Thursday, March 29, 2012

Kicking It For One Last Day

Eight days ago, I launched my Kickstarter project, intended to fund the tools and time needed to finish my novel I'm On Fire. As most of you know, we blasted past my goal of $950 in less than ten hours, thanks to the support and generosity of my friends and readers, and the faith they have in both my writing and my tenacity.

The book is going well. To bring you guys up to speed: I first wrote I'm On Fire in 1999. It's one of four of my novels which share the title of a Springsteen song (Spare Parts, Open All Night, and I'll Work For Your Love are the others, with honorable mention going to Roses In the Rain, which is a line from "Thunder Road." Fun fact: most of my books are named for song titles. Carry That Weight comes from The Beatles; Find the River is REM; Tangerine is Led Zeppelin; American Storm is Bob Seger, and Maybe You're Right is Barenaked Ladies.) The heroes are more complicated, the villains are more believable and sympathetic. When I first wrote the book, bad guys were bad guys and good guys were good guys and there was a very clear demarcation between white hats and black hats. My writing has evolved since then, and I think that applying the techniques and tools I've learned over the last decade are helping this book. I hope so.

I also don't like all those lingering questions, stuff that feels like it only exists because the book needed it to. Why doesn't Jessie have friends of her own? Or Scott? What's Scott's home life like? Kate should kind of have a boyfriend, shouldn't she? Is Heather really dumb or does she just seem it? And was making Laurie and Jessie's Dad a non-character in the latter half of the novel a wise move?

Lots of questions. I'm finding those answers every day. I'm also putting in some homages to my other stuff, too - I've invented some singers, writers, and characters that cameo in multiple books. If someone's going to get obsessed with horror writer Lauren Kincaid in high school in Welcome to Bloomsbury, it's neat to see how far she's taken that obsession in Maybe You're Right. Plus, there's emotional homages. Remember when Gordon beat the shit out of ... well, someone in Roller Disco Saturday Night? I thought that scene would work really well in I'm On Fire, too. The weakest character of the book giving into rage and physical violence: a Kevin Quigley trademark.

There's been a lot of other creative stuff going on, too. I'm co-producing an all-new, all-rad sketch night at ImprovBoston. I'm also working on a new show (and acting in it, what?) with some of the best sketch people we've got. And I'm trying my hand at directing a show. The second brainstorm session is tonight and then shit gets real. In writing: I just got offered a plum new assignment from my publisher and we're negotiating the specifics now. It's a new nonfiction chapbook that will require lots of intense research, and we all know how much I hate research. I've still got one more Disney trip report to put out, and I've knocked out two reviews for Battleground and Throttle #2. (Click "Like" if you like; every one helps.)

And still I'm On Fire is consuming my soul. The book is on track to be finished by July, and I'll be so glad that I'll have a definitive, complicated, exciting new version of this story I've been living with for a third of my life.

We've got roughly 24 hours left before my Kickstarter project closes. While my goal has been met and surpassed, some have asked if they can still back the project. The simple answer is yes. The longer answer is that when a writer isn't a blockbuster, out-of-the-gate success, he or she needs all the help they can get. While the ostensible goal of my Kickstarter experiment has been to help me parcel out time and get new hardware and software to make I'm On Fire a reality ... well, there are always more stories, always more writing, and always more need to keep that part of my world afloat. So if you want to help back me and my creative pursuits, you've got another 24 hours to make it happen. See the link below! And thanks again, everyone. It's been a hell of a ride.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

d24: The Night After


This is my phone alarm. It’s like a clarion. It’s about 2:00 PM in the afternoon and I stir, groggily shaking my fist at the sunlight filtering through the curtains. I look over at the other bed. Joe hasn’t heard my alarm. I’m pretty sure at this point, Joe wouldn’t have heard the Hindenberg right outside the window. We’d gotten back to the hotel room just before 7:00 and simply collapsed. My body still thinks we’re doing that. My brain has other ideas.

I glance at my phone. Tom and Doug are readying for the pool, because apparently sleep is not necessary for Britons or relocated Rhode Islanders. I could skip the pool if I really wanted to; dinner isn’t until 5:30 at the Studios, and I could potentially nap for like another hour or so. Ah, but that would just mean I wouldn’t sleep tonight, and then I wouldn’t be my fresh and bubbly self for Epcot park opening tomorrow. I’m nothing without my freshness and bubbliness.

This picture becomes super relevant later, I swear.

“Hi,” I murmur outside my door, clad in bright orange swim trunks and Mickey Crocs. I could have purchased a shirt that says Oh BTW I’m A Tourist, but it would probably be unnecessary at this point.

“Hi,” Doug murmurs, looking exactly as hard-worn as I feel.

Hi!” Tom shouts. “Who’s ready to swim!?” Touché, Tom. You beat me at my own game.

There is splashing. Ditto diving and dunking and wandering about in the water. Sometimes I go swimming at my resort when I’m at Disney, but usually it’s late at night and I’m exhausted from a day of park touring and I’m trying to get my feet to feel like feet and not burrito dough that’s been through the presser one too many times and is now dumb and feeling and pain is the only thing it knows. I’m not used to relaxing on vacation. I’m used to going. Constantly. Nonstop. This is sort of like a time-out from everything. I don’t really swim – I took lessons once, but it was more that the swim instructor was super hot and I didn’t learn much except “you don’t have gills and you can’t breathe underwater, we’ve been over this” – but I do love just floating around and hanging with my buddies and having an honest-to-Skittles break.

After maybe an hour, though, waterlogginess strikes and we’re padding our sodden selves back up to our rooms. Tom and Doug are staying at Pop all day, and I plan to meet them later at Petals for some late-night imbibing. Betsy isn’t around; I’m pretty sure this is the night she and the other ladies are dressing up and heading out to Citrico’s. Joe’s in the shower, still absolutely clueless as to where we’re heading to dinner. I am so good at keeping secrets.

* * *

“What time is Mama Melrose?”

I spin on Joe as we walk through the gates of Hollywood Studios. “How do you know where we’re going?”

Joe flips up three fingers. “A place we’ve never been, so not 50’s Prime Time” – one finger – “one table service credit, so not Brown Derby” – another finger – “and I’m pretty sure you don’t want to do the Disney Jr. meet & greet, so no Hollywood & Vine.”

I watch him a moment. “Mama Melrose’s is at 5:30.”

“I love Italian!”

We have some time to kill, so there’s time for a jaunt on both the Rock N Rollercoaster and the Tower of Terror (TAU A TEH!). To expedite things, we decide on the single rider line at Rock N Rollercoaster. Now, here’s the thing. Single rider is awesome. Even if you’re with friends, it’s awesome. Usually you get through the line faster, and you get to wait with your buddies and only the ride, when you’re screaming and carrying on and not even necessarily paying attention to your friends, especially during that zero to one billion miles an hour launch at the start. But sometimes you want your buddy next to you anyway, and it’s sort of a shame that Joe and I didn’t get to ride RNR again, because if I had the choice, I’d stand in the longer line just so I could ride with him.

Mama Melrose’s is tucked away near the back of Hollywood Studios, on the Streets of America, back beyond Muppetvision 3D and Pizza Planet. It’s easy to miss because it’s so well hidden; I actually have a hard time finding it. This is maybe a shame and maybe a blessing. It’s located near It’s A Wonderful Shop, named for the perennial favorite It’s a Wonderful Life; there’s a year-round snowman out front and inside it’s the quaintest Christmas store in the world. Quaint really is the word for this area, and once again Hollywood Studios is begging me to look closer, and discover the smaller details, the neat stuff I always buzz by on the way to the thrill rides and One Man’s Dream.

This too becomes super relevant later, PROMISE!

I give my name at the check-in desk and the Cast Member smiles. “Quigley! I have an uncle named Quigley! He was a private investigator! Are you related to him?”

I blink. I’m used to this in New England, where everyone’s sort of Irish. “Um, no. I’ve written novels about a private investigator, but I don’t think there’s one in my family.”

“Aw, well that’s too bad. Anyway, it’ll be just a few minutes.” Joe and I glance around the lobby, which is super old-school New York Italian restaurant … right down to the walls festooned with pictures of celebrities. And not just any celebrities. Celebrities from 1989, when the Studios opened.



“Lyle Alzado!”

“Who’s Lyle Alzado?”


“He was a sports person in the 80s and then he did movies. I think. I had such a thing for him in the early 90s.”

“Of course you did.”

“Oh my God, Sally Struthers with ginormous hair!”

A new cast member sidles up. “Quigley, party of two?” I nod and she laughs. “My dog’s name is Quigley!”

And all I can think is, We named the dog Indiana. I ask, “Is he a private investigator?”

* * *

The dining area is all rich, dark wood, small tables, and movie posters from Italy. Seriously, right above our table is a gigantic poster for the Italian release of Alien (which, I just realized, ties into the Great Movie Ride, wow). Classic crooner music plays quietly – Sinatra and Dean Martin – and I’m hoping to hear some Springsteen (this never happens). The general consensus in the Disneysphere is that Mama Melrose’s is pretty great Italian-American food – not as bland as Tony’s in the Magic Kingdom, but nowhere near the awesome of Via Napoli in Epcot. The consensus is right. I order the chicken parm on spaghetti, because – as we’ve established – I’m a freakin tourist. Joe, a little more adventurous, goes for the pork osso bucco, which I try and fall in love with. For some lunatic reason, I don’t go for the strip steak, perhaps because I don’t want Le Cellier to think I’m two-timing it. We’re over-full before dessert. That’s the thing about the dining plan: you tend to eat far, far more than normal. (The other thing is that at the end of the trip, you have like five counter service options and eight snacks still left open and you’re really never going to use them. Maybe next time we do the counter service plan.)

We waddle out and because I have the best ideas, I suggest going immediately on Star Tours. Joe agrees at once, because our brain is fogged by starch and meat and “It Was a Very Good Year.” Once again, I’m going to point out that Star Tours has done the most dramatic turnaround of any ride in any Disney park. It’s gone from being one of my least favorite attractions to one of my Must Dos. Even if I’m stuffed to the gills with a heavy Italian meal and I walk off the ride with my tummy lurching and my brain discombobulated. But we got Hoth, so I call this afternoon a win.

Except I had WAYYYY too much parm.

It’s dusk when we emerge, and after a couple final drops on the Tower of Terror, we amble out to the trams. For a moment, I reflect that we hadn’t seen One Man’s Dream this time. Ditto the Great Movie Ride. Ditto Toy Story Midway Mania. Sometimes when you’re so focused on the little things, you forget the big things. It’s okay, though, because sometimes it’s the little things that count.

And the AT-ATs.

* * *

There’s a jaunt to Downtown Disney for shopping but mostly for Ghiradelli ice cream sundaes. And pin trading, because I’m that guy – “that guy” meaning the fellow who will go to his grave without ever finding the Executioner Pete pin and will haz a sad for ever and all times. We take a brief jaunt into dStreet to check out Vinylmations (because I’m also That Guy) and while I’m ogling the new Park series, Joe beckons me over.

“Oh, Keeeevin?”

“Yes?” And then I see what he has in his hands and I go mental. If you’re not familiar with Vinylmation collecting and trading, basically they’re these little vinyl maquettes in the shape of Mickey Mouse but decorated in a bunch of different ways. The Mickey shape lends itself to zillions of possibilities; my hubby, in fact, bought a blank one last year and transformed it into Swamp Thing for my Christmas present. Most of the Vinylmations are boxed up so you can’t tell what design they are (sort of like baseball cards); you know what series they are, so you buy with the hope of getting one of that series. And if you don’t like what you get, you can trade with people at Disney shops, or other collectors.

More recently, some series have clear fronts on the boxes, so if you know what you’re getting. These are normally special editions, one-off type things you can’t normally get. Joe is holding a white box and has a devilish grin on his face.

“What’s that you’re holding?”

“Something you’re going to want.”

He flips it over and oh my God seriously what the heck it’s the Rescuers, Bernard and Bianca, the freaking Rescuers and they’re in a set and did you guys know that The Rescuers is my favorite Disney movie and now, randomly, there’s a SET and I MUST HAVE THEM RIGHT NOW.


What people like about me the most is my sedate nature.

* * *

We meet up with Doug and Tom at Petals, the bar by the Hippy Dippy pool, and I knock back my first alcoholic beverage in about eight months. I’m not sure if it’s making me loopy or if I’m still feeling the aftereffects of staying overnight in the Magic Kingdom. Maybe both. There’s a creepy guy at the bar and he keeps trying to pick up ladies and provide American Idol commentary and the whole scene is a little sketch, so we finish our drinks and head back upstairs for restiness. We deserve it.

Tomorrow is our last day here.

Friday, March 23, 2012

How I'm On Fire Happened

I'm On Fire project update:
page 263
70,000 words

I first wrote I'm On Fire in 1999. It was my second novel, after a very weepy affair called Spare Parts I wrote in the aftermath of a tumultuous breakup. For awhile, I was convinced Spare Parts was a fluke ... and honestly, it was more a a long novella than a real novel (then again, so was Segal's Love Story, and that made millions). The whole experience with Spare Parts was a lesson in writing and publishing. I got myself an agent who got a publisher interested. Ultimately, the publisher passed ... and then my agent dropped me. That was maybe not my favorite day ever.

In retrospect, it makes some sense. Though Spare Parts kind of captured a new trend in publishing - the so-called "dick lit" popularized by Nick Hornby and his ilk - it really reads like a first novel. And my main character, Casey, seriously cries every fourth page. (It was a really hard breakup.)

I remember sitting at my computer one day and thinking, I want to write a short story about a small town school teacher. That was all, but that was enough. And it's funny, that memory, because at once the story wasn't about the teacher at all, but about his student: Laurie Reardon, my very first attempt to write a lengthy story from a girl's point of view. (This would happen a few more times, especially in my high school novels, Welcome to Bloomsbury and Roller Disco Saturday Night). I also knew immediately that this would be a horror novel - which Spare Parts most assuredly was not - and that I wanted to incorporate a cinematic twist. It's not my only novel that has one of these twists, but it was my first, and some might argue it's my best.

I've tried to get I'm On Fire published a few times, to little avail. It was good enough to make it into the Top 100 in the Amazon First Novel contest (and millions entered), but not good enough to make it to publication.

Recently, the publisher who's been putting out my nonfiction for a couple years told me they were interested in my fiction, to be published as ebooks. I wouldn't get any advance (like I had with the nonfic), but I would split half the profits of the sale of the book with the publisher. I got very, very excited, in a way I wouldn't have back in 1999, when the concept of ebooks was inextricably linked to the idea of vanity publications. They were willing to take a look at all my work, not just the horror stuff, but it's a horror publisher and though I've written 17 novels, only three of them are horror (and only two of them are good; Wade's Game will likely never sit comfortably with me). It had been a few years, but I went back to I'm On Fire to see what I'd done.

Surprisingly, what I'd done ... wasn't bad. It was pretty good, in fact. Needed a polish, maybe, but ... okay, maybe a little more than a polish. Because, see, the core of the story was good, and I liked Laurie a lot. But she becomes damn unlikable fast, and the people around her remain ciphers. And her wicked stepmother, oh boy. If ever there was a villain without layers.

What I needed to do was bring the stuff I'd learned from writing all my other books back to this one. I do nuance better now. I do shades of gray far better. And I write teenage girls better, strangely enough. (I got better with my sixth book - a character named Tamatha Jenkins in a book called The Color of Blood and Rust - and I've never looked back).

So I'm On Fire is undergoing a massive overhaul. I'm basically re-writing it from the bottom up, and at this point I'm about halfway through. I like Laurie a lot more now ... but more importantly, I get her friends and her family. I even can empathize with her goddamned stepmother, a little. Everything is in line with how I write now, not how I wrote two decades past. Oh, and I changed all the CD players to iPods.

I'm projecting I'm On Fire to be done in July. I have two open projects - novels called Tangerine and American Storm - and both need care and attention. I want them to be finished. From there, I want to do at least one of my other novels over as I did this one - Roller Disco Saturday Night should really live up to its title - and then a new book, a fictional biography of a Bob Seger-like singer. I've literally got 15 other books beyond those that need some help, maybe a little, maybe a lot. It's a writing life, and I'm fully in it.

A few days ago, I launched a Kickstarter to help me on my way to finishing I'm On Fire. I made my goal of $950 in a single day, for which I am profoundly grateful. There seems to be a desire to keep donating, and I couldn't be more thrilled about that. I'm On Fire is a single project, and my fiction doesn't end with Laurie Reardon and her hometown terrors.

The Kickstarter is up for another week. If you'd care to donate, you can do it below. If not, I hope that when my book comes out, you'll read it and enjoy it.

Thank you to all my friends, colleagues, and supporters. Kevin Quigley is a support system for fiction; the work matters most.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Humbled and Awed

Oh. My. God.

Yesterday, I posted an entry talking to you all about my Kickstarter project. The measure of it is that I'm working on a novel called I'm On Fire, and though I have a publisher for it, I'm getting no advance. Instead, I'm getting the old Doubleday deal: splitting the profits down the middle with my publisher. This is the same deal I have in place for the book of poetry (Surf's Up) and the short story collection (This Terrestrial Hell) that should be coming soon. It's not a bad deal for a first-time fiction writer, even on ebook (my nonfiction for the publisher has a built-in audience, as all my books have been about Stephen King), but it means that real life crops up while I'm trying to write. Four jobs have a way of quartering your time and attention, especially when most of those jobs pay more immediately than the magical world of publishing.

Essentially, my Kickstarter project was put in place to fund the time and tools I needed to finish my novel by July. I put up a goal of $950 and a period of 10 days. To be honest, I was pretty sure I wasn't going to meet my goal. I hoped, of course, but hope and a dollar won't get me a vanilla chai at Starbucks, you know? A few friends of mine chimed in: 10 days was way too short a time, and offering ebook incentives probably wouldn't bring backers to the yard. I conceded that my friends were probably right, but let's see what happens.

An hour after I posted the project to Twitter and Facebook, I was at a quarter of my goal. Big time cheerleaders - Scarlett, Scott, Amanda, Jack, and a bunch of my other friends - rallied to the cause and hyped the project like it was their reason for living. The Disney community, the improv community, the Stephen King community, and the other creative folks in my life came together. By noon, I was halfway to my goal. When I stepped off the train in front of my gym, I had made it. I had made my whole goal in a single day.

Humbled and awed. Those were the most intense feelings, as I stood there outside the Boston Sports Club in Central Square with tears in my eyes. I kept trying to quantify this: this meant more than me. This was a testament to the power of creativity, and what it means to people, and how it binds them. It was a show of faith, and a statement of the generosity of the human spirit. Stuff like that.

My friend Marty gave me a virtual kick in the pants about that, indicating that while it might be those things too, the reality is simpler: nearly everyone who donated has read my work and likes what I write. They want more of it to happen.

More humbled. More awed. And more determined to make I'm On Fire the best damn book it can be.

I've reached my goal of $950 and I've now gone significantly past that. Some people have asked if they can still donate. The answer is yes. Continuing to fund the project continues to fund me, and my efforts as a columnist, poet, short story writer, and novelist. Especially novelist. I am launching a massive re-write schedule for myself; after I'm On Fire, I'm jumping into my two partially finished books, Tangerine and American Storm and making those complete. From there, full reworking of my other teen novels Welcome to Bloomsbury and Roller Disco Saturday Night before going back to my adult books and getting those publication-ready.

I write a lot because writing is my life. I said to a friend last night, "Art makes us forever," and I really believe that. Judging by the response I've been getting on this, I'd say you guys believe that, too.

Once again, thank you all for the opportunities you've given me here. I love you. I love everything!

To find out more about the project, or to pledge, click here:

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Kickstart My Art

Hey everyone! Until a few days ago, I'd never heard of Kickstarter. Then a few of my friends started talking about it and convinced me to give it a go. It's a site designed to help creative people keep being creative. You design a project, then seek "backers" for that project - folks who donate to keep the spark going. Right now, I'm working on a complete overhaul of a book I wrote called I'm On Fire. I wrote the book in 1999 and it needs serious fixes. I'm about halfway through the editing process, but it takes a lot of time and resources.

Full disclosure: I have a publisher for I'm On Fire - the same publisher that's doing my poetry collection Surf's Up and my short story collection This Terrestrial Hell - but though I've gotten advances for my nonfiction work, I'm not getting them for this fiction stuff. The collections and this novel will be published on ebook, at least at first, and the cool thing is, I will be splitting the profits with the publisher. It's a more lucrative back-end deal if enough people buy my books, but even that's an iffy proposition right now. I've had a semi-popular blog in the past and now the internet knows me for my Disney writing, but mostly it's all Stephen King, all the time. It's not that I have a problem being known for my King or Disney writing - hell, in this business, it's good to be known at all - but since the beginning I've considered myself a fiction writer, first and foremost. I've been a novelist for thirteen years, and now finally there's a light at the end of the tunnel. It feels awesome.

Even more full disclosure: I work four jobs. Some of them pay more immediately than others. (One of them doesn't pay at all; you do it for the art, Kev, you do it for the art). Sometimes it comes down to a choice between blocking out three or four hours to write or taking a bar shift because I might make tips. Don't get me wrong. I love working the bar and the box office; I love producing; I even love my temp job, which takes up most of my waking hours. But all these things break the momentum of writing, which isn't my job so much as my calling. I live to write.

I put I'm On Fire up as a Kickstarter project to essentially give me the time and tools to finish making this book the best book it can be. Part of it is breathing room, so that I can decline a shift in order to get another chapter out. Part of it is equipment: I need new hardware and software for my writing. This project will grant me these two factors that will allow me to turn in I'm On Fire this summer, before my next big (Stephen King) project launches.

If you'd like to back me, you can do that right on the Kickstarter site. There are incentives for backers: if you pledge $30, you get an ebook copy of my novel for free. If you pledge $60, you get ALL my fiction ebooks - the novel, plus This Terrestrial Hell and my two poetry collections, Foggy at Night In the City and Surf's Up. If you pledge $100, you get all my published writing - all the fiction and all the chapter-books on King - as ebooks. I currently have made 8% of my goal of $950 for this project, and there are still 10 days left to pledge.

Below is the link. Thanks to everyone for considering this and thinking of me. You guys rock.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

d24: Early Is the Watchword


This is Doug at our hotel room door. It’s 5:03 AM and outside the world is pitchy dark; Doug, Betsy, and Tom await us in their park finery. There had been some question the night before as to whether we were going to get up in time. Joe likes sleeping in on vacation, and despite my rampant desire to always get there for park opening, I’d had to wake up at 4:00 yesterday morning so’s to catch my plane on time. Despite these possible detriments, we are (relatively) bright-eyed and bushy-tailed(ish) as we step out into the early-morning cool.

But whatever enthusiasm we’re eking out of pre-caffeinated stupor, Tom’s already got it in spades. He’s bounding from foot to foot, giggling, with a Joker smile plastered to his face. “I’m excited!” he proclaims, bustling with energy. Tom’s from England, and my explanation for right now is that he’s still on British time, where our 5:00 AM is his high tea or something and he’s all about crumpets. Right? I’m bad at time zones. And England.

The giddiness is infectious, however, and soon enough we’re parked and on the monorail, swooshing our way to the Magic Kingdom and into history. For those of you who aren’t up on why I’m on monorail earlier than I’m usually out of bed, let’s catch you up. On New Year’s Eve, Disney announced this promotion called One More Disney Day, inventing a marketing campaign around Leap Day and announcing that both Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World and Disneyland Park in California would be open for twenty-four hours: 6AM on February 29th to 6:00 AM on March 1st. Reaction was mixed, especially on fan sites where Everything’s The Worst. Some were cautiously optimistic, but most seemed mystified by the whole thing. The event was taking place mid-week, school was in, and most early prognostication was that the whole thing was destined to be either mildly attended or an abject failure.

As the monorail pulls into Magic Kingdom Station, we are immediately and forcibly aware that prognostication is a bunch of pucky.

Oh my gremlins.

It’s a little after 5:30 AM and the courtyard outside the gates to the Magic Kingdom is crammed with people. News media has descended upon the crowds like bemused vultures. Disney fan-sphere luminaries like Lou Mongello and the WDW Today guys (well, Mike Newell and Mike Scopa so far) wander about, as awestruck as we are. On a lighted dais just inside the entrance turnstiles, Mickey and Minnie Mouse wave to the crowd proudly in their sleepy-time pajamas. Mickey’s holding a Duffy bear. I suddenly want a Duffy bear.

Through the turnstiles, we immediately swarm around the Cast Member with free swag. Several young people before us have boxes overflowing with One More Disney Day buttons, yellow and festive and coveted. For some reason, almost everyone is all up on one fellow by the planter, while literally two steps away, another guy with a full box is being completely ignored. I exchange glances with Doug and Joe and sidle on over to Mr. Lonely Button Man and secure a couple each. This is not the last time we will witness (or fall victim to) the hive mind this glorious morning.

I got a HAT!

We are at once on our phones, trying to locate the rest of us. We find Kim and Lori and Shelly and Meghan. We find Scarlett and Jeff. We find the Perlmutters. Deep in the crowd, I spot the Panda and gave him a giant Pete-sized hug. Like the 40th Anniversary and, later, Reunion, this event has ceased being merely a homecoming and has elevated to a family gathering. Almost all of us are here. Paul, Marty, Kristen, Kelly, Erin, Steve, Neil, Colin, Lee, Robbie: where are you guys? I miss you.

Opening ceremonies begin ten minutes before park opening, and watching the Mayor of Main Street orate under dark canopy of pre-dawn is a distinct oddity. Even odder is Kim’s overwhelming crush on the Mayor, which she can’t explain but which she throws herself into with a fervor. Then the gates are open, and guests throng forth, crushing against each other through the two gateways onto Main Street. Most are headed for merch, what little there is. It’s strange, the way things play out: at turns, pundits on the Internet seemed to think Disney was overestimating the interest in this event, dismissing it as a silly marketing stunt. As the group of us charge with the rest of the sheep into the Emporium, it immediately becomes clear that Disney underestimated its fan base. There’s a silly commemorative T-shirt flying off the racks: it’s blue and says, “I took the leap and didn’t sleep / I pulled an all-nighter at The Magic Kingdom.” Silly, but fun. I pick up a large and hold it up to myself for a moment.

“Nah,” I tell Joe. “I mean, it’s okay, but I don’t really need one.”

Oh, how three minutes changes a man.

“Joe! Joe!” I’ve been from one side of the store to the other and several life truths are now apparent: getting this shirt is now the most important thing I will ever do in life, and if I end this day without getting one, I will quite likely fall victim to a sadness so deep that it manifests itself physically, until you’ll find me on the TTA at 3:30 AM, wasting away to nothing before you, my rampant desire and subsequent crushing disappointment registering only in my flickering, far-away eyes. “Holy balls I need that shirt.”

“What happened to it’s okay but you don’t really need one?”

“Hive mind!” Joe stared at me. “Look, just because I know it’s ridiculous doesn’t mean I’m not a willing victim.”

We scour the store. Kim acquires one. Meghan, too, and Tom and Lori and Doug and Betsy. Everyone who wants one has one but me. Oh my God, this was the iPad all over again. I’m a social pariah. I’m an outcast hiding devilishly amongst the in-crowd. I’m

“Hey, Kevin, this woman’s giving out larges.” I nearly tackle the Cast Member who emerges from the back room, arms laden with swag. Triumphantly, I hold the shirt high above my head, contemplating only momentarily the urge that gets people pumped when they win the right to buy something. I don’t contemplate long, though. I used to collect rare books. I’ve been in line at midnight to buy albums. This one time, I waited in line for seventeen hours to get a primo spot at a Springsteen concert. The urge makes no sense, but when it’s got its claws in you, it won’t let you go until you win or fail. I’d won. My adrenaline surges. My endorphins pop.

“Oh hey,” I remark. “That sure is a long line to buy shirts.”

Boy howdy, is it. It does to our morning what a long camping trip in the snow does to a seven-book fantasy series nearing its climactic finale. Made bold by inertia, Lori, Kim, and I glance out onto Main Street. One way. The other way. And then, shirts in hands, we amble across the street to the jeweler, whose store is empty and whose counter is magically approachable. After some checking, she informs us that, sadly, she can’t sell the shirts here … so we amble back to the Emporium and get ourselves into a different line. We’re a rambunctious bunch, but we’re honest.


Finally free of the clutches of early-morning purchase frenzy, we head out toward the Hub. There, before us, is one of the most spectacular sights to which I have ever borne witness. Light has come to the world, filtered through low clouds and ground mist. Street lamps glow mutely, suggesting our path like benevolent will o’the wisps, their glass coverings limned in fairy-rings. The flags ahead of the forecourt are jaunty in daylight, red and blue and yellow; now, they seem more somber, signals of a change in the normal order of things. And rising above all this, the stately majesty of Cinderella Castle, fog swirling between its spires.

Joe and I get a picture in front of this magnificent sight, and then the whole group is here, crowding together in front of the Partners Statue. We’re a living multi-plane movie: us in the front, then the statue, then the Castle holding sway over all. We all make a pact to come back to this very spot the next morning and take a follow-up picture. It doesn’t quite happen, but that’s okay. That one picture makes me happy every single time I see it; that’s enough continuity for me.

From there, the park, and everything in it. Our first stop is Sleepy Hollow Refreshments, where we all gorge on waffles until we burst. More people joined our little cadre as others took off for regions unknown. This would happen throughout the day, our group morphing and mutating and coming back together, because companionship is delightfully elastic. Before the fog burns off, we need to get to the Haunted Mansion; if the fog in the Hub makes the Castle look even more Old World, the fog at Mansion lends an ominous air. We crowd into the stretching room –and literally everyone recites our Ghost Host’s spooky spiel: “Oh, I didn’t mean to frighten you … prematurely” is never more fun than when sixty people are saying it together.

Then Liberty Square, where Lori and I get into stocks and no one will visit the Hall of Presidents because no one “needs a nap just yet.” Ingrates.

In Fantasyland we ride “it’s a small world,” and then I almost get arrested because Kim’s persuasive.

“Aw, I wish I could see over the wall so I could see into the New Fantasyland construction,” I tell the group en masse.

“Oh, well what you need to do,” says Kim, “is get up on that little rock wall outside Winnie-the-Pooh and take pictures.”

“That sounds both unsafe and illegal.”



I glance around, see some Cast Members manning the Winnie-the-Pooh exit, glance at Kim who is staring at me with an expression that clearly states if I don’t do this right now then I can’t possibly retain any dwindling respect she might have for me. I climb up.

“What do you see?”

“A crane!”

“Sir, please come down from there right now!”

“Yes, you’re right, absolutely!”

Kim looks at me. “Did you get a picture?”

“I got a picture of a crane!”

“You sure did.”

I sure did.

Then, Tomorrowland! Our friends Kirk and Shane are attempting the improbable: riding the TTA Peoplemover for 24 hours straight. Someone tells me they tried to get into Guinness for doing it, but Disney wasn’t having it. So now they’re just doing it. Over and over again. For 24 hours. I’m both impressed and terrified.

And awake!

We take a jaunt around Tomorrowland with Kirk and then beeline over to Space Mountain, where some folks are about to have their worlds flip-turned upside-down by British terror.

The inside of Space Mountain is cool and calm and pleasant, the Star Tunnel music at once dragging me away from the hustle of the morning and the roar of the crowds. Space Mountain is such an odd juxtaposition – it’s one of Disney World’s fastest and most intense rides, but the queue leading up to it is so sedate, everything awash in gentle blue light. It’s the calm before the space storm.

“I want to ride with Tom this time!” Lori proclaims as we near the front of the line. “I never have!”

“Dear God,” Tom says, because Tom says that a lot on Space Mountain. I get the privilege of riding behind Lori, which benefits everyone because Tom’s fear is for some reason my pinnacle of hilarity. We settle into our seats, Tom in front (“Dear God.”) and blast through the blue tunnel and up the first climb.

I’ve talked about Tom’s reaction to Space Mountain in the past, but there’s some stuff I’d forgotten. It was easy to remember the yips – those short, startled barks that explode out of Tom when the cars jump or turn suddenly. Oh, but how had I forgotten the screams? The high-octane blood-curdling screams that sounded like a kind young British chap being slaughtered in a low-budget slasher movie. Every time we plunge down in the dark, every time, Tom shrieks, to the delight and merriment of us all.

We ride again (and will ride still more), but soon we return to world of daylight and crowds. The fog has all burned away and one of the predictions has come true: during normal daytime hours, the Magic Kingdom has reverted to a normal day. The crowds are no bigger or smaller than any Wednesday during the off-season, and being thrust back into the world of the semi-regular seems a little odd; we’re like time travelers who have seen too much and know too much to readily acclimate back to our own reality. We’ve been to the dark side, man. Literally. I mean, when we got here it was really dark. Because it was before dawn. Remember?

When I only knew them on Twitter, I used to think Kim and Doug were young lovers. This type of picture is why. (Spoiler alert: they're so not young lovers.)

There’s a stop for the trolley show (my God, am I a sucker for trolley shows) and a picture on Main Street USA where Doug is stuck in the back of the group and tries, and tries, and tries to jump sufficiently to get his blond mug into the picture. Joe and I (and, as it will turn out, Lori and Doug and Kim and Tom) have lunch at the Plaza at 11:20, the fact of which Joe is gleefully unaware.

“Are we having Italian today?”


“So we’re eating at the Plaza.”

“But how?!”

“Because there are like three sit-down places in the Magic Kingdom, we’ve been to Crystal Palace, and we’re not eating at Tony’s.”

“There could be another place. There could be a hidden place. I could be taking you to the Blue Bayou.”

“That’s in Disneyland.”


Before breaking for the afternoon, we decide that a jaunt around the park on the Disneyland Railroad is just the ticket. Kim, who has had to skedaddle away to join a conference call, texts us and says that work ended more quickly than she thought and she’s on our way to join us. The group of us (multiplied now exponentially) climb up to the train station overlooking Main Street. “There she is!” Todd shouts, pointing at Kim making her way toward the station. “Hey! Kim!”

Hey! Kim!

We all take it up: “Kim! Kim! KIM!” Maybe twenty-five of us, shouting her name down. A man we don’t know looks up and smiles and waves. We wave back. We’re a friendly bunch, who like doing things in perfect unison. And then there’s Kim, right below us, cracking up and raising her hand.

Then she’s with us, and just in time. We’ve got a train to catch!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

d24: Look Closer

Beeep. Beeep. Beeep. That’s my alarm. It’s 4:00 AM and I’ve been asleep five hours. Almost. The moon’s still in the sky when I kiss my dude goodbye and head down into the street. Everything is painted in shadow, except those places where the streetlights crosshatch in brightness. My cab is waiting for me already, and bleary-eyed, I climb in and trust the man to deliver me to my gate on time. He doesn’t disappoint. Early mornings at the airport are glimpses into the duality of the human condition. The clerks are all pleasant and friendly, their smiles seemingly sincere, even as the sun is barely making its presence known over the control tower. The travelers, we weary masses, slouch toward seats, collapse into them and blink furiously at the dawn. I’m listening to Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, read by Wil Wheaton, and I don’t have to see the light. It occurs to me that I’ll be doing this exact same thing tomorrow and I cringe a little. I’m not twenty anymore. Hell, I’m not thirty anymore.
But I still THINK I'm eleven!
We’re in the air and on the ground before I know it, perhaps because I’ve spent much of my flight drifting in and out of consciousness, my waking moments spent alternately enjoying the melodic bardsmanship of Wil Wheaton, Springsteen’s new album, and a whole bunch of Drive-By Truckers. I’ve entrusted my suitcase to the loving care of Disney’s Magical Express – they take it from the plane right to your hotel room – and I tumble into a seat on the motor coach that will whisk me magically to Pop Century. No, it’s not the Polynesian or the Boardwalk, or even Port Orleans French Quarter, but just because it’s Value doesn’t mean it isn’t home. It’s my first trip this year, but it’s my eighteenth time total at Disney World, so I’m settling into it in ways I never anticipated. The place still has the capacity to thrill me, excite me, affect me in ways that no other place can … but my general experience is now one of comfortable bliss. When the coach drops me off in front of Pop, I stand there a moment and my entire body breathes a long sigh of relief. I don’t relax well. I work four jobs in part because I have to and in part because I want to. Keeping busy is not just what I do, it’s who I am. And what Disney World (and Disneyland) does for me at this stage of my life is give me a rare opportunity to just chill out. I almost want to say it gives me the chance to just be me, but hell, this is all me. And I’m not saying that my vacations are all about relaxy simmer down times – my buddy Joe can attest to that – but the more Disney World and I grow to know each other, the more comfortable we are with each other. This developing sense of ease with the parks allows for something I had previously thought impossible: I’m engaging the nuance. There’s an irritating internet adage that goes “Disneyland is for purists; Disney World is for tourists.” It’s a lie, and in more ways than one. First: sure, purists may love Disneyland, but guess who else loves Disneyland? SoCal locals who have annual passes and care about the rich historical tapestry about as much as they care about Jamba Juice at the mall. Never was this more apparent than when I went to go see the Disneyland version of The Magic, the Memories, and You, and what little crowd there was rolled their eyes and wouldn’t shut their stupid hipster mouths about how cheesy it all was. Second: Walt Disney World historians are a fervent bunch. I mean, Classic EPCOT Center alone brings out both the drooling fanboys and the dedicated researchers like no other. The longer my history with WDW grows, the more I come to realize that inside me, there’s room for both on either coast: I have become a tourist and a purist.
I shower and change quickly and then I’m on a bus to Hollywood Studios, stepping out to Hollywood Boulevard and allowing myself to be enveloped by the atmosphere. Engaging the nuance: I look up and down, into windows and at tile-work, down at this street in 1930s Hollywood I will never know and yet visit four times a year. For the first time ever, I glance up at the windows above the Hollywood & Vine Restaurant and I see a listing for Eddie Valiant, Private Detective; a few windows down, there’s a Roger Rabbit-sized hole in the Venetian blinds. It’s always been there, just waiting for me to look up and see it. These details are everywhere – everywhere! – and while there are fast rides and dance parties and princesses and Vinylmation for the people who just want those parts of Disney, there’s all this smaller stuff, hidden stuff, that rewards those of us willing to look closer, and more often.
Of course, immediately after snapping that picture I dash down Sunset Boulevard and into the Single Rider Line at Rock N Rollercoaster. I mean, a man can like details and nuance but he also wants to go from 0 to 57 MPH in 2.3 seconds. And then he wants to head on over to the Tower of Terror and plunge two, three, four times in a row. On my last ride, a teenage girl with an apparently heretofore-unexplored horror of heights and/or dropping issued forth a ululating shriek I would not experience again until the following night around 3:30 AM (don’t worry; we’ll get there). Now, there’s a sympathetic person in all of us who worries about this poor girl and hopes she won’t be traumatized forever. And then there’s the lizard part of our brains, the part that drives us to be scared for fun in the first place, that absolutely relishes this kind of screaming. Everyone in the car starts screaming along, some of us (me) laughing, but I assure you it was not malicious.
Just hilarious!
When the ride comes to an end, everyone in the elevator turns to the girl and she’s laughing a little from reaction. “You okay?” I ask. She assures me she’s okay, just a little shaken, and then a woman in the back says, “You made the ride better.” And the girl laughs some more, and thanks her, and everything’s chilly in the fake state of California, 1939. A short lunch later (a hot dog from Fairfax Fare Shawn introduced me to last time he was here with me; it’s got macaroni and cheese and truffle oil on it, what the yum) and then I head out, back to the room to get a little rest before I head out to Epcot and start my trip proper. Back at my room, I run into Tom and Doug, fresh from Seaworld (OFF PROPERTY GASP!) I lie down for a little while, then get packed up and head out to Epcot. There is a Joezer awaiting me!
We text each other pictures. Which aren't text. So we ... picture each other? That sounds like imagination instead of technology. Hmm. Alan Alda would know, but he's dead. (Update: Alan Alda isn't dead. He also doesn't know.)
So, here’s the deal: Joe and I are big fans of surprising each other on these trips, especially food-wise. On my first trip ever with him, he set up a dinner at the 50s Prime Time because he knew I’d love it (and he was right; the waitress called me Scooter, which was once Bruce Springsteen’s nickname, and I was in Kevin Heaven), and at the Crystal Palace because he knows how much I love Winnie-the-Pooh. This time, I was double-surprising him. A few months back, I’d asked him to provide me a list of table service places he wanted to try out but had never eaten at (or hadn’t eaten at in years). He did so. Around the same time, my friend Betsy, a Cast Member, explained that even Annual Passholders could sign up for the Disney Dining Plan, a piece of information that was all new and no one had ever told me before (especially not my buddy Paul, who, if he had, certainly didn’t attempt to share the information whilst I was entranced by Stacy’s Must-Dos on Disney TV, and would certainly not have been of sound mind and body). Betsy also helped us with the reservations – my first time outside the comfort zone of my travel agent, Michelle – so that she, Joe and I, and Doug and Tom were all together in the same block of rooms. Look closer at any successful trip and there’s a person beyond you at the gears and pulleys, making sure everything works smoothly so you don’t have Trip Panic. This time, Betsy was that person, and I am forever indebted to her for making it such a wonderful time. I text Joe with a picture of his room key as I head out. Two seconds later he texts back. “Wha…?? You put us on the dining plan?” Oh by the way guess what?! There’s a thing on the room key that totally says DDP (Disney Dining Plan) and because I’m a novelist with a keen eye for detail I totally missed it and ruined the surprise because dur.
I find Joe sitting on a planter inside the main Epcot gates, and there’s very little more adorable than my tall buddy Joe sitting somewhere where his feet don’t touch the ground. Spaceship Earth rises majestically up from the entrance plaza, dwarfing him and us and everything around for miles. If Pop is coming home, then Spaceship Earth is coming to Mecca; I never feel less than a sense of wonder standing beneath it, never less than a dramatic humbling. By its nature and its purpose, Spaceship Earth is, to me, the central figure in Disney’s past, present, and future. It celebrates the history and the ongoing ease of human communication; well, I met most of my Disney friends on the Internet, and then came here to find them in real time. Here Joe and I stand, having met in the real world before developing our friendship online. For these reasons and others, Spaceship Earth is the quintessence of my Disney experience.
Or maybe this is.
“Hey, we have some time before dinner!” I say, leading Joe into Mouse Gear to look for more vintage Epcot shirts, which they’re probably holding out on until the Epcot 30th Anniversary, coming later this year. Then: “Oh hey! Let’s go grab FastPasses for Soarin’! That’s exactly what we should do right now.” Joe looks at me. “Wait. You want to take me to The Land right now, ten minutes before you said our dinner was?” “Um.” “So we’re going to Garden Grill!?” “No.” I pause. “Okay, maybe.” I pause again. “Joe it rotates!” “You goober.”
I have never been to the Garden Grill, located on the second floor of the Land Pavilion, where Soarin’ is, and Living With the Land, and the best counter service on property, Sunshine Seasons. Joe hasn’t been since he was very young … and that’s the other thing about Epcot: all of my memories of this place start five years ago. Joe’s go back to the beginning. He rode Horizons. He rode World of Motion. He was here the year the park opened, and he actually has a history with this place that’s brand-new to me. By virtue of its long existence, Disney World can be everything to everyone. Over a family style meal of meat and salad and chicken and fish and oh my God did I mention the meat, Joe and I closed the gap of distance our friendship challenges, and the gap of years between our Disney World experiences. Put differently: I miss Joe when he goes away, and because we both love Disney as much as we do, there’s always a place to go where neither of us has to be away long.
We also met characters, because OMG characters love us!
Farmer Mickey, you guys!
When we emerge, Epcot is silky dark. We scurry to France, where Joe sips a Grand Marnier slushie in honor of a buddy who’s had a terrible week, and though the temptation to hang about waiting for IllumiNations to begin is strong, we beat feet back to the Create parking lot. It’s early yet, but early is about to become the watchword.
It all begins before dawn.