Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Dammit, Michigan!

(And most of the other states)

One of my WsIP is a sequel to Wacky Wednesday. I just wrapped up a first draft, and I’m now in rewrites. I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say the book centers around Jayk and Amon’s wedding, which as of right now takes place in Grosse Pointe Park, MI.

If you read WW, you may recall Chatham-Kent, the tiny Canadian town Jayk and his friend Connor paint one day while playing hooky from community college. I thought Grosse Pointe would be a great location for the wedding because it’s quaint and quiet and only an hour away from Chatham-Kent, which meant Jayk could totally have his bachelor party in C-K.

I wrote an entire draft of this book without it ever occurring to me that gay marriage isn’t legal in Michigan.

It just hit me the other day, and I was like, How could I have forgotten?

Here’s how I could have forgotten:

IT’S 2012.

It’s 2012, and I no longer wish to waste time acknowledging my country’s ridiculous prejudices. I will be here living my life, treating everyone as equals and expecting them to do the same for me. You catch up when you can, America.

It just makes me feel gross to think that after all this time, I can’t set a contemporary wedding anywhere I want because the two people involved are both men.

I spend so much time now in the wonderful world of fiction, interacting with other writers and readers who are open minded and loving that sometimes it’s a shock to find myself back in real life where it’s like, REALLY? Still with the it’s-the-government’s-job-to-police-marriage bullshit? Yeah, Scalia, still workin’ that gay-love-like-man-on-dog-sex platform?



I could rant more, but I’ll stop here. Just know that if this book gets published, the paranormal/fantasy label might not refer to body-swapping madness, but to the book being set in some magical alternate universe where Michigan recognizes gay marriage.

Poster by ariahfine

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Calling the Show's Eclectic Soundtrack

Calling the Show was originally going to be about singing, not hula hooping. Sim was going to be this really great singer, and Jesse had a good voice but was too nervous to sing in front of people, so Sim gave him lessons and they bonded over Broadway duets. I scrapped that partway through the outline, and I’m glad I did. But some vestiges of the duet idea remain.

“Mama, A Rainbow,” the song that depresses Sim when Jesse listens to it in the car, was going to be Jesse’s big solo. It’s a gorgeous song from a 70s musical about the Marx Brothers called Minnie’s Boys. Jesse’s such a mama’s boy that it’s pretty perfect. Here are a couple of versions of it. The first is a more stylized/modernized version sung by Broadway actor Jesse Nager. Quite different from the Jim Nabors original, but I think some of the notes he hits are really impressive. Here it is.

If you want to hear something closer to the classic, here’s a rendition by Terry Hicks.

Some of the other songs the boys were going to do that I listened to a lot during the writing process were “Something Good” (Sound of Music), “I’d Rather Be Sailing” (A New Brain) “Only He” (Starlight Express – that was totally going to be Sim’s solo), and “You Were Meant for Me” (The Object of My Affection – this song still got a mention in CtS). So yeah, a lot of Broadway playing in the background while I wrote this book.

And a lot of Foreigner.

I made the mistake one night of asking myself how I’d describe Jesse’s overarching objective in the book. My answer? “I think he really just wants to know what love is.”

I knew it was a mistake as soon as the words were out of my brain-mouth, but it was too late. Lou Gramm was already in my head, singing “I Want to Know What Love Is.” So I started listening to that a lot. And from there it was just a small step to “Feel’s Like the First Time” and “Waiting for a Girl Like You.”

I also added one of my all-time favorite songs, Sammy Hagar’s “When Love Walks In,” to the writing soundtrack, because it seemed appropriate to both Jesse and Sim. Plus it mentions masters and slaves.

Come on, you know you want to listen to it. Click here and feel awesome for the rest of the day.

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Bluer Sky

Art by MC Blackman

Gorgeous poster by MC Blackman for A Bluer Sky, the fictional musical being put on in Calling the Show. Often in writing, the little details that don't really move the story along get chopped during the editing process. Early drafts of CtS had a bit more info on A Bluer Sky, which was written by an alum of Hollander College and centers around the Battle of Lundy's Lane during the War of 1812 and real-life soldier Jarvis Hanks, a fourteen-year-old who joined the U.S. army as a drummer boy.

A Bluer Sky was my nod to theater's tradition of musicalizing wars--from 1776 to Civil War to Les Miserables and Miss Saigon, you can't beat the solo-worthy crises people face during wartime. I liked the idea of my characters falling for each other against the backdrop of a War of 1812 musical, and it was fun to imagine a big jock like Brayden Matthews playing 14-year-old Jarvis Hanks.

I love this poster even more since I recently got to see photos of the creation process. A really cool mix of photography and torn paper. Thanks, MC.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Suffering for Art

Professor Anne came home from the vet yesterday and is recovering nicely from a pit bull attack. She wants everyone to see her badass nose stitches and her awesomely goozing leg wounds, but she is terribly embarrassed by her cone of shame. Aside from the physical injuries, you wouldn't know anything had happened to her. She follows me around and staring at me as if to say, “How about you take this Elizabethan bullshit off my neck and we’ll play with the squeaky popsicle?” When I try to explain that she needs to rest and lie quietly and not disturb her wounds, she seems unconvinced. She refuses to wait for me to help her with stairs or getting into the car. She still wants to meet and play with other dogs.
I, on the other hand, feel like I re-watch the attack in my mind about fifty times a day. I find it hard to sleep, concentrate, and to not tense up when we meet other dogs on our walks. I've worked with dogs for years, and rationally I understand that what happened is just a freak thing, and that we're lucky the damage isn't worse. It's amazing to me that the professor is the one who actually endured the attack, and yet she's already moved on.

"I'd be fine if it wasn't for this f''in' satellite dish around my neck."
When she looks at me like, “What’s the BFD?” I explain that because I’m human, I'm obligated to plant myself in that moment the other dog grabbed her and do the whole What if? and I should have… and If only… even though these thoughts are completely unproductive and my concern looks ridiculous next to her high spirits and amusing cone collar antics.

This situation has made me think—as so many non-writing-related situations do—about writing. And how every once in a while I feel a little like a fraud, because I make it my job to think about worst case scenarios, the deepest ways people can hurt, the hardest choices we have to make. Then I write about those situations, often without having actually experienced them.

What happened to Anne is the most disturbing thing I’ve ever witnessed firsthand. And probably I should feel lucky that the worst thing I’ve ever seen is one dog attacking another. Because way worse stuff happens in the world.

But life’s not a suffering contest. All of us, whatever we’ve done and seen and endured, are working from the same emotional palette. Getting dumped might not sound as bad as getting stranded in the wilderness with no food, but maybe both situations evoke similar feelings of abandonment, loneliness, despair, and fear about the future. Maybe the person who gets dumped takes way longer to recover than the person who finally makes it back to civilization. There are no rules about what events should affect us and how.

That's what I love about writing. Falling in love becomes epic. A simple trip to the grocery store ends up changing the lives of everyone in the new age beverage aisle. I used to read a lot of books as a kid where the MC really wanted a pet but his/her parents didn't, and I would get so invested in those stories. Suddenly nothing in the world--war, poverty, strife, the Indians winning a World Series--mattered as much to me as Mandy convincing her parents to let her get a snake.

I’ve always been a bigger fan of Nicholas Delbanco’s theory that by the age of four a writer has experienced every emotion he or she needs to write compelling fiction than the notion that young writers—or young artists in any medium—can’t create deep works because they haven’t suffered or experienced enough. I'm sure many of us empathize more deeply with fictional situations that mirror our own, and I hope and expect to always be growing into a smarter, stronger, more complex writer (and person) as I age. But who decides what level of experience or suffering is “enough?” Maybe it’s not what we experience so much as how we understand and process our experiences.

I think a lot about the idea of fiction as escapism. Of course I read and write to hang out in other worlds and live vicariously through characters. But I don’t think there can be true connection with a work of fiction, either as a reader or a writer, without understanding and empathy. Without introspection. Maybe fiction isn’t so much a way to avoid the thoughts, feelings, and situations we fear in RL as it is a way to meet them head on.

I can’t be like Anne and shake off the bad stuff that happens like it was nothing. But I also don’t want to go through life collecting unexamined wounds that never fully heal. So I seek or create characters with similar wounds and watch the way they deal with them, and slowly start to understand how I deal with mine.

I love my dog and I love writing because they both encourage a similar approach to life: take the things that hurt you and let them become a part of you. Take as long as you need to adjust to them being there. And when you’re ready, pick up the squeaky popsicle and keep playing.

Monday, August 6, 2012

My Ugly Ass Hula Hoops

Like the boys in Calling the Show, I make my own hula hoops (except for the green one. I didn't make that.). And like Jesse, I am awful at decorating them. I’m good up to the point where you connect he two ends of PVC pipe to form a hoop. But when I pick up the colored tape, I get lazy.

This is my first hoop, made just over a year ago. I was going for “dingy rainbow” here. The original tape job was even worse—red and green stripes with huge uneven gaps between, like Christmas puked on a piece of pipe. I made it with ½ inch PVC, so it’s thin and a little flimsy. This can make it fun to use around the waist or neck because it warps as it rotates, which produces kind of a slinging action, but it’s not so great for tricks.

My second effort was a little better in terms of structure. ¾ inch pipe, way more solid. Better for tricks. I did not, however, improve at all in the decorating department. What’s with the white sections? Is my hoop injured and bound with gauze? I don’t know. This one is, if possible, even uglier in person than in photos.

My third hoop was purchased online. I assumed this one would be better designed and decorated than anything I’d make. The solid green is a big improvement over my hideous rainbows, but the construction of the hoop itself isn’t all that impressive. It’s a little misshapen, and dented in a couple of places. It's smaller than the other two, which is good for working out, since it takes more effort to keep a smaller hoop going.

If you’re interested in making hoops, it really is easy. Pick your favorite size PVC pipe (I really like the 3/4 inch), measure (you want the hoop to come about to your bellybutton when you stand it on the ground), cut the length you need, then connect the two ends with a PVC connector. You can glue the ends or wind some extra tape around the connection point too, to keep it from coming apart. You can also put sand or water in the pipe to weight the hoop. Weighted hoops are said to give a better workout. I prefer unweighted hoops so they can double as exercise or trick hoops.

Then, the part I can’t advise you on—decorating. Get some pretty tape. Do a better job than I do.

 And here is an action shot of Professor Anne leaping through a hoop.