Archive for October, 2009

Where the Wind Comes Sweepin’ Down the Plain…

October 28, 2009

I had never heard of Ada Oklahoma.  All I knew was that I had been invited, and it was on my speaking schedule. Sometimes my speaking trips are so similar, I can forget exactly where I am.  “Am I in Kansas? No that was last week, this week is Iowa.”  The schools are aways very polite, the students excited and most of the time they know the books.

But from he moment I arrived in Ada, I knew this was not going to be a typical author visit.  I was greeted at the airport in Oklahoma City by Ada’s scout troop 13 – where I met scoutmaster John Garber; the mastermind behind my entire visit. A wildly energetic guy who has mastered the fine art of never growing up.  This is an art I try to master, with mixed results.    “I hope you don’t mind riding in a bus,” Dr. Garber said.  I thought he was joking.  No!  He brought the troop in a church schoolbus.  I was actually delighted. This was not going to be the dull 90 minute exhausted-after-flying two passenger drive I was expecting.  I rode with a bus load of scouts who had all read a whole bunch of my books and had great questions.  Since the ride was a long one, I gathered the kids around, and opened my laptop, reading a story no one — and I mean no one — had ever heard before.  A story called “Resurrection Bay.”   33 pages, which took almost an hour to read.  With nothing but the computer light shining on my face, it was like reading a story around a 21st century campfire.   I don’t know who had more fun, the kids, or me.

We arrived at my hotel and The Holiday Inn was then beset by a scout troop escorting me to the check-in desk.

The next day, I was picked up in the morning in a 1929 Model A Ford Coupe, and driven to my first set of speaking gigs.

ada model A

At lunch time I was the guest of honor at a performance by members of the community in period clothing re-enacting  (well, not actually re-enacting) the “Four Men Hanging,” an infamous lynching of notorious criminals, which is the event that brought an end to the “the wild west.”  Then, in the evening, we had a “dry-run” of Dr. Garber’s haunted house.   I thought my family did the haunted house thing pretty well, but this one put my house to shame.  I took my place in full ghoul regalia, at the front door, pretending to be an animatronic monster, until people actually passed by at which point I would scare the shitake mushrooms out of them.  I am told that 991 people showed up on Halloween last year.  I’m sorry I have to miss the real thing, but I’ll be back in California by then.

On day two, I was picked up by a 1928 Model A sedan, and taken to my speaking venue.   The Chickasaw tribe had planned to have some traditional dancers perform in my honor, but apparently word got out, and as word-of-mouth will do, it became like the game of telephone. “Some guy who sometimes writes for the Disney Channel is speaking in Ada,” magically turned into “A film crew from the Disney Channel is in Ada, and is going to be taping Native American Dancers.”   Suddenly a Native American dance troop all the way from Oklahoma City showed up hoping to be a part of the festivities.  And so the dance began, and when it ended, I was presented with an eagle feather by the Chickasaw Nation.  This, if you don’t know, is an incredible honor!  You can bet that feather is going in a place of honor in my home. ( I was assured that an eagle feather is legal when presented by an Indian tribe, and if TSA tries to take it away at the security check, they are in for a fight).

chickasaw dancers

After a few booksignings, I was then whisked away to a Dia De Los Muertos celebration. “I know we’re in breach of your contract,” Dr. Garber said, “making you do all these things.”   What my contract doesn’t state is that you can breach it all you want, as long as I’m having a good time, and actually want to be there — which I did.

So now it’s 10:30 at night, and I’ve just gotten back to my hotel.  Am I exhausted? Yes.  Would I have missed anything today?  No!  The warm reception I’m getting everywhere I’m going is worth sacrificing some free time.

I understand that arrangements are being made for tomorrow, and that I may be picked up in a hearse.  With a coffin.  (It is not clear as to whether I am expected to ride in the coffin, and then pop out at the school visit.  I may draw the line at that, though).  Be that as it may, this has rapidly turned into one of my all time favorite speaking trips, ranking right up there with my amazing trip to Guam a few years back!

Ada Okahoma.  Who’d a thunk it?

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Writer’s Cliff

October 21, 2009

Okay no more procrastination.   The truth is, I have writer’s cliff.   For those of you who’ve heard me talk about this, it’s what other people call “writer’s block,” but I insist on calling it writer’s cliff because I’m not stuck behind a wall.  I can see where I’m going.  I know I have to get to the the next key moment of my story, I just don’t know how to get there.  Somehow I must build a bridge over the cliff.  This always takes great effort.  Sometimes I’m up for the effort, sometimes I’m not.  Sometimes I’m like a government contractor, building as little as possible, while standing around and looking at all the bridge building that’s not getting done.  Speaking of which,  I have to tell this story. It’s a total digression, but then, what isn’t?   My son just graduated from high school.   When he was a sophomore they began building a parking structure that was supposed to be done over the summer.  Three years later, it’s still not done.  What’s even worse is that they ripped out the school’s existing parking lot to do it, so now the students have nowhere to park.  My son had to arrive at school an hour early each day, or he would have to park more than a mile away.    Now here’s the punch line:   The parking structure  will be ready… Right around the time the state of California raises the legal driving age , thereby making a  high school parking structure completely pointless!  No wonder the state of California is going broke with such poor planning!

But back to writer’s cliff.   How does one build the bridge across it?   What materials does one use?  And what if you’re too darn lazy to build it?    Well if you’re lazy, I can’t help you. Not that I don’t get lazy.  When I get stuck in a story, I procrastinate.  I write on my blog.  I call friends and complain about all the work I’m not getting done.   But eventually that gets old.  I know the story’s in my head somewhere, as are the solutions to whatever problem is giving me the block.  Right now the block is this:  I’m toward the beginning of a project, (won’t say which one), and there are just too many characters to introduce early on.  If I don’t introduce them, the story can’t move forward, but if I take the time to introduce them, the story takes too long to get started.  So what’s the solution?  Maybe cut out a character or two? Or combine them?  Maybe there are characters I don’t need to introduce until much later?  Maybe I can kill off the Mom.  That always works for Disney.  You think it’s an accident that Disney characters always have dead Mothers?  No!  It’s because there’s too many darn characters.  Get rid of Mom,  and that’s one less character to deal with.     Maybe I can introduce all the main characters friends at once, instead of one at a time.   The problem is, this story is so worked out, pull out a single threat and it unravels.  I know I’ll get it figured out eventually, and build that bridge over writer’s cliff.  So when do you find that you have the worst writer’s cliff?  Is it at the beginning, middle or end of a story?

Procrastin Nation

October 18, 2009

My last entry was about procrastination.  Let’s get deeper into that subject.  Can you tell there’s a project I’m struggling with?  Why do you think we writers blog?  It’s all about pretending to be writing, and convincing ourselves we are truly writing, when what we’re really doing is avoiding the writing we’re supposed to be doing.

I actually have four projects I’m working on right now.  Three of them are going along just fine.  The fourth is like pulling teeth. Which project is it, you may ask?  The answer is… I ain’t gonna tell you. Because if I do, what if that particular publisher and/or producer is reading my blog.  How embarrassing would it be if they called me to tell me they read all about how I was avoiding working on their book and/or script, and don’t I know the deadline was last month, and I had better be able to move time backwards because this isn’t middle school, and the consequence of a late book and/or script is much more severe than a failing grade.   Actually, I agree with them.  The entertainment and/or publishing industry is not like middle school at all.  But it does closely resemble high school.  In fact, someone famous whose name currently escapes me once said that “The entertainment industry is like high school with money.”

But I digress.  Our focus was on procrastination, and how effectively we, as a species can do things like make lists of all the things we need to do, and then realize we have so many lists, we need to make a list of our lists.  And then alphabetize them.  And then color-code them.   And then buy a new program, or classy leather organizer to house our alphabetized, color-coded lists of lists.  Because we may not ever actually get anything done, but we at least we can be organized about not doing it!  How do you procrastinate when you really should be doing something productive?  Make me a list.

Times-a-wasting…

October 15, 2009

Let’s talk about procrastination.  Why?  Because talking about it is a perfect way to actually do it.   There are so many effective ways to procrastinate.  For instance, Facebook.  I have discovered the questionable joy of facebook scrabble.  I play with my girlfriend when we can’t be together.  I play with strangers.  (I think she finds it morally offensive that I play with strangers.)  I have been hit by facebook snowballs, and am continually nagged to become part of facebook Mafia.  I resist with what little strength of will I have, because I know if I get involved with all these seemingly innocent aps, I will be drawn into them as if into a black hole, and my time will be shredded into nothing.  Indeed, time and space will cease to exist, and when the producers and/or publishers ask me where their script and/or book is, my only response will be a cry for help in the form of a facebook snowball hurled in their direction.  But facebook is good for so many fantastic things, isn’t it?  Like reconnecting with people you’ve lost touch with.  Although it does become a bit bizarre at times.  For instance, just last week this guy who I knew when I was in fourth grade friended me in Facebook.  His invitation said  “So what have you been up to.”    What do you say to that?  My first response was “ 5th through 12th grades, college, married, had four kids, gained some weight, published books, lost some weight, wrote scripts, went on cruises, gained some weight again, got divorced, lost some weight again,  wrote some more books, wrote more scripts.”  then I thought about it, deleted my response, and told him.  “Same-old same-old.”

I fly, Antsy floats

October 14, 2009

I’m sitting here, in the exit row of an American Airlines jet, on my way to South Carolina, for school visits.  Great time to  blog!  For me writing a blog has always been like keeping a personal journal.  I start it, keep it up for a couple of weeks, but then life becomes too busy, and I slack off.  Too many deadlines, too many personal obligations.   I often wonder how people have time to blog on a daily basis. (I often wonder how people have time to golf, or to watch prime-time TV every day.)  I often find myself envious of “free time,” which I don’t seem to have much of.  Of course I have no one to blame but myself for that!  I’m the one who takes on so many projects, and responsibilities, my days are so full.   I suppose I just don’t like having an idle mind, or idle hands.  A desire to constantly be up to something is both a blessing and a curse.  In this blog — which I’m going to TRY to be very consistent with — I’m going to be talking about lots of things.  My writing, my thoughts on various subjects, random observations, and personal stuff as well.   Hopefully you’ll get some insight into the life of a writer, or at least this writer.

So what’s new?  I just recently a contract with Penguin for two books.  The second one is untitled.  I have no idea what it’s going to be about.  The first is another ANTSY book.   Antsy will be going on a cruise.  It will be called ANTSY FLOATS.   That’s all I know about it.  Well, I do also know that there will probably be a character named Tilde.  Tilde, for those of you who don’t know, is a phonetic symbol, Like the “schwa” and the “umlaut” both of which were featured in the first two Antsy books.  Following in that dubious tradition, I’m having a character named Tilde in the third, and will be putting a Tilde over the “N” in either Neal, or Shusterman  (It’s the squiggly line that you see in Spanish).  Beyond that, I have no clue what the story will be about.  Of course I do have some ideas.  I’ve been on a lot of cruises — as writing retreats, and for vacation — and I can include a lot of things that have happened on those cruises.  Still, I don’t have the over-arcing theme yet.  The more I ponder the concept, though, the more it will start to take shape.  I’m thinking I might want to deal with illegal immigration.  I might want Antsy to face the concept of true poverty — because when you travel to many third-world nations, you see a kind of abject poverty that we, in the United States are mostly shielded from.  We know it exists, but it’s easy for us not to look at it, because it’s not “in our faces.”    As with all my books, it’s this kind of noodling of an idea that gets it to take shape.  No doubt as I spend more time thinking about it, I’ll come up with other things that Antsy will have to come to terms with.   Maybe his own home is in foreclosure, but seeing true poverty helps put things into perspective.  Maybe he’ll learn to appreciate simple pleasures more.  So many things to think about!  I love the idea that a story begins as a blank canvas, and you can paint anything you want!

FAME in Florida

October 11, 2009

Just spoke at the FAME conference last week. It’s not a conference for being famous, because if it was, I’m sure I wouldn’t be on the guest list. FAME stands for Florida Association of Media Educators, which is the current politically correct term for librarians. It was great event! On Friday I did a keynote speech to more than 650 librarians. As the event was in Orlando, I stayed a couple of extra days with my girlfriend, Chris, who had never been to Orlando, and we did a whirlwind Disney weekend. Well, not whirlwind, but we did visit Epcot and Animal Kingdom. If you had any reservations or gripes against Disney, Animal Kingdom will make you a believer. It quite honestly puts any other zoo in the world to shame. Now I’m getting ready for a school visit, trying to get my taxes done before the final final October 15th deadline (yuck!) and preparing for a week in Greenville, South Carolina. It will be the first set of school visits of the school year. If you look on my website you’ll see I’ve got a pretty busy school year, speaking all over the world (well, maybe not the whole world, but the USA and Europe!)

The Blog Begins!

October 10, 2009

Okay, so after years of on-and-off blogs, I’ve made a commitment to blog regularly.  My blog will contain stuff that’s going on, both personally and professionally, as well as observations on life in general.  I’ll post pictures of school visits and conferences — so if I come to your school, look for yourself on my blog!