Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Fog Descends

At the end of another productive day of writing, I wanted to talk about something that has plagued me for a while early in my writing career, and that's the idea of the "brain fog."

The brain fog is that feeling at the end of a day of writing when you think "I can't possibly write another word."  It feels a bit like my brain has turned to mush; I have trouble focusing on the task at hand, and thinking up any kind of coherent or witty happenings or dialogue.

During the football season, I became quite well-acquainted with the brain fog on Tuesday nights, usually around the 3,500 word mark of my Power Rankings columns. Of course, the rankings didn't care that I was feeling a bit foggy; they needed to be done.  After all, I couldn't in good conscious file a "NFL Power Rankings, 32-10" column.

No, you learn to soldier on and steer through the fog, sometimes not having any kind of a clue where you're headed.  Ideas come a bit more slowly initially, as you struggle to stay on some kind of path.

This is normally the point in the blog where I make some kind of comment like, "but then sometimes a funny thing happens, and you discover that the fog led you to (insert life-altering realization)."

Not today, folks.

The fog just plain sucks. I hate that it reduces the quality of my work, and I know that I'll just have to go back and "punch up" that section written under the influence of fog at a later date, which frustrates me even more, leaving me foggier, and...well...you get the idea.

Unfortunately, the fog is directly at odds with yesterday's post about picking up the pace an maximizing my potential while writing; I could fight through the fog, but sometimes I think "what's the point?"

Well, the point is that I'm probably going to have to go through and punch up even the stuff that I think is "the best" in the book so far, so why not just keep going, why not get that extra 1,000 pages? It's still a problem that I'm wrestling with upstairs, but I thought I'd get it out there so that you all don't think that writing a book is all bread and roses.

I think more than anything else, overcoming the fog has to do with being able to push it back, be it through better mental endurance, or better break time management, or some other technique that I'm not yet privy to.

I will say this; I have been able to slowly, steadily, push back the onset of the fog somewhat, by maybe a thousand words or so a day.  That certainly helps; 5,000 extra words a week actually helps a lot.  But I do recognize the necessity of pushing it back much, much further, especially if I ever want to be able to get to my goal of easily turning in 5,000 words per day, and then even more beyond that.  And how will I get there?  Writing more, practicing more, working even harder; those are really the only ways that I know to get better at something.  The brain gets better when challenged and worked, just like muscle.  I just have to keep pushing it and condition it to go the extra 500 words, then 1,000 words, and then beyond, until I'm comfortably at the level that I want to be at.

Until then? I'm just going to shut up, keep my head down, and write.

Days: 17
Words: 43,467
Pages: 149 1/2

D.J. Gelner covers the Rams beat for insideSTL.com, and is an aspiring author.  Follow him on twitter (@djgelner) or facebook (here).  E-mail him at djssuperblog@gmail.com.  You can also listen to his podcast (Bottle and Cans) here.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Upping the Pace

Going into my fourth week of fiction-writing, I was at a pretty good (but not great) place.  I had 36,500 words done going into this weekend; not terrible for three weeks of full-time writing, but not great.

I guess that's what gnawed at me a bit going into this weekend; when I first started my foray into fiction-writing last spring, I would struggle to work for a little over an hour, then get frustrated and quit for the day.  My target in those days? 25 pages a week. 

At the time it seemed incredibly daunting; a truly Herculean task. How could I possibly write five whole pages (!) in a day? It was so much!
Needless to say, I was completely naive about both what the work required and what I was capable of.  I had dutifully saved up enough cash to try to "make a go of it" as a full-time writer, but I was too worried about "non-writing writing things," if that term makes sense; building a platform, working on ways to build e-businesses to support my writing efforts, and probably a good dose of plain old procrastination thrown in there for good measure.

As I've detailed before, my season covering the Rams completely changed the level of discipline I have as a writer, as my weekly Power Rankings frequently tipped the scales at 5,000 words, all written over the course of a day.  If you count the other five columns I was writing a week, which usually were around 1,000-1,500 words each, I was good for 10,000-12,000 words a week or so, which at the time seemed like an enormous amount.

When I started working on this novel, I wanted to write at least that much, so I figured I'd start out with a goal of 3,000 words a day and go from there.  I haven't been quite THAT productive as of yet; I still average around 12,500 words a week, but I've steadily grown more productive as the days have ticked off. My efficiency has improved greatly, and I'm generally able to get more done in a day than I ever thought possible going into this project.

We all have "barriers" that we think we can't possibly break through, but it's my experience that these are often self-imposed. I thought that 25 pages a week was an "insane pace" at one time; over the past three weeks, I've averaged 40 pages per week, easily, and I'm still nowhere near full capacity.

I guess that's what bothers me the most; though I'm moving along at a pretty good clip, I still know that I can push myself more, write more, go further. I can easily get to an average of 4,000 words a day or more if I really push myself, which will get me to editing that much quicker, which will result in releasing the book that much sooner, which means that I can then move on to the next project that much earlier, and...well...you get the idea.

Eventually, I hope to work up to actually being able to write for 8 hours per day, by which I mean not counting breaks, etc. It seems like a pretty crazy goal at the moment; right now, I'd guess I'm right at about four hours or so.

But every time I get mad at myself for not being as disciplined as a Stephen King or...uh..."Dean Koontz," I remember back on those early days where I was averaging an hour of "real writing" per day, and I see how far I've come from there.  If I can develop this much in that short of an amount of time, I'm sure I'll get there eventually.

For now, it's all about improvement.  And with continued hard work, practice, and perseverance, I have to think I'll get there eventually.

Days: 16
Words: 40,035
Pages: 138 1/2

D.J. Gelner covers the Rams beat for insideSTL.com, and is an aspiring author.  Follow him on twitter (@djgelner) or facebook (here).  E-mail him at djssuperblog@gmail.com.  You can also listen to his podcast (Bottle and Cans) here.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

"Again!"

I'm going to keep it pretty short today, since most of the day was filled with outlining.  The good news? I now have my second story plot outline.  The bad news? It took a lot longer than I thought it would.  Didn't even start writing until maybe 7:30 or so tonight, and only got through about an hour-and-a-half after I deleted the last whole chapter because it totally sucked.

But hey, who am I to complain?  That's one less paragraph that has to be completely re-worked at the end of this project...hopefully...

"But D.J., I thought you said that you wouldn't revise the book until you were done, DURRR!"

Yeah, that's right, with the only exception being that this is one of the "intermission" parts, which is going to set the precedent for all of the other intermission parts, which are kind of an important part of this book, for reasons that I can't really go into right now.  I guess I could, but I'd have to kill you...or at least nag, complain, and whine like a little bitch until you promised (and crossed your heart...with both hands in the air so that you couldn't cross your fingers) not to tell anyone.

Hence, the small amount of actual writing "work" that I got through today, which is totally fine; writing a novel can take you in a number of different directions.

The whole re-writing concept reminds me of one of my favorite movies, Miracle, where the peerless Kurt Russell (who got absolutely robbed for an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of hard-ass head coach Herb Brooks...and his portrayal of the fun-loving, vagabond Captain Ron, but that's a different post for a different day...) made the 1980 US Olympic Hockey Team skate sprints after a discouraging tie to an inferior Norwegian squad.  After each sprint, the coach simply yelled out, "Again!" before blowing his whistle and having the players run another sprint.  At one point, the arena owner wanted to wipe the ice and lock up, and Herb kindly told him that the rink owner could leave the keys and he would lock up (Note: I thought it would've been kind of cool if the whole thing would've been an elaborate plot by Herb to get the keys to the facility so that he could use the team to clean out the place, and take all of the...what? Bubble hockey machines? Pairs of rental skates? At any rate, it would've been pretty badass, that's all I know!). 

At some point, the players start booting, and they're only saved by Team Captain Mike Eruzione, who finally gets that Herb wants them to play for "the United States of America" instead of their college team, or the Northeast or Minnesota, for that matter.

Though I don't have a plucky, inspiring captain like Eruzione on my ass to make me write, I do realize that no matter how much it hurts on a given day, no matter how much time I spent outlining or brainstorming, I still have to get something out on the page, even if it involves destroying something I had written before and starting over with a clean slate.  Hell, though the reworked paragraph is (I think) better, that doesn't mean that it won't need to be reworked again...and again...and again...and...well, you get the picture.

It all goes back to how badly you want something.  Sure, I could quit now, having written 116 pages of a novel and call it a day.  But I would be cheating myself--right now, I have the time and resources to make this happen.  Anything less than my "best effort" and "top-notch product" is, quite simply, unacceptable.

Rest assured, I'll be right back on that line tomorrow, no matter how many times that whistle blows.

Days: 14
Words: 33,925
Pages: 116 1/2

D.J. Gelner covers the Rams beat for insideSTL.com, and is an aspiring author.  Follow him on twitter (@djgelner) or facebook (here).  E-mail him at djssuperblog@gmail.com.  You can also listen to his podcast (Bottle and Cans) here.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Chipping Away

Sorry about the lack of a post yesterday; wasn't feeling too great, though I still managed to grind out 2,000 words or so.  Made up for it today, getting to almost 34,000 words total (116 pages or so).  Feeling good about the project, though I know it needs a ton of work once I'm done.

I still don't really want to put the concept for my book out there (yet...as my Dad would say, "Have a paish...", but the structure goes a lot like this:

Intro

Story 1

Intermission

Story 2

Intermission

Story 3

Conclusion

Today I finished up story one, and I think it went pretty well overall.  The types of things that I worry about are whether or not the stories are original enough and certain rough patches of language slowing things down; you know, the small stuff! 

It is weird to be done with this first story because I find myself at the end of my first "plot outline."  I don't really have anything plotted out for stories two and three, so you can imagine what tomorrow morning is going to be dedicated to.

What I wanted to write about a bit today is that it's just amazing to me that I've been able to put together 34,000 words in semi-coherent fashion (I hope).  There are times when I thought, "there's no way I'll even finish this section, let alone the whole book," but each writing session brought me a little bit closer to my goal, and now I find myself with one complete story in the bank.

Not to say that it still doesn't require a lot of polishing; I'm sure I'll cut some of it and re-work a good amount of it. Not to mention that it raises a lot of issues; is it too long? Are people going to stay engaged in the story while reading it? Does it make sense?

All of these will go into the next parts of the book, and hopefully make them even better than the one I just completed.

Of course, the ultimate goal is to make the entire thing of very high quality when it's all said and done.  Though I'm a ways away from that, at least I have the first basic story down on paper right now, and I'll be able to work on it going forward.

I guess my larger point is that we sometimes set huge, even seemingly insurmountable goals for ourselves over the course of our lives...or at least the enterprising ones of us do, I suppose...but I digress...be it writing a book, or climbing a mountain, or swimming the English Channel, or losing a certain amount of weight.

No matter what your goal is, there are going to be times after you start where you question if you'll ever make it there, if you'll ever finish.

It's nice for me, for a day at least, to see my days of chipping away at that goal, little by little, finally adding up into something tangible that I can be proud of.

Days: 13
Words: 33,746
Pages: 115 3/4

D.J. Gelner covers the Rams beat for insideSTL.com, and is an aspiring author.  Follow him on twitter (@djgelner) or facebook (here).  E-mail him at djssuperblog@gmail.com.  You can also listen to his podcast (Bottle and Cans) here.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Why Reading is So Important


Though I'm currently focusing on following my "adventures" through the writing process on this blog, I thought it would be a good idea to devote a post (or a few posts) to why reading is so important, especially in this day and age.

There is a bit of a reading renaissance currently going on in this country.  I credit the rise of e-readers, tablets, and other devices that reduce entire libraries to the size of a small notebook, and allow people to take them wherever they go.  The Kindle app for smartphones is so great in part because it syncs your progress among multiple devices, allowing you to take the book you're working on into public restrooms wherever you may find yourself.

That's great for an aspiring author, especially one strongly considering self-publishing.  If people are reading more, then they'll want more content, and I'm happy to try to fill the void.

But e-readers and bathroom shenanigans aren't the order of the day; writing is.  Allow me to start with an anecdote.

I learned to read early in life, when I was around three years old.  Credit Chesterfield Day School's Montessori-based approach, as well as a couple of loving parents that read Jules Verne and other books to my brother and me even when we were only one or two years old for my jump start in that area.  As a kid, I eventually developed a routine: wake up early (around 6:00 am, every day, a habit that I have since thoroughly rejected), watch Sportscenter and read the Post-Dispatch sports section.  This is when I was like six years old, and I still remember enjoying Bernie Miklasz's columns and Rick Hummel's articles about my favorite team at the time, the Cardinals.  I'd devour Sports Illustrated for Kids whenever it arrived, especially loving the cheesy, cardboard cut-out cards that they included with each issue.

Even though most of that stuff was far from Shakespeare (and I apologize to Bernie if he comes across this; I don't mean you, big guy!), I'm still convinced that all of that reading, that day-to-day repetition and early exposure to the English language in written form, is a large part of why (I think) that I can write well in my adult life.  Even the sports page (usually) has correct grammar, spelling, and sentence construction, and occasionally some real gems of stories, to boot.  All of that somehow becomes lodged in an impressionable young brain by osmosis, and can't help but make a positive change in your own writing.

Eventually, I graduated to Sports Illustrated for adults, and then even some full books without "illustrated" in the title. In high school, I began to explore some of Tom Clancy's work, the dense thrillers still written accessibly enough to get my mind racing with vivid scenes of the action.  In college, I tried Brett Easton Ellis, though even my sick mind couldn't stomach the end of American Psycho; no knock on Ellis, by the way, it's a fantastically-written book. 

The point is that I enjoyed reading in my spare time; bringing the worlds in words to life was (and is) like having my very own movie theater in my head, unconstrained by actor availability, budget, and cinematography.  As a movie buff and someone who enjoys stories, that is very appealing.

Then I became a lawyer, and all I did all day was read and write.  I would pour over (generally boring) cases and reference materials, synthesize what I read, and spit out a (probably equally boring) summary or brief on what I had read.

All of the boring reading and writing took its toll, and I found myself going without pleasure reading (not...like...reading erotica or something like that--reading for pleasure) for months at a time, despite thoroughly enjoying reading all throughout high school, college, and beyond.  The last thing I wanted to do at the end of the day was more reading; far better to anesthetize myself with vapid reality shows and tons of Civ IV (a fantastic game that I still enjoy on the weekends, but I digress...).  Reading became a chore, something that was distasteful because I spent too much time reading flat, boring words that refused to come to life.  Sure, all of the cases had unique facts, and some even were a bit colorful, but at the end of the day, the words simply didn't jump off the page and into my head; the mental image I was invariably left with was one of the judge writing a boring legal opinion.

As I read less, my creativity was smothered, and I eventually became the boring drone that I was destined to be in that field. Like anything else, creativity must be grown and nurtured, watered, given plenty of light, and allowed to thrive.  Or maybe that's plants...

At any rate, toward the end of my time as a lawyer, I picked up a few books and began to read again.  Instantly, that hour or two that I could steal away with a book became my favorite part of the day.  The movies in my head weren't as vivid anymore, but I could still put the scenes together, and generally enjoyed the fiction I read.

Once I quit the law (hopefully for good, but I guess you never know--I'm still paying my bar dues), I began reading again for pleasure more frequently, and over time, that creative voice in my head began to return.  Like a fourth season episode of Bewitched, the pictures started to gain color and intensity, and my mind started to race with anticipation at what lay around the next corner.

My writing also began to get better, though I don't know if that's readily apparent from my archives.  The exposure to creative language once again gave my own mind permission to be creative after a few years of being choked-off from any kind of creative spark.

I wish the answer to the question "why is reading so important?" was a little neater, and could be packaged in a pithy little platitude, but I'm sure that such an attempt would surely ring hollow.  Reading teaches people to be better writers at a time when our language is so badly misused, yet more crucial for communication than ever with so many ways to reach people on the other side of the globe.  It forges new connections in your brain like one of those old-school phone switchboards, and those connections build upon each other, giving you a facility with and mastery of the language that's difficult to achieve without all of those hours spent reading.  It makes you a more interesting person to others, especially when you can find common ground over a book you've read.

Reading is also key to becoming a good listener.  A book is basically a form of one-way communication; the author tells a story or makes a point, and your job as reader is to process that information and flesh out the story, or think about the point the author is making.  In a world that is becoming far too reliant on passing judgment without listening or reading someone else's viewpoint, or without considering that someone else may have a good point that you're needlessly tuning out, becoming a good listener, a good processor of information, and just a plain old good citizen involves reading more, and being able to process what you read more efficiently.

But most important for me is keeping that flame of creativity lit in my own head.  Not to say that I am one, but at a time when this country needs visionaries perhaps more than any other period in its history short of the Revolution, more people need to tune their imaginations to allow them to come up with the "next big thing," and maintain America's position as a global leader in innovations.

All of that is a long-winded way of telling you to pick up a book, to take back reading if you've previously enjoyed it but lost your way.  Read to your kids and allow them to fully develop the potential of their imaginations.  Make it a habit to read and pass the habit on to the next generation.  Without reading, we'd become a society doomed to repeat its own mistakes, focusing on quick hits of information with whatever spin or slant fits our own viewpoint.  In short, we'd become a group of drooling, thoughtless, unimaginative morons.

Oh wait...

Days: 11
Words: 27,530
Pages: 94

D.J. Gelner covers the Rams beat for insideSTL.com, and is an aspiring author.  Follow him on twitter (@djgelner) or facebook (here).  E-mail him at djssuperblog@gmail.com.  You can also listen to his podcast (Bottle and Cans) here.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Importance of Milestones

I finally crossed the 25,000 word barrier today, despite having a few errands to run that cut into my writing time. At 85 1/2 pages, my manuscript is now the longest single project in terms of page length that I've ever worked on, eclipsing the 60-page project I undertook at the end of law school that examined "law as entertainment," as well as the importance of entertainment within law (believe me, it was a real page-turner...).

Is it as far as I wanted to be by this point? Yes and no.  Yes, because my previous efforts at two novels had stalled right around the 25 page mark; this time I breezed through that with relative ease, and continue to make good headway.

"No," because I always like to push myself to do "more" and "better," and think that I can do both as I continue to gain experience throughout this process.

For now, though, I wanted to touch on a question that I've been thinking about: why do these milestones matter to me?

I think that my answer is simple: they're a sign of progress.  I guess this is really true of any number of milestones in a person's life: birthdays and holidays signal another year, another period of time that you should have improved yourself, or at least positioned yourself closer to attaining some of your life's goals.

At the same time, they also signal the passage of time, and the idea that "it's in the books."  Yes, I've written 25,000 words, and I've certainly worked hard to do so, but now it's getting to the point where I'm starting to worry whether or not 100,000 words will ultimately be enough to tell the story that I want to. 

Milestones are at the intersection of thinking forward and thinking backward; of progress and product.  They are a measuring stick, to be sure.  Hell, I'm putting them out here on this blog to keep myself honest and writing something every weekday. 

Milestones are targets to shoot for, like the signs on the side of the road that tell you how far away your destination is.  I know I always do the quick, back-of-the-envelope math...in my head (wait, that doesn't really make sense...) whenever I pass one of those on a long road trip, "Okay, we're going seventy, so if there are 300 miles left, that puts us at about 4 1/2 hours.

Of course, things don't always turn out as planned; there are detours and unexpected delays.  One time on a drive to Virginia from St. Louis, my brother and I decided to stop at the Wild Turkey distillery, which we though was a quick jag off of I-64.  Two hours later, despite missing the tour, we were back on our way to Charlottesville.  That same trip, we were stuck in traffic for three hours on I-81 because of some horrendous truck convoy accident.  My brother had his portable DVD player plugged into the cigarette lighter and went through Aladdin and most of Super Troopers while we crawled along at an almost imperceptible pace.  These things happen.

Even with those detours and delays, each and every one of those trips ultimately ended.  I'm here now.  I've reached each of those destinations and then some.  I had those experiences and moved on, and all of the miles and steps have added up to put me in front of this computer, typing this blog post up right now.

I guess that's the heart of the matter; since those journeys ended, I'm sure that as I tick off each new milestone, eventually this journey will end, and there will be plenty more to follow.  Hopefully I'll be able to keep up my progress and hit each of these milestones in turn on my way to publishing this book by April.

And even if I don't get there when I anticipate doing so, even if I go two hours out of my way to sample bourbon at the Wild Turkey distillery, or get caught up in a three hour traffic jam, I'll get there at some point.  And that's all you can really ask for, right?



Days: 9
Words: 25,009
Pages: 85 1/2


D.J. Gelner covers the Rams beat for insideSTL.com, and is an aspiring author.  Follow him on twitter (@djgelner) or facebook (here).  E-mail him at djssuperblog@gmail.com.  You can also listen to his podcast (Bottle and Cans) here. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

My New Routine

I'm sure some of you may wonder exactly how I fill my days now that I'm trying to make a go of it as a full-time novelist.  Most of you probably think that it involves "searching for inspiration" at the bottom of a bong or bottle, or by watching cable all day long and hoping that by some weird process of osmosis, it somehow sparks my creative side into a flurry.

Though that process may work for some folks, that's not how I do business when I'm serious about accomplishing something.  I'm treating this gig like a full-time job, with the understanding that, being a creative endeavor, it's sometimes tough to go full-bore for long stretches at a time.  This doesn't mean screwing around on the internet for hours during a writing session, but a short five or ten minutes every hour-and-a-half or so often serves as a "mini-recharge," and allows me to dedicate most of my productive time to writing.

So in the interest of full disclosure, I thought I'd go through what a "typical day" is like for me right now.

8:30 am: Wake up, shower (this can be as early as 5:30 depending on whether or not I'm filling in on IBON in the morning, taking people to the airport, etc.)

9:15 am: Breakfast--three eggs, scrambled.  Read newspaper and/or favorite blogs for an hour or so.

10:15-10:30 am: Go to gym, work out for an hour or so.

11:30-11:45 am: Starbucks, shower, lunch (usually fruit and chocolate milk)

Noon: Start writing. Shoot for at least 3,000 words per day, a pace that I've somewhat surprisingly been able to keep up pretty well so far.

5:30-6:00 pm: Finish up novel writing for the day, answer any e-mails sent to me, start writing blog post.

6:30 pm: Publish blog post. Dinner.

7:00 pm: Spend another hour to two hours reading blogs about self-publishing, publicity, marketing, or anything else that will ultimately help get my book into the hands of readers.

9:00-10:00 pm (or so): Read for pleasure, watch TV, or indulge in some videogame time.

Late night: Watch something on Netflix or a movie to try to wind down.

Midnight-1:00 am: try to fall asleep, repeat again in the morning.

It's not necessarily a glamorous lifestyle at the moment, but it works, as I continue to make steady progress on the novel.

Perhaps most importantly (and unaccounted for in the schedule above) is that I'm often thinking of my novel while watching TV, or reading blogs, or working out. It's not something that I really "leave during the work day," as I constantly have my trusty notepad around to jot down ideas that come to me in the off-hours. Some of these ideas have been great, others, not so much.

I think the larger point to take away is that some people complain about a job that they "take home with them," and find themselves thinking about constantly.  Instead, (I think) I've finally found one where I don't care whether or not I'm thinking about it in my time off, and actually enjoy "work" during the day.

Are there things that I could improve upon in the schedule? Of course.  I'd love to build up creative stamina to the point where I could go a full eight, productive hours every day, just plugging in brilliance from my brain directly to the screen of my Mac.  But I'm sure forging a connection like that takes time, and probably won't even come until thousands upon thousands of hours of practice, if at all.

In the meanwhile, in true Dr. Leo Marvin...ian...fashion, I'll continue taking "Baby Steps" toward my ultimate goal of finishing this thing up by April.  As ambitious as it sounds, barring any setbacks, I should be right on schedule.

Damn it--there I go jinxing myself again...

Days: 9
Words: 23,033
Pages: 79

D.J. Gelner covers the Rams beat for insideSTL.com, and is an aspiring author.  Follow him on twitter (@djgelner) or facebook (here).  E-mail him at djssuperblog@gmail.com.  You can also listen to his podcast (Bottle and Cans) here. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

On Performance-Enhancing Drugs

Let me guess: when you first saw that title, I bet that you thought this would be some kind of tearful, emotional confession that alternated between soul-crushing sadness and blind, unprovoked rage as I detailed my descent into steroid hell.

(Never mind the background change, which I thought was more in line with what the blog has become...why? Did this thing suddenly become about mathematical and architectural drawings?  Hey, Blogger doesn't give me many choices, okay? GET OFF MY CASE ALREADY!)

Let me assure you, that's simply not true.  I'm not talking about steroids, or adderall, or even something like alcohol, which I've enjoyed far too much in the past.

Nope, I'm talking about something that I had previously sworn off as a lawyer for years.  Something that made me so jittery and wound so tightly that I had to quit cold turkey just so I could sleep soundly at night.

I'm talking about caffeine.

I think I've previously blogged about how I tried to curb my caffeine usage four or so years ago, but if not, then it goes something like this: I tried to curb my caffeine usage four or so years ago.  Right after I started at the old firm, I had taken up coffee drinking fairly religiously, in large part because it helped keep me awake while performing some of the more mundane tasks associated with the law, and partially because Starbucks, international drug cartel that it is, was only a short elevator ride away, and literally across the street from my building.

I had a two cup per day habit, which often left me sleepless at night until Friday, when my system would frequently crash at eight or nine o'clock, exhausted after a full work week.

At some point, I decided I needed to sleep better and cut caffeine out entirely; no more coke, no more coffee, no more tea.  I started having a more regular sleep cycle, but my mind often felt foggy and "mushy."  That I was still drinking what was probably a bit too much booze likely didn't help with the "blah" feeling in my head. 

The caffeine moratorium continued strictly for a year or two, and another couple of years on all but the rarest of occasions, and though I was getting more sleep, the sleep that I did get never really felt like it was enough; the grogginess and fog simply settled in daily like a morning near the sea.

When I started my book, though, I knew that I had to get an early start each day to fit in the amount of work I wanted to get done, and as a natural night owl, I turned to my old friend, caffeine, again to get the brain going and my mind more focused and productive.

I hate myself for saying this, but it worked.  I'm not a huge fan of coffee, largely because I hate dealing with the way it stains my teeth and leaves me searching for a pack of gum almost instantly after I drink it, so I've taken to drinking one of the big green teas from Starbucks pretty much daily (I refuse to use the term venti in a sentence, since I still feel like an idiot for having to say it every day when I order; DAMN YOU STARBUCKS!) 

Green tea's supposed to be good for me, and I've found that it does give me a good amount more focus and energy than I would have otherwise, which in turn has allowed me to get more out on the page than I normally would have.  Not that what I've written thus far is gold or anything, but the sheer act of getting it out there means I'm that much closer to editing, which in turn means that I'm that much closer to sending the book off to a professional editor, and that much closer to releasing it, et cetera, et cetera.

"Big deal, moron, so you go to Starbucks like hundreds of millions of other people around the world every day.  What do you want? A medal?"  Not really, at least not yet.  What's interesting to me is that it's given me a different perspective on the nature of "performance-enhancing" drugs generally. 

If someone told me that drinking something else would increase my output by 50% and make it slightly better and more inspired, but had the potential for some unpleasant side effects, would I take it? Maybe.  Previously, as a sports fan, I'd have mumbled something about "purity" or something equally as absurd before going on my merry way. 

But now that I've immersed myself in this project and seen it from a different perspective? It would certainly intrigue me, as long as one of those side-effects wasn't "potential for immediate death."

The whole notion of "performance-enhancers" is a vague one; on some very basic level, food and water are performance-enhancers, as without them, we'd all be dead.

Performance enhancers for artists are considered fine, or at least implicitly endorsed as people celebrate the rock-and-roll lifestyle.  Performance enhancers for athletes are derided, as somehow detrimental to some idyllic version of "pure" competition.  PEDs for sex? Good. PEDs "to get ripped?" Bad.

You see the problem: in a society littered with value judgments, it's important to remember that a lot of times, we live by what are ultimately arbitrary rules imposed by people with more of a say in the matter than ourselves.  Sometimes, like with caffeine on one end of the spectrum and meth and heroin on the other end, those value judgments are sound.

But sometimes the waters become a bit murkier, and you're left asking yourself "why is this good and something else bad?" Why is improving some kinds of performance deemed "fine" or even applauded, while other kinds are considered "cheating" or "underhanded?"

Think about that next time you're enjoying your morning cup o' joe.


Days: 8
Words: 20,028
Pages: 68 1/2

D.J. Gelner covers the Rams beat for insideSTL.com, and is an aspiring author.  Follow him on twitter (@djgelner) or facebook (here).  E-mail him at djssuperblog@gmail.com.  You can also listen to his podcast (Bottle and Cans) here.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Balancing Act

I didn't write a single word for my novel today, and that's okay.

Let me back up; today was a bit of a whirlwind.  Word came down yesterday that the press conference to introduce Jeff Fisher as the new Rams Head Coach would happen Tuesday afternoon.

Little did I know that reclusive Rams owner Stan Kroenke would also make an appearance at the presser, which would ultimately lead to an extended column over on insideSTL.  It was fun to write, but it took a long time to say what I wanted to say in just the right way; unlike the novel, it's a matter of writing and editing--editing the novel will come once the first draft is complete.

Not that I'm complaining; I love working for Tim and the other folks over there. I even filled in on the IBON show this morning from 600-700.  I'm certainly very grateful for the forum and their confidence in me as a writer and radio contributor.

At the same time, when you're writing a novel and really starting to get into it, every day that you don't work on it is a "lost day" in some sense.  I'm truly my own boss at the moment, and hoping to get to 100 pages by the end of the week.  That goal took a bit of a hit today, but it's still very doable if I redouble my efforts for the rest of the week.  I've finally built the necessary discipline into my routine that writing a novel full-time demands, but sometimes things come up.  It happens.

So that begs the question; why am I okay with this?  For a combination of reasons.  First of all, as I mentioned above, I really do enjoy the work of covering football, and I think that anything I'm working on is worth doing well.

But as an aspiring novelist, I'm also all too aware of the need to build a "platform;" a group of folks that are fans of your work for one reason or another.  This need is magnified if you decide to self-publish, which I am very strongly considering.

That's the somewhat "ugly" part of the business for me; I don't want to come across as anything but appreciative for all of you out there that have supported my endeavors over the past eight months or so, especially those of you that kept reading during what became a challenging (in the best possible way) Rams season. The feedback has been fantastic, and I really do enjoy interacting with folks on twitter and facebook.

It's all a balancing act; as a writer, I need to write. It's what I really enjoy most. Now that I've immersed myself in it as a full time job, the creative outlet is indispensable, and is what I truly get up for every day.

At the same time, the simple truth of it is that as more people read your stuff, the better you can do in this business, either through greater exposure, or via more folks that enjoy your work and (at least far, far in the future when it becomes a full-fledged novel) and are willing to throw a few shekels your way to read it.  I strive to provide an excellent product at an unbeatable price (read free) in this blog and over at insideSTL, and I'll always produce plenty more free stuff, as close to daily as I can manage.  But building up that readership is ultimately very important.

In exchange, I just ask that if you enjoy what you read, and are even entertained by it, keep reading.  To a writer, that means a lot.  Maybe it's some sick sense of validation, or some equally twisted theory that I'd need to go through tons of therapy to fully come to terms with, but the simple matter is that all writers want to be read more than anything else--if they don't, then I hate to say it, but they're probably in the wrong business.  For me, it's not even the sense that "I have something important to say--HEAR ME OUT!" that so many aspiring writers seem to have, or trying to work through some deep-rooted psychological issues as a therapy substitute. In my case, I just want to entertain some of you, get you smiling and thinking, and maybe, just maybe, help out a few folks with tough situations along the way.

It's a very roundabout way of trying to address how to balance "platform-building" activities with novel-writing, which is truly my number one goal at the moment.  It's just another part of the transition from beat writer to novelist, one that I still continue to feel out on a day-to-day basis.

Though I must say, I'm excited to get back to writing a lot tomorrow; this bug is truly infectious.

And by that, I mean the novelist bug...not some kind of contagious disease...I think...

D.J. Gelner covers the Rams beat for insideSTL.com, and is an aspiring author.  Follow him on twitter (@djgelner) or facebook (here).  E-mail him at djssuperblog@gmail.com.  You can also listen to his podcast (Bottle and Cans) here.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Recharging the Batteries

Toward the end of my previous job as a lawyer, I became what is very technically and clinically known as "burned out."

I dreaded going to work every day and felt pretty depressed.  I couldn't ever seem to get enough sleep, even if I'd somehow manage to get nine or ten hours. My drinking, though not out of control, got perilously close to the ledge at times. I put on weight.

Perhaps most alarmingly, I felt like I had lost a lot of my creativity.  I continued to write on the side, but in going back and re-reading the end product, it was stilted and cold, like it was written by a robot (or like a legal brief).  My characters lacked any depth that made them jump off the page as the story became more of a deposition transcript than anything else.

It took many long weeks of decompression, relaxation, and working on my mental agility to get me back on track late in the summer (and just in time to cover the Rams, no less).  For weeks after I quit my job as a lawyer, there were days when I'd sleep over twelve hours and still be tired.  My mental reserves were completely drained.

I guess my point is that, especially when you're an aspiring novelist, burnout is a very real concern.  Some people thrive on marathon writing sessions that go well into the double-digit hours.  I could do that, but I get the feeling that my product wouldn't be very good at the end, and my writing would take on that "hollow" quality that I so badly want to avoid from now on.

So, I've done my best to structure my weeks in a way to minimize burnout.  "Way to go, idiot; I guess that means that you sit around all day playing videogames and drinking beer, all in the name of 'recharging.'" Uh...nothing could be further from the truth.

Instead, I'm trying to set up a real "work week," where I write for a real "work day" five days per week.  Sitting down, wi-fi off, in front of the computer, just myself and Word, hammering out content.

I've found that instead of churning out uninteresting content, it forces me to immerse myself in the world I'm creating, and to go for long stretches imagining scenes and channeling them from brain to fingers, getting it all out on the screen.  A number of people call this state of mind "being in the zone" (another technical term, I know), where I can become so lost in my work that over an hour can pass without me even realizing it, as happened today.

But I'm also not so naive as to think that I can keep up such a pace seven days a week; as much as I love writing, I love doing other things, too, like hanging out with friends, vegging in front of the TV, reading fiction for pleasure (a long-lost hobby that I've recently re-discovered), and any other number of recreational pursuits that don't necessarily involve writing, though I am of the opinion that reading is essential to make yourself a better writer, but that's a post for another day.

So, I generally write during the day, and take nights and weekends off.  That's not to say that I don't end up working on the weekend; like anyone else in this day and age, creep is somewhat inevitable.  I do try to limit whatever work I do on the weekends to non-writing as much as possible; it usually consists of outlining, jotting down little things I want to work into the novel, or reading blogs about the self-publishing business, like this one and this one

But nights and weekends are to allow me to get away from the story a bit, reflect, and live life so that I have new experiences to bring to the table as a writer, and new perspectives that may in turn better entertain any potential readers.

So far, so good; I found that by late last night, I was itching to get back in front of the Mac and start writing again.  Like the old saying says "absence makes the heart grow fonder," and right now I'm teasing the hell out of the writer in me by sticking to this schedule.

And the bigger life lesson for those of you out there? Set aside a certain block of time that's for you and your friends or family to do what you want to do and get away from whatever work you're doing.  In the grand scheme of things, an hour or two isn't much to sacrifice, and your sanity will be much better for it, especially if you have a stressful job that provides you with little or no joy.

If you don't, you might find yourself chasing life on the tops of waves somewhere on Australia's east coast.

Now that you mention it...

Days: 6
Words: 16,129

Pages: 55 1/4

D.J. Gelner covers the Rams beat for insideSTL.com, and is an aspiring author.  Follow him on twitter (@djgelner) or facebook (here).  E-mail him at djssuperblog@gmail.com.  You can also listen to his podcast (Bottle and Cans) here.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Breaking My Procrastination Addiction

I'm only four days into writing this book, and making pretty good progress thus far.  I realize that clipping off ten pages a day isn't exactly putting me on Steven King's pace; that guy releases a new book seemingly every other week.  But averaging ten pages a day or so (even if they're still largely unedited) is pretty good for starting with a blank word document Monday morning.

Coming into this project, I was worried about one thing more than anything else; my propensity to procrastinate.

I've never been one for "planning ahead" when it comes to completing projects; I seem to have an innate ability to know exactly how much time I have to get a given project done, then procrastinate and screw around until that exact moment where I know "Okay, now I really have to get down to work."

In college, I used to fill my hours with all kinds of time-wasters; drinking, sitting around and B.S.ing, marathon sessions of NCAA Football or Madden 2004, Smash Brothers, NFL Blitz; you name it.  I liked to have fun, and I always seemed to know exactly how much fun I could have before buckling down to get whatever paper done with one second left on the shot-clock.

That works just fine when there's a hard-and-fast deadline, or even in my previous career as a lawyer, where the deadlines weren't so hard-and-fast, but there were deadlines imposed by others, nonetheless.  There was always that little egg-timer in the back of my head, ticking away the seconds until the jaw-rattling "BRRRRRINNNNNGG!" that signaled "It's time to start now."

Unfortunately, when your days are dedicated to writing a novel, there really is no deadline, other than those of the arbitrary, self-imposed variety. 

This past summer, with little direction and (I suspect) still a bit burned out from the law game, I told myself I was going to write fiction, but never really sat down to write, other than that twenty-five pages that now needs to be completely reworked to salvage the novel.  Instead, I filled my time with all of the wonderful time-wasters that had become a part of the process for me; hanging out with friends and playing video games.  I kept telling myself "I'll write more tomorrow," but I lacked the discipline to actually sit down and write anything on a day-to-day basis, other than that four-week phase where I wrote articles for this blog every day.

Fortunately, Tim over at insideSTL had what amounted to an open casting call for a Rams Reporter (though without any of the usual "casting couch" shenanigans...or were there...?), and I was finally getting paid regularly for writing every day.  I was hardly getting rich, but I had some responsibility and "deadlines" in the sense that I was writing articles six days a week during the season, and had to show up for practice every day.

That experience was invaluable; it changed me from "aspiring writer" to "writer."  That discipline of sitting in front of the computer daily, thinking of an idea, and fleshing it out, even for only 1,500 words at a time was absolutely crucial.

It also allowed me to change my procrastination tools into rewards.  Want to play a game of Civ IV? You better finish up that article first.  Same with hanging out with friends or any number of other "fun" activities.

Another problem for me has always been the internet; I read a number of sites voraciously, either for entertainment or news.  From my experience last summer, I knew that the internet can be extremely dangerous to productivity, especially in those crucial moments when you're trying to get started on a project, before you've built up that valuable momentum.

So now, while I'm writing, I just turn off my wireless adapter. "Wow, you didn't think of that before, idiot?" Oh, the thought had crossed my mind, but like an alcoholic who doesn't want to admit that he has a drinking problem, I thought that would be the ultimate sign of weakness. 

I now realize that the real weakness was giving into all of these distractions when there was work to be done. That's not to say I flagellate myself when I'm working, acting as my own slave driver to "just keep writing;" it's still a creative process, and I'll allow myself mini-breaks to recharge the batteries, if only momentarily.

But gone are the "just another turn" games of Civ IV during the day.  Gone are the minutes turned into hours surfing the net; the discipline I've built up over the past few months is still serving me well.  By setting some firm boundaries during the day and treating this novel like a "real job," I've gotten more accomplished in four days than I could've possibly imagined going in (shocking, I know).

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to read more of Stephen King's excellent new book, 11/22/63.

Days: 4
Word Count: 12,131
Page Count: 41 1/2

D.J. Gelner covers the Rams beat for insideSTL.com, and is an aspiring author.  Follow him on twitter (@djgelner) or facebook (here).  E-mail him at djssuperblog@gmail.com.  You can also listen to his podcast (Bottle and Cans) here.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Outside the Outlines

I tend to be a bit of a disorganized mess by nature.  My idea of filing something important away (read: anything from my bank or credit card companies, usually unopened because I take care of all of my banking online) is throwing it in a big pile in an old-school filing cabinet I have in my place pretty much solely designed for that purpose.

Ever the walking contradiction, I'm also a voracious note-taker, and pretty good at it, if I do say so, myself. I've always prided myself on being able to cut through a lot of the B.S., be it in school or in a meeting, and pull out what's truly important; what the "takeaway" is, if you will.

Over the past year or so, while dabbling in a few short stories, along with this blog and even a few stints as a professional writer sprinkled in, I've been soaking up as much information about writing fiction as possible.  It's not terribly difficult given the ample access to authors that the internet provides; just type in a few google searches and you'll find out more than you ever wanted to know about the world of writing and publishing.

Though I'm still a ways away from having to tackle some of the more difficult questions ("Legacy publishing" vs. "Self-publishing" being the biggest one), one of the things that popped up time and time again was whether or not outlining a story ahead of time would be helpful to writing a novel.

The non-outliners tend to preach spontaneity.  They're all about that bolt of lightning that can hit you out of nowhere and inspire an hours-long writing binge, somehow channeling a good amount of brilliance onto the page...err...screen.

The outliners are more about having a structure to work off of; without some kind of underlying framework, it's far too easy to perpetually put-off writing as you wait for the "perfect moment" to start.  After all, you can't have  thunderbolt without a storm, so outlining provides a way to get the brain going and get those plot points out on a page so that there's always somewhat of a safety blanket to fall back on.

I've tried both ways, and I have to admit, I prefer the outline method.  Not a blow-by-blow, "First X happens, then Y happens which leads to Z," but rather a more free-form, mind-map style of outline that hits the major plot points I'm looking to hit, while allowing me some freedom in how to address each one.

What I've found is even more important than that outline, though, is an outline about the major themes that I want to hit.  This project is essentially a few shorter stories tied together by some common themes on its most basic level, so addressing those themes before I start and having them in the back of my head while writing has been a huge help toward organizing my thoughts into something cogent as opposed to this "ethereal" idea that I somehow need to translate into words, without much of an idea how to do so.

An example from today; after spending most of the late morning going through and mind-mapping all of the first leg of the novel (what's pretty much going to serve as the first act), one of my themes turns on the idea of nature as an authority.  Though it's not in my mind map, this eventually turned into the protagonist looking on with horror at a brutal murder of a chimp...at the hands of other chimps (if you didn't already know that I was crazy, that last sentence should be the final nail in the coffin).  It's a powerful scene for a number of reasons, but if I had dogmatically stuck to the outline like a stubborn head coach unwilling to change his ways mule, I would've missed an obvious opportunity to create a scene as emotional as that one is (at least, as I think it is, and hope that it ultimately will be after some editing).

Conversely, without the "theme sheet" I wrote out, I wouldn't have ever thought to include the scene, since it's basically an allegory for a concept that I thought fit well in the first story. 

So, ultimately I'm a fan of a two-outline system; the first a "road-map" that can get you from A-to-B if you get stuck, and the second a list of the themes that you want to run through the story (or stories) from start-to-finish.

I can't take full credit for the idea, as it's basically the same thing Ayn Rand says through the published collection of her lectures and essays on fiction-writing, The Art of Fiction; I'd highly recommend it to any aspiring fiction-writer.

Still, it is creative writing, so I've found in my (very) limited experience that it's best not to let either bog you down and make you feel like writing's a chore.  Have fun, and create an entertaining world that your readers will invest themselves in and want to spend time discovering.  That's what I look for in a book, and (hopefully) others do too.

Days: 3
Word Count: 9,480
Pages: 33

D.J. Gelner covers the Rams beat for insideSTL.com, and is an aspiring author.  Follow him on twitter (@djgelner) or facebook (here).  E-mail him at djssuperblog@gmail.com.  You can also listen to his podcast (Bottle and Cans) here.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Where to Begin?

One of the toughest things that I've found about writing fiction is finding a way to start off a story without coming off as too "nuts and bolts"-y.  I've heard the old novelist's adage urging to "show, not tell," but it's especially difficult to do so while setting up the meat of the story to come.

I've already tabled a couple of stories simply because I couldn't determine a good way to start them (yet--I hope to figure out a way to get those stories on paper eventually...or hard drive...or whatever).  The exposition took too long, or was too clunky, or was just flat-out boring for the reader when I went back through it.

Not to mention that my main job as a writer is to entertain the audience, and far too often I clam up and try to sound too "literary" when first starting a novel.  My writing style in blogs tends to be more conversational, but for whatever reason, when I sit down to start a novel, some crappy voice in my head comes out and tries to sound like a pale imitation of Charles Dickens, with a lot of formal, awkward language, and just a lot of boring stuff that somehow makes its way from my head to the page.  It's like diarrhea of the mind, only I'm not a kid or an old person; I'm just a twenty-something guy without a diaper.  I should know better.

There's that constant, nagging voice in the back of my head when trying to start that "this isn't good enough" or "it's total crap."  Until recently, that's just curbed the amount of writing that I could accomplish, a convenient excuse to play videogames or watch TV--it has to be PERFECT before I start writing! How else can I possibly live with myself!?

The answer's quite simple: just put fingers to keys and start, moron!  I wrote about ten pages of my novel yesterday, most of it introduction that's going to have to be reworked. Is it my best stuff? Not by a country mile.  Today, even before sitting down to write, I reworked a lot of it in my head to be a little less "hokey" and a little more entertaining.

But for now, it's at least a start, and it allowed me to polish off about fourteen pages of much higher quality stuff today.  I think of it like the first few brushstrokes of a painting; no one will probably ever see them, but they give the artist an idea of where to go next, and something to build on going forward.

What I wrote yesterday will almost certainly be reworked a number of times before I'm finished, but the important thing is that I sat down and wrote those pages, and going back to fix them is easier than filling ten pages with good stuff the first try.

I'll defer to a man far sager than I to explain it: in the words of Roy "Tin Cup" McAvoy, "Tempo is everything; perfection unattainable." That first chapter likely won't ever be "perfect" in the truest sense of the word, even after countless drafts and rewrites, but writing it out the first time gives me a chance to get in a rhythm, or tempo, as a writer, and to start producing a decent amount of content every day, content that will (hopefully) improve over time.

Of course, check back with me come editing time to see if I feel the same way...

Days: 2
Word Count: 7,069
Pages: 24 1/2

D.J. Gelner covers the Rams beat for insideSTL.com, and is an aspiring author.  Follow me on twitter (@djgelner) or facebook (here).  E-mail me at djssuperblog@gmail.com.  You can also listen to my podcast (Bottle and Cans) here.

Monday, January 9, 2012

I'm Back...With a New Direction

Well that was quick.


The last five months have absolutely flown by.  For those of you that didn't know, I spent the last five months covering the flailing St. Louis Rams every day for the good folks over at insideSTL.  Well, at least six days a week, but you get the idea. The team went 2-14, fired their coach, and now is knee-deep in a coaching search that has somehow managed to raise new concerns about the team moving to L.A.  Great.

At any rate, I'm off of the insideSTL beat pretty much until draft time (that's April, for you non-football fans out there), so in the interim, I'm going to attack my white whale: writing a complete, cogent, entertaining, thoughtful work of fiction before then.

Surprisingly enough, writing basically six days a week instilled a little bit of discipline in me; at this point, it feels wrong to NOT bang out a couple thousand words a day (at least).  Oh, sure, I got my "play videogames for a few days" stretch out of my system this past week, as the old batteries got a bit drained down the stretch, but now I'm recharged and ready to write, with a fresh sense of purpose.

Being "on the beat" also helped me refine my writing skills further.  Writing my ridiculous weekly power rankings got me back in the habit of writing creatively and entertainingly; as outrageous as they may have been at times, the sheer act of creating characters and following them through a larger story arc did wonders for my fiction-writing endeavors.  Plus, I know I can crank out 5,000 words a day of (I hope) pretty high-quality stuff when I put my mind to it, so I have a new benchmark to shoot for in my daily endeavors.

I do have an exciting concept for a novel, and I'll share more as it comes together, but I thought that blogging the process of writing a novel might be a good way to keep in touch with folks during my hiatus.

So a lot of the self-improvement stuff will be cast aside for a while.  True to my former...err..."teachings(?)", I figured that the best way to teach others about self-improvement is by chronicling my own attempts to do so, in the hopes that you all can learn something from any successes and failures that I have along the way.  Hell, I might even change the name of the blog--never really loved the "Superblog" moniker, so maybe I'll think of something a little more fitting for this next jag.

Blogging about writing a novel also provides me with a little bit of accountability; I know that friends, colleagues, and even a few strangers read this blog, so hopefully ending each day with a short blog will help keep me focused and writing on a fairly "regular" schedule.  I'll talk a bit more about the process in upcoming posts this week, but for now, it's important to keep me on task.  If you see me around or just want to pass some thoughts along via facebook or twitter, or just want to ask me "how's the book coming along?", please, I not only say "feel free to do so," but ask that you DO do so, if for no other reason than to keep me honest.  If my answer sounds like B.S., call me out on it.

Anyway, just thought I'd start 2012 out properly, and let you all know what's going on at the moment. It's exciting as hell to really dedicate myself to an ambitious project and timetable.  Thanks for reading.


D.J. Gelner covers the Rams beat for insideSTL.com, and is an aspiring author.  Follow me on twitter (@djgelner) or facebook (here).  E-mail me at djssuperblog@gmail.com.  You can also listen to my podcast (Bottle and Cans) here.