In the Past Month

Peggy Martin, my climbing rose, is one thing that has burst forth in the past month.

Writing-wise, 2018 was a blur. Here’s the best way to sum it up: my ambitions definitely overshot my capacity. I was so worked up about re-writing my second novel, and finishing a draft of my 3rd, that I put a lot of other things on hold. And that accumulation of other things continued into the first 2 months of 2019.

But on the first of March, I finally turned over a draft of number 3 to my editor. And I’ve spent the past six weeks. . .doing. . .well, I haven’t really accomplished anything, but I’ve done a lot of thinking. About how I want to write and publish moving forward. And about how I can go about balancing my day job with my writing vocation with my family and life in general, while carving out space for the pastimes I really enjoy.

For one thing, I’ve been reading a lot more. And I’m realizing just how much I missed it. The kind of reading that pulls you in for a nice, long, story and opens your eyes to the world and its history. I can’t downplay just how much I’ve relied on the Serial Reader app for my renewed reading habit. After I finished Moby-Dick, I read H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu,” “Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases” by Ida B. Wells, and Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.

In terms of quick reviews: I was mostly put off by H.P. Lovecraft’s writing, but liked his descriptions of Cthulhu. I’m a new fan of Ida B. Wells, and can’t fathom the courage she possessed to write so plainly about the terrifying reality she lived. And the 2,500-year-old The Art of War has really held up. Though I kept thinking Sun Tzu might have invented the listicle: “There are three ways in which a ruler can bring misfortune upon his army,” “There are five essentials for victory,” etc.

I started Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo on April 1, but it’s a long one, and I’m going to be reading it for the next several months. It’s been an easier read than Moby-Dick so far, though. I’m sure there will be some future posts on the tale of Edmond Dantes.

Outside of my phone, I’ve been reading a hardcover version of The Friend by Sigrid Nunez. I’m almost halfway through, and I love it. A blurb on the back by author Cathleen Schine calls it “a novel about loss and the loneliness of writing and imagination. . .” More apt descriptions: “intense and elegant,” “gorgeously spare.”

I only read it at home, on the weekends, because it was loaned to me and I don’t want to mess it up. So I feel a bit guilty for having it so long. (I promise to return it to you soon, Mel!)

So that’s it for now, about me getting reacquainted with my pastimes. And I haven’t even touched my Netflix viewing yet. 🙂

 

Behind the Photo: Garden District

April 6, 2019, 2:38 pm

This may (or may not) be the start of a new blog feature: “behind the photo.” My thought is to give some context to the impulse that compelled me to snap a photo.

Truthfully, I do this very thing in this space all the time. Look for any of my “City Park” posts. So I guess the only thing that’s new is that I’m attempting to brand the effort. The marketer in me dies hard.

A quick Google search tells me that both National Geographic and Time use the phrase “behind the photo” for sections of their publications. But I don’t think anyone who stumbles across this post will confuse it for either one of those esteemed periodicals.

Anyway, on Saturday, I paid a quick visit to the Garden District of New Orleans, to run into the Garden District Book Shop. (If you’re curious to read more about this great independent bookstore, click here.) What captured my attention at this corner was not so much the sign, but the wall in the background, and in particular, the people there.

That wall encloses Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, one of New Orleans’s oldest cemeteries. As I drove past the entrance, I saw a large group of folks milling about. My guess was that they were sightseers, either about to embark on or just finishing up a tour.

My first thought: Only in New Orleans, do you see large crowds gathered around a graveyard.

But then I remembered a time in Paris, just two years ago now, where I wandered about with friends around Père Lachaise Cemetery.

My second thought: Maybe it’s a French thing.

One final observation to finish this up. Both the name of the cemetery, and the reference on the sign to the “City of Lafayette,” can be a bit confounding to the modern-day Southern-Louisiana dweller. To me, Lafayette is the city about 140 miles west of New Orleans, that one can reach via I-10. The Internet says it’s the 4th largest city in Louisiana, which sounds about right to me.

But apparently, a different city with the name Lafayette was once also a suburb of New Orleans. Back in those days, I think the name was pretty popular, given that the Marquis de Lafayette, or General Lafayette here, was “USA all the way” during the American Revolutionary War. By a very quick and non-official count, it looks like 15 of our 50 states have towns named Lafayette, or some close variation.

Back when Lafayette became part of New Orleans, what I know as Lafayette today was called Vermilionville. It didn’t get the name “Lafayette” until 1884.

So there’s your “behind the photo” scoop, and, bonus, a random Louisiana fact.

While You See a Chance

April’s quote: “Whenever you find yourself doubting how far you can go, just remember how far you have come.”

There’s something I’ve been meaning to write about for a while, now: Steve Winwood’s song “While You See a Chance,” from the album Arc of a Diver, released in February 1981.

Wikipedia tells me it made it all the way to Number 7 on the “Billboard Hot 100” by April of that same year. Thirty-eight years ago.

I remember that song pushing all the right buttons for me. I was a pre-teen, my tastes and predilections beginning to form, starting to diverge from those of my six older siblings. While those tastes never developed me into a die-hard Steve Winwood fan, that song has always ranked pretty high among my all-time faves.

A few months ago, I got a yen to hear it, and looked it up on YouTube. It’s a truly bizarre video, featuring proto-Blue-Man-Group performers and really bad visual effects, including light flashes that feel seizure-inducing. If you’re curious, click here.

Spotify’s audio-only version is preferable. Not only because I don’t have to shield my eyes, but also because it’s apparently been re-mixed. There’s a weird dub spot that I remember from the radio version, that’s still on YouTube. At around 2:19, Steve Winwood’s vocals go up and end abruptly, at the end of the lyric “And don’t you wonder how you keep on moving? / One more day your way.” How “your way” comes out never sounded right to me. It’s fixed on Spotify.

And speaking of the lyrics, they’re still one of my favorite things about the song. These are perhaps my favorite verses:

“When some cold tomorrow finds you
When some sad old dream reminds you
How the endless road unwinds you

While you see a chance take it
Find romance, fake it
Because it’s all on you”

Looking back to the Spring of 1981, I couldn’t have fathomed the many ways the endless road would unwind me. But deep down, I’ve always known that it’s all on me to find a way to re-wind.

And nowhere do the words “it’s all on you” feel truer than when you’re trying to write a story. Solo, without collaborators. I’m pretty sure that’s why I got the yen to hear this song in the first place. It does a great job of reminding me of my youthful enthusiasm, and helping me tap into an energy I had before I started down this endless road. 🙂

Nine Years In

Photo by Clark Young on Unsplash

March 27 has significance to me. And not because it’s a nephew’s birthday (sorry, Matt.) Specifically, the date of March 27, 2010, is a date I note for very personal reasons.

It’s the day I became a writer.

But that’s an oversimplification. Big time. The process of “becoming” anything is more evolutionary than instantaneous. It’s more accurate to state that March 27, 2010, is “the first day I committed words to paper, with the intent of weaving those words into a long-form story.” Or, it’s “the day I began to write fiction.” But I think saying it’s the day I became a writer sounds more compelling.

I’ll set the stage. I was six months into my forties. I had run my third marathon about two months prior. It was a Saturday night, and I was in New Holland, Pennsylvania on a business trip. (I’ll save the details on that trip for some other post, that I may or may not ever write).

There was definitely a “what’s next?” question looming in my mind. And there had been amorphous story ideas floating around in there, too. But those were all laid atop a lifelong desire to write that I had managed to tamp down, or ignore, up to that point. I would tell myself, “I’m too busy trying to make a living,” or, “it’s not a practical use of my time.”

I was in need of a catalyst. And that quick, quiet, trip to New Holland provided it.

That weekend, I saw a lot of horse-drawn buggies like the one pictured at the top of this post. Add a covering, and a prominent caution triangle fixed at the rear, and you’ll get the idea. Perhaps it was an appropriate symbol for the speed of my nascent writing career. It would be three years before I’d share anything I’d written, and another three before I was ready to share with the wider world.

So, on this nine-year anniversary, do I have any regrets? Absolutely. There are plenty of things I would do differently, now that I have the benefit of hindsight. But things don’t work that way. And I have ZERO regrets about embarking down this path.

There’s a piece of writing advice I keep bookmarked on my phone. I go to it whenever I need encouragement, which is often. So I’ll conclude by sharing this excerpt — it’s an apt description of my beginnings:

Write a lot. Maybe at the outset you’ll be like a toddler—the terrible twos are partly about being frustrated because you’re smarter than your motor skills or your mouth, you want to color the picture, ask for the toy, and you’re bumbling, incoherent and no one gets it, but it’s not only time that gets the kid onward to more sophistication and skill, it’s effort and practice. Write bad stuff because the road to good writing is made out of words and not all of them are well-arranged words. — From “How to Be a Writer: 10 Tips from Rebecca Solnit”

Moby-Dick: 99%

Okay, well, really 100%. Though my final issue of Moby-Dick from Serial Reader won’t arrive until later this morning; as luck would have it, I managed to read to the end using an analog copy.

And luck, or chance, did seem to have something to do with it. I’ve been tidying up (no, I have not watched Marie Kondo’s show on Netflix. My current tidying initiative is the consequence of a need, long-neglected, and a Lenten resolution). So, anyway, I was clearing a shelf on a bookcase, and happened across the copy of Moby Dick pictured above.

The copyright is 1948, and this edition is a fifth printing, dated June 1953. My father’s name is inscribed on the title page. Given the timing, I have to think he acquired the book toward the end of his college days. And I acquired it roughly three years ago, when we were doing the final clearing of my parents’ house before selling it.

Talk about a long-neglected need. When I subscribed to Moby-Dick on Serial Reader, I wasn’t aware that this copy was sitting on a shelf in my house. I don’t regret reading Moby-Dick on my phone — the print copy is yellowing and would have been much the worse for wear, had I toted it everywhere with me and read eight pages a day for the last eighty days.

I just wish I had been a bit more cognizant of my belongings.

There’s so much I could write about Moby Dick as literature: how Melville spends a lot of time on whales, how he introduces compelling characters in the final third of the book (something I thought I wasn’t supposed to do as a writer), how he telegraphs the ending. But it’s getting late, and I want to wrap this up.

One of the benefits of reading on my phone: I can take screen captures of passages that speak to me. There are about sixteen screen captures from Moby-Dick sitting in my favorites right now. Many of the passages are pretty dark, and I’d hate to conclude my post that way. So instead I’ll end with a quote that strikes a nice balance:

“Would to God these blessed calms would last. But the mingled, mingling threads of life are woven by warp and woof: calms crossed by storms, a storm for every calm. There is no steady unretracing progress in this life; we do not advance through fixed gradations, and at the last one pause: — through infancy’s unconscious spell, boyhood’s thoughtless faith, adolesence’ doubt (the common doom), then scepticism, then disbelief, resting at last in manhood’s pondering repose of If.”

 

Cardinal Sighting

Cardinal photo credit: Ryk Naves on Unsplash. Japanese magnolia credit: Me!

I spotted a cardinal on my Sunday walk. It feels noteworthy, and worth mentioning here. Though when it comes to ideas of what the cardinal sighting might signify, I’ve come up a bit empty.

So I’ll start with a comparison to my last red bird sighting, chronicled here: The Summer Tanager. The location was the same: City Park’s Couturie Forest. And the two birds’ smallish size was roughly the same. But the birds looked very different — the tanager was a brilliant, uniform red, with no crest. The little guy I saw last weekend definitely had a crest, but the feathers were reddish-brown. More similar to the photo above, than to the St. Louis MLB mascot.

As to what the little bird was trying to tell me, maybe it’s just that Spring is almost here. Returning home, I captured the other photo featured here. Two Japanese magnolia trees guard the entrance to the tennis courts on Marconi Drive. A branch on the southernmost one framed the walking path, my way home, just so. I posted the photo to Instagram, with a comment about the vernal equinox being just days away.

Writing-wise, I have some specific intentions for the early days of Spring. The time has come to apply a critical eye to my marketing efforts (for my two novels, and the upcoming third). My advertising exploits have been haphazard up ’til now. And who am I kidding? They will probably continue to be somewhat haphazard for a bit longer, while I figure out what works better than not.

Maybe the little cardinal was a sign that paying attention to my author outreach, at this point in time, will be time well-spent.

Magical thinking or not, I can’t help but think positive things when I see the little red birds.

 

(Whirly) Word Milestones

How long does it take to get to one million on Whirly Word?

Whirly Word has been my game of choice for the past several years. Back in the day before smart phones, I was very fond of a game called “Typer Shark.” But it would seem you really need a full-sized qwerty keyboard, if you want to achieve any real advancement in Typer Shark. If there’s a Typer Shark version for smart phones, I don’t want to know about it.

I like Whirly Word because it’s a word game, and it’s not a time-suck. I can play for a few minutes, and then set it down to resume the next time the spirit moves me. Last summer, I had a dalliance with a game that shall remain nameless (but it involves bubbles and pandas). Talk about a time-suck. I had to give it up, cold-turkey, because I could no longer deal with the anguish and regret I felt over the hours spent saving baby pandas trapped in bubbles.

Whirly Word fits in nicely with writing, and holding down a full-time job, and, essentially, engaging in a full life. I think it took me over three years to reach the score featured above.

Which brings me to a point about milestones. I belong to several Facebook groups for fiction writers, and I see many posts about word milestones. Folks who are able to knock out 40,000 words over a long weekend, or folks who can’t quit until they’ve written 10,000 words in their day.

I’m not one of those folks.

I’ve been at this long enough to know that I write slowly. And also, that once it gets past 8pm on a weekday, I’m pretty worthless. If my day has kept me occupied in other ways, and I’m only sitting down to write in the evening hours, then that day is likely a wash.

There’s a personal correlation between word counts and Whirly Word, I promise. And here it is: in the past month, I knew I was getting close to the one million score on Whirly Word. But more importantly, I was also really close to finishing up a draft of a novel. I told myself I had to finish the draft before scoring seven digits.

Between Friday, February 22 and Thursday, February 28, I calculate I wrote roughly 10,000 words. Pretty sure that’s a record for me. I turned over the draft to editors on Friday, March 1. My score on Whirly Word surpassed one million on Monday, March 4.

So here’s the thing about writing that much. It felt good, but it was also exhausting. I can’t sustain that pace week in, and week out. It was the running equivalent of “finishing strong” and sprinting to the finish line.

Taking the long view, and bringing it back to Whirly Word, I figure I’ve published two novels, and completed a third, in the time it took me to score one million points.

What will have transpired by the time I reach two million? 🙂

Field Trip

I missed some stunning visuals on my way to Thibodaux, (because I was driving and couldn’t take pictures). So here’s a recent pic of the Little Free Library, just outside the Couturie Forest in New Orleans City Park.

Last Friday, I had a very nice diversion from my normal routine — I went to Thibodaux, a town about sixty miles southwest of New Orleans, to speak to a group of high school students about fiction writing. Here are a few observations about the experience:

  • I was invited to speak to two junior classes at the Catholic high school in Thibodaux. Since my interest in writing began my junior year at a Catholic high school here in New Orleans, I started my self-introduction there. I tried to make the presentation as participatory as possible, and a few of the students shared excerpts from what they’d written as part of their semester assignment.
  • When I say “outside my routine,” I mean it. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a high school classroom, and I was pretty nervous. All in all, it was fun to share some of my adventures in writing, and to share what compels me to keep at it.
  • Invited to speak to English classes  — that must mean I’m a real writer, right?!?
  • Some pictures I wish I could have taken, of the sights between New Orleans and Thibodaux:
    • Crossing the Mississippi River through a thick fog, 155 feet above the surface of the water. Pretty scary, but it also felt like I was in a flying car.
    • The campus of Nicholls State University. The fog was so thick on my drive in, I didn’t see that I passed it as I made the turn to the high school. The sun was shining by the time I left, and I realized my oversight then.
    • Bayou Lafourche. The town of Thibodaux is situated along its banks.

That’s it for now!

Moby-Dick: 64%

Photo by Jennett Bremer on Unsplash

A few weeks ago, I posted about my experience reading Moby-Dick on the Serial Reader app. I’ve kept at it, and am now more than half-way through. In about a month, I should be able to proudly state: “I’ve read Moby-Dick!”

Here are some observations from the first 80 or so chapters, and the Internet surfing those chapters begot:

  • I find myself rooting for the whales. The mariners on the Pequod have killed three so far (none of them Moby Dick), and the whole process is so brutal. And definitely fails all the modern-day “sustainability” tests. Here’s a passage I just read, regarding this one poor whale with a hobbled fin: “For all his old age, and his one arm, and his blind eyes, he must die the death and be murdered, in order to light the gay bridals and other merry-makings of men, and also to illuminate the solemn churches that preach unconditional inoffensiveness by all to all.”
  • That quote, right there, and other passages like it, are the reasons I keep reading. Melville doesn’t hold back in his descriptions, but he also doesn’t fail to subtly point out the ironies of the whole whale-hunting thing. I didn’t live in the 1850s, so I can’t say for sure, but in certain respects, his writing feels like it was way ahead of its time.
  • Speaking of the 1850s, I guess phrenology and physiognomy were a thing back then. In a truly bizarro chapter, Ishmael compares the facial and cranial characteristics of a sperm whale to a right whale. Even more weird, he does this because a head of each was hoisted on either side of the Pequod. At one point, he refers to the head of one as “Locke” and the other as “Kant.” Referring to the philosophers John Locke and Immanuel Kant.
  • Fun factoid: I share a birthday with John Locke.
  • Interesting factoid: Ray Bradbury wrote the screenplay for the 1956 film, Moby Dick.

That’s enough for now!

Space Farce

I marched with the Leijorettes in the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus parade this past weekend. There’s an “only in New Orleans” kind of sentence, if I ever heard one! For the uninitiated, Chewbacchus is a Mardi Gras parade with a science fiction theme. But that feels like an oversimplification. Chewbacchus really incorporates all the best elements of a Mardi Gras parade — satire, alcohol, grand pageantry, an overall over-the-topness — with a wide spectrum of sci-fi and fantasy fandom.

The Leijorettes are a “sub krewe,” honoring Princess Leia. (Yes, of Star Wars). This was my fifth year with the Leijorettes, and I’ve written about the experience a few times before: in Chewbacchus from 2017, and My Kind of Mardi Gras in 2016.

Everything seemed to click this year. The 2019 parade theme was one I thoroughly endorsed: “Space Farce.” Saturday night was clear and cool to cold-ish, with no wind to speak of. The spectating crowd was big and happy, as it was the only Mardi Gras parade happening in the city at the time. We’re still about two weeks away from the full, head-on Mardi Gras season, and I got the sense that New Orleans was ready to start the party a little early. (NOLA as a collective is still smarting from the Saints’ NFC Championship loss.)

I’ll conclude with a few photos, in an attempt to underscore my point:

Melding Saints fandom with Star Wars. The Sith Lord had “Goodell” emblazoned on the back of his evil sith robe.
Panda drummer from the Browncoat Brass Band.
Me holding the banner (temporarily).
Leijorettes in the foreground, downtown New Orleans and the moon in the background.

 

Copyright Allen Boudreaux
Credit for this amazing photo goes to Allen Boudreaux