Monday, January 31, 2005

The Chapter One contest I'm one of the judges for is finally wrapping up. 125 manuscripts, the majority of which, like a poetry slam, went the maximum 20 pages! The panel wasn't able to meet in person so the contest coordinator, coordinating our top six choices, trying to come up with a representative final four.

The other two judges had two finalists in common, while neither had any crossover with my list.

Should be interesting.

With so many manuscripts to read, I developed a three-stage weeding process that netted about 15 solid "yes" entries, from which I had to pick a Top 4.

1) First impressions are key. Invest in a cheap presentation cover. Use a word processing program and keep the layout simple and clean. SPELL CHECK!!! Then, spell check MANUALLY!!! Mixing up "your" and "you're" is a serious pet peeve.

2) Understand the rules of the contest. "First chapters from unpublished novels and works-in-progress..." means the FIRST CHAPTER, not the first 20 pages - Prologue, Chapters 1-3 - of your book! Conversely, if your first chapter is only two pages long, rethink it as a submission as it's generally not enough to properly judge. Also, "a brief typed synopsis of the entire novel" does not mean a three-page, scene-by-scene breakdown of the entire story. It should be BRIEF and, more importantly, it should include some connection to the first chapter that you've submitted. There were times I thought I had mixed something up because the only thing the two had in common was the title.

3) Show, don't tell. And get to the hook quickly.

Those final two points are what eliminated many of the manuscripts with interesting premises. First, too much tell, not enough show. Reciting history instead of picking a character and showing it through their eyes. Long-winded details of what happened to whom and when. Zzzzz... Second, a first chapter is the bait to hook your reader. Unless your book has come highly recommended, most people are giving it 2-5 pages to reel them in. An interesting character, setting, event...something INTERESTING to make them commit the time to reading the whole thing. Because nobody wants to put a book down halfway through and walk away.

Reading 125 manuscripts - of which I read approx. 110 completely - was both a great learning experience and a nice overview of various genres, subjects and styles. Some were absolutely terrific and I would love to be able to read the entire story someday. Most had a lot of potential and I'd be interested in seeing where they end up. Some were obvious first drafts that I suspect were entered on a lark. Very few were downright terrible, though, which I was both happy and surprised to see. Kudos to all that entered and, win or lose, write on!

In other, less pleasant news, it seems the problem with my armpit a while back stems from an infected sweat gland, not a cyst, and not Hidradenitis Suppurativa. Excepting an ingrown hair gone terribly awry, I guess it's the least worst option. Unfortunately, it's a recurring issue that may result in the gland needing to be removed, a possibility that seems increasingly likely as it flared up again this weekend. Not nearly as bad as the initial situation, it's the second time since the infection "went away" that it's bothered me.

The new deodorant, Thai Crystal Deodorant Stick, seems to be working out nicely so far, though. People still sit next to me on the subway, even when it's not crowded. Basically, it's some kind of a mineral salt - Potassium alum, specifically - the truth of which was hammered home when I applied it to my tender armpit yesterday and nearly screamed! Not sure why it burned like that as it's not an open wound, but burn it did.

I just keep telling myself that it could be worse, that I could be Miss Jones or one of her idiot cohorts at Hot 97, and it gets me through.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Apparently some things have changed since the beginning of last summer...

(Courtesy of Raina)

Your Type is
Introverted (%11)
Intuitive (33%)
Feeling (11%)
Perceiving (67%)

Qualitative analysis of your type formula

You are:

* slightly expressed introvert
* moderately expressed intuitive personality
* slightly expressed feeling personality
* distinctively expressed perceiving personality

INFP type description by D.Keirsey
Healer Idealists are abstract in thought and speech, cooperative in striving for their ends, and informative and introverted in their interpersonal relations. Healer present a seemingly tranquil, and noticiably pleasant face to the world, and though to all appearances they might seem reserved, and even shy, on the inside they are anything but reserved, having a capacity for caring not always found in other types. They care deeply-indeed, passionately-about a few special persons or a favorite cause, and their fervent aim is to bring peace and integrity to their loved ones and the world.

Healers have a profound sense of idealism derived from a strong personal morality, and they conceive of the world as an ethical, honorable place. Indeed, to understand Healers, we must understand their idealism as almost boundless and selfless, inspiring them to make extraordinary sacrifices for someone or something they believe in. The Healer is the Prince or Princess of fairytale, the King's Champion or Defender of the Faith, like Sir Galahad or Joan of Arc. Healers are found in only 1 percent of the general population, although, at times, their idealism leaves them feeling even more isolated from the rest of humanity.
INFP type description by J. Butt
Of course, not all of life is rosy, and INFPs are not exempt from the same disappointments and frustrations common to humanity. As INTPs tend to have a sense of failed competence, INFPs struggle with the issue of their own ethical perfection, e.g., perfo rmance of duty for the greater cause. An INFP friend describes the inner conflict as not good versus bad, but on a grand scale, Good vs. Evil. Luke Skywalker in Star Wars depicts this conflict in his struggle between the two sides of "The Force." Although the dark side must be reckoned with, the INFP believes that good ultimately triumphs.
As usual, a lot of this hits close to home, while some of it is a bit off. Have to wonder about the Luke Skywalker thing, though, as variations on that particular theme seem to pop up a lot when I take these tests. Only problem is, I don't really believe that good will ultimately triumph, so why do I still resist the dark side of The Force?

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Pumpkin Seeds: Winter Blahs Edition

1. What to do? Against my better instincts, this blog is quickly becoming one of those personal, "yesterday I went to the Mall" kind of blogs that I find terribly boring. It's not that I don't have as much to say as I used to - god forbid that day ever comes! - but for someone reason I'm just not as compelled to log on and spend 30 minutes or so writing it out.

2. So, yesterday I stayed home from work as Isaac was battling a cold and I was fighting the beginnings of one off. Kept India home too which meant, other than a couple of work-related things via email, I didn't get much of anything done. I did get a response to an interview request re: Moon Knight's reappearance in April late in the day which is now posted over on Comic Book Commentary. Obviously, CBC has taken over as my primary blog in the past couple of months and, while I don't post there anywhere near as often as I used to here, the amount of reading that goes into each post far surpasses even the political stuff I was writing about most of last year.

3. Million Dollar Baby is an amazing film. One of the rare times I've gone to see such a high-profile movie not really knowing much about it. I hadn't read any reviews and thought it was basically a female Rocky with a better cast. Considering Rocky won Best Picture back in 1976, that's not faint praise and bodes well for its prospects this year because Clint Eastwood has outdone himself, and Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman absolutely shine. The last half-hour is one of the most understated, emotionally-gripping sequences ever put on film. When you see it, don't make any plans for afterwards because it will weigh too heavily on your heart to let it go so quickly. Up next, Hotel Rwanda.

4. Speaking of movies, I caught the lightly-regarded Forces of Nature on TV Sunday morning and there's a future post about it bubbling in the back of my head. I loved it when I saw it in the movies, a year after getting married, and everything that worked for me then still worked six years later. I think a lot of people missed the point of the movie and I would love to interview screenwriter Marc Lawrence about where his head was when he wrote it. More on that another time, though.

5. Monday night at 13, Oscar Bermeo's feature was Ginsu Knife sharp. I'm not sure if he was feeling any extra pressure from the new format that has the slam come before the feature, with no break in between, but if he did, it didn't show as he absolutely owned the room. We joked later about how, back in 2001, he was the "little bald guy that keeps popping up." You've come a long way, baby!

6. Congrats to all of the Philadelphia Eagles fans that I know. Enjoy the glow because I honestly think the Patriots are going to eat you alive, with or without Terrell Owens. No shame there, though. As much as I hate to admit it, Belichick has built a dynasty in Foxboro. Prediction: Patriots 34, Eagles 13.

7. Today's Moment of Zen: Tiger Mates With Lion, Gives Birth to "Liger" Cub in Siberian Zoo

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Pumpkin Seeds: Will I Ever Write a Complete Post Again? Edition

1. I was heading to the airport the Sunday before last for my trip to Miami when I realized I hadn't flown since August of 2001, to Seattle for my last National Poetry Slam. Nine days and six flights later, I've had my fill of airports to last me another 3.5 years! Almost every one of my flights experienced significant delays, including Friday night out of LaGuardia that made me miss my connecting flight in O'Hare and end up staying in Chicago overnight with a complimentary hotel room and a $300 voucher for a future flight. The voucher made up for almost everything.

2. Five things I learned on my business trip to Miami:

1) Expense accounts are a wonderful thing. Especially other people's expense accounts!

2) My B-game beats most people's A-games, a fact of life that makes me both a tad bit lazy and extremely uncomfortable with compliments.

2a) Never fully trust a sales rep's compliments on your speaking voice when you know they don't want to make the sales presentation.

3) How people respond to a themed-dinner - a la our Gilligan's Island and Pirate/British Navy nights - is a good way to sneak a peek underneath their masks. I kept my mask on, playing it relatively safe both nights as a white-shirted, khaki-shorted Professor, and a Hawaiian-shirted, big silver hoop-earringed Pirate.

4) People other than poets drink Irish Car Bombs, though few have the appropriate tolerance level.

5) I am not the business traveling type. I can't sleep well unless I'm in my own bed and after three days, I'm ready to go back home.
3. I've never been fully convinced about the whole "dry heat" concept, but I am now a firm believer in "dry cold" being noticeably different after a portion of the 3-mile hike I took with Eric in Colorado was in 15-degree weather. The whole "thin air" thing is legit, too.

4. Colorado is like a beautiful but shallow, all-American girl. Nice to look at and pleasant to spend some non-intellectual time with, but with zero settling-down potential. The fact that I didn't see a single black person while I was in Ft. Collins didn't really help, either. And I've always thought New England was too white!

5. Watching the Jets/Steelers playoff game in a Steelers bar in Ft. Collins, CO - me fully decked out in Jets gear, down to my boxers! - was an interesting experience, from the raucous cheers when the Steelers scored, to the cold, dead silence when the Jets answered back. As much as I obviously hated the Jets losing, I'm a sucker for the energy of a celebratory mob and the memory of the tingle of their whispered prayers hanging in the air as the Jets' Doug Brien lined up for his second missed kick that will hopefully cost Paul Hackett his job, soothed the ache from my team's season ending so dramatically.

6. I've never been so looking forward to the start of baseball season so early in the pre-season in my life. The Mets have me genuinely excited and believing this could be the year.

7. While Elektra didn't suck, it wasn't all that good, either, carried purely by the varying appeal of the actors, including Jennifer Garner who managed to finally break through my indifference towards her. The Fantastic Four teaser showed before the movie looked similarly bleh. Post-The Incredibles, the bar for so-called comic book movies has been raised significantly.

8. Two books I'll be reviewing soon on Comic Book Commentary, but that I will wholeheartedly recommend here for anyone that thinks they don't like comics: Men of Tomorrow and Blankets. The former's a non-fiction look at the birth of comic books and its relation to organized crime and the Jewish immigrant experience; the latter, an auto-biographical graphic novel that is a stellar example of the unique power of the form.

9. I am so far behind on anything that is not right in front of me on a daily basis. Especially the blogosphere! If you haven't heard from me personally recently, I'm not avoiding or ignoring you, just swamped. Lunch, dinner, drinks, D&D, and/or a poetry reading even (as a spectator only, of course) will all be done soon. For anyone those options don't apply to, an email at some point!

Thursday, January 6, 2005

Pumpkin Seeds: A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That Edition

1. So, this time around a Democratic Senator decided to show a little backbone as California's Barbara Boxer stepped up and joined the House's challenge of the certification of the electoral college results, specifically in regards to the issues in Ohio. Unlike in 2000 where not a single one stepped forward to support members of the Congressional Black Caucus fighting to have the voting irregularities in their mostly minority districts investigated. Not John Kerry, not John Edwards, not Bob Graham, not Joseph Lieberman, each presumably looking forward to their own challenges for the nomination. Mind you, the idea was not to overturn the vote in Kerry's favor, which almost everyone has agreed was a highly unlikely result, but to shine a bright light on the problem and secure a committment from the Congress to deal with it. To, you know, make sure every vote really does count next time!

2. Interestingly, members of the House searched for weeks for a Senator to step up alongside them and reportedly contacted Senator Barack Obama, hoping to capitalize on his rising star, but he declined to join the challenge. Strike one, Mr. Obama.

3. It's been months since I've been on the poetry slam list, or any other similar list, but ever since I launched Comic Book Commentary, I've become really active on several comic book forums, particularly Newsarama's lively boards. It's been good for generating traffic over to CBC, as well as being an entertaining outlet for my particular brand of electronic cantankerousness. If you think poets can be whiny and annoying, they have nothing on fanboys crying over changes to their favorite characters or books.

4. Speaking of comic books, I just bought 199 of them in a handful of eBay auctions over the past week! Including the full run of Christopher Priest's Black Panther that Salomé got me for Christmas, that's going to add a fourth long box to my expanding collection that also includes two short boxes! Sometimes I think she's encouraging my collecting to justify us buying a house in the near future...

5. Isaac & India UPDATE: Isaac, 4 years old, knows everything and will tell you so. India, 2 years old, has hit her Stripperella phase. Without the pole dancing, of course!

6. They've finally released a legitimate DVD version of The Fifth Element, one of my fluctuating Top 10 Movies EVER, available next Tuesday!

7. If the Mets manage to sign Carlos Beltran, while the Yankees gamble on a two-year contract to Randy Johnson instead, I predict the Mets will own the back pages by the All-Star break. The Yankees decline, which really started in 2001, will hit full throttle this year. Mark my words.

8. Miami next week, though it's a tightly scheduled business trip, is still Miami in January, aka SCHWEEET! Colorado the following weekend to hang with Eric, while the opposite extreme weather-wise, includes the possibility of watching the Jets (my team) play the Steelers (his team) in the playoffs together, aka SCHWEEET! Of course the Jets need to get by the Chargers this weekend to make that happen, something I'm not the least bit confident about, but I'm going with fate working things out in my favor anyway. Jets 24, Chargers 13.

9. Besides winning the SLAM THIS! Fantasy Football Championship - did I mention that already? - my NY Jets in ESPN NFL2K5's Franchise Mode repeated as Super Bowl Champs, whooping the Vikings' tails 38-13. Sadly, Wayne Chrebet retired after the season, not unlike what I suspect the real life Chrebet will be doing this year after suffering another [mild, this time] concussion last weekend. He's my football version of Graig Nettles and John Starks, someone whose stats will never fully reflect what he contributed to his team.

10. THIS JUST IN: Make that 202 comics from eBay this week! Just snagged three more, the 2nd and 3rd appearances ever of Moon Knight, with two copies of the latter. Enough!

Tuesday, January 4, 2005

The infection is gone! :-)

Healing may now commence, not to mention a proper shower! Having gotten used to the lump of gauze (approx. two feet worth on Sunday's ER visit!) packed into my armpit for the past week, it feels weird now that it's gone. Surgical follow-up in two weeks to figure out what's what and, hopefully, why.

In other news, Will Eisner, one of the founding fathers of comic books, passed away yesterday at the age of 87 following quadruple bypass heart surgery. R.I.P.

Monday, January 3, 2005

Pumpkin Seeds: Seven Days "Post-Op" Edition

1. I really hope the idea that how you start the New Year reflects the tone the rest of it will take is way off base.

2. Trip #4 to the ER yesterday included an excruciating round of poking and prodding of the wound - literally, a pair of surgical scissors stuck up in there and opened in various spots to encourage more drainage. The doctor really wanted me to take the anesthesia this time but the memory of the burning was still too vivid so I clenched my teeth through it and almost regretted it. Almost. Pain you can pause, no matter how bad, beats pain you have no control over. At one point, I swear I heard the tissue separating and thought I was going to faint.

3. I'm better, and back at work finally, but not yet recovered, as the infection inexplicably lingers on and I have yet another trip to the ER tomorrow or Wednesday, #5 for those keeping track at home, depending on whether or not I can get a referral from my primary doctor (whom I've never been to) and see a surgeon before then. Because our insurance won't cover the hospital's surgical clinic checking me out, despite the fact that I'm already in the ER!

4. Was feeling seriously depressed yesterday morning anticipating, and then having confirmed, that the infection wasn't gone yet. If in fact this is Hidradenitis Suppurativa, I can't help but be annoyed at the randomness of it all. Though I've never broken a bone, there is at least something clear and definable about it, and I'd much rather be dealing with something like that than this ill-defined malady, whose cause is still unclear, that may or may not become a recurring issue.

5. Of course, in the grand scheme of things, this is nothing compared to being in Iraq or Sri Lanka, or being unemployed, or being homeless, et al, so it's hard for the depression to linger long. I've never been a fan of "woe is me" and coming back to work is probably the best thing I could do at this point. Even ESPN NFL 2K5 gets boring after a while!

6. On the bright side, it's a new year and good things are in the making. A business trip to Miami and another trip out to Colorado to visit Eric (contrary to my mother-in-law's declaration of the best Xmas gift ever being her moving into the apartment below us two days before Xmas, this actually ranks in the Top 5!) are right on the horizon. Comic Book Commentary's been getting good feedback and steadily increasing traffic with a nice spike on Saturday after it was finally listed on the Comic Weblog Update site. I'm building a solid comics reference library thanks to a nice Xmas influx from my wish list. Thanks to the reviews I'm writing forcing me to read things with a more critical eye, not to mention buying with a more experimental intent, I'm feeling as intellectually and creatively engaged as I have in a long time.

7. Oh yeah, and I won my Fantasy Football league. HE HATE ME: SLAM THIS! LEAGUE 2004 CHAMPIONS!!!! House protected, beeyotches.

8. PS: Thanks to all for the deodorant advice and well-wishes. Next time I see you, you better let me know if I smell funny!