Rough Drafts, Rough Trails.

February 8, 2015

I must apologize for getting my readers’ hopes up and not posting a new blog in weeks! I was involved in a murder mystery theatre event that I adapted for a local theatre company called Off Square. It’s been occupying most of my free time, and any spare hours I can find, I’ve been making final edits on my novel. Apparently (according to my agent’s wonderful assistant) we’re gearing up to head out on submission. NUTS! I have no idea what to expect. The only piece of advice I’m taking to heart is to be patient. Really trying to incorporate that into all aspects of my life, bee-tee-dubs (BTW; by the way).

When I look over “Blade of the Outlaw” today, I’m so stoked to see how much it has evolved since I first wrote the rough draft over the course of three weeks in August 2012. I just threw up all over the page, incorporating filler sentences such as “blah, blah, blah…other stuff happens”, and “Leyton says something inspirational” before skipping to the next part I wanted to write. Real professional writing, folks. I didn’t understand the importance of a rough draft until I spent those three weeks in random Starbucks shops around Chicago. But in the moment, I wasn’t conscious about writing a rough draft, per se. I was writing a novel. I figured I just had to fix a couple things and then I could publish it! Boom! But by the time I got to the end (a whopping 93,000 words later), I realized that this story weren’t no War and Peace. Hell, it wasn’t even 50 Shades of Grey. It was this raggedy story standing on a curb getting splashed by cars driving through puddles. It was soaked in my inexperience as a writer. I didn’t outline anything. My fingers just seizure across the keyboard and this crappy book was the result.

This first iteration was called “The Outlaws of Merrimere” and it starred a character named Leyton Cole (which I ended up switching to Leyton Thacker by the 3rd draft). He was searching out his estranged uncle Wyatt Cole and was a sheep farmer, not a horse trainer. Also, there were no guns! I had written an entire western without a single gunshot (intentionally, mind you; I knew I wanted to have cowboys wielding swords, and figured the only way that could happen was to eliminate guns completely). I had forgotten characters I had introduced in the beginning of the book, perspectives changed, the tense changed, it was an absolute catastrophe of a book.

But I finished it!

I wrote it all out and got all those wacko ideas out of my head and onto the paper. I was proud of myself, but I wasn’t going to let a soul read it. That’s when I realized that this was only the beginning. I would have to do a full rewrite and figure out how to fix this thing. I promised myself that I would never open the rough draft again. I never used my rough draft as a reference. The story was still in my head. I would just start over and see what I could do to fix it.

It used to be SO DIFFERENT!

It used to be SO DIFFERENT!

The second iteration was called “The Outlaws of Merrimere” as well, but this time I focused on alternating chapters between two characters: Leyton Cole and Elias Thacker (now those last names are swapped, of course). It incorporated a lot more history about this alternate history I created because Elias was from New England—the British ruled colonies along the eastern coast. After a year of rewrites, I finished this draft and let some of my friends read through it. One came back and said, “It feels like you wrote two different books. It’s like a western in some chapters and then its steampunk in others.” That was a huge blow. I thought it was flawless this time! I thought I’d fixed everything. But this was another lesson. I was getting closer—Leyton’s world was making more sense to me—but things just weren’t connecting.

So I rewrote it again, this time in first-person. I retitled it “Blade of the Outlaw”, and solely focused on Leyton’s story. Since I had spent so much time writing about these characters, they started to become more real to me. I understood their motives and their speech patterns much better. Everything made more sense, and because I had fleshed out every aspect of Elias’s world, the alternate history could linger in my mind. Since writing it, I built an expansive outline for four books that follow “Blade”. Whether or not I ever write them, it’s comforting to know that they’re there just in case. Leyton’s story is so prevalent in my head and I think about him every day.

Because I’m embodying this “be patient” advice, I wanted to extend that to other writers. When you come up with a story, write as many words about it as you can. Even if it’s crappy writing. Just spew the story onto your computer screen or notepad and see where it goes. I’ve never met another writer who can write a perfect book in one go. I don’t think he or she exists. Writing takes time and a lot of brain power. But ultimately spending multiple years on one story can be the most rewarding experience you can have, because it awakens your creativity. Writers block happens! But, if my rough draft is any indication, you’re allowed to write things like “I don’t know what to write” and “other stuff happens here”. Why the hell not?

Writing a story is like excavating a fossil. You start off with a hammer and chisel, breaking off the heavy sediment, and then you work your way down to using a toothbrush to sweep away the little dirt specks that remain. Only then do you get to the point when it’s polished enough to display it in a museum, or, in this case, a bookstore.

Munz.

Triple Shot XXII.

January 13, 2015

I used to be a 9-to-5er and I used to know what Tuesday felt like. Tuesdays were usually long and uneventful. Few meetings were scheduled on Tuesdays as they were usually the catch-up day for all the crap you couldn’t handle on Monday. Monday, with its staff meetings and clogged inboxes and fickle memories of a forgetful weekend.. Right now my challenge is getting used to the fact that I can somehow support myself by NOT having a Monday through Friday full time gig. This, of course, could change, but right now I’m still helping out at the bookstore and the juicery, writing for the paper, etc. etc. Lots of little gigs. Which means that specific days of the week don’t carry the emotions that they used to. Which (I think) I’m okay with.

There’s something to be said about routine. It’s refreshing to fall into a daily grind only to know that two days off linger on the horizon. Maybe I’ll return back to that lifestyle eventually, but right now I need to enjoy what I have. I’m learning to pump the breaks. Aspirations are important, but I’m figuring out how to love the Now. That being said, this is the twenty-second edition of Triple Shot, a blog covering three kick-ass things I’ve been enjoying this week.

1.) The Honorable Woman

You guys, there is SO much we need to watch. I get it. I’ve also learned how to filter things away from my interest. I’ve been successful in avoiding any and all episodes of Frasier (I think it’s about a lawyer), and have managed to destroy my interest in catching up with The Walking Dead to see how everyone dies/doesn’t die. Not into it. So, I’ve turned my eyes to BBC! Yes, you glorious, accented tall drink of across-the-pond water! I like you! And I absolutely LOVE Maggie Gyllenhaal in the Sundance Originals series, The Honorable Woman. She absolutely deserved her Golden Globe for this show. It’s all at once captivating, thrilling, tragic and terrifying. The story centers around a woman of Israeli descent whose company invests in communications technology that aims to bridge relations between the West Bank and Israel. From there, it gets absurdly complex that it would take a whole blog to explain it all. For now, try out the first episode. If you’re a House of Cards fan, you’ll be in heaven.

Nessa Stein (Gyllenhaal) is a beast.

Nessa Stein (Gyllenhaal) is a beast.

2.) Guster – Evermotion

JANUARY ALBUMS ARE IMPORTANT! They set the mood for the whole year. Never discount a January release. Now that I have that out of the way, I should mention it’s been a while since I considered Guster to be one of my favorite bands. There’s usually a fairly large gap between albums, but every time a new one comes out, I can’t help myself from listening to it over and over for days on end. This new album, the first one since 2010’s Easy Wonderful, instantly reminded me of The Shins’ 2007 album Wincing the Night Away (another January album). It’s whimsical, it’s catchy and give me low-fi Beach Boys vibrations. And those vibrations…are good ones. (pause for effect) But for real, it’s such a great new direction for these guys, as it covers new territory while honoring what makes them Guster in the first place: groovy guitars, on-point falsettos, but a glaring lack of bongos. What gives, duders? Regardless of its bongo-less vibes, I strongly recommend you pick it up. It’s the perfect, groovy January album. Choice songs: “Never Coming Down” and “Long Night”.

New Wave is the new wave.

New Wave is the new wave.

3.) Fluenz French

The coolest thing I’m doing right now, other than, you know, writing a novel, is that I’m learning French! I love languages so much. Thanks to the fact that I grew up in an Austrian household (real first generation stuff; none of that one-sixteenth-Irish stuff) I got to learn German while English became my main tongue. As a kid, I hated speaking German, but now I think it’s pretty darn cool. Had I not let German invade my mouth (poor word choice; sorry Poland), I likely would never be able to pronounce Eyjafjallajökull correctly. But now I’ve decided that French will be my next tongue and I’ve started learning by using Fluenz. I’ve used Rosetta Stone in the past, but didn’t find it as helpful as Fluenz. After a handful of levels, I really feel like I’m grasping the language, and its pronunciation and grammar. The program really breaks down the language for you and Sonia Gil is your attractive, cheeky instructor. I can’t say enough good things about this program. Q’uest-ce que vous voulez manger? Je veux ce plat, s’il vous plaît! 

Elle veut boire bière.

Elle veut boire une bière.

Until next time.

Munz.

One of my favorite editorial notes from my agent and her assistant was for me to expand on the locations in my book. The note was a confusing one at first, but I quickly understood what they meant. Ultimately, for anyone who hasn’t been adventuring around the Rocky Mountain West, I imagine it would be difficult to imagine a landscape with both expansive, empty plains and towering mountains. You can traipse through a windy red-sand desert, and then, less than one hundred miles away, you can travel through dense pine forests up to a shimmering glacier. Wyoming is certainly its own animal and has one of the most diverse landscapes in the lower 48. Much like Tolkien’s Middle-Earth or Martin’s Westeros, I wanted to embrace the diversity of Wyoming in my own novel, and highlight the various terrains and locations that make up the 10th-largest and least-populated state.

As I linger with my manuscript, on the cusp of going out on submission, I’m trying to really dive into my own understanding of place. Wyoming is often a forgotten state, and, to many, an unknown one. Whenever I leave the mountain states and drift into the places where tradition fades and Culture (capital C) reigns, I’m often met with blank stares. Some of the most intelligent Chicagoans I met felt no shame in asking me, “Wyoming? Where is that in relation to Montana?” That’s like me forgetting that Pennsylvania exists! This Thanksgiving, Buzzfeed asked Brits to fill out state names, and a few of them were even able to nail Wyoming! But, again, I get it. From the outside, our state is like a plain Toaster Strudel with no filling or frosting. It’s even shaped like one. So a big reason for me writing “Blade of the Outlaw’ was to give Wyoming the love it deserves, and showcase it in the same way Middle-Earth is showcased. I want my readers to visit the Avalons (the Tetons) and drive through the Middleplain (Thunder Basin). I want them to hike through Courser River Canyon (Gros Ventre Wilderness) and see what a winter blizzard feels like near Windree (Riverton/Wind River Reservation). Maybe even see if they can discover Tuck’s Holler somewhere down in Hoback.

Across the Middleplain

Across the Middleplain

But when all of these feelings and images come so naturally to my own imagination, how does one plug that into the minds of a reader? I’ve mentioned before that “The Solace of Open Spaces” by Gretel Ehrlich is the best book about Wyoming ever written. I haven’t found another author who can really capture the frigidness of the landscape and the warmth of the people better than Gretel. Her chapter “About Men” manages to dissect the entire, complicated, multi-layered, dramatic, erratic, sheepish cowboy psyche in just a few pages. That chapter (among countless human inspirations) helped me shape the character of Leyton Thacker and what makes him tick. After reading through “Solace” six times now, I realize that it’s not the descriptions that Ehrlich writes so well. It’s the emotions that Wyoming yanks out of you. Despite the occasional poetic illustration, Ehrlich’s book is not about Wyoming’s landscape–it’s about the humans who live in it, the ways they survive and the ways they don’t. And THAT is what makes it so vivid and successful.

One of the agents who initially requested my full manuscript wrote: “I’m a little concerned that the narrator doesn’t read like a teenager. Even for historical fiction, the POV feels like that of a much older man… He speaks the way a man of 50 or 60 would look back on youth. To me, he’d certainly be a more jaded, world-weary teen, but he’d still be a teen. His youth wouldn’t feel so distant, and I couldn’t see a modern teen audience relating to him.” While this certainly could have derailed or discouraged me, I took it as an incredible compliment. Teenagers like Leyton are everywhere in the West, especially the West of the mid 19th-century. Under his father’s keen gaze, a boy will mature into a man by the age of 12 and possess the same amount of poise, manners, work ethic and grit of a much older gent. Anything less, and he won’t be trusted to pull his weight. Of course each teenager relates to the same internal issues, but with Leyton, he’s covered in dirt, his hands are calloused, his hat’s too small and his back is sore. He may as well be pushing 60…

Wyoming and the rest of the West was built on the backs of people who worked hard and never compromised. Cowboy country is not simply barn dances, yeehaw rodeos and bank robbers. It’s wrangling and cowpunching. It’s stocking enough feed for the winter. It’s pulling colts, calves and lambs from their mothers and hoping they last the morning. It’s wily kittens born in the hay. It’s mothers hoping their sons come back from pushing cattle across the state. It’s cigarettes and chew and whiskey and cheep beer. It’s guitars and fiddles and a little yodeling on the side. It’s sleepless nights under the stars and chasing after dogs chasing after deer. It’s old coffee and new dawns. It’s the feeling of your hat on your head and the pain of breaking in a new pair of boots. At its core, it’s all about giving it your all, no matter what that “it” might be. Leyton’s POV feels like an older man because there’s no room for a 17-year-old who acts 17 on a ranch. Especially a boy who (at the start of the novel) has been abandoned by both his mother and his father, and, on top of it, had to bury his grandmother and kill six men who tried to attack the ranch. He’s been hardened by his experience, and, as a result, has harbored a darkness that doesn’t get much sunlight.

Unforgiving Winter

Unforgiving Winter

So when it comes to capturing place, I think the most important thing is to capture your characters and understand how their settings affect them. My biggest challenge as a writer is to ensure that my readers and I are on the same page, no matter the page. As I continuously read through my manuscript, I am trying to keep location at the forefront of my mind. No, this isn’t one of those novels where “Wyoming is a character of its own”. Here, it’s a theme, something that smashes its foot on my characters’ goals and ambitions, something that shapes them and determines their choices. Wyoming itself is a force, perhaps The Force.

“It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi

For my characters, Wyoming surrounds them and penetrates them, and, because it links so many different geographical terrains, it truly binds the West together. As Leyton muses in the novel, Wyoming is the heart of the West. Now I just need to aim for that heart, and bury an arrowhead that can’t be mistaken for anyone’s but my own.

The adventure continues.

Munz.

If you were to scroll through the archives of blog you would notice that the frequency of my entries tends to trail off. It’s not that I become uninterested or feel that blogging just ain’t for me. Rather, I have a tendency to inundate myself with so many projects, that my blog gets nudged over the cliff of my priorities. (Down there, among the wildebeest skeletons, are the regretful carcasses of my health, my responsibilities as an uncle and my motivation to vacuum.) That being said, I owe it to my faithful readers to continue blogging and giving 90% Munz the respect it deserves. And don’t worry; I’ll call my nephews after this blog.

I’m entering 2015 with a reinvigorated perspective. There’s a lot that I’m involving myself in (no surprise), but ever since I moved back to Wyoming, things have been looking up. Daisies through the snow, really.

Of course, the first most major awesome thing is that my novel, Blade of the Outlaw, is complete and I have an agent! The stars aligned and I managed to get represented by an incredible agent by the name of Carrie Howland of Donadio & Olson. I had queried a total of 16 agents and Carrie was one of the first to request the full manuscript. After she requested the manuscript, I had three other full requests and one partial request. Her e-mail telling me that she was interested came through while I was on a bus between Vík and Reykjavík. I read the e-mail and started squealing behind my hand. I looked around, desperate to share my news with someone, ANYONE, but no one would understand my glee. Instead, I sent my family an e-mail and continued staring out at the gorgeous southern Icelandic landscape, fogging up the window in my excitement.

The Icelandic Autumn.

The Icelandic Autumn.

After our initial conversation (a hearty three-hour long extravaganza of excellent feedback, random tangents and aimless Munz rambles), it was clear that she understood my book and my vision better than anyone else who had been exposed to it. Even my closest friends. Driven by my Icelandic optimism, I quickly accepted her representation and left Iceland with a little less sadness. Today, on a wintery January morning, I do miss Iceland and wish that my financial situation allowed me to stay there, but I’m thankful that things are looking up for me. All these long afternoons spent in coffee shops and abandoned friend dates (sorry guys) are finally paying off. At this time, there’s no book deal, nor any guarantee of Blade of the Outlaw getting published, but the more edits I make on the book, the more I recognize why I wrote it, where all these ideas came from.

Other than editing and revising, I’ve been working on the following projects:

  • Writing a one-act for the Riot Act, Inc. New Play Festival
  • Creating 6 original, handwritten short stories for an art show on Jan 16th
  • Applying to be a an artist for the 2015 CSA Jackson Hole event
  • Teaching a 6-class improv workshop called “Accessing the Group Mind”
  • Writing my weekly column “Well, That Happened” for the JH Weekly
  • Raising money for “I 2 Can Ski Forever“, an original comedy sketch show
  • Finish the script for said sketch show…

And it’s not even February! I’m certainly recognizing my creative drive and embracing it. In the meantime, I’ve also been working at the Healthy Being Juicery and the Valley Bookstore here in Jackson. Both places offer very therapeutic work environments and also help me pay bills. One day I’ll get to the point where I can support myself with aforementioned creative drive, but TODAY IS NOT THAT DAY!

I’ll be supplying at least two blogs a week through 2015. Crazy? I’m not crazy. No. Shhhh. Here’s to a 2015 full of ambition, full of success and achieving. I’ve also been asked by some fellow aspiring writers to write some tips for querying and novel writing. While I’m no professional, I’ll certainly do my best, so look out for those!

My horse is saddled. My boots are on. The Munz rides again.
Now I just got to watch out for that cliff of priorities…

Munz.

The fables are disappearing and many people are coming to the realization that Vikings didn’t all have horns attached to their helmets. While some horned helmets were discovered by archeologists, it’s thought that these hats were used in a more ritual and decorative way, kind of like an unconventional avant garde “Project Runway” challenge. Imagine Björn Víðirsson the blacksmith getting ready for a cool party on the night before a raid. As he’s picking out his helmet (because we all know Viking closets were filled with various helmets), he spots two cow horns and ponders to himself, “Why, I shall impress the fair Þórunn Jónsdottír by attaching these horns to this gauche raw iron helmet!” Little did Björn (a right Coco Chanel in the village) know the impact he would have on the Viking design world of the tenth century and beyond! But, I digress. What I’m getting at is, most Vikings wore simple helmets sans horns and Björn Víðirsson probably got his ass kicked by Þórunn’s burly boyfriend.

Who wouldn't want to take Þórunn home to their turfhouse?

Who wouldn’t want to take Þórunn home to their turfhouse?

I have learned a good amount of Icelandic history since I’ve been here and have always enjoyed the stories of the “olden timey days” as told to me by the locals. There is definitely something special about the history here, because you can’t see it. There are no huge castles in the highlands or fortresses lining the Atlantic coast. In fact there’s really nothing but villages outside of Reykjavík, which, just got more modern and modern as the years went on. Sure there’s a few statues here and there marking historical sites or commemorating some poet who lived on a nearby farm, but otherwise Iceland’s history lies buried under ash, lava fields and the occasional mudslide. You just have to trust that what happened happened, and no, there’s not much proof, but deal with it. Simple. Now shut up and eat your boiled sheep face.

With Iceland being the youngest country in Earth terms, there is a massive amount of geological changes that have occurred over the years. And even as I write this, Bárðarbunga is rumbling some 150km away from me as the Holuhraun lava field gets larger and larger. We can see the eruption pollution very clearly here in the fjord, and some hardware stores have sold out of gas masks and breathing apparatuses. The volcano has also impacted tourism, and the whale watching company I was working for shut down operations one month early. I’ve spent much of the summer looking to relocate to Reykjavík for the fall, but haven’t had much luck with job applications or finding a place to live. Everything is expensive as hell here and there’s seemingly a billion different hidden taxes hiding away in the woodwork, ready to snap at your balls anytime you think you’re making money.

IMG_1144

A little bit of paradise

That being said, I haven’t been able to save as much money as I’d have liked and will be heading back to Jackson Hole for a while to do a little bit of duck herding and getting those bastards to stay in a row (metaphor; duck herding is not a profession). However, before I leave I have twelve days to enjoy Iceland for all its worth. My friends Jessi L. and Caroline L. are heading up north right now, and I’ll be traveling with them for a bit. I’m looking forward to falling back in love with Iceland before I leave it. It’s very clear that visiting a country you love can be very different from actually living there. Like a relationship, the initially golly-gosh-wow attraction starts to fade and you have to start taking interest in the heart and the soul. And the more layers I’ve peeled away from Iceland, the more I understand that it may not be the best place for me in the long run. My interest in culture and the arts is barely satiated where I’ve been living, and the financial issues have been piling up like sheep shit in a smoke house. Now, had I moved to Reykjavík initially, I probably would be writing a very different blog, but I’ll accept the life that’s been given to me and make the most of the path I followed.

It’s important for me to say that I’m okay with moving back home. Again. I’ve been living in an Icelandic paradise full of whales, sunsets, and good ole peace and quiet. This setting has been ideal for completing my novel and calming the chaos of the life I left behind. Returning home may seem as some sort of failure to some (including, in part, myself), and the thing that bubbles and plops inside me like a saucepan of Campbell’s Tomato on High is the feeling of judgement among my friends and family. However, what overpowers that is my understanding that I can’t put pressure on myself to keep impressing everyone. In fact, I may never be the person who takes wing and continues to build altitude. Sometimes I’ll have to fly a bit lower to catch my breath. Sometimes I’ll land in a setting that pleases me. And yes, sometimes I’ll have to return to the nest for comfort after an arduous journey. I turn to Gregory David Roberts and his book “Shantaram” (my absolute favorite novel) for this cozy quote:

“It’s said that you can never go home again, and it’s true enough, of course. But the opposite is also true. You must go back, and you always go back, and you can never stop going back, no matter how hard you try.”

I recognize that I left Jackson drunk on my Icelandic obsession. And I recognize that I was unhappy with the outcome that my life choices led me to. So I am returning to Jackson not with a head hung in disappointment, but with my chin high eager to explore new possibilities. This time around, I’ll be seizing the bull by the horns. Or rather the aspiring Viking within by his horned helmet. Sure, I’ll have to find a new job. And I’m aware that I’ll have to work from the ground up to get my financials in order. But what I’m excited about the most is accessing my creativity and putting forth more quality projects that the people of my hometown can enjoy and appreciate.  Did life kick my (perhaps overblown) Icelandic dreams square in the balls? Oh yes. Do I intend to kick back?

Undoubtedly. And harder than ever.

Munz.

Finish Something.

September 7, 2014

No matter what life awaited me in Iceland, I knew before I left Wyoming that I was dead-set on completing my novel. The idea (an alternate-history western) came to me while I was living in the bustle of Chicago. So far from the vast plains and towering mountains of my home state, I felt suffocated by the city, and found respite when I started re-reading Gretel Ehrlich’s “The Solace of Open Spaces,” which, in my opinion, is the best book about Wyoming that has ever been written. I wanted to somehow tap back into the beauty Ehrlich wrote about, and while I was experimenting with my own descriptions and recollections, a character emerged; not just that character, but a team of ramshackle, hard-skinned Wyomingites that knew how to maneuver the rough-n-tumble Wild West where I had grown up.

It’s important to mention that I am no cowboy. While I do know how to stick a saddle on a horse and remove a bridle and bit without flinching, my only experience cutting cattle or sheep involves me at age ten riding a stick horse as a man working at a clothing store called Corral West walked back and forth wearing a barrel around his waist with a plastic cow head attached to it. This role-play took place during Old West Days in Jackson, WY, and the half-hearted simulation was meant to let us youngins experience the thrill and pressure of corralling livestock. So the man would walk to his right, then feign left to see if I could stay in front of him. All the while I would have a stick horse between my legs in the pouring morning rain. It would always rain so much on Old West Days that the locals started calling the event Old Wet Days. Looking back, I wish I could find that poor barrel-clad bastard and buy him a beer.

I’ve had my fair share of horseback day trips, hunting camps, shotgun-blasting afternoons and chiseler sniping with a .22, but I have never truly understood the hardships of working on a ranch or the skill required to train and care for horses. So when I was writing my story and my character, Leyton Thacker, emerged, he was undoubtedly an incarnation of myself, but completely equipped to hold his own as a teenage horse rancher living in 19th Century alterna-Wyoming. The second main character to emerge was this boy’s estranged father, the “super cowboy” Leyton dreamed of becoming: an impossibly talented horseman and someone who was loved by just about everyone who’d met him. Since I had always been an outsider (the only gay, overweight son of a pair of Austrian immigrants), I wanted Leyton to be the ultimate outsider, and after writing an extensive outline, I wrote the rough draft of “Blade of the Outlaw” in three weeks, finishing on August 17th, 2012.

Leyton and John Thacker. Sketched at Rendevous Bistro with crayons.

Leyton and John Thacker. Sketched at Rendezvous Bistro. With crayons.

It was a huge turning point in my life as a writer. Not counting the massive amount of short stories I’d written, I’d finished two full books prior to writing “Blade”, but never felt a real connection to either. After finishing them, years later, I command-saved and stuffed them somewhere in the My Documents folder, not opening them since. With “Blade” I really felt like a writer. It hit so close to home and I knew this was the story that I would have wanted to read as a teenager. I was so focused on polishing the book and finishing it, not just for myself, but for my mother who always told me that I had to “finish something“. My mind has a mad habit of wandering, unrestrained by any sort of moral lasso, and my interests are constantly dancing around and cracking like firecrackers on the asphalt. Anytime I had a good story idea, my imagination would spasm and, inspired by everything, I’d start writing something new.

Since I finished the rough draft, I’ve managed to push away any other ideas (saving them for an Old Wet Day) and focus solely on this novel. I’d rewritten the book three times in total before putting a final period down this summer. When dig up a pebble of an idea and start to build on it, say, slowly wrapping rubber bands around it, there’s nothing more exciting than feeling its weight after two years of work. Of course, even now, every time I read through the novel, there’s another error, another word or phrase that needs replacing, and even a couple character choices that I’d like to revert. But, ultimately, when I see the story now, when I read through the novel from beginning to end, I’m so proud of myself and what I managed to accomplish. My mom’s advice to finish something was never unwarranted; I have commitment issues and there’s always a fear that I’ll get stuck. (If I write one successful western does that mean I can ONLY write westerns for the rest of my life?!) Mom has never been much of a reader, despite my numerous attempts to buy her books for Christmas, but having her read chapters of the book and enjoy them means so much to me.

So. Now that it’s done, what’s the next step? I’ve been having some really wonderful success hearing back from the literary agents I’ve been querying. Having a professional read your work and say “Yes, there’s something here…” is so incredible, and (I don’t say this lightly) a dream come true. There’s no knowing if I’ll truly tickle enough interest out of one of the agents to sign with them, but my fingers are crossed. I’ve never been much for collaboration, but to get someone to read your book and help you mold it into something readable, fantastic and (hopefully) marketable, is so thrilling to me. But right now it’s a waiting game. I don’t know if any of the agents will swallow what they bite, and there’s always the chance that none of them may like the book and I’ll have to move on to my next project (Already working on it. Hint: Iceland).

Iceland has provided an incredible place for me to write and focus on my book. Far away from Wyoming, but still surrounded by natural beauty, I’m able to enjoy the outdoors while feeling homesick. Ultimately, regardless if I get published, writing this book has been an amazing journey, and truly taught me that finishing something is more important than starting something. No matter what life throws in your path, you always have to stay in front of that man-cow, in the pouring rain, with a stick horse between your legs.

Munz.

The Aspiring Viking.

August 13, 2014

When I visited my blog this morning, it didn’t expect me. But then, like a puppy left at home, it leaped into my arms, started licking my face and then GUILTING me for not posting since January. Happy August 13th everyone. Oof.

There’s is plenty to catch up on, and I’m going to do a little reintroduction for you newbies, so I hope you’re prepared for a wondrous adventure. I can’t necessarily guarantee ‘wondrous’, so you’ll just have to lower your expectations, alright?

LET’S DO THIS.

Hello. Good day. My name is Andrew Munz, and I am a writer, actor, improvisor, …singer?, and impulsive optimist currently living in the hippest place in the world: Hjalteyri, Iceland. Population: 40. Four Zero. (East Jesus Nowhere translates to Austur Jesus Hvergi in Icelandic, which is even more appropriate.) I live with an Icelander named Víðir and his dog Freyja. Occasionally Víðir’s sometimes-girlfriend comes over for a not-sleepover and occasionally Freyja’s mother, Eyja, will join, but otherwise I don’t have any regular visitors. Except the attractive postman who knows my name, and where I live, but I don’t know a thing about him. I do know, however, that he is an Icelandic postman.

Our house looks out onto a fjord. Eyjafjörður to be exact. Where I grew up in Wyoming, my house looked out onto a mountain. Differences! And I work in that fjord as a whale watching guide. What that entails is spending three to four hours per-trip on a ship with a bevy of (usually German) tourists as we venture out into NATURE while we look for WILD animals in hopes of seeing NATURE at work. I spend much of the trip emphasizing that we are in NATURE and we cannot guarantee a sighting of a whale. Ultimately the subtext is “lower your effing expectations, lady, you are not going to get your National Geographic Female-Whale-Leaps-Out-Of-Water-With-Her-Calf-Pursued-By-An-Orca photograph.

whale!

This happens, like, 99.8% of the time. The other 0.2% the whale is smiling at children in the underwater aquarium windows and responding to trumpet music.

That being said, it is truly amazing when we get lucky and find whales. They are huge and so peaceful. Do Icelanders eat Minke whales still? Yep. Have I eaten Minke whale? Yep. Raw! Now before you get all preachy about the ramifications of hunting these gentle giants, know that one whale can feed a hell of a lot more people than 50 genetically modified chickens can. So if we’re bartering on the value of souls, maybe you should ask yourself why we value our farm animals so little? Because there’s more of them? Factoid: Minke whales aren’t endangered; IUCN Source. But enough of that. Whale is delicious, but I prefer to see them in the ocean than on a plate. End of story.

Now, I moved (well, relocated) to Iceland without much planning or thought. I’d been to Iceland twice before I decided to leave 42-North behind and live my life at 66-North. I don’t have any family here and my friend list increases at a snail’s pace. My days are usually spent at home or on the water, but occasionally I drive twenty minutes to hang out in Akureyri, the bustling “capital of the north”. 17,000 people in Iceland, however, feels a whole lot more like 5,000.

My Icelandic is shoddy at best, but I understand a surprisingly large amount. I’m getting by just fine, but I do wish I could somehow “Matrix” the language into my head. My pronunciation is usually improved by listening to songs like this one.

Exactly how long I will stay in Iceland is still up in the air. If I can miraculously find a place to live in Reykjavik and a good-paying job before the winter, I will be happier than an elf woman finding the Icelandic farmer who impregnated her. [Disclaimer: This tends to happen a lot in Icelandic folklore. Whether or not this is an accurate metaphor, I cannot be sure, but one can only imagine an elf woman with child would be happy to stumble upon the same bearded man in a country with so few people to begin with. Think of the Maury episode possibilities!]

Having not blogged in so long, I feel the need to keep my writing going. Plus, I recently finished my novel after nearly 3 years of work, so I’m feeling good about revisiting this blog more and more. I’d like to share more of my Icelandic stories and experiences as well as keep my fellow readers updated about things.

Remember you can always follow me on Twitter (@andrewmunz) and Instagram (@munzofsteel).

Until next time!

Munz.

 

Munz Awards of 2011: Part I.

December 28, 2011

Last year, I compiled a list of the top five things in movies, books and music, chronicling my favorite things of 2010, and I think it’s time to start handing out some awards, Munz-style. Mmm hmm. I’m currently sitting at the airport waiting to board my flight from Jackson to Phoenix for New Years, so this is a perfect time to reflect on the awesome of 2011 and clear the slate for the upcoming epicness that is 2012. Ba BOOM!

Since this is the first annual Munz Awards, I should probably give you an introduction to my criteria and what actually constitutes as an award. If you know me, you’ll know that I’m notoriously curious, and everything interests me. It’s hard for me to really pinpoint my likes and dislikes because they change sporadically. So, in order to receive a Munz award you have to corral my wandering mind and really make me pay attention to what’s in front of me. And this year I fell in love with quite a few things that made me say “HEY! That’s preddy coool!”

No two Munzys are the same; nominees need not be present to win.

Best “Move to Chicago” Album
Winner:The Head and the Heart”, by The Head and the Heart
Runner Up: “Safari Disco Club”, by Yelle

Head&Heart 
I wasn’t expecting to be so swept up by The Head and the Heart. When Rachel “wullhay” S. and I were doing our radio show, this was one of those albums that plopped into the new arrivals rack that burrowed its way into our souls. It’s hard not to love this band’s catchy lyrics, their killer harmonies and very attractive faces… The lyrics “Merrin moved all of her shit to Chicago/her mother made sure that she left with her bible/but you won’t find her face on Sunday” on the song “Ghosts” really stuck with me, but the song that makes me tear up EVERY time I hear it (yes, every) is on the song “Rivers and Roads”, when the band builds this lyric: “Been talkin’ ‘bout the way things changed,” then belts: “AND MY FAMILY LIVES IN A DIFFERENT STATE!” Powerful stuff. Then I saw them on June 6th opening for Iron and Wine and since then I’ve fallen in deep, unrequited, devotional love.

Best Jackson Hole Connection in Chicago
Winner: Randomly meeting Chris Z. on the Redline Train
Runner Up: Swing dancing to Head for the Hills bluegrass at Martyr’s

chicago-car-2751 
To me Chicago felt, and still feels incredibly far from everything that I know. It’s nice having Emma P. around, but I feel quite disconnected, despite being in the center of everything. So imagine my surprise when I boarded the Red Line CTA back in August and vaguely recognized a guy wearing a Wyoming 22 cap (22 being the county code for Teton County where Jackson resides). Upon saying hello he immediately recognized me from being in my hometown improv group, The Laff Staff. It was the most bizarre colliding of worlds. Since that interaction we’ve run into each other randomly TWICE. Again on the Red Line, and once more at Target just last week. Truly crazy. Here I live in a city of 9.2 million, and somehow the one other guy from Jackson and I keep bumping into one another. On top of that, Nadja R. (from high school) and I have seen each other twice. Small world.

Best New Obsession Involving A Foreign Country
Winner: Iceland, Iceland, Iceland, All Things Iceland
Runner Up: Reading the Harry Potter books in German

view-of-hvalfjordur 
Iceland has always been in the back of my mind as a country I’ve wanted to visit, and in 2012 I’m going to make that desire a reality. I’m not sure what exactly ignited my recent obsession. Perhaps it was the unyielding, unstoppable repetition of Sigur Ros in my headphones since June or the pictures Todd and Kate K. posted from their trip a year ago. All I know is that it’s rural, it’s cold, it’s full of interesting people, and there are mountains, geysers, glaciers, sheep, sweaters and icebergs. It’s practically Wyoming without pine trees. Plus my favorite band of 2011 (just beating out The Head and the Heart) is Of Monsters & Men, which brings me to my next Munzy.

Best Holy-Shit-Where-Have-You-Been-All-My-Life Band
Winner: Of Monsters & Men
Runner Up: Devotchka

of-monsters-and-men 
Out of nowhere, Of Monsters and Men fell into my lap. I purchase (yes, purchase) music from a Russian-based website. The albums listed are not classified by genre so it’s a bit like window-shopping in the sense that I really only have the album covers to entice me to sample the music. Lucky me for stumbling into the musical arms of these six pop-folk geniuses. From the sing-along-able lyrics to the steering-wheel-tapping rhythms and (my personal favorite) the La-La-Laaahs, I eased into this band like a warm bath.  They were just right; everything fit well in my ears and I learned the lyrics faster than I did any band before. I like to be a little selfish about these things, and would LOVE to just steal these Icelanders, lock them in my house, and have them play for me every day…but I guess you can listen to them too.

Most Effective Storytelling in a Film
Winner: Shame, dir. Steve McQueen (no, not that Steve McQueen)
Second Winner: Midnight in Paris, dir. Woody Allen (yep, that Woody Allen)

Shame 
This is difficult as the two films I’ve awarded are about love and relationships, but express two incredibly different moods. Shame succeeds in portraying the story of a man (Michael Fassbender) whose sex addiction has poisoned every aspect of his life, including his dwindling relationship with his sister (Carey Mulligan). The film ensures that there’s enough sex to warrant its NC-17 rating, but the overexposure to nudity and sex throughout its two hours suddenly alters your initial qualms with this gross, pervvy man who can’t keep his pants on even at work. Midnight in Paris takes the fluffy road into a troubled relationship between Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams as they make their way to Paris. Wilson’s character escapes into the romantic urbanity of 1920s Montmartre leaving the real world behind. Through a series of hilarious, wily adventures he discovers who he really is and what he wants. In a similar way, Fassbender’s character goes through a variety of obstacles that alter his habits greatly. I’m totally stretching it comparing these two movies, but let’s just say I was equally effected in very different ways. In closing, I’d much rather go traveling in Paris than jerk off at work. So that’s good! Nice work, you good films, you.

That concludes Part I of the Munz Awards. I’m gonna jump on this plane and hopefully post Part II by the time the new year hits. Plus, I have loads to share about my Jackson trip. More to come, readers. Happy Wednesday!

Munz.

Love to a Novel.

December 7, 2011

We had a lot of sex. It was a relationship that was practically built on sex: the raw, unhinged, exposed rough ‘n tumble of bare skin, crumpled sheets, unabashed secrets (“I’ve never told anyone this before…”) and premature, unhatched I Love You’s. We’d think about each other constantly during the day and spend our many nights together. I would tell people about our infallible infatuation, braying on and on about how there was no doubt we were meant to be together. There was no one else out there for me.

“Yes,” I’d say, “I have found my one true love.”

Those more experienced encouraged our relationship with sincerity. My friends and family were in full support (Mom more so than Dad, of course). Everything was clicking, falling into place and, damn, was I happy.

Like in any relationship, after a few months we began to drift apart. I tried my best to spice things up, attempting new, exciting things and playing out fantasies where we would trade off taking on the dominant role. There were times I was taken advantage of in unexpected ways, but I was always ready to return the favor. Sometimes a little too aggressively. Whatever love we had initially established was became nothing more than an immature desire not to end up alone and never share one another with anyone else. Invincible satisfaction was the cup we drank from. Jealousy, our poison

unmade bed

We’d go to bed looking at (not in) each other’s eyes, questioning each other. And soon answers would come from the most unlikely places. My wandering eye would hone in on a new prospect, and I would pounce and attack. I slept around with no consideration for who I was hurting or why I was letting it happen. I was selfish and became my own protagonist and antagonist. I couldn’t find the connection I was looking for, despite encountering the promising fling here and there. And my cell phone rang and rang and rang until it hit voicemail, but a message was never left and I wasn’t ready to call back.

What would I say? Sorry? Would I really take the high road and apologize for something I had no control over? And I knew would stay true to that statement: I had no control. It wasn’t me. I don’t know who I had become, but it wasn’t me. There was nothing more I could say.

A good year and a half passed with no communication, no wonderings, no memories at all. We’d forgotten and moved on.

On a recent windy, wet December night, I sat at a German bar with an old friend. We drank beer and smoked cigarettes and spoke of our current and past loves. And then it came up. The history of the novel I so shamelessly abandoned. The friend with benefits of my past still waiting for me, naked and unshowered, in the wrinkled sheets of the My Documents folder. I had forgotten completely until that very moment. And yet with ease I spilled out all the good memories we shared, the laughs we had and the troubles we went through together. I remembered it all, everything. Even the things I swore I had erased entirely. My friend finished his beer and told me that I was stupid to let go of all of that, and that the connection I’d made meant more than I would ever know.

So, a few days later, I decided we should meet at nearby Starbucks. We were awkward at first, but we put everything out on the table. All the half-finished tales, the jokes without punch lines, the long-dried tears, the cheap wine we snobbishly said tasted more expensive than it was. It was all there, and we looked upon it and smiled goofy, uneven smiles.

“Should we start over?” I eventually asked.

I was met with more than silence and rather a feeling. A warm, familiar feeling of what we once had, and all that came before. I realized how much I’d grown since we first met, and how ready I was to partake in something that was more than just a flighty fuck here and there.

“Yes,” came a reply. And I began again.

And right now my novel is there, propped up against a pillow waiting for me to join it under the covers. And soon we’ll hold each other and fall asleep knowing that neither one of us will disappear until we live this thing out, stupid or not. I can’t say for certain that what we have will be sung about or told to the small, inquisitive children of the future. What I can say is that I’m ready to commit to something I haven’t been able to commit to before. And I’m indefinably happy, jolted, terrified.

Munz.

Whimsy and the Looming Winter

November 27, 2011

Before writing this entry, I went back and reread my previous entries from September detailing my decision to move back to Jackson. My confidence is pretty apparent and I think I exhibit my feelings at the time surprisingly well. However, I resorted to e-mailing people close to me to read the blog, because, I believe, part of me was ashamed of the decision and I didn’t want all of my loyal facebook followers to combust in a comment frenzy. Plus, a big part of it was that I didn’t want my coworkers to know that I was leaving so suddenly.

There was a great moment at work when one of my bosses took me aside and told me he’d randomly come across those entries. He then confronted me with my decision to leave. Though there was no gunpoint involved, I definitely had my metaphorical hands in the air and was metaphorically pissing my pants. But I think what stopped me from bursting into tears, falling to my knees and apologizing profusely was that I had already come to a different confident decision: the decision to stay in Chicago.

Record scratch!
Breaks screeching!
Dog cocking his head askew going “Hrmm?”

Let me rewind a bit. (In the ideal setting I would showcase a moving montage of pictures documenting my Chicago frivolities to this song, but my budget is limited, and it’ll work better in my future Hollywood biopic.)

Last round, I talked a lot about “The Hero’s Journey”, a path many main characters take in fiction and in life, that ultimately, fate permitting, brings the adventurer back to where he or she started. I had decided that my personal Hero’s Journey was coming to an end, and that Chicago no longer held the appeal that initially brought me here, concluding that I would be better suited back amongst my friends, my mountains, my memories. I’m sure anyone could understand my position and what I was feeling at the time. Transitions are hard, the city is a fucked-up place, and little Austrian/American boys do have trouble fitting in. At least at first.

Irving Park Kid

My argument for moving back was weak, despite what two lengthy blogs portray. Sometimes I feel that I’m a better writer than I am a speaker, and it was on full frontal display as I made my case for moving back home to those I knew. Those blogs were a MILLION times more confident than I was in real life. I was tempted to just put off the conversation and send them a link to this site.

What it came down to was the understanding that I would move away from Chicago, arrive back in Jackson, and have an amazing time. I would see friends again, visit my favorite restaurants and bars, and slide comfortably into the slow pace of a Wyoming winter. And then those two outrageously fun weeks would pass, and I would be in the same rut, likely regretting giving up everything I’d worked towards in Chicago and eventually regress back into the life I left for a reason.

And then my boss confronted me, and I suddenly realized how easy it was for me to list the reasons why I was staying rather than leaving. Chicago’s pros list could be pages and pages long. Jackson has its many many pros as well, but I’ve seen how much I’ve grown since being here, and those pros don’t really fit right into my current state of being.

I’ll admit it. My decision to move home was whimsical, completely poisoned by my homesickness and fear of change. I’m heading back on 12/22 for Christmas, but will return to the windy, wintery city on 1/2/2012. A new year, a new life. In regards to that photo montage I mentioned, there’s been a whole lot of happiness that I’ve overlooked here, and part of that is my unwillingness to record. I’ve said it so many times before and let you all down, but this time definitely expect more blogs. I’m going to need some self-reflection, especially if this Chicago winter is as hellish as they say…

Munz.

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