Tales from the Ice(pack)…continued

Where we last left Luke Murphy, he’d been seriously injured playing hockey, did not know if he’d ever return to the sport, and began to explore his alternatives. One of those involved taking up the pen…

Dead Man's HandFrom Professional Hockey Player to Published Novelist, Part Two

I really enjoyed the process: coming up with a plot, developing characters and organizing a setting, problem and conclusion. It only lasted a couple of weeks, and once we were done, I kind of missed inventing, creating my own little world and characters.

I remember walking to my bedroom one morning and seeing my roommate’s laptop sitting on the desk, and I thought…why not?

I sat down at the desk, took the characters my girlfriend and I had created, and wrote an extension to the story we had written together.

I didn’t write with the intention of being published. I wrote for the love of writing, as a hobby, a way to pass the time. Even after my eye healed up, and I returned to hockey, I continued to hobby write through the years, honing my craft, making time between work and family obligations.

Then I made a decision to take my interest one step further. I’ve never been one to take things lightly or jump in half way. I took a full year off from writing to study the craft.

I constantly read, from novels in my favorite genres to books written by experts in the writing field. My first two purchases were “Stein on Writing”, a book written by successful editor Sol Stein, and “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers” by Renni Browne and Dave King.

I read through these novels and highlighted important answers to my questions. My major breakthrough from Stein’s book was to “Show don’t Tell”. I had to trust my readers. I even wrote that phrase on a sticky note and put it on my computer monitor.

The Self-Editing book helped me learn how to cut the FAT off my manuscript, eliminating unnecessary details, making it more lean and crisp, with a better flow. I learned to cut repetition and remain consistent throughout the novel.

I continually researched the internet, reading up on the industry and process “What is selling?” and “Who is buying?” were my two major questions.

I attended the “Bloody Words” writing conference in Ottawa, Canada, rubbing elbows with other writers, editors, agents and publishers. I made friends (published and unpublished authors), bombarding them with questions, learning what it took to become successful.

Feeling that I was finally prepared, in the winter of 2007, with an idea in mind and an outline on paper, I started to write DEAD MAN`S HAND. It took me two years (working around full time jobs) to complete the first draft of my novel.

The first person to read my completed manuscript was my former high school English teacher. With her experience and wisdom, she gave me some very helpful advice. I then hired McCarthy Creative Services to help edit DEAD MAN’S HAND, to make it the best possible novel.

I joined a critique group, teaming up with published authors Nadine Doolittle and Kathy Leveille, and exchanging manuscripts and information. Working with an editor and other authors was very rewarding and not only made my novel better, but made me a better writer.

When I was ready, I researched agents who fit my criteria (successful, worked with my genres, etc.) and sent out query letters. After six months of rejections, I pulled my manuscript back and worked on it again. Then in my next round of proposals, I was offered representation by the Jennifer Lyons Literary Agency.

After months of editing with Jennifer, and more rejections from publishers, my dream was finally realized in April, 2012, when I signed a publishing contract with Imajin Books (Edmonton, Alberta).

Even today, a year after publishing my first book, I’m stall amazed at the direction my life has taken. Never in my wildest dreams would I have believed I would someday get paid to write books. Sometimes life can be impossible to predict.

_________________________

For more information on Luke and his work, go to: www.authorlukemurphy.com, or check him out on Facebook www.facebook.com/#!/AuthorLukeMurphy or Twitter www.twitter.com/#!/AuthorLMurphy

 


Tales from the Ice(pack)

Luke MurphyThis post brings a little something different to splattworks: a guest post by novelist Luke Murphy (right). He tells a good story: that of a writer discovering the craft a little later than many of us (who began producing chapbooks in crayon); and he set his goal, stuck to it, followed the recommended steps…and it paid off. Imajin Books published his novel Dead Man’s Hand in 2012.

 I felt Luke’s story fit well with one of splattwork’s missions—to serve authors and to discuss the trade—as it to serves as kind of a tonic for the many writers, slogging along, who wonder if the work will ever pay off. And it’s also kind of hair-raiser, dealing with one of those low points in life where the clouds look pretty dark. But Luke tells it better than I do; so I need to hand him the wheel.. I’m publishing Luke’s piece in two parts, to give him room to lay it out. Thanks, Luke, for the kind offer to step in and for putting up with me as an editor. 

The good Mr. Murphy lives in Shawville, Quebec, with his wife, three daughters, and a pug. He played six years of professional hockey before retiring in 2006. Since then, he’s worked a range of communications jobs, from sports columnist to radio journalist, before earning his Bachelor of Education degree (Magna Cum Laude).

 For more information on Luke and his work, go to: www.authorlukemurphy.com, or check him out on Facebook www.facebook.com/#!/AuthorLukeMurphy or Twitter www.twitter.com/#!/AuthorLMurphy

From Professional Hockey Player to Published Novelist, Part I

It can almost be said with certainty that I didn’t follow the path of the average writer. As a child, I never dreamed of writing a best-seller, never aspired to write the next classic novel, I wanted to be an NHL superstar…period. In fact, the only time I ever thought about writing was when my teachers at school made me.

 In 2000, my second year of pro hockey, after a decent training camp with the Louisville Panthers of the American Hockey League, I was sent to play in Oklahoma City. I know, hockey in Oklahoma, who would have thought, right?

 I was having a very good preseason when in the third exhibition game, disaster struck.

 I was forechecking on a Tulsa Oiler defensemen, a seemingly innocent play. As he shot the puck out of his end, the blade of his stick came up from the follow-through and struck me in the left eye. I went down immediately from the contact. I don’t know how long I was out for, but when I came to, I was on all fours, staring down at a massive puddle of blood. There was no pain, but the shock of seeing the blood with my right eye, and unable to see out of my left, drew me close to panic. I was terrified.

 I later found out that the results of the injuries were: a broken nose, slit eyelid, scratched cornea and deeply bruise cheekbone. I went through surgery and was sent home with a patch on my eye.

 I was unable to practice or workout with my team, uncertain of my future, but all I could think about was, “will I ever be able to see out of my left eye again?” The doctors had no way of knowing until the swelling went down and the outside of my eye healed up. I was devastated, my dreams shattered, and I was at one of the lowest point in my life.

 The team sent me to live with a longtime season-ticket holder and friend. So as I was sitting at home, feeling sorry for myself, I decided that I would need an alternate plan. What if my eye never healed properly? I would certainly never play pro hockey again, that’s for sure. I needed to think of what to do next with my life, in case the worst scenario transpired.

 It sucked!! I hated the uncertainty. I hated not knowing if I’d ever see again, or ever play hockey again.

 So what to do? Because I was working with only one eye, it gave me headaches to watch TV or read books for extended periods of time.

 I had just started seeing a girl from back home that summer. She was attending French College in Montreal while I was in Oklahoma, so we communicated by phone and email. My girlfriend knew that I was an avid reader and loved books, so she asked me if I was interested in helping her write a short story for her English class. Since I had nothing else to do and a lot of time on my hands, I agreed.

 I really enjoyed the process: coming up with a plot, developing characters and organizing a setting, problem and conclusion. It only lasted a couple of weeks, and once we were done, I kind of missed inventing, creating my own little world and characters.

 I remember walking to my bedroom one morning and seeing my roommate’s laptop sitting on the desk, and I thought…why not?

To be continued….


Dallas

kennedyThe 22nd, and it becomes inescapable: the Kennedy assassination, 50 years ago. A before and after, where-were-you event.

I was a very young boy. In fact, the assassination may be my earliest conscious memory. There’s a fine way to start off a life: televised murder and national grieving before you know what death is. And people wonder why my work has a dark sensibility.

Here’s how the political becomes personal.

Continue reading


Warmhearted Quote for the Day

“God created war so that Americans would learn geography.”
–Mark Twain


Contractual Obligations

Ye ask, and…once in a while, you receive. Which is to say, I’ve imported my archives from Splattworks; so you can see what sort of blather I write. It’s not pretty, but there might be a speck of gold buried in with the mud.

Cheers,

Steve


Coming Soon

Stay tuned. Soon I’ll be introducing my blog on: theatre, arts, culture, the writing life, and, occasionally, politics (once a journalist, always a journalist). You can also visit my other blog: splattworks


First Dog

I read a moving piece in yesterday’s New York Times, in which a woman recounts visiting her grandmother, who, unbeknownst to her, lived not far away. It’s a fine stretch of writing (which you can read here), but the descriptions of the visit, the home, the atmosphere, brought back not some long-lost relative (though, if you’re out there, Frederick Lane Patterson III, I do wonder whatever it was you disappeared into), but, rather, the acquisition of my first dog.
Which became somewhat legendary in my household, told and retold for some reason, and, now that my folks have passed on, I’m free to relate it however it returns from the past. Maybe the article’s description of the grandmother’s home or the reserve between, more or less strangers, prompted the memory. Probably the latter, since I seem to recall not a visit to a small house, but a visit to an apartment building.
In fact, if you’ve ever seen “Blue Velvet,” I recall a visit to that apartment building. At least from the outside…one of those 40s or 50s brick, four-story blocks of mystery, with long hallways and numbered doors reminiscent of an old hotel. Again, this is all memory, coming from someone without particularly potent recall, who can barely remember things that happened last week, much less decades ago.
But it was, to a kid–a creepy joint, all right? Visiting at night, the street and public areas dark, and the apartment itself in deep, brown colors, with many small, framed pictures, and a black-and-white TV running: the stuff of Super 8 home movies. I was kind of a sickly kid, in a sickly family, and though we had parakeets and aquarium fish, my folks held off on a dog due to my possible allergies to fur. I don’t recall what prompted the change. I remember being a little scared of dogs at the time–a few years earlier, two barking, snarling dogs had chased me and my best friend up a tree–and not being all that thrilled with the idea. Maybe my folks wanted me to get over that fear before it set too deeply. Somehow, one of parents latched on to Shetland Sheepdogs (my mother, I suspect), and we followed a newspaper ad to a family that had puppies to sell.

Which is where we veer into family legend because, per my parent’s memory–I have only vague recall of this part–we set forth to find a puppy, but, when I sat down (in a padded brown rocker–I do remember that for some reason), the puppies’ mother, Tessie, leapt into my lap. And wouldn’t get down. Details become scrambled here, but the story ends with our taking Tessie, not the puppies, home with us. And a wonderful, gentle, perfect first dog she was, who trailed me around the house, and lay beside me on the floor as I drew or read comics or, perhaps, even as I began to add text to my notebooks full of drawings…which led to this writing thing I do.

Along the way, my family took on other shelties, achieving a four-dog peak during the 80s. Tessie, memorably, died on the day Richard Nixon resigned. My parents were relieved that Nixon exited, but a sense of personal sadness still colors references to that day. I remembered it rained, but that’s not much of a reference point in the Pacific Northwest. It rained hard.

Still, looking back on the sellers (who seemed a little creepy to this kid), it makes me wonder what kind of people would sell the the mother of their pups. I mean, who sells a good dog? Was it some graceful acknowledgement that the dog found me and shifted loyalties? Did they need the money? Was that all it was about? Someone who set off to become breeder and found it didn’t suit them? Were they terrible people, whom Tessie escaped from? Or were they moving and couldn’t take the dogs? And what happened to the pups, who suddenly no longer had a mother? Of course, I don’t remember names, and, as I recall them as being older, the sellers probably are long gone. Perhaps they’d just become too old to care for a dog. I don’t remember much emotion on their part, but people often cloak these things.

Haunting. It all seems haunting. All I can really be sure of is, in one evening, I became a dog person. A very fortunate one. Maybe the dog sensed I needed her more than her puppies did.


Three Sheets to the Wind

I make my daily bread as a technical editor, hammering the words of economists and engineers into business English. It’s a good gig for a creative writer: you get to work with words all day, but you don’t have to invent them, which taxes the writing gland (and which is why I gave up journalism, for all its pleasures).

I’ve found, however, that I can’t edit while listening to music with lyrics (unlike creative writing, where I often use music to key off the words, putting me in a particular mood, or bringing me back at the beginning of a writing session).
That kind of leaves you with jazz, which I love—but it can be a bit too complex for sustained listening, and classical, which I also love—but it can become a little too relaxing after a long day of fixing punctuation. Sometimes, you need a little…juice.
Thus, I rediscovered instrumental rock, particularly featuring guitar. That is to say: Jeff Beck, who’s probably my favorite living electric guitarist (Hendrix still reigns supreme). Besides having unbelievable chops, Beck’s playing’s so smart, expressive, sometimes funny, and inventive that’s it’s a pleasure to revisit again and again. And, if you’re losing altitude in the afternoon, there’s nothing like a little “Big Block” to step on the accelerator.

But, let’s face it, a steady diet of the same dishes, even by the world greatest chefs, can get a little stale. Thus, of late, I’ve been exploring a bit, getting into some of the “fusion” players, the straight-up, wondrous weirdness of Eric Johnson and Steve Vai (don’t get help, guys…just keep playing), and, just recently, one Mr. Joe Satriani.

I had my reservations. I kind of associate Satriani with metal and shredding, neither of which particularly speak to me, as much as one might admire the players’ technique. There’s a sameness, a formula, to much of what I’ve heard from the metal guys that just doesn’t click with me: what difference does it make if you can spit out a jillion notes per bar if they’re the same ones used by a hundred other players? And the “I’ve got Big Balls” lyrics get old. Apparently, I lack the metal receptors.

I’d heard good stuff about Satriani, though, and I found him immensely personable in interviews; so I went all the way back to his album “Surfing with the Alien”—the source, so to speak—and, somewhere in there, I began to hear something different. Some great playing, of course, but also a sense of adventure that started to resonate with me. And, as I listened to more of his work, I heard an artist pushing himself—and writing some damn catchy melodies, in with all the whammy bar acrobatics, wah pedal workouts, and flying harmonics. That and something he seems to share with Beck—a sense of humor, which goes a long ways in adding to the likeability factor.

So there I was, feeling some genuine excitement when picking up his brand new album, “Unstoppable Momentum” at Music Millennium: I’d caught up with his contemporary music, and here I was, picking it up hot from the lathe.

It didn’t disappoint. The cuts had the energy and fun, mixed in with serious intent, that I heard from his best stuff, and I thought: cool…I have a new editing soundtrack.

Until I got to “Three Sheets to the Wind,” the album’s fourth cut, and everything…stopped. I went from rocking to listening. Not only did it sound different from the other songs, it was different. A mix of old and modern music, searching for something new—looking both back and forward. And, by the time, the big Marshall amp guitar sound roars in at the climax, I felt the bottom drop out, like wheels leaving the tarmac, and that bird took flight.

Art—good art—is tremendously difficult to pull off, no matter what medium you’re working in. But, when it does, there’s simply nothing to beat it. We may be weird monkeys, with too much gray matter for our own good, but we do make strange and sometimes wonderful things. And, just once in awhile, we get it so right that we transcend ourselves. Which I suppose is why we keep doing it—because it’s such a damn rush when we take that extra step.

So…props to Joe Satriani, and congratulations for succeeding (the rest of the album’s also quite good). Now, of course, he has to start over and do it again. Without repeating himself. Which is why being an artist, in addition to its thrills and straight-up terror, can be such a bitch.

[Editor’s note: So, if you’re a professional editor, pal, how come your blog has so many grammatical glitches and left out words? Because it’s almost impossible to proofread your own writing. Your brain knows how it’s supposed to go; so, naturally, it just fills in the blanks, and you end up recklessly dangling participles, mixing metaphors, repeating words repetitively, or even sometimes leaving out whole.]


Setting Off Sparks

This really is a post for Portlanders, but, as it’s about a cool, artistically oriented event, other folks with like minds might find it interesting (and you might try it in your burg).
Monday night (May 20th), Playwrights West, a group of professional playwrights (of which I’m a member) based in Portland, is throwing a party. Yes, it’s a fundraiser for a full production of one of our playwright’s works (Licking Batteries by the wonderful Ellen Margolis), but it’s kind of turned into a celebration–a celebration of the joy of creating new work.
Dubbed Sparks, the evening features short pieces–either standalone short works or excerpts from longer works–from eight remarkable writers (and one bozo…me). It’s what we have to offer…our words, and some terrific actors have signed on to breathe those words to into being. And since we’re all getting together, there’ll be food and drink and a silent auction and good vibes: what could best be described as a party.
Here’s the fascinating thing to me, though. All of us in Playwrights West share a common purpose: to stage the new works of our members and to raise awaeness of the power and delight inherent in presenting premieres (and we’re just lucky to have access to some killer scripts). All of us are professionals who have had our works staged in many forms and venues, and, frankly, we all can write. (Present company excepted…or at least tolerated.)
But, man, what a lot of different voices. All really original, and all coming at the work from different angles, bringing unique voices and sensibilities into play.
So what the folks who attend Sparks will be able to experience is a terrific mosaic of ideas, images, power, and, well, light from these eight writers (and the bozo). In one place, at one time (and only at this one time under the same tent). The works range from new projects, still in progress, to new works about to be born as fully realized productions, such as an excerpt from Andrea Stolowitz’s Ithaka, which is about to open at Artists Repretory Theatre (where it won a commission), and, of course, Ellen’s Licking Batteries–the play we’re fully staging in August. And, if you drop by, you get to embrace these works–to celebrate their originality and diversity–with like-minded people…those who love new theatre. (You know who you are.)
Really, Sparks is a way to say: yes, new work counts. It keeps theatre alive, vibrant, surprising, ever changing. It’s vital. It matters. And we can do it really, really well, right here in Portland. Oh yes, we can.
So drive, walk, take the streetcar, and come on down to CoHo Theatre on Monday night. Have some food and drink and laughs. Maybe try out a cool new outfit. And take what promises to be an unforgettable ride with eight splendid, absolutely kick-ass writers (and one bozo).
Details follow. See you there….
Steve
—————
Sparks: A Benefit Performance

By the writers of Playwrights West
Directed by Playwrights West Company Member Andrew Wardenaar
Date: Monday, May 20th
Time: Cocktail Hour & Silent Auction at 6 pm. Performance at 7 pm. Postshow reception at 8:30 pm.
Venue: CoHo Theatre (2257 NW Raleigh St)
Cost: $40; tickets online or at door (cash/check only) subject to availability. Seating is limited.
Purchase Tickets from: sparks.brownpapertickets.com
Playwrights West, a professional theatre company composed of nine acclaimed local playwrights, announces Sparks, its first-ever gala benefit performance. This performance will feature short excerpts of works by all nine member playwrights, culminating in a world premiere excerpt of Playwrights West’s upcoming 2013 season performance, Licking Batteries by Ellen Margolis. In addition to the performance, the evening will feature delicious food and wine and a silent auction.
Featuring excerpts from: Eating in the Dark by Debbie Lamedman; Consider the Ant by Karin Magaldi; Licking Batteries by Ellen Margolis; Bus Stop by Steve Patterson; Ithaka by Andrea Stolowitz (opening May 28th at Artists Repertory Theatre); Jeepers by Andrew Wardenaar; Where There Is Darkness, Light by Claire Willett; The Chain and the Gear by Patrick Wohlmut; and Forky by Matthew B. Zrebski.

And then Huck said, "The walls keep melting, Aunt Polly."

I’m happy to report that Portland Theatre Works will present a public reading of my two-act play “Rimbaud’s Daughter in Louisiana (Or the Drunken Pirogue)”…which has the honor of having the longest title I’ve ever come up with. It’ll be Monday, April 15…details to come. And, lest you ask, it’s free.

My longtime director pal Lisa Abbott calls the play “On the Verge” on drugs, but I prefer to think of it more as “Huck Finn” on acid…if Jim was a cynical Cajun woman and Huck was an insane French expatriate who’s convinced she’s Arthur Rimbaud’s abandoned daughter.

Whichever, it’s the first comedy I’ve ever written about symbolist poetry and the closing of American West. I know everyone else already has; so I’m catching up.

Many thanks to Portland Theatre Works for putting up with me again. The info’s not on their Website yet, but I’m sure I’ll be flogging it shamelessly.

Cheers,

Steve