Friday, December 31, 2010

So long 2010, Hello 2011!

Well, here we are again, breathing down the neck of a shiny new year.

In merely hours, we'll be toasting out 2010 and ringing in 2011. Every year goes by fast, but this one seemed to go particularly so. I suppose that's a good sign, since we all know time flies when you're having fun. It's been a terrific year for Mt. Tom's, despite the continuing to sputter economy. Mother nature gave us a year full of just about the best weather any ice cream purveyor could ask for. Mild, dry spring. Hot, dry summer. Mild, dry fall. Just about snow-free early winter. Ice cream weather perfection. After a truly miserable 2009 weather-wise, with cold, cloudy, and rainy being the weather order of the day until somewhere around mid-August, 2010 was well-deserved payback. Kudos once again to those ECA BearFest bears for saving 2009 from that cold, dark summer. Here's hoping a new sloth of bears returns in 2012 as rumored.

Thanks Mom Nature. Feel free to repeat the star treatment throughout the new year.

Weather aside, 2010 wasn't perfect, and if you're still looking for a job, you may not have many good things at all to say about it. If that's the lifeboat you're in, I wish you better success in 2011.

I will remember 2010 as the year we all got into each other's business. Sure, the internet and email and blogs have been around for years, but it just feels different now. Facebook certainly has played a big role. Along with smart phones, texting, Ipads, Skype, and Twitter. Before 2010, if I wanted to know what my friend Judy had for dinner last night, I'd have to actually call her or bump into her in the supermarket. Now, not only can I know if the asparagus was a little mushy, I can probably see a picture of it, courtesy of her digital constant companions - Iphone and Facebook.

I'm still on the fence as to whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.

Will this whole social networking thing flame out in 2011? Is it too late to turn back? Can I still return my I-phone?

But then, how would I update my Netflix queue with the movie I just thought of or set my DirectTV DVR to record tonight's episode of 'How I met your mother' while I'm buying bananas in Big E's supermarket?

Or share with my 1514 fans, my latest ice cream flavor masterpiece?

Time, and it seems technology, wait for no one. You can either jump on the bus or continue to shuffle along the dusty shoulder while your friends (and competitors) wave to you in their rear view mirror.

But not before they invite you to the party you will miss because you don't check your Facebook wall every three minutes.

Living quietly in the woods with a few books, logs for the fire, and fixings for dinner, and without being interrupted by a news update of a deadly plane crash in Mongolia sounds kindof nice, but it's just not the world you and I live in. I say that with confidence because just your reading these words means you're 'connected'. We're connected. Leave a comment and you're connected to all the other Ice Cream Diaries readers who had a few minutes during their day to wander over. It's just that simple here in the now of the waning hours of 2010.

If you've held an Iphone or an Ipad in your hand or swung a Wii bat or gotten your directions from a voice hanging from your dash, I think you'll have a hard time arguing that although we're not yet driving in hovercrafts, the futuristic cartoon world of the Jetson's is upon us.

And I wait with anxious anticipation to see where 2011 takes us.

Which of course is all the more reason to appreciate the little things in life.

A great night's sleep.

A cool pink sunset.

The enthusiasm of children during the holidays.

A walk on the Manhan rail trail.

A hand-scooped ice cream cone.

Thank god it all comes back to ice cream.

Here's wishing you and yours a very Happy New Year. May 2011 be filled with all that you hope for and a little bit more.

Starting at 6 pm today (New Years Eve), we'll be resting and recharging until Friday, February 4th at noon. Thanks for helping make 2010 our best year yet!

Happy New Year!


Friday, December 17, 2010

NANOWriting Challenge: A Follow-up.

If you're a regular Ice Cream Diaries reader, you may remember me talking about a little writing project I completed this time last year. If not, here it is. It's affectionately called 'Novel in a Month' and is part of National Novel Writing Month, upon which November has been so dubbed. The website describes it best:

National Novel Writing Month
is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing on November 1. The goal is to write a 50,000 word, (approximately 175 page) novel by 11:59:59, November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It's all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Thanks to recruiting efforts by a couple of regular customers, Kat and her mom Noreen, who themselves had already signed up to write their own first novels in a month, I threw my hat, er pen, into the ring. Starting on November 1 of 2009, I started to write. And write. And write. I wrote in the back of the shop whenever I had someone scooping out front. Instead of sharing my morning coffee with email and Facebook, I wrote. I learned to write dialog. I even took a writing retreat to a friend's condo on the coast in Old Orchard Beach, Maine.

I lived the life of a starving writer for a month. It was (using the first word that pops into my head), awesome.

I followed the website's instructions to the letter. I wrote as fast as I could, not even stopping to reread the paragraph I'd just finished. A little over a week into it, I was nearly halfway to 50,000 words. I was on fire. When I started, I had a rough idea of a storyline, but I had no clue what and who would show up between word one and 'the end'. I've often likened it to reading a book, but instead of turning the page to see what happens next, I let my fingers type it onto my computer screen. I wouldn't go so far as to say I was channeling my novel, but I often got that feeling. A writer's high like none I'd ever experienced.

And since competition is often needed to play at one's best, my co-conspirators and I pushed each other along. The NanoWriting website people sent inspiring emails. We uploaded our word counts daily and savored each little milestone along our way to 50K. It was challenging, exhausting at times, and hugely satisfying when we each got to the finish line of our own word marathons. The three of us celebrated over a great IPA and beef tips at the Apollo Grill.

The next day I sent my really, really rough manuscript to Paradise Copies for its first printing. All 63,214 words of it. Holding those 185 pages in my hands when I picked it up was another writing high, again awesome.

Having immersed myself in my tangled story of love, intrigue, and life lessons for the better part of thirty days, I quickly put the one inch stack of words down and didn't go near them for nearly a month. When I finally did give it a first read, although there were flashes of brilliance, or at least ok-ness, it really was pretty crappy.

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that's a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

But just like the amateur marathon runner whose only accolade for finishing is personal satisfaction, I had now written a novel, and no one could ever take that away from me.

So in February of this year, I started what turned out to be the much more difficult part of the process - rewriting. My friend Kat and I quickly set up another challenge. We were to exchange rough drafts at the end of April. I did my best to attack this phase with the same diligence and discipline as last November, but it didn't take long to realize I really did write a lot of crap. Character names changed and interchanged throughout. I overused words. Tenses flipped from present to past at the drop of an open quote. Instead of writing at 3000 words a day, it was tough to get through a few pages, even with the caffeine inspiration of my morning cup of Indigo Roasters.

Around mid-April, I finally finished the first rough pass, printed it, and swapped it with Kat. She returned that copy a few weeks later, and although I know she's an art teacher by profession, I learned she's pretty good with a red pen too. Despite all the corrective encouragement, it took me a few more months to muster the motivation to take another whack at a rewrite. This whack coming not without another competitive challenge from my friends. We had decided to claim this November as our own 'rewrite in a month' (or so) project.

Again, rewriting is brutal business. It's one thing to rewrite a 1500 word blog essay, but working through 65,000 words is a much bigger fish to fry. But we each stayed the course. And now here I sit, version 2.0 on my screen, just about to hit the send button on the email its attached to, bound for Paradise Copies. As I tell this tale, I savor a fresh wave of satisfaction for sticking with it through another tough write-around.

So what happens next? Good question. Is it a marketable manuscript? Probably not. At least not in its current form. Too personal. An intriguing storyline I believe, but the main characters bear just a little too much of a resemblance to their creator and his circle.

Could it be marketable?


The confident optimist in me says perhaps.

You're likely thinking, wow, that's a lot of time and effort spent on something that ends up on a shelf for no one to read but its author, perhaps from his rocking chair many years from now. Might one consider my novel a failure? A waste of hundreds of hours of time?

I don't see it that way...

I got a taste, albeit just an appetizer, of the life of a writer. To reiterate - awesome.

I got to exorcise a few demons with the assistance of a handful of characters, some plot, and lots of dialog. Who would have thought writing could be so cathartic.

I'm certain the practice (and critique from friends) has made me a better writer.

I put my mind to something difficult and saw it through.

And I now have a 55,204 word description of 'My Greatest Life Lesson'.

True to many of life's endeavors, its purpose was not be revealed until I was fully immersed. The joy really is in the journey.

Thanks for listening.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Introducing White Square Fine Books & Art.

Did you know that Easthampton and Cottage Street have a new bookstore?

It's called White Square Fine Books & Art, and it's exactly what you'd picture a small town bookstore to be. Classy. An eclectic mix of fiction, non-fiction, used and new, with a number of first editions and signed copies scattered throughout the fine wood shelves. Art books and other art collectables. And more.

From their website:

Great books in a cozy shop on an eclectic street in an amazing town!

We offer a broad range of material, including mysteries, non-fiction, and books for children and young adults. We specialize in literary first editions, fine press books, books on books, and book-related art, with a particular interest in signed and inscribed books and "association" copies.

The proud owners are Eileen and Randy Corbeil. Nice people, and they seem genuinely excited to have a bookstore to call their own.

For months, the windows were covered with plastic, and although there were rumors the space was to become a bookstore, it wasn't completely clear until last month when we saw Randy sprucing up the facade. From the minute you step through the door, you can just tell they wanted to do it right. And they did.

They even have a faux fireplace.

And chairs to pull up and peruse a potential purchase.

White Square Books is open Thursday thru Sunday from 10 - 6 pm. I hope you can check it out next time you're cruising through Cottage Street.

Even better, they're having a launch party tomorrow night (Saturday, December 11th) during the Easthampton ArtWalk 5 - 8 pm.

Stop in and say hello to Eileen and Randy. And feel free to buy a book.

And to our new neighbors, welcome to Cottage Street!