Theater Masks

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Sunday, December 15, 2013

This Year

We've had some positive moments this year, to be sure, but we've also had several disappointments.

Perhaps the biggest change for me this year was that I was moved from teaching seventh and eighth grade to teaching sixth grade. I had never considered teaching younger than I was before, but I went into it with an open mind. Turns out, I love sixth grade. The kids are so enthusiastic and they're much more accommodating than the older kids are. With a new supervisor at school as well, I haven't been "targeted" as badly as I was last year, so school has definitely been easier this year (despite my numerous problems with other aspects of the place).

Writing has been a source of a lot of frustration for me this year, unfortunately. I finished another book, got it to my agent, and she returned a boatload of edits for me to work on. We've switched from shopping Connie around to shopping Before White, but we seem to be heading dead end after dead end. It's made me question myself a lot more than I expected I would. Still, with Caitie's support, I'm continuing on, always hoping a new day will finally bring the email I've been waiting and waiting and waiting to arrive.

Caitie's job has been pretty stagnant. She's still working at Direct Brands publishing. She's been moved around several times and job security is as mythological as a phoenix. Hopefully her situation will change sooner rather than later.

In July, Caitie had us go to the doctor for a checkup. Turned out I was pre-diabetic. He told me to get a Fitbit or Jawbone Up bracelet, diet and lose weight. I did this, started walking 10,000 steps a day and counting my calories. By November I had lost about 25 pounds and gotten rid of the diabetic diagnosis. I need to continue - I have a ways to go of course, but I do feel better. Of course, December is a TOUGH time for keeping up with this!

On the plus side, Caitie and I did get to go on a WONDERFUL vacation this year - our first in four years. We went on a cruise to the Caribbean and had a fantastic time. Memory has sharpened that week now to make it perhaps even better than it actually was, but we can't wait to go on another cruise as soon as possible.

In February of this year, my sister gave birth to my second niece, Lindsey Helen Hafner. She's adorable and has the biggest smile I've seen on a baby. We went to visit them yesterday and she loved playing with the strings on my sweatshirt, laughing gleefully for a good twenty minutes as she batted them about, pulled on them, and tried to stick them in her mouth in what I can only consider to be one of the first games she's ever played.

My other niece, Lily, is turning three next week. She's amazing - she can carry on an actual conversation with you, and she has a bright and cheery personality.


This has been a slow year for reading for me. I think I've been reading the same book for the past four months. It's not that it's a bad book, it's actually quite good, I just have a tough time getting motivated to read while school is in session. (To be fair, I have also read three other books in the interim). I wish I had kept track of the books I read this year so I could name a favorite, but alas, my memory simply isn't that good.

We have gone to several movies this year and seen some really good stuff - Star Trek, Catching Fire, Frozen, This is the End. We have several big ones coming out in the next couple of weeks (American Hustle, Anchorman 2, August Osage County), so hoping they're as good as we expect.

This year we also joined the Kelsey theater as subscribers. We've seen some great shows there so far - Forum, Spamalot, Carrie - and a couple of duds - Big River (unfortunate because I love the score - just not a good cast), A Flea In Her Ear (a farce that was performed well but just wasn't very funny). Hope the rest of the season is solid!

During the summer we went to Ohio for a long weekend. We saw a Marroon 5/Kelly Clarkson concert (very fun) and went to a friend of Caitie's wedding. I love going to Ohio - I always get the feeling that I'm really ON BREAK when I'm there.

Every summer we watch the show Big Brother. This year I participated in an online version of the game. Thirteen of us were put into a virtual house and we played challenges just like on the show. I sent literally thousands of emails playing the game, and as of right now I'm going into the final three this week. I have a pretty decent shot at winning this. It makes me wonder how I'd do at the actual game!

At Thanksgiving we went to Georgia to see my cousins. It was a LONG drive, but it was great getting to see them. We haven't seen them in four years, so it was wonderful getting to spend some time with them.

We've had the chance to spend many evenings with friends, playing games, eating, drinking, laughing and sharing with them, and we're beyond grateful for that.

That's our year in a nutshell. Nothing earthshaking, nothing that really altered our lives all that much for the good or the bad. Hopefully next year will bring publication for me (finally), a job switch for Caitie, more vacation time for us, and new adventures together.

Have a happy holiday and a very happy New Year!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Books and books and books and books

Caitie was sick today, so I took off to take her to the doctor. This afternoon, she was feeling better so we decided on a simple project (ha) - we decided to go through the book shelves in our living room and sort the books.

Let me say this here - we have a LOT of books.

We decided to sort by interest - my interest, her interest, and shared interest. We ended with two double stacked shelves of both, a little less than three double stacked shelves of her interest and two bursting shelves of my interest.

What amazed me was how many TYPES of books we had. From memory, we had books in the following categories: YA, MG, sci-fi, fantasy, classic, modern lit (think James Patterson), horror, romance, comedy, puzzle, reference, cooking, sewing, travel, writing, religion, philosophy, poetry, education, pop culture, short story, memoir, biography, theater, trivia, and music. There may be one or two more I missed, but that's quite a list! We are certainly readers - avid readers - and our interests greatly vary.

Sure, a couple of those books may only be represented by one or two volumes (I think romance is just a couple of books Caitie brought home from work in a pile), but some of them have substantial numbers in our collection.

Some were books we haven't gotten around to reading yet (Doctor Sleep, I'm coming for you next!) and some were books that we just couldn't bear to part with (we've both read To Kill a Mockingbird, but Caitie couldn't handle giving it up!).

Some are books that are just for fun - joke books, puzzles etc. that we pull out every now and then for a mental challenge or a laugh.

Surprisingly, I did notice a couple of missing books from our collection. I didn't see copies of either of my favorite books - Les Miserables and 1984 (though I know I own copies of both). There are still more books on other shelves, and books downstairs and upstairs, so I'm sure they're amongst those.

I even found a magazine I had a story published in. I found a couple of grammar mistakes in the story, but turns out I was a pretty good writer even then. :)

We even found a small handful (maybe half a dozen) of books we have duplicates of.

So, the end result is a stack of 70+ books we're getting rid of - either donations to the library, selling to the used book store, or just throwing out [anyone want a copy of 2008s Writer's Market? No? Didn't think so :)].

So off to the used bookstore we go, to replace some of these books we're willing to get rid of with more that will be added to the unread masses.

There's something kind of sad and beautiful about that...

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Finished Breaking Bad - no spoilers here

I'm not going to write a treatise on the show. There's been plenty of virtual ink spilled already about the show, and I don't think I'm going to really add anything much to the discussion that hasn't already been said.

What I will say is that the series was great. Perfect? No, of course not. There were a few too many coincidences for me that led to things happening (I suppose in something this complex that must be inevitable) and some over the top ridiculousness that pulled me from the series because of how surreal it got. For any who have seen it, the end of season four would be a prime example. Yes, it was satisfying as hell, but realistic? Hardly.

Some questions remain, which I also suppose is inevitable. It's a lesson in writing - not EVERYTHING needs to be wrapped up with a neat bow, though that was something I learned earlier from Lost and The Sopranos. That said, this was one of the more satisfying season conclusions I've seen. We found out what happened to most of the main characters (one of them is a bit ambivalent) in a way that left me not feeling as though there was more story to tell.

That said, I felt like the series was a long movie - a very long movie - in a way I've never seen before on tv. It was certainly worth watching, and one I will recommend to anyone looking for a gripping drama to invest some time in.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Yesterday is gone...

We got to see Merrily We Roll Along, Sondheim's infamous backwards moving flop, in the movies tonight. I LOVED it. It was incredible to see a show I first saw some 15 years ago at Brandeis in a whole new way. I still have a couple of little quibbles with the book (as a writer, I have an issue with the idea of planting things in the script that only make sense to those who'd seen it already), but overall the show is pretty brilliant.

I will say, that for once, I caught EVERY lyric - even a couple I hadn't heard despite listening to the cast album numerous times. One of my favorites that I'd always heard but never "heard" was during the song "It's a Hit" when Frank and friends are celebrating their new huge hit show. "It's a hit/it's a hit/it's a palpable hit." I've heard the song dozens of times and never made the association with Hamlet and how perfect the lyric is for that moment.

I also love how Sondheim put the reprises of the songs first. When Beth sings "Not a Day Goes By" it's a bitter, sarcastic song filled with anger - though every lyric makes perfect sense in the moment. The "first" time, which comes in the second act, is sung during her wedding to Frank and is filled with love (and, in typical Sondheim style, counterpointed with Mary's disappointed longing).

The cast was fantastic at aging themselves backwards. I loved how Frank's voice got higher pitched and Mary's entire body language became more awkward.

It was just a really special event to get to see this production from the other side of the Atlantic tonight. I can't wait to see what else Fathom events can come up with!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Story Idea

Last night, Caitie and I were talking and I stumbled on an idea for a story that I'm not sure I could write, but someone with more of a talent for romance might be able to write. If you're interested in taking up the idea, let me know! Here it is:

A girl is born thinking that she has an imaginary friend. She can't see him, but she can hear him talking. She doesn't always understand what he's saying or why he's saying the things he's saying, but she just accepts it as her friend being strange. As she gets older, the voice continues. Others tell her that she's got a rich imagination which advances to "you're crazy." She still hears the voice, almost incessantly. She learns to shut the sound of "him" talking out, to pretend that she can't hear him.

The voice fades to the background, almost like it's just a part of her subconscious. She doesn't actually listen to it, but it's still there.

She gets older. In college one day she meets a guy...and she realizes that the voice she's been hearing all along are HIS thoughts. Somehow she has a connection to him that she's had since birth. She instantly falls in love, feeling as though she's known him all along.

That's about as far as we got. This brings up a huge range of questions -- does his behavior mirror his thoughts? Does he act differently from what she would expect? How would HE react to her being able to hear his thoughts? Does he like it? Is he horrified and wants nothing to do with her? Does he develop his own form of telepathy? Does he pretend to? If the book is something other than a romance, could he be a psychopath who somehow shields his true thoughts from her? Is she insane and only thinks she's hearing his thoughts? If it is a romance, what are the implications of this scenario? Does she lose the power when she's around him?

I don't know - not sure where it could go but it certainly seems like an intriguing thing to explore. I'm just not so sure I'm the right author to do it.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Bunch of Questions

Watching Breaking Bad has led me to think about the way I act sometimes (and by extension, how my characters behave). I'm nearing the end of season four, and Walt is clearly turning into a bad guy. He acts on instincts, doing things that he clearly wouldn't have done before the cancer and drug dealing etc. He gives in to things that most likely he (and by extension us as an audience) would never do. For example, when he was supposed to return his son's car because it costs too much, he instead went for a joy ride and then proceeded to blow it up.

It got me thinking about the way I act, the way people I know act, and the way my characters act. Do I give in to my instincts or do I censor myself? Do I allow myself to say and do the things that I know in my better judgement are probably not wise? Do others? Do my characters? Or, do I go through life with a censor, keeping in some of my darker thoughts? I think the answer to that is that yes, of course I do. We all do, don't we? It makes me wonder how others behave. Do they censor themselves? And if they do, what kind of thoughts ARE they censoring that, if they were to make them known, would hurt/offend me or others?

It's a lot of questions that may seem obvious, but as a writer, it makes me wonder how those thoughts that pop into our heads daily and then are immediately squashed affect us. Do religious people ever have thoughts that are clearly atheistic and then squash them? Do people who claim to not at all be racist (and indeed don't show those traits at all) have those thoughts and just ignore them - or do they genuinely not have those ideas in their minds? Are all people as twisted inside as I am, do those thoughts simply not occur to them? Do Republicans actually believe some of the nonsense they say or do they convince themselves to believe certain things (same with Democrats, I suppose, but my bias is showing).

I don't know what all this means, but it's definitely something to think about as I'm writing. Could those dark thoughts that creep in at the most inopportune moments have an impact on behavior - and if so, could it change the whole direction of a story?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Two. Two. Two posts in one day!

Check it out!

http://www.buzzfeed.com/jasonf43/my-top-ten-stephen-king-books-ffqd

Breaking Bad

NOTE: Here there be Breaking Bad spoilers through season two.

Caitie hates that I started watching Breaking Bad. I have to say that up front. She says I'm turning into "one of them."

I have one episode left in season two now, and I have to say, I'm becoming "one of them." I've heard that it's the best show on television. I can't say I necessarily agree with that yet (though I've also heard season three is where it really takes off), but I will say this - Walter White is one of the most interesting characters I've ever seen on a tv show. Here's why.

I've always had a thing for villains. The Wicked Witch fascinated me as a child, and I'm still in love with that movie. I always wanted Darth Vader to win (Luke is boring!) and don't get me started on the Disney bad guys. Who wouldn't be interested in Maleficent than Sleeping Beauty or why Gaston is such a jerk versus, well, ok, Belle is pretty awesome. Still, my point stands. Villains rule.

Walter starts out as a pretty normal guy. He's a teacher, a husband, a father, and he has cancer. He seems like a guy who's pretty much done everything right and was dealt a crappy hand. Over the course of the first two seasons, he starts to descend into his villainy - killing rival dealers, working the system, and, in the last episode I watched, letting Jesse's girlfriend choke to death on her own vomit.

Flashes of his "evilness" come out at unexpected times. The scene by the pool when he pours his fifteen year old son tequila shots was fascinating. You knew he was wrong. Hank knew he was wrong. Walt Jr. knew he was wrong. Somehow, though, Walt couldn't see his own villainy. He couldn't see that what he was doing was wrong and he was terrifying. It wasn't until later that he regretted it, and he tried to make amends by apologizing to everyone involved. Because of his condition and his previous history, he was forgiven.

Watching a character descend into villainy like this is riveting. This is in no small part thanks to Bryan Cranston's portrayal, but what draws me in is the writing. The show is accessible and gripping, and I can't wait to see where it's going. The dialogue is crisp and the characters are so well defined that nothing they do SHOULD come as a surprise. The reason this works is that the depths of evil Walt will go to are unplumbed yet. There's always farther he can descend, and I have a feeling he's going to go way lower than what I've seen thus far. As Walt says, "There's rot."

I have a feeling before I'm done there is a chance (sorry Caitie) that I may well agree with those who proclaim it the greatest show of all time.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Oh my, it's been a while!

Last night Caitie and I were talking about blogging and I realized it has been quite a while since I've written on here! I'm going to try to write in this space a bit more than I have been recently.

I finished writing my updated Midsummer Night's Dream. I then went back and rewrote the whole thing because it wasn't nearly long enough. I've gotten it from a meager 28K to just under 40K, partly by adding a substantial framework around the story that plays perfectly throughout. It was a lot of work, but I think it paid off to be sure. The book is a YA novel, and I think it will appeal to any who enjoy the Shakespeare work - as well as those who don't know it at all. I sent the book on to my agent, hoping she might have some more ideas for expansion.

To get things kicked off with the new blog, I have a question for you. We were having a discussion yesterday about Star Wars. I know, typical geekery. Our discussion was about whether or not Star Wars is a fantasy or science fiction. Caitie took one position, I took another. We're willing to hear arguments, though we each think that we are right. Which do you think Star Wars is, and what is your definition of each genre?

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Next step?

So my agent and I just went through a pretty intense round of edits on "Before White." She went through my first book with a fine-tooth comb, admitting she was being picky, but tearing the book to pieces. She gave me a ton of suggestions for places to improve grammatically, character motivation, showing things (holy cow I told a lot I should have shown back when I wrote this!), and, most importantly to me, showing me places to cut things down.

In the end, the book is about 10,000 words shorter than it was and much more streamlined. Chapters have been moved, events are now SHOWN and not told, and hopefully the grammatical mistakes are corrected. I will admit there were a few changes made I didn't quite understand the purpose of (such as rewording some sentences), but I went along with her suggestions since everything else seemed to be so right on the money.

She has the book back now and is reviewing it for any final changes. She'll then write a query letter and try to get the book out in front of publishers. Caitie has often joked that it would be something if we managed to sell this book after all the other writing and attempts haven't succeeded. I sincerely hope she's right and we can get my writing career going.

And I'm so ready to get it going. We've discussed numerous possibilities for what my future holds, and ultimately the one career I feel I most want to do is to become a professional writer. Being able to set my own hours to write is very appealing. I don't mind being on deadlines - I'm great with deadlines. If anything (and I would guess Rachael would agree with this) I work too quickly more often than not. The idea of going to writing panels and seminars, speaking in front of schools or bookstores or what have you sounds like a ton of fun. Yeah, I know the traveling would be hard, but I think it would be exciting and an adventure - something my current career certainly lacks.

I think the idea of signing books looks like fun. My wrist will hurt, sure, and I'll get sick of it after a while I'm sure, but I don't know that meeting fans and meeting people who are excited to read my stuff would ever get boring.

Being a media presence on twitter and a blog and Facebook? I could absolutely do that. It sounds like it might be frustrating in terms of balancing time, but I tend to write in spurts anyway. There's no reason I couldn't do that as well, and do it fully.

As for the money, certainly I would hope to be able to sustain myself on what I get from writing and from any fees accrued through speaking. If I need a part time job to support myself, freelance writing or some other job wouldn't be too terrible until such a time as writing could be my focus. It might be difficult for a little while for us, but it's better than complaining about work every day, is it not?

Am I missing anything else a writer would have to do? Is there some aspect of the job that I'm not getting? Is there any reason that I shouldn't have this as my dream? Is it unattainable for me? I certainly hope not...

I certainly hope not.