Friday, September 28, 2012

The Novel So Far - Quitting Time

This is the third (and final) report on my novel progress. My first post was in October 2009. At that time I had been at work on the novel, “American Jukebox,” for three years. It was always an “accidental” novel. I took a course on novel writing at the Graham School and since I didn’t have a novel I borrowed a short story I had written and just kept expanding it.

“American Jukebox,” is the story of a minor-league pitcher, who hurls a perfect game and loses everything. Since 2009 I’ve rewritten it at least three times. With each rewrite it got better, more novel-like, more focused. I had a lot of professional help over the years. I hired an impressive lineup of successful novelists to read and critique my work: Barbara Croft (“Moon’s Crossing”), Patrick Somerville (“The Cradle”), Whitney Otto (“How to Build an American Quilt”), Sands Hall, (“Catching Heaven”), Marita Golden (“After”) and finally this spring, Pamela Erens (“The Understory”). I also had friends like Ania Vesenny, Laura Krause, Joel Altschul and Joyce Armstrong and my novel workshop group (Anny, Jill and Ben) who read all of the versions and offered invaluable feedback and encouragement. They all helped me to become a better writer. I look at them as sort of my ad hoc MFA program.

When I finished American Jukebox again this spring, I knew it was truly finished. It was as good as I could make it. I’m proud of the work and in my heart I believe it “deserves” to be published. But that’s not my call. I’ve queried one hundred literary agents and also submitted the manuscript to a dozen small independent presses. Agents are overwhelmed with submissions and it’s hard to get noticed. Two agents asked to see my manuscript based on my query letter and one publisher who had looked at the earlier version agreed to reconsider the newest version. But it’s been weeks and I’ve haven’t heard from them and that’s usually a pretty good sign they are not interested.

I had planned to self-publish, but I’ve changed my mind. There are a lot of good self-published novels out there (also a lot of not-so-good ones). With Amazon and other programs I could have American Jukebox on the market in a couple of weeks. I like selling and if a publisher had bought my book I would have sold the hell out of it. It would have been fun. But without a seal of approval, I just don’t have the confidence to trump the decisions of the gatekeepers. Hawking my self-published book would take all my time and I need to get back to writing again. Something new. Something better.

It’s not a total loss. I have had four of my chapters published as short stories and one of them one won an Honorable Mention in a writing contest last year. And next month the prologue and opening chapter will be published as a novel excerpt in another online literary magazine (maybe it will be discovered).

I plan to have a couple dozen copies of American Jukebox printed. I want to have one on my shelf to show my grandkids someday. Also I figure it will make a great Christmas gift for all those family friends who read all the earlier versions.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Finger Lakes Triathlon - September 9, 2012

Canandaigua Lake

Today I competed in the Finger Lakes Triathlon in Canandaigua, New York. I grew up in Canandaigua and graduated from Canandaigua Academy in 1969. I didn’t spot any of my old classmates on the course. Finger Lakes runs both a sprint and an intermediate distance (.9 mile swim, 25 mile bike, 6.25 mile run) triathlon simultaneously. I ran in the intermediate distance event. It was another perfect day of weather, with light winds and temperatures in the 60s.

This was the best intermediate distance race I have run. I finished in a time of 2 hours 50 minutes and 1 lousy second. I would have broke 2:50 but there was another runner who was finishing her sprint triathlon just ahead of me and I slowed down instead of racing past her at the finish line.

I was certain I would finish in the top 3. Last year that time would have beaten the 2nd place finisher by ten minutes, but this year there were 3 really good athletes ahead of me. I finished fourth, but I ran a good race so I’m satisfied.

I had a few sighting problems on the swim (they need more buoys!) and that slowed me somewhat. I had a strong bike segment finishing with an average speed of 19.5 miles per hour. There were no mileage markers on the run, so I didn’t know how fast I was running, but I tried to keep up a strong, steady pace and I finished the 5K in 50:32, an 8:08 minutes/mile pace.

This was probably my last race of the season. This year I competed in the 70.3 Ironman in Galveston in April, a half-marathon in Wisconsin in May, the Ironman in Coeur d’Alene in June, the 70.3 Ironman in Benton Harbor, Michigan in August and then last week the sprint triathlon in Skaneateles and now this intermediate distance race in Canandaigua.

With the exception of Galveston, where I suffered from the heat and humidity, I would consider all the races to be successful. I didn’t have top finishes in any except for the Wisconsin Half, but there is a lot of good competitors in my age group, so I just have to get faster (or out last them).

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Skaneateles, NY: Skinnyman Triathlon - September 1, 2012

My wife and I are on a ten day trip to the Finger Lakes area where I grew up. Yesterday I competed in the Skinnyman Sprint Triathlon in Skaneateles, NY. The last time I competed in that event was in 2009 and I am pleased that I cut over 12 minutes off my time, although shortening the bike segment from 15 miles to 11 miles probably had something to do with that improvement.

It was a perfect day for a race – cool temperatures, little wind and a very smooth lake. My goal had been to swim the 800 yards in 16 minutes – a 2 minute per hundred pace and I was done swimming in under 16 minutes but it took me awhile to crawl out of the lake and my official time was 16:19 for a 2:02 pace. The bike course had been cut back because of construction, but it was a great up and down 11 mile sprint and I finished in 34:39 a 19.4 mph pace – 99 seconds short of my 20 mph goal. And then on the 3 mile run I had hoped for an 8 minute pace but finished in 24:44 – forty-four seconds short of my goal.

Overall it was a good race for me and I was hoping those times would be good enough to finish in the top three in the 60-64 age group, but there are a lot of very fit old guys out here and I finished 5th out of 15.

Next week we are on to Canandaigua – where I went to high school – and the Finger Lakes Triathlon. Last year there were only two people in my age group so I have a good shot at third place.