Thursday, June 30, 2016

Thurber House: Day Eleven (...and sometimes you get the bear!)

Today I've spent the whole day working on my new project.

I'm 3,938 words in, near the end of chapter two, and really really proud of it.

Although there are connections with my other four books (the three Thrones & Bones novels and the just-completed secret manuscript), it's a departure from what I've done so far in other ways.  And I'm really thrilled by how it starts.

It's really an amazing opportunity to be able to concentrate so completely on my work, with the only interruptions being when I get to talk about my work. Wow.

Tomorrow I'll have another signing with the campers. And that's cool! But tonight, more words!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Thurber House: Day Ten

Today began with two back to back sessions of the writing camp at the Thurber Center next door. I taught two groups of approximately forty students total.

I created a special presentation when I got to Columbus that lasts an hour. The first fifteen minutes are about my Thrones & Bones books, then I spend forty-five minutes teaching a writing workshop. This is a super-condensed version of my ScripTips presentation, broken into three fifteen minute parts with a writing exercise in each one. I'd given it four times prior to today, and--if I may say so myself--it's really come together. Plus, today's campers really felt engaged and enthusiastic (though that's been true the entire time I've been here.) The trading cards remain a big hit, as ever.

When I got back to Thurber House I learned that the Book Loft has been getting requests for my books and wanted me to sign some copies of Frostborn and Nightborn for the store. So if you're in Columbus and you want signed copies, you might give them a holler.

Then it was such and back to working on the new project.

As per usual, I took an end of the afternoon walk to German Village and back. The evening was spent making nachos--I browned some turkey meat this time--and then returned to the work. I'm now 2,180 pages into the new project, closing in on the end of chapter one. I really like what I've done so far, though I am again writing without a detailed outline.

I spent some time looking for the right angle of approach for the initial pages, and as it does many times, humor came to my rescue. I didn't think this one was going to be a humorous story, and its certainly got the promise of some dark elements as it appears in my mind right now, but I'm glad that there's going to be lighter moments as well.

I also got word today that a dear friend maybe coming into town on Saturday. I'll save the details for the blog of the day of, but I'm excited to see him (and his wonderful wife). And that's it. I've left a thief trapped inside a mark's guarded estate and I really need to figure out how she's going to get out. So I'll leave you here and return to the world of Qualth.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Thurber House: Day Nine (Gladden and a River walk)

Today I went to the Gladden Community House, a United Way affiliated non-profit agency providing education and recreation programs, emergency assistance, and advocacy and support for individuals, families, and groups.

We set up in a recreation room and tapped into a wall-mounted television, where I gave a presentation to about twenty kids of varying ages on my Thrones & Bones series and my (abbreviated) ScripTips writing course. The kids were great--there was one boy in particular who really took to the material--and the Thrones & Bones trading cards that I gave out were a very big hit. As they always are.

Then it was back to Thurber House for the afternoon. I worked for a bit and then, at five, I went out for a two hour walk. I walked to the river, where there are really nice bike trails, then walked along one for 1.5 miles before crossing and coming back along the Scioto Trail. It's the furtherest I've walked since arriving here, the highlight of which was being hissed at by two geese.

Although I'm eating a lot of yogurt and fruit, I'm starting to feel vegetable-deficient, so tonight I sautéed broccoli and spinach leaves to go along with a ham, cheese, jalapeños and guacamole sandwich. Also had some very spicy pickles. Very.

I won't stay up quite as late tonight because I have to teach two hours back to back tomorrow at the Thurber Center from 9:30 to 11:30, but I've still got to accomplish more today before calling it a night.

Meanwhile, as a side effect of the long periods of isolation, I have started to talk out loud to myself. This is okay in the apartment, but I seem to be doing it outside during my walks as well. We'll see where this goes.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Thurber House: Day Eight (Sometimes the Bear Gets You)

I finished a manuscript last night, and today was the first day of working exclusively on something brand new. Or should have been. I spent some of the morning sending the previous book out to beta readers for feedback. (Very important.) And a lot of the day banging my head. (Necessary evil.) And some of it watching TV. (Refilling the well?)

I do have names for several key characters now and that's a big deal, because with the name comes the first suggestions of personality. The name makes them real. And I've got some idea of my starting location. It's a new city, and when I visit a location I tend to build it from the ground up first. So I've been working on its key features and peoples. Things are shaping up. But I need to know more about its history and how the MacGuffin connects to same.

And I should say a thank you to Pathfinder Tales author Dave Gross for pointing out how I name I almost went with could be misconstrued. Now that I know Dave has such a dirty mind I'll run more things by him for a vetting.

But other aspects of this tale haven't given up their secrets yet. I teach that the bad guy and the antagonist aren't necessarily the same thing, and that's the case with this story. So I've got my antagonist--and boy is she--but I'm still fleshing out my bad guy and what they're up to.

I took an hour and forty minute walk today hoping to clear my head. It didn't. What I did manage to do is to surreptitiously insert two Thrones & Bones trading cards into a copy of Frostborn at The Book Loft of German Village.  What I didn't managed to do is crack wide open the nut of inspiration and gulp down its wisdom. Still working on that.

But it's 10pm and I'm still staring at the screen, doing that which you do before the words flow.

Meanwhile, here's a unicorn munching on some roses, in the park across from Thurber House. It sprang from his mind and the story it comes from is on a plaque on the ground. The rest of the park is well-manicured but the unicorn gets a sort of flowery grove to himself.

More, I hope, tomorrow!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Thurber House: Day Seven, Week One & a Manuscript Complete!


This evening marks a solid week I've lived in Thurber House as the 2016 Children's Writer-in-Residence.  I've spent the time working on a rewrite of a recently completed manuscript, and today, I knuckled down and wrote for the longest protracted session since I got here. I didn't even stop for lunch, just drank a protein shake at my desk.

I did take a break at 5pm, to take an hour walk around the city, during which I passed the spot of the original Wendy's hamburger restaurant. (It isn't there anymore, but a marker is).

Then I came back and wrote for another two hours and I finished! Draft two of the secret project is done, and it's already been sent to a few of my volunteer readers.

So this Herculean accomplishment must be celebrated in style, and it was--with a huge plate of nachos, Dragon's Milk, and catching up on episodes of Game of Thrones.  (I'm not to the finale yet, but I'm getting there. So far, though, I prefer season five to season six.)

Meanwhile, I've been making notes towards the next project all week, and tomorrow I start working on it in earnest. No other obligations tomorrow, just writing, so I have a good chunk of time to dive in on day one of project two. And three more weeks to go!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Thurber House: Day Six (Alone for the Weekend)

Thurber House is mine! All mine! Mwa-ha-ha!

Actually, I'm alone here today. The people who work here during the week are gone and I've the house to myself. Some volunteers come by in the afternoon to lead tours, but the house has been largely silent.

Oh, and the handyman came to fix the toilet! So, that's a little taste of real life.

But I  spent several hours of the morning researching the quality and type of medieval locks and the history of the looking glass. All work for the next project. And the bulk of the day was spent on polishing the previous one. I've reached chapter fourteen (of twenty one) in the rewrite. It's 9:41 pm here but I hope to get at least one more chapter polished before I head to bed.

Around four o'clock I set out on a two-ish hour jaunt around Columbus. This time I returned to German Village and The Book Loft, then had a Milk Chocolate Passion Fruit and a tea at Pistachio Vera. Although the sign pictured here is from Mikey's Late Night Slice.

Then it was back here to cook my own supper and more writing. And a phone call from a good friend in Los Angeles.

Uneventful days actually mean productive work, so I hope we'll have more of those.

Things I Miss Most About Home, Part Two:

1. My Dishwasher.
2. My Dishwasher.
3. My Dishwasher.
4. My Dishwasher.
5. Weight Lifting (but not as much as My Dishwasher).

Friday, June 24, 2016

Thurber House: Day Five (The Self-Guided Food and Drink Walking Tour)

I stayed up late last night and was woken early by a phone call, but despite that I still managed to get halfway through the rewrite of my first draft of the recent project. Which is pretty good progress here in week one of my  Thurber House Children's Writer-in-Residence stint. Then at 3:30 pm, the campers in the Thurber Center had a presentation for their parents, after which they brought their folks to Thurber House, gave them a tour of the first two floors, and best of all, has me sign copious copies of Frostborn and Nightborn. I was in the front parlor of the house, seated on a couch at a table that normally holds an historic tea set, mobbed by enthusiastic children. A wonderful afternoon!

Then, after a day of being inside, I decided to walk half an hour to North Market, where I sampled Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream. The  Salted Caramel was good, but Brambleberry Crips was everything the stranger in line behind me said it would be!

After this, I walked fifteen minutes to Wolf's Ridge Brewing, with the best intentions to merely scope it out for later. But in their wonderful Tap Room Francis the very helpful bartender introduced me to one of the best beers I've had in ages, the Dire Wolf Canis Mexicanus, an imperial stout spiced with Mexican peppers. This had to paired with something, naturally, and so I dined on Duck Confit Tacos. But one glad of Canis Mexicanus is hardly sufficient, so the second glass was paired with Habanero Cheesecake.

Finally, I took a twenty minute walk in the still hot sun back to Thurber House, where I decided to take Friday night to finish watching Game of Thrones season five (wow).

Now that's a day!


Thursday, June 23, 2016

Thurber House: Day Four

I survived.

The storm was heavy rain and lightning, but the power stayed on, the winds weren't as hard as predicted, and I did not have to take shelter in the basement of a supposed-haunted house in the dark of night and that's a good thing.

However, I don't sleep during any storm, not after having had a tornado drop an enormous white oak on my rooftop some years back before touching down in the ravine next to my house and felling another twenty or so trees. Therefore, it was a late, slow, and slightly dim start this morning.

Breakfast, a pot of coffee, and Game of Thrones made it quite enjoyable (I'm still on season five). Then some real progress on the rewrite of the manuscript I finished last week. Lunch was a leftover boxed dinner from the previous night's literary picnic and then more revision.

Around 3:30 I decided I really should get out of the house once, so I took an hour and twenty minute walk. I headed East then South, and found myself in Corner Stone Craft Beer & Wine in Old Towne East. I took a walk through the historical district, passed many beautiful old homes, and then came upon The Topiary Park, which is beautiful.

I came back up through downtown, decided to head deeper into downtown, and then take 4th Street North until I hit Gay Street. There is a beautiful building on the corner of Young and Gay. I got back to Thurber House seconds after everyone there had locked up and were headed to their cars.

Before going inside, I took a moment to sit in the little garden area between Thurber House and Thurber Center, where I shot a photo of some of the statues of Muggs the dog.

Then it was more work, more Game of Thrones, more food, and now more writing. Later tonight, it will also be more Dragon's Milk.

As to the legends associated with this old house, the mirror did jump in its mounting on the wall twice while I was shaving, but I've chosen to view that as a quirk of the air conditioning cooling the glass on a hot day and not, say, a supernatural comment on my rendition of "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)."

Sing it with me...

See these eyes so green
I can stare for a thousand years
Colder than the moon
Well it's been so long

And I've been putting out the fire with gasoline

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Thurber House: Day Three

I saw two rabbits today.

As I left Thurber House to go next door where their Summer Camp programs are held, in the little garden outside, full of statues of James Thurber's dog Muggs, a rabbit ran right past me and into the bushes.

Then I taught two groups of campers back to back from 9:30 until 11:30. The kids were great and, to my tremendous relief, took to the material. Why is that a relief, you say? Well, it's like this. I have several presentations I usually give. One is an hour long presentation on the world of Thrones & Bones. One is a one or two hour presentation called ScripTips, which uses my particular take on cinematic story structure to teach plotting and outlining to would be novelists. And one, created recently, is an hour long workshop taking participants through exercises drawn from ScripTips lessons. Today, I combined all three of those presentations into one hour long performance. I felt a bit like the Doctor in that episode "Flatline" where he's stuck inside a shrunken TARDIS, everything compressed together tightly. But it went well, and now I have a new presentation I can do. And, as in each of these classes I've taught this week, while all the kids are bright, imaginative, and enthusiast, there's always a couple kids who really take to the material and set off writing their stories like wildfire. Which is always tremendous to see. (Future competition).

Next, I took off on a trip 30 minutes northish to teach a course at Worthington Park Library. Billed as "Description: Write On: A Creative Writing Workshop," I taught a group of about 9 kids (and one adult) a writing workshop, helping them construct the basics of a story. I'll have pictures from that tomorrow, but it was a very fun time in a cool library (in a strip mall!). Thanks to Ellie and Dustin for arranging and facilitating a great afternoon!

Then it was back here for a brief rest and then off to a "literary picnic" that Thurber House holds. Author Pauline A. Chen was in town to speak about her new novel, The Red Chamber. Based on the epic Dream of the Red Chamber—one of the most famous love stories in Chinese literature—Pauline described it as being, not so much retelling, as a work that sits in relationship to the original in the manor that Wicked aligns to The Wizard of Oz. The book sounds fascinating and Pauline certainly was. She also has degrees from Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. So there you go.

And during her talk, I looked out a window and saw yet another rabbit bounding around.

Now I'm back in my apartments awaiting a thunderstorm. Apparently between midnight and 3 am there's a real chance of dangerously high winds. So fingers crossed I don't end up crouched in the basement of a spooky old house, sitting in the dark with no power! But wouldn't that be a story!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Thurber House: Day Two

Today was day two as Children's Writer-in-Residence at Thurber House!

After working this morning, we set out again for the Homeless Families Foundation's Dowd Education Center, where I met with the same group of kids from the day before. This time, I lead them through a series of exercises utilizing what I'd taught them on Monday. The kids were great--some really bright, imaginative answers--and I was delighted that several students had considerably fleshed out plots by the end of the hour. This stuff took me decades to learn and they've absorbed it in days. No doubt I've created my future competition this week, and proud of it!

Returning to Thurber House, I tested out a new portable blender and made my usual lunch of yogurt and fruit protein shakes. New blender doesn't do frozen fruit well, so I ate that with a spoon but the rest was great. Then I walked 36 minutes to The Book Loft of German Village, which boasts 32 rooms of books. I was understandably lost inside for a bit, then I hoofed it back in time to get ready for the evenings reception (ahem, in my honor, ahem), the highlight of which was a performance by the Thurber Chamber Theater who did dramatic readings of short fiction by James Thurber. And there were cookies!

Afterward, Meg Brown, Director of Children's Education, gave me a tour of Columbus.

And now I'm back, feeling like I need to eat something vegetable, and settling in to do some work before a very busy day tomorrow.

Having a great, productive time immersed in my world, but here is list of...

Things I Miss Most About Home:

1) My wife and kids
2) My Japanese Toto toilet
3) My coffee machine
4) My Xbox One
5) Big Spoon Creamery

Monday, June 20, 2016

Thurber House: Day One

Today was my first full day as Children's Writer-in-Residence at Thurber House!

I got in around 5pm yesterday, where I was met at the airport by the very nice Meg Brown, Director of Children's Education. Meg took me to drop my bags off at the house before heading out to do the necessary grocery shopping in preparation for my living on my own for a month.

Now, let's pause here in the Adventures of Lou for a bit on the house itself,  a three-story historic building which served as the home of author, humorist, and New Yorker cartoonist James Thurber and his family from 1913 until 1917. Since 1984, (the year, not the book or the album by Van Halen), the house has served as a non-profit literary center and museum of Thurber materials. The first floor of the house has a bookstore, which currently has a very nice display of Frostborn and Nightborn titles, while the second floor is home to the Thurber Museum (the lights of which flickered when I came in, though not ominously). The third floor is more modern and has been converted into a small apartment for the writer-in-residence, in this case me. So...

After dropping off bags, we went to Kroger, where I was delighted to find I could get New Holland Brewing's Dragon's Milk, a bourbon-barrel aged stout that I love and cannot get in Alabama, as well as essentials like cereal, yogurt, jalapeños, pop tarts, stuffed mushrooms, the ingredients to make a killer ham sandwich, tea bags (iced and green), coffee, and a variety of microwavable frozen foods. Unfortunately, somewhere in that smorgasbord of easy to make necessities, I forgot toothpaste!

Then it was back to the house, where Meg gave me a quick tour, handed me the keys, and taught me the alarm code. Then I was alone in the house for the first time. Which is very alone, in a dark, old house with very little happening on the street outside. At this point it should be noted that Thurber House is very creaky. Every footstep I took last night didn't just cause the floorboards to squeak, but started a cascade of echoing creaks that rippled down through the house, so that it sounded like every step was followed by an answering step. Truthfully, it was a bit unnerving, but I found a solution: planting my butt in one spot and largely not moving! Also playing lots of David Bowie. And the aforementioned Dragon's Milk.

Still, I spent the evening working on an outline for the new project and dining on some sushi that I was somewhat strong-armed into buying at Kroger by a very persuasive and persistent chef (but it was very good). I ended up working quite productively until 2am, though I got hit once by a wave of intense missing-of-the-family. Then I woke up this morning, mastered the art of pouring milk over cereal, and met Meg downstairs for a visit to the Homeless Families Foundation's Dowd Education Center, where I gave my talk on understanding story construction using Hollywood blockbusters. The kids there were great, very enthusiastic, very cinema-knowledgable, and very smart. (I'll return tomorrow to take them through some writing exercises based on today's concepts.)

I returned to Thurber House where I met Erin Deel, General House Administrator and Barbie Tootle, Interim Executive Director, both very nice. Then lunch (pot pie), after which the aforementioned lack of toothpaste was just too much. Erin kindly took me back to Kroger, where I picked up everything I forgot to make yesterday. I walked around the house some more, reading the placards for the self-guided tour and looking at all the historical items. At five, everyone working at the house left, so I shut myself upstairs and continued working. Which is where I am now. Though I think I'm about to pause and begin the good work of catching up on Game of Thrones.

More tomorrow! Meanwhile, here is a picture of what I believe to be an ancient iPod:

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Thurber House: Day Zero

Today is the day! I'm standing with my laptop propped in a windowsill overlooking the runway of the
Birmingham International Airport, drinking a Mocha-Not-Sure-This-Is-Light Frappuccino I certainly don't need and waiting to board the first leg of a flight that will take me to Columbus, Ohio. When I arrive, I'll be heading to Thurber House and starting my month-long sojourn as the 2016 Children's Writer-in-Residence.

While there, I'll be living in the third floor of the historic building, teaching up to ten hours a week of writing workshops to kids in a variety of programs across Columbus (including Thurber House's writing camps), exploring the city of Columbus, and enjoying the longest sustained period of writing seclusion I've ever had in my life.

It's going to be "an experience" from all kinds of angles. First, I've never left my family for so long (my daughter cried all the way to the airport, expressing the hope that they wouldn't let me in when I got there and I'd have to come back). Two, I'll be teaching some new workshop material I've never used before. Three, I've never had such an uninterrupted period to emerge myself totally in my work before. Four, it occurred to me the other day that a month is a lot longer to be in a place than just a vacation or visit. Columbus will join the lists of places I've actually lived. (I know that's a nebulous, subjective thing, but I figure when you are shopping for groceries, doing laundry, and cleaning your own bathroom, that counts as living there.) Of, and the house is reported haunted! (I don't believe in ghosts, but if there are any, I sure hope they like David Bowie.) I've already spotted a brewery that serves dinner about ten minutes walk to the west of me and a craft beer store two minutes to the southeast, so, you know, while I did forget my toothpaste, I've got the essentials covered.

Another thing that's going to be interesting. The plan was for me to finish a first draft of the current project two months ago and spend the time between then and now outlining something new. Instead, life got in the way and I only wrote "The End" earlier this week. And it was a very rough "The End." Meaning there is a LOT of rewriting and restructuring to do before anyone else can see it. But I really want to use this opportunity to write something else and produce two manuscripts this year. So while I'm polishing the previous project, I'll also be working on a new one. And where it usually takes me one to two months to outline my stories, I'll have to condense the outlining into the first few days I'm there or the time will be wasted!

So, Lou's got to plot and write faster than he ever has before, while making the previous manuscript shine, while living alone, without his family (who I'll miss terribly), in a potentially haunted house in a city I've never visited before.

I'll be making daily or near daily reports here on this blog and blabbing on social media. Feel free to comment, and if you are in or around Columbus, come by! They'll be selling my books the entire time I'm there, with several signing opportunities. And I know where the beer is!

(Oh, and the Frappuccino was a distraction to take my mind off the TSA guy who set my tennis shoes, soles down, on top of my laptop's sleeve. I had set my laptop on its sleeve so it didn't have to sit on the filthy bottom of those plastic bins. He moves my laptop to another bin and then puts my shoes on top of my case! Gross! Gross! Gross!)

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Thrones and Bones Stop Motion

This is the Coolest. Thing. Ever. 

Students playing Thrones & Bones, the board game from my novel Frostborn, in stop motion.

The Jarl wins in part two:

Friday, June 10, 2016

Is This The World's Greatest Thrones & Bones Set?

I saw something utterly stupendous this week. My good friend and amazing author J. F. Lewis (Staked, Grudgebearer) decided he wanted his own Thrones & Bones set, Thrones & Bones being the board game played in Frostborn, the first book of the series of the same name. And he didn't just want any set. He wanted a beautiful, wood-carved set that could be an objet d'art as well as a playable game.

After some scouting, he found Ignited Arts & Design, the company of an artist named Jack Windsor. Jack does amazing work, and he specializes in hnefatafl boards, the real world Viking game that served as inspiration for Norrøngard's Thrones & Bones (though there are a few differences between Earth's game and the Qualth game).

And just look at the result! Notice the shields marking the spots for the shield maidens, the barrow mounds with broken corpse doors, the design on the edges! I think they've put my own prototype to shame.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Reflections from the Road: Catfish and ASLA

This past Saturday, June 4th, I was a guest of the Athens-Limestone Public Library's 2nd Annual Catfish Literary Festival, held in Athens, Alabama. There were no catfish in attendance that I could see, but there were some 33 Alabama authors exhibiting their works. I participated in a science fiction and fantasy panel and then gave a solo presentation on the world of Thrones & Bones. Thanks to host Kristopher Reisz, director Paula Laurita, and everyone else who came out to the show(and especially to those who bought books!).

Then on Monday, June 6th, I attended the Alabama School Library Association Summer Conference, held this year at Corner High School in Dora, Alabama. This is an annual meeting of school librarians from across the state. They come for a day of workshops and lectures, but in between each session, they mingle with the attending authors (and buy books!). As I've spoken to some seventeen schools in Alabama, I saw a lot of familiar faces. It was a good time and the door was opened on the possibility of several more school visits in the fall.