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’. 

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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

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

Short Stories hadn’t been much of a forte for me in the past. I prefer writing lengthier tomes in the 100K range. I found it hard to write what I wanted to say about the story’s journey in fewer words. How do you really get to know who the character is, and how he/she must navigate the perilous river of the story premise?

That changed a couple years ago when I dipped my toes in the short story waters with an anthology.  Give us something light – middle grade, paranormal if you can manage it, and keep it to 2500 words.  After some head-scratching, I tore into my file of ideas, looking for clues, and located notes about a boy moving to a rural New England town. Entering as a freshman, he discovers there’s more to the newly constructed high school than construction debris.

It was paperback printed with other stories, made the Amazon circuit for a year, then quietly died a lonely death by drowning in the murky seas of literary content. So much for a valiant effort.

Last year, the BWG asked if I’d like a slot in their author spotlight. It had to be under 3K, and in accordance to a theme for the winter quarter, ‘Snowbound’. Back to the archive of un-hatched ideas, I came up empty. Then a friend suggested an excerpt from a book I’d written, preferably something unpublished.

I have a lot of those.

Chose a dystopian tale I couldn’t market some years back, and selected a “pinpoint of time” where a young man on the run from a near future autocratic government takes shelter in a remote, snowbound cabin. Seemingly safe hundreds of miles from any living soul, someone is attacked by wolves a stone’s throw from his cabin.

The editors that publish the online magazine were well-schooled in the art of short story writing, and helped me fine tune the final draft. At first, I thought I’d made a mistake by ending it with a question – a dangling chad, so to speak. However, it generated interest in the larger tome. Without realizing it, I’d opened a door to a book I didn’t think would ever see the light of day. I’m currently in a rewrite of the novel. Fingers crossed.

Click the title below if you’re interested in reading the PDF version of it.

 

Snow Belt Sanctuary Printed Version

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What was the process I used? It helps to read a few to see how it’s done, and I blew the dust off my small library of anthologies and short stories. FYI, Stephen King is a master of it. Just saying.

 I’m a meticulous researcher, and I went at it with my usual study-before-do methodology. No shortage of ‘How To’ blogs, books, and you-too-can-be-a-writer articles. Just type in “writer short story” on Pinterest and prepare for a flood that will choke your server. I have digital reams in the archive on how to become a better writer, but after a while, it gets repetitive, some of which is less how-to, more ‘buy my stuff’ or ‘follow my stuff’.  One tipster gave a multi-point process that looked an awful lot like the structure for a novel. Somewhere in the endless sinkhole of suggestions, a few bubbles of usable knowledge floated to the top.

I first offer the sage advice of Carol Wright, editor of the BWG Roundtable.

‘Short stories are a big part of what we do within the Bethlehem Writers Group. As Neil Gaiman says, “A short story is the ultimate close-up magic trick – a couple of thousand words to take you around the universe or break your heart.” It’s not an easy trick to master, though. Truman Capote said, “When seriously explored, the short story seems to me the most difficult and disciplining form of prose writing extant.” And Annie Proulx agrees. She said, “I find it satisfying and intellectually stimulating to work with the intensity, brevity, balance and word play of the short story.”  So, we writers labor on, working and reworking our stories, tweaking the dialogue, checking the pacing, trimming any expendable words until all we have left are the precious few that say so much.’

If I was to sift through the myriad of opinions I read, the tips I found most useful are:

  • Write the beginning and end before anything else, (though it may change as I tie the two strings together). Some suggested writing a synopsis first. I’m a hard-core pantser and susceptible to spending more time on a synopsis than just writing the damned thing, but if it works for you, power on.
  • Pacing: You know the drill – character, conflict, journey, resolution – but instead of 70K words to do it, you only have maybe 5K or less. No traipsing down unmarked paths that don’t get you home.
  • Focus on one character if you can, and keep the supporting cast to a minimum. By the time you describe a dozen or more characters in a short story, the word count ‘tank is full light’ winks on.
  • Succinct details: Use only what’s needed to paint the moment, that ‘trimming expendable words’. I’m susceptible to diarrhea of the word-processor, not a good thing with short stories. Literary embellishment that meanders into a lengthy paragraph may sound nice in a full novel, but it eats word count like a starving bear.
  • Keeping it in the here and now (some call this a pinpoint of time), helped tremendously. Anything with “ten years later”, or other significant time gap, makes a reader wonder “gee, what happened in between?”
  • Don’t work in a vacuum: Much of my learning process came from writers who specialize in short stories. A tip of the old fedora to authors Christopher D. Ochs, Charles Kiernan, and  Jerry McFadden, who have written dozens between them.  

 

What’s next? After swearing off anthologies before, I’m now into little big stories, and contributed to an upcoming short story anthology coming out October 2018.

Untethered Cover

Stay tuned.

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.

A critical attribute of a good story incorporates the five senses. If you take one of them away, it evokes an unusual deprivative enlightenment where the other senses become more focused. 

Sense of smell was limited to whatever drifted in the dry, searing heat. Consigned to the tacky flavorlessness of cotton-mouth, water offered no relief to the taste buds. Skin puckered from the unrelenting sun with a reminder to reapply lotion, I was sensitized to the touch of a tiny insect, or the haphazard brush against brambles. 

Discovery of micro-sounds subdued by the cacophony of everyday life, become loud as a truck horn (bit of a stretch maybe, and I made-up the word micro-sound, but you get the point). The skittering of a bug on a rock. The faint rush of a hot dry breeze through spindly desert bushes. Each footstep a thundering dinosaur plod, until I have to break the silence to ask my grandson to slow down with a voice muted by a carpet of sand.

 

Desert Teddy

 

Too late for the short flowering season, colors of rust, sand, and dusty-green shrubs dominated the palette, interrupted on occasion by layered sedimentary rock. I found a spot to sit and took in my surroundings. My eyesight slowly accentuated (though it helped to wear sunglasses). The russet browns became less monochromatic to reveal surprises otherwise missed. Recent animal prints and tiny corkscrewing snake trails had yet to be erased by a never-ending desert breath. Eyes on the ground, small rewards appeared with a late season flower hidden by a scraggly briar. A lone bullet shell offered evidence that others had passed this way. 

 

 

Normally I write in the solitude of the man-cave, a basement office devoid of windows. Just me, the radon, and a background disquiet of household sounds that resonate like a drum. Let’s not even mention the damn phone or doorbell.

Heightened awareness inside a desert silence kicked my muse into hyper drive. Ideas flash-carded so fast in my head, some hitch-hiked the winds of forgetfulness. Hell of a place to be caught without a notebook. 

Desirous to remain longer, the siren call of my grandson pulled me back to the present. He took my hand and led me back to the 4Runner.

On another visit, my 4Runner guide took a little-used trail that most vehicles would find daunting (not to mention stuck in the sand). We climbed reddish sandstone rocks, and rock etchings inside a deep, natural wash carved by the eons, was another reminder of others who had passed this way a long, long time ago. A story of human existence lost came to mind, and piqued curiosity of what inspired the petroglyph artist. 

Desert Petroglyphs Edit

Back in the noisy pandemonium of civilization, after the senses reestablished equilibrium, a few of those ideas that had dissipated in an arid desert whiff, somehow eddied back into my thoughts. I closed my eyes in a quiet room, and let recent memories of desert inspiration come to life. 

So … if your muse is locked in the prison of writer’s block, find someplace where sound is the lesser input, and let the other senses open your eyes, and inspire the imagination. 

 

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Note: All pictures from Hidden Valley Nevada by DT Krippene, except colorful marketplace by Sam Beasley of Unsplash.com.

 

 

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. 

With player names like Bruise Almighty, GoreJess, and Amelia Dareheart, what better place is there to mine for unique villainous names? Harley Quinn might be mentally imbalanced, and Dr. Doom might be one of Marvel’s top villains, but Mariah Scary could be the start of a whole new genre.

Until Drew Barrymore’s movie, Whip It, came out in 2009, roller derby had almost become a forgotten footnote of American sports. With names like Smashley Simpson, Babe Ruthless, and Bloody Holly, the movie Whip It reintroduced America to teams like the Hissy Fits, Traverse City Toxic Cherries, Detroit Pistoffs, Eves of Destruction, Murder City Kitties, Left Hook Honeys, Kappa Jamma Slamma, Arkansas Killbillies, Glamazons, Sadistic Sweethearts, and the Trust Fund Terrors. Cruella De Vil has nothing on these dangerous dudettes.

These are women who you don’t want to piss off, and they’re always looking for new blood, pun very much intended.

Courtesy of Buzzfeed, here’s a few names that had me smiling.

Vladimir Naboobkov, Wuthering Frights, Dora the Destroyer, Wolf Blitzher, Wikibleedia, Whoremione Granger, Whistler Smother, Susan B. Agony, Wench Press, Vulva Las Vegas, Velveteen Rabid, Uma Vermin, Tart of Darkness, Artillery Clinton, Skank Williams, Doris Day of Reckoning, Shirley Temple of Doom, Nasty Pelosi, Katniss EverMean, Naomi Cannibal, Kancer, Sigourney Reaper, Toe-Knee Soprano, Addy Rawl, Snot Rocket Science, Raw Heidi, and The Dalai Harmer 

You can find the entire league at Roller Derby Name Registry, and the International Rollergirls’ Master Roster.

You might be inspired to create your own.

 

You’re about to enter the rink.    The crowd is calling for blood.

What’s your evil name?

I’m thinking of Death E. Dahmer. 

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.

For those writers who’d never heard it before, you could see the eagerness visibly drain from their faces. Reality bites.

For me, the message I took away had less to do with sobering statistics I already knew, or the writing process I’ve been refining for years.  

“Why are you writing, and what’s your goal?” Bob asked. 

He followed it up with, “how passionate are you about what you’re doing?”

Growing up, I had an imagination fueled on nuclear ether.  I tried to harness the chaos of that imagination by penning it on paper. An hour later, finger cramps set in (I can be a bit intense when gripping a pen).  I got a D+ in high school typing class, my fingers unable to master a typewriter without buckets of whiteout and erasable bond paper.  It would take access to a modern word processor, and the ability to backspace and delete with impunity, before I struck up the nerve to start writing again years later.

Thirty-plus years traveling for corporate America offered ample opportunities on flights, waiting for flights, and hotel rooms. I wrote stuff. While living overseas, I got a non-paid gig writing articles for a local travel magazine. It was fun. I actually had a small fan base. When I repatriated, I asked myself the same question Bob did – what do I want to be, besides thirty-years younger?  I read a book on the subject of rebooting life.  It asked tough questions like, what gave me passion in the younger years, before I put down childish things.  What was it I dreamt of as a kid? 

I’m happiest when I tap into the chaotic ether of my imagination and put words to it. 

The stories came easy, but understanding the mechanics of plotting and structure was a different breed of cat. I can quote the basic laws of chemistry, but dangling participles was something I learned on the fly.  My first 300-page attempt was a laughable exercise that simultaneously encouraged (I am a writer, I am, I am, I am), and depressed me (Dear Occupant, thank you for your submission, but …). Not having a pedigree that comes with a Fine Arts education, I had a steep hill to climb.

Who Wrote This

The journey took me on a rediscovery of subjects I’d glossed over in secondary school, like grammar.  The proper use of commas was enough to send me to the nut house. Thankfully, Word spell check kept me from giving up entirely.  I networked with authors, joined writer groups, and went to conferences to learn about the business of getting published.  Surviving a critique process from fellow writers is not for the weak-hearted. 

Rejection by the hundreds required the skin of a stegosaurus.  With the prolificacy of traditional publishing, and indie publishing (an unending tsunami of content in Bob’s words), being published today is akin to the lone salmon going downstream against the horny hoards during spawning season.

Bob reconfirmed what I had to discover for myself a few years ago, “old dogs must learn new tricks”.  Exhuming a passion, buried for decades in a lead-lined box of adult obligations, can be one of the hardest things in a person’s life.  It felt good to hear a professional like Bob Mayer corroborate what I had to learn on my own.

It takes Passion.

It takes Perseverance.

It takes Risks

So why haven’t I published yet? A wonderful agent tried to market two books I wrote a couple years back, but no takers. It amazes that me she still answers my emails after those first attempts.  

Her advice to me – keep writing.

Don’t have to ask me twice. Hell, I can’t help myself. When I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing. I lost count how many times my wife caught me pacing a room with a blank look, lost in the sparkles of the kaleidoscopic pandemonium of my imagination.

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I just finished my sixth novel. Given the commentary from trusted beta readers, I still have some work to do. It ain’t because the story sucks. It’s about making it as good as it needs to be.

But I’m getting closer.

I’ll end it here. I have a story to correct. Got to make my own rain.

Oh, and the hyperactive muse who won’t let me sleep at night, is egging me to start a new idea.

Writing Desk

 

Hmmm – wonder if I can do both at the same time?

 

 

Portable Magic

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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.

 

 

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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

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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Sorasak via unsplash.com

 

With an ending, come new beginnings.

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

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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.

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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.

 

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#WriterDistraction

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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.

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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.

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Judging Someone Else’s Stuff

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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?

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