A Death in the Family

Yesterday, I found out that a very good college friend – my fraternity brother – died in Iraq.

I held it together as I talked to one of my co-workers right after I found out. The co-worker mistakenly started off our conversation by calling me a “tree-hugging liberal.” Usually I just laugh when he says things like that. Yesterday, I didn’t laugh.

I held it together while I talked to numerous fraternity brothers about what had happened. Details are still sketchy. Most of us are still a little numb. I know I am.

I held it together…until I had to tell my wife. And that’s when I lost it. I don’t know if Crystal’s ever seen me cry before yesterday.

Yesterday, Freeman Gardner, my fraternity brother, my friend, died in Iraq.

Today is a very bad day.

Tomorrow, I will go buy the first suit I’ve bought in 8 years. It will be black.

Name Association

While having lunch with my supervisor last week, I realized that his daughter is nicknamed Maddie, which just so happens to be the name of the main female character in my WIP. My supervisor’s Maddie is a nice, sweet, innocent girl. My Maddie, for lack of a better word, is un-innocent.

I hope he doesn’t remember this when the time for performance reviews comes around.

Mr. V Gets Schooled

So not only did I turn 30 yesterday, and not only did I submit my “almost” final manuscript of My Life As A Rhombus (only three comments from AK in this round), and not only did I get my brand new Brother HL-5250 printer (it duplexes), but I also got a call from Sharon Darrow, the Faculty Chair of the Vermont College MFA Program for Writing for Children and Young Adults.

It looks like Mr. V is going back to school.

I know what a lot of you are wondering—why in the world are you interested in getting an MFA? You’re already a published author.

Yes, I am a published author. But just because I’m published doesn’t meant there isn’t more I could learn about the writing craft. There are a number of things I want to do—things that I can do better with an MFA. I want to become a more critical writer and reader. I want to take my craft to the “next level.” I want to learn more about PBs and MGs and non-fiction writing. I want to teach (someday).

I’m not saying that getting an MFA is the right thing for everyone to do, but I think it’s the right thing for me. So for anyone else lucky enough to be enrolled or accepted in the program, I’ll see you in Vermont in July.

One more thing—I need to thank the following people for all of the advice and well-wishes: Cynthia Leitich Smith (who has her own good news to share), Carrie Jones, Brian Yansky, Brian Farrey, Sara Crowe and Andrew Karre.

Goodbye, Old Friend

Just as Florida lost James and Kirk lost Spock, I have lost one of my closest friends.

After 5 good years, my printer has died.

After a laptop/computer, I think a printer is one of the most important technology-based tools that a writer needs. As most authors can attest, words looks vastly different on paper as opposed to on the screen. Things that I’m blind to (like overuse of words) are much easier to catch while looking at a hardcopy of a manuscript.
Anyway, my printer (a Brother 1440) was a workhorse for years. She printed all of the invitations, programs, and reply cards for my wedding (all on cardstock). She printed my sister’s wedding invitations. And she carried me through two full manuscripts. By my estimation, she printed out over 60,000 sheets of paper, not including all of the cardstock and stuff associated with miscellaneous projects. Actually, the last thing she printed out was my final edited copy of My Life As A Rhombus.
Good-bye, my friend. Live long and prosper.

Treading Water

I’m still here, still breathing–I’ve just been hella busy trying to finish up this manuscript for Super Cool Editor Guy. Authors tend to agonize over every last little word, so being that my manuscript tops out at over 64,000 words, I’m doing a bunch of agonizing. A few things before I get back to work:

1) AK has an interesting post on the Flux Blog today about unreliable narrators.

2) I had a great time at Cynthia’s Tantalize Party (even though I got there too late to hear Greg sing). Cynthia really knows how to throw a party.

3) I’ve figured out what project I want to focus on next…after I finish the edits to Rhombus…after I finalize a readable draft of Righteous…after I finish updating my webpage…

Story of a Girl

I finished Sara Zarr’s wonderful debut novel, Story of a Girl, a few weeks ago. There’s not much more I can say about this novel that others haven’t already said. Great characters. Great dialogue. Great story.
I like that Zarr began the novel three years after Deanna’s incident (getting caught with an older boy, Tommy Webber, in the back of his Buick), instead of at the time of the incident itself. While the event is important, I think it’s even more fascinating to take a step back and see how the characters deal with the aftermath. And while there are certainly characters in the book that make bad decisions, no one is clearly the “bad guy” (although you can make an argument that Tommy is pretty rotten). Everyone is a fault, at least a little, which makes the novel ring with authenticity. Also, I like that while the novel doesn’t tie everything up nicely, it leaves the reader with a sense of hope.

My favorite scene is where Deanna and her father finally have it out. It’s an argument that’s been brewing for three years. Zarr, with her mastery of dialogue and pacing, does not disappoint.

This novel is highly recommended. Check out more about Sara Zarr at her website. Also, check out Cynthia Leitich Smith’s interview with Zarr.

Mr. V Takes Five

I’ve been tagged by SpookyCyn.

The rules: Each participant shares five little-known facts about themselves. Those tagged are asked to do the same as well as reiterate this guideline. All select five folks to be tagged and list their names. (Leave a comment letting them know that you’ve tagged them and that they may see your blog as an example.)

1) I’m a twin. Unfortunately for Momma V, she didn’t find this out until ONE DAY before Coltrane Jenkins and I were born. We were originally going to be named after our father, but being that they didn’t think Larry No. 1 and Larry No. 2 would work, we went without names for three days until they could think of something suitable. Of course, now that I look back on my adolescence, I wonder if Larry No. 2 would have been a kinder name.

2) I tested a home pregnancy test. In preparation for my upcoming novel, I decided to buy a few home pregnancy kits. Luckily for me, I had never seen one up close and personal before. Anyway, I bought a few, and decided to test them out. And I’m glad to say, I’m not pregnant. (There’s actually a lot more to this story that I’ll have to post one day – including the pitfalls of buying HPTs from Target while simultaneously buying two bottles of red wine, having a wife find an HPT underneath her husband’s sink, and having “performance anxiety” while trying to administer the test.)

3) I’ve broken both of my ankles. But not at the same time. I broke the left ankle trying to jump off a flight of stairs in front of the girls’ dorm while at a summer program at FAMU. I broke the second ankle while playing volleyball. (For all of you 16 year-old guys out there, take note: leaping off a flight of stairs does NOT impress girls.)

4) I was the valedictorian of my high school class. Actually, I was the co-valedictorian of my high school class. The other valedictorian…the aforementioned Coltrane Jenkins.

5) I was a huge computer role-playing gamer back in the late 80’s – early 90’s. My game of choice – Space Quest. The game (and it’s many sequels) chronicled the heroics of Roger Wilco, your average, everyday, world-saving janitor. I also placed a lot of Ultima games. This alone probably explains my abundance of geekiness.

Who I’m tagging: Carrie Jones, Christi Lenzi, Lisa Schroeder, Paula Chase Hyman, and Coltrane Jenkins.

Ta Da!

Pop the champagne! Drop the confetti! I am happy to report that I have finally finished the first draft of my latest novel.

Actually, first draft is a little misleading. It’s more like the first complete draft of the novel. My process is really pretty complicated. First, I spend a few weeks outlining a novel. I mainly try to identify the big pieces of the novel, and I try to capture any dialog that might work well in certain parts. I also want to make sure I have enough content to actually justify a novel. I tend to go through a lot of drafts of my outlines, and I eventually end up picking two or three that I really like. I don’t automatically know exactly what I want to write – I usually have a main theme I want to touch on, but everything else is up for grabs. I tend to over-populate my manuscript with problems at this phase as well.

After I finish my outlines, I spend a month or so really working on the first three chapters. A lot of my outlines bite the dust before I even finish one chapter. Eventually, a writable novel rises to the top. I really believe that the first three chapters should tell you everything you need to know about the novel – who the main characters are, what the main problem is, the tone and voice of a novel, etc.

Next, I begin writing the book. Now, this isn’t planned, but what usually happens is that I write about half of the book, before I get a huge epiphany and start over again. If I’m lucky, like I was in this case, I’m able to use a lot of the material that I created before. If I’m unlucky (like with Rhombus) I have to almost start from scratch. I also redo my outline, and at this point, most of the over-the-top problems are eliminated.

Then, it’s a mad dash to the finish line as I frantically write the novel. This is probably the most exciting time for me, because it’s when everything is fresh and new and exciting. I tend to write a lot of dialog first, and then fill it in with narrative later.

I’m now at the point where I’ve combined all my individual chapters into one large Word file. This is where I begin the true editing process.

I wish I could tell you guys more about the manuscript (codename: Righteous), but it just isn’t at that point yet. Mrs. V hasn’t even read this manuscript yet, and my agent has only seen the first three chapters. But, to be fair, I will share this about the novel:

1) It’s contemporary fiction.
2) It’s the closest thing to a love story that I’ve ever written.
3) It has a lot to do with religion.
4) My main characters’ names are Joshua and Madeline.
5) It has less cursing than Rhombus (at least, for now).

Speaking of Rhombus, I’m almost finished with the next round of edits on the manuscript. They were virtually painless this go around, and in the next round (if there even is a next round), I expect them to be very minor. Stay tuned to the website over the next couple of months. I hope to have more content about Rhombus there by March.