Saturday, January 26, 2008

Tales from the Road

What a difference a few hours in a plane makes.

I'm in Concord, Massachusetts. I spend the morning on my first full day here writing in my room at the Hawthorne Inn, and I head out to get some lunch at the Main Streets Market & Cafe in Concord Center. I've brought my laptop because I have visions of sitting in the noise and bustle of life while I eat and get some more writing done. It's nearing the end of the lunch hour: 12:50. I park my car and stroll down Main Street marveling at how damn quaint it is up here in New England. I mean, I used to live here -- one town over in Acton -- so I know this, but still, I love it anew every time.

At the door to the little cafe I stop because on the door there's a sign (similar to the No Shirts, No Shoes, No Service type of sign) that says: Restaurant in Use, No Cell Phones, No Laptops.

I'm bummed. Not about the cell phone ban; if you read this blog with any regularity, you know how perturbed I get with obnoxious cell phone use in public places. But no laptops? Oh, that hits me where it hurts. I'm up here in Massachusetts for two reasons. The first is to visit my girlfriend Karen (yes, the same Karen who gets a grateful nod in the Acknowledgements section of my novel, Tell No Lies), and the second is to write. Karen and I can't get together until Saturday because of her school schedule, so I've come up a few days early to write. A section of the novel I'm currently working on takes place in New England, and I figure it can't hurt to immerse myself in the place since it's been ten years now since we moved away.

Anyway, at first I can't really understand the ban on laptops. After all, I'm eating alone, and the laptop's quiet, so I wouldn't be disturbing anyone. And in my experience, I've noticed that venues that allow - indeed encourage - laptop use tend to be hopping places. They become local hangouts, and that has to be good for business.

But once I'm in the cafe, I start to understand. This place is still hopping at 1:00 p.m. So perhaps they fear that diners using laptops will loiter for hours at a table, which could see several turnovers of customers otherwise.

So in the end, I accept the ban without feeling put out. I enjoy my lunch and just take in the surroundings, which helps the writing just as much if not more than the laptop. And I'm rewarded for my acceptance when I hear a waitress say warily to another worker, "Why's that person taking pictures at the front of the restaurant?" I turn to see what she's talking about, and sure enough, there's a woman just near the front door snapping photos of the restaurant interior. And I realize that's why I love it up here in Massachusetts. All over the rest of America, it seems, people would be mugging for the camera, either overtly or covertly, hoping for their chance to "be seen." Here, though, they still seem to value the concept of privacy, and guard it jealously. That waitress didn't view the camera as an opportunity, but as an intrusion, and there's something sort of refreshing about that in this age of everyone groping desperately for their fifteen minutes of fame.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Amazing Savannah photos

You know how everyone has a place they'd love to live? A place where -- if money, job, children's schools, etc. were no object -- they'd move to in an instant? Well, for my old boss Frank, that place was always Savannah, Georgia. (Clarification: Frank is not old -- sorry about that Frank! -- what I mean is that he was my boss at my last job. Also, Frank is my friend, too, not just my "old boss". He started out a colleague, became a friend, then became my boss, and thankfully, even after that, he remained my friend -- because he's a really neat, interesting guy to have as a friend).

Anyway, not long after I left my last job to move to Florida and do this writing thing full-time, Frank's dream came true. He and his wife now call Savannah home. And that leads me to the point of this post.

This morning I sat at my computer to begin writing a piece for Lake Mary Life Magazine and I found a link to a photo slideshow in my email box, along with the following note from Frank:

I was introduced through a mutual friend to a German freelance photographer Ronald Schmidt and his wife Nadine who were traveling through the southeastern US around Christmas and New Years and were in Savannah from January 4-8.

I think you will all enjoy this incredible photo essay that Ronald produced of Savannah:

Some of these images are just . . . WOW.

And yes that is my Cadillac you see toward the end. I spent the afternoon of Saturday 1/5 with Ronald and Nadine and we rode out to Tybee and climbed the 178 steps of the lighthouse. Too bad Ronald didn't include any views from the top of the lighthouse, including looking back down toward the Cadillac in the parking lot, a view suggesting the car is probably visible from space . . .

If you enjoy photography, you have to check out these photos (and turn up your volume, too). Frank is right -- some of them are WOW. This guy really has an eye. What I found so impressive is that a German photographer could capture so well that sense of Americana -- Savannah-style. (In the interest of full disclosure, Frank mentioned that a couple of the marina photos are from the Charleston area, not Savannah, and one or two near the end (of the train and the skyscraper) we think may be somewhere in Europe).

Sunday, January 06, 2008

NGU: Hard Work Truly Does Pay Off

(January 9th, 2008) Happy Birthday to Dave Matthews (41), from your biggest fan. I read something somewhere that said he stands 6'4". Can that be right? He never looks that tall onstage . . .

Anyway, on to the point of this blog entry.

NGU. My daughter wrote those letters for me on the back of my tank top when I ran (well, okay, let's be honest - ran and walked) the Disney Marathon back in 2004. For those who don't know what the acronym stands for, it's Never Give Up. It's true for running, but it's also true for writing. I have a little story to tell about one of my writing friends from Philly that proves the point.

I met Deb Kossmann back in 1999, shortly after I had moved to Philly and joined a writing group. Deb was another writer in our group. Fast forward to October 2007. I received an email from Deb in which she shared the good news that a humorous piece she'd submitted to a local memoir contest had won first place and would be published in Philly's City Paper. That news alone is enough to make a writer's day. No, her week. Her month. Her year.

But . . . it just so happened that one of the judges of the contest was the editor of the Modern Love column in the Style section of the New York Times. He loved the piece and wanted to publish a shorter version of it in the NYT. So she worked with him to edit it down, and the piece was published on October 28, 2007 (and she got paid for it, too!). Here's the link to Deb's article. It's hilarious and a great read.

Now, if getting published in the New York Times isn't a big enough feather in the cap, it gets even better. The very day it was published -- on a Sunday, no less -- she got a call from a literary agent who read the piece and was interested in representing her! After checking him out (with good results), she eventually signed on and now she's working on a book proposal.

Imagine that. She started with the sole intention of writing a piece to submit to a local contest, and next thing she knows, her piece is published in the NYT and she's got a contract with an agent.

Now, if you just heard this story without knowing anything else about Deb, you'd think -- lucky dog! But the point of this blog entry (in addition to linking everyone who reads this to her funny piece) is that all these good things didn't just fall into her lap. She's been writing for a long time -- at least as long as I've known her and, if I remember correctly, since she was very young (like most writers). And she's been submitting as long as I've known her, too. Sometimes getting acceptances and sometimes getting rejections. I haven't asked her outright, but I suspect, like most of us, she has received more rejections than acceptances. But she didn't give up. She didn't blame the publishing industry, she didn't blame editors, or agents, or anyone. She just kept writing because that's what writers do. They write. They work hard. And sometimes -- there's never any guarantee -- that hard work pays off. So KUDOS to you, Deb! You deserve it.

In that same vein, I'd like to include something my new friend Joseph Hayes (the Burry Man) wrote in his blog (thanks for the reprint permission, Joseph!):

There are five levels of writing, as there are in grief:

People who know the language (they can speak and read) think they can write;
People who think they are writers believe they will be discovered;
People who aren't discovered blame editors, publishers and readers;
People who realize that writing is hard discover whether they are actually writers;
People who actually are writers, write.

'Nuff said. Happy New Year! To the writers out there, keep writing!

TELL NO LIES to be published in Spain

A little update to my last post: I got the good news last month (I've just been derelict in my blogging) that the Spanish book club Circulo de Lectores (part of the Random House Mondadori group) has acquired rights to publish and translate Tell No Lies in Spain.

I had two years of Spanish many, many years ago, so maybe I'll be able to read and actually understand at least some of what I wrote. ;-)