Yes, I admit it, I’m writing and posting this on a Saturday. I’m two days late
[for a deadline of my own creation]
so in the spirit of writing from wherever you are, I thought I’d share my own observations of when I get distracted and delayed – after all, I have come to see over the years how these distractions and delays become easy hooks, excuses, get-outs for when I am blocked.
So, first of all, the reasons for this specific delay:
- Thursday was a field trip to the zoo with my eldest daughter’s class – I had volunteered to play chaperone for the day
- Thursday evening was a band practice with Anne Castellano & The Smoke (my lead guitar gig)
- Friday I was catching up on work – the kind that actually pays the bills – as well as sourcing new consulting gigs
- Friday afternoon, I also had to dig into the wiring of my Rickenbacker 360, to cut down on the amount of electrical interference it picks up
- Friday afternoon I had regular karate class and then, about an hour later, an extra class as part of preparation for my black belt test in October
- Saturday morning was a slow wake up, and then later this afternoon, I’ll be singing and playing at SpinDrift Guitar Store‘s Grand Opening.
There… That’s a lot of hooks, excuses, get-outs upon which I could hang writer’s block, isn’t it? Good thing I’m not blocked at the moment, nor looking for a way out.
There was a time – really, not so long ago – that I would have been frustrated by now, at how I wasn’t getting to the page because of all the stuff in the way. I would have been blaming all of these things from stopping me doing what I wanted to do.
Or, in other words, I would have been playing victim to these distracting persecutors
[if you've never jumped into Karpman's Drama Triangle, you really should]
But right now, aside from physically aching from the karate sessions, I’m feeling pretty good. How can that be? How can I have changed so much in such a relatively short period of my life? Well, let’s reword that list above:
- Thursday, I spent time with a child I love, embedded in her world, watching her learn and grow
- Thursday evening, I explored new ideas, reordering my rig, using a different guitar than normal, jamming on a new song
- Friday I delivered on commitments, delivering work that is intellectually stimulating
- Friday afternoon, I jumped into practical problem-solving, using my hands to fix my guitar
- Friday afternoon, I progressed in my martial arts journey, pushing myself physically, lifting technique towards excellence, teaching some forms to other students, enjoying the camaraderie of the mats
- Saturday morning, recharged and looking forward to what’s next
Or, in other words:
And while I am doing all these things, I have no worries that the writing will flow when I need it to; as it has right now for this week’s insight.
Long may I live to encounter such joyous delays and distractions.
He floats on the music, his voice disembodied.
Up and above the stage, into the lights, their inferno cores, and through into the very ink itself.
He is red, purple, blue, yellow, green; pulsating in beat, harmony and tune.
No longer Rufus, he is air, earth, fire and water; elemental.
A verse comes, passes into a chorus.
He knows not time, space or place.
He is the in-between and the edge of all things.
He is music.
He is life.
He is light.
Work on the new novel – RUFUS – has been on hold for
[what is beginning to feel like much more than]
a little while.
There are reasons, of course: work to be done to bring in money so that I may continue to indulge my muse, planning for a tour that never actually happened thanks to funding issues at venues, releasing and promoting Sparse. All of it well and good. It was a conscious act to pause work on Rufus, as opposed to a drift due to writer’s block.
And it was true to pattern.
With each of my novels, I have found myself nearing the end of the first act and reaching what feels like a natural pause. Specifically, the first act serves to:
- introduce and ground the main characters
- bring our protagonist face-to-face with his central dilemma
- whet the reader’s appetite for the journey to come
It’s also the point where the mountain ahead becomes truly visible, like base-camp for Everest
Oh, my word, there’s a SHIT-load of mountain to get up!
My first act pauses have got progressively shorter:
- Do Sparrows Eat Butterflies? – 5 years
- Karaoke Criminals – 1 year
- Family Rules – 6 months
- Escalation – 2 months
although it has to be said that Rufus has bucked the trend – it’s been more like 4 months.
But, as ever, the story has been fomenting in the back of my mind, a drumbeat beneath other more immediate activity. I’ve been churning over the missing piece in my story. In this case, it’s not character, event or action, but instead a conceptual gap in the challenge set by my antagonists – we’re in the metaphysical, pan-dimensional world here and I was at real risk of having passive villains, the kiss of death to any page-turner.
Not only that, but I was at risk of them being omnipotent – and I always have a beef with any fiction that makes a villain so incredibly powerful that it takes a deus ex machina for the hero to succeed.
[side-note: I'm really enjoying the Song of Ice and Fire books because the bad guys are human, the good guys are human, and the Others - well, not so much]
But this week, the conceptual lego block I needed burped up from my sub-conscious – I think I know how to position my bad guys so that they’re fallible, and in the process gain a deeper transformation for Rufus. I’m ready to dive into act two, with Rufus now ready to head into learning of his antagonists’ weaknesses as well as their strengths. He’s got a long way to travel and much to learn; these are hard roads for our journeyman song-smith.
I’ll report on progress as I’m going, but don’t expect any spoilers or a glimpse behind this particular creative curtain.
Onward into story!
I wrote Family Rules as something of a meditation on becoming a father, and also in reflection of our time living in New York City
[which, while backdrop to the story, is almost a character as well]
the pieces of the Family Rules‘ genesis were:
- The trash bags being left by the side of the street in NYC the night before collection
- Multiple news stories of babies being deserted at hospitals, shelters, etc – with nothing but the kindness of strangers to protect them
- My own desire to be as good of a parent as my parents had been to me – and my fear, however slight, that I might not be able to do it
All of this percolated to an abandoned baby being found by absolutely the worst guy, and that guy deciding to play father to the kid.
I had ideas about this guy. Having him be a drug addict – captured in that destructive cycle of narcissism and self-loathing was an easy fit. But I also wanted him to be breaking wider taboos – positioning him as a sex addict was there at the start, though I soon moved away from that – it seemed one thread too many and, to be completely honest, I knew this wasn’t going to be a ‘scary abductor’ story.
You see, I needed a character who, while maybe not immediately likable, bred enough sympathy/empathy to take the reader into his decision to play Dad. The question of the ‘worst guy’ took on a different light – and I began to move away from stereotype/archetypes, instead asking myself the question
Who is the worst guy to be a father?
The answer was quite simple: it’s the guy who has never known what it is to have family. More specifically, the guy whose only understanding of family was a complete invention.
As ever, the universe stepped in, and I caught a documentary on VH-1 about former child stars, many of whom had descended quite tragically into drug addiction and early death. Very sad indeed.
The first inklings of Kenny began to form.
Over the course of the writing, I got to know this young man. On a conscious level, I was writing enough of his life up to the point of the abduction that the reader would at least understand his deluded decision to play Dad. But on the subconscious level, I was discovering, forming, moulding a psychology.
In many ways, I was playing Dad to Kenny. And I began to see how damaged and alone this poor kid was. Every page I wrote of his journey, particularly of his early life, left me sad – partly because I was taking experiences of my own – happy memories – and turning them on their head to the point where they had the opposite effect on Kenny, distancing him from his real family, and distorting his perspective of love – or, more accurately, the illusion of love.
By coupling those experiences with a drug dependency that begins when he’s still a young child, Kenny’s damaged psyche really began to form. As I wrote, I found myself thinking, and even saying
That poor kid
over and over again.
Having now rewritten the book twice as a screenplay, I’ve got to know Kenny even better – and it feels like he has grown up. In the process, I’ve grown some distance from the story, and some better understanding of what was a very intuitive process of writing his journey. But there are still times when I can dip back into Family Rules and some facet of his experience will hit me afresh
[I don't think I'm alone in forgetting what I've written sometimes?]
and I’ll be back in his tormented heart and soul.
For those who have been following along at home, you’ll know that I’ve been out and doing solo shows for the past 15 months – it’s been fun stripping my songs back, getting to know my voice and guitar better – the resulting record, Sparse, really captures where I am currently as a solo performer.
As much as I enjoy playing solo – I have done it on and off for many years – I also really enjoy playing with a full band
[a case of 'Both/And' rather than 'Either/Or']
A large part of playing solo this past year-and-a-bit has been because we put my band, Monkey68, on ice when our last bass player decided he’d had enough of the local live music experience. Ever since then, I’ve been keeping an eye out for bass players with the skills, taste and personality to do what we do live
[as a Brit transplant to Connecticut, I don't find many]
and to build upon the really strong, intuitive foundation that Tony (drums) and I have built.
Well, the gods of networking stepped up and introduced me to Craig Johnson, a player with the skill, taste and personality to fit right in. We were back on. We gathered for one practice a couple of weeks back and everything gelled – and though we haven’t managed to get together since, last night we jammed three songs at the Common Ground Open Mic at the Bulkeley House, New London, CT.
Going forward, the band is:
- Vincent Tuckwood – Vocals, Guitar
- Tony “Capt. Epic” Alicchio – Drums
- Craig Johnson – Bass
What fun! There’s an energy here that can only get better and I look forward to near-future gigs where I’ll be on electric guitar instead of acoustic – stay tuned for details.
In the meantime, here are some video clips of the songs from last night:
Magpies and Mongrels
I’ve always been fairly transparent about my muse. Though I suffer from my fair share of writer’s block
[and, indeed, help others through it at Writers Unblocked]
I’m generally happy to talk about ideas, their sources, development and realization. I’m prone to writing songs and performing them live almost straight away, to writing poetry live in response to prompts, and – when the opportunity presents – free-forming ideas in front of audiences.
A while back, I did a short video blog on why Escalation is called Escalation, and heard from you that it was interesting to see behind the curtain.
So, I thought I’d do more. Here’s the first of a regular approach to lifting the lid on my works to date – the sort of thing I share at readings and presentations. It may be songs, or my books – whatever, I hope it’s interesting
[and will only know that if you let me know!]
Today I thought I’d write a bit about Karaoke Criminals.
[in a bar called Music, Musica - the book version a collapse of two bars in the resort - the actual Music, Musica was next door to our hotel!]
and turned into the next big thing by an exiled mobster. Roxi’s journey stays pretty much true to that premise, and the outline is largely the same.
Truth be told though, Karaoke Criminals was originally a series of jokes and scenarios that could grow from the premise – the idea of mobsters muscling in on the music industry. A scene where they bully an advertising agency for use of Roxi’s music to advertise tampons remains – at the time, a riff on the commercialization of the Spice Girls, as I recall.
But, as I began to flesh out the characters – and, in particular Miles, Barry and Brian – the jokes and situations began to take on a grittier edge.
Take the little house in Islington for example. The original joke was that everyone in the music industry was scoring their drugs from the little house, which just happened to be controlled by the exiled mobster’s gang. It was going to be a running theme of personal leverage. And, indeed, the little house does get mentioned in that light several times in the novel – but now, it’s also a magnet pulling Miles back to his bitter past, the center of Barry’s desperate, brutal reality, it’s much more than just a joke.
That could be the best summary I can offer of Karaoke Criminals, in its final shape as a gritty, contemporary drama: much, much more than just a joke. And, while it retains a lot of the sunshine in which it was born, I have to say I like what it grew up to be much more.
See you next Thursday.
Thanks for reading, you have my love,
Be Still – from Sparse, available online at
BE STILL – VINCENT TUCKWOOD
If you would stop talking
You might hear one hand clapping
As a tree falls a lonely fall
With no audience or curtain call
But you just keep talking
Just to fill the space
You find yourself in
If you would stop moving
You might feel what you are feeling
If you stop to listen
You might hear what I am saying
But you just keep moving
Trying to escape the doubt
You find yourself in
But be still
There’s nothing to fear
There’s nothing to fear
Copyright 2013, Vincent Tuckwood
Images used under Creative Commons License: Public Domain. Original at