Thursday, April 17, 2014

Book Two Status Update: WOOOO

After nineteen months and numerous starts, stops and re-starts, I am proud to announce that the first draft of Book Two is DONE.
IT IS DONE
How did this happen, you ask? Well, last December, I was completely at an impasse. I had been writing and plotting and outlining and doing all kinds of stuff non-stop, but it just didn't feel like I was getting anywhere. There was even a point where I thought, "did I really say that this was going to be a series?" So when 2014 rolled around, I made myself a goal: I would do whatever it took to get the first draft finished this year.

The first step I took was to contact Indigo, a local editing company that my friend and fellow author Courtney Pierce had recommended (thanks Courtney!) I met with their sci-fi/fantasy editor, Susan DeFreitas, who I remembered seeing at a Willamette Writers conference in 2011. Susan was very helpful and had some great ideas, and I came out of our meeting feeling energized and re-inspired (thanks Susan!)

So, I went back and read through all of my old unfinished drafts, and it turned out that one of them in particular made me think, "hey, this one has potential." At that point, I made a firm commitment to return to the process that worked so well for Book One, which was to just write something - anything - every day, no matter how bad or disjointed I felt it was while I was writing it. I told myself that I would write a minimum of one page (250 words) a day, and that if I could do that, I would meet my goal of having a finished draft before the end of the year.

I got a piece of paper and logged how many words I wrote each day. If there was a day that I couldn't write for whatever reason, I would make up for it on another day. The key was to average 250 words a day, no matter what. And wouldn't you know it - once I got on this path, it got easier and easier, to the point where I was averaging 300 words a day. Then 400 (which was the benchmark I used when I was writing Book One.) Then 450. Then 475. It was like an upward spiral that continually built on itself until I realized that I was going to be done ahead of schedule. Way ahead, in fact.

During this process, I did three things in particular that really helped me along:

(1) I put a gag on the internal editor, that little voice in your mind that says stuff like "that sentence doesn't sound quite right" or "that's a little out of character for him" or whatever. It was hard to do, especially with a second book, because you're thinking about all of the feedback and praise and criticism that your first book received. In fact, I had been trying - and failing - to silence that voice all throughout the entire previous nineteen months that I had been working on this thing. But what I discovered was that re-reading the draft after putting it away for a while was the key, because it made me realize that something that seemed really horrible while I was writing it wasn't that bad after all.

(2) On those days when I had a hard time getting started (we all have those, right?), I would just write the most ridiculous thing I could think of. It wouldn't have to make sense, or even be connected to the story at all. For example, if I had left off yesterday with Joel and Felicity fighting a shark-wolf in the jungle, I would start today off by having a fleet of giant flying purple microwave ovens swoop in and carry everyone away. Or Felicity would suddenly turn into Jean Grey from the X-Men and blow the place up with a blast of psionic energy. The point was to get the wheels turning and to just start writing. I knew that I wouldn't have to keep any of this nonsense, which freed me up and allowed my creativity to kick in. As an added bonus, sometimes I even ended up with something cool and useable that I decided to keep after all.

(3) I didn't stop to fix, edit or re-write as I went along. Instead, if I knew that something I was writing was creating a plot hole or otherwise didn't make sense, I just made a note of it on a separate document. My mantra became: just keep going. Because as I found out, you can keep starting and stopping forever, and in the long run it probably won't make a difference anyway. Previously, I had spent weeks - months, even - juggling stuff and connecting dots and fixing problems that ended up becoming moot or resolving themselves after I just kept writing.

So there you go. I know that what I have in hand still needs a lot of work - as any of you writers out there know, beyond First Draft Summit is an even bigger hill: Mount Re-Write - but I'm happy (and relieved) to have arrived at this point. I'll let you all know when you can expect the finished product.

Oh, and don't forget to come out to the Autism Empowerment Easter Egg Hunt this Saturday!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

My Musical Hist - Wait, Hold On

We interrupt this episode of the My Musical History serial to announce some present-day music news: my current band Second Player Score has just released four brand-new, freshly-recorded tracks! So, follow these easy steps:

1. Go to our Reverbnation page at this link
2. Click on "Play All" (near the top middle)
3. Turn it up
4. Come back here to read about them
The first tune, "Chosen One," is a nerdy love song that contains references to Harry Potter, The Matrix, Legend of Zelda, and The Last Story (bonus points if you recognized that last title). We're planning to make a video for this one.

The next song, "Gloria," was the first in our set to really get the three-part vocal harmony treatment. From there, we decided to spread that special sauce over everything else, and you're hearing the results of that today.

"BTMD" (the title of the third one) stands for "Better Than My Dreams." The original version of this song was a slower, grind-ier quasi-metal thing with a bunch of different riffs and chords, but then we decided to simplify it and make it our entry into the Four Chords of Awesome pantheon (that last link is parental advisory, by the way.) The lyrics - of "BTMD," not "4 Chords" - are dedicated to my kids.

Finally, "Falling Forever '14" is a remake of a song that one of my previous bands, Upper80, used to play (I wrote it, so I'm not ripping it off. More on Upper80 in a future installment of the My Musical History series.) We always wanted to have a vibraslap in that song, and now it does.

I'd like to mention that all of these songs, as well as the other ones on our Reverbnation page ("Sad & Glamorous," "Bend," and "More Like Him") are available on that same page as FREE DOWNLOADS. So download away, put them on your phone, put them on your computer, burn them onto CDs, and spread the word to everyone you know! Also, while you're at it, don't forget to "like" us and our songs on Reverbnation and Facebook.

Special thanks goes to Stephan Hawkes, our engineer and the owner of Interlace Audio, the studio that we recorded these tracks at. We're planning to do three more this summer, so stay tuned! And now, we return you to our regularly scheduled pro - oh, well, maybe next time.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Autimism and the Annual Egg Hunt

This month (which is Autism Awareness Month, by the way), our good friends over at Geek Club Books are conducting the Autimism Movement, where each day will feature a story, interview, or photography by popular autism mom bloggers, autistic individuals, and organizations all making a positive impact in the autism community.
Be sure to check it out - here's the link again - and while you're there, enter to win some cool stuff, including a Nexus Tablet, gift cards, and (drum roll) a copy of the audio version of Book One!

Also happening this month is Autism Empowerment's 3rd Annual Easter Egg Hunt for Acceptance of All Abilities, a community acceptance event and resource fair serving all ages and abilities. For those of you in the Portland/Vancouver area, it will be on Saturday, April 19th, from 1-4pm at McKenzie Stadium (behind Evergreen High School). It's free to attend.
Besides Easter eggs (of which there will be thousands), there will be Easter Bunny photos, face painting, a silent auction, a martial arts demonstration, and all kinds of other fun activities. I, your friendly neighborhood author/musician, will also be there. So come on down that afternoon and have a great time with us! Or, better yet, consider signing up as a volunteer and/or making a donation.
As always, hope to see you there!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

My Musical History, Episode 6: Ground Zero and The Krayons

Zoning Chinchilla may have been over, but I was definitely not done playing in bands. In fact, I was just getting started.

Soon after that last ill-fated dorm banquet performance, I found myself in a new lineup with two former ZC members (the guitarist and the guitarist-turned-bassist), a new singer, and a new drummer. One thing that we all had in common was a fondness for metal - thrash metal, not the hairspray stuff that ZC had been playing. As I mentioned before, I basically started playing the guitar because of bands like Metallica and Megadeth.
Not Ground Zero
So, this new group - dubbed Ground Zero - threw together some metal covers and a few originals, and then got right back out on the gig circuit. We hit up most of the places that ZC had previously plundered (Jazz Cellar, C-5) and basically had a pretty good time, which is hard not to do when you're cranking out thrash classics like Four Horsemen and Tornado of Souls. We even managed to record a cassette demo of our three originals, which I'm pretty sure is lying around somewhere in my house.

Ground Zero didn't last very long, however. After a few metal-filled months, I found myself back at square one. Deciding to try yet another direction - isn't experimenting fun? - I recruited the former Ground Zero/ZC/R.F.H. guitarist (remember when it seemed like our playing relationship wasn't going to work out?) and formed a duo called The Krayons. The idea was that we were going to minimize the potential for drama and error by performing with pre-recorded bass and drum tracks that I would make in my bedroom with our own bass, a Roland drum machine, and a four-track. Oh, and I would also - gasp - take over the lead vocal duties.

It seemed like a good idea. Armed with a new set of more alt-rockish covers and originals (think R.E.M. and The Cure), we played our first show at a shopping mall (I know, I know) and got a pretty decent response. A few weeks later, we even ended up opening for The Krush, a band that was quite popular in Hawaii back in the day. Who knows, maybe we got the gig because of our similarly misspelled names, but nevertheless, it was still pretty cool.

Something just didn't feel right, though. Eventually, I had to concede that rock music - at least the way I wanted to play it - just wasn't rock music without an actual living, breathing rhythm section, even with all the potential for conflict that comes with it. So with that in mind, we scrapped the pre-recorded tracks and set out to find (insert resigned sigh here) a real bassist* and a real drummer. I didn't know it at the time, but that search would eventually lead to some of my most awesome and memorable musical experiences to date.

Next: The Start Of Something Big?

* Or, at least, a real guitarist who we could con force trick talk into playing the bass

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Scientific Evidence That Spectraland Is Real?

As all of you know, there is a scene in Book One - on pages 142 and 143, to be precise - where Joel, Felicity and Marshall face off against a creature that resembles a "cross between a tyrannosaurus rex and a chicken." It has a feathered head and body, big sharp claws, and is very large: "(it) filled up the passageway with its tremendous height and girth."

And now, scientists have announced the discovery of a dinosaur that they have dubbed the "Chicken From Hell." If you will notice, the description of this prehistoric beast sounds a lot like our rooster-saur from Book One:

"Or you could characterize it, as Lamanna also told CNN, as a 600-pound cross between an ostrich and a velociraptor..."You might think this was a really, really weird-looking bird," Lamanna said. "... But, in fact, this was a very bird-like dinosaur ... with a really long bony tail, very large hands and really sharp claws."...the 11½-foot-long, roughly 10-foot-tall Anzu wyliei had a bird-like beak and apparent feathers." 
"Hey, that one will probably fit in the Caves of Wrath"
How about that, huh? Remember that Book One came out in July 2012, nearly two years before this announcement. Even though the fossils of this dinosaur had been dug up a while ago, the official unveiling only happened yesterday, and I solemnly swear that I had no idea about this until today.

Now, I will make the official declaration here that Spectraland is not prehistoric Earth. But, we do know that Wavemakers have been capable of bringing beings over from Earth to Spectraland, like they did with Marshall, so perhaps the ancient shamans who wanted to protect the Songshell imported this fine creature to the island. After all, as Marshall said: "Someone left it here as a guard." Seems like more than an uncanny coincidence, hmm? Something to think about...

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Spectraland Q&A

Today, in this blog post, I'm going to answer some of your questions about Book One. This post is a super-special, direct-from-the-author event that is so exclusive, it will self-destruct ten seconds after you finish reading it!*

WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS. BUT YOU'VE ALREADY READ BOOK ONE ANYWAY, RIGHT?

Q: Is that Fireflower on the new back cover?

No Marshall, she is not amused

A: It's a fairly accurate representation of her, yes. Some readers were a bit surprised to learn that the villagers of Spectraland looked more like regular people than, say, the Tharks of John Carter lore, but as Joel pointed out on page 27, they're "like Poison Ivy" - the Batman character, not the plant itself.

Q: What is Joel's birthday?

For the record, it's July 17, which - coincidentally, I swear - was the official release date of Book One.

Q: Is Felicity older than Joel? And what's the deal with her scorpion tattoos?

Yes, she is older than him - eighteen to Joel's sixteen, to be more precise. On page 31, she's described as a "teenage Earth girl," and on page 163, she mentions having "graduated" - although, I admit, she didn't specify what she graduated from (she meant high school).

Her scorpion tattoos, one on each shoulder, are a tribute to her deceased parents, who were both Scorpios.

Q: So what really happens at the end, in the epilogue? It doesn't seem like a happy ending.

After Joel gets back to Earth, he starts up a band called "Joel Suzuki and the Wavemakers." They book their first show at a small Seattle club, where Julio sees their flyer taped to the window. The two boys that Julio sees by the overheated Mustang are Mitch (the bully that broke Joel's guitar by running it over with that same Mustang - see page 4) and his friend. The CD that Julio finds on the ground under a landscaping bush is the CD that Art burned Joel's song onto (see page 16), which rolled away after Joel dropped it (page 19). Julio wouldn't have found the CD if he hadn't crossed the street to avoid Mitch and his friend. Julio is blown away by the song, and the idea is that there's a good chance that Joel and his band will now get a recording contract and become rock stars - ironically, after Joel figured out that he can be happy without being a famous and successful musician.

I admit that it's a bit open-ended and subject to interpretation, but remember - it's a series. And speaking of which...

Q: When the heck is Book Two coming out??

I'll have some cool news about that soon. Stay tuned...

* the post will actually not self-destruct

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

My Musical History, Episode 5: It's A Long Way To The Top If You Wanna Rock 'N' Roll

Fresh off our successful dorm banquet show, we thought, "hey, this is easy." Or maybe we didn't. I can't remember. Either way, as it turns out, it wasn't.

At that point, we had enough momentum and enthusiasm to secure another gig at a school function being held at Andrews Amphitheater, which is this sweet outdoor venue located on campus. Pearl Jam even played there. In preparation, we expanded our set list to include more hair metal ("Nothin' But A Good Time" by Poison - yes, really) as well as some actual cool material ("Rough Night In Jericho" by Dreams So Real - check it out).

Andrews Amphitheater
The show itself, however, didn't go so well. There were P.A. problems and the energy just wasn't there. The mid-afternoon time slot was probably partly to blame, but watching a tape of the show afterwards, we realized that if we wanted to take this thing to the next level, changes would have to be made. Personnel changes. (cue ominous music)

Bands are like relationships. Heck, they are relationships. And breaking up with someone is never easy to do.* But that's probably a topic for a future post of its own. ANYWAY, we cycled through a bunch of potential bandmates until we settled into a lineup that featured a new singer and a new bassist - who, unbeknownst to us at the time, was actually a guitar player who hadn't touched a bass in years (he replaced another guitar player who was moonlighting on bass, who had replaced another guitar player that we had talked into playing bass. Remember, no one starts out actually wanting to play the bass).

With this lineup, we wrote new original material and managed to book a show at (cue fanfare) the Campus Center, which, just a few short years prior, was a place that we had fantasized about playing at with the legendary R.F.H. And if that wasn't enough, we then went on to play a show at the Jazz Cellar, which was a popular hard rock and metal club in the middle of Waikiki. We even got our name mentioned on the radio as part of a "which of these band names isn't real?" segment (remember, our name was Zoning Chinchilla).

So at that point, we thought we were really on to something. But after playing a bunch of gigs around town (including a memorable one at the infamous C-5 on Hotel Street, which is a whole 'nother story), things just started to peter out. Tensions within the band rose. We thought about personnel changes once again. Eventually, we came full circle by playing a show at another dorm banquet - this time, to decidedly lackluster response. That was Zoning Chinchilla's final performance.

Next: Ground Zero and The Krayons

* until you do it enough times