A to Z Challenge 2013

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Thursday Thoughts - Not As Old As The Number Indicates

Just a couple days ago, we celebrated my oldest son's 17th birthday.  My wife had a harder time of it than I did, saying she felt really old.  Here I am almost 40, and yet I have difficulty feeling old.  I just don't see 40 as being old, in spite of the fact that so many people seem to see that particular milestone as a big deal.

One aspect of getting older I notice all the time is my inability to remember things from days long past.  For example, I tried to picture my son when he was a little guy, and I drew more blanks than an old Western action flick.  Thank you for pictures we've taken over the years.

I thought back to what our family was like when we first had the little tyke, and it amazes me that we survived.  When our first son was born, I was working as a rental sales agent at Avis Rent-a-car.  Since sales have never been my forte, I only made the basic wage - not the sales incentives we got from helping renters purchase the insurance.  Yeah, don't get me started on what a scam that is.

Anyway, I am stunned when I think about the fact that our little family survived on only $800 a month.  That's net, not gross.  Our rent was like $375, so that meant one whole check paid for it.  The other check then had to cover food, diapers, formula (since my picky child wouldn't take anything but the most expensive can available), gas, etc.  And that had to be spread over the entire month.   I'd love to tell you we survived it without incident, but the truth is, we screwed up our finances and credit more times than I can count.  Don't pay this bill so we can buy diapers.  Don't pay the phone bill so we can have groceries.  Somehow we managed not to get evicted every month, but don't ask me how.

Though there have been some challenges we've faced over 18 years of wedded bliss, I have to acknowledge that my family has seen more blessings than troubles.  And through it all, I've somehow managed to keep my attitude more positive than negative.  Which is where I'm going with all of this.  Bear with me, I'll get there.

I'm headed to 40 next April, and I still have to grin.  I've got a 17 year old son and an almost 12 year old son (and I couldn't be prouder of them both), a beautiful and wonderful wife (who is still the most selfless, caring person I know), and we're all still together.  I have the capability and opportunity to work towards my Masters degree, which is no small thing.  I even find time now and then to enjoy a good video game - a definitive indicator that I've yet to grow up in some ways LOL.

At this point, 40 is just a number.  Maybe when I hit 50 I'll feel old, but I hope not.   I kind of like staying a kid at heart.  That way I have an excuse for why I refuse to grow up and join the rest of you adults out there :)

As an FYI, I may or may not be posting over the next four days.  The fam and I are headed down to Santa Fe, NM for a small vacation.  I will still have my laptop since the pressures of homework never stop, but I don't know that I'll remember to put up any posts.  I hope everyone has a great weekend and I'll see you all when I get back.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Meeting New Authors...Through Their Works Anyway

     If you've read through the awesome answers by my fellow blog chainers (and the chain is not quite finished either, so stay tuned), you may notice something.  While some of us picked some higher profile authors (i.e. Poe, King, etc), some of the comments I've gotten indicate authors I've never heard of before.  And I can imagine that the rest of the chain will probably include more authors I'm not aware of.

     I have to hand it to Michelle, because she managed to come up with a question that has re-invigorated our chain with unique perspectives (not to take anything away from previous entries, of course).  I'm always interested in reading new authors, if for nothing else than to experience literature from a different perspective.  I've not been educated on the classics that so many of my fellow writers seem to be aware of, and sometimes I feel like I'm falling behind on my knowledge of excellent books and writers; there's just too many good ones out there.

     A fellow blogger friend of mine (and I'm proud to call him a friend) by the name of Matt Conlon has recently started writing non-fiction articles, and although I've been chatting with Matt for a while, I hadn't had the opportunity to actually read his stuff before.  After reading his articles, I was struck by the skill he displays and I'm sure his fiction writing is just as enjoyable.

     Then there's the awesome Alex Cavanaugh, whose debut book CassaStar just recently became available (I haven't picked up my copy yet, mostly because I'm hoping to win one).  I'm really looking forward to reading this, particularly because Alex shared a tidbit with us early on and I've been anxious to read more ever since.

     And of course there's the awesome book I read recently called Cinders, by the incredibly talented Michelle Argyle.  Michelle is part of the trio known as The Literary Lab, and Cinders is her foray into the world of self publishing.  Based upon my own copy, I'd say not only is the writing superb but the book itself is beautiful.

So what's my point (other than putting up a link-filled post and bragging about books I've read or am going to read)?  I guess my point is that meeting new authors (through their works) is something I enjoy, and I just had to share them all with you.

What new authors have you read lately?  Which ones do you highly recommend?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Blog Chain - Wanted...Dead Or Alive

Is it really that late in the afternoon?  And did I really forget that today was my day?  Yikes!  Sorry Michelle.

Yep, that's right author-fans, it's blog chain time and Michelle Hickman is the awesome creator of this edition's question:

If you could dine with any author, and I do mean any whether alive or dead (yes, we're going into the realms of time travel - but hey, we have science fiction writers on this chain so we can always ask for them to write up the time machine specs), who would you want to dine with? And if you can ask them for advice on one writing element you feel you might be struggling at, what would it be?

Wow, what a question.  This is a toughie, because their are so many good authors to choose from.  I'm going to take my queue from Michelle however and walk through how I came up with the right one (for me anyway).

I didn't seriously consider J.R.R. Tolkien (even though I'm a huge fan of his works) because I know I'd be stuck between complete awe of his ability and yet complete frustration at the lengthy description he tended to use.  Let's not even get me started on the Silmarillion.  So no, he wouldn't work.

One author I considered was Piers Anthony.  While perhaps not counted amongst the great authors of our time, when I was younger, the Incarnations of Immortality series was one that I read over and over and over.  But then I remembered what a travesty this guy has made of the Xanth series (dude, 27 books?  Starting a new - but similar - series with #28?  Are you freakin' kidding me?  Come up with a new idea fer cryin' out loud), and that pretty much knocked him out of the spotlight.

So I reserve the spot of honor (an honor for me, of course) for Stephen King.  I haven't loved every single book he's written (Gerald's Game, I'm looking at you) and yet other works of his (the holy grail known as The Stand) leave me dumbstruck at their majesty.  It's because of these extremes that I believe I could learn a mountain of knowledge from the guy, even in normal conversation.  He's had his highs and he's had his lows and he still manages to put out good stuff.

I honestly don't know what ONE question I could ask him; there's just so many things I would want to ask.  But if I were restricted to one (thanks alot Michelle.  What, does he have burly ogre bodyguards that clamp a iron plate over my mouth the minute I attempt a second question?), it'd have to be how to create the amazingly creepy aura that seems to pervade so many of his books.  He's a master at it, and someday I hope to achieve even a tenth of that.

That's all I have to say about that.  I'm following Michelle this round, so you can read what she had to say about her own question.  And tomorrow, expect wondrous things from our own awesome Margie Gelbwasser.

If you had to answer this question though, who would you choose and what would you ask?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Blog Chain - Surely I'm Mistake-n

Before I get to the blog chain question, I need to tell you about the contest you better not miss out on.  The incredibly talented Alex Cavanaugh's book CassaStar is being given away in what has to be the awesomest-named (yeah, not a word but too bad) contest ever.  It's called The CassaStar "Pew Pew" Space Adventure Giveaway.  How cool is that name?  It's being hosted on the Scribbler To Scribe site, and you only have until the 19th to get in on it.

It's CassaStar, for crying out loud.  And Alex is going to sign it!  Does it get any better than that?  Get over there and enter right now.  I'll wait.

Okay, now that you're all signed up for the contest, I can proceed with answering the question posed by the ever-awesome Laura Diamond (yeah, how cool to have THAT last name):

Regarding your writing career, what’s the best mistake you’ve ever made and why?

I didn't have to think long and hard to answer this question, because the answer stares me in the face every day, reminding me what NOT to do.  When I first started this journey as a writer, I had a great story idea about a homeless woman and a guy that decides to help her.  My wife, my parents, and my friends were always telling me I should write something, and so that's what I did.  I sat down and started cranking out the pages.  Man, I was a writing whiz and the words were flowing effortlessly.  Okay, maybe not that easily, but I was making alot of progress and wrote almost the entire first draft.

I was flying high.  I'd written more words on this one project than I'd ever done before.   And all these people were saying how great a writer I would be.  So when a real writer friend offered to beta the story and give me some feedback, I was like, "Sure thing!"

What I got back was a body slam.  A wakeup call that said, "Hey stupid, you've forgotten all kinds of things that should really be basic to a story."

My mistake could be summed up in one word - Ego.

I thought I was a great writer prior to that point, and instead I learned quickly just how much I don't know.  I call it my best mistake because it altered how I view my writing, and how eager I am to learn how to write better.   After picking my bruised ego back up off the floor (and after a few days of self-reflection), I realized that while I do know how to write, I don't know it all and I have lots of room for improvement.  And this isn't a bad thing.  

Remembering how it felt to get slammed keeps me focused on writing well.  This mistake also reminds me to be open to learning new and better ways to improve my craft.  This is also a good thing.

If you haven't popped by my predecessor Sandra's blog, you need to check out her awesome answer (and the great song/video choice).  And tomorrow, expect to see an even better response from the talented Michelle McLean.

As for all of you, what is your greatest mistake as a writer?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Monday, October 11, 2010

Fiction Writing Vs. Non-Fiction Writing

I'm currently embroiled in writing essays for my Cyberlaw class and I realized something about myself, so I thought I'd pause for a moment to blog about it.

As my fellow (and very talented) writer Christine can attest - everyone stop by and give her three cheers for the publication of her latest non-fiction book Emotional Intensity In Gifted Children - writing non-fiction is very challenging in its own way.  Or maybe she's a whiz at it and I'm just the one having difficulty.  It could very well be the latter.

In any event, I have been working on an essay regarding the Internet, applying law to it, and the inherent issues around concepts like trademarks and privacy.  It's difficult for me, but the reasons for the difficulties are both similar and dissimilar to my fiction writing.

The first - and most obvious - thing I notice is that I am terrible at agonizing over the right word.  No matter if I'm writing a thrilling tale about two lost teenagers in the mountains or if I'm writing a fact-based essay on the impact of jurisdiction on Internet laws, I stare at the blank screen deciding how to say what I want to say.  You'd think it'd be easier in an opinion paper, but since this is for a grade and I want to sound at least halfway competent, I choose my words carefully.  Then I backspace over a sentence here, a word there.

No, that's not exactly what I mean to say.  Delete.  Delete. Delete.  Dang-it, I don't even have one paragraph written.  Okay, where was I?

Oh yeah, I don't organize my non-fiction writing any better than I do my fiction.  Yep, I'm a pantster here too.  I can here all of you cringing, but trust me.  No matter how sporadic and undisciplined it sounds, I managed to make it through an entire Bachelors degree being this way.  I suppose I should have learned, but trying to organize a plan for an essay makes me cringe even worse than deleting the wrongly-chosen words.

Delete.  Delete.  Delete.  I suppose this is good practice for editing and revising.  Yeah, that's it.

Where these two styles are different however, is how the flow of the words happens.  With fiction, I can write and write and not worry one bit about how credible I sound (first draft, anyway).  One thing I cannot do with non-fiction however, is type something I know (or even suspect) to be incorrect.  It bugs me worse than a pianist playing an off-key note.  Or a book with dog-eared corners on the pages.   Grrrrrr.

Delete.  Delete.  Delete.  Is this getting old yet?  Heh heh.

It's interesting how many differences and similarities there are in these two distinctly different styles of writing.  Fiction is by far more enjoyable to work on IMHO, but I do agree with the necessity to be proficient in non-fiction as well.  The more capable we are in expressing ourselves in the latter, the better we'll be in the former.  Okay, that's enough distraction from homework.

How about you?  Do you find non-fiction enjoyable?  Do you approach it the same way you do fiction?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Happy Dance, Happy Dance

Everybody Happy Dance!

It's Friday, and since my presentation passed with no need for revisions, I've finished that class.  Woohoo!!

I took last night off (from school anyway) and did more enjoyable things.  Like revising my short story.  And playing games with my sons.  And not stressing about how much homework I still have to get done.

It's nice to take a day off every once in a while.  I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm fairly overburdened with way too many challenges.  Writing is currently taking a back seat (most of the time) to other more critical items, so while I'd like to make it a full-time gig that I do every day, it's almost impossible.  It's kind of ironic then that I consider finding time to write part of "taking time off".  It's work, but it's fun work.  It's a balmy summer day for my soul and mental health.

The other thing on my radar is NanoWriMo.   I seriously wish I was done with this class and could participate this year.  And who knows, if I finish up by the end of this month, maybe I still can.  Last year, it was really fun to do and it felt great writing every day towards that goal of 50K words.  I got close last year too (almost 36K words) before I had to stop.  I don't regret it though, because I was able to focus once more on school and graduate last December with my Bachelors degree.

Don't ask me why I decided to go back for more homework fun.

Rather than continuing to ramble, I'm going to wish you all a fun-filled weekend.  Me, I'm going to get some writing done and launch my assault on Cyber-Law on Monday.  Now play the Peanuts song again and Happy Dance wherever you are.  It's Friday, and Fridays were made for dancing with abandon.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Moving Right Along

The lack of regular posts may be improved soon, as I finally have turned in a monster assignment for school.  Basically, it's a 14 slide presentation on how the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002 (FISMA) affects the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and what needs to be done within the agency to be compliant with said legislation.  The assumption is that I'm an IT admin/supervisor in their IT shop (with an understaffed section) and I have to prove why we need more staff, since the requirements of FISMA are extremely demanding - particularly if your agency is way behind the curve with regards to security standards and guidelines.

The amount of research I had to perform for this assignment was astounding, and the material was both interesting from one perspective and boring from another.  Nothing makes research harder than tedious material, trust me.

I have uploaded my presentation to the testing and evaluation site my school (Western Governors University, Woohoo!) uses, and if I'm really really really lucky, I won't have to make any revisions.

Then I'll get to finish up the last class of this semester - Cyberlaw.  Yeah, another truly fun class.  I have to write something like 4 research papers, submit various things to other students to evaluate, and then have it all evaluated by the testing site.  All of this has to be done by Nov 15th, no less.

Nope, I'm not stressed.  Not.one.bit.

Time to put it into high gear and sprint to the finish line!  Thanks for stopping by, and I'll do what I can to post something as often as possible :)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010