46 was pretty good, all in all. I finished a new book, or possibly finished two new books, depending on how you look at it. (The second was technically finished in 2013 but was rewritten substantially over the past year.) I’m hopeful that one or both will find homes before I write a blog post entitled “48.” A movie studio bought an option on Winston Breen, which was a surprise, to say the least. That doesn’t mean there will be a movie, necessarily — an “option” is simply Hollywood-speak for “No one is allowed to develop this but us.” Lots of stuff gets optioned; very little makes it all the way to the big screen, or even the direct-to-DVD small screen. Still, it was a nice little unexpected windfall.
And yet, the movie option wasn’t the biggest news on the writing front. The problem is, I can’t tell you about the biggest news… not yet. It’s still up in the air, and might not work out at all. But it will be pretty big news indeed if everything comes together as I hope. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, there is the simple act of writing. You’re not editing, or rewriting, or working on the galleys of the book you sold? Then you better be working on the next book. But I’ve been doing more staring than writing of late. Maybe having two completed books sitting around is damping the fire a little. Maybe I’ve been working on this particular project for too damn long: I’ve been carrying it along for close to ten years, putting it aside, taking it out again, putting it away again, and so on. Some days I think, “You have too many words on this thing to just let it fade away.” And other days letting it go seems like a mighty good idea. Start something fresh, see where it takes me. At the moment of this writing, I have no idea which way I’ll finally go on this. But I do hope to write “The End” on something substantial at some point in 2015.
The kids are both doing well. Alex started off the year butting heads with his teacher, who only rarely seemed able to keep him on track. But she’s gone now, replaced by one of the best teachers Alex has ever had. Evidence A: Over the years, we have tried a number of different ways of getting a daily report from Alex’s teacher. Sometimes we were lucky enough to get a daily e-mail, but just as often we’ve had to rely on a simplistic form with checkboxes: Alex had a [ ] good day or a [ ] bad day. Alex’s first teacher this year needed the form. We gave the new teacher the form, too, and her response to it was, “This is okay, but I’d like something where I can give you more detail.” (She probably didn’t say that in italics, but that’s how we heard it.) A teacher who wants to do more for us than we asked! So we’re pleased.
Lea is still in homeschool, though real school may lie on the horizon. We went to the open house of a magnet school in Bridgeport, the Fairchild Wheeler School, and she (somewhat to my surprise) liked what she saw. Collaborating with other kids on projects; a brand new facility; a roomful of sound equipment that has barely been touched. (One of her current interests is sound design, not that she has any real way to explore that particular art form just yet.) We have tried to communicate the simple truth that this school is going to work her pretty damn hard, but she says she’s okay with that. And so we are preparing, trying to give her a leg up — our homeschool time is largely spent covering all the topics she’ll learn afresh in her first year in high school. One way to make life easier in a tough new school, we figure, is to walk in already knowing most of the things they’re going to teach you.
So what else happened this year? Well, I celebrated ten years at my company, Penny Publications, and it’s amazing how fast those years flew by. (My previous record for longevity was about two years, at a dot-com that got swallowed up by the first crash.) My wife and I said goodbye to what will almost surely be our final foster child, a baby girl who was with us for 14 months and who now lives in San Antonio with her extended family. We get to see her every once in a while via videochat — I don’t know if she remembers us, exactly, but she blows kisses into the camera, and that’s just peachy. There’s even a chance we’ll get to see her again in the flesh — finalizing her adoption might mean a trip back to Connecticut. A bit of a pain in the neck for her family, and really kind of outrageous from a red-tape point of view, but that hasn’t stopped us from being hopeful about it.
I got to travel to Vermont, to a retreat held by Erin Murphy Literary Agency, which I joined as a client at the end of 2013. There I met a whole bunch of brilliant and talented writers, and also, in a career first, my own agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette. (I managed to work with my previous agent for seven years without ever meeting him.) I also traveled to Portland, Maine, for the annual convention of the National Puzzlers’ League… and for the first time brought my entire family along. Alex loves staying in hotels, and got to ride on streetcars and buses. Lea and I went open-sea kayaking with a host of other puzzlers, and I managed to convince her to join my team for the Saturday night puzzle extravaganza — she was skeptical that she would contribute anything, but wound up co-solving successfully with a boy her age, my friend Todd’s nephew. It wound up being one of the more special puzzle-related events that I can remember.
Alas, there will be no EMLA retreat or NPL con for me in 2015: We’re in the midst of a home improvement spending spree, so I need to go easy on the galavanting around the country.
In other puzzle news, 2014 had my first New York Times Sunday crossword in three years, and hopefully I won’t wait that long again to develop another one. Tyler Hinman and I teamed up to solve Foggy Brume’s wonderfully entertaining Puzzle Boat 2, and I imagine he and I will set sail on Puzzle Boat 3 when it launches later this year. And, weirdly and unexpectedly, I wound up winning a contest sponsored by Google: I was the first person to submit the correct answer to a challenging and involved puzzle. Asking around, I learned that several much stronger, faster solvers all misunderstood something crucial in the instructions, and each of them wound up submitting the wrong answer. So the tortoise beat the hare, and as a result I won a free screening of The Imitation Game, to which I invited the local homeschool community, high school students, and my colleagues. We didn’t exactly fill the place, but everyone seemed to enjoy the movie.
I’m looking forward to the Mystery Hunt just twelve days from now — it’s always nice to start off the year with such a grand highlight. In March, the Black Letter Game kicks off again — this unusual puzzle event takes the form of “artifacts” mailed to your home, one per month for four months. Last time I solved it with friends Foggy Brume, Mark Halpin, and Dave Shukan, and we’re reuniting for the sequel. I imagine there will be a DASH puzzle hunt come the springtime. Last year I played chaperone as my daughter competed in DASH Jr. I’m not sure she’ll want to do that again, though, and while that’s sad, it does allow me to jump back in to the solving myself. Which I shall do, of course.
And when I’m not puzzling, or going to the mall with my son, or helping my daughter learn geometry, I’ll spend my 47th year writing. What I’ll be writing is way up in the air. But I’ve been at this long enough to know the words will come eventually.
You’ll perhaps notice an absence of oh-my-God-getting-older!! in this birthday summary. I hope I’m done with that. Much of the world is an unbelievable mess, and yet here I am with my family, healthy and safe. I know that I am very lucky — much too lucky to complain about how quickly the time is rushing by. My 46th year was a happy one, and I am hopeful that 47 will be as well. I hope your year is fruitful and happy, too.