Thursday, December 31, 2009

My New Year's wishes

I don't do resolutions, because I really suck at them. I don't like to look back, unless it's something so bad that I might actually learn from it. And since I'm way too superstitious to wish anything good for myself (lest I somehow piss off the karma gods), I thought I'd instead offer up a more general list of New Year's wishes:

1. I wish for peace and happiness for those of you in turmoil. Remember that this, too, shall pass. It always does.

2. I wish we could all just finally get along (in the words of poor Rodney King. Remember him?) Of course, this won't happen. I mean, I didn't just fall off the turnip truck yesterday. But I can wish, can't I?

3. I wish nothing but good things for my friends and family.

4. I wish the Cubs could just once win it all. Really. Just once. Then I could die happy.

5. I wish everyone could find their soulmate in life. I did.

6. I wish we could go back to the Moon. Space travel is so cool. I wish my sons could experience what I did back in 1969, when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the Lunar suface and gave me a massive case of goosebumps.

7. I wish Led Zeppelin would get back together and tour again.

8. I wish for security for the insecure of the world. You know who you are.

9. I wish I had one more wish to make this an even ten.

10. I wish I hadn't wimped out on that last wish...

Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A haze of creativity

Well, I stayed up until 3:30 a.m. today in the throes of mapping out my new novel. I'm not sure why I go into these almost manic phases of creativity, but I do. And it seems to be effective.

A few days ago, I had a very general idea for my next book--a spark of an idea if you will. It's a return to the theological thriller genre of my first book. But a general idea does not a completed manuscript make! So I put on the mp3 player (music is essential to my creativity process), cranked up the tunes and thought the story through. And through. And through. Ad nauseum.

It started coming to me in large chunks yesterday while working out at the gym. And it kept coming off and on throughout a fairly eventful day (our 12-year-son broke his foot at a snowball fight. Go figure).

For some reason, this is how I create. The idea comes to me in the form of a daydream and I spend the next few days feverishly taking notes from my own thoughts and committing them to paper so I don't forget them. Of course, the story continues to change and grow right up until I type "The End." And sometimes, even beyond that.

At 2:20 this morning, the ending finally came to me in a thick haze of cigar smoke with REM pounding in my ears. And what an ending! Man, I love it.

So I wrote it all down in my pretentious little Moleskine notebook. (Hemingway used one, you know!)

The book idea is big, deep, sexy, scary and damned exciting. It's going to take every ounce of any talent I might possess to pull off. But damn, I'm looking forward to trying.

I am a "seat-of-the-pantser" when it comes to writing, meaning I don't really work from a formal outline. Sure, I do several outlines, but when I write, the story just goes off to where it's going and I seem to have very little control over it. Sounds weird, I know. But my characters seem to think for themselves once I start writing.

I suspect that, when it comes to fiction writing, that's a good thing. (Or it means I'm truly insane.)

I'm going to continue laying the groundwork this week and hope to start writing in earnest next week (although I admit I do have the first few paragraphs already done).

While I'm not ready yet to disclose exactly what the book is about (ooohhhh, a secret), I will keep you updated on my progress. Of course, I have a month's worth of editing and revision on my completed novel coming up soon, so that will untrack me a bit.

Happy New Year!

UPDATE: Crap. I'm so wiped out today that I forgot to wish my 12-year-old son, Brennan, a Happy Birthday! The poor kid broke his foot yesterday and is spending his birthday creeping around on the smallest pair of crutches you've ever seen! They are so cute. ;)

Oh, and he can't wait for school to resume on Monday so he can tell his friends all about his horrid injury. He might even tell a girl or two ...

Anyway, happy birthday Buddy. I love you. Dad.

Monday, December 28, 2009

My dream is no lie

When I finished my first novel in late August (pending more edits, of course), I decided to start something a bit lighter. See, THE DEVIL YOU DON'T KNOW is a rather dark theological thriller with some very deep themes. Many of them were ripped from my own soul, my own experiences.

It damn near killed me to write it.

Consequently, I figured a political thriller with lots of plot and very little depth would be just the ticket. And now, about 13,000 words into it, it turns out I was right. It's been much easier to write and doesn't send me into those dark and scary bouts of depression like the first one did.

So why am I shelving it in favor of yet another dark theological thriller?

Good question, and one I shall attempt to answer.

During the two years it took me to write THE DEVIL, I constantly felt like I'd bitten off more than I could chew. I felt overwhelmed. Frustrated. I didn't feel nearly talented enough to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish. There were days when I was so pissed at myself that I honestly considered just deep-sixing the whole damned thing and looking for a real job. Oh, there were many, many dark days of self-imposed agony. I feared deep in my soul that I wasn't good enough to fulfill my lifelong dream.

I was still being held hostage by my fear of failure, which is eclipsed only by my fear of success. A line from Springsteen's The River kept me up at night:

Is a dream a lie if it don't come true, or is it something worse?

And then I finished the damned book one hot Friday night in a frenzy of writing, coffee and cigars. And people read it. And they liked it. Sometimes, they liked it alot.

And I started to feel something I had never felt before, despite all of the things I've managed to accomplish. I felt as though I had finally put my heart and soul into something and ... I somehow pulled it off!


As low as I had felt writing it, I felt equally high as others read and enjoyed it--as they got it.

Now I don't know if THE DEVIL YOU DON'T KNOW will ever see the light of publication. Only God knows that for sure -- and He ain't talking. But now I know the satisfaction of completing something that seemed all but impossible to complete. It's one hell of a feeling.

So I'm hard at work laying the groundwork for my next novel. Its working title is THE CROSSROADS and it's a novel about the epic battle between Good and Evil. God and the Devil. Man and his Soul.

I'm depressed already ... and loving every minute of it!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Have yourself a merry little Christmas

Just a very short blog to wish all of you a Merry Christmas, happy holidays, etc.

From my family to yours, have a peaceful day tomorrow and a blessed New Year.

BTW, we settled on Adventures in Babysitting for Friday's Family Movie Night. Not very Christmasy, I know, but by Friday night we'll all be, you know, rather tired of it all!

I expect to start blogging more often on Monday. See you all then!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A busy weekend

I know I've been lax on my blogging, but holiday madness has officially arrived in the Towery household.

On Friday, we did our usual Family Movie Night and, afer much debate, settled on "Knowing," a so-so sci-fi movie that the wife and child loved. Me? Not so much.

Next week, I'm starting an '80s theme. Maybe I'll kick it off with either "Adventures in Babysitting" or "Ferris Buehler's Day Off." Gotta love those 80s movies! Molly Ringwald, here we come.

We got up early on Saturday and drove to suburban Chicago to have an early Christmas dinner with Jennifer's Dad and his lovely wife, Cher. We had a really great time. Ev and Cher sure know how to host a holiday gathering!

Today, my family came over and we had a sirloin tip roast AND a 12-pound Butterball turkey! I had both in the oven at 6:30 this morning. Thank God for coffee. Again, we had a great time! There's really nothing better than kicking back with family and just talking, laughing and remembering old times. It's one of the best things about the holiday season.

We get a breather until Christmas Eve, when we're having the two older boys over for a full-fledged family dinner before candlelight services at our church. On Christmas morning, we'll head north again to Jennifer's brother's house, where he is serving Turducken! Wow. I love Turkducken. Awesome, heavenly eating!

But for now, I'm gonna watch some Sunday night football and COLLAPSE.

More tomorrow. Hope everyone had a great, relaxing weekend.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

DEVIL's prologue

After some rather nervous consideration, I've decided to post the prologue to my completed novel, THE DEVIL YOU DON'T KNOW. Please remember this in an unedited rough draft. If you have comments or suggestions, please feel free to post away. Just be kind.

11:35 p.m. Friday

Michael Reed opened his eyes, gasping for air. He was in his bed, of course, his wife a snug warm little bump next to him. Outside his bedroom window, a chilly central Illinois wind rustled the dead leaves already blanketing the lawn. A low-pitched murmur coming from the foot of the bed was only the television, he realized. He’d fallen asleep with it on. That fragile, ethereal dream feeling clung to him like the chilled sweat of a fever. Both cats slept peacefully at his feet. The pale blue glow of his bedside clock told him it was 11:35 p.m.

The explosion came just as he turned to set the alarm. He held his breath and waited for another, but none came.

What the fuck?

He leaned over and looked at his wife, who dozed peacefully beside him. Kris Reed would snap awake if Connor coughed on the other side of the house, yet she slept through that? Even the cats were dead to the world.

At some point, still puzzled, he fell back into sleep.

* * * *

Less than two miles away, the Rev. Dave Douglas sat alone in the downstairs office of his country home just north of Peoria, dutifully working on Sunday’s sermon. He’d removed his reading glasses and was fastidiously wiping them clean with the soft flannel hem of his pajama top when the explosion nearly knocked him from his chair. He sat perfectly still, his heart racing.

Then he remembered Buddy.

The family’s five-year-old cocker spaniel had been curled up under his desk, snoozing as he always did when Reverend Dave worked at the computer. He pushed his chair back and glanced under the desk--and there was Buddy, sleeping soundly.

“Hey boy,” Dave whispered, and Buddy immediately raised his head, his tail thumping a beat on the floor. The spaniel stood up and stretched before licking his master’s outstretched hand.

* * * *

Bradley University theology professor Matthew Folds was still fuming from yet another argument with his life partner of forty years. It had ended like they all did, with Derrick stomping out and Matt alone at the kitchen table, a tall glass of bourbon and the Bible his only companions.

When the blast split the solitude of their tiny Peoria home, Matt spilled the bourbon all over his leather-bound King James Version Bible. Mercifully, he didn’t have time to ponder which loss bothered him most.

“Oh dear God,” he muttered, clutching his chest. And then he remembered Derrick, who’d stormed out just minutes earlier.

“Derrick!” Matt shouted, hurrying to the back door and throwing it open. Standing in the doorway, he heard only the sounds of a city at night--the sporadic hiss of tires on the street out front and a faraway, fading siren. He stood there for a full minute, his heartbeat slowing to normal. Mystified, he closed the door and padded back to the kitchen table, where he poured himself another drink, picked up his soggy Bible and waited for his lover’s return.

* * * *

Sixteen-year-old Samantha Cate flopped onto her bed and dialed Justin’s number. She’d just returned with some chips and a Mountain Dew looted from the spacious kitchen of the new house her big sister Bethany shared with live-in boyfriend Jed in Davenport, Iowa. Sam had moved in with them unannounced several weeks earlier after fleeing her parents’ farm in central Illinois. She intended to finish high school at Davenport Central. She also intended to become a doctor someday, like Bethany. Maybe a pediatrician.

She did not intend to go home.

“Hey babe,” Justin purred just as the blast rocked the house. Sam caught her breath and dropped the cell phone, covering her head with a pillow.

“Oh shit,” she screamed. “Oh God. What was that?”

“Sam? Sweetheart?” She could hear Justin’s voice, tinny and faraway, coming from her Verizon flip phone. “What’s wrong?” At some point, he muttered something unintelligible and hung up.

She eventually fell asleep, the pillow over her head and her cell phone still open beside her.

* * * *

In a downtown Peoria parking deck, attorney Zachary Fine gallantly opened the door of his Mercedes for the willowy young blonde, whose name he’d already forgotten. She’d latched onto him at the charity ball and he’d immediately found her thoroughly enchanting--not to mention hotter than a pistol at a shooting range.

They entered the Twin Towers elevator and rode in silence to the 23rd floor, where Zachary’s penthouse overlooked the widest, prettiest stretch of the otherwise insipid Illinois River.

“Wow,” the girl finally said, looking around with big, sleepy blue eyes. The little humpbacked lawyer removed her lacy shawl and dropped it onto his black leather sofa with a flourish.

“I guess we should talk money before we go any further,” she said, looking at him expectantly. At that moment, the crystal clock on the mahogany desk off to the side of the living room clicked to 11:35 p.m.

“Money?” Zachary said, feeling the bulge in his tuxedo trousers immediately deflate.

Her mouth moved to answer, but the explosion drowned out her words. He grabbed her and threw her onto the floor, flinging his tiny body over hers.

After a couple of seconds, he opened his eyes and looked around. Nothing. No debris, no smoke. Nothing.

“Are you okay?” he asked, sitting up and looking around.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” the girl said, grabbing her handbag and sliding into her heels.

“No. Wait. Please?”

The only response was the penthouse door slamming with almost as much deafening noise as the explosion.

Or whatever it was.

* * * *

Miriam Crane sat up in her bed, the latest dream still fresh in her mind. Her ears were ringing from the blast and her eyes were moist with tears of joy.

She got out of bed and trotted silently down the hall to Jordan’s bedroom door. Quietly, she pushed it open and looked in on her son. He was sleeping soundly, his room silent save for the soft ticking of his alarm clock on the bedside table. She smiled sweetly and went back to her bedroom.

It never occurred to her to be frightened or alarmed. No, this was the moment she had waited for. Fifteen years she had waited, silently and painfully.

And now, the moment had arrived.

She knelt beside her bed and prayed, fingering her rosary beads tightly, secure in the knowledge that she was the only person on the planet who knew the significance of what had happened on this night.

* * * *

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

To the farm

When I was about eight or nine years old, my mom backed out of our garage one sunny Spring morning and ran over our three-month-old kitten, Butterball. I remember the poor creature flipping and flopping around the garage floor, obviously in agony, as Mom, my sister and I stood around it, stunned and horrified.

It was not pretty.

"Is she going to be okay?" I asked.

"I hope Butterball will be okay," my sister said, a tear trickling down her cheek.

Mom looked at the poor cat, looked at us, and looked at the cat again. It was howling in pain and blood was coming out of its eyes, nose and mouth. Did I mention that it was not a pretty sight?

"She'll be fine," she said, hustling us off to school.

When we got home that afternoon, Mom was sitting on the sofa watching her soaps. Butterball was nowhere to be found.

"How's the kitty?" I asked, fearing the worst, yet hoping for the best. You know how kids are.

She looked up and smiled comfortingly. "Oh, she's fine. But we decided to send her off to a friend's farm to live. That way, she can heal and live with her kitty friends."

Now this bummed us out for a while, especially since Mom would never let us visit Butterball at the farm. But I was really glad she was with her friends, running and playing in the hayfields. You know how kids are.

Some years later, Mom finally fessed up -- her brother had come over and buried poor dead Butterball while we were at school.

We eventually forgave her, but the farm metaphor stuck. Let's just say my family has a weird sense of humor. Anyway, whenever an uncle or aunt would pass on, we'd say they "went to the Farm." It became a bizarre code word for dead.

There's a point to this rather gruesome story. Seriously. And for all two of you who have stuck around to hear it, here it is.

I wrote yesterday about my white-page panic, and how the 300-some words I wrote were most likely dreck. Utter crap. Remember? Well, I opened up Word this morning and looked at them.

Sure, I told myself. They are going to be fine. No problem.

I smiled comfortingly -- and sent the little bastards off to the Farm. With Butterball and Aunt Edna.

Have a nice trip, crappy words. And tell Great Uncle Mike I said hi.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

White-page panic

I'm blocked. Big-time. For the past two days, I've sat down at my desk, fired up Microsoft Word, pulled up my manuscript and ... just froze. Went tharn, like those doomed rabbits in WATERSHIP DOWN.

White-page panic, I call it. Others call it writer's block. No matter what it's called, it sucks.

I recall this happening a couple of times while I was writing my last novel, and I've spent countless hours trying to remember how I dealt with it then. I suspect it left as suddenly as it arrived. At least, I hope that's what happened. Because I don't like this feeling. Not one damned bit.

Don't get me wrong. I'm still writing. I wrote a whopping 135 words yesterday and bested that with a stunning 202 words today. At this rate, I should finish the novel in, say, the year 2015.

And I'm fairly certain I've done nothing more than bang out pure dreck. Dreadful, awful crap. God, I'm afraid to read it tomorrow. Really.

I was a newspaper writer for 25 years and had to write on command most days, even if the well was dry. I remember many times leafing wildly through my tattered reporter's notebook looking for something, anything, to get me started. Just so I could quit staring at that damned blinking cursor. Usually, it worked, and I would bang something out. Heck, sometimes it was even decent.

But the act of creating, of writing fiction, requires more than just plugging in something and hoping like hell it works. At least, it does for me. I've read many successful writers who say they just plowed onward, right through the wall. Writer's block? What writer's block?

Well, goody for them.

But I'll keep at it, one day at a time. And when the muse returns, I shall be here to welcome the little bitch with open arms.

But for now, I'm gonna head on over to Facebook and see who's there ...

Monday, December 14, 2009

I hate vampires! (sort of)

Ok, I admit it. I have never read any of the Twilight books. Or Harry Potter, although I've seen and enjoyed the movies (my wife and 11-year-old make sure of that). I've also never read Lord of the Rings or any Tolkien for that matter.

I know. I know. My bad.

But fantasy just doesn't ring my bell. I harbor no ill will toward those who like a little magic dust sprinkled on their dragons and elves, or who swoon when a pasty-faced young vampire leans in for a little nip before sun up.

No, I like my fiction gritty and straight-forward. Real. Of course, a few monsters and vampires are a good thing, as evidenced by my longstanding love of Stephen King, but I just can't muster any enthusiasm for the current crop of fanstasy titles.

But I'm glad they are there, because I suspect more young people are reading today than perhaps ever before. And that, Dear Readers, is a very, very good thing.

Over the past several months, as I began pursuing my fiction career in earnest, I've joined several online writing groups and I've noticed one thing -- there are a ton of young adult fanstasy writers out there! Dear Lord, they are crawling out of the woodwork. Some of them are writing novels at an age where I was still drinking beer, smoking dope and arguing with my Dad over keeping my room clean.

Good for them!

My own writing tends more toward a darker reality, my prose more masculine than fantastic. Let's just say I use fewer adverbs and adjectives and leave it at that.

If today's young adult fantasy is, say, the literary equivalent of Lady Gaga or Lily Allen, then mine is more Springsteen or Bachman-Turner Overdrive. Closer to the bone, so to speak.

It's been said the market for adult fiction is shrinking, while the market for young adult fantasy is growing. My hope is that once my book is ready for submission, it finds a yearning for more adult literature.

Meanwhile, viva la difference!

How about you, Dear Reader? What books trip your trigger? Let me know and we can compare favorites.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Bad weather equals good writing?

The weather here in central Illinois is nasty -- bitterly cold and snowy with wind gusts of more than 50 mph.

So what do I do? I hunker down in front of the computer screen for five-plus hours and bang out more than 2,000 words on my work-in-progress (hereafter referred to as WIP).

I would have done more, but my hands are aching. Seriously.

Now usually I'm good for between 500 and 750 words per day. I tend to spend the first hour or two editing and revising what I've written the day before. Then, once I am fully immersed in the story, I plunge forward.

It's going to take more than an hour tomorrow to wade through what I got down today.

How do you handle the bad weather?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Projects update 1

I started this blog so I could write about my writing and, well, I guess I ought to start doing it.

The best way to kick things off is to update you (all two of you) on the the status of my two fiction projects.

The first, a mainstream novel about a disgraced former nun who thinks her son is Jesus Christ and enlists the help of a burned out newspaper editor to help get the word out, is finished and currently in the capable hands of book editor Staley Krause. Once I finish revisions and rewrites as per her edits, my hope is to start querying it around Feb. 1 -- once the post-holiday crunch is past.

(For you non-writers out there, querying refers to a letter describing your book and yourself that is sent out to literary agents in order to gain representation. The agent, in turn, sells your book to publishers.)

The Devil You Don't Know clocks in at about 120,000 words (about 430 pages) and will likely be revised after Christmas. Again.

My new project is a political thriller with the working title THE KITE, although I can see that changing as the plot progresses. Right now, it stands at slightly more than 8,000 words and will likely end up close to 100,000.

I've considered posting some excerpts, but I'm not sure if that's a good idea. I've read conflicting reports about whether publishers care about such things. I guess for now, I'll refrain from it until I get a final ruling.

Later, I'll post about my work habits and writing routine, since for some reasons all writers are interested in how other writers work.

SICK UPDATE: The illness I referred to in an earlier post returned with a vengeance exactly three minutes after I blogged that I was feeling better. It's turned into a nasty, nasty cold. But -- and I hate to even say it -- but I think I'm starting to feel better.

Hope all is well with you, Dear Readers.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Yeah, I'm alive

But only barely. Thanksgiving was, well, Thanksgiving. Fun, travel, food, heartburn, travel, food. Rinse and repeat as needed.

Then, once we got home and settled in, I got sick. Not really sick, but sick enough to spend a couple of days in bed. Curled up with a good book.

Yeah. It was tough. I mean, how awful. Spending a couple of days reading!

Anyway, I was able to shake it off today. I even got my tired old butt to the gym and spent five solid hours writing.

It feels good to be back in the game. I hope things are well for you, my two loyal followers.

More tomorrow.