Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Write On: Progress?

I can’t tell how much my “write about other things while I work through my current writing constipation” ploy worked (hopefully you enjoyed the one-off pieces), but I did get together with my writers group and got one helluva good pep talk. The basic gist was that you can only revise what you actually write, so it’s much better to get pure rubbish down on the page because you can always rewrite it and at least you keep moving. Yeah, that was it, but said much, much better.

And it worked! I’ve doubled my writing on Book #2 and have even worked through another stumbling block along the way. Progress! Huzzah!

As for Book #1, that’s inching forward as well. I received a personalized rejection the other week. Yes, that’s still a rejection. And, okay sure, my knee-jerk reaction was “oh great, someone took the time to personally tell me I suck.” But upon further review, it became clear that my query letter worked – something I did not want to take for granted, especially since the other rejections I’d received at this point were all of the “this isn’t the kind of story we’re looking for right now” variety.

Instead, I was rejected because my sample pages didn’t grab the agent. So I wrote the agent back to say thank you and see if the agent could elaborate (Where did I lose you? What kind of changes would you recommend? etc.), but any response will have to wait because the agent is on leave.

Until then, I’m taking a good, hard look at the start of Book #1 and seeing how it measures up to the openings of other books and submissions samples. Progress! Ish!

I have to keep reminding myself: No one said this all happens quickly or easily (or at all). So I’ll just keep moving forward, step by step, word by word…

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Write On: You're Doing It Wrong (a House Special)

Have you been enjoying my various tales of yesteryear? I hope so.

I know my dad has. Here’s a comment he left after one of my Adventures in Leaving the House: “I so love your writing. Please consider writing more in an observation of life and its turns and faux pas.

Very sweet and supportive feedback to be sure. But given the struggles I’ve had lately with my books, it made me ask the question: Am I focusing on the wrong kind of writing? Should I ditch pretenses of “upmarket noir” and swing back to observational essays? After all, my reviews of bad movies were just a stylized and specific type of observational humor.

And it’s not like I don’t make those kind of observations anymore – I just haven’t been writing about them. Here’s one that hit me early one morning while I was sleepwalking through getting my daughters ready for school:

Rupert Holmes’ 1979 hit “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” 
is a catchy tune about fundamentally terrible people

(A Father’s Day Special)

Let’s take this thing apart and hope I don’t permanently ruin this song for my dad.

The song opens with that famous guitar and keyboard riff (chord? And is it both instruments? I’m crap with music) before Mr. Holmes singsplains some exposition:
I was tired of my lady, we’d been together too long
Like a worn-out recording, of a favorite song

Okay, so the guy is in a relationship that’s in a bit of a rut. It happens.

So while she lay there sleeping, I read the paper in bed
And in the personal column, there was this letter I read

Oh, so instead of trying to shake things up or – heaven forbid – talk to his girlfriend, this guy is combing the personals for some side action. Classy.
“If you like Pina Coladas, and getting caught in the raid
If you’re not into yoga, if you have a half a brain
If you like making love at midnight, in the dunes of the cape
I’m the love that you’ve looked for, write to me and escape.”

I have so many issues…
  1. I’m sorry, but Pina Coladas taste like shit. It's essentially a splash of rum mixed with a collection of the worst fruit items imaginable -- I'm surprised it doesn't also contain that crummy green melon restaurants use as fruit salad filler. A Pina Colada is alcohol for grown-ups who want everything to taste like it came out of a juice box. Also, the fact that you have to bury the booze in that much fruit tells you everything you need to know about what I think about the taste of rum.
  2. At the risk of sounding like your mother, weather reports are now accurate enough that there’s no possible reason to get caught in the rain these days. Grab a damn umbrella.
  3. I get that yoga had a bad rap back when this song was written. But coming from the generation that gave us hippies? Shut up.
  4. “If you have half a brain?” Based on this list so far, I don’t know if the writer of this personal ad is the best judge.
  5. Maybe my age is starting to show, but I don’t want to make love at midnight – I’m asleep by then. And “in the dunes of the cape”? Clearly the writer of this personal ad has never done any such thing, because they’d know you’d get sand everywhere. No thanks.

Let’s move on.
I didn’t think about my lady
I know that sounds kind of mean

Yes. Yes it does.
But me and my old lady, had fallen into the same old dull routine
So I wrote to the paper, took out a personal ad
And though I'm nobody's poet, I thought it wasn't half bad

Also gross.
I’ll be the judge of that.
“Yes, I like Pina Coladas, and getting caught in the rain
I’m not much into health food, I am into champagne”

Gross tastes in beverages (oh stop, you may like the ceremony of celebrating with champagne but don’t pretend you like the actual taste of champagne, nobody likes that "I need to shave my tongue now" feeling only champagne provides) and an unwillingness to take care of himself... Darwinism at its best!

“I've got to meet you by tomorrow noon, and cut through all this red tape
At a bar called O'Malley's, where we'll plan our escape”

Yep, one personal ad and this guy is full steam ahead on the Infidelity Express. Also, I have to wonder if this escape they’re planning is literal. Is he going to literally run off with this random woman to drink crappy cocktails and have sex in sand pits? Because every aspect of that sounds terrible.
So I waited with high hopes, then she walked in the place
I knew her smile in an instant, I knew the curve of her face
It was my own lovely lady…
… and she said, "Oh, it's you"
And we laughed for a moment, and I said, "I never knew"
"That you liked Pina Coladas, and getting caught in the rain
And the feel of the ocean, and the taste of champagne
If you like making love at midnight, in the dunes of the cape
You're the love that I've looked for, come with me, and escape"

What? What? So to review: This couple is bored in their long-term relationship, they individually decide to step out on each other, only to discover they both share the same garbage tastes and never knew it? Ugh… At least they deserve each other.

 *   *   *

Next time at the House of Nolahn: Actual updates on my writing!

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Adventures in Leaving the House: Come Fly With Me

I work from home. I’ll never complain because there are more advantages to that arrangement than I can even count, but there is one down-side: I don’t get out much. So on those occasions where I do leave the house to visit people or get away for the weekend or pick up a loaf of bread, it opens the door for 

My better half is a real-life superhero. No, she can’t leap over tall buildings or control the weather (at least, not that I’m aware of), but she does work for the Red Cross where she regularly helps improve the lives of people in crisis. In comparison, all I regularly do is eat curry and watch Godzilla movies.

Anyway, she just flew off to the Midwest to aide in the flooding relief efforts. As I was helping her pack for her flight, I was reminded of a piece I wrote years ago during a trip where I was forced to hang out in an airport terminal with lots and lots and lots of time on my hands.

I present to you:

Scenes From An Airport

Part I: LAX

My flight back from L.A. was scheduled to leave at 10:20 pm, arrive in Washington, D.C.'s Dulles at 6:15 am for a leisurely breakfast and then puddle-jump me to Albany, NY at 8:15 am.

That was the plan. But like all good plans, this all quickly went to pot. I dutifully arrived at LAX two hours early to discover that not only was my flight to D.C. two and a half hours late, but that the delay would cause me to miss my connection to Albany.

So what am I supposed to do with two four-hour blocks of time at an airport? Record the experience for your reading pleasure, of course.

9:00 pm PT.  Through security, where people still haven’t figured out the whole “remove shoes and all metal” bit. It's frustrating, but at least I don't have to sweat making my flight.

Because I’ve seen enough seasons of The Amazing Race, I begin working the gates, hitting up anyone working a gate heading to the east coast earlier than 12:30 am for available seats. I learn some alarming things:

None of United’s employees can use their computer system without experiencing difficulties and calling in other employees for help. None. Of. Them. This doesn’t bode well for either United’s computer system or its training program.

Due to delays in D.C., Chicago and Philly, all flights are overbooked by nearly 20 people. “Someone at reservations can’t count,” one exhausted employee tells me. Indeed.

*   *   *

“I don’t want to be an aspiring actor. I don’t want to be divorced and remarried. Over and over. I don’t want to have plastic surgery. Over and over and over.” 

Also: “My dream is to avoid becoming a Hollywood cliché. Before doing that becomes a cliché.”

– Ad copy for giant ass Lincoln display in the United terminal

Someone spent a lot of money on this thing. Amazingly, it makes me neither want to buy a Lincoln nor stay one more minute than necessary in Los Angeles.

*   *   *

Despite the fact that there’s a deli, Mexican grill, sports bar, snack shop, Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant and Starbucks in this terminal, it’s f’n McDonalds that has the dozen-person line at any given time.

*   *   *

Because this is L.A., there’s a LEGO exhibit in this terminal with a giant LEGO statue of… the Statue of Liberty.

What better way to say "Welcome to L.A.?"

*   *   *

Johnny Walker, the preferred scotch of yours truly, is not only available in Red Label and Black Label, but also Blue Label, Gold Label and Green Label. For those of you who like to purchase their scotch three bottles at a time, Johnny Walker offers a free travel bag with the purchase of three one-liter bottles.

*   *   *

After writing out my next Bargain Basement Review (Yes, there was originally a Bargain Basement Review) by hand, I walk back and forth down the full length of the terminal, just to make sure I’m extra tired for the flight. There’s a woman my age playing with her young daughter. I miss my girls.

*   *   *

Here are some choice excerpts from Spider-Man 3: The Movie Storybook, the official picture book to the PG-13 film, geared towards ages 4-8 (Spoiler Free):

“After a speech by the major, the police chief’s daughter, Gwen, introduced Spider-Man to the crowd. He swung in dramatically and accepted his award. He felt very proud.”

“…Peter’s landlord asked him for the rent. It was a simple question, but Peter yelled at him. He couldn’t control his rage.”

And my favorite: “While Peter was sleeping, it oozed all over him and gave him a nightmare!”

*   *   *

10:45 pm. One snippy gate clerk sends me over to Customer Service. The line is over 40 people long. I counted.

*   *   *

Fashion Watch: I see a guy in a variation of the tuxedo t-shirt — white t-shirt with an undone “collar” and “necktie,” revealing a Superman costume “underneath.” It makes my brain roll around inside my skull. Or maybe that’s just the exhaustion.

*   *   *

11:30 pm. The line over at Customer Service is still about 40 people long. No telling whether or not it’s the same 40 people.

11:45 pm. My anticipated departure time has changed from 12:30 am to 12:20 am. Yay?

11:55 pm. After a largely needless trip to the restroom, I discover that my flight’s departure time has been moved back to 12:30am. 

The lesson, of course, is not to make unnecessary trips to the bathroom.

Part II: Dulles

Is this Dulles Airport? Your guess is as good as mine.

7:55 am ET. We’ve begun our final descent, which is feeling more like the slow spiral down the drain than landing a plane. My original connection is scheduled to leave at 8:15 am, and unlike all the other connections everyone else will miss, mine is only a half dozen gates away from where we’ll deplane. And even though I’m in the 40th row, I’m a little optimistic. Perhaps because I’m feeling strangely rested? Your guess is as good as mine.

A flight attendant asks that anyone not about to make a mad dash for a connection stay in their seats until those on connections have disembarked. Fat chance of that.

Touchdown just before 8:10 am. Taxi, taxi, taxi, taxi, taxi. Full stop.

Amazingly, people are actually listening to that flight attendant, and I get off the plane much faster than anyone in the 40th row of a 767 should have. Off the plane and BAM! — everyone’s dragging ass down that narrow hallway out of the gate.

“The hell!” I hear behind me. I glance back to a couple about my age, shouting past me to the group ahead of us. “You’re on the East Coast now, so move your asses!” And just like that, I want to move in with them and for the three of us to have sitcom-like adventures.

Sir John Riggins, a real-life Juggernaut
It takes us fifteen seconds to determine that the three of us are trying to get that Albany connection. I scoop up my suitcase and make like John Riggins, the three of us juking, jiving and generally hauling ass to the gate.

We get there at 8:20 am, and wouldn’t you know it? This is the only flight I see during my entire trip home that actually departs on time. Nice work, United.

*   *   *

“You guys booked on the 12:30 pm?” I ask the Albany couple, quietly thankful for that morsel of forethought by the check-in agent in LAX.

“Nah. We’re on Priority Stand-By.”

“Priority Stand-By”? Good luck with that, I think. They might as well have called it “Double Secret Preferred Stand-By” for all the good that will probably do them.

*   *   *

Finally, I call in to the fam with an update on what has been going on (when I was finally sorted out at LAX and through security, it was past midnight on the East Coast). Our brief call is peppered with announcements from THE LOUDEST FUCKING P.A. SYSTEM EVER! That guy had better have gotten his damn courtesy call.

*   *   *

9:00 am., three and a half hours before my next flight. I get a paper and settle into a British pub for the world’s most leisurely breakfast. I go for a proper English fry-up: two fried eggs, bangers, fried potatoes, toast and what appears to be an entire can of baked beans. Okay, not remotely healthy, but neither is the number of beers being served at this hour.


A seat at the hook of the bar, fry-up, paper and $2.75 coffee, which better include some free refills, dammit. I’m trying to sort out the accent of the two women sitting next to me. I used to be pretty good at this. Let’s see: It’s not Crocodile Dundee, but definitely Australian. Melbourne, maybe? 

*   *   *

10:15 am. Hit the head, brush teeth, clean up a bit, change t-shirt. Head towards my gate, but need to hit the head again. Maybe that fry-up wasn’t such a good idea.

*   *   *

10:45 am. On my way to gate D20, I abruptly stop at D14. I’ve been here before. In March, on the way back from our family vacation in Florida, I took my daughters to that toy store across the way and picked up a Cinderella coloring pad. Now I really miss my girls.

*   *   *

I stumble across a Borders (Remember those? So quaint!), and a surprisingly large one for an airport terminal. Hardcover market is flooded with books about how everyone in the country is stupid/screwing things up except the author — no wonder meaningful conversations are going the way of the dodo. At the same time, I can’t help but feel that there’s something about the look on Bernard Goldberg’s face on the cover of Crazies to the Left of Me, Wimps to the Right that makes me want to beat him with a shovel.

Ah, an entire section of graphic novels – in the airport’s book store! Dulles just got a lot cooler. Comics for adults, though I always feel like I’m 12-years-old when I read through one. At least I now know how I’ll be killing the rest of my time.

*   *   *

12:15 pm. The monitor says we should be boarding. We are not.

The gate agent shouts out to us that we’re all waiting for just one flight attendant to arrive. He’d make a general announcement — or simply not shout to us — if his microphone was working. With that final piece of information, my disgust with United is utterly complete.

A comely middle-aged woman in a smart black business suit wheels her all-pro luggage into our gate and takes a seat. A few passengers cheer. “Yay! She’s here!” She looks confused and a bit embarrassed, and let’s everyone down by revealing that she is in fact not a flight attendant.
*   *   *

12:30 pm. Now seated in my final tin can of the trip. And hey, the Albany couple made it — looks like that “Priority Stand-By” worked out after all.

An overly chirpy flight attendant makes this announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen, I do apologize for any confusion caused by our gate staff. While you were led to believe I was running around in the wrong terminal, I was right here on the plane the whole time!” She simultaneously squints her eyes, shrugs her shoulders and flashes a Great White smile. “I guess I have to gain some more weight, because they checked the plane twice and didn’t see me!”

Hilarious. She does her squint/shrug/smile thing again, and the tone of her voice suggests that she wants to offer us some Pizza Shooters, Shrimp Poppers or Extreme Fajitas. I’d throw something at her, but all I have on hand is the small notepad I’m writing in.

*   *   *

12:55 pm, 16 1/2 hours into my trip. After taxiing through downtown D.C., we’re ready to take off. Now it’s just an hour plus flight to Albany, then a shuttle to the car and an hour plus drive home.

*   *   *

3:00 pm, The Final Insult: I get in my car, need gas. I finally find a gas station (no one thought to put one in sight of the airport) and find it absolutely packed. Turns out the whole area was thrashed by a lightning storm the night before, and all of the gas pump were on the fritz. Only took me 30 minutes to get gas.

Good times.

Okay, so that flight home was a disaster, but only a small-d disaster. For a capital-d Disaster, did you know that large swaths of the middle of the country are under water? That's a whole lotta people who have been displaced or lost everything. I've even heard of towns wiped completely off the map. If you can spare it, please consider donating to the Red Cross's flood relief efforts.

First Post: The Story So Far

Hallo. I’m Scot Nolan, though you might know me from reviewing and discussing bad movies over the past ten years as “Nolahn.” But this ...