Thursday, January 30, 2014

The State of an Individual: On 2013 & 2014

I’m a little late on the whole year-in-review and 2014 goal-setting, but then there are a lot of responsibilities to eclipse reflection and forward-thinking time around here. Who knows how long this will stay in ‘draft mode’ until I can get it all put together? Ah well, let’s not waste time whining about how little time I have.

2013. Not as bad as 2012, but then not a whole lot better either.
Concerning reading, I read 33 books in 2013—seven below my Goodreads goal—not counting books I reread. Twelve were made of ink on bound paper, three were ebooks, and eighteen were audiobooks. The best book I read last year was Russell Banks’ Cloudsplitter.

Concerning writing, I had two short stories published, one of which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. My short story writing count for the year is 2,896 words.

I dabbled for a little while with screenplay writing, but have lost ambition with it for now.

On my novel writing I added an additional 4,445 words to finish my revision of Alexander Murphy’s Home for Wayward Celebrities. So far this newest version of the novel has received two reviews, both of which made me blush.
Having finished this revision, I tried to decide which of my novels-in-progress to focus on next. The first, The Great Northsouthern Cock-Block, is an expansion of an earlier unpublished short story to novelic length. The story concerns a fictional generic college where a professor convinces the entire female student body to refrain from having sex. My intention for the story is for it to be a satiric, and outrageous examination of higher education, society, and sex. While considering this novel I read Neal Stephenson’s The Big U, which blew me away, and though it follows a different trajectory than what I had in mind for my novel, I think it intimidated me, and I only worked on the novel through the first months of the year, writing 3498 words altogether, putting the total unrevised word count at 17,851.
The other novel I had previously begun was originally titled Adventures in the Sub Trade, but I have changed the name since to Diary of a Sadman. This novel is an attempt to take frustrating, disappointing, and curious things that have happened in my life and give them usefulness in novel form. I would say it is quasi-autobiographical, in that while many of the things the narrator encounters in the novel have happened to me, or I have observed firsthand, I have translated their meaning to fit the main character: so that while he works at some of the places I have worked, and experiences some of the things I have experienced, his opinions and outcomes vary greatly from my own. For example, the plot involves a man whose girlfriend leaves him in Boston (didn’t happen to me) while he is studying architecture in Boston (which I did), and for economic reasons he has to move back to California (also did), and has to find a new career path, deciding to become a teacher while at the same time finally committing himself to becoming a writer (me too). I know this novel will be an exercise in editing, as the structure largely involves diary entries, dream-diaries, writing exercises, and educational materials—and it is also an exercise in my personal craft process, as it is the first major writing I have done directly into a computer, instead of my usual freehand process. Last year I only added 1,880 words, totaling the first draft manuscript at 12,915 words.
So, through the Winter I was vacillating between these two potentialities, rereading drafts, organizing and collecting notes on each, and trying to be more proactive about my reading. I got a long-term subbing assignment teaching Middle School science which gave me very little time to write, and then switched to another long-term assignment in high school Special Ed when a curious convergence of ideas ignited a new novel idea, and since I love hearing about the fate and circumstance that come together to form a story idea, I'll share mine.
It began with my wife and my anniversary trip to Hearst Castle in 2012, where we joked about how awesome the castle would be during an apocalypse, and my mind began creating scenarios and characters of its own volition. Due, I think, to my love of The Walking Dead graphic novels, and then the TV series, my end-of-the-world thought exercises began to include zombies, and then more representations of how I suspect many Americans would act if suddenly there was no police or military force providing a consequence to your darkest desires and actions, and the idea of how societal ideas of morality come into question when that society is gone. These ideas fermented in the cellar of my mind, next to other experiments quietly bubbling away, amid my work on other projects. I received the catalyst sometime in Spring.
I was subbing for an Art Class—I don’t even think I was assigned, I think I was just on loan from Special Ed during STAR testing, so this would be early April. By then I had thought of a post-apocalyptic character named Ugly Doug, who considers the zombie outbreak to be the best thing that ever happened to him, because it takes away all of the other humans that have made his life miserable. I was thinking about ways the world would be different for Doug while the art students were working, when it happened. It was nothing more than seeing a pair of beautiful girls at their desk, doing more talking that artwork, both surreptitiously playing with their phones, but it was enough to ignite that fermenting idea, and instantly it was an explosion of:

How would these girls handle a zombie-apocalyptic world?
When society goes, rules concerning “age of consent” would go to.
Doug would fall in love with both of these girls at first sight.

Kaboom! I had my plot, I had my characters, and more, I had an overwhelming desire to see what would happen in this story. By the end of class I had written three pages of notes; by the end of the day, I had written the first scene; by the end of the year, I had 39,893 words in the manuscript, which I have titled The Two Loves of Ugly Doug.

On other forms of entertainment: I only watched a handful of films last year, and it’s killing me. But there has been a lot of excellent television (since we don't have cable, we're a little slow on catching shows, because we have to wait for Netflix to stream it or for our library to carry them). besides rewatching the entire series of Lost and Entourage, I have enjoyed discovering/catching up with Boardwalk Empire, Downton Abbey, The Walking Dead, Burn Notice, Mad Men, Shameless, Mr. Selfridge, Homeland; I adore Warehouse 13 – the most joy I’ve had watching a show in I don’t how long, probably since watching Firefly. I am conflicted with Girls: sometimes I am impressed by its fearlessness, but mostly the characters frustrate me, and it has gotten to the point where I barely register when Lena Dunham is naked anymore I’m so used to it (and really, they capped off Season 2 by doing a When Harry Met Sally?). Finally, I enjoyed the last couple seasons of Dexter, but didn’t feel the ending (really? a lumberjack?).

I’ve had little time for video games, playing only Infamous, Super Mario Sunshine, Super Mario 3DLand, and Mirror’s Edge; though I enjoyed them all, with my scattered playtime I didn’t feel like I ever had the ability to master their controls, especially with Mirror’s Edge.

And let me wrap up 2013 with a little discussion about work. I continue only substitute teaching—good for reading and writing, terrible economically. In September I abandoned all notions that I should only seek jobs commensurate with my education and interests, and began a second job at Pier 1 as a sales associate; my coworkers there are fabulous, and the job would be perfect if it paid about 10 times more, and if it didn’t have the pesky problem of customers.
Then in the Fall I partnered with my wife and her parents to begin a candymaking company, Chastity Chocolates. My father-in-law was a candy chef for many years, developing recipes, and has always had the desire to open his own candy/dessert shop one day.
 Since none of us are trained in business, and are doing this on the side after other full-time jobs, it has taken a while to figure out all the steps required for having a legitimate business. But we have had a successful open house, begun an online store, and the hope is that this Spring we will start participating in some local farmer’s markets, with the eventual dream of having a brick and mortar shop serving a variety of sweet decadence that will be all of our only full time jobs. Already we have awesome chocolate, caramel, cheesecake, and other treats; currently I am working towards ricotta mastery, with ricotta pie, and canolli—both of which I came to adore living in Boston, but have not been able to find equivalent examples of in California. Let me just say that research and development for a candy and dessert company is a particular luxury.
But still you may be thinking, from a career in education to candy? You see what really drives my wife and I to be involved in developing this business is simply happiness. Happiness, in getting to work together (for my wife and I really are best friends who wish they could be around each other more); happiness, in playing with the best ingredients we can find, combining them with inspiration and skill into splendid products; and the happy dream of having a place where customers can come to be happy. A good dessert or treat is a piece of tangible happiness, and the thought of creating a place full of such happiness seems like a worthy endeavor in our often cold and dreadful world. So if any of you would enjoy having some happiness delivered to your doorstep instead of just the usual bills and junk, come to

On Goals, and Plans to achieve them
My goals for 2014 are fairly simple:
- I want to be better about submitting short stories, so one plan is to have every short story I hope to get published out under consideration.
- I want to finish and publish at least 1 novel. To do this I am hoping to write a minimum of a page a day/250 words. Really this means 350 words during the week, because I rarely write on the weekends.
- I would like to read at least 40 books, and have more of them be the ink-on-bound-paper ones from my collection.

And lastly, I’d like to be better about socializing online: more consistent with blogs, and social media besides Likeing what others have posted.

So, good luck to me, and good luck to you.