Category Archives: Writing

Time: A Novel

Time, a novel

Time, a novel

TLDR: Watch this series of videos if you, like me, are obsessed with the theory of time.

Otherwise, read on if you want some history on my early novel-writing efforts and more background on Butterfly, a novel.

 

So a very long time ago I was a graduate from a mostly prestigious college with a degree in a mostly prestigious field. And when I graduated and the spike of panic over having an English degree subsided and I found a different way to make a living I sat down and finished a novel-in-progress called Time, a novel.

At the time I lived in Brooklyn and worked down on Houston and Hudson St in Manhattan. When I was finished with the novel I printed it out at Kinkos (one across from CBGBs, if I remember right, which I may not), chucked a few copies into envelopes and skulked around the buildings near Penguin just down the street from the White Horse Tavern. Nothing came of it. Probably because the book wasn’t all that good. I should re-read it to verify, but I’m trusting my memory on this one.

It was a story, at its heart, about two young folks trying to get lunch. They get kidnapped, separately and together, by a few different groups, including a cosplay-ish Greek/Trojan reenactment group and the employees of a local tinsel factory, for which the male protagonist works. Or did work. It was set in Worcester, Massachusetts, of the Elizabeth Bishop poem, “In the Waiting Room,” the notorious heart of the Commonwealth, birthplace of my own self.

I moved to other companies, not so conveniently located to harass employees of the big publishing firms, and which demanded, or at least occupied more and more of my time. I moved on to another book project that centered around litter on the streets of Brooklyn that, thank God, I put to rest a few years ago.

An aged manuscript

An aged manuscript

Butterfly, a novel, my latest complete novel and the thing I’m shopping around to agents and publishers now (with less stalking… less *physical* stalking, anyway), just so happens to be set in Worcester, Massachusetts, home of the Holy Cross Crusaders, Rotmans, and Turtle Boy. William Murphy, in his post-hockey career, works a job at a factory, which just so happens to be the same tinsel factory the protagonist from Time, a novel works at. The cabal in this particular book happens to be a collection of blacksmiths from Old Sturbridge Village, everyone’s favorite central Massachusetts school field trip destination; a bunch of drop-outs from MIT living by the seaside on a butterfly ranch are another.

But another central theme is that of time travel and the effects of time. I just spent a few minutes, here and there, watching these World Science U videos on Time and would encourage you to do the same. I’ve only just stumbled across the site, but it looks like it’s got some amazing content to satisfy curious minds.

 

And I also wanted an excuse to post that Time cover, which uses the image of the Three Fates statue in the southeast corner of Stephen’s Green in Dublin, which we walked past just last week.

The Music of Butterfly, a novel

Butterfly, a novel is a book. It comes with words for reading and very few pictures, if any.

When one of my first readers gave me feedback one of their comments was “I can easily see this being a movie, and I know exactly the soundtrack!”

Well, the book is hardly a book, yet, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves, but she picked some excellent songs that captured the mood of Butterfly, a novel.

One you might have guessed, particularly if you’ve watched the trailer, is One eskimO’s excellent “Givin’ Up.” The soundtrack for our super low budget, indie made book trailer was a toss up between “Givin’ Up” and Imagine Dragons “Nothing Left to Say.” It’s meant to capture a man on the run, who may have just seen his wife and daughter die, to borrow a plot trope from afternoon, a story, by one of my personal favorites, Michael Joyce.

As I’ve been writing (and editing, and editing, and editing) Butterfly, a novel I’ve also had a soundtrack. Usually I write to classical music, without any words to give me a Barnes & Noble-esque atmosphere in my little writing hovel. But as I sat down to finish out the fourth draft/heavy editing, I ran ear-first into Tanya Donelly’s Swan Song Series. It was the fourth volume, the one that includes “Salt” and “Cape Ann.” I’ve been a fan of Tanya Donelly from her Throwing Muses, Belly, Breeders days and I just love the mood she evokes. It’s a little bit wistful, joyful, so so good. So I went back through her back catalog of Swan Song Series and collected them all.

Tanya Donelly's Swan Song Series is a big repeat listen

Tanya Donelly’s Swan Song Series is a big repeat listen

I kept all 5 volumes (the fifth came out in the middle of slogging through yet another edit, a welcome addition) on constant play during my early morning editing and writing sessions. It’s a story about a man losing his family, possibly irrevocably, and their attempts to get back together again, so there’s that little bit of hope and remembering the good times that I get from Ms. Donelly. In fact, should it be turned into a movie (whoa, chief, let’s not get ahead of ourselves or our hunt for an agent yet), I would beg plead and grovel to get her to write the soundtrack.

Mix in the odd song that sounds like it would belong in a hockey arena and you have the recipe for writing Butterfly, a novel. The latter songs in the iTunes playlist, in particular, got heavy rotation when I would spend half an hour to an hour at the rink, thinking through various plot points, scenes, that sort of thing. William Murphy was a professional hockey player, in his former life — a goon who dispensed and received great punishment on the ice. So some of those raucous anthems got me going through fight scenes (much easier than picking somebody at the rink to tussle with).

So there you have it. I have no idea if this is interesting or not (I suspect it’s not terribly), but the music behind the novel.

Now back to waiting for agents to get back to me. And working on the next book.

The Story of Bobby Robins

Yet Another Update: The nearly always excellent Chad Finn has a write up of the Bobby Robins NHL experience last night.

Update: I should have included a link to one of the first profiles on Bobby Robins to come out since he’s made the big club, by Dan Cagen in the MetroWest Daily News – “A dream come true as Bobby Robins makes the NHL“. So between that article and the BDC article/video, you should go have a read.


So a player named Bobby Robins, a hard-working 32 year old, as they will repeatedly tell you, hockey player has, at long last, made the big club — he’s on the roster for Opening Night for the Boston Bruins against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Lace 'em up

Lace ’em up

I started following Bobby Robins last year, maybe the year before, when he hit Providence. He looked just like William Murphy, the protagonist in Butterfly, a novel. He seemed like an earnest guy, working hard at his hockey career, his life as a family man, and his life as a public figure. I was doing a little bit of research on those guys who get stuck in the trenches of goon-dom, who languish in the minor leagues, looking up at the feet of the NHL — my own hockey career is far less successful than theirs, so while I thought I’d done a good job of capturing William Murphy as a lifelong minor league hockey player with flashes of the big leagues, I wanted extra color, some inspiration for applying that third or fourth coat of realistic paint to the novel. At any rate, amongst the George Laraques, the P.J. Stock highlight reels, ThortySkillsy Hal Gill’s observations on Twitter, I found Bobby. After watching the couple videos he has up on his site, which counts as research, to the abject horror of my wife, I couldn’t help but root for the young man.

I can be curmudgeonly and incoherent with the best of them.

Now, I’m not writing as a hockey pundit, though I can be curmudgeonly and incoherent with the best of them and am available for hire, so I don’t know how having Bobby Robins on the Bruins’s fourth line is going to work out, but on a personal level I’m rooting for the guy and I hope it works out for him and the Boston Bruins.

My Own Personal Author Scoreboard

Those damn cute kids at Supertart.com have done it again. They’ve launched a social network, and now they’re dipping into the Author Scoreboard market, I suppose.

The Scoreboard at the Moment

The Scoreboard at the Moment

These are, yes it’s true, my current stats, with regards to queries sent out, responses I’ve received, and responses I haven’t received. I’m not quite sure how it works that I’m the one at bat but the Empty, Soul-Sucking Void of No Response is scoring all the runs, but this isn’t baseball, and there is crying in pitching to agents and publishers, so there you go.

All I’m aiming for is one run. Just one little run.

A Young Hockey Player’s Retirement Letter

So I’ve been doing the literary equivalent of rearranging the throw pillows in the house, organizing my sock drawer, wiping down the counters. Hunting for an agent is a little like fishing… at least the fishing I did when I was a kid. Most of the time I sat on the riverbank (the French River) and watched my fishing pole, and that was about it. It rarely involved any actual fish.

Well, one of my pillow arranging tasks was tarting up the Butterfly, a novel mini-site a bit more.

Fishing?

Fishing?

Based on some advice from an agent (not directed at me, necessarily, but useful, nonetheless), I decided to make the website/trailer website more presentable. I added a bio, the bio I’ve been sending to agents, a picture (good God help your eyes). I also added some more context about one of the main characters, William Murphy*. He’s an ex-hockey player who happened to be an enforcer — that brutal role where you stick up for your teammates and take and give a beating on nearly a nightly basis. When we were last in Ireland there were a number of articles, even there, about the concussion epidemic in rugby, a few players speaking out about the condition they were left in once their playing days were over (and usually much quicker than they’d have thought).

Over the last few years most of the attention has been on the National Hockey League and the National Football League, and the New York Times have an excellent documentary on Derek Boogaard, the Boogey Man who died a few years ago and whose brain has been studied to help diagnose the symptoms and severity of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encencephalopathy) in athletes who often withstand blows to the head regularly.

The Hockey News had a link yesterday about a Swedish player who has been forced to retire at the age of 20. This is very similar to the type of stuff I was trying to dig up to highlight one possible theme to Butterfly, a novel. While he’s enjoyed a little more of a career than the kid who wrote this letter, and his playing days ended a few years ago, I think he’d identify with the sentiments in this letter.

 

At any rate, swing on by the new trailer site, let me know what you think, because I haven’t had interactions with any other human, and have vowed not to until I’ve got my claws into an agent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* By the way, you may recognize William Murphy as my longtime partner and co-writer at Sane Magazine (though the content from that site is now here). For those of you (hi, mom!) who’ve been following along for a looooong time, indeed.

Butterfly, a Book Trailer

So it was one of those “hey, why don’t you?” kind of moments. My wife and dedicated First Reader said to me, after the first fifty pages, “Why don’t you make a book trailer?”

She explained the pieces she thought would make the cut and I agreed.

Butterfly, a book trailer

Butterfly, a book trailer

A few months later, she repeated the same thing. The book received more editing, more pages were laid down. She was speaking to me through a little food and mail slot in the heavy iron door, behind which I sat. I agreed.

Months more passed. Seasons changed. The book was finished. My beard was matted and home to a small family of squirrels. Again came the refrain through the food slot: “You should make a book trailer.” Again I agreed. “But,” I said, “first let me send it out to a publisher and an agent.”

The heavy iron door burst open. The bricks shook and chalk dust from my rudimentary calendar on the wall rained down on what I was embarrassed to find were chicken and possibly mice bones in the corner of my writing room. “You need to make a book trailer,” she said.

“Oh,” I said. “You mean now.”

“And a book website.”

“Oh.”

And so I did. I present to you: Butterfly, a book trailer.

The Butterfly 150 – Listening Library Presents

So the next batch of manuscripts have been sent off to the First Readers — I’m at the 150 page mark.

The first 150 or so

The first 150 or so

It’s a little like painting a room. You put on the first coat. Take a break for lunch, let that first coat dry. Put on the second coat on one wall. Notice a spot on the ceiling, go get some paint remover. Put on the second coat on another wall and the third coat on the wall which already has a second coat because you’d forgotten you’d already done a second coat.

Notice that the fourth wall is patchy. Give it a quick second coat in the trouble spots. Realize later that you need to now re-do that entire wall. Give the third wall a once over, and you see that you’d forgotten to tape off the outlets or remove their faceplates on that wall.

At least that’s how I paint a room*.

 

It’s a somewhat more productive method that I use for drafting and editing my novel, Butterfly, which I’m sure you’re just dying to get your grubby little hands on. But it’s a similar method to the painting analogy. And this time round I’ve added one new painter’s tool to my toolbox, to allow me to go over the previously painted (to belabor a metaphor) sections is to use the laptop’s built-in ability to turn text into a spoken track.

My magic audiobook creator

My magic audiobook creator

 

So I use Scrivener, that excellent Mac-based writing software for organizing my manuscript. I’ll select all the text documents that make up a chapter, especially one that needs some work done, which gives me one long chunk of text.

I’ve got a whole other long and boring system for marking chapters that need work, in-progress, near final draft, and final drafts with different colored flag icons, but I’ll probably go into that at some other time if any one at all out there cares.

So I’ve got my big long window full of text. I hit ⌘-a to select all (Edit > Select All), and then right-click (or click with two fingers on the trackpad of the laptop) the highlighted text. What you should see is that menu above… with an item at the bottom for “Add to iTunes as a Spoken Track.” It’ll ask you what voice you want to use (the default voice, Alex, isn’t too bad), and then you’re good to go. You’ll hear a little noise when the transcription of the text into audio is finished.

In my particular workflow I then right click on that file in iTunes, show it in the Finder, and copy the track to Dropbox, and then open it on my iPhone for my walking around time or drive-time to have a listen to a reasonable facsimile of what I’ve written.

This is far, far easier than reading the text yourself into a microphone and making your own version with your own voice. Besides, if you recorded your novel-in-progress in your own voice you’d likely just cringe at how that doesn’t sound a thing like you the entire time and not pay too much attention to the words you’re speaking.

 

 

* Now available for hire for reasonable rates for all your interior painting needs.