May 9, 2013
Fantasy and science fiction are riding high these days in both books and movies. These genres seem to be outselling most others by a fair amount, and leaving mainstream works totally in the dust. Even though escapism is all the rage, I’ve never really gone for it much since outgrowing Grimm’s fairy tales and Disney cartoons. I get how tempting it is to take a break from real-world problems, but if I’m going to immerse myself in an alternate world, I prefer it to be recognizable. I guess my daily habit of perusing The Washington Post keeps me too grounded in reality. Most of the inspiration for my own writing comes from the news and my own experiences in workplaces and social settings.
So how can I embrace the unrealism that seems to give others so much pleasure … and incidentally, sells a lot of books and movies? Unfortunately, vampires and werewolves leave me cold, despite being proven gold mines and the quickest way for self-published authors to get through the traditional gates. I’d like my magic to be light and fun, not ghoulish.
Witness Pictures, the independent film company that has produced three book trailers for me, is currently churning out a fantasy web series called “Freelancers.” It claims to have a little bit of everything in the fantasy line: “a timeless realm full of magic and monsters, wizards, warriors, dungeons and dragons.” Yet it maintains some of the real-world familiarity I prefer by presenting its characters as flawed personalities who may have extraordinary talents but still need to pay their bills and get along in the workaday world.
The heroines that populate my novels don’t have much in common with the character played by young actress Caitlin Geier: “a fiery, rapier-wielding cat burglar, on the run from … well, just about everyone after stealing a mysterious artifact from a powerful sorcerer.” Compare that to my cast of office workers, aspiring journalists, sports groupies, and college students. But who knows: maybe one day I’ll figure out a way to throw a few wizards, sorceresses, and assorted monsters into my mixes. Expanding my horizons could be fun.
April 9, 2013
In 1946, Major League ballplayer Eddie Waitkus was lured to a hotel room and shot by a deranged fan. He recovered rather miraculously, and resumed playing within a few months. Still, the long-term physical and emotional consequences of the attack interfered with his progress as a ballplayer and impacted his personal life. The incident also had literary consequences, inspiring the shooting scene in Bernard Malamud’s novel The Natural. Waitkus died relatively young, while his assailant, Ruth Ann Steinhagen, died just recently, having lived in obscurity for many years after a brief stint in a mental hospital. Apparently Waitkus declined to press criminal charges against her.
Steinhagen had become obsessed with Waitkus when he played for her favorite team, the Chicago Cubs. The obsession apparently tipped into something more lethal when he was traded to another team. She must have felt that he “deserted” her. The story makes me cringe a little. I’ve been a sports fan from a young age, and have developed occasional crushes on baseball and football players. I know I’m not unusual in that respect. In fact, local sports machines and related industries thrive on hero worship. I’ve never built a shrine to a particular player in my home, as Steinhagen reportedly did, but I’ve certainly collected clippings. I’m generally too shy to pursue autographs or to try to meet my heroes, probably for fear of finding out they’re jerks. (I witnessed this once, many years ago, when a girlfriend of mine was snubbed outside RFK Stadium). And yes, I’ll even admit to feeling somewhat “deserted” when certain players get traded away, especially if they badmouth my teams when they depart.
Obviously, most fans don’t go to Steinhagen-like lengths to impress their heroes. Even when an innocent crush becomes an obsession, it rarely tips into insanity. Yet there have been enough incidents of obsessed behavior to convince sports leagues to beef up security and limit fan access at ballparks. Probably every popular player in every sport has encountered a fan or two who skirts uncomfortably close to the edge.
How can a fan ensure that this hero worship remains sane? I have an outlet for it, since I’m a writer. I get “revenge” for my unrequited love by using select players in stories. Certain readers who are familiar with my local teams have been able to identify the battling quarterbacks in Secretarial Wars, the burly, curly-haired running back in The Rock Star’s Homecoming, and the proud “rednecks” who clash with immigrant teammates in Let’s Play Ball. Nowadays many fans vent their emotions in numerous chat rooms where they can praise or bash athletes anonymously. Outlets like these presumably help to keep us from flipping out. Still, the Waitkus-Steinhagen tragedy reminds us that hero worship isn’t always fun or innocent.
March 12, 2013
Remember the line in “Moneyball” about romance being an essential part of baseball? Well, so is hatred. You can’t be a good fan (a good “fanatic”) unless you are prepared to both love and hate passionately.
My love interest is the Washington Nationals. There are deep psychological reasons for this unshakable love that I’ve explored previously in this blog. My main hate interest is the New York Yankees. Not that I hate the Yanks’ players, coaches, or managers per se. What I hate is their business model, which boils down to buying everything they need the second they need it, out-bidding everyone else, and planning for years ahead to grab everyone else’s best players.
I’ve had other pet hatreds. I never hated the Phillies because they dominated the National League East for five years. What I hated was the horde of Phillies fans who invaded our ballpark in order to raise drunkenness and obnoxiousness to an art form. Additionally, I’ve started to hate my former love interest, the Baltimore Orioles. Again, it’s not the players or coaches; it’s the way their owner does business. Having lost his crusade to keep baseball out of D. C., he is now doing his best to deprive the Nationals of their fair share of the regional pie.
Widespread hatred for the Nationals is a new thing, but it’s growing. How have they sinned? I guess any bad team that improves faster than the experts predicted is bound to raise some ire. Two years of rock-bottom ineptitude enabled them to draft and sign two extraordinary players. Not only did the Nats improve with unseemly speed, they remained competitive in 2012 while shutting down their ace, Stephen Strasburg. This was a decision based on the best possible medical advice, as well as observations of his late-season struggles … a perfect no-brainer that for some reason arouses widespread outrage. How could a team be so brazen as to protect its future while playing in the present?
The rest of the league is detecting a fair amount of chutzpah among the Nationals. No question, last year’s rookie of the year, Bryce Harper, has a lot of it for a twenty-year old. Besides, manager Davey Johnson has declared that this season is his swan song, hinting that his players have extra motivation to send him off in glory.
The Nats were a sleeper team last year. After their first great season, largely unpredicted, since moving to D. C. eight years ago, the rest of Major League Baseball is gunning for them in underhanded ways. Predictions for their 2013 season are so overblown that almost any result short of a World Series championship will be declared a disappointment. The baseball gods will surely punish the overconfidence that everyone else attributes to this team. Who knows, maybe we’ll acquire our very own curse, more persistent than the one the Bambino inflicted on Boston for so long. That would amuse baseball fans everywhere … but not us.
January 22, 2013
I must have written the most preposterous novel ever unleashed on the reading public of the Western World. Okay, there’s a chance I’m being a tad over-sensitive, but that’s what some reviewers seem to be saying about my 2010 novel Let’s Play Ball. Even paying for reviews doesn’t guarantee the reviewer will get it. And I do shamelessly pay for a few of them, because I need an occasional word of praise or at least less of a pummeling now and then. That doesn’t always work: one of my worst reviews came from an expensive service with a reputation for dishing out tough love to self-published authors.
I’ll concede that even the meanest reviewers are capable of making fair points, as long as they actually bother to read the book. It’s true that my story maintains a first-person viewpoint although most of the action happens to other people. Of course there are limitations to that approach, but it suited my goal for the story. My heroine has a fraternal twin sister with whom she is close but competitive. Their rivalry drives the plot. She’s an ordinary bureaucrat with a lawyer husband, while her sister is a sportswriter, engaged to a major league ballplayer. When the fiancé is kidnapped, it’s the sister’s idyllic life that is torn apart.
My heroine tries not to get involved, but she’s inevitably drawn in for various reasons: her husband is having an affair with a possible suspect; she retaliates by sleeping with a teammate of the kidnapped player; through a comedy of errors, she briefly becomes a suspect herself. While her sister’s life is in the spotlight, hers is shaken up too. Does that make her too weak to be a heroine?
I’m also guilty of combining all sorts of genres, including sports, politics, crime, and chicklit. Two baseball teams, in the course of executive-level wheeling and dealing, encounter meddlesome politicians and their equally devious women. A scandal erupts that eventually threatens to bring down a President. Plausible or not? I guess that’s why they call it fiction. I love baseball, political scandals, and catfights, so my readers get all of that.
I still stubbornly believe in this novel. It’s the story of a woman who’s peripheral and minimized and resents it, yet stumbles on the answers. It was my vision, and it endures. In my fevered imagination the story continues, with sleazy politicians and even foreign dictators continuing to meddle with professional sports teams, and gossipy women still churning up even more trouble behind the scenes. The reviewer says these threads are “promising,” but need to be fleshed out with stronger characters and action. I get it, but it’s only a 250-page novel. Is the reviewer perhaps encouraging me to write a sequel? How about Let’s Play Two?
January 1, 2013
I’ve been giving my three novels away. They are free in digital form, and as cheap as I can make them in print form. And when I say free, I mean totally and sincerely and forever, not just temporarily free as part of a promotion.
Why do I give away my work? After all, it is hard work, even if it’s fun. I do it because writing is a hobby, a passion, a diversion from real life. I never planned to make spare change from it, much less a living.
It’s not because I don’t believe in these stories, in spite of what certain one-star trolls posing as “reviewers” have suggested. My only purpose is to increase readership (and I do have a few thousand downloads). Believe me, I worked just as hard on these books as if I’d planned on charging $10.
That’s not to say a little money and recognition wouldn’t be nice. It’d be great if my hobby turned into a semi-hobby some day, but it’s not essential. I do have a day job that pays the bills, although retirement looms in the not too distant future, and there are numerous threats to Federal employment and pensions looming on the horizon.
How do other authors feel about charging or not charging for their writing? Are you okay with getting little out of your work other than the joy to be found in the process itself, and the satisfaction of perhaps having entertained a few readers along the way?
November 27, 2012
When I was a student at a small-town college in western Maryland during the early 1970s, one of my recurring obsessions was the idea of a road trip. I longed to escape from the grind of study and the cramped feeling of dorm life. I was a suburban D. C. girl, temporarily living in a rural area. I admit the backdrop provided by the Appalachian foothills could be stunningly beautiful, and the springtime smell of manure from the surrounding farms enticing. Still, the small town setting, with its one movie theatre and one bar, could get claustrophobic.
I hungered for the excitement of a big city—the big city, two hundred or so miles away. Many of my dorm mates shared this dream. A group of my girlfriends planned a trip to Broadway. My boyfriend and his best friend, a musician, planned to go there to check out record companies and clubs. I demanded to go with them, but they said no, it would be dangerous. What if they accidently strayed into a trouble spot and had to run for their lives? That only made me more determined to go.
That idea of a road trip, from western Maryland to New York City, provided the genesis of my novel, The Rock Star’s Homecoming. The premise: two years after a homegrown rock band is expelled from a small, rural college, a groundswell builds on campus to invite the now-famous band to return for a Homecoming celebration. Two roommates─ one of them the bandleader’s sister, the other a shy girl who loves him from afar─are charged with the responsibility of driving a van to New York, retrieving the nearly disintegrating band, and transporting the outfit back to campus for the most amazing Homecoming celebration ever. How do they pull it off? The book trailer below, from Witness Pictures, provides a visual idea.
November 12, 2012
Washington Nationals fans will spend the fall and winter months wallowing in mixed feelings. There is no denying that 2012 was a great season, an unprecedented success for a formerly putrid baseball team. The first-ever divisional championship won by a relatively new franchise is nothing to sneeze at. The raucous playoff atmosphere was something to behold. It had never happened before in D. C., at least not within the living memory of anyone born after the Roaring 20s. That sea of red that submerged the stadium was a sea of joy. It put to rest many bitter memories─the two lost franchises, the 34 “silent springs,” the bitter fights to establish the new ballclub and new ballpark.
The best thing you can say about an agonizing, season-ending defeat is that the team got close enough to ecstasy to suffer so exquisitely. They were one strike away from advancing to the next round of the playoffs. In fact, they were one strike away twice. How cruel can the baseball gods be? Mighty cruel, we’ve discovered. But countless fans of other teams all over the country already knew that. We’re now privileged to join the exclusive what-if club.
October 14, 2012
I bought my way into the publishing industry. I self-published three novels and paid a pretty penny for editing, covers, ISBNs, marketing, and all the other necessities. My next, far more improbable goal, is to see these stories made into movies. I wonder: is it possible to self-produce a movie if you’re not cinematically talented? Can you throw money at this problem, or do you need connections and know-how?
I’ve already begun this process by paying to have my books converted to screenplays by real screenwriters. If I should get serious about submitting those to various markets, I’ll start collecting rejections again, something I had hoped to be done with forever. However, there are film production companies that work with self-publishers, such as the vibrant Witness Pictures that partners with iUniverse. The company makes professional-looking book trailers that resemble real movie trailers, using actors and filmmakers whose talents are evident. So far I’ve seen synopses of two of my stories come alive in this way. Maybe one of these days, the entire vision from start to finish can be realized.
I suspect the only thing harder than publishing a book traditionally these days is cracking the film industry without connections. Is it even possible to finance a full-length feature film at reasonable cost, or is that billionaire territory? What if a group of amateurs like me invested in a company that pooled our resources to give each project a shot? Sounds like an impossible dream, but who knows? It wasn’t so long ago that publishing a book was an “impossible dream” for most of us.
September 25, 2012
The season when hope springs eternal is long past. It’s not even the dog days of summer anymore. Twilight comes early, the dogwoods are turning red, crickets are chirping. This is the time of year when baseball fans in Washington, D. C. traditionally succumb to futility as an inevitable part of the experience.
Only this year, with hope lingering into the fall, the baseball gods appear to be setting us up for a new kind of heartbreak … the smashing of rising expectations. A playoff berth has been clinched, the first in this town since 1933. That guarantees a grand total of one postseason game. More wins are needed to close the real deal, a divisional championship. But the remaining schedule is full of other contenders who aren’t about to lie down. The necessary wins to reduce that “magic number” are coming slowly. The team is mostly young and inexperienced, and may be having jitters.
Baseball pundits have never quite embraced the Nationals’ surprising success this season. It seems to have upset too many preconceived notions that the Nats “are still a year or two away.” Some of the commentary is downright mean-spirited, and seems designed to stir up trouble on a team that has enjoyed great chemistry so far. Lately, representatives of the team directly to our north have revived the tired argument that pitching ace Stephen Strasburg, who is recovering from elbow surgery, should insist on pitching past the innings limit that was established for him this year. Reaching new heights of hyperbole, they’ve pronounced it a “sin” and an “abomination” that the team has chosen to follow the best possible medical advice to protect Strasburg’s long-term health.
Further, these geniuses don’t bother to explain how the kid is supposed to “insist” on pitching. They’d love to see him do something flaky. Maybe occupy the pitchers’ mound in a protest? Walk off the team? Kidnap his replacement in the rotation? Get his manager drunk and write his own name on the lineup card?
Strasburg’s replacement in the rotation is a solid Major League pitcher, and this issue is only relevant once every five days. The real problem is that our relatively unseasoned team has fallen apart several times on national TV. That doesn’t bode well for the playoffs, where the lights will be even brighter and more unrelenting. This season has been a great ride, however it ends. Still, being Nats fans, we prepare for heartbreak.