Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Learning Experience

I suspect that it may be the case with all first novels, but The Rider (tentative title of my first novel) has been one epic humbling and learning experience. It was started with the same gusto and blind excitement that I'm sure every first novel is started with. It's been through ups and downs. And now, almost two years later I'm seeing that light at the end of the tunnel.

I've got under 30,000 words to go if things continue on the course they are now. It's around this point where suddenly everything has to start coming together. This is a very frightening experience. I get the sense that I made everything a lot easier on myself by just tossing everyone towards a big showdown in one location. A whole bunch of forces are about to collide and I already have a sense of who is supposed to come through. It's like cheating.

In early draft's I'd had a character Loki, and his buddy, a boy, Daniel, who got slashed back in October when I was trying to really figure out the essence of the story. Now a few months later it turns out that they are necessary for the story. It's funny how it was like I almost knew what I was doing. Maybe that is the inevitability of the story driving itself.

There was a point, I suspect it was October when the heavy thinking took place, where I'd reached the point where just slinging ideas together was no longer going to cut it, and bringing it to a close was important. It resulted in sweeping cuts, some of which are still happening. Over winter break I chopped about 10,000 words off, which I, only a couple weeks ago, made back up.

By far the greatest strength, which wasn't utilized in the early sections of the novel, was journaling. This feels a bit like eating my own words, because I was always terrible and angry at journaling. By just having a notebook that I could work thoughts out on paper gave me a concordance and commentary that I could draw from, and an understanding of exactly what I was thinking at the time. This is becoming endlessly important facing down the climactic battle of Beulah which is just before the denoument of the story.

I'll be blogging more about this sort of thing I suspect in the coming weeks as I really start to bring this beast in for a landing.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

10 Albums of 2008

I'd been meaning to do a post on music for a while. The ten albums (not necessarily) from 2008 that really made the year for me. It was going to be written over break, but then I never actually got around to it. So here at long last is Nathan's list of the 10 albums that made 2008 for me.

We'll start at the beginning of the year with a little promo that I got from my friend Duke. Jason Anderson's sophomore release, Tonight actually came out in 2007. With only 8 tracks one would think it's a light release, but he breathlessly plays out pop gems that run almost 10 minutes each. His sound (supposedly a marked departure from his more stripped down acoustic) verges on motown and classic songs of the later 50s. Favorite song is "July 4, 2004"

Following not long on those heals was a release I'd been dearly waiting for. Mike Doughty's fourth release (Fifth if you count Smofe + Smang) post-Soul Coughing "Golden Delicious." Following his first two albums, Skittish and Rockity Roll, Mike filled out his sound with a band reminiscent of the Dave Matthews Band minus the horn section. Scrap on Bass and Pete on drums, and from time to time other artists. For this album they added a fourth, Dan Chen on keys. Favorite Song is "I Just Want the Girl in the Blue Dress to Keep on Dancing"

Earlier last year Mike Doughty started a record label The Snack Bar. The first band he signed to it was a little group called the Panderers. I don't know much about them other than that they are the most badass sounding group I've ever heard, and I wish I could find more. They have a self released album called "Songs That Bang" that I've never heard, and from what I've found is nearly impossible to get a hold of. But their 4 song EP, Hotshot's Boy, has been rocking my iPod for a year. Their song Shane is the inspiration for one of the bad guys in my novel. It's also my favorite song from the album.

Duke plugged me into Cloud Cult with their album, The Meaning of 8, but it didn't stick with me. While his brain was exploding over interesting lyrics and even more interesting instrumentation I was left hanging and saying "ok, now what?" Then this last year he tossed me "Feel Good Ghosts (Tea Partying Through Tornadoes)." My brain finally exploded and I learned a real appreciation for this band. And it's more than just their music that hooks me. They are the most "green" band I've ever heard of, conscious of the environmental footprint they make and managing to reduce it to zero. Check out "No One Said it Would Be Easy."

Regina Spektor is one of those discoveries of a lifetime for me. I'd vaguely heard her those few times I listen to pop radio, but never actively. Then over spring break while out in LA I heard her album "Begin to Hope" on an 8 hour drive north to San Francisco. Back in Chicago I sought out the rest of her sound, and it's now a staple of my iPod. My favorite song is not off this album actually, but is still good "Us"

I have a large music collection. It makes every listening a discovery. This is true for the next two artists who I discovered on my iPod during my week up at Houghton Lake. The first is the Dear Hunter. This is the side project of the former frontman of The Recieving End of Sirens, this is a massive undertaking to make a 6 album concept with an overarching story. The sounds range from Beach Boys harmony, to the post punk sound that is popular on many alternative stations, to dabblings in Sergeant Pepper's brilliance. I couldn't pick an individual album of the first two acts that are out because they are such a cohesive unit. I eagerly await Act 3, due out sometimes soon. Song to check out is "Smiling Swine" off of Act 2.

The other artist I discovered was equally as sporadic with his sound. Magnet is the moniker of Norwegian born Even Johansen. Also discovered on my iPod during my week at Houghton Lake. His sound ranges from a very Jason Mraz-esque folk rock sound, to covers of Bob Marley and dabblings in an almost Rat Pack jazz. Off of his album, The Simple Life, definitely check out the opening track, "The Gospel Song.

There isn't really a whole lot more that I can say about Coldplay's recent release Viva La Vida. It's been topping the charts. It's the best album they've put out yet, filling out their airy synths with more textured and full string sections. I'm in love with the title track.

I recently saw Frightened Rabbit in concert at the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor. They played most of their entire album, The Midnight Organ Fight. The first time I heard the album I fell in love with the first track, "The Modern Leper," but in listening to the album in preparation for the concert my favorite song would have to be "Good Arms vs. Bad Arms." The singer has a very unique voice flavored by his thick scotish accent.

Snow Patrol has created a sound that I've been in love with since I started college and was introduced to their album, Final Straw. Eyes Open, their sophomore big label release blew my mind with the sort of title song "Open Your Eyes." Now on their third major release, A Hundred Million Suns, they have reached a level of awesomeness, building on the sound they were perfecting in Eyes Open. Their ability to texture and layer and create slowly swelling songs that turn into sweeping arena epics are second to none. My favorite song is the first movement of their big CD closing epic, "The Lighting Strikes: (1) What if this Storm Ends?"

And that is the 10 albums that moved me through 2008. Download them. Love them. Let me know what you think.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Less Writing More Spaghetti

This is one of those "how's the writing" posts that can be kind of boring, because when it's good it's good, and when it's bad it's bad. And short of just doing it on a regular enough basis there is nothing else you can do, but just deal with it when it's bad and hope that getting something...anything on paper will allow you to get to the good stuff.

A great example of when it's good was when I wrote "I'm Just A Boatman," a short story that is currently (hopefully) on somebody's desk at Doorways magazine to get either published or rejected. The story started as an exercise in Tina Jens's fantasy writing class my last semester at Columbia. She brought a whole range of fantasy reference books, mythology dictionaries and what not, laid them out on a table and said, "ok, grab a book, find something interesting and start a short story." I managed to stumble across the article about Charon, the boatman who ferries the dead across the river styx. Across the table a friend was reading the Zombie Survival Handbook, and somehow the two ideas coalesced into a short story. In a few short hours after class I'd hammered out a complete first draft. Concieved, written, and finished in one massive sitting.

Then there are days like today. Sitting around this morning, an idea hit me for the climax of the novel, which is probably still about 10-15k words away. I get in front of a computer stoked to start working and then BAM! Brick wall. I managed to squeak out about 1200 words, but very few of which I'm happy with.

I am about to start a two hour shift at work that will undoubtedly be dead as a doornail, and that being so, I'll probably end up just working on it there, hopefully working out the issues.


In other news:

I had a spaghetti dinner this weekend. Good turn out, good times. My boss was among them, which was massively awkward, and also funny. Especially when she walked away with my dirty martini...

Friday was spiffy. This blog got mentioned on Gaiman's blog. You can read the original post here.

And that about wraps it up for now. If writing gets boring at work, I'll probably make the post I've been meaning to make about Lakeside from Neil Gaiman's novel, American Gods, and the road trip I'm planning. You can read the first post about it here.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Scary Library Shit

I just got this note through my email and it's very important so I figured I'd post it here and try to help spread awareness. I twittered about it earlier.

January 22, 2009

Dear Nathaniel,

A public meeting was held January 22, and Cheryl Falvey, General Counsel for the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), stated that a decision should be made by the first week of February regarding libraries. She advised libraries not to take any action at this time, and we are hopeful that the Commission’s decision will exempt libraries.

Even with her assurances, we must let the CPSC know how important an issue this is to libraries. Please call the Acting Commissioner, Nancy Nord, at (301) 504-7923. When you call this number, wait for the automated directory to give you directions to reach Nancy Nord’s office. Explain to the Commission that it is simply impossible for libraries to remove all children’s books from the shelves and/or ban children under 12 from the library and still provide the level of service that is needed.

As always, thank you for all that you do. The only way we will be successful in ensuring that children will have access to safe books is with a strong grassroots effort. Your comments to the CPSC need to be submitted as soon as possible, so please tell all your friends and family – we need as many people as possible to communicate that this oversight could have lasting ramifications on our children and our communities.

  • The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 has been interpreted to include books as a product that must be tested for lead. While it is understandable that the CPSC must protect children from toxic materials, publishers have already tested the book components and found that the lead levels are lower than the regulations require three years from now. Additionally, all book recalls in the last two decades have been because of toys attached to the books that posed a choking hazard, not the books themselves.
  • Making these testing regulations retroactive would require both school and public libraries to take drastic steps to come into compliance. They either would have to ban children from their libraries or pull every book intended for children under the age of 12 from their bookshelves at the time children are fostering a lifelong love of learning and reading.
  • In order to allow children and families to continue accessing critical library materials, please either exempt books from the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, accept the component tests that have already been done, or exempt all books currently in school and public libraries. This will ensure that our children continue to have access to safe and educational library materials.

Thank you for your continued support of libraries!

Kristin Murphy
Government Relations Specialist
American Library Association - Washington Office
1615 New Hampshire Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20009-2520
Phone Number: 202.628.8410
Fax: 202.628.8419

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Dreaming of Manifest Destiny

Listening to Mike Doughty makes me want spring time something fierce.

I'm 34 days from heading out to Los Angeles again. The need for it is starting to grow in me something fierce.

One thing that I've been trying to do (and thus far failing miserably at) is to write every day, to maybe have my novel done by spring break. 34 days means I have to write about 900 words a day to hit the rough word count that I was aiming for. It's one of those tasks that make it all seem so doable, yet I keep putting it off.

I've got a rough direction, and while I've got a couple stumbly scenes to figure out between now and the end, I've got a pretty solid direction.

It's sort of scary. The idea that I am really now teetering at the end. That all the pieces are set. That all the players are moving towards the big show down, the big shoot out, and after that the denouement or requiem or whatever you want to call it.

I've also got to rip out something to send Duke's way for our monthly writing challenge that we've set for ourselves.

I'm already slacking my way through the semester. This is both not surprising and endlessly frustrating.

Ok so, I put a break where I was at, and picked up where I wanted to. I can always go back in and fill in the blanks. Anything to get this story done.

And back to the writing I go.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


I just got a number from a girl in the bar...

Now let me justify this:

I go to Old Town with my friend Bryan (he's a winter admit to SI) to get a couple brews, shoot the breeze. A nice end of the week unwind.

I'm just getting done with my first beer, and Bryan orders a second round. A little while later the waitress approaches with one beer, a second round that looks more like my Labatts and less like his Bell's Winter Ale. And she sets it down in front of me.

"It's for you," she says. "From the redhead in the corner."

And I'm thinking that this has to be some sort of a joke, because this never happens to me, and never happens in bars. Right?

Of course I turn to look and see who is scoping me out, and I realize right away that I'm completely unattracted to her.

So my friend and I laugh about it. He gives me hell because this never happens to him, and he's a handsome looking dude.

Then towards the end of the night redhead gets up with her friend to leave. They walk over to the table and she slides me her number and says:

"I've seen you around. My friend and I are leaving, but I wanted to make the first move." She smiles, maybe a little curtsy, maybe not, I've had a few beers at this point. And then she leaves.

And I'm thinking "Holy shit that never happens in a bar in the real world. This never happens to me," and "how the hell could she see me about? I'm a hermit most of the time..."

So that was that.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

So This is the New Year

Wrote the title and then stopped, went back to my blog, checked last year's first post and realized that I'd also titled it "So This is the New Year." And then I sat down to read over what I'd written a year ago and see where things are.

I was thinking of doing another resolution post today. List the goals, talk about them, you know the drill. And last years post I did the exact same thing. So instead here is what didn't happen:

I didn't finish the novel
I didn't get lastingly in shape
I didn't give up soda
I didn't spend less

So we'll reset those goals and try again.

Now about the novel. It got as far as 60,000 words last December, and then a sudden realization of the story I was telling after a conversation with my friend Duke (his blog here) cost me about 10,000 words, of which I've recovered about 5,000. So the approximate word count (without actually looking at the document) is around 55,000 words. I'm figuring that by the end we're going to be looking at something close to 80-90,000 words.

For those of you who hear word count and have no idea what that means here are some references:

The Lord Of The Rings (~470,000 words)
The Hobbit (95,022 words)
The Gunslinger (55,376 words)
American Gods (183, 222 words)

So ~85,000 seems a pretty acceptable venture for a first time novel (that and there is no point in pushing the story further than it wants to go.

I've also decided that (after years of being wishy washy) that this year is the one for doing the Chicago Marathon. Going into training for that as soon as I have an understanding of my schedule (next week).

Duke and I started a sort of accountability on writing to ensure that we get stuff done. The goal is one short story a month. At the end of each month we send that short story to each other to do a first edit as we begin on next month's short story.

Should be good. And with that back to work and to class