Monday, December 30, 2013

I'm Not Announcing Anything

2014 is fast approaching and this is the time when I usually start talking about what I'm intending to do next year. No matter how reserved I am I always say I'm going to do something and it never quite happens.

I will ask you, if you don't mind too much, to head over to my author Facebook page and give it a like. That page is building up slow and sure and there's content there that's not anywhere else. Not a lot, but some. That's where I'll announce things (when they're for sure) sometimes before I announce them here. Thanks so much. Now on to the reason I'm not announcing anything.

The last year and a half has been a creative struggle. I've accomplished some things I set out to do and not others. I could blame it on having gotten sick - and that would be valid, I was far more sick for far longer than I ever thought - but that's a cheat. It wasn't anything really physical that I struggled with. It was more mental.  A lot more mental.

Self-doubt, convincing myself that I'm no good at this. That was more it than anything else. Some of that comes from the physical. I wasn't exercising and there were other factors that contributed. It sounds like an excuse but it's not. It was a recurrence of certain --- well, let's just say that while I don't struggle with depression on a regular basis I know from experience this was related. Some of it was external but most of it wasn't.

Regardless.

Coming back from the physical illness has rejuvenated the creative juices. I have plans but I shall keep them to myself. As they're ready to launch into the world, I'll let you know here.

The other reason behind my deciding to play things closer to the vest this year is that sometimes ideas just aren't good. They may seem so right now but in the execution it may be revealed that's it's not workable, for whatever reason. I've had several things just not pan out because I didn't have the experience or reference or whatever to follow through the way I wanted. That also is mental.

And maybe it's mental in the sense that it's mad, crazy, whacko. It might be.

Nah.

I'm not crazy. I'm in a slump. Was in a slump.

Well, working my way out of it. Doing the things that've worked in the past to pull me out of it. For the moment it's no longer a downward spiral. Now I'm looking for an updraft, a thermal that will carry me back up where I need to be.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Experts

Everyone who has an opinion is not an expert. There is a distinct difference between critique and review, most especially when it comes to talking about popular media, politics and just about everything.

This is important to remember.

Especially when one is reading commentary. Whether it's a blog post, a letter to the editor, comments on another post or even a GIF on Tumblr it's essential that we all know what is considered informed opinion and what is essentially thought vomit. Critique comes from an informed opinion. Sometimes review does, too but it tends to be much more personal. Commentary is pretty much thought vomit and intensely personal to the exclusion of informed opinion.

The other thing to remember is that an expert, no matter how informed or convincing she may be, doesn't have to reflect your own thinking. It seems that nowadays it's a lot easier to let others do our thinking rather than forming opinions based on a variety of sources. This is what hurts us as a society more than anything: being lazy.

Yes, I'm trying to influence my readers to think but not necessarily in a particular way. I'd much rather that you have your own ideas and discuss them rationally, civilly, with others (or me) and exchange information. That's how we'll progress. That's how we progressed to this point.

This time of year, 'best of' lists are everywhere and they're oftentimes just recycled bits of information from elsewhere on the Internet. It's rare that there's any real assessment of the items on said lists that's new since it came out. It turns out that 'best of' lists are really just 'what I like' lists. The ones I find useful are the ones that have actually experienced the things they're listing and where the lister can talk with authority on the subject.

Right?

And lists in general are really 'what I like' more than anything else despite labels like 'essential' or 'indispensable'. So it's up to us to be more discerning in reading/seeing/hearing and then relaying information.

Let's all be a bit more honest and communicate our personal tastes in more personal ways and sound more like regular folks rather than experts.

If we exchange our ideas we'll share more experience and be stronger as a whole. Anyone who rejects my experience because it's different than his own would be revealed to be closed-minded. Maybe not as an absolute, but in that case. Again, not an expert here, but that makes sense to me.

Then we could confront that problem head-on. Accept that everyone's experience is slightly different based on any number of factors. There are no absolutes in a world of diversity. While they're comforting, they're also limiting. If you think about it, you know this is true.

As you read and share 'best of' lists that appeal to you, be prepared to discuss them with others. Exchange your considered thoughts and opinions with others who have other experiences. Learn from them, add them into your frame of reference and hope that the other person will do the same.

That would be the greatest gift, wouldn't it? To expand one's horizon.

It doesn't take an expert to do that, either.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

It's the 25th

I wish each and every one of you the merriest of holidays. Please be good to one another, remembering that treating others as you wish to be treated is not just The Golden Rule but the best way to be happy.





Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Geek's Christmas Tree #3

Third in the series... 





Rex on the dark side.

From the Glad To Be Alive Department: End of the Year

Take that, Death. Next time you come for
me you better bring a lot more than massive
bilateral pulmonary embolism.
For those just joining us:  Back in August I was very close to checking out. Read the details here, and updates since I came home here, here and here. All caught up?

So last week I went in for an echocardiogram. It was a much different experience than when I was in the Emergency Room. The tech talked me through everything she was looking at. Watching the valves open and close was pretty cool.

Ten days later I met with the pulmonologist who took such good care of me. She told me right off the bat that my echo looked 'pretty darn normal'. She drew me a picture of what went on in my lungs when we met back in the ER, and - well, let's just say she didn't pul any punches. It was bad. The super clot buster stuff she gave me, the stuff they give stroke patients, was the best thing she could have given me. AND I'm the only patient she's ever prescribed it for. 

At the end of the appointment, she said I was doing so well (I've lost the five pounds a month, my blood pressure is great) that I don't need to see her any more. I'm okay with that. She's great, this doctor, and she explained everything to me so that I understood. From the start my whole case was a challenge and she made great decisions. If you need a pulmonologist, let me know. I can recommend a great one.

I'm still on the blood thinners, though. I go back for another round of testing in March at the behest of a hematologist who is every bit as good as the lady doctor I don't have to see any more. The blood doc is also youngish and has the same bedside manner as she does. He explained his testing of my blood in detail, not the boring stuff, but what he was looking for and why. Which means he's able to tell me that the reason the blood clots developed because of ulcerative colitis, a condition I had ignored for nearly two years.

All this happened because I was scared of a little colonoscopy and backed out of an appointment back then. Lesson learned, I guess. 

Don't follow my example. If you think something's wrong with you, get checked out. Don't wait. It may be expensive up front, but trust me that if you wait too long, it'll be waaaay more expensive. 

I will be on the blood thinners for the next nine months, at least. I'll have to be careful and continue eating sensibly and losing the weight. The downside is that just as I've developed a routine it's damn cold outside and walking is the best thing I can do for my knees and my weight. Still, I won't give up. I won't let down the people who kept me from dying. I won't leave my wife like that. 

This, then, is an ending of sorts. The blood clots are gone and I feel great. My biggest risk now is simply a recurrence of blood clots. There's nothing else I need to worry about. Except the colitis. But that's being managed. I've been told that sometimes parts of the body just quit for no reason. Like your warranty's run out or something. 

Finally, as this post is getting long and rambly, I must thank everyone who's sent positive thoughts or reached out in any way over the last three months. Your care and concern is meaningful. I have so many friends I almost can't believe it. I love you all. And my family, jeez, where would I be without them? There are too many thank-yous to list here. I've been working on those.

All right. that's it. This chapter is going to be closed. The next one is about getting better and staying on mission to lose the weight and avoid the recurrence of The Incident. I'll update you sometime in the spring on how that's going. In the meantime I'm staying focused on writing. I've got stuff to get down and turn in and see where it goes. 

Thanks for reading. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Random Doctor Who Thought

Because it was on BBC America this morning, I'm thinking about the Doctor's Daughter, Jenny.

During the first half of the episode, the tenth Doctor dismisses her as 'only a soldier' a couple of times. He is distancing himself from her in a way that's reminiscent NOW of how the eleventh Doctor dismisses the War Doctor.

Wouldn't it be interesting to see her return (since she can) fairly early in the twelfth Doctor's run? Put her in the TARDIS and see how that would affect things? The dynamic would be energetic to say the least. Plus it would be cool to see Georgia Tennant (nee Moffett) return.

I imagine there's a fan fiction to this effect somewhere out in the world but I don't want to read that. I want to see it on screen.

Friday, December 06, 2013

NaNoWriMo #6 post-game report


So as the title suggests, I've written during November six times. Six time I've won, which means that I've written at least 50,000 words in 30 days. Of those six 'novels' four are finished. One of those is actually a rewrite of the novel started the year before. That's the one I'm writing this year.

The good news is that I'm still writing. It's December and I've only taken one day off from writing since the end of November. That was for martinis and relaxation which was sorely needed after the intensity of NaNoWriMo.

It feels a lot like the novel from two years ago, The Cold Distance, the one that's gone through four revisions, some beta readers and is now living in the 'submissions' folder on my laptop. It's collecting rejections from publishers and agents now and I expect that'll continue into the new year. (Actually I'm pretty excited to submit the book to one publisher in particular. I've been waiting for their open period and the book was finally ready when it happened this year. Fingers crossed!) But hey, that's what I should do with it. Keep sending it out until it finds a home.

It's been a lot of fun revisiting certain characters (and almost everyone from the first book has made an appearance this year) and situations. What I'll look forward to in rereading it will be seeing how I did in the first pass, how much I have to re-write and revise. I'll also be interested to see how many passive sentences in particular exist in the draft and then compare that to the number of those offending sentences in the first draft of The Cold Distance.

Ah, this book, the second in a planned trilogy in case I haven't been clear about that, is called The Silent Well. As I'm writing I am clearing out a lot of space in my head, which leaves space for new ideas to sprout and attract pollinators that will eventually be new stories. So whether or not this trilogy is published, it will be written. Eventually it'll publish, I'm confident of that much. It's good stuff. And the new ideas are intriguing, too. It may just be that when I do finally land a contract, someone will ask me "What have you got next?" That's a good recipe for a career if I think about it that way.

So in the end, NaNoWriMo is all about getting ideas down as fast as possible and then examining them to see what's good and what's not. It's about, as my friend Dave DeHetre said in the NaNo forums, "writing at the speed that readers read".

Yeah.

It's making next year look really, really interesting. I've got plans that need to be solidified, given form and priority. NaNo helped me see what I need to do. Again.






Monday, December 02, 2013

Dead Lights

"Hulk smash!" "Don't tell me the odds!"
"You all float down here."
I love the term 'dead lights' ever since I encountered it in Stephen King's IT. This isn't, however, a post about King or IT or even what you think 'dead lights' are based on that.

I've been out of my parents' house for over twenty years. That means I've had that many holiday seasons on my own. In that time I've collected lots and lots of Christmas Stuff: lights, ornaments, stockings and all kinds of assorted junk. Stuff. No, junk.

There are three rather large containers that live in the attic above the garage during the year that come down over Thanksgiving weekend to spill their guts into my living room. Last year I acquired enough lights to encircle the entire house. Nothing fancy, just some white lights along all the gutters. Something I always wanted to do and now I can. Achievement unlocked. Leveled up.

As much as I loved having real trees, they were a colossal pain in the ass. Getting over to the Breakfast Optimists, loading the tree onto the car, sawing off the bottom of the trunk and dunking it in the cast iron tree stand. The smell was always worth it.

But several years ago the wife and I decided to switch to an artificial tree. Now it can go up earlier and stay up longer. Sort of the holiday version of Viagra, I suppose. Still, it keeps the house cheery for quite a while and doesn't require water. It doesn't drop needles on the floor, either. And the cats don't climb this one. Plus I don't have to do any searching for just - the - right - tree.

This year I got all three containers down as usual, and broke out the lights that've been on the tree for the last seven or eight years. Maybe longer.

They didn't work.

Well, there were a couple empty sockets where the Millennium Falcon and a couple other ornaments plugged in, so I put some lights in to ensure the string worked. Dammit, it still didn't light up. Maybe it was a fuse.

Except the control box was held shut by four screws with triangle heads. What the hell? I've got Phillips head, flat head screwdrivers, I've got Allen wrenches (AKA hex wrenches) and other things in various socket sets but not one implement that will turn a screw with a triangle-shaped head.

So I tried the other string. Same luck. Okay, I've got other lights. Other strings even though they didn't do all the fancy patterns and dances. They were older. Some of them left over from my first marriage. Of course they were non-LED so they had some nostalgic value despite their energy inefficiency. Plugged in one string, only half of them lit up. Maybe it was the fuse.

These I could get to and swapped out the fuses. Still only half of them lit up. Same with the other string.

Dammit. Dammit. A total of five strings of lights that either didn't work at all or only partially worked. That's a lot of space in one of the boxes. They're now in a pile in the garage, waiting to go out to the trash.

When I acquired the lights to go around the house last year I also bought some new lights. Because it's an artificial tree, it needs to have a TON of lights. It ends up that the tree is just fine with three strings of lights - two brightly colored LED strings and one string of white lights. It looks pretty despite not being as animated as it's been in the past. I can live with that.

But the dead lights have to go. Not sure if they should be recycled or just trashed. In the old days I would probably think about how to use them for an art project that I would never do. Or I'd keep them for the bulbs to use in the other strings that were still viable.

As I overcome my hoarding instincts, it hurts to see them go. Surely they could be useful in some other way?

No, the dead lights are dead lights. I just can't leave them in the garage. They have to go.

Beep Beep.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

NaNoWriMo Day 28

Because I'm so happy to have my computer back I did a little stupid thing on the Internet and pasted a bunch of the text into an analyzer app to find out what famous writer I tend to emulate.

When I put in the entire text I got William Shakespeare. (That name is difficult to type. Who'd'a thought?)

So then I started to think - what the hell? why do I write like Shakespeare? Yes, there's a certain romantic element but I'm not trying to write like him at all. With this book I'm alternating main characters so each one has a different POV. I wondered if each one would give me a different author. Remember this is just a bit of fun. So I went in and put each chapter separately into the analyzer.

Wow - what a variety of writers I got. Here's the list


  1. Shakespeare
  2. James Joyce
  3. James Joyce again
  4. Arthur C. Clarke
  5. Lewis Carroll
  6. Margaret Mitchell (wha? Never read Gone With the Wind.)
  7. Lewis Carroll again
  8. Margaret Atwood (YES!)
  9. Arthur C. Clarke again
  10. Margaret Atwood again (YES YES!)
I've never read Joyce, either. But what I'm seeing, I suppose (and this is pure supposition) is that the book is pretty epic in scope and all the authors have written epic stuff. That I got two SF writers makes me very happy, that they both popped up the way they did makes me even happier. I'm also tickled that Carroll is in there. The two chapters he's with are whimsical and kind of sneaky-intense. 

What's weird about the whole thing was that overall I got Shakespeare. Does the analyzer understand that I'm maybe working a tragedy here? 

I dunno.

I'll do this again when I finish. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

NaNoWriMo Day 27

I'm still writing.

It's going at a much slower pace than I wanted but it's going. I know how it ends, and someone is going to die.

I think I've said that before but it's truer than ever. The reason it's going slower is that I'm writing by hand until sometime next week. The computer has gone in for service and I'm typing this on my iPad which is tougher than it might seem. I wish now I'd invested in the Bluetooth keyboard.

Sigh.

Still, it's a good thing I can use pen and paper. It would have been easy to quit, especially since I won NaNoWriMo for the sixth time this year. As it is I'm anxious to get the computer back so I can transcribe what I've got and finish. I'm thankful that I love the story I'm telling and the characters involved. 

And there is so much to be thankful for this year, not the least of which is my continued drawing of breath. I refuse to let the nurses and doctors who saved me - OR my wife saved me from myself - down. I just can't do it.

That means I have to finish the story and I have to get it and the other book in the trilogy out into the world. Not sure how but that's on the list for things to accomplish in the new year.

At this time of year there are a lot of traditions. The Charlie Brown special, the parade, football, food comas... You know. My favorite one is the annual watching of the most brilliant 30 minutes of holiday TV: 'Turkeys Away' from WKRP In Cincinnati. 

It's going to be on my local cable network in a two-hour block tonight. (Channel 196) you can also find it on YouTube and Hulu if you like. It's worth the effort to seek it out because you WILL laugh your head off.

So that's where things are at the moment. I wish each and every one of you a Happy Thanksgiving. Be safe and tell your family and friends that you love them. It's really important.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Things Out Of My Control

A list of things irksome and irritating with as little ranting as possible:
  • Dropped phone calls.
  • Dropped Internet connections.
  • My phone being 4G and my carrier not providing 4G coverage in my home area. Or any other I can really think of off the top of my head.
  • Huge companies buying up smaller ones.
  • The video vending machine taking up all that sidewalk space. And the people who shop for ten minutes with their car parked in the fire lane. Sorry if my cart full of groceries bangs into you or your car. I promise it's not intentional.
  • Rolling backpacks. Really, pick 'em up. If they're too heavy, you've got too much in there. Take only what you need.
  • Bullies on the highway commute. Look, riding my ass at 80 mph while I have three cars in front of me will not make me go faster. Calm down. We all want to be where we're going so don't be a dick.
  • Bookstores being pretty much a thing of the past. Some notable exceptions here but I remember there being half a dozen bookstores in town when I was a teenager.
  • Movies that should be streaming being only available on DVD. And then the DVD not being available in my local distribution center.
  • Or arriving cracked. 
  • Arriving cracked AGAIN.
  • Sudden cancellations.
  • High prices for things that are necessary. 
  • Companies taking advantage of parents who want their students to have the same experiences (or at least similar).
  • Stupid movies. Well, stupid entertainments in every medium. Let's raise the level of intelligence, eh? Parody and satire are one thing, but when they are more common than intelligent entertainment there's a problem.
  • Short attention spans.
  • Black Friday. 
  • Black Friday starting any time on Thanksgiving Day. It should be okay for all of us to take a day off and breathe, don't you think? If you work in retail that day off is important.
  • Drivers who stop with their back wheels even with the stop sign at the last possible second. Whatever happened to stopping ten feet back and then creeping forward?
  • Trolls on the Internet.
  • The obsessions with celebrity misdeeds and hijinks. Not enough going on in your own life? Then get off the Internet and go do something. Or make something. 

So yeah. A sampling of things I can't control but that often (or only sometimes) get under my skin. Agree or disagree, we all have such lists. I imagine that on someone's list is a disdain for lists of this kind.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

NaNoWriMo Day 21

Yes, that's whisky next to my laptop.
Don't judge me.
Quick update on the progress:

You can check out my progress toward my overall goal of 100,000 words for the novel on the death bar at the left side of this here blog thingie. I'm really close to reaching 50,000 words for the month of November. If I don't get there today, it'll be early on Friday. This would be a record for me, averaging well over 2300 words a day.

The key word there is averaging. I had a couple of really good days early on, over 3000 words, and I can attribute those to the excitement of starting and knowing a lot about what I wanted to write. But every day since that opening weekend (despite a late day start for the first time in my 6 years of NaNo) I've found the words coming steadily.

Now something I want to reiterate here is that not all of these words are good. I'm just blasting away at getting the story I'm writing down in a form that can be shaped and edited. Think of it as carving a piece of marble out of a wall. That marble will then be sculpted into something more representative of what I want to present to the world.

Or maybe it's like the blob of dough that gets shaped into individual loaves of bread, then baked and sliced for consumption.

There's not a lot of worry about overusing words (dammit 'just' keeps creeping in on me, I don't know why) and there's even less worry about things like passive verbs ('was going' will be replaced with 'went' in the first revision). I'm just throwing words down to get it out of my head. It still needs massaging, sculpting, some trips to the gym to make it more muscular.

But the purpose of NaNo isn't to write a complete, ready to sell novel. It's to prove to yourself that you can do this, that you have a talent for writing and for telling a story. With that in mind, as fast and steady as I'm writing, 50K words is easy to achieve.

And I'm in love with my story. Getting another 50K should be just as easy and I've got a routine down now. I may even have a couple of good days over weekends and the coming holiday. Even with serious distractions like the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who coming up on Saturday.

But now I've got writing to do. My new nemesis is really challenging me and I have to stay ahead in my word count.

How's your writing going? Tell me about it in the comments, would you?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

NaNoWriMo Day 16

This year is going very, very well. I'm several days ahead of the established pace (more than 10,000 words ahead) and the story is shaping up nicely. I know where it has to go and how it has to happen. Someone has to die and probably one or two others will have to go, too.

That's the nature of storytelling. Learning what has to happen in order to tell a compelling tale. I learn more and more every year I attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days.

At 46 and having only been at this (meaning writing prose) seriously for seven or eight years I'm making significant progress all the time. Two books are published (both with Actionopolis), a third is waiting to publish and I've got outlines for three more approved. All I have to do is write them. 

NaNo teaches me the discipline I need to do these books when it's not November. Plans are being made for the new year and il discuss them here as I get closer to launching that phase of my writing journey. Stay tuned...

For the rest of the month, though, I've got this novel that I'm falling in love with to finish. That's going to take until mid-December and then I'm going to take a couple weeks off, enjoy the holidays.

But this month is certainly inspiring me to tackle next year with a lot of vim and vigor. Watch what happens next.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

A Pep Talk

Cross posted from the NaNoWriMo forum:

I'm going to keep this short because I've got writing to do and so do you:
I struggle every day. Every single day I write I wonder if what I'm writing is any damn good. Yesterday was not a bad day writing, just a slow one. Missed my word count by a significant number but still got over 1300 words in. I'm approaching the dreaded Middle of the Story and so far I'm off the plan I had for the book. That doesn't mean I won't get back on track and that the writing won't continue to be a struggle but I've got a goal.
So do you. You can do this. All you have to do is sit down and stop thinking and start writing.
I know it sounds hard but that's the point, isn't it? If it was easy everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great. (Plus there's no crying in baseball, remember that, too.)
Do what you have to, but don't give up. It's not impossible. You're not the only one who has to work hard at this. Ask anyone in the group or on the forum. They'll tell you, too.
You've got this. Now get to it.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

NaNoWriMo #6 Day 7

Quick word count update:

Total words: 14512

Average Words Written Per Day so far: 2073

I STILL like my story and my characters. I feel really great about where this is going and there should be two big climaxes - one in the middle and one near the end. I'm about two days ahead on word count so I'm very, very happy.

On Monday morning I heard an interview with the great Stanley Jordan, a virtuoso jazz guitarist. If you know of him, his new album sounds amazing. If you don't, look up a video of him playing Stairway to Heaven, your jaw will drop.

It's not his playing so much that got me in the interview, though. It was his attitude about playing. Near the end he said that one of the reasons that he enjoyed teaching guitar so much was that moment when he could enlighten a student. Say the student is playing a piece he knows and knows well but is having trouble with. Jordan looks at everything the student is doing EXCEPT playing. Is the student breathing? Are his eyes closed? Is he feeling the music?

If, when the student is playing a gig, the thought is "Oh I've got ten more minutes to fill, what am I going to do?" he posits that that is the worst possible motivation to play. Filling time. If, instead, the student has a goal of creating the most heavenly music ever heard he will likely play amazing stuff.

It's all about the goals and the things you do to get there beyond just practicing. That's why it's important for us writer-types to get up and walk around every once in a while. See something else, let the problems we're having in the writing work themselves out by allowing our brains to take in something else.

I've always known this. If I'm distracted in what I'm trying to accomplish, it's time to move away from it for a short time (or longer if need be) and then come back fresh. Sometimes it's twenty minutes other times it can be several days.

The beauty of NaNo is that it forces you to confront those problems, especially in the dreaded Middle. At that point, going for a walk or taking a break to watch a TV show or a movie is a good idea. Let your brain work it out.

And now that I've done that, it's time to get back to writing.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

NaNoWriMo #6 Day One

Relax, there won't be daily updates here. You'll have to follow on Twitter or Facebook for those and even then they'll only be really word counts.

No, here you'll get some insight into my process and how the writing's going. This year's my sixth NaNo and I've won all five previous years. This year I'm writing the sequel to the novel from two years ago now.

So Friday was the first day of NaNoWriMo and what was different this year from the previous five is that I did not start writing at the crack of dawn. My work schedule prevented it and there were things that had to be done immediately when I got home so I didn't get to start writing until after dinner.

Which ended up being fine. I hit my daily goal of 2000 words plus a little more and I'm trying out a new style in the novel itself. Nothing major, just using Scrivener to separate each scene in each chapter.

I've got the big beats ready to go, I know the characters, I have great villains and everything that goes on has room for improv. There's an ending in place and even if it's not the ending that comes out I'm ready to go.

I'm excited to get rolling on The Silent Well. Signing off to get some writing done.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Need for Feedback

I'm not procrastinating. I'm getting this off my chest so I can get some real writing done this morning.

I like feedback. I like knowing what others think of the things I'm doing or have done. In the context of my writing, I have some trusted readers whose opinions I value very, very much. Since I tend to write a LOT of short stories while I'm on my road to becoming a Professional Writer, I don't overburden these readers with everything I write. I have come to recognize what's genuinely in need of more work.

So when I'm asking for feedback it's because I need honest, outside myself opinions of a story. I need someone to tell me how it could be improved. Or if it should be scrapped completely and move on to the next thing.

Recently I ran off a number of stories that I think might be commercially viable. While I'm perceiving that maybe I've leveled up as a writer, I'm anxious to know if my trusted readers feel the same way. I've got my fingers crossed.

And I'm anticipating a number of very honest "I don't think it's ready yet" notes. One such reader came back with what might be deemed some harsh honesty and I really didn't take it that way at all. I want to get better, I want to tell stories that make sense to others and not just to myself. I need this feedback like an adman needs his glass of Scotch before a 10:30 AM staff meeting.

I've been thinking a lot lately about what kind of genre I write and why it's necessary to be pigeonholed in that way.

But that's for another post. I've got things to do while I'm waiting to hear back from my friends on that story. After all, it's NaNoWriMo in four days.

And that story is another one I think might be pretty damn good, too.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Glad To Be Alive IV: Dream Master

Okay it's been a while since I've let you in on what's going on with my health. The short version is that I'm doing very well, thank you. It's been two months since The Incident and a month and a half since I went back work. I feel better than ever (well, at least than in the last two or three years) and that's not just hype.

I'm stronger than I've been since probably my twenties when I was hauling bass guitars and amplifiers all over town for rehearsals with my bands and playing local gigs. Walking every day is awesome. Exercise is the best medicine for a lot of things and I'm lucky I'm young enough to engage in activity like that. And work has really been busy so I'm not spending much time at the desk and walking across campus a dozen times a day is also good for me.

But strength is relative. I am stronger than when I was at my weakest in the hospital, and stronger now than I've been in a while. Am I as strong as I was a younger man? I think I may be even though I've never been muscle-bound. Always have been soft around the middle, me. The doctor's ordered me to lose the weight. Even gave me what I swear to god is a truly unrealistic end goal even though she said five pounds a month is how you do it.

Well, as of this writing I've dropped fifteen pounds since I went back to work. The hectic pace and my exercising and cutting out the snacking after dinner (mostly) is how it's been done. I'm watching how much I'm eating but not necessarily what I'm eating. Except for the leafy green stuff that's loaded with vitamin K, I haven't changed a lot. Or maybe I have. My body is acting like I have.

Finally, I have an appointment in a week or so with a hematologist (yet another doctor) who may be able to tell me if there was a cause for the blood clots. Or may not. I don't know. If there's a genetic cause I need to be able to tell my son that. If not, then I'll be on the blood thinners for the rest of my life.

All this, of course, is fuel for stories.

With NaNoWriMo right around the corner, some of this (and other life-changing experiences) will undoubtedly inform some of what I'm intending to write. Some of it on character levels and some on plot levels. Some of it overtly most of it not. It's another test of my skills as a writer.

Which are also stronger than they've ever been. It takes a lot of work and practice to get better physically and mentally. And I'm just glad I'm around to practice and work hard and get stronger.

Updates here through November will mostly be the word count variety. I'm going to reset the "death bar" on the side over there so you can keep up if you want. There might be some occasional commentary but I'm not promising. Also, in December I'll be returning to the Confabulator Cafe so there's that. Lots to look forward to, I guess.

Thanks for reading here, gang. I appreciate you all.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Nose to Grindstone

There's a cottage industry around making people feel
creative. Don't give in to it, don't spend the money. Just
dive in headfirst and do what makes you happy.
I want you to do something, it's a little crazy and it's going to sound odd but it's the best I can think of to say.

Here it is:

Don't 'heed the call to be creative', just be creative. Make something. Put something into the world that no one else can. Don't read a book about it, don't watch a YouTube video, don't read anyone else's blog about 'how to do it', just do it. Go on. Stop reading this right now and go do that thing that will make you happy.

Are you still here? Why are you still reading?

Damn it, get off the internet and make the thing that you've always wanted to make. Go. NOW.

No amount of platitudes or stories of success will inform you how to make what only you can make. Maybe it's a story or a wood carving or a piece of furniture or a movie or a playlist for your best friend. Whatever it is go do it. You're the only one who can. So - off you go.

You can't still be here. Jeez. What do I have to say to get you off your ass to make the thing you want to make?

It's going to take sweat, and elbow grease and TIME. It will take TIME to do it right, to do it the way you want it done. You may not get it right the first time, either. THAT'S OKAY. It's awesome, actually, to make something imperfectly. It's not a mistake, it's a learning experience. If you're willing to invest the time in doing it, then invest more time in learning to do it right. Everyone who's 'wildly' successful has spent time practicing or learning or refining whatever their craft is. You think Michael Jordan didn't miss free throws? Or that Maria Callas had some troublesome times with pitch? Nothing is perfect but you can make your thing the best it can be from your point of view.

Your point of view.

You learn by doing, not by reading or listening to a podcast. (I'm on a roll here, don't get in a twist over the various ways people intake information. Sheesh.) Get your hands dirty. Make that pie, write that story, do whatever it is that will make you happy. It's okay if it's not perfect the first time. Or the second or third. You're programmed to think that it's not, but it is. Trust me on this.

Really, TRUST me.

Make the effort and put in the time. Don't hurt anyone along the way but do what makes you happy. If you're good at it, good things will happen for you. If you're not good at it but it makes you happy, then it's just as well. Don't you think?

Now stop reading the internet and go make something. Do something glorious. Spend less time sitting on your butt doing nothing and be productive. The cat videos will still be there. The witty GIFs will be waiting for you when you have a moment.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

NaNoWriMo and Me



I've written six novels, five of them with the help and support of NaNoWriMo and my writer's group.

The first novel you can read here on the site for free. I'm toying with the idea of going back to it and doing some revisions. There weren't many that happened as it was being written as I was working on a self-imposed deadline of 1500 words published a week. Each story took four weeks to tell and the entire thing took a little over a year. 13 stories that interconnected called The Long Range. Perhaps once I've done the revisions I might self-publish it.

Some of it's fun, some of it shows promise and all of it is ambitious. As I was writing it, I heard about NaNoWriMo. Too late to participate that year, but I signed up the next year and dove in headfirst.

That first novel is full of bad, bad writing and interesting if unrealized ideas that I carried over in the following year's novel. I would have liked to have taken that novel to some more places but I knew it was merely an exercise in seeing if I could repeat the previous year's success by finishing with more words in less time.

I did.

The writing was only marginally better and the plot - if one could say there was one - was thin in so many places that it looked like a ragged sheet hanging on a lamppost during a hurricane. After I reread what I'd written, I toyed with the idea of combining the two novels into one, expanding the good ideas and tossing the bad ones.

Alas I failed to do that. It's still on my bucket list for 'someday' as I'm still happy with the ideas and I know a lot more about plotting and how to fix things so that they make a great deal more sense.

Part of what fascinates me, and makes me a writer, is moving on from something I've accomplished to something new. It's not often that I go back to look over things that I do to learn from the doing of them. A friend once marveled at the number of stories and novels I have in The Trunk. "I'd go crazy if I had that much unpublished work," he said. "It should be making money."

Well, yeah, it should if it was good enough. I know enough about the business to know that self-publishing sub-par work is bad. Every novel I've written during NaNoWriMo has been a learning experience. What I learned each time has been different, too. Mostly I'm learning craft and refining my methods for writing.

The biggest thing that's helped me and taught me the most is that I can blast out words in a word-sprint and their BETTER than they were three years ago, or even last year. That old adage about practice making perfect is true. It's also how you get to Carnegie Hall, right?

The other thing NaNo taught me is that writing every day is the best way to be successful. One learns how to be better every time fingers touch keys.

The third novel I wrote petered out after 65,000 words. I didn't know the end. I still don't.  My fourth is the one that came together and I've spent a good deal of time on. Editing, revising, refining, submitting, etc... It's a good story, it's well-written (or so I've been told) and I'm trying to get it sold.

Last year's novel was ostensibly the sequel to the fourth and even though I knew the ending, it petered out, too. 67,000 words, that one. I've been thinking about it ever since. That's the story I want to write again, having learned a lot more since the end of November last year.

All this of course causes well-springs of other ideas to fountain upwards into my consciousness. Another idea has sparked my imagination and that would lead to what I think could be the best idea I've ever had for a novel, even though I'm nowhere near competent enough to even attempt it.

So this year's NaNoWriMo is going to teach me something. I don't know what it'll be but I'm going to apply everything I've learned so far.

I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

What's In My Head

This is what I'm using as the inspiration for this year's NaNoWriMo science fiction novel. As yet it's untitled.

It's a sequel to the book I'm shopping around and trying to find representation for. I'm also writing and editing a bunch of short stories that expand the universe of the two novels.

I tried to write this book last year but I didn't have a proper handle on it, didn't know what it was really about and so the ideas that are central to the plot were flawed. Now that I know what I'm writing, I'm adjusting the ideas and adding more, taking some away.

This image is tugging at my imagination and I had to share.

So, as you see, I'm busy. Gotta get back to typing. More soon(ish).

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Glad To Be Alive Dept. III: More Alive

So here's the latest health update:

(If you're just catching up, here's what happened, and here's the first big update. Ready?)

Everything seems to be returning to normal. I haven't been given a clean bill of health yet, though that may come in December. It would be a fine Christmas present if it did. What happens then is another round of tests (echocardiograms and the like) to see where the blood clots have gone or even if they're gone. I'm confident they're dissipating because I can breathe very well, now, thank you, and I've resumed the regular, daily exercise. I'm supposed to lose 5 pounds a month and I'm almost there but man, it's difficult. I'll do it, I will, but this is the hardest thing I've done in a while.

I've cut my coffee consumption by one cup down to three and not drinking any after breakfast. I'm walking well over four miles a day now (and sometimes five or more) thanks to a big power walk in the morning and the fact that my job requires a lot of walking and pushing things. I've cut back my breakfast by only having one piece of toast with cereal and I'm measuring out the one cup serving on that, too. I am mostly good about NOT snacking after dinner and certainly not after 8 pm. Mostly. These adjustments are me retraining myself to eat like a person should and not like I did. Not like I have since I moved out of the house. Food is comfort and relief from boredom.

All this has caused me to sort of re-evaluate a bunch of things and one of the things that's gotten put aside is the blog here. If you've been wondering where I'm at and what I'm up to, I apologize for the radio silence. It's been much easier to talk in short bursts elsewhere rather than blather on here endlessly. I've started and discarded several posts over the last few weeks as they ended up being snarky commentary on things ranging from reality TV to the current political situation and I don't want to do that. Be snarky, I mean. There's plenty to say about a lot of things (for instance that I'm sorry to hear about Tom Clancy's passing) and the debacle in Washington certainly merits comment.

But I'd rather spend my time writing stories. Time is the commodity we all have the same amount of and I've been really, really trying to make the most of what there is. I'm even stepping back a little from my social media spots, too, focusing on writing.

With NaNoWriMo coming up, I won't be blogging much at all. I'll probably post up word counts here with minimal commentary in November but they may not be regular. They'll be when I feel like I've made significant progress and have something to say about what I've written. Right now the plan is to chuck what I've written on the sequel to the book that I'm trying to get published or represented by an agent and published and start over from scratch. I'm already working on the outline.

So that's the update. I'm doing well, getting healthier and the writing is taking over my spare time. I'm querying agents and looking for a home for my novel. This is a good time.  More so than at any time before.

I'll be back here with more when I have something significant to say.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Three Epic Songs

I listen to satellite radio rather than internet radio or terrestrial radio. Well, mostly. I do check out everything. My local NPR station gets my support (and if everyone who listened to their local NPR station just sent $10 in once a year, pledge wouldn't be nearly the chore it becomes twice a year*) but I really can't stand commercials on regular rock radio. Bugs the hell out of me.

Plus, the local stations aren't all that diverse. At least with XM I can get classic rock, NEW classic rock, alt rock from the 90s, jazz, movie scores, classical, opera, Old Time Radio and some really intelligent talk, too. Those are the stations that I have programmed in my two radios, anyway.

So - when I'm driving/commuting I can hear mostly uninterrupted programming. In addition, the stations I listen to play a wide variety of whatever their genre is. 

Not every song is a winner, that's true of every radio station no matter what. But some - SOME - are the ones that get turned up and sung along with. Of those, the ones that ALWAYS get turned up and sung along with are the truly epic songs. It's not necessarily about length (that's what she said) it's a quality to the song that brings something to the heart, something that is soaring in some small way. The rare combination of words, music, voice and state of mind is what qualifies it in my book.

Me, I'm into progressive rock and I grew up on 70s album oriented rock (AOR) radio. I loved it when KY-102 would play entire sides of albums before release day. That just doesn't happen much any more, even on satellite radio.

I wish it did.

Anyway,  here are three epic songs for you to consider in no particular order. Your mileage may vary. 

Rush - Xanadu : This particular track comes from my all-time favorite double-live album, Exit... Stage Left. I was a member of the Columbia House Record Club and when this one came in the mail I was engrossed immediately. I'd heard the track before on KY, the studio version, but this one just blew me away. When I saw the video of it, on VHS, there was nothing else going on around me. This is everything I want in an epic song: soaring vocals, meaningful lyrics and masterful musicianship. E..SL solidified that I would be a lifelong Rush fan.

Bruce Springsteen - Jungleland : I remember the first time I heard this song and it resonated with me. I was in my parents' delicatessen and it came on the radio. The opening strings caught my ear, I was a teenager, 15 or maybe 16 - I can't recall exactly, and the vocals were strong and sure. Then it became a rock song and it was better. But it was the sax solo that hooked me and dug in hard. The chord changes were unlike anything I'd registered before. This was around the time I was learning more about how music worked, more about theory. So everything that's going on here through the middle of the song until it quiets down again was blowing me over. I tried to absorb it all. Then the end, when Bruce does the best he can to throw some gravitas into his vocals, when the piano and the bass are punching the listener in the gut, that's the button on the epic-ness of this song. I was already a fan of the Boss and this was just another reason to be.

Cheap Trick - Dream Police : The odd song out here in the trio shouldn't surprise anyone who knows me. Cheap Trick is The Great American Rock Band and is criminally underrated by the public for their contributions to American Music. This quartet of brilliant musicians went out on a limb with the Dream Police album, making something that defied critics' expectations of the band at that point. All the songs were longer, a little more complex, more layered. This song, in particular, is bombastic and lively from the opening chord and creates a sense of unease in the verses that's relieved by the chorus. The middle breakdown with exhortations for 'them to leave me alone' adds some excellent creepiness to the song. But what makes it really epic is the final musical vignette where the band climbs the scale and puts strings on top of it to add even more urgency. 

There are more epic songs for me, but these are the top three, hands down. In the comments if you wanted to share your epic songs, I'd love to know about them.


*Think about it: 6000 listeners who send in $10 once a year, or even twice?, well that adds up pretty damn quick. Really, just think about it and then send in your sawbuck. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The New Life

Something changes when you have an extraordinary experience. Your old life seems so far away and the new life ahead is full of stars and promises.

I don't want to belabor what happened to me a few weeks back, but coming that close to checking out should be life-changing, shouldn't it? I mean wouldn't you be happy to be alive and kicking if it happened to you? (I hope it never does.)

Routines are falling back into place as far as exercise and eating go. My doctor has directed me to lose five pounds a month. It doesn't sound so hard, and it isn't in the grand scheme, but I have to do it with diet and exercise. So far a couple pounds have come off and my brain is responding very well to the increased exercise.

I've written two new stories. The first is about a hit man and is an homage to the really fantastic Old Time Radio show Quiet, Please! (really, go listen to The Thing on the Fourble Board and tell me that's not one helluva great piece of writing) and the other is a space opera-type story with pirates. They need to be edited before I send them to a couple of trusted readers and then out to the streets to find a home but I'm really happy with them so far. Both came out while I was recovering from being sick.

What's really changed, though, is my outlook. I'm happy a lot of the time, even when things are a little tense and fast-moving at the day job. Eating less and exercising more definitely help that as my body is getting back to what is normal for it, and my perception of things is way more positive. I could rant about any number of things, but they aren't important any more. They're really what they are and while it would be nice if the general population was more thoughtful about where they parked when buying their movies from that badly placed kiosk it would be a great thing.

But people aren't generally thoughtful of others unless they're thinking about an individual they know.

And that's kind of where a few ideas for stories are going. How does the individual fit into society and what happens when that individual starts to make demands that society change? What greater good can come of it, if any?

This is what I think about on my morning walks now. This is what the immediate future looks like in my fiction, I think. All this goes along with a novel I've had percolating in the back of my head but which I'm not ready to write yet. That might be The One, but the themes and ideas are taking shape in the outline.

Trust me when I say that it isn't fear that's keeping me from writing that book. It's the fact that I don't know enough about my craft yet to tell such a sophisticated story. I have no 'literary' aspirations for it, but I want it to be as good as it can be when I do tackle it. It's not so far off, either. Maybe next year.

But this year now I'm sorting through three or four ideas for NaNoWriMo. One keeps coming to the top and so that may be it but the exercise may trigger something in one of the others that gets me really excited to write it. We'll see.

Stars and promises ahead for me. Such is the new life.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Update from The Glad To Be Alive Dept.

Doctor Whooo?
(You can buy this cool sculpture here.)
It occurred to me that there may be a few of you who may not know the state of my health given this post a couple of weeks back. Bottom line: I'm much, much better and I'm heading back to work today.

To recap: I'd been having trouble breathing, I collapsed on a Wednesday morning after a Tuesday morning stress test for my heart which had been ordered by a cardiologist recommended by my general practitioner. If my wife had gone to work that morning, I might have died. That's not really an understatement or hyperbole. I was that bad and I'm that stubborn a patient that even though I couldn't breathe I might have lain on the carpet in the living room until she came home. Fortunately she hauled my ass into the car and got me the care I needed.

Wives are the best, especially when they love you despite all your stupid, stupid ideas and tendencies.

So once I began to recover, we started asking why this had happened at all. I mean, every doctor I spoke with in the hospital (and each one is getting his piece of the insurance, I assure you) said that I befuddled them all because I didn't fit the profile for someone who had blood clots. And I didn't have just a few, my lungs were filled with the suckers, my left one carrying the much greater burden than the right which is probably how I went so long with trouble just catching my breath.

There may be an explanation, but it's not at all satisfactory because it's not definitive. It's a best guess. Here we go. (I'm sharing this in the hope that it'll help someone else not because I want my medical problems on display for the world but if someone reads it and decides to avoid the issues that could arise for him, then it's worthwhile.)

I have a condition called ulcerative colitis which means that part of my colon (about a foot or so in length and right in the middle of the colon) is angry and irritated and had been bleeding for a while. I put off getting the colonoscopy because I was scared of what it might reveal. I put it off for nearly two years, until I couldn't ignore the things my body was telling me.

And in the summer of 2012 I was depressed for a couple of reasons that I choose not to share. Suffice to say that I was depressed and that depression did two things to me: I stopped exercising every day like I had been for several years AND I put on fifteen pounds. When I took the new job in Fall of 2012 I added another ten pounds and still failed to exercise on a regular basis. I knew my weight was getting away from me but I didn't do anything about it.

So I was heavier than I'd been in a couple of years and approaching the most I'd ever weighed in my life when I noticed that when I did go for a walk on the odd occasion in Spring 2013 I wasn't as fast as I used to be and I had trouble breathing. I chalked it up to being too fat and failed to do anything about it like go to the doctor or stop eating so damn much.

Something happened that convinced me to go to the doctor to see if I had hemorrhoids that were causing the bleeding. It was concerning enough that I walked in on a Saturday to get checked out. They sent me to get the colonoscopy. At the end of July I was told about the ulcerative colitis.

Through summer of 2013 (even before I went for the colonoscopy) I noticed I was having trouble going up a single flight of stairs. Sometimes I'd get winded just walking across campus and I'd have to sit and catch my breath. One day at work just after the colonoscopy I had tightness in my chest and I went home and went to the doc. They couldn't hear anything wrong with my heart or lungs and gave me some albuterol in an inhaler thinking it might be asthma. That's when I was referred to the cardiologist.

I'm still working during all this. School is starting up and things are about to get busier than (choose your cliche). I take the morning off on a Tuesday to do the stress test and I'm so wiped out from that I call in sick and spend the day on the couch. My wife is concerned when she gets home and so is my son. I'm still thinking it's asthma.

So that gets us up to landing in the hospital. I'd had a number of warning signs that I wasn't in the best of health and in fact was a potential statistic. Two weeks after being released from the hospital, I meet again with the pulmonologist who tells me that it's possible that the ulcerative colitis causes a thickening of the blood which in turn could contribute to the clots which brought me down.

If I hadn't put off the colonoscopy, I might not have developed the blood clots. If I hadn't given in to the depression (well - if it hadn't been so overwhelming) I might not have put on all the weight which contributed to my overall unhealth. If I'd kept up walking every day I might have noticed that I wasn't doing so well a lot sooner.

Maybe.

Who knows? There's not enough data. There are a lot of 'ifs' but nothing solid. There's no test that says 'hey your blood is thickening up like gravy and that's going to kill you' and there's no instant way to link ulcerative colitis and blood clots.

Believe me when I tell you that I've smacked myself in the head and called myself 'dummy' a thousand thousand times for not paying attention to what my body was telling me. I try not to be a hypochondriac, and my insurance is excellent, but I don't always go to the doctor when I think I can treat myself with rest and something over the counter. I don't want to clog up the system for people who are really sick.

Like I was a couple of weeks ago.

The lesson to learn from all this is that when I feel bad, mentally and/or physically, I need to get checked out. So do you. I'm 45 years old and while it's not unusual for these things to have happened to me, it's rare. And maybe I could have avoided it.

I urge you to listen to what your body tells you. If there's blood where there shouldn't be any - go tell your doctor and find out what the cause is. If you can't breathe like you're supposed to, if brisk exercise knocks the wind out of you, if you end up in a heap on the floor at 5 o'clock in the morning, you need to go get yourself checked out. Please.

Because there are people that care a great deal about you and who want you in their lives for a long, long time. Do it for them, do it for you, but do it. Don't wait.

Give yourself the chance to be smacked in the head and called 'dummy' for not doing something sooner. And give yourself the chance to say that you're glad to be alive.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Lost Lands

One of the most intriguing ideas in science fiction is that of the Lost Land, an area stuck in time and hinted at but undiscovered until the time of the story.

Over here I noted that it's possible to write stories with tropes that have been 'overdone' as long as the author has a little imagination. Well, actually, a LOT of imagination. The comments on the article I pointed to there had an interesting negative aspect. One poster thought it 'impossible' that there could still be Lost Lands in this day and age because of satellites and technology.

He noted that Atlantis hasn't been found yet.

Well, that's true. It hasn't been found yet. But that doesn't meant that it doesn't exist or never existed. The world is plenty strange the more we get to know it, don't you think? And the more that man affects the environments and natural orders of things by our continually expanding cities the less likely it seems that there are such things as the Savage Land or Skartaris or any of a number of other Lost Lands.

But that's really just arrogance. I know for a fact that we don't know everything about everything. Hell, we don't know everything about anything. If an author can't imagine something new that's a failing of the author. If readers aren't willing to go along with an author's imagination, that's something that should require an author to try harder.

Every story has to be believable in some aspect. When authors can no longer engender the 'wow' factors in their stories, when they can no longer awe the readers, what's next?

A failure of imagination should be as worrisome as any other mental condition. If we cannot see possibilities, we're doomed. If the audience can only believe what's 'obvious' to them, if they are unwilling to explore possibilities, where does that leave storytellers?

Maybe this explains the failure of films like Pacific Rim to catch fire. An original story that wasn't based on any previous property didn't have a built-in audience and didn't do as well as hoped. I'm sure you can list a dozen other original stories that have the same problem. As far as our genre of science fiction goes, what was the last original property to do well? I'm guessing Star Wars in 1977, but I may be wrong - I'm too lazy to do the research today. Every other SF story that's come since that's been successful is based on a previous version, right?

I propose that there needs to be a movement of some kind that will rekindle the collective imagination of the fiction-consuming audience. There needs to be something that says it's okay to believe in the impossible, the incredible, the fantastic and amazing. There needs to be a way to say it's okay to question what's possible.

Let's not place too much faith that technology will eventually reveal everything. A little mystery is good for us. Wondering what's out there in the dark, being curious about that sound or smell, searching for that new insight that will change how we think is the best thing in the world. Humans are built to wonder, but we're letting it be beaten out of us. It's possible that humans are TOO rooted in the 'real world' and cannot see anything beyond the end of our nose.

Crazy ideas are crazy ideas until they're proven to be true. That doesn't mean science and physical evidence should be manipulated to prove a crazy idea, it shouldn't. Evidence is truth and we need to take truth as such. But being able to question that truth is how we'll begin to figure out the things we don't know.

Which is a lot.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Following the Story

What kind of stories do you follow?

It used to be that housewives would watch soap operas daily while the kids were in school and their husbands at work. I know a couple of people who're news junkies and trace stories from beginning to end so that they can be informed. Once upon a time I had comic book subscriptions so that I wouldn't miss an installment of my favorite mutants' adventures.

I'm curious about Stephen King's forthcoming book Doctor Sleep as it continues the story begun in The Shining way back in the '70s. I kind of always wondered what happened to Danny after the traumatic events of that book and now I'm going to get to find out.

Now that we have the goodness of the Internet, we can follow our video stories much more easily.

Maybe that's what's driven me as a writer, wanting to know what happens next.

When one of our stories is suddenly stopped through cancellation or the discontinued interest of the creator(s) it can be distressing. That would explain fan outcries over things like Firefly and any number of other stories, wouldn't it? We want to know what happens next.

But what about when a story ends? Harry Potter's exploits wound up. 100 Bullets ended. David Chase's ending for The Sopranos upset quite a few people. Still does, as far as I can tell. Investors in stories can be fierce when things don't go the way they're expected to.

Investors - fans - can definitely influence creators and they will feel free to tear down those same creators if they don't get what they want. Thanks, the Internet.

We say we want stories that engage us, that take us away from the grind of our daily lives. You know, clicking through on the latest doings of celebrities who have no effect on us whatsoever. Jobs. Family. That stuff.

What I'm getting at here is that the stories that are worth following are the ones that are interesting and take us away from our lives. The stories that aren't worth following are the equivalent of empty calories, Twinkies or candy bars. They offer us a distraction but in the end there's nothing there but something to deride or ridicule. They're not good stories.

So why stay interested in them? Why follow them?

Friday, August 23, 2013

From The Glad To Be Alive Dept.

Some of you know I've been having trouble catching my breath recently and that I've been going to doctors over the last three weeks to figure out why.

We figured out why when I went to the emergency room on Wednesday morning. I was having SERIOUS trouble catching my breath, I was sweating, delirious... It was bad. Really bad. My first visit to a doctor I was only pulling in 93% oxygen where healthy people are pulling 98 - 100%. When we got to the ER on Wednesday, my level was 84%. That's seriously awful.

Cheers to the nurses who really run things. 
Two hours, some chest x-rays, an echocardiogram, EKGs, a CT scan of my chest and dozens of people later, I was told I had 'massive, bilateral pulmonary embolism' in both lungs. That is, both lungs were a haven for dozens of blood clots. On a scale of 1 to 10, this was as serious as a stroke or a heart attack. The catch was, this had been creeping up on me for a month prior, maybe a little longer. That's why I was seeing my primary doctor, a recommended cardiologist, and radiology doctors who put me on a treadmill and gave me a stress test for my heart.

The next day I landed in the Emergency Room, otherwise plans were being put in place to send me to a pulmonologist. Instead, she came to see me in the ER and I was admitted to the hospital's Intensive Care Unit. They gave me some super-clot-buster medicine (usually for those who've just suffered strokes or heart attacks) and with the help of external oxygen being pumped in through my nose I started to get better.

The ER team and the ICU crew were AMAZING. The first thing I noticed was that each of them seemed to want to be there, doing the job they were doing. There was lots of joking. When I asked them why they quizzed me on my name and birthdate Every Single Time They Did Something ("Is it to ensure that I'm lucid?") I was told "No. We just want to annoy you."  And as I was being discharged today the nurse came back needing to take one last read of my vital signs. As she checked my temperature and blood pressure she said. "You're not really going home. We like to keep the good patients. That way we never get a bad one."

Trust me that these were funny things I needed to hear.

Anyway, I'm home now and I'm on the mend. "Alive and kicking" I told someone. The lesson that I'm taking away from this is that I should have gone to a doctor sooner than I did, but it still might not have made a difference. Every doctor who'd looked at me was thinking asthma. I was thinking asthma and so was my wife. No one considered blood clots. I didn't fit the profile for it: no history and none of the other markers. It shows how little we really know, despite everything we think we know.

I'm 45 years old and now I have a primary doc, a cardiologist and a pulmonologist. I'm too young for this. I'm on a blood thinner I could be on for the rest of my life and that entails a whole other ball of wax in regards to regular life, too. I can't help but wonder if my body is out of warranty and breaking down bit by bit or if it's merely the luck of the draw. I don't know and neither does the team that saved me.

But I'm damn glad I'm alive to have these people when I need them.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Conventions

This is more about attending comic conventions (or any convention, really) than it is about writing though it may have application to writing. We'll see when I'm done.

As you may or may not know, Comic-Con International (CCI hereafter) was near the end of July. There was a lot of news that came out of the event that has grown exponentially ever since its inception. Not much of that news, however, was about actual comics. There was plenty of coverage about movies (Superman vs. Batman) and about TV (Doctor Who) and about cosplayers. There were panels that were ostensibly to to honor the contributions of comic book creators and reunions and whathaveyou. Tons of stuff. TONS.

And there was a lot of griping about how CCI isn't really about comics any more.

So I scratch my head and wonder: Really? Are there no comic creators there? Is there no artists alley where one can wander through and pick up a title you've never heard of (despite the Internet) or have a conversation with an artist whose work you admire?

I understand it's difficult to get to chat with the special guests. I've been there. THOSE lines are crushing and facing them after you've been in the soul-crushing line to get in is daunting. Still, there were a number of special guests in attendance this year. A lot of them even made comics in the last year or so. Just sayin'.

Oh, look! There WAS an artists alley this year. A quick perusal shows that there was a large contingent of comics-related people in this area of the show.

So if you were going to CCI for comics it looks like you had opportunity to meet the artists that were there. I would bet there were retailers selling comics, too. Just like at any other show.

Realistically, I understand the place is crowded. I get it. I know you can't just walk around in a vacuum to see what you want to see. But let me posit that if you are there to celebrate comics, then you can do that. You don't have to be involved in any of the other stuff. (Well, sometimes the cosplayers can be thick as clotted cream that's so clotted it's clotty. You know what I mean.)

If you attend CCI and you want it to be about comics, you can make it about comics. Don't be down on the others who are there for the other media, be there to enjoy yourself. If you attend any comics convention with the idea that it's only for you and those who think like you, you probably shouldn't go any more.

Stop being so possessive. Be glad that others are finding their way in to the same kind of things you like. Take the opportunity to convert a Doctor Who fan to comics. There are DW comics out there, after all. Admire a cosplayer's devotion to his or her fandom and find out what they read or watch and then give it a chance, too. It's not hard.

But if you're one of those people who denigrates others for being a latecomer to the party you're at, you're no longer welcome at the party. It's not just your place to tell others they can't be there because you were there before them. Trust me, there were others at the party before you got there. Did they embrace you or did they denigrate you? Do you remember?

Look, I want you to have a good time at the convention. I want everyone in attendance to have a good time at the convention. All it takes is for you (and you know if I'm talking to you or not) to roll back, calm down and be nice.

That's not too much to ask, is it?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Pseudonyms

You've all heard about J.K. Rowling's outing as Robert Galbraith, the author of the well-reviewed book The Cuckoo's Calling. As Galbraith, the book sold a meager 500 copies or so. Or 1500. I can't recall the exact amount and it doesn't matter. It was only a few copies, relatively. Once the cat was out of the bag (thanks to a leak in her choice of law firm) it's now sold well over half a million copies.

You may have heard that there was an outcry of 'foul!' that Rowling had deceived her readers.

Well, that's crap.

Who cares if a writer (especially one as popular as Rowling) wants to work under a pen name. There are dozens and dozens of semi-anonymous works out there. Does it matter to the reader?

Only because we live more than ever in an age where the general populace feels like they 'know' someone classed as a celebrity. Well, actually even more than that they feel they are 'owed' something by that celebrity because they have supported that author or they were reading her before something got popular. It works this way in all aspects of anything that's creative: music, art, cooking, even politics. (And if you don't believe politics aren't creative like the arts, you haven't been paying attention.) Anyway.

A celebrity owes me anything? No. That's crap.

Maybe their best work but even that's expecting too much.

Yes, it is. You see, art is a process. When art speaks to me it may not speak to you and the reverse is also true. When art fails to speak to a wide audience we don't applaud the effort, which is also bullshit.

Think about that. When someone cooks for you and it's not what you expected or even hoped for are you polite enough to find something nice to say? You should.

And the same holds true for the celebrity. We should find something nice to say instead calling a film a 'failure' or 'flop'. I guarantee you that for every flop there is someone who poured her heart into the work and when no one says anything nice about the work it hurts. Just like when your significant other cooks for you and it wasn't any good.

What happens instead is a piling-on of rotten comments. Out of pure jealousy that the commenters did not or were incapable of creating anything similar, they tear down the creator. It won't usually happen in person as the Internet offers anonymity and distance.

Which is why Rowling chose to write something out of her perceived genre under a nom de plume. Her previous book had been savaged by critics of a lot of different stripes largely because it wasn't another Harry Potter tale. I don't blame her for wanting to stretch out, to exercise different creative muscles and she knew what the reaction would be but she did it anyway. Choosing to write under a pen name is merely a way to insulate herself against the meanness of the way things are now.

The critics who chose to review The Cuckoo's Calling liked it and it didn't sell well. That's the reality of publishing these days.

So I don't blame a celebrity author like Rowling for writing under a pseudonym. In fact I applaud her for daring to do it and I applaud the positive reviews she garnered as Robert Galbraith. As a creator she did what she had to do.

All she owes us it to create something she can be proud of. I suspect she's done that regardless which name she uses.

Monday, August 05, 2013

The Twelfth

See that mischievous look in his
eyes?
Or maybe Thirteenth. We're not sure yet.

I'm talking about Doctor Who, of course.

With the announcement of Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor (or maybe Thirteenth) the Nerd World has a new Pope. Capaldi's one of those actors who has always performed brilliantly in everything you've seen him in and if you watch TV or films, you've seen him in things. If you went to see World War Z (which I didn't) he was the W.H.O. Doctor.

When I first heard his name had been thrown in the hat early last week, I had a great feeling that he was the sure bet. His Scottish roots, his previous collaboration with two-time episode writer Neil Gaiman (Neverwhere), the fact that he'd been on the show before (in fact in the same episode as Karen Gillan) all made him - in my mind at least - a near lock. Of course that didn't preclude showrunner Steven Moffatt and the producers of Doctor Who throwing us a complete curve and announcing someone else.

After all, Moffatt's claimed that he's "lied his arse off" about what's coming up in the 50th anniversary special that's due in November. And once that's over there'll be intense speculation about the Christmas special (ostensibly when the Eleventh (or Twelfth) regenerates into the Twelfth (or Thirteenth).

You've seen the last episode of the latest series, right? I mean you know that John Hurt's been introduced as The Doctor, don't you? You understand the confusion?

What I like about the choice of Capaldi as The Doctor is that he's bringing a little more age to the role than has been there since Christopher Eccleston helped relaunch the series. I'm curious to see if there's going to be a bit more anger than Matt Smith brought and certainly we'll see the weariness more visibly that both David Tennant and Smith could only hint at. Capaldi is also capable of dropping a lot of weight behind the anger and weariness.

At the same time, if it's called for, Capaldi is an extremely sensitive actor. He's got all the tools to make the Doctor the embodiment of every other Doctor there has ever been. It's an exciting time. Unfortunately we won't know how Capaldi will be as the Doctor until the series resumes in 2014.

In the meantime, we can watch any number of roles that Peter Capaldi has given us. I'll likely watch Torchwood: Children of Earth three or four times before he comes on board.