Wednesday, May 24, 2017

'Quirkz Guide' Excerpt: Introduction

Hello, and welcome to the Quirkz Guide for a Whole Bunch of Words and Stuff.
Since you’re here and reading this now, I’m going to make two educated guesses:


1. You found the title funny, and now you’re looking inside to see if the contents are anything like that. You can rest assured that this book has both many more long sentences, and also probably some jokes somewhere. So, if you’re amused thus far, please continue. (If you’re not amused, that’s okay, the program works just fine even for people with no sense of humor. [Or one that’s different than mine.])


2. You’re pretty okay. You’re not perfect, but you’ve got things together, more or less. Sure, some things could be better. Maybe most things, at least part of the time. But you’re not in a bad place, really. You could even slack off a bit and still be pretty okay, or at least simply okay. But maybe life doesn’t quite have the sparkle that you’re looking for, or things have gone a little flat, and you just want to shake things up, keep them interesting, maybe find another level. You don’t know what it is, but you’re certain, somewhere deep down, that there could be … well, more.


My friend, this program is for you. It assumes you’re like me, and like a lot of other people I know, or have heard about, in magazines or on the internet, maybe. You’ve got a good baseline, but you’d like to step it up. A little. If it’s fun, and not too hard. You know, more like just a nudge in the right direction (or directions) so that you can look back after some arbitrary number of days (Thirty. It’s always thirty.) and say to yourself, “I did all that? Look how far I’ve come. I spent less than half an hour a day, and took a couple of days off for bowling league or date nights or family emergencies or whatever, and I’ve still had some awesome adventures and now I’ve got this nifty story to tell.” (Have I mentioned the Day-Off Coupons? This is the only 30-day program in the world that builds in five vacation days. That’s one of many indicators of our innovation, brilliance, and reasonability, all designed to help you succeed.)


Let me reassure you, this is no joke. If you spend a month (more or less) pursuing every activity in the book, by the end you will indeed have several worthwhile stories to tell. You will have discovered new things about yourself, accomplished things you didn’t expect you could (probably, unless you’ve got exceptionally high expectations or something, in which case maybe you should be reading the Quirkz Guide for Badasses Who Want to Take It One Step Further), and you will have become something different: not just so-so, not just okay, but maybe (just maybe) pretty good.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

'Stranger and Better' - The Origin Story

Stranger and Better is actually the first novel I wrote, but it's the third that I will publish. How does that happen? Well, I'll tell you.

It began with a story a friend wrote. He was someone who I knew from Oberlin, a good friend there who needed some time off and moved back home to Chicago. When I graduated I also ended up in Chicago, and we continued our friendship there. One day he showed me a story that he had written. It was raw, emotional, triumphant, subversive, insane, brilliant, and funny, in equal parts. It dealt with someone trying to find his way after college, but a good chunk of the action occurred as a flashback in college, a college which wasn't Oberlin, but could have been. 

Among the things that stood out were an acid trip that goes very weird, a foil of sorts with an unpronounceable name (Athmudx), and a few memorable phrases, including: "you're a wingnut", "blah, blah, blah, and like, whatever, blah, blah, blah", "a stomach full of vinegar and beach sand", and "pizzly little drizzle." It was great, and I enjoyed it tremendously. As an aspiring writer with no demonstrable results to show for my aspirations, I thought I could do worse than to start by trying to match that caliber of story.

About that time, my friend returned to Oberlin to finish his degree. I drove out there with him, and during the trip we talked about writing. We shared a love of Vonnegut, and in talking I mentioned one of my own conversational quirks, a tendency to trail off in the middle of a sentence with an "and-" or a "but-", realizing that I'd already said all that needed to be said. "Vonnegut ought to work that in to one of his stories, a running gag or catch phrase," I said.

"Nah, Vonnegut doesn't need to do it," he said. "You should write that book."

"Maybe I will," I said. And I decided then I'd write my own story, and it would be a graduation present for my friend. I placed the story in Oberlin, our shared connection, and I would have a foil with an X in his name (Ixthyaki), and I would use all the catch-phrases. 

It was December 1998, and I figured four months would be plenty of time.

Roughly 200,000 words later, toward the tail end of 2001, I finished the first draft of what was then called Major Dilemmas. It had everything I intended (except the phrase about the drizzle, which somehow I never worked into a novel, despite it being set in Oberlin) and a whole bunch of stuff I didn't know I needed to say until I'd said it.

After that I spent months floating it around to friends and family, trying to gather feedback, sort out what needed to be done. I liked it, but I knew it needed work, and I also didn't know what kind of work. So I let it sit while life went in a dozen different directions. A few years later I dusted it off and cleaned it up a bit. An old family friend was kind enough to look it over and provide some feedback, which included maybe polishing up the strongest chapter and shopping that around. Over five years I twiddled with that chapter, again realizing I didn't know what to do.

So I set it aside, wrote first drafts for another three or four other novels, invented a computer game and spent five years managing that, only ever now and then wondering about Major Dilemmas. Finally I wrote a first draft of a book that seemed good enough to publish, so I did. I tried a second novel, more niche but more successful. I meant to do a sequel to the second, but on a road trip I woke up one morning, got in the shower, and by the time I was clean I had plans to completely rewrite Major Dilemmas: this time more fragmented like Vonnegut, with a library mystery as backdrop, and layers of editorial commentary to make it weird. 

Three rewrites later--and eighteen years from when I started--and it's finally something I'm content with. As I say in the book's dedication, some of these words are old enough to be an Oberlin College student now. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Announcing Book #3: "Stranger and Better"

My third novel, Stranger and Better, is due out later this spring. In the style of Chicagoland, it's a humorous coming-of-age story, set at my alma mater, Oberlin College. It's a quirky search for sex, drugs, and the meaning of life. 

The book is now available for pre-order in Kindle format. The release date is April 21, at which point both print and electronic versions will be available. 

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06ZZKVT62