Cool Stuff (or Why I’m Not A Better Blogger)
You know, there’s really nothing worse than someone blogging about how great their life is and how they’re getting to do cool stuff, right? Yeah, I know. Feel free to click the back arrow now or delete your feed to this poor, neglected blog. I can’t say I blame you. But hey, there’s gotta be an excuse for just leaving this poor blog in the dirt for so long. I mean, isn’t there?
Why, yes. Yes, there is.
I’ve had quite the busy May since last you (might have) read my old time escapades about throwing rocks at cars and hot memories of the now demolished movie theater I once loved. So, let’s just get this over with, shall we?
I finished up the two non-fiction picture books I was asked to do for Picture Window Books about a month ago. One of them really kicked me in the dumper (total rewrite) and the other was fun, and dare I say it MUCH easier to hammer out.
Here’s the thing about that: I ended up having to delve into topics I didn’t know much about: HISTORY. More specifically, I was asked to write a book on life in Colonial America (yikes) and another on life aboard a Viking Explorer ship (sweet!). The problem really was that I was never much of a history buff. I couldn’t stand reading about dusty old dudes in wigs waving their feather pens around or even politics.
Ugh. The mere mention of politics still makes the bile rise in my throat.
Seriously. I’m actually amazed that they let me out of high school. I should really still be there, crying over my 9,000th retake of some history test.
But…ancient history? (Egyptian, Mayan, Greeks, etc…) LOVED that stuff. L-O-V-E. Love it.
I probably should’ve listened to my parents when they said: You should really try and round yourself out a bit more. You’re a smart guy.
I wasn’t having it. In my head, I was going to graduate high school, go to college and there would be literary agents and publishers climbing over each other to sign me up to a multi-book deal. What did I need history, science and (shudder) chemistry for? I was going to write and that was ALL I was going to do, damn it. I knew my destiny and it was behind a keyboard, staring into blank screens and making cool stuff happen with a couple taps on the keyboard.
Little did I know…
So, in a sense I was starting out from scratch. I decided to do Colonial America first. I checked out tons of books (emptied pretty much all of the Washington Country libraries on the topic) and flipped through pages. I wanted to find something cool that I could latch onto. So, I read about Jamestown and how gawd-awful it was for those peeps.
Hmm, I thought. That might be the way to go.
There was death, fighting, natives shooting arrows into people’s faces, fires, cannibalism! I’d found my topic. I wrote the thing from the point of view of a 10 year old, seeing the first settlement of America rise from the ashes (and corpses) of a tough land. It was gross in parts, sad in others, and just plain crazy.
Seriously! Who WOULDN’T want to read that stuff?
Kids. That’s who. 3rd grade kids. Probably not ready for that. Not so much.
So, it was back to the drawing board. I needed to scale it back, keep it more open, etc… Looking back, I could see the error of my ways. Lesson learned. The new manuscript was much tamer and a bit more realistic look at what life was like for a kid growing up in a more established settlement.
How did the viking book go? Wow. Someone’s paying attention. Thanks for that. I got virtual high-five from my editor (thanks, Jill!) and it’s off to the races.
Since then, I’ve been asked to write two more sports books from Stone Arch Books, the fiction division of the company. Yes, please.
And for those that know me, many think I’m a sports-hatin’ hater. Yes and no. I absolutely detest watching professional sports on TV and still (to this day) don’t understand how people get so worked up over it and spend SO MUCH time watching game after game after game. I do, however, like playing sports. Big difference. But it’s pretty much awesome-sauce deluxe to get behind the wheel of these Jake Maddox sports books (see MOUNTAIN BIKE HERO and WINDSURFING WINNER) and come up with a story from scratch.
When my fiction editor (hi Julie!) asked me which two of the four I wanted to write, I picked FOOTBALL and BASKETBALL. The reason? I knew there were already tons of books on these two uber-popular sports out there in the Jake Maddox series. I kinda wanted the challenge to find an angle no one had thought of before. And I was right. Each sport had around 10 books already in the series and I looked through the plot lines of the older titles and figured out my stories. Sent the synopses in and boom…accepted!
So that’s been keeping me busy.
Oh, remember that little zombie book I wrote a while back called GOODHALO? The one that’s geared for the Young Adult set and is (planned) to be a trilogy? Well, that’s coming out in eBook form hopefully in the next month. My elite team (Wicked Webmaster J & Action-Artist/Barber N) are helping me develop cool stuff to promote the undead pants off of the thing. A little while back I bought the GOODHALO domain name and wasn’t sure what to do with it. Check it now: www.goodhalo.com.
Yep. That’s going to be where all things GOODHALO-y are going to live. There’ll be info about the book, some sketches of the main characters and (eventually) some other cool stuff. Of course, it’ll also serve as the hub for BOOK II when it’s edited up and eventually GH 3. I guess it’s time!
Speaking of zombies, we’re FINALLY (finally!) in talks to start producing the long talked about zombie/sitcom/musical OH, ZOMBIE! My producer friend and I decided we wanted to try and go all out and develop a killer (literally!) pilot for the web and have a couple more all planned out in the pocket. The concept is pretty slick and would really let us pull in the local acting talent we’ve got in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Seriously. If this goes as planned, just about every actor in town (who’s willing) will likely be in this thing.
And yes, I’m not telling you everything about it. Suffice it to say, it might just be a lot of fun or a huge trainwreck.
Nah. It’ll be fun.
So, we’re skipping the 48 Hour Film Project again (I think that thing is dying…) and focusing on making our own rules, pooling the resources from our talented and creative friends and hopefully rocking the socks and proverbial short-pants from your legs and buttocks. That’s the plan, sirs and sirettes.
Okay. This is where things get really cool. As in ICELAND cool.
So, what’s the first thing you think of when you think of that crazy island over there to the east and north a bit. Bjork?
Well, as much as I wish I could say she and I are Xbox Live buddies…we’re not. But some coolness happened regardless. To tell the story, I gots to go back a bit in time.
(don’t worry, I’ll try and be brief)
Did I ever tell you that in high school, my friend and I ran as co-presidents of our senior class? It hadn’t been done before and since neither of us wanted the job all to ourselves, we decided to split the Pres and VP duties among two people. It was dumb, but I’ll be dashed if it didn’t pull in tons of votes.
Remember this kids: To get ahead in life, you gotta have a gimmick.
Sadly, this gimmick also came with a life-long chore: planning the high school reunions for as long as any of us are alive.
So, Matt (my co-pres) and I planned our 10 year reunion and it was a blast. Crazy, insane times, but blast-worthy. Oh, the stories I could tell…but won’t.
Anyway, since we’re now officially Old As Dirt, we’re looking down the barrel of our 20th Reunion. Since Facebook is up and running, (and thus, destroying any pay-to-reconnect-with-high-school-friends websites in the process) trying to find most of the 64 people from my graduating class has been pretty simple. I started tearing through the yearbooks, finding people, asking others where people might be, etc… In the process, I reconnected with a friend from school named Deepa.
She and I were definitely different in how we handled high school. She was (for my money) the smartest girl I knew, while I was barely getting keeping my C- average. We both ended up in a school play together (Antigone), and wrote some stuff with the school’s literary magazine. Heck, I think she even critiqued the LEGEND OF JAKE HADE story I wrote way back when. Looking back through the yearbooks, I just realized she actually got first place in the short story contest. I got 2nd.
Yeah. Deepa was good.
So, without embarrassing her (or me) too much more, I’ll move on. I contacted her to let her know about the date we’d set for the (sure to be) glorious St. Anthony Village High School Reunion, Class of 1991. It was then I found out a few things about Deepa.
1. She lives in Iceland.
2. She works (or so I thought at the time) for a video game company called MindGames.
We exchanged some messages through “The Book” and I off-handedly asked her what the story was with the company she works for. I also said (since it’s long been a dream of mine) if they were ever looking for someone to do some writing for their games to let me know. Months passed by. I figured she was laughing from her throne of money at the piddly little writer who’s never even left the country.
(Does Hawaii count? Didn’t think so.)
And then…last week, I get a message from my fellow “Huskie.”
In it she apologized for not getting back to me and then asked if I’d be interested in helping them with a project. The company she works (ahem…runs) designs games for the iPhone and iPad, but with a twist. They have these futuristic headsets that (get this) read brain waves and that’s how you play these games. They’re designed to help you relax and concentrate. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to mention the company, but needless to say it’s pretty cool stuff.
Deepa asked if I could Skype with her and a couple people from her team the following morning at 7:00am.
CONFESSION TIME: I’ve never Skyped.
Excited as a Kingsley in a video game store, I agreed and set about trying to figure Skype out. Luckily, I have a laptop with a camera and mic built in and it didn’t take me long to figure it out. The next morning, while my kids were eating cold PopTarts (by choice!) I was down in the Nerdery, getting ready to see a friend I hadn’t seen in 20 years. Also, a couple Icelanders.
Okay, I don’t know if YOU’VE ever Skyped before, but I gotta say: it’s ridiculously cool and strange.
One minute you’re minding your business on the internet, the next your computer’s ringing like a phone, you click something and there ARE PEOPLE LOOKING INTO YOUR HOUSE.
So there I was, talking to Deepa about cool things that they’re doing and watching a few people from the project with her looking into my office. It was beyond cool. I need to be vague from here on out, but they explained what they needed from me from a writing stand-point. I sat there and nodded at the right places (I think) and pretended like I understood what they were looking for.
Truth be told, I was still thinking: I’m looking into another part of the world. This is so, so cool.
At some point, Deepa said: “Here’s the catch. We need this story from you by 7:00am tomorrow morning.”
Yikes. Now, I love a challenge, but I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. Naturally, I said: “I’ll do it.”
Over the next few hours, I got a bunch of e-mails from Deepa, Katla and Ragnar (those cool Icelandic people (and Deepa’s plenty cool, too)). They had the concept sort of figured out. A character (vague) needs to do something that’s based around Icelandic folklore and this mystical place (really vague, forgive me). They sent me photos of the area, some big, fancy Icelandic words (complete with cool tick-marks over some of the letters) etc.
Keep in mind that I was working during the day, so couldn’t do much of anything until I had a break. Over my bowl of soup (lunch, y’all), I opened the 7-8 e-mails and attachments and looked at everything they sent me.
What was I going to do? I couldn’t help but think realistically about how I was going to make this happen…and in a short amount of time.
One of the things that you might not know about me is that I rarely, rarely let my author-ly ambitions and projects interfere with my time with my wife and kids. There are some weekends where Laura (gotta love that woman) will take the little Troupe Chaps out of town so I can pound out a draft, but during the week, I’m with them until they hit the hay, then I retire to the office to do this kind of stuff. That being said, I knew I’d have roughly 4 hours to write something, anything out of the pieces Deepa and her crew gave me. The kids go to bed at 8pm (or so) and I usually start to fade around 12:30-ish.
I can do this, I thought.
Then, on the way home from work, the bomb hits. Laura calls:
“Yeah, I need to get to the library. The internet is down and I need to log into work.”
The worst part? She was told our internet would be down for 24-48 hours. Guess who needed to be able to send a story and synopsis off to Iceland before that?
So, I made plans to head to my brother and sister-in-law’s house in Hudson (a half hour away) to use their internet and crank away. No problem, but it’s not my set-up and I’m REALLY feeling like it’s go-time and the pressure is mounting. After catching up with my bro, sis-in-law and nieces, I’m all heads-down. I copy and paste some of the elements they gave me, I start to shape a background for the main character. I’m pounding away at the ol’ keyboard. I imagine what it’d be like in more mystical times (sorry, vague again) and before I know it, it’s almost 1am and I’m looking at almost 4 pages. For laughs, I write up an outline to give them a more shortened version, too.
Done and done. I do a quick read and tighten up what I can. Zip…off it goes to Iceland. I’m only hoping I didn’t blow it.
I get home around 1:30 and get to sleep around 2pm.
I’ll spare you the rest, but from what I’ve gathered from Deepa and the Icies, they dig it. It’s got the right tone for their client and seems mostly doable for what they can create in terms of games.
We find out this weekend (I think) whether what we proposed and wrote up for the client is a go or not. They liked the story so much (or so they say, bless their hearts!) that they even pitched the idea of having me write the story out as a full-length book for kids. This place/client gets loads of visitors per year, so that might not be a bad thing… you know? And the funny thing about it? Since then we’ve sort of refined the synopsis and some of the story elements. Each time I go through it, I’m digging it more and more. I actually have started to figure out how I could expand this into (at least) a middle grade book of sorts.
Action, adventure, cool stuff. Also, elves.
Today, I was chatting with Deepa through Gmail and we were talking about how very different our lives were in high school. I was a kid who got picked on a lot at my old school and came to St. Anthony Middle School and was sort of popular for being the “new kid.” (remember, 64 in my graduating class? yeah, anyone new is interesting) and Deepa had her own crazy path in school. It then struck me that while academically we might not have had much in common, we did share one pretty cool thing (besides her kicking my butt in the literary contest).
We were both voted “Most Talented” in our Senior High School Yearbook. (although, as class presidents, Matt and I changed the names of all the categories). Observe:
So, I don’t know. There’s something kind of awesomely poetic about the whole thing. A couple of dumb kids (okay, well… one dumb kid) from high school, parting ways after graduation and then meeting up again (through the magic of the interwebs) to work on something pretty dang cool.
So yes, faithful readers (wow…some of you made it this far???) it’s been a busy, busy May, but there’s exciting opportunities afoot and even more cool stuff coming up on the horizon.
I’m just glad to be part of it.