To Do or Not to Do

Things have been a bit busy lately. So while I’ve (mostly) kicked this cold, it seems to be tormenting my wife on a recurring basis. On top of that, she and I have begun a rotating schedule of crazy days. Last week, I had a couple 12 hour days back to back and this week, its her turn. And as the only parent home with twins, your attention is pretty much just focused on them and nothing else.

And because of all of this, work has become sort of condensed. Or just dense. Lots to do all the time. I was out Monday with my kids and I’ll be out again Friday traveling for a friend’s wedding, making my remaining free time all the denser.

I’ve found that I need the occasional to-do list of tasks or things to accomplish, but I only ever seem to work from the bottom up. The newest stuff is checked off pretty quickly and the stuff near the top tends to sit there. Hence why my first line on today’s list is and has been “blog” for about a week and a half now.

But with all these things I have to do vying for my attention, let’s talk about things I want to do …

I’m still pitching The Red Door. It’s hard not to get discouraged at times, but I keep myself motivated by only querying maybe three people at a time. I don’t always wait a full 8 weeks or whatever to try again – maybe only 2 – but I do try and keep the numbers small. My reasoning being that with every pass, I go back and revisit the pitch. I’ve tweaked the letter and opening couple pages a bunch now to make them as strong as possible. Obviously, this is a subjective business, so I’d like my work to speak for itself and I’d hate to be the one getting in my own way with a bad pitch.

Blame my career services day job, but I see this kind of thing all the time. Great candidates sometimes have terrible resumes and cover letters. Employers will never know how great they are until these documents get cleaned up and the applicant gets out of his or her own way. It’s not them who aren’t working, it’s their approach. I try and do the same.

As far as distractions go, I’m still working my way through The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild again. I could beat it at any time, but I’m getting all the shrines now. I’m up to 91 or something. I’m basically just twiddling my thumbs and turning my brain off until the next game. Having a console-quality experience in my work bag is the best brain brake ever. I used to think that my PS4 was my favorite guilty pleasure, but hands down, its the Switch.

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The One Cold to Rule Them All

Everyone in my house is sick. My daughter never stopped being sick and my son beat his fever, but its either evolved into something else or this is just the next manifestation of it.

I thought I’d kicked this cold by getting a couple good nights’ sleep, but turns out the sucker was just lying dormant. It’s paying me back full force, having gone from an irritated throat, to some coughing and all around head fuzziness. I’m seriously considering unfurling the yoga mat I keep in my office and curling up. I probably shouldn’t even be typing this right now. I should be home in bed.

Oh wait. Nope. Can’t.

I love my kids dearly, but they couldn’t care less if Daddy feels sick. Well, that’s not true. They’ll want to sit with me and have me read to them, but they won’t understand Daddy’s need to sleep. So rest right now is off the table.

If I don’t kick this thing for good over the weekend, Monday might be a full on sick day which isn’t necessarily bad thing because that means I get to watch Lord of the Rings. I’m pretty sure like one day after I bought the special editions on DVD, I made the deal with myself that when I’m sick I watch Lord of the Rings. I can take all the medicine in the world, but I don’t actually get any better unless I watch LOTR. In fact, that’s probably what’s happening now.

Don’t talk to me about psychosomatic whatsits. Or placebos or any of your new-agey hooey. It’s the magic of the movie bathing me in its healing rays. Yep. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Last time I was sick I watched Two Towers, so logically my next move is Return of the King.

Come to think of it, this is sounding better and better. Monday might be a sick day no matter what happens.

Sleep rx

I had my first good night’s sleep in a long time last night. That doesn’t sound like much of an accomplishment, but it is. I was so tired and so worn out, that it devolved into an Ouroboros of insomnia where my mind was going too fast and my heart raced too much that the thing I wanted most eluded me in a vicious cycle.

It hadn’t been that bad since when the kids were newborns. I used to literally keep track of the hours I’d slept just so I can tell myself in the morning if the night was “good enough” or not. Of course, I was spending more time awake than actually asleep and came to actively dread going to bed, but that’s a different thing.

Lying there, wigging out, I used to think about what if people had literal switches where you could turn them off instantly like a machine. There wouldn’t be a gradual process, just click and you’re out; guaranteeing rest.

I could have definitely used such an augment over the weekend. Also, in a home where I’m typically fighting with my munchkins to go to sleep, I’ve definitely thought about the implications of installing such a switch in them would be too.

When they were baby-babies, I posed myself a philosophical question on a near nightly basis. What if babies had an off switch? But here’s the catch, it was literally an off switch. They weren’t going to sleep like my later sleep-starved thought, but were ceasing to be for however long they were off. Turn them back on again and they were technically alive once more. They wouldn’t grow while off and if you wanted to help your kid sleep, they’d need to be in the “on” position. Follow me so far? OK that wasn’t the question. That’s just the rhetoric.

My philosophical question was: In a world where we could turn newborns off with a switch, how “old” would they actually be? How much longer would that newborn state be preserved?

I guarantee you that after trying to be responsible with such a system, I’d cave in like a week and start trading off nights. One night of sleep for me. One night of sleep for them. My kids might just now be clearing their first “birthday” instead of the two plus years old they actually are.

Sleep and I have always had a weird relationship. My wife loves it. It feels good. It empowers her and she needs like 10 hours every night just to feel normal.

Me? I hate sleep. I think it’s such a waste of time. We spend a third of our lives (well, not me. No now, apparently) asleep and doing nothing. If I could give up sleep without consequences, I’d do so in a heartbeat.

Think of it this way. If someone lived to be 60 years old, then 20 years – 20 years – of that person’s life are spent just lying there. If you gave me the choice of a place to shut down or 20 years of stuff, I’ll take the stuff, please.

I’d always wanted to write a story about a character who’s only superpower was that he didn’t have to sleep. He wouldn’t necessarily be punching bad guys, but he’d be a well-read, artistic, and pretty productive dude.

One of these days I still may write that story.

The flip side to all of this is just because you have more time doesn’t mean you’re more productive. Hell, it could mean the opposite because there’s no rush. What if instead of the most cultured and interesting person, not having to sleep made the most boring and sluggish? Instead of practicing art or a new language with his spare time, he just binge-watched Netflix.

Maybe that’s the story I should be writing …

Feverish

It’s one of those mornings.

I got about half my words in, but I’m throwing in the towel. Normally, I’m all about the discipline, but we’ve had a sick household all weekend, so I’m giving myself an excuse. My daughter as croup (the croup? I don’t know …) and my son had a temperature of 102. So, as you can imagine, there weren’t a lot of happy campers. I spent most of the last three nights either being woken up every couple hours to help a kid fall back asleep or myself sleeping on the floor of their room because I was too tired to get back into my own bed after holding their hand, stroking their back, etc. And then to top it all off, this morning I woke up with a sore throat and fuzzy head. I’m exhausted.

So, what I’ll leave you with instead of a success story of getting work done, is something of a rant.

I finished Every Dead Thing, the first Charlie Parker novel, by John Connolly over the weekend and its one of those books I need to talk about a little. For good or ill, it’s stuck with me. And not just because of the horrible juxtaposition of reading a book about child-murders and torture while trying to put your own children to sleep every night …

So the good:

I like the story for the most part and I liked the character voice. The world is loaded with a bunch of colorful characters with interesting back stories. Even the premise is cool: catch serial killer guy who murdered your wife and kid. Sure, good ole revenge story. I’m in. Parallel that with another serial killer story. Let’s get on this ride. But after that …

The bad:

I feel like its two books in one. The first half is about catching a child killer and the second is about the Travellin’ Man, the real antagonist. But ultimately, the child killer has NOTHING to do with the story. That’s half of the book literally wasted. Connolly pulls you from place to place, person to person so quickly, it’s hard to care about anything anymore. It’s weird, there’s an interconnectedness to his characters and the world, but not the plot. Even though he tells you there is, but there isn’t.

And the ending? Look, I like the reveal. That was cool. But there was NO explanation. This is coming from a guy who reads comic books. I accept things like “it’s powered by a black hole.” I don’t need much. But this was NOTHING. No explanation of how the killer did anything. Hell, there wasn’t even a second for the protagonist, Charlie Parker, to even have an emotional response to the reveal and resulting confrontation. I’ve never appreciated denouement more because this book didn’t have any.

The book has obviously stuck with me because it had a great setup but I ultimately feel let down. And I’m not the world’s foremost authority on story structure, maybe if I was an international bestselling author too my two cents would mean more, but I can’t help feeling like this one was off.

Aside from the fact that it was too books crammed into one. Aside from the fact that the first half is literally meaningless. There were little things. Like talking about a cop character who may or may not have murdered a criminal, then when you bring up that criminal’s name chapters later, you don’t remind me what that criminal did. Hell, there are so many names and places in this book, it’s hard to keep it all straight. Or instead of a big climax, Connolly spends more time on a shoot out between two criminal mob bosses that, again, ultimately mean nothing, rather than work on a satisfying conclusion.

I’m also not saying that everything needs to be wrapped up in a neat little bow, but there’s not even a soggy, cardboard box.

Just weird choices through and through.

OK. I have some very specific questions and points to rant about. I’ve been trying to keep it pretty spoiler-free so far, but that’s gonna stop. You’ve been warned …

 

Still with me? Let’s do this …

So we had the false climax with the gun fight at Joe Bones’s place. What was the point? Bones knew something. But he never said what it was. If Bones knew who the killer was, he’d be dead. That was the one thing we could always count on. The TM wraps up loose ends.

We were told Remarr knew something too, but, again, he didn’t. It never mattered to the plot. What did Remarr even see?

For that matter, why kill David Fontenot at all? It seemed so out of character to anything the TM was doing.

What was the point of the whole first half of the book? So Modine (that was her name, right?) knew who the TM was?! Why? How? That was just there so Charlie Parker could keep obsessing, but it made no sense whatsoever. What, like Sandman, are there serial killer conventions?

How on earth was TM (W) setting up/controlling Byron? Again, makes no sense. And why? To lure Charlie there? But that’s not what brought Charlie to Louisiana. That was a really weird connection and only worked because the plot said so.

And if the TM (W) killed “hundreds” what’s the point of his ‘prentice killings in those barrels only a handful of months beforehand. So, if they’re practice killings, does that mean he kills like someone new every day? That makes no sense. Is he killing lots of people and only now deciding to make art out of them?

And ultimately my two biggest greivences:

We don’t have any explanation from TM (W) as to how he carried any of this out. Half the fun of a detective story is the puzzle. Not just who it is, but how he’s doing it. We’re missing out on that latter half. Fine. He’s killing “because he can,” but there needs to be more than that for a satisfying ending. Why toy with Bird all this time just for this?

And speaking of Bird, for a guy obsessed with the TM he certainly has zero feelings once he figures out who the guy is. Not anger, rage, betrayal, anything. It’s like oh here’s some world shattering news. Oh damn. And then, when Rachel’s taken, he never once even worries about her. No wonder she leaves at the end, Bird’s a selfish asshole.

This could have all been forgiven if there was even an attempt to wrap any of this up at the end, but nope … fade to black. Weird epilogue.

I had to get this out of my system because I wanted to like this book so much. Hell, I did for a while, but like Bird, I was betrayed by someone I trusted too …

 

Vignettes

Inspiration is real. Waiting for inspiration is BS. By slogging through the trenches, I’m back on board the Altered Egos train and genuinely look forward to working on it again every day. There are two metaphors in that sentence.

I’ve worn a tie so much at work these days that my son says, “Daddy, no tie,” on a near daily basis. It’s not that he doesn’t like ties, he knows that I’ve been against them lately and he’s super supportive.

My daughter has developed a second joke. Her first one was telling me, “poopy diaper,” when she definitely didn’t have a poopy diaper. Now, she’ll sit on this plastic fish while in the bathtub, look me dead in the eye and say, “fish on the butt!” and then devolve into a giggling fit. I’m psyched that she’s telling jokes. She didn’t get the toilet humor from me, though. It’s all high brow over here.

I keep querying agents hoping for a bite. I try and pitch maybe two or three every couple of weeks. Way I see it, if my query is bad, then instead of cutting all my chances at the same time, I’m doling it out piece by piece. Granted, that means its taking a while. But I’m not ready to put The Red Door to bed yet anyway.

While I’d rather work with an editor and a publisher, Plan B is to self publish. I’ve written five novels by now – two of which are what I consider to be publishable – but I’m waiting until I have three before I hit the self publish button. I figure that three novels of three different styles will be a good starting point and I’ll go from there. Spaghetti on the wall, that’s my approach. Throw enough and something’ll stick.

I’ve been working D&D back into my life, playing with a group about once a month or so. I’m DMing, but I’d much rather play. But since I’m the one making it work the most, I’ll take DMing as a small price to just be rolling D20s again. I’ve looking into joining an online group that meets more frequently and while that sounds great in theory, the twins don’t allow me much free time. The only reason I’m even playing D&D now is because I’ve somehow convinced my wife to play too. She either really loves me or feels really sorry for me. A bit of both?

Right now, we’re watching the days go by, more or less. We were coming to terms with our current family dynamic and thought that was going to be it. But life, uh, finds a way. That cat’s out of the bag, internet. Come March, the kids will be outnumbering the adults at our house.

Siren

My cousin got married in Hot Springs, Virginia the other weekend. I went out for the ceremony. Now that the kids are two, my wife and I figured that buying four plane tickets for one person to attend an event was a little superfluous.

Growing up in Pennsylvania, I’d actually never been to that part of Virginia before. And living in Indiana now, I don’t know if I’m just tree-deprived or what, but man that state is gorgeous! Hairpin turns included.

I brought my Switch with me, eagerly looking forward to some time to myself. I got some writing and reading in under my belt, but I also played an S-ton of Switch. I’d purchased I am Setsuna, a game I’d had my eye on for a long time, specifically for this trip. Yet, when a friend loaned me Mario Kart and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for my travels, all I did was play Zelda. A game I’d already played and beaten on his Switch.

In fact, I’m still playing it. Much to my detriment.

Gaming-wise, the Switch is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me. And the worst. It’s portable nature means its never far from my side and I’m always playing it. After playing Zelda on my friend’s machine, the final nail in the convincing-myself-coffin to buy my own was that now that my kids have transitioned to their toddler beds, it means we’ve pretty much lost our family room for nightly hangout space. The room is right across the hall from their bedroom, so just being in there will wake them up. Our retreat is back into our own, now baby-free, bedroom with my X-Box 360 to watch movies, the last iteration of Apple TV, and our old TV from almost ten years ago. Sensing a trend here? Outdated technology.

My Switch comes with me of course. I never know where I’ll be allowed to hang out and play games, so having a console not far from hand is a great perk. It also means that as I type, say, this post, I keep glancing over to that blue and red siren sitting on the edge of my desk.

If I was having a hard time getting back into Altered Egos, then the Switch isn’t helping things.

Know what? I think that’ll do for blogging today. I just remembered that there’s a gentleman in a hot air balloon selling monster masks that I need to go speak with.

The Battle for Bedtime

Why does bedtime always have to be such a fight? I’m sure parents across the interwebs have asked themselves this same question and are agreeing with me right now. That, or they’re shaking their heads at me expecting anything else.

It’s never “Oh, go to sleep, sweetheart …” It’s “Get. Back. In. Your. Bed!”. Teeth gritted. Muscles clenching. The works. I mean, I can’t even tell you the last time I didn’t go to sleep without a headache. It’s kind of hard to remember all of this in the comforting light of day. In the middle of my twilit anger, it feels so much more important. Maybe it’s because I have two in the same room who keep each other up. I don’t know. Is it really all that bad? See?! That’s how they get you. It’s parental amnesia!

So my kids are two now and we’ve transitioned them into toddler beds. At least I think they’re transitioned? If that means taking an hour and a half to fall asleep because they don’t want to be held or rocked and then waking up throughout the night crying for us just so they can run back to bed and have me sleep on the floor next to them as they fall back asleep … then yeah, they’re transitioned. It’s a double-edged sword because while I’m excited to get my bed back, I never seem to end up using it for long. Sunday morning, I got my best sleep of the night on the floor of their room with a couple pillows and a blanket. Who knows? Maybe, I’m the one who’s transitioned.

It’s been a while since I’ve been on here, so I’ve been going through and updating everything. Hopefully, it’s looking a little more streamlined. The biggest surprise for me is that I’ve updated my Comics section with details about Fate Stitcher. FS is a graphic novel I wrote and Kickstarted years ago. But while we hit our expected goal of getting it drawn, I never had enough funds to get it colored liked I’d wanted. Because of that – and yours truly doing the actual lettering – I’d always thought of it as the project that could have been. But looking at it again to refresh myself of what to say for the site is showing me that it’s a lot better than I remembered. I was being too hard on myself.

I’ve got the cover up for now, but once I clean out my gDrive, you should be able to download the whole thing soon. While I work on getting this place populated with more of my Stories, here’s a nice juicy one to get started on.

Welcome Back, Dan

Hey, Internet, it’s been a while hasn’t it?

I’ve been meaning to get back into this for a LONG time, but I’ve been pretty distracted. Between working on my novel writing as much as humanly possible and basically sacrificing most of my hobby time to my new family, it left me with little to talk about.

Or so I thought.

I was putting too much pressure on myself to come up with a gimmick. I kept thinking what was going to be my hook and I spent a long time thinking about blogging plans. I’ll save you the length soul searching. Ultimately, I decided I’m going literal with this one. This site is called Dan Melnick Stories and well, it’s going to be about my stories. Stuff I write, stuff that happens to me and stuff I feel like talking about. So whether that’s going to be about the shenanigans of my twins or magical jazz man or how much I’m digging Nightwing again, the through-line is going to be me.

So expect posts about everything, I guess.

I’m also going to be revamping the site in the days ahead. Or better, UPDATING it. It’s wildly out of date of what I want to reflect about myself and my writing. So expect that to change.

Today is short a sweet and is going to serve as my declaration I guess. But don’t worry, if I get my way, you’re going to be hearing from me a heck of a lot more …

Blue Moon

Over the holidays I got to spend some time with some friends and to “remeet” their daughter who’s now 11 months old and interactive. Anyway, as most 11 month olds are, she got a bit uppity and I overheard the parents scold her with the whole first name-middle name thing. I’d never known her middle name until that point. It was Kristin.

In the summer of 2005, my friend Kristin was killed in a traffic accident. It was just before my junior year of college and I was back in Pennsylvania to be part of the community theater’s production of Damn Yankees. We all went to different colleges, but we’d get back together for the summers and usually end up at the community theater. One evening, Kristin was running late to practice, didn’t see the blinking lights at a railroad crossing and never made it.

That was the first time someone close to me had ever died. I’d lost my grandfather before then, but it didn’t feel like this. I still remember the night it happened. She never showed up to practice. I’d just gotten home around 10pm when the assistant director called me. I guess he called me first because he didn’t think he could make the rounds and call other people. My dad was sitting on the couch when my phone rang. I took the call and had to go to the other room. The next hour was horrible, calling my closest friends to tell them the tragic news. My best friend’s mother told me to “shut up” in disbelief.

No one wanted to be alone, so by midnight, we all reunited at Liz’s house to just sort of sit together. We didn’t tell stories or talk about anything, really. It was too early for that. We just sat in a darkened room being alone together.

Going back to college in the fall was one of the hardest things I’d ever done. What happened to Kristin united all of us in a way like nothing else. It also didn’t help matters that there was a girl involved (of course) and what would have been a summer fling ended up getting ramped up to enormous heights. That fling chose the other guy in the end which was nice icing on the shit cake, so by the time I got back to Chicago, I was utterly heartbroken, depressed and had never felt more alone in my entire life. To this day, I carry around a betting ticket from the last time Kristin and I went to the track together. She was a cool girl. She taught me how to bet on horses.

I bring all of this up to help illustrate that my memories of Kristen have always been bittersweet. She was a lovely person and I’ve been thinking about all the sadness that came from her death since then. Hearing that little girl’s middle name brought it all back.

Flash forward to yesterday.

My friend at work was telling me about the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Fest and all of the great bands that’ll be there this year. We got to reminiscing about all the concerts we’d ever been too and it got me thinking about the Bethlehem Musikfest I used to go to every year with my dad. It was a two hour trip each way, but we’d go ever year to see the Red Elvises.

Ever wonder what a bunch of Russian guys singing rockabilly sounds like? Then wonder no more, my friends. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Red Elvises are fucking great. Seriously.

Anyway, I was telling my friend all about the glories of I Wanna See You Belly Dance and their awesome rendition of Blue Moon when I remembered the last time I’d ever seen the band.

It must have been the summer of 2004. Maybe even 2003. I’d recently graduated high school – I know that much, and I graduated in ’03 – and that same group of friends rented a cabin in the Poconos for a long weekend. It just so happened to coincide with the weekend the Elvises would be appearing at Musikfest. So I ditched everybody for an evening and drove an hour and a half each way through parts unknown to find Bethlehem. I offered an open invitation to anyone with me to come along, but I guess they didn’t share the same love of rockabilly that I did. They all said no. All except Kristin.

I’d completely forgotten about all of this. The fest that year was great and the band was amazing. Right before they went on stage, I saw some of the Elvises walking around behind the scenes and I had a mini geek-out session when I spied Oleg, the base player. I was seriously star struck.

Before I knew it, Kristin was calling him over and I now have a picture with the coolest bass player there ever was. Don’t believe me? The guy uses a converted balalaika as a bass.

Anyway, all of that came rushing back yesterday and I couldn’t help but laugh. I’ve been carrying around all of these heavy memories of Kristin all these years and here I’ve had this golden one all along. That was still a hard summer and I’ll never forget her, but here I am all these years later and Kristin still finds a way of making me smile.

Wherever you are, Kristin, I hope you’re good. Also, betting on a horse just because it has superhero bridling has proven to be a bad decision time and again. Just an FYI …

 

Elusivity

My New Years’ resolution was to blog more consistently.

OK. It wasn’t. But I still want to post more consistently anyway.

Life at the Melnick household has been a bit rough lately. The Missus is super sick. I mean when stuff gets in your chest and ears kind of sick. The babies have also picked up little baby versions of this illness in the form of stuffy noses, sniffles and even more spitting up. Yep. That’s just what babies needed: MORE spitting up. It’s lead to a lot of sleepless nights and me running around trying to make sure everyone else gets as much sleep as they can.

As I type this, I can feel the telltale tickle in the back of my throat. The number at the deli counter just rolled over one digit closer to the matching one on my ticket.

I hope everyone had some happy holidays. In between traveling and illnesses, I’ve been daydreaming about getting back to Fairfax Cleaners and brainstorming for novel #5. I’ve decided that my alpha readers have had over a month now to read the draft and while that’s not a lot of time in this busy time of our lives, it’s been long enough that I can hassle them for an update to at least let me know WHEN they’re finished. I don’t mind waiting around and working on other things as long as I’ve got something out there dangling. But if I’m not fishing, I’m not being productive.

I’m still doing research on the next book and I think I’ve got the plot basically figured out. I’m about ready for the outlining phase. This one’s been a lot quicker than usual since I’m adapting a screenplay awhile ago I wrote into a novel. I’ve basically changed the entire story with the exception of the core concept, but I’ve had this character’s voice in my head for years. Writing in first person – fingers crossed – should alleviate some of those professional pressures that have started to creep in without a pitch-worthy product.

So far, I’ve only been scratching that writing itch through mental exercises. I would love to sit down and fire off a short story or two, but that’s just not my style. I outline too much. Coming up with a plot is the hardest part for me for any book, so you’d think that something smaller would be easier, but it’s the opposite. Usually, I can propose a scenario to myself and ask “what happens next?” OK. “What happens after that?” And follow that story down the natural rabbit hole. But with short fiction, I end up doing so much brainstorming, I’m developing material for a full length novel and I’ve forgotten what it was about the short story that grabbed me in the first place.

I’m hoping to kick that habit. I had a pretty vivid dream the other night that’s still haunting me. I thought it would make a great idea for a romantic comedy at the time so I wrote it down in case I ever wanted to tackle a screenplay pretty far outside my genre as an exercise. Then I massaged it into drama shape for kicks. And now, I’ve basically rebuilt it into a science fiction piece. I like the central concept, but it’s that illusive plot thing that’s tripping me up. I supposed I’ll keep working on it in the hopes that I see an end in sight.

I’ll let you know how it goes.