A to Z Challenge 2013

Monday, February 28, 2011

Learning To See Writing As I'm Reading

I'm still somewhat leading an "unplugged" status, but I noticed something interesting over the weekend that I had to share.  My oldest son advised me quite some time ago to check out this Xbox game called Alan Wake.  Saturday morning I found myself up fairly early and though I should have been writing (I know), I decided to see what was so interesting.  Also, I was still coughing every few moments, and trying to maintain intelligent thought for writing just wasn't really possible anyway.  That's one thing I have to say I hate about colds.  I don't sleep well, I have medicine head all the time, and I feel like I'm surrounded by a plague cloud of germs.  Not one of my better moments, but I digress.

If you haven't played this game and are thinking about it, you may want to skip what I'm going to say.  Some of it includes spoilers of a sort.  You've been warned.

Alan Wake is a mystery/horror/action game told from a really interesting perspective.  Alan is a successful horror writer who hasn't been able to write for two years or so.  Everyone around him seems bent on getting him back in the saddle (from his agent to the woman he loves), and it just seems to really piss him off.  After storming out of the cabin they've rented, he stands around outside being mad.  Screams from his lady however, compel him to run back to the cabin and see what's going on.  Then the world slips sideways a bit.

He loses a week of time and is suddenly being attacked by what appears to be smoky creations from his own (not yet written) book.  The world around him is a dark night, and only the power of lights (i.e. flashlights, streetlights, any light) seem to banish these things.

The interesting thing is how well the story is told.  It unfolds almost like a television episode, narrated in past tense by Alan himself.  As you wander through, there are references to Stephen King and The Shining (among others).  You can also pick up pages of his future book and read them.  Here's where it got really interesting for me.  I found myself reading the words and noticing things I would have done differently (such as the use of adverbs, telling instead of showing, etc).  There weren't a lot, mind you.  But I laughed at myself because it was so cool just being aware of the writing, even while I was caught up in the story.

I didn't play very long, but sometime when I have more time (and have already done my homework, my daily writing, and don't have to work LOL) I'd like to continue it to see where the story goes.

Then last night I found myself in another similar situation.  I picked up Across The Universe sitting on my nightstand and I began reading it again, this time really taking a look at how Beth did such a marvelous job with the writing.  How did she get the characters to be so vivid?  What about all this background and cultural information?  How did she include it without it being overbearing?  It was really fun re-immersing myself in the story again, but with different eyes.  Someday maybe I'll be able to just see it automatically as I read, but I'm not sure.  Is that possible?

I'd love to hear from you more experienced authors.  Do you see the writing as you read or do you have to multiple read-throughs?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Blog Chain - Show Me A Couple, I'll Show You Love

Given my current bout of sickness, I have chosen to postpone my test for a week (which thankfully I can do).  I'm still going to be unplugged after this post however, just so I can concentrate on getting better.  Since I was late with the last blog chain entry though, I figured I'd better get this one done on time.

Today's question comes from the awesome and talented Shaun Hutchinson, who asks:

Who is your favorite literary couple and why?

Thanks alot, Shaun.  Like I really needed something this challenging to think about.  Seriously though, I really didn't know how to answer this one.  On the one hand, I generally don't pay too much attention (at least consciously) to the romance between two characters in a story.  I can be as romantic as the next guy, but when I'm reading a story, I tend to unconsciously ignore this stuff so I can get to the action.  You will definitely never find me reading one of those trashy romance novels where they talk about how quick the woman's breathing gets as the guy enters the room or how they look as they tumble through the sheets.  No offense to those who like that stuff, but it's definitely not for me.

The best answer I can come up with for this is a couple I read about not too long ago.  Slight spoiler alert for those who haven't read this book yet.  They are Henry and Keiko from Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet.  Despite my usual habits to skim over this kind of stuff, these two kept me enthralled the whole time.  For one thing, their relationship spans like 40+ years.  But it is also interesting because their relationship begins when they are kids, when the earliest ideas of having a relationship with someone starts.  They have to deal with falling in love with one another at a time when their worlds are in complete turmoil, and they both come from distinctly different backgrounds.  Yet through all this, the love they feel for one another continues to beat even after circumstances separate them for decades.

That's the best answer I can give.  Just for the record, I firmly believe V-day is a devious machination concocted by women of the world so they get us guys to buy them more stuff.  Too bad a new motorcycle or lessons at the local firing range just won't do.

Stop by that super awesome Cole's blog to see how she answers this one.  And tomorrow, you can look forward to a truly inspiring answer from the talented Michelle Mclean.

But tell me, how is YOUR favorite literary couple and why?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Unplugging For A Week

Just wanted to let everyone know I'll be unplugging until after next Monday (except for a blog chain post tomorrow).  I have an extremely difficult test to study for that I will be taking next Monday morning, so keep your fingers crossed for me.  From what my mentor says, hardly anyone passes it the first time.

I've also got the resurgence of that stupid cold (or just another one beating me up).  I'm thinking it is probably due to stress, since I'm fairly well stressed out about this test.  Oh well, I doubt it will kill me if I fail the first time. It might make me feel stupid, but it won't kill me.

Take care all and I should be back next week.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Sandra Amazes, And Checking My Socialization Skills

I'm hoping Sandra won't hit me for posting this, but I found something really cool that I have to share.  If you visit Sandra's blog today, you'll notice she's talking about the competition on Jeopardy between a computer and man.  She also happened to mention that she had been on Jeopardy a while back.  That prompted me to Google her and I stumbled on these awesome YouTube vids of Sandra's performance.  If you thought she was amazing and incredibly intelligent before, you gotta check these out:

As you can see, she came very close to winning the game.  That's a serious achievement in my book.  Sandra, I hope you understand I am attempting to honor you, not poke fun :)

On another subject, although I am extremely late with this, I was supposed to put up a blog chain post a few days ago.  Never let it be said that I have avoided a blog chain entry.  This round's question comes from the awesome Amanda, who asks:

Are you a good social networker? What aspect of platform building do you focus on the most? Which aspects freak you out?

First off, I am not really on the social networking train at all.  I don't have a Facebook page, and I don't use Twitter.  In fact, this blog is really the only platform I'm currently using.  There are really good reasons for that however.  For me, time is precious commodity and finding even an hour to do any particular task can be daunting.  Sometimes I feel like I'm related to the Hindu god Shiva.  After all, I must have at least four arms to be able to juggle this many balls.

So thinking about Facebooking or Twittering (not even sure if that's the right terminology) is out of the question for me, at least at the moment.  Part of me actually wonders what I'm missing, since I've never checked any of this stuff out.  Probably I'm not missing too much, but who knows.

Having said all this, once I do begin to build a platform, I probably will at least put up a Facebook author page.  I can see the usefulness of such a thing, and I'll be willing to work at it as part of being a serious full-time writer.  I don't think any of the social networking stuff freaks me out though.  It might surprise some people, but I'm fairly talkative (both in person and online).  I wasn't always this way, of course.  If you looked up the definition of a silent geek, you'd probably see my high school picture.

I'm not really sure about the Twitter thing though.  Although my new phone has the capability, I'm not sure everyone wants to know whether I cooked eggs for breakfast or how many people cut me off in traffic this morning (nor would I likely share all that mundane stuff anyway).  I guess I just don't see the appeal of it, but more power to those who do.

I believe Michelle Mclean was bowing out of this chain, so I'm the last entry.  If you haven't read everyone's post on the chain, start with Amanda and work your way though them all.  Everyone has had some great thoughts on the subject.

How do you deal with social networking?  And does any part of it send you running scared?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Feelin' Bad About Feelin' Bad

There are certain things that bug me in life.  Being late to an appointment.  Misspellings of easy words.  Mispronunciation of a language foreign to you (i.e. non-Spanish speaking people trying to "fake it").  But I think the one thing that will bug me for a long time is that I did not get the chance to meet Beth Revis.

How did this tragedy occur, you ask?  It shouldn't have, right?  After all my excitement, my putting up a counter to keep track of the days, you'd think nothing could keep me from runnin' on down there at the appointed time.  Nothing, except for the most bone-weary, soul-sucking cold I've ever had.  

On Thursday I was feeling the beginnings of it, but it seemed to be nothing more than a regular cough.  By Friday morning, I was barely able to stagger out of bed.  My entire body felt like it had been pounded on with a sledgehammer, and I had to go to work anyway.  By the time I made it home from work on Friday, I could barely stumble over the threshold and crawl up to my bed.  The rest of the weekend was not much more than a blur of sleep and more sleep.  Oh, and alot of coughing and body aches.

So here I am on Monday evening, coughing now and again, feelin' bad about feelin' bad.   I even missed my turn on the Blogchain, another occurrence I regret.  I will put up a post tomorrow on it, but I still hate not getting it in on time.  I just don't have the energy this evening, and I would rather do the post proper justice.

It's funny.  I've had opportunity to meet celebrities before, but these days I'm way more excited to meet all of you.  Phil Collins might be my favorite musician of all time, but I'd find it more fun to meet any of my fellow writers than get even a single autograph by good ol' Phil.  Strange things are afoot at the Circle K.

Anyway, I'm sorry Beth, that I didn't get to meet you.  It would have been awesome.  And I'm sorry I don't have pictures and details for everyone else.  Maybe I'll get the opportunity at your next book tour, Beth.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Two Days 'Til Beth-day

I was sitting here considering what kind of post to put up when I looked over at my sidebar and realized something.


Holy Lead Pencils, Batman!

I think I had the date filed somewhere in the back of my mind, but now it's almost here and I'm back into excitement mode.  C'mon, it's not every day I get to meet somebody as cool and talented as BETH REVIS (okay, so meeting Jamie Ford was this cool too).  Cooler still is the fact that Beth is going to be joined by four other talented authors.   That just about sends the awesomeness meter through the roof.

Dang, don't think there's enough time to go rent a Tux.  Don't think the wife would understand or appreciate it anyway.  Maybe I should go iron my jeans.

In any event, I know where I'm headed Friday evening.  Here's hoping the snowfall and extreme cold weather  we've had lately actually do go away as the forecast predicts.  It was -7 this morning and I think it got up to a high of 20.  Not exactly comfortable, unless of course you're a polar bear.  Beth and crew, I'd advise a good warm coat and gloves.

Now I've got to get back to my homework.  Hopefully I can concentrate and not think too much about how cool it will be to have Beth sign my copy of AtU!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Monday Madness - Workin' In A Coal Mine

There are times when I truly wish I had chosen another career path.  As you can see from the lack of posts last week, it was a busy time for me.  Between all the chaos at work and trying to finish up my class, I had absolutely no energy.  Working a 17 hour day on Friday until about 11 pm didn't help much either.

Yeah, the life of a glorified Server Administrator isn't all it's cracked up to be.  I know most people think we just hit a few buttons now and then before getting back to our Xbox game or something (heck, my wife mimes that very activity at me all the time when she feels like giving me crap).  After all, computers are usually quite orderly.  They do what they've been told to do.  When things truly break however (as opposed to those things we IT guys like to call features of the software), it's rare that the problem is easy to fix.  This is when us IT guys put in the extra hours, working through the night if need be to make sure Joe Schmoe can get to his email on Monday morning.

Needless to say, I didn't find much time (or energy) to say hi to everyone and put in a post or two.  I actually feel a bit bad because I didn't even stop by anyone's blogs this weekend.  I like to keep up on what everyone else has to say, even if some days I don't have anything to say :)

In any event, I'm performing cleanup from Friday's mess and still wondering why I chose this particular field.  Maybe that's why I'm trying to become a better writer.  Heck, if it weren't for the pay, I'd probably just shift gears and do it full time.  Sigh...

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Audience - Guest Post By Michelle McLean

As part of her awesome blog tour, I am honored to present the incredibly talented Michelle McLean.  That's right, you'll only get to see this here on Da Muse (okay, her name is on every blogger's page on the tour as well as countless students worldwide - all of them in awe over her amazing literary skill - but let's focus here).   Without further ado, take it away, Michelle.

I think one of the most important things, if not THE most important thing, for any writer is this:

Know your audience.

When I sit down to write anything, I always have a target audience in mind. If I’m working on a YA novel, I’m thinking of teenagers between the ages of about 14 and 19. When I’m working on children’s picture books, I’m usually envisioning my own kids at ages 5 and 7. When I was in school and working on an essay or paper, I had my professor and classmates in mind. And when I wrote Homework Helpers: Essays and Term Papers, I had an audience of frustrated students who had to write a paper in mind.

If you know your audience, you can gear your book or project for them. You can keep the language appropriate. Now, I’m not talking about swearing or questionable jokes or anything. I mean using the big, field-specific technical language in your papers where your professor will appreciate them and keeping your young adult novels teen-friendly by using the type of language kids use when they speak.

How popular is your YA novel going to be if you use so many huge, unreadable words that your readers have to run it through a translator just to figure out what you are saying? How popular will your adult spy thriller be if your main character is a bunny named Buttons who solves crimes with his sidekick Terry Turtle? What kind of grade are you going to get if you turn in that college-level essay peppered with phrases like “So, dude, like you should totally just listen to me cause I like tooootally get what I’m doing.”

And how much help is a frustrated, confused student going to get from a guidebook that is so overly-technical and complicated they end up more confused than when they started? Probably not much. Which is why I made sure I kept my audience in mind while writing Homework Helpers: Essays and Term Papers.  

I want my readers to feel like I’m sitting right next to them, pointing out every single step of the process to them. I wrote the way I’d speak to them if I were sitting right there…non-formal, conversational, just me telling them step by step what they need to do.

No matter what you are writing, you’ve got to keep your audience in mind. I guarantee they’ll love you for it :)

Michelle McLean is a writer and the Chief Editorial Consultant for PixelMags, LLC. In addition to her non-fiction work, Michelle writes YA historical novels and other children’s books. If she's not editing, reading or chasing her kids, she can usually be found in a quiet corner working on her next book.

Homework Helpers: Essays and Term Papers is a fun, user-friendly book that guides the reader, step by step, through writing a dozen different types of essays, including the dreaded SAT essay. Using straightforward, plain English, this book shows the reader exactly what they need to do, from start to finish, and includes rough draft, edited, and final draft versions of every type of essay discussed. This book also provides chapters that include tips and instruction on researching, proofreading, and citations.

Thanks a ton Michelle.  If you stop by Michelle's blog, you'll see she has allowed me to put a post there as well.   You can also reach Michelle on Facebook or Twitter, and she's a contributer at Operation Awesome.  You can pick up a copy of Michelle's book Essays & Term Papers at Amazon, Borders, or Barnes & Nobles.  Or check your local retailer;  it's a sure bet they can get you a copy.