Monday, July 25, 2011

Full Moon's Passage

The full moon has come and gone and everything was quiet in the newsroom of the Virginian Review, leaving behind an oppressive heat wave that has us all counting down to the cooler days of autumn. If you've ever worked in a job that deals with the public on a day-to-day basis, you'll understand the trepidation that a full moon brings each month. Every time I see a full moon coming up on the calender I cringe at the thought of what will be coming our way.

There are some of you out there that will scoff at the idea that a full moon affects people's behavior, twisting them toward doing and saying things that they never would at other phases of the lunar cycle. I assure you, it's true. If enough people come in with odd requests that we investigate a parking conspiracy in downtown Covington or publish letters to the editor railing against the rising price of ice cream, we immediately begin looking at the calendar. Two such events in the same day is a coincidence. Three means a full moon, without fail.

It was early in my days at the paper when I first met Mr. Givens (not his real name). He staggered into the newsroom, drunk or just unbalanced, I'm not really sure which, and demanded that we do a news story on him because he was a "great American hero" who had just returned to his hometown. He omitted the fact that he was returning to his hometown after a hitch in a mental institution. We dealt with him as best we could and sent him on his way, somewhat unhappily. Before he left, Mr. Givens staggered through the advertising department and, spotting the candy dish, immediately upended the contents of the dish into his pocket.

The next day, the staff photographer and I were walking up Main Street to attend a press conference at the local post office. I don't remember what it was for, but I distinctly recall the man that stopped us. "You boys from the Virginian?" Gavin kept walking and I stopped. I should have kept going, but I was young and naive enough in those days not to have realized who it was that was so blatantly questioning our credentials. Mr. Givens was sitting on the bench, in the same dirty coveralls that he wore into the newsroom the day before, and unwrapping a piece of pilfered candy as he looked up at us.

I had stopped walking. I had to answer. There was no getting around it. "Yes sir," I said politely, taking a step  further down the street.

"Then you tell that editor of yours he can kiss my ass," he said, popping the candy in is mouth. Having delivered his message, Mr. Givens got up and staggered down the street. It was the last time I'd ever see him. I think he passed away a few years later to little fanfare. Of course, I delivered the message to the boss as soon as I made it back from the press conference. After all, how often do you get to tell your boss that?

It wasn't too long ago that I experience another memorable full moon in the newsroom. It was a little after 9 o'clock and I had already made my morning phone calls to the four area funeral homes for the daily obituary count when this massive black dog came trotting through the newsroom. When I say massive, I mean this dog was big enough for me to ride like a horse and he had the kind of look about him that made you think he wanted to eat your face off and, if he did, there wasn't anything you were going to do about.

We all watched in confusion as the dog trotted through the newsroom, made the circle around the stations in the composing room, and reversed course and left the room and, we assume, the building. We have no idea what the dog was doing in there.

After a morning filled with random little nonsensical events just like that, I returned from lunch to a ringing phone. I picked up the phone and was immediately greeted by a woman's voice. "My obituary is not in today's paper." Immediately I pick up that day's edition off my desk and checked to see if I made a mistake. It would be so easy to leave an obituary out, but, fortunately, I hadn't, and I told the lady that it was in today's edition.

"I'm telling you it's not in there." It was at this point when I realized that it wasn't even 2 o'clock yet and the paper hadn't even made it to the box in front of the office.

"Ma'am, I'm holding today's paper in my hands. I'm looking at the obituary page and the obituary you sent us is in there. What paper are you looking at?"

"My paper isn't here yet," she said, as if it made all the sense in the world. "I'm looking at the Internet."

"Well, I can't speak for what you're reading now, but I can promise you that, when your paper gets there today, it will have the obituary you requested in it."

"Oh." A pause. "You sure about that?"

"Yes ma'am."

The sudden appearance of the dial tone in my ear told me she was finished with the conversation. She must have been satisfied, because I never heard back from her.

That's typical of a small town newspaper. The big headlines are rare in coming. In six years, I've only made the national wire once and have only covered three stories that merited more attention than our little community could give them. No, what's interesting about working for a small town paper is the odd stories that inevitably pile up over the years. Most of them are beyond belief, but I promise you, they're all true.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Murder In The Headlines

Saturday was a much more hectic day than I prefer it to be. We only work half a day on Saturdays at the newspaper, and even then we're only in the office long enough to get the paper on the press and out the door and get a jump start on Monday's work. I do as much work ahead of time on Friday afternoon as I can and I hit the door on Saturday with as little work to do as possible.

That's not lazy. That's just efficient. I'd rather be ahead of the deadline than coming in right at it, particularly when getting the work done means I can go home for the weekend.

This past Saturday was an aberration.

If you live in my neck of the woods, or quite possibly Indiana or North Carolina, then you've heard the story of the murdered woman who was found in the trunk of a Mustang in Clifton Forge. I heard about this when I walked in the door Saturday morning at 9 a.m. and it prompted me to spend a very anxious 90 minutes tracking down and writing a story that would garner headlines in at least three states that we know of.

Without going in to any great detail, a young woman was murdered and her childhood friend is suspected of doing the deed. He allegedly drove from North Carolina with the body in the trunk and was discovered in downtown Clifton Forge late Friday evening after some nifty police work done on the spur of the moment.

The details of the manhunt, capture and suspected crime all made the top of the front page in Saturday's Virginian Review. I'm happy to say that we beat everyone with the pertinent details Saturday, simply by the fact that the story took place on our home turf and our earlier Saturday morning press deadline allowed us to get it on the streets.

But we missed it.

I can't help thinking that we've missed the real story. We'd never get it, of course. The only way to do that is to sit down with the suspect (which any lawyer worth his briefcase would never allow) get a confession (if he did it) and then ask him the burning question: Why? Why would anyone who isn't even old enough to legally drink throw his life away by killing another? What prompted it? How could you do it?

I've been stewing over those questions since Saturday morning. They're stirring in the back of my mind and I can't stand it. There are two human beings at the center of this, one whose life has ended and the other who may or may not have ended that life, and all I can do is sit and wonder what the story is.

The question of "why" is turning out to be more compelling to me than the question of "who done it."

Friday, July 15, 2011

Blogging When I Should Be Working

I've spent the past couple of weeks working a couple of different jobs. We've had people out on vacation here at the paper and it's made for some hectic scheduling. I've barely done my own job recently, but, fortunately, that will all change next week when we're back to something approaching a full staff complement.

In between assignments I've been working on the cover of Blood & Steel. It's put together, but there seems to be minor technical issues that keep popping up. I'm on the third submission and I'm hoping to get it uploaded today or tomorrow. With any luck, that will be the last time I have to upload it.

I have polished off The Gathering Storm, which is the first book that Brandon Sanderson took over for Robert Jordan after his death. A few people have told me that they can't see a difference in the two writers, but I can. Sanderson is just a faster read, for one thing. Jordan wrote with a gravitas that few writers have. I can't imagine ever purchasing an audio version of these extraordinarily complex novels, but, if I did, I'd expect to hear James Earl Jones reading them to me. Sanderson doesn't have that weight.

Don't get me wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed The Gathering Storm and I don't envy Sanderson the task of completing The Wheel of Time. Anything he does well will be attributed to Jordan and any weaknesses in the concluding three novels will be blamed on him. It's a difficult task, to be sure, but it's one that I'm glad he's taking up. I can't imagine never knowing how it all plays out.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Cold Glass of Pepsi

I sat down tonight and put the finishing touches on the manuscript of Blood & Steel. It's finished. Completely. Now it's just a matter of getting it formatted and shipping it off.

A former editor of mine once told me that these were the moments that red wine was made for. Personally, I'm happy with an ice cold glass of Pepsi, but I digress. The important thing is that the hard work is done. This novel has been through three editors, four drafts and a year of writing. I'm ready to move on to something else.

I don't yet know what that something else will be. I'm knee deep in heavy revisions to The Sixth Sword, but all the tough sledding on that project is about to be behind me. It has been challenging to return to that world and writing style after penning two simple, intimate tales that are minuscule in scope compared to The Sixth Sword, but I've found my sea legs, so to speak.

I guess I'm sitting here and wondering what my next big project will be. I had much the same feeling after finishing The Crownless King. I once told people that everyone had at least one good novel in them and that may well have been mine. Blood & Steel surprised me when it came around and I'm proud of how it turned out. I did something a little unexpected with it and I think it's a big step for me as a writer. Now that it's finished, I'm free to look toward another project.

Being at loose ends isn't as much of a difficulty as you might think, at least at first. True, I have no idea what I'm going to write next, but I'm sure it'll come to me. I've toyed with enough ideas in the past to know that something will pop up and want to be written. I'm as curious as you are to see what's coming next.

In the meantime, I'm working on reading the complete Wheel of Time. The last book is due out in the late fall and I'm halfway through the eleventh book in the fourteen book series. If you haven't read it, you should stop reading this blog immediately and start the series. Be warned, the series is long and incredibly complex, but it seems to be paying off in spades. I'm excited to see how it all plays out.

The countdown to the fall DVD releases is underway as well. Sure, we could get them off Netflix, but it's neat to have those discs tucked away for those long winter evenings when the sun sets at 5 p.m. and there's nothing for it except to huddle on the couch under a blanket thick enough to ward off the intense cold of Old Man Winter. Mid-September through Christmas Day is absolutely my favorite time of the year.

Enough with the heat already. Bring on the cool weather.

Monday, July 4, 2011

It's been hot this past week. Painfully hot. Around about the time I thought that it wasn't going to get hotter, the thermometer started to flirt with the century mark.

I don't like heat. I much prefer to be snug in a house while a cool fall breeze is blowing or while a hard freeze sets in for weeks of winter. When it gets hot, I begin to understand why people get grumpy and why the crime rate begins to climb in bigger cities.

Amidst all the heat this week, I finally started putting together the cover for Blood & Steel. Next on the "To Do List" this week is to format the interior artwork, make the final touches to the manuscript and then get everything into novel size and convert it into pdf form. One day, when I make it big, they'll be a typesetter somewhere who does all this for me. All I'll have to do is right.

Speaking of writing, I've done a great deal of work on the director's cut of The Sixth Sword and I've worked in quite a few thousand words on a short novella. You see, I've decided I'm going to write my memoirs. I'll never understand why anyone would want to wait until their older to write them. I have 27 good years behind me and plenty of good stories to tell out them. You may argue that I might not have the appropriate distance yet to gain needed perspective, but that's ok. Life's too short for ifs and maybes. If I don't write some of this stuff down, it may never get written down. We all have stories to tell and we only get a few short decades to tell them. I'd rather get them told now. I've got a lot to say.

For now, though, I'm going to have to go find a wet rag with a little soap on it. Seems there's some sticky watermelon reside on my keyboard. I'd name names, but my lovely wife just purchased me a new iPod shuffle to replace the one I so foolishly ran through both the washer and dryer, so I think I'll stay on her good side.