A to Z Challenge 2013

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Eve-Eve

I can hear Travis groaning from here.  Yes, I am stretching this holiday out as far as I can.  As I've said before, I love this time of year and I'll make up a day (like Christmas Eve-Eve) if that allows me to revel in the holiday spirit.

And though I haven't exactly been active on the blog (particularly in the latter half of this year), I'm going to be on hiatus until after New Years.  I've got a bunch of soul searching to do, and luckily I'm on vacation from work after today so I'll have plenty of time to do it.  Don't worry, I'm not contemplating abandoning the blog.  I just need to find my focus, get the "good writer feelings" back again, and come back next year fully charged.

I have many ideas I've been tossing around.  For example, I have been trying to stay focused on finishing my WiP and honestly I'm feeling fairly stagnant.  I don't want to toss it to the side of course, but I feel like I need to try something new (something short) just to pull my mind out of editing mode.  I haven't been creating new things much, and I'm wondering if that's what I need to get invigorated again.

Anyway, in honor of Christmas Eve-Eve, I wish you all a wonderful day today and hope the rest of your holidays include many warm moments with loved ones.  I will return after the 1st, refreshed and focused.

Happy Holidays For Everyone!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Feeling Particularly Blessed

One of the best aspects of this season is the reminders I get all the time.  The reminders that I lead a blessed life.  For example, yesterday I was driving into work and came upon an accident scene.  A volkswagon bug was literally in flames with the firefighters fervently working to put it out.  Another car was pulled over down the way, the rear end crumpled.  My first thought was to pray that nobody had been inside the vehicle when the flames began.

Situations like that really make me take a moment, pray for those involved, and thank God that I am not in that situation.  Too often we forget how much we really have that isn't damaged, how healthy and safe our loved ones are.  We forget how blessed we are that we don't walk with a cane or that we have a working car to take us back and forth.  We forget how blessed we are to have a roof over our heads and easy access to food and warm clothing.  Though these are simple things, there are a huge number of people in the world who lack even these basic items.  And for those who have never ventured outside of the US, I can tell you from experience that seeing real poverty first-hand has a sobering effect.  It's something you never forget.

I guess the aura of this season makes me think about these kinds of things more often as I wish everyone in the world peace in some form or another.  I hope that somewhere a life is better, even if only for a small moment.  And I continue to pray for those dealing with difficulties, particularly during this time of the year.

This may have come off as one of those chain letters everyone hopes to avoid in email, but I hope everyone takes a moment anyway to be thankful for what they have and pray for those who are not as blessed.  I wish every single one of you peace and contentment, even if it's only for one small moment.

Take a deep breath, revel in a quiet moment, and be thankful for the blessings in your life.  I know I do.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Interview With Travis Erwin

Today I have the pleasure of interviewing the talented author Travis Erwin.  Travis recently published his hilariously enjoyable book The Feedstore Chronicles, and I can vouch for how awesome this book is.  The Feedstore Chronicles is a coming-of-age memoir, based on Travis' days working for (as he puts it) the most morally bankrupt man he's ever met.  While the book does involve topics of a more mature nature, I found myself laughing the whole way through.  Travis has an astounding storytelling ability, so much so that I found myself imagining him sharing these stories over a campfire, surrounded by friends who are hanging on his every word.  The fact that a great deal of this book is true makes it that much more enjoyable.

1.  First off Travis, I just want to thank you for taking the time to stop by. But let's talk about your new book. The Feedstore Chronicles is a hilarious peek into an interesting time in your life. What made you decide to share these tales with the world?

Desperation. You can laugh, but it’s actually the truth. You see, I first shared a few tales about my feed store days on my blog back in 2007. At the time my blog was brand new and I was struggling to come up with entertaining and fresh content. As well as gathering enough readers to make writing it worthwhile in my mind. A few months in, I began a weekly series called THE FEEDSTORE CHRONICLES highlighting my rather incredulous boss’s exploits. My blog readership took off and one of the most common comments I received was, “Man, you should write a book about those days.”

2. Well Travis, I'm glad you decided to take the plunge and get the book published. Not everyone in the book is shown in a favorable light however. Did you ever worry about hurting anyone's feelings?

Come on Eric, you’ve read the book. No one that hung at the feed store had feelings. Just kidding. Actually I worried about misrepresenting the people the characters were based upon. I wanted to cast them in an honest light. Myself included, which was harder to do than one might imagine. Luckily, you can get away with lots of things for the sake of humor that otherwise might be considered mean-spirited. I certainly didn’t want to vilify my boss as I still count him as a friend, but I didn’t want to sugar coat his personality either. Most if not all of the people who were a part of my life in those days have read the book. Several attended the release party, including my boss and one of his ex-wives. (Yes the one that twice tried to kill him. but no there was no bloodshed at the party) My ex-boss has even pledged to supply me "more shocking tales"for a sequel should the demand call for one.

3. You can bet I'd buy a sequel in a heartbeat. Instead of Shock and Awe, your book is more like Shock and...Damn That's Funny! So now that you've worked your way through the publishing process, what advice can you give those of us working towards that goal?

Don’t give up. Yeah, I know it’s clich├ęd, but I’ve seen firsthand lots of talented writers (certainly more so than me) simply toss in the towel because they couldn’t handle the rejections and disappointment. I’d also say be active. The days of the solitary writer pecking away in seclusion, sending off their query/manuscript and finding an agent/editor to be their champion are over. Oh, I suppose it might happen but dang near every writer I know finding success these days is out there hustling, marketing, social networking to build name recognition and a brand name – before they have an actual book on the shelf. In 2011, I published 3 shorts stories, landed a job at a sports magazine, and published my first full-length book all as a direct result of networking.

4. Wow, that makes for a busy year (but congrats on all that success). Juggling time with a family and a writing career (not to mention a full time job) is difficult at best. What do you do to satisfy all these demands on your time?

Forego television, sleep, and many a fishing trip. It’s tough at times, even more so now that I’ve saddled up the promo horse. I sneak in writing time when I can. At work when the boss ain’t looking. At my son’s soccer practice. In the doctor’s office. Used to be I’d read during those times, but sadly my reading time is another casualty in the war of career building.

5. I feel your pain regarding the lack of reading time. It's important to read as a writer, but fitting it in with all the rest of what we're trying to do can be difficult at best. So can we expect a book tour to celebrate the awesome-ness that is The Feedstore Chronicles?

Yes. As a matter of fact the final touches are being put on a trip up your way to Colorado. Coordinating the dates to hit multiple venues on one trip has been tough but I should have details soon. And come spring, I’ll be hitting feed stores and books stores in Texas and Oklahoma.

6. There's nothing I'm looking forward to more than catching up with you when you hit Colorado. Okay, maybe I am really looking forward to the new pipes I'm getting for my motorcycle (Christmas present), but you're a close second. Anything else you want to share about yourself, the book, ....your hatred of lettuce?

I am putting together another humor book based on both my personal experiences as well as my skewed opinions of food. It is titled LETTUCE IS THE DEVIL:The Culinary Dogma of a Devout Meat Man and depending how things go it could see the light of day sometime in 2012. I’d also like to thank you Eric for having me and for the kind words about my book.

Travis, it has been a true pleasure having you here. You continue to be an inspiration to all of us, particularly now that you've achieved this publication goal. For those interested in picking up a copy of Travis' new book The Feedstore Chronicles (everyone nod your head, you know you want one), head on out to Amazon or Barnes & Nobles and get your copy today.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Blog Chain - Searching For The Right Place

I'm a day late, but it's Blog Chain time. This round is brought to us by the talented Tere, who asks:

What conditions do you need to get your writing done? Closed door, crowded coffee house? Computer or notebook? Can you just sit down to write, or do you need to wait for time to be right?

For me, it isn't about peace and quiet as much as it's about focus. I have no problem listening to music while I write or even in absolute silence. But if my train of thought gets interrupted by a distraction or two, it takes some time for me to get back on track. In a household of two rowdy boys and one spouse, I usually have to make an announcement of sorts:


Once I do that, I generally get the undisturbed focus time I need. I then disappear to my bedroom or office and get to work.

As far as what tool I use, it's gotta be on my laptop or tablet. Writing by hand just doesn't work since my handwriting is atrocious and I usually become self-conscious about my handwriting AND the writing itself. The other problem is when I try to write by hand, my mind works faster than my pencil on the paper, making me start and stop over and over. I read back over what I've written and more often than not, I've skipped words or whole ideas. When I'm typing, my fingers more adequately keep pace with my thoughts. With all this in mind, I'm much better off using electronic tools.

There have been times in the past when I could just sit down and start writing, but of late I've had more and more difficulty. In fact, anymore I really have to be in the mood or be feeling that urge to crank out something useful. I'm not sure what the problem is, but at least I haven't completely thrown in the towel. As long as that's the case, it's good enough.

If you haven't had a chance to see Michelle Hickman's incredible response, you should head on over there. And PK's take on the subject is already up for your reading pleasure. Before you go however, how would you answer this awesome question?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Life Is Too Crazy...But Christmas Is Comin'

Wow, where do I start?

Between crazy work days, issues when I'm supposed to be off work, and a weekend filled with a fever of 102 degrees, I can safely say my life is way too crazy.  Oh, and did I mention our server room at work caught on fire on Sunday?  Just when you think things are at their worst, they actually do get worse.

Of course on the good side, my fever is gone and it's the Christmas season.  That's almost enough to make  the pains of the last week a faint memory.  If there's one thing I love, it's the feeling of Christmas.  I can ignore all the sensationalism and materialism with almost no effort.  I don't get caught up in anything other than the festive feelings of the season.  Moments like when they play Christmas songs using the bells at the City & County building downtown cause me to pause on the sidewalk, a huge smile on my face and my heart soaring.

I love the glint in my kids eyes as they think about being out of school.  I love putting up the tree and then watching the twinkling lights for weeks.  I love taking an entire day where the television stays off and Christmas music fills the house.  And I love taking as many opportunities as I can to hug and kiss my lovely wife as we thank God that we have survived another year with numerous blessings.  We don't have a perfect life, but we have a roof over out head, clothes on our back, and are able to feed our family.  That's a blessed life in my book.

It might be too early to put up a post about Christmas, but as I sit here next to our Christmas tree and gaze over from time to time, I think it's just right.

Now if I can just get one calm weekend.

Anyone else out there enjoying the holiday season?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is always an interesting holiday for me.  On the one hand, I love being around family, carving the turkey, and just relaxing with everyone.

I'm an oddity though, because most of the foods associated with traditional Thanksgiving are foods I'd rather not be eating.  For example, I'm not a huge turkey fan.  I'll eat it, but it's not my favorite.  I don't eat stuffing whatsoever.  And I'm very picky about what veggies I enjoy (I like corn and green beans).

I've told my wife in past years that if I had my way, Thanksgiving would be a meal composed Mexican dishes.  I'd have enchiladas and smothered burritos (homemade only of course).  Mexican food is my favorite, so I figure if I had it my way, that would be what I'd choose to stuff myself on.  Maybe when I'm retired I'll put my foot down one year and demand a Mexican food-filled table.  It could happen.

In any event, I wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving.  I hope you enjoy wonderful moments with family, minus any squabbles.  I wish peace for those of you who have lost family members recently.  Most of all, I wish that everyone feel God's grace in their lives - no matter how it is manifested.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Monday Doesn't Have To Be Bad

Just when you think it's going to be another Monday, you get cheered up by something unexpected.  Thanks to Glynis Smy, I'm the recipient of:

Glynis even went through the extra effort of making the badge more masculine for us guys.  How cool is that?  This was just the thing I needed to pick me up, pull me out of my sick and tired life.  Since I believe in passing on my good fortune, I'll pick a few people to share this badge with.

Michelle Hickman - Your continued support and encouragement keeps me going.  Thanks a ton, crit partner.  I gotta link to your Surly Writer blog too, since both of your blogs are awesome.

Abby Annis - In addition to being my crit partner, your blog is a must-read.  I constantly learn so much from you, so thanks.

PK Hrezo - A new addition to our Blog Chain, I'm glad I've learned about your blog.  You have a unique perspective on this writing game that I enjoy reading.

Amparo Ortiz - Another new member of our Blog Chain, I find your blog fresh and invigorating.  You've got an exciting energy to your posts that's infectious.

Cole Gibsen - What can I say about the Ninja of the writing world?  Cole is awesome ninja mystique and spunky attitude, all wrapped in awesome comic book hero spandex.

Sorry ladies, but I won't attempt to butcher the nice job Glynis did on the badge in order to make it more feminine.  I hope you understand.

On another note, I'm about done with Travis' book The Feedstore Chronicles.  I am simply amazed at his storytelling ability.  Reading through the pages, I envision all of us sitting around a campfire as Travis spins out this tale.  Great stuff!

What good things have improved your mood today?

Friday, November 18, 2011

I'm Getting Too Old For This *$#@)!

If anyone's been wondering where I've been over the last week, I'll clue you in.  Between a severe cold my son shared with me (thanks, ya punk) and an email disaster at work, I've been sick AND working 70+ hours over the past week.  In fact, last night was the first night I got more than 2 hours of sleep in about 3 days (I think.  Times and events are really hazy at this point).  As I look over the past two weeks, I've put in about 125+ hours at work (something my wife and kids are not real happy about either).

Needless to say, today is the first time I've been able to formulate anything close to a creative thought outside of email server troubleshooting.  And even that is difficult at best.   So since I cannot be truly eloquent, I will only say that I haven't fallen off the planet and am still here.

One thing I do need to mention though is that I'm tentatively scheduled to go visit an actual genetics lab as part of research for my WiP.  I had it planned for this week, but...well, you can see why that didn't work out.   Next week though I should be able to get up there and check things out.  A very kind geneticist has offered to give me a tour and help me with whatever research assistance I need.  I'm very excited about this, as this is a first for me (going somewhere to do research).  If I can, I'll even see about snapping a photo or two, which I will gladly share with all of you.

Have a great weekend everyone.  I'll try to be more coherent and put up a longer post on Monday.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Blog Chain - Great Accomplishments

I'm severely late in posting this, but it's Blog Chain time and my awesome crit partner Michelle Hickman has asked this round's question:

This is the month in creating writing goals and big accomplishments.  What is your greatest accomplishment - in writing, your life, or perhaps something incidental that that had a big effect on you?

When I thought about this question, the first thing that comes to mind is being a father.  While I can't claim to be a genius or astoundingly rich (or even drop-dead handsome), the one thing I've done right in my life is raise my sons.  And now that I have an 18 year old, I find myself proud of both the young man he has become as well as the fact that I had a great deal to do with it.  Okay, my wonderful wife deserves a great deal of credit as well.  I do smile though, thinking over how great a job I've done.

In my writing life, I consider taking the step towards critique partners my greatest accomplishment.  It's a sign of my iron-clad commitment to learning the craft and becoming a talented writer.  That in itself is a decent enough accomlishment for me.  I haven't quit and that's a great thing.

I'm a father first and a writer second.  And I'm enjoying my successes in both.  If you haven't had a chance to read Michelle's post, go check it out.  And though I'm out of order, head over to PK's place to continue along the chain.

Before you go, what do you consider your greatest accomplishments?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Monday, November 7, 2011

Building Worlds And Getting Things Right

As I indicated in my last post, I'm still learning how hard writing can be.  And while I still consider myself a dedicated pantster (which is an oxymoron of sorts), I'm finding out how bass-ackwards I've done things in some respects.  Yep, in some ways my WiP is begging for a little structure.

For example, I'm working through my WiP and I've realized (thanks to an awesome crit partner) how little  I've done to truly build my world.  I know in my head what the world looks like, but I haven't done enough on the written page to properly draw my reader into that world.  So many of you are probably out there shaking your head at my duh moment.  Yeah, I deserve it.

In some ways, the sheer volume of potential work I see looming before me is daunting.  I've got the basic gist of the story down, but it's a skeleton in ragged clothes.  Luckily I'm still very dedicated to bringing this story to life or I'd run and hide in a hole.  I believe in this story, and I'm going to get it finished.

One way I intend to add some structure to my process is the tool I use to write.  No, I'm not changing from typing on my laptop to some other form of writing.  But as of today, a useful tool has become available for Windoze users everywhere (and thankfully us Linux users can use it too).  That's right, I'm talking about the awesome writer's tool known as Scrivener.  It may have started out as a Mac OS tool, but now it's been ported to Windows.  I've already played with it a bit and I'm liking the possibilities.  One cool thing about Scrivener (other than all the ways it can help organize my WiP) is it is documented pretty well and has a vibrant user community.  I'd rather not have to go through the pains of re-inventing the wheel, so I'm glad they've pretty much invented all the wheels at this point.

I'm off to learn more about Scrivener and continue improving my WiP.  One question I'd like to pose to everyone however, is what steps you take or tools you use in order to flesh out your world?  As always, I appreciate any advice you may have on the subject.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

How Hard Can It Be?

If I've ever questioned how hard writing is, this latest phase of editing and improving my WiP has convinced me conclusively.  It cracks me up then, when I watch movies like Romancing The Stone.

If you've never seen this movie from the mid-80's, it's not bad in a general sense.  There's one part however, that cracks me up now that I've become a writer.  Near the end of the movie, the main character (who is a writer) comes home and writes a bestseller based on her adventures. 

As long as you're assuming that the main man disappeared for two or more years while she wrote her masterpiece, the ending makes sense.  Oh wait, I forgot the other steps she goes through like re-writing, anguishing over terrible wording, weeks of insecurity, stealing Halloween chocolate from the neighbor's kid, and drinking a few bottles of wine at particularly low moments. 

During all this, the leading man is taking his time killing an escaping alligator and buying a boat.  Yeah, that's a great way to keep the romantic fires smouldering.

Or we can assume that she magically whipped out a masterpiece in a couple of weeks.  That's probably what they intend for us to believe, but those of us deep in the trenches know how far from the truth that is.  There's no such thing as "cranking out a story overnight."  It'd be nice, but probably we wouldn't appreciate it as much if it were that easy.

Have you had a moment recently that reminded you just how hard writing is?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Insecure Writers - Overcoming Insecurity Through Critiques

I joined the Insecure Writers Support Group recently and today is our scheduled post.  Insecurity is something I'm facing big time lately, though I don't have a really good reason why.  It started as an indescribeable funk and spiraled down from there.  I've tried reading blogs by all my fav authors and aspiring authors, but although I love reading it all, I don't feel less insecure.

Not too long ago I declared my intention to find crit partners.  Surprisingly, this has had an affect on my mental state.  Despite the fact that critiques can be hard to swallow sometimes, I'm actually more positive and optimistic.  I have two people so far who have offered to help critique my WiP and I'm looking forward to their perspectives.  I guess the reason why is because after I read their critiques (and take a deep breath acknowledging that the world is not ending), I hope to have some solutions.  I am hoping I'll find some good stuff to take away from the critiques and push through that last wall, finishing my story.

I guess my point is that for me, critiques provide answers as opposed to the vague questions of "what if" floating around so often in my head.  Like "what if my writing really does suck" or "what if all this editing isn't really helping improve things".  I don't mind difficulty but I hate being in a vague state where I have no idea whats wrong or what to do about it.  So while I remain insecure, I'm slowly becoming less so (maybe).

Feeling insecure today?  Maybe you just need a good critique to discover what you're doing right and how to fix what's wrong?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Blog Chain - Monster Hunting

This round of the blog chain is awesome because it's just the right topic at just the right time.  That ever-talented Matt has challenged us with this fun question:

What is your all-time favorite monster? You can take this in any direction you'd like. For example: my most bad-ass monster would easily be a dragon, and it is my favorite in some ways, but you don't have to go with that kind of measurement. Like me, you could go with the most ridiculously hilarious monster you ever heard of, or, like Stephanie Meyer, you could go with the most romantic creature to ever grace the pages of mythology. Or like Carrie Ryan, you could choose the old standby: Zombies. One alone might not be much to handle, but the horde is probably the single most powerful monster force ever invented in gaming, film, literature, or legend. It's up to you: what's your favorite monster?

This was such a fun question to think about.  Picking your favorite monster is no easy task, nor should it be.   Monsters are the things we cringe from as children, the hidden breathing entity in the dark.  They challenge us to face them, to face ourselves and deal with our own irrational fears.  Picking the one monster however, that gives me goosebumps while making me wish I could meet it in person is difficult.  There can be only one though.

Strahd.  For those unfamiliar with Dungeons and Dragons, Count Strahd von Zarovich was the most powerful of vampires.  Now before everyone starts whining, understand that Strahd was no Twilight-esqe vampire.  He was more akin to the evil entity Bram Stoker wrote about, though slightly different and infinitely more powerful.  Should you enter Strahd's realm, you would soon find yourself his prisoner, his slave, or his latest victim.  Strahd was master and lord, understandably arrogant, and lacking any mercy for those he used or destroyed.  Strahd was also a warrior and a powerful necromancer, using magic to rule and protect his realm effortlessly.

Every time we played Dungeons and Dragons, I hoped and feared we would go to Ravenloft (Strahd's domain).  And though he almost never made a personal appearance (after all, how often does the king deign to visit the "little people"), you could feel his presence everywhere and in everything.  Strahd embodies everything we love, respect, and fear about vampires.

That's my take on the subject.  If you haven't had a chance to read Michelle H's excellent post, head on over and check it out.  Tomorrow you can look forward to PK's favorite monster.

What is your favorite monster and why?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Searching For Zombies

I'm sure everyone is tired of this genre, but I need some assistance from all you well-read writers.  My son's 18th birthday is tomorrow and I would like to get him a book to read in addition to all the other non-literary stuff he wants.

Since he is a huge fan of zombies and the grim reaper, I was hoping one of you would know a decent book (that isn't a comic book) involving this subject matter.  He is already reading through The Walking Dead series of books, but I was hoping to provide him with something a little different.

If you know a great book involving either zombies or the grim reaper, please let me know in the comments.  I don't mind if it will be late getting here as it'll be a surprise for him anyway.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A New Writing Toy

My loving wife and kids bought me a Galaxy Tab for Father's Day and I initially had thought it would make a convenient way to write in bed (as opposed to lugging my laptop up here).  I picked up a bluetooth keyboard, but unfortunately it didn't work out too well.  Because it had to transmit the data wirelessly between keyboard and device, there was a huge slowdown in performance.  Since I'm not the most patient person in the world, that just wasn't going to work.

Today I received a new toy - a keyboard dock.  My Tab is now docked in this almost-full-size keyboard and I'm sitting here in bed typing this post.  No latency, no issues, just writing posts with ease.  It's not perfect of course, because I have to get used to the keyboard size.  But it's better than the alternative - not writing at all.

I plan on using this thing as often as possible.  In fact, after this post I will open up my WiP and get to work.  I can't tell everyone just how much fun it is to type on this thing.  And I get to sit here next to my wife as opposed to being down in the office.  Sure, there might be times when I need the distance to concentrate, but most of the time this will work.

At this point I'm going to get busy writing.  But what's the latest thing that's got you writing?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Facing My Fear

Despite my reservations at the latest Blog Chain post, I found I had a lot to think about.  One thing I've always tried to teach my sons is to not allow fear to paralyze them from doing anything.  And here I am being hypocritical about my own fear.  Specifically, my fear of putting my work out there (my real work, not the off-the-cuff stuff I toss up on this blog).

After all the advice in the comments (which I'm very thankful for everyone) from the last post, I gave it some serious thought.  I can't say I'm not afraid to take the plunge, but I need to get off the bench so-to-speak and get in the game.  I'm writing my stuff, but I do believe I'm at the point where an outside perspective can help me out.  So begins my search for some crit partners.

Goodbye fear.  I'm done listening to you.

Anyone else overcoming their fears lately?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Blog Chain - Let's Get Critical

It's time for another round of the Blog Chain, brought to you by the talented Sarah Bromley who asks:

Do you work with critique partners? How did you find your crit pals and what influence have they had on your work?

The fact that I'm posting this late in the evening should give some indication of just how hesitant I am to answer.  Honestly, I've really had to give this one some thought because I just wasn't sure what I'd put down.  Like everything else in my writing career however, I'm just going to work my way through the answer so bear with me.

Critique partners is an area where I am truly lacking.  In all honesty, I've only had my stuff critiqued twice (and one of those times was for a writing class).  So at this point, I really don't have critique partners.  And while it might be hard for me to admit it, a lot of it revolves around fear.  I know we all feel that fear at one point or another, but I guess I haven't conquered that particular mountain just yet.  This is probably why I'm still editing, still trying to find those golden nuggets in my story that will make it shine brightly enough so I can share it with someone else.

Having said all this, I know how valuable having a critique partner is.  The two times I did have my stuff critiqued, I learned a lot (both about my own writing as well as other ideas for where to go with things).  Intellectually I realize that having a critique partner is what I need to get to that "next level", to truly advance my writing ability, to keep myself motivated, and to eventually get to the end goal - completing a whole book.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) I am not ruled completely by the intellectual side of my brain, hence the reason I'm not there yet.

One looming question I have (and anyone can feel free to offer advice if they like) is how the heck I'll ever find a critique partner.  I did join a critique site and tried doing critiques that way, but honestly it just feels too disconnected.  While I don't mind reading and critiquing anyone else's work, I don't know that I could just toss it out there for anybody to critique.  I guess if I had my way, my crit partners would definitely be somebody whose writing skill I respect greatly.  It would also have to be somebody that really "gets me", if that makes any sense.  I tend to pour a lot of myself into what I write, because I believe writing from the heart is the best way.  So that kind of connection is probably helpful.

Since I don't have a crit partner however, I could just be spouting nonsense (feel free to call me on it, anyone).  As far as influence, I can tell you that my reasons for joining the blog chain fall along that path.  Every member on this chain is extremely talented, and I grab whatever I can from each of their posts.  They influence me because I learn new ideas, techniques, and habits from them all the time.  I read their books because I know there's good stuff there that I can learn from.

If you didn't get a chance to read what Michelle Hickman had to say yesterday, get on over there.  Yes Michelle, I do know I need to get my first one done.  I hear you loud and clear (grin).  Tomorrow everyone can look forward to PK's answer.

How about the rest of you?  Do you have crit partners?  And how do they influence your writing world?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

I Think It's Over...Please Be Over...

Yeah, my last post was a mistake.  Not two days after that, we had ANOTHER issue with email and I worked hard to get it resolved.  To say this has been a hellish couple of weeks is an understatement.  Last night I had to work until midnight writing a Root Cause Analysis document, knowing all the time that the true root cause is not one my management wants to admit to.  After all, it was truly their constraints on us as email administrators that put our agency in a position to fail.  The answer wasn't one they wanted to hear, so I spent 18 hours total trying to creatively word it in a manner they could accept (without lying of course).

Today however, is the first day I've been able to go to work and come home without being completely stressed about whether our email environment is going to fall to pieces.  It's not Gmail-status, mind you.  But at least it's stable for the moment.

I'm still enjoying my way through Elana's book Possession.  I can't seem to hear any other voice from the main character than Elana's.  I don't know if she intended that, but it is what it is.  I think Elana just has such a strong and unique style with her writing that it's impossible to read her book without hearing it in my mind.  Thankfully, I really enjoy her style so it's been a pleasurable read.

Shaun Hutchinson recently asked the blog chain to name three books we had refused to put down despite the fact that they started out slowly or didn't grab us from the get-go.  I had mentioned that there have been instances where I've definitely put a book down and Shaun wanted to know some examples.

The most recent example is when I tried to read Black Hills by Dan Simmons.  The premise sounded great.  It was supposed to be about this Native American who absorbed Custer's spirit accidentally.  The book skipped back and forth between this Native American's story (including a plan to blow up Mount Rushmore) and Custer's ghost reminiscing over his life before death.  Sounds great right?  Yeah, not really.

I have no idea whether it's true or fiction, but Dan Simmons was hell-bent on depicting Custer (and his wife) as an incredibly sexual person who's thoughts after death centered on all the ways he and his former spouse enjoyed each other.  And just as I was getting into the story about the Native American, Simmons would jolt me back to this psycho-sexual Custer world.  I'm not a prude, but it was just so idiotic (not to mention having no point in the context of the larger story) that it ruined the story before I could even get halfway through.  And believe me, I struggled to even get to that point.

A book I read all the way through (and then regretted reading once I got to the end) was Under The Dome by Stephen King.  The premise was awesome.  A town in MA gets surrounded by an invisible, impenetrable bubble.  This was one massive tome, and I loved every bit of the story...until I reached the end.  The bubble was put into place by the equivalent of technologically superior alien children who wanted to watch how the humans reacted, much like shaking an ant farm.  So how did the characters get the aliens to remove the barrier (moments before everyone died, no less)?  The used the magic word (aka please).  Really?  It was so implausible and stupid that I actually hate the fact that I wasted my time reading the damn thing.  And I REALLY like King.  Not on that day, however.

So there ya go, Shaun.  There's a couple examples of books I either put down or regretted picking up in the first place.  How about the rest of you?  Have you ever put down a book, for whatever reason?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Raising My Head To Look Around

Two days after my last post, we had a hard drive fill up on one of our email servers.  Although it was preventable through the careful use of mailbox limits, appropriate mail server usage, and limits on attachment sizes, our wonderful executive management doesn't believe in such silly notions.

Needless to say, after working 75 hours over the last two weeks, I can finally raise my head and say the crisis is over.  Yep, that's the life of an email administrator.  At one point I struggled my way through 32 hours straight, not even sure if we would ever fix things.

Where does that leave me?   Well, there's a few things we still have to clean up tomorrow morning, but now I get to catch up on all the rest of the work that piled up while I was firefighting.  As they say, that's why I get paid the big bucks.  Or something like that.

Anyway, I hope everyone's weekend is better than mine have been of late.  Oh, and I'm LOVING the book, Elana.  Possession is an awesome read.  What cracks me up though is how clearly I hear your voice telling the tale.  Since you're such a crack up anyway.

See ya'll next week.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Stephen King And Vampire Pirates

Did that title catch your attention? In case you haven't heard, evidently Stephen King has been working on a sequel to The Shining. He's taking the little boy and telling the tale of where this guy is at age 40. And for some reason, he's decided the story includes vampire pirates who live together in a group called The Tribe, led by a woman named Rose The Hat. I'm not making this stuff up people.

Y'know, I'm one of the biggest fans of Stephen King's work. I've read just about everything he's ever put out (including all the Richard Bachman tales). One thing I noticed with his novel Under The Dome however, is that King seems to be tired of writing. The completely implausible ending to that book left me with that impression, that he'd written a long story and got tired of writing it so he just ended things. It was really a tragedy, considering how well developed the story was up to that point.

News like this continues to support the idea that King is bored. He's just throwing out whatever will stick to the wall at this point, knowing that so many people will buy it because that's what we do with Stephen King's works. That might sound terrible perhaps (especially considering that he's the multi-million bestselling author and I'm unpublished LOL), but it's because I'm trying to wrap my head around why a guy that has given us The Stand would ruin what is arguably one of his best books with a vampire pirate-filled sequel.

Am I being overly critical here? Or am I misreading this as some profound joke King is playing on us all?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Blog Chain - Do I Dare Continue?

We're back for another round of the blog chain and today's question is brought to you by the letter S...er...okay, by that ever-amazing Shaun Hutchinson, who asks:

What are three books you would tell people that they need to keep reading even if they aren't immediately sucked in by the first page?

This has been truly difficult for me to answer.  I mean I really agonized over coming up with an answer.  The biggest reason is because I am the least patient (and probably pickiest) reader on the planet.  If the blurb on the back cover or the excerpt I find online doesn't draw me in immediately, I'm not likely to give it a try.  And if I read through the first few pages and get bored, I'm probably not going to keep reading.  Yeah, I have no problem whatsoever with tossing a book to the side (which is probably why I'm so picky about picking it up in the first place).  So trying to remember three books that I actually did keep reading (even though every fiber of my gut was yelling "Abandon Ship") and found to be enjoyable later on in the story has been incredibly hard.

The first book I came up with is one I believe I've talked about before - Russka by Edward Rutherford.  I absolutely love this book and have ever since I first read it.  I did not however, love it immediately.  See, my parents handed me a copy while I was home on leave and I cringed.  I had really never been a fan of historical fiction (or even non-fiction for that matter) and yet they were so eager for me to read it that I relented.  I agonized through the first few chapters, not really getting into it but going through the motions nonetheless.  Then somehow it just clicked.  And I raced to the end with a grin.  Oh, and it is because of this book that I now enjoy most historical fiction.

Following on the coattails of that is Hawaii by James Michener.  Okay, I can hear everyone getting ready to throw things at me.  Yes, the guy was a great (awesome stupendous incredible) writer.  But Hawaii was the first time I became exposed to him (once again thanks to my parents) and the sheer level of detail he poured into the book put even Tolkien to shame.  It bored me to tears.  Once again however, I trudged through and in the end found myself loving the book.

My last choice is kind of a cheat, considering Michelle H. beat me to it but my reasons are different than hers.  The book is none other than The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien.  I had already read The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, so I was prepared for Sir Tolkien's avalanche of description (nor did I realize The Silmarillion was a prequel story).  What I struggled with in this particular tome was the concepts he was trying to introduce us to.  I read and re-read and re-re-read passage after passage in this book.  I honestly can't say at what point I began enjoying it either.  I just know that by the end I was loving it and truly appreciating all the work he had put into building his world.

Beyond these three, I can't really think of too many books I've suffered through. The list of books I've put down due to boredom however, would undoubtedly be longer.  If you didn't have a chance to read what Michelle H. had to say, head on over there.  And tomorrow you can look forward to Michelle Mclean's answer.

What books have you almost put down that eventually redeemed themselves?

Oops, I Did It Again

No, you don't have to watch a bad Britney Spears video.  But in case you're wondering why I've been absent so long, it's because I did what ever respectable IT guy does to their own laptop - I hosed it up so good that it wouldn't boot up.

I've been meaning to put Linux on my laptop for some time now since so many of the security tools I use in school rely on that operating system.  Unfortunately, when I had initially installed Windows 7, I used up all the hard drive space which left no room available for Linux.  No problem.  I attempted to shrink the partition that Windows 7 was installed on, which normally would work.  Unfortunately I shrunk the partition too much and bada boom bada bing - No Bootable Windows 7 laptop.

Many troubleshooting hours/days later, I decided to just start from scratch.  Luckily, none of my data is ever saved on my laptop (that's what I have a server for), so I didn't lose anything.  Many more hours/days later, I'm finally back up and running with a newly installed dual-boot Linux/Windows 7 laptop and learning all I can about Linux.  It's like being a newbie all over again.  I do have to admit I like the Linux operating system more than I thought I would.  It's definitely different, but useful nonetheless.

Now if I can just learn how to work it without totally screwing it all up again  :)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Being True To Oneself - Imperative

My oldest son is taking a creative writing class during his last year in high school and the teacher gave them an interesting assignment.  They were instructed to write a small snippet. a poem, or something similar that described who they are inside.  Sort of opening the window into their mind, letting their peers have a peek.  My son is more reclusive than most and he also has quite different interests than a lot of kids, so he decided he would just borrow lyrics from a song or something like that (which the teacher did allow, of course).  When I found out however, I put down my foot and made him write something of his own.

You see, he is really interested in dark, grim visuals and imagery.  He likes zombies, blood and guts, and all the things that make up great B horror movies.  He's all about the Grim Reaper, and don't let him see anything with skulls on it unless you're prepared to buy it.  He worries all the time that his thoughts are too dark, too weird for most people to accept.  He isn't into really hurting people of course (trust me, we had that conversation.  I had to make sure he wasn't into self-mutilation or something similar), but he does like some pretty dark things.

He tried to tell me that he's Goth.  This began a conversation on the evils of labeling and how none of us are single faceted like that.  What I ended up telling him is that there's no sense pretending to be something other than who he is.  We've had a number of conversations about embracing who he wants to be and being okay with whatever that is.

These continued conversations intrigue me because it's neat to observe my son discover who he is and where he fits in with the rest of the world.  I'm doing my best to guide him, but a part of me knows he has to figure this all out on his own.  Since I didn't have this kind of relationship with my own Dad, I'm ecstatic that I have managed to do a little better in this regard.  The other thing I notice is that observing both my boys makes me re-evaluate myself from time to time.  If I'm expecting them to know and accept themselves, I have to be prepared to do that myself.

Know Thyself.  Great advice.

On the writing front, I have good news and bad news.  The good news is that I was lucky enough to win a copy of the talented Michelle Davidson Argyle's new book Monarch.  That is so awesome.  Having read her self-published title Cinders, I am really looking forward to this book as well.  Thank you Michelle.  I am so looking forward to receiving my copy.

As far as bad news, I am truly sad to say that tragedy has struck my copy of Elana Johnson's book Possession.  It wasn't my fault though (okay, not completely anyway LOL).  I left the book on my desk at work so I could read during my lunch.  I have a small fridge on my desk that works by cooling the interior 30 degrees below ambient temperature.  I've moved to a new office and unfortunately the ambient temperature at night (in that office anyway) must drop really low because the three Diet Cokes I had inside froze and exploded.  When I walked in the next morning, there was Diet Coke all over the desk.  Yes, it was all over half the pages of Possession too.  And though the pages are still legible of course, it's just not the same.  I will have to purchase a new copy because the one I have right now just breaks my heart.  It hasn't stopped me from reading it of course, but still.  

My most humble apologies, Elana.  I should have treated your book with more reverence.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Blog Chain - Fury Of The Storm

It's time for another edition of the Blog Chain.  Today's prompt is brought to us by the inspiring Christine, who has switched things up a bit.  Knowing how much we enjoy being creative (hopefully this is true of all writers), she asks that we write a snippet based on the following:

Since we are all writer's, I thought it was about time for us to stretch our creative muscles and do a little writing. So, take the following topic and go crazy! Show us what you've got. Your story can be as long or as short as you choice. 

The topic: A dark and stormy night

Here goes my take on this fun prompt, so I hope you enjoy it.

Only banshees rode the wind on a night like this.  Everyone else knew to stay indoors, praying to ancient deities for salvation that would not come.  It had been a year or more since Garoth's last visit.  A year of restlessness and observation as they moved about, scratching and scraping the soil for any sustenance.  The warmth he once felt for these creatures died the same day he did.  He no longer lived among the population, instead burdened with caring for them from above.   Garoth hadn't known when he'd agreed however, that the burden would include an occasional murder.

Lightning exploded from the cloud beneath him, and Garoth glided down the jagged bolt with one hand.  He kept the charge alive, reveling in the struggle of controlled electricity against his sooty palm.  The power was heady, a bonus he enjoyed along with god-like immortality.  As long as he didn't make a mistake, that is.  Even gods could be toppled from their thrones, a fact his predecessor had forgotten.

Long moments later Garoth stood on the ground, his heavy boots sinking into the muddy square.  Releasing his grip, Garoth absorbed the lightning with a gesture.  Tendrils danced across his fingertips for a second before disappearing entirely.  The dark blanket of night fell across the land once more, interrupted here and there by half-hooded lamps at each doorstep.  The flames struggled against his wind, but Garoth decided not to snuff them.  Let them believe light would save them.  Only one would suffer tonight.

Pulling in the damp air through beastly nostrils, Garoth detected a nearby quarry.   The unfortunate soul cowered behind a patchwork door in an abandoned barn, unaware how little time was left them.  Focusing the energy within him, Garoth sent a bolt from one raised palm.  The door exploded, the concussion sending the small pale form flying against the back wall.  With a few quick strides, Garoth grabbed the unconscious child by the throat and held her up.  Long blonde hair cascaded across his arm, clashing with Garoth's blackened flesh.  The image gave him pause, something stirring inside as he considered.  Why did it have to be child?

"Still bothered by conscience, Garoth?  You should have remained among them.  Killing you that way would have been quick and painless."

Garoth didn't turn.  "I'll be with you in a moment, Kevor."  His nails bit into the pale flesh, his grip crushing the windpipe without effort.  Energy infused him as he murmured a few words, completing the ritual.  Distaste warred with glee as he turned to face his nemesis, hopefully for the last time.

That's my take on things.  If you haven't read it yet, you need to visit Michelle H. to see her awesome entry.  Tomorrow you can look forward to something just as extraordinary from one of our new blog chain members, PK.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Fri...er...Thursday Fun

Since this is my Friday (it's a furlough day - thanks a lot, you idiots that couldn't balance the budget properly), I figure I might as well provide everyone with a laugh or two.  The following Weird Al Yankovic video should tickle just about everyone's funny bone - especially all of us that check email throughout the day, only to sigh at the mountain of spam that gets forwarded to us.  Anyway, this is off Al's latest album Alpocalypse.  Oh, and did I mention I'm going to see him in concert on the 20th with my kids?  Woohoo!


Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Contest Results

The contest for Davin Malasarn's book The Wild Grass is now concluded.  Before I announce the winners, I just want to thank everyone for stopping by.  And more importantly, I want to give a HUGE thanks to Davin for allowing all of us a glimpse into your world.  The two individuals who have won a copy of your book get a nice bonus!

So without further ado, the winners are......(imagine a drum roll).......

Congratulations big time to both of you.  Drop an email address to Davin or I so he can get your prize to you.  It's an awesome collection of stories that I'm positive you will enjoy.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Riding Is Like Writing...And Visa Versa

Yesterday I joined a memorial ride for the flight crews whose lives were taken on 9/11.  It was a 100 mile ride with no stops.  I rode through rain, over slick roads, surrounded by 150-200 bikers who have ridden all their lives.  In the end, we returned to the Colorado National Speedway where the day had begun, only to ride right on the track, do a few laps, and be part of the memorial ceremony.  The experience was a unique first for me, and though I was sore at the end of the day (and still am a little), I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

There were a few firsts that happened for me yesterday though.  For one, riding with so many experienced bikers was challenging since I often rode side by side with them rather than in a staggered formation like I'm used to.  We also hit a decent amount of rain and wet pavement, which is something I usually avoid.  I got to experience my first time taking mountain curves on wet roads.  This is also the first time I've taken my youngest son (who did awesome) with me for such a long ride.

As we were riding home (after a small break to let my sore butt recover), it occurred to me that the entire day was a close mirror image of what being a writer is.  I am surrounded by truly experienced writers, people whose talent astounds me and drives me to be that good.  We all are working towards that 100 mile goal, writing along slick roads and curves we can't always see beyond.  There are moments of stress, there are energetic moments when we get to look around at what we're doing, and we know the journey is worth all the trouble when we get to the end.  And we will do it again and again, no matter how difficult things get.  We even bring our family members along for the ride as they support what we're doing.

I know it will be a little bit before I climb on the bike to take that kind of ride again (after all, I'm getting too old to do this kind of thing every day LOL), but I do know I will choose to do something like it sometime in the future.  I also know I will continue to work at my writing, climbing aboard for the ride as often as I can.  And with both endeavors, there's a goal to be reached that I will achieve.

What about the rest of you?  Have you made this kind of comparison to the writing you work at so diligently (or visa versa)?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

An Interview With Davin Malasarn...and a Contest!

Today I'm honored to present an in-depth interview with Davin Malasarn.  For those unfamiliar with Davin, he's one of the talented trio working diligently at The Literary Lab.  Davin recently self-published his book The Wild Grass and after reading it myself, I just had to learn more about this awesome writer.  I've always been a fan of Davin, but reading through his collection of short stories has significantly elevated my opinion of the man.  Thankfully, I got the opportunity to know him a little better and I'd like to share the conversation with all of you.

Eric: First off, I want to welcome you to Working My Muse.  It's a true honor and pleasure.  But tell me Davin, how did you get started in this writing game?

Davin:  When I was a younger student my teachers convinced me that I was a bad writer. I was downgraded to some sub-standard English track in Junior High. One of my teachers at the time, Mr. P, was a man who had a reputation for being "strange" and wasn't very liked by a lot of students. One day in class he made us discuss a poem. All I remember about it was that it involved a father and son and some emotional tension. My interpretation of it differed from everyone else in the class, and so I decided once again that I just didn't understand English. But this teacher came up to me and said I actually understood the poem better than anyone. And he knew that because he had written the poem himself. I think that was the first time I learned to trust myself when it came to English. That teacher committed suicide the following summer. Only years later did I come to understand that he seemed "strange" probably because he was gay.  The poem about the father and son took on a different meaning for me then, and I really saw much more value in writing as a result of it. Although I hadn't actually written anything creative yet, I understood how important it was for people to communicate from the heart. That need to communicate got me started. I see writing as part of a bigger dialog.

Eric:  Wow, what an interesting way to find your way into the writing world.  Having studied a few other languages (and having gone to the relevant countries), I sympathize with the difficulties you had with English.  The Wild Grass is an intriguing jaunt through your cultural background.  And while I enjoyed every story, there were aspects of some I had difficulty relating to.  Did you have any concerns in this regard as you were writing them?

Davin:  As a teenager--and if I'm honest I still do it now--I would always answer "America" when people asked where I was from. Some of those people thought I answered that way to show that I somehow escaped my parents' impoverished life in Thailand. But the truth was that I knew so little about my culture that I felt like I was offending Thailand when I said I was from there. 

Though I've made more of an effort to familiarize myself with my Thai roots, I still feel far away from it. That puts me in an odd place when I write about Thai culture, or any culture, for that matter. Sometimes I bring my lack of understanding to my stories because that sense of confusion is part of the story's experience for me. Sometimes I present different cultures in a more matter-of-fact way, or in a ridiculous way in the case of "Red Man, Blue Man", because I'm curious to see if the heart of the story can still come through, even if specific details about time and place are unfamiliar. So, the cultural aspect is something I'm concerned about, but I'm still experimenting with it to see what works and what doesn't.

Eric:  I really have to respect your honesty and the fact that you didn't feel it would be right to attribute who you are to being raised in Thailand.  That is a mark of distinction.  Speaking of experimenting though, this is your first journey into self publishing, right?  Any horror stories, laughs or tips you can share with us?

Davin:  I kind of feel like I'm fumbling the entire self-publishing thing. I'm not very good at it. (Hey, buy my book!) My goal when I published was to let people know that the book existed. I figured once that happened people could decide on their own whether they want to buy the book or not. I didn't ask for reviews. I didn't organize a blog tour. I was insecure and shy. 

I realize now that people need much more information as they decide on what books they want to read. There are so many options out there! I wish I had more visibility so that I could let people know what was inside the book. That visibility is hard to come by. At this point, I'm just grateful that the people who have read it are sending me really personal and touching emails about it. I'm grateful when people give my books to other people or let other people borrow them. Going in, I didn't expect to sell many copies, so I'm also grateful that at least some people are giving it a chance.

The one thing I think I did right, though, was that I set an actual goal of how many books I wanted to sell. I was aiming for 100 books sold, and I'm content that I reached that goal. I calmed down a lot after that. Now, I just really value every additional sale. If or when I do this again, I do plan to put more energy up front into the promotion. I haven't yet figured out how I can do that well and in a way that's not annoying, but I'm working on it.

Eric:  Self-publication is a bit scary for me to be honest.  You really are opening yourself up to celebration and/or criticism, especially given the expectation pushed on us to publish traditionally only.  You've done a great job however, achieving the goal you set.  And I can vouch that the book is exactly what one should expect from a published work, no matter how it gets there.  Now that you've gone the route of self publication though, do you think you'll continue in this vein or do you see yourself embracing both traditional and self publishing?

Davin:  You know, given everything I just said, I have to say the idea of self-publishing my future books is still really tempting. I love the idea of being in control of the entire process, from the cover design, to the layout, to the editorial decisions. I'm interested in trying some different approaches as far as how I will make my books available. I have some crime-based novellas, for example, that are pretty dark and quite a departure from what I usually write. I thought I'd just give them to whoever asked me for them rather than putting them up for sale in any official way. (Although I haven't committed to that yet.) Self-publishing gives me that freedom to be creative in how the books are released. But there are two big obstacles that I am still dealing with. The first is that I haven't figured out how to self-promote my work very well yet. I think I'll be frustrated if none of my books sell. Second, I'm not completely happy with the print quality of self-published books. The cutting and gluing aren't always as clean. I'd really love to be able to self-publish a book that is of higher quality physically. I also want the ability to do things like matte covers or box sets. I don't mind paying for those things, but I sense that visibility will be an even bigger issue if I leave the main self-publishing companies. Traditional publishing is still a great way to do things, so I'm not closed to it at all. I just haven't been in the mood to submit anything to agents or small presses lately.

Eric:  Well, I can definitely see the appeal to controlling all those aspects of your book.  It's a daring move in some respects, but if you're successful (as you seem to be so far), it's worth it.  Now that I've read a taste of your works though, I'm dying to read more.  Care to provide any hints of what you're working on now?

Davin:  As far as writing goes, I'm working on a novel about a group of people who are selected to live forever. It has a sci-fi aspect to it that lets me use a bit of my scientific background (yes, the 11 years of extra schooling are finally paying off!). It's narrated by a very direct woman named Jacqueline, and it includes a lot of scenes with a fictional Dalai Lama. What I'm liking most about the book is that I'm getting to discuss a lot of issues that the world is currently dealing with: religion, terrorism, the internet, scientific advancement, conservation. At the same time I'm able to mix these issues up with more day-to-day issues like not getting enough sleep and being around the same people for years and years and years--the slice-of-life material that I love to read myself. It's a mish mash, and I'm having a lot of fun with it.

Eric:  It sounds like an interesting story.  Including the Dalai Lama really puts a neat cultural spin on things.  The inclusion of those worldly issues will make for some interesting reading too.  I'm always interested in seeing how different writers approach those topics because the perspectives can be so unique.  Well, I'd like to thank you for stopping by.  It has been fun dancing through your world for a bit.

Davin is a writer from Los Angeles, CA. In 2008, he was a PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellow. He has been a finalist for Glimmer Train's Very Short Fiction Contest, first runner-up in Opium Magazine's 500-word Memoir Contest, and two of his stories were nominated for Pushcart Prizes. He is also a staff editor at SmokeLong Quarterly.

As for all my readers, you're in luck today.  Davin has graciously agreed to gift two lucky individuals with a copy of his book The Wild Grass.  Since I've never been one to shy away from holding a contest, I jumped at the chance.  And as always, this one is easy to enter.  Just drop a comment below and you'll be entered.  The contest will run until midnight on August 30th.  The following day I will announce two randomly drawn winners and we'll get your respective details over to Davin.  Good luck to everyone.  You don't want to miss out on a copy of this book.  It is a true pleasure to read.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Taking On Too Much

If anyone caught how many times I had to re-edit and re-post the last entry, you'll know what I mean when I say I'm taking on too much these days.  It's just a symptom of the problem, which is that I'm overburdened.  On my plate currently is two jobs (IT Support and article writing/editing), a Masters degree program, trying to become a proficient writer, and of course being a decent husband and father.  My wife has been ill for some time now, so takes a toll as well.  Oh, and putting up regular blog posts fits in there somewhere.

What I've finally admitted to myself is that I'm just taking on too much.  I had to sit down and think about my priorities because I recognize when I'm stressing out and that time is now.  Everything I'm involved in (the major things anyway) are all important.  They are all things I want to accomplish or be really good at.  But I'm a realist in some ways.  I can't do it all (at least right now).

I've decided to put my degree on hold and take a term break.  For me, the Masters degree is a means to an end;  I plan on using it to move on vocationally.  I do value what I'm learning and I'm proud of myself for working towards it, but when I think about what matters the most to me, the degree is at the bottom of the pile.  First and foremost, my family matters more than anything else.  I pride myself on the fact that I'm a damn good father and husband.  If I can say nothing else on my deathbed, I hope I'll always be able to say that.

Next in line is how well I do my job(s).  I'm good at what I do and since my paycheck has a lot to do with how we live, I have to keep being good at what I do.  I also take pride in doing a good job, and lately I haven't been too proud of the job I've been doing (particularly with regards to my editing job).  After my job, there's my writing in general.  I really haven't had the time (or appropriate mental stance) to write creatively for a long time now.  And it bothers me every day because I really do want to become a decent writer.

There are other less important things going on, but they all add up over time.  In the end, I've realized that something's gotta give and I've decided it's the degree program (for now).  I'm not quitting for good.  I'm just taking a breather so I can concentrate on what matters the most.  Keep your fingers crossed for me ;)

Blog Chain - The Mountain's Shaking

The fact that today's blog chain entry is a day late is just one more sign that I'm taking on too much these days and need a break.  I'll have more on that in another post momentarily, but right now it's time to get back on the blog chain.  That's right, we're back and we have a number of new members.  If you're a longtime reader of our chain, you'll find something new in the contributions of Matt, Tere, Jon, Katrina, PK, and Amparo.  I love it when we get new members (though of course I miss the people who have left) because I get to learn more about writing from their different perspectives.  And it's amazing how many different perspectives we can have on a given subject.

Anyway, I'm rambling so let's get to it.  Today's question is brought to you by the letter S, or more specifically that awesome writer Sandra who asks:

Have the recent changes in the publishing industry affected your writing plans/career? If so, how?

Part of me always cringes when fellow writers talk about the publishing industry, but maybe not because of the reason you might think.  Since I'm still in what I consider the infancy of my writing career (i.e. I'm still learning how to write decently enough), the publishing industry is like Mount Everest.  It's an awesome spectacle, a challenge that beckons at the same time it daunts, and the summit is the goal of publication.  But it's over in China.   In other words, for me publication is this far off idea that is really too massive for me to grasp yet.  I know some day I'd like to say I have seen Everest up close and conquered it, but right now I'm really just looking at pictures of it while I try to walk up to the top of my block.

Having said that, it doesn't mean I don't watch and think about the industry and the changes I see.  I do recognize the potential for books to become less available in print than in electronic form.  It makes sense from a financial perspective since it's generally cheaper to mass produce at that point (Hey music industry I'm looking at you.  It don't cost you $20 to burn a CD anymore, ya crooks).  And of late, I have seen the usefulness of an e-reader, particularly as I read my school assignments via one.  Not having to purchase and wait for a physical textbook isn't such a bad thing.  For one, I don't have it sitting on a shelf collecting dust after I pass the class.

Taking a step away from the reader's perspective (and putting on my writer's hat), I consider any changes the publishing industry make that helps get my book into the hands of readers a (potentially) good thing.  Yes, it is an incredibly sad thing whenever a book store has to close (not to mention a whole chain).  It is a huge loss in a lot of ways.  But the world does continue to change and unfortunately we all have to either change with it or step off the ride.

I do not believe printed books will ever go away completely.  I compare it to vinyl records (those black round things with the hole in the middle that magically plays music.  Now get off my lawn, ya punks!)  There are and always will be people that enjoy the experience of holding and reading a physical book.  One can become even more immersed in the experience than when playing those old vinyl discs because of the multiple senses a book engages (touch, sight, smell, etc).  For this reason, I don't think book stores will ever completely disappear either, any more than record stores have.

With regards to what this means to my writing career, I don't think there is any real effect right now.  I still plan on becoming a fully-fledged author someday.  The method or mode for how I get there is irrelevant, and if it means I have to adjust my thinking at some point to encompass all paths, I'm okay with that.  I guess the bottom line is that I'm not entrenched into thinking there is only one way to reach Everest's summit.   And that's okay.  Because right now, it's still just some huge awesome mountain in China.

Michelle H. was before me on the chain, so she may have more to add.  And following me, the ever-talented Michelle M. should have something interesting to say on the subject.  

How about the rest of you?  What do you think about the changes on the publishing horizon?  And how do you plan to deal with it?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

WriteOnCon - Holy Cow

If you've been living under a rock (or maybe just not reading any blogs lately), you may not know that WriteOnCon has been going on.  It's basically a writers convention on the 'Net.  And it's FREE!  Oh, and I hope they don't mind me putting their logo up on this post.  I had nothing to do with making it, but it's pretty cool.

I've been following along where I can and reading what I can, but it just astounds me how much there is going on in this awesome virtual convention.  From one perspective, it's really cool.  From another though, it's a bit daunting.  There are so many events going on, so many webcasts, and so many well-written articles to read that I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed with all the information.  If this is what a "real" convention is like, I can see it being just as awesome and daunting.

The cool part is they seem to be covering topics across the board, and no matter whether you are a seasoned author or putting pen to paper for the first time, there's information for everyone.  If you haven't popped in and checked things out, I highly encourage it.

If you have been participating or reading along like I have, share your favorite part with us.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wading Through Dorian Gray

As you can see from the image, I'm currently making my way through Oscar Wilde's book The Picture Of Dorian Gray.  Interestingly enough, I'm reading it on my tablet in electronic form despite my previous inclinations to avoid e-readers.  It's not quite the same as holding the physical book for me, but it's good enough.  And downloading the book for free (legally even) isn't too bad either.

As far as the story goes, I'm enjoying it.  It's an intriguing tale and I'm thus far compelled to continue reading.  The biggest issue I have is how difficult I find the language, or better yet how cumbersome it is.  At times, I almost feel like I'm wading through sweet smelling molasses, and though I enjoy the taste, I just wish I could stagger to shore for a bit of rest.

Don't get me wrong.  I see some really interesting techniques that Mr. Wilde has used to convey different scenes or characters.  I am truly enjoying the fact that I recognize these things and that I see how I might borrow it at one point or another.  But the other thing I see is that the pace is incredibly slow as the characters  elaborate (either out loud or in their own head) at any given point.  It's almost to the point I'm more inclined to skim through rather than enjoy every word, though I'm fighting that impulse as much as possible.

Part of my problem might be that I really haven't read very many of the "classics".   I don't have an educational background in literature (other than stuff they thrust at us in high school), so perhaps I am just lacking a true appreciation for it.  I don't know.  What I do know is that I am struggling to read this one in particular, and I hope somewhere along the way I can either decide to succumb or put it down for good.

Anyone else out there struggle with classic literature like this?  Any advice you can give?