Portable Magic

Tags

, ,

As a writer, it’s a requirement to keep one’s skills honed. To quote a master of modern fiction, Stephen King, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write. Simple as that.”

My reading stack is mountainous. Books I want to read, books others want me to read, books fellow authors want me to beta-read, and books my wife wants me to read, which deserves a separate category since it’s usually non-fiction (insert gag reflex). I don’t hate non-fiction, mind you, it just isn’t on my priority list. Unless it’s research for a novel, or a good science article, the real stuff bores me fast.

To quote Mr. King again, “Reading a good long novel is in many ways like having a long and satisfying affair“. Given the occasional stink eye I get from my wife, one wonders if she views my writing muse as the other woman in that satisfying affair. I don’t know what she’s worried about since it’s all in my head.

Do you see the boy in the graphic above wearing glasses by a window on a rainy night? That was me.  I was a middle child of seven, geekish, card-carrying four-eyes by age ten, preferred loner – you get the drill. My second home was the library in small town Wisconsin. That’s where it all started.

Having finished the science fiction novel, I’m between projects at the moment, struggling to decide what to write next while beta-readers dissect the last story with gallons of virtual red ink.  To keep from lying awake all night, or biting my nails to the quick like an expectant father, opening a new book hijacks the mind to undiscovered realms.  Reading let’s me explore someone else’s muse.

What do I like to read? Since I just flogged non-fiction as worse than liver, it’s a sure bet that I like fiction. I write fiction because I like to build my own world. I read fiction because I like to see how others build their own world. If you’ve got some time on your hands, I posted most of the books I’ve read over the years on my Goodreads Profile.

Last year, a group I belong to asked what my top ten all time favorite authors are. No easy chore, I selected authors who affected me more fondly than others.

In alphabetical order.

  1. James Clavell – I read ‘Shogun‘ while living in the Philippines as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Living in Asia during the seventies gave it special meaning, and I became hooked on everything Clavell wrote. I credit the desire to embrace foreign cultures to his books. The chance came in 1997, where I embarked on a ten-year stint in Singapore and Taiwan.
  2. Michael Crichton – Especially intrigued by life sciences in high school, ‘Andromeda Strain‘ introduced me to a bold new world of futuristic thrillers involving engineered pathogens. Crichton’s books were always richly researched and fast-paced. My favorite of Crichton’s is ‘Timeline‘, where time travelers go back to 14th Century France to rescue a professor.
  3. Ken Follet – Where Clavell may have set the bar for historical thrillers, Ken Follet took it to a new level with a 12th Century monk’s drive to build a cathedral in a two book series, ‘Pillars of the Earth‘, and ‘World Without End‘. Follet spares no ugliness in the oft-violent world of the European Middle Ages, but he balances it with the hidden beauty of a simpler time. Follet is must reading for anyone world-building in this time frame.
  4. Robert Heinlein – I was ten when I first read Heinlein’s ‘Tunnel in the Sky‘, about a futuristic final exam for advanced survival that goes wrong and students become castaways in an unknown universe. Must have read it a dozen times as a kid, and I credit Heinlein for starting me on the sci-fi highway, absorbing every novel the man wrote. ‘Podkayne of Mars’ remains a favorite.
  5. Robert Jordan – Author of the ‘Wheel of Time‘ series, no one (except maybe George R.R. Martin), paints a complex fantasy world like Jordan. Admittedly, Jordan wandered inside his plot line as the series grew, and had a tendency for diarrhea of the word processor when drafting a scene. Jordan died before he could finish the series. Jordan’s wife tapped fellow fantasy author, Brandon Sanderson, to bring it all to a close with Jordan’s notes. I loved the damned series, and the awesome cover designs by Darrell K. Sweet.
  6. Stephen King – Believe it or not, King is another key author in my life discovered while serving in the Peace Corps. Try reading ‘Carrie‘ beneath a mosquito net, to the sounds of a sweltering Philippine barrio night, and not get the shivers. I’ve read most of his works, but ‘The Stand‘ remains my all time favorite, an apocalyptic tale that started my love affair with all things dystopian.
  7. Barbara Kingsolver – When asked who my favorite literary fiction authors are, Kingsolver is first on the list. ‘Poisonwood Bible‘ stands out as her most notable, and ‘Animal Dreams‘ a personal favorite, but it was the more recent ‘Flight Behavior‘ that resonated with me. A story of a potential ecological disaster involving Monarch butterflies , a small town, Appalachian mother’s life is irrevocably changed inside an arena of political, climatological, and religious interests.
  8. Dean Koontz – My first Dean Koontz novel was ‘Lightning‘, a story of a young girl’s rescue from a man who appeared on the heels of a lightning bolt. Like Stephen King, Koontz has the ability to write stories that appeal to sci-fi, fantasy, and horror aficionados. Koontz can breathe life into characters like no one else.
  9. Kim Stanley Robinson – A recent entry to my top ten list of favs, Robinson was recommended when I lamented the glut of space operas, and I’d had enough of Einstein-bending captains traveling over light speed and evil lizard-like aliens. I started with a recent novel, ‘2312‘, in a future of colonized planets within our own solar system, enhanced humans, and the dark element of Artificial Intelligence. Not an easy read, Robinson keeps it real by adhering to the established tenets of Einstein and Hawkings, yet offers new ideas of what the future may hold for mankind. I just finished an earlier novel by Robinson, ‘Aurora‘.  Awesome.
  10. J.R.R. Tolkien – What can I add that hasn’t already been said. Another pivotal series in my adolescent years that began with ‘The Hobbit‘, you can’t really get a feel for the richness of Tolkien’s epic fantasies in the movies. You can’t call yourself a Tolkien reader unless you’ve read his other works, like ‘The Silmarillion‘.

I read Neal Stephenson’s ‘Seveneves‘ last month, another mind-bending futuristic tale of human extinction averted by seven women who become seeds of the new humanity after 5,000 years. Might need to start a top fifty list.

 

 

Unsplash tanja-heffner-259454 Reading Plane

Tanja Heffner – via Unsplash.com

I’m a lot older now, but I’ll never grow out of that bespectacled child by the window, or tented beneath the blankets with a flashlight (because I was supposed to be asleep).  One more King-ism for you, “Books are a uniquely portable magic.”

While others sigh in boredom on a long flight, or fall asleep during a movie on their smartphone, you’ll find me immersed in the portable magic of a good book, followed by a WTF expression when we land with – “we’re here already?”

 

 

Beginning From An End

Tags

, , ,

 

Unsplash jamie-street-420851 Compress

Jaime Street via unsplash.com

 

After finally finishing my latest novel, I see a whole new set of beginnings coming with it. No time to revel in joy for completing the novel, I’m already looking for that new spark in the wilderness of imagination.

But first, I must reset the way I do things.  Productivity this past year was in the shitter.  I could rail on with a few dog-ate-my-homework memes.  Birth of a new grandson a few months ago, and losing a father-in-law in past weeks would certainly headline the list. Too many times I found myself looking back to say WTF.

 

Unsplash vincent-van-zalinge-407575 Compress

Vincent Van Zalinge via unsplash.com

 

I made a commitment to finish the book, “The Gravity of Light”, by October. That slipped to November, which then slipped to December. In order to keep up between life events, I slowed my Twitter and Facebook posts, and let this blog lapse for a couple months to focus on typing those final chapters.  Didn’t help matters I was already on version four, and heading into version five after realizing I was caught in a blizzard of plot holes.

 

Unsplash redd-angelo-204432 Cropped

Redd Angelo via unsplash.com

 

I’m also a slow writer. Yeah, I’ve read all those writer blogs that espouse the benefits of ‘catching-the-story-express’, forget grammar, pacing, scene descriptions, et al.  Just ain’t my style. It’s the ever present ADD muse in me that prefers to stay on the platform.

 

Unsplash fabrizio-verrecchia-179890 Compress.jpg

Fabrizio Verrecchia via unsplash.com

 

But it’s done. After more than a year (okay, it was two years), slogging through undiscovered country, I reached the rainbow. I removed hundreds of notes from the margin, changed multicolored sentences to black, and put a nice header on it.  Now, it will make the rounds with agent, author friends, and significant writerly-others I trust.

 

Unsplash sorasak-217807 Compress

Sorasak via unsplash.com

 

With an ending, come new beginnings.

Continue reading

The Perils of Captain Tangent, a Pantser’s Writing Journey in Pictures

Tags

, , , , ,

unsplash sean-parker-stars beginning

Sean Parker via Unsplash.com

Imagine that’s me huddled in the rocks beneath an infinite sky with a story I’ve written cupped in my palms.  Do I release it like a dove to the big wide world, or not.  There’s no easy answer for a pantser writer like me.

It all starts well, but somewhere in the process I always get lost by straying from the story arc in search of a new trail. As a friend cautioned, I’m susceptible to the antics of the antihero, Captain Tangent, defined by Yogi Berra’s famous quip, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

I am the master of the side journey and story scenes that entice me toward a glimmer of light on a dark trail with promises of enhancing the story arc, only to lead to a dead end. I write with a story mindset easily seduced by a maze of infinite paths, unable to see the pitfalls around the next corner. You need to be more disciplined, make notes, follow a plan,” literary superheroes tell me.  I do make notes. I just – tend not to use them much. Why is that, Captain Tangent? My story telling imagination is a twisted spaghetti junction of chaos.  It’s where all the fun is, where the best story elements lie, waiting for me to grab on while riding a hundred-mile-per-hour carnival ride.

It’s hard to describe what I go through in words. How ironic is that? I like visuals you can sense, and I’ll turn to the amazing photography of talented artists from Unsplash.com to help me.

**********

Like most writers, I get a story spark from an ocean of ideas, and nurture it to the seedling of a first chapter.  It sprouts robust and green in the dung ball I planted it.

 

I have a sense for how I want the story to conclude. It’s that subtle glimmer on a distant mountain in the dead of winter, of which I must return the story back to the shores of where the spark arose and result in the sunset of a good ending.

A little studying to research best conditions for the seedling to grow, followed by rifling through the card catalog of genres to repot it in – science fiction (soft or hard), dystopian, alternate universe, contemporary or fantasy.  Who decides where it fits? So many choices, just write the damned thing.

 

Continue reading

#WriterDistraction

Tags

, , , ,

Writer Distraction 10

Considering I haven’t posted a blog article in a couple months, you might be tempted to say I’m lazy. Just for the record, I’ve been allocating all my time to finishing a damned sci-fi novel, in between standard and a few non-standard life issues.

Cue the sound of blowing raspberries.

Truth is I am easily distracted in my writing process, defined as taking too many side trips in storyville, or getting shanghaied by other projects.  It’s not unusual for me to write 10K words, then dump over half of it next day, cussing aloud for allowing myself to be drawn to unrelated tangents. It has something to do I think with my inability to compartmentalize a random synaptic twinkle without bounding after it like a dog after a stick.

As for diverting to other projects, it’s better demonstrated with an example. A couple months back, a group of fellow writers I hang with thought we should do an anthology. For those unfamiliar with the term, it is commonly a book or collection of selected writings by various authors, usually in the same literary form, or the same period, or on the same subject. It can also be a collection of selected writings by one author.  Never been much of a short story writer. How hard could it be?

Don’t answer that.

Writer Distraction 8

Just what a card carrying ADD writer like me needs, an invitation to board yet another distraction express. OF COURSE I’d like to participate. Thought I’d be efficient by skimming the hopper of story ideas for a suitable candidate. Couple of edits, change a few words, and presto, back to the novel.

That went over like a dirigible filled with argon gas.  I developed the character, and immediately fell in love with the story line. I painted the scene from memories of an old Shaker community I researched a bazillion-years-ago. Next thing I know, I’d written over 20K words, started wearing pants with suspenders, and used words like ‘thee’ at the dinner table.

Continue reading

Judging Someone Else’s Stuff

Tags

, , , ,

Critique Wikihow

If you’re a writer, especially someone jumping into it as a newbie, eventually you find others who share the same experience.  Why? Well – it gets a little lonely in the writing cave. The one thing that drives us to others are strong messages that our work needs a second, third, maybe more set of eyes.

I participate in several writer communities.  From this network of fellow word smiths, I tested fresh pages of new work to a select few I’d grown comfortable with (by that, I mean established a degree of trust that I’d get a true, objective opinion).  I didn’t want to fall into that novice pothole by cringing from a no-holds-barred review, skulking back to my cave with ‘they don’t get my stuff’.  Kind of the point isn’t it?  Unless I planned to write stories, then bury them in a time capsule for aliens to find ten-thousand years from now, I needed feedback redolent of what the public might think.

As I built trust with others, they asked for reciprocation of services rendered by asking me to read their stuff.  I initially cringed with heavy doubt I was qualified to rate someone else’s stuff. It sent me to the archives of my groaning file of writer research for how to do a proper critique. Like everything else in this wacky art form we drudge through, how-to advice in writertopia is as varied as insect species on earth.  I chose a reviewing format in the same manner I use when purchasing new appliances, or looking for a plumber.  Which appliance (or plumber) is on most every one’s recommended list?  In this case, what pearls of reviewing wisdom floated to the top?

Continue reading

Pantser – In Need of a Serious Intervention

Tags

, , ,

 

distracted-writer-creative-commons-drew-coffman-4815205740_f5be704a14_b

Photo by ©Drew Coffman via Flickr

If you’re a writer, you’ll immediately recognize the term, ‘pantser’, as in ‘by the seat of your pants’.  Translation, pantser is someone who writes without an outline, without plotting, and without a clue.  Smart writers are plotters – self-explanatory.

Guess that means I’m not very smart.

Oh – I have lots of files for the book I’m writing, ponderous files, enough to open my own library if ever I should print them, along with innumerable  internet shortcut links that takes a minute to scroll the entire alphabetic register.

It’s that irking process of plotting chapters that eludes me.

Trust me, I’ve tried to plot.  I have this lovely file folder with handwritten chapter notes, arrows drawn to connect to other pages, some of them with little post-it leafs for redirection, different color ink pens – you get the picture.  Even downloaded one of those cheat-sheets to help organize the chaos of my story-writing brain.

So – how’s that going DT? 

Have you ever tried to organize a card-carrying ADD writer? Oh yeah, I’m one those “squirrel” folks who is easily distracted by the slightest interruption.  Hell, I can’t even fart and not get distracted. The sign on my office door is “Man Cave – Enter at Your Own Risk”. That’s because it’s in the basement, with no windows, just me and the radon.

add-humor-1

From Pinterest

Continue reading

Searching for Darkness

Tags

, , , , , ,

unsplash-milky-way-flashlight-clarisse-meyer

The Mobius Arch Loop Trailhead, by ©Clarisse Meyer via Unsplash

Ah, January – that time of year when the nights are longer, and if you live in a northern clime, you might be able to wander out to a hilltop on a clear, cold night, and be mesmerized by the stars above.  I remember amazing nights on a fishing boat in the Philippines during my Peace Corps days, where it seemed I could reach up and take a handful of the cosmos, or hiking the Three Sisters Wilderness area under a moonless sky so bright with stars, we didn’t need flashlights. And nothing stirs the creative juices for a sci-fi story I’m writing like gazing at the heavens.

I miss the stars.

Last time I caught the majesty of the Milky Way with the naked eye, was a few years ago while visiting my park ranger daughter at Pipe Springs National Monument in Utah.  I now use a smart-phone app called Sky Guide, a handheld planetarium of sorts, to view the constellations in real time. As if standing on a remote hill a thousand years ago, the app displays what we should see if the sky wasn’t hazy with light scatter.

Most of my adult working life was in or near major metropolises.  It’s a little hard to stargaze with today’s countless malls, homes, and streetlamps. Though I’m fortunate to live in a small, eastern Pennsylvania town where I can stroll the streets and cul-de-sacs at night, there’s still too much light pollution to see constellations with any clarity.

How bad is it? Take a look at a before and after shot during a Northeast power outage in 2003.

darksky-blackout_todd_carlsontowards_toronto_goodwood_ontario

Source: Darksky.org – Photo by ©Todd Carlson

It has me wondering why we need all that illumination.  Apparently, I’m not alone.

Continue reading

Still Pining for the Old Days?

Tags

, , ,

xmas-vintage-b

After surviving this past year’s extended edition of the Barnum & Bailey/Nintendo reality game, Jumbo the Elephant versus Donkey Kong, I decided to substitute my usual introspective, holiday missive with a festive infusion of humor.  I thought a trip down memory lane of what used be considered acceptable holiday advertising in days gone by might fit the bill.  I’m a big fan of vintage advertisements, and follow a few Pinterest pages dedicated to it. I was born in the early fifties, and some ads invoke warm flashbacks of when I was a tyke (and no, I didn’t ride horseback to school, we had cars). We had a different mindset inherited from the earliest days of the twentieth-century. Looking back, some of those ads now have me ROTFL.

Back in 2012, I was asked to guest post a holiday article to cheer folks up during difficult economic times. I blew the dust off it, and added a couple more graphics.

To quote a cigarette campaign from 1968, “We’ve come a long way baby.”  Enjoy.

Original Guest Blog Post – Blame it On The Muse, December 12, 2012

********************

xmas-vintage-d

Many folks long for the good old days, especially holidays filled with nostalgic childhood memories of crackling hearth fires, and family gathered around a decorated, live-cut tree. Mom served eggnog in her new apron. Dad lit up a Lucky in his favorite chair. The kids wore their Sunday finest, jiggling with impatience for Santa to come.

Continue reading

Happy Hallothanksgivingmas

Tags

, , , , ,

Woman with a Christmas Turkey thanksgiving

From: DepositPhotos.com

Did anybody notice I missed October?  Who could tell? When I went into Walmart a few weeks ago to get some Halloween treats, the seasonal aisles had Christmas decorations. I found broken bags of candy in a bin near the exit.  What’s that all about?

Hey, I’ve been chin-deep in a sci-fi story. Went upstairs the other day to refresh my caffeine drip and discovered October had come and gone. I didn’t even put out a pumpkin.  All those damn doorbell chimes a couple weeks back?  I thought they were church solicitors with an urgent need to save my soul. The Halloween candy I bought is still on the counter. I’m surprised my front door didn’t get egged.

thanksgiving-9

Continue reading

Writing Life

Tags

, , , , , , ,

Lots of old black-and-white photos

From: V. Niktenko – Depositphotos.com

A social group I belong asked a while back if I’d offer a few tips about writing an autobiography. Who me?  I’m more into making things up in fiction. Couldn’t think of a worse candidate for the job.

I have an elderly relative who loves to tell stories of his youthful escapades, over and over and over, infinitum. He’s not a bad story teller, and it isn’t the repetition that gets me. It’s an overwhelming fear that I will end up doing the same thing when I reach the golden years (or is it platinum, now that we’re all supposed to live thirty years on average after retirement?). Oh, and his epilogue after each tale, where he insists his life would make a great story. “I should write it”, he’d say. “My autobiography would make a great book.”

life-old-man

From: Pinterest

Cue in scene: Honey, it’s getting late.

Continue reading