A to Z Challenge 2013

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...

Friday, September 4, 2009

Musings...from the 3rd grade

I was going through some boxes, sorting through stuff, and I stumbled on a copy of a poem I wrote (called 'I Know A Place') quite some time ago. I was in 3rd grade, and I don't remember exactly what the assignment was, but I wanted to share it with you all. This is probably the first time I ever wrote anything, and re-reading it now, the piece still touches an inner part of me. Enjoy.

I know a place
where I feel very free,
along with the breeze out in the air
while I tend the strawberries out in the garden.

I know a place
where the brown and gray jackrabbits run untamed
and the flowers bloom beautiful reds, yellows, and blues
while the green grass grows by a sparkling spring.

I know a place
where the birds sing long choruses
and the chitter-chattering cues you
that you're in a squirrel's territory.

I know a place
where the tender moss covers the north side of a tree,
and the smell of rain
is in everything around.

I know a place
where I feel immortal,
and I could live there forever
at my grandma's house in Missouri.

There is something about this poem that even now still resonates with me. It's simplistic in some ways perhaps, but I like it.

Do you have a piece you've written that hits you deep, no matter how many times you read it?