Friday, September 21, 2012

before self publishing

I have a secret.

I claim to be a struggling writer, trying to get my big break, but that is not exactly true.As it turns out, someone recently uncovered a children's book I wrote years ago. At the time I portrayed myself as an Author/Illustrator and even with the low word count, the book was well reviewed. Self publishing was in its infancy so the quality isn't up to today's standards but I think you will agree, the story still holds its own. So presented here, for the first time in a long time, The Haunted Lake, by Edward Varga.

I still get chills when I read that plot twist at the end.

In all seriousness, this was a book I wrote in 1975 when I was eight years old. The "Good" review was from Sister Elaine, my teacher back at St. Vincent Ferrer School in River Forest, Illinois. Many thanks to my father Ernest Varga who saved practically every piece of paper from my school days.

For those of you counting, I have now been writing books for 37 years and hopefully I will be able to do it for many years to come. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

the other side of the page

When does it happen?

When in the life of a writer does the story stop being a story?

When does the story start to lack the emotional attachment between the reader and the written word, surendering that romantic involvement for the combination of recognizable techniques and structure conventions established by the cadre of writers who came before us?

When do we realize the pages of a book are the true Matrix?

Although I have embodied the love of writing since I first penned a humorous one page story in third grade, I have never taken my writing as seriously as I do today. Let's face it, when I first saw age 45 coming up in my windshield, I started to experience what the Germans call Türschließpanik. Literally translated it means door closing panic. If I am truly to make something of this one chance God has given me, I had to stick it in high gear writing-wise.So I wrote. 

I had several goals in mind, not the least was the desire so many have, to see their book on the shelves of their local Borders book store. Then Borders went belly up and my goal shifted to Barnes and Noble. Incidentally, after visiting an B&N over the weekend, I get the feeling I may have to substitute Amazon when I retell this story in a year.

I also want to write and get published to help complete my identity within my family. I am the youngest of three children who were spaced apart by about 4.5 years each. This means I will always be the 9 year younger brother to my older sister, who at age 54 likely still thinks I am in grade school as I was when she went to college. As my older siblings went to college and started their lives I felt less significant within the family. Mom and dad got older and lets face it, the family vacation over the summer isn't as much fun with only the last kid. In fact, those vacations stopped happening all together. The last vacation I took with my folks was in 1993. I was 26 and we drove to Virginia to visit my Aunt and her family (my brother and sister backed out at the last minute). On the way home dad left his wallet in a men's room stall at a Denny's restaurant in Pennsylvania and didn't realize it was missing until we were in Indiana. At first he thought I took it and was hiding it from him. I remember him staring at me with a mean look before asking about it. I was 26 but felt like I was five.

This may also be a chance to make a big impact on my son's lives. By setting my sights on getting published in the traditional way, I can be the example of hard work and perseverance our youth are lacking today. I doubt my lesson will overtake the "let's make a sex tape and surreptitiously leak it to the press" way of getting famous these days but at least I won't have to take a high-hard-one from Ray J that ends up on TMZ's website.

Much as Bruce Wayne needed to climb a mountain so he could study under a bunch of Ninja Monks before whipping Ra's al Ghul's ass, so must every writer immerse themselves in the training of kicking their story's ass. Our mountains are a little different. They exist for a great part inside of our own minds and to a lesser part in the form rejections encountered on the way from the evil, clad in black from head to toe, literary agents (if any agents are reading this right now I want them to keep in mind their portrayal as evil and clad in black is necessary for my visualization in this blog, and let's face it, they've been called a lot worse).

My journey was hard fought and continues to this day. With many days under my belt learning, researching, listening, and pounding away at the keyboard, I am tired but not ready to give up. Sure my index fingers are shorter than when I started (I still hunt and peck) and I am yet to get an agent to take a risk on me, but the goal remains the same. It just looks different from when I first set eyes on it. I am starting to see it as Neo saw the Matrix at the end of the only one of those films worth seeing again. I see structure, convention, application, and cohesion. I can now see the story for what it is, what it needs to be to reach a connection with the reader. The big change in perspective comes when the writer realizes the words are never in the right order the first time around. Every writer whose advice on writing I have come across stresses this point. Writing is rewriting. 

What about Dr. Seuss? When at B&N this weekend I picked up some of his books and looked them over, trying to imaging how his re-writes must have gone and what in the world the original text must have been. Text from Fox in Socks especially stands out in my memory. Here is a sample:
We'll find something new to do now.
Here is lots of new blue goo now.
New goo.  Blue goo.
Gooey.  Gooey.
Blue goo.  New goo.
Gluey. Gluey.

Well, if writing is rewriting, someone tell me what this was originally? Was "Gooey. Gooey." originally just "Gooey." and his editor circled it and wrote something like, "'Gooey.' doesn't have enough impact; try 'Gooey. Gooey.' instead." in the margins of his manuscript? Who knows and who cares? It works for me as a child who was captivated by the melodic writing and as an adult who realizes the word use and placement was carefully crafted not in a moment but over hours and days. 

Back in college I would read books and my thought was it became a book because the writer in one fell swoop threw each word down as if they were stitched together in his head by unseen angels. Now I know it is different than I thought then.

Then thoughts.
When thoughts. 
Chased by a hen thoughts.
Circle it with a pen thoughts.
Thoughts about writing.
Writing thoughts.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Four Years Ago

With this being 2012, an election year, we American's find a Democrat clinging to Presidential incumbency, and the Republicans churning up the familiar campaign rallying cry of, "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" The best answer I can give to that question is, "It depends." states the December 2008 average price for regular gasoline was $1.57 per gallon in the Midwest, which is where I live. I filled up two days ago and paid $3.99 per gallon.

The chart below depicts the value of my house over the last five years, graphed against average home values of the two closest communities provided by As you can see, I have definitely lost equity over the last 4 years, as have my friends and neighbors.

The average price for milk in September of 2008 listed by was $2.31 per gallon and today is $3.59 per gallon.

Unemployment, global warming, the Euro crisis, cell phone plans; on and on we can go with statistics ad-nauseum regarding the tried and true fact that a dollar ain't worth what it used to be and no matter what anyone says, the crystal balls are all broken and I'm not even sure the fortune cookies are really teaching me how to speak Chinese. Seriously, the back of the little piece of paper cuddled inside of that rock hard cookie might be telling me how to say "fuck-off" to a visitor from China instead of "cute puppy" like the translation says.

So what is the point of what I am saying? Am I trying to influence you to vote for the challenger because times are bad? Am I suggesting you stick with the incumbent because it can't get much worse? Actually, neither is correct.

Today is a special day for me, the anniversary of the day that my wife and I decided to go steady. We had dated since July of 2008 and being the cautious, divorced, singe father, guy who had his heart and finances ripped out by his previous wife, I was, for lack of a better word, cautious. On the other hand my bride to be was absolutely sure I was the one and kept wondering why I was asking if she was still seeing other guys. "Going steady" we became on September 7, 2012. A little over a year later, we were engaged in a beautiful proposal delivered by me at Chicago's Art Institute where everyone applauded when I got down on one knee and she said yes. And we wed seven months after that.

Four years can make a big difference. Four years ago I was not as happy as I am now, nor as fulfilled, challenged, or blessed. With confidence I can say I am better off now than I was four years ago but it was not because I placed my trust in any particular party or politician. It was not observance of what I now pay for toilet paper (32% increase in four years) or whose stimulus robbed value from my home. I am better off today because I let go of the reins, followed God's plan for me, opened myself to being vulnerable, and allowed myself to fall in love.

So when you head to the polls in November, choose wisely, then get the hell out of there and spend some time with the people you love. Trust me, you will be better off.