I didn't want to pollute the Web
with another Blahg, so my Blog is kind of short
and focused. I wanted to share key moments in the novel
creating process, ones either enlightening or
instructive. Or at the least funny. Or about love.
It's also upside-down as far as
Blogs go, hit the link to skip to the latest if you've
already read through the rest.
remember just when I got the idea that I’d write a
book. I can’t stretch my memory back to any incident
or clap of realization during childhood. Although I’m
at least sure the impetus does go back that far. Kids
and their whacked ideas—it’s amazing just how often
these lazy, cotton candy daydreams return to us when we’re
older. But I did know—must write book.
Getting More Serious about
I got more
serious about writing during Graduate School (I got an
MA in Conservation Biology), during which a nightmare
inspired me to write a Spec teleplay for the X-files.
The first one I wrote wasn’t very good. The second was
much better, although, having recently given it another
eye, it isn’t the poop either. I finished the second
while living in a tiny room on a steep hill that hugged
one side of a Hawaiian Valley. I could see beautiful
rainbows out of my little window nearly every day. I had
to put my computer under a TV-sized cardboard box within
which forever burned a naked light bulb—saving my
machine from the damp valley air.
did get as far as the story department, which is really
good considering I was without agent. But I happened to
come knocking when the show was near its confusing end,
so I doubt it ever even got read.
The Writing Assignment that never
happened—the tale of Bigfoot
planned writing venture never happened. Having caught a
nasty case of island fever, I migrated back to Cali with
the plan of riding used Police motorcycles with my best
friend up to Canada. To help pay the way and add to the
adventure I arranged interviews and outings with the
world’s most respected Bigfoot aficionados. I figured
I’d sell travel articles to the Sunday Travel Sections
of newspapers, hooking it as a kind of extreme family
vacation. We bought the bikes at an auction near Napa,
California (I paid $800 for my Kawasaki), but, dismally,
something important and uncontrollable came up with my
friend so he had to bow out. And I didn’t want to go
the Book—the road to Accidental Discovery
my History of My Book Section (says it all):
Underwater was a novel born of our collective hunger for
God. It grew up underground, mostly, nurtured within the
18 libraries scattered around the University of
Berkeley. The book isn't at all the one I thought I
would write when I started researching. The answers I
anticipated weren't the ones I found. The story is as
much a surprise to me as to anyone else. Its threads
emerged like findings of an archeological dig, one by
one, each a window to another place, delicate long hours
to unearth them. Only much later could you piece
together their connections, at the cost of all
The Novel that didn’t
come and the ebay Scandal (April
fell in love with the story I finally created for my
novel. But when I went to write it, no words came out. I
diligently spent about three months working hours a
day—I was only able to write two pages. So I quit. It
wouldn't be until five years later in a different country that in 15
minutes I would solve my writing problem.
the time I was paying my bills by buying and selling oil
paintings on ebay. Normally an up and down, one month to
another, kind of existence, it took a hook for the worst
after the Diebenkorn scandal on ebay (remember—the
million dollar painting the guy had supposedly bought at
a garage sale).
a great book about it, by the way, scheduled to come out
soon. It’s titled Fake: Forgery, Lies and Ebay, and is written by
Ken Walton, the lawyer
around which the scandal swirled. Check it out.
business was fizzling, but I wasn’t too
broken up—I was getting sick of boxing and taping paintings. And I was
hungry to once again reenter a peopled
universe—the ebay seller's life can be a lonely
I decided to get a job.
The strange road to
writing experience and virtual China (September
although my great novel may seem as if it died a
sputtering end, that’s not the case at all. Oddly
enough, I wasn’t really the slightest bit perturbed at
the lack of words offered up by my fingertips. I just
shut my laptop off, and waited for something to change.
I believed (still do) that the most normal people
can accomplish the most extraordinary things (like
writing great books). I’m a perfectly normal guy.
...it would come...eventually. With my urging, of
course—books don’t write themselves. I just needed a
the meantime (who knew when the angle would pop
up) I’d get myself more gainful employment. I set my sights on a writing job…somewhere I
could work on my chops.
Now getting the job I lobbed myself at could
have been a problem because
I’d never written professionally before. I had no
dusty portfolio of works to pull out of my closet.
would have to get tricky.
The Trick that worked Twice
eventually landed a job working as a writer for a
Chinese Telecom Company. I wrote web pages, patents,
white papers, contracts, copyright applications, all
that kind of stuff.
wasn’t, incidentally, the job I’d applied for. I was
referred by strangers, and had won out above a stack of
applications three inches high. They showed them to me.
I certainly didn’t get hired on my experience, as you
know. It pays to be tricky. The strangers were
friends of the CFO of the Telecom. They'd been looking
for a writer and, as a writing sample, I’d submitted a
rewritten version of their own web site.
just love it when you rebuild their own mousetrap. As I
said, this trick worked twice—years later in Austria
I'd rewrite Red Bull's web page as a writing sample for
their company. I ended up writing them extreme sports
pieces about Big Wall Speed Climbing and Big Wave
Surfing and so on.
Chinese Telecom was a strange opportunity. I was alone in
about 3000 square feet of office. Just me, my computer
and a few copy machines. I communicated with my
colleagues in China over high definition Video Phone.
All that space was supposedly for them whenever they
would find a bit of time to drop by. They only did so
only once during the two years I worked there.
man I worked for was a genius. A real one. He'd taken 13
classes a semester when he went to University. Back in
China he'd scrapped together a brand new kind of
telephone switch and from there started a billion dollar
company. Good guy. I miss him.
in Love—unexpected sojourn to Austria (2001)
realizing this section of my Blog has only the faintest
connection to me writing my novel. But I’m going to
keep it in here anyways. It’s about love, something far
more important than writing.
found love in the most unexpected of places—the
auditorium of the Veteran’s Hall in Santa Cruz. One of
those places where there are lots of pictures of friends
lost in Vietnam and organized picnics for the once
troops. They also do lots of community stuff in those
places…including Salsa Dancing. That’s why I went.
Dancing at the old Veterans Hall isn't for the meek.
Cowboys have left crying. It’s
a huge class—maybe between 50 and 70 people on any
given Thursday. First you all stand in lines shoulder to
shoulder down on the auditorium floor. The instructor, a
nice woman from Poland (the heartland of Salsa) stands
upon the stage and walks you through the basic step with
the help of a portable microphone.
the basic step the two instructors—the nice Polish
woman in married to a slightly feminine American man
(great dancer)—give a performance of whatever
complicated routine they’ve been working on lately.
For anyone who loves Salsa or wants to learn, they put
out a great computer program that teaches you the
steps—it’s called ‘Salsa Now’. You can see them
for yourself, but you won’t find love unless you go
the performance we students get in our lines again and
then learn the moves of the day. Usually some moves
bleed back to the previous class if you happened to have
Here’s where love enters…
everybody arranges themselves in two concentric
circles—leaders (usually men…not always) on the
outside circle, followers inside. As a leader you
rotate every several minutes or sometimes song, skipping
from one follower to the next as the whole class
practices the new move.
is the part where you have to be brave, for on any given
night you'll dance not only with the menace of ill
coordinated high heals but also with woman in their
early fifties who whisper to you in various tones of gin
and rum. There's also a cross dresser who's a regular,
also mid fifties. Thick black hair, lots of makeup and
huge hands. Also speaks in rum. Reasonably good dancer.
Actually, here's where love enters...
amid drunk middle aged woman and Ms. big hands was a
stunning and utterly charming girl from the small
European country of Austria. I still can't believe I
found her in the Veteran's Hall. You just never know
where love will get you.
Benders and Geisha Shoes—Getting Married (July,
were married in July of 2002 in a grove of trees on the
wild outskirts of Vienna, a grassy pine needle cathedral
where my wife celebrated her birthdays as a little girl.
We also had a very beautiful, very funny civil ceremony
in an old stone civil building in a bordering village.
One would-be Maid of Honor got caught up in a fender
bender on the way and arrived only afterward for
champagne and euro-tappas. She was replaced by another
close friend of my wife's, a German girl with a flange
of red hair and Hawaiian print geisha shoes. Put on the
spot, her job was to translate the ancient delicately
woven words of the ceremony into respectable English for
me and the other uni-lingual guests. But her English was
a tad rusty. And how many times did regular people in
everyday conversation use words like groom
poor girl, geisha shoes shuffling nervously, struggled
in front of the masses, and in the end had to be
prompted by members of the gathered. The woman presiding
over the ceremony would spout on and on in the droll
tones of civility, then look meaningfully toward
Stephanie to translate. All that would come out of her
would be a short sentence cutting all the blathering
straight down to the shiny white bone, albeit sometimes
missing a few perhaps important words..
never imagined I could laugh so much at my own wedding
ceremony. Sometimes you can't imagine what perfect is
until it comes.
Happiness & a little story development (August, 2002-2005)
next few years passed with utter happiness and a few
surprises. The first surprise was my son, who decided to
come to us before we had scheduled him. He was born in
August, 2003, so we were pregnant by the end of 2002. At
the time we were planning to move to Brazil for a good
while, practice our samba dancing and teach English on
the beach. Instead we chose to go the Austria and have
our children (our second just came in August,
plan to have three. So I'm still here.
through all the happiness the story that I'd unearthed
in the fluorescent basements of UC Berkeley never left
me. It was always in the back of my head, sometimes way
back there, other times buzzing just under the hood. And from
time to time I'd get out my spiral notebooks and laptop
and look at my story outline and monkey with it here and
I ended up changing it quite a bit, but was
really too busy to imagine opening the "book"
file to page one to try to write something again. I knew
it wouldn't work any better than it had when I'd been
unmarried with no children and had all the time in the
world. I needed some kind of novel writing breakthrough. It would finally
years later in 15
minutes (March 1st, 2005)
my The Writing It Part Section
loved the story that I hadn't been able to write. And I
knew that millions of other people had been able to
write books. So I could too. I just had to
approach it somehow differently. One day I had a simple
idea. I wondered how many words I could write if I were
completely unlocked from whatever I was writing. And
what would it sound like?
I gave myself 15 minutes to sit down at my laptop and
grind out as much rubbish as all ten fingers and a wee
bit of my brain would allow.
what... Where before I had been able to
write only maybe 1100 words in 3 friggin' months, in
fifteen minutes I wrote 527. What did it sound
like? Well, it wasn't brilliant. Very rambling, as you
can imagine. But also...it wasn't bad.
curious how long it really takes for a writer to
write a page, approximately 500 words. Do they
simply let their minds wander from one word to
another, sifting through the vivid landscape of
their unconscious, the words flowing out and down
through the fingers, etched in living color, or
black and white actually, on the page. Or do they
slowly knock the words out, painfully, one by one by
in a quarter of an hour my own worst hurtle was
overcome. Would it work in actually writing? I'd have to
wait months to find out.
films—no time for
Novels (March through July, 2005)
lived years with that story inside, how
on the blessed Earth could I possibly wait for months
to find out if I could finally write it?
was the result of a terribly bright idea. Terribly
bright. I thought it would be cool to teach
Independent Filmmaking at my school. I ended up teaching
two classes of it and convinced the kids and myself that
could make a movie.
right. We made Crush, a silent black and white
film with a Hawaiian/Hip Hop soundtrack. It's a story about a
love starved boy, the evil bullies that haunted him,
chemistry (the lab type), explosions, a mouse and a
muscle man. This is its World Release poster.
ran about 20 minutes. Huge success (in this sliver of
the world). But, my novel
writing time evaporated amid my growing understanding of
why they use entire crews to make movies. Making one
film would have been blunder enough.
second, called Searching for Skyler Walker,
around 30 minutes long, will have its World Premiere
this October. It's a talkie.
of a Novel—School finished, the words finally came (August
memories of June and July are of the computer and the
film editing screens. But I did finally made it to
summer vacation. If you just keep eating and drinking
and sleeping a bit you can manage to survive just about
the magic of my 15 minutes of writing exercise transfer
to writing my novel?
took out my outline, pulled up my brief notes for the
first chapter, imagined I was the main character, and
this is what came out...
yearning spread across the woman, soaked her
through, she could feel it pull her blood away, so
that she unconsciously swayed from side to side on
the pew, moving to the rhythm of her own deep want.
If those on either side of her were paying less
attention to the mass, they might have chalked up
her movement as a reflection of her connection to
the service, or more specifically to her connection
to God that the service rarified. Only her eyes
weren’t watching the priest as he began the
Pages, 28 Days of Writing—the idea for this
Web Site (September 2005)
time September rolled around I’d easily reached 76
pages. It just kept coming and coming. I finally
overcame my fear (to a point) that someone would close
the tap or turn off the machine.
endless web crawling research I came across some great
Author sites. Now I wasn’t a published author yet, but
I believed in my story and my ability to craft it and,
in spite of the daunting competition, I was pretty sure
that in the not too distant future I would be. All I had
to do was look at my graph—you just couldn’t stop
the words. And they read well.
occurred to me that I might be able to really help my
fellow struggling writers by showing them both the long
road toward a novel I’d walked down myself and also
the tiny little tricks that for me had made all the
difference. I know—a Web Site!
But what Kind of Web Site?
you, was interested in writing a novel. To learn how to
do it I read lots of books and, like you, dredged the
Internet for its endless useful information. Searching
the Web I did find shiny pebbles here and there, but
mostly swamp mud and old tires. So the Internet goes.
this site by imagining what the site—the one I was
truly searching for, would look like. It would be
simple, including just the information I really found
useful for actually writing a novel. Not the endless
series of steps or the advice that for me didn’t make
any sense. Just the clean shiny core. And the site would
have great examples—ones immediate, illuminating and
also definitely include ties into the deep psychology
behind our need for stories—not too much…just enough
to provide people a more intuitive grasp of the novel
writing process and in doing so make it much simpler and
Web Site is finished (October
finished the site, and now looking at it…it is the one
I was always looking for. I finally found it!
hindsight - First Novel thoughts (October 7th, 2007)
recently compared notes with a friend of mine who
himself just finished a book. We had the exact same
bumpy beginning of the book experience. It took both of
us several chapters to really find a clean steady
narrative. Looking back both of our books' beginnings
started out bloody awful.
then something happened...
figure out how to fit the words to the story, how to
balance story elements and raise the pace. After
slogging out some ugliness, both my friend and I found
isn't just a tale of funny coincidence. The lesson other
first time novelists might siphon off is that you
probably need to plant down several chapters of
uncomfortably bad writing before you yourself find your
first, don't look back. You'll know when it starts
getting good. Perhaps write 30 or 40 pages before
glancing behind you. You may, like my friend and I, find
you will eventually need to nearly rewrite the first few
chapters, but you may also find that the rest is pretty
if you don't bravely wade through the swamp, you'll
never find land.