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Saturday, January 31, 2004

I don't know who these people are, but they are dangerous.

They sit at their computers and devise devilishly simple and habit-forming pasttimes that they dangle in front of our eyes like someone trying to distract a puppy from its job of chewing up a shoe by waving an old towel in its face. And we are distracted, our efficiency plummets and the Chinese get one step closer to world dominion.

I'm referring, of course, to whoever developed Penguin Swatting, the most devious internet sport since cat bowling. You click your mouse to launch the penguin, then click it again to make the abominable snowman swing his bat, the penguin arcs into the air, slides on the ice on its belly (if you've hit it just right) and you gauge how far you've batted the little fish sucker.

While you're doing this, you're constantly on message boards and sending out emails to your friends and fellow addicts to compare distances. You know, as if you'd actually accomplished something.

I'd write more but a friend of mine just knocked his penguin over 1200 feet and I have to beat his record before my wife gets home and asks me what I did all day. I also have to think up a convincing lie.

J. Knight's AtomBrain.com

Monday, January 26, 2004

I had my first signing for Risen at Dark Delicacies this past weekend. Brian Keene was signing his zombie novel The Rising, and Karen E. Taylor was signing her anthology Fangs and Angel Wings. Turnout was great, Dark Delicacies sold out its stock of Risen (luckily I brought extras), and a bunch of us met at Champs afterwards for burgers and beer.

I look at signings as a social occasion. There's no way to justify them economically if you place any value on your time, but I figure, What else would I do with a Saturday afternoon, except maybe paint the house?

One big surprise was what a nice guy Brian Keene is. His book is full of zombies ripping people to shreds and devouring their flesh, but Brian ripped hardly anyone at all to shreds. At least, none that could be proven. Another surprise was Feo Amante, who maintains a site at www.feoamante.com. Check it out. It's spooky. Feo is spooky, too, judging from the site, which depicts a big, shaved-headed guy with a diabolical beard and a long jacket. But in person...a pussycat. The truth is, I had a third-grade teacher more horrifying than either of them.

No offense intended, but that's how it is. Maybe Brian and Feo should consider wearing flower-print dresses like my third-grade teacher did. Now that would be scary.

J. Knight's AtomBrain.com

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

My wife, Julie, has a new job making floral arrangements for the California Yacht Club. They need two or three huge arrangements every week for the banquet tables and some smaller arrangements, plus orchids for the bathrooms.

The job entails getting up around 5:00 a.m. on Monday mornings and driving downtown to the Los Angeles Flower Market. They actually open at 2:00 a.m., but they have plenty of flowers left if we get there by 6:00, so we sleep in late. Five a.m. is late for a florist.

Julie marches through the market as if she owns the place, scrutinizing the selection and quality, demanding prices, putting the arrangements together in her head, checking her list, and she whips down the aisles of ribbon and pots and floral foam picking up the accessories she needs. How she navigates the maze of booths that fill two large buildings, I'll never know. Especially at six in the morning. I follow along behind, carrying armloads of flowers wrapped in newspaper, walking blindly because my eyes aren't open yet.

When the car's full of flowers, we eat breakfast at a little cafe called Operetta. That's the point in the morning where my eyes open. Then we creep home through rush hour traffic and Julie unloads the car while I make more coffee.

I like the flower market. It's very ethnic (most of the wholesalers are Asian or Hispanic) and the decor is strictly utilitarian: makeshift wooden shelves, plastic buckets of flowers on the concrete floor, handwritten signs saying "NO CHECKS" and "ALL SALES FINAL." This is a place for unadorned commerce, for trade in a raw state devoid of sexy posters and twinkling lights and all attempts to seduce you into buying something you don't need. The people who buy flowers wholesale know what they want. You aren't going to suck them in by overcharging for a month and then marking the price down and calling it a "sale." They buy flowers every morning and they know what stuff costs.

I know that some people will be appalled at the thought of getting up at 5:00 a.m. to buy flowers. But I'll tell you something that's even worse. On the way downtown, we see people working out at the gym at that hour. Now that's sick.

Monday, January 19, 2004

So far, Anne Lamott's notion of writing five pages or so and then throwing them out seems to be working fine with my next book. Only I wrote about eight pages before throwing them out.

I have to admit, I did zero in on what I wanted to do by writing a bunch of stuff I didn't want to do.

I'm not sure that this is a sustainable way to write a novel, though. Now I'm about ten pages into the next book and I like what I've written, but I have this fear that I'm going to wake up in the middle of the night, two-hundred pages in, with the stark realization that everything I've written has served no other purpose than to show me what I should have been writing instead, and I'll have to start all over again.

I don't know. Anne Lamott may be full of crap.

J. Knight's AtomBrain.com

Friday, January 16, 2004

I've started writing a new book.

Both Risen and the as-yet-unsold Boo were based on screenplays, so I had a roadmap to follow as I wrote the novels. Which brings us to the question, "What's the difference between writing a 'novel' based on a screenplay and writing a 'novelization' of a screenplay?"

Two main things.

First, I wrote the screenplays for both Risen and Boo, and neither screenplay was sold at the time I was writing the books. A produced screenplay is the work of many hands, even if only one writer's name appears in the credits. Director, executives, often other writers will all have been involved in shaping the final screenplay. The novelist who then transforms this script into a novel is the final in a chain of collaborators, not an originator.

Since neither Risen nor Boo had been sold, I had no collaborators. Screenplays and novels both were the products of my own febrile mind (as informed, of course, by all of the authors I've read or whose work I've seen on the screen, but none of those authors contributed directly to either screenplay).

Secondly, I could write whatever I wanted in the novel, regardless of what happened in the screenplay. The screenplay was an outline that I could follow or not as the muse dictated. In actual practice, by the time I reached more-or-less page thirty in both books, I closed the screenplay and set it aside and never referred to it again. In fact, after I'd written Risen the novel, I started over again to write a second Risen screenplay based on the book, things had changed so much. I'll have to do the same with Boo.

With a novelization, you have to stick with what's in the screenplay. You'll need to elaborate on it and fill it out, maybe even create new characters and certainly create new scenes, but you have to keep coming back to the screenplay to make sure you stay on course and end up where you're supposed to.

So, I consider Risen and Boo to be "real novels" as opposed to "novelizations."

This next time around, though, I don't have an existing screenplay to guide me. I have pages of notes. Anne Lemott in Bird by Bird says that's nothing to worry about...you just have to throw out a lot of stuff that you've written that served only to show you what you should've been writing instead.

Hm. Sounds a bit like the infinite monkeys syndrome to me, and in this case, I'm the only monkey.

We'll see how it goes.

J. Knight's AtomBrain.com

Thursday, January 15, 2004

I'm convinced that the "cause of death" on my toe tag will read, "Death By Misadventure." It won't be cancer or a heart attack that does me in, but something stupid I've done that will quality me for a Darwin Award. So, I avoid adventure whenever possible, knowing that adventure's demented cousin, misadventure, is always lurking in the shadows waiting to take out people like me.

I narrowly missed an adventure earlier this week.

A couple of friends were out of town and I was in charge of picking up their mail and setting it inside the house. It seemed a simple enough job. All I had to do was pick up the mail, unlock the door, turn off the burlgar alarm, set the mail on the table, reset the alarm and leave.

No, I did not forget to turn off the burglar alarm. I've done this before. Lots of times. For these very same friends. So, when I arrived at their house and discovered that I'd left my crib sheet at home, which contained the secret number that turns off the alarm, I was, well, not alarmed. Heck, I knew that number by heart!

Things went swimmingly. I opened the door, the alarm started to beep, I punched in the number and the alarm turned off, just as it was supposed to. I set the mail inside and left.

The police arrived a short time later (I am told). Turns out that, not only had I not keyed in the correct number to turn off the alarm system, I'd somehow...utilizing my natural instinct for screwing up to the furthest possible degree...managed to punch in the "panic" number that says you're in dire peril and immediately summons the police.

According to witnesses, I missed the armed response by "that much."

Whew. Dodged another one.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

I think I have postpartum depression.

I’ve finished the first draft of my next book and sent it off to a few people for criticism. For several months now my routine has involved working on this book every day. I don’t require too much of myself, a mere page per day minimum, but that one page is non-negotiable. No matter what else I’m doing, I have to write at least a page. It’s a trick I play on myself, one that I fall for almost every time, since, once I’m in the chair and working, I usually write more than a page. Twice now, a book has emerged from this mental sleight of hand.

The day after I wrote “the end,” I woke feeling adrift and rudderless, like someone who’s lost his job. I guess I should start work on another book, and I have a nebulous idea for one, but I’m nowhere near ready to begin in earnest. I’ve already entered all of the old checks into Quicken and reconciled the bank account. I could clean my desk. I could even paint that last side of the house, I suppose. But none of these activities feels like “working” to me the way writing does, and none of them is halfway as spiritually rewarding.

So I’ve been haunting bookstores. I sneak in and look for Risen. Most times, I find it. Barnes and Noble seems to have a couple of copies in every store. I always turn them face-out, so the cover shows, even though I have to turn some other writer’s book spine-out to make room.

I often find myself picking on John Knowles, whose novel A Separate Peace has become a modern classic and ends up shelved near Risen because of alphabetical order.

I figure, what the hell, Knowles had a good run.

A Separate Peace, Knowles’ first novel, came out in 1959. It was voted the 67th best English-language novel in a 1998 Radcliffe College student poll. Maybe nobody goes around bragging, “I’m number 67!” but overall that’s pretty darned good.

Anyway, he’s dead. He lived to the age of 75, which also isn’t bad, unless you’re 74.

I’d consider my life to be pretty well spent if my book was #67 among Radcliffe students and I hung in for 75 years. I wouldn’t mind if some sleazeball writer of potboilers turned my book spine-out to make room for his book.

I’d shake my head and say, “Poor desperate creep.” I’d take pity on him, and...John, I’m speaking to you...I definitely wouldn’t come back from the dead and haunt him. Are you listening, John? Get over it and find something else to do. You're annoying the dog. For godsakes, go bowling or something.

AtomBrain.com

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Family

Someone once said, "Home is where, when you have to go there, they have to let you in." Nothing brings this lesson out like Christmastime.

I know many people go crazy around Christmas buying presents for relatives. It's especially hard when you try to buy family members something as nice as what they usually buy you. Especially when you're a poor writer. Or a cheapskate. Or both.

I struggled with this dilemma for many years, until it occurred to me: These people are my family! Being part of a family is like being a founding member of a private club...it's almost impossible to get kicked out. So what if they give me a sweater for Christmas and I give them a bar of soap? I still get to attend the family Christmas party and eat and drink all I want!

Yes, it can be a challenge discovering where the family Christmas party is being held. But all it takes is a few telephone calls and somebody will inevitably let it slip. Then you show up, ring the bell, and what are they going to do? Turn out the lights and pretend there's no one home? Well, maybe, but they can't keep that up forever, especially with you outside yelling, "I know you're in there, I can hear you breathing!"

I hope everyone who reads this had a happy holiday! And Mom, if you read this, I need your new telephone number and address. I guess you forgot to give them to me when you moved.

J. Knight's AtomBrain.com

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