Smokey Writers – Day 2


I’m posting a bit late (like, a day late), but I wanted to give a quick report on how the retreat is going. Yesterday was the first full day of writing, and I am very happy with my progress. I decided last week that my daily goal would be 5,000 words, a level of output I’d never achieved before. By the time I stopped yesterday, I had written 5,034 words.

As a personal incentive, I promised myself that when I hit certain milestones, I’d take a guitar break. So, in the morning, when I hit the 1,000 word mark, I went up to my room, closed the door and played three songs (quietly so as to not disturb people who were working.) After lunch, I did the same thing when I got to 4,000 words. It’s a nice little reward system as well as a good way to re-focus, so I’m going to do it again today. Continue reading

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Smokey Writers 2016 – Day 1


I’m writing this from a beautiful house in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park in eastern Tennessee. I am here with 20 friends for the third annual Smokey Writers retreat, a week-long gathering where we can focus exclusively on creative writing. This is my first time at Smokey Writers; others are comfortable veterans. For seven hours a day over the next week, we will work on our various projects, share at night what we’ve written during the day, eat, drink, and enjoy our surroundings and each others’ company.  I can’t describe how happy I am to be here (I know, ironic for a writer.)

The house is 7,000 square feet, sleeps 22 people, has multiple hot tubs, video and pinball games, foosball and pool tables, and balconies off the dining room and every bedroom. During dinner tonight, a raccoon wandered up to the glass doors off the dining room and checked us out. No sign of bears yet, though I’m told they’re just coming out of hibernation. I’m also told they can’t climb, and my bedroom is on the fourth floor, so it’s all good. Continue reading

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How To Get Unstuck

Are you feeling stuck, at least in some areas of your life? I know that I always feel like there’s some part of my life that’s not progressing the way I think it should be. Writing, weight loss goals, career growth – at various times I feel stuck in these and many other areas.

I found this Slideshare deck to be interesting. There’s a little bit of a sales pitch for the creator’s Web site, but most of it is advice worth considering. If you’re feeling like things are going nowhere, you might find some of this helpful.

Now, if I can just make a breakthrough on that novel I’ve been writing …

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Farewell to the Thin White Duke

Sometimes, this blog feels like a series of obituaries for musicians I’ve admired. I guess part of getting older is seeing your old favorites pass away. So it is again today, with the news of David Bowie’s death from cancer yesterday at age 69.

When I was in junior high and my first year or two of high school, everything was new – clothes, girls, and especially music. I read music magazines voraciously, and there was always someone new to discover. I was an innocent kid in a small town, and the rock stars I read about were a little scary and exciting at the same time. I wanted to hear all of them – Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Hendrix, Clapton. And in the summer of 1974, I first heard of David Bowie.

The first Bowie album I bought was Young Americans in the summer of 1975. Looking back, that record wasn’t close to representative of his music; it was a brief fling with soul music. It had the great title song, the disco-tinged rave-up Fame, a seriously bad version of The Beatles’ Across the Universe, and not much else that I remember. Continue reading

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On Understanding Other People

He wouldn’t stop talking.

He was average height, with a gray beard and hair. He wore glasses and a Bluetooth device over his right ear. When I teach a class, I’m normally the only man in the room wearing a jacket and tie, but he was the exception. He arrived at quarter to eight for a class scheduled to start at 8:30, and he started talking.

In addition to teaching the class that morning in Albany, I also had to monitor it. For those who have never attended an insurance agent continuing education class in New York (I’m guessing that’s most of you), there are normally two people in charge – an instructor and a monitor. The monitor makes sure everyone signs in, presents photo I.D., makes the announcements, distributes completion certificates at the end, and basically deals with any issues that arise (the temperature in the classroom being the most common.) I very much dislike having to act as both the instructor and the monitor. As the person who has to deliver the content and answer questions on my feet for four hours, I already have plenty on my mind. I don’t like having to deal with all the logistical issues on top of that. Nevertheless, my employer could not find an available monitor in Albany for that class, so I pulled double duty. Continue reading

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For Your Late Summer Reading Pleasure

With just one week left until Labor Day, there’s still time to sneak in some good summer reading. Courtesy of, here is a list of 10 summer books. Take a look and discuss in the comments what they got right and wrong and what you would add to the list.

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The Art of Juggling Writing Projects

Five Salty Balls

Photo by Gabriel Rojas Hruska. Used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license.

Tee Morris discusses a problem that most of us struggle with – too many projects going on:

You’ve got project upon project, and suddenly you are at the point where I find myself presently. It’s not what you want to work on but more about what you need to work on. This may seem like an easy call to make but if any of these projects-in-progress carry multiple deadlines, the decision process gets a little trickier.

And here’s the thing about us crazy, kooky creative types: we love to do a lot of things at once. It makes us feel productive. It makes us feel accomplished. It makes us feel alive. The problem comes in when you can’t make a deadline, and poor organization can lead to missed delivery dates which can lead to a reputation of commitment but not coming through on your promises. Falling back on “I am so poorly organized…” really is a lame-ass excuse, too. If you want to get organized, you’re going to have to nut up and take control of your projects before your projects take control of you; or start controlling you more than how they are currently.

Continue reading

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Science Made Fun by Mary Roach

Mary Roach

Mary Roach, sans plastic rectum and anus

One of the great things about living in Syracuse is the Rosamond Gifford Lecture Series. A fundraiser for the Friends of the Central Library, the series brings in six authors a year, spaced throughout the fall and spring, to give lectures. I attended my first one last year, when Neil Gaiman came to town. Judging from the size of the crowd, I can safely guess that it was a sellout. This year’s lineup featured Erik Larson, Scott Simon, Mark Bittman, Daniel Handler, and Julia Alvarez. And science writer Mary Roach. Continue reading

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On Our Devotion To Sports Teams

The axe fell on my beloved Syracuse University Orange men’s basketball team last Friday. After an investigation that commenced when my oldest son was a high school senior (he is now a practicing attorney,) the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s committee on infractions handed down penalties that, by any standard, are quite severe. The Orange loses three scholarships in each of the next four seasons; coach Jim Boeheim, who is an icon in Central New York, is suspended for the first half of the 2016 Atlantic Coast Conference schedule; a large number of wins (the exact number is in dispute) are stripped from the team’s record for the past 10 years; and the university must return revenues reported at more than $1 million. Continue reading

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Awards, and Why My Insecure Mind Wants Them







Chuck Wendig has a good take on the annual awards season in which we are now knee-deep:

Awards are not infallible.

The best book will not always win an award.

The best book sometimes won’t ever even be nominated.

Sometimes, it will be nominated, and it will win, and you’ll cheer — at the same time someone else boos that very same decision. The book you love isn’t a book everyone loves. And vice versa.

Awards are subjective, strange, and imperfect.

They’re not the whole elephant; they’re just a blood sample.

And at the same time: awards are awesome. The people who win them? Awesome for them. And deserved. Those who are nominated but lose? Awesome for them, too. And also deserved. Those who are never nominated? Hey, fuck it — awesome for you, because you’re out there writing books and reaching an audience and doing what you fucking love to do. You didn’t win an award? Most people didn’t. A hundred other amazing authors and books and pieces of art failed to win awards. Most failed to even score nominations. You’re in good company. Continue reading

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