Thursday, December 28, 2006

While the Plowmen are Digging

Holy Cow, what a Christmas!

Best ever.

Before the Saint, the kids and I went to Connecticut to visit her parents, siblings and our new niece, we opened presents here.

I love the whole gift giving thing. We gave the kids a bunch of books, DVDs, music, toys, clothes, and games. A friend of mine had given us a DVD player for our car, so I did some last minute purchasing.

Santa gave the Saint a pearl necklace.

The Saint rocked my world: She gave me an iPod. I know, I know. I'm one of the last people on the face of the planet without one. But still.

Now that we're back from Connecticut, the Saint is in danger of becoming an iPod widow. Before we left, I put a bunch of Bruce stuff on it. While we were there, I added a little more. Since we've been home, I've gone through every CD in the house and lifted stuff (except I'm a little light on Zeppelin because I can't find disc 2 of my four disc set).

I loaded 98% of my Springsteen catalogue, including the entire Fenway concert and a good chunk of the Albany Devils & Dust show (friends have gifted me with bootlegs from time to time).

But the best part? I have 8 different versions of "All Along the Watchtower," and for the first time, they're all in iTunes, and they're all on the iPod. I have three Dylan versions, one from Hendrix, one from Neil Young, one from Indigo Girls, one from Dave Matthews and one from U2. They all kick ass (though Hendrix... I mean, come on, is there a better version?) and Neil Young's is particularly passionate (ain't the dude from Seattle, but it's good).

I'm still looking for a bootleg version of Bruce doing it on the Vote for Change tour in 2004. That's Nirvana.

Now I know why so many people are strapped when I go to the gym. I stuck the headphones in my ears on Christmas Day and I completely misplaced ninety minutes. I guess it shouldn't surprise me that I've spent the last way too many hours updating iTunes and popping everything onto my new toy. Tomorrow's workout is gonna fly by.

We've got a lot of rock, a heavy dose of country, with alternative, folk, blues and pop thrown in for flavor. And I'm about to load Leonard Bernstein's version of Beethoven's Ninth at the Berlin Wall.

I've represented the usual suspects very well:

  • I copied most Bruce albums in their entirety
  • Followed by about 50 Johnny Cash songs
  • Then most of my Kristofferson stuff (all the old stuff plus The Austin Sessions)
  • U2, REM, Waylon Jennings, John Mellencamp, Bob Seger, Clapton, Skynyrd...
  • I even threw in a little Billy Joel, Garth Brooks and one-hit wonder Dobie Gray.
You get the picture.

But I keep coming back to this: I now have all my versions of Watchtower in one place.

Hope your Christmas also rocked.


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Saturday, December 23, 2006

Over the Peak and Down the Other Side

I crashed through the 60,000 word barrier on my manuscript the other night. So I'm officially halfway done. No, I'm not under any crazy illusions that I'll submit a 120,000 word novel. But I'd like to have room to cut some fat. Fat adds flavor, but only if you don't recognize it as fat.

A good novel is like a good sauce: You give yourself plenty of time to reduce it to its most important elements. It gets better as it gets smaller.

My agents will receive a manuscript of between 90,000 and 100,000 words, so my goal is to get as far past 100,000 words as possible with this draft. I want the luxury of being able to hack away at this story, rather than the panic I'll feel if I have to go back and inject scenes.

The feedback to date has been universally positive, and I think I'll be done with this sometime in February, a little slower than I'd have liked, but it's good to be able to see the finish line.

I'm off next week and who knows whether I'll be blogging. So if I don't see any of you before then, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Happy Writing.


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Monday, December 18, 2006

Yule Tide Tsunami

Well... Tough night to be a parent.

This evening, Middle Child FOUND OUT. He found out that thing about the fat guy with the white beard and black boots. That thing that no kid who loves Christmas likes to discover.

I don't know whether children read this blog, so I'm not elaborating. Adult readers: Draw your own bad conclusions about what Middle Child learned tonight.

He's eight, but we were hoping he'd enjoy the hefty bearded one in red for another season.

Worst part: He learned it from a six-year-old neighbor, who also spoiled it for two other kids, a four-year-old and his two-year-old brother.

As Best Man and Godfather would say: Once it happens, you can't put the shit back in the horse.

I've had rough nights as a parent. Believe it or not, this ranks among the most difficult.

Middle Child is smart. No, I mean, really, really, really smart, and not smart in the way that all parents think their kids are smart. I mean: Really smart. So he was bound to figure this out.

Once the first domino fell, the Tooth Fairy and a certain egg-hiding rabbit crashed to Earth as well. I keep telling myself that this is a good thing, and then I look at Middle Child's face, and he's distraught.

It's not a good thing.

But it's a rite of passage. One I wish he could have figured out in his own time. I'm not going to wring my hands and lament that he's lost his innocence (he hasn't). I am, after all, supposed to be realistic.

Except: I remember exactly where I was, (the night before Thanksgiving, with my Dad, coming home from family swim at the old gym in Cooperstown on the Hartwick-Index Road) when I learned it for myself. And I know exactly how I felt. I saw that identical expression on Middle Child's face, right before he cried.

This is the kid who moons strangers and tells sophisticated fart jokes, if fart jokes can be sophisticated (he'll show you that they can). This is the kid who, at two, beat up a couple of seven-year-olds because he didn't like how they were treating his (then-seven-year-old) brother. (Remembering his swan dive off the porch and into the fray makes me laugh out loud even as I write this.) This is the kid who has better timing than the best comedians, coupled with an inborn sense of right and wrong that would impress any jurist or Talmudic scholar.

He makes me laugh every day. He inspires me with his strength. And tonight, I let him down.

I know we all talk about how important it is to tell our kids the truth when they ask us serious questions.

Tonight, I should have lied.


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Monday, December 11, 2006

Miracles, Minor and Otherwise

Several months back, on the old version of blogger, I mentioned my friend Gib, his wife Abby, and their new baby, Ellie. Because of the wonders of Blogger beta, that post no longer exists, but you'll remember, it's the only time I've suggested a prayer on this blog.

Gib has been a friend for several years. (Abby is also a delight.) Gib and I worked together for almost three years in my prior incarnation as a political consultant. We've talked baseball, shared some meals and downed more than a few beers together (while Gib taught me more than I needed to know about herring, striped bass, scallops, cod, flounder, haddock, and other fish-type creatures).

Back in April, they had Ellie. She's beautiful. She had a couple of medical issues. Enough that Gib and Abby:
  • Sold their house in Connecticut
  • Abby quit her job
  • They moved to Boston
  • They lived at Children's Hospital for almost 8 months
  • They blogged about it (see The Short Gut News) so other parents who had kids with similar conditions would know they weren't alone....
Gib and Abby are two of the strongest people I know. Their blog, by the way, is up for an award--I've always been into rigging polls, so click here and throw a vote or two to The Short Gut News. I've stuffed the ballot box from two servers and I'm heading for a third.

Today, 8 months after her birth, Gib and Abby brought their little girl home.

I have a little girl (and two wonderful boys). I never imagined waiting 8 months to bring her home from the hospital. I cannot comprehend giving up my job, selling my house and moving to another state for the sake of my kids. I mean, I'd do it, but they did it. They never thought twice about it.

An amazing story about some amazing people.

God Bless, Brogans. You earned it. By the way: Welcome home.


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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

One Year Burnin' Down the Road

A year ago today, I created this blog with my first post. It's been a great trip around the sun.

We've traveled quite a distance together.

Much has changed:
  • I've met a bunch of new friends through this blog
  • Bruce put out a new album
  • Kristofferson at 70 is still a rock star
  • We elected a Democratic Congress (and here in Massachusetts, a Democratic Governor for the first time since 1986)
  • I'm halfway through a new novel
I'm also grateful that everything important remains the same:
  • The Saint is still the Saint
  • My kids are still spectacular
  • The Saint is still the Saint
  • My friends remain my friends
  • The Saint is still the Saint
  • I have great agents
  • The Saint is still the Saint
You get the idea. Thanks to all of you for continuing to drop by. It's been a wild ride. Here's to another great year.


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Sunday, December 03, 2006

Since We're Talking About Location

I've been thinking about this for a while. I like to be a hands-on researcher, and I've always approached research (at least for my writing projects) as an exciting adventure, not a necessary chore.

But as the about-to-be-fired project managers on The Apprentice always say, I had help with this task.

As you are all oh so aware, I'm working on a novel set in, among other places, a small town in central New York, and in Washington, and in Albany. I've been to Washington enough times that I can remember the landmarks I need for the plot, and if I have trouble, I can always ask Best Man and Godfather (aka the Evil Republican Lobbyist who is evil because he is a lobbyist, not because he is a Republican-- in his party choice he is merely misguided). Anyway, when I need to get anywhere in Washington, BMAG can tell me where to go and how to get there, if I don't know already.

The central New York location... that's a little delicate, but then again, not so much. Delicate because I know the environment (and in my first novel, I based the fictional location on Cooperstown). My current project features another made-up town. It's not based on any real place. I don't have to nail the details because I created the place out of whole cloth.

On to Albany. A real place. Central to the plot of the novel. With real buildings I've lovingly described from my own memories, internet narratives and pictures, books, and Google maps.

What's missing? Right. Recent impressions. My own hands-on research. Last time I walked through downtown Albany, I hadn't begun outlining my current project. I had no idea Albany would even feature in the narrative, let alone play a central role in the plot. I was on my way to and from a Springsteen concert, with the Saint and two friends. I wasn't trying to map out the Capitol, the Cathedral, the Governor's Mansion, the Kenmore Hotel, the Hudson River, the Empire State Plaza. (My late grandfather, a construction foreman on that project, called it the South Mall until the day he died. In this context: "I built the South Mall." Well, he and a few thousand other people, but if you listened to him, he did it himself.)

So I've been thinking for months that I need to go to Albany simply to research my novel. In those months, I've driven through Albany four times on round trips from Boston to Cooperstown.

But I haven't
  • Seen the Capitol from the inside since 1982; from close-up (i.e, not from the highway) since 1986
  • Seen the (former) Kenmore Hotel in a way that I remembered (though on my 2005 trip, I stood directly across the street without realizing I was looking at the Kenmore Hotel)
  • Seen the Cathedral since my 1986 confirmation
  • Seen the Governor's Mansion, next door to the Cathedral, since 1982 (no, I didn't realize at my confirmation that the complex next door was where Mario Cuomo lived at the time)
  • Seen the Empire State Plaza since that same 1982 sixth grade trip where I toured the Capitol and saw the Governor's Mansion
  • Seen the Hudson from the water's edge, ever.
I must learn enough about each of those places that I can't ask my brother, who lives in Albany, to tour them for me. Instead, I've asked him to tour them with me. He'll see my invitation when he checks his e-mail.

The Great and Gifted Jamie Ford (unknowingly) set my plan in motion when he left Big Sky country to go "home" to Seattle, for research on his budding bestseller. He knew exactly what places he needed to see, but last time he'd seen them, he hadn't been thinking, "I need to know about these places for my book."

Ditto with me. Last time I was in Albany, I was thinking, "I never realized the Pepsi Arena is so close to the Capitol." I never even knew that the Kenmore Hotel is not only closer to the arena than the Capitol is, but it's also on the same street, more or less, across from the bar where the Saint, our friends and I partied the night away post-Bruce concert. The Governor's Mansion, the Hudson, the Empire State Plaza and the Cathedral are all within easy walking distance.

And I need to see all of them. I mentioned this to my Mother on Friday night (she happened to be in Albany wating for a flight to Jamaica).

She volunteered to watch the kids for a weekend if the Saint and I need to go to Albany (when the Saint drives, it's 2 and a half hours from Boston, but one and a half hours from Cooperstown, and as I've mentioned, every round trip requires us to go through Albany).

I moved quickly. Not as quickly as the our van does with the Saint's foot on the gas, but quickly enough for my purposes.

Mom doesn't know this yet, but I'm taking her up on her offer. The Saint and I are going to Albany for Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. I already booked the trip. My brother, who has an advanced degree in urban planning, will be accompanying us (as I've mentioned, he doesn't know this yet, either).

Since the Saint has a birthday right after the weekend, this also (bonus!) doubles as a getaway for her. We usually do the birthday escapes around my birthday because I change ages (unfortunately, never in reverse) during the summer. Yes, I'm sure the Saint would choose a place a little more romantic than Albany if the choice were up to her (but Albany is a pretty cool place even if it's not exactly romantic).

Alas, the choice was not the Saint's. I'll be enlisting friends to recommend great, romantic restaurants for a cold midwinter weekend. We'll have the other activities covered.


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Friday, December 01, 2006

Distance, Real and Imagined

The great Jim Atwell has struck again. His most recent column has another take on last weekend's festivities at my parents' place. Much more poetic than my own version, though I don't believe James linked my mother's cuisine to proof that God exists (though he did thank God for the food).

My Grandmother (the Rock Star) is among many to receive prominent billing in Jim's piece. The Saint and my Mother both get shout-outs as well.

Though I never did fully recharge the batteries, it was great to be home.

I'm noticing, more and more, that central New York, and the places I went when I grew up, have major roles in my fiction. Boston, where I live now with the Saint and the kids, is almost nonexistent. I had an earlier post about that.

Funny how the places from our past often have a greater impact on our lives than the places in our present. I'm not one of those nostalgic types who think the past was better than the present. I mean: I am a nostalgic type, but I still prefer the present and the future to the past. Every day with the Saint and the kids is better than the day before.

Yet the places from my past have helped shape who I am right now. I know this because the places from my past are so prominent in my current project (just as they were in my first project).

The places from my present: I don't even mention them. Does that mean they've had no impact? I doubt that.

Distance is the key. Living day to day, I'm in the middle of things. Everything is immediate.

But as I move away from the past, prior places and events crystallize for me. It's like they're easier to see in the rear view mirror than they are on the road ahead. Which, of course, is impossible.

It's all about the perspective, and I get a different perspective when I go home to Cooperstown.

The people in my life are an entirely different story. They've shaped me more than the places have. The Saint most of all (and truly, Thank God for that); but my kids; my friends; my Mom; my Dad; my Stepfather; my Grandmother the Rock Star; my Grandfather after whom I'm named; Nick Alicino; Bruce Springsteen; favorite aunts, uncles and cousins.

With the people in my life, there's no distance. Does that mean there's no perspective?

My Dad and my Grandfather are as much a part of my life now as they were when they were alive, if my memories count for anything. Every time I finish a chapter on my manuscript, among my first thoughts is What would Nick think? The Saint is my first thought of the morning, my last thought at night, and, truth be told, most of my thoughts in between. Ditto the kids.

I keep all those impressions close to me. I don't need distance so I can be objective about the people in my life. I don't even need to be objective.

Sometimes, logic isn't necessary.


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