Monday, March 31, 2008

My Town Monday – Wrigley Field

(Photo above, Wrigley Field - from Chicago Tribune)

I haven’t participated in Travis’ My Town Series for a few weeks, mostly because the day keeps slipping past me. But I thought Opening Day might be a good one to pick back up on my posting for this – a look at Wrigley Field... It is, after all, one of my favorite Chicago features.

If you haven’t seen any of the news stories on the naming rights at Wrigley Field, let me fill you in. The current owner, Sam Zell, is selling the naming rights separately from the park and the team.

On the Cubs’ Website, Zell is quoted as saying:
“As far as Wrigley is concerned, Wrigley is an obvious worldwide icon and Wrigley Field is worldwide known, but in the world of economics, when I bought the Tribune, they didn’t give me a discount because I wasn’t going to use the naming rights that the field represents,” he said. “Perhaps the Wrigley Co. will decide that after getting it for free for so long, they decide to pay for it.”

Well, what kind of logic is that?!!!! For my two cents, and because it is my blog I can add my two cents, I will not purchase or support any product that removes the name ‘Wrigley’ from that ballpark. There are an awful lot of Cubs fans out there and many of them feel the same way... so if some other company buys the rights, they might want to think about keeping the name Wrigley – I know a lot of fans that will go out of their way to give you business if you help preserve the history of the park. And on with the post:

A Brief History:

Wrigley was built in 1914 and is one of the oldest ballparks in baseball. I think Fenway (which I’d love to see, I hear it’s fantastic... plus they serve chowder!!!) is two years older. Wrigley was originally named Weeghman Park after the first owner, Charles Weeghman. He built the stadium to house Chicago’s Federal League team, the Chicago Federals which were later known as the Whales.

The Federal League was short lived, folding in 1915, at which point Weeghman, along with a number of other investors (including William Wrigley, Jr.) bought the National League ball club from Charles Taft – the Chicago Cubs played their first game in Weeghman Park in 1916. Wrigley bought out the other investors’ shares in the park and team over the course of the next few years, becoming the sole owner by 1919. The park was named Cubs Park in 1920 and then in 1926 it was renamed Wrigley Field in honor of William Wrigley, Jr. (the man, not his chewing gum company which was also given the family name).

(Pictured above, Wrigley Field 1928, photo from Chicago Tribune)

For those of you keeping score, the Cubs, a nickname originally given the team by a local newspaper and one that obviously stuck, have never won a World Series since taking residence in our beloved Wrigley Field. Our last World Series victory occurred in 1908 when the club resided in the West Side Fields. Our last appearance was in 1945.

Personal Perspective:

I have to edit this here, to give you all a link the the story on the Cubs site today. I forgot to mention that today they are unveiling a very special statue - for Ernie Banks, #14, everyone's favorite who is forever known as Mr. Cub. Even if you're not a baseball fan, go check out the article. You have to love this guy, who was one of the greatest players ever, yet never made the post season, and never let it diminish his love of the team, the city, or the sport...

I’ll spare all of you non baseball fans the wealth of sports history, names such as Ernie Banks(see edit above, I obviously lied a bit) and incidents such as Babe Ruth’s called shot. We’ll focus instead on the stadium and the fans. The thing about Wrigley Field that evokes such passion from those of us who love it is this: the stadium itself reeks of the City. It’s like a little snapshot with all of the myriad facets that make up Chicago.

Those of you who have never been here would love it – those who have know exactly what I mean. Chicago is as much small town as big city. We house every walk of life, pace, view, and vantage point. You can easily find the highest of society among the little green rigid seats, along side the hotdog vendors and bus drivers watching the game.

When you’re inside Wrigley Field, every person is a neighbor and friend. It doesn’t matter that you’ve never met them before in your life; they’ll strike up a conversation just because you’re in the vicinity. The bleachers... ah, I love the bleachers. They are the most uncomfortable seats in the house – but you feel right in the action of the whole damn game. The bleachers are just what they sound like, long rows of benches – there are no ticket numbers here. Get there early and you might find a good seat – get there late and God help you, because I’m not giving mine up... Luckily they start serving beer long before the game begins. I’ve sat all the way down near the basket and all the way up under the big green scoreboard – that seat’s not actually too bad, the beer stand is only a few steps behind : - )

I would never take my kids to the bleachers – it’s a party and a fun one, but I don’t think it’s for kids. I’ve seen them there, but I wouldn’t do it myself, you never know who’s going to get rowdy. But the main seats in the stadium are a perfect place to introduce your kids to the love of baseball. Whether I’m there with the kids our out with a girlfriend, I’ve never failed to make friends with the people sitting near me – guy or girl, rich or poor, it just doesn’t matter in Wrigley. The only rivalries that are bitter are the Cards and the White Sox – our fans can’t be around each other without tweaking noses or worse. I’ve been in the stands with every other fan under the sun and had a good time watching the game and a better time at the Cubby Bear after. Brewers fans are especially fun; we tend to have an attitude that if it can’t be us, we don’t mind rooting for you..... probably because we all hate St. Louis.

I’ve learned a lot and had a great time reading all of the My Town Monday posts. I have places marked to check out if I ever get to those parts of the country... I have to go explore Texas and Washington and definitely New York... would love to see New Orleans and a lot of other places. If I can post on one next week, I’ll try to give you all something more historical, because Chicago does have a fantastic history and some wonderful sites. But, if you’re a baseball fan and you’re heading this way, I can’t recommend Wrigley highly enough – I guarantee you’ll have one of the best times at a ball game in your life.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Age of Internet and the Loss of Common Sense.... or, Hey, Idiot, Stop Screwing It Up For the Rest of Us!!!!

Well, how’s that for a long and wayward title to a blog post? Do you have the feeling you’re in for a rant? Good, because you are!!! Buckle up and grab some popcorn, it’s going to be a doozy.

Those of you who follow my meandering posts on a regular basis might recall how much I adore anonymous sniping and otherwise nasty forms of internet discussion. While blogging and the Internet in general have transformed the speed and ease with which we can communicate, it’s also had some nasty side effects. Common sense and good old fashioned manners seems to go out the window when there’s a computer screen between the speaker and the listener – probably because the speaker is an ass, but I’ll digress on that point for the moment.

I think a large portion of the problem is lack of accountability. The sniping in comments when cloaked by a username or plain old ‘anonymous’, those I can overlook because as far as I’m concerned, if you don’t have the nerve to sign your name to a sentiment, I don’t have time to listen to it.... huge disclaimer – that’s not all anon comments, just the ones that are derogatory or otherwise intend to twist the topic.. I get the need to use anon for certain things, such as asking questions that you’re afraid not knowing makes you seem less than professional (I’ve done this... I’ve never signed anonymous to insult someone, but then, I’ve never found the need to insult someone when they’re not standing in front of me either... I’m funny that way – if I’m going to say it, I’ll say it to you).

This particular thing has been bugging me for a while, in many facets. I mention blogging because obviously we can all relate – as I am discussing it on my blog and all... I’ve also had other cyber friends email to complain about crits they received on various posts and contests... which I also disliked – if you have a serious problem with the crit, open it up on the board you’re on, don’t email me about it because then I feel the need to reply with long windy diatribes about not asking for crits when you want praise... (Ornery aren’t I? I am. I know that) Not everyone likes critique, and I do understand that. A lot of us blogging, do so because the back pats for our writing really do give us a boost... yes, I like them too, obviously, I’m still here. I also like the connection with other writers... la, la, but, if I put my stuff up for critique, I want to hear the flaws. That’s the point – to get it ready for publication, not to get unabashed praise.... That is my take, but if it’s not yours then either a) don’t put it up for inspection or b) only put it up for critique with people whose opinion you trust implicitly and will be nice enough for your own sensibilities....

Why am I ranting about this? Because whining about the person who took time to read your stuff and then write, sometimes paragraphs in response, makes me nuts!!! It also makes me not feel like critiquing because I’m afraid I’ll alienate someone. Just, dear writers, keep this in mind, and I think I speak for most writers who are willing to critique for you (but if I’m wrong, correct me in comments) – when I take the time to read for you and offer my honest opinion, I am not pointing out things that I find wrong to be mean, rotten, nasty, or any other variable of evil. I’m pointing out things that read wrong to me. I’m pointing them out from the position of having studied fiction writing for all of my adult life, both as a writer and reader. I’m pointing them out from the position of having learned a good deal of craft both on my own and through very reputable class work... If my qualifications are not good enough for you, don’t ask me to read. If you do ask me to read, do not take anything less than unabashed applause as an insult and ask me “who the f#@% are you to criticize me? You’re not even published... or any other variable of implying that I’m beneath you”..... Critique – criticize... anyone else catch the connection there?

Arguing my critique, especially in an inflammatory way, is a waste of time. Why? Because you ask someone to critique to get a fresh set of eyes primarily.... Your critique partner is not the God of your ms, their opinion and insight should not be viewed as a direct order as to how you NEED to change your manuscript. Take it in the spirit it’s intended: as a gift of time and talent which you should thank them for. Mull their insights and use or discard as you see fit. If you receive the same type of feedback from more than one reader, I’d say it’s probably a good change to make, but it’s still your novel and a critique does not take your authorship away...

Ah.... basically, arguing a critique point by point is like calling the person who just did you a huge favor a big moron. It’s obnoxious. And furthermore, it doesn’t make you exactly a rocket scientist to have trusted someone you don’t respect with your work.

Wow, that portion of today’s rant took up a lot of space didn’t it? It’s been simmering for a bit. I’ve had a few beta readers critiquing for me, and all are lovely. They’ve offered some wonderful and useful feedback and, I hope, they’ve pointed out everything they truly found wrong because, just in case anyone wondered, I can take it. I want all of the ugly uglies... because it’ll make it stronger in the end. There are also a number of writers that I would critique for any time they needed, but in the future I’ll be more careful with that – I think from now on I’ll need to know someone fairly well before I let something like blatant honesty ruin the relationship. Or maybe I’ll just give out a disclaimer: I’m brutal so if you want me to read for you, prepare to hear what I actually think!!!! It wouldn’t work anyway, though; the people who need the disclaimer are too convinced their work is perfect.

But on this note, while it might not really bother anyone that I’ll be more selective in critiquing for people, it bothers a lot of us that agents and editors rarely offer feedback. Most of them have said in interviews or on their blogs that they do so sparingly because they get such nasty responses when they are, in reality, trying to help. And for free!!! They don’t get paid to respond to writers they aren’t publishing. Why do so many aspiring novelists feel that the fact they finished writing a book entitles them to something? It doesn’t. You wrote a book because you wanted to. You’ll get it published if it’s good enough, you try hard enough, the fates align just right... and a plethora of other things. But if it’s never published, don’t blame anyone else for being tasteless – it’s annoying.

Anyway, most of us treat feedback from agents and editors like nuggets of gold. Because they’re rare. And they’re especially rare because of all the nitwits who queried before us and then sent hate mail because they were given honest feedback. What does this have to do with the Internet Mentality? They’re more rampant now that you can just click the reply button and spew your anger over email.

In researching agents, I found more than one that will not reply to e-queries unless they want more material. It’s terrible, because it leaves you hanging out there, wondering if they even got your query. Do you know why they don’t reply? Because of the nitwits that load their inbox with nasty diatribes and insults at being rejected. It has nothing to do with them not being polite and everything to do with the dwindling lack of common courtesy exhibited by so many writers and aspiring writers... and they’re ruining it for the rest of us!

I’m guessing that the people who do this must be pretty green, or they just have such a bad temper and lack of self control that they don’t think. I can’t imagine many of them finding an agent, even if they’re brilliant – if you’ve ever done this, you should realize that agents do talk to each other, and I’m sure they mention stuff like that.

Well, this is lengthy enough of a rant for today. But I’ve just finished reading a great editor blogger who’s been email flamed over an honest and non-offensive post, and I’ve seen countless agent pages stating they won’t respond to email queries... if you’re anon, or snipey, just remember, there’s someone on the other end of that keyboard and they might stop playing. You might be ruining countless writers’ chances of learning more about that agent so they can submit, or learning more about the business... you might be taking away countless critiques simply because you are too immature to have honest communications with those around you when there’s a little screen involved that keeps you from accountability.... ironic that you should be an aspiring writer with those particular faults, but there it is... if your biggest hope in your chosen profession is to ‘make a difference’ – well, that you’ve done, but I doubt it’s the difference you were aiming for...

Okay guys – long rambly rant wrap up.... your turn, what’s ticking you off today?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Random Musings on Writing and Technology

(I just had to include the egg die contest up there... too funny!)

So, I’ve been zooming around, trying to catch up with all of my bloggy buddies and see what’s been going on around the internet... okay, that and I got caught up at the free rice site Precie linked on her blog... la, la, la... yes, more ways to waste time, while feeding the poor, though, and expanding my vocabulary, all and all it’s not so bad....... well, that’s my excuse, anyway.

And I finally went over and registered for facebook. Ello, Precie, and Moonrat have talked so much about scrabulous that I just had to check it out... even though I know it’s going to be a time suck... I should have probably paid attention to the warnings. What warnings, you ask? When I registered, it gave me a little code to submit before accepting my application. Do you want to know my code words?

End Violent

Seriously, I’m not making that up, I almost fell over I was laughing so hard. I wonder if Ello can teach me how to cheat at scrabulous. I still, by the way, haven’t figured out how to link my facebook site, or even what the url is, I have no clue what I’m doing over there – so it’ll probably take me a little while to get up and running.

The other thing I’ve been doing is catching up on some of the agent blogs. There are some new ones out there and some that I hadn’t really visited on a regular basis that are pretty good. I noticed that Nathan did a post on not calling a perspective agent to pitch... or for any reason. And that got me to thinking how much things have changed in the last ten years or so.

Okay, you were never supposed to call to pitch. That’s just stupid. I wouldn’t even try that one because honestly, I come off better on paper. And that’s the point, you want them to buy your writing – if you want them to see how charismatic you are, maybe you should try acting, or voice over, or running for Miss America, but if you want them to read your novel, you should probably be trying to get your pages in front of them instead of wowing them with your phone personality...

Where was I? Oh, yeah. About fifteen years ago and forever prior to that, the general admonishment was to call the agency or publishing house to verify that the person you wanted to query was still there and still the best person for your piece. That was all you were to call for – not to pitch talk or cajole, just to verify and hang the frig up... politely, of course. Publishing has always had a notoriously high turn over rate, or so we were taught in fiction writing courses and it was better to get your query in the correct hands with the correct name than have it whiling away on the desk of the person to usurp your intended victim... umn, I mean, recipient.

Today, that admonishment is a little dated. These agencies have websites and there are whole sites and message board communities devoted to keeping these resources updated. If you want to know if agent xyz is still with a particular agency, odds are you can find out by visiting the agency website or searching their name on a message board... There are reams of information at your fingertips on their preferences and submission requirements. There’s really no excuse not to have at least the basic information on any agent or editor you’re submitting to because research today is on point and updated constantly. Fifteen years ago, most writers were relying on reference books with information that was many months old by the time it hit the shelves in the first place.

The internet has accomplished a few really great things, especially for writers. It’s brought us agent blogs and whole writing communities where the aspiring author can learn the ropes and have a writing circle that they may not have found in the real world. Agents who blog are awesome because they freely give a plethora of information on the other side of the desk – information that most writers weren’t completely privy to before, at least not before having a few sales under their belt.

So what else has changed in the last few decades for writers? Is it better or worse in your estimation? Has it opened the doors? Crowded the field? What’s your take on the advancements of technology and how they influence the fiction writer? You know, besides permitting them to procrastinate with virtual word games.

Monday, March 17, 2008

I'M BAAAACK!!!!!!!!

But first, an announcement – In the comments section of my last post, some lovely writer gave me a head’s up on a new charity drive led by some of our favorite authors to benefit Autism Speaks Please take a little time to look through their website and see all they do.

The event is an eBay auction, where some very impressive authors have volunteered to name a character in their upcoming novels after the winning bidder. Bidding starts on March 23, 2008 and ends on April 2nd. Authors include such notable names as Lee Child, Jodi Picoult, and our very own Patricia Wood.

Visit their eBay site to learn more and see if some of your favorite authors are participating.

On to the Blog Post

I’m back to the blog-o-sphere... and you know what that means – my novel is finished!!!! I just completed it and reformatted to one doc over the weekend, and sent it out to a few very trusted beta readers for a second opinion. I am officially done – huzzah!!!

I’ve backed up all of my files on a disk and removed them from my computer so that I can’t just sift through it willy nilly any old time. I know me, I can’t leave it alone and I will keep reading and second guessing myself if it’s accessible, so I am officially on a break from it to gain fresh eyes before I re-read and start submissions.

In the interim, I’m taking this week and probably next week completely off of fiction writing. I’m getting ready for Easter and plan to spend next week’s school break enjoying my kids... I’ll also be enjoying some extended reading time (I read while I’m working anyway, but I don’t get long leisurely hours to do so in the throws of revision, so I’m looking forward to it). And of course, I’ll be back in the blog-o-sphere, catching up on all of the posts I’ve missed and bothering you all 

I plan on breaking from the work long enough to tweak some shorts and get them out in submission, and to start researching my next one – it’s historical fiction, so I plan on trying to really work within the constructs of an outline this time, and I think I’ll need a few months of heavy research time, just to get well acquainted with the time frame.

As for Raskin’s Wings, I already have my basic query letter and synopses in fairly good shape – I also have personalized it for my top five agents, and have put all of that aside pending my re-read. If it’s clean enough and not in need of any major editing at the re-read, I’ll start submissions immediately... If I find that I need major revisions, I’ll give it another cooling period once I’m done... many revisions make for tighter writing.... lest anyone think I just finished a book and am going to submit, Raskin’s has already been revised in total about nine or ten times... not to mention the chapters that took complete overhauls upwards of twenty times.

After this, I won’t be mentioning that work much, if at all, on this blog. I kind of feel like this blog can discuss the writing process, but I don’t want to delve too deeply into my own personal submissions. I might mention something larger, like I got a lot of the same feedback and am back in revisions... but otherwise, I’ll likely only mention it if something thrilling happens, like signing with an agent or getting a publishing deal.

Now, for the question of the hour – I’d love an opinion on this. I have my top agents picked out and have researched them as thoroughly as I can. Some of them, from what I’ve read on author boards, are prone to request exclusives when they request the ms. While I’ve read that they’re all fine with the author declining because the work is out elsewhere, I’m a little nervous about the scenario where, say, uber agent #1 requests an exclusive and I jump at the chance only to get a request from uber agent #2, who I have to decline... and if #1 passes, #2 will know it’s a rejection and won’t that taint their vision of the project?

So, while all of my research says it’s fine to send out multiple queries at a time, and the wait for response would be endless going one agent at a time, I’m still a little nervous about the process... anyone got any thoughts on this?

Friday, March 07, 2008

Happy Birthday, Shammy!!!!

So, I was thinking that I should probably put up a post, lest all of my favorite blog pals find somewhere else to hang out... like a blog with actual new content on occasion... I am getting lots of work in, revised revisions - the first agent who gets this thing will see their reflection in the pages it’s so friggin’ sparkly polished... okay, I hope so anyway... so there’s no progress report on that front, but I should be posting one shouting from the rooftops that I’m done in the very near future. Since there’s not much to post about revisions, and I have no writerly type posting at the moment, I thought I’d take a page out of Ello’s book and tell you a kid story, because it amused me, so I figured, what the hell...

My youngest begged me for his very own pet last year. He was four, going on five at the time and, as we already have a lovely yellow lab, named Dulcie, I said “No” and promptly ignored his four year old and very cute wheedling. This went back and forth for a number of weeks, as I recall, each time I reminded him that he already had a dog, but he really wanted something that was his... I get it, but he was four and I knew ‘his’ meant I’d have some rodent infested cage to clean up, or worse... the answer stayed a firm no.

One day soon after, he picked up a rock at the park. It was a smooth rock; about the size of my palm, gray in color, nothing particular about the way it looked... it was a rock. He carried it home with him, which is par for the course with four year old boys. But then he kept carrying it around for days afterward. He put it on his bedside table at night, carried it down to breakfast, brought it in his backpack to school, and hid it in his pocket when I told him to leave the dirty rock at home.

We were sitting at the kitchen table for breakfast one morning, I was in a rush to get my two oldest to finish and get out the door for school and the little guy says,

“Wait, I have to get Shammy!!!!”

We were in the car before I thought to ask, “What’s a Shammy?”

Little guy held up the rock and said, “Shammy!”

“You named it Shammy?”

“His real name is Sham Rock, but I call him Shammy for short... Shammy,” said little guy, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

The only thing I could figure was that it was close to St. Patrick’s Day and he got the idea from all of the decorations around... still, I thought it was rather cute, but I also knew he was really still pushing for the pet.

Fast forward to now. He still has Shammy. He has lost toys far bigger and way more expensive in the void where all new toys go, wherever the heck that is. He has abandoned games, gotten bored with TV shows, and grown a year older in every way, but he still has Shammy. Shammy now has a face, with a silly nose and googley eyes, he has green hair, because little guy thinks that would be fitting for someone named Sham Rock. And little guy never did get his pet... after a while he stopped asking.

He doesn’t carry Shammy around everywhere anymore, sometimes he thinks of it and grabs Shammy to watch a movie or sit with him at the table, but mostly Shammy sits guard on little guy’s dresser and keeps his Clifford company.

Today little guy informed me that Shammy’s birthday is coming... I was kind of surprised, mostly because he’s right, it’s about a year since he found that rock – I still don’t know if he’s just that good with birthdays or the whole St. Patrick’s Day hoopla reminded him.

“Wow, we’ll have to wish him a happy birthday, then, which day is it?” I asked in my sweetest, mom’s patronizing kind of voice... you know the one you hated when you were a kid... yeah, I know, I want to kick myself sometimes, too...

“It’s tomorrow,” Little guy said, matter of factly, “We’ll have to bake him a cake. Shammy likes chocolate with chocolate frosting...” he smiled, that very large, I’m too cute not to do my bidding smile and added, “with sprinkles... Shammy loves sprinkles.”

Okay, it’s official, my five year old is smarter than I am. Guess who’s baking a cake this weekend....