Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Is it better the second time around? ...

Everything in the world (if you look close enough) seems to be centered around finding that first and "true" love. Thousands of books, tv shows, movies, magazine covers, greeting cards....well, you get the idea, they all are telling you that your one, true, lifetime lasting love, is just out there waiting on you. Sure, most everyone has a first love....but is that the one that is supposed to last forever? How come no one mentions love, the second time around?

It is probably a silly question and maybe I'm the only one thinking of it right now because of the situation I'm currently in. Anyone who knows me, knows that I was married to a woman for quite a number of years  and I met her when I was a teenager and we had three amazing children together. When I met her, I was convinced I had 100% met the love of my life. I married her within seven months of knowing her, had our first child a little over a year after that and we lived happily ever after...for a while anyway. Bottom line is, things didn't work and I will take the majority of the blame for it. We finally split for good and to be honest, looking at it now, it was the best thing we ever did. I don't mean that in a negative way, but once we got to a certain point, we were poison to each other, she'll admit it and so will I. But at the time, sure, it was tough, on both of us.

I truthfully didn't think there would be any chance for me to be in any kind of honest to goodness real relationship again. I figured I'd meet someone, sure, but I mean that kind of relationship where that person is your whole world, the kind where you can't wait until the next time you see them, the kind where you can't stop talking about them, even to total strangers (ok, maybe that part is just me..) I especially didn't think that when fate brought me to Des Moines, Iowa.

Through luck, chance, or what have you, I was lucky enough, to meet Jodi. Jodi, for those of you who somehow found your way to this blog without going through the facebook link (and I'd have no idea how you would do so since I don't post it anywhere else) is the girl in all the pictures that I post. She is my girlfriend, female companion, other half, drinking buddy blah blah blah, you get the idea. And she is absolutely amazing. To be honest, when first getting to know her (prior to our first date) I thought that she was too good to be true. She was clearly smart, funny, had a great voice and an infectious laugh. She was up front and honest about her past and her love for her daughter Sydney was crystal clear the first time she ever mentioned her.

After nearly two weeks of begging (I wouldn't really call it begging, but in this case, I will) and talking on the phone nearly all day, every day, she agreed to go out with me. At this time, we knew a lot about each other, but it was time to see if the "spark" that was there over the phone would be there in a one on one setting. So, where does any respectable young(ish) man trying to make an impression take a first date??? CHUCK E. CHEESE. Yep, that's right, I took a very first date to eat pizza and play video games. Hell, I figured if she was ever going to really want to know me, she might as well know on the first date that I'm a big kid who likes pizza and video games. (PS, I didn't just spring this on her, we talked about it and I was forced....er...um...I mean, we decided that it would be fun.) You know the old saying about "letting the girl win".....??...well that's exactly what I involunatarily did.....yep, unless it was a game that involved throwing something, she whipped my ass....video games, skee ball (I won a few), the games where you push the buttons to get tickets...she won them all. I called her a jerk, called a cab and went home. No, no, I'm only kidding.

I'm not going to take you through a play by play of the date, no one wants to read that, I'm certain, but the "spark" turned into a bond. And there hasn't been a day that has gone by that we haven't spent a good portion of it either texting, talking or being together. I can honestly say that after never thinking it would ever happen again, I am completely and totally, head over heels in love with this amazing woman. (and even though I'm clearly more open with my words in public than she is, she feels the same way about me)

I've never been happier, my kids can see it, the people I work with see it, everyone that knows me sees it. It isn't rocket science, it is because of Jodi. She makes me feel the way that you always hear that you're supposed to feel. I noticed something this weekend while we were in St. Louis for our first "mini-vacation" together...every time she walks into a room, a smile comes across my face whether I want it to or not ( I don't know why I wouldn't, but you know what I mean) and I instantly just feel better, even if nothing was wrong.

I do this often, I go on and on talking about her and forget the point that I was trying to make or the question I was trying to ask. Is love better the second time around? And when I ask that question, I don't ask it in any way to knock my ex-wife (who also has found love a second time as well and is probably going through many of the same emotions I am) but almost to thank her. If she and I hadn't made the mistakes that we had, would I be able to be who I am with Jodi? Would I know what I did right and what I did wrong and be sure not to duplicate those mistakes? As crazy as it sounds, I think, quite possibly, without all that, I wouldn't be in the great place I am now.

So because I will be better the second time around, does that in fact mean that love WILL be better the second time? Well, it makes sense, and I can tell you, from where I'm sitting, it sure feels like it.

More than a year ago, I was scared to death about my future. I had realized that I had no idea who I was or what I wanted. I had become what I thought I was supposed to be, in a clouded vision. I really didn't know what I liked, what I wanted, what I needed, who I wanted to be. I'm still working on some of those things (just found out this weekend, I actually like sushi, who would of thought that?) but I can tell you the I'm excited about the future, more excited than I've ever been. My three crazy, talented, gorgeous, (mostly) sweet kids, this amazing, beautiful, ninja woman, who for some reason thinks the world of me, with the cutie pie goofball daughter have all got me looking forward to that age old question....what's next?

Maybe I should have just answered my own question with "YES", huh?


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Wanna go see a movie?

Can you spare a few million dollars? No? Me either.  Wish I could though, because after writing about it, talking about it and thinking about it, I really regret letting my movie idea go by the wayside. It wasn't a sure thing, nothing is, but it was closer than I ever thought I'd be.

Now, for the type of money I'm talking about, this thing wouldn't be the second coming of "The Avengers" or any crap like that, but it wouldn't need to be. What you would need is, real people, real places, the equipment, a good story and a team of people to bring it to life...oh yeah and the money. .

Well, I've got a good story, sure it would take some tweaking, gotta make some "hollywood style" changes, I'm sure (except Randall's homerun...Hollywood itself couldn't have written that) but all in all, it is a strong story that would just need a little here and a little there.

I feel strongly I could get some help when it comes to locations. I'd bet there are places in the Roanoke Valley that would die to get a movie crew there. Some for the "fame" reasons, but others for the economic reasons. Some just have enough pride and caring for the area that they would just like to see something else good come to the Valley. Even though they are essentially a "villian" in the story, I bet Salem would roll out the red carpet, so to speak, like they do for everything, especially things involving sports.

With everything involved, to make something worthwhile and to get a decent name or two attached (I'm not talking about Tom Cruise, George Clooney or anyone like that, think more Danny McBride or Topher Grace) to it, my guess would be in the 4-6 million dollar range. Now granted, I know absolutely nothing about the filmmaking business outside of what a friend of mine (NYU and UCLA film school grad) has shared and what little I've had told to me by my very few "contacts" in the business. However, I'd think, without being too terribly naive, five million bucks and calling in some favors, could be stretched into something pretty special.

Chances are, the finished product that would be seen in the theatre or more likely on DVD, would strike a slight resemblance to the book that it would be based off of, but certainly not exact, who knows, they might even change the name.

Of course, this is all fantasy...I don't have several million dollars, don't have any super rich friends and don't have the ability currently to go out begging for the money. (Also, to be honest, I'd only rather have a hand or two in the pot, not a bunch of investors all waiting for their return.)

So for those of you who were there, or those of you who know the story through the book and who think this would make a great movie, let me know if you've got a couple million to spare.....and for those who weren't there, thought the book sucked or just don't give a damn.....I'd take your money too, if you're offering.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

So, you wrote a book. Part 2. Electric Boogaloo

So, our story left off with the writer finally seeing his dream come true...a contract to finally see the book, his blood, sweat and tears in print. Yeah....should've been that easy, right?

At this point, I had figured I'd stopped fooling myself. Big ideas of seeing "One Team, One Dream" on the big screen, at least this way, were gone. I wasn't expecting to be on Oprah or Good Morning America as the next great American writer. I just was happy that someone had said "yes, we want your book." Had I known what I had known, my answer would have been "I'm sorry, you can not have it."

When you get to, essentially, the scrapings of the barrel (yes, past the bottom) in the book world, you don't know what you're gonna find. At this point, I was just happy they didn't ask me for any money (a big big no no if you're trying to be genuinely published, unless of course you are independently wealthy, then you can do whatever the hell you want) and they paid for everything from cover design, all the way to distribution, the way it is supposed to be done. The only snag for me, is that they were "print on demand" however still to this day, I do not see that as a problem, the "old timers" in the book world do, but I can order my book, or any book by my publisher from Amazon.com and it will be to me within 2-4 days. You can order War and Peace or any other book that is stocked in Amazon's warehouse and it will be to you within.....2-4 days. Also, at my very first book signing, Barnes and Noble ordered 250 of my books....and within a week, they had 250 of my books. Anyway, I digress.

This publisher was run by a lawyer out of Louisiana. It was essentially a one man operation, with the exception of a revolving door of "marketing directors" all of whom were people that thought they knew more than they did and ended up making a fool out of the company and many of the authors by making empty promises they couldn't keep. I'm not going to get too much into this lawyer's background, but let's just say there were some red flags that came out, AFTER I signed the contract. Also, to be honest, he didn't present himself as a great lawyer or to have a great command of the english language or legal terminoligy, for that matter. Within my first couple of conversations with this guy I was feeling like Tony the Tiger...GRRRRRRREAT. (I hope the sarcasm came through there.)

At this point, I took the bad with the good and kept my eyes on what was important, getting that damn book finally in my hands. I was given a release date of early April, which was a reasonable six months away. I was happy, well at least as happy as I could be, given my lowered goal expectations. A couple of months later I was sent an electronic copy of my "edited" book. First go around, I was expecting to see some mistakes still there, but there were very few turned in on the finished copy as I had an editor friend of mine go through the finished product with a fine toothed comb so I wouldn't make a fool of myself. Well, the few mistakes I had seen while waiting were still there, along with about a dozen others that had been added in. Ah, no big deal, I thought, so I just sent back the corrections and assumed all would be good.

A few days later I was contacted by a cover designer asking me what my ideas were for my cover. To be honest, I didn't have any. I was the writer, she was the designer....but I came up with some off the top of my head and sent some pictures to go along. Within a month, I had her vision back and to be honest, I'm still happy when I look at it.  I think she nailed it and its the one thing I think was done correctly and professionally throughout the entire process.

Then I got an email saying the April release date was pushed back to June. Considering I was on somewhere around month 27 in this process from start to finish, I wasn't very happy. The book is done, the cover is done, what is the holdup?  M.O.N.E.Y. Ah, shit. The guy didn't have enough money in the company to even release the books he was planning on releasing. Are you kidding me?

Long story short, my book was finally released in September. I was, based on things I was told, expecting some marketing, some help setting up events.....something from this company to help him make money from this book that he thought highly enough to purchase. Every time I sent something to find out, I got "yeah it's in the plans, I'll get back to you."

Fuck this. So once again, I set my expectations even lower. I wasn't worried about my book being nationally or even regionally know, I just wanted the people in the Roanoke Valley to know about it. So I did my own marketing. From September through November, I was on two TV stations, in four newspapers, two magazines and two radio stations. I did seven book signings (which, yes, seems a little pompous for an unknown author to do, but I sold more book at signings than I did anywhere else) and I sucked every bit of publicity out of my contacts that I could.

Final tally....well, I'll never know, I estimated that I sold somewhere in the neighborhood of two to four thousand books. My "publisher" essentially became MIA when he saw that I and a couple other authors that followed my lead, were able to get our books circulated without any help from him and we weren't waiting on him. I've asked many many times for an amount, never got it. At one point there was a number I could call where one of the distributors would give me the amount that had been sold, but it was the smaller of the two distributors and the shut the number down in 2009.

The only correspondance I've received from the publisher since 2009 was a royalty check in the amount of $126.32. (I've been paid more to write a 500 word article)With no explanation of where he got his figures or where they came from, just simply the check. It was that point that I gave up. There was nowhere left to promote the book within my reach. I had actually, through a mutual friend, had a brief discussion with a legitimate movie producer who had produced real movies, with real actors and real directors, but at that point, the wind was out of my sails in regards to this book and to be honest, any possible deal fell apart because of me and my lack of effort in regards to it.

I figure the "publisher" owes me some money. Not a fortune, but probably a couple thousand dollars. I'm not going after it, because I doubt I'd ever get it. I'd spend more trying to get it than I'd actually get. I'm actually not even proud of the book anymore. I tried, very very hard, to make something great. It was a great story. The book should have been better. If you haven't read it....don't.  There are plenty out there that are better. Unless you have a huge interest in high school baseball anyway...then it might be ok. Ha Ha.

Bottom line is, if you break it all down, my story in the book publishing world should be considered a horror story....but it isn't....its pretty common. It is a world that isn't meant for the thin skinned and my skin was way too thin to have even tried it. Finally, whether it was perserverence, stubborness or just plain stupidity, I fought my way through and it nearly killed me. At least emotionally when it comes to writing. But I look back at it now as a learning experience....a five fucking year learning experience, but a learning, nontheless.

So, yeah I wrote a book. Dare you to.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

So, you wrote a book? Part 1.

For some people, writing their own book is something that is a dream of theirs.  For some, it stays that way, they say "I'll write a book one day" but never do. Most don't even put the first "pen to paper" so to speak, but they talk and talk about their idea that, of course in their mind, everyone will want to read. A smaller percentage actually put their words down and then that's where they hit the wall. An even smaller....I mean very small, like tiny tiny tiny miniscule percentage are the ones you see when you visit your local bookstore.

Yes, when you look around the bookstore and you see thousands upon thousands of books, you would probably think the percentage is much higher than it really is, however, reality and statistics say, you would be wrong. The harsh reality is that, at least by my experience, writing the book is the easy part. So for those who can't even do that....

Before I go any further, let me say that I'm not an expert in the true sense of the word. I've had one, count 'em one, book actually go from start to finish and end up in a Barnes and Noble and on Amazon etc.. I was part of a collaboration on another, but due to timing and other factors (including some of the people that were involved in it) we were able to skip a few steps and to be honest, that thing turned out to be a disaster. I've also had contracts for two other books to be published, one I never finished and one I never started. That is my complete and total resume of experience in the book publishing world. However, it is more than most and like they say..."if it were easy, everyone would be doing it."

When you pour your heart and soul into something that is tens of thousands, if not a hundred thousand (or more) words, it becomes a part of you. You take it personally, you're protective. Depending on why you're writing this book, the best advice I can give you is to not do any of those things. Don't let it become a part of you and don't take anything personally. Unless you're one of the lucky few (an even smaller percentage than those that actually get published) you are going to have to fight, scratch, claw, beg, plead, borrow, impress and do everything but steal to get your book published. Yes, there are those that write it, send it and next thing you know they're doing book signings at the Virgin bookstore in NYC and raking in the dough....that probably ain't you.  It wasn't me, that's for sure.

When I typed the last period on my book, I assumed I'd just send it off and because the story was so good in my mind, I'd have editors tripping over themselves, fighting to get a piece of my...masterpiece...Guess what....they didn't.

I did enough research to figure out that I needed to send what's called a query letter....so that's what I did, I sent query letters. And I waited....within the first month I had sent out about ten query letters and received nine "nos." Well, what the hell is wrong with these people? Don't they know this is a book that will make a great movie and be worth millions? Nope. They read my letter and thought the exact opposite.

So I did more research. And upon so I found out that instead of going directly after book publishers, I should have been going after literary agents....ahhhh....well that should be easy, right? I'm in sales, they're in sales, so I'll just sell them...right?  Well, this is the part that really screwed me up, because in this case, I was right. After sending four revised query letters, I eventually received two offers of representation. I, of course, went with the one who saw the same vision I did. MOVIES...HOLLYWOOD...BIG SCREEN!  Yeah......

This agent did what an agent is supposed to do, she convinced me of everything under the sun and that she was an up and comer that was making things happen (in her defense, she had hit a bit of a hot streak when I signed with her) and that me and my book were going to be the things to help put her over the top. Well, these were all the things that I myself thought in regards to my book, so of course this was the smartest woman I'd ever met, because she thought that too!  Now that I had an agent, it was only a matter of time before I would be walking red carpets as the "creator" of the hottest movie of the summer, based on the book by me!

Weeks went by....then more weeks.....then months. I asked for weekly updates and I heard anything from "I actually had someone at Disney ask about it" to "I'm waiting for an answer any day from one of the big houses." 

Unfortnately, when I am waiting for something, I'm not very patient. I also want to know as much as I can about what's going on. So I continued researching, I made some contacts in the "book world," and I learned that all of the things that you're never supposed to do....I was doing. All of them. Including falling for the agent with all the promises. I had done everything wrong. And now I had wasted nearly a year from the time I had finished writing my book. I was in denial for a few months, saying "no, that's everyone else, but I can be successful this way." Finally it was time to face facts....I needed to start from scratch. The very beginning.

I backed my agent in a corner and gave her a certain time frame to prove to me that she was having correspondence with the people she was saying she was in regards to my book. When the time passed, I gave her a short extension. When she didn't produce the desired results, I terminated our contract. And I started over.

Instead of blindly shooting for anything and everyone, I devised a nine month plan. I also decided that if, at the end of that nine months, my book still wasn't purchased, then I would print it out, put it in a box and show it to my kids when they got older and give up on this dream. So I started at the top, with the publishing houses and agents (some houses won't even look at a submission without an agent) who represent the Stephen Kings and John Grishams of the world. The elite. Sure, it was a long shot, but it was for those guys at one point too. I gave them three months and at the end of three months I would either have "no thank you's" or just flat out no response (the most common form of communication on the publishing world) and I would move on the middle of the road, they represent your people that you may or may not have heard of, but you've probably seen one or more of their books...the "non-celebrity" authors. Same rules applied. Then, at the the end would be the small houses. Essentially, barring a miracle, these would be the places that the most I could hope for would be to have a published book in my hand, in a bookstore. No other expectations.

With three days to spare on my self imposed nine month deadline, I finally received my yes. A small company based out of Louisana absolutely loved my book, had big plans for it, but wanted me to know their budget was limited, but they would do what they could. Finally, it came true.

That should have been the happy ending, Chris got his book published and lived happily ever after.....well....not so fast...

*there may or may not be a part 2. I may decide to write about something completely different next time, but I will, most likely, at some point, finish this, as I actually feel it is a very valuable "reality check" for someone if they ever thought about writing a book. Maybe I only feel that way because the whole damn process took at least five years off my life...*

Monday, June 18, 2012

The strangest places...

In the last year, I have written exactly 0 words of what I would consider "writing." I've sent emails, written silly things on facebook and "inspirational" messages to my employees at work, but nothing I would consider real and true writing. For some people this wouldn't seem like a big deal, for me, it is.

At this point now, I would consider myself a former writer. In the past however, I have written a book that was published and on a local level, considered somewhat successful. At last count, I was paid to write somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 articles for various publications ranging from hyper local to a couple of national magazines. I was the publisher of a community newspaper, which translates to "I wrote a ton of stuff that I really didn't want to write about, but had to anyway or else it wouldn't have gotten done." For quite a few years, there wasn't a week that went by that I didn't write about something....until the last one.

I may or may not write another book (backstory to that is, I had over 50,000 words of a novel that I was writing that was lost sometime between separating from my now ex-wife and moving to Iowa. I'm not quite sure where, but I've narrowed it down to that period of time) I may or may not ever be paid to write another article. But I've missed this.  Missed putting thoughts to words. Not enough to finally sit down and do it, but enough to think and talk about it.

After a couple of conversations with my girlfriend Jodi, I decided that I was going to start a blog. Sure, it's cliche, but I'm pretty predictable to begin with (so she says.) After years of writing because of the almighty dollar, I've decided that I'm going to write about what I want to write about. If someone wants to read it, great, if they don't, it doesn't affect me. I don't have to worry about editors, Amazon.com rankings, circulation or anything like that. I'm now writing because I've been told I'm decent at it and I enjoy it.

With that said, there isn't going to be a common theme. I may write about sports one day, love the next, politics (uh oh) the next and just may write a bunch of jibberish the next day, week or even month. I don't know. I've got a lot of things I want to write about, but what I want to write about today, I might not care about tomorrow. Now, the disclaimer, some days, some blogs may contain profanity. Up until this point, I've refrained, as to not offend anyone. So, if profanity offends you, you may want to look elsewhere.

Shit. There, profanity. I may go an entire blog without one single shit, damn, ass or fuck, most of my writing I've done has allowed hell to be as far as I can go, so that little disclaimer may have been for nothing, we shall see.

Now, on to why I'm here. I've talked about doing this for weeks, but today, I'm finally sitting down to do it and it is because of something that happened this afternoon. I, along with my three children, my girlfriend and her daughter, were all witnesses, per say, to death. We didn't actually see it, but we were there. Not sure if we were there when it happened, after it happened, while it was in the process of happening, or what, but we were there when a 17 year old boy died.

Here, look at this http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20120618/NEWS/120618026/Update-Searchers-find-body-of-drowning-victim-at-Raccoon-River-Park?News

We had spent a couple of hours at the "beach" and as we were packing up to leave, both Jodi and I thought we heard something, but we couldn't be sure. There were a lot of teenagers there and we didn't notice a commotion, so we took Parker, Piper, Payden and Sydney to rinse the sand off themselves and head out to get cleaned up and eat dinner. However, just as we got all the kids in the cars, we noticed a police car zooming into the parking lot, over the curb and down toward the beach, then an ambulance followed....then another police car, and another....and another.....then at least two firetrucks and several other emergency response vehicles. We both realized that what we heard, or thought we heard, was exactly what we thought we heard. Someone in trouble.

Some people would be nosey and go back and see what was going on, but that isn't us. We had four tired and hungry kids and we headed out. Within a half an hour of leaving and getting the kids cleaned up, I had a text from Jodi, "Kcci reporting a possible drowning at raccoon river."

What the fuck? Here in Iowa, they call it a beach, but it isn't what those of us from areas near the ocean think of. I immediately tried to figure out how in the world this happened?... Most of the water isn't deep enough to even come up to either of our 3 year old's heads, much less drown someone. But that was a first thought, as you go further out, it does get deeper, which is why they put warning markers for people not to go past (as you'd expect, many pay no attention to them) but even still, if you can get that far, what happened?

Then I started thinking a little more....our kids were in that water, possibly at the same time someone was dying. How do you explain that?

Then guilt started to set in. What if I wouldn't have ignored what I thought was someone saying "help" and went to see if someone really was in trouble.  Could I have helped?  Probably not, but it wouldn't have stopped me from trying.

I put all that out of my head and we headed to dinner with Jodi and Sydney. A few minutes in, Jodi received an update and what we feared was true. A 17 year old boy was dead.

All the guilt returned. I know there wasn't anything I could have done, but maybe...just maybe....

I've never handled death well. Ever. To be honest, I usually ignore it, or put on an air of indifference. It was tough to do that when you now know it happened hundreds of feet from where you and your children were standing. But even now, I'm handling it a little bit different than some may. I'm channeling the guilt and confusion into something else. Right now I'm sitting with my two older children on either side of me, knowing they are safe. I just received a text from Jodi a few minutes ago, knowing she and Sydney are safe. And little miss Payden is sound asleep. As sorry as I am for the victim, his friends and his family, I'm appreciative that those who were with me today were and are safe. I realize that within minutes, even seconds, the things you cherish the most can be gone.

I realized today, more than ever, that I am an incredibly lucky man. I've got a good career, three amazing children who love me and Sydney who is starting to like me a little bit, an amazing woman that for some reason, thinks the world of me and a few friends that no matter what, I can always count on. What else do you need? After what we witnessed today, I'd say what I've got it pretty damn good.