It's one more random than 10!
I have been working harder than a Beatles song for the past couple of weeks, doing the dance that many of us do where you have to cram in two weeks of work so you can go on vacation for a week. Tomorrow we head to North Carolina for our annual pilgrimage to the beach, where we will soak up the sun, surf, suds and suds with The Lovely Becky's family. Those include her Canadian relatives, about whom I will warn Libby, "Don't be fooled just because they look like you and me. They are from Canada."
While I am looking more forward to this vacation than I ever have—seeing my daughter walking on the beach will probably be the highlight of my year—I am also nervous. For I am about to read my novel.
I have wanted to publish a novel since I was eleven. In the height of my D&D fandom, I dragged out my mom's typewriter and began writing an epic fantasy full of danger, magic, intrigue, and lots and lots of gory violence. It lasted two pages. But the seed was planted, and while that field has been fallow at various times in my life, the crop has never died. My dream has been to publish a novel, to create something that might sit on a bookshelf, to make a work that causes someone I don't know to say, "Hey, this doesn't suck. I'm glad I found it in the remainder bin."
I've started probably a dozen novels since my first 500-word forray. During high school and college, I dabbled and didn't really work that hard at it. Once I entered the white collar world, though, the desire came back very strongly. I not only enjoyed writing, I needed a creative outlet to help me escape the fiscally necessary but not exactly spiritually rewarding world of white collar life.
Still, wanting to write a novel and writing a novel were very different things. My pattern tended to be that I'd think of something that sounded like a great idea for a book, get fifty pages into it, and conclude it was the stupidest idea ever thought of by anyone in the history of everything. I'd go into a non-writing funk until the little Troy McClure voice in my head would tell me, "Get confidence, stupid!" and the process would begin again.
This year, though, things have been different. I managed to find an idea, start writing, keep writing, and still keep writing. I made it to June with 150 pages. I was having fun (what a concept!) and not only believing I would finish this, but that somebody might want to actually publish it.
While I was writing, I didn't go back and read much of what I had done. I wanted to keep my momentum going, to turn off my editor, and just keep putting one line in front of the other. I hit a point in June where real life got too busy and I had to take a break, one that turned out to last a couple of months. I figure that's a good stopping point, and that with a whole week of vacation coming up, it'd be a great time to make those 150 pages part of my beach reading. So I'm printing out what I have and taking it with me.
I'm bracing myself for the negative voice to come in. What can seem like hilarious dialog and superb comic framing under the intoxication of inspiration can look like a ugly one-night stand in the sober light of editorial review. A few years ago, this very process would likely kill my momentum. But watching The Lovely Becky work has inspired me. She's shown me that you have to confront your writing, wrestle with it, and wrangle it into shape. Yes, what I'm going to read will have a lot of warts, but I can't remove those warts unless I open my eyes and look for them.
1) "Happy Segovia," The Fucking Champs. Fuck yeah. The beauty of the Internets for me has been how easy it has made discovering music I never would have known about. I was driving around yesterday while listening to the local radio station, which was playing the national broadcast of Alice Cooper's radio show (there's more irony than rain on your wedding day or good advice you just can't take). Alice happened to mention Alex Chilton and how he was in Big Star. It occurred to me that I never really would have known about Big Star without the Internets, and now Big Star is one of my desert island groups.
The same happened with The Champs. They play 80s-style instrumental metal that tickles my whammy bar. But they are clearly one of those niche groups that I never, ever would have heard about without the easy access into niches that we get with the Web. So thank you, Al Gore, for inventing this wondrous invention. It does things you didn't originally intend—brings the most unusual sexual fetishes right to your desktop, allows intellectual property theft on apocalyptic levels, and makes it easier than ever to stalk old high school flames. But it also rocks, and for that, I salute you.
2) "When Anger Shows," Editors. Along with time changes and guitar wankery, I have a soft spot for Big Important Music, especially stuff that apes The Joshua Tree. Which is why I dig Editors. They throw a big, reverbed wall of drama at me, and I am powerless to resist, even if the lyrics never clearly explain what all the fuss is about.
3) "Drink Before the War," Sinead O'Connor. During and after as well. This is Big Important Music, but here the production doesn't quite pull it off. Her voice, as usual, is huge and amazing. The music, though, is lost in that thin 80s production that plagued a lot of rock records. The bass toward the end should be blowing up like artillery shells.
4) "Don't Dream It's Over," Crowded House. About as well crafted a pop song as you'll find. Perfect for a lazy summer day—enough energy to make you feel good, but laid-back enough that you can relax. Like, "Let's enjoy this sunset after a long day of enjoying the sun."
5) "February," Dar Williams. Please, don't remind me about this month, no matter how sweetly you sing about it.
Speaking of depressing subjects, I'm really sad to hear John Hughes died. For people who were teenagers in the 80s, I don't think any other director managed to nail the teenage experience quite like he did. He captured the confusion, the self-importance, the battle between independence and conformity, the horniness, and often the sheer fun of being an 80s teen. His films are too melodramatic to be great, but that's also what makes them work so well. They're filled with the kind of emotion and perspective (good and bad) that you'd find someone's journal for junior-year English. And he had a knack for comic timing and for creating layers of absurd situations that did as much to advance the story as make you laugh (with Planes, Trains, and Automobiles being the best example). Plus he did it all in Chicago. I hope he's having a great day off right now.
6) "Another One Bites the Dust," Queen. The most distinctive bass line in rock? Probably at least in the top 5. I was in fifth grade when this was a hit, and I remember us calling it "Another One Bites the Wang." Nearly 30 years later and my dick jokes are still going strong. Also: the video features Freddie's wardrobe at it's finest.
7) "My Own Summer (Shove It)," Deftones. I am not a fan of the nu-metal. It's hard enough, it's loud enough, but that's just not enough. I need a melody or a structure, something to tell me I'm listening to a song and not just a collection of chords, drums, and vocals.
8) "Suddenly Last Summer," The Motels. One-hit wonders get plenty of press and shows on VH1, but what about two-hit wonders? Where is the love for your Scandals, your Romantics, and your Motels, who had 100% better career performance than your Quarterflashes, your Rockwells, and your Nenas?
9) "Grinder," Judas Priest. Wow, a lot of metal on these lists the last two weeks. The studs are practically bursting out of my tweeters. I also didn't think it was possible, but Rob Halford's outfit is more ridiculous than Freddie Mercury's.
10) "Under Pressure," Queen and David Bowie. Yet another incredibly memorable bassline from Queen's John Deacon. The 60 seconds after the pause in the middle are one of my favorite minutes in rock. I've heard that part a million times and it still makes me feel tingly. I just block out the Vanilla Ice thing.
11) "Selling the Drama," Live. They were like Nickelback's older, nerdier brothers. At least Nickelback seem to know they make big, dumb music. Live were under the impression they were U2, when there's only one band that has the musical talent to overcome its often embarrassing pretensions (that band would be U2). I can't end on this before I go on vacation.
Bonus track: "Eclipse," Pink Floyd. Goddamnit. Stupid iTunes, be better.
Hidden bonus track: "Dr. Feelgood," Motley Crue. Okay, more 80s metal, which I apologize for, but this is also The Number One Track People Who Don't Like Heavy Metal Still Kind of Like*. The Crue are probably the laziest band to ever have sustained success. They were Guns N' Roses long before Guns N' Roses arrived, but they phoned it in on just about every album except this one. Even lesser Van Halen albums look more meat-filled than most Motley Crue albums, and GnR's drug use seemed to fuel their production instead of hold them back. None of that matters, however, because any band that cranks out a tune with this much groovy sleaze has accomplished more than most bands ever will. Now I can go on vacation.
*Note: "Pour Some Sugar on Me" is not heavy metal. And if you mention Warrant I will hit you in the face with a cherry pie.
Have a wonderful week. I am going to sweat and have fun with my family in the surf and hopefully keep feeling like I'm going to finish this novel. If those three things happen, everything else will be gravy.