Category Archives: Personal Articles

Weekly Songwriting Catalyst

I’ve been pondering a New Year’s post since mid-December. It was going to be one of those, “Things I Learned Before I Turned 40” or “Things to do in 2014” or blah, blah, blah… We’ve all seen enough of those, haven’t we?

When I made the decision to put myself out there as an author, one of the things I had to consider was how to brand myself. Was I mostly a writer? Father? Husband? College professor? Musician? No, don’t put musician in there. Agents and publishers want you to be a writer and highlight the writerly-type stuff you do.

The reality is I’m all those things, and music has always been a priority. That’s why I kept the music links on the page. I didn’t want this to be some façade. I don’t have patience for that. There’s more to all of us than what we put on Facebook, even though Facebook is the ultimate front.

We spent the holidays in Arizona and my good friend (and brother-in-law) told me about an article he’d read about Bon Schneider and his “Song Game.” Each week, members must submit a new song based on the prompt (members of his group include Patty Griffin, Ben Folds and Jason Mraz). I was intrigued and immediately went to Facebook to gauge interest from my musician friends. My writing has taught me that creativity breeds more creativity. The more I write, the easier it is to write, and the more ideas come to me. Why not apply that to songwriting?

I’m happy to say we’ve completed our first week (Our group is the Weekly Songwriting Catalyst) and we’ve got some amazing songs so far. I’ve always been one of those songwriters who waited for inspiration to write, and it netted me 2-3 songs per year—maybe. This will force me to write at least 50 songs this year. Most will probably be crap, but I might find a few gems, and I’d bet anything that inspiration will strike more often.

I’m going to post my weekly song, whether it’s good, bad or completely embarrassing. Why not? It will help remove the façade.

Here’s my first submission based on the prompt, “Truth in Advertising.”

Book Launching 101

A few weeks ago, I made the decision to publish Washington’s Providence on my own. I had toyed with the idea from the beginning because I wanted creative control over editing and marketing (translation: control freak). I did try to go the traditional route for a few months and had some  favorable responses from agents, but the common message was, “Send me your book and I’ll get back to you in 4-5 months.” (translation: I don’t have time for this right now)

Knowing how the publishing industry works, that meant waiting for an agent to believe in the book enough to represent it, and then waiting for the agent to sell the book to a publisher—and then waiting for the publisher to release the book. In a best-case scenario, I was looking at almost two years for the book to see the light of day. I wasn’t willing to wait that long (translation: impatient). I was confident enough in my marketing skills to release the book on my own (translation: naive).

Over the past few weeks, I created a book trailer. It was a lesson in patience while learning to use Final Cut Pro and Photoshop, but totally worth it. (Insert shout-out to all the 12-year old boys who posted how-to videos for FCP on YouTube while demonstrating their video game proficiency) If you haven’t already seen it, you can view the trailer here. I’ve got to say the positive responses have been humbling and overwhelming. Thank you for all the support!

The book is coming out officially tomorrow (it’s quite possible you can already order it Amazon.com—hint, hint). I’m so excited, but still a little nervous. A simple idea of mine has manifested into a physical object—a book no less. It’s still hard for me to wrap my head around that. I look forward to hearing from everyone after they’ve read it to see what they think (translation: go buy my book and read it—NOW).

 

State of the Union

I thought I would give a quick update on everything that’s going on. First off, welcome to the new-look website. I upgraded to a wordpress.org account that allows more flexibility and options. I added my Near-Miss History articles as well and hope to add more soon.

I’ve also added the first chapter of my book for you to read. Please check it out and comment on it. I’d love to hear what you think.

The novel is currently being professionally edited by Lorin Oberweger at Free Expressions. I first met Lorin while attending the Writing the Breakout Novel Workshop taught by Donald Maass in Orlando last year. I’m excited to see what suggestions she has for making my work better. My thinking is that professional editing will help me put my best foot forward and add credibility when an agent or editor finally reads the finished product.

After the changes are made, I’ll be ready to shop for representation and a publisher.

I entered my unedited (pre-edited?) manuscript into Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Contest. I’m happy to announce that I made it though the first round! Out of 10,000 entries, my novel was selected to be part of the top 400 entries in the General Fiction category. In mid-March, I’ll find out if I advance to round two.

If you haven’t already “liked” my author page on Facebook, please do so. I launched it last week and am already over 300 likes. Please help spread the word. You can also download and read the first chapter from there and comment.

Finally, I’ve started the sequel! For those select few who beta-read Washington’s Providence, you won’t be disappointed. I’ve got a great critique group who have already made some excellent suggestions. I wish I would have had them for the first book.

Thanks for reading. Keep in touch!

Chris

Will I EVER finish this novel?

I’ve been missing in action for a few weeks. I know. Lot’s of stuff happening.

I went to the Break Out Novel Intensive workshop in Orlando a few weeks ago and it was aptly named. I spent seven days focused on writing along with thirty-five other writers, ranging from newbies like myself, to seasoned vets with book contracts and multiple published novels. The staff was fantastic: Donald Maass, Lorin Oberweger and Brenda Windberg from Free Expressions, Roman White, and Jason Sitzes. The material we covered was exactly what I was looking for, and the individual criticism was spot-on–even if what they told me was not what I wanted to hear. I went to the workshop thinking I had a ready, marketable draft.

Ha! Ha! Ha!

Not so much.

I’m close, but I have a page and a half of notes to go through to get the manuscript where I want it to be.

The workshop staff who read the synopsis like the plot. The primary feedback I received is that my main character needs to internalize the events more. How does he feel when X happens? What is his internal response when Y happens? My protagonist needs to “take charge and drive the bus” rather than simply being along for the ride.

This is particularly difficult for me because I don’t look for that stuff when I read–at least not consciously. My own personality is to “go with the flow” and see where things end up. It’s been difficult to change my character’s reaction and focus to the events as they happen in the story. I have an idea as to where I want to go, but writing some of the internal stuff is definitely out of my comfort zone. My writing approach was to give the reader an experience similar to the one they get when watching a movie. Maybe I’d feed them some internal dialog, but I would rather show what is going on and let the reader make their own conclusion. If one of the staff had suggested more internalization of the events, I would probably just take it with a grain of salt. But ALL FIVE staff members gave me similar suggestions. (It could be a conspiracy)

That tells me that I need to make a few changes. It will be uncomfortable, but worth it in the end. I’m sitting in Starbucks at the moment trying to rewrite parts of Chapter 1 and have made very little progress. I’m going against my own nature and over-thinking. Maybe I should change locations and sit in a bar to loosen up.

That being said, I had a blast working with all of the great staff and writers. It was a week I’ll never forget, and I feel like I’ve made some lasting friendships.

On a different note, I have a new band. I’ll post more information soon, but we’re called Blame Gravity and we’ll be hitting the Denver music scene very soon. I haven’t been this fired up about music in a long time. For the first time since high school, I will be primarily a guitar player. It’s time to start practicing again to get my chops back. (Translation: Practice so I don’t embarrass myself)

I’ve also decided to start another blog based near misses and what ifs in history–only because I don’t have enough things going on.

I’ll have my first blog post up this week.

Observations from a wannabe

It would be really awesome to be a professional author, right? How does one go about doing that?

I’m still recovering from a whirlwind weekend at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Gold Conference. This is the second conference I have attended since my writing career began a year ago. Now that I’m a conference veteran, my main observation is that writers, editors, and agents are all really, really nice people. Everyone is open to questions and seems genuinely interested in what conference attendees have written.

Another impression is that published authors tend to warm up more after they have read my writing (or they are sauced). I can totally relate, having spent years talking to drunk guitar players who want to come up on stage and jam. Ninety percent of the time, these guys can only play Smoke on the Water or Sweet Home Alabama (but not both). I have learned to be nice, but not get too invested when I’m approached in a music situation. I think authors feel the same way. You see, there are two types of writers who attend writing conferences. There are writers who write (surprise!) and writers who say they write, but never finish anything. I don’t want to come across as a hack wannabe or fanboy so I try to be guarded and not appear too eager around the authors at conferences. It’s part of my plan to trick them all into thinking I’m cool.

I keep coming across a lot of the same people at conferences and online. This is good to know since the publishing industry is just like every other industry. It’s about cultivating relationships and meeting the right people. I don’t know how many times I heard an author say, “I met my agent at a conference.”

I had two requests from editors to see my final manuscript. This is particularly exciting because these people look at writing samples from people all day–every day–for a living. Of course, this really means nothing if my entire book doesn’t deliver. Making fifty pages pop is easier than making 300-400 pages work. As excited as I am, I will not fall into the trap of submitting work that isn’t ready.

I am genuinely excited to have met some cool authors who I hope to grow with over the years. It seems the the authors at conferences tend to hang out with other authors who they cut their teeth with. I’m hoping I’m part of the next generation of successful writers.

I wanted to take a minute to give a shout-out to some awesome writers I had the pleasure to meet and hang out with. Check out their sites and  buy their books! In no particular order: Rebecca TaylorMario Acevedo (bartender extraordinaire),Carol BergBree Ervin (one of those parents), Catherine WintersJ.A. Kazimer (author of Curses! A F***ed Up Fairy Tale), Linda Joffe HullSusan Spann (who was once attacked by ninjas), Lynda HilburnNeale OrinickT.L. McCallanKevin FuryBetsy Dornbusch, and  Veronica Roland.

I hope I didn’t miss anyone!

I had a dream…

That all my Facebook friends would stop posting political links and rants. Seriously. I’m to the point in my life that I’m not going to dissociate with someone because I disagree with them politically, but come on. Who is reallygoing to change their mind about a candidate based on someone’s Facebook post or a link from an obviously-biased news organization? (Probably a lot of people–dumb people, but people nonetheless)

I digress. I’m not writing to discuss politics. Those days are over because I just don’t care.

I had a dream a few months ago. It was one where you wake up and think, “I should write that down.” In this case, I did. I sat at the kitchen table furiously typing on my laptop at five in the morning trying to get an outline of the dream before it faded. When I finished, I thought it might make a good story, but I didn’t want to take time to write it because I was in the process of editing my book.

I revisited the outline yesterday and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was coherent. Now that the book is off to the editor, I think I’m going to take a break from Book #2 and write the dream story. I have no idea if it will be a short story, novella or a full-blown epic fantasy (it won’t), but I’m going to have fun with it.

For the writers that read this, yes, I know I used two adverbs on this post. I’m completely sorry (three).

For everyone else, I’m still using the same razor I mentioned here. It’s still sharp. Blow it baby!

I’ve been fired

I have never been fired from anything in my life. That changed last night.

I was fired from my band.

I have been dealing with allergies my whole life. Something causes mucus to pool over my vocal cords, and I lose part of my singing range. It’s kind of like having a dry throat. If I can clear out the mucus, I am fine for a few minutes and then it comes back. The flareups usually last about a week or two and then I dry out. When we moved to Colorado last year, my allergies were the same as they’ve always been.

This year, however, has been completely different. My symptoms have been consistent since February. I’ve been to an allergy specialist and to an ear, nose and throat-specialist that people like Stephen Tyler fly in to see. I’ve been on antibiotics, antihistamines, steroids and asthma medicine. Nothing has helped. I was told to give up acidic food like tomato sauce, coffee (yikes), oranges and alcohol, and I did. Finally, I decided to start the five-year allergy injection process to try to get the problem solved once and for all. It takes two weeks to create the allergy cocktail, so I haven’t had a shot yet.

I guess the band ran out of patience. I understand. It’s been frustrating for me too. There were four or five songs that I wasn’t comfortable singing when I couldn’t hit the notes comfortably. I suggested coming up with a Plan B, so that on my off-nights, we could still play our four-hour show and not skip songs or plow through them at 80%. That idea was shot down, and I’m okay with that. I joined them, and it was their band. At the end of the day, we do this because it’s fun. If it’s no longer enjoyable, there’s no reason to continue to do it. You don’t become a musician so you can have a J-O-B!

I’m sad, but not heartbroken. I’m a firm believer in worrying only about what you control.

A few days ago, I wrote about having unfinished music I recorded sitting on my hard drive, and how I wanted to finish it. Strangely enough, I decided yesterday morning in the shower that I was going back into the studio to finish the recordings once and for all. You can hear some demos here: https://soundcloud.com/chris-lafata-music or here. I had never even played in a cover band until about five years ago, and original music was always my passion. It’s also therapeutic for me (just like writing).

I will miss hanging out with the guys in the band. They are all fun to hang out with and are good musicians. I have absolutely no hard feelings. Of course, they’ve told me we should hang out, and maybe we will, but my experience is that you hang out with people you that you share activities–whether it be your job, your kids, your neighborhood (yes, I know a neighborhood isn’t an “activity,” but you get the idea), or your band. When you no longer share those interests, your “close” friends tend to drift away.

My writer friends are probably thinking that I should focus on more writing, but I’m not wired to do just one thing. I need to be well-rounded. Besides, music has always been a huge part of my life.

I’m excited. I get to go back to writing music, playing acoustic shows, and maybe get an original band again. Besides, is anyone really going to miss me singing Jesse’s Girl?

I think not.