3 Ways My 3-Year-Old is Already a Teenager

When I went to wake her up this morning…

I pulled back her covers and gave her a shake. When she didn’t respond, I gave her another shake and whispered her name. Then I watched her reach down and pull the covers back over her head…from under which she groaned, “Daddy, it’s too early to wake up!”.

This was accompanied by her new favorite response when I ask her to do…pretty much anything:

“But dA-aaad!”

But I guess it could be so much worse…

When we were watching Despicable Me 2 recently, she jumped up to dance during the “Happy” scene. And I watched…as she put her hands on her hips…turned around…

and she shook her ass at me.

God help me.

If it makes you feel any better, here’s the song. It works for me.

As always, thanks for reading.

CVA

Three Thoughts on MINUTES BEFORE SUNSET

First, let’s clear the air about a few things…

1. Although I suppose I have no official deadline for this review, my sense of common human decency (limited as it might be) tells me I’m probably about two months late delivering it.

2. I’m not done with the book yet, so take everything I say with a grain of salt. Consider these my impressions on the game so far as I come out of the tunnel for the second half.

3. Because of number 1, I’m going to go ahead and share these impressions now with both my apologies (I do a lot of that on this sight, don’t I?) and the promise of a more complete review once I’m finished.

Damn. I just read back over all that, and if I were one of my students I would probably kick my ass right now.

Anyway, my *spoiler-free* impressions thus far of Shannon A. Thompson’s Minutes Before Sunset

I have a LOT of students who would get really into it

I’m not going to lie, Minutes Before Sunset really isn’t what I would normally choose for myself. But Shannon put out the call for willing critics…and I’d been looking for an opportunity to write a book review…so I figured why the hell not?.

But that’s beside the point.

The point is that I spend my days with the Shannon’s target audience and I think her novel has a lot appeal for them. It has a pair of easily relatable narrators/main characters (Eric and Jessica), it has an interesting mythology (the secret existence of “Shades” and “Lights”, supernatural beings spiraling towards a prophesied final conflict), it has multiple layers of mystery (sorry…spoilers), and it has a pretty solid twist near the end of the second act (ditto). The duel narrators provide a degree of gender balance (read: crossover appeal) often lacking in a lot of YA lit. And although there is the potential for definite sexual tension between them, it has not taken over the story.

My tardiness with this review is in no way an indictment of the material

I started reading Minutes Before Sunset just as the new semester was starting and while I was in the process of trying to finish another project. So even though I tore through the first half of the novel, mayhem started creeping into my life and eating away at my reading time. Being the selfish son-of-a-bitch that I am, I set Minutes Before Sunset on the backburner. But I’m back to it now and hoping to make short work of what’s left.

My one complaint so far…

If I had to level an indictment against Shannon’s writing, I would say it’s a little too explicit for my tastes (as in the opposite of implicit…get your mind out of the gutter). Shannon’s very detailed in her description of action and expression – sometimes jarringly so for a first-person narrative – and I’m fairly certain she hasn’t met a modifier that she doesn’t like. That’s a criticism, however, that far better writers than I have leveled against J.K. Rowling…and she did all right for herself in the end.

As it stands right now, the best words of praise I can give are these:

1. I intend to keep reading. If nothing else, that second act twist has my interest.

2. If one of students came to me looking for something to read, I’d certainly recommend it.

For more information on Shannon A. Thompson and Minutes Before Sunset, click here.

As always, thanks for reading.

CVA

The Challenges Ahead…

Ok…so I might have gone a little bit off the reservation yesterday – it’s amazing what sounds like a good idea at 4:00 am after a bad night’s sleep – and I’ve been freaking the frakk out ever since.

All right, I exaggerate, but I have been wondering just what in the hell I’ve gotten myself into. If I’m going to hit my goal of 46 posts during the course of lent, here are the difficulties I see before me:

1. Time

Lent started very late this year. So late, in fact, that it started the same week as rugby season. I was already having a hard enough time balancing school, writing, blogging, etc. Now to think that I have to find the time to average a post a day for the next seven weeks?

This is already starting to sound like a bad idea.

2. Brevity

If you’re new to this blog, you might be under the impression that I’m paid by the word (if only!). If you’ve been following for a while, then you know that I’m just naturally long-winded and you’ve graciously accepted it. I also have a tendency to over-edit, a nasty habit that I’ve already explored here. Because of the restrictions on my time, I’m going to have to figure out how to keep it short and not over think it.

And, speaking of “it”…

3. Creativity Confidence

At first I questioned where the content was going to come from. How was I ever going to have enough ideas to post so frequently? What occurred to me, though, was that I have no shortage of things to say on this page. But I do have some serious doubts about what’s really worth saying. I’m going to have no choice but to put some of that doubt in check if I’m going to make it.

As it stands now, my one hope – aside from finishing, obviously – is that I don’t end up compromising the standards I’ve set for myself on this blog. What’s the point of forcing myself to write more if I end up writing shit? For right now, I’m just going to keep my fingers crossed that I’ll ultimately benefit from the challenges ahead.

Wish me luck.

As always, thanks for reading.

CVA

Three Thoughts on Where to Go From Here

But first, let me preface this with three quick comments:

1. My apologies for my negligence. I’ve been busy as hell lately and mostly ignoring this blog. If you’ve liked/commented/followed any time recently, I’ll do my best to get back to you and visit your page soon.

2. God bless these arctic windchills that have been slamming us lately, because…

3. On Tuesday I finished the first draft of my next novel.

F@#% YEAH!

It seems to me like this is either the beginning of something or the end of something. But I’m really not sure which.

That’s a line from the book. I include it her for two reasons.

1. My wife came into the office as I was finishing up for the day on Tuesday. I turned to her and announced my triumph then promptly sank half-limp back into my faux-leather rolling chair. I had our four-month-old in my lap, so my wife picked her up and said, “Well, I guess now you know how I felt after this one was born.”

“Yeah right.” I said. “I just finished the first draft. This is like the moment after conception.”

Any writer should know what I mean. The fun part’s over.

Which brings me to…

2. Anybody who’s ever tried to write a novel can tell you that the beginning is the best part. The first 7000-10,000 words come in a fit of passion that erases all sense of time, place, and reason. Every spare moment you have is consumed by the compulsion to return to your story. You are on the verge of becoming the next Stephen King (or Nick Hornby or Stephanie Meyer or whoever) and your genius cannot – will not – be contained.

But then the creative impulse grows less ardent, and the momentum starts to wear off. You have a few days where the words don’t come quite so freely anymore and a few where they don’t come at all. Then the next time you sit down at the keyboard you realize your characters are underdeveloped and your plotline is full of holes. That’s when it hits you: finishing what you’ve started is actually going to be work. Why do you think so few people ever get beyond I’ve always had this great idea for a novel?

But here’s the secret: that feeling comes back. There’s nothing quite like the euphoria of knowing that you’re closing in on the finish line. After months or even years of plugging away at the keys, you come to the realization that you only have 7000-10,000 words left. You’re on the last mile of the marathon, and you’re running downhill. Case in point, I wrote the final 20,000ish words of my new manuscript over the past 23 days. The last 5000 words came on Monday and Tuesday when school was cancelled. I don’t know if I’ve ever been happier to have to completely re-do my Unit Plans!

So…what now?

If I were to follow King’s advice in On Writing, I would put the manuscript in a drawer for six months. Although I’ve learned the hard way the value of distance when it comes to the editing process, I doubt I have that kind of patience. For right now, I intend to give the book a cursory proofread then I’ll probably shelve it for at least a few weeks. As badly as I want to pick up the hatchet and go to work, I know I’m not ready to start hacking away at my newest baby.

In the meantime, I’ve printed a copy for my wife (she bears the cross of being my first reader on everything). Eventually I’ll have to do the same for at least my mother and sister, if not a few other willing guinea pigs. But….yeah. Frankly, I’m content to use the initial proofing as an excuse to procrastinate and recoup for a week or two.

And what next?

The manuscript I just finished is planned as the first of either a three or four book series. I could easily ride this momentum and start attacking book two. At the same time, I could really use some time off from the main character. He and I have been hanging out a lot lately, and it would be nice to get out and meet some new people.

That said, I’ve had an idea on the backburner for a few years now – I’ve been scribbling down scenes as they come to me and making notes whenever the inspiration strikes – but I haven’t wanted to devote any real time to it until both Rottweiler and my current manuscript were finished (at least as drafts). I’m thrilled to think that I might FINALLY be able to start writing it, but also daunted by the thought of starting another novel – another series, actually – quite so quickly.

I wrote a new short story at the end of last summer – my first in years, I’m embarrassed to admit – and it was a refreshing experience. And maybe that’s the way to go. I just finished a marathon. It might just be time for a few easy jogs around the neighborhood.

Or…I could actually start paying attention to this blog again.

What would you do?

As always, thanks for reading.

CVA

Three Thoughts on Writing and Inhibitions

On Blogging

In a recent post, I described how some burgeoning social anxiety was starting to creep its way into my writing. The end effect was that I found myself writing in an especially guarded fashion, especially on this blog. Upon reflection, I decided I simply need to bite the bullet, keep it simple, and limit my proofreads when it’s time to post. I can’t afford to agonize over every word I type on this site.

Since then I’ve done….ok. Not great, but ok.

My first post after the holidays was about my experiences with my daughters during Christmas week. That one was easy. I had stories to share, they mattered to me, and I was able to let the words fly. From there, I wrote a post dissecting my reactions to the Chicago Bears 2013 season. It was hit-or-miss. For a lot of it, I was able to loosen up and let myself rant, but there were moments I had to consciously force myself to stop trying to sound like a sports writer. I felt good enough about the final product, but I suppose it’s up to you whether I succeeded or not. As far as this post is concerned, I’m just trying to crank it out as fast as I can. I’ll allow myself one proofread and click Publish. Damn the typedoes, full speed ahead.

Yup. I just said typedoes. (Um…Copyright Christopher V. Alexander)

And this hot on the heels of my bringing the term indorktrination into the Alexander house. (Ditto!)

Somewhere, my wife is reading this and say Hands off, ladies. He’s mine.

On Fiction

80-90% of my writing gets done before I go to work, usually in the 5:00-6:15 am range. It sucks getting out of bed at 4:00, but I established this routine because it’s the only free time I get with the house to myself. The problem with this schedule, though, is that it can be fundamentally self-inhibiting. I often find it difficult to get into a groove because I know that by 6:15 I’m going to have to force myself right back out of it.

I didn’t fully understood this phenomenon until a few days ago. Our first two days of school this semester were cancelled because of the polar vortex (or whatever the hell they’re calling it) that hit Chicago, but after a two-week layoff, I decided to get up at 4:00 anyway. And the damnedest thing happened. I wrote. I frakking tore it up. Monday and Tuesday both I hit a nice rhythm and knocked out 2000+ words before my daughters were out of bed. Basically, because I knew that I didn’t have to go anywhere on those mornings – because I knew I wasn’t going to have to get out of my groove – I was able to get straight into it.

Unfortunately, I really can’t recreate those circumstances until summer vacation rolls around. I can’t skip work. So what’s a boy to do?

For now, I’m just trying to mindset. Instead of worrying about the time, I’m focusing on my word count. Instead of telling myself I want to write for a good hour this morning, I’m setting tangible benchmarks. The goal right now is 1000 words per morning, which for me typically translates to about 60-80 minutes. And, like a weight lifter who’s started seeing renewed gains by counting his reps down instead of up (10-9-8..instead of 1-2-3…), I’m getting solid results from this simple shift in thinking. Although I’m still writing from 5:00-6:00ish, I’m no longer and staring at the clock. As a result, I’m not letting looming deadlines impede my productivity.

On Drinking

Speaking of which, the most productive I’ve ever been as a writer was about 10-12 years ago. I was living along in a new town, hadn’t made many friends yet, and spent most of my evenings at the computer. Now, obviously, having an abundance of spare time on my hands counted for a lot. But – unshocking confession coming – the biggest difference was that I wrote almost every night while putting down a few beers. Many of the greats would attest to the magically lubricating power of alcohol on the creative mind, and – even as ungreat as I am – I can enthusiastically trumpet my agreement.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m no alcoholic, and I don’t think I’ve ever written a word while I was *drunk*. But for a while, I had basically adopted a policy of write tipsy, edit sober. And my productivity was off the charts. The secret? A good buzz…which typically equals heightened self-esteem and lowered inhibitions. It’s nothing short of amazing the way a drink or two can silence the little voices nagging at the back of your mind.

I shared this with my wife recently – we were discussing my post on persona and social anxiety – and after taking a moment to mull it over, she said “Maybe that’s what you need to do.”

“What?” I asked.

“Maybe you need to write in the evening and have a few drinks.”

Hands off, boys. She’s MINE!

Conveniently enough, my wife’s going to be out of town with Daughter the Younger tomorrow night. I’m pretty sure if I have the energy after putting the Elder to bed, I’m going to take my Friday night whiskey in the office at the keyboard.

We’ll see what happens.

As always, thanks for reading.

CVA

3 Things I’m Doing to Prostitute Myself this Holiday Season

With the holidays approaching and the year rapidly coming to a close, it’s time to reflect. As far as my writing career is concerned, I’m ready to declare 2013 a success. In February, I finally got off my ass and published Rottweiler on the Amazon Kindle. I also started this blog and created a Facebook page for the first time. A few months later, I made the necessary modifications to my manuscript to publish it on Smashwords and to distribute it through their Premium Catalog. On top of all that….and, you know…having another kid and stuff…I managed to find time to develop some new material. Put it all together, and I’d say it adds up to a win.

Now, however, I think it’s time to get a head start on my goals for 2014. Specifically, I need to become more proactive in the prostitution promotion of my writing. As such, I’m going to institute three simple policies on this blog.

1. Generosity

I am offering a FREE copy of Rottweiler to all followers of this blog. That’s right – from now until at least the end of 2014, your reward for taking the time to click FOLLOW is a FREE copy of my debut novel.

Imagine…the power to take ownership of more than three years of my life…and a small piece of my soul on top of it…all available to you for just the click of a mouse!

And if you’re already one of the brave souls following this blog? Take heart because I haven’t forgotten you. Take a moment to contact me via the form at the bottom of this post and I will get back to you right away with information about how to claim your free copy of Rottweiler. Consider it my thank you for making these past ten months on WordPress worthwhile.

2. Reciprocity

Have a book? Trying to generate buzz? To hook new readers? To build a fanbase?

I know that feel, bro.

Since day one, I’ve been toying with the idea of including book reviews on this blog. What better motivation to start than helping out other writers like me? Let’s be honest, Stephen King doesn’t need any more publicity. But aren’t we all desperately searching to expand our readership as we find our way in this brave new publishing industry?

So…you mention/promote/review mine, I’ll do the same with yours! Use the form at the bottom to drop me a line so we can help each other out.

3. Inquiry

Let me tell you just a little bit about me. I was always a gifted/honors/Advanced Placement student. Right now, I teach three periods of Honors/Pre-AP English. So I feel justified in sharing this one tidbit about myself and others like me: We hate (HATE HATE HATE) asking questions. Because we, of course, are supposed to be the ones with all the answers.

So, this is me being a good example, putting my ego in check, and asking all of you: What have you done to promote your work? What has worked and what hasn’t? What can we (ok….what can I) be doing to more effectively reach new readers?

Leave a comment. I’d love to read your thoughts!

Thanks. And – in case I don’t get another chance to say it – happy holidays!

CVA