Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Good News: Christmas Breaks in Wisconsin

I just found out some good news for the holiday season. Christmas Breaks will be part of Christmas with a Twist, produced by the Lake Geneva Theatre Company at the The Abbey Resort in Wisconsin, November 28 - December 21. I'm on the bill with David Sedaris' Santaland Diaries and Not a Creature was Stirring by Christopher Durang.

What I'm Reading: Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson

Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
A fairly well-written book about a pretty amazing guy. Greg Mortenson's quest to create schools in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan is one that really taught me a lot about what one man can accomplish (or at least start in motion). His patience and sensitivity has a chance of accomplishing what bombs cannot--trying to bring peace (or more peace) to a region rent by war.

Tracy read this book and suggested that I read it. She was so inspired that she bought several copies and started giving them away. I was just as inspired and moved as she was. I may not start traveling to the wilds of Pakistan next week, but it's definitely the kind of book that really makes you think about what you're doing with your life.

View all my reviews.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Back Home Again

My whirlwind research trip was a success. At least I think so, we'll see how much I actually end up changing in my manuscript. Mostly, it was pretty cool to spend two days driving around the countryside of upstate New York and Vermont at the time of peak fall colors.

I rented a little Toyota Yaris that zipped up the mountains pretty well and got great gas mileage (35 mpg or more), which meant it was almost cheaper to rent this car than to have paid for the gas if I'd driven our minivan.

I made stops in Schenectady, Schroon Lake, Ticonderoga, and Saranac Lake on the first day. Then went back home, through Ticonderoga again and Middlebury, Vermont. My little micro-cassette tape recorder was the perfect tool while driving--I recorded about 50 minutes of notes in the car and while walking around (trying not too look too weird, muttering into a little recorder). At stops, I'd also take written notes on various locations and towns, and also took a fair amount of video notes. I drove about 750 miles over the two days.

I definitely came across a few times where what I'd written in the draft of my book was completely wrong and will need to be changed. So that made the whole trip worthwhile right there. Plus, I found myself extremely focused on the story of the novel during the drive, and it's not often that I get to spend a good 15-20 hours in a row thinking about it.

Staying with my high school friends Ray and Patty was a high point of the trip. And I found folks along the way helpful, once I explained what I was doing--a woman at a hospital in Ticonderoga let me look in at the CT scanner, a clerk at a tiny little motel let me video tape an empty hotel room. Cops answered questions about how they'd respond to a missing person request. Though in the post-9-11 world, some people are a little weirded out by strangers. The clerk at a Super 8 motel wouldn't tape the inside of their lobby--I guess I could be a domestic terrorist or something.

On the way home, I stopped at this amazing tavern (see above) in Brandon, VT, the Watershed Tavern. It has nothing at all to do with my book, but the view out the windows of this waterfall was stunning. And the food was good, too.

As always, I'm grateful that writing books gives me an excuse for an occasional road trip where I get to poke around the countryside and visit old friends and meet new people. (Sure would be nice if this book goes on to sell a huge number of copies, so I can keep taking more jaunts.)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Research Road Trip

Tomorrow I'm heading out on a brief research road trip for my novel, with stops in Schenectady, Schroon Lake, Ticonderoga (all in NY), possibly Middlebury, VT, and then up to Saranac Lake, New York, where I'll stay with some old high school friends. I need to be up by 5am and head to the airport to pick up a rental car.

Looks like I'll have some good weather for the trip, which will mirror stops taken by my characters, at this exact same time of year. Some of these places I've never been, and some it's just been a long time.

I'm nervous. It's a lot to try to cram into two days (one up and one back down again), but I'm curious to see if my guesses/memories were right about these places, and to see what I might see or experience me that will inspire interesting changes to the draft I've written. I've already gone back through the relevant 60 pages, highlighting the sections that I need to examine. I hope I've got it all sufficiently in my head for it to mesh together right.

I'm taking my new digital video camera, so I can record the places for future reference. I've been so busy lately, the camera's just been sitting in the bag, so I'm glad to have an chance to use it.

It's nice that writing a novel can give me an excuse to see the fall colors and visit old friends. If I had the money, I'd travel even more for this particular novel, but I can't afford tickets to Tacoma, Kansas City, Eugene, Champaign, or Denver.

A lot of times, such trips end up just influencing a few lines or paragraphs, but there's a richness that can come from it. It should be a useful adventure.

Off to pack!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Why Be a Billionaire?

Now, I don't have any great interest in being super rich. I guess it could buy fancy stuff and travel, but I suppose it would come with a lot of hassles. And I don't much need a fancier car or a bigger house (okay, I wouldn't mind a place with two bathrooms, because I have a teenager who spends a fair amount of time fixing her hair in the morning).

But Jay Walker has used his money to build a really, really cool library. If I had a billion dollars, I could definitely go for something just like this. Check out the article in Wired.

Gone Green (Thanks NStar)

Okay, now I know there are many folks out there who believe strongly in the wisdom of private corporations to solve all our ills (aka Republicans). Now, I sometimes I think this comes from people who have never actually worked for a large corporations and who have never noticed the fact that in most big companies, the fact that anything gets accomplished seems like a minor miracle. An example of extreme productivity, they are not.

The latest example of corporate genius arrived in my mailbox yesterday. NStar, our electric company, recently offered us the chance to commit to consuming electricity generated exclusively by renewable sources--wind, solar, geothermal, or hydro. For an extra $5 per month, we could feel we were doing the "green" thing. We're liberal, lefty, tree-hugger types, so we bit.

So yesterday, a long cardboard tube arrives in the mail from NStar. It cost $1.64 in first class postage to mail it to me. What could be in this special mailing? A special solar panel for my window? A small little windmill to generate extra power. Compact fluorescent light bulb?

Nope. A little green flag and a stick. And a letter that reads:

Dear Customer,
Thank you for choosing NSTAR Green!

Your decision has demonstrated leadership in your community and a real concern for the environment.

In addition, you are supporting the development of renewable energy sources. Your participation in this program helps reduce fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions today, while ensuring the future viability of the renewable energy industry.

As further evidence of your commitment to the environment, we encourage you to display the enclosed flag to demonstrate to your neighbors your enthusiastic pride in this initiative!

So some genius thought that the first $5 of extra money we paid towards renewable energy would be better spent on an idiotic little green flag and the postage and packaging required to move it through the mail. Unbelievable. It's been a useful toy for Noah to wave around the house and pretend that he's in the Olympics, and I guarantee that the wooden dowel will soon be used as a pirate's sword, until the wrong person gets poked and it's taken away.

I'm a grown up. I don't need a little flag, and maybe NStar should try to grasp the concept that conserving energy and resources is as important as the way that energy is generated. A little sense doesn't seem like to much to ask.

Friday, October 3, 2008

update: good/bad

I'm still making excellent progress on my novel revisions. I have a deadline--I need to get Part I, about 90 pages, to my fiction group by October 12th or so, so they can read it for our October 30th meeting. Nothing like a deadline to focus the mind.

Unfortunately, my play, Recognition, did not make it through to the final week of the T Plays. You should still go see it, if you haven't. The final set will make for a very fun evening. I had a great time making my play for the production. And after bringing it to my Rhombus playwrights group on Monday, I was able to make more changes and I feel like it's in excellent shape, and I'm sending it out now.

Speaking of sending out plays--we finished the Submission Binge #13 this week. Many, many hundreds of plays were submitted by the group (I myself sent 33 plays and 11 queries in the month) and lots of information was swapped, good news shared. I managed to get through the Binge (the challenge is to submit a play ever day for 30 days) without missing a single day, and I even kept on going for an extra two days. (Who knows, if I send something out tonight, that'll make 33 days in a row.) It's nice to have a chance for a breather, but I miss the constant positive chatter of the group (though it's still pretty active, even between Binges).