Category Archives: Writing

Some Changes to the Blog

As you might have noticed, I’ve made some changes to the blog. There’s a new banner, and I’ve moved the tabs around. Why?

For too long I’ve resisted promoting myself as a writer, despite the fact that’s what I do most of the time I’m not doing something else. Whether it’s stories, blog articles, or notes for my Sunday School class, I’m usually tapping away at the keyboard, or jotting things down on paper. So why deny the obvious?

Perhaps a good way to describe the point I have come to is by adapting a popular meme. I’m sure you’ve all seen the “Distracted Boyfriend” picture, if you’ve spent any time on social media. Here’s my take:

Get the idea? I can be comfortable, give in to my doubts, and put off promoting my writing and trying to establish myself as a writer in any professional capacity… but that’s hardly living. Sure, it may not work. It’s very possible no-one will want to read anything I have to say, or follow my social media accounts, or take me seriously at all as an author. But the only way I’ll know for certain is to try. And the fun of trying is what gives life its spice.

So the changes to the blog are my attempt to be more focused about what I’m doing here. What about the Music Mondays, the Who Reviews, the Sunday School Notes, and all the other non-writing/book-related stuff? I’ll still write those, and all the past posts can be found under the “The Rest of My Life…” tab on the top. However, the focus of the blog from now on is going to be more reader-ly and writer-ly.

But that’s not all that’s going on. I mentioned in a previous post that I’m setting up a Patreon page. I have also set up a Facebook “Writer” page–a “business” page for my writing. As well as blog articles here, I’ll post stuff there from time to time. If you’d like to follow me on Facebook, the link is at the side. It’s also HERE.

I think that’s everything. I hope you like the new look, and enjoy, or at least appreciate, the renewed focus. 🙂

Questions? Comments?

 

Become a Patron of the Arts… for $1/month!

Do you know who this guy is? His name is Ludovico Sforza. He was Duke of Milan from 1494-1499, but most notably, he was a patron of Leonardo da Vinci. In fact, it was his money that enabled Leonardo to paint this:

Back in that day, artists relied upon patrons to provide them an income, freeing them to produce the works of art we have all come to love, and that enrich our lives. These days, however, art and entertainment has become so ubiquitous, few give a moment’s thought to how much time and talent goes into producing the music we listen to, the movies we watch, or the books we read. And often, those creators have to hold down other jobs so they can eat and pay bills while they create the things we love. If only there was a way for people to become patrons to artists today…

Enter PATREON.

Patreon was founded in 2013 by Jack Conte, a musician and YouTuber who wanted to provide a means for creative people to be able to create, and not have to worry about how they’re going to pay the bills while they work on their art. For a token amount every month (often as low as $1), you can help support an artist, and in return not only do you get the pleasure of knowing you have helped bring art into the world, but the creator will often offer “thank you” gifts for their patrons.

All this is leading up to an announcement:

I’m starting a Patreon for my writing. I’ll be launching the site soon, but I wanted to let you all know about it ahead of time so I can get some feedback.

Why do I feel like I need a Patreon site? After all, I have a full-time job. There are three main reasons:

  1. The Encouragement. Even the most seemingly self-assured writer lives in self-doubt. Stephen King will be the first to tell you he often feels a fraud, and is in fear of being “found out.” That’s why it’s always nice when people express genuine appreciation for my work. How much more encouraging it would be if people could back up that appreciation with some kind of financial investment! For published writers, that investment usually comes in the form of book sales. I don’t have anything published yet, so Patreon is the next best thing.
  2. The Extra Money. My job covers the bills, but doesn’t leave a lot of room for much else. I’d love to go to writing conferences, feel like I can afford to keep my computer working, or even just take time off work to spend writing, or relaxing with the family.
  3. The Discipline. I plan to offer patrons new flash fiction every month, and samples of things I’m working on. This means I need to have something to show for my writing efforts every month. What better way to help me keep focused than to think of all the people pledging money to help me write and looking forward to their monthly reward?

I’ll have two levels of patronage: $1.00/month gets you a free flash story, and $3.00 (or more)/month will get you the flash story, plus a sample of my current Work in Progress.

What do you think? A good idea? A bad idea? Do the rewards sound enticing? Your feedback, please!

UPDATE: Please note, comments and likes are NOT understood to be a commitment to patronize. Just let me know what you think. Also, I might not limit the reward to just flash fiction. Some months it may be poetry, or a song parody. Something special just for patrons. At the $3.00+ level, I might also throw in some cat pictures…

Some Thoughts on… The Synopsis

So you’ve written a novel, and it has been beta read, revised, edited, re-written, and buffed and polished until it shines, sings, and dances tangos around your typewriter. (Okay, so you don’t use a typewriter. But your manuscript probably doesn’t sing and dance either. Stay with me on this.) In other words, you’re ready to query.

You start going down your agent list, and Agent Number One, the “Dream Agent” (which you really shouldn’t have, but you do–can’t help it… we’ll talk about that another time), wants this thing called a “Synopsis.” What’s that? Well, etymologically speaking, the word comes from the Greek words sun and opsis, which together mean something like “seeing together.” (The Greek verb horao means “to see”; its future form, opsomai, has the same root as the noun opsis. Yes, in Classical Greek two tenses of the same verb can have different root forms. Isn’t Greek fun?) The first three Gospels in the New Testament are referred to as “Synoptic” because they have many stories in common that can be read in parallel. Over time, however, the word “synopsis” has come to mean (at least in English) a compressed overview of something. “Don’t go into detail; just give me a synopsis.” This could be a summary of the results of some experiment. Or, more commonly, a heavily abbreviated re-telling of a story. So when an agent asks for a synopsis, she’s asking for a 2-5 page summary of the novel, including all main plot points, even how it ends.

What’s the difference between a synopsis, and your 250-word query blurb? Your query blurb is meant to entice the agent to read your novel. You’ll introduce the main character and briefly describe the driving conflict behind the novel. You’re not giving away plot points, or the ending. The point is to make the agent request the manuscript so she can read what happens. Your blurb will be engaging, full of voice, and reflect the style of the story (witty? dramatic? creepy?). The synopsis, on the other hand, will be a pretty dry recounting of the events, so the agent can see how well you work out the plot, and whether the ending is worth the effort.

Here’s a pictorial representation of the difference between a query blurb, and a synopsis. First, this is your novel:

Now, here’s the query blurb.

See? Aren’t you enticed to find out more? And this is the synopsis:

Get the idea? The synopsis gives you a rough idea of the picture without any of the color, detail, or artistry that went into writing the novel.

And this is why many writers hate writing synopses. I mean, who in their right mind thinks that depiction of the Mona Lisa does da Vinci’s original justice? Sure, you get the idea that it’s a picture of a lady sitting outside somewhere. But where’s the skin tone? Where’s the detail on the trees? And where’s that enigmatic smile? The synopsis doesn’t entice. There’s no character, no depth, no artistry. You might pay millions for the original Mona Lisa, but you wouldn’t give a penny for the synopsis.

Those who want a synopsis would probably argue that the reason they want one is because they have already been enticed by the query, and like what they see of the writing in the first few pages. Before they offer representation, however, they need to know quickly whether you can construct a plot, and see it through to a satisfying conclusion. They know you can write, but can you write a marketable story? Basically, the synopsis will tell them whether or not its worth taking the time to read the entire manuscript.

Personally, I don’t think that’s fair. If an agent likes the query, and likes the writing, he should at least read the manuscript and discover the rest of the story with all the voice and color the writer intended. If he gets to the end and isn’t satisfied, he may still love the writing enough to ask for a “revise and resend” (i.e., suggest changes and ask the writer to re-submit when those changes have been made). Or he may pass on it anyway. The point is, reading a synopsis doesn’t do anything more for the agent than would reading the manuscript, other than save time because it won’t take as long. This doesn’t do justice to the work as a whole.

But what can you do? Not much. If an agent asks for a synopsis, unless you don’t really want to be represented by that agent, you have to follow the submission guidelines. On the plus side, writing a synopsis of your novel can be a useful exercise. If there are weaknesses in the plot, a synopsis will show them pretty starkly. No fluffy language hiding the fact that the dead waitress in chapter 5 is alive and well in chapter 7. Or that the major piece of evidence revealed in chapter 20 couldn’t exist because of a plot point in chapter 3.

And, so I’m told, even when you get a publishing deal, the demand for synopses won’t go away. Publishers will want to see a synopsis of each novel you write, and you will be the one to write them. So my advice is to suck it up and get used to it. Who said this writing gig was easy? Not me. Probably Harvey Q. Brakklehauser. Heard of him? No? My point.

What thoughts do you have about synopses? Any advice? Horror stories? Or do you actually like writing them?

Some Thoughts on Writing Rules

(Yes, I know this is a post about writing, but considering the feedback I received when I wrote about not giving writing tips any more, I feel a bit more emboldened to take the plunge. Feel free to comment your disagreements or alternative viewpoints.)

I’ve probably said something about writing rules in the past. If I have, it was long enough ago that I’ve forgotten, and you probably have too. In fact, I’ll probably repeat myself. Feel free to search through the blog archives to see if I’ve changed my mind on the subject. You can then quote me against myself and watch as I have an argument with Old Colin. It’ll be like watching a dog chasing its tail. On the other hand, you could just read on and argue with me yourself. 🙂

The earnest writer embarking on “serious writing” for the first time, will soon encounter “rules” they need to follow if they are to write well. These rules include such stalwarts as:

  • Show Don’t Tell
  • Avoid adverbs (totally, absolutely, completely, and wholeheartedly)
  • Don’t end sentences with a preposition
  • Don’t start with the weather
  • Don’t start with the protagonist waking up from a dream
  • Only ever use “said” as a speech indicator (“What?” he said)
  • Avoid clichĂ©s like the plague

… and so on. There are lots more you can find online, I’m sure.

Here’s my main beef with these rules. When you are writing fiction, or even narrative non-fiction (i.e., non-fiction that reads like a novel), there are no rules. Creative writing is just that: creative. It is an exercise of the imagination, and where the imagination is concerned, anything goes.

Let me make one thing clear. As a Christian, I believe wholeheartedly in absolutes. There are rules by which the universe operates, and there are standards of morality whereby we were designed to function best to the glory of our Creator. I am by no means a moral pragmatist. However, when it comes to artistic endeavors, I am totally sold on the principle that what’s right is what works.

These “rules” have a place. They can guide us to better practices. When a piece of writing isn’t working, try applying some of these rules. But don’t feel enslaved to them. Sometimes (probably more often that we’d like to admit), telling makes for better narrative than showing. Sometimes adverbs are not only unavoidable, but necessary. There are great stories that start with the weather, or a dream. There are times when “said” doesn’t say enough. And a clichĂ© might, on occasion, fit the prose better than an original saying.

But how do you know when to break the “rules”? How do you know when your writing “works”? That’s the tough question, partly because, despite what the MFA Police and the Grammar Gestapo would tell you, there is no universal standard of “good writing.” I’ve read best sellers that made my writerly skin crawl, and I’ve read freebie stories on the internet that make my literary heart sing. Even among the “Classics” there are books that people love to read even 100 years after they were first published, and books that are a struggle to get through the first 10 pages. Why these are “Classics” is an argument for the academics, and academics will disagree over which books belong in that blessed canon, which proves my point.

So how do you know if your writing “works”? In my experience… here it comes… the big answer… the key to unlock the mysteries of writing… you just know. What??! Yes, I know, that’s a bit lame, but it’s the truth. But how do I know? Because I read a lot, and I guess I have some facility with words (so I’ve been told), I know when a sentence rings true and when it clunks. I don’t always see it, which is why having beta readers is useful. But often I know when I’ve written something worthy of being read by others, and when I ought to just delete and start over.

How does that help you, O budding wordsmith? First, if you love books, and love writing, you probably have an intuition toward what makes a good sentence. You can feel the rhythm of the language, and you’re not afraid to spend minutes or hours mulling over the correct way to phrase something, or the best word to use out of two or three alternatives. In your first draft, trust your instincts. Write boldly, without fear of Strunk, White, or Elmore Leonard. Then review your work, and edit ruthlessly, giving in to that same urge that would take a red pen to a best selling novel. Then give your work to some trusted friends. They may agree with your choices, or they may disagree. Listen to their suggestions. If they say “You’re telling not showing here,” don’t immediately think you’ve done something wrong. Ask, “Yes, but is telling better here than showing?” Your friend might be hitting you with a rule simply because you broke one, not because the rule works.

Okay, enough of my waffling. Let’s have some other points of view. First, here’s an hour-long presentation writer Lee Child gave on the subject of writing rules and why he doesn’t believe in them. (It’s in two parts; watch them in the order I’ve linked them.) In some literary circles, what he says here is blasphemy, and would be cause to have him burned as a heretic. That alone makes these videos worth watching. I don’t agree with everything he says, but I urge you to hear him out and give what he says some thought:

Next, I recommend Jeff Somers’ Unconventional Writing blog, similarly packed with MFA-defying heresies, couched in Jeff’s incomparable wit and charm with a dusting of profanity:

Writing Without Rules–Unconventional Tips for Writing the Wrong Way

Now it’s your turn. What do you think of writing rules? Agree with me? Disagree? Comment below!

Some Thoughts on Reading and Writing

A while ago, there was a discussion on Janet Reid’s blog around how much you should read in your chosen genre before you write that genre.* The received wisdom is 100 books. Yes, 100 books in your genre of choice, before you commit to writing that novel. Some of you can easily burn through a 300-page novel in an afternoon, so 100 books is a summer vacation assignment. For others who, due to time constraints, or other reasons, are not fast readers, that sounds like a six-month commitment. Maybe longer. I’m doing really well if I can get through 50 books in a year at the moment. What does that mean for the person chomping at the bit, eager to write their big crime novel, who has only read a handful of Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie stories, and maybe one or two Michael Connelly and Lee Child books? Must they wait?

Here’s my take on this dilemma, for what it’s worth. I’m an as-yet unpublished writer, so I offer these thoughts for consideration, not as proven method. Indeed, I invite discussion in the comments.

What’s the Point of the Rule?

Whenever anyone spouts a so-called “rule” of writing, I’m immediately skeptical. For every rule, there’s a successful (and talented) author who has broken it. But these “rules” end up in how-to books and Writer’s Digest articles, so there must be a reason for them.

Before embracing or endorsing the rule, I ask a simple question: “What’s the point of the rule?” Because behind every writing rule, there are scores of literary agents and editors throwing paper, pencils, and laptops around in frustration at yet another dim-witted wannabe writer who doesn’t know his apostrophes from his asterisks, writing boring, been-there-done-that, prose, thinking they’re the next Hemingway.

Behind this particular rule is the idea that in order to write something original, you need to have a good feel for what’s been done. Also, if you want to get a good idea of how your novel fits into the general canon of the genre, you need to have a familiarity with that canon. All this helps the agent and publisher sell your book. If you’re writing another re-hash of a P.D. James plot, then no-one’s going to be interested.

That’s all well and good. BUT

You and I know there are plenty of books out there with settings and plots that all ring familiar. And yet millions buy them and enjoy them. Why? I think because each writer brings something unique to the telling of the story. Whether it’s their style, their “voice,” or their characters, or their peculiar perspective on the familiar, or something else, there’s a reason we keep turning the pages. It’s like a Columbo mystery, where we know who did it and how it’s going to end up within the first ten minutes of the show. And yet we keep watching because we love Columbo, and we love watching how he solves the murder.

If you ask me, I think writers should definitely be readers, and read as much and as often as possible. Writers should also write, and write as much as they can as often as they can. As a writer you should feel free to imitate styles, try out different genres, and find your voice and perspective. Then write whatever the heckovellia you want to write. Even if you’ve only read a couple of books in that genre. The worst that can happen is no-one will read it. But have fun. Enjoy what you write. If you’ve got any talent, you’ll know if what you’ve written is worthless dung,** or if you’re onto something. After that, all the usual “rules” about getting beta readers and so on apply.

What do you think? Disagree if you want. After all, what do I know? 🙂

* I’ve realized that I’ve probably written more in the comments on Janet’s blog articles than I’ve written articles on my own blog! Okay, perhaps an exaggeration, but that’s an imbalance I ought to redress.

** As opposed to priceless dung? I’m sure flies and beetles can tell the difference.

Dead Battery

OK, so I know Wolf-Link is not exactly a car, but it’s the best I could do!

Last week, our main vehicle–the eight-seater–wouldn’t start. My wife turned the key in the ignition and heard click-click-click-click. Dead battery? Or something worse? I am not a car mechanic by any stretch of even the most elastic imagination, and yet she turned to me to investigate. So I turned to the internet. Googled a couple of sites. Yes, could be the battery. Worse, it could be the alternator. What’s an alternator? What’s a battery? Kidding. I know what a battery is. The alternator is the piece of magic that charges the battery when the car runs. If battery’s dead, then you should be able to jump-start the car, leave it running for a while, and all should be well. If your alternator’s bitten the dust, then jump-starting the car might help for as long as the jumper cables are connected. As soon as you disconnect, the battery will drain and you’re back to square one. Batteries are relatively cheap and easy to install. Alternators are not.

Armed with this vital intel, I checked out the battery. I noticed white residue around the connectors. “What’s this?” I asked Google. Thankfully, I didn’t do the classic detective show move of tasting the stuff, otherwise I might not be typing this now. It seems this stuff is lead sulphate. I am no chemist, but that doesn’t sound healthy. Not like sodium chloride. it seems lead sulphate is highly corrosive, and toxic to inhale, let alone eat. Taking the advice of the online mechanics, I put on gloves and a mask, and attacked that white stuff with a wire brush and a mixture of hot water and baking soda. Seemed to do the trick.

I did not take this picture. This guy clearly has a death wish…

At last I was ready to try jumping the car. I hooked up our secondary vehicle using newly-acquired jumper cables (if anyone needs a jump-start, we’re ready for you!), attaching the clips in the prescribed sequence (red to dead, red to live, black to live, black to ground–i.e, some other metallic part of the car with the dead battery, away from the battery). The car started. Yay! I removed the cables, and the car continued to run. Double-yay! Probably not the alternator. I let the car run for about half an hour. Then cut it off, and tried re-starting. Click-click-click-click. *sigh*

It was evening, so I didn’t do anything else with the car, then in the morning we called our local mechanic. He said it was probably the battery, and to jump-start the car and bring it in so they can check for sure. I was able to jump-start the car again, and we got it to our wizards of all things vehicular. They confirmed the battery diagnosis, and assured us it’s only the battery. We put a new battery in, the car started, and all is well.

So, what’s the point of the story? Amazingly, there is one–aside from bragging about my new-found mechanical prowess fighting lead sulphate and wielding jumper cables. And it’s to do with writing.

You see, at the moment I’m feeling pretty uninspired. I started on a short story the other week, and it’s… boring. Dull. I like the idea behind it, but I’m not doing it justice. And I’m not sure I have the energy to right now. Work’s been really busy of late, and I’m sure having a head full of code and being tired play a large part in my current writing malaise. I’m like a dead battery. Occasionally I’ll jump-start myself and write a few lines, or something like this blog article. But then I’m drained. I probably just need the right kind of inspiration, something like being hooked to a healthy battery for ten minutes, where I can then run on my own for a while to get me going. I need to give my writing alternator a chance to power up my creative battery.

I’m just not sure what that inspiration is at the moment.

Anyway. In the event anyone else out there is feeling like a dead battery… here’s some empathy. Got some inspiration? 🙂

Writing about Writing

You might notice that the tag-line to this blog says “Reading Writing Music Theology Etc.” If you’ve been following for any length of time (well, not any length–I mean, if you’ve been following for a few days this wouldn’t appy) you’ll have seen book reviews, Music Mondays, Sunday School Notes, Doctor Who stuff, and other things. But where’s the writing? Sure, I’ve posted some flash fiction from time to time. But you may have noticed I’ve gone quiet when it comes to writing tips and publishing advice.

Back when I started this blog, oh some six years ago now, I did a mini-series (a costume drama, I think) on querying agents, giving tips and suggestions. I was, at that time, querying my first query-ready novel. I had done a lot of reading, and I wanted to sum up all my research and offer it up to the world.

Since that time, however, I’ve done some hard thinking. You see, I am, and remain to this day, an unagented, unpublished writer. So my expertise in publishing is as good as my reading and conversations I’ve had with agents and published writers. I don’t have anything to offer by way of good, positive experience. When I look for query advice, there are two types of people I consider SMEs (Subject Matter Experts):

  • The people who read queries as a job requirement and necessity (i.e., literary agents and editors)
  • People whose queries have secured them multiple requests from agents, or, who have secured agency representation as a result of their queries. In other words, people who have written successful queries. Queries that have produced the desired result.

I am in neither of these camps. So why should anyone listen to what I have to say, when you have plenty of SMEs telling you what you want to know?

As for writing tips, sure I can tell you what works for me. But I have nothing to show for my writing so far, so why should you care what works for me? Clearly what works for me doesn’t yet work for many other people. Again, when I want writing tips, who do I turn to? Published authors whose work I like, people who have demonstrated ability with the craft of writing, and have, as a result, written work that is salable and/or critically acclaimed.

So, at least for now, until I have a credible enough platform from which to pontificate, I’ll gladly point you to SMEs. But unless, for some strange reason, you want to read my thoughts on writing, how I go about composing prose, or whatever, I won’t be posting “tips and tricks” here. Or anywhere else. It just seems a little presumptuous, and a bit arrogant, of me. After all, in the immortal words of the Eighth Doctor, “Who am I?” (Whovian in-joke). So here are some SMEs to get you started. You can easily Google for more:

Query SMEs:

Query Shark/Janet Reid

Carly Watters

Publishing Crawl (Pub Crawl)

Various Tips from Literary Agents

… and other Literary Agent blogs.

Writing SMEs:

Stephen King (his book ON WRITING)

Jeff Somers

Writer’s Digest

James Scott Bell

How Cool Is That?!

Someone… well, not just someone, but my writer friend John Frain (who spent the month of April being murdered) pointed out to me that I’m in the current (July – August, 2017) issue of Writer’s Digest. I posted a comment on Twitter about Barbara Poelle’s excellent “Funny You Should Ask” column in the previous issue, and the editors decided to include that comment in their “Spotted on Twitter” section (p. 8):

OK, so it’s not like having a story published, or being the subject of an author interview, but it’s cool nonetheless.

Thanks, John, for drawing my attention to it. And to Writer’s Digest for giving me a few seconds of fame. 🙂

Birthday Flash!

Don’t worry, it’s nothing inappropriate. As you may have observed, I’m not doing the April A-to-Z Blogging Challenge this year. For the past three years, I’ve posted flash fiction every day in April for this challenge. This year, however, I wanted to work on stories I intend to sell instead. When I told my wife, she was a little disappointed (awww!), since she enjoyed the stories I posted in previous years. “As long as you post one for my birthday,” she said.

My wife’s birthday was on Monday, but I wanted to wait until today to fulfill my end of the bargain, since I knew articles would post on Tuesday, and I didn’t want her to miss it.

But what to write about? I usually have a word or title prompt, so for today’s story, I turned to the trusty Random Word Generator. Here’s what it gave me:

  • square
  • curtain
  • cork
  • socks
  • capital

So, here’s my 200 word story using those five words. Happy birthday, wifey! 🙂

The Cheeder’s Dance

It’s the strangest square dance I’ve ever been to, but we haven’t been out for a month, and I don’t want Amy to think something’s wrong. Besides, she says the Cheeder’s Dance is legendary.

The caller, Mary Beth, leads us through some traditional moves, then

“Curtain!”

I’m confused. Is this part of her patter? I stand with the other guys, while the girls dance around us. Amy puts her hands in front of my eyes. Ah, yes—curtain. I get it. As her hands fall away, I smell something familiar. But we start promenading, before I can ask.

“Corkscrew!”

The girls remove scarves from around their necks and waists. Amy pulls one from a pocket in her skirt, then begins twirling it around my head as she circles me. I’ve seen that scarf before, but I don’t recall Amy ever wearing it. And we’re promenading again.

“Now then ladies, take your bleeders, let’s get capital with those cheeders!”

The girls in unison pull switchblades from their socks. Cheeders? It come at me in a rush. The scent on her wrists, the scarf… she knows.

There’s that perfume smell again.

The flash of a blade.

A tug of my hair.

Darkness.

The Manhattan Trip, Day Two

As I mentioned yesterday, the main purpose of this New York trip was so my FirstBorn, Sarah, could audition at Juilliard and Carnegie Mellon. Day Two of our adventure, therefore, started early with a trip uptown on the subway (the 1-Line, to be precise) to Juilliard, which is near the Lincoln Center, and not far from Central Park. The journey by train only took about fifteen minutes, and then we had a short walk from the station to Juilliard. On the way, I spotted the Mormon Temple:

Why take a picture of it, especially since I am not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints? Well, first, I’m a theologian, so things like this interest me anyway. But also, if you Google “Mormon Temples”… go on. Google. I’ll wait. Do you see how everywhere else, Mormon Temples are big stand-alone buildings with tall spires? I’m not sure whether it’s because of city ordinances, or just lack of space, but the Manhattan Temple is not quite as impressive looking. Yet it still has the trademark golden Angel Moroni blowing his trumpet atop a… pole? Not quite a spire, but I guess it had to suffice.

We arrived at Juilliard, and I walked with Sarah into the lobby area where they were receiving applicants. I asked if she wanted me to stay, since they did offer a tour to parents and friends of auditioners, and maybe she wanted me to hang around for moral support. She said she was okay, and would text me when she was done. Juilliard hold their auditions in the morning, then ask their applicants not to leave town while they select those they want to see again. If you have been selected, you get an email from them between 2 and 4 that afternoon. Sarah was warned that if she got a call-back, she could expect to be at Juilliard as late as 11 that night! She probably didn’t think I would enjoy waiting around that long, so I wished her well and we parted ways.

Those who know me know that I’m a huge Beatles fan. Well… okay, I’m not that big, and I find enormous insects to be kind of gross, so let me re-phrase. I really like the Beatles, and have for over 30 years. Being from the UK, I have always known who the Beatles were. But it wasn’t until John Lennon’s assassination in 1980 that I really started paying them more attention. Since my Beatles fandom helped fan the flame of my interest in music, and my desire to learn to play instruments, that tragic event was quite a seminal one in my life.

After the Beatles split up in 1970, John moved to New York. His battle with the Nixon Administration to get a Green Card is the stuff of legend. It’s a battle he eventually won. John and his wife Yoko moved into the Dakota building, just across the road from Central Park, where they lived and raised their son Sean. And it was just outside the Dakota building on the night of December 8th, 1980, that John was shot. Those who were around at the time will remember the international outpouring of grief. Hundreds gathered in Central Park singing his songs, mourning together. Not long after, a section of Central Park was given over to Lennon’s memory. Called “Strawberry Fields,” after one of his most famous Beatles songs, its centerpiece is a large circular mosaic:

“Imagine” is probably John Lennon’s most famous non-Beatles song.

One sign says that “Strawberry Fields” is supposed to be a “Quiet Place.” Given that it’s right next to Central Park West, a major road, it is amazingly tranquil, with benches all around, as you can see in the picture above. Each bench carries a dedication. One in particular caught my attention:

 

After lingering a little, I made my way across the road to the Dakota building. It’s still the residence of the rich and famous today, which is why there’s a guard post and “Authorized Persons Only Beyond This Point” signs. I believe Yoko still lives there. Of course, I had to go and stand in that fateful spot, the place where one heart stopped, a million hearts were broken, and lives were forever changed. It gave me a chill.

I hadn’t had breakfast and seriously needed a cup of tea, so I started making my way in the vague direction of Seventh Avenue. I could have taken the 1-Line back to the hotel, but I decided I’d rather walk. According to Google Maps, it would take about 40 minutes to get to the Hotel Pennsylvania from Central Park. I had the time, and I really wanted to take in the city, so off I went!

I breakfasted on a bagel at a Starbucks on West 59th Street, not far from the Lincoln Center. The tea was okay (“English Breakfast”) and only cost a couple of dollars, so I was happy with that. Sarah texted me while I was there to say she had finished orientation, she would be auditioning soon, and I shouldn’t wait around for her. She had the MetroCard I bought yesterday that was good for a week’s worth of unlimited travel, so she was fine.

With the help of Google Maps (don’t get me started on my lousy sense of direction!), I oriented myself toward Seventh Avenue and started walking. Before long, I found myself on Ninth Avenue, and a district known as “Hell’s Kitchen.” I’m not quite sure why Hell’s, but I understood the “Kitchen” part: restaurants! Lots and lots of restaurants. At least five flavors of Korean, Mexican, Chinese, Greek, you name it! There’s even an Afghan Kebab House:

One restaurant (Chinese, I believe) had a sign on the door boasting “MSG-Free, Vegan, Gluten-Free…” and other ways it catered to every possible preference and allergy under the sun!

My family (and sometimes I) enjoy the show “Project Runway,” which is kind of like “American Idol” for fashion designers. Every week, the contestants go shopping for fabric at this amazing fabric store called Mood. It so happens, Mood is located on West 37th Street, between 8th and 7th Avenues. Since it was so close to the hotel, I made a point of swinging by just to see what it’s like in real life. Here’s what I found:

It doesn’t look much from the outside. The sign on the front says that the ground floor is for upholstery fabrics. If you want the fashion fabrics, you go through a door at the side and take the stairs to the third floor. I almost went in and shouted, “Hello, Mooood!!” but resisted. Thankfully.

While I was at Central Park, I got an email from my literary agent friend, Janet Reid (regular blog readers will know who Janet is). Before leaving for New York, I had emailed her saying I would be in town. She invited me to stop by the office, namely New Leaf Literary and Media. Her email that morning was to tell me I should call after 11 am to arrange the visit. It was after 11 by the time I got to the hotel room, so I called her, and she told me to come on over.

Fifteen minutes later, I was on the 22nd floor of 110 West 40th. Janet met me at the door and invited me in…

Bear in mind, folks, I’m a writer who has been stalking following literary agents on social media for the past six years, hoping to find one who will be receptive to my work. Since most agents live and work around New York City, it’s not often I get to meet one in the flesh. Here, I was about to meet a whole office full of them!

Janet introduced me to Joanna Volpe, head honcho of New Leaf, and agent to Veronica Roth, Leigh Bardugo, and numerous other best selling authors. I also met Jaida, JL, Mia, and I’m pretty sure I met Danielle and Sara (see the New Leaf website to put faces to these names)–everybody was busy working so I didn’t have much time to stop and chat. Janet then took me back to her office where we talked for a bit. Then Sarah texted to say she was done with her audition, and where was I? Janet invited her to the office. When she arrived, we all headed out to lunch at the eatery next door.

It’s always a wonderful thing when you can combine good food and good company. I don’t recall the name of the restaurant, but they had a falafel burger on the menu. I checked with the waitress and, indeed, it promised a burger-sized falafel on a bun. I love falafel, so I ordered that with eager anticipation. I wasn’t disappointed:

It came with coleslaw that really needed more vinegar, and potato chips that were clearly homemade, but lacked flavor. The burger was the star, and it more than made up for the rest of the plate.

Over lunch we talked about Sarah’s audition (it went well, but she won’t know anything until this afternoon), publishing, and Janet’s blog (on which I am a frequent–perhaps too frequent–commenter). Janet also took pleasure in tormenting me (“You’d like to meet [literary agent] Jessica Sinsheimer? Oh, I had dinner with Jessica the other evening. We talked about you!” My mouth drops. “Just kidding!” Grrr.)

Once our bellies were full, we headed back to New Leaf. Our phones needed to charge, and Sarah was waiting on an email from Juilliard, so Janet invited us to hang out in their conference room and recharge our phones while we waited. I have a theory that Janet is trying to keep the list of agents that I query very short–as in, only her name. At Bouchercon 2015, after telling Janet that literary agent Jessica Faust, with whom I had a pleasant fifteen minute chat, was on my query list, she replied, “You have a list??” When we got back to the 22nd floor, Joanna was using the conference room, but kindly vacated it so we could use it. I’m certain that if I should query Joanna Volpe, Joanna will say to Janet, “Colin Smith… do I know him?” And Janet will say, “Oh yes. He’s the guy that kicked you out of your conference room.” See what I mean?

Over the next couple of hours, Sarah went over her monologues for Carnegie Mellon, while I read some of the books in the conference room. One picture book I read that was quite entertaining was THIS BOOK IS NOT ABOUT DRAGONS by Shelley Moore Thomas and Fred Koehler. Throughout the book, a mouse insists there are no dragons in the story, while in the background we see clear evidence of dragon activity. I also started reading GHOST COUNTRY, the second in Patrick Lee’s series that started with THE BREACH (which I have read).

By the time four o’clock rolled around, Sarah had not heard from Juilliard, so she decided to head on over there just to be sure. We said our goodbyes to Janet, and I went back to the hotel while Sarah took the train back uptown. While Sarah was gone, I asked at the hotel cafe if they could fill my travel mug with hot water. Of course they could! Only $1.50 for a medium cup, and $2.00 for a large cup. I frowned and walked away. Sarah returned to say that Juilliard was a “no.” She wasn’t terribly disappointed since she knew it was a long-shot. It seems Juilliard gets about 3,000 applications every year, out of which they select 20 students. The experience was worthwhile, however.

To celebrate/commiserate, we ate supper at one of the Irish pubs nearby. The one we chose, The Blarney Rock Irish Pub, was relatively inexpensive, and served veggie burgers. A great combination! I drank Blue Moon (they had it on tap), and Sarah got a hard cider. Sarah tried their shepherd’s pie, which she said was actually very good. My veggie burger was also good, as were the fries (no, they were not chips–and as Irish as they might claim to be, I wouldn’t expect proper chips in the States):

We then walked back to Korea Town to visit Paris Baguette, a Korean bakery, where we picked up some food for breakfast tomorrow. Sarah suggested we try Starbucks for hot water. It seems she had been able to get a cup of hot water free of charge from them. So we found a Starbucks and, sure enough, they gave us two large cups of hot water, no charge. I have never felt so much love for Starbucks in my entire life. To complete my New York experience, we stopped at a street vendor and I got a large pretzel, which I took back to the hotel to munch on while I drank a cup of tea using our Starbucks hot water. (Yes, Sarah and I both brought tea bags from home, because that’s what we do.)

And that pretty much sums up our second day. Day three promised to be nerve wracking. Sarah’s Carnegie Mellon audition was at 8 am, but we didn’t know when she would be seen. Our flight out of JFK was scheduled to leave at 12:59 pm, so we needed to be leaving for the airport between 10 and 10:30 am. Did we make it out in time…? Find out tomorrow!