Thursday, March 24, 2011

Why Write?

Thanks to that pesky little prankster known as the internet, there's a minor revolution occuring in the publishing industry these days. You can't look at any author's webpage, blog, or tweet history without stumbling headlong into one of many prognostications about the future of print media.

Are traditionally published books a dying breed?

Will ebooks and the immediacy of the digital medium turn all authors to self-publishing?

Can the traditional publishers and self-publishers co-exist in a harmonious and symbiotic relationship of peace, love and grooviness?

While I have an opinion on the matter, it can't be said I have much of a financial interest. I run a free blog with only 12 confessed followers (67 if you count my 68 Facebook followers and subtract me from the list). My only book is a self-published collection of items one can get for free on this blog, and I'm almost one solid year into the first draft of my first novel. Literally speaking, I am a literary nobody. Not even a speedbump, I am a grain of sand on the eight-lane super-highway of the publishing industry.

Not only might I never, I very likely and almost certainly never, will need to kindle a fire in my brain over whether to accept a major traditional publishing deal over going it alone as an indie author. When my novel is finished to my satisfaction and released on Amazon and whatever other digital format I'm able to sufficiently comprehend, I'll be happy if anyone buys it at all.

So, why write? If I'm so convinced an audience won't flock to my digital doorstep, why go through the time-consuming process of writing a book, or even a blog?

Well... It's just... Well, because! That's why.

As interesting as the discussion about the future of publishing might be to a wannabe author like me, I didn't start writing my silly little murder mystery last May because I thought I could make a big splash in the literary world. The book is mine. It's being written first and foremost for me, to prove I can do it, to prove I have the creativity and fortitude to push beyond the self-doubt that for twenty years has buried the idea of this book under excuses.

And the reality is that even if the book does sell reasonably well for a self-published, indie author's first attempt -- even if it blows the designer casing off your Kindle or Nook as it rockets to the top of every digital platform's best seller list -- I still won't make enough money to quit my day job and live in luxury on some private Greek island.

And that's okay. I don't like olives anyway, and I'm pretty sure I'd end up with some variation of skin cancer from over-exposure to the sun.

I have no grand illusions. I don't expect a movie version of my book in the offing (although with a few tweaks it could make for some seriously awful local dinner theater). I don't expect a mass audience to sit up and take notice, or critics to fall over themselves lauding the book's superior qualities, or even for my Mother to like it. It's very likely the F-word appears far too often for her tastes.

The fact of the matter is not every person who writes dreams of being a best-selling author. Some of us simply dream of being authors of finished works. That might put me a rung or twelve lower on the indie author ladder, but so what?

So what if I achieved only 1,300 new words this week on the novel? It's 1,300 more than I had when the week began.

So what if the only people who read my novel are friends and family? Aren't they the people I care about most in this world?

So what if I don't sell a single copy?

I didn't start writing because I had big green dollar signs in my eyes. My vision consisted of a well-told story, with believable characters and a compelling mystery. And, if I'm lucky, the cover art I slap together won't be too cheesy.

© 2011 Mark Feggeler

Monday, March 21, 2011

Thinner By a Strand

Two months ago, I tried behaving myself.

"No more pizza, French fries, or beer," I said.

Our spring break Disney cruise was fast approaching and I didn't need a scale to tell me I was overweight. When your "skinny" jeans won't button and your shirt collars make your head feel like it's about ready to pop off, you know you've been over-indulging. Fortunately, I wasn't too far gone. Maybe just 10 pounds would do the trick, get me into the zone in which I could kid myself into thinking the lack of love handles meant I was in good shape.

One month ago, I made a second attempt at behaving.

"Stop dropping handfuls of dark chocolate into your fat free yogurt," I told myself.

I had managed to nix the beer, fries and pizza, but the chocolate kept throwing itself at me, demanding to be eaten while simultaneously preaching to me about the many suspected health benefits of two ounces daily of dark chocolate. And, if two ounces is good for me, then ten ounces is like a super strength multivitamin with a V8 chaser and a few laps around the block thrown in for good measure.

Portions were also undermining my efforts. I was reminded of a time, long ago, when I went to a salad bar with a friend who was trying to diet. He layered his plate with lettuce, then piled it high with eggs, cheese, croutons, bacon bits, and full fat thousand island dressing. Hey, it was a salad, right?

Two weeks ago, I started giving up.

"Just try to maintain the weight you're at now," I said.

Maybe if I hold at my present puffiness, I can pull a desperation fast at the last minute and board the ship with a few pounds of wiggle room. I gain five pounds once my feet leave the gangplank, so I've got to give it some kind of effort before hitting the buffet, the formal dinner, the cocktail hour, the poolside cantina, the breakfast buffet, and the room service.

One week to go, and the hard reality of a failed effort presented itself in the form of a half dozen pairs of shorts that no longer fit comfortably around the waist. I could try kidding myself into thinking there must be something wrong with our storage bins, because these all fit fine last summer, but what's the point? Besides, we bought enough new clothes for the trip that I don't have to worry about running around the ship pantsless, which is a good thing since this is a family cruise.

At the very least, I feel better about myself since yesterday because my Lovely Wife cut my hair, and not a moment too soon. No longer thick enough to be called shaggy at any length, my hair was nonetheless far too long and becoming increasingly unruly. It either poofed out in ways that made me look like I'd been dropped on my head at birth, or it was shellacked into place like I'd combed it with buttered toast. Now at a much more reasonable length, it draws less attention to the chubby roundness of my face.

But maybe it isn't just a trick of the eye. Maybe this magical haircut actually did help take off some of that excess weight I'd been trying to shed for the last couple months. A quick trip to the bathroom scale proved my assumption correct. I had lost four pounds since that morning, all thanks to my Lovely Wife's tonsorial talents!

Of course, keep in mind the scale is psychotic. On Saturday, it said I was 211. This morning, it told me I was 164. Regardless, I choose to believe my haircut makes me look four pounds thinner, and therefore I am.

All I need to know now is which deck has the midnight buffet...

© 2011 Mark Feggeler

Friday, March 18, 2011

Don't Trust That Cookie!

"New and rewarding opportunities will soon develop for you."

That fortune came out of a cookie during a meal at one of our local Chinese buffets. If you haven't yet eaten at a Chinese buffet in rural North Carolina, it's an interesting experience.

As a child in New York, I recall being deathly afraid of the exotic selections served at the Chinese restaurant to which my parents would take us every now and then. It was a special treat for them. It usually turned into a night of "I'm Still Hungry" for me. My solution was to order wonton soup and egg rolls, the Happy Meal of Asian cuisine, then scarf down cookies and ice cream when we got home.

My sons have adopted a similar tactic. Their meal at the Chinese buffet includes wonton soup (broth only), "chicken on a stick," and that classic Chinese dish known to most of us as fried mozzarella sticks. I learned years ago that China is the real birthplace of pasta, but I had no idea Farm Rich was based in Hong Kong.

Anyway, back to the fortune cookie.

I had just launched this blog, and was seriously considering an attempt at writing the novel I had always dreamed of writing, so the fortune seemed timely. For several days, it helped inspire in me the notion of becoming a successful writer, maybe even achieving the ultimate goal of making enough money to be a full-time writer and quit the day job.

Time, however, can be cruel to dreams. As dust settled over the rectangular scrap of paper resting atop the laptop on my desk, it seemed as though I had foolishly allowed myself to be suckered in. No riches presented themselves. No books -- magnificently conceived and self-edited -- came flying from my fingertips. The abominable cookie lied!

Or did it? Maybe I misunderstood.

Yup, I'm pretty sure I did. Search for the verb in the fortune and you'll see what I mean.


New and rewarding opportunities will soon "develop" for you. They won't be handed across like a present, or awarded like a diploma. Just as when you plant a new flowerbed, the development begins the moment the plants are in the ground, but the flowerbed itself doesn't mature for another few years, if ever.

So that's where I am. I'm in the development stage, which began right around the time I ate that cookie. The blog is going strong, the first draft of the novel is nearly complete, and I've been able to experiment with self-publishing thanks to the blog. I'd have to say things are developing nicely.

Pretty smart cookie!

© 2011 Mark Feggeler

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Mini Proggers

Anyone who knows much about me might know I am an avid Genesis fan. I love their newer material, which means the albums that are 19-36 years old featuring Phil Collins as lead singer. And I really, really love their older material, which means the albums that are 37-42 years old with Peter Gabriel as lead singer.

I don't care if loving the band dates me, or makes me incredibly uncool by most, if not all, modern standards of coolness. Go ahead. Judge and mock me. I can take it. I'm also a Mets fan, so I know a lot about hanging tough with an underdog and cheering for them at the top of my lungs no matter how vehemently the masses might ridicule them. Friggin' Yankees...

Most of the solo works by the individual members of Genesis from its many incarnations grace my collection in one form or another. Master guitarist Steve Hackett is my favorite, but I've already written that blog post. And yes, my Lovely Wife, he has a new one coming out this fall. (I'll try to be considerate during my 6-month period of obsessive replaying after it arrives special delivery from the UK.)

As time travels forward, my love of the band's music remains constant, even though the daily lust for it might wax and wane. From time to time, I put the discs aside, skip over the playlists on my iPod, and gravitate toward other genres. But never for very long.

Something about the overwhelming wall of sound from the melotron, the tinkling intricacies of the acoustic guitars, the screaming cries of the electric guitars, the simplistic complexity of the keyboards, the controlled chaos of the drumkit, the bass line that travels its own path through the song while somehow still supporting it, and the audacious pomposity of the lyrics -- for some reason it all blends together and calls me back like an old friend.

Lately, I've been reveling in the prog rock classic "Supper's Ready" from the band's 1972 album Foxtrot. Not only does the song contain every possible aspect of progressive rock that makes my Lovely Wife cringe, it has a running time of just over 23 minutes. On vinyl, that side of the album had only one other song, an acoustic guitar solo ("Horizons," also a classic) lasting only 90 seconds.

While I try not to subject my Lovely Wife to prog rock, our children are at my mercy. While Our Daughter, the teenager, is beginning to turn up her nose, the boys are still young and foolish enough to idolize me and, therefore, believe I have good taste. The Italian's standard response to seemingly every song I play is: "Can you put that on my iPod?"

So, it shouldn't have come as much of a surprise to me when, after having been subjected to "Supper's Ready" several times in the past few weeks, both the Italian and the German walked through the house this morning singing lyrics from the opening sequence of the song.

"Hey, babe, with your guardian eyes so blue-hoo," the Italian crooned.

"Hey, my baby, don't you know our love is true?" the German answered in turn.

My Lovely Wife rolled her eyes. I beamed at them from behind my bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats. Let her try and twist them round, round, baby right round with her Top 40 modern disco pop. So long as they display even a little fondness for 1970s rock opera prog, I'll proudly call them my sons.

© 2011 Mark Feggeler

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Lesson In Anatomy

Teaching your children about the birds and the bees can be a terrifying ordeal. Many parents avoid the subject like a venereal disease at a Kiss concert. Not us.

Not that we've sat any of our kids down with diagrams, or handed them a stack of dirty magazines, but we have kept ourselves abrest of our need to provide nuggets of information and guidance when and as necessary.

As our 13-year-old daughter advances farther along through her teen years, the opportunities to impart bits of wisdom arise with greater frequency. The movies she watches, the magazines she reads, the websites she browses -- all media at her disposal is rife with sexual content. It is our responsibility to ensure she and her brothers are prepared to process it in healthy ways.

Unfortunately, some of life's most important lessons do not present themselves in scripted Hallmark Moment splendour. More often than not, we stumble through, desperately hoping not to screw things up too badly. The very first discussion I had with Our Daughter on the subject of male anatomy is a perfect example.

Some years ago, when Our Daughter was a mere toddler, we stayed at a hotel at which my Lovely Wife attended a work-related educational training. My role during the event was to watch over Our Daughter during the day. We swam in the indoor pool, played fun little games, read a few board books, and watched an episode or two of SpongeBob and Blues Clues.

One afternoon, following our final round of swimming, we were back in the room getting cleaned up for dinner. I showered while Our Daughter watched a little television. When I came out, I found her jumping up and down on the king-size bed. The warning to stop had barely escaped my lips when I watched her fly backwards off the bed and land flat on her back, knocking her head on the thinly carpeted concrete floor with a sickening thud.

I picked her up and held her until her crying subsided. Determining no serious damage had been done, yet still with heart racing from the scare, I placed her in the bathtub and continued to distract her with silly jokes from my perch atop the closed toilet. Suddenly, staring at what I thought were my knees, her face went dead serious. She pointed and said, with some noticeable measure of disgust, "What is that?!"

In my panic, I had completely forgotten I was still only barely wrapped in the towel from my shower. Unbeknownst to me, while I sat there on the edge of the toilet entertaining her, my nether region was hanging loose and free for all to see. A quick shift of the towel and a summary dismissal of the subject were not going to be enough to undo the damage, so I decided to face the challenge fate had placed before me.

In language familiar to her, I explained, "It's my peepee." The shock of disbelief showed in her widening eyes. She looked down between her legs, back up at me, and said: "Well, wash it off!"

I laughed so hard, I ended up using the towel to dry my eyes. Not only had I traumatized Our Daughter by flashing her, my follow up only served to convince her I was horrendously unhygienic. Between that, and her having to endure years of watching her brothers streak through the house as only little boys can, it'll be a miracle if she ever gives us a grandchild.

© 2011 Mark Feggeler

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Damn Dog's Broke

Too bad the title doesn't refer to the financial status of our puffy toy poodle. If the only problem with Lily were an unbalanced checking account, or the lack of access to her trust fund, then I wouldn't even be writing this post.

No, our dog is broken.

For six years, since the day Santa left her under our Christmas tree with a note explaining how the elves thought we were the perfect family to care for her, Lily has been the ideal pet. She seldom has accidents in the house -- although when she does, she always manages to hit the single island of carpet in a sea of hardwood -- and she listens really well, except when she doesn't. Until now, had you asked me if I would own another poodle once Lily is chasing ethereal squirrels in the great beyond, I would have said "yes." But then she had to go and get bladder stones, and suddenly everything's gone to hell in a handbasket!

Apparently our poodle's internal acidity levels promote the growth of bladder stones. These stones, or rather fragments of one stone, were causing her pain. Following the vet's instructions, we placed Lily on a prescription diet of moist canned food to balance her PH. She also had a pill to take twice a day for two weeks. We wrapped the pill in Kraft cheese, very likely unwittingly sabotaging the PH balancing act of the prescription diet, but you try getting a finicky poodle to take a pill.

Of course, when the two weeks of prescription food costing three times as much as the tremendous bag of dry food that would last our 12-pound pup three months was used up, Lily was no closer to breaking down and passing the stones than when she started. The only other solution: surgery.

You have to understand, while I'm no animal hater, I've often judged people who spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on their pets to be irrational fanatics. I love my dog. My Lovely Wife loves our dog. Our kids love our dog. But if we have to choose between the dog and college tuition, then our kids will be paying for school with assistance from the Lily Feggeler Memorial College Scholarship Fund.

Long story short, we paid the $500+ dollars for the bladder stone surgery. The recovery seemed to be going well, until we noticed the recurrence of phantom squatting. Once my Lovely Wife explained phantom squatting was not a new yoga position but instead described the dog's failed attempt to pee, I understood we were not yet out of the woods.

Turns out, Lily developed a urinary tract infection during recovery, in addition to the equivalent of diaper rash in the pudgy folds of her skin. How do we know she has a urinary tract infection? Because I drove the poor dog neurotic Friday morning following behind her with a Dixie cup to catch a urine sample. Have you ever tried to shove a 3-inch tall Dixie cup under a dog that leaves only 1-inch clearance when peeing?

Now, $78 later, we have new pills around which to wrap Kraft singles, an anti-inflammatory that has to be administered orally via a dropper, and a liquid to spread around her hoo-hah until her hoo-hah appears normal again.

Trouble is, poodle hoo-hahs are not my specialty. It probably is a testament to my good taste and sanity that I have not spent much, if any, of my life in training to recognize a healthy poodle hoo-hah. I guess we'll just keep applying it until the tube is gone and hope for the best.

© 2011 Mark Feggeler

Thursday, March 10, 2011

HB Oh Forget It

I am old enough to remember when there was only one HBO.

Who am I kidding?

I'm old enough to remember when "remote control" meant my brothers telling me to get up and change the channel for them. I'm old enough to remember not having a color television. I'm old enough to remember the Brady Bunch going off the air, the introduction of the Big Wheel, banana seat bikes, Romper Room, and one-foot tall GI Joe action figures who always stole Barbie's heart away from that pretty boy Ken.

Back to the point, we got our first taste of HBO when our family joined the great Cable-TV Nation in the early 1980s. Almost immediately, I was disappointed. I took the name Home Box Office literally.

When did you ever go to the movie theater to see a boxing match? When did you go to the movie theater to see original made-for-TV movies? When did you go to the movie theater to watch back-to-back episodes of Fraggle Rock?

When they finally did clear their programming of all their homemade piffle, the movies they did show were mostly crap. And, Lord help us if they actually got the rights to a decent film, it would be featured every other night for the entire month in which it premiered, sandwiched between the 400th showings of "Beastmaster" and "Zapped!"

But that was thirty years ago. Surely HBO has changed for the better since then. Right? There are, like, one-hundred-eighty-seven different HBO channels now. I find myself thinking, every now and then, that maybe I should break down and give it another try. Then I stay in a hotel.

Doesn't matter what hotel, either, since most of them offer the same limited selection of channels that always seems to include HBO1 and HBO2. You'd think these channels would vary their programming a little to offer some variety and get people interested in purchasing HBO for their home systems. You'd be wrong.

Every time I travel, no matter what city I find myself in, HBO1 and HBO2 are broadcasting the same shows, usually an hour apart from each other. First HBO1 shows Real Time With Bill Maher, then HBO2. First HBO1 shows a sports talk show about boxing, then HBO2. First HBO1 shows Deadwood, or Big Love, or True Blood, or any of its other simplistically awful soap operas that everybody but me seems to go crazy over, then HBO2.

I'm wondering how many more decades it will take before HBO decides to show a movie during primetime.

© 2011 Mark Feggeler

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Dear Travel: Going

Dear Delta Airlines Email Flight Alert Message:
Thank you for letting me know my flight was delayed two hours. Next time, please don't wait until I have driven 80 miles to the airport to tell me. Please tell me before I leave the house.

Dear Transportation Security Administration:
Thank you for keeping me safe. Thank you for checking my shoes for explosive materials that didn't work even when that schmuck actually was able to sneak them onto the plane in his shoes. Thank you for making me remove my belt, cell phone, laptop, jacket, coin, keys, watch, and dignity in order to travel like a sheep on a cramped plane that will end up being three-and-a-half hours late.

Dear Woman Who Sat Two Seats Away From Me In a Nearly Empty Airport Terminal:
Please don't take out your cell phone and speak at the top of your lungs while I'm trying to ignore you. I don't want to break out my iPod to drown out your obnoxious blather, but I will if I have to. Not that you'll notice...

Dear LaGuardia Airport Service Truck Driver:
Thank you for driving your vehicle into the side of my airplane, thereby putting it out of service and requiring it to be replaced with the soda pop can that eventually took us to Columbus, OH. I had to allow the TSA security team get to second base with me just to be allowed to sit inside the plane, yet you were paid good money to do more damage than any terrorist has managed in almost ten years.

Dear Self-Flushing Toilet at RDU Airport:
I'm not getting up, so please don't flush simply because I lean forward a little to wipe my butt. It is a predictably necessary step in the whole "going to the bathroom" process and shouldn't come as a surprise to you. Dropping my trousers and sitting in the sink with the faucet running could not possibly dampen my derriere more than your swirling mist did just now.

Dear Man Who Sat In The Seat Vacated By The Woman Who Sat Two Seats Away From Me And Spoke Loudly Into Her Cell Phone:
Please don't speak so loudly into your cell phone.

Dear Transportation Security Administration:
When will the current safety advisory level no longer be orange? Aside from the fact orange holds no value to me as an indicator of degree of threat, its constant use is rendering it meaningless. An occasional dip to yellow might make us stop and take notice the next time we hear the man with the rod up his butt tell us the current threat advisory level is orange.

Dear Chautauqua Airlines, Regional Operator for Delta:
Thank you for keeping my ticket price low by eliminating the costly padding that might otherwise separate my tailbone from the hard plastic directly beneath the faux leather upholstery of your seats.

Dear Chautauqua Airlines:
Should I be concerned that you had to move two passengers from their front-of-the-plane seats to the very back rows in order to achieve the proper weight distribution for a safe flight? And what was that high-pitched whirring noise just before that deafening alarm sounded?

Dear Chautauqua Airlines:
Instead of removing the safety instructions from the seatback pocket in front of me to review with the flight attendant, can I instead remove my Diet Coke and chocolate malted milk balls from the seatback pocket in front of me and pretend to pay attention to the flight attendant while I drink and eat them?

Dear Man In the Seat Across the Aisle From Me:
Please stop being you. Every single thing you've done since I sat down has annoyed me.

Dear Chautaqua Airlines:
Is the seatback pocket in front of me water-tight? Because I'm starting to think mixing Diet Coke with chocolate malted milk balls on a plane this small was a bad idea, and those little paper bags are nowhere near big enough to hold everything I've just consumed.

Dear Mousy Granola-Head Woman Who Sat Behind Me On The Plane:
In case you weren't aware, there is such a thing as air travel etiquette. You should not have reached your undeodorized armpit over my head to get your bag down and then pushed ahead three rows closer to the door before anyone else had started moving. I saw you collect your bag and head for the parking garage, so don't even tell me you were late for a connecting flight.

Dear Non-English-Speaking Taxi Driver:
Yes, your cab is very clean and you seem like a nice person. I'm just wondering why your meter seems to be in its own plane of existence in which time runs slower, thereby costing me significantly more than any other cab has ever cost me to get from the airport to my downtown hotel. You were doing eighty on the highway and you had to stop at only one light, so why do I owe you $20?

© 2011 Mark Feggeler

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Baby, Come Back!

I have struggled for years with the unavoidable truth. When a piece of your heart falls away into oblivion, you can find yourself adopting desparate measures to delay the inevitable realization that something precious is gone forever. Even as late as last night, I searched in vain for a substitute, a surrogate, anything to fill the empty space in my longing soul. Passing door after door, staring through the condensation-stained glass, I find nothing.

I come at last to the door that once led to the sweet delicacy for which I pine. Upon pulling the door to me, the residents of the unit present themselves and mock me with their wrappings, so eerily familiar yet so grotesquely different. Many voices sing, but no song reaches my ear.

Am I alone in my loneliness? Are there others who share my pain?

Turning to technology's collective voice, I search the name and scan through page after page of fruitless text until, at last, my suspicions are confirmed. Men and women alike have shared my desire, only to find themselves abandoned in the aisle. Cast adrift on an ocean of sameness, plucking unsavory satisfaction from the pretenders, we gather together on our virtual island to console each other with empty words.

An errant click of the finger pulls up the once glorious home on the glowing screen towering before me. The funny little surname arcs in a gentle curve on the striped awning that stretches along the top of the page. A strange assortment of offspring are on display, but none holds the appeal of that which is missing. The name is erased, the visage removed, my hopes abandoned.

For weeks to come, perhaps years, I will walk the desolate path through the freezer aisle of my local grocery store, clinging to the futile hope that I shall one day delight in the reappearance of my lost, my sweet, my Edy's Swiss Orange Sherbet.

© 2011 Mark Feggeler

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

I'm A Guest Blogger!

Okay, so this isn't one of my traditional blog posts. But I'm all a flutter about being a guest blogger for the very first time on someone else's website!

Go to author Jack Wallen's website, Get Jack'd, to see my post in his series of guest authors telling about their first writing experiences.