Friday, August 31, 2012

The What If Quest

Today, Tyler and I made our first trek beyond a one-mile radius of Lesley Avenue since we've been back in England--and the journey was peppered with the newest question his Frontal Lobes have learned to employ: What If?

Quest is a playground/park/shallow-brown-river-filled-with-47-ducks/field about two miles from our house. I'm actually not even sure that it's actually called Quest, except that word stands boldly out in the middle of the playground in letters that are bubbly and set against a rock wall.

En route to Quest, Tyler wanted to walk rather than ride in his stroller. After twenty minutes to make it five-hundred feet, I began attempting various ploys to try and get Tyler into his stroller.

Daddy: Your stroller is ready to go fast, WITH YOU  IN IT!

Tyler: What if my stroller goes fast WITHOUT ME IN IT?

Daddy: Then your stroller would be WAY UP THERE and you and I would be WAY BACK HERE.

Silence for contemplative time.

Tyler: Daddy, What if I was that truck driving right there?

Daddy: If you were that truck driving right there, you would be zooming down the road, away from right here.

Silence for more contemplation.

We saunter ahead another five feet, until Tyler spots a series of rocks all embedded into the side of the sidewalk.

Tyler: Daddy, what if we could pull all of these rocks out of here?

Daddy: Then there would be no more rocks there, and the people who designed this sidewalk said, WHOA, THIS IS SO BEAUTIFUL WITH ALL OF THESE ROCKS RIGHT HERE.

Contemplation time. We saunter ahead two more feet.

And an inner voice bubbled up inside of me, suggesting, You're never going to make it the two miles to Quest at this pace! Move! MOVE NOW OR GIVE UP ON QUEST ALTOGETHER!

I contemplated this inner voice as Tyler gazed back at those embedded rocks, probably wondering what the people who put them there were really thinking.

The inner voice I'd just heard didn't sound very peaceful; it didn't sound very calm; in fact, it sounded downright unquesty, and if were were on a quest for Quest, another voice suggested the following: Shouldn't you attempt a more questy approach to today's journey?

Fast forward one hour: we still have yet to arrive at Quest, but our journey thus far has afforded Tyler and I ample time to consider more What Ifs than I'd previously thought possible to articulate in a single walk:

  • What if that man was a woman?
  • What if a digger tried to pick us both up, Daddy?
  • What if this airplane [toy airplane] was really a REAL airplane?
  • What if I had wheels on my feet and my feet were not feet, but they were just wheels that did like vrrooooommmmshh?
  • What if Quest was that place right THERE [Tyler points at run-down, neon-lit Cash Advance Loan Store Front]?
  • What if I was the REAL Spiderman?

By the time we arrived at Quest, my inner voice had turned questy. Highly questy. And after a picnic on the grass (food prepared lovingly by Mommy, complete with two love notes for Tyler and I--of which Tyler held his super-tight the rest of the day, (as did I)), a couple of hours on the swings and play equipment, we finally made it to the small river where 47 ducks darted in search of bread.

Seriously, they darted. I had previously assumed ducks waded here and there--but these ducks darted everywhere. Tyler tossed chunks of bread into the water, and then called the ducks boldly to come and get it (though they needed no encouragement).

Befitting a day of what-iffing, Tyler looked up at me as the ducks became arrows, and asked, "Daddy, what if we went in there and swam with all of those ducks?"

I laughed in a questy kind of way. And it dawned on me then that all of these what ifs had nothing to do with goals or results or desires. In fact, they were totally void of ambition. Which is vastly unlike the what-if questions I often find myself posing--wondering about what vocations might work out, what opportunities will present themselves, how finances will unfold.

But, truth be told, the kinds of what-ifs I normally ask aren't very questy at all. Rationality and aspiration often trump imagination and randonimity. And sometimes, this is a good thing. In fact, it's probably what classifies me as an adult.

But the balance can become skewed, and when this happens the questiness goes of out life, out of the very endeavors that most crave that kind of imaginative attitude.

Today's quest with Tyler showed me that it's possible for neither to trump the other: stuff can get done--places can be reached--in a questy manner that is peppered with What Ifs as long as we're content to watch things unfold slowly, watch events and experiences occur less in the light of lightning, more in the glow of lightning bugs.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Interview with Author Peter Adam Salomon

I'm especially delighted today to share the wise words of debut author Peter Adam Salomon, whose thrilling book Henry Franks has just been released from Flux. Peter is an incredibly inspiring guy whose commitment to writing, writers, and words is both heartening and beautiful, so I'm honored to have had the chance to ask him some questions about his book, his writing process, and how he sustains his belief in the power of words.

Can you share the process of writing HENRY FRANKS? How did you progress through the various stages of writing and revision, and what was your timeline like?

When I first started writing HENRY FRANKS, back in 2007, I had a very different book in mind. The original idea focused on the father, and how he was purposely raising a child with false information (ie: if you are taught different words for common objects, it's almost like learning a foreign language: if you believe that 'hair' refers to the stuff growing on your front lawn then that is the word you will use for 'mowing your hair'). As that first draft progressed however I became far more fascinated with the reactions of the son as he began to doubt what his father was teaching him. So I started over, trying to figure out a scenario where a teenager would need to be retaught everything about himself. Due to this switch in focus the book went from Adult Fiction to YA and then to YA Horror as the 'creepy/haunting' factor kept getting ramped up the deeper I delved into the story.

That 'first' draft with HENRY FRANKS as a YA was finished fairly quickly, then I spent almost two years in revision, trying to amp up the creepy and, most specifically, trying to make the ending 'fit' the story. The original had a 70 page flashback into the father's point of view, completely leaving the YA characters and it simply didn't work. By this time, we're talking two plus years of writing and editing. Then, after signing with my wonderful agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette, there was another year of revision, including almost another year of revision to weave that flashback into the story properly so that the ending would work before the book sold. At which point there was yet another year of edits to get the book to what is in book stores.

Looking back, of course, it's as if those years just flew right on by! At the time, obviously, it was anything but that. Still, it was worth it. The book works so much better as it is now and I hope the reader appreciates the care that everyone associated with the book has taken on it.

What excites you most about your book being released in September, and what make you the most nervous?
I love the fact that other people will be introduced to Henry and Justine. I adore these characters and am thrilled that more people will get to meet them and, hopefully, fall in love with them as well. By far, what makes me most nervous is the fear that people will not find the book as creepy as it hopefully is. Having the genre 'YA Horror' placed on the book scares me because I definitely do not want to disappoint anyone who might be expecting MORE horror in the book. HENRY FRANKS is (hopefully) a subtle, haunting type of horror, unsettling and creepy. I hope I accomplished something that respects and honors the YA Horror genre and its wonderful fans.

How did you persevere along your writing path through ups and downs to reach this moment in your career?
HENRY FRANKS is my fifth completed manuscript. My second YA. While some of the previous manuscripts aren't 'ready for prime time' and some are 'close' to publishable, it's been a long time working on getting published. It's been my dream for this since I was about twelve and to have it finally come true is surreal and wonderful and worth every moment of the years in between where I wondered if it was worth it. It most definitely was. With that said, it's important for any one who wants to write to keep one thing in mind: just keep writing. No matter what, never stop writing.
Oh, and learn to love revising! Very important!!

What makes you sit back in your chair and smile?

There was just something indescribable about seeing the cover art for the first time. Someone spent a very long time all for my book (yes, that's their job but still...), trying to capture in a single image the heart and soul of something I wrote. It encapsulates something beyond words, the work put into creating the cover and it means something to me that I'm probably not defining very well. So now, every time I see that cover, whether its online or on the book itself I can't help but smile.

And I'd be remiss not to mention here my wife, Anna, and our 3 sons: Andy, Josh and Adin. All of whom have that 'sit back in your chair and smile' affect.

Who in your life impacted and inspired you, and how did they do it?
I have spoken of my grandfather, Andre Bialolenki, at length in various blog postings and it's difficult to condense the impact he had upon me and my writing in just a few short paragraphs. Suffice it to say that I would not be the writer, or the man, I am today without his support, encouragement and talent in my life. He was a spectacular writer who has left an incredible legacy (both personally with the inspiration he has left his family with and professionally with the work he did to put Miami Beach/South Beach on the map). He taught me to never stop writing, supported my writing when no one else believed, and I wish, so dearly wish, that he was here to see this day arrive.   Thanks so much for sharing your journey, Peter! And if you want to find out more about Peter, do check out his website

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Departure Eve

After nearly a month back in the states, we're preparing to head back to England tomorrow on a red-eye flight that will land us in Manchester at the crack of dawn.

And when I say "preparing" what I mean is: gazing at the mountain pile of clothes on the bed, letting Tyler stay up late to dig in the sand with Poppa and whisper secrets with Nanna, taking note of every single American thing we've missed and making sure to savor it (i.e. free refills on drinks at a restaurant, green road signs, the political fix from CNN, the warmth of family, the laughter of summer nights, and watching Tyler reconnect with grandmas and grandpas and aunts and uncles after two years abroad).

Today, in the car as we left the Cape Cod Potato Chip Factory, I started to cry. Not because of my all-consuming passion for potato chips, but because I had been watching our son giggle as my mother-in-law, Susan, ticked his toes. His laughter touched that part of me that spoke of the importance of watching our own children grow up connected to that web of creation that helps them exist in the first place.

And I'm going to miss it.

This isn't to say we aren't looking forward to Lesley Avenue in York, and the dozen of so children that live on our street, the kind neighbors who always seem to have something odd they no longer need and are kind enough to pass it on to the American next door (a bird feeder, a bottle of wine, a T-shirt, a Gruffalo suitcase). And we're looking forward to our last year abroad as a chance to reflect on all we've learned, the obstacles we've been facing, and the way Isaac Newton's claim about knowledge has really rung true for us. Newton once responded to someone who asked what his years of scientific research had taught him. Paraphrased, his reply was: Everything I have come to know is like a single grain of sand on the shore of knowledge.

This time away from England has afforded not only a lovely reprieve as parents (read: our own parents and brothers and sisters have performed countless changing of the clothes with Tyler, explorations and adventures, and bedtime book-reading), but it has also bequeathed us a chance to reflect on what two years abroad with no money has taught us.

And essentially, our grain of sand is this: grace trumps everything. Grace with our son, with with one another, grace for mistakes, grace for misplanned  possibilities, grace for failures, grace for countless imperfections. England has been both beautiful and hard for us, and the synthesis of these necessities of life has been teaching us that what creates sustainability is grace.

As we embark upon the return flight tomorrow, our fourth passenger, we hope, will be grace. And if he allows Tyler to sleep for any percentage of the red-eye, that would be about the most stunning gift in the world about now. But if not, I hope to be able to redeem the way we first arrived in England two years ago: rather than a panic attack, I want to able to look out at the dawning English day and say, with faith, it's all going to be okay.