Archive for April, 2008

Commentary 7.5: Seven and a Half Cents

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

Changing things up today, I thought it would be interesting to dissect the longest deleted chapter since we’re at the point in the book where it would have appeared. I’m also hoping that a baseball post will help snap the Red Sox losing streak 🙂

As I’ve said before, this was intended to set up more of the time travel rules in an interesting venue. But it really felt like it was slowing down the plot, the narrator’s baseball past was causing the story to lose focus, and the afterglow of a World Series victory made revisting past failures a little trite.

So here are some notes on what might have been, including a peek into the writing/editing process.

Other tidbits:

  • There are a number of direct Quantum Leap references scattered throughout the book, but I believe this was the only direct Back To The Future nod aside from a reference to the soundtrack.
  • Midway through writing this chapter I suddenly realized the scene may predate Busch Stadium, and research proved that to be so. The cab driver providing the real info is a nod to my near blunder.
  • After that near miss, this ended up being the most heavily researched chapter of the entire book, requiring a little more digging than the Cobain and Dylan time trips.
  • “Pseudoscientific” is a nod to a class I took in college called “Science for the 21st Century” that was commonly nicknamed “Pseudoscience 101” by my roommates and myself.
  • Dad’s charm was originally first mentioned here, but later moved (almost word for word) to the Washington motel once this chapter died.
  • The cartoon character section was also lifted verbatim and dropped into the airplane blink, along with a few other aerial musings.
  • I’m not much for flowery description of details, with the double breasted suit and trilby hat being my quick nods to the 1940s.
  • Considering whether or not his thoughts caused bad luck in the game links back to some of the bowling superstitions the narrator has, and later ties into similar feelings about his love life that prove to be true.
  • Another goal of this chapter was to expose the Pesky scapegoat story as a total myth, which is (was) supported by the history but never really brought up.
  • I only count 10 musical references in this chapter, but I probably could have easily doubled it if this chapter had gone through further rewrites prior to being scrapped.

Read “Pesky Held The Ball?” Online

Commentary 7: Tram #7 To Heaven

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

If memory serves, I think this was the first chapter written in Luxembourg using Jon Mack’s laptop. I spent 8 weeks in Lux; taking the first week off to get acclimated, writing every weekday for 6 weeks, then taking the last week off to celebrate the first draft. So it’s somewhat fitting that chapter 7 kicks off on an airplane since it was fresh in my mind.

This chapter actually serves to set up quite a bit of what will happen later on, especially when the narrator first arrives “home.” Foreshadowing includes Dad’s prowess with the guitar (and the ladies), the cute little redheaded girl, a vanishing love life in general, and the fact that not everybody blames Nelson for the death.

Other tidbits:

  • A flight attendant on the plane to Lux actually said “electronical.” Though technically incorrect, I really like it and have since adopted it.
  • The five dollar tomato was a late addition, inspired by a similar tale told by Jon’s roommate Andreas.
  • Flashing back to “the plan” was one way of cutting down the information overload in the previous chapter, where this scene originally took place.
  • If we were looking to make chapter title connections, floating around in mid-air seems pretty close to “Tram #7 To Heaven.”
  • Note on geography: Originally the plane had a layover in St. Louis, and during that layover was an entire deleted chapter about a trip to the 1946 World Series. In my original outline I knew I wanted to revisit both the Kurt Cobain death and a non-1986 Red Sox World Series game. That’s essentially the only reason the plot is bi-coastal. Once the layover was cut I just as well could have set the whole thing on the west coast, but it seemed to be an unnecessary rewrite. I think it does add to the plot to have had the narrator flee the “scene of the crime” as he calls it. The 3000 mile buffer also let’s me explain away a potential lingering question later on, but we’ll get to that when the time comes.
  • “For lack of a better term”/ “the elusive better term” is one of my favorite sentences in the book for some reason.
  • Speaking in song lyrics is addressed by the narrator for the first time here, partly to let readers who may have been confused by some phrasings to this point off the hook. When my wife would go through her early draft edits she would circle lots of phrases and put a question mark next to them. 90% of the time they were force-fed allusions. Most of the really gratuitous ones were rewritten, though there may still be a few.
  • Everyone I’ve talked to raves about the photography bit, and even my mother seems to appreciate it even though she partly inspired it. I sincerely believe that non-candid photos should be banned, with the only staged exceptions being professional portraits, school or team photos, and mug shots. (A driver license or passport photo counts as a mug shot.)
  • There are 40 known musical references in this chapter, as I’m really starting to play it up for Jon Mack’s benefit now that I’m in Lux and he’s noticed.

Read Chapter Seven Online

Antagonized to Protagonize

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

I had an interesting day yesterday to say the least.

Rather than recap it again, you can read the gory details over at Towform.  Here I just wanted to quickly add something a little more on topic.

I discovered an interesting collaborative writing site called Protagonize a few weeks ago.  It allows authors to post chapters to stories that are then continued by other authors in a bit of a writing relay race.  Two flavors are available: a traditional chapter by chapter story, or a branching out “addventure” that allows for non-linear, choose your own adventure types of tales.  At the time I thought it was neat, but didn’t really have anything in mind to post there.

Long story short, yesterday’s events inspired me to start a story on Protagonize that you can take a look at here.  Feel free to contribute your own chapter if you so desire.  There’s definitely something there worth exploring, but since I’m supposed to be working on a new novel right now it didn’t quite fit in with my plans, thus becoming my first dip into the collaborative waters.

Enjoy.

Read (or contribute to) “Wrong Number?” at Protagonize.com

Reviewed by Mrs. Giggles

Monday, April 21st, 2008

Another review, this time courtesy of Mrs. Giggles. My two favorite excerpts:

“Some of the first person narration is beautifully written, I find, which makes Timely Persuasion a book to read for the sake of reading as well for the story, if I am making any sense here. There are times when I wonder why I bother reading self-published efforts, and it is books like Timely Persuasion that remind me of the reason why.”

and

“There are many things that can go wrong in this story but the author manages to create a coherent story out of a premise that is very difficult to summarize in a review.”

The first quote is probably the best unsolicited compliment I’ve received from a non-acquaintance so far, and as such made my day and made the whole book worth writing. The second is interesting as it echoes the trouble I’ve had with the synopsis, which is why I’ve been tinkering with it on and off for the last week since the previous review. It’s just a hard book to boil down simply without giving too much away, even for the author.

Looking at some of her other reviews, Mrs. Giggles appears to be a bit of a tough critic. That makes me especially proud of the 86 out of 100 rating she gave me, as it seems pretty high on her scale.

Thanks Mrs. Giggles!

Mrs. Giggles Reviews Timely Persuasion

Commentary 6: 6ix

Sunday, April 20th, 2008

Back at the bowling alley in search of answers, our hero confronts the old man. This chapter is exposition heavy on early time travel nuts and bolts, and one I struggled with most in rewrites. The idea was to set a foundation that would have some parts hold true and other parts be called out as false later on, but it kept spiraling out of control and confused a lot of early readers. In the end I chopped it up quite a bit, relegating two sections to deleted scenes and bumping one into a flashback on the plane.

Other tidbits:

  • In the first draft I actually name dropped all of the actual members of the 900 club, but decided that “no names” meant no names except for Nelson and more mainstream celebrities. I was also worried it would date the story too much whenever another perfect trifecta occurs. But for the record, the members of the USBC certified 900 club are Jeremy Sonnenfeld (2/2/97), Tony Roventini (11/9/98), Vince Wood (9/29/99), Robby Portalatin (12/28/00), James Hylton (5/2/01), Jeff Campbell II (6/12/04), Darren Pomije (12/9/04), Lonnie Billiter Jr (2/13/06), Robert Mushtare (12/3/05 & 2/19/06), and Mark Wukoman (4/22/06).
  • As Devon Kappa correctly guessed in the NoneMaySay review, the old man is an homage to Doc Brown of Back To The Future fame. A mix of brilliance and insanity, a hundred steps ahead of everyone and rarely slowing down for long enough to let them catch up. But unlike Doc Brown, he’s not particularly trustworthy even though he means well.
  • The time traveling stool and beer from Chapter 2 pay off here. This is also the first hint that we’re technically picking up the story in medias res, otherwise there would be a causation paradox.
  • The big “I’m you” reveal is a little bit cliché in the time travel world, but I decided the “only interact with yourself” twist was unique enough to allow it. Besides, it’s really the only way to set it up.
  • “Sometimes theories are right, sometimes wrong” is a main theme of the book and the main takeaway from this chapter. It should be applied to anything the old man says about time travel, and anything he says at all for that matter.
  • I intentionally tried to make sure that the narrator was just as confused as the reader, partly to pull the focus away from the physics and partly to build sympathy. If you still have trouble understanding the old man, his comment at the end of the chapter is as much to the reader as it is to himself: “Don’t dwell on it too much.”
  • There are 14 intentional musical references in this chapter.

Read Chapter Six Online

Commentary 5: Five Seconds to Hold You

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

Although Timely Persuasion has a science fiction premise, I really wanted to ground the story in reality as much as possible outside of the time travel. Thus I knew I wanted to send the narrator back to save Kurt Cobain, but I also knew that his mission would ultimately have to fail. The physics of time travel in this world made sure of that, and the narrator and I continue to learn the ropes together in this chapter.

Other tidbits:

  • The record reviews stolen from the library were baseball box scores until the final draft.
  • Were you able to guess the name of the city 76.7 miles east of Seattle? An even bigger coincidence is the name of a town slightly to the west that I just noticed right now when linking to the map.
  • I went to Viretta Park and Kurt’s old mansion on a research trip after the first draft of the book was done and actually walked through the majority of the actions in this chapter. The rewrites came from that hands-on trip, including it starting to rain in the park as I stood photographing the bench.
  • All of the bad concert karma events (sadly) actually happened to me.
  • I’m trying to draw a red herring of a connection in this chapter by alluding to the sister’s death as a murder when it’s really a suicide, but I’m not sure if I actually pulled it off. Feels to me that the Cobain connection actually telegraphs how the sister died, but maybe I’m just too close to it.
  • The two men searching the house are Tom Grant and Dylan Carlson. It’s based on real life, though I don’t think they realized they had a ghostly visitor watching them…
  • My cousin Adam commented that “the world is rarely ever on a plane” (pun intended) after reading the first draft, which made me really scrutinize foot placement above and below the normal “ground” in subsequent drafts. I also inserted his comment almost verbatim into the narrator’s analysis of the situation.
  • The chapter title “Five Seconds To Hold You” comes from a great song by an LA band called Devics. It doesn’t hold much relevance, though I guess it could be the small window of time when the narrator actually thinks he’s going to solve the mystery.
  • There are 28 intentional musical references in this chapter.

Read Chapter Five Online

First Review!

Sunday, April 13th, 2008

Thanks to Devon Kappa from the blog None May Say for the first ever review of Timely Persuasion.  I found it to be honest, balanced, and fair.  Also opened my eyes a bit to the synopsis, which I’ll probably take a stab at rewriting shortly…

Review: Timely Persuasion by Jacob LaCivita

Commentary 4: Four Hours In Washington

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

Going back in time to save Kurt Cobain was one of the first inspirations I had while brainstorming. This chapter sends the narrator to Seattle with this goal in mind, while the underlying narrative purpose is really to flesh out his musical background and further along his time travel discovery process. It’s a sort of “on the job training” for his eventual mission.

Other tidbits:

  • Four Hours in Washington ends up being a fairly self explanatory chapter title.
  • Nate Pepper once pointed out that everything I write always has at least one scene in a car. The trend continues here. (Though I guess a car scene technically first appeared in the previous chapter…)
  • The mileage was straight out of Mapquest at the time this chapter was originally written, but they seem to have tweaked their algorithm since then as it now lists the distance as about 6.5 miles closer.
  • Another hint that the narrator and the author are not the same person: I’d never use Mapquest in a million years since it’s by far the worst of the mapping sites. 2002 predates Google Maps, but even back then I was using a combo of MapBlast (RIP) and Yahoo Maps.
  • The narrator oversimplifies it a bit, but the conspiracy theory stuff is mostly real and based on the work of investigator Tom Grant who runs www.cobaincase.com. He was originally hired by Courtney Love to find Kurt when he went “missing” before his death.
  • Local Boy’s charm with the ladies is first foreshadowed here, though originally it came in the lost chapter at the 1946 World Series in the deleted scenes.
  • The Dylan concert scene is part of a rewrite, having originally been a much shorter scene at a minor league baseball game.
  • While working on this part of the rewrite, my then girlfriend/now wife was driving through Eugene on her way to LA. I made her go to McArthur Court to scout it out and take pictures, and we had a hilarious phone conversation where I kept asking her “Is is flat? I mean, if you could walk through things, could you go there without being too far above or below the ground?” I later considered scrapping the whole Seattle trip from the book to cut to the chase, but she wouldn’t let me after what I put her through.
  • For some reason, everyone loves the “need to have balls” line.
  • Both Dylan concerts are real, and the 1999 EMU Ballroom show allegedly was just as legendary as described. Several reviews are available here, plus the setlist. Even stranger: I met a guy through a friend a few years ago (after this scene was written) who actually did the sound for this exact show and recorded a bootleg. Small world…
  • All of the newspaper events from early April actually happened, and I really wrote the whole scene without realizing that the newspaper always tells yesterday’s news.
  • And yes, that April Fools Day show was brilliant. Jon Mack insisted that G. Love and Soul Coughing also played at the same show and had me so convinced they were listed in earlier drafts, but eventually I did the research and proved him wrong. Discovered the price of the show is also inaccurate, but left it in anyways as a nod to fallible memories.
  • There are 41 intentional musical references in this chapter.

Read Chapter Four Online

Pretending I’m Like Kurt Cobain

Tuesday, April 8th, 2008

I can’t believe Kurt Cobain has been dead for 14 years. Both he specifically and Nirvana in general were big influences on me growing up, and that influence clearly bled into the narrator and the book. And how about this for an illustration of time travel cause and effect in action: One could make an argument that if Jon Mack hadn’t left me with extra tickets when he decided to skip out on a Nirvana concert one fateful night in 1993 so he could go to a high school dance (“I’ll see them next time around” was his reasoning), there might not even be a Timely Persuasion at all. Talk about a butterfly effect…

I’ve not so coincidentally timed the commentaries so we’d reach the Kurt Cobain chapters this week. But before we get to those, here’s something else. For a fleeting moment early on I flirted with having the Local Boy songs only be Nirvana covers, but it never got past the idea phase. To be honest I can’t decide if it would have been better or worse. Figured today would be an appropriate day to explore what might have been with a rundown of essential Nirvana filtered through the folky acoustical lens of Local Boy. Selections and liner notes below.

LBDN: Local Boy Does Nirvana

On A Plain
I distinctly recall my excitement when this was played on Unplugged, as it was both unexpected and perfect at the same time. This was originally the Nirvana track chosen for Local Boy back when the songs skewed towards “famously covered,” but I felt it was too obvious and changed it to “Lounge Act” for the final draft.

Lounge Act
This has gone back and forth for me over the years, but I think I can finally cement in writing that it’s my favorite song on Nevermind. Thus why it ended up being the Local Boy choice in the book. I can vividly hear the Nevermind/Rubber Soul hybrid version described in my head, but I’d be doing it a disservice by attempting to articulate it further.

Curmudgeon
An underrated B-side that I was this close to using for Local Boy, but I was worried that people either wouldn’t know the song or if they did they wouldn’t believe it could be done acoustically. Almost makes me want to learn guitar to prove my vision. This is another that I can clearly hear in my head as a beauty all stripped down, though I think Kurt would be disgusted if he knew that.

Oh, The Guilt
Probably my favorite rarity and another that was under consideration for Local Boy initially, but abandoned for the same reasons described in “Curmudgeon” above.

About A Girl
A no brainer to be played in a folk rock style, but impossible to omit. The Beatlesque comparisons are spot on, and something that has always made me appreciate music criticism.

Hairspray Queen
The trippiest song in the Nirvana catalog and one that every musical loving instinct I have tells me I should hate, but I’ve dug it since the first time I played Incesticide. Has to be included in an all-Nirvana Local Boy set, detractors be damned.

Swap Meet
An overlooked Bleach song I’ve always been partial to. I hear this toned down in a bit of a Lou Reed Velvet Underground style, doing the chorus like the verses of “Temptation Inside Your Heart.”

In Bloom
There’s a part on the uncut Unplugged In New York DVD where Kurt sarcastically says “How are we supposed to play ‘In Bloom’ acoustic?” in response to a request. (Odd since he once did an acoustic “Negative Creep” at an in-store.) When I first heard that I took it as a dare and was up for the challenge. Here’s how: Play “Be Here Now” by Mason Jennings but use the lyrics to “In Bloom.” Spooky how perfectly they fit…

Blandest
When I first started collecting B-Sides and rarities this was my holy grail. Never understood why it wasn’t the first B-Side, or even A-Side for that matter.

Breed
An odd choice, but I think I can articulate this one. Imagine the main riff finger-picked in a Nick Drake style, with the lyrics not much more than a slow and grainy whisper ala M. Ward. Can you hear it?

Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle
In Utero being a more aggressive screamer of an album makes acoustic translations tough without going for obvious choices like “All Apologies” or “Dumb,” so I’ll take this as my surprise token eastern song.

Spank Thru
This one could totally be pulled off almost as is in a very straightforward acoustic number. A bit of a shame to downplay Kurt’s best recorded scream, though maybe Local Boy could get away with it if it was the encore.

Full Playlist at iTunes

Timely Persuasion Press Release for Cobain Anniversary

Commentary 3: Gimme Three Steps

Monday, April 7th, 2008

This is the first of many introspective/exploratory chapters where the narrator is trying to piece together exactly what is happening to him. High on stream of consciousness, low on dialogue. I’ve always hated writing dialogue, which is probably one of the many reasons I abandoned my screenwriting training and wrote a novel instead.

Most of my writing tends to be plot driven rather than character driven. I tend to know the major points I want to hit, then find a way to meander my way through those points during the actual writing. My original outline of guideposts for this story went from “Bowling Scene” to “Kurt Cobain Scene,” so this chapter is mainly a bridge to connect the dots.

The chapter song titles rarely had intentional meaning to them; just finding titles for all of the numbers was a task in and of itself. But like most other coincidences in life you can usually find a connection if you look hard enough. Gimme Three Steps could be the three steps taken before a bowling shot or the “three things” required to “fix this” that we’ll learn later. Or maybe it’s just a Lynyrd Skynyrd song that happens to have the number 3 in it…

More tidbits:

  • I’ve been told that my sense of direction is my kryptonite. The narrator shares this weakness.
  • “Blink” was adopted as the lingo for time travel here, but an early reader questioned why I used that word rather than something else like “jump” or “zoom.” The word a day calendar was inserted to explain the logic. A few years later I was quite relieved that I stuck with blink when the teleportation movie Jumper came out. Not time travel, but still a little too close for comfort. I later discovered that the original Jumper novel had been on my Amazon wishlist for years, so maybe the word had been filed away as off-limits subconsciously.
  • The random italic text that pops up from time to time (when it isn’t just proper annotation for album or TV titles) is intended to represent thoughts or memories from the subconscious. Later on we learn a lot more about what the subconscious really is in the world of the book, which gives these italics a slightly different meaning on subsequent readings.
  • The golf ball was originally a baseball, but was changed when most of the baseball references were excised. More details in the deleted scenes; the Marty Barrett one is relevant to this chapter. I think the golf ball works much better.
  • Anachronism alert: According to this Huey Lewis Gigography, Huey didn’t play any shows on the east coast of the USA in 1986.  Wish I found that site during my research instead of after the fact…
  • Peggy Sue Got Married ended up being a perfect reference as a song and time travel hybrid, but I sorta lucked into it. When the golf ball was a baseball, the ball was a gateway to travel back to the 1986 World Series. When I rewrote the chapter I could have made it any year, but since it was already 1986 that’s where I started my search for a potential movie trailer for him to see on TV.
  • Even though I was killing the baseball bits, I couldn’t resist the Cheers baseball tie-in when doing the rewrite.
  • There are 22 known musical references in this chapter.

Read Chapter Three Online