Summertiiiiiiimmmmeee….and novel #2 is in the can.

•May 19, 2009 • 3 Comments

I’m back, baby!

Perhaps I should say that with a cigarette hanging out of the corner of my mouth, in a dark office, with a gun in my pocket.  Because I’ve just finished writing the crime novel of my dreams.  🙂

Okay, maybe not – but I’m pretty happy with it.  It’s called Shell Trick, and it goes to agents/publishers next week.  Cross your fingers, scant-few readers.  What is it about, you ask?  Peep it  (also because I sense that Missy is a passionate but angry reader and might hurt me if I don’t):

Set in Chicago, Shell Trick is the story of Avery Conrad, a former law clerk who arrives for his job at a TV studio to find $100,000 waiting for him. Trouble is, he has no idea whom or where it came from, and when a fellow employee winds up dead as a result of his inquiry, Avery becomes a suspect in the killing, as well as a target for a group of high-stakes investors intent on manipulating the stock market. With Avery’s own checkered past coming back to haunt him, he has no choice but to put himself, his wife, and his best friend in danger in order to expose the company responsible…”

There’s your official query synopsis.  Pass it around, trade it with your friends, write it on a goddamned sandwich board and streak through an airport.  When I become a writer, I’m taking all of you with me.  New iPods for all!  (As faithful readers already know, I consider the iPod the highest form of token/gift/technology/friendship/artificial intelligence/modern anything.  So, you see now how much I like you, if you’re reading this?  You see?)

Speaking of iPods, here’s a new playlist.  I suppose its only relevance is that I shuffled it this morning while finishing the draft-one edits on Shell Trick. Download:

1. The Breeders – “Safari”
2. Green Day – “East Jesus Nowhere” (from the excellent new 21st Century Breakdown)
3.  The Smashing Pumpkins – “Rose March”
4. Beatles – “All My Loving”
5.  The Weepies – “Take It From Me”
6. Leonard Cohen – “Suzanne”
7. Lush – “For Love”
8. The Waxwings – “Clouded Over”
9. Curtis Mayfield – “If There’s Hell Below (We’re All Gonna Go)”
10. U2 – “In A Little While”
11.  Link Wray – “Rumble”

There.  Put that in your little iPipe and iSmoke it.

Look…I feel weird for not having posted in so long.  (Partly because Missy gave me shit about it in her last comment.  I’m a little bit afraid of Missy, but it’s a healthy fear, I think, much like fearing the Lord or Lou Pinella during the Cubs post-game press conferences after they lose.  Plus, she complimented my food, so if she ever wants to eat it again, she needs me alive.)  These longs stretches of nothing will change because now I’m all sheepish and apologetic and don’t wish to leave my own blog unattended for so long.  Therefore, I will close with three important bits of information:

1. The Printer’s Row Book Fair in Chicago demands that you cancel all of your engagements and/or appointments on the weekend of June 5-7.  It’s well worth your time.  You meet writers.  You buy books.  You meet writers who also buy books.  Perhaps those writers will buy YOU books.  But probably not.

2. Catherine and I just finished Jen Lancaster’s new book Pretty In Plaid, and it’s so funny that at one point I was laughing so hard I was coughing and when I went to open the book again, I fumbled it into a potted plant and soaked it.  The book was subsequently blow-dried, and still hilarious.  Buy it.

3. You’ve seen the “Dawn of the Dead” remake where the zombies can run and they’re all frenzied, and just tearing away at bodies like rabid animals, flinging spit and mess everywhere?

That’s how our cat Lolo treats olives.  I’ve never had a pet eat such a strange food.  She attacks our hands and will draw blood if she smells the juice.  She’ll take them right out of the jar.  She growls like a furry creature from Hell when anyone gets near her after she scores a chunk of spanish queen.  It’s very, very bizarre.  I think she has human intelligence, and I’m glad I don’t keep my tools in the house.

More soon.


It’s amazing…

•May 13, 2009 • 1 Comment

…how many people in this city just openly, shamelessly walk around talking to themselves.

Urban Crime & Personal Holidays

•May 5, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Sorry for the hiatus.  We’re back to regularly scheduled programming.

There’s a good reason for my brief period of absence: I’m finishing a new novel.  Not The Catalyst.  Another one.

To be fair, it was half done already, and it’s short.

But, yeah.  As an homage to the hard-boiled crime novels and thrillers I’ve always loved, and in honor of the way this shit used to work, I’ve given myself a deadline of two weeks to finish the writing and editing.   What’s scary is that it’s working – I’m within days of being finished.  I’m also working on another long piece about my teenage years and my deep abiding love for hair metal.  It’s the only piece of honest nonfiction I’ve ever written, and I sat down to tinker with it after reading Chuck Klosterman’s Fargo Rock City. It started to take on a life of its own, and I’m pretty happy with it.  I very well may dedicate a separate blog to it.  Stay tuned.

In other news, Catherine and I are celebrating our first wedding anniversary in less than two weeks.  I can’t believe this. It’s kinda disturbing, honestly – it doesn’t seem like it’s been a year at all.  I hope the rest of them don’t speed by like this.  Two weeks ago we spent the night at a great B&B in Wauconda, Illinois called the Old Victorian Farmhouse ( that seriously deserves your attention.  The rooms were amazing and the whole place exemplified what Catherine and I love about smaller towns.  When we eventually move, we’re hardcore downsizing.   We followed that up by spending the day in Long Grove, Illinois, which was equally great.  We needed a quickie vacation in a big way, because…

…we also put an offer down on a house!  Which we’ll hopefully hear back on ASAP.  We’re not talking about that right now.  I refuse to jinx it.  We’ve been as stressed as we’ve been excited.  The house-ownership thing is exhausting even before you move in.  Sigh.

But one day at a time.  Right now, I have an urban crime-scape to deal with.

And…Traci Lords just appeared on “Will & Grace”…am I asleep?  What the hell is going on?

Movin’ On Up…

•April 14, 2009 • 1 Comment

Catherine and I have officially made an offer on a house. 

If we get it, this will usher in an entirely new era in the life of this married guy.   Yard work, home repairs, real estate ownership.  This is the stuff of the greatest moments in National Lampoon history and I intend to give them a run for their money. 

Let us cross our fingers and await my orgy of Christmas lights.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Let Us Rock Like Hurricanes.

•April 14, 2009 • 1 Comment

I realized after last night’s post that I’ve been writing a lot about music, which makes sense because it’s probably the biggest entity scattered around and through my life.  So maybe this Guitar Hero thing isn’t so weird.  Since I picked up a guitar at 14, I’ve been in bands, written songs, and immersed myself in music pretty much nonstop, so this Wii obsession I have appears, in the calm light of morning, to be a fairly natural extension.

I always thought it would be cool to be in a band with my girlfriend/wife, so it’s a very cool thing for me that Catherine and I have a band.  Currently it’s a band in the “studio only” sense, since we haven’t played any of our stuff live yet.  We hope to do that soon and to finish/release our record by the end of the year.  It’s really good stuff actually, and I have to say that I honestly enjoy writing songs with my wife more than with anyone else I’ve ever written songs with, which is a nice feeling.  She has a beautiful voice but she also appreciates the power of the rock (hehe), plus she’s a great piano player and has an amazing ear for chords and progressions.  She can also read music and I can’t, which makes things easier at times and provokes arguments at others.  But if we’re going to be rock stars, that goes with the territory.  The important thing is that we bottle that energy so that we can use it later to trash dressing rooms (generalized legendary rock behavior) and pitch TVs or couches hither and yon from hotel balconies (KISS, 1976 – specifically, Ace Frehley on a drunken rampage.  If I’m citing correctly, I believe that Ace claims to remember Peter Criss actually sitting on the couch, and Peter barely escaping with limbs intact.  But this could be his wet-brain syndrome talking.  God love the man.  The solo in “Shock Me” is the greatest guitar solo of all-time.  So you can stop having that debate as of this minute.)

Having slaked my hunger for rock and metal with Guitar Hero these last weeks, I’ve been refilling my iPod with the classic metal of my youth that I haven’t listened to in a while.  Some of it was already there – Motorhead, Metallica, the first six Slayer albums, Iron Maiden, Guns N’ Roses – but there were a lot of gems I’d forgotten about that were as important to me as eating and sleeping when I was sixteen, so they’re making new friends on my playlists and rapidly filling my 80 gigs of space.  It’s like an Aqua-Net-pyro-groupies-n-makeup reunion that I’m more than happy to MC.  Britny Fox, Judas Priest, Lita Ford, Poison, Queensryche, Slaughter, Dokken, Jailhouse, Shark Island, Babylon AD, Enuff Z’nuff, Killer Dwarfs, and dozens of others are all along for the ride on my commute each morning.  It’s like a 24/7 state fair between my ears.

I’m also re-reading Chuck Klosterman’s Fargo Rock City, which, if you have any interest in pop culture and/or hysterically funny, pants-wetting humor, you should already be reading.  (I mean any of his books – they’re all hilarious.)  But I have to say, there’s something oddly poignant about Fargo Rock City that I’d kinda forgotten about.  The book is essentially his story of growing up in rural North Dakota as a kid obsessed with hard rock and heavy metal, and his analysis (for lack of a better word, it’s humor writing with serious undertones but it’s not academic, by any means) of the music he grew up with and still loves.  Maybe more importantly, though, it’s a look at how that music has aged and how he’s aged along with it, and for as funny as it is, it also really rings true.  As far as looking at a genre of music that’s considered disposable by a lot of people but was taken really seriously for what it was during its heyday, it’s a literary masterpiece. 

It’s funny, though, because I was a lot like Klosterman.  I was something of a nerd, grew up in a smallish Midwestern city with marginal access to new music and concerts (we drove to Peoria for the big ones), jammed with my metalhead musician friends a couple of times a week, and generally lived and died by reports of new albums and tours in Metal Edge magazine.   To have never really considered that any of the music I listened to would be worth a shit to anyone in ten years makes the fact that it’s seeing something of a mini-Renaissance via Guitar Hero pretty damn cool.

After all, not all of those guys were writing goofy songs for the sake of making videos laden with strippers and fireworks.  Some of them were, for sure, but some of them were really trying to write good songs, and some of them succeeded.  When I was a teenager, I always thought that maybe I’d be a rock journalist since I loved talking bands and finding out new stuff about my favorite rock stars.  I’m not that, not exactly, though I’m some kind of writer now, I guess.   So the combination of super-fan and writer in me has me mulling over something Klosterman describes in great detail: his favorite rock albums of all-time. 

It’s a daunting task, and I’m working on it, because I love lists.  Before I do that, I’ve promised my wife I’d do a bucket list, though, so that will be here sooner than the rock list.  But after that, my friends, and after I knock out another city on GH: World Tour, and after I get another venue unlocked in GH: Aerosmith, and after I have a sandwich, probably, because I’m always awaiting the opportunity to eat a sandwich, I will present my must-have, all-time, don’t-let-yourself-die-without-rocking-out-to these TOP ROCK ALBUMS OF ALL TIME. 

You’re dying with anticipation, aren’t you?  In fact, I’m going to make it a multimedia extravaganza.  I’m going to post a playlist of my favorite tracks from these albums as this week’s iPod playlist for your downloading and aural pleasure.

That’s AURAL.  But you’re thinking like a rock star.  Good on ya. 

Stay tuned.

Addiction, thy name is Guitar Hero. Help me.

•April 13, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Okay, so…I have a problem.

Oh, my god.

Catherine and I, finally succumbing, got Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, and Guitar Hero: World Tour.  And if we didn’t have to go to work, we wouldn’t have left the house since last week.

Now, I’ve obsessively played some video games before.  As a junior high-aged young fellow, I played The Legend of Zelda and Zelda II until my eyes fell out, packed their bags, and hitched a ride to someone else’s head.   But that was then.

I don’t know what it is about this game that is so unspeakably compelling.  But fortunately, my wife feels it, too.  We’re both slavering crazy people over these games right now.  We can’t do shit on the higher levels, but if these games are fun to play alone, they’re a freaking blast to play with someone else regardless of how capable we actually are.   Though we’re listed in the online database (Catherine may not know exactly HOW bored I was today at work…), we would no doubt be shamed and we don’t care, because we’re hiding under our band name.  We have sat and played Guitar Hero from the moment we’ve gotten home from work until bed time almost every night.  I’m expecting to come home any day this week and find an assemblage of rock stars waiting for us in our living room, looking grave, each with a letter.

I know you’ve been a fan for a long time, Billy Corgan would say, but…you’ve tried to get a higher score on “G.L.O.W.” five times in the last twenty minutes.  Don’t do this.

Your pets have expressed concern, Slash would say from under his hair and top hat.  Your wife just keeps saying ‘I can do better’ over and over until she falls asleep on the couch. 

Please keep playing, Man From Foghat would say.  We need the royalties.  Skip dinner.  Play “Slow Ride” again, goddamn it.  AGAIN.

So, here we are.  There are approximately 400 books in this room that I haven’t read and endless piles of laundry upstairs that need washing, and yet, we are completely content to spend our Wii points on track packs and wonder what the next venue will be.  Curse you, Activision.  Curse you to hell. 

And, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

The Summer Of Thrash (Part One?)

•April 7, 2009 • 1 Comment

So, my wife recently wrote about her summertime experiences in her blog, and in a miracle of serendipity, it coincided with some things I was thinking aobut today as I watched Metallica’s Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame induction.  Thus, I blab.

We’ve been getting ready for summer – taking inventory of our Cubs tickets (woo-hoo, many games!), discussing grilling recipes, gearing up for our annual Wisconsin trip – and in the process I’ve been thinking about past summers.  I guess I’m just in a bit of reflective mood since this is going to be my first summer as a married man. 

While this might not seem like something worth considering to a lot of people, it’s a big deal to me for a number of reasons.  Part of it, I think, has to do with my age. 

I’m about to be 35.  Now, while I realize this is one of the “big ones,” I’m not bothered by it.  (Catherine insists that I will be as it gets closer, and she may be right, but for now, I’m cool with it.)  It does have me thinking a lot more than I usually do come celebratin’ times.  And oddly enough, Metallica is what got me thinking.

If you read this with any regularity, you probably know that music is one of the biggest influences on and aspects of my life.  I have a religious reverence for the music I love, and I can’t begin to illustrate in just a few words what kind of emotional connection I have to the bands and songs I’ve grown up with.  It’s not the old cliche of music saving me from a shitty home life or anything.  Quite the opposite, really.  But for whatever reason, when things stick to me, they really stick.  And nothing stuck in my formative years like Metallica.

I’m not going to get all gushy-fan here, but, even though there were many bands I loved as a child and continue to love, Metallica really did change things for me, as I know they did for a lot of guys my age.   First off, they were “speed metal,” a different breed of musical animal from the heavy metal of the 1970s and the teased-hair pop of their contemporaries, so they were legitimately in a class of their own.  In the early days, there truly was no one like Metallica, and, for all the would-bes and hopefuls, there still isn’t.  Flea hit the nail on the head during their induction when he noted that a band so influential and truly great possesses something alchemic that can’t be planned or plotted, mapped out or decoded.  It just is.  It’s magic.  Anyone who has ever truly loved a rock band can attest to this, though they might have a hard time explaining it. 

Metallica wrote big, ferocious songs with great hooks, monstrous guitars, and an attitude that dared anyone to fuck with them.  They made no bones about their ability to kick everyone else’s ass and they did it.  “Blackened,” from 1989’s And Justice For All album, is THE song that, after seeing it live, made me want to play guitar when I was a freshman in high school.  I begged my dad for one, and being a musician himself, he was more than happy to accommodate.  A month later, I had a Fender Strat that, to this day, is the only electric guitar I’ve ever owned.  It’s seen me through my tenure in a real live band and almost twenty years.  I love that guitar.

That was a great time in my life, mainly because  I was truly aware then that I had no idea what was coming.  One of my happiest, most vivid summer memories is of sitting in my bedroom blasting Master of Puppets, the mighty Met’s third album and unrivaled masterpiece, and feeling a sense of real excitement over…nothing in particular.  I just knew things were coming, and I couldn’t wait.

I felt the same way today, watching Metallica claiming their piece of the stage in Cleveland.  And what was cool is that I could see they felt it, too.  I’m not the only one who’s aged and been okay with it.   James Hetfield, the frontman for the band that was once only half-jokingly called “Alcoholica,” thanked his higher power for getting him to stop drinking and then thanked his wife for saving his life.  Then they hit the stage and stomped the shit out of everyone who would dare say they no longer rock.  And it made me smile.  Big.   They’re twenty years older, too, and clearly loving every minute of it, though their joy at revisiting their past was apparent and welcome.   But they’re looking forward.

And it made me realize that maybe 35 would be more cataclysmic if I wasn’t in such a great place.  I’m married to the girl of my dreams, I don’t hate my job, I just finished a novel that I love, and I’ve even got the all-American dog, for Christ’s sake.  Things are really working out for me, in a way that I hoped for back in ’88 but never had any inkling of actually happening as a clueless fourteen-year-old thrashing his head off in his bedroom.  But it is happening, so while some people I know look back at their teen years as a time they wish they could recapture, I look back at that time with nothing but fondness.  I don’t want to go back.  I don’t need to.

So on my way home tonight, I listened to Master of Puppets.  And I thought that if Alcoholica can get sober and still rock my face off, there’s no telling what can happen.