Saturday, December 31, 2011

B&End

To all my friends at the soon-to-be-closed U-Village Barnes and Noble,

Hey gang! It's your old pal, former bookseller and recovering nookspert, Matt! Wow, last day, huh? You guys doing OK?

Man, I can't believe this is actually it! It kills me that I'll never be able to pop in to our store next time I'm in Seattle for a chat and a black coffee (with no room) nor will I ever get the chance to do an author event on your Spotlight Stage. I can only imagine how hard it must be to you all still on the front lines.

But, despite all that, let me also say how excited I am for all of you! Seriously. I used my leaving B&N as a catalyst to start taking my life in a whole new direction. It was part of the collective kick-in-the-ass I needed to finally start taking some chances again. And, since then, I've driven cross-country twice, got a job on a cruise ship, traversed the Panama Canal and now, here I am, ringing in the New Year off the coast of Mexico. Just imagine what you can do.

Don't miss this chance, you guys. (Or, at the very least, tell your last few customers where they can stick their Kindles.)

Please, keep in touch and keep me updated on your adventures.

All the best!

- Matt

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Time to Smile

Every now and again, a song so perfectly captures what's going on in a person's life that it feels like it was tailor-made for just that occasion.

Well, as I now leave the seemingly endless Seattle winter to embark on my next big adventure, here's a song that, while not word-for-word exactly what's happening, it's awfully damn close:



"Well I'm packing things in my bag today,
Heading south to my country again.
Summer is coming, it's time to smile.

See worry and change it has spun me around,
My big old heart has been ripped right out.
Summer is coming, it's time to smile.

Woah, its time to smile.

Step out of the whirlpool of lies and deceit,
Heading for still waters and pure honesty.
Summer is coming, it's time to smile.

Woah, it's time to smile.

There's been more rain this year
and the country is going strong.
And with my feet in the dust
I know now I was meant to return.
My young hearts are two thousand miles away,
Must focus my strength, told them this way.
Summer is coming, it's time to smile.

Time to smile, Time to smile,
Time to smile, Time to smile.

See I'm packing things in my bag today,
And I'm, heading south to my country again.
Summer is coming, it's time to smile.

See now worry and change it has spun me around,
My big old heart has been ripped right out.
Summer is coming, it's time to smile.

Said woah, it's time to smile
It's time to smile."

Thank you, Xavier. I couldn't have said it better.

Let's do this trip.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Guess Where I'm Gonna to Be?



 On a boat! That's right everybody,

I GOT THE JOB WITH
CARNIVAL CRUISES!!

Here's the email I got yesterday morning:
Thank you for your recent attendance at the Carnival Cruise Line information session and interviews for Entertainment Staff.

We are delighted to offer you a position as Entertainment Staff with Carnival!
Rest assured, the delightedness is mutual!

So, now what?

Well, I'm currently in the process of trying to arrange and pass the epic (and surprisingly costly) pre-maritime-employment medical examination before my little road trip back to Florida at the end of the month. Yes, I'm still going to Florida; not because I have to but because, with a large chunk of my family there, it'll be a good place to use as a base of operations. (Plus, it means my car will be close if I need it.  Also, dude... my parents have an attic. I'm not gonna pay for storage.)

At the interview, they said the earliest they'd need anybody to start training would be August 8th. That means I should have at least a month for my cross-country drive, more than enough time to visit some friends and do some camping.  Carnival's contracts are 6 months at a time, after which I can take a few weeks of vacation before starting a new contract. Won't know until after training which boat I'll be on but, like the representative from Carnival said at the audition,
"It really doesn't matter.  They're all big, white and go someplace warm."
Love it.

As for how it's actually going to be on the ship - aside from the description of the job I shared with you in my last post - I know as much about it as you do.

But I do have a few ideas:

Artist's Rendition

One thing's for sure, it'll be an adventure. I'll keep you updated.

Until then, I've got some packing to do...

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Pausing Mid-Leap


HELLO EVERYBODY!

It's now just over two weeks into what's supposed to be my epic, slow-paced, vagabondingesque traversal of these grand United States and I'm quite certain you're just DYING to know what I've been up to! So, where am I?

Camping at Yellowstone?
Blogging from what's left of the top of Mount St. Helens?
Tweeting from the edge of the Grand Canyon?

Nope.

I'm in Seattle. (Sad trombone.)

"Seattle," you're thinking, mouth agape, "But Matt! Why are you still there??  It seemed like you had finally achieved the necessary escape velocity! What happened? What about leaping?? You were supposed leap!!"

OK, yeah... I know. But, here's the deal:

As my departure time of "early morning, June 1st" quickly approached, everything was going according to plan.
  • Final Mad Science shows were performed.
  • Last day at work was completed.
  • Goodbye party was thrown (see above photo).
  • Moving sales were endured.
And, aside from my complete inability to sell my bed (which, by the way, is still available!), things were moving along quite swimmingly. Sure, it would have been nice to have some more time to reduce by 2/3rds the amount of crap I was attempting to shove into my car but, come hell or high water or other cliché, I was going to be out of Seattle and barreling headfirst into My Next Big Step™ (whatever the hell that would be) on schedule.

Then, on Memorial Day, literally TWO days before I was supposed to leave, I awoke much too early in a panic at all I had left to do. Before attempting to squeeze in an hour or so more of sleep before another day of packing and filling my vehicle, I figured I'd check my phone to see if I had gotten any e-mail. What was sitting in inbox that morning ruined not only any chance I'd have of falling back to sleep, but would guarantee that I wouldn't be leaving Seattle when I'd planned.


Flashback! January 2011!

It's the dead of winter and yours truly is battling Seasonal Affective Disorder and a severe case of depression over having to endure yet another miserable Seattle winter.

To feel like I was at least doing something to eventually get me out of this city were I to ever get this book finished, I searched the Internet for job opportunities. My expectations were kinda low: it had to in some way use my performing background and it had to be somewhere warm. That's when I came across the Carnival Entertainment website.  One of the positions they had listed was:
Entertainment Staff 
Become part the award-winning entertainment staff aboard Carnival’s “Fun Ships.” Carnival is looking for fun-loving, energetic individuals to be part of our team and help our guests create a lifetime of vacation memories by hosting activities, shows and special events. Full training is given but a strong theater background and some microphone technique are essential. The primary role of a entertainment staff or hostess is to assist the cruise director daily to create a fun and entertaining environment for the guests, as well as help cruise director and assistant cruise director in the overall management of the entertainment department. Entertainment staff are charge of running majority of the activities that happen around the ship and are often called upon by both guests and crew to answer questions involving all facets of the ship, including schedules, safety, concessions and ports of call. As such, prospective entertainment staff must possess interpersonal skills and must be organized and motivated. Essentially, middle management in the entertainment department, entertainment staff are often responsible for ensuring information and e-mails are properly communicated, essential paperwork is complete and meetings and drills are attended by all members of the department.

Totally what I was looking for, right?

Besides, I'd always been interested in working on a cruise ship but never seriously considered it because I could neither sing nor dance.  But here was a position that required neither!

Carnival was also the only cruise line was that accepted video auditions via the internet so I fired up the ol' Sony Vegas and edited together the following:



Not bad, huh?  I gotta say, I surprised even myself with how well it turned out.  Plus, after feeling out of my element for so long, it was good to be reminded that I'm actually qualified to do more than sell books and entertain small children.

I submitted the video to Carnival on February 13th and, less than a month later, I received the following e-mail from them:
Dear Matt,
Your job application for Entertainment Staff was reviewed and one of our Supervisors will be in contact with you for the interview.
Sincerely,
Carnival Entertainment
SWEET!

Goodbye short days and gloomy weather!

Hello cloudless skies and crystal blue water!

This was going to be great. Plus, don't worry, I wasn't going to put all my eggs in one basket (he said while putting all his eggs into this convenient wicker carrying case).

Then, I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

As the weeks passed, my enthusiasm waned.  It seemed this would be yet another in a series of disappointing "could have beens" that started the minute I decided to be an actor.

Since I'd put so much work into editing the video, I went ahead and posted it over on my Vimeo page and got a lot of great feedback. It really encouraged me to look more into other cruise ship and performing opportunities.  I needed to get moving again.  I needed to get in front of larger audiences.

And hey, if Carnival wouldn't call me, maybe I should go to them! Since they're based out of Miami, I'd found yet another reason to head back to Florida. Now, while I didn't want to move back for good, that goofy little peninsula has always been a great jumping off point for me. Plus, a lot of people I care about are there (along with a lot of my old stuff). Also, my former employer, Universal, is still there but, more importantly, so are all the cruise lines.

I needed to get back.

So, I finished the first draft of my book and starting planning my road trip.  I also prepared resumes and applications for all the different cruise companies.  My plan was to submit everything right before I left Seattle and, that way, instead of me sitting around and waiting for a response, I'd be doing something really fun, something for me.  No rush guys, I'll just be over here road-tripping.

This was gonna work.

Cut back to Memorial Day and I'm checking the e-mail on my phone when I find a message from someone named Eric from Cast-a-way Casting.  He was wondering if I could make myself available for an interview...

For Carnival...

In min-June...

In SEATTLE.

DUDE. I was overwhelmed with the cautious joy of a nerdy teen who's just realized he'd have to miss that Lord of the Ring marathon he's been anxiously waiting for because he just might actually have to go to the prom. With the girl he thought had rejected him, no less!

Obviously, I was thrilled they'd responded but I now had to change all of my plans at the last minute. Thankfully, my studio apartment hadn't been filled yet so my landlord was more than happy to get another month's worth of rent out of me. Plus, my friends at Mad Science said they'd do their best to keep me busy. And remarkably, it seemed I now actually had the extra time I'd wanted to get rid of some more stuff and (dare I say it?) enjoy Seattle.

My phone interview with Eric was last Monday (June 6th) and it went well enough for me to get an official invitation to the interviews, which were Wednesday. I don't have time at the moment to get into too much detail but let's just say it went extremely well. I'm still planning on leaving Seattle at the end of the month but there's a pretty good chance that, when I eventually get to Florida, I might actually have a job waiting for me.

Hot damn.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Look Out Below

Since I've already tweeted about it - and despite the fact that I'm still tinkering with it - I may as well go ahead and make The Official Announcement (drum roll):

After nearly 4 years of writing, I have finished the first draft of my book.



Mind you, the whole thing is still a giant, near-unreadable, steaming pile of mediocrity which reads like the diary of a high school girl (which is only OK if it's about sparkly vampires) but, dammit...

THE FIRST DRAFT IS DONE.

Unbelievable, I know. I'm still coming to grips with it being finished. I keep thinking I've got more to work on but, short of starting over from the beginning and editing it down into a second draft, I'm done.

Nearly 4 years of thinking about this thing literally every damn day and now? Nothing.

So weird.

Anyway, if you're a normal, rational person, you're probably thinking to yourself, "Four years writing a book? WTF, man? That's longer than you were in Japan in the first place! What took you so long?"

Well, couple'a things:

First of all, I've never written a book before.

Turns out that's a lot bigger problem than I thought it would be. (A lot, a lot.)  Trying to write a first book with no real outside help is frustrating, confusing and, at times, pretty damn scary. Thankfully, there are hundreds of books (and, by god, I've read them all) dedicated to reminding the aspiring author that he/she is not crazy and that's it's perfectly normal to blow several years of one's life on something that may never be finished - much less read by a audience of non-family members - and that the terror one feels when staring at a flashing cursor at the top of a blank screen is just the thrill of being a writer and not your body's survival instinct kicking in to tell you you're attempting something wholly unnatural.

So, hooray for self-help books.

Second, when I first started writing my little "book o' amusing Japan stories" when I got back to the U.S. at the end of 2006, I thought I was writing a book about my entire 3½ year stay in Japan. (I also thought the book would only take a month or two to write, a prospect so hilarious to me now that I'll be over here, curled up in the corner sobbing happy tears.)

Since I had helpfully narrowed my topic down to "every single thing that happened to me when I was in Japan for 43 months", I now had to deal with the epic process of sorting all the notes and journals and photos from my time overseas and then outline and start writing the book. (It may sound like I had a clear direction when I started but I didn't. Was totally winging it.) It also meant I had to start a blog.  And a twitter account.  And "build a platform". And all these other things that seemed really important at the time but were, in fact, not writing.

Still, every now and again, I'd actually find the motivation to write something.  Unfortunately, the more I wrote, the more I realized I needed to put in there.  If I wanted to tell this story, I'd need some back story.  And if I wanted to include this anecdote, I'd need to explain some cultural differences between Japan and America.  And if I wanted the reader to enjoy this part here, I'd need to give some history not only of Universal Studios Japan but the company Universal itself. It was really turning into an awful lot of work.

Sadly, it would take nearly 2 years and several tens of thousands of words before it finally dawned on me that, if I wanted to cover everything I'd hoped to write about, the resulting book would be so mind-bogglingly gargantuan that I feared people would be unable to lift it much less read it by the pool.  It was an important discovery to make but one that posed a lot more problems for me.  What to keep?

For a while, I considered turning the book into just a collection of short stories highlighting all the really funny events that happened during my time in Japan but I felt like I would just have to sacrifice too much of what I really wanted to share with the audience. Gone would be all of those little moments which, while not strong enough to support a story on their own, really made my experience in Japan what it was.  I simply HAD to tell the whole story, just maybe not all at once.  Alas, the giant book I'd already outlined and had written a large chunk of, became four. One book per contract.

I also decided that, if I wanted to get on with my life anytime soon, I should just focus on the first book, starting the story in the year or two before I went to Japan and ending around the conclusion of my first contract. My rationale was that, IF the first book actually gets printed and IF people actually read it and IF a handful of those people actually liked it enough to want more, THEN I'd write the next book.  Or the next three. (Do you hear that potential agents and editors?? THREE SEQUELS! Already outlined and partially written! Ka-ching!)

And, if the book ultimately failed, fine. At least I'll have saved me a few years of my life and a large part of what's left of my sanity by not writing the sequels. Plus hey, I can say I wrote a book. Neat.

Well, having a narrower time frame to write about made things a lot easier. Things slowly started to fall into place. One day, I settled on a title:

Happy! Fun! Doc Brown Life!

While that title might not make a ton of sense to people who don't know a lot about Japanese pop culture, I think it's perfect. (Though, I'm always open to suggestions.) I'm still working on the subtitle but I'm sure it'll be something along the lines of "My First Year Working in a Movie Theme Park in Japan". (Not sure how Universal Studios would feel about being in the title.)

Oooh, but I DO have a great tagline for the top of the back cover.  Get this:

Playing characters he looked nothing like
In a language he didn't speak
In a country he couldn't understand.

Goosebumps, huh?? Oh man, it even makes ME want to read the damn thing!

Anyway, more time passed. More stalling but, ever so occasionally, more writing. Then, one sunny afternoon in spring while going for a walk, I found the perfect ending. (Which you'll just have to wait until the book comes out to read.)


I immediately ran home and typed it up.  Now that I knew where the book was going to end, a lot more things started to fall into place.

Progress slowed when the realities of living in the same city for a lot longer than originally planned started to intrude. Suddenly there were part-time jobs to deal with, new apartments to move into, a serious relationship to maintain. But I kept writing. Anything I could think of putting in the book, I shoved in there. I'd worry about making it funny and pretty in the second draft. (Like Gahndi said, "throw some shit at the wall and see what sticks." Or was that Mother Theresa? Whatever.)

Even more time passed. More stalling, more writing.

Then, about 2 months ago and just shy of my 37th birthday (April 9th, if you guys want to get me a gift next year), I finally admitted to myself that, as noble as writing a book was, I couldn't continue working 2 jobs to stay in a cost-prohibative city like Seattle to pursue a pipe dream that's already cost me so much time, energy and money. I either needed to finish this damn book and take a much-needed break from it or just say I tried, close the laptop and get on with my life.

Well, I couldn't quit and I couldn't promise to stay in Seattle until I was finished so, instead, I simply set a deadline of being out of Seattle by May 31st, completed 1st draft or not.  Whether I left in triumph or defeat would depend on how hard I worked over the next few weeks.

I went and bought a wireless headset mic to use with my Dragon NaturallySpeaking and got up every morning before sunrise and either typed or transcibed until I had to go to work. On some days, I even had the energy to write after work.

And then, not that long ago, it finally happened. My writing caught up with the ending I'd written 2 years before. That was it.

It was done.

And it's fairly freakin' massive, too.  I don't have the exact page count because the initial file became so large and unwieldy that I had to break it down into several smaller sections lest my copy of Microsoft Word would creek like an old rocking chair every time it tried to open it but, as for a word count?  Well, let's see... it has... a grand total of... carry the one, subtract the glossary and... oh god... no, that can't be right. Hold on... oh my GOD...

257,858 words.

Ho. Lee. Crap.

Uh, to give you an idea how massive this is, take a look at this list showing the word counts of popular books.  Out of all of those books listed, only FOUR of them are longer than my first draft: two Ayn Rand books, "Middlemarch" and "War and (friggin') Peace".

Oh man, this second draft is gonna be some work...

But, that can wait! Right? The important thing is: the first draft is done. Right? Right?? (Please say yes.)

So! What's next? Well, I've decided I'm going to take the advice of seasoned writing vet (and fellow crafter of hernia-inducing manuscripts) Stephen King who once wrote:
"You can have a couple of loads of double-ought buck up your cockadoodie bumhole if you don't get out of here!"
Oh wait, wrong book.

Actually, in his fantastic book On Writing, he wrote the following:
If you write a novel, spend weeks and then months catching it word by word, you owe it both to the book and to yourself to lean back (or take a long walk) when you’ve finished and ask yourself why you bothered—why you spent all that time, why it seemed so important. In other words, what’s it all about, Alfie?

When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest. Not every book has to be loaded with symbolism, irony, or musical language (they call it prose for a reason, y’know), but it seems to me that every book—at least every one worth reading—is about something. Your job during or just after the first draft is to decide what something or somethings yours is about. Your job in the second draft—one of them, anyway—is to make that something even more clear. This may necessitate some big changes and revisions.

Now let’s say you’ve finished your first draft. Congratulations! Good job! Have a glass of champagne, send out for pizza, do whatever it is you do when you’ve got something to celebrate.

[...]

You’ve done a lot of work and you need a period of time (how much or how little depends on the individual writer) to rest. Your mind and imagination—two things which are related, but not really the same—have to recycle themselves, at least in regard to this one particular work. My advice is that you take a couple of days off—go fishing, go kayaking, do a jigsaw puzzle—and then go to work on something else. Something shorter, preferably, and something that’s a complete change of direction and pace from your newly finished book. (I wrote some pretty good novellas, “The Body” and “Apt Pupil” among them, between drafts of longer works like The Dead Zone and The Dark Half.)

How long you let your book rest—sort of like bread dough between kneadings—is entirely up to you, but I think it should be a minimum of six weeks. During this time your manuscript will be safely shut away in a desk drawer, aging and (one hopes) mellowing. Your thoughts will turn to it frequently, and you’ll likely be tempted a dozen times or more to take it out, if only to re-read some passage that seems particularly fine in your memory, something you’d like to go back to so you can re-experience what a really excellent writer you are.

Resist temptation. If you don’t, you’ll very likely decide you didn’t do as well on that passage as you thought and you’d better retool it on the spot. This is bad. The only thing worse would be for you to decide the passage is even better than you remembered—why not drop everything and read the whole book over right then? Get back to work on it! Hell, you’re ready! You’re fuckin Shakespeare! You’re not, though, and you’re not ready to go back to the old project until you’ve gotten so involved in a new one (or re-involved in your day-to-day life) that you’ve almost forgotten the unreal estate that took up three hours of your every morning or afternoon for a period of three or five or seven months.
Or, (ahem) 4 years.

So, I'm taking his advice.

In other words, I've quit both my jobs and am in the process of selling most of my stuff so that, in 4 or 5 days, I can start a time-constraint-free, cross-country, multi-hyphenated drive across the U.S. of A. towards my old stomping grounds of Florida. I don't know how long this drive is going to take or if any of my job leads will still be valid by the time I get there or even if my 13-year-old car will make it but, you know what? I don't care. I've earned this trip. I NEED this break. And I can't wait.

In her book The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron wrote "Leap, and the net will appear."

I've spent too long standing a safe distance from the edge.

Here's me leaping.