Snowbirding

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It’s been a rough spring largely because I missed it. 

In December, we made a sudden decision to spend February through April in Florida. Our primary reason was to spend time with elderly mother-in-law in assisted living before she forgot who we were.  Secondary reason is spousal unit’s desire to skip winter in Pennsylvania. 

Who could blame her? It was a rough winter as well. My initial fear, however, is what would it do to the time I reserve for writing. I’d just come off a promise to the long-suffering muse in my head that I’d not neglect her; (click and read – The Silent Light of a Winter Night, December 2018).

Turned out, I wrote more than usual.  Cranked out 40K on the book I’m rewriting, and still had time to format and post blogs on our group’s GLVWG Write Stuff Conference™ blog about every three-four days that began in mid-January through the end of March. Lot of work, but something had to give.

Yep, bless me readers, but I haven’t blogged since February.  

During this rather busy period, I heard from an ex-colleague who used to follow humorous articles I wrote for a travel magazine overseas. Would I submit something for a quarterly newsletter they do?  More specifically, would I write about our first ever snowbird experience in the same voice as my former writing experience?  How could I turn down a fan from yesteryear?  It published a few weeks ago, and he’s given me permission to post it here.

The article is in a different voice from what I pen today, but as penance for not keeping up in blogosphere, I offer it below.  I hope you find it humorous, and perhaps it will brighten your day as well.

 

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Snowbirding

 

Never thought I’d be a Snowbird, defined as those who abandon the bitter winters of Northern America for sunnier climes in Florida. I like the change of seasons and don’t mind shoveling the times Nature dumps solidified water on my driveway. It’s also my most productive season as a writer, when I don’t have to answer the WYWA (Worldwide Yard Wrestling Association), or involuntarily submit to projects assigned by my wife.

It was an impulsive decision, sparked by a need to spend more time with my 90-year-old mother-in-law in an assisted living facility in Naples. Wheelchair bound, she’d weakened the past year after her husband passed-away in 2017. My bro-in-law knows everybody in the South Florida boating industry, and he found a place in Ft. Myers beginning February if we were willing to take it for three months.

Three months? What the heck do I do for three months in a territory commonly known as “God’s Waiting Room”. 

We left early February in bone-cracking, five-degree temperatures. We hit a blizzard outside of Harrisburg. When we stopped for the night at my sister’s in North Carolina, the car had a veneer of crusted salt. CNN breaking news repeatedly looped a federal indictment against Punxsutawney Phil for fraud. 

The place we rented is in a sizeable community built in the 80’s, advertised as; “riverfront splendor and boasts an 18-hole executive golf course, 13 lighted tennis courts, competition-sized swimming pool, 18 stocked lakes to fish, landscaped paths plus a private harbor and marina.” We arrived late afternoon, just in time to meet residents bearing Pyrex dishes who invited us to join them for the weekly poolside soirée. I noted my pallid skin was a lighthouse among the well-bronzed cocktail drinkers. The only tan on my body were skin moles. We took a rain check and went to an onsite restaurant, where the drinks were stiff, and a brisket burger happily spackled my arteries. The check arrived with “what’s your member number?”  I gave the server our condo unit, 205. Next day, we learned every unit had a 205. Red-faced apologies offered, it didn’t seem like a very good start.

We ventured out on Ft. Myers famous Route 41, Tamiami Trail, to shop for victuals. It was a pinball rally of elderly drivers in luxury cars cruising the left lane at ten-mph under the speed limit, versus millennials who weaved traffic at twenty-mph over the limit in monster pickups with thunderous mufflers and earsplitting hip-hop. Observation through the rear window of older drivers often revealed a pair of headless hands on the steering wheel. A 70’s song lyric came to mind amid this chaos – “clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you”. 

The wakeup call came promptly at six with the greens keeper in a misfiring two-cycle tractor engine and headlights the brilliance of a supernova. The condo’s heated pool acted as a morning meeting place for women’s water aerobics to discuss the latest gossip, much of it centered on husbands.  Though I shellacked myself with lotion, by noon, the intense southern sun left an alabaster imprint on my belly of a Kindle reader framed by painful crimson. Following day, all I could do while clothed in full body cover-up was to wait for the afternoon shift when residents arrived for mid-afternoon adult beverages and lies about their golf score. Cocktails start early in sun country. Be prepared to have your ‘check liver light’ activate with regularity.

Our condo is advertised as a community of ‘active seniors.’ Where women outnumber the men by at least two-to-one, I hoped the definition of active meant outdoor activities.  USPTA regulation tennis and Pickle Ball, a kind of a mini tennis game with paddled wiffle balls for those who failed at tennis, are quite popular. I assume Pickle got its name from the usual state the players were in. The tight knit 3,078-yard golf course has nine lakes (drainage pits), and forty-five sand traps (yawning sink holes), which came with the frequent shout of fore and resultant whack against building walls. A sign by the pool warned to be observant of stray balls. Nothing like a nice float and the risk of concussion. Our second floor patio gave us a referee’s vantage on the seventh-hole ladies tee-box, where we had front row seats to deep-divot, shagged shots, followed by un-ladylike potty-mouthed epithets. And to think many of them were grandmothers.

Every Wednesday, our village decorated the poolside veranda for the weekly BYOB get-together at five-o-clock.  Attendance required a snack to share, which turned out to be a full potluck buffet. People lined up at 4:30 to get their pick of the best. My chicken tikka sat virtually untouched on a table groaning with meatballs, deviled eggs, vegie tray, ambrosia salad, and vegan pizza. Lesson learned, traditional American flavors are favored. A couple at our table advised we start with the dessert offerings while others queued for the buffet. All manner of sweet confections had defined our generation. I’m now officially pre-diabetic.

The reason we came was to spend time with Ann’s mother; our intent to get her out of the cloistered spaces of her otherwise excellent care facility. No one warned us about going to restaurants during Florida high season. The older generation eats early. All others know to wait until at least 6:00. We went to a wine bar in Naples that advertised jazz. Handicap parking occupied the entire front half and nary a slot available. I damn near needed a GPS to find my way back from a lower-forty lot of cars parked haphazardly at crooked angles. Zigzagging with a wheelchair around bodies and crowded tables, the shortest distance to our table was by way of Orlando. Younger folk congregated the bar with raucous laughter. The older table troops dined in groups of six or more – with more raucous laughter. Intimate conversations nearby were shouted, some of which I wished had been left unsaid. The jazz turned out to be a crooner in a fedora hat singing Frank Sinatra hits. Ann’s mother loved it.

Seafood is king in Southwest Florida. Oysters on the half-shell, shrimp and grits, scallops in spicy garlic butter, yellowfin tuna, and fresh catch of the day grilled, fried, or burnt. I love seafood, but I was one grouper entrée from becoming a merman. Imagine my joy when I spotted a Five-Guys Burger and Fries.

The complex had a nice exercise facility, and I took advantage of the elliptical machine to manage added pounds from eating too many Wednesday sweets. Adjusting to elderly men and women in stretch tights took a couple of days to undo the shock. The gym had mounted TVs, but instead of news or sporting programs, vintage reruns like Gunsmoke and Andy Griffith were popular (I’m not making this up). Color me happy when someone switched to Discovery Channel’s ‘Pickers’.

The complex had an amazing marina with a restaurant facing west for stunning sunsets and great views of boaters maneuvering thirty-foot cabin cruisers with the skill of a fifteen-year-old’s learner’s permit. You had to arrive two-hours prior to the setting sun to get a seat. Five-minutes after the sun disappeared, the place emptied as if someone shouted ‘cockroach’. We stayed and ordered another drink. The brisket burger called my name.

Hey, let’s go to Fort Myer’s Beach.  I’d forgotten about the annual college ritual of spring break. Traffic backed up for miles waiting to cross a two-lane bridge. Police manned crosswalk islands, not on watch for underage drinking, but ready to cite drivers who weren’t wearing seatbelts. It must be a major revenue generator.  Out of curiosity and a touch of naivety, we stopped by a gaudy multicolored hotel called the Lani Kai Island Resort for a drink. The place had the air of an unrestrained mash-up of college fraternity/sorority revelers at an inner-city bus terminal. Absent responsible supervision in any form, youngsters in various stages of undress swarmed beaches and bars like ants at a picnic. The acrid taste in my mouth was volatilized raging hormones polluting the air. The bartender took an immediate shine to us, thankful for a sober adult conversation in what might have been the first in days. I tipped her heavily and left post haste, my hopes for the next generation in question.

Once we adjusted to a slower pace, our days unfolded relaxed, and without the never-ending distraction at home of things that needed doing.  How can you turn down skipping winter in Pennsylvania? We posted beachy sunsets. Our neighbors posted snowdrifts. I don’t look forward to wearing sweaters again and the itch of a peeling tan.

By far, our original mission to bring some light and happiness to Ann’s mother succeeded. Frequent visits enhanced her cognition. The succession of instances we settled her in the car, I noted improved strength in her ability to stand. She greeted us with a smile each time we visited. It was difficult to leave.

Will we return as snowbirds? The twinkle in my mother-in-law’s eye, and the open-armed welcome of both renters and year-rounders, has us considering next year. We enjoyed cruising the left lane as trained snowbirds in sunglasses, doing our part to govern the speed limit. If we do return, I’ll wipe the dust off golf clubs I’d left at home, and join the duffer ranks of carefree, congenial folks who play worse than I do.

Ghost in the Shell – Group Blogging for Fun and High Blood Pressure

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Unsplash jeshoots-com-523925 Frustration

Managing a blog page for a group or organization can be fun and rewarding – a phrase that should immediately toggle the cautionary button.

It’s that time of year for our annual writer’s group conference in mid-March. Since I blog somewhat regularly on WordPress, I was asked to revamp an outdated WordPress page to post presenter profiles, interviews, and conference news. Essentially, I’d be the ‘ghost in the shell’ to solicit, edit, format, and post articles by other group members.

Hey, I use WordPress all the time. How much trouble could it be?

Looking back, I ignored the ‘check details before proceeding’ indicator, and thought I’d share a few things I learned.

Get a Clear Mission Statement Before Proceeding

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Valentina Conde – Unsplash

The group gave me carte blanc to redesign the page, which included an upgrade to a premium page for a small annual fee with access to better template options, widget buttons, and customary links. Nobody had to learn HTML tech-speak or pay a monthly “mortgage fee” to fancy-pants web designers.

That part was easy.

Once the docket was approved, we created a process for members to sign up for one or more of the over twenty articles slated to print over a time frame of four – five months. First solicitation was met with a silence akin to a high school gymnasium at 2:00 AM. It took a bit of prodding by group officers to get things rolling, but eventually folks stepped up.

Create a New User Account for the Blog

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Ludovic Toinel – Unsplash

I blew this one big time. As a WordPress Premium Plan user myself, I hoped to minimize the setup time by creating a new page while logged in with my own account, then adding others for administrators. Updating a page whose original owner hadn’t participated for years with the group, isn’t the best way to go. 

I didn’t have problems with approved members accessing the blog and creating a post, but like Facebook, the WordPress folks like having an “owner” available for everything. Since I revamped the page while signed in on my personal account, only way I can unlock myself is if I delete the account. The annual bill hits my account every year like the return of robins in spring. Every year I have to rebill the group. I’m still working on a third-party Paypal invoice option.

Twenty-twenty hindsight; start fresh.

  • First, sign out from any personal WordPress and Email accounts that are open.
  • Create a new group email and sign-in credentials if one is not available. I found Gmail to work best. May sound like a Homer Simpson “duh”, but make sure officers know how to access it.
  • Then go to WordPress and create new account, using group email.
  • Have fun building the chosen template to fit your needs.
  • Be sure to include group’s mission statement in the blog page “About” profile.
  • Have more than one administrator assist with the management of it. I suggest offering a cocktail or two before making your pitch.

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The Silent Light of a Winter Night

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Casey Horner @mischievous_penguins

 

It’s that time of year when I’m away from my writing desk to spend time with family out west. I had hopes to scratch a few lines between the happy helter-skelter of being with loved ones. I made a promise to my muse I wouldn’t desert her (see November’s article, A Writer Comes Home to His Beloved Muse).

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Paola Chaaya @paolitta

Presents scattered on the floor like flotsam, bellies full, and kids down for the night, instead of quiet conversation, clutching mugs of hot beverages on a cold winter night, the adults had their eyes glued on smart-phones. I too browsed the cacophony of apps and media distraction. No wonder I can’t think creatively. I tried reading, but the oversized television screen on mute kept drawing my eye.

 

 

I stared at the Christmas tree in lazy thought, and shook my head. Peace of mind in the monochromatic world of all things life oriented can be elusive. Our heads are too often pointed downward in the bustling crowd. Even those who live in remote places are as burdened as city dwellers from the incessant distraction of a connected society. I needed to find some quiet – a place of reticence to air out the brain.

 

I set the book aside, closed my eyes, and imagined a small town, where new fallen snow muffled my footsteps, the only sound that of a hushed breeze though barren branches – and the occasional air pump of holiday yard blimps. I thought of a cardinal balanced on snow-laden boughs, its scarlet feathers a singular lighthouse in a sea of white, and a lantern post, its warm yellow light a beacon against a colorless palette.

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Max Bender @maxwbender

 

The streets of the small town were deserted, and I marveled at the twinkle of holiday decorations that festooned houses. As if waiting for someone to notice, a lone white bulb was tucked inside a riot of colored lights. Like the cardinal, and the lantern, it impressed upon me the serenity of a simple light in an ostentatious environment. It’s where I needed to get my head at if I had a shot at writing anything.

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Filip Mroz @mroz

I turned, and spotted lighted candy canes on the edge of thick forest. I trudged away from the brashness of holiday décor. Somehow, my whimsical town had disappeared, and I was on a deserted road in a thick forest. I shuffled my foot in the snow to find what powered this odd display, until my eyes revealed a single set of footprints leading into the woods.

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A Writer Comes Home To His Beloved Muse

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I approached the microphone.  “Hi, my name is Dan. My last blog post was September, and I haven’t written a thing since.”

“Hi Dan. Welcome,” replied the back-lit, silhouetted faces of my would-be judges.

Someone in the front row asked the first question. “Are you willing to share with us why?”

“I like to think I had good reasons, even honorable reasons,” I said.  “Since mid-September, I’ve been home maybe a total of three weeks on a travelocalypse that began with a family reunion in Kentucky, a wedding in Colorado, a long planned, prepaid vacation with older siblings in South Carolina, a trip to Singapore, two-weeks with my mother in Florida, ending with Thanksgiving in New Jersey.  Hell, I had to list it in a notebook to keep it all straight. I just got back last Sunday to autumn chores that went undone since it all started – which isn’t going to get done until it stops raining in Pennsylvania?” 

Another audience member joined in. “We’ve all been through this in one form or another. It’s why we’re here.”

“Thanks.” I played with the microphone stand, embarrassed to confess in front of a bunch of strangers. “I’m glad Stephen King isn’t here. He’d be shaking his head, mouthing the word ‘slacker’.” 

“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” the shadowed face said. “Do you try to write while on the road?”

“Yeah, I tried. Packed the laptop and everything.”

“So – what happened?” another participant asked.

I exhaled through pursed lips to gather my thoughts. “Unlike other writers who can pen words to blaring music in a sunny windowed room with views of the birdfeeder, I need the equivalent of a sensory deprivation chamber to coax the muse out of her closet. You see – she’s kind of shy, and prefers I write in a windowless, spare bedroom in the finished basement.” I shrugged. “Just us and the radon.”

I was met with silence.

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Oh Where, Oh Where, Has The Artist Gone?

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Lost on the sands of unfindable endings for the book I'm writing Photo by Pawel Nolbert via Unsplash

Pawel Nolbert via Unsplash.com

Sharing artwork and photographs on Social Media is fun. Sometimes, however, it’s used in a blog article or illustration without citing the artist or photographer. Google’s reverse image search can help find the artist, but doesn’t always yield results.

As a stickler for proper attribution for art or photographs, I check for copyright and always cite the artist or photographer’s name with links.  Unless it’s an established art site, however, searching for the artist or photographer from a Pinterest post, Facebook, or Twitter picture may send you into a desert shouting, Who made this?

I’m always on the lookout for potential book cover ideas, character art, and scenes to give me inspiration.  Like a painter who searches for the perfect model or scene to paint, I glean art sites for faces and places. Pinterest boards are my main go-to, along with a few others like DeviantArt.com, and ArtStation.com.

The files I keep are either stored on my Pinterest boards, or file folder for use in a blog article, twitter message, Facebook, or to have as a stimulus for a chapter I’m writing. Wasn’t always this conscientious in past years, where I sometimes linked the Pinterest page or site I copied it from as the source – which often doesn’t identify where they found it.  

Got educated several years ago when I received a “Dear DT” email from the artist who created an artwork piece I used in a blog. He graciously forgave my indiscretion, provided I properly attribute it to his artist website.  Dodged a bullet. Color me lucky – and schooled. I spoke on this in a 2015 blog I wrote, Good Images Speak a Thousand Words – But Is It Legal? 

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Little Big Stories

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Toa Heftiba – via @unsplash

This month, I’m the featured author in the Author’s Roundtable, an online quarterly magazine of short stories for the Bethlehem Writers Group (BWG). Based on a theme that changes with every issue, this quarter is ‘Written in the Stars’. 

*****

In Simple Terms

A shell of its former glory, NASA in the near future discovers what Planet Nine really is, and has to convince a skeptical director who doesn’t understand the basics of our solar system.

Planet Nine

Illustration Caltech/R. Hurt – via NatGeo Education Blog

 

“What’s this all about,” Trevor Stanhope asked his Associate Administrator.

The click of Helen Martinez’s low-heeled shoes kept cadence to Stanhope’s brisk stride as they hurried along on the polished floors of NASA’s subterranean levels. “The note mentioned recent information that needs your immediate attention,” she said.

Six months since Stanhope’s appointment as NASA’s Administrator, President Barbara Preston specifically asked him to shake things up by reining-in expensive projects and the Brainiacs who were too busy looking for ET. “Bring in some solid space science we can use while getting the Mars mission off the ground, like updated satellite reconnaissance and better asteroid killers,” she’d told him.

“Did they send a synopsis, so I can understand what they’re saying when they start throwing those pseudo-scientific terms and acronyms around?” he asked.

“All I got was something to do with all the increased meteorite activity, asteroid close calls, and TNO’s . . . Trans Neptunian Objects.”

“Trans-nep-toonia objects . . .” Stanhope chuckled. “Sounds like that Christmas rock orchestra that pops up every holiday.” A lawyer by education, and six-term, conservative US Congressman before President Preston handed him this job, Stanhope’s grasp of science was limited to high school chemistry. Where did they come up with these names?

To Read More … Click Here

*****

Which leads me to confessing how I got into little big stories in the first place.

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Fireworks, BBQ, and Waving the Flag

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Fireworks, Beer, Brots, and other things burned on an open fire — it’s ‘Merica, and the time of year when we celebrate Thomas Jefferson’s break up letter to King George.

 

Going to be a hot one for us here in PA, which will likely send me to the basement writing office to escape the heat. So I’ll keep it short, and wish everyone a fun, safe Fourth of July.

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Ludovic Gauthier – Unsplash.com

May Our Fields of Freedom Never Go Fallow — DT Krippene

 

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Jean Carcallas – Unsplash.com

Oh … and turn off the smartphone. Fireworks are best photographed by the mind.

Desert Inspiration

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Desert

Aside from a writer’s muse that never sleeps, I’m used to finding #writerinspiration from mostly colorful photographs and art from a variety of sites. I post the ones I like on my Twitter feed and Facebook page. My favorite place for royalty-free photos without restrictions is Unsplash.com. Two of my boards on Pinterest – Searching for Light, and Characters, are both galleries of art and photographs used to fine tune the muse when I’m writing scenes.

Desert 2 Edit

This past Memorial Day weekend, I went on a desert excursion with my son-in-law in his off-road 4Runner.  That my young grandson tagged along as well, made the trip extra special. 

But – we were talking about writer inspiration.

 

How does one go from a visual inspiration of a colorful marketplace …

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… and find inspiration in the homogeneity of a desert landscape?

 

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First, you need to get off the beaten track, and into places most vehicles can’t tread. That’s where I discovered it isn’t the visual so much, as it is – the silence.

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Villainous Nyms and Roller Derby Girls

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I was looking for some good villain names the other day, and stumbled across an article I wrote in April 2014 (amazing what one forgets). I checked the analytics and found it to be one of the more popular articles I’d written, and worthy of a shameless reblog. It may not spark an evil nym for you, but it isn’t for lack candidates from the women of Roller Derby. 

 

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Everybody loves a good villain, even better, a good villain name.  To find a villain name that over time becomes a trademark of evil, the very mention of which instills a chill, is every author’s dream. Hannibal Lector, Darth Vader, Count Dracula, Cruella De Vil, Freddy Kruegar, Dr. Doom, Adolf Hitler – to name but a very few. Marvel and DC comics popularized pseudonyms to associate functional similarities like, Magneto, Dr. Octopus, Mystique, Joker, or Blackheart.

For me, the most inventive process of nomenclature for faux villains are pseudonyms used by Roller Derby girls with altered famous names, such as aptronyms – a name that matches the occupation of its owner, or charactonyms – a name suggesting a distinctive trait.

Everyone has his or her favorite name play-on-words. Rusty Bucket, Crisp E. Bacon, Solomon I. Lands, Dee Lyn Quint. One of my favorite primary school jokes of a fake library book: 50 Steps to the Outhouse, by Willy Makit; Illustrated by Betty Wont. Sophomoric for sure, but we loved it. Example of an aptronym could be Sally Blizzard – Meterologist, or an auto salesman with the name, Henry Ford Carr. Charactonym examples are more common, like Mistress Quickly, Dr. Horrible, or the famous Long John Silver.

Leave it to a once obscure sport to reset the bar on villainous name selection. If you’ve never watched women’s Roller Derby, you’ve been deprived. A main stay for us kids kept indoors on a midwinter Saturday afternoon when television had only four channels, it’s like speed skating with the aggressiveness of hockey and pro-wrestling. What makes the game even more fun is the cornucopia of pseudonyms used by the players. 

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If It Were Easy, We’d All Be Best Sellers

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Sam Bloom via Unsplash.com

Writers have an abnormal predilection for planting themselves in a chair – alone – surrounded by nothing – and wait for the words to rain. It just ain’t natural.

The 24th GLVWG Write Stuff Conference™ come and gone, this is the time I take a few days to reflect on what I’ve learned, what I’ve heard before, and why the hell I’m still writing.  

Our keynote speaker and headliner this year was NYT Bestseller, Bob Mayer, a former Green Beret who wrote the Area 51 series, as well as 70 other titles in fiction and non-fiction. That’s me on the right (as if you couldn’t tell).

Dan with Bob Mayer 2

We spent a full day with Bob, listening to his advice on the standard elements of plot, story structure, character, the importance of tight narrative, and dangers of going off on tangents that don’t move the story. Anyone who has read my article from last year, ‘The Perils of Captain Tangent – a Pantser’s Writing Journey’, knows I have an issue with side stories that end nowhere.

It was the Day 2 of the conference that struck a chord with me. Bob Mayer spoke about ‘Write it Forward’, with lessons he learned in the military.  He gave the classic pitch, “everyone stand up, look at the person on the right, then look at the one on the left. Only one of you is going to make it.” He reminded us that only five-percent of all writers ever finish a book, that five-percent get to the point of publishing the book, and five percent of those people ever get anywhere with it. In simpler terms, earning enough to buy a case of Yuengling beer is like winning the lottery.

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