Extra Life 2015: Raising Money and Playing Games for Kids (With Tentative Schedule)

Hey everybody! Still on the road to recovery with my ear infection but feeling much, much better. Almost well enough to get back to full-time writing again; I may dip my toes back into the book today, with an eye toward full-scale re-engagement on Monday. In the meantime, I think I may feel well enough to take part in the Extra Life 2015 marathon that’s going on tomorrow.

extra-life-splash

So what is Extra Life and why should you care? Good question. Extra Life is a gaming-centric charity that raises funds throughout the year to support the Childrens’ Miracle Network in providing clinical treatment, pediatric medical equipment, and other related items. Every year the network hosts a 24-hour marathon designed to help raise funds, and this is my second year participating.

I’m currently $15 short of my $200 goal and could use your help. All proceeds go to the University of Virginia Children’s Hospital. Any amount is more than appreciated. You can donate here: http://www.extra-life.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=175107

Last year I met met my goal (and then some) while also playing 18 hours of games to raise awareness and raise funds. This year I’m hoping to do the same, while upping my commitment to 20 hours, which might be a tad much in my current state, but I’ll give it a go. I also plan to stream most of these efforts throughout the day, starting at 8AM tomorrow, the morning of November 7th. Here is the tentative schedule, which may change in the evening as I have some friends who might want to join in on some Rock Band 3; all should be viewable at http://www.twitch.tv/workingdogv1.

Twitch

  • 8-9 AM – Destiny
  • 9-10 AM – The Witcher 3
  • 10-11 AM- Life is Strange
  • 11-12 AM – Diablo 3
  • 12-12:30 PM Lunch Break
  • 12:30 – 1:30 PM Destiny
  • 1:30 – 2:30 PM Rock Band 4
  • 2:30 – 3:30 PM Life is Strange
  • 3:30 – 4 PM Afternoon Break
  • 4 – 5 PM Rock Band 4
  • 5 – 6 PM The Witcher 3
  • 6 – 7 Destiny (Tentative)
  • 7 – 7:30 Dinner Break (Tentative)
  • 7:30 – 9:30 PM Rock Band 3 (Tentative)
  • 9:30 -10:30 PM TBD
  • 10:30 – 11:00 – Night Time Break
  • 11 PM – 1 AM – Until Dawn
  • 1 – 2 AM – Destiny
  • 2 – 3 AM – ???
  • 3 – 4 AM – ???

Again, the schedule may change. I’ll try to live blog some here and interact on the channel as much as possible, but it may be tricky with having to, you know, play the games.

If you’d like to help out, the link again is http://www.extra-life.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=175107

Should be a lot of fun as well as a test of endurance. Hope to see you there.

Getting There

Starting to feel better, so there’s light at the end of the tunnel, but I’m not going to rush recovery. This was too painful. I’ll be resuming regular “broadcasts” next week.

Out Sick

Hey regular readers, just wanted to let you know that I haven’t abandoned the new schedule or forgotten about you. I’m suffering from a very painful ear infection, one which makes it difficult to string together sentences, let alone coherent thoughts (ask me how long it took to compose this message sometime). Hope to return to the regular schedule soon.

Status Report: On Skulls and Disappearing Characters

Time for the bi-weekly status report! Work is coming along rather well; as I had hoped, I finally tied the ribbon on the fourth and final draft of Chapter 24 on Tuesday. Thank God. It’s a vitally important chapter (but then again aren’t they all), but it’s also the longest one, or perhaps that’s a result of its importance, I don’t know. Almost 20 pages double-spaced. It took 26 days of real time, or 14 hours of pure, concentrated writing and editing time. By far the longest and most complex of chapters in this iteration of the novel. Not sad to say goodbye, though I will certainly revisit it during the “critique” phase.

Currently in the early phase of the first draft of Chapter 25. This is where I dream up individual pieces and snippets from the planned chapter and write them out in pieces – a quote here, an action there. It usually takes two or three days to get to the point of stitching them together, but once I do, boom! First draft done. That’s scheduled to wrap up on the 4th, but it could be done more quickly, depending on the length of the chapter. Hard to say at this stage, and I don’t have a solid timeframe on how long the chapter will take, though my goal is Thanksgiving, which is somewhat aggressive given how busy my workload will be at the office. We’ll see.

In the meantime, I’m giving thought to characters and “subplots” that either don’t add anything or never went anywhere as the story evolved. At least two characters will no longer exist by the time this book releases, with a third mentioned in passing only. Just the nature of the beast.

Still, crazy to think that I’m working on the final first draft of Came to Believe. The next first draft will be in service of Lindsay’s novel, which remains unnamed at the moment. Probably some riff on the first one, like “Verb to Noun.” “Stopped to Relieve”.

Anyway, that’s where I am for this week…talk to you again soon and have a Happy Halloween.

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Halloween Post: Rockin the Box

Talk about something strange; while I’m sure I’ve mentioned Harrisonburg, VA as my birthplace and my bio states that I grew up in the Shenandoah Valley, I don’t think I’ve talked about my actual hometown. While I would call Dayton, VA my hometown, I spent the first five years of my life in the “unincorporated community” of Lacey Spring.

I credit this to being five when we moved away. Oh, sure, I have some solid memories of Star Wars toys, of playing with Tony across the street and rapidly discovering what it meant to be on the outside looking in (he was the only Hispanic kid in the neighborhood, I was the only fat kid), and of being hit in the face with a rock, but when it comes to Halloween, the nominal subject of this post, I have precious few memories. Photos exist, to be sure. I’ve seen the chubby little kid in brown corduroys with a lavish spread of Halloween candy, and a toddler in a Big Bird costume, but I have no tangible recall of those moments.

My strongest memory is of making a trek to the Lacey Spring Grocery on a hot day to get Sunkist soda, which was always my favorite. It felt like such a long walk back then, but Google informs me that it was a mile-and-a-half. I suppose that’s the nature of being a four-year-old with four-year-old legs. Sadly, the grocery closed down at some point and I can find no photos of what it looked like in its heyday. I recently visited the place, and here’s what it looks like today:

Lacey01

The place is white in my memories, which makes sense with that block of white on the right-hand side. Paint job at some point? Anyway. We moved to Dayton in July of 1981; easy to nail down the date as I have vivid memories of that July 4th. They shot off fireworks from the high school down the street, which blew my little mind. Granted, Dayton’s population couldn’t have been more than 750 people at the time, but compared to Lacey Spring it was a veritable metropolis, full of possibility.

The park where I played as a child.

The park where I played as a child. In ’81 this was an empty field.

We lived in Dayton for 14 years and, consequently, most of my Halloween memories revolve around that place. Hell, it still retains a spooky vibe in the Autumn, even when I revisit it as an adult. The thing about Dayton is that so much of its history still lives on, from the circa-late 19th century buildings downtown to the graveyard (which itself once abutted a long-lost church) with graves dating back to the 1700s. Oh, let’s not forget the potentially-haunted Silver Lake, which was the previous site for said church until a spring flooded out the grounds. Supposedly there are still gravestones in some spots, though I have no idea if anyone has verified this claim. The point is that the ghosts of Dayton’s past still walk the grounds, and it was a fertile place for my imagination.

Silver Lake

I loved to walk the streets around Sunset as the days grew short. A lot of people in Dayton still relied on wood stoves to heat their homes, so the place had this wonderful smoky scent that permeated the air. Imagine a combination of that odor with the loamy smell of fallen leaves and the ambient blue-and-purple lighting that fell across the nigh-deserted side streets and alleys. Absolute magic for a kid fascinated by the dark and decay. I’d stay out there for hours until the sky went black, and even then I’d sometimes linger under the oaks, peeking up through the last few wavering leaves to watch the twinkling stars overhead.

Dayton didn’t have a large population of kids, but we celebrated Halloween hard and well. Oh, we had our usual childhood stratification, with the older kids focusing on pranks and the younger kids focusing on trick-or-treating (sans parents, of course, you could still safely walk the streets alone), but there was a sense of it being a town-wide event. 1985 and 86 were the best that I can remember, though 85 is a little fuzzy, save this photo of me with that year’s Jack-O-Lantern. Note the sweet Movie Channel T-Shirt.

Movie_Channel

My touchstone would be 1986, which would be my last year in Elementary school and represent a jumping-off point to adolescence. We had just discovered the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and, while I would have to wait until Christmas for my own system, several of my friends already had theirs, and they were playing Castlevania that Fall. This would become my go-to-world to visit while I walked through streets, imagining myself as a rogue vampire hunter roaming the graveyard and climbing through construction sites. How could you resist such a fantasy? Practically crack, pure distilled badass as far as I was concerned.

Castlevania

And boy did I think I had a sweet costume in place that year. I didn’t dress as Simon Belmont, the hero of Castlevania (that would be a few years later, for a school dance), but I had something else in mind. That year also represented the last big bang of toys for me, in particular M.A.S.K., GI Joe and Transformers. I had developed a fascination with the recently-released Transformers movie, in particular the character Blurr, a fast-talking futuristic car/robot combination. I have no idea if he’s made an appearance in the live-action movies (I avoid those as much as possible), but I was in love. I had to dress as this robot. Now, keep in mind that this is what the character looked like:

Blurr01

By now you may have figured out that we weren’t exactly rich and, even if you did have money back in those days, you couldn’t exactly pop down to a Michael’s  and buy costuming materials. You either bought off-the-rack or tried to build your own the best you could. Blurr wasn’t a star character like Megatron or Optimus Prime, so the off-the-rack option was gone from the beginning. So, being the, ahem, creative child that I was, I decided to create one myself. With boxes. And face paint. And hair dye.

It turned out about as well as you’d expect. I mean, it wasn’t a terrible idea, but the execution lacked poetry, to say the least. It would become a neighborhood legend, in fact, spawning the nickname Boxman. My parents, God love them, have preserved this moment of shame so that I may share it with you.

Blurr

Not pictured: boxes on feet.

Hey, at least I tried. Sadly, no evidence remains of the Belmont costume, which actually did turn out pretty sweet and got compliments.

Such is life.

Hope all who celebrate have a Happy Halloween, and I’ll see you next week with some talk about Historical Preservation.

Monday Sanity Check: Dragging the Depths Edition

Mary and I have a years-long standing tradition of filling our Octobers with horror movies. The interesting thing about these marathons is that we inevitably hit some sort of theme, quite by accident. Last year it was Satan and possession. This year it’s the 1970s and living doll movies (like the fantastic Tourist Trap, can’t recommend that enough). This weekend we decided to watch the 1979 version of Salem’s Lot, as Mary’s been jonesing to watch it.

It hasn’t aged well. Don’t get me wrong, it had some creepy moments, like the kids hovering outside windows and Geoffrey Lewis as a vampire (see the photo below), but overall it suffered from corny dialogue, poor adaptation choices, and pacing issues. I mean, SEVERE pacing issues. The first hour of the story could have been cut out and it would have been all the same for it. I get that King’s book was just as much about the goings-on in a small town as the vampire threat, but this stuff dragged the movie into the mud.

salems Lot

Don’t get me started on the changes made to Barlow’s character or the limpness of the confrontation between Barlow and Callahan compared to what transpires in the novel. I’m tempted to check out the 2004 adaptation, but while it’s closer to the novel, it apparently has its own issues. Is it really so hard to put together a two-hour version of the story? It didn’t seem that hard based on what I saw, but what do I know?

Innocence Found: Purcell Park and Came to Believe

It’s no secret that Stephen King is one of my biggest influences, so I suppose it’s appropriate that he’s made me re-think things. I follow King on Twitter and have been enjoying his tweets about Molly, aka the Thing of Evil. They’ve been great as a fan and, more importantly as an author, in that they made me re-assess my interactions with current and potential readers.

Looking back, this site suffers from the lack of a personal touch. In those rare times where I’ve put the focus on something other than my fiction or the act of writing itself, it’s been to talk about myself in relation to the craft. This includes writing about influences, detailing personal development within the craft itself, and other writing-related topics. I’ve kept you at arms length. Now I’ve never been a “look at me” kind of person, owing to some negative early experiences, and I tend to think that stories should speak for themselves, but I also like to get glimpses into some of my favorite authors’ lives. So, I figured, why not open up a bit, share some things, especially when they intersect with my fiction?

You can expect a blend of slice-of-life and status posts, but I also want to talk about the sights and scenery of the Shenandoah Valley, especially as they relate to locations in Came to Believe and the other forthcoming books in the series. This is not so removed from my personal life as it first appears, as I grew up in the Valley and feel much of its history in my bones; I didn’t appreciate the place growing up, but these days it’s clear just how much it’s shaped and informed my worldview, for better or worse.

This week we’ll start with the very first scene of Came to Believe.

“I said, ‘where are we’?” Her voice had gotten a little higher this time, with a hint of panic at the edges.

 

Answer her, his weak side urged, but still he said nothing. He switched off the headlights and slowed to a crawl, studying the houses that lined the street. The neighborhood backed up to Purcell Park, with its towering oaks, baseball diamonds, and jungle gyms. The park was his destination, and while it might seem suspect to take a teenaged hooker there for business, he had few remaining options for such an encounter.

Here we meet Dean Rohrer, a dentist with a penchant for prostitutes who is taking what is to be his last “pleasure cruise” into Purcell Park, a sprawling blend of multi-purpose fields, picnic shelters, and playgrounds located near the heart of Harrisonburg, Virginia. The park opened in 1954 and is home to a “Kid’s Castle” that was installed sometime in the 80s and was likely part of the reason I went there so often, typically as part of group outings.

Purcell

My memories of these outings are somewhat hazy, though they often involved picnics, baseball, and, of course, said Kids Castle. There may also have been a girl involved, but that memory is hazy at best.

Kids_Castle

I can’t speak for other kids who used that Castle, but it sure put the fear of tight spaces into my heart. I was never a small kid, in weight or height, so it was always a snug fit at best, “age-appropriate clearance” or not. As a result, I didn’t spend a ton of time in the castle itself. My time was better spent roaming through the emptier back fields and trails, stopping for a softball game here or a baseball game there; mostly, however, I wanted to soak in the isolation of the place. What can I say? I was an only child and used to solitude. I loved to break away from the group and wander through the empty spaces.

This sense of solitude and peace, more than anything else, is what drove me to select Purcell for the book. Sure, I could have gone with Hillandale Park, where I was offered my first cigarettes and most definitely had an encounter or two with a girl, but therein lie the problem: I had imbued the place with such a sense of sleaze over the years that it felt too obvious, too dangerous. I preferred the idea of him “corrupting” a location, as it would also offer the opportunity to “redeem” it in the future.

Ultimately, this is all subjective and down to my personal experience. I’m sure a lot of people had quite different experiences with the park in question, but I needed to operate on this level to get the appropriate emotional tone.

As a footnote, I revisited the place during the early drafting stages. As always, everything looked smaller, especially that Castle, but the memories came flooding back. I was also dismayed to see that things had decayed quite a bit, but there’s a revival underway for the place, which warms my heart. So much of Harrisonburg’s history is vanishing in the name of progress that it’s good to see some preservation efforts. Let’s hope it’s enough.

kidscastle2

Oh, one more thing before I go. On November 7th, I’ll be participating in the Extra Life gaming marathon to raise money for the University of Virginia Children’s Hospital, and your donations are greatly appreciated. I plan to stream at least some of the marathon, where applicable, at http://www.twitch.tv/workingdogv1. I’ll be posting a schedule in the coming days. In the meantime, I’d be ever so grateful if you’re able to donate to the cause. Even $1 will help. You can donate by going to my Extra Life page. If you’re interested in participating, I can also answer any questions you might have and point you in the right direction. Thanks in advance to everyone who helps to make this event a successful one.

Next week I’ll talk a little about Halloween in the Shenandoah Valley; specifically, what that was like when I was growing up. Hope to see you then.

Monday Sanity Check: Skyline Drive Edition

“Happy” Monday to everyone. Hope you had a great weekend and got a chance to do something relaxing and peaceful. The wife and I headed out to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and took a ride down Skyline Drive, stopping at just about every overlook to take some pictures. I’m still sorting through the photos (there are easily 100+), but here are some I’d like to share.

Fave01 Fave03 Lookout14 Lookout16 Road02

Checking in – Mid-October Edition

So I promised in my most recent entry that I would be checking in with you guys more often, and this is the proof in the pudding. A complete update on where Came to Believe currently stands and where I think we’re going next.

I’m currently working my way through the largest chapter in the book, Chapter 24. This is the penultimate chapter, in which we finally learn Lindsay’s (she’s the protagonist’s love interest but so much more) dark secret and see them reconcile, taking tentative steps toward a relationship. It’s an important chapter, though I’m guilty of thinking that whatever chapter I might be working on is the most important in the novel. Unfortunately it is actually the longest, and is taking the most time to complete (I’m at 25 days with another draft to go, which blows away the next-largest chapter). There’s just no way to break the thing down into coherent chunks, so it’s all at once or nothing, I’m afraid.

I’m hoping to have the fourth draft done by the end of next week, but that may be a pipe dream. That would align me to finish the novel sometime in the second week of November, at which point I start incorporating critique group comments. Once those are done, it’s time to let the book simmer and start the next novel, which features Lindsay as the protagonist. We’ll talk more about that in the coming weeks.

All told, Came to Believe has taken roughly 26 months to complete. Longest time to finish a novel by far, but keep in mind that I’ve written enough material to have a good chunk of the next novel complete, along with a hypothetical future novel that revolves around Dean once again. So the process may end up shortening later works, which would be a godsend. It’s been an interesting journey, transformative to say the least, but I’ll talk about that in the future as well.

For now, we’ll leave it here and see where I am on the 30th. Hopefully I’ll have something good to report. Until then, I’m a squirrel.

Squirrel

Emerging From The Writer Cave

Hello one and all, I return from my Writer Cave bearing good news. I know, I know, not the first time returning, nor will it be the last, I’m sure. Blame it on an overwhelming drive to finish up this novel in the face of more than two years of work. But hey, at least I’m in the closing stages of Came to Believe! Well, the last few chapters of what is ostensibly the final draft, anyway. A few more steps to go through after that, but I’ll talk more about that on Friday.

Which brings me to the topic of this post: I have a plan for this space now.

Now, don’t expect to see content as ambitious as what I’ve posted in the past. I’ve shifted priorities to focus on quality in my novels, which is rather intensive and eats up a lot of writing time, which means daily posts are just not possible. It’s sad and frustrating, but it’s reality. And at least I do have a reliable process now, after five years of searching. One of the biggest lessons of the last ten months or so has to been to trust this process and understand that it will ultimately provide, even if it seems at times to be magic. Again, I’ll talk about this more in the near future.

My current goal for this space is to provide a “home base” of sorts for my efforts, both writing and marketing. At the moment, this means a weekly post focusing on the major themes of what is beginning to look like a series. This series revolves around the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and, more specifically, the city of Harrisonburg and towns of Dayton and Bridgewater, though other towns are represented. It’s an area that is undergoing a transformation from rural stronghold to metropolitan region, all driven by an influx of student loan money. It’s a rich vein to mine, with lots of ephemera that only shows up on the sidelines in the books but could be expanded upon with the proper time and care. That’s what I want to bring you in the weekly posts.

 

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You can also expect a bi-weekly update on the status of my latest works and talking about my overall writing, pitching, and marketing process. These will be quicker entries, just a few hundred words to get you up-to-date.

In the meantime, I’ll also be updating my Facebook Author Page, Pinterest boards, Tsu page, and Twitter with relevant content; for example, you may see me talking about Halloween in the Shenandoah Valley here and sharing some photography from past and present Valley Halloweens over on Pinterest, all while talking about this year’s festivities on the Facebook author page.

It should be an interesting adventure, and I hope you stick around for it. More in the near future.