdered so long ago. Drunk with power, the Troubadour makes a final assault on Gil’s soul as the light comes for him. As the Troubadour attacks, Gil changes. He no longer appears as the young man the Troubadour pursued for so many years. Gil's soul takes on the form of a woman from a life he lived long ago, and the Troubadour recognizes his lost love. Stunned, the Troubadour watches in vain as the light comes and the soul he longs for crosses over and is lost to him once again.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The title comes last

Sometimes when I blog I start with a title and work from there. This morning I'm just winging it. I have no title in mind. That being said, I did put a title up there as a placeholder. I may change it, I may not. We'll see. For the moment, the most important thing is a refill on my coffee.

Got it.

For you, the reader, that was nothing. Instant coffee. There's one of the magic qualities for writing. Things can just happen. Coffee can appear, hot and freshly brewed, without having to wait.

But really, you are under my control as a writer. If I want you to wait for the coffee, I could have gone into detail about how I got up and went into the kitchen. If I really wanted to mess with you, I could even tell you I had to let the dog out, even though I didn't - but you would never know unless I told you, like i just did. I'm a terrible liar.

When I got to the kitchen, I saw that my wife drank the last cup, so I rinsed the pot and re-filled the coffee maker with water. I grabbed the coffee from the cupboard, and measured out eight scoops. Angie doesn't put in as much as I do, but as a result her coffee tastes like dirty water and couldn't wake an insomniac. I drink it black, she adds hazelnut creamer, so she's going for the flavor of the creamer, and I'm going for the flavor of the coffee.

Which do you like better? Can you taste my coffee, its bold and robust flavor? Can you taste my wife's creamer, sweet and nutty?

Writing is amazing. I start a thought, and you finish it. Maybe I just made you thirsty. I could probably make you hungry if I wanted to.

If nothing else, I hope I entertained you, or proved thought in its slightest form. If I totally wasted your time, then I failed.

All for now...

Friday, January 23, 2009

No time but the present

I mean that literally. I have no time but the present. If the earth's rotation ever slows, and our days extend to 30 hours, I'll rejoice. After the tidal waves and earthquakes subside, that is. But what the hell. There's always a small price to pay for convenience.

I've been doing a good job of waking up early to write. My body no longer threatens to kill my alarm clock. The main drawback is that its getting harder to sleep in on the weekends.

I signed up for a website called "the Next Big Writer" and I like it so far. It's a quid pro quo post and review post your material for others to review, but to post more material you need to review others' works. I posted Fate's Guardian a few evenings ago (the first 4,500 words, there is a 5,000 word cap per post). The next morning I had three reviews, and the end of the day I had 4. They were mainly favorable, and there was some great feedback, from minor plausibility for one sequence, to typos that I didn't find, even through multiple rounds of revising.

I've reviewed a couple pieces, too, and that's quite an eye-opening experience, especially when you hit a good premise, but poorly constructed sentences. It gives you a feel for what an agent might go through when they received some queries and manuscripts. Another piece I read made me laugh out loud, which is good because it was in the humor category.

Speaking of queries, I got a new rejection yesterday. Same theme as the other recent rejects: "your material is not right for us, but that's just our taste."

I guess that's better than a Simon Cowell-ish "You're a nice person, but please, don't ever write another word again."

And yes, the reference to Simon Cowell does mean that I have something to say about American Idol. Or rather, the contestants.

Last night we let our boys watch the episode from Wednesday. It was cached on the DVR...LOST won the coin toss for Wednesday night viewing. The kids are only seven and four, but they know talent; or rather, the lack thereof. They laugh just as hard at the first notes of a crappy singer as they do at a solid nut-shot on America's Funniest Home Videos.

There was one singer, who was very, very good, whose intro said that "she struggled with poverty..." That's so cliche. Why don't we ever hear about anyone who struggled with prosperity?

Oh wait, we do. Paris Hilton. Never mind. Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A test of character

"We are not measured by the challenges we face in life, rather by what we do to overcome them."
- Richard J. Daley (aka Me)

If anyone actually reads this blog, take what you can from this. Apply it to world leaders. Apply it to your parents. Apply it to yourselves.

"Live long and prosper."
- Mr. Spock

"I was talking about you, not to you."
- Richard J. Daley (aka Me)

That last one was obviously a reference to the fact that this blog has no readers.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

About this global warming...

Quick, someone grab an aerosol can and unload's freezing up here!

We've had the pleasure of sub-zero temperatures for several days in a row. It got up to 18 degrees today and it felt like a heat wave. It's supposed to drop down to the single digits again tonight and tomorrow, but it should stay above zero. Unless you count the wind chill, and then you are just a harbinger of sorrow.

We took the kids sledding on Sunday. There's a great hill right around the corner, between a high school and a middle school. The bottom of the hill ends right into the parking lot. There's no curb, so it's normally a smooth transition.

If you thought, "Why Rick, why would you say 'normally'? Does that imply that something was different this weekend?" you would have been correct. As it turns out, the significant snow that accumulated was perfect fodder for a snow plow, which pushed it all in a long plie stretching across the bottom of our sledding hill.

But it wasn't a blockade. It was a jump! Adults and children were able to get about three feet of air and about 5 yards of distance off that sucker. That was awesome if you landed on your sled.

Remember that at the end of the hill, and therefore on the other side of the jump, was a parking lot. Hard, flat asphalt.

It does not take a psychic to figure out that I was not 100% successful in landing on the sled. I did several times...enough to encourage me to go again. Kind of like that one good shot in a round of golf.

But unlike golf, this hurt like the dickens when a stray limb missed the sled upon landing, choosing instead to connect directly with the asphalt. I have a huge bruise on my hip, my left knee is all jacked up, and my right shoulder hurts really bad (although the shoulder thing is from an attempt to go down standing on the sled like a snowboard. For what it's worth, I did make it to the bottom).

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

An Old Picture

This is a picture of me when I was 18. It was taken the day after my senior prom, and proves that I once had a lot of hair on my head:

This one has me in full dorky HS glory. Note the spiked hair. It was not cool then, either: