Friday, August 27, 2010

Sweet Sorrow

One of the characters in my books, bright, intelligent and still a freshman, likes to quote famous authors. She’s especially bit on Shakespeare. So today is one of those days when she might say, “Parting is such sweet sorrow…”

She would be wrong. When death does the parting there is nothing sweet about the sorrow.

His name is David Gran and he is—was—the poster child for curmudgeon. As I write this I can still say IS, but there are only weeks, days, maybe only hours before his deep sleep elongates into forever. I’ve know him for three years. I can’t really call us friends, certainly not close friends. He was like Cliff Clavin on Cheers, he knew everything thank you very much and don’t try telling him he might be even a tad off. The man would lean back in his chair, cross his arms over his stomach, and by word, expression, body language and shear force of personality assure you that you were worse than wrong. Arguing with Dave was the definition of futility.

But someone it was impossible to stay angry with him. A dozen times over the years I would swear to never speak to him again. But somehow it wasn’t really possible to hold a grudge. In fact, when my debut novel comes out in October, his name is featured on the acknowledgements page. I just wish he’d be around to see it. He was very proud when he learned I was about to be published.

He first talked about being in pain last November. Over the next weeks he complained loudly about doctors and their inability to diagnose whatever was bothering him. he was tested inside and out, and when they kept coming back negative I thought him a bit of a hypochondriac.

Then, in January, I fell into the hands of doctors myself. Modern medicine does have a bad habit of assuming the simplest explanation for problems. They decided I had a fibroid. It took them a few blood tests, x-rays, a sonogram, and finally surgery to correctly diagnose the problem – uterine cancer. Then more test, more surgery, and radiation to wipe out any straggling cancer cells. The surgeon will continue testing me for years (ladies, can you say a pap test every three months?)

Dave’s doctor’s eventually diagnosed him with prostate cancer, not unexpected for a man in his seventies. He was given chemotherapy and expected to carry on. His spirit remained strong. I’ll be back, he swore to his friends.

Both Dave and I were in treatment during the spring and early summer. Sometimes when I saw how his body changed I thanked God I had radiation without chemo. I got better. He got worse. Dave’s body changed physically, his pain grew worse until he was admitted to the hospital for bad reactions to the medication. Eventually he was sent home with a wheelchair, a full-time aide, and a new diagnosis. There had been a terrible mistake. Not prostate cancer…testicular.

Not all cancers are created equal. Prostate cancer is something men can live with. Testicular cancer is out for blood. And the chemo that would have helped his prostate cancer only exacerbated the testicular cancer. The doctors altered his treatment with new medication and procedures. But this virulent strain was in it to win. A few weeks ago the doctors admitted defeat. Treatment ceased. Dave entered hospice.

At first he remained his normal task-oriented self. He tied up his affairs, disposed of his motorcycle and other valuables and went so far as to purchase the iPad he had intended to give his daughter for Christmas. But the tasks have been accomplished, and by now there’s just more and more rest as the hospice nurse works to keep the pain away.

A few weeks, or days or hours and he’ll fall asleep one last time. And I’ll never see my old friend again.

Parting is more than just sorrow.

It’s just sad.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Everybody Pitches

It's true. Outside the novel writing world its called a resume, or a sales presentation or a job interview.  That's what a pitch is, a job interview, not for yourself, but for your manuscript. While we writers would all like to just say "take a look, you'll like it," that's not how this buyer's market works.

I have heard writers complain about their inability to digest their five hundred page epic into one or two paragraphs suitable for a query or a pitch session. I've said it myself - if I could tell a story in less than 80K words don't you think I would and save myself months of aggravation?

But the logline, the query, the pitch - these are all necessary skills. And the pitch you make to an agent or editor at a conference or the query you send out is just the start of a long chain of pitches. You pitch to an agent. He or she pitches to editors. In turn, they pitch to senior editors and their companies marketing department. The chain elongates as marketing pitches to customers. Not the men, women and children who eventually pick your book from the shelves and buy it. They pitch to bookstores and libraries where shelf space is at a premium. To book clubs and schools. Places that are selective about the new books and debut authors they take on.

So your pitch is just the start. Remember that as you develop, hone and practice the words that will make that first agent or editor sit up and grow interested. Think about all those words have to accomplish to get your work published and placed on bookshelves or where ePubs and and other online bookstores would list it in their catalogs.

So sharpen and polish your words and start the chain off in a powerful and enthusiastic manner.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Boy Book Review - Give a Boy a Gun

Give a Boy a Gun by Todd Strasser

This is book makes no attempts at surprising the reader, we know from the opening that someone has died, and the description of the death - "...the bulet smashed into the left side of his skull and tore into his brain, he probably lived for ten to fifteen seconds" is powerful and disturbing. Told as a series of excerpts from interviews after the shooting, this book kept me turning pages to learn more about the school, the dynamics of the people involved and the shooters. We follow the two young men from seventh through tenth grade to the day of the shooting. No where do we get an answer to why they did it, that isn't the point of the book. What we see are the people around them, the friends and enemies, family members, school administration, we see signs, and we see how easily those signs were overlooked.

But that's the message for adults.

or teens, especially young boys, the message is simpler - these two young men, who thought no one cared about them, mattered to more people than they ever realized. Their loss leaves a void in the lives of others.  Everyone wants to matter, and I think every reader will see that these young men did matter, not because of what they did at the end of their lives, but because of  every moment they lived before that end.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Boy Book Review

Over The End Line, by Alfred C. Martino

As a long-time soccer fan, I picked up this book expecting to get a good read about the boys on a high school soccer team. This is a strong sports and life story, told by Duncan, a better than average player, but not a star. The book delivered that, along with lessons on rivalries, first loves and the discovery that you hero has feet of clay.

Over the end line began on a strong hook that promised a good mystery. We learn quickly that something horrible has happened, and know that Jonny Fehey, the protagonist, has witnessed a horrific crime and now needs to act. My problem with the novel began when I turned the page, expecting to find more, and instead found myself deposited in the past, months before the inciting incident. The pace slowed as characters were introduced and the relationships between the young men on the team were established. We meet Kyle, Johnny’s best friend, hero and rival for position as team star, Erik, the evil bully everyone on the team looks down on but continues to tolerate, and the girls who end up being stronger than any of the guys imagine. But I kept turning pages, wondering when we would get to the good part. By the time we finally returned to the present and reached the moment when Johnny unwittingly witnesses a horrific crime, what should have been a strong scene was almost a let-down.

The crime Jonny witnesses occurs about three quarters of the way through the book. The day he scores a game-winning goal that propels him into stardom, he gets too drunk to do anything except witness his girlfriend's rape by Erik and Kyle. From then on the suspense escalates as Jonny struggles with the returning memory of what happened that night and what he should do with that knowledge. As his girlfriend struggles with suicide, he confronts his teammates and the girl's best friends in separate showdowns that lead to additional tragedies and deaths and a victim’s need for vengeance.

The last pages are fast-paced, but very rough on the reader, and the ending both unexpected and harsh. There is no happy ending in this story. Just realistic people who make mistakes and have to pay for those mistakes, sometimes with their lives. And maybe that is the book's ultimate weakness for me. Jonny was no hero, but he was not a villain, either, just weak, so I didn’t the punishment he endured for his punishment deserved and left the book feeling cheated.

Will boys like reading this - I think so. There is good action, insight into tghe world of a soccer, male bonding, and some interesting scenes on the relationship between Duncan and girls. But they will have to be willing to get past the slow beginning to reach the "good stuff."