A Phunky Thing Happened on the Way to the Phreak Show

I’m a plotter. Tried and true.

Phreak Show has been chewing holes in that rigid process.

My outline is, I’d say, 78% done. That means I’m at least a few weeks out from drafting. But the NW Ohio SCBWI conference tempted me into starting early. The big bully!

I secured one of the 15 spots for a First Page Read during one of the sessions. Cool. Writing and public speaking together in one place? Perfect. I love them both. As I was going over my pre-conference materials and organizing all the things, I realized there was a hiccup. The editor leading that session was the same one who was already giving me a critique for Freeborn. So, I would basically be wasting the First Page opportunity since she would have already read and hacked at it by then.

Phreak Show still had plenty of prep work in the queue before I’d be ready to write. You know, according to the plan. But the opening scene had already formed in my head. It had been drafted and rewritten in mental-land a few times over. I worked on it while driving, sanding, showering, and in those few moments each morning while still snuggling under the covers. So, I broke my normal process and drafted the opener–just enough to get a written first page.

Then I shared it at the conference.

Wow. I was floored by the positive feedback–genuine, passionate, and encouraging. People hunted me down in the hallway to talk about it. These weren’t the obligatory “That was really good” conversations. My fellow writers gushed about the way the story started & where it was leading. They asked questions and expressed that they absolutely wanted to know more. Right then. At that moment. Two different times I sat down in a new session and was introduced by a stranger, to another stranger, as “The guy who’s writing that story I told you about.”

I picked up a half-dozen CPs just from that 2-day-old first page. One older lady in particular caught me off guard. She made me feel like a celebrity or a rockstar. She approached me all timid, meek and mild. I could barely hear her because she kept her head slightly bowed—like she was nervous to be in my presence. Seriously. I was like—Whoooah. I’m just an unpublished dude who read a page of an unwritten book at a conference. Really. That’s it. But, in those moments, she made me feel like so much more than that. Important. Like an author.

She explained that she is a PB & MG author, and doesn’t usually read a lot of YA, but if I needed someone to read Phreak Show—she would be honored. [Of course we swapped contact info! How in the world could I have said no to that?]

After the conference, it was time to get back to the outline. I tacked a few new ideas into the file and continued reading a book on the history of Victorian side shows I’m using for research. But the writing–the continuation of the story on paper–kept clawing at me. “Really?! But the outline still isn’t done!” I protested. I fought it. I avoided it. Then, being the sucker I am, I accidentally opened the Word document…

It looks like I’ll be drafting the first chapter (and maybe even the second…) before the outline is completed. I already know what takes place in these initial chapters, so I’m running with it. For the record, I am doing this under duress. The story is making me. My own anal-retentive, organizational nature is being overrun with something stronger–something phreaky.

In the immortal words of the Borg, oddly juxtaposed with those of the Vicomte de Valmont from Dangerous Liaisons: “Resistance is futile. It’s beyond my control.”

Thus, I #amwriting.

The bluebird on his bicep stretched itself out line by line, wrapping an intricate sleeve of blue-black feathers around his arm. The ink crawled up his neck, like roots burrowing beneath his skin. Tendrils of tattoos wriggled over his cheeks, his chin, his forehead until every empty patch was covered in line and shading, image and symbol. Metal sprang out along the edges of his ears, like looping teeth of a zipper. Bars and rings blossomed on his face–wherever they found a hunk of flesh loose enough to bite into. His dark irises quivered with crystal-blue. The color rippled out like a tiny wave, washing out all the deep brown.

Still, he kept staring. Like nothing was wrong. Like it was my turn to speak. But the blipping wasn’t done. It always started with the physical things—changes in their appearance, a transformation on the outside. But the stabbing in my gut always came next. Tiny fists pounding my heart in rapid fire. Emotion so strong, so strong—

Teetering on the Tightrope

Followers of my babblings know I’ve been post-Freeborn, but pre-Phreak Show, for a few weeks (months?) now. Writer limbo. Once the 4 requests and 17 outstanding queries run their course, Freeborn will either:
1) Finally finds its home in Publand, or
2) Be laid to rest next to my first novel: Capritare.
That leads me to the third one. You know, THE ONE.

What I learned from the first two:

  • 120k words is too damn many. 80k makes much more sense.
  • When a novel is complete and revised 3x, my impatient ass is ready to query. I should wait until after at least 4 more revisions. It’s just plain stupid to ‘waste’ those first 2 dozen agents with a poorly crafted query or sucky, not-quite-there pages.
  • The flowery, lilting, poetic prose of Capritare was toooo much. Freeborn almost went too far into the Land of Sparse.
  • Weird is good. Too weird is unmarketable.
  • I am a strong believer in beginning a story in media res. I’m convinced by others’ writings that it can work–to great effect. But the reader must feel firmly grounded in the world in order for that to happen. The tale can kick off in the midst of a key event in the MC’s life, but the reader needs to get a sense of what that life is like.
  • Tight, enclosed worlds are easier for the writer, but not challenging to the reader. Wide settings provide opportunities for additional, messy conflicts.
  • Emotion is key. A mere observer [as in Capritare] or a numb clone slowly edging towards the capacity to feel [as in Freeborn] are both bad characters to build a story around.
  • Voice is key. The writing must ooze with juicy flavor. No bland, dry, pre-formed patties at this cookout.
  • An absorbing  MC is key. The reader needs to identify with the character on page one. Even better if this connection can happen in the opening paragraph. Preferably, even in the very first line. We must sense, experience & struggle with every tiny thing the MC does.
  • Conflict is key: It keeps the pace clipping. It engages us and makes us turn to the next page. The anticipation of a resolution keeps us by the characters’ sides.
  • There’s a whole damn key-ring laden with “keys”. The stubborn, multi-slotted lock requires the insertion of ALL of them before it will open.


What I’m doing differently with the third novel:

  • This is pretty much spelled out above. I’m remaining aware of these issues and confronting them head-on. Balancing on the tightrope. Teetering. Flailing. Refusing to fall and break my neck. Again. There aint no net down there, honey.
  • The story: Phreak Show is starting off with a unique, loaded premise. It has legs. It has a touch of weirdness, but isn’t over-the-top. Also, it quivers with the tightly packed potential to be phenomenally relevant & heartfelt, while offering me the opportunity to detonate these ideas in a fresh, novel way.
  • The characters: Each one is loveable. Each one is hateable. They are a ragtag bunch of people you know, people you want to be, people you want to punch in the mouth. I want you on the MC’s side from page one. And I want to bare her strengths and flaws in all their shining, messed up glory. The same is true for the rest of the cast. They are riddled with hangups and issues. They need a cheerleader, a shoulder to cry on, a coach, a drinking buddy, someone to give them a swift kick in the ass. I want to suck the reader into fulfilling all those roles. And then some.
  • The setting: There is a grounded community the Phreaks call “home”. But the troupe is mobile. Home pulls up its stakes and travels with them wherever they go. In addition to the conflicts and clashes between members of the group, there is also a second layer of the characters acting as one entity moshing against the new places, cultures, and mindsets they encounter. A new town, city, military base, suburban neighborhood, gaggle of religious zealots, Wal-Mart parking lot–each with it’s own vibe and set of ensuing conflicts.
  • The emotion: This is the golden thread that will stitch the characters & scenes together. It will also [damn, I hope!] bind the reader to their lives and journeys. If I find a page without the palpable tugging, yanking & yawing of either hurt, elation, fear, surprise, pain, longing, or success–I’m ripping it out. [Seriously, if you sign up as a CP or Beta, and don’t feel your guts mangled & mawed throughout–you best tell me. Or I’ll send the Phreaks to get you in your sleep.]


I’m excited and hopeful for this one. I know, we all get this way at the onset of a new project.

But you don’t understand.


Phreak Show WILL bust you in your mouth, claw at your heart, challenge the deepest parts of you, make you beg for more, more, more. I promise. [More to myself than to you.] But I’d love for you to join the phreaky caravan as it pitches the tents for the first show.

Consider yourself warned: I intend to expose that living, breathing freak who lives within each and every one of us. When that happens, just remember: Being a freak isn’t about looks. It’s a frame of mind.

Yeah, I’d Do a TV Show

For no apparent reason, I woke up three hours earlier than my alarm this morning. Even more perplexing, I actually got up instead of rolling around in the sheets until I fell back asleep.

There are two exciting things happening over the next couple days. But I can’t really attribute the early rising to those. They actually hadn’t crossed my mind until I sat down to burn the fog off my mind with a blog post. Since I’m up, and my subconscious has thrust this pair of events to the surface, I suppose I shall yap about them.

This Friday kicks off the NW Ohio SCBWI annual conference. This will be my first in-person writing conference: seminars, critiques, pitching, advice, connections & encouragement. The timing is a bit odd. I’m in that writerly limbo space between querying one novel and writing the next.

I’m slowly developing the characters and expounding on the root ideas for Phreak Show. But this is a come-as-it-may process. I don’t rush it. I don’t force it. The characters clock in and out when they like. If they say something worth keeping, I scribble it down. The ideas drift by like clouds. If one shoots out a zap of lightning, I snap a picture of it. At this stage, I am like a court reporter–only transcribing what I hear and see. I don’t affect the proceedings in any way. I simply record them as they unfold.

So, entering this conference, I’m not in the thick of drafting or revision. Phreak Show is my work-in-progress [but only in the vaguest sense]. It will be interesting to see how attending a conference during this phase of the writing process will turn out. I’m suspecting it will kick the development of Phreak Show into overdrive.

The second event which is unfolding over the next couple of days has nothing at all to do with writing. It has to do with a TV show.

While at an antique show earlier this month, a talent scout approached my partner and I. She was searching for a pair of guys with knowledge of antiques & refurbishing skills to host a new show. Junk’d is a concept show pre-sold to CMT. Basically, it is a mashup of Extreme Home Makeover and American Pickers.

Here’s what has happened so far. The scout interviewed us with some questions regarding our experience, personalities and fit for the show. The Casting Director dug our video & followed up with a phone interview. We jumped that hurdle and moved on to a taped Skype interview. This video was edited down to two minutes and passed on to the executives. That’s the stage we’re at now. A decision is expected by Friday.

Things are set to pop quickly after that. Let’s pretend the execs select Micah and I to host the show. Here’s what would go down next. Flight to L.A. to finalize everything. Then, the pilot [of the show–not the plane…] would be filmed in Tennessee in early October. After that–more waiting to see how the pilot plays out. The whole thing could end there. If it’s a ‘go’, CMT could order a season consisting of 6-20 episodes.

This is one of those crazy-random opportunities which comes out of the blue. Obviously, there is nothing definite at this point. On Friday, I could get the whole, “You were great! But the execs decided to go in a different direction…” You know, like a form rejection to a query letter. That’s kind of how I’m mentally framing the whole possibility. It is equivalent to sending a query. The intern pushed it through the slush. The agent liked the writing sample and asked for a full. Now, agent has it and is running it by his colleagues to get their input–and final decision–on whether to offer rep as an agency or not.

Just as I’d love to land a lit agent, I’d also love to try my hand at hosting a TV Show. I mean, why the hell not?

In the meantime, I have some plotlines to shorthand and a conference to prepare for. Oh, and a fresh pot of coffee is in order. And it’s still an hour before my alarm is set to go off.  :: rubs sleepy eyes :: If you catch me napping later today, don’t tell anyone. I’m not used to being up before the sun. Wait…what time does filming start?

For those of you who are curious [and wise to the whole invisible ink thing], the payment for the TV show includes all travel & related expenses + $2,500 per co-host, per episode. Yeah, I believe I could handle that. 

Steampunk, Antiques & My Personal Celebrities

Steamjunk on its way to Steampunk

Three times a year, the sleepy little New England town of Brimfield, Massachusetts mushrooms into an antiquing mecca with an international draw. The Brimfield Antique Market boasts 22 separate fields featuring over 5,000 vendors. The sellers converge from all over the U.S. to peddle items ranging from chipped glassware & bits of metal junk haphazardly displayed on  muddy tarps to high-end 17th century English furniture staged beautifully in showroom-style vignettes.

The estimated traffic is over 250,000 visitors per show. That’s a quarter-million antique hunters!

Like the vendors, the shoppers come from all over. Their taste has the same vast range as the items being offered. A lot of folks swoop in from the nearby cities of Boston, Philadelphia and New York. In addition to the American set, I have personally sold to clients from Canada, England, Switzerland, and Japan. These foreign buyers often target Brimfield in search of those unique items they’re itching to get their hands on.

While the majority of the shoppers and dealers are what one could term ‘ordinary folk’, with that many people amassed in one locale, there are also a good number of characters. Dudes in kilts, slave boys in leather hot-shorts, mod ladies, shirtless wonders sporting their own built-in sweaters, steampunkers, etc. I saw quite a few models for the characters in my novel-in-progress, Phreak Show.

Danielle Hinton – The perfect model for Twiggy

One girl in particular was the perfect fit for Twiggy. I pitched my novel concept, shared my character sketch, and asked if I could snap some photos for reference. She is a fan of both fantasy & steampunk, and graciously obliged the rambling request of a stranger. Danielle is a fantastic lady–you can just feel the fabulousness oozing out of her. Check her out on Etsy http://www.etsy.com/shop/ConstantlyAlice & Facebook http://www.facebook.com/ConstantlyAlice. Also, I’m pretty sure I have added another pre-publication sale of Phreak Show to the list. 😉

Celebrities also slip into the mix at Brimfield. A few big names are frequent shoppers. Tommy Hilfiger and his crew often swoop in placing tag after tag on items they’re interested in. [Making the dealers quite happy.] There were rumors that Barbara Streisand was at this last show. I personally wouldn’t be all gushing to see her pass by, but I sure ran into a lot of people that seemed more interested in hunting her down than searching for an antique to purchase.

I did meet and interact with two celebrities-of-sorts which are more inline with my personal interests.

First was Evan Michelson, co-owner of the NY shop Obscura, cohost of the show “Oddities”, and lover of all things weird & macabre. My partner and I went with a Fun Haus theme for this show. Over the last two months, we focused on collecting circus & carnival items, medical & funerary equipment, anatomical models, and both animal and human specimens. Evan was in our booth three different times chatting with us. She purchased 4 items from us and gave us a verbal pat-on-the-back with, “You guys have really great stuff.”

Between visits, Micah said, “We should get her autograph.” I talked the fanboi off the ledge and convinced him not to badger the poor woman. Evan likes creepy things, but I’m pretty sure gushing fanbois are excluded from her must-have list.  In exchange for his reserve, Micah got to assist her by carrying some items and escorting her to her vehicle. On the trek, Evan shared some insight into her personality and how the show has affected her life. So, instead of a restraining order, Micah got a bit of personalized interaction with Evan.


The second celebrity  I met and chatted with at length was Bruce Rosenbaum. If you’re into steampunk–and you don’t know this name–then rectify this at once. These links will help: http://www.modvic.com/ & http://www.facebook.com/ModVic. It may be overkill, but I consider him the reigning godfather of the Steampunk movement. We talked about steampunk in general, where Micah & I are heading with our design company, my Phreak Show concept, and random other topics. I showed him the YA Steampunk I was reading, The Girl in the Steel Corset. It turns out he personally knows the author, Kady Cross. At the end, we exchanged business cards and he told me to get in touch with any questions along the way or if we come across any items he may be interested in.

It was great to meet these folks. Especially at the juncture where Micah & I have set a new aesthetic & philosophical course for our business. We are calling it “Victweirdian”. Think: Steampunk furniture, lighting, accessories, clothing, jewelry, and art mixed with oddities that would be included in a cabinet of curiosities. Our shopping and brainstorming for this new venture have already begun.  The leading photo of this post shows some of the ‘Steamjunk’ raw goodies. Stay tuned over the coming months to see how Lucah transforms them.

One piece I’m really excited about is a Victorian ‘Fat Jiggler’. You know–the shaking machine with the belt which supposedly shimmies all your fat off… Well, I found one with a great trapezoidal cabinet design. The belt has been removed. With a little tweaking, tuning up the motor, and the addition of some metal arms and implements–Lucah will have its first automaton maid.