Thursday, April 26, 2007

Edward Gorey Amphigories

Trixi KittyTattered Cover Book Store was having a special event. I cannot for the life of me remember what the name of the event was, just that I got a 15% discount on one item and a long stem rose with my purchase. I find it best to never question or analyze why my mind works like it does, but strolling through the store it decided I needed to expand my Edward Gorey collection, and really, who can argue with that. I made my way over to the humorous book section and to my surprise I was quite lacking in my Gorey collection as there were several books I did not have including his Amphigorey collections, Amphigorey, Amphigorey Too, and Amphigorey Also. Again, not questioning my reasoning, I chose Amphigorey Too. That night I curled up on the couch with my calico and started reading, The Beastly Baby by Ogdred Weary, The Pious Infant by Mrs. Regera Dowdy, The Evil Garden by Eduard Blutig, The Eleventh Episode by Raddory Gewe, and then my personal favorite, The Inanimate Tragedy by Edward Gorey himself. In reading his stories of pure genius, part of my mind questions if I am even worthy of my keyboard, while the other cries to write. I have now added Amphigorey and Amphigorey Also to my library. While reading The Unstrung Harp in Amphigorey, a couple of characters appeared to me and may have a story to tell. One like Willow May immediately gave me his name, while the other like the ringmaster is being difficult about his. I jotted down a few notes, but they will have to go on the back burner for now, must stay concentrated on Willow May editing and then see if the demonic snowmen are ready for me yet.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Ringmasters, Carousels and Werewolves

Finally had to let go and send the first draft of Willow May to the editor. I think I was driving my sister crazy with the pre-editor revisions. I am still wrestling with one of the character’s names, the Ringmaster. Up until now the name has been “need-a-name”, but I am not liking the sound of that and it was not flowing well with the passages. The name I have in this draft, Art McNapal, is sooooo not his name, but may fit well in another tale, so it will go in my name file, but needs to come out of this story.

Meanwhile, Pam did a rough layout of the story to begin the illustration process. I had a different vision of the first page, but she showed me the errors of my way, and I am quite happy now with the introduction of Willow May. There were two illustrations that I wanted to have their own spreads, the carousel and the werewolf band with the dancing witches. That required a bit of finessing, especially with the carousel, but we figured out how to do it. Pam is starting on the sketches for the first few pages. I think I mentioned before about working on having more patience...but I can’t wait to see them!!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Book Decision Made

My timing has never been the best and this was no exception. I finished the initial draft for Willow May at the end of August right in time for the retail season rush, which meant the web work took over again. Pam was also tied up at that time with illustrating and designing a cookbook for Gail Riley the owner of the award winning Highland Haven Inn. The book project plus holiday designing consumed her for the rest of the year. By the by, the cookbook, Colorado Cravings, turned out gorgeous and has been a huge success.

In January I completed another story draft from an idea based on a love one’s phobia of snowmen. The story had been milling around in the back my head for a few years. It came out in first person like Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart, and I am not one for first person, but that is how it came out. I went ahead and sent it to my sister to give her another story option for our first book. She claimed to struggle with the decision between the chilling snowmen and Willow May. She could draw from her past experience of snowmen illustrating from her holiday line (even did a rough sketch of one sneaking through a bedroom window, she captured the frozen horror of it perfectly), but it was Willow May’s creatures of the Midnight Carnival that were whispering in her ear to bring them to life. We made the final decision over lattes, as important decisions should be made. The birth of Willow May Goes to the Midnight Carnival began.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Writer’s Block Break Through – Kind of

It had been almost a year since my corporate exit, and still no complete story. My sister and her husband had planned a long weekend road trip coming up in a few weeks. Besides always packing her art supplies, Pam also packs plenty of reading material when traveling. My goal was to have a story completed in time to send with her on her trip.

Trixi KittyEvery time I mentioned writing a book, the immediate response was I needed to write one about my little calico. I couldn’t really argue because she is Miss Personality Plus and my world pretty much, okay completely, revolves around her. A small stray that found and trained me well. I tried writing a story about our garden strolls and then one about her and one of Pam’s beagles, but both seemed forced and contrived. Then I had a series of short stories started, but I needed at least three more to give it substance. I started writing one, then deleted it, then started it again, then deleted it, and then just stared at blank screen typing and deleting random letters. After the several starts and deletes, I decided to turn to Willow May. The little girl who was the catalyst to this whole adventure from the beginning.

Willow May had teased me off and on during the months after I quit my job. She started out more as a poem about a little girl going to a carnival. The first few lines came quickly until we got to the carousel. I just could not get past the carousel. I would try to skip ahead, but no matter how I tried, I ended up back at the carousel. Willow May and I would play for a while, and then I would close her back up for another couple of months. I was wanting to write her in a Tim Burton fashion frosted with Gris Grimly and a sprinkle of Dr. Seuss on top all placed in a deep dark Poe crust. I don’t know why I would have writer’s block?

I had only a few weeks before my sister left on her vacation to persuade Willow May to let me get beyond the carousel. She was a stubborn little girl and I cannot say I ever had that break through moment where my fingers could barely keep up on the keyboard with the over flowing of passages. But she did let me finish, yes, I had a finished story! Did it have gaps? Oh my gosh did it ever have gaps, but unlike my other writings, these gaps weren’t like the first half, middle, or last half of the story. I had passages that I had alternatives lines out to the side, passages that were totally misbehaving and I knew needed discipline, and a main character who refused to give me his name, BUT the storyline was complete. I emailed it to my sister on the eve of her trip, I think the email was as long as the story.

That weekend seemed like an eternity waiting for her response, and then when she got back, she made no mention of it. I took no reply to mean she hated it and was trying to figure out how to tell me without hurting my feelings. She finally emailed me, then called, she said she enjoyed the story, and one particular character highly amused her. I will admit, I was hoping for a little more, you know, “OMG! I love it! I laughed, I cried, I laughed again, I reached a higher spiritual plane and I am an overall better person now for reading it.” Okay, that probably was a lot to ask and should be happy with the enjoying of it and being highly amused by one of the characters. Anyway, one major step...actually having a completed story.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

A Writer’s Block cont...

I had been doing a lot of web work that involved writing web copy so I would tell myself I was really writing, just not stories. I convinced myself other tasks were more important, more tangible, and more directly related to earning a living. It is a mindset I feel both my sister and I struggle to over come. With my sister, I think it is the concept that one cannot enjoy their job, and since she enjoys illustrating our story, it can’t be a real job. Getting to redraw a tractor or set up a brochure, that is a real job, but creating and painting dragons and gargoyles for a living, please that’s fun, so it can’t be a real job.

For me I think it is the radical shift of change from number to words. Analytical problem solving with numbers is a breeze compared with writing a story. Building a model to take net revenue down to a factory widget level to forecast needed resources based on productivity metrics and system enhancements, then determining cost reduction and avoidance benefits as well as DMOQ impacts, piece of cake. Putting a string of words together to make coherent sense in addition to being entertaining, not a piece of cake. Perhaps it is because with numbers there is usually a right and wrong answer, but with words it is more subjective. I know there are rules of grammar, proper sentence structure and the avoidance of my greatest vocabulary adversary...adverbs.

I confess, I had no earthly idea until I read Stephen King’s Memoirs on Writing, how quite hideously vulgar these monstrous modifiers really were in writing. After finally finishing Mr. King’s book on his harsh view of these loathly despicable words, I slowly started to really notice when writing emails, posts, and manuscripts, I certainly quite especially liked using these dreadfully submissively nemesis of words. Truthfully, I don’t really particularly remember adverbs having such a very bad rap when I was going through school, but I am sure they probably did. I should actually research to see when exactly adverbs became such a rather large nuisance to the literary language. When did humans stop shouting and start shouting angrily? When did we stop whispering and start whispering quietly? When did we quit slamming the door and start slamming the door loudly? When did I totally go off in a tangent and start sarcastically babbling on about adverbs? I will stop instantly.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

A Writer’s Life...A Writer’s Block

The first few weeks after I gave noticed the goddesses were courting my writing muse and me every night. In fact, on that infamous plane trip back home, a character came to me. She openly gave me her name, Willow May, and shared a little about herself, but not her story. However, I did have a story that had been lingering around in the back of my mind. It had been there for some time, ever since my sister and I caught Bedazzled one late night on TV. Not the recent version, but the original with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. That movie sparked an idea for a story. It did not have to do with selling your soul to the devil, but more with death and how to bargain your way out of it. However, what I thought was just one story, ended up being a series of short ones, and did not follow my initial plot line at all.

Then when it was official and my day job became my writing job, do you know what happened? Those goddesses with their dark and fickle sense of humor left. Can you believe that? Not only did they leave, but also they took my writing muse with them. I have the up-most respect and admiration for the Universe and the messages she conveys. It is that sometimes, okay, most of the time, I just don’t get them. What is she trying to tell me?!?

Staring at a blank screen with the appearance of doing nothing was excruciating for me. I came from a corporate background where you had at least 2 conference calls going at once while responding to emails, working on 5 spreadsheets, and answering the questions of 10 different people on 10 different subjects who have wandered into your office within 10 minutes. I needed to be writing, writing, writing, like the wind, fingers unable to keep up, 80,000 words in an hour, an epic series of novels in a week, writing, writing, writing. I tried several free writing exercises, but the concept was difficult to grasp. To write non-stop for 30 minutes for no reason and it doesn’t have to make sense because it never has to be used...what?!? I mean please, I was a productivity manager for goodness sake, every second has to count for manufacturing that widget, or in my case now, that story. Hum, perhaps having a little more patience may be something I need to work on too.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Guide to a Writer’s Life from a Really Bad Business Trip

My sister, the illustrious illustrator, Pamela McCarville, and I are having our first book published by All Us All the Time Publishing. The book is a children’s fantasy picture book: Willow May Goes to the Midnight Carnival. Think of books like Creature Carnival, Cinderella Skeleton, or the movie Nightmare Before Christmas. Since our first book is a children’s fantasy, you probably guess my background. That’s right, it was in corporate finance, productivity analysis, and resource business planning and modeling. What? You did not guess that?

My sister and I grew up with the belief a job required hard work and dedication. We did not have to like our jobs because they only gave the financial means to do those things we enjoy. The fallacy with this theory was that my normal workday was from 7 to 7 and that did not include the commute time. Then once groceries were bought, laundry washed, and bills paid, the little time I had left for things I enjoyed, I found I enjoyed sleeping. That job I didn’t have to like to afford me the means to a happy life had become my life.

My oh-so-fun financial career started as a Club Accountant. Then I was offered a job at a start-up company. After a few years the business was then taken over by a major corporation. Work and job titles kept piling on, forecasting, budgeting, EOM results reporting, resource planning, productivity analyzing, and business plan developing. Even my managers struggled with the job description.

The above soaked up many years of my life from sun up to sun down. What also took several years was for that major corporation to take over our division, but once we finally merged into the “mother ship”, my comfortably numb existence turned into a cloak of smoldering darkness drowning me ever so deeper into a bottomless abyss filled with the angst-ridden torment only found in the sorrow cried out by a void encapsulated in an non-existent soul. Okay, perhaps that was a little bit over melodramatic, but I think you catch my drift. Anyway, I could see the writing on the wall the organization I worked in was not long for the world. As irony would have it, I was offered a project manager’s position in another department to “save” me from the ultimate pink slip. Instead of being relieved about the safeguarding of my employment and eager about a new position, from the moment I was offered the new job, I developed a permanent pit in my stomach.

They flew me out to company headquarters to meet the new team and learn more about the position. The day immediately started out on the wrong foot when, due to circumstances beyond my control, I missed my early morning Starbucks. Things continued to take a downward spiral when I also missed my mid-morning and then my early afternoon Starbucks. As I am trying to keep my cranium from imploding due to caffeine withdrawals, I met with my direct boss to learn more about my new responsibilities.

The job would be collecting and consolidating data into a spreadsheet, then reporting the results to the leadership team. I could tell from our conversation, my new boss considered this spreadsheet right up there with world peace...the pit in the stomach grew and the cranium started playing bongos on my temples. Then I met with my boss’s boss, and confessed that I was not grasping the significance of previous mentioned spreadsheet. I was informed that he had never really looked at it, and that once I moved over to the group, he would try to find something more important for me to work on. After that I met with my boss’s boss’s boss, and expressed a bit of concern towards the differing opinions of infamous spreadsheet within the department. She told me she was unaware of said spreadsheet, but part of the opportunity for me with this position was building it into something meaningful just like I had done with all my past jobs. Well, how refreshing...pit in stomach swallowed up the lungs and the cranium had split open oozing slightly.

I remember that night in the hotel lying awake in bed staring at the popcorn ceiling. I felt hollow and old, a shell in a monochrome existence. I realized it was always going to be like this, creating something meaningful out of nothing that in the long run proved not to be meaningful at all. It would be one more missed sunrise and sunset until I retired, and would anything be left of me by then?

The next morning I managed to get to a Starbucks, but a caffeine-depraved cranium is hard to appease. Somehow I made it through the morning meetings outlining the significance or lack thereof of aforementioned spreadsheet. Then it was to the airport, seek out the terminal’s Starbucks, board the plane and make a very distant memory of this trip. At least that was the plan. The plane pushed off from the gate, started to taxi down the tarmac, and then slowed to a stop. After several minutes the pilot announced due to storms over the mid-west we had been grounded forever. All right, he might not have said forever but that is how I interpreted his message at the time. Parents paced up and down the aisle with screaming children and a low rumble of complaining voices rose over the seats as humid hot air blew out from the vents...the pit in stomach had turned nauseous and the cranium once again started to swell.

It was at that moment I broke one of my most sacred cardinal rules. I muttered to myself those words I know should never ever be spoken or even could this trip get any worse? That is when they began showing the movie Dirty Dancing Havana Nights on all the monitors. As the stomach turned and the cranium throbbed against the temples, I reached into my messenger bag and pulled out a book. How perfect I thought as I read the blurb on the front cover...It was a dark and stormy night.

My sister had given me this book as a gift some time back, but I never had the time to read it. I don’t know why I even chose to take that particular book. I hate to fly so I always pack more than enough reading material to preoccupy myself from the visions of hurdling down to earth in a huge fire ball at 1000 mph or to keep myself from peering out the window and catch glimpse of the vial demonic creatures that manifest themselves on the wings of aircrafts once you have reached an altitude of over 30,000 feet on a cloud covered night. The majority of the material would be work related, but I would also throw in a recreational read in case I would find the time. It had appeared I had found the time.

The book, Snoopy’s Guide to the Writing Life, turned out to be one of the best gifts my sister has ever given me (and she has given me some pretty sweet stuff). I don’t remember when we finally got airborne because I had entered into my own fantasy world of living life as a writer. And the closer I got to home the greater the desire to make that fantasy a reality.

It wasn’t as far-fetched as it sounded. I know this is going to sound sooooooo cliché, but yes, as a child I use to write quite a bit, poems, plays, and short stories. Then in high school I took independent studies in creative writing, and had one of my stories selected for a regional school publication. My first two years of college, before I got into the core curriculum of my accounting degree, I took writing classes. But the main reason I thought I could do this was because of blood. Yes, you read that correctly, blood. You see I would have the most fantastic illustrator on earth all because of birth.

A fortune bestowed upon me that I am in no way deserving was that my sister, who is also my best friend, is an incredibly gifted artist. It seemed like kismet or cosmic destiny because at that very moment, both our jobs totally sucked. Hum, perhaps kismet and cosmic destiny is not the best way to describe that situation, but something like that.

My sister was working for a print shop as their graphic artist, but the business had recently gone under new ownership and if I may repeat the description of when my company was taken over “...a cloak of smoldering darkness drowning her ever so deeper into a bottomless abyss filled with the angst-ridden torment only found in the sorrow cried out by a void encapsulated in an non-existent soul.” The business was changing direction and her position was slowly becoming a glorified color copier operator, which was a disgrace and monumental waste of talent.

We had in the past light-heartedly talked about being a writer/illustrator team, but nothing serious. I think we were both just waiting for the perfect moment, that magical day when Ms. Opportunity would knock on our door with our life-dream package under her one arm and handing us a clip board with the other...just sign on the dotted line and we would start the life we had always dreamed of living. Well, we were coming to the realization the most opportune time, does not exist. Perhaps that is why the phrase is “chasing your dreams” versus “sit around and do nothing until your dreams finally find you and come knocking on the door”.

I won’t bore you with the gut-wrenching, stressed-filled, anxiety-ridden weeks that followed that plane trip home, but in the end we decided to chase that dream and follow that sage beagle’s advice for a writer’s (and illustrator’s) life. And really, can you go wrong with taking a bit of guidance from Snoopy?