Something Just Like This

This is something like a Superhero Origin Story.  But without Spiderman or Batman or insert any of your DC or Marvel favorites.  Like Chris Martin said, you won’t see Camden Swanson (the main character of my novel  Lost in the Fog) on that list.

The story I’m about to tell might be inspiring to some, or a cautionary tale of procrastination to others.  I guess it all depends on perspective, and I’ll let you be the judge. This is the long, strange journey of how I came to write my new novel Lost in the Fog.

Back in 2003, after six years of trying to sell my screenplays in Los Angeles, failure had gotten the best of me.  I was frayed, discouraged, and I needed a sabbatical from my life.  I had just published A Model Community, my first novel, which was both exciting (it was pure joy to hold my book in my hands) and disappointing (I wanted it to be my big break, but that never happened).

It wasn’t a fiscally responsible decision, but for my overall health I knew it had to be done.  I quit my job, took a crazy and circuitous 5,000 mile solo trip across the country (that’s a story for another time), and spent five months back in my hometown of Lynn with my family and friends.

I eventually returned to LA in November of 2003, but with a bank account several notches below barren.  I needed a job, and I was open to anything short of pornography or fast food.  But despite having a B.S. in Journalism and a Master’s in Film & Television, nobody would hire me.  Monster.com, headhunters, temp agencies, and sending applications all-around town yielded nothing.

Six weeks into the search I finally got a call back.

It was for the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena.  The Gallery Attendant position paid just slightly over minimum wage, and I would be required to wear a tacky blazer and a striped tie and stand for hours and hours at a time.  I happily accepted.

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At the Norton Simon Museum the workforce consisted mainly of retirees and art students, and I was neither.  We weren’t the official security of the place (there was an actual team of trained officers), and instead were called gallery attendants.  Our essential job function was to stand innocuously in a corner and make sure nobody touched the art or leaned on a wall.

After my first shift of standing in several corners throughout the building without talking to one person, I was ready to quit.  My back and shoulders ached, my mind was numb.  I’d been a bartender for years and had no problem being on my feet or enduring the physical requirements of the job, but it was the lack of movement and interaction with people that was daunting.

But I needed the paycheck, so I stayed.

After a few weeks I got used to being a gallery attendant, and it soon became my new normal.  I even began to enjoy my job.  After years of frantically running around behind a bar at warp speed, I saw great value in this meditative calm.

I also began my informal education of art history, and every day I made a point of learning about the various pieces in the museum.  At the end of our shifts they even let us take the audio guides when it was slow, and this was better than any class I took in college.  My stint at the Norton Simon put me on a path of dedicated fine art education that continues today.

Then there was my little black marble notebook.

Back then I used to carry around this 4 ½ by 3 ¼ inch journal, which I used to scribble down whatever crazy thought cascaded into my mind.  In 2004 there were lots of them.  At the bar or on the train or even at home when I couldn’t sleep, I would take it out and write.   I also kept the notebook in my pocket while I stood inert in the galleries at the Norton Simon, and used it whenever I found myself alone.

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On the first day when I wrote in the journal while on the clock, I figured (since there were cameras everywhere) I would be told to stop.  I’d only been working there a few weeks, and if confronted, I was planning to feign ignorance.  I had never been shown a rule that said you could not record your bizarre musings in a 4 ½ by 3 ¼ inch journal.  But none of the managers at the museum said anything, and with this tacit approval I wrote every shift in that small black book in empty galleries.

Sometimes it was about the Norton Simon paintings and sculptures, but often there were strange forces working inside my head that told me to scribble down nonsense poetry.  While I always believed in my ability to write journalism, fiction, and screenplays, I had never aspired to be the next Dylan Thomas, Langston Hughes, or Emily Dickinson.  But while standing there in my Buddha-like trance in an empty gallery surrounded by Botticelli’s, Reuben’s, Van Gough’s, and Matisse’s, I was compelled to write these insane poems.

Here is one from April 2004 that I wrote during a shift:

It’s all in the medulla oblongata, she claims

If you wanted radioactive jelly you should have asked/

Don’t cost nothing

These searing head plays/

Keep licking the toads

Cause she plays checkers for breakfast

No, I was not drinking or smoking anything funny or had suffered a head trauma that day.  These were the kind of bizarre thoughts that would pinball around my brain in an empty room full of priceless art treasures.  And yes, since I’m sure you’re asking, I did wonder if I was beginning to crack-up.

And then one day a thought arrived that wasn’t a kooky poem.  It was a fragment of a premise for a mystery novel, one involving an art heist. I quickly took out my tiny little black marble notebook.

The idea for Lost in the Fog came to me while standing post in the Renaissance Room while looking at a Botticelli.  It was a painting called “Madonna and Child with Adoring Angel”, and while I’d studied the picture many times before, something that day ignited a creative spark.   The museum was about to close and it was so quiet and calm.  The opposite of that would be yelling and violence, and my mind conjured up a group of thieves busting in and trying to steal this Botticelli.

I immediately knew this could make a good story.

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I still find it hard to believe it all began back in 2004.

That year and the next (when I left LA and moved to San Francisco) I wrote about 150 pages of Lost in the Fog.  But I soon got very busy with my new career (human resources for a large hotel in Union Square), and abandoned the novel.  It was four years later in 2008 I picked it up again, and I set a goal of writing five hours every Saturday and Sunday.  I stuck to this and had a first draft completed by Labor Day.

After reading through the manuscript upon completion, I knew, like Hemingway said of first drafts, it was shit.   But I loved Camden and Veronica (the main characters), and I believed had something special with the story.  The plan, back in 2008, was to let it sit for a few months and then come back with fresh eyes and rewrite it.

In January of 2009 I started working for a new company, and next thing I knew it was September (a whole year after I finished the first draft).   I had done absolutely nothing with Lost in the Fog.  And then it was 2010, and I got a promotion and then another in a short amount of time.

Lost in the Fog never left my mind, and being a professional writer was still my dream, but with my new successful career at the hotel I abandoned it.  I just could not muster the energy after work or even on the weekends to begin the massive rewrite the novel needed.  As much as I loved my job and the people I worked with, my creativity began to fade in proportion to my success in the hospitality industry.

Flash forward to 2012 and I ask my company for a quasi-sabbatical to rewrite Lost in the Fog.  They gratefully grant this request.  I begin doing contract work for them at various hotels around the country, but in-between my assignments I’m allowed weeks of free time to work on my novel.  This makes me very happy.  That year I revised Lost in the Fog half a dozen times, and in October I had a draft to send off to agents and publishers.

Then in November 2012, my company sent me to Honolulu, Hawaii.

My temporary assignment was to spend a month to help transition our new 839 room hotel in Waikiki.  I figured I would go and do my job, enjoy the island in my free time, and return to San Francisco to devote myself to getting Lost in the Fog published.  It seemed like a great idea.

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Woody Allen once said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans”.

The temp gig at the hotel became permanent, and while it was not part of my plans, I am extremely grateful I stayed here.  Hawaii could be the best place I’ve ever lived, and the people I work with are all amazing.  I feel so lucky to have a job that I enjoy doing, and to be at a place where I feel like I can make a positive impact on people’s lives.

But I was never been able to forgive myself for abandoning Lost in the Fog.

Whenever I thought of my novel, which was often, it caused deep feelings of regret.  While I had certainly been consumed with work, there was no excuse I had done nothing with Lost in the Fog after settling in Honolulu.  No excuse at all.

The calendar flipped to 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016, and I still had done zilch to sell the book I had started in 2003.   Through the years I had probably sent out a total of 10 query letters to agents, where the advice is to do hundreds if you want a chance to garner any interest from agents or publishers.  Out of the only 10 I sent, not surprisingly, I received a perfect percentage of thanks, but no thanks.

Rejection stings, whether it’s in your career ambitions, someone you want to be your significant other, or your art.   It was all I ever got with my screenplays in Los Angeles.  Any psychiatrist will tell you I didn’t put Lost in the Fog out into the world because I feared it would receive the same fate.  I self-diagnosed this phobia many years ago, but I could still do nothing to fix it.

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And then three months ago my great friend Todd told me about the publishing house called Inkshares.

A middle ground between self and traditional publishing, they seemed a perfect place for me to publish Lost in the Fog.  And the fact that Inkshares has a collaboration with United Talent Agency (UTA), one of the top agencies in LA, made it even more intriguing.  All I needed was to get 250 pre-orders of my novel.

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Thanks to all of you, I have accomplished that goal.  But as amazing as that is, I still have a bigger goal to attain.  250 pre-orders will get you published and your book is available to purchase online, but with no marketing/promotion and just basic editing by Inkshares.  But if I can get 750 pre-orders or be one of the winners of their annual Launch Pad Contest, I will receive full publishing/marketing/promotion and Lost in the Fog would be sold in bookstores.

The Top 3 in unique pre-sales are automatic winners, and I’m currently in second place in the annual Inkshares Launchpad Contest.

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The contest goes until November, so there’s still a long way to go.  I would be so thrilled to be one of the winners, and for Lost in the Fog to be sold in bookstores around the country.  It has been my ultimate dream for as long as I can remember.

For those who have already pre-ordered Lost in the Fog, I have immense gratitude for you.  For those who are thinking about getting a copy, I would be so grateful if you did.  It’s only $10 for a Kindle/Nook/Apple copy, and only $20 for a printed one. You can pre-order Lost in the Fog here:

https://www.inkshares.com/books/lost-in-the-fog

While the road to publish Lost in the Fog has been a meandering thirteen year trip, it’s one I’m glad I was able to take.  You can view my story as something that compels you to accomplish your goals as soon as possible, or else a comforting one that rewards patience and perseverance.

It’s all up to you.

The Next Adventure

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Key West … a great place to live in your 20s.  

When I was in high school I had a large map of the United States tacked to the wall over my bed.  At that point in my life I’d only been to places on the East Coast (New England, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, and Florida).  I loved the traveling I’d done with my family, and it surely fueled my desire to want to see more.  I vowed to get to as many cities on that map as possible.

My first chance to Go West occurred in college (Wisconsin & Illinois), and then shortly after graduation I took the trip that truly changed my life.  Colorado was the destination, and an Amtrak Train over the course of three days was my mode of transportation.  I was hoping to live in Breckenridge for a year, but it ended up being (for various reasons) slightly less than two months.  But that experience was the catalyst that drove me to move to Key West after turning 23, and certainly helped me when California became my new home at 28-years-old.

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When I was 22 I took the Lake Shore Limited to Chicago, and then the California Zephyr to Denver.  That trip is worthy of its own blog.   

I’ve made traveling, either vacations or relocations, a top priority of my life.  Hawaii is the 4th state where I’ve held a license to drive, and I’ve also had the opportunity to step foot in many of the cities and countries on my lifelong “to do” list.  On a World Traveler’s Scorecard my adventures might not rate that high, but to me I feel so lucky for every passport stamp or check mark I’ve made on a map.

I love where I live now, and I am very fortunate to be here.  Hawaii is such a special place, not only the sheer beauty of the islands but the people and feeling of the aloha spirit.  The three and a half years I’ve spent here have been amazing.

But I still can’t help myself from looking forward to my next adventure.

I suppose I’ve always been that way.  I cherished the time I spent living in Key West, but I was ready to leave after one year.  I look back on LA as some of the best years of my life, but six of them in Southern California was more than enough.   I was extremely happy in San Francisco, my last city of residence, and I still consider it one of the greatest places to live in the world.  But after eight years I knew I needed a new destination to discover.

Hell, I couldn’t even stay at one college for four years.  I loved Bridgewater State and made so many friends there, but I left after two-years for Boston University.  The prospect of “what’s next” is always very thrilling.

When my company offered me a job in Honolulu in 2012, I knew I had to take it.  I have no plans to leave Hawaii, and I’m beyond happy being here.  Exhibit A: On my walk home tonight through Kapiolani Park just as dusk turned to night, the first twinkling of the stars appeared while I breathed in the soft tropical breeze.  Just minutes earlier I had strolled past Waikiki Beach, and the sky had just a hint of pink visible in the dark purples and grays.  When the traffic waned you could hear the surf lapping against the sand.  If I stay here another three and a half years I would consider myself lucky.

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Dusk in Honolulu

But as my 40s keep on keeping on, I know there are more places not only to explore as a visitor, but to experience as a resident.

I would love to live in Europe for one year.  With the visa requirements I’d have to keep moving and get out of Schengen Area every three months, but that is a work-around that would be fun to do.  My money would go a lot further in Costa Rica or Belize (which I visited in 2012), and those countries are very tempting destinations.  The idea of taking a year off from work to travel and write is one that Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Ellen Page would have no problem incepting in me.

But I’ll put those thoughts on hold for the time being, and enjoy the opportunities for shorter trips.  J’Nell and I just had a wonderful neighbor island visit to Kauai, and in two weeks I’ll be in Los Angeles and Las Vegas for vacation.  The next longer adventure awaits.   It will begin as a dream, then become an obsession, and at some point in the future will become a reality.

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Great quote from “Inception”.

Sweet Sixteen

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From San Diego to Honolulu

“Veronica and I are trying this new fad called uh, jogging. I believe it’s jogging or yogging, it might be a soft j. I’m not sure but apparently you just run for an extended period of time.”

-Ron Burgundy

 

In my 20s and early 30s, I was a runner (or, more appropriately, a yogger).  Never a fast one, but I put in my miles and did lots of races.  Mainly 10K’s, with some 5K’s sprinkled in, and even one with a 7 mile distance (The Falmouth Road Race).  In 2000 I decided to amp it up and run a marathon, a goal that I’d set for myself when I was a student at Boston University.

I accomplished what I set out to do.  The training and the struggle, and actually reaching the finish line, made it one of the most rewarding things I’d ever done.  But then, for no good reason at all, it took another sixteen years (that is, until today) before I ran another race with the word “marathon” in it.

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In the 1990s my plan was to run the Boston Marathon, the ultimate race to aspire to for anyone who grew up in New England.  However, this 26.2-mile goal was always a vague “someday” one.  Someday when I’m a little older.  Someday when I have time to train.  Someday when I get the rest of my shit together that I can concentrate on such a long race.

Flash forward to the fall of 1999.  I was living in Los Angeles writing scripts during the day, bartending in the evening, and partying until dawn.   Somehow I had still managed to continue running and completing races, but it was mainly to keep myself in reasonable shape.  It was never out the spirit of competition.  There was one 10K in Griffith Park that I did so hung-over that after crossing the finish line I emptied all the contents of my stomach into a port-a-potty (should you ever find yourself in a similar circumstance, you should avoid this at all costs.  A bush, a tree, in front of a supermodel . . . all better locations).

Serious runners (or even yoggers) do not do that.

It was sometime after the Griffith Park race, eight or nine beers deep at the Cat & Fiddle, that I announced to nobody in particular that I was going to run the LA Marathon.  My friends were less than enthused.  Mark S shrugged, Mark W probably didn’t hear me, I think Dave smiled, Bradleigh laughed, and Kristi gave me the most encouragement with a pat on the back and “good luck with that, Mikey”.  Of course I didn’t blame them, as marathon running was as foreign from our world as joining the peace corps or moving to the Inland Empire.

For whatever reason, I was determined.  My daily workouts went from three miles to five, then seven to ten, and soon I was running up that crazy incline of Beachwood Canyon Road.  I was still partying with my friends in true Hollywood Style, but I would do my long runs before the festivities started.  Looking back on it, between the smog and booze, it is almost impossible to believe I actually committed to a training schedule.

But I did, and I was strict about it.  Although as the year wound down and Y2K became a reality, I realized I needed a little more time if I was ever to reach my new time goal.   Just finishing was no longer enough, I wanted to complete it in under five hours.

The LA Marathon in March became the San Diego Rock & Roll Marathon in June.

It was a hot day in the city that Ron Burgundy once called the greatest on earth, but I tried to block it out and kept moving forward.  During my training I had never run more than 16 miles (when the program said you should max out at 18), so I wasn’t even sure if I would even get to the finish line.  I remember getting to mile 21, which was in some residential San Diego neighborhood, so exhausted and sweaty but completely sure I could do another five even if I had to crawl.

Luckily it didn’t come to getting on my hands and knees, and I reached the end upright and somehow with a smile on my face.  The extra training did me well, and I finished the race in four hours and fifty-two minutes.  While my time was better than some and super slow compared to others, I remember feeling so overwhelmingly happy.  Not only did I somehow pull off this crazy caper that I dreamed up in college, I completed the race eight minutes quicker than my goal.

The Friday after the marathon, I was riding such a high I said out loud to no one in particular at the Burgundy Room that I would run another one the following year.   My friends bought shots to toast my achievement and wished me well in my new venture.  I did seven miles the next day, and the Saturday after that I ran ten.  I wanted to shave ten to fifteen minutes off my next marathon.

I’m not sure what happened.

The years kept coming, and while I continued to do 5 and 10K races in the early 00s, the thought of running 26.2 miles again never fully materialized in my head.  By the end of the decade the weight I had gained made running a marathon an impossibility.   Whenever I would look at the pictures from June 2000, it almost seemed like it was a dream I’d had.

In 2015 I dropped a bunch of pounds, and by June last year I began to run (yog) again at least three times a week.  As the clock turned to 2016 I had increased my mileage significantly, and my girlfriend J’Nell convinced me to run the Hapalua Half Marathon here in Honolulu (she was doing it with her awesome gym and support group Kaia Fit).  So I dusted off my old training plan from 16 years ago and figured I would give it a go.  I had no interest in doing a full marathon, but 13.1 miles rated high on the Goldilocks Scale.

The week leading up to today’s Hapalua Half Marathon, I had a nasty sinus infection and wasn’t even sure I would be able to attempt it.  But just before sunrise J’Nell and I both walked to the start line at the Duke statue in Waikiki, and we headed west with the thousands of other runners.   I hadn’t exercised in any fashion in over a week, and the time off must have did me good.  My normal foot pain (on long runs) was kept to a minimum, and my stamina (helped along by GU Energy Gel) held up throughout the course.  I wanted to break three hours, and I was happy to reach the finish line at 2 hours and 46 minutes.

As I kept pumping my legs as fast as I could down Diamond Head Road towards the end at Kapiolani Park, I couldn’t help but smile at my sixteen-year journey from San Diego to Honolulu.  Absolutely no negative thoughts went through my head.   I surely could have lamented all the races I had missed, but I was truly just so grateful to finish the one I was doing.