Excerpt from my 2014 NaNoWriMo Effort

This is from the forthcoming The Sleight of Edison Noble:

He would often sit in his office like this, on days like this, looking out the window. The out-of-doors was covered in rain, the pounding, sweating rain. There was no reason to go out there, but he would still sit with the window open and take in both the cool breeze and the sound of water hitting the walls of the building, hitting the sidewalks, covering everything and everybody. It was, in a way (at least to him) something so beautiful and so fragile. He wouldn’t reminisce about hot, nasty summers in the countryside. But he knew he’d miss the blessing of a cleansing, gray urban rain shower. Everyone had his or her own ideas of beauty and power in this world, and this one, this weather, was his. The idea that nature could defend herself from the nuisance of humanity, but doing so gently and softly, a sweet maternal reminder of the caprice of the earth and her ability to exert control. If true love involved surrender, willing surrender, then he knew he was in love with rainy days like this one.

Fare thee well, my honey.

What follows is a repost of something I put on a Facebook page for a group of Tallahasseeans.

Here’s some truly heartbreaking news for Our Fair City and my favorite TLH business, a 30-yr institution: the awesome/venerable Paperback Rack is closing for good this week. There’s been several attempts to stay open the last few years, but this is the finish line. There’s currently a Going Out of Business Sale to help clear stock, so please take some time to do so.

I first wandered into the store in 1992. It was at its original location in a mini-strip-mall on Pensacola, across the street from Publix — or where the Publix used to be. This was the same mini-strip-mall that housed the legendary Vinyl Fever (in its second location at the time). I loved the super-cheap prices, the selection, the personal touch from the well-informed and helpful staff; it was a culture of enthusiasm for the written word. And when I moved into the apartment complex that still dwells behind that building, I would walk the dirt path on the side of the building and spend the day at the shops there: Vinyl Fever, TCBY, Paperback Rack, and a little video rental place. For a guy with almost no money, it was an inexpensive indulgence. But my favorite was, is, and ever shall be the Paperback Rack.

In 1994, I met Lisa, who was an employee there. She was naturally very friendly, and, due to my frequent visits, she quickly recognized me as a regular, and before long we were friends. Over the years — decades! — I would still pop in every once in a while, even after she bought the shop from the original owner and moved it to its current location at North Monroe and Third Avenue. Often, if I had the time, I would spend most of the visit catching up. Many of my “staycations” and days off over the last nine years have seen me spending hours upon hours hanging out with Lisa (as well as purchasing stacks of books, naturally). It got so that when a customer came in to the shop and asked for something, I’d offer to assist them (I know where every section is). And of course, huge chunks of my book collection are acquisitions from the Paperback Rack, each bearing the stamped pricing on the first page of the book. And given the number of trade-ins I had done over the years (for store credit and, at one point, for cash), there’s still bits and pieces of my book collection still for sale there. The selection has been as much a draw for me as anything else. Long out-of-print history and language books, obscure biographies, books on philosophy and religion, quickie cheap copies of novels, and of course MANY MANY copies of the Lord of the Rings… all this and more is why I love coming back. I’d even say 90% of the time I’ve bought something there, I had no intention of making any purchase when I walked in. I’ve always found it hard to resist because it’s *so full of good stuff*. And I guess I thought it always would be.

The Paperback Rack has been a part of my life longer than my children, my career, and even my wife. It breaks my heart to have to face this reality. This place, more than any other part of the town have called home for twenty-two years, has been my home base and my church; a place that, no matter how lousy my life may have been at that moment (seeing me through a rough young adulthood, replete with breakups, homelessness, deep clinical depression, divorce, child custody issues, food stamps, day labor… you name it), has been somewhere I can go to reset and refresh, even if for a day. And I know I’m not the only one.

Since the rise of Amazon (a mixed blessing in so many ways; let’s be honest) and the big box booksellers, the Rack has been fighting harder and harder to stay alive. Over the last decade, it’s not so much been living as surviving. And it isn’t due to ineptitude, a lack of customer service or expertise, corruption, or any of the internal things that can bend and break a small business; it’s the market. Volume booksellers can afford to undercut the competition. And they do. The result is we find ourselves seeing great businesses shut their doors. And now it’s — dammit — the Paperback Rack’s turn.

As I’ve mentioned, the Rack has faced this situation more than a few times, but has been saved thanks to some enterprising and very kind citizens and Rackophiles who have stepped in at the last second more than once. Donations, big purchases, what have you: nearly everything has been done to preserve this place and the culture that has always surrounded it, short of re-working the entire industry at the expense of small booksellers. Lisa’s outlasted most of the local competition, including a handful of national bookstore chains. There are few (if any) non-college bookstores that exist anymore in Tallahassee that were around when the Paperback Rack opened its doors in 1984. It has managed to stand the test of time because — in my opinion — it has been the best.

If you love this town, if you adore books, or if you simply want the last truly great small businesses in this crazy, transient, college town/capital city, get down there and let Lisa know. Buy some books. Buy a bunch. (Or donate $10,000!) And never forget that, for at least one person in this town, there was a bookstore that helped keep them alive, kicking, and happy.

Well-Begun Is Still Undone

I’m writing a book.

I’m actually writing several, as I have been since I was 12. Of course, none of those ever quite got finished (until recently; more on that later). Part of the problem is my ongoing ADHD (I have a hard time staying focused on things), part of it is my never-ending quest for perfection (“It’s not perfect yet, so let me just tweak this…”). No matter what the cause, the effect is the same: shit doesn’t get done. It’s frustrating enough in the short term, but in the long term, it’s downright maddening. I’ve considered myself a writer by nature since I was very young and have always excelled at writing assignments, but the talent and ability notwithstanding, I haven’t really got any completed work worth showing anyone.

Look, we’re talking about more than a quarter century of writing. Of telling stories, telling jokes, giving instructions, providing insight — some of good and some of it less-than-good, but none of it complete. And I think that’s the point of genuinely good writing: it’s not about quality, but quantity. And completeness.

This, of course, runs counter to everything we’ve ever been taught about craft: making a bunch of shit isn’t worth as much as One Great Thing. But the dirty little secret about creating the One Truly Great Thing is that, in nearly every case known to humanity, One Truly Great Thing was preceded by Ten Thousand Truly Awful Little Things. This is especially true with writing. It’s not a possible method you can use; it’s an actual necessity. You have to finish loads of garbage before the really good stuff begins to emerge. The Beatles had to write awful tunes before they knew how to write good ones. Tolkien had to write reams of shitty poetry before he had any real ability to turn a phrase.

It’s not about failure or success; the only real success is completion. You’ve heard Edison’s maxim: “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” I’ll do him one better (I am that kind of arrogant, thank you for asking): Success is one percent inspiration, four percent perspiration, and ninety-five percent completion. (You are permitted to quote me. Or re-do the math. But you see my point.) Getting the job done means more, my precious angels, than how amazing the concept was or even how much time you spent being amazing. That first rule of writing we’ve all heard a thousand times? “Show, don’t tell”? It applies to the act of writing as well. Don’t tell me how much you’ve written, how good of a writer you are, how one day you’ll write the Great American Such-and-Such. Show me. Make it impossible for me to ignore. If need be, dare to overwhelm me with volume.

And this isn’t to say that “Oh, it’s fine that the article/column/blog entry/book/what have you sucks; as long as it meets the deadline” — far from it. Quality matters. But quality in writing — hell, in any real kind of creating — comes from quantity. (Malcolm Gladwell, ten thousand hours, expertise, et cetera.) That, and lots of revision. Rewriting is worth ten times what writing is. But you can’t begin the process to revise and adjust if there’s nothing there to revise and adjust. Completion is required. Art emerges not from genius but from craftsmanship. And craftsmanship emerges only from workmanship. And workmanship only emerges from work. It’s pure cause-and-effect here. Build something, a lot of somethings, and if you care about it, you will get better at it. And you will make something Truly Great. Don’t despair about not making your mark on the world if you never bother marking anything in the first place.

Not everything is going to be perfect. But it’s going to be done. Hell, the process doesn’t even matter as much as you might think. The book I’m most interested in finishing is really about taking my random impromptu speeches on eating well, typing them up, then using the various sources of research I have to support the main idea, and try to find a decent structure to hang it all on. It’s work. Hard work.

Actually, it’s not hard. That’s an exaggeration. It’s really just work. Which I must do. I’m still inspired, but I have to commit the prose or else it’s all just bullshit on my part. (Which I fully intend to do. That and a dollar will get you half a granola bar, chief.) And that book I did finish recently? I transcribed the manuscript that had been occupying random blank books since 1994, tightened it up, and got the job done. I think it’s pretty good, certainly in parts. And I will more than likely revise the living hell out of it. But it does, in some concrete form, exist. It’s there.

And sometimes, that’s all that matters.

2012 NFL Power Rankings After Week 10

WELL. Pretty much have to give up on the Lions making the playoffs this year.  I GUESS THIS IS OBAMA’S AMERICA, HUH

1 Houston Texans 26.28
2 Atlanta Falcons 24.92
3 Chicago Bears 24.73
4 San Francisco 49ers 23.80
5 Baltimore Ravens 22.47
6 New England Patriots 21.69
7 Denver Broncos 21.43
8 Green Bay Packers 20.59
9 Pittsburgh Steelers 19.91
10 New York Giants 19.27
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