"Temporality is part of the truth" -- Chuck Klosterman

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Secret Agent Man

Back in July, I posted a rather hasty entry about a writer's conference I would be attending in San Francisco. Since then, I've purposely put off writing about that experience so that I could finally say what I'm trying to say now.

So lemme 'splain.

The emphasis of the Algonkian Write to Market Conference is the pitch. Conference director or leader or headmaster or whatever he is, Michael Neff, says that the pitch tail wags the novel dog. You can read it in his own words by clicking that link. But the idea is that if you can't verbalize a decent pitch for your story, then chances are your story needs work. This idea was illuminating to me, since I showed up to this conference with a story that included little external antagonism and tiny buds of dramatic turns.

How fast would John Keating
tear this from the pages of his text book?
I've studied--and taught--literature for most of my adult life, so understanding development of a story arc and dramatic tension is nothing new to me. What was new, as illustrated to me at this conference, was how much of that classic spectacle I had neglected to write into my novel. I know there's a central conflict in my story. I know there are complications and character clashes and, I daresay, even some decent language throughout. But I also know that my Young Adult novel isn't about drugs or abuse or gangs or vampires, and that makes for a rather quiet story. At least in terms of getting published in today's market.

So I worked on my pitch. And by creating the pitch that would (maybe, hopefully) sell my novel, I had to come to terms with a severe amount of rewriting. This is the novel I originally wrote as my Master's thesis, the novel I've reworked and revised and added to and subtracted from for years, the novel I made a goal to sell this year, in 2011. I liked where it was. I thought it was in pretty good shape. But it needs work.

That's what I've been doing for the past few weeks. Revising the story to fit what is implied in the pitch. Because on the last say of the conference, I had the opportunity to pitch several different agents who are looking specifically for Young Adult fiction sans the paranormal. And three agents asked me to send them partial manuscripts.

Did you read that correctly? I said three agents asked for partial manuscripts. I was dreadfully excited about it at the time. That excitement has pretty much turned to anxiety at this point, though, because of the reality of sending my work to real, actual agents. But that's where I am today. I've rewritten enough to be able to send these agents the pages they requested. I'm still not done with the rewrites; in fact, it's the ending that requires the most extensive changes and I still need to tackle that. Still, it's coming along. (You can read the first little bit yourself at my author website www.brentwescott.com. Or click here.)

The agents now have what they requested. And I play the waiting game. (After the first email was sent, before I could get another one off, a reply popped into my inbox. I freaked out thinking I got the world's fastest rejection. It was just an automated response to my query telling me the agent received my submission. Phew.)

Here's the pitch that got me this far. Feel free to tell me you'd buy it if you could. Or pass this along to the nearest agent you know. Either way, it's cool.

My name is Brent Wescott.

The title of my book is Trendy Poseurs Go Home.

The genre is Young Adult fiction.

You might compare it with the sarcastic narrator of Frank Portman’s King Dork and the indie characters of Rachel Cohn and David Levithan’s Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist.
When 18-year-old Drew Tanner’s father ceremoniously hands over the used luggage of his dead brother so he can pack up for college and then announces that Drew will be majoring in business just like his brother did, Drew’s individuality is threatened and he feels his own life squelched.

In a week, he is scheduled to leave Denver for college in California, just like his deceased brother, parents, and grandparents before him. However, Drew is not his brother, no matter how hard his family insists on reinventing him in his brother’s image. Struggling to find his own voice, he has lived his life filled with punk friends, indie music, and the unconventional sport of soccer.
The rest of the week finds him coping with the competing influences of a father who wants him to replace his brother, a best friend who might just live in his parents’ basement forever, a girl who reveals her true feelings for him, and the death of a grandfather, the only family member who seemed to understand him. As his college days near, and Drew fears the loss of his individuality, he begins to work for a way to break from his family tradition and remain in Denver living his chosen lifestyle. But what’s the best way for Drew to make his own choices and not be a poseur himself?  

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Creepy Crawly

The boy is crawling now. Since his nine month birthday about ten days ago.
He just decided that day he wanted to go. So he did. And he hasn't stopped.

Twenty-three things you can't do any more once your child knows how to self-locomote:

1. Take your eyes off the child.

2. Take a shower.

3. Go to the bathroom.

4. Get dressed in private.

5. Leave your shoes out.

6. Leave doors open.

7. Leave drawers open.

8. Leave cupboards open.

9. Drop anything.

10. Put the child on the bed.

11. Take naps anywhere with the child in your arms.

12. Keep trash cans on the floor.

13. Type while the child is on your lap.

14. Sit in a rolling desk chair.

15. Run on a treadmill.

16. Let crumbs fall where they may.

17. Vacuum only a couple times a week.

18. Unplug anything from a wall outlet.

19. Plug anything into a wall outlet.

20. Assume your stereo speaker wires are well-hidden and out of the way all tucked back behind the furniture.

21. Place your books on low-lying end tables.

22. Walk freely through your house without having to step over gates in every doorway.

23. Leave the room.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Zombies at the Door

Maybe we both originated
from and will be
terminated by primates.
We all know that soon humanity will be decimated by our own hubris. We will either accidentally enhance the intelligence of the common ape or purposely build a contagion so resilient that it will mutate into something that reanimates the dead. If it's the former, there's no coming back because Charlton Heston and Phil Hartman are dead and everyone already forgot that Marky Mark ever made a trip into that wacky wormhole. If it's the latter, then our future rests with those of us clever enough to study our Zombie Apocalypse manuals.

(There is a slim chance that some grieving mother will find the monkey's paw that a bunch of mystics turned into a human key that just might be your sister in order to protect the secret of everlasting life because they knew that a lasting everlasting life meant only an ever worsening craving for brains. I think I'm mixing my myths here, but probably it will be a man-made virus that kills us all and brings us back as the walking dead.)

Essential reading. Click here and buy it now. Or we're all dead.

Robert Kirkman writes the comic
The Walking Dead, perhaps the most
lighthearted series of any in the zombie
genre, as you can attest from this
happy-go-lucky shot of him in a
scene from the adapted TV series.
I'd rather be prepared.

And your opportunity is now. Charles M. Pulsipher, nee just Charlie, has provided you with all you need to know when the inevitable occurs. It won't be all fun and games like Robert Kirkman seems to think it will be. You need to know your escape routes, your provision stores, and whether your seat cushion will float in water like gravy or very small rocks. This informative tome will explain the fundamentals of surviving the only logical end to our civilization.

For the modest sum of 99 cents, it is currently available in Kindle version, and it's coming soon to the Nook. Plus, Charlie has promised that it will presently be available for hard copy order (which makes sense because in an all out war, the zombies will likely take out the Amazon whispernet and your Kindle library could be temporarily unavailable for eternity and you'll need the manual when you reach your zombie retreat).

Statistics show that in the event of a plane crash, the passengers that pay attention to the flight attendants' presentation of the safety procedures and actually read the safety card in the seat pocket are the people more likely to survive. Don't be the guy who panics because he doesn't know the proper procedures and kills everyone on the plane. Do yourself and those you love a favor and purchase this handy guide to when you have Zombies at the Door.

And just so you know, I'm not jealous of Charlie at all.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sleep Study II: The Sleepening

I'll put this photo first. Then back up.
Don't worry. No one was harmed in the making of this blog. 

Previously on: 

When we last left little boy Xander, he was about to be put under for a Sleep Study. (Read that part first.)

The Call:

My original assumption of what the sleep study entailed was all wrong. I figured that once the boy was off the oxygen for a little while, they (and who "they" were was always ambiguous) would come to our house one night and check his pulse-ox while he slept. If he passed, they would take away all the oxygen equipment and declare Xander will live long and prosper.

When we got the call that the sleep study clinic had an opening on Sunday, I realized that we would instead be spending the night at the hospital, doing a full, thorough sleep study. Which is fine, except that only one parent is allowed to accompany the baby. For a variety of reasons, we decided it would be me, so I steeled myself for a night of fitful sleep in a room with a boy who looked like he was getting a positronic brain implant (see photo, above)

Waiting Room 
6:00-7:30 pm
(You can imagine these headings to be accompanied by the dramatic Law & Order "Chung-Chung" if you'd like.)

They told us to be there at 7:15. Then they called back and said that Xander will be the youngest patient in the clinic that night, so they'd like us to have him there by 6:00 instead. So that's when I got there. No one else was there, not even a receptionist. I spread my overnight bag, laptop bag, pillow, dinner from Sonic, and the car seat containing the boy across one of the couches and a couple of the tables in the room. A sign told me to dial a number and someone would come up front. A woman technician came in, handed me the clipboard full of papers to fill out, and said it might be a little while before they got to us.

Xander played on the floor while I ate. Four other parents with children came in. The children were all older, like 7 or 8 or 12. Two of them asked me incredulously if it was Xander who needed the sleep study. I explained about the prematurity and oxygen need. A young girl turned on the TV and turned it to Family Guy. I watched the entire episode, one of the few times I've done so, and found out that Rush Limbaugh apparently did his own voice on the show. Then a rerun of House came on. I fed Xander a bottle while pretending not to pay attention, though I like watching House, while the good doctor attempted to figure out what was wrong with the patient with the sexual fetishes and the guy who got herpes from his wife. I know Xander didn't care--he was now rolling around the room and sucking on his blanket--but I can't help but wonder what those other kids thought was going on on TV.

And I only write all this detail to show that there was absolutely no reason for me to be there at 6:00. At one point, the first technician came back out to tell me that my tech would be there around 7:15 and he'd then get Xander's room all ready. I began to wonder how necessary this all was.

Jacking In
7:45-9:30 pm

The tech's name was Eddie and he was so nice when he came out to take us back to the room that I forgot all about complaining that we'd been sitting out there for an hour and a half. He asked me some questions, and I related once again the tale of the prematurity and oxygen need. Eddie then proceeded to tell me about the dozens of leads he was about to attach to Xander in a variety of places from head to toe.

I had to hold my son while Eddie drew green dots all over the boy's head then tried to affix about ten electrical leads to Xander's scalp, everywhere from behind each ear to beside each eye. Each lead was dabbed in a sticky goop and taped down at the appropriate location. Xander endured it well, but wanted to grab at the wires coming out of the back of his head and several times pulled the lead clean off. I tightened my grip with the baby's arms across his chest until he couldn't stand it and wouldn't sit still one more second.

Eddie suggested a break, and I fed Xander a little more from a bottle, hoping he would fall asleep after such a heroic struggle. He did calm down, but no sleeping yet. Eddie tackled the rest and finally got his head wrapped up like he just had brain surgery.
Massive Headwound Harry

But wait, there's more. When you come in to the sleep clinic for a simple oxygen reading, you get your brain activity read and REM sleep studied and your jaw tapped and straps across your chest and connections down through your PJs to connect to the pulse-ox monitors on each big toe. As an added bonus, you get a brand new cannula inserted into the nasal cavity for easy monitoring of CO2 levels and the ability to feed oxygen if the need arises. And if you insist on pulling that off at the first opportunity, you will be required to wear the makeshift mittens made from socks and masking tape. Practical and stylish.

This took nearly two hours. It was past Xander's bed time.
He didn't stay this way. He tosses and turns and does push ups in his sleep now.

9:30 pm-6:00 am

In order to complete the final sticking and taping and wrapping, I put Xander in the crib and held him down. He wanted to squirm, but his will was wearing down. After his hands were literally tied, he knew his opportunity was lost and he gave up the struggle. I was able to cover his eyes and sooth him to sleep while Eddie and that first technician from the waiting room connected whatever else needed connecting. Eddie then brought in a fan to cool the boy down, since they were reading that his head temperature was pretty high. I told him that Xander tends to get sweaty before sleeping when he fights it, and I can't imagine that the mummy wrap was keeping him cool. So Xander was finally asleep, splayed out with a fan over him and bundled like a crash victim.

My wife had texted me several times during the procedure, but I was unable to respond. She must have been thinking something was terribly wrong. When I finally texted her back, Eddie kindly asked me to turn off the phone. He turned down the lights just as I was getting out my Kindle and laptop. I asked if I could read and showed him my little book light. He indicated that the light might interfere with the camera they have in the ceiling over the crib, but maybe I could sit on the small couch across the room. That's what I did, but not before opening my laptop to see how much light that would produce. I didn't use my laptop. I read the last two acts of The Merchant of Venice and called it a night myself at about 10:30. I slept on one of those skinny hospital beds right next to the crib.

The rest of the night was uneventful. I woke up a couple of times to find Xander doing some kind of push up in his sleep. I replaced the famed pacifier and he relaxed and went back to sleep. At 6:00 in the morning, Eddie woke us up and gently took Xander apart piece by piece. The boy was tired, but happy.
This kid is awesome. Seriously. Just look at his recovery. 

We keep telling everyone that Xander's a pretty happy kid. Even after this ordeal, he didn't seem fazed. Eddie told us he did great. There was no need for oxygen, and the results would go along to our doctor. For now, we can revel in the knowledge that our child no longer needs oxygen, day or night.

Well...he needs oxygen...we ALL need oxygen...day AND night...you know what I mean....

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Sleep Study

Back in June, I decided it was time that Xander graduated from the bedside bassinet to his crib in his own room. I was out of school and felt like I could spend all night coaxing him back to sleep if he didn't like where he was. But on the second night when his mom compulsively went in to check on him, she found that, in his sleep, Xander had pulled his oxygen cannula down from his nose and it was now twisted around his neck. (If you've read my first installment of A Star is Born, you'll recall that my wife's compulsions are often right on the money and are therefore essential to our lives.)
You might also recall that this is how Xander looked with an oxygen cannula up his nose.

Xander was okay--no actual throat constriction was evident--but he ended up sleeping back in his parents' room for the next month or so. Momma called the doctor and the doctor said this is natural and expected. As children on oxygen get older, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep the cannula on, day or night. The doctor suggested that if we were worried that he might strangle in the night, let's just leave the oxygen off and see how he does. These were the doctor's orders: Let's just see how he does.

You might could guess that this didn't sit well with my wife.

Originally, the plan was to wean the boy off the oxygen during the day, only using it at night until we could get a sleep study done. This is where the medicos come in to read his oxygen levels at night, while he sleeps without any oxygenated support. We had been waiting for the doc to give her okay for the sleep study. During our last appointment, she intimated that we would get the sleep study scheduled after the next appointment. But during this phone call where she claimed that Xander will probably be okay without the oxygen, perhaps she sensed my wife's distress, because the doctor asked if we would still like to have the sleep study done.

My wife said, "Yes." She might as well have said, "Duh."

The call to the sleep study clinic yielded these results: They could fit us in for an overnight study in October. Not exactly helpful to our current needs. We scheduled the appointment anyway and asked to be put on the waiting list in case there were cancellations or openings sooner than that.

A week or so after the cannula around the neck incident, we took Xander to Vail for a few days for a family reunion. We knew the altitude would necessitate extra oxygen for the boy, so we kept his cannula on as well as we could while he slept. But since that trip to the mountains, he's been off the oxygen altogether. He was still sleeping in the bedside bassinet (until this week, but that's another issue altogether now), but he sleeps without oxygen support. The sticky pads bonded to his face for the first eight months of his life even came off. They just peeled off one day, like dead skin after a sunburn.
The poofy hair is not a result of less oxygen to the brain.
But notice the clean cheeks.

I fully expected to ride out the next few months without any worry about oxygen, that at our next doctor appointment we would get the go-ahead to quit the oxygen business altogether. But yesterday, the sleep clinic called and said they had an opening this Sunday night. Coolio.

Now I fully expect to be done with oxygen for good as of Monday morning.