>The Shamble for Survival

>My Saturday started with a trip downtown to run the 38th Annual Riverbank Run. I hadn’t run in this thing literally since I was in junior high; I believe back then it was called the “Mini Marathon.” Originally when I was planning out my year and setting goals, I had intended to run the 10K. Then I had some injury things going on that limited some of my training so I had to settle for the 5K, but at least I friggin’ did it. I’m not much of a runner, but it is a good barometer of one’s fitness.

It was pretty fun and exciting, especially at the start when all the people were crammed into the starting area right on Higgins and Broadway downtown. When the gun went off, it was weird to be in this big, chaotic mass of people starting to surge forward, up and over the Higgins Bridge, and beyond. I felt pretty good, and the first mile went by pretty quick, then I started having these serious shin pains. It was weird. I had had them before when I first took up jogging again way back when. It’s possible my legs just weren’t used to the surface, because I never run on pavement. I actually had to walk quite a bit, which is unusual because I’ve been running 3 miles at a time fairly regularly lately.

One thing that was funny was that with about a half mile to go, I was starting to pick up my pace and finding it very difficult — I’m usually pretty good about having energy at the end of a run — and the song “Done Got Old” by Heartless Bastards came on (which is actually a cover of a Junior Kimbrough song). I had to laugh to myself at the lyrics. “Can’t do the things I used to ‘cuz I feel old!”

Great song, great band. I think they base themselves in Austin now, but I know they originated in Dayton, Ohio. At least Erika Wennerstrom is from there, but the rest of the band lineup has changed over the years. They’re on a great label too, Fat Possum. And they are playing Bozeman at the Filling Station on May 8th. I may have to go see them. That place is such a dive, but would be a phenomenal venue to see them in.

So the run was a labor, and not the breeze I’d hoped it would be, but at least I did it. Much to my surprise I didn’t hate it either; it’s a good barometer of where I am vs. where I want to be. There is another run in June where I will aim to do the 10K. Not sure about my plans to run the half marathon in July, but if I get in a good groove between now and then it isn’t unthinkable. Even if I just run most of it and waddle the rest. We’ll see.

Julia snapped a couple pictures of me at the finish line.

I didn’t see her, otherwise I might have made an obscene gesture of some kind. I wasn’t that tired — my lungs were holding their own — but my legs were on fire. Of course it takes a lot of oomph! to haul my fat ass around, so can you blame them?

Here I am making my way through the crowd. I’m pretty sure I’m smiling because I saw that the Mini Donuts truck was one of the venders.

Oddly enough, even with all the walking I did, my time was still faster than it has been in training. So when I was running, I must have been running faster than usual. “Fast” being a relative term here, though, folks; let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It was a good place to start (I was 27th out of 37 people in my age category), and it’s nice to have something to measure future efforts against.

Movie Night

Saturday night we went and saw The Losers. It’s another movie based on a graphic novel, but not one that I’d read. Seeing the trailers, and the cast involved, I had high hopes.

It had its moments, and a couple nice twists, but for the most part I was disappointed. Not so much that it was bad, but that it could have been so much better. Like I told Julia after seeing it, I wish more directors would understand that using cinematography and creative camera placement and interesting shots is good filmmaking. Gunking the film up in the editing room with herky-jerky cut scenes, slow motion and weird video effects isn’t. That stuff was very distracting to me in this particular movie, and it irritated me. And I was primed to enjoy a big dumb action movie. I swear, if another movie shows a group shot from a distance, with the members spread out walking toward the camera in slow motion like they’re a bunch of badasses, I’m going to hurl. This director seemed like a kid discovering iMovie for the first time and using every possible little trick in every possible spot. A real misfire on something that could have been — should have been — awesome. It’s not terrible, and it’s mostly fun, but it wasn’t nearly what I’d hoped it would be. Then again, I did have pretty high expectations, so who knows what others will think.

>Like Driving Splinters Under My Own Fingernails

>In an email from a writer friend of mine recently, she lamented the fact it had taken her 4 hours to write the 209 words that will comprise the jacket copy on her forthcoming novel. That’s pretty brutal. It got me thinking of the dreaded synopsis, an exercise every writer must face with each novel they write, as if low income and meager health insurance weren’t already providing enough suffering. Personally, I hate the damn things.

On the surface, it seems like it should be easy. In one of the writing workshops I took we talked about writing them before one even starts the novel as kind of a first pass “blueprint” for what is supposed to happen. That’s one thing, because at that point you really don’t have a whole lot of energy vested in the story; it’s more like an initial outline. But after you’ve labored for hours and hours and days and weeks and months to create a manuscript that most likely exceeds at least 65,000 or so words — maybe even double that — how are you supposed to boil all that blood and tears into a short, to-the-point summation of what the story is about?

I’m not talking about a long synopsis — I’ve seen references to a page for every 25 pages of manuscript being used as a rule of thumb — that a writer may be asked for if the initial query passes muster. I’m talking the handful of paragraphs you have at your disposal as part of that initial query that has to grab an agent or editor’s attention right out of the gate. That is the hard part.

As an example, I have this little bit for a 23,000ish word Pulp Western novella I wrote that I am thinking of expanding to a full novel. I don’t even know if it’s particularly good as a representation of what I’m talking about, but I’ll say I have sent it out once already to an outlet which, as of yet, doesn’t seem to be falling all over themselves to publish:

Score Settled with Sixguns

In the city of Butte, Montana, in 1953, Eliza Thompson is a young newspaper reporter just getting her start. She is sent to Our Lady of Mercy General Hospital to interview a patient, an eccentric old businessman new to the valley who has specifically requested her to be the chronicler of his story. He reveals to her that in his younger days he was wanted by the law as “the outlaw ‘Badger’ Tom Cassaday, one of the deadliest, most cold-blooded of killers this nation has ever known.”

Cassaday’s story begins in Deadwood, South Dakota, in 1876. It culminates with a brutal killing in 1889 that ends a long trail of vengeance, closes the door on a bitter love triangle, and ties him to the young reporter in a way she could never have foreseen. Cassaday, an aged invalid, relates his life story knowing full well that revealing the truth he has carried for decades will likely lead to a pistol in his hand one final time, facing a man who wants nothing more than to see him dead.

Score Settled with Sixguns is a bloody tale of pistols, greed, and double-crosses over women set in the American West of the late 1800s. It is for readers who like their heroes gritty, their women beautiful, and their villains riddled with bullets.

That’s just a couple hundred words, and while I don’t think it took me four hours to come up with, it was still a royal pain in the ass. Then again, at a finished tally of 23,000 words, the entire story is maybe only a third or less of what any full-length book would have to deal with. I’ve been over it and over it, tweaking it, and even then I don’t know how effective it is at really getting to the heart of what the book is about. That, combined with just the first few pages (or, if I’m real lucky, the first two or three chapters), would need to make an agent or editor excited about reading the whole thing. That’s quite a lot to pull off in just a few words.

I looked at the synopsis of another project I’ve been working on. This is the story I wrote as part of NaNoWriMo last November, though the 50,000 I wrote over that month will ultimately expand to 70K – 80K when it’s complete. Along the way I’ve decided to make quite a few changes to what I’ve already written too, so there is more work left to be done to wrap that up. Still, it’s shaping up nicely.

But the synopsis? Awful. Worse than awful. The book is my attempt at writing a pulp superhero novel that is about a man recruited to be the US government’s “official” superhero. It’s kind of an alternate history thing that takes place in modern times that I’ve tried to pack with some elements of noirish crime fiction. Hey, it’s an experiment that I realize probably ain’t all that publishable but I still want to finish the damn thing. So while I’m fairly happy with a lot of the actual novel, and I think much of it is fun and action-packed and works, the synopsis I wrote makes it seem so utterly cliche and predictable that I second guess myself about whether it’s even worth working on. I read my synopsis tonight and asked myself, “Is this piece of shit really the book I’ve been working on?”

Ultimately, I don’t know that there is any easy way to write an attention grabbing synopsis. I’ve read many how-tos and overviews, and none have made it seem any easier. I think as a writer you just have to roll up your sleeves and do it. Then edit it, and edit some more, and grab strangers on the street or in the airport and force them to read it and see if it seems interesting to them, over and over until you just can’t deal with it any more. And then send it out with your query, and maybe, maybe, if the gods of writing are smiling, you might get asked to submit the novel. Or, worse, a more detailed synopsis.

THE ART OF MANLINESS by Brett and Kate McKay (Book Review)

>At some point last year I stumbled upon a website called The Art of Manliness, “a blog dedicated to uncovering the lost art of being a man.” I believe another blog I follow linked to an article there, and I got a kick out of what I found. The About page from their website explains what it’s all about:

The Art of Manliness is authored by husband and wife team, Brett and Kate McKay. It features articles on helping men be better husbands, better fathers, and better men. In our search to uncover the lost art of manliness, we’ll look to the past to find examples of manliness in action. We’ll analyze the lives of great men who knew what it meant to “man up” and hopefully learn from them. And we’ll talk about the skills, manners, and principles that every man should know.

I found many of the articles interesting (for example, how to’s about using various tools; entering a room with confidence; leaping from a speeding car; and reading lists of “manly” fiction and adventure stories), and a good blend of practical information and tongue-in-cheek humor. When the book came out, I bought it on something of a whim, just because I thought, and still feel, that the idea and the themes are pretty cool. It sat on my dresser for some time before I finally got around to reading it. My wife actually read it before I did, and gave it the thumbs-up.

The Art of Manliness: Classic Skills and Manners for the Modern Man is essentially an extension of the website into book form. It is a collection of articles that provide information on everything from practical skills, like how to be a perfect houseguest, to some that lean farther toward the humorous (how to give a man hug, for example). There are tips on fighting like a gentleman, instructions on how to change a flat tire, and musings on fatherhood and providing children with rites of passage. There is even a section detailing how to land a plane in an emergency.

Fun as it is, the theme that runs through it is a compelling one. Men really have dropped the ball when it comes to being gentlemen. The book strives to get across the point that we can look to some of the cultural norms from “back in the day” and reclaim some of those “manly” attributes without being the misogynist pigs that dominated much of those eras. Being mindful of how we treat other people, owning our responsibilities, and always putting our best foot forward are notions that plenty of us could do better at living up to. The ideas are simple, and it does make one think. I don’t think one must be a man to benefit from the bulk of the advice either. The last chapter on Virtue is particularly interesting, and would be beneficial to all readers, men and women alike.

That’s not to say I totally agree with everything written here. In particular, I found some of the examples of “real life” or “today’s man” a little off-putting by the time I reached the end of the book. It seems to suggest that every man is some white collar corporate stooge trying to make his way up the ladder. I don’t recall one instance of an anecdote relating to a blue collar working man being used in the text, and that is unfortunate. Believe me, there is just as much stress and irritation to deal with in the grimy world of punching out parts and building machines as there is in cubicle hell. Nor was much thought given to what I think is the pinnacle of manliness — sticking it to the friggin Man. If there’s anything I find particularly loathesome it’s how men have become such a collection of two-faced suck-ups. We aren’t all striving to get that corner office. Some of us, frankly, couldn’t give less of a shit about that. The very things that have made so many men such jerks needing a smack upside the head have really fucked up our culture and world too. Remaking that entire hierarchical construct is going to take a lot of men, and women, putting their best feet forward to overcome. Trying to be a good man while buying into the rest of the bullshit about “how things are” is just pissing into the hurricane.

Regardless of these minor quibbles, I enjoyed the book. Aesthetically, it’s wonderful. The cover art is done so that the book looks old and battered, and the paper used for the jacket feels somehow different from the usual trade paperback — I don’t know what it is, some kind of matte finish or something, but I like it. It’s easy to read, with lots of sidebars and quotations, and the interior art made me chuckle more than once. Clearly a lot of thought and care went into producing this book, and it shows in the final product. I can definitely appreciate that.

A fine effort from the McKays, an effort that continues to gather steam online. I’m sure everyone knows a man or two who could really benefit from reading a book like this!

>Six Down, One to Go!

>I really don’t have much of an idea of who looks at this blog outside of the handful who regularly comment. I imagine the ones who are addicted to writing blogs and crime fiction and all that are pretty tired of seeing so many posts about a fashion design contest, but whatever. Julia would totally shout it to the world if I ever started kicking ass with my creative pursuits, and I feel the same way about what she’s doing. Besides, it’s fun.

April 16th: Challenge Six — The Fantasy Design

This would be the final challenge before the Grand Finale to determine the overall winner. With only four contestants remaining, one needed to be eliminated so that three could advance to determine the champion. This time around the designers were told to close their eyes and imagine themselves as some alternate version of themselves, and what they would like to be. They were allowed 5 yards of a single color of fabric, plus they could then accessorize it with whatever they wanted to.

Jodi imagined herself as a child again, and dressed her daughter in a little pink faerie outfit. While she talked about her design, Caryn and Candice looked on.

Candice said her alternate self lived on a world where it was never cold and was always sunny, and she could fly around like a Jetson’s character.

As soon as Caryn came out, it was clear that she was sporting a totally different identity. This was her “power suit” as they called it; bitchy and brash is what she was trying to portray, which is totally different from her real personality.

There was some serious questioning and answering going on with the judges. My mom and sister, in the background to the right, are clearly focused on the goings-on here.

Of course I only had eyes for Julia.

Especially when she was walking away.

Of course coming back wasn’t too bad either.

She’s really a striking woman, if I may say so myself. She’s 5’10” in her stocking feet, but when she throws her big heels on she’s about 6’2″ or 6’3″. That made her about the tallest person in the room! I have to remember to wear my boots just to stay even with her. She gets a kick out of that.

Julia talked about making some kind of “explorer” outfit, but the right color fabric wasn’t available. Then she talked about how she’s always fancied some kind of monastic existence, which would come as a surprise to people who know her, but that she realized she couldn’t handle the celibacy part. So this was her “When God Was a Woman” alter-ego. In a nutshell, she was dressed up as her version of a Priestess of the Goddess, growing up surrounded by women with no notions of ever getting married, etc. But having other “duties” as well, as she called them, as it relates to menfolk — if you catch my meaning. It was definitely a PG-13 rated critique/explanation session with the judges; I was a little disappointed, because I wanted her to go Full R. Oh well. I guess someone needs to think about the children. She looked great.

Julia and Caryn were standing next to each other when they learned they tied for the popular vote (I teased our friend Autumn and her sister, who came to watch but showed up late, that if they’d showed up in time to vote then Julia would have won the popular vote).

When all was said and done, Julia was judged the winner of the challenge (woo hoo!) and she advanced to the finals with Caryn and Candice. That event is in three weeks, on May 7th. You won’t hear any more about it until it’s imminent, so rest easy!

After all the festivities we went next door to the new tapas restaurant, The Silk Road, and had dinner with Autumn and her sister (whose name continues to escape me). The food was great, and the company was even better. All in all it was a great night!