You Wrote a Bad Song

There’s a pop song in the heavy rotation over here, called “Bad Day”. I suspect it is popular over on the other side of the pond as well. It is an inoffensive little tune, a bit on the catchy side, and were it not played so often I would have never even noticed it. There’s nothing wrong with catchy little tunes; that describes much of the Beatles’ output, and now they are considered one of the greatest pop bands ever.

So while I don’t hate the song, I woke up with it in my head this morning and soon thereafter some alternate lyrics blossomed in my caffeinated cranium:

You Wrote a Bad Song
(to the tune of Bad Day)

You wrote up a pop song and you knew it was crap,
A helping of saccharine and whole lot of sap,
The artist within you said ‘no way’,
Throw that piece of crap away,
But that’s not how how you earn your paaaaaay…

You wrote a bad song,
You pushed it too far,
But now it’s on the charts
and it’s made you a star

You wrote a bad song
You made some new friends
but now they want to know
when you’ll do it again

Because you’ve known it all along,
You wrote a bad song.

You sit at your keyboard and play with some notes,
But all of the lyrics stick in your throat
Everything that you write that blows
Will be played on the radio,
But that’s now how you want to be knoooooooooown…

You wrote a bad song
You pushed it too far,
But now it’s on the charts
And it’s made you a star.

A million people CAN be wrong,
You wrote a bad song.

Sometimes when you’re thinking late at night,
You wonder what went wrong,
You remember how happy your were the time
The radio first played your song
They played your song…

So where is dispassion when you need it the most?
Why can’t the artist just give up the ghost?
You know if you do it all your way
Play what you really want to play
All your brain-dead fans will saaaaaaaaay…

You wrote a bad song
You pushed it to far
We came to hear candy
And you’re giving us art

Yeah, You wrote a bad song
You pushed it too far
But now it’s on the charts
And it’s made you a star

You wrote a bad song…
You wrote a bad song…
You wrote a bad song…
[Repeat many, many times, fade out]

NaNoWriMo Kerplop!

Normally December for me is a time of hectic productivity for me. Each NaNoWriMo leaves me with tremendous momentum and a story in the vault that likely would never have been written otherwise. I am reminded to write without fear, to get the ideas down and worry about the niceties later. I’ve been away from my main projects for a month and there are things I been looking forward to fixing in them, or new ideas on how to give a particular bit of dialog some extra wallop.

Not this year. I’ll make the word count goal again for the fifth straight year, but given my current lifestyle, that’s no big deal at all. I expect there are very few months in which I don’t write 50,000 words.

There are several reasons for this, I suppose. for one thing, this will be the last time I write anything I dare call a novel without planning it carefully first. I can see the germ of a really fun story in what I did this November, with some true Douglas Adams-style blink-blink moments of complete cultural disorientation that power forward what really is a funny story. Or at least it would be funny if there weren’t vast sections of it that just don’t fit together, and lots and lots of filler, and a few spots that just plain suck.

Another, bigger, reason is that with one novel complete, and another approaching completion (um… sort of…), I am forced to recognize that in the long run adding another unpublished work in the hopper isn’t moving me forward professionally. So as a significant annual milestone I have to look back on the year and take stock of my progress. I finished a novel. The whole damn thing. On the way I deleted and rewrote hundreds of pages, honing the language while (hopefully) not eradicating the soul. So that’s a good thing.

It is far less than I had set for myself to accomplish in the last year, however. According to the timetable I set out at the end of last November, I am supposed to be finished with The Test, and well under way with my American Road Novel, tentatively titled The Fish. The Test has some brilliant moments (if I do say so myself), but lacks structure. It’s taken longer than I expected to get it under control, but that’s all right. It’s big, and one of my challenges right now is to split it into two satisfying stories. (I will not put out of these so-called “series” which is really just a single, rambling story. I hate getting to the end of a book only to discover that when I shelled out my money for a story, I only got a fraction of a tale. Or, worse, buying a book and finding myself in the middle of a story with no clue what’s going on and who the hell all these people are. But I digress.) So, okay, writing a novel (at least one that doesn’t suck) takes a long time.

The business part of my chosen profession is a bigger problem, however. It is languishing. I have identified likely agents, identified their requirements and prioritized which ones to approach first. The shotgun method is not appreciated, so this will be a time-consumong process. Well, it would be time-consuming if I was spending any time on it. At the rate I’m going now, the ETA (estimated time of agentedness) is, um… (… carry the four, take the hypotenuse…) infinity.

So this December, rather than pick up my real writing projects, I think I’m going to take that energy and channel it where it needs to go. It is a measure of how much I like my “job” that I can use allowing myself to work as a reward when I make progress in other areas.

A Dream Within A Dream

I was talking to Soup Boy this morning, asking him if he knew of a place here in the ‘hood where I could send a fax. Sure, there are places in the next neighborhood over, but it’s a cold, rainy day, the kind where you just want to hole up in your favorite café and write. Public transportation is efficient, so it’s not really a problem to go elsewhere.

“People who live in Prague don’t get out into the real world much,” Soup Boy said, “but you don’t even see Prague.

Gotta be there

It’s the little things – the timing that could be a wee bit better, the fill-in radio chatter that needs to be written, the F-117 keychain hanging on my wall that’s needed for a shot. The way they are afraid to push the music forward when atmosphere is more important than realism. Not to mention, Charles the Second needs his Becherovka.

I spent two months on the production of Pirates of the White Sand, and it would be difficult to point to any one thing and say, “Dang! Jerry kicked ass right there.” (Aside from my part of the writing, of course, but that happened long before.) I was (so I tell myself), a general lift to the entire production, leaving very small marks everywhere. There was the general good feeling on the set. I provided pure pie-in-the-sky American Dream. Pirates was not a goal but a vehicle, a stepping stone to something grander. The film was itself theCrusader, a pirate ship ready to storm pop culture. I painted a vision so grand that no one else could be embarrassed for dreaming big. I did that. And honestly, I’m a little bummed that that didn’t show up more in the raw footage. There was sloppiness there that didn’t echo the belief that we were building a new pop-culture franchise.

The last day when, after my incessant whining, we set things up so the pirates could do some serious shouting, it was golden. (Credit must also be given to a crew who gave us a day to go back and do stuff like that.)

Also, I brought an enormous number of breakfast burritos for the crew. And a machine gun.

The part where Moab says “lay a course for the Sierra Madres”? I happened to be paying attention just then, made a comment, and then C-2 used that to change the cut by a fraction of a second, and it was better. So most of the credit goes to Chuck II, because he had the skill and immediately knew what I was talking about. Dude knows his shit. Not to take away from fuego, he was there too, and it was actually a pretty tough cut. They worked together on it for quite a while. I really came to appreciate how many hours of post production go into each second of film you see.

But I made the comment. They probably don’t need me for that so much now that they have time to be picky, but I bet there are places in the flow of things that they are just used to, places where they understand more than the audience, that could be better. I know that’s the way with my writing.

And there are the relationships. I was on the ground for the Duke City Shootout longer than they were, and I just got comfortable with people. It doesn’t sound like they are having any trouble in that regard, but they are dealing with people I would like to see again, whether or not my participation would be helpful. If you’ve been paying attention, you know who I’m talking about.

When it comes right down to it, while intellectually I have surrendered the vision of the story to people with the skills to make it happen, emotionally I am still wrapped up in the thing. I hear reports from far away, encouraging noises, and I know things are in good hands. Skilled hands. Passionate hands.

Just not my hands.

2

Girls Night Out at the Bowling Alley

I may have to start a new category in this here bolg: Observations in a bowling alley. There’s always something new to see here.

Tonight the writing has been especially difficult, for it is, indeed, girl’s night out. There is a large group of them, dominating four of the six lanes, and from my vantage point far above, each bowler provides her own unique distraction. For some, it is simple physical attraction. Others have a unique bowling style. One, a dark-haired cutie wearing 60’s-style striped pants, has the pendulum delivery.

There is another, her long, black hair tinted red, wearing glasses, a t-shirt and stone-washed jeans, who is quite obviously used to being good at things. She approaches bowling with the intensity of a serious athlete. It is interesting watching someone who is accustomed to excelling facing a task at which she does not excel. Her own expectation is still there.

All the women below me suck at bowling. I imagine it might be the first time for some of them. I’m pretty sure it’s the first time for athlete girl.

Here’s why I think so. In their first game, she was horrible. She dropped the ball so it rolled behind her. Gutter, gutter, gutter. She’s on her third game now, and she’s laying the ball down gracefully, almost silently, and she is following through with her hand high in the air. No one taught her this. Much of the time, the ball rolls straight and true, and she’s working on a score I would be satisfied with.

I hate people like that.

Programming note

I have the cover over at Piker Press this week. I don’t always mention when I’m published over there, but this one I rather like more than half the time.

Although there was one edit I wanted to make before it went live, and then I just plan forgot. D’oh!

The Night of the Big Game

It was early when I got to the little café near home. My batteries were already somewhat depleted and I didn’t have my power cord with me, so I didn’t figure on it being a long night.

The place was almost empty when I got there; the only two tables that were taken were the ones I normally gravitate toward. One is directly beneath the TV and close to the outlet, and the one next to it also has good access to electricity. They are both by the window, which can be chilly, but when things get smoky it’s a blessing. They also happen to be the tables that are most out of the way when things start to get crowded. (There are only six tables in all.) That didn’t seem like it was going to be an issue, however.

Soon, though, people started to arrive. One regular took over one of the two tables that can accommodate more than two people, and rounded up extra chairs. The other larger table was usurped soon after. There was talk of turning on the television. At first I thought people were gathering to watch Velký Bratr, the absurdly popular Czech version of Big Brother. Absurdly popular doesn’t even begin to describe it. Then I realized the gathering crowd was all male, except for a small knot of three girlfriends huddling up at the far end of the bar. Sports, then.

I put my head down into my story and raced the batteries. Just as the laptop gave it up, the game was starting. Fotbol. Soccer to the Americans in the audience. It was a big game, I knew, because the Czech Republic, an early favorite to qualify for the World Cup, had lost a couple of important games and was now fighting for one of the last spots.

The graphic came up on the screen: Norway vs. Czech Republic. Wait a minute, they just played Norway the other day. Is this a rerun? Luckily I did not know how to ask anyone and therefore display my ignorance. It was a two-game playoff, the winner going to the big dance.

It was crowded in there by then, but I decided to hang out and watch a bit of the game and see what words I could pick out of the conversations around me. People kept arriving, and when the game got boring there was plenty of activity around me to provide entertainment. By halftime I was sharing the table with a pair of drunk kids in their early twenties.

At the half, an older guy, a fixture at one of the barstools, saw I wasn’t working and came over and asked in czech, “Why aren’t you working? Where’s your computer?” I started to answer, but he had already assumed I couldn’t understand him and had turned to other regulars to translate. It took some time for me to get the six people all translating differently at once to understand that I understood in the first place, so they would stop explaining and let me answer. “batteries are kaput,” I said in Czech, (although the ‘Kaput’ may have been German).

“You need batteries? Batteries? I’ll get us some batteries!”

“He’s buying you a shot,” one of the kids said in English.

I knew that already. I don’t know if “Batteries” is common slang for shots or if it’s just one of those cases where anything would have been taken as a euphamism for booze. No matter, moments later I was holding a shot of Becherovka.

The night did not descend into a long and painful trail of trading shots. The game started, the game ended, the Czechs won, I talked to the drunk kids some more, I managed a few sentences in Czech, and fun was had by all. The bar closed at eleven on the dot, and we all went home.

In the two days since, I have studied my Czech harder than ever. I felt it while I was there. I was close. Afterwards I thought of many things I could have said had I had the presence of mind to dig the words up. A few more words, maybe throw in the past tense (which I hear is pretty easy), and I can have conversations in czech. Slow, painful, conversations, but that’s OK. Once I cross that threshold, I think things will speed up as I get more meaningful practice.

Today as I was walking I was greeted warmly by one of the Little Café regulars as I passed him on the street. It was early yet, and the Little Café was not yet open, so he was heading for the Budvar Pub on the next corner.