A to Z Challenge 2013

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Every End Starts A New Beginning

Despite my long absence, I have not abandoned you all. I have been merely taking a long break. I have been reveling in the celebrations of graduation (mostly in my own head of course) and decided not to do anything remotely difficult for a while. Don't get me wrong - writing is as much fun as it is difficult, but it has been nice to not "think" about anything.

Since we're at the beginning of another year however, I feel the need to look back on things. Despite some huge difficulties with family and home, I consider 2009 to be a very successful year. Some of these things I've spoken about (such as graduating college and experiencing NaNo), but there are other things in my life that haven't made these pages.

My family has gone through some pretty tough times, but in the end its all been worthwhile. We lost our house, but we ended up with a better place than we had before. My wife had to leave her job, but she is able to do things now that she never could before. We've had plenty of financial troubles, but we're no longer struggling to make ends meet. So despite many hardships and hurdles thoughout the year, we've come out looking good on the other end.

I've found my love of writing, and although I was not able to complete NaNo, I enjoyed the journey anyway. I've learned how much I enjoy riding a motorcycle, no matter the danger inherent in that activity. I have realized how much I don't enjoy my job, but maybe someday I'll be able to change that too. I've also discovered how much I like having my wife at home, even if its for selfish reasons. I really like coming home to her warm hugs and loving kisses. If luck is with us, she will be done with her degree in a few years too and will be able to work from home. That would be the best gift yet, for both of us.

What do I have to look forward to in the upcoming year? Well, my NaNo fun has shown me that I can manage to write every single day, a new habit I am going to try to cultivate. I won't be holding myself to the rather stressful timeline of that experience, but I will attempt to at least get some words down each day.

Now that I have graduated, I am free to concentrate on other educational goals, such as learning to write better. I'm hoping to get involved in a local writing course and glean as much from it as possible. I considered the possibility of going for my Masters in Creative Writing, but two things stop me. First of all, its highly expensive and I would most likely have to get more student loans to pay for it. Once I obtained it though, I doubt it would be any more useful to me than not having one at all. I can see where a singular writing course however, would be immediately useful.

I'm done taking a vacation though, so you can expect more regular updates here. I do have a few people I'd like to thank however. Whether they knew it or not, they helped make my year fun and taught me more than they probably know. This list is in no way exhaustive (since I find myself learning something from just about everyone), but these people are at the top.

1. Screaming Guppy - The Guppster is one of my favs. Not only does she drink Diet Coke (extra points there), she is insightful and honest in her writing.
2. The Surly Writer - Michelle brings a smile to my face every time I read her stuff. She puts up with my comments and makes me envious with her exceptional writing skills.
3. The Literary Lab - Lady Glamis, Davin, and Scott are mentors in every sense of the word. I don't believe there has been a single post of theirs that didn't teach me something useful.
4. Lost Wanderer - The Wanderer is a true friend, even if she does leave me in awe at her ability to crank out the words. Sure, while the rest of us were struggling to make our daily amount, she was easily doing double. She is ever humble, however.
5. Elana Johnson - I would be completely remiss if I did not mention Elana. Not only has she put out the authoritative tome for writing queries, she consistently teaches us all how to maintain a fun demeanor while we struggle towards publication.
6. Imagineering Fiction - Galen Kindley is a scholar, a fellow veteran, and an accomplished author. I'm honored that he stops by from time to time and brightens my page.
7. One Word, One Rung, One Day - Travis is an enigma; how can one guy be so funny and write so well? While I doubt I'll ever be able to mirror his ability with dialogue, he inspires me to try anyway.

Since 7 is a lucky number, I'll stop there. There are a great many more of you I owe thanks to, but I don't want to tempt fate. If I didn't mention you, I hope you know that just about everyone I know in the writing world helps me all the time. I wish everyone out there a new year filled with successes, opportunities, and good times. Sure there will be tough moments, but trust me that eventually things work out right.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Blogchain - How Silly Am I? Not Very, Evidently

That's right word fans - it's blogchain time. And today I get the pleasure of answering the question posed by the talented Shaun, who asks:

What is the silliest thing from a book or short story you've written, and why? It can be a line or a paragraph or a whole page. Anything that you look back at and go, "Say what?"

Unfortunately, I am a bit different than the other writers on the chain. I do not have a long history of writing, filled with silly little scribblings and insightful interrogatives. There is no stack of poorly written pages beneath my bed or in an abandoned drawer (plenty of bad writing, just thankfully banished with the delete key). I'm barely a babe in this crowded forest, so answering this question was quite difficult for me.

Never let it be said however, that I have backed down from a literary challenge (okay, NaNo doesn't count and I had reasons, dangit). I searched the folder on my computer for anything even remotely silly, and this is the best I could come up with. This is the opening for a story narrated by someone other than the MC. I really haven't gone anywhere with it at this point, but maybe if I clean it up a bit...

Every story has a beginning. And every beginning is a story. This is my story, and if there’s any place to begin, its here. Well to be honest, this isn’t really my story. But I am meagerly involved. And since no one yet has told this story, I guess its up to me. So where shall I start? A start is often times difficult to begin, but I will give it my best.

My name is Neville. These days I am known as Sir Neville, but when this story began, I was known to be Theodore Neville. And I was an accountant. Well, my employer might consider me more than “merely an accountant”, but he tends to be overly generous. In fact, he is quite an exemplary man. He did not always believe that he was so, but I think I have known this for quite some time. It is that small spark you see in people, that you can tell when they are more than they outwardly show. And often enough, change in the world begins with a spark.

But forgive me, I am failing to introduce the hero of this story. Of course, every story needs a hero – of a sorts- so I suppose my employer fits the bill rather well. Frank Cindary was a piano player. That of course wasn’t his occupation, but it was his gift. The rest of his day encompassed so many other things, but truly his gift was the way his fingers could dance upon the keys. Whether he was playing a subtle mournful tune or a lively dance, anyone nearby would feel a swelling within that could lift them into the arms of heaven.

Now I understand that most people do not describe things in such a manner. In fact, most people do not talk this way at all. I’m afraid I am a dying breed, so you will have to bear with me. But it is true, that Frank had such an amazing effect when he began to explore his soul. He was a computer technician by trade. One could even say his job was rather boring. But that’s not the way Frank would have described it.
Even when he was performing the most menial task, Frank was always trying to remember to smile. He once told me “A smile can change the world”. And evidently that attitude seemed to work well for him. His smile was contagious, and you could see it in the way it infected those he helped. Even those who were having a rough day enjoyed the way he had a tune in mind, a bop in his step, eyes that were always bright. I know if it weren’t for Frank, I would have stayed in the dismal world of accounting and never gone on the adventures with him later. I do not mean to speak poorly of accountants, nor of their profession. I merely acknowledge that the field was never mine.

In spite of Frank’s continual teasing of calling me Teddy, I found him to be fresh air. I could also tell that he did not enjoy the work, but that he did enjoy pretty much everyone around him. It was always the people that Frank found interesting, and the fact that he could help them when help was needed was what kept him going. So it was a great surprise when he came in one day and announced to his few friends – I am thankful to say I was counted among them – that he would be leaving us in a couple weeks.

Okay, so I guess I've failed to bring something really silly to the discussion. I did write something during my sophomore year in high school that I wish I still had a copy of; I'm sure it would have given me lots to laugh about. This will just have to do.

From here, you can drop by my predecessor Sandra's take on the subject or you can hop over to Kat's page for her response.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Party's Over...Or Maybe It's Just Begun...

Well folks, the NaNo party is over. Writers everywhere are breathing a sigh of relief as they relax their pens, fingers, keyboards, etc. And how did your ol' buddy Eric fare during this trying month? Well, let me tell you.

I started out the month really cranking hard. I got a good lead in the beginning, and it saved me from really falling behind. But life has a way of popping the balloon just as we're soaring to heights never seen before. Despite my early lead, little things here and there caused me to fall behind schedule. By the twentieth, I was a good 5 or 6 thousand words behind. Then I had a very difficult decision to make.

You see, besides working on NaNo, I was also studying intensely for my last collegiate exam. It was a Microsoft certification exam for networking (in fact, one of the hardest they have out there). On the twentieth, I sat down to think very hard about what was the most important thing here. Remember our recent discussion about priorities? After weighing everything carefully, I decided to opt out of continuing with NaNo and concentrate on my studies. NaNoWriMo has been important to me, but finishing school was even more important.

Making that choice was probably the best thing I could have done. I crammed hard for the test and yesterday I successfully passed it. I am now a college graduate with a Bachelors degree in Information Technology with Networking emphasis. Okay, I still have some paperwork to complete with the college and a graduation to attend in January, but these are mere formalities.

Now that all of this is done, it's time to reflect on things. I do not regret beginning NaNo one bit. I managed to crank out about 37K words before I stopped (which I intend to continue working on). I also learned alot about myself. Let me share with you what I have learned through this experience:

1. I can write every day and crank out alot of words per day (okay, not as many as Lost Wanderer seems capable of, but oh well).
2. I realize now how much I really need more organization prior to launching into a project. Even a rough outline would be better than what I attempted during NaNo. It would probably have allowed me to be a "free roamer" and still stay inside boundaries that make sense.
3. I realize I don't really like NaNo with respect to word counts. The word count became an anchor that threatened to drown me, rather than allowing me to concentrate on the story.
4. I can write chapter after chapter of not-so-good writing and it's okay. This was a really hard thing to learn, to duct tape my inner editor's mouth shut so I could just write. I swear he almost chewed through the stuff at least 10 times.
5. My wife hates NaNo. It was a really drastic change for me to shut out the outside world while I build my own on the page. I usually don't shut the door on the fam for so long, but I had to in a very big way for this event. This is not an aspect I like, another reason I may not attempt NaNo again.

All in all, I enjoyed plodding through NaNo despite the troubles and aggravations. I am sure I would have been successful at the end, had I not needed to concentrate on other things. And I have a whole year to contemplate whether to attempt it again (a whole year of flowers for my wife so she doesn't scalp me next year).

As for celebrating, you better believe I am doing just that. I graduated! That in itself is cause for celebration. I also learned alot during November, which is also good. And now that I'm not working towards an IT degree, maybe I can take a few creative writing classes to improve my craft. Thank you to everyone who supported and encouraged me throughout this month. A special thanks goes out to my wife and kids, who always support me no matter how absent I might be.

So who made it through NaNo as a winner? Even if you didn't, congrats for making the attempt. It's quite a challenge, and no matter how it turned out, you should hold your head high.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Stumbling Into Muddy Waters

I've written myself into a wall (metaphorically speaking, anyway). My NaNo project has hit a stumbling block, and I have no idea where I'm going to take it. I think I'm about 2/3 of the way through the story at this point, which is a good thing. I'm on the downhill side, but evidently there is a cliff I did not expect.

I've heard many different perspectives on this type of problem. Some people say when you're stuck, kill somebody. I had a hard enough time dealing with one death, not sure if I can do another one. Okay, I guess I am over Trevor's mother dying. But I don't know who else I would kill anyway. So I doubt that's going to be the option I take.

One problem is that the storyline has changed from my initial ideas. See, when I first began telling Trevor's story, I imagined him wanting to get out of town as soon as possible. He is physically different than everyone else around him(significantly so), and he hides (both figuratively and literally) inside a disguise. With the death of his mother (which he is directly responsible for) and discovery of his "differences" by the antagonist, he is on the run. His friend Brent helps him escape from the clutches of the antagonist, and their thoughts are to get him out of the city. They have no idea what is like outside the city (since nobody ever leaves the city), but it has to be better than what punishments await him otherwise.

Then the plot takes an abrupt turn and Trevor discovers this other sector of humanity hiding beneath the city. Trevor meets a woman (Mara) who declares she is his destined wife, and he starts to uncover the horrific truth about humanity's past. The need to know the entire truth drives him further underground towards a mysterious bunker from another era, with Mara becoming comfortably (and uncomfortably) close. The antagonist (not having given up on finding Trevor) breaks up the party again, capturing Brent and inadvertedly collapsing the tunnel end.

So now Mara and Trevor are trapped underground with no apparent escape, just as they are reaching what may be the truth he seeks. They have almost no supplies and no discernable way out. A search through the underground complex reveals some truth about man's past and eventually they find an alternate exit, climbing their way back up to emerge within the sewers beneath the city.

Here is where I am stuck. Trevor's need to escape has disappeared, transformed into a need to stay near this woman. He also has to try to find his friend Brent and free him, if he can. Finally, the chains that have enslaved humanity must be broken. He realizes this, and ...

Here's the crux of it. I have no idea how I get him to save humanity. HOLY FREAKIN' COW, BATMAN! Can I really have created a world so dependent on their own slavery that they cannot exist without it? And how do I get this one insignificant person to overthrow the existing order without causing the city to destroy itself in the resulting chaos?

AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! Okay. Virtual scream of frustration finished. I don't have any hair to pull out, so I had to talk through this here. I do have some inklings now that have emerged in my brain, so this wasn't a complete waste of time. Oh, and for those keeping track, I am about a day and a half behind (or so). Most of that is because of these plot issues. But word count wise, I'm a hair below 30K. So I'm not really too far behind. I will be catching up this weekend and hopefully getting ahead even.

So what do you think of the storyline so far? Intriguing enough to read the story? All comments are welcome.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

We Done Good, Guys!

Yesterday I had a moment of nostalgia, wondering what had become of the Blogman award. In case you missed this post, this badge is a small (but really fun) achievement I was a big part of. Elana and Abby were my cohorts in this endeavor as well.

Anyway, I was distracting myself from NaNo for a bit and went on a hunt to see just how far this badge has gone. It's so awesome. People like BettieLee over at Far Seeing Fairy Tales, and Jade at Jade Hears Voices were lucky recipients who had fun with the award and passed it on. I began to follow the chain of awardees and was lost among blogs for way too much time. It was an enjoyable distraction though, especially since I know I helped get this started.

Yeah, it's a bit egotistical perhaps to be celebrating this event, but what the hell. Elana and Abby, celebrate with me. We spawned an award that has spread smiles throughout blogdom and made people feel better, even if for just a moment. Throw on some Joe Cool shades, crack open a Diet Coke (or Jack Daniels if that's your preference), and smile wide. We done good.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Blog Chain - Where's Your Priorities?

Today's topic comes from the talented Amanda, who poses this question:

How do you prioritize? How do you balance paying attention to your writing, critiquing for friends, spending time with your family and earning a living?

This is a very timely topic for me, because (thanks to NaNo) I've been feeling the pressure lately. Let me give you an idea of how many things I'm working on so you can get a feel for my world. First off, I'm a Dad. My younger son has decided to start writing stories (ain't it awesome when they follow Dad's example?), so that means I have to be supportive and help him develop this interest. My older son is in high school wrestling, and since I got him started in it, I'm all about supporting him as well. That means back and forth to practice every day, wrestling meets every weekend (coming up soon anyway), fund raising events, working the concession stands at things, etc.

My wife has been ill for a while now, so she's not able to do as much as she used to. Just in case you're reading hon, I'm not complaining. I love her, and I firmly believe in the whole "in sickness and in health" part. But yeah, housework does have to get done so I do as much of it as I can.

I'm studying for the very last test I ever have to take in college. It doesn't help that it's one of the most difficult exams Microsoft ever devised for network admins. Yeah, plenty of brain damage going on there as I attempt to absorb it all.

Then I have my job. Yes, I list it last, because quite frankly it is last in my priorities. As far as I'm concerned, I will always do a good job at work, but the job comes in second to the rest of my life. I have a second job as an editor for a website, but I have taken a temporary break so I can concentrate on things like my test. Graduating is more important at this point.

Oh, and there's the fact that I am a gamer. Yep, almost 40 and still playing video games. And I'm not ashamed to admit it.

"Hi, my name is Eric and I'm a gamer."

"Hi Eric"

Where does my writing fit in with all of this? Well, prior to doing NaNo, it really didn't. Oh, I would have a spurt here and there where I would write, but it definitely wasn't consistent. I also used to write alot more on here, and yes I'm aware I haven't been as active lately.

The good thing NaNo has done for me (aside from getting a rough draft done) is forcing me to set a writing time. I begin writing at 7 p.m. and I work until I get at least one chapter done. Have I broken that rule from time to time? Sure. But I have stuck to it more often than not. I won't go so far as to say writing has become primary in my life, but at least it is a part of it rather than a distraction from the "normal" aspects of my life. My wife is very understanding, and I'm sure it took a bit for her to become so. It's new, and it's time away from all of them. But she supports me in everything, a fact I'm very happy about.

So there ya go. That's how I manage things. If you haven't read my predecessor Sandra's take on the subject, you can check it out here. And Kat will be following me up tomorrow.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Blog Chain - Where's The Drama

Okay, here we go. This is the type of question I've been dreading. And as I read through my fellow comrades' answers in this blog chain, the dread continues to build. So what is this grand question? Well, Christine started things out by asking the following:

How do you create a wonderfully dramatic story? Are there any questions you ask yourself, or specific things you keep in mind to ensure that you have the level of tension necessary to propell the story forward?

The first problem for me is the idea that I have any conscious control over my story. As my NaNo writing is progressing, the truth of this statement is becoming harder and harder to swallow. What started out as a story about one man escaping a society where he does not fit in has morphed into something entirely different. Every time I sit down and write, the story leaves the planned track I have for it and finds its own way.

So how can I answer this? The harsh truth is that I really have no idea. Since I am learning so much from everyone else around me, I would like to think that at some point my writing will be on purpose. I suppose there are a few things I do to maintain a level of drama however. I like to end each chapter with a cliffhanger. For example, in one of my chapters, the chapter ends with Mara telling my MC Trevor that she is his wife. He didn't know he had a wife before that moment, and to be honest neither did I prior to typing the words.

I also like to put my characters into danger, leaving the reader anxiously turning the page to find out what happened. I have a scene in NaNo where Trevor and his friend Brent jump into a taxi driven by someone they thought they could trust, only to have the man gas them into unconsciousness. There ya go - drama.

What I imagine is that when I go through editing this first draft (the fact that I can see myself completing an entire rough draft is amazing to begin with), I will be keeping questions such as this in mind the whole time. My NaNo WiP is supposed to be a thrill ride, so of course I'll have to make sure every word keeps the reader on the edge of their seats.

My basic answer to this question is that I don't honestly know how I do it. I just hear the words in my mind and put them down on paper. I don't have enough experience at this point to know whether this is the right way to do it or not, but it is how I get things done.

In case you haven't read them, Sandra answered this question before me and Kat is all set to do the same.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Taking A Moment To Celebrate Veterans

Today has special meaning for me. I am a US Army veteran and today is Veteran's Day. It is the day when we celebrate all of the US soldiers throughout time who stand up and serve, swearing an oath to do their duty at any cost - even their life.

In the history of this country, many soldiers have paid that price in service to the ideals we believe in. They have given their lives to defend these ideals, as well as to help others wherever possible. They are heroes in every sense of the word, and I am honored to count myself among these proud people. They are paid almost nothing for the amount of time they put in, and yet they serve anyway. They are taken from their families and loved ones, flown halfway around the world, and they offer no complaints. Instead, they merely pick up their weapon and stand a post, their backs straight and sure.

I have had the honor of meeting some truly exceptional people during my time serving in the Army. People who are in a class above the rest. I make it a point to thank my fellow soldiers anytime I see them on the street. Sure, I served my time, just as they are serving now. That service deserves my recognition and respect, and I make sure to give it always. I even have a rather large patch on the back of my jean jacket proclaiming my support of soldiers.

When people thank me for my service however, I don't know what to say. I was lucky in that I never had to be involved in a war, never had to shoot at anyone. Sometimes I feel like I really am not on the same level as so many of my brothers-in-arms who are dodging bullets as we speak, fighting to stay alive while doing their duty. But I did serve, so I guess that's something. I stumbled on a post by someone else that tells a true tale, and it has reinforced for me why I should be proud to be a veteran. It talks about the blank check all of us soldiers write when we choose to serve. I urge all of you to read this post. I like the imagery of this idea, and I'm proud that I was able to do my part.

Soldiers deserve our respect and thanks. At all times. If you know someone who is a soldier, thank them today for writing their own blank check. If you see a soldier on the street, thank them. Spend today with your families, and be thankful for all the freedoms our soldiers have bought us with their blank checks.

God bless all soldiers in the United States Military. May they all come safely home.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What The *$%#@...er....Heck Is Going On?

Forgive my lapse in propriety with the title. I usually refrain from foul language in writing (though I've been known to let a few fly in person from time to time - sorry, I was a soldier). But the title really is appropriate. Allow me to explain.

This all started amidst my NaNo writing. I have a MC who experiences many situations where it might be appropriate to cuss a little bit. I have as of yet refrained from letting him "let go" so to speak, mostly because I didn't want my writing to disintegrate into mindless ramblings with an occasional cuss word thrown in here and there.

Today, I stumbled on Scott's interesting post over at The Literary Lab and it has caused me to question this behavior. Am I being untrue to myself (and the MC) by muzzling him? Don't get me wrong; I'm not a fan of profanity for profanity's sake. One of my favorite authors (Stephen King) seems to dive headlong into the cussin' pool more and more these days, which I find irritating. This is not the impression I would like to leave with my readers.

I just don't know whether putting in an occasional heck or darn (or their more provane equivalents) will damage my story. Or should I stay true to how I "really" envision my MC and let him fling a curse here or there?

I guess I should mention that I already know my book is not destined for the YA genre. This is not a question of what is "appropriate" for my audience as far as genre goes. I guess I'm just holding back because I've seen how easily this slippery slope can become a downward torrent, and I don't want that to happen. So I pose the question to you, my followers. How do I resolve this problem? I could really use some advice, so please feel free to fill my comment box up.

Oh, and yes I am still forging forward on NaNo. For those keeping track, I'm somewhere above 17K at this point.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A Couple Reasons To Celebrate

I meant to put up a post yesterday, but of course by the time I got done writing on my NaNo, I was too tired to think straight. This post is going to be very short as well.

If you haven't stopped by The Literary Lab today, hustle on over. Scott (who is on vacation no less) posted a really awesome discussion concerning First Acts. This is in reference to the previous discussion revolving around writing with a beginning, middle, and ending act in mind for our writing projects. It's very well thought out, and I found some useful gold nuggets among his words.

So far, I've only missed one day in NaNo where I did not get a chance to write (Tuesday), but I made up for it the following day. Well, today is going to be another such occurrence. My wife and I are celebrating our 17th wedding anniversary today, so needless to say there will be no NaNo work this evening. Yes, she is understanding and says she wouldn't care if I did. But I'm not such a thickheaded knuckledragger that I'd truly believe that. It's a special day, and if that means I have to write twice as much tomorrow, so be it.

Lastly, I'm happy to say that as of last night, two things have happened - I passed 11K words, and I am just about ready to plunge headlong into the "middle section" of my story. Scott, wherever you are in vacationland, keep your fingers crossed for me. I may need all the inspiration and help I can get.

For all the rest of you out there slaving away on NaNo, on RevisMo (good luck Guppster and The Intern), or just on your regular ol' WiP's, good luck to you and may your pens drip eloquent words on the page like golden honey sparkling in the morning sun. Okay, maybe a little overdone, but it's my blog so there! :P

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Oh My God, She's Dead!

No, I'm not talking about my novel. That, thankfully is very much alive. What I am talking about however, is my MC's mother.

I've never killed off a character before. Of course, I am not as experienced as so many of you out there, nor do I have a vast library of successful and unsuccessful novels. But this experience is truly odd.

I suppose what makes it most odd is the fact that I had not intended for her to die (at least I don't think so). I was sitting there writing away on Chapter 3, the MC and the mother were in conflict (as they often are), and then some time later she's lying dead on the floor. As I finished typing the last sentence of that particular scene, it hit me. Holy cow. I just killed her.

Now don't get me wrong; the death of the mother actually does work well within the framework of the story. And as a catalyst to get the MC moving, it's perfect. It just surprised me, as if I really weren't the one typing the words but instead were strapped to a chair while my muse played havoc with my WiP.

I'm okay now. I've become accustomed to the idea of her demise, which is why I can relate it to you all now. There is a method to my muse's madness, despite the fact that sometimes I think he's the grand ol' Wiz working behind a curtain. I've been able to continue the story beyond this woman's death, and I am sure that with editing, the scene will be quite memorable. The shock of the moment however, will probably always linger in the back of my mind.

Oh, and on the positive side (not that this is negative really) I have already exceeded my daily goal of 1700 words per day. I am supposed to be at 8500 words by the end of tomorrow, and after today's work, I'm already at 8798. If I manage to keep up this pace all month, I figure I may even exceed the 50K goal by a good 10K margin. It's great to be ahead, but I'm not slowing down no matter what. This is so much fun, I can't really describe it. I don't think I've ever had so much fun "forcing" myself to write.

So back on to the topic I started with, have any of you ever killed off a character? How did it feel to take your first "virtual life"?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Still Slaving Away

Although I am working hard on NaNo, others have made it clear that this difficult challenge is not all there is to life. Cough...Surly Writer...Cough Yes yes, I get your point. We do not need to become silos of silence, only peeping our heads out long enough to yell out a word count as if the very numbers themselves will cause writers worldwide to proclaim our greatness.

Whew. That was a long sentence. Sorry.

Okay, now that I've had a moment to breathe, let's talk about other things. I stumbled on a couple of posts that were coincidentally useful for me right now. Rachelle Garner had a very interesting post about foreshadowing and telegraphing. And Scott Bailey over at The Literary Lab was talking about the middle of our stories. The reason I call them coincidental is because I am really progressing nicely with this WiP (even though my inner editor is screaming about how crappy the writing is in general), and very soon both of these concepts will be something I need to deal with.

Let's talk about foreshadowing. Prior to reading Rachelle's post, I had not thought about the fact that I could be telegraphing the future events instead of foreshadowing. I am probably guilty of writing hints all the time that are really more blatant than they should be. That after all, is the key. Foreshadowing should be very subtle, as Rachelle is so adept at pointing out.

For example, in my WiP the MC Trevor has a father that disappeared some time ago, with no notice, and leaving no trace. Trevor knows the father did something to alter Trevor's body, his genetic makeup (prior to birth). His father was a brilliant geneticist. Trevor is distinctly different than the rest of humanity and must hide beneath a sophisticated suit or risk all sorts of problems (both legal and social). Out of nowhere however, he is given information that may completely alter his perception of his father, as well as his future existence.

Now I have already crafted the passing of information, clumsily to be sure. That will need to be refined in the 2nd draft, but Rachelle's post helped me see how important it is that I not just drop it in Trevor's lap with a bow. So how do I hint that there is more to the story without it being obvious telegraphing? Honestly, I'm not sure and this may require a great deal of thought. For the first draft though, I'm leaving it at clumsy.

As for Scott's post, he divides stories up into three acts. He pays special attention to the fact that most writers have difficulty with the middle of the story, not the beginning or end. I usually only know the beginning, but surprisingly I have a good idea where this story has started and where it will end. Connecting the two is nebulous at best, and I'm hoping my quasi-planning/writing process will work it out. I'm also worried about pacing, because once this thrill ride gets moving (which is not too far from now in the storyline), I need it to stay at a very active, heart-clenching pace. How do I do this? I have no idea.

Using this WiP as an example again, let me explain. Trevor is significantly different from every other person in society. I won't spoil it by saying how, but suffice it to say that his physical makeup is actually illegal, not to mention socially unacceptable. His own mother considers him an abomination and a coward, since he is too scared to reveal himself to the world. Trevor has enemies however, even if he doesn't know it yet. Once they find out, he will be running (literally and figuratively) for his life. The pursuit will be hot on his heels at every turn, and I will have to be careful to not allow any significantly quiet moments. Only when he reaches a sanctuary of sorts can the story slow down, which by that time should mean I'm in the 3rd and final act.

How am I going to craft this? Only my muse knows. Any advice on either subject is very welcome, by the way. I am happy to be almost blindly stumbling through this process, but I wouldn't begrudge a lit candle now and then.

Oh, and incidentally I did manage a decent amount of words yesterday (2675 to be exact). It was more of a struggle than the first night, though I can't really say why. The story just wasn't flowing as well as I would have preferred. I still have to do my allotted time this evening, but I wanted to get a post up.

So there, Michelle. Take that ya dirty rat! You had to read through my entire post just to see my total, so nyah nyah! :P

Sunday, November 1, 2009

NaNo Opening Day

Well, although I didn't began at midnight like so many others may have, I did begin the challenge today. I also didn't do as much planning for this beginning as I had thought I would, but it didn't seem to slow me down much either. And despite the angry yelling of my internal editor, I kept him at bay throughout. So I bet everyone's wondering what my first day word count is? Hold on to your butts! I managed to crank out just a hair over 2900 words (2910 to be exact). Yeah, wow huh? I actually didn't stop until I had the first chapter complete. I already know I will have alot of editing to do when all is said and done, but I'm trying to keep that thought hidden for this month.

I am amazed that I was able to get that much done. I just kept on plodding along though, not allowing myself to think and instead just letting the tale flow out word by word. Astoundingly enough, the words kept on coming despite my internal editor screaming at me to go back and correct this passage or fix this sentence. Okay, to be honest I did do a few word corrections here and there. But I managed for the most part to just let things be what they are.

So day one is done, I've gotten the beginning going, and now I just have to sit down and plan out what Chapter Two is going to be about. I'm really excited about this though, and I hope I can keep up this momentum throughout the month. Can you imagine if I did? Wow.

On another positive note, I turned in my Capstone paper yesterday morning and I got the grade back after a few hours. The grading scale is from 1 - 4, with 3 being passing and 4 exceptional. For my 35+ page project detailing how to install a network in a hypothetical dentist office, I got a 4 out of 4! Woohooo, oh yeah! I have been on cloud nine ever since reading the results. Now I have only one more test to pass and I am done. Unfortunately it is one of the hardest certification exams Microsoft has for us network guys, but I am hoping I will be able to pass it successfully before the month is out.

Do I have too much on my plate this month? Probably. But I'm determined to both pass this test AND win NaNo. If this isn't the hardest month I'll ever have to do, I don't know what is. But hey, if I survive and achieve both things, imagine how much celebrating I'll have to do.

Okay all you other NaNo participants out there, let us all know how you did. Was it easy? Was it fun? How was your first day? Stay tuned tomorrow, where hopefully I'll be able to have another great day.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Blog Chain - Fearing The Inside

I'm the here to finish up this particular blog chain, following the incredibly talented Sandra. The question posed by Kat is a timely one:

What are the primary fears that drive your characters? Do they battle aliens or gangsters or monsters? Or do they battle unreconciled issues in their lives? Which do you prefer writing about? What do you fear?

Let's start out with discussing how my characters deal with fear. I don't think I've ever written anything where the MC had an external fear (such as heights, spiders, etc). Maybe that's because these are easier fears to write about? The challenge is being able to adequately describe an internal fear (my opinion only, of course). In the NaNo book I will be starting (on Sunday, Woohoo), Trevor is a young man with lots of fears. He fears his overbearing and demeaning mother. He fears everyone finding out what he's really like physically (he constantly wears a disguise for a very good reason), and beneath it all he fears to let anyone find out who he is underneath as well. He fears dealing with people, because his social skills are lacking to the extreme. He will have to deal with these fears soon though, and it will be a mixture of external and internal forces that demand change. He may find there are things he fears that he wasn't aware of either, external things that he has never experienced before.

As for myself, I don't really have any external fears. I am uncomfortable with a few things maybe. For example, depending on the situation, I can be uncomfortable with a given height. But on the whole, I am not afraid of heights. I don't really like spiders, but I'm not afraid of them. As I sit here and try to catalogue anything external to fear, I really don't have any fears like that. I'm not afraid of someone with a gun pointing at me for example (of course, I say that but who knows how I'd be during the heat of the moment). I'd like to think I would try to remain calm, because the situation is out of my control. I would have no choice but to hope that I could make it out okay. I couldn't actively take steps to change things (other than maybe talking my way out of it).

My fears are all internal. I fear not doing a good job as a father. That's a big one for me - the idea that I would screw things up so bad that my kids would hate me. It has taken years for me to be somewhat close to my dad, so I've tried my best to make sure that doesn't happen with my own sons. I fear being inadequate. I fear not being capable of accomplishing what I want to. I fear not being a good enough husband, that I would ever cause my wife to question how much I love her. Lastly, I fear not being able to become a good writer (something I am constantly admonishing myself over). That's one of the bad things about surrounding yourself with exceptional people (at least for someone like me). You end up feeling like you pale in comparison to everyone else. That is my struggle, my personal fear that I strive to overcome on a daily basis.

Well, that's the end of this blog chain. If you haven't read some (or any) of the various entries, I'd advise you to start out with Kat's entry and follow the links so you can read them all. This has been a really fun topic to answer.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Missing On Monday

The image here is me. Okay, it doesn't look alot like me, but it's how I've been feeling for quite some time now. This is why I've been "missing" for a while. I can sum it up in one word - STRESS. I have five days left. Five days until NaNo. Five days until I need to turn in my huge project paper for school. And I have so much left to do before then.

I have been lurking around in the shadows, of course. I've been reading your blogs, very occasionally commenting. But every time I stopped to write a post, the weight of this project would hit me like a sledgehammer. For those of you who haven't abandoned me totally, thanks. I promise, once I get through this stuff, I will be more expedient and regular with my posts. At the least, I plan on doing daily (or every other day) updates on NaNo progress.

I have been doing a little bit of organizing with regards to NaNo as well (though to be honest I still have alot more to figure out). I actually bought some legal pads and have started writing things out. I hope to have a decent amount done before the first.

Five days. And today is almost over. Yikes!

Oh, and this random thought occurred to me as I was talking to my son about various words. Isn't it weird that there is a word "ruthless", but you can't take off the suffix "less" and just have the word "ruth"? How many other words do you know like that? Sometimes English truly boggles the mind.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tuesday Thoughts

On Sunday, Christy was showing a few interesting photos and the last one caused a sporadic thought to jump into my brain. The photo depicted a dead bird and Christy was talking about omens. I immediately thought, "What a great opener to a story."

I imagined a MC coming out their front door and seeing this dead bird, which was a bad omen leading to a storyline somewhere down the way. The interesting part is how such an inconsequential thing could launch an entire story.

That happens to me all the time. I'll see something or someone, and it starts me thinking about all sorts of what if's. Too often, little things we don't pay attention to (or inconsequential things we pay too much attention to) lead us down interesting paths. It's the idea that there is a story in everything and everyone - there just needs to be a storyteller to put it to paper.

Take for example an aluminum can in the gutter. It doesn't matter whether it's a Coke or Pepsi can (although of course I prefer the Coke side of things). Now along comes an elderly chap who collects cans for recycling. So the man picks up this can, but unfortunately he cuts his finger on a sharp edge. Without thinking, he sucks on the finger in anguish, lamenting his carelessness. From here, there are a number of ways to take it. Does the man become ill from germs on the can? Maybe he instead hurls the can in anger, hitting the windshield of a passing car? Or maybe the money from the can allows him to buy a winning lottery ticket?

From one little object, an entire tale can be told. Has anyone else ever begun a story from a small thing? When was the last time you had inspiration from a singular image?

Monday, October 12, 2009

It's Trying To Burst Forth...Hold It Back!

As you can tell by the logo, this is about NaNo. I am proud to say I'm taking the plunge this year and accepting the challenge. Oh, and since I didn't mention it last time I talked about NaNoWriMo, my handle over there is (as expected) estallsworth. If you're looking for a buddy (or if you already have tons and could use one more), feel free to add me.

Now normally, NaNo would be cause for celebration and excitement. In my case however, it's cause for angst lately. Why? Well, bear with me and I'll try to explain. This time around, I actually have a story in mind. I have the MC name chosen (something that often causes me problems, coming up with names), I know a little about this character, and I even know where the story is going to end. In fact, I have quite a few details bouncing around up there in my head. So what's the problem you say? The problem is I cannot start writing the story until Nov 1. And it's driving me crazy.

I have all these ideas I want to get down on paper, and I can't yet. Normally, I would have launched into things by now and be halfway to Vegas (figuratively, of course). The wait is almost too much to bear. Maybe this is what it's like for all you writer people out there who HAVE to write. It's kind of a neat feeling, even if it is driving me buggy.

On the good side, I do have a solution. I am going to sit down with a writing pad (or something similar) and start an outline. Yes, I said I would outline for this one and I'm going to stick to it. I think the loose structure will help me get past those days when I'm not sure where to go with things and the writing begins to stall. Maybe this will keep the muse satisfied for a while. He's been all over me clamoring for attention, and I've had to keep telling him to be patient.

November is coming...don't worry, it'll be here before you know. Now eat a banana.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Bad And Good...Yep, I've Had Both Lately

I've been noticeably absent, but I do have a note from my mom. Okay, maybe not, but here's whats been happening in my world lately. I got an eye infection last Thursday (through my own stupidity which I will not describe here), and just as I was starting to feel better, my youngest son came down with a nasty cold. In true parent-child fashion, he gave it to me and my wife. So I'm just about over my eye infection, but I'm still not completely over my cold.

Oh well.

On a good note, I passed my second technical writing paper with a 3.92 out of 4. I didn't think it was truly ready when I turned it in, but I figured I could fix whatever was wrong from the feedback the graders provide. So yes, I was quite ecstatic. Now I have only one more paper to finish and then I'll finally be done with all this technical writing *#$*%!

Oops, ignore that. I didn't cuss. I promise.

I have also signed up for NaNaWriMo this year, and I already have a somewhat defined story idea to run with. I plan on doing some concrete outlining prior to Nov 1, which I think will really help me in the long run. For those who don't know what this event is (who doesn't know about it? raise your hands...), NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. During the month of November, writers are challenged to achieve 50K words in just 30 days. That's over 1600 words a day for all you math majors out there. It's tough, but I think I can do it (especially with a little up-front preparation). I wasn't ready for it last year, but I think I'm ready now. Mentally, I think I'm ready for it.

I was very recently in a book store looking for something new to read, and I saw an old sci-fi series by Melanie Rawn that I had read once before. It occurred to me that (in my mind) the series had never been really finished. This got me to thinking of course, which isn't always a good thing. I really enjoyed the series (and I'm sorry but medicine head is keeping me from remembering the name of that particular series), but there was only two books in it and at the end of the second book, there were unanswered questions and unfinished storylines. It really irritated me (as I stood there in front of the shelf) that the "story" wasn't complete.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not the type to sit there and wonder if the hero and the girl finally end up married, do they have 10 kids, do they live to a ripe old age. I'm not talking about that type of nonsensical continuation of the story. But in general terms, shouldn't most stories have a somewhat complete and final ending? Where you get to the end and say "oh okay. That's the end." You shouldn't have lingering questions about major plots and integral characters. Is this just me? I hope not.

Anyway, while I don't read series books or trilogies exclusively, I do enjoy them and I am dismayed that this particular one has never been finished (to my knowledge). I picked up a new book from an author I haven't read before (sorry, medicine head still, can't remember title or author at the moment) which I will review here once I'm done. It's an interesting story involving assassins, and for some reason, I just love reading about assassins. I suppose that's rather morbid, but it's not because I like death or killing necessarily. I just like the idea of people who can sneak in and out like a ghost, undetected and powerful. It's probably because I'm as clumsy as they come. Okay, maybe not that bad, but definitely not ninja-caliber.

So that's the news and tidings from my world. Keep your fingers crossed for me in November. I will make updates here as to my progress as often as possible. Maybe I'll even figure out how to get one of those word progress thingies on my blog.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Workin' The Blog Chain

It's my turn again on the blog chain, and my predecessor Sandra has posed an interesting question to us all:

What kind of journeys do your characters make? What effects do they have on the characters and the plot? Also (if you wish), please tell us about one of your personal journeys and how it changed you.

Well, this is difficult for me to answer. Because I write by the seat of my pants, I generally have a very rough idea (or no idea at all) of where my characters are going to go. I sit back and watch them walk through it, and they change (or strive against changing) as time goes by. Ideas come to me at odd times, and not usually fleshed out very well. I am working on my characterization tools all the time however, because I'd like to be the writer that at least has a decent idea of where I'm going.

In a paranormal story I'm working on, Kris is a 20-something who has no ambition, no goals, and nothing he has to do. He possesses abilities that set him above the rest of humanity, and he's learned to look down on them with disdain. Then Mara enters his life and he is catapulted into a world he didn't know existed. The cocky over-confident man he thought he was is gone, to be replaced by a scared young soul without a clue what to do.

The interesting part about the above tale was I really started it out with no destination in mind. The story has formed on its own, and Kris is finding his way and developing as a character minute by minute. The plot has changed with the introduction of Mara, and Kris becoming aware of just how fragile his life is. It's something I did not expect when I started the story, but it's been fun to explore.

I'm definitely one of those people who believe in the positive effects that come from traveling to other cultures. I've had the luck to journey to a few countries outside of the US, and each time I found myself forever altered in some way. Preconceived notions that I had before either get confirmed or changed by the things I see and the people I meet. For example, I was never of the opinion that I could be truly awestruck by anything religious. I'm not an overly religious man, and although I believe in God, I hadn't felt any breathtaking experiences.

Then I went to Germany and had the opportunity to walk through some of the most beautiful churches I've ever seen. One could argue that the building of the church was done by man, but I would argue back that you can see the majesty of God through the beauty of these edifices. His touch upon the builder's soul is what has allowed such majestic buildings to be created. Touching the ancient stone, standing before a crypt that held bishops from the 1400s, letting my eyes linger over archways and iconic windows - all of these things together left me awestruck in a deep way.

Travel has always affected me this way, particularly when I talk to people and get a glimpse of life through their eyes. As a writer, I hope I can bring that majesty and significance to my characters as well.

If you didn't get a chance to read Sandra's post yet, you can find it here. Kat is all set to follow me on the chain.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Blog Chain On A Friday

Michelle has kicked off the chain this time around with a rather interesting question:

Do you choose what you do because of who you are? Or is who you are determined by what you do?

Sandra put up her response yesterday, and Kat will be following me tomorrow.

There have been lots of different perspectives on this topic from the members of the chain, but my immediate response when I first read it was....hmmmm...well, I don't know. Please bear with me while I work through it.

Part of me hopes that I'm not determined by what I do, because my day job is being a computer geek in a network admin shop. Without telling everyone the long boring details, I basically fell into it because the pay was good and I found I could do it without too much trouble. As the years go by however, I have come to realize that it's not really what I would choose to do if I had all the choices in the world available to me.

Writing is something I have sporadically done throughout my life, albeit with huge gaps between each moment when I was writing. I enjoy it and hate it all at the same time. Breathe, fellow writers....Breathe. I know I'm speaking heresy, but let me explain. Yes, I hate it sometimes. It's not the writing that I dislike. What I really don't like is my own inability to write as effectively as I wish I could. In the end though, I realize that I choose to write because it is something I enjoy, particularly when all the planets are aligned and the words are flowing like sweet honey.

In contrast to so many of you, I do not feel the "bug" to constantly write - or maybe I've ignored it for so long that the muse no longer tries to yell at me. Either way, I don't feel a deep empty loss if I'm not writing. I honestly don't know what that means, and sometimes I worry about it.

I guess the final answer is that I choose what I do - which right now is writing - and so I'm a writer because of that choice. I'm envious of those of you who are chosen, for whom the bug is an innate part of your soul. And perhaps with training on my part, I'll learn to listen to my muse and stop closing my ears to his rantings. Who knows. Stranger things have happened.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

POV, Conventions, and Broken Muses...Oh My!

Today Galen Kindley had a truly interesting post about POV. I realized after reading it however, that there is still a great deal I have to learn. For example, prior to reading the post, I'd never heard of 3rd person limited before. I had also never heard the term contemporary omniscient. Galen does a great job of illuminating these concepts, so I won't try to butcher it here. But I do advise everyone to stop by and check it out.

Coincidentally I was thinking about POV this morning on the way to work, because I have a story I'm tossing around in my skull and I'm unsure what POV I want to use. Now I have even more to think about. I do admit to a bit of anxiety about POV sometimes, just because I feel like a fish out of water. But I suppose every writer goes through this at one time or another. I just have alot more to learn, which is never a bad thing.

I heard about a Writer's Conference here locally, and I think I'm going to go to it. There are some great workshops I think I will check out, and of course exposure to the industry is cool too. I won't have anything ready to offer up to agents in attendance, but that's okay too. This is a nice way for me to get my feet wet, so to speak.

Lastly, I have tried not to whine about the inactivity of my muse. Let's face it, I'm just not in my usual mode and haven't been for a while now. I do have stories running through my skull, but at the moment they are just "thoughts". I don't know what the deal is, but I'm thinking my muse is temporarily broken. Anybody want a slightly used muse? I'll sell him cheap.

Oh wait. I was just kidding, Muse. Put down the bat. Really. Somebody call the paramedics...

Monday, September 21, 2009

A World Without The Hobbit...And Other Things

It is hard to imagine a world without The Hobbit. Seventy-two years ago today however, that wonderful book was published and its genre has never been the same. Just for the sake of argument however (bear with me while I blaspheme for a moment), imagine where we would be had J.R.R. Tolkien chosen to use a chisel instead of a pen?

We might see malevolent goblin statues emerging from a twisted oak stump, or maybe we'd see Hobbit reliefs carved into a slab of cherry? How about a wooden table resplendent with Smaug at its center?

What I'm getting at is that no matter what path Tolkien took, I believe he would have been creative anyway. The ideas were up there in his head and his chosen outlet was the written page. Or maybe it chose him. Either way, we became the recipients of his work, something I for one am truly thankful for. Take a moment and imagine just where we would be had he NOT taken us for a tour though his world. Okay, now breathe a sigh of relief - blasphemy time is over.

Lurker Monkey has shared something from the incredibly talented Erica Orloff that you really need to read through. It's a bittersweet tale, but Erica tells it really well.

I'm still very much in the throes of technical writing (which is why I have not posted as much), but hopefully I'll be done soon. I did have a new idea pop into my head a couple days ago, and I am currently mulling it over before I launch in. I'm doing what I can to organize my thoughts about the characters, so that when I do sit down and write, I'll be able to just run with it. Please bear with me through this dry spell.

Lastly, smile because Monday is over. Hopefully you survived yours without too many ill effects.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sudden Loss Is Harder...

Suldog has graced us with the reposting of a memoir concerning the passing of his cousin Joey. I highly recommend you stop by and read it. The emotion coming through is amazing in it's intensity.

It got me thinking about people in my past, instances where I have lost people I cared about suddenly. I had a cousin by the name of Mark who one day hung himself in the barn at the age of 16. There was no warning, no note for those left behind. He was just gone. When the call came, I was stunned beyond words. He was a few years younger than I, and yet even now I struggle to find words that adequately express my feelings.

Mark had a decent family - not perfect, but seemingly good enough. One of the things that struck me like a hammer was the vast number of friends who attended the funeral, with every one of them expressing emotions of loss. I remember being jealous (and feeling guilty about it) that so many people cared about Mark. He had always possessed a confidence and charisma that I lacked, and despite the fact that he was younger, I always felt diminished in both experience and age around him.

Mark was a skilled skateboarder, and just before his death, he had been offered a place on a national skateboard team. Just another facet that makes his death so incomprehensible. His parents were well off, and Mark had really never wanted for anything. From all outward appearances, Mark had a life full of talent, success, friendship, and love. For some reason, that was not enough.

I was going through boxes in the garage recently and stumbled on the only picture I have of Mark. I had to take a moment, and a part of me wanted to mourn all over again. There are so many questions only Mark could answer. I don't know that back then I could have helped him with whatever struggles he was going through, but thinking about it now, I still wish I could have done something.

It's unfortunate that some stars are extinguished way before their time, but that is sometimes the way of things. I guess I just wish I knew why (in this particular case) so that this memory could be laid to rest.

Suldog, I hope you eventually find that moment of peace where memories are only fond ones without pain. May we all find it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

It Snuck Up On Me...Really

If you've been reading my blog for any length of time, you may have stumbled through my thoughts regarding the Twilight series. To say I was not impressed with the first book would be an understatement. I won't reiterate my feelings on the subject again (since I'm trying to stay in a good mood), but suffice it to say I was not happy with it.

I continued on however, mostly because I had made a promise to my son to read them all. He likes all the books, and even though I expressed my distaste for certain aspects of the first one, he demanded I keep reading. Being the honor-bound father that I am, I agreed.

Here I am having finished book three, and I am unfortunately forced to admit that I do like the story. I say unfortunately because I was dead set against becoming a fan. I just really hated the first book that much. Even now, you could not pay me enough to go back through that torture again. But I do recognize that the story has grown on me, and I have come to recognize redeeming aspects of book two and three. I can't honestly say that the writing is any better or worse. I just like the story more than I did before.

How did this happen? I still have a great distaste for the main character (someone I consider to be a perfect example of insanity), but part of me wonders if that isn't exactly what the author wanted? If that's so, then the author's goal of making me hate the MC has been accomplished. But how did I arrive at this position where I can comfortably acknowledge my appreciation of the story? I have no idea how I got here, but here I am.

This isn't the first time I've found myself enjoying a book I didn't want to. There have been quite a few times I've started out really not enjoying a book and yet unwilling to stop turning the page. Is this the mark of a good storyteller or am I just deluding myself? I honestly can't tell.

In any event, I will be continuing on through book four (once my son finishes it up) and I will very begrudgingly admit that at least some of the books in the series have merit. After all, I would hope my critical reading skills are still evolved enough to tell the difference between good and bad writing.

Have you ever had this happen to you, where you find yourself enjoying a book you didn't expect to like? How do you deal with that realization? Do you start reading with a tougher eye, searching for "concrete" reasons not to like it? Or do you just sit back and enjoy the book, admitting (at least in private) that it's a decent read?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Friday Fun...After Homage Is Paid

Before I launch into fun things, I'd like to take a moment to reflect on today. It's the anniversary of 9-1-01, and I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the impact of this date on the world. I know I've posted an American flag here, but if you salute a flag of a different color, feel free to pay homage to it in your own way. The entire world has been affected by the tragic events of that day, and I hope everyone takes a moment to remember those lost.

I have no direct ties with this tragedy, but it still saddens me to think of all the lives lost and all the people who did not come home. My dad was a firefighter for 30 years, and I cannot imagine how I would have felt if he had been lost that day. Despite my belief in the power of words, there are none I can use to adequately explain to my children how terrible that day was to humanity.

If there is a silver lining to be found however, it is this: One plane was unwilling to go quietly into the night, and they fought valiantly to the end. In the aftermath, good people from everywhere came together to attempt to pick up the pieces and find any survivors. Those of us who were able to, fought back against despair, helped out where they could, and reminded the world why humanity as a whole is good despite a few bastions of evil. Even if that small glimmer of hope fades from time to time, it's still there within most of us.

Despite my feelings that these words are inadequate, I hope they do more good than harm to anyone out there.

If you haven't noticed, there are changes here at 'Da Muse. I finally figured out (with helpful suggestions from a few of you)how to post the badges and awards I've been lucky enough to receive. I actually was not sure whether I wanted to put them here, because I try to be as humble as possible about myself. But in the end, I decided it's an honor to receive them, so I need to give them their due. The blogman award isn't one I received, but I didn't think anyone would mind since the acronym and award rules are my creation.

The latest award I have received is the Honest Scrap award. I have to think a bit who to pass this on to, but I will at least list ten things you may not know about me in honor of the award. So here goes:

1. My freshman year I wore a sleeveless shirt and combed my hair back (I actually had some back then) like Don Johnson in Miami Vice, for picture day. No, there wasn't really a good resemblance. Yeah, to say my mom was not happy about it was an understatement.

2. I once had an Orange Crush bicycle (after the soft drink, not the Broncos). The first day I was allowed to ride it to school (after begging my parents for permission), it was stolen before lunch time.

3. I worked as a pin chaser at a bowling alley once. I had to run down the median between lanes to clear out errant bowling pins that were stuck in the gutter.

4. At the peak of my physical fitness (I was in the Army), I could do 82 push-ups in two minutes and 92 sit-ups in two minutes.

5. Phil Collins is my favorite musician. His solo albums got me through many a depressed day as a teenager.

6. I was once in a barbershop quartet, as high tenor. I had to hold a single high note for the length of a song (My Irish Rose), all while the rest of the quartet sang their own respective parts. I couldn't stop for breath even once.

7. I am incapable of sitting cross-legged comfortably. My ligaments and groin muscles just won't allow it for some reason.

8. I once created a science project in which I drew a computer image of a solar-powered car. The entire roof of the car was covered in solar cells.

9. I have to be very selective which shoes I buy, because my feet are really wide. I also tend to wear boots 90% of the time, because they are the most comfortable for me.

10. My dream car back in high school was a 1963 Corvette, painted an emerald green. Nowadays though, I'd rather have a Harley with lots of chrome. Funny how we change, huh?

I will nominate some others for this award later, but this post has been long enough. Thanks for bearing with me and I hope everyone has a nice weekend.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Thursday Thoughts - Passing, Parrish, and Process

This guy truly represents how I feel at the moment. I've been struggling over the last month or so with a technical writing assignment, and I turned it in yesterday for grading. This is part of my Capstone for college, and I've chosen a hypothetical scenario involving setting up a network in a dentist's office. Why? Well, it shows my ability to handle multiple aspects of being a network engineer (since I'm working on an IT degree) and includes an environment demanding security protocols and confidentiality requirements. The technical writing assignment is a proposal of how I would take on a project like this.

To say technical writing is not my forte is an understatement of great proportions. I did manage to get passing scores on all the sections, but it wasn't anything exemplary. But as my college calculus teacher once told me (math is another subject I don't do well at), "D means Degree". It isn't beautiful, but it got the job done. Incidentally, I've got to thank Davin, who reminded me that technical writing doesn't have to be just a bunch of fluff. Your advice helped me more than you know, so thank you.

Yesterday I took the day off to celebrate my success on the paper, and the guy in the picture is me. I'm just about through the wall surrounding college, whereby I will then be a graduate. Time to plunge into part two of my capstone - a five page essay on an IT trend (I've chosen spam blocking appliances). Here's hoping it goes as smoothly.

You may be asking yourself why I'm pursing a degree in IT when this is a writer's blog? Well, I started my college education a long time before I realized I wanted to be a writer. Switching now would just waste a ton of money, and I haven't seen any consensus on whether having an English Lit degree would make me a better writer anyway. So since I only have two papers and a test between me and graduation, I'll just finish it up.

A while back I did a review of the book Offworld, and I've managed to wrangle an interview with the author Robin Parrish as well. I had not experienced his writing prior to picking up Offworld, but I can easily say I'm a fan now. I'll have the interview posted here very soon. If you haven't had a chance to pick up Offworld however, I highly recommend it. It's a good read from a very talented writer.

Lastly, I'd like to talk about writing process. Each of us approach our writing in a different way, and I enjoy finding out how writers get from conception of an idea to execution of the novel. For me, I usually start with an idea about a character. I am not a big picture person, so stories I write start as a person or a specific scene. For example, I might think about a man in his 40's, working in a factory building lawnmower engines. He's a bit overweight, because he doesn't get enough exercise. His horseshoe of dark hair is shaved close so he doesn't have to comb it. He prefers jeans and flannel shirts, because he can't stand the cold. His wife passed away unexpectedly, and he has no children. The armchair and television occupy his time, and at the moment he is just moving through life because he doesn't believe in suicide.

From here, I would pose questions and come up with the what, when, where, and how. Since I'm a confirmed "write by the seat of my pants" writer, sometimes I answer these questions and sometimes not. I am trying to improve, of course. I do see the usefulness of fleshing things out more rather than writing blindly. I'm sure however, that at least a good portion of my writing will be unscripted.

What is your process? Do you envision an entire story from the beginning or do you start with a small nugget of gold?

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Blog Chain - Breaking The Rules

I received the invitation to be part of a blog chain (which I am really excited about), and today is my turn to put in my two cents. I am following Sandra, and Kat will be following me to finish up this particular topic.

So the question posed is this:

What writing rules/advice - whether it was a matter of cannot or will not - have you broken?

As I walk along (sometimes stumbling along) this journey in writing, I've probably broken too many rules to mention. In my defense however, the only time I learned writing rules was back in high school, and who paid attention back then? Certainly not me (heh heh, that one was on purpose).

There are a couple noteworthy rules I continue to struggle with however, and despite the fact that I know what they are, I still have difficulty from time to time. The rule about adverbs and 'ly' is one that plagues me all the time. I'll be writing along, the words flowing out without any problems, and then I realize I just threw in two or three dang adverbs. Trying to remember not to use them interrupts my muse's flow, so sometimes I'll just let them out to play for a moment and clean them up later.

I also struggle with showing instead of telling, although I think I'm getting better at this. For some reason, this makes alot of sense to me (now that I'm aware I do it), and for the most part I think I can spot the mistakes easier or avoid them before they get committed to the page. When I start hearing the narrator's voice coming through instead of the character's, I know it's time to change things up. The word narrator is vague and general, whereas the name of the character (whatever it may be) is specific. So I tell myself that when a narrator is talking, I've pulled the reader outside of the story. If I make sure the character is telling the story through their actions and dialogue, I'm no longer "telling" the story.

I truly am a bitter taskmaster when it comes to the Oxford comma rule (and thanks Sandra for letting me know what the name of the rule is). This rule is where you make sure a comma precedes "and" when you're listing out things, such as:

The baker sold cakes, pies, and other sugary delights.

I edit articles for brighthub.com, and it bugs me to no end when a writer submits something that fails this rule. I literally cannot continue until I fix every missing comma. Another rule (I honestly don't know if it's just my rule or a 'legal' rule) is the use of "however" at the beginning of a sentence. I can't start sentences with because, so, or however, no matter how much I try. I also cannot ignore it when writers I edit do this. It just bugs me. Feel free to tell me the rules regarding these particular words, because I don't know if I'm breaking a rule or adhering to a rule. I just know I am incapable of using them at the beginning of a sentence, unless I want to cringe every time I read that particular sentence.

I probably break more rules all the time, since I'm fairly uneducated as to writing rules, but I'm working on it. Rather than continue my soapbox, I'll hand off the baton to Kat now to finish this topic up. And thanks to all the blog-chainers for including me in the fun. Oh, and if my font here looks weird (switching back and forth) you can thank blogspot for it. The dang thing just didn't want to work very well for me this morning. Le sigh...