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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Words and Music

I write to a soundtrack.

I'm sure that doesn't make me unique or ground breaking.  I'm sure quite a lot of writers have at least some background music going when they create.  Music helps clear the mind in some instances and can be very beneficial to just about any activity that requires focus.  But part of my process is that I score my own work.  For instance, my last published novel, The Favorite, had a soundtrack that was one part driving hip-hop (down and dirty to power the fight scenes), one part 90's East Coast Gangsta Rap (for the more criminal scenes), and one part Emo Rock (for the reflective moments).

Some of the music I used to write The Favorite
















That mix of music helped me direct scenes and make more sense emotionally of the movie that played out in my head.  The music helped me express what was going on beneath the narrative, and even if that stuff never makes it onto a page, anything I can do to better understand my characters as they navigate the world and problems I placed them in is a worthwhile enterprise.

But that was a general soundtrack, toying with the idea of writing to music.  Since then I've settled on using certain songs on repeat to write certain scenes.  In my current work-in-progress, titled Open (for the time being), a man and his wife have an ugly confrontation after they catch each other cheating.  That confrontation explodes in dish-shattering, fridge shaking sex in their kitchen, where they lose themselves in the heat of the moment.  The song that played (on loop) while I wrote it?






Yep, that's right.  Come Together by the Beatles.  Besides the pun, it seemed to fit the mood perfectly, given their circumstances.  No shortage of irony, I guess.

I've taken the approach one step further for my next project, a vigilante crime story called Urban Legend.  I've crafted individual soundtracks for the protagonist, antagonist and "sidekick" characters. I'm using the individual character songs to form a mood when I'm scene building and these characters have to interact.  I'm using songs like "I Am," by Eminem, "Animal I Have Become," by Three Days Grace, and "(Rock) Superstar" by Cypress Hill. This is an experiment that may cause more trouble than not but the easy way is not the way to grow.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

Anyway, where do my fellow writers stand on using music to set the tone on their writing?  How do you use it?  Comment here or on Facebook.

Cheers!

Monday, November 9, 2015

My Nerd Is Showing

The week before Halloween was Bellingham Comic-Con.

You hear a lot about the top-tier shows, like the ones in New York (NYCC) or San Diego (SDCC) or Seattle (ECCC -- EC for Emerald City).  Those last for three or four days, are packed wall-to-wall with celebrities touting movies and cartoons and all kinds of nerd paraphernalia.  These events are big and loud and well-publicized, as well as expensive and exclusive.





Bellingham Comic-Con is one of my favorite things about the town I live in.  Sure, it's not big and flashy like its big-city cousins.  IGN has never and likely will never set foot in there, and you're crazy if you think you're gonna see footage from the new Star Wars movies.  What it does have is passionate locals, be it the guys at Reset Games who sell retro video games (even though they admittedly weren't there this year -- FAIL), or the local comic book sellers who bring in boxes of current and classic comics to help fill out your collection, or the toy vendors.  It has creative local artists and writers, passionate about their work.  It has one or two famous artists who have worked with major comic publishers (Savage Dragon's Erik Larson and creator of Carnage, Randy Emberlin are regulars), and talented indies who are trying to break out.  And this year, it
had this guy:


video



YES.  That is a dancing Deadpool.  There are very few things that bring the awesome more than this.  Except maybe, this.


video
Dancing Deadpool leading a conga line around the convention center.  Yup, that happened.

There was honestly so much cool stuff there, stuff that people wouldn't have been able to access in NYC without either a press pass or paying through the nose.  For a small donation I was able to take these pics:


A blind dog dressed as an Ewok.

The most badass Jedi since Sam Jackson

Hero of the Rebellion


I'm not downing NYCC.  I'd like to go one day.  That said... this is still pretty freakin cool.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Anxiety and the Lucky Bounce

My brother is a sleep tech, just like I am in my normal life.

In the sleep lab we get all sorts of people from all walks of life.  My brother, fifteen states away, stumbled onto an editor.  Not just any editor, though, one who has worked on NYT bestsellers.  And he convinced this person to take a look at my writing.

Happiness ensued, followed immediately by nervousness.  All I have to show is the first few chapters of the rough draft of my novel.  It's a first draft and therefore is supposed to suck, but what if it sucks sucks?  I've been working on this for the last four years, and as any writer knows, that first moment showing it to someone outside your circle, well, it makes your sphincter pucker.

This person is busy, and the feedback won't be coming for quite some time, but she has already been invaluable.  First she gave me some advice -- don't publish your first three novels.  Write them, shelve them, return to them after you've written some more and polished your craft.  It was great advice, I just wish I'd heard it ten years ago.  My first two attempts at novel writing are already published.  Might as well steer into the skid.

The Fab 5, available on Amazon
Second, she asked me to critically think about what went wrong on my first two efforts.  That was hard, admitting my own mistakes.  The Fab 5 was a good concept undone by a touch of arrogance.  I didn't listen to anybody who said anything negative about it.  I didn't hire an editor and thought I could do it myself.  I used the f-word A LOT. I didn't understand what it took to self-publish and was shocked about how much I had to do myself.  It was a rude awakening.

The Favorite, also available on Amazon












The Favorite took some of the lessons I learned and applied the knowledge.  I started with writing a stronger story, hired an editor, and tried my best to shamelessly self-promote.  The problem is I wasn't very good at the last part.  Also, sports novels are a tough sell to people who aren't sports fans.  But hey, there were less f's given.  (bad pun, sorry.)

 I'm nervous as to what this person will say about my current work.  It's like sending your four year-old to preschool for the first time.  But hey, the kid may prove to be a genius.

Or at least, worth selling.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Age of Fitness

I'm finding that the unfortunate reality that I was warned about has come to pass.  It's hard to stay fit in your 30's.

Time was, maybe 10 years ago, I'd gain 10 or 20 pounds in the winter, then lose it in the summer plus five.  Summers in New York were hot and there was stuff to do, like copious amounts of basketball.  Beer made me sweat, not fat. And I could party all night on Sunday and do Monday with three or four hours sleep.  Those were the days. Now, I have to watch what I eat and how much, I have to do crazy intense workouts, I have to force myself to sleep (well, force is a strong word).  If I drink, I'm useless for two or three days after.  And I find myself fixated on my weight more than I ever have been at any point of my life (264, if you're asking).  I'm concerned of a family history of diabetes and high blood pressure, and I just want to get older and not feel like shit.

As my birthday came and went, I took a look at some of my habits and am actively trying to change them.

Diet:  I love sugar.  It's awesome and tasty and makes everything better.  I'm good about most of my diet, eating greenery and fruits and quinoa and stuff.  If you had known me five years ago, you know that this is a big deal.  I'm doing my best to cut baked goods out (goodbye, donuts and cinnamon rolls and anything delicious from Starbucks) and anything with added sugar.  I'm trying to limit bread to one slice per day with breakfast.  I want to not be lazy and juice more (I have a head not kale in my fridge that I should probably get to before it walks out).

Exercise: It's difficult to split time between writing, working a full time and per diem job, and having any kind of life.  Working out is one more thing to do that eats up time.  I hate to say it like that, but a fact is a fact.  As we get older, it gets harder to divvy up the time.  I don't even have kids yet and it's this difficult.  Or maybe I'm just lazy sometimes.  If it's important, you'll find a way, if it's not you'll find an excuse.  Sporadically, my excuse is I don't have the time, or I need to sleep, or I'll do it tomorrow.  That's got to stop.  This is important.

Sleep: Considering I work in sleep medicine when I'm not writing, I should know the importance of good solid sleep.  I don't get nearly enough of it and for no good reason.  Like I said, I don't even have kids.  I have got to force myself into bed when I get home, and I've got to stay there for at least seven hours.

I have a beard going right now because I promised myself I'd keep it until I got myself below 250 labs.  Now that I'm putting this out into the ether, I'd better get to it.

*** Quick Hits ***

NBA season starts in a couple of weeks.  To all my friends who are basketball fans, allow me to put in this piece of information:

The Knicks will be AT LEAST the #6 seed in the East this season.

I could cite their much improved defense, or the personnel moves that have players tailored to the offensive system they run.  I could talk about how underrated Robin Lopez is.  But I won't.

I'll just say 6 or better.

***

Went to Barnes and Noble today and decided to teach myself more about my craft.  I've been writing fiction for about 20 years now, published for 10, but I stilt want to learn more, hone my skills more, and be a better writer.  I'm starting with industry magazines (for probably the least glamorous industry on the planet.  I mean seriously...), but I'll work myself up to online seminars, going over stuff in the library.  I love what I do, so it couldn't hurt...

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Adulting

Some days I think Peter Pan got it right.

Screw adulthood.  I want to play and not worry about time.  I want to have all my needs taken care of for me and not have to think about employment or taxes or any of that stuff.  Who needs to think about politics and religion and love and feelings?



It seems the difficult stuff was never in the manual.  Parents would offer vague warnings about savoring our youth and enjoying simplicity without directly stating what about adulthood sucked so much.  All we saw was a life free from stupid rules and chores and stuff.  So many of us were not schooled on the responsibility adulthood carries.  We were told bits and pieces, educated in math and science and history, but we weren't prepared for this life of bill payment and maintenance.  We were told that we were special, that we had something to offer the world.  Who would have thought they were merely referring to our time?

It was a conversation I had briefly with my sister-in-law on her birthday earlier this week.  Adulthood carries the responsibility of time management, of child rearing, of management of emotions, of deferring happiness for the sake of the bigger picture.  If I had that information at 8 or 9 years old, it would have been a one-way ticket to Neverland.  I'd have taken my chances with the Pirates.  We do grow up though.  It's not a process we can opt out of.  We do what we have to to accomplish what we want to.  Dreams are tailored to fit the reality of the the world around us, the world we wish to change.

If we're lucky, we are either born with or developing the skills we need to affect that change.

***

I never thought I'd live in a world where the Mets, Cubs, and Blue Jays are in the running for a World Series at the same time.  Meanwhile, my beloved Yankees are watching from home.  I'm not okay with this.

***
My grandmother's 96th birthday just passes.  Am I wrong to hope she can double it?

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Progress Report

Hello all...

I write you a few days after my birthday, largely because I'm happy to have survived it.  Tequila is no one's friend.

Anyway, just a heads-up to anyone interested in what I'm doing these days and what I've been up to:

I'm finishing up the first draft of my 2011 NaNoWriMo project that I was supposed to have finished last winter.  Life happens.  But it is close to done, I promise, and I want to start looking for beta readers soon.  I've learned a lot about my writing style through this project, chief above all is that NaNoWriMo is cool, but not for me.  Super-compressed writing time  works directly against my schedule.  Also, Writer's block can strike at any time.

I'm back to plotting the next project after this, a crime thriller called Urban Legend.  It follows a masked man in reinforced motorcycle leathers who is murdering seemingly small-time criminals.  But when his latest victim is a (crooked) cop, he earns the ire of the police force and the front-running mayoral candidate.  A homicide detective has a connection to the killer she's not even aware of, and it drags her deep into a rabbit hole of corruption.  It's a project I'm really excited about, and I hope to start the beginnings of work on it early next year.

I went off the continent for the first time this summer!  Had a great time in Jolly Olde England, and met my girlfriend's lovely family.  Looking forward to the next visit!

The holidays are coming, and I've decided two things: one, I want there to be 25-30 pounds less of me at the end of the year, and two, I've decided you should give your loved one a copy of The Favorite for Christmas/Hanukah/Kwanzaa/Festivus.  You'll thank me.

Okay, shameless self-promotion aside, changes will be coming to this blog, most notable among them is that there will be more frequent postings.  Once a week, Tuesday morning, there will be a new post available.  I'll also be posting more pictures as well, so I guess I'd better get familiar with my digital camera and phone camera.  Join me, it'll be fun!

That's all I got for now.  See you next week!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Abroad (Vacation, Day Six: Heathrow Airport and Patcham, England, 8/9/2015)

I don't like flying.

I especially don't like flying in a middle seat, behind people who like to recline their seats.  That happened on the way to New York from Seattle, and the thought gave me anxiety.  I've done long flights before, Seattle to New York is a 6 hour jaunt.

Ah, but a Trans-Atlantic flight, that's a whole other ball of wax.

Imagine if you will, flying in a scenario where, though you didn't go first-class, you're still treated like something resembling a human being.  They feed you without bleeding your credit card dry.  They offer you booze. There's legroom.  And the movie is free and recent.

Imagine going from steerage to the top deck of the Titanic.  Only the turbulence didn't land you in the ocean.

So after a sleepless red-eye flight that had me watch Avengers 2 (loved it, no surprise there) and Furious 7 ((liked it, a little shocked at that), I landed at Heathrow Airport an hour a head of expected arrival.  And yes, my eyes were quite red.  What was 1 AM for me New York time was 6 AM GMT, and even though I work nights and am usually up late, a week in New York on vacation time changed all that, and my body clock was thrown for a loop.  Jetlag was saying some mean things to my mind and body.  It was a conversation that went like this:

It's 1:00 AM.  So I'm awake.  But the sun's out.  So... I'm asleep.  But I'm on vacation, so I'm awake.  But it's 1:00 AM.  So I'm asleep.  But it's only 10:00 PM in Seattle.   So I'm at work?  Wait, what?

Soldier on, I did.  I navigated my way through slow moving travelers and customs to get to the National Express bus that would deliver me an hour and a half away to Patcham, and to my girlfriend's dad's house.  We passed some beautiful countryside along the way.  I'm guessing.  I was in and out of sleep on that bus, unable to get comfortable and too tired to care.  I was definitely not aware of my surroundings and quite glad I walked off that bus with everything I brought on it.

It's 8:30 AM when I get off the bus at the Black Lion Pub, which is where my girlfriend's cousin was supposed to meet me... an hour from now.  I had no cell service in England, and with no Wi-Fi nearby I had no way of letting anyone know I got in early.  So what was a guy to do?  I asked a couple of people on the street which was I was supposed to go.  It turns out my destination was maybe three blocks away, easily traversable, even with luggage.  I knocked on the door, and her dad opens like my arrival at that minute was expected.

Rose had gotten there less than 12 hours before and was finishing up in the shower when I got there.  Or maybe just starting.  Jetlag was messing with my brain and the exact order of events is still fuzzy a month later.  Either way I wasn't supposed to be there just yet and she was surprised to see me. The house was buzzing with life at that hour of the morning; it seems that they boarded international students here.  When I arrived one was on the way out, a Belgian girl named Anise to whom I briefly was introduced as she left;  an Italian guy name Massimo who I didn't see again that whole week; and a Middle Eastern boy named Abdullah.  He was interesting, more on him later in the week.

I hope I'm getting the names right.  If I'm not, I'll edit and update.

Breakfast was either just served or ready to be.  I can't remember if I ate because jetlag and weeks-late posting.  But I do remember being told that people were coming over later for a party.  I was shown to the bedroom Rose and I would share that week (double beds, don't get any ideas) and Rose and I exchanged brief conversation about our respective vacations to this point.  She said she needed a showed and I laid back in bed just to get off my feet.  And check my eyelids for holes.

And then it was 2:00.

They'd let me sleep some because I'd been so obviously exhausted, but the party was about to start, people were due over in about half an hour and it was time to go, go, go!  After a moment where I called my mom on Skype (I promised her I would) and took down some information on some family she has in England, the first of the guests arrived.

The party filled up over the next hour and an assortment of cousins streamed in, some with young (and loud and energetic) children.  I remember asking for forgiveness in advance in case I started babbling.  Jetlag and all that.  The ones that stand out to me were Sophie, Danielle and Jade.  Sophie and Danielle both had children (massive, massive respect to them for that).  I remember the madcap introductions, followed by game playing in the backyard and a genuine good time.  I remember temporarily soothing a newborn with my stellar singing voice.  And I remember succumbing to fatigue and jetlag at about 10:00 PM.

So for a first day in a foreign country, it felt shockingly like home.  How does that happen?




Thursday, August 20, 2015

Not These Fools Again, Part 2 (Vacation Day Five: Marine Park, Brooklyn, NYC and JFK airport: 8/8/2015)

I'm a little late for posting.  Sorry about that.  Where was I...?

Oh, right.

After a night of revelry and memories and drinks and bro-hugs, I was due to fly to London the next evening.  I was to meet my girlfriend's father and cousins who for two years, I have heard plenty about.  However, there was still a bit of unfinished business.

My friends were the inspiration for my first novel.  We're a tight-knit crew that can number anywhere between 4 and 12 depending on the day.  Well, this beautifully warm Brooklyn Saturday morning, there were to be four of us, Eric, Mikey, LeAnder and myself.  We used to gather together and hang out all the time.  The awkward times of childhood were spent with these guys,

I made my way across Brooklyn to LeAnder's place.  He still lived in the old neighborhood, and it was the closest I felt to actually being home since forever.  I hadn't spoken to him in quite some time, life getting in the way and all that, but it was like we never missed a beat. Thirty years of friendship will do that.  He caught me up on the happenings in the old neighborhood, who died, who moved and such.

Mikey drove up from North Carolina to join us.  He'd been there for the last few years, having grown weary of the crucible that is New York City.  Obviously, I can't blame him.  We had a few jokes, the three of us, and after a quick detour to Modell's to buy a basketball, we were off to Marine Park to meet up with Eric and do something we hadn't done in forever.  Playground ball, king of the court style.

Well, eventually.  We were all various degrees of rusty.  I hadn't played in a few weeks, and the rest of those guys hadn't played in much longer.  Eric was recovering from knee injuries.  LeAnder hadn't touched his ball shoes in the last two summers.  Mikey hadn't been on a basketball court in who knows how long.  We decided to warm up with a game of Utah.  Short explanation: one-on-all, score by fives, first to 100 wins.  We rarely ever made it to 100 when we played together back in the day because there were usually enough people on the sideline waiting to play, and we usually looked good enough on the court to make people think we'd play a good game.

Not the case this time.  This time, we all looked old.

It took me about 20 minutes to get my wind up, but the rest of my friends never quite got there.  LeAnder used to be the best all-around athlete of all of us, and he was gassed.  Eric used to be an And-1 quality street point guard, but his knee problems kept him from getting into second gear.  And Mikey, who used to be Mr. Indestructible, hurt his back before we even finished.  It used to be we'd display our skills bad get a game from the stragglers.  Today, we were just a bunch of old guys.  We laughed at that.

I called next for a game on another court for those of us that were able to play.  Mikey was incapacitated, but the Eric and Lee were good to go.  We picked up a fourth and we gave it a good go, but we lost 13-9.  And then we left.  On the way home we remarked about how we went from 6 hours a day on the court in the summer to one-and-done.

Our next stop in the nostalgia tour was our favorite Chinese restaurant, Cam Tak Express on Flatbush Avenue and Cortelyou Road.  It had long ago earned legendary status for being something kids like us could afford on a five-dollar bill, as well as for the Garlic Chicken.  They don't capitalize it on the menu, but dammit, it needs to be immortalized.  We went and we ordered Garlic Chicken and Pork Fried Rice.  It was greasy and crispy and spicy and bad for us, but dammit, we were all thrilled.

We lingered in the restaurant as long as we could but we couldn't escape the reality that this little reunion had to end soon.  I had a plane to catch, people had responsibilities.  Mikey was kind enough to give me a lift to my sister's and then to the airport, prolonging our chat, but all good things must come to an end.

All that was left was a  seven hour flight to London.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Not These Fools Again, Part 1 (Vacation, Day four part 2: Park Slope, Brooklyn, NYC)

Nyilah and I were running late.

We were supposed to meet up with my friend Kevin at a bar called Dram Shop.  I had put out a blast on Facebook, signaling people he and I both knew to join us there.  Unfortunately, due to the last minute nature of the activity, no one he and I used to work with were able to make it.  And because of my aging phone's declining battery, I was unable to keep up on Facebook with whomever could.  I knew Kev would be there though, it was his idea.  Kevin is one of the people that inspired my first novel, The Fab 5.  We had known each other a good 22 years, had worked together at various places.  He is one of the absolute funniest people I've ever met, and easily a highly ranked person on my bullet list.

The train from Coney Island had a few delays, adding 30 minutes to a 40 minute trip.  When we finally got to the bar, Kevin was nowhere to be found.  He elected to wait for us at another bar, but joined us fairly quickly once we arrived.  We picked out a booth and ordered our drinks.  Nyilah had a vodka tonic, and I only remember that because I had never been in a bar with my niece before.  So strange, having a drink with this girl I watched grow up.  Kev thought so too; it was evident when the two of them got into discussion on a topic of shared interest: music.  My niece went to school for music management, and Kev is a drummer in a band that's about to release their first studio album, as well as a producer.  I observed and intermittently participated in this conversation for the better part of an hour over drinks and appetizers.  By the way, if you're ever in Park Slope, Dram Shop has amazing wings and burgers.

After an hour we were joined by Eric, who's tangentially related to me.  He's the younger brother of my oldest nephew by my oldest sister, though neither of them has the same mother.  Through the family connection alone, he's on the bullet list, but even without that he's one of the most stand-up people I've known.  If you're in with him, everyone you know is in with him.  He's loud and brash and quick-witted, and VERY New York.  I say that as one of the highest compliments.  Eric was at my dad's funeral, which says a lot as to how close he is with my family.  Once he joined our table, it was a party.  After E got over the initial shock of Nyilah being 24 and able to drink, he treated her like part of the group, that is to say totally indifferent to the fact that she was a she.  Ah, the stories we told.

We talked a lot about playing football in the park, especially about two games in particular (more on that later).  We talked a lot about prank wars.  We talked a lot about being in my old apartment and playing cards or dominoes throughout the night.  And a lot about old girlfriends.  Periodically I would look up at my niece and realize that, holy crap, she shouldn't be hearing this, only to find her cracking up at the stories we told.  And we were loud enough that the wait staff couldn't help but laugh at our stories.

A giant shadow passed over our table and said "wassup, fellas" in a voice that was familiar, but deepened by age.  I looked up to see Vachel, a guy I literally watched grow up.  His sister went to Erasmus Hall High School with my brother, and we became friends through that, even though he was several years younger than me.  He's always been a big kid, built like an offensive lineman.  We hadn't spoken in quite some time as life gets in the way occasionally, but he had gotten married a few years back and had his first child late last year.  Both situations agreed with him.

When he got to our table the stories only got raunchier.  We again referenced football.  Two games in particular -- the game where I got hurt (where, as Kevin put it, the group tried to carry my big ass to the hospital) and the legendary "Ninja Please" game, where after some trash talking by a friend in absentia, my normally mild-mannered self responded with a high-pitched "What?! Ninja Please!"

I didn't say "ninja."

We drank for a few hours, remembering our childhoods and the time we spent together in those formative years.  We reflected on the people who couldn't make it out that night, and definitely agreed we needed to make an effort to get together more frequently.  However, responsibility crept up on my friends as time went on and while they didn't want to leave, they weren't on vacation.  We got outside and puttered around a bit before Vachel had to get back to his family, Kevin had work to do and Eric had to return the car he borrowed.  We agreed to barbecue at Vachel's place when I came back to town in a week.  After all, I had a plane to catch the next day.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

It Went Straight. Up. (Vacation, Day four part 1: Coney Island, Brooklyn, NYC)

Another day in Brooklyn started with the gym and no other particular agenda.  Ahh, that is the life.  I knew I wanted to hang with my niece, and that I wanted to go to Coney Island.  She, however, wanted to get a pedicure first.  I sometimes forget that she's 24 now, and the condition of her hands and feet are important tools in attracting men that my brothers and I would later intimidate.  Recalling that I very recently (and accidentally) shredded my girlfriend's sheets with my feet, I elected to join her.  It was relaxing, and right after we made our way to the train to Coney Island.

My niece and I went to the same high school, twelve or so years apart.  As we passed it on the train, we both fondly remembered some of the neighborhood's food options, largely consisting of bagels and pizza that I can confirm are simply much better in Brooklyn than anywhere else.  It's the tap water.  After that, we watched as the Q train pulled up past Brighton Beach and the iconic Parachute Jump came into view at Stillwell Avenue.  Welcome to Coney Island.

I hadn't been to Coney Island since 2008.  Know what?  That's too far to start in the story.

I'm a contradiction: I'm terrified of heights, but I love roller coasters.  I grew up with one of the most famous ones in the world in my own backyard, so to speak.  I last went to Coney Island in 2008 with a good friend of mine, and while the rides mostly sucked, the corn dogs were tasty and the log flume ride wasn't so bad (okay, okay, I screamed like a little girl and it was caught on camera).  But it was Coney Island, Astroland as it was called then, and it's heyday was well, well past.  Before that afternoon, I hadn't been to a real theme park, on a real roller coaster since 2004 or so.

A couple of years ago, Astroland closed and the area was almost completely razed except for the three landmarked spots: the Parachute Jump, the Wonder Wheel, and the world-famous Cyclone.  In its place was Luna Park, with upgraded and updated rides and attractions.  There were two that caught my eye: the Soarin' Eagle ride, and the New Thunderbolt.

My niece accompanied me to Luna Park, and it's nice to hang out with her as an adult. She had been like a little sister for so long, it was interesting and refreshing to finally interact with her as an adult and a peer instead of as a really smart kid.  I kept that in mind as I watched her descend into a terrified mess on the Wonder Wheel.  To be fair I wasn't much better.  It's a 94 year-old Ferris Wheel with selected cars that swing on a track.  We were on a swinging car.  I won't pretend like I was brave, but I couldn't panic the way I wanted because my niece was freaking out (Jesus, take the wheel, and such).

So after five minutes of protracted circular terror, I decided to venture on to the Thunderbolt.  Coney Island was going to be an abbreviated visit this time as we were meeting friends for drinks later that evening.  I had to decide between the Thunderbolt and the Soarin' Eagle, and the Thunderbolt looked interesting.  To me, at least; my niece decided that she would sit this one out.

Remember what I said about her being really smart?

From a distance, the Thunderbolt looked interesting.  It had a 90 degree initial ascent and a 90 degree initial descent, and loops and twists and the like.  There had been a couple of steel coasters in Coney Island's past, but they were mostly designed to scare seven year-olds.  I assumed the Thunderbolt was just a cool-looking continuation of this design sensibility.

Then I got up close and saw the thing got up to about 120 feet.  And it moved along at a pretty good clip.

Still though, I thought, this is New York City, where in the past a coaster of sufficient size and speed to actually be a thrill ride couldn't exist alongside the Cyclone, simply for reasons of not enough real estate.  How bad could it possibly be?

Spoiler alert: bad. Very, very bad.

The thing about a 90 degree ascent is that the car pointed straight up.  You were basically on your back, looking straight up.  The chain pulley towed the car straight up.  Most roller coasters drag out the terror with a gradual incline.  Even the legendary Cyclone, whose terror is based in its age and its composition (90+ years, made of wood, I believe it's the oldest wooden coaster still standing in the US) only had an initial drop of  58.1 degrees, and that drop was 85 feet. Not this nightmare.  Nope, the Thunderbolt would not delay gratification.  It went. Straight. Up.  After the hump, it went straight down.

Allegedly.  I had my eyes closed on the drop.

There were twists and turns and zero gravity sensations abound, and when it was over, all I could muster were a vacant stare and a constant drone of "Oh $#!7.  It went straight up." My niece, the smart one, laughed.

Afterward, we grabbed a quick bite to eat.  Neither of us had much in the way of food, and it was a long train ride to Park Slope, where we would meet old friends of mine for food and drink.  She had a knish, and I had a funnel cake.  Bits of happy all around.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Wings. (Vacation, Day Three: Brooklyn, NY, Lower Manhattan, NY, and Hoboken, NJ)

A day that started in Brooklyn, went past the World Trade Center, cruised through North Jersey, and ended in Brooklyn.

Ah, it's much less dramatic than all that, but I did get a really good shot on my phone.

That is a picture of the Fulton Transit Hub with 1 WTC in the background.  Shot with a Droid Phone, only in New York.

So let's recap.

I spent the morning at breakfast with my sister and my niece, catching up over coffee and IHOP, expressing our differences of opinion regarding sugar vs. substitutes, organic food vs. non-organic and the appropriateness of singing in public.  If I'm being honest, there was no difference of opinion on that last one.  Singing in public is always a good idea.  We chatted and laughed and talked about all manner of fun things.  I realized I hadn't had the chance to catch up with these two in any real manner in months.  The last couple of days had I had focused my energies inward, and because of my schedule and the three hour time difference, I'm never able to catch them on the phone for any real length of time.  These two women are among my favorite people.  After breakfast and a long walk, my niece went to work and I went to sleep.  I've slept more in the last three days than I have in the last three months.

After my morning/afternoon nap, I arranged to meet with my longtime friend from college, Sara, who I haven't seen since my father's passing a couple of summers back.  On the way to meet her I got to take the Subway into Manhattan.  For as long as I can remember, I've always loved the New York Subway.  Not the cost of it, of course, $2.75 is railway robbery.  But it is beautifully efficient as a people mover.  I made it a point to take the train to Cortlandt Street, first time I had been at that station in more than a decade.  Cortlandt was one of the more heavily damaged stations in the aftermath of 9/11, and Hurricane Sandy a couple of years ago didn't do it any favors either.  It was shuttered for several years until the completion of the Fulton Transit Hub.  The World Trade Center was complete when I was last in town, but not open, so it was all kinds of cool to see people going in and out for work or what have you.  If I wasn't on the clock I would have ponied up the money to check out the observatory.  Oh well...

From there it was a trip on the PATH train to Hoboken.  I've never been to Hoboken.  Imagine my surprise when I stepped out of the station to find a city that seemed...

... well, a lot like Downtown Brooklyn.  Great views of the skyline.  Awesome seaside park. Vibrant, energetic, young.  It was cool.  I went to the W Hotel and hung out at the bar, engaging a couple of locals in a conversation about what's wrong with baseball while I waited for my friend to arrive.  It was entertaining.

Here's a little backstory: Sara is one of my oldest and dearest friends, having long ago earned herself a spot on the bullet list, the short list of people for whom I would take a bullet, largely because they wouldn't put me in a position to do so.  She was the first fan of my writing, which is what made me think "I can do this," instead of pushing for a more stable/prestigious/boring career in criminal justice.  She's been a stable friend throughout the three major deaths my family has dealt with.  I attended her wedding and congratulated her very loudly at the birth of each of her three children.  She has stated that my atheism is the only reason I'm not her kids' godfather, which is fine.  My Brando impersonation is terrible.  I'm guh make youa offa you can't refuse...

We had a drink and caught each other up on the events of our lives.  She was happy for me and my relationship, I made googley noises at pictures of her soon-to-be one-year old.  She asked about my mom, my grandma, and my family, I asked about hers.  She was supposed to be planning her kid's birthday party but her husband let her off the hook to hang out with me.  I said he should have got his ass out here too.  We laughed and talked and enjoyed company like we did 20 years ago in school.  Then we realized how old we both were.  20 years.  We are nothing like the kids we were back then.
We laughed loudly and reminisced wildly, recalling some of the misadventures we had as teenagers and young adults.  Her son Noel accelerated her maturation into a grown-up, whereas I'm just now getting my feet wet in the adulthood arena.  After a couple of hours and a brief tour of Hoboken (birthplace of Frank Sinatra, apparently), we parted company, and I headed back to my city.

Back in NYC, and eager to erase the Jersey funk off me (sorry, Jersey is still Jersey), I walked a couple of blocks around the World Trade Center area to find the one thing I had been searching for the last six years I've been in Washington... a good slice of pizza.  My vacation goals are easily attained, aren't they?  Pizza is supposed to be cheese and sauce and perhaps some form of cow, pig, or chicken product. The dough is to be made with mineral-heavy New York tap water (otherwise known as wau-tuh.  My New York tongue returns!), not whatever it is they put on it or in it on the West Coast.  It's not supposed to have anything artisanal or soy or low-fat.  Dough, sauce, cheese, meat.  In that order.  The pizza place I went to, whose name I can't remember but is right next to the New York Dolls Gentlemen's Club, had two sausage slices that I claimed as my own (I was willing to do it Ariana Grande-style by licking the damn thing).  Three long but well-spent minutes in the oven later, and I was snarfing down hot pizza while making sounds like I was really enjoying a lap dance.  I even took the long way back, so I could enjoy my slices in pizza... I mean peace.

Wow, that was a baaaaad joke.

This week, I'm learning something about being home.  It's not so much the place I miss.  Don't get me wrong, the place is awesome, and I definitely miss it some.  No, it's the people I miss.  People I associate with these places.

Tomorrow is the last full day before I take off to London. Maybe I'll finally make it to Coney Island.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

"This Place Used To Be The Hood" (Vacation day two, Fort Greene, Brooklyn)

So my New York portion of my vacation continues.

I spent the morning with my niece in the gym.  My sister had gotten there after work, and had been there earlier than us.  She was on the way out as we were on the way in (sidebar: working out agrees with her.  She looks great!).  An hour and a half later, my niece and I navigated public transit back to Canarsie.  I missed the subway, I have to say.

The two of them had events in their schedule to do, so I made myself busy for a few hours (read: slept) until it was time to visit good friends of mine, Jesse and Stephanie.

I have known these two for a the better part of a decade. They're one of the most perfectly matched couples I've ever met.  Their daughter is an incredibly cute child who has an addiction to a children's show I've never heard of before today, and whose theme song I will never be able to get out of my head.  I haven't seen them since Stephanie came to my father's funeral. I've always enjoyed their company as they are funny, smart, opinionated and fun-loving.  They play games, enjoy a beer, and love life and each other.  It's quite awesome, actually.

Last year they moved from Lower Manhattan to Brooklyn, as many couples of a certain age tend to do these days.  They moved to Fort Greene, which in my youth was very much the 'hood.  My, how that has changed.

After a couple of hours bs'ing on their patio (and that time went QUICK) we went to a little restaurant on Greene Avenue called Prospect.  They had recommended it highly and as I said to Jesse, for the first time ever, I deferred to someone's superior knowledge of Brooklyn.  Food was phenomenal, and we sat and ate on the patio seating area..

As we ate we chatted more.  It had been two years since I had seen either of them, there was catching up to do, there was exchange of humor, there was the expression of hope that Bernie Sanders would win the presidency, and the plan for seeking political asylum in Canada if Donald Trump won.  I told them about my girlfriend who was at that moment, probably, doing something incredibly cool on a camel and how strange it was for me to be with the same woman for as long as I have.

After dinner we had dessert (I won't bore you with the details as to what, but just know that it was fantastic and awesome) and more conversation, talking about Marvel movies and Star Wars.  It was food and drink and the rambling old friends make when they haven't been in each other's company in far too long.

Six hours and 2800 calories after I arrived, we said our goodbyes and made a plan to hang out again before I went back to Bellingham.

Two takeaways: first, good friends are an awesome thing, and one should absolutely never take them for granted.  Secondly, Fort Greene has really changed from what I remember.  Putting aside the fact that I very likely couldn't afford to live there anymore, the change is profoundly positive.

Back in the Mud (Vacation, day one: Brooklyn NYC)

So I'm on vacation.

I had been looking forward to it for the last little while.  I had been working my butt off for the last month specifically so I could do this.  I haven't had a proper vacation in far too long.  My girlfriend decided earlier this year that she wanted to go to Morocco.

I decided to go home to New York.

And while she's having an absolute ball in Morocco, experiencing the people and the culture up close and personal, I'm re-immersing myself in my hometown.

And she and I will meet up in London and exchange vacation stories.

Here's how my day one went.

After working all night on Sunday and traveling all day and night Monday, I arrived at JFK Airport on Tuesday morning, having spent six hours cramped in a middle seat behind the guy who wanted to explore the range of his seat back, next to a mid-20s woman who thought my arm made a great pillow, and next to a guy who would not stop man-spreading.  I hate flying while tall. 

I got to my sister's home, which serves as home base for this week, and hung out with my niece who has most of the week off from work.  We went for a run.

And periodically during the day, I slept.  Like a rock. A week of saying "no sleep til Brooklyn," and when I get there, I sleep.  Mission accomplished.

Today, while my girlfriend was camel riding in the desert, I did a whole lot of not much.  And I loved every relaxing second of it.  This is the first time I've been back home without an agenda: no sick parent to see, no funeral to attend, no birthday celebration, no guided touring.  This part of my vacation is about reconnecting with family and old friends.

Don't get me wrong, I have a plan in place to hit Coney Island (I haven't seen it since the redo), catch a Yankee game while the Red Sox are in town, get drunk with various combinations of friends, and even hit the playground basketball scene I haven't been around in seven years.  But for today, I slept.  It'll make for a boring story when I see my lady in London (more on that in a later post), but there's something to be said about being home and sleeping.

Can't wait for tomorrow!

Friday, July 10, 2015

The A La Carte New Yorker

A longtime friend of mine posted that he was about done with New York City.

I can't necessarily say I blame him.  As much as I love the city I grew up in, I've come to appreciate the things that everyone else in the country takes for granted, such as getting what you pay for in housing or the ability to live comfortably on one job.   Well, that last one has been kind of so-so for most since 2008, but the point is New York is a shark tank, and most of its residents are swimming without an air supply and with a cut on their arm.  They may stay afloat for a time.  They may even find rescue.  But very likely they will be eaten alive.

That was a hard thing to admit.  The shark tank that is New York taught me skills that still come in handy today.  I learned how to grind, how to work hard, how to persevere in New York.  I learned that the competition spends eight hours a night sleeping, and if you could somehow function on four, you were ahead of them.  And when I finally left, when I reluctantly accepted defeat, I swore I wasn't done.  Six years after my move west, I still have this fantasy of moving back into the pressure cooker, and doing it right.  I'd  buy one of those overpriced Battery Park City condos I used to doorman for, I'd be able to live well, and make a ton of money doing whatever it is I was going to do.  I'd have a driver's license and maybe even a car to use on the weekends.

Like I said, total fantasy.  It used to be that you could make it work on a decent wage in the city.  Then it used to be that you could grind it out on a really good salary in Brooklyn.  Now?  Not the case.  My brother used to say all the time, "You gotta be rich to be poor in New York," and these days that statement isn't far off.  I remember back in the day telling people what I made in my struggle, and having them look at me like I was nuts and say "That's a lot!". It never felt that way.

However, I still go back every year.  I have to.  The best parts of me I get from the friends I had and the experiences I had in Brooklyn.  I get it from the subway rides and the street meat and Coney Island trips.  I get it from Prospect Park and South Street Seaport (rest in peace) and the old World Trade Center.  I get it from basketball at Marine Park and football on East 21st Street.

That's all stuff I can see in a week.

Don't get me wrong, I still love New York, the same way I love a restaurant menu.  It's just that these days, I pick what I want and take it to-go.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

It Takes A Strong Woman To Raise A Neighborhood

Last night, I had a chat with a patient, like I always do.

Every night I chat with my patients in an effort to keep them calm, comfortable and focused on something other than the time it takes to put so many wires on them for a sleep study.  Usually, I'll talk about them: where they're from, what they do, their family and so on.  Sometimes, I talk about myself: the move from New York to Bellingham, being a Yankee fan in Mariners country, that I'm a writer, or how I got into sleep disorder treatment.

Last night, I talked for half an hour about my family, specifically my grandmother.

My grandmother at her 88th birthday.  She hasn't changed.


My grandmother is 95 years young.  If you've ever met her, young is absolutely the right way to say it.  When we were  kids, she lived with us.  My mom did the single mother thing and while that was an impressive and Herculean undertaking that I can't be grateful enough for, it's nearly impossible to do with seven children without some form of co-parenting.  My grandmother has been directly involved in our growth and raising since well before I was born.  She served as secret-keeper, disciplinarian, security guard, chef.  She told stories, offered guidance, encouraged moral values.  She got us out of bed (usually against our will) and made sure we got to school on time.  She helped guide my six older siblings and me to a strong work ethic and a sense of right and wrong.  And if the story stopped there, I'm sure all of you would be singing her praises.

What if I told you that she didn't stop there?

Starting from my earliest memories in the mid 1980's, my grandmother ran something of an impromptu day-care form our apartment. Flatbush was a working-class, Caribbean immigrant neighborhood back then.  New parents who simply had to return to work to make ends meet would drop children off at our apartment in the morning and come get them after work.  These children were young, some just a few weeks old, and my grandmother would care for them as she cared for us.  They would be in our apartment every day from the time they were little until their first day of school, with my grandmother charging a generously small fee ($50 a week, if I remember correctly).  And after their first day of school, those children would often end up in our apartment until their parents got home from work.

Now, no story is completely happy.  While most of those kids would go on to be normal, functioning members of society, some of them fell victim to the trappings of a bad neighborhood.  Some of them got involved with bad people who did messed-up things.  But they would see my grandmother in the street and they would stand up straight, smile a smile they likely forgot how, and politely say "Good morning, Mama, how are you today?" like they were the kids she remembered them as.  Respect, from people you wouldn't have expected it from.

My grandmother is 95 years young and thankfully still going strong.  While she can't lift children the way she used to and she can't chase around toddlers the way she'd want to, she still loves children.  I think they keep her young.  She's been telling me since my mid-20's that she's waiting around for me to have kids, that she wants to see my kids.  I tell her the same thing every time.

"Keep waiting.  I like having you here."

Friday, June 19, 2015

June 21.

Father's Day is upon us again.

I give a shout out to all the dads I know, the good ones, the bad ones, and mine.

First off, to the good ones I know, like my brothers.  Keep on keepin' on.  I want to be just like you when i grow up.

To the bad ones: Try harder.  Keep your daughters off the pole and your sons out of prison.

To my dad: I miss you.  You were hilariously funny, and your children still recount your stories when we get together.  You were strong willed, and stubborn to a fault, but you believed what you believed without apology.  You were proud of your children, and we did you proud.  I miss talking to you about things like the Yankees and the Knicks, which you loved passionately.  When we couldn't talk about much else, we always had that.  You did the best you could with what you had, and it's taken me nearly two years after you've departed to understand that, to accept that.
 
To my father, I hope to continue to do you proud.  Rest well.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Out With The Old, In With The New/Cool As The Other Side Of The Pillow

Happy 2015, y'all!

Yeah, I know, I'm about two weeks late.  Couldn't be helped.  My December was kind of epic.  I watched my best friend get married, moved into a new apartment, worked like a psychopath, had Christmas Eve Dinner, made Christmas Morning French Toast, had Christmas dinner, unpacked my last box just a couple of hours before getting trashed on New Year's Eve.  I needed a break.

But here we are, on the other side in 2015.  This is the year that we're supposed to have our hoverboards and the Chicago Cubs win the World Series (I'd bet on the hoverboard coming first).  It's a year full of promise, of expectation, of ambition.  Or of the same old resolutions.  Whatever.

I'm sure we've all made the promise to be better off financially, to be better with our significant others, and the promise that this will finally be the year we get healthy.  I know I did.  I think I made those promises last year, too.  Oops.

To be fair though, last year was awesome, for me at least.  I got to knock some items off my personal bucket list.  I did a small book tour for my novel The Favorite (shameless plug).  I did three book signings and a reading.  I got to see something I wrote on the shelves in a bookstore.  And it won an award.  I'm almost sad to see 2014 go in that sense.

2015 though, that's going to be a monster.  I'm going to finish the manuscript I've been working on for the last three-plus years (thanks NaNoWriMo).  I'm going to master this tricky marketing thing.  I'm going to bust my hump to do a quarter-million words of fiction this year (down from last year's million because, well, damn).  I'm going to read and review one book per month.  And I'm going to interview independent writers, artists and musicians as often as I can.  And I'm going to use this blog.  A lot.

Happy New Year.

                                                                 ***
I'd like to take this moment to give a shout out to the late ESPN anchor Stuart Scott who died last week of a particularly persistent cancer.  Mr. Scott, besides being a beacon of professionalism and having a style that is often imitated and never duplicated, was by all accounts a badass in the face of his diagnosis, training in MMA fighting while working and doing chemotherapy right up until the end of his life.  He is a legend in his own time and an inspiration to this writer.  After all, if a man facing terminal cancer can not only be at the top of his profession AND train his body in combat, then there is no reason why a healthy person like myself can't do anything they set their mind to.