Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My last 10 years

At the day job last week we were discussing an editorial looking back at the decade. The proposal was, essentially, that the Aughts, or whatever you call this set of ten years, has been a lousy one, but never fear. The next ten could be pretty great.

I was listening to this and thinking. I was also considering a couple of columns we'd run a day or two before. They both said that the last decade was lousy.

Everyone made a convincing case in a history book sense. But I don't look at things like that. I think many, if not most, people look at them more personally. We think of our personal milestones. For me, this has been a pretty great decade.

I started the Aughts working at a newspaper that no longer exists, doing a job that I didn't hate but didn't love. I ended the decade working for the newspaper that was always going to be my final stop, doing a job I love, and making more than double the money I was making when I started the decade.

I am ending the decade more productive(the last couple of months withstanding)as a writer. I have completed multiple stories this year and made good progress on the novel I've been working on for years. I still need to edit the things I have finished and get them submitted for publication. But that is great progress for me and I am far ahead of where I was 10 years ago.

But the biggest change in this decade is that I met and married Gina. Without her I wouldn't have bought a house this decade. Without her I wouldn't have seen the world. No Italy. No Mexico. This blog wouldn't be here without her. The writing I've been doing wouldn't be possible without her encouragement and support. She makes all of it easier, and not just the writing. I had prayed for someone like her to come into my life and this is the decade that prayer was answered.


The start of something

Something I banged out in a couple of minutes. Goes with an idea I'd had a couple of months ago. I just wanted to get it on "paper" while it was fresh. Whether or not this is how the story actually begins or not remains to be seen.

The Seventh Dallas was an aging beauty. A pot-marked and scarred cargo hauler, her heavy hull and and over-sized crew quarters made for an imposing figure when she was docked. But to Elias Kope she was anything but imposing. “My gentle beast,” her first captain had called her.

Seeing her tethered to the deck of the Crimeon like this, all polished and shining, pulled the captain, if just for a moment, from the funk he’d been in since receiving his notice three months ago. For a moment he was back on this same deck but forty years earlier, the Seventh Dallas shining behind him. He was being pinned a captain and presented with a certificate, signed by officers outranking him, that gave him control of his own ship.

He approached her from the front and let his fingers run along the length of her hull. He smiled and leaned in close enough o feel the coolness of the metal on his cheek. “The are putting you to pasture far too early, girl. Both of us. Far too early.”

Monday, December 28, 2009

A teaser

I have been thinking about it, and I believe I am going to write a wrap-up-the-year/decade post. Both have been big for me. Lots of milestones. I am not doing it here, obviously, but I will write one before the year's end.

So keep your breath baited for that one.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Finally, an idea

I think I have figured out a way to make our house hunt work in a story. It's another monster story. Still don't know why I am writing monster stories or having more ideas for them, but I am going with it.

This one could involve zombies or not. Haven't decided. This idea is still in it's tadpole stage so it could go many directions. I just know it involves lots of guns and a four-bedroom ranch that's fully furnished and fully stocked.

That's it for now.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Sistine discovery

Gina and I honeymooned in Rome and it was amazing. Honeymooned? Can that be a verb? How about Gina and I spent our honeymoon in Rome. It was amazing. We were there for more than a week and got to take our time seeing the city.

On our first day we unexpectedly saw the Vatican and Sistine Chapel. It was easily some of the coolest things I'd ever seen. I wish I had known about this, though, before we went. Click the link to see a brain on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

I was reading my Blogger manual and it suggests that you post something on all of the major holidays -- an obligatory post noting the importance of the day wishing your readers a Merry or Happy.

Well, dear readers, the few of you out there, Happy Thanksgiving. I hope your turkey was moist and the pie was plentiful.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The world's best billboard

It's a crazy week at work. Combine that with still getting settled and I have no time to post anything here. So, in the interest of not just going dark for the next week or month I am going to just pop in with small posts about nothing in particular. Mostly just observations I can write in a minute or two. Here's the first.

There are lots of things I love about our new house, but one of my favorites is the fact that I can use the following sentence and mean it.

"If you pass the billboard for the Beef Jerkey Outlet you have gone too far."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Another big purchase

We pulled the trigger tonight. After a week or so of looking at and then looking again at appliances, we purchased all of the ones that the former owners of our new home took with them.

When we moved in we were left with nothing but an oven. We needed a cooktop, refrigerator, microwave and dishwasher. Three of the four are going to be delivered on Thursday. The only thing we are going to have to wait on is the cooktop.

We went to two different places but stretched our dollar pretty well si the driving around was worth it, we think.

Needless to say, we are both very excited. We have both grown tired of eating out for every meal and that's what we have been doing for what feels like months.

And I promise, writing posts coming soon.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Welcome home

We have spent the last two weekends and all of the weekdays in between getting moved in. We closed on our home on October 26 and have been in the process of moving in ever since. The first week we came during the evening after work and changed a few doorknobs and tested paint colors.

That weekend we recruited family and painted. We moved things in during the week, packing boxes after work and then driving those boxes to the new house after. And this weekend we moved in. We put the beds on the big ruck first. That was our commitment to moving in. Once the beds are at the new place you have to stay there or sleep on the floor.

Now we have to go through boxes and figure out where everything goes. And the are many boxes. Many, many, boxes.

What I am hoping, though, is after we do that I can get back to a regular writing routine. I have a story that is screaming for a second draft and an idea for a longer story that I really want to flesh out. So, here's to hoping that I can do that.

And here's to our new home.

Ya'll come to Texas. We have the room.

Stephen Hough is a concert pianist from Britain. He has spent a bit of time recently tickling the ivories in my neck of the woods. He also blogs for the Telegraph. He had a very interesting post about the state I call home, including a story idea at the very end if anyone is up for a challenge.
The entire post is short and very readable, but I'll include the most interesting nugget here.

Texas is 268,601 square miles – or 7,488,166,118,400 square feet. If the population of the world at present is roughly 6,795,354,645 then each living person could be given around 1,000 square feet of land each.

Read the rest of the post here for his story idea. It's doable, and if, as it's said, you should write what you know, may be something I should try and tackle.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Laughing, Touching, Squeezing

Journey fan that I am, this post over at John Scalzi's Whatever blog made me laugh.

Today, we paint

We've been doing a little of this and that at the new house since we closed on Monday. We've put some sample colors on the walls. We've changed some door knobs and cleaned the kitchens and bathrooms.

Today, though, the real work begins. Today, we paint. We have family coming over to help, but there is going to be a lot of ground to cover. We have two living areas and a formal dining room.

Those are all being painted one color. We have a breakfast nook that is going to be another color and then the kitchen is going to be a third color. We'll have eight hands doing the work so I am hoping that it will go pretty quickly, but this is the first time I've done this kind of thing so I have no idea what to expect.

I'll try to post some before and after pictures later.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Happy Halloween

Doing my regular blog reading and everyone seems to have Halloween as one of their favorite holidays. It's never been one of mine. I enjoy it fine, and Gina and I have bought costumes the last two years as part of a trunk or treat event that her school is part of. That's a lot of fun. We were pirates this year and looked really good. King and Queen of Hearts last year.

And I did enjoy it as a kid. I grew up in a neighborhood with lots of kids and seeing everyone out in the dark in all manner of dress was fun. There was even one year my mom dressed as a witch and we did up the front yard as a cemetery. She would cackle and give the candy to kids out of a cauldron with dry ice. It was pretty cool and we could hear her laughing a couple of blocks away.

I say all that and still, if I had to make a list of my favorite holidays I'm not sure Halloween would make it. More of a Christmas and Thanksgiving guy myself.

In any case, I wanted to post something and since we are going to be doing some painting and other work at the new house tomorrow I am putting this up a day early. And I think I found the perfect thing for Halloween. Meat Hand.



It's a meatloaf. You can find more pictures and the recipe here.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

National Novel Writing Month

I am sitting on the love seat, watching a bit of TV (the DVR'd debut of White Collar on USA, since you asked), playing with my latest idea and listening to a thunderstorm crackle outside. A cold front is pushing its way through Dallas and setting off quite a bit of thunder and lightning. I'm not facing a window but can hear the water splashing in the courtyard and a clap of thunder just made me flinch enough so the keyboard bounced in my lap.

This idea I am working on is one that I like. I like it a lot and think it could be a good story. So far it's fun to write. Granted, I am only a few hundred words in. My only concern at the moment is the voice that it's asking to be written in. It's somewhat formal and not at all the style that I am used to writing in. But it fits this story well.

The idea was just a little bitty thing when I had my last writers' group meeting. I mentioned that I might use this idea as my National Novel Writing Month project. I've thoght more about that, though. I don't think I am doing NaNoWriMo this year. I've tried it twice and failed both times. And both times I have lost interest in the projects I started. Granted, I did pick one back up but it was more than a year later. The other was a project I'd had in my head for years. I'd stopped and started it over and over and over again. I gave it a shot with NaNoWriMo, hoping, I guess, that I'd get some momentum and that would carry me to the end of it. That I'd finally get it written. I didn't. I made it a little over 6,000 words in and was days off the pace I needed to be on to make it to 50k by the end of the month. Opening the document just now was the first time I'd touched it since I gave up last year.

I don't think I respond well to the challenge. The requirement to average about 1,650 words a day is too much pressure. The words get all tangled on me and I get locked up.

So, I'm not doing it. I'm not taking the project I like with me to NaNoWriMo. I'm sitting this one out and thinking good thoughts to all of the other brave souls heading into November with confidence. You can do it. I know you can. If you are ever in one of those writing binges and you need me to get you something -- water, a sandwich, anything -- let me know. As long as you aren't too far away I'll do what I can to help. My only request is an acknowledgment when you publish that 50,000-word masterpiece.

Friday, October 23, 2009

More good advice

I've had a bit of a policy since I started this thing. It's not a written policy or anything, just a rule in my head. I don't like to post bits from or link to blogs that I'm not really familiar with. I'd hate for some to read something here and follow a link to a blog that then starts talking about something unexpected.

I am breaking that rule right now. I really liked this paragraph from a longer post in which the language gets a little salty.

No matter what kind of writing you do—short stories, books, children’s lit, screenplays, stand-up bits, whatever—don’t ever approach it as though you’re trying to please an audience. Don’t ever write what you think people want. Don’t ever write about something you think is popular. Because invariably, it will suck. And it will suck hard.

Write to please one person and one person only: yourself.

Which is to say, write the kind of book that you love to read. Write the kind of script that you want to see on the screen.

That came from here and the few other posts I read were good also. Check it out. But be warned, salty.

Welcome to the fall

We have a bit of a ritual in the morning. I wake up when Gina wakes up. She gets ready for work. I help where I can. Then when she leaves for work I walk her to the door. Today was the first day that it's been legitimately cold when I opened the door. Fall is here. Welcome, fall. We've missed you.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Elmore Leonard's writing tips

Mr. Leonard contributed to the Writers on Writing feature in The New York Times. You can find his list f 10 tips here.

Read the entire list. There are lots of good things to remember and apply. Plus, it's short.

But if you can't take the time or are too lazy to read it, he sums it up here.
My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can't allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative. It's my attempt to remain invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious writing. (Joseph Conrad said something about words getting in the way of what you want to say.)

Amen, Brother Leonard. Nothing can take me out of a story more than the feeling that I am reading something someone has written. I know that makes no sense, but if you read the list of tips it will. Come on. It's short.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I've got an idea

Had my first idea for a story today in about a month. And, truthfully, it's not a fully formed idea, just the germ of something. But I'm grateful for even that.

Things have been busy around here and the ideas and motivation to write had dried up. I am hoping that once we get past the move and all of the other house stuff going on I'll be able to refocus on writing and editing and submitting, because I need to be doing all three.

UPDATE: The germ has developed. It's a full-on flu now. I have the swine flu of ideas. I'm excited by this one. I'll keep it under my hat for now, but it could be fun to write. But it's no longer just a little bitty idea but something that has legs. It just needs fleshing out.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Here's my dilemma

I mentioned before -- long before actually, in July and August -- about a monster story. I finished it in August and put it in a drawer, knowing in the back of my mind that I'd have one major hole to fill.

I needed to answer two questions, but they are huge, sucking chest wounds in my story. They are questions I know the readers will ask and I have no idea how to answer them.

First, a quick overly brief synopsis of the story. And, if anyone has read something like this, let me know. I am sure this isn't the most original idea, but I am hoping my take is something that will be worth reading. OK, now a synopsis. Main character is the elite agent in an underground group that tracks monsters who have crossed over into our world. There is more to it than that, but that tells you enough to explain my dilemma.

And here that is. I need to know how and why the monsters come to our world. Really, I need to know more of the why they would come here. The how I can let my brain stew on for a while and come up with something. But why would they come here? That's something I still need to figure out.

Our growing writers' group

I wasn't able to make it to the meeting of my writers' group last night. I wish I could have gone, but some things came up (see previous post), and I couldn't make it.

Did get an email from the guy who organized it and he let me know that we had six there. That means that since I was gone there were four new folks. I was kind of liking our intimate little group, but am glad to see us growing.I'll take all the feedback I can get from others. I don't know anything about the new people, I just hope they all show up again next time.

Our long search has ended

I hate to be the excuse maker, but my busy life has interrupted my writing life. I detailed that -- to a degree -- in the post just below this one.

On the list of things that has been getting in the way of my productivity has been our months-long search for a house. Well, my cyber friends, that search has ended. We found out yesterday that our offer on a home was accepted. We couldn't be happier. We got a great deal on home in a Dallas suburb and are supposed to close at the end of the month.

We won't be living in Dallas-proper like we had wanted to, but our patience (and, to some degree, our naivete) has paid off. We got a much newer home than the ones at which we had spent the majority of our time looking. We are right across from a park and at the end of a block.

We are having the house inspected tomorrow and both my parents and Gina's parents are going to meet us there so they can see the place for themselves.

There is some work to be done. This was a foreclosure and someone has taken most of the appliances. The dishwasher, the built-in microwave, and the cook top to be specific. So we have to get those. And the carpeting isn't in pristine condition. But for what we paid, this was a great deal and we are very excited.

To top it off, we beat out five other offers. I know that means we were willing to pay the most money for this place, but it also means I have an excuse to raise my fist in triumph and I'll take any chance I can to do that.

Monday, September 28, 2009

An unproductive two weeks.

I've had a very unproductive two weeks. Our writers' group meets again this Thursday. I haven't done the math, but think I've written about 5 pages total. Edited another couple. Not what I needed to do.

We have been busy around here in the non-writing part of life. We are still looking for a home and have been stepping up our efforts there. We've also been keeping some late nights just doing things that need to be done around the apartment.

I should have been writing int he mornings, and I have some days, but not as much as I should have. I need to be better, but I am having a bit of trouble balancing the writing life with the regular life. Combine that with having to find time to edit and I am feeling a little overwhelmed at the moment. I know this will get easier the longer I do it and I'm still new in my pursuit of writing. But patience has never been one of my virtues. I want to have this figured out and have it figured out yesterday.

Friday, September 25, 2009

My first edit

I am starting the process of editing a story I finished a little over a month ago. This is something that I've never done before and kind of figuring out the way I want to do it.

The editing isn't the issue, I do that every day at the job that pays the bills. What I am not sure about is whether or not to save a new draft each time I edit, or just edit the one file. I am going with the new file method for now. Seems best to keep older versions around in case I just royally screw things up in the editing process.

If anyone else has a better idea on how to approach this I'd like to hear it.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

God's bookstore

People in the Netherlands get to shop at this bookstore. And to think, I like going to the local Borders and Barnes and Noble.

Eoin Colfer interview

Here's a fact that baffles both me and my wife. I like reading young adult books. I haven't been able to boil the reason down to one nice sentence, but what I have worked out goes something like this: Young adult novels have plots that are just as complicated as adult novels, but they move faster. At least for me that's true.

I have read most of the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan and most of the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer. All of the books that I've read in each of those series start with a bang and keep chugging until the end. The Artemis Fowl books seem more "adult" in nature as they are about a child who is a criminal mastermind.

Jeff Vandermeer has an interesting interview with Eoin Colfer over at Amazon's Omnivoracious blog. Colfer has written the next installment in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series. Go check it out. It's a fun read with lots of personality coming across in both the questions and the answers. Just the kind of Q&A that I like.

Lost symbols

I wrote a previous post on where ideas come from. Saw a book in a box and the title gave me an idea that turned into a short story.

I think ideas are interesting. I think process is interesting. But I have never been one to buy into the idea that every single piece of literature has some deeper meaning. I am not much for symbolism. I don't doubt that there are some writers out there who think long and hard about what name to give their main character so they can make sure the proper "bigger message" is conveyed.

I started thinking this way in college after I took an English Lit class. The professor, a woman who had focused her studies on feminist literature, was having us read Frankenstein. We spent the time before reading the book hearing the story of what caused the book to be written. Essentially, Mary Shelley was having a contest with her husband and a friend to write the scariest book possible. I found that interesting. Kind of a neat way for a classic to come about.

Then the professor told us that Shelley made all of these choices about setting and character names and situations to make bigger points on women's place is society.

I didn't buy it. If Shelley was trying to win a contest about who can write the scariest story I don't think she was also trying to figure out a way to make bigger points.

The thing that put me over the top, though, was the day that the professor pulled out a newspaper page. You pull out a newspaper page then you are talking my language.

On the page was an illustration of a sperm wearing a top hat and swimming through a sea of red. The professor then asked why we thought the illustrator and page designer chose the colors they chose for the page. Her argument, the red represented a woman's menstrual cycle and the top hat on the sperm was there to signify the dominance of man. Others in the class nodded their heads. Some asked questions.

I raised my hand and asked what the story the illustration was paired with was about. I don't remember exactly, but I think it about sperm banks that catered only to exclusive clients. I made the point that red popped on the page and captured the readers' attention. Sperm are white and top hats said high-toned. There wasn't a deeper meaning other than "high-class sperm bank."

She laughed me off and said something about needing to think bigger.

And that's the story of how I lost my belief in symbolism.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A quick thanks

One of the first links that I ever added to the right side of this thing was to Gabriel Novo. He is the Cuban Nomad.

He's doing the same thing I am -- working had to become a published writer. He said some nice things about me in a post of other writer blogs that he reads. He's right. There are a boatload of aspiring authors out there, but it helps to find others to which you relate. That's why I liked his blog as soon I found him from the comments section of another writer.

So, thanks, Gabriel. And those of you aren't Gabriel, go check him out.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Can anything stop music

I just walked by one of the TVs here at work and it was tuned to CNN. the headline they had on the story that was being reported at the time was "Can anything stop music?"

I think the Village People would say asked and answered.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A little something

I have a short story that has been in my head a lot lately and it's one of the pieces I want to work into the rotation I talked about in the last post. I've written 2,700 words so it may turn into more of a novella since I know how it will end and we have a long way to go before we get to that point. I think I stalled out on the writing because even though I know the ending I don't have any of the points in between planned out.

I need a very rough outline with at least three plot points planned before I can move on. That's the first thing I'll do when this story gets its turn.

Here's an example that doesn't give away too much of what happens.

The blue glow on Riley’s face disappeared as the bank of monitors in front of him blinked off. His back popped as he twisted in his chair and set his input pad in its charger. The fuzz in his head had all but disappeared. He still wasn’t completely himself, but he was doing a good job of fooling the co-workers who’d stopped by his desk the last hour.

Brenda was waiting outside of his cubicle with her jacket over her arms. She smiled and he held out his hand as he passed her. She grabbed it and they walked to the elevator.

“Not the express today?” she asked.

“No, not today. Think we’ll take the regular elevator.” He squeezed her hand and she slid a step closer to him.

On the elevator he turned to her. When the doors opened on the bottom floor she had tears in her eyes and was telling him she understood.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A new approach

We had our writing group tonight. One of the members -- one of three -- asked the others what the thing that kept them from progressing in their writing. One of the other members -- that would be the one that isn't me since this person didn't answer his own question -- said that too many ideas and things that he wanted to work on kept him from making significant progress on any one thing.

I said that I had a similar problem. At times, I find it hard to focus my attention to just one project. Right now I have the book and then two short stories that are fighting for my attention. The other member said that he had been giving each project one day of focused attention. Then the next day he worked on another project.

I am thinking that this is an idea that I may try. I'll just rotate through them. I'll do the novel one day, a short story each of the next two days. The fourth day I'll devote to revisions. I have two pieces ready now and am soon to have a third. Those first two have been sitting untouched in a file for nearly a month now. I think enough time has passed to allow me to take a first pass at editing. I've forgotten enough of the stories that the writing will seem fresh and I can, hopefully, find some holes or places where the story doesn't work.

I am curious if any other writers work like this. I know that my process is my process and I can't go comparing myself to others, but was just wondering if there was anyone with a similar experience and how it worked for them.

The ultimate process

Talking as much as I do about the writing process, it stood to reason I'd like this short comic on where ideas come from. Click the link, by the way. There's more to the comic than the image below. That's just to give you a taste.



And if you like this one the same artists have a serial story going up at the same site. A new page is being posted each Thursday. It's called King of an Endless Sky. Those start here.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

My new widget

I added the progress counter widget to the right side. It will show how well I'm doing on the novel. I toyed with the idea of adding a counter for other projects, but right now my focus is mainly on the novel.

I don't work regularly enough on the other pieces to make a counter worthwhile. I think they'd just serve to depress me seeing them not moving.

Anyway, you can follow my progress now.

Thanks, Steve, for the link to the widget.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

What has happened to Tom Cruise? And to us?

Gina and I climbed into bed last night at 9:15 p.m. and popped Valkyrie into the DVD player. It had arrived from Netflix the day before. She was exhausted and looked like she was falling asleep before we moved to the bedroom for the movie so I didn't expect her to last long, and she didn't. She may have seen 10 minutes of the movie, tops. I didn't last too much longer.

I watched about 20 minutes of the movie. I was getting frustrated because I couldn't understand anything they were saying. It's all about a conspiracy to overthrow a government so I didn't expect them to be shoutign thigns to each other. Secrecy is a big payer here. Got to whisper. But I don't think I understood half of what the actors were saying.

I was also struggling with Tom Cruise as a Nazi officer. Honestly, I struggle with Tom Cruise as anything now. Every since he had his couch-jumping fit on Oprah and his Scientology video leaked on the web I can't see him as anything other than a little crazy. It takes me completely out of the movie because I don't see him as the character anymore. I'm always thinking, "That's Tom Cruise." I didn't used to do that, not until he screwed up his image, at least in my mind.

I'd had enough of struggling to hear the actors and by 10 p.m. I'd stopped the movie and turned on the news. By 10 p.m. on a Friday my wife was asleep and I was soon to follow. What happened to us? I can guarantee you that my parents were still awake at that time. So sad.

We are celebrating my brother's birthday today with family then hopefully going to the Rangers game tonight. Well, we are going ot the game. Hoping they play since we are supposed to have rain all weekend. I am hoping to write a bit tonight. Have fallen off the last couple of days. It's been a rough week at work with a rougher week coming up. We have a project that will be wrapped up next week and that may mean some long days. I have written 11 of my 20 pages for the critique group. I should be able to get nine more done this week, but if I don't, I don't. I am not going to sweat it. I have to keep reminding myself that this is something I am doing for me. It's not a class and there are no grades. No one will be upset if I don't make it to 20. Other than me, of course.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Another milestone

I wrote a bit before work this morning and passed another magic mark on my long piece, which I will now be calling a novel.

I wrote 425 words and that got me about 100 past the 20,000 word mark. I am in the middle of what is Chapter 9 and am still working my way to the story's climax. I have my protagonist and a secondary character being held captive by a rag-tag group right now. They are about to escape and the race that was the big idea I had when I started this book will be on.

I am happy to be at 20,000 words but it's also a bit depressing to know that I have about 60,000 words to go to be at a finished novel.

I may need one of those Work-In-Progress widgets I can put up and keep track.

UPDATE: Wrote again at lunch and was able to bang out 500 more words. That puts me at nearly 1,000 for the day. With the writing I hope to do tonight I could get to almost 1,500 today. That would be one of my most productive days in a while.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Century Mark

I have a thing about milestones. I like round numbers. Anniversaries of 10s and 5s are important to me. It may have something to do with my day job. In journalism we like to mark anniversaries like that with stories or photos.

So, when I realized the other day that I was approaching 100 posts on this thing that I started as a whim I figured I needed to do something to recognize that. I toyed with the idea of just letting it pass. Make a post about something insignificant and just move on. But, no, that's not me.

I thought about it the last two days and decided I'd explain a bit more about that little blurb in the "About Me" section to your right.

I am a newly married man in my middle 30s trying to get serious about the one thing I have wanted to do my entire life -- writing.

My entire life, huh? Well, no, not literally. But it's true that for a very long time this is what I have wanted to do. It was junior high -- seventh grade if I am not mistaken -- that I wrote my first story. If you had to categorize it it would have been fantasy. Trying to remember exactly what it was about and I can't. I know that it had something to do with a kingdom and a queen. She was under attack and had some sort of contest to see who could build the best weapon to be used in defense of the kingdom. I don't remember anything more about the story other than the title: The Man Who Made the Weapon.

How bad and unimaginative is that? Unfortunately I don't know that I am any better at titles now.

I don't remember any other stories from my very young days. I know I wrote a few others. I do remember a few phrases from those stories. "The convenience store was in the middle of nowhere, its plate glass windows like the eyes of a lonely dog waiting for its owner to return." And "His obituary read like the end of a bad romance novel." My dad particularly liked that last one.

When my brother was in sixth grade he had the same teacher I had a few years earlier. He took my little file of compositions to her. She read them and commented on them. She said she liked them and that I should keep doing it. So I did.

Off and on in high school I wrote some. I don't remember completing anything but do remember writing a few stories, on a typewriter of course, about a spy who lived above a diner in London. He liked dry toast and fried egg sandwiches. Obviously a different time since I don't know anyone now who would order a breakfast that includes four pieces of bread. This guy also liked his coffee hot and black if I am remembering correctly.

In college all of my writing efforts went toward the student newspaper. I wrote there for two years and loved every minute of it. I was getting to be creative and seeing my words in print. What could be better?

Once I graduated I took the first job I could and that was in copy editing. I was grateful to get to work in the same city I went to college, but I wasn't getting to write like Iused to unless you counted a weekly rodeo column. Instead I was editing other's writing and designing newspaper pages. I still loved what I did (and continue to do to this day, although I am getting to write more), but the writing side of me was starving. That's when I started writing fiction again. It wasn't something I was doing regularly, but I was doing it again.

I started a story about two guys who were in college vying for the love of the same woman. Parts of it I liked. Parts of it were awful. And the story was taking way too long to tell with the same things happening over and over again. But I was getting my fiction legs back under me and it felt good. There are some parts of that story that I still really like. Maybe not the writing, but a few of the ideas are solid.

It's been sporadic at times, but I haven't stopped writing since then. I joined online groups to try and keep myself writing regularly. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't. But I have a renewed commitment that I have been able to keep up for at least the last few months, and honestly I don't see it stopping any time soon. Like I have said in previous posts, the ideas are coming easier and it's not such a struggle to find the words. I know that success now is no guarantee of success in the future, but writing is more fun than it ever has been.

So there it is. That's my writing story, from junior high until now. And that's my hundredth post. Maybe not momumental, but hopefully interesting.

I'll see you in another hundred and hopefully the updated story will include a completed novel and a few short story sales.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Productivity

The writer's group didn't meet this week. Not sure why but the guy who organized it sent an email Thursday afternoon saying he wasn't going to be able to make. It was a bit of a relief to me. I was iffy on whether or not I was going to be able to make it. We were working ahead this week at the day job so we could take the day off on Monday. That meant Thursday was going to be a long day anyway, so missing the group meeting meant a little more time relaxing at home.

It also meant I got a chance to get a bit ahead on my longer piece that I am having them critique. I'd had 52 pages written going into the meeting. I'd given them 40 pages the first two weeks and was hoping to get 8 more done so I could give them another 20 this week.

Didn't quite make it. I wrote 5 more this week after spending all of tlast week on a short story that didn't come out near as well as I was hoping. The ending that I had in mond when I started writing fizzled on me. I know that I could probably work it out if I kept at it, but the story isn't lighting my fire right now. It's OK, but not great and I knew I needed to get to work on the longer piece. So I abandoned the short story. Not happy about it, but probably the best decision overall. The short story wasn't a total waste. This was the second story I'd written with this same main character and the second time I'd played in this world. I got to figure out a little mroe about this place. I do like it, but it still needs some work. But it's work I'd like to do because I think there is something there.

So, now I need to get 20 more pages written on the longer piece I have been working on so I can get ahead of the critique group.

Last thing, the next post here will be Number 100. It's a mark I didn't think I'd make it to. I am not sure whether I want to do more to acknowledge it or just make it a regular post.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Internet is not making us illiterate

As we each spend today celebrating the Internet's birthday in our own way, there are, no doubt, some who are cursing its birth. That bunch is lamenting what the Internet and technology has done to writing in our society. Well to that group, worry no more.

Stanford University professor Andrea Lunsford has organized the Stanford Study of Writing. Between 2001 and 2006 she collected almost 15,000 writing samples. That included everything from class assignments to chat sessions.

What she found was that technology is doing anything but killing our ability to write. Young people are doing more of it than ever and they are doing a good job of it too.

Lunsford's team found that the students were remarkably adept at what rhetoricians call kairos--assessing their audience and adapting their tone and technique to best get their point across. The modern world of online writing, particularly in chat and on discussion threads, is conversational and public, which makes it closer to the Greek tradition of argument than the asynchronous letter and essay writing of 50 years ago.

The folks at Wired did a good job of summarizing the findings here.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Dirty, little secrets

When we were in Vegas in March there was a certain portion of our contingent who wanted to go to In-N-Out burger for lunch. They don't have them here and it's a place that several of us had been wanting to try. We never went, but if we had I think I'd have ordered from their secret menu. I won't explain it here. You probably know about it already anyway since it's not so secret anymore. Instead I'll just link to this blog post from Mental Floss.

But not without quoting this little section on Wendy's.

5. If you’re at Wendy’s and you’re really hungry – like, three-patties-just-won’t-cut-it hungry – go ahead and order the Grand Slam, which is four patties stacked on a bun. It’s also known as the Meat Cube. Gross.


I really want to order a Meat Cube.

Friday, August 28, 2009

My longer piece

I am trying to add to the longer piece that I am having my writing group critique. We are taking 20 pages every two weeks. I hadn't read it in a long time. It was something that I started in my first ever attempt at NanoWriMo. I stopped at roughly 15,000 words. I was woefully behind and the story was no longer inspiring me. It is something I was writing from the seat of my pants and I'd hit a lull.

I've returned to it and added another page to it tonight. I actually like it. There are lots of things that need work. Some situations are outrageously unbelievable and those will obviously need to be tweaked. There is a character who I never intended to be more than a bit of comic relief. My critiquing buddies both loved her so I need to work her back in and give her a meatier role in the story. I think I've figured out how to do it, but it's a change I never expected. It is one I agree with though. She's a lot of fun and probably the most well-developed secondary character. Guess I liked writing her.

This is where I am going to turn my attention now -- to this piece. But here is the thing that is going to make me sad. I don't want this to be my first novel. I hear that almost all successful writers have to stick that first novel into a drawer and just leave it there. But I don't want to with this one. Not now anyway. It's a fun adventure story that I think people will want to read. But let's just get it done first and worry about the other thing later.

Who's that man?

When I first started this blog Gina told me to add a photo to my profile. For irrational reasons I resisted, but no more. That's me in the picture with Gina. We are on our honeymoon there, standing near a fountain in the plaza area in front of Saint Peter's Cathedral. We went to Rome and want to go back. Badly, we want to go back.

So, I'm no longer a stranger. You shouldn't be one either. I know some of the folks who check out this blog, but there must be others. If you do and haven't stood up and introduced yourself. Here's your chance.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Life with the weasel

I have been talking quite a bit (like nearly non-stop on here) about how I am doing my best to fight the urge to edit as I write. I have gotten much better about letting the story come first and worrying about buffing and polishing -- or major surgery -- later.

At times it's hard to fight, though, and I let myself go ahead and make corrections and needed fixes.

Jim Van Pelt calls those two writing modes the weasel and the analytic. The weasel just writes. The analytic makes corrections.

Here are his words to describe the weasel mode.

It's marked by headlong rushes into the story, uninterruptable stretches of typing, and stream of consciousness thinking that goes something like this: what-happens-next-what-happens-next-close-your-eyes-and-type-what-do-you-see-feel-hear-smell-taste-what-happens-next-what-is-the-point-of-view-thinking-don't-worry-if-that-last-bit-was-good-yet-what-is-the-surrounding-what-happens-next-keep-your-eyes-closed-and-type-cool-language-on-the-way-get-out-of-the-way-and-tell-the-story-what-would-the-character-do-be-the-ball-danny-be-the-ball-what-happens-next-what-do-you-see-feel-hear-smell-taste-what-happens-next . . . and so on for as long as I can keep the weasel running.


And the analytic.

... pauses for long times while writing, is easily distractable, and will delete two of every three words that make it to the page. The analytic mode is often plagued with doubt, loathing, and other self image issues. It also can feel righteous and smug.


Read the rest of the post here. Good stuff. At least to the guy who seems to be obsessing over this stuff right now.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Productivity

Leaving the writers' group meeting the other night I thanked the guy who organized it. I have really enjoyed it and got great feedback on the longer piece I gave them to read. They both liked it and seemed to like my characters. That made me feel good.

I am in a group with three writers who write completely different styles. I can see how this could be detrimental in the long run, but for now we are all new enough at this that any critique is helpful.

We are two men and one woman. I am the genre fiction writer. The other guy is more of what I would call the epic novelist. I can see him writing the big family story that spans decades. The woman of our group writes historical fiction for kids, and she does it very well. Very well. I have read some young adult fiction and her voice fits right in with that.

I feel like my work is being critiqued by writers who are at the same skill level that I am, and I know that after praising the other writers that can sound kind of cocky. But I am relieved at what I got back. It was two different kinds of critique. One delved more into style things that I should look at. The other was getting more at believability and consistency issues.

I am rambling now so let me try and get back to my point. I thanked the guy who organized the group because I think it has made me more productive than I have been in years.

I have finished two stories in less than a month. I am close to finishing another. The words and ideas are coming easier and I like that. This is almost all to do with the group. I used to think that I needed a block of time that I used as writing time, at least a dedicated hour. Now, knowing that others are expecting 20 pages from me every two weeks, I don't want to let them down. I am making time to write where I can find it. I'll snatch 15 minutes here or half an hour there. I write in the morning, able to crank out a page or two while I eat breakfast.

Now, this may all be crap. The words and stories may be awful. But I am not worried about that now. I am just enjoying this wave while it's mine to ride.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Writers' group

I need to spend my evening going over the pages I received at the last writer's group meeting. I have read each of them, but haven't hit them with the red pen. Both pieces were good, but aimed at two different audiences.

Anyway, we were supposed to have 20 pages written by tomorrow and I am about 9 pages short, but I think it's OK. I did finish two pieces and get a decent start on a third. I'm not going to feel too bad. Besides, I'll be closer after I write a bit tonight.

I mention this to say that if there is anyone in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who is looking to attend a writers' group and is OK with it being some folks who aren't published or all that polished feel free to join us. We meet at 7 p.m the first and third Thursday of the month at the Hurst Public Library, right in the middle of the Metroplex.

Google it to find the address. We'd love to have you.

Another one finished

Wrapped up the piece I mentioned in the previous post, the one spawned by the book cover at work. At least I think I finished it. Not entirely happy with the way it ends, but I did move it to the 'ready for revisions' file on my hard drive.

It only came out to a little more than 1,500 words so it's not much more than a piece of longish flash fiction. I am sure ti will grow when I go back through it. I can see another 500 words being added, especially as it gets closer to the end. I felt like the story was running out of steam and I went with the tamer of two endings. If I switch that it will definitely get longer. But it could get more exciting.

I went back and gave it a quick read one last time this morning after typing the last sentence and actually like what I did in a few places. I like the way I handled some of the scene setting and I love one of the main characters. He was a lot of fun to write. I think in the revisions I need to do a little more describing of him, because right now I can see him in my mind's eye but not sure my readers will be able to.

Anyway, just sharing that I finished another piece. It's also another one that I am not sure where it came from but is out of character for what I typically write. Got to say, though, that I am having more fun writing right now than I have in a very long time.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Ideas

I love the creative process. Everything about it fascinates me and I could spend hours reading about how creative types go from idea to completed project. I plan on writing more about this in the future. I have read some good things on the creative process -- both positive and precautionary -- that I think would be beneficial to share.

But the point of this post is only to say, I don't get ideas. I don't understand how we get them or where they come from. Thinking about this because I started yet another piece last night. I got the idea when I walked by a box of books being given away at work. The books in the box were all of a business nature and the book on top was titled "Don't Buy Stocks." Well that sent my mind running and I wrote four pages of the story that was in my head all the way home.

But it's just crazy that I can pass a box of books, see a title, and come out of a story with it.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Big, fat liar

So I said in the previous post that I was going to do one of two projects next. I am a big, fat liar. Pants definitely on fire.

Instead of doing either one of those I started something else. Just started writing last night using the same main character from the monster story. So I am still in that world, feeling my way around. But it's fun and I am enjoying it and right now the story is coming easy. The intent is for this to be a short piece that is less of a story and more of a peek into the world. Just something fun and exciting. I can't imagine it being more than a few thousand words.

I am two pages in and am sure that if I hadn't started writing at close to midnight last night I would have been able to bang out more.

We are going for burgers to celebrate my dad's birthday today. The place we are heading to is supposed to have one of the 50 best burgers in the state, so I may have my first food-related blog post later today. Also have softball tonight. Final game of the summer season, and, if the funding doesn't come through, maybe the last game for a while.

Hoping to write a bit after I get home and take care of some things that need to be done around here.

Friday, August 14, 2009

My next project

I have narrowed what my next project will be down to two things already in progress. They are both short stories and both are already well on their way. One is about a man trying to get through a dangerous territory and reunite with his daughter. The other is about a man who is slowly going crazy and is having to find out who keeps leaving packages in front of his door for him to deliver.

I know neither one of those sound all that original or exciting, but hopefully I am going ot be able to put a new spin on them. Besides, don't they say that there are no new ideas?

Also, more posts coming soon. I know I have been slacking lately, but all my writing energies were going toward finishing the story. I have some ideas for posts that I have been kicking around and saw a few things today that I'd like to comment on.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Finished

It's done. Wrapped the monster story up last night just before bed. I have been writing in bits and pieces in the mornings and at night when I could find the time or had the energy to turn on the writing part of my brain.

I knew the end was near and last night I got there. I am excited. The story is marinating now for a week or two then I'll go back through it with the red pen of death and brutality.

I read a bit at the beginning of the story again last night to figure out what train number I had the main character getting on so he could get on the same train near the end. To my surprise, I liked some of what I had written. This story is one of the very few times I have had the willpower to fight of my inner editor and just written straight through to the end.

"Just get the story down." That was my motto through the couple of weeks I'd been writing. Well, check mark. That's done. Now I don't know what to do with myself. I have the longer piece that I am having the critique group look at. They have the first half and I'll take the second half next time. I could work on that some more and make it my next piece to finish. Or I could pick up one of the dozens of stories I have tops to on my hard drive. I think I'll make that decision this weekend. Tonight, Gina and I are going out to a movie.

Also, if anyone has any ideas on what markets like stories with monsters playing a central role, let me know. I figure I can start hunting for those while the story is waiting to be edited.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Our 2nd meeting

We had the second meeting of our writer's group last night. We swapped pieces then chatted for a bit. We talked about what we wanted the others to look at in our critiques. We talked about what we were reading. We talked about writing rules and how our writing went since the last meeting. It was a lot of fun.

But I am nervous now. They have two pieces of mine. One is a short that I think is pretty close to being ready for submission. I am hoping I can take their critiques, polish it up, then start sending it out. The second piece is the beginning of a work in progress. I decided against the monster story since I didn't have a chance to go back through it.

I've had some people critique some flash fiction online, but never had a face to face critique with anyone before. I am hoping they like my stories. I feel like I can work on the writing, but it's the story that I worry about. I want the story to be interesting and hold their interest. It's one of the things I asked them to look for while they were reading.

We'll see how it goes. I'll let you know what I hear in two weeks.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Progress

Just an update since I haven't posted anything in a few days.

Nearly finished with the monster story. The ending is in progress. I should wrap it up tonight or tomorrow. Probably too late to take with me to the writers' group. I'd like to let it sit a few days before I dive in and work on draft two.

I am taking Steve's advice here, even though I'd like to take the monsters with me to the group. He's probably right in that I should have a firmer grasp on the piece before I show it to others. That means I need to edit and refine because I know this one needs it. I haven't even looked back at anything I've written since I started this two weeks ago.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Should make for an interesting read

I wrote more again tonight. Got out an even 300 words. It was between bits of sleep. I have a cavity that will require a root canal. I can't get that done until next Tuesday, so to make me able to function until then the dentist has prescribed me Vicodin. It's a low dose and moderately successful at easing the pain. The problem is that it makes me sleepy.

Should be a fun time going through what I wrote tonight to see how much makes sense.

Critique groups

Here's a questions for those writers who may be reading this blog. If you have experience with critique groups, at what stage in a story's progress did you take it to be critiqued.

At the next meeting of my writers group we are to bring 20 pages to exchange. I am wanting to take this monster story with me, but I don't think it will be anything more than a first draft. Is it smart to take a first draft with me, or should I take something that has been edited?

Any help is appreciated.

More progress

Wrote some more last night. It was like pulling teeth, but I kept going. I did figure out a way to work in the bit that I was sure would come out. It makes sense with the flow of the piece and actually helps move the plot along. That was a nice surprise. It still may come out in the editing, but at least I know it can stay if I think it needs to.

I am hoping that I an have this wrapped up by the end of the week. Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The end of summer. The end of good times.

I don't think I've ever mentioned this, but if you follow the links to my job you may have cleverly deduced it, but I live in Dallas.

As the title of this post says, today is the end of summer and the end of good times. At least for me. The Dallas Cowboys opened their training camp today. That means non-stop media coverage. Head coach press conferences. Interviews with and stories about guys who have no chance to make the team. Two weeks from now they'll be back to cleaning pools and stacking bags of concrete at the hardware store.

But for me, the baseball fan, today means that the one sport I really care about will be relegated to an afterthought, even though the Rangers are still in contention and are playing some exciting baseball.

( I know I've mentioned the Royals in posts before. Let's not talk about them and the massive collapse they've had. Move along. Nothing to see.)

UPDATE: I posted this initial post at 3:06 p.m. I started writing it because the Dallas Cowboys training camp press conference had just started a few minutes before. It's an hour later now and it just ended.

Short story trailer

Electric Literature presents Jim Shepard's "Your Fate Hurtles Down at You" (trailer) from Editors Electric Literature on Vimeo.



Check out this animated trailer to a new short story in Electric Literature. The story "Your Fate Hurtles Down at You" is by Jim Shepard, and I'll admit it -- the trailer worked on me. I'd love to get a copy of Electric Literature and read this.

I have seen trailers for books before. A few have been well done, but most have looked slapped together by the author using software downloaded for free.

This is the first time I've seen anything for a short story and it's the first time I've seen something done so well.

It makes me want to write for Electric Literature and I've never even read the publication.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Progress update

Wrote almost 600 words tonight. A page and a half on the monster story. It's still fun to write, even if this is unfamiliar territory for me. I am hoping to have it finished by the time that I meet the writers' group again. I am 15 pages in and feel like this is wrapping up soon. Like I said in a previous post, I know how this is supposed to end and we are getting to that point.

The only frustrating part of what I wrote tonight is that I know I went off on a tangent that will almost surely come out in the editing. It's not advancing that plot at all and the resolution will be unsatisfying. I already know that even though I haven't resolved it. But I'll write it anyway and ignore the inner editor that has already told me to hit the backspace key. If nothing else it's an idea that I like and can see it being useful in another story featuring these characters.

Nomad'er what

I added a new blog on the right side a few weeks ago. It's under the Author Blog heading. It's called Contemporary Nomad. It's interesting. Read it if you like thriller/espionage books. I read Olen Steinhauer's The Tourist while we were in Mexico. He contributes to Contemporary Nomad.

The real reason I bring it up now, though, is that I really like the way that it looks. It's got a clean design. Crisp. Gina has been bugging me to dress my blog up some. She says it's a little boring, and she's right. I should tweak the look of this place a bit. I might in the coming weeks. If I do, you've been warned. No surprises.

What's in a question?

Perhaps I am a little sensitive about questions because of my day job. When I was in college and learning to do the things I needed to know how to do to make a living in journalism, I had a professor who concentrated on questions. He stressed the importance of asking the open-ended question. You never want to give an interview subject the opportunity to give a yes or no answer.

A horrible example, but the only one that comes to my head.

Did you enjoy the camp?

Tell me about your favorite part of camp.

See the difference?

Anyway, I like Ally Carter's blog. She writes the Gallagher Girls series. The books are about an elite girls' school that secretly trains its students to be spies. I have read none of them, even though I kind of want to. If they weren't geared so much toward girls I probably would. Heaven knows I am not against reading a book for kids. But my stupid machismo gets in the way.

Still, I like Ally's blog and link to her from the right side. She had a post last year about questions that you shouldn't ask a writer and then follows those with the better way to rephrase your questions. I liked it. You might too. Read it here.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Frustrating progress

Met with the writers' group on Thursday night. We agreed to write 10 pages each week. Bring 20 pages to the group each week and then critique each others work.

I think we are going to try and tackle too much at each meeting and I am going to suggest a couple of changes. Mainly, that we critique only one person's work each week. We'll swap pages and then take them home to read. We'll do the critiques at the next meeting. I think that will allow for a more thorough, thoughtful critique and not something that comes from a quick glance.

That's not the point of this post, though. The point is that I am two days removed from the meeting and I have written no pages and maybe only 50 words total.

Disappointing.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Long road to nowhere

I am in the middle of reading a book by an author that I have liked in the past. It's from a series and this one is one of the latest books. I'm not going to reveal the author's name or the series, just because I don't think this book is typical of this author or series and I would hate to turn someone against it.

That said, I am on page 231 and have 300 more pages to go and I feel like the story hasn't advanced since roughly page 10. The character is literally roaming the desert. It's frustrating me to no end because I know the writer is better than this. This just feels like a plot that he hadn't developed fully and he is having the main character do a bunch of nothing while the author figures out where he should go.

I spoke with my dad about it tonight and he said that it didn't bother him. He also assured me that it gets better, so I'll keep reading.

But reading this book reminded me of how I've felt sometimes about my own writing. I'll have an idea and be writing along, enjoying where the story is headed and the characters are taking me when I find myself just writing in circles. I have my characters wandering around doing meaningless things. The actions stops and the plot stalls. That's usually the point that I'll give up on a piece. I'll set it aside for a few days, weeks, months, forever.

I mentioned having this problem at the first meeting of the writers' group. I asked the question of whether the other two people there wrote from an outline or if they just went wherever the story took them. Both answered that they went with the story. I said I did basically the same thing but that I ran into the problem of having my characters wandering with nothing to do. One of the other participants said the same happened to him but that he thought it was a good thing. It could sometimes spark an idea. And I agree, to a point.

Sometimes it's fun to send your characters off without a direction and see where they take you. When they automatically show you where they want to head it is fun. I have taken a few unexpected journeys with my characters that way. But what I am talking about is the wandering for page after page while I work through plot problems in my head. I hate when I do that. And I especially hate it when the pros do it. Like I said at the top, I don't think this is typical of the writer in question here, just something that has happened in an isolated case.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Writers' group

I had the first meeting of the writers' group I mentioned a few posts ago. I was a little apprehensive going into the meeting tonight.

First, I didn't know how serious these other folks would be about writing. I am wanting to give this a go and I really want honest critiques from others who are trying to do the same thing.

Second, I have only had a few people, outside of my friends and family, read what I've written. While most of it has been complimentary, these will be the first people to critique my work that I've had to face in person.

Overall, I was happy with the group. It was small, only three people. And I think I am going to get some honest criticism, and that's the biggest thing I wanted from this.

We are meeting once every two weeks and have all agreed to write 10 pages each week and bring them for critique.

I guess I will figure out how good this group is in two weeks, but for now I am excited.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Quick progress update.

Got a late start tonight. I struggled and only pulled out 245 words. I am not going for number of words, though, just consistent output.

Subway slight of hand

Subway has a new commercial out and the jingle is catchy in that I want to scrape out my eyeballs kind of way.

All of the people are singing in rhyme about the new six-inch sandwiches that cost just $2.99. I would think that was a great deal if I wasn't aware that the sandwiches just recently cost only $2.49.

Progress

Between a few minutes last night and a few more minutes this morning I banged out another 400 words on the monster story. Got a nice bit of back story written and moved the plot along some. Again, it's mostly dialogue.

My concern at this point is that the story is getting long. We are at 3,700-plus words right now. It's becoming a hefty short story and we are at the middle according to the outline in my head.

I wasn't expecting this to get that long, but I figure it's OK. I can't worry about that now and have to just keep writing. I have no doubt that I'll be able to tighten things up in the editing. And, yes, I remember saying I was a lean writer. I just know there are whole sections here that could come out. I'll just save them for something later. I m enjoying this character and this story. It's fun to write and I may just write something else with the same guy at the center. I can use those things that don't make it in this story in one of those in the future.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I challenege ...

... you to argue with this.

Home again

We are back from a weekend trip to Kansas City. I needed to visit my grandmother who is 92 and in a nursing home now. And Gina has told me repeatedly that she didn't want the first time she went to Kansas City to be for a funeral. I was able to get Monday and Tuesday off from work so we took advantage of Gina's summer and headed north.

It was great seeing family and wonderful to see my grandmother again. I got to show Gina all of the places I remember as kid. We ate burgers at my family's favorite burger place and went for barbecue. We had intended to hit the two big KC barbecue spots, Gates and Arthur Bryant's, but were only able to make it to Gates. That's OK though. At Gates I ate what could possibly be the best thing I have ever put in my mouth -- a burnt ends on bun sandwich. My goodness. Gina and I were both swooning over how good this was. Yes, swooning.

Tried to catch a Royals game. Went to the ballpark, paid for parking, entry, souvenirs, and food. Just never saw a game because a constant drizzle canceled the game.

It was a great time. We ate too much but enjoyed ourselves but it's good to be back home

I have a bit of writing to catch up on and am going to the first meeting of a writers group Thursday night. Excited but nervous. It's a group that came together through Craigslist so not sure what to expect. I'll report back how it goes.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The rise of the robots

While I am at work I usually have a muted TV playing above my desk. It's always on one of the cable news channels unless there is a daytime baseball game on.

This morning I have it on MSNBC and am glancing at it every few minutes. Earlier they debated something called The Lucifer Effect with and author of a book with that title. Just a moment ago I saw this headline: "Robots: Good or Evil."

I had to see what that was and figure out if they really were talking about what it appeared they were talking about. Unmute.

They weren't talking about the C3PO style robot that walks and talks. They were talking about the kind of robots that we use to make cars. And the unmanned drones that fly over enemy territory that take surveillance photos. All things that don't have much if any artificial intelligence. They rely on programming by a human to function at all and are made to do a certain task.

That didn't stop one of the co-hosts of the show, Stephen A. Smith, from declaring that he was terrified of robots. He had seen I, Robot with Will Smith. He knew about Transformers. Even thought they weren't talking about those kinds of robots at all. There is nothing like not listening to a conversation you are an integral part of. Make sure you don't learn anything there, Stephen.

I never liked that guy when he was on ESPN. He was always loud for the sake of being loud. I really don't like him in MSNBC.

Writing, are you lean or fat?

Writing last night got me thinking about a discussion thread on Absolute Write the other night. Someone asked everyone if they were a lean writer or a fat writer. I don't think those were the words they used, but they still work.

To my surprise most of the people who answered said they were lean writers, meaning in the rewrite their stories got longer with added detail. For some reason I assumed most writers were fat writers. They would have to go through their drafts and whack bits and pieces away to get at the story.

For the record, I consider myself a lean writer. My first draft is the bare bones. I am just framing out the house. It's in the rewrites where I hang the sheetrock and get some paint on the walls.

I wonder how you write. Are you thick or thin? Lean or fat?

Progress

Got another 614 words out last night on the monster story. It came easy again which is nice. It felt like a few years ago when I was churning things out pretty quickly. Whether or not that's good I am not sure. I only like about half of what I wrote a few years ago, but I suspect that's the case or most writers.

I think what happened was I turned off my internal editor for the first time in a long time and just let whatever came into my head come out of my fingers and onto the keys. I know that a lot of it was telling and not showing and will have to be fixed in the rewrite. And there are other parts that will just disappear all together when I go back through with the red pen.

I think we are working our way to the climax. When I sat down to write I knew where I wanted to start, I knew the inciting incident and I knew the ending but had no idea how I would get there. I've enjoyed the journey and like the path my main character seems to be taking. I can see the areas that I need to flesh out and some of the details that I need to polish. But I'm still making progress.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Applying visual arts training to writing

I link to Steve Bucheit's blog from the right side. He's under author blogs. He had a post the other day reacting to something John Scalzi said on his blog, reacting to something another writer said on her blog. Confused yet?

Anyway, that part isn't so much important. What you need to know here is that Steve mentioned he had some college training in illustration. That prompted me to ask, in the comments, how his visual training helped or hurt his writing. I found his answer both longer than expected and much more informational.

Go read it. There is some really great stuff there on keeping your focus on what tells the story.

I think he has the makings of a good blog post there and encouraged him to write more on the subject. I 'll let you know if he does. Or you can just keep checking his blog. It's worth your time.

Monday, July 13, 2009

It's all about relationships

I read the blog of comedy writer/baseball announcer Ken Levine pretty regularly. A blog post that he put up a few days ago coincided with a podcast that I was listening to a few days earlier while I was at the gym. It featured Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci the two writers of the new Star Trek movie.

All of these people were talking about the importance of characters and how, in the end, there is nothing more important than characters and the relationships between them. None of the things that happen in the story matter if the relationships don't work.

Levine's post was about being pitched ideas for sitcoms. He complained that people always told him about funny situations but no one ever tells him about the people who are in those funny situations. He put it this way.
Here’s what nobody ever pitches me: a show about a relationship. THE OFFICE is funny because of the relationship between Michael and his employees. It is funnier still because of the relationships among the employees. What they actually manufacture is completely unimportant.

Start with the characters first.

What about the dynamics between them are interesting, fresh, and could sustain stories week after week? And then, what is the best setting to put them in? One that hasn’t been seen before is a plus but not imperative. How many shows and plays and radio series have been set in bars?
The guys who wrote Star Trek -- which I liked, by the way, but not as much as many others -- said that in their writing process they don't start outlining their story until they know who their characters are going to be and what kind of relationships they will have.

Before they worked significantly on the story they were going to tell they had to figure out that the relationship they focused on was going to be the brother-like relationship between Kirk and Spock.

For some reason all of this is sticking with me lately. I don't know what it means or why I am keying in on characters and their relationships lately, but I am. And these observations by others has been a wonderful reminder for me and a bit of a wake-up call.

In the pieces I have been working on lately I have been writing from one exciting incident to another, working my way through my mental outline just trying to get to the next bullet point. What I have been ignoring are the characters I am putting in those exciting incidents.

It's a nice reminder that this is something I need to work on.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Progress

I have a short story that I am working on. It's different than anything that I have ever written. There are monsters. I don't write monsters. But this time, I've written monsters.

I wrote about 400 words last night. It was mostly dialogue, my favorite thing to write. I have to watch myself, though. I have a tendency to make my characters too clever. They always have the proper comeback or smart way to say something, so I have to watch myself. It's something that can take me right out of a story as a reader and I don't want to lose anyone who may read my stuff.

But I am happy with progress, even if it is on a subject I don't normally try and tackle. Like monsters. And I am having fun writing this one. It's coming easy and that's always when writing is the most fun.

And seriously, I have no idea where monsters came from.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Word count

I mentioned in a previous post that I was going to add up all of the things I'd written to see how many words total have come from my head and to the keyboard.

I started that process but there are just way too many snips and bits of things that I've written that to add it all up would take hours. Instead I added up the six best pieces I have written. That includes short stories and a few novels in progress.

Totaled up those six pieces come to almost 70,000 words. I figure that if I add up all the snips and bits I'd be pushing 100,000 words. Maybe even more than that.

Honestly,that's a little disappointing. But it's a bit motivating too. I took a few moments to read some of those main six pieces and I like them. A couple of them I like alot. They need editing in a desperate way, but the stories are solid. The writing's not too bad either. So I want to dive back into them and get them finished. I think I need to pick one piece that I feel most jazzed about and push forward with it, but that will have to wait for another day.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Favorite book finds

There was a time, a few or more years ago, that I was a regular at the used bookstore about 15 minutes from my apartment. Odd thing is, when I was there I would rarely go inside the store until it was time to pay for whatever it was that I had found.

Instead, I would spend all of my time browsing the carts out front where everything was $1. I was able to pickup some classics at great prices, but my favorite thing was to take a flier on something. I did it often and, honestly, was burned often. But there were times when I would find a book that grabbed me from the beginning and wound up being a favorite of the moment.

The best of those books was by Jasen Emmons. It was called Cowboy Angst, and from what I can tell it was his only book. It also appears to be out of print.

I don't know if it was reading at just the right time in my life or what, but the story got holdof me and I couldn't put it down. It's about Dennis, who drops out of law school to play drums in a country and western band. He spends the rest of the book dealing with his family and the ramifications of his decision. Not the best sales job on the book, I know. But I loved it and I especially loved that it was something I discovered on my own, just because I liked the look of the cover and the blurb on the back.

So, what about you? Do have a book that you stumbled upon that you wound up thinking, "Man, I'm glad I read that."

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

5K training: Day 1

Last night was my first night to train for the 5K. Pretty simple. I am using the training program at Cool Runnings.

I decided, spur of the moment to skip the first week and just jump to week two. Bad idea? Not sure. Last night's run was pretty easy. I never felt like I struggled the entire 20 minutes I was alternating between running and walking. I did feel like I was pushing myself. One of the reasons I skipped to the second week was because I didn't think week one would be enough of a challenge.

Once I got off the treadmill I was sweating and my heart rate was up, which was the point in the end.

I am supposed to be doing this three days a week. Not sure what the next two days will be this week, but I figure that will sort itself out.

So, one day down, who knows how many to go.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Some great advice

Joe Konrath is judging a short story contest and, through his frustration, offers a repost of some great writing tips. It's a post he wrote last year but the advice is still solid. Most of it I have read before, but it never hurts to hear/read it again. You can find the post here.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Yes, I am crazy

So after thinking about what I'd mentioned in the previous post, I have decided that I am crazy. Instead of trying a triathlon, I think I'll go small goal first and just give a 5K a shot.

I know that it's quite the step down, going triathlon to 5K, but it's a more sensible move for multiple reasons.

First, going with a triathlon would be like deciding to eat a two-pound steak as the way to break a hunger strike. I should start with a nice sandwich first. That's what the 5k is. It's a ham and cheese on rye. It's something that's much more manageable and doable since I have never tried any endurance kind of activity before.

Second, triathlons are expensive. I'd have to buy a bike. Those ain't cheap. I'd have to pay entry fees. Thanks to my shoddy research I have no idea how much that would be, but it's an expense. I've also read something about needing special clothes, some sort of unitard that can be worn while you tackle all three disciplines.

With a 5K, the only expense I'd have is the entry fee. I can do the training either at the gym, which I already pay for, or just on the street outside my apartment.

Plus, there are training programs you can follow online that will get from the couch to the race in a matter of months. And, for me, that's something that I think is important. If I were to train for a triathlon it would probably be a year or more before I was ready to compete. That's too long for me. I don't do well with distant goals. I need something that is closer and can be accomplished. The 5K will give me that.

So, that's my fitness goal for now. I want to run a 5K by year's end.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Am I crazy?

I have found myself looking at THIS site a few times the last couple of days. Not really sure what has gotten into me.

I like to swim, I think bikes are fun, and I've never thought poorly of running. Well, that last part is not exactly true. But something inside of me says I should try this. Maybe it was the folks we saw in Mexico who were in the middle of one that made me want to do it. But I am really thinking about at least starting the training to give it a try. God knows I need to get into shape and having a goal to work toward like this may be what it takes to keep my butt in the gym and working.

No better time than in the middle of a 100-degree Texas summer to kick things off, right?

Writing

I promise things will get back to writing here very soon. I know that there aren't that many folks who stop by my little corner, but when I started this it was intended as a writing blog. I am also aware that there hasn't been much writing talk lately. Hopefully that will change very soon.

While we were in Mexico and this last week being away from the day job has given me some time to think about writing and the process, and I have have some questions I'd like to pose to other writers who may stop by. I'll post them soon and look forward to the answers.

I don't know what it is that so fascinates me about the creative process, but I can read about it for hours. I love to know how others do what they do, and the steps they take to get to the end product.

Anyway,more writing stuff coming. Soon.

Transformers: the 10 word review

Just got back from seeing the new Transformers sequel. I have a soft place in my heart for these movies since I spent a nice little bit of my childhood playing with the actual toys the movies are based on.

I will admit that I was more of a GoBots guy when there was still a choice. They were made of metal and smaller, and I for me that made the difference. Looking back now, they weren't cooler. Their transformations weren't as elaborate and the toys weren't as well articulated. But they were my preference. Ultimately, I did have more Transformers than GoBots. And I watched the cartoon every day after school. But more than anything, I think the Transformers and the toys of that ilk inspired more drawing fits that hourslong play sessions. I'd create my own robot characters and make them the subject of flip books and comic books.

Watching the Super Bowl this summer there were ads for this Transformers movie, the GI Joe movie coming in August, and the Land of the Lost movie with Will Ferrell. I commented to Gina that it was like Hollywood had decided Summer 2009 would be the Summer of Jarrett's Childhood. There was a GI Joe preview tonight. Honestly, it doesn't look like much of a movie, but I'll see it. The story will be awful and I know my memory won't allow me to remember who is who, but I'll still be there. The Land of the Lost will have to be something I see at home. Will Ferrell has burned me too many times lately. Gina and I suffered through Blades of Glory and Talladega Nights in the theaters, each time leaving with the feeling we'd just wasted our money. We actually left 45 minutes in to Step Brothers we were so bothered by it. So, if we see Land of the Lost at all, it will be at home.

So, tonight's movie. Here is my 10-word-or-less review: Good, not great. Wonderful special effects, but too dang long.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Hello, USA.


We're back. Have been for two days now, but been busy ushering a new niece into the world. She's adorable and I am sure you will hear more about her later.

Mexico was fun and the beach was relaxing. The sunburn that continued to get worse and worse throughout the first day was neither.

My piece of advice if you ever go to Mexico: Don't lay under a thatched umbrella thinking that you are protected from the rays. My shoulders and legs and Gina will tell you differently.

But, other than spending the week feeling a little medium rare, we had a great time. We swam with dolphins. We went snorkeling. We explored downtown Puerto Vallarta and were assaulted by salesman hawking junk.

When we left a hurricane was spinning off the Mexican coast, but it brought us nothing but a bit of rain our first night. Every day after that was beautiful. I finished one book -- which I really enjoyed and am thinking I'll write about later -- and started another. Gina did me one better. She finished two books while we were there. I have never seen the woman read so much.

I took my computer with me and had thought I would write some. And I did. Got a couple of pages in on a short story I have been working on, but that was it. However, I am coming back refreshed and recharged, so I figure that's OK.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Adios, USA

This time tomorrow I'll be in the middle of a two-layover trip to Puerto Vallarta. Gina and I will be there for a week and we are excited.

I have never done the whole beach vacation where you do nothing but spend days reading and laying on a towel. Part of me thinks it sounds little lazy, but the bigger part of me thinks it sounds fantastic. I need a little time to be lazy and not feel guilty about it.

There will also be a few adventures while we are there. Gina has mentioned snorkeling and that sounds like it could be fun. There are also boat trips that we can take. And swim with dolphins. Lots of options.

But one of the things that I think I am looking forward to most is the chance to do nothing, to lay on a beach and do nothing.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Some inspiration

Trying to fight writer's block? Try looking here for a little inspiration. These characters and creations from sculptor Stephane Halleux could spark something. I know they could for me.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Writer's block?

Stumbled across this idea generator on BoingBoing. May work for you. I actually had a few ideas come from this. A few others were completely awful, but some actually worked.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Our next adventure

Gina and I looked at homes this weekend. It was a draining experience. We have a nice Realtor who we are working with, but moving scares us.

We love where we live. The location is great and convenient to everything. But we have neighbors again. We didn't for a few months. No one lived in the unit above us and no one to the side of us. Actually, no one lived across or down the hall either. We were on our own island. It was quiet at night. It was great.

Then in the matter of what seems like a week every unit around us was filled. Now we have someone stomping around in what sounds like lead shoes above us. And we get to hear the chatting in the hall as the new neighbors next to us walk to their new place. And it's fine to have neighbors, but we are a little annoyed now by all the noise.

So, we spent the day in a black car with black interior and near-100 degree temperatures. We drove over what seemed like most of the eastern part of the Metroplex. We we all over Richardson and Garland. We saw some nice houses for nice prices, but I think all-in-all we left the experience a bit overwhelmed.

Moving is going to be a big deal for us. Neither of us are eager to leave where we are at now, but know that eventually we have to.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Flash fiction exercises: Part 7

Another in our occasional series. This one is from January 16, 2006. It has a very similar prompt to our last entry. That's probably why what I wrote is similar. Very.

Here's the prompt:

HE BOOTED UP THE COMPUTER AND CHECKED THE E MAIL, CASUALLY. HE ALMOST MISSED IT, THE SPECIAL MESSAGE FOR HIM THAT WOULD CHANGE HIS LIFE. JUST ANOTHER LINE IN THE WELTER OF E MAILS AND MEANINGLESS MESSAGES. WAS IT REAL. HOW COULD HE FIND OUT" WHAT THE HELL DOES HE DO NOW?

And here's what I did with it. I actually like what I wrote here better. I am very tempted to edit a few of the sentences here, but that's not the spirit of what I am trying to do, so I won't.

It was only supposed to take a minute. He’d check his email then be out the door. The machine said fifteen new messages and he reminded himself that this had to become a much more regular thing. But it was hard to make yourself check your email when most of the messages you are getting are advertising drugs or available singles.

He nearly missed the message with the asterisk in the subject line, but when he saw it he knew exactly what it was. They’d found him again. He thought he’d run far enough and had taken enough turns to be hidden for good.

Hah, he had to dream.

So it was an email this time, just to let him know they’d figured him out. He’d changed his name again and his occupation again, and for nearly a year he had gotten away with it. Hadn’t talked to the wife or the kids that he had left behind in Dallas. That had been the hardest part, but he had chosen to run guns and drugs for the mob and he knew that these were the consequences of choices he made years ago.

No time to think about that now. He had to get to the job site. He was hanging drywall again, working his way up to foreman. The college education he’d picked up in Dallas was paying off here. Fitting, since it was the only thing he got to take with him from that life.