A to Z Challenge 2013

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A To Z - Out Of Time

Yikes, time just seems to escape away from me these days.  I look up and five days have passed by without me realizing it.  Time is an important concept for a writer though.  In our personal lives, we never seem to have enough of it (at least I don't).  The hours and days fly by as we scurry about with our busy activities, whether it's family things or just our own interests.  Every once in a while, we get a moment to stand there and just breathe in and out, but those moments are rare.

It's ironic then, that we want time to hurry along in our writing.  Or rather, we don't want too many moments in our stories where things are just calm and relaxing like a unhurried stream.  The stories have to move along a bit quicker, carrying the reader in a leaky boat towards the rocky waterfall ahead without concern (with a grin on their mug, no less).  If we slow down the pace too much, the reader becomes bored and puts the book down - something we definitely do NOT want to happen.

Thinking about this idea, I wonder why we crave a lull in our own lives while expecting an exciting busy adventure in our reading?  Maybe what we really crave is a break from the monotonous busy work that is our lives, not really a truly slower pace.  I don't know about you, but even when I take a break from life, I don't sit around for too long without doing something.  Inactivity is not something I can really enjoy, which is probably why I don't watch a lot of television.  My best days at work are when I look up and it's quitting time already;  I've been so busy that I didn't even notice the passage of time.

What would be really useful is the invention of time travel, coupled with immortality of course.  That way we could bounce around to any time or place we wanted to without the worry of running out of time (due to aging).  It is almost a curse being interested in so many things in life, since there's not enough time to really explore them all.  I suppose if we have limitless time however, maybe we wouldn't be as careful with how we use the time we have.  Maybe the real answer is to have time based on how many real interests a person has.  Ooh, that's a great story idea, heh heh.  Okay, nobody gets to grab that one.  I'm claiming it right now.

Do you find yourself struggling for time to get everything done?  And how do you manage your time?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A To Z - Sons

My family is the most important thing to me, and a great part of that is because I have such awesome sons.  For those who have daughters, I feel for you.  I couldn't imagine how much more stressful my life would be if I had a daughter.  I'd have to keep a loaded shotgun in the closet, I'd have to put bars on her windows so she couldn't sneak out or invite interlopers in, and I'd have to monitor every article of clothing she wore.  Yeah, I definitely am not disappointed with having two sons.

I'm sure my wife would disagree.  She always wanted a daughter, but not me.  On the one hand, having "daddy's little girl" might be pretty cool.  But having to worry about her would probably drive me to drink.  I don't worry about my sons.  I have an almost 18 year old, and though he has his moments, I'm very proud of who he is and who I envision he will become.  I don't think he's figured out yet what he wants to be, but I don't have a problem with that.  I'd rather he take his time and get there his own way.  He has indicated an interest in computer-aided drafting, so we'll see if that pans out for him.

My younger son is an artist.  He already knows what he wants to be and he has a good start on it.  The dragon picture posted above is one of his, and the cool thing is that he drew it straight out of his own mind.  He used to copy images from books or things he saw, but I told him now that he had the basic idea, he needed to draw up his own dragon rather than somebody else's.  As far as I'm concerned, he took the advice to heart and did an awesome job.

My sons are fun.   And I spend a lot of time with them (even when maybe they'd rather I let them be).  Since I know they won't be here much longer, I take every opportunity to bother them.  It's not too bad though and I'm fairly certain they don't really mind.  Even the older one seems to take my need for his company in stride.   Sometimes I give him his space, but lots of times I drag him through whatever fun I can think up.

For those of you who have kids, do you struggle for their attention or are they pretty close to you?  And have you thought about what life'll be like when they've moved on (a moment I dread BTW)?

Friday, April 22, 2011

A To Z - Renee

When it comes to the R post, I knew there would be only one topic I could choose - that of my wife Renee.  My wife is after all, the reason I am able to do all the things that I do.  She is one of the strongest women I know, and she has had to overcome many obstacles in her life.

Not too long after she was born, Renee's biological father left her mother.  Luckily her mother met a decent guy who became Renee's true Dad, but the impact of the situation was in the back of Renee's mind for years.  When Renee was only 9, she got hit by a car and was in a full body cast for a long time.  Because of that event, she had multiple surgeries on both legs and cold weather still makes her legs ache at times.   Her parents both worked two jobs, so Renee had to help parent her younger siblings from a very early age.  In fact, she probably missed out on what most people would call a normal childhood.   Later, she met this truly geeky guy who called her all the time and somehow managed to coax her to marry him (for which he is ever thankful).  These days, Renee struggles with illness but despite her own situation, she continues to worry that she isn't doing enough for those around her.

You see, Renee has a heart that is ten times the size of most normal people (figuratively, that is).  She tries to give everything she has to all the people around her, even when doing so makes her more sick.  She is just a caring person, and she doesn't seem to have a way to turn it off.  It's sometimes a struggle to keep her from giving too much of herself, to remind her to give herself rest.  But despite the fact that she sometimes does too much, you have to admire how much love she has for everyone around her.  Every person in her life knows that Renee cares, and they know they could depend on her no matter what condition she might be in.  This is her best quality, even though it sometimes comes with a cost to her health.  It is also one of the strongest reasons I admire and love her, because I sometimes I wish I had that same capacity for giving.

After almost 19 years of marriage, she is still the most beautiful woman to me.  She is a wonderful mother to our sons, providing an indefinable quality that my parenting skills lack.   She has an unending well of empathy to temper my stern moments.   She reminds me that it's okay sometimes to just relax and let kids be kids (even if one of those "kids" is me).  And she constantly makes me smile and laugh, particularly when I need it the most.  I sometimes worry that I don't provide her with what she deserves from a decent husband, but I will hang on to her as long as she'll let me.

Renee my love, this  post is dedicated to you.  I remain your loving and adoring husband for as long as you are willing to put up with me.

A To Z - QUIET!!!!!!!

Over the years, one thing I've really come to enjoy is the moments of peace and quiet.  I really like things calm, and for writing there's nothing better than a lack of noise so that my mind can focus.  Not absolute silence, but a mostly quiet atmosphere.  I'm not a fan of loud noise in most situations actually.

Take the movies, for example.  One thing I hate these days is going to the movies and having my ear drums blasted with sound so loud that I feel like I'm at a rock concert.  People, if I wanted to go to a rock concert, I'd be there instead.  I guess the reason they do that though is because so many young people seem to blast their stereos as loud as they can, so maybe they can't really hear anymore.  And maybe the theater people are in that category.

You can't watch any car mod show without seeing them pack the trunk with as much bass power as possible.  They even revel in the fact that you can't talk to the person in the seat next to you if you crank it all the way up.  I don't think people understand just how bad their lives would be however, if they couldn't hear.

My father is a perfect example.  He was a career firefighter for 30 years and drove the trucks all the time.  Back when he first started, they really didn't wear hearing protection.  Even when it became more prevalent, he chose not to because...well, because he just didn't.  These days however, I see how much he struggles with the fact that his hearing is very poor and it irritates him.  He scoffs at the idea that he cares, but I can tell that he really wishes he had taken better care of his hearing.  I use his example as a teaching tool for my sons, and I'm really happy that they are aware of what can happen if you don't care for your hearing.

To bring things back to writing however, I often think about what I'd like my writing space to be if I could choose anything.  I envision a small desk or table (or even just something to hold my laptop on), sitting in a screened-in porch or deck.  In front of me would be a beautiful lake, a deep forest, or even a scenic desert view complete with cacti and plenty of sky.  Add some occasional wildlife to barely break up the silence and that would be my perfect writing space.  Sigh.  Someday maybe, when I can just sit and write all day long.

Do you prefer quiet when you're writing or do you like to be surrounded by a little more activity?

A To Z - Poem

I sat up this morning
And realized I was late
Three days had passed me by
I'd made me Followers wait

I could hear the cracklin'
Of torches lit a'fire
The pitchforks were a clangin'
As the people called me a liar

"You said you'd post the A to Z"
I heard them shout at me.
"Here we sat these past three days
Wonderin' where ye be!"

My fingers were a twitchin'
As my mind began to race
I couldn't hide the fearful look
That was plain upon me face.

So I tried to stand up tall
And be a brave lad
"I know I've kinda let ye down
But really I'm not bad"

"I just have let the time go by
I didn' realize
So here's a little poem
For all you gals and guys!"

The mob, they paused and looked at me
I said, "Wait, there's more.
I'll get the rest o' me posts put up
Let's not start a war."

The people stomped away from me
One man yelled out, "We'll see.
If ye ain't got em posted soon enough
We'll hang ye from that tree!"

I'm hopin' now to get these done
Before the sun should set
I'll have 'em posted soon enough
I'll pay off me writin' debt.

*note - No idea why every poem I attempt sounds like an Irish drinking song.  Go figure.  Oh, and thanks Michelle H. for the torch and pitchfork idea!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A To Z - Old

Today is noteworthy because not only am I another day older, I'm also another year older.  Forty of 'em, to be precise.  Yep, I just passed the big Four-O-M-G line.  I don't really consider myself old, but it's a great way to deflect things.  Like when you can't remember that one detail your boss wants.  "I'm old dude, what do you expect?"  Okay, it doesn't really work that well but it sounds good anyway.

Some people really dread getting older, but it doesn't worry me much.  The way I see it, as long as I can still get vertical each day, I'm doing pretty good.  I don't know where I envisioned myself to be at forty, but I'm not overly disappointed in myself either.  I'm not a published author yet, but I have a great family, a decent enough job, we're not starving, and we're not homeless.  I'm a college graduate (something I probably wasn't sure I'd be by forty) and I'm even working my way though my Masters degree (something I'm positive I didn't envision way back when).

My wife asked me what I want for my birthday and I honestly have no idea.  I'm not a very materialistic person and birthdays stopped being a big deal for me quite some time ago.  Don't get me wrong;  I still celebrate every year and thank God that I'm alive and healthy.  But I can't say I'm excited in any way.  There are things I'd love to have (like that Victory 8 Ball motorcycle perhaps or get a tattoo of the Incredible Hulk filled in on my chest), but I'm not interested in bankrupting my family for the former and the latter is too expensive to justify spending on myself.  Tonight we're going out to dinner with my parents (who thankfully are in town right now), and that's probably all we'll do.

How do you feel about the years sliding by?  Do you celebrate each birthday with a huge party or are you more minimalistic?

Monday, April 18, 2011

A To Z - What's In A Name?

If there's one thing that is the bane of my writerly existence, it's names.  Whether it's coming up with a name for my main character or figuring out the title of a given WIP, I usually sit there staring at a blank page for hours with no ideas.  And names are actually really important.  Think about it.  If Frodo had been called Brutus instead, wouldn't it have changed things a bit in the reader's mind?  Names (or titles) evoke certain ideas in our minds, whether we consciously think about it or not.

Every once in a while I do stumble on a story where all the names just pop into my head unbidden.  The first thing I attempted to write for example, was titled "A Moment To Breathe".  The main characters were Frank and Rosalie.  And I knew it as soon as I sat down to tell their story.  This is an exception however.  The current story I am working on still has no title.  The main character thankfully has a name, but the girl who may turn out to be a romantic interest remains obscured, her name hidden behind some veil I just can't pierce.

I'm not sure if it's something about the way my mind works that keeps me from being able to put a name to my characters, but it definitely gets frustrating.  I will even go so far as being able to flesh them out in great detail and yet still not have a moniker to hang on them.  Maybe I should just call every guy Bob until the real name comes to me.

This is another short one, but if anyone has advice on how they deal with names, I'm all ears.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

200 Followers Contest Results

First let me extend a thank you to everyone who entered the contest.  It blows my mind to think that 200+ people are possibly stopping by this little blog on any given day.   Yikes, maybe I better not think about that.  I don't always work well under pressure.

After tallying up all the points and doing the Random picker thingy, the winner is...

(Boy, the anticipation must be building, huh?)

(Bet you'd all like to really know who it is, huh?)

(How many times can I put things in parenthesis before someone complains?  Heh heh)

The winner is Ann Carbine!

That's right, Ann.  You are the proud winner of a $30 EGift card from Barnes & Noble.  Send me an email to estallsworth at com cast dot net and (after getting a few details from you), I'll send it your way.  Thank you again to all of you who have decided to follow my blog, particularly those of you who have stayed with me all this time.  I've said it before and I'll say it again.  The writing industry has some of the coolest people as members and I'm so happy to be a part of it.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A To Z - NaNo NaNo

I haven't checked, but this may be the topic a lot of people are choosing for N.  For me, it's a good choice because when I did attempt NaNo(short for National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo) in 2009, it really invigorated me with a need to write.  I hadn't been doing this writing thing very long and NaNo was a great trial by fire.

I ended up not being able to finish NaNo (or to be more accurate, choosing not to finish NaNo).  See, I was within one class of graduating with my Bachelors degree and I really needed to focus on my Capstone.  I did make a decent showing however, achieving somewhere near 32K words.  I had some great moments too, such as when I killed off a character for the first time (by accident, no less).

I do believe I will attempt NaNo again this year, even though I'm back in school going for my Masters degree.  For one thing, I'm doing well with organizing my calendar and sticking to it.  Fitting in NaNo time shouldn't be too hard.  I won't be graduating until this time next year either (God I hope so), so that'll be long after NaNo is done.  And despite the fact that most NaNo projects are first drafts, I believe in the usefulness of such a process.  Forcing myself to write every single day is a practice I need to get to.  If I have the goal of joining in on NaNo this year, I'll bust my butt to get stuff done so that I can.

This is a short post, but before I go, how many of you have done NaNo or are planning on doing it?  For those of you who have, what are your thoughts of NaNo?  For those of you considering it, if you need an encouraging buddy to help you get there and get through it, yell out.  I'm more than happy to help us both succeed in November.

A To Z - Marriage

There I was 19 years ago, saying those two words that would bind me to the most wonderful woman in the world.  And only one month into our marriage, I got deployed on training for a month.  To say it was a hard way to start things off would be an understatement.  My wife and I have made many mistakes over the years too.  We tried to impress each other's parents during our first Christmas.  Yeah, that one put us into debt the next 2 years.  It took us probably 9 years before we really learned how to communicate well, to talk to each other about everything (both good AND bad).  And we didn't really learn how to save, how to put money away until about 3 years ago.  Or maybe on that last one, we didn't learn how much easier it makes things when you do so.

One thing I can say is that whenever I imagine where my life would be if I hadn't gotten out of the Army that year, if I hadn't chased that girl until she said yes, if I hadn't gone through all these problems and good times, I would be missing out on all the things that make my life considerably blessed.

For starters, I probably wouldn't have the great marriage that I have right now.  Despite the fact that my wife is currently ill, these are the times when we seem to be closest and most in love with one another.  I also have two incredibly talented boys who I envision growing up to be honorable and impressive men.  Beyond these two very important things, there are aspects to my life that probably would not have happened had I not had such a wonderful marriage.  I might not have gone through college and gotten my degree.  I definitely wouldn't have re-awakened my love for writing if I didn't have such strong support behind me.  And without my sons, I probably wouldn't be driven to be successful in my life as much.  After all, I do believe that if I can show them success, they will also seek it in their own adult lives.

About the only thing I would change if I had to do it over again is how early I learned all these hard lessons.  My family has had some difficult times, and sometimes I think about how much better I could have made it for them all if I hadn't made some of the mistakes I have.  But we are very blessed, so I try not to complain too much.  I also realize just how much worse off we could be, and that's a sobering thought.

I don't have a parting question for you, but I do wish each and every one of you as blessed a life as mine.  I hope the best for all your families, and may you all reach almost two decades of life with a satisfied grin on your face.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A To Z - Lost In The Woods

Many years ago, I went through Basic Training in the Army at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri (or as we more affectionately called it "Ft. Lost-In-The-Woods").  Okay, so it's a stretch for an L post, but I've got some fond memories of the place, even if it was rough at times.

If you've never been in the military, you may not understand how I can look back so fondly on a time when I was basically treated like crap - on purpose no less - for 8 weeks straight.  They tell you when you're in Basic Training that those 8 weeks will be ones you look back on and remember the most.  They're not wrong either.

Most soldiers have a ton of stories and probably half of them revolve around Basic Training.  For me, Basic was when I learned to grow up a little and believe in myself a lot.  People that knew me in high school can't believe how much I changed.  It wasn't all fun and games though.  For example, I had to buy back my M-16 rifle from one of the Drill Sergeants after leaving it leaning against a half wall on the grenade range (I heard them call for chow time and my brain never properly engaged, I guess).  The payment consisted of holding this 10lb weapon straight out in front of me as MY Drill Sergeant regaled me with the longest tale ever about some soldier who had left his weapon in a latrine during WWII (or something to that effect).  I thought my arms would fall off by the time he let me relax.   I never left it anywhere again though.

Then there's the time when a fellow soldier and I got busted for being at the Main PX (aka Walmart on base - before there were Walmarts) on Memorial Day.  See, we weren't allowed to go there, but four of us soldiers had gone into business (sort of) taking keepsake pictures of our fellow soldiers and sell the prints to them directly from an Insta-matic camera.  We ran out of film and didn't want to miss out on the potential sales (I guess), so we took a chance and went to the PX anyway.  Of course, it was my own Drill Sergeant who busted two of us while the other two hid.  To this day I don't know why, but my Drill actually stood up for us when we had to go before the Captain for an Article 15 hearing (a form of discipline where you can be demoted or even lose money from your paycheck).  Because of him, we only got 15 days restriction and extra duty.  To say I was relieved was an understatement.

Or how about the reason I can't stand barbecue sauce is because of Basic Training.  See, we were out in the woods on bivouac (aka camping Army style) and the first morning we had to wake up about 2 A.M.  They handed us breakfast in the form of MREs (Meals Ready-To-Eat).  And back then they didn't have all the cool ones apparently available nowadays.  No burritos, no pizza, etc.  No, my first meal was cold barbecue beef chunks in a plastic sleeve.  I was so grossed out I couldn't even take more than one bite.  I suffered along with no food until the sun rose so I could get a good look at the rest of the meal, which thankfully included an awesome chocolate bar and some of the thickest peanut butter I've ever encountered.  I tossed the latter on the former and gulped it down, followed up with a delicacy we used to call Ranger Pudding (coffee and cocoa mixed together with just enough water to make...well, pudding).

I could go on and on, but that's probably enough.  Suffice it to say that Lost-In-The-Woods was a great experience, even if I did get tired of doing push-ups.  Oh, and I know I'm behind a letter but I'll catch up tomorrow.

What is one of the favorite places from your past?  And why is it memorable?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A To Z - Kids And Kontests

It is immediately obvious what belongs in my K post - Kids.  First of all, my kids are the most important thing in my life (aside from my wife, of course.  Love you hon).  But this post has to be about kids because I think kids are awesome.  Kids are what we all should be all the time.  They are curious, they have questions, they believe in Santa, and they love to play.  Kids are founts of possibility.  These are generalizations, but I truly believe that all these qualities exists in all kids.  The ones that grow up to be lunkheads probably had lunkheads for parents (another rant I'll save for the P post LOL).

Kids are awesome.  They laugh, they run around, they want to learn everything (until they become teenagers, this is).  They believe that things are possible, that somehow we can build something to fix a given problem.  Kids have potential, sometimes untapped but there nonetheless.  And if you tell a kid they can do something and support them in it, they will work their butts off to make it happen.

So right about now I can hear the objections.  Yes, I understand that not all kids are like this, that many kids do not grow up with these same qualities.  I don't consider that a fault of the kids.  As far as I'm concerned, kids are like little sponges.  They will suck in anything given to them.  And if that's good stuff, the kid will grow up to be an awesome adult.  If they don't get good stuff...well, refer to my short comment about parents.

Before I sign off, I want to mention a couple Kontests.  Yes, I'm using a K on purpose.  Just ignore the lack of spelling for the moment.  Usually I'm a stickler, but this is a K day.  If you haven't signed up for my 200 Followers contest, get over there asap.  I've tried not to plague everyone with constant reminders, but I don't want anyone to miss out either.  The Kontest ends midnight (MST) on Saturday, so don't wait too long.

There's another Kontest going on though.  Cheree Smith is holding a Kontest for 300 Followers (way to go, Cheree).  She's a fellow A To Z'er, and the prize she's offering is also really cool.  Head on over to her blog to get the details.

For those of you who have kids, do you agree or disagree with me?  For those of you who don't, sorry but your opinion doesn't count LOL.  Oh okay, you can have an opinion.  I'll even let you yell it at me in the comments :)

A To Z - Jinx

Okay, I skipped yesterday so today is my moment to catch up.  Since we're now on J, the first word to pop into my head was Jinx.  This is one of my favorite words because it's so odd and yet fun to say.  The definition of Jinx is:

1.  A person or thing thought to bring bad luck.
2.  A condition or period of bad luck that appears to have been caused by a person or thing.

It's a funny thing that most people will admit to (or are hesitant to refute) the idea of luck.  Even though rationally the concept of luck doesn't make any sense, we still refer to either good luck or back luck (or both).  A Jinx is of course something that brings on the bad luck.  Something we can point to for blame when things don't go the way we think they should.  What's funny is that despite the negative connotation attributed to the term, it's used everywhere.  There's a band named Jinx, gamers choose the term as their own moniker (and an associated clothing line), and we even have comic book characters that go by that name.

I remember a time when I was younger where we'd yell out the term whenever two people said the same thing at exactly the same time.  Whoever said it first was supposed to get a pop (soda, soft drink, etc) from the other person.  Of course, it was rare than anyone ever paid up but we said it anyway.

Jinx is also a really good Scrabble word.  If you've ever played the game, you know how much fun it is (or not) to have a J and an X in your letters.  They are both worth lots of points, but they can both be really difficult to use too.  Luckily (intended pun), if you stumble on an "I" and an "N", you're good as gold.

Anyway, it's one of my favorite words so it seemed appropriate for a J post.  Are there words like this one that you like, just because?

Monday, April 11, 2011

A To Z - Ignorance

Today's A To Z is something I talk about from time to time with co-workers.  It's the concept of Ignorance.  See, in my day job I see a great deal of Ignorance.  I'm an IT guy, and by the very nature of my job, I've had to learn a lot.  Understand that I'm not bashing my customers, nor is Ignorance a foul term.  In my mind, Ignorance is merely the lack of knowledge.  Ignorance is really just not possessing that key bit of information that would otherwise make a person more capable in whatever endeavor they are attempting.

One of the enjoyable tasks I have been able to do is run training classes.  I really like to teach others all about the little tricks available to them in the computing world.  From keyboard shortcuts to right-click menus, there is a wealth of information that most people are completely unaware of.  Either they have been too busy to explore their computing environment or they are just used to doing things a certain way.  When you show them an easier way to accomplish a task however, the positive response you get is really rewarding.  It's not that they were incapable of doing things that way before - they just possessed a little bit of computing Ignorance that some key training can banish instantly.

Now this guy Ignorance has a cousin that goes by the name Stupidity.  Here is where I have a difficult time dealing with things.  See, I'm fairly tolerant and even accepting of Ignorance, but I absolutely cannot abide Stupidity.  Stupidity is when you know how something should be done but you consciously choose to ignore what your brain is telling you and take the darker path.

Take wearing a motorcycle helmet, for example.  I've heard all the arguments about freedom, about not being forced into the constrictions of laws, etc.  And I can completely understand and relate to that ideal.  What it boils down to for me however, is the immutable fact that if a person's head makes contact with the pavement, it is almost a certain guarantee that there will be damage (and not to the pavement).  If there is a helmet surrounding that head, common sense tells you that 99% of the time, there will be less damage to the head.  The greatest show of Stupidity IMHO is those riders who go through the effort to purchase a helmet and then strap it to their bike as they ride away.  Now what the hell would possess you to purchase the helmet if you aren't going to wear it?  I know I'm one of the few motorcycle riders who choose to wear a helmet, but I figure if I can't abide Stupidity in others, I sure can't practice it myself.

I could go on and on with examples of Stupidity, but I'm sure everyone knows exactly what I'm talking about.  Suffice it to say that Ignorance isn't necessarily a bad thing whereas Stupidity definitely is.  And yes, the whole helmet thing is one example of Stupidity that just grates on my nerves.

Oh, and the cat picture?  I just thought he looked awesome under that cool helmet LOL.

How do you deal with Ignorance when you find it?  Do you distinguish between Ignorance and his more evil cousin Stupidity?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Blog Chain - Aimless Direction

Woohoo, another edition of the blog chain where I get to start things off.  As I've said many times, I'm a steadfast pantster.  I don't truly organize my writing, and I don't plot (except for maybe a vague idea of things in my head).   So from this background comes the question:

When was the last time you just sat down and started writing, with nothing but a whisper of an idea to guide you?  Did you find it easy to do or did you find yourself struggling for a more organized story?

It might appear that I do this all the time.  But in all honesty, even I ruminate over an idea for a while before applying my hands to the keyboard.  The last time I truly did this however, was during a short story class I took. The teacher would give us a writing prompt and we had 15 minutes or so to get something down on paper.  It was incredibly challenging and yet incredibly invigorating as well.  When we were asked to share our writing, it was really interesting to see what everyone came up with.

One of the things I like about this type of writing is that it allows me to get outside of editor mode.  Because I have no idea where I'm going, I can't judge whether I've written anything right or wrong.  Of course this means that we're talking about first draft quality writing, but sometimes the best phrasing comes when our mind is really not engaged.  We are concentrating on what we're doing of course, but hopefully we're cranking out words so quickly that we don't have time to second guess ourselves.

To illustrate what I mean, I'm going to randomly pick a word right now (and I guess you'll just have to trust me). I will then write a snippet based on that word.  For the record, I've used this to get my word.  The word it chose for me is Vestige.  So here goes:

Any vestige of humanity was gone, replaced by malice and loathing for the two legged creatures around him.  Alex watched them scurry about, hidden as he was within the shadowed confines of the alley.  Each person represented possibility, another chance for him to fulfill the need pulsing at his temples.  The pain of it sometimes made him wince, but his mouth would stretch in a grin regardless.  Pain was intoxicating, more so if he could inflict it on others.  But even his own pain had become a drug, which was the reason for the countless scars dancing across his hidden forearms.

He pushed the pounding blackness to a small recess in his mind, keeping it there as he concentrated on his potential prey.  The time for striking was almost at hand, he thought as Alex noticed the number of pedestrians become less and less.  Finally he heard the telltale signs of a woman's hurried steps, the cadence of her high heels echoing in the night.  The scream as he grabbed her was a vicious wine, and he reveled in the way her nails dug at his body ineffectually.  Yes, let them exchange pain for pain, he thought.  Hers would be more delicious than his own, but only a fool would ignore one over the other.  Then he choked her into unconsciousness, barely keeping from laughing aloud as her struggles lessened.  Time to play.  He turned away from the street and tossed her body into the back of the van.  The hunt might be over, but the fun had barely begun.

So there you have it, a very small snippet but still fun to write.  I have managed not to edit as I go, which probably shows up blatantly.  But this is one type of writing I love to do.  I love to just go for it and let the words drip out however they may, leaving splashes of color on the page wherever they fall.

Have you ever tried doing something like this?  Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.  Since I'm the first one on the chain, check out how Michelle McLean answers this one.

A To Z - Heat

This'll be a short post, mostly because I have a blog chain post coming up right after it.  As I struggled to find a topic for the letter H, for some reason my mind just stuck on Heat.  What can I say about Heat?  Well, for starters, it's something I consider absolutely essential in my life.  You see, although age is starting to put a few more pounds on my lanky frame, I'm still a fairly skinny guy.  And one of the downsides of not having a lot of body fat is not being able to retain much heat.  I wear socks almost all the time because my feet get ice cold (unless I'm standing on baking asphalt maybe).  I even wear them to sleep in.

If I had my choice, I'd be living somewhere in Arizona right now.  Where other people cringe at 90 degree weather, I figure the 90s are when it's just getting comfortable.  I've been known to proudly attribute this behavior to some kind of reptile genes in my DNA.  I'm quite envious of those alligators who get to sun themselves all day long.

My wife and kids however, do not share my love of extreme heat.   Quite a few years back, we were taking a trip to see my parents in southern Missouri.  We pulled into a hotel parking lot just over the border of Missouri, and when my wife stepped out of the truck, the heat and humidity hit her like a brick.  It was the 5th of July and summer was well into swing.  I was basking in this natural sauna while she was ready to pass out.  My parents met us there and the first thing my Dad says is that their air conditioning had died the day before.  The evil look from my wife said we were turning back towards home immediately.  After letting her worry a moment however, my Dad then admitted to getting it replaced asap.  Thanks a lot, Dad.   Like I needed any help getting into trouble with the wife.  We laugh about it now, though there's still an edge to her voice when my wife remembers.  I think had we really been stuck with no AC, she would have gone postal and killed us all.  And knowing how much they value AC down there, she probably would have gotten away with it.   Justifiable homicide.

I do admit to one moment when I don't like extreme heat.  That's when I'm riding my motorcycle.  You see, I believe in wearing all the right gear.  I wear long pants, boots, some kind of long sleeved shirt or jacket, leather gloves, and I always wear a helmet.  And when the pavement is baking under a balmy 90 degrees, that makes for some uncomfortable riding.  Or at least some very sweaty riding.  If I ever do move to Arizona, I may have to get new gear to help keep me cool.  Ironic, isn't it?

Well, time to get on with my blog chain post.  But as for all you readers out there, do you like things more on the hot side or do you prefer more snow?

Friday, April 8, 2011

A To Z - Goodbye

No, I am not saying goodbye to the challenge, nor am I saying goodbye to all of you.  I want to talk about goodbyes.  This subject (depending on the context) can be a painful one.  In our personal lives, saying goodbye is more often than not a bitter and uncomfortable situation.  It is rare that two people who care about each other part without bad feelings or hurt.  Sometimes however, it's unavoidable.  After all, the greatest separator (a.k.a. Death) holds no ill will towards any of us, but eventually he takes us all.

From a literary perspective, saying goodbye can also be difficult (Disclaimer:  the next bit is theoretical on my part, since I've not completed a writing project yet).  Consider the latest project you finished writing.  When you wrote The End, and it rushed off to publication, did you have any angst?  Or were you able to release your literary child into the wild with no regrets?

Personally, I'm sure I will find it a little difficult to let go of a story and the associated characters.  I tend to get caught up in the lives I'm building and I do take my writing pretty serious.  Because I want to be proud of the characters I create, I put a great deal of effort into making them whole (as I'm sure all of you do).  It's hard enough sharing this stuff with beta readers;  I can't imagine how tough it will be sending it out into the world.

But with every sad goodbye, there should be happiness as well.  If we're lucky, we have created a lot of great memories along the way.  While not as wonderful as the real experience, these replayed scenes in our heads help soften the blow.  They help remind us of the wonderful moments where we were left grinning like a fool while helping ease us past the empty cavity of our loss.

Maybe I'm waxing a bit poetic here, but there it is.  Goodbyes are something everyone has to deal at some point.  How we manage our way through them has a lot to say about not only ourselves but also what (or who) we're saying goodbye to.

You have other thoughts on goodbyes?  Or do you have experience with saying goodbye to a literary work as you see it published?  I'd love to hear about it in the comments.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A To Z - Fun With The IT Crowd

I was pondering what to post about today and it popped into my brain.  F should ALWAYS stand for Fun!  And what do I find fun?  Why, watching one of the most awesome shows ever - The IT Crowd.  If you are not familiar with this show, let me explain.  The IT Crowd was a hilarious British television series that unfortunately only ran for four seasons.  The show is about two IT guys (Roy and Moss) and their non-computer literate manager Jen.  The crew are relegated to the basement of some huge British corporation, and they get the usual level of respect associated with IT shops (which is to say no respect at all).  I absolutely love every single episode.  Part of that might be because I'm an IT guy by trade (besides, writing, that is).  Oh, and if you do not enjoy the comedic styles of Benny Hill or Monty Python, this may not tickle your funny bone like it does mine.  But here is a snippet from one of their best episodes:

Hopefully you got a laugh out of that.  If not, don't feel too bad.  My wife and kids don't really get it either.  And I guess it's just one of those things you either laugh at hilariously or shake your head at before calling the men in white coats.

This is a short post today, mostly because I'm off to find more fun.  Where do you find your fun (outside of writing)?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A To Z - The Party's Over

Yeah, even the best of us can struggle with this one.  That's right, today I'm talking about those infamous words:

The End

Since we're on E, it just seems right to talk about it.  I don't know about you, but writing the ending is something struggle with.  Part of it has to do with the fact that I'm a pantster by nature.  You know, the whole lack of organization thing, the "I'm not sure where this is going but it sure is a fun ride" thing.

I actually had a very embarrassing moment once (when I was in a writing class no less).  I had to finish up this short story I was working on (which incidentally I'm still revising), and when I got to the end, I just didn't know how to end it.  So I went all melodramatic and wrote an ending that I was definitely ashamed of later.  It's really humbling when everyone's talking about the good and bad things you wrote and then they get to the part where they discuss the ending.  And there's silence.  Because even they can't come up with adequate words to describe how awful your choice of endings was.  Yeah, it was an ugly scene.

But on the good side, I did learn how NOT to write an ending.  Like to not hurry along and just write anything, no matter how loudly my muse is screaming obscenities at me through the duct tape I've plastered over his mouth.  While it's a great feeling to type "The End" maybe, it's not a great feeling to look back on what you wrote and know that you really just slapped some dirty ol' cardboard together and called it a mansion.  You might be able to fool a few people, but you really can't fool yourself.  Unless you're one of those people who send a first draft manuscript to your favorite agent claiming they are missing out by not signing you.  I suppose those kind of people really can fool themselves.

Anyway, endings are something we need to take time with.  They need as much attention as everything else we write.  The impression we leave the reader with as they close the book ought to have just as much impact as when they read the opening paragraph.

BTW, If you haven't put in an entry for my 200 Followers contest, you better get over there.  There's still time but not for long.  There will be more A To Z tomorrow, but for now, this is The End.

How do your endings happen?  Do they arrive easily or do you find yourself struggling as well?  If so, how do you overcome it?

Monday, April 4, 2011

A To Z - Demands Of The Times

If you haven't put in an entry for my 200 Followers contest, get yourself over to yesterday's post and do so.  I can't imagine anyone who couldn't use a reason to go buy more books.

For today's A To Z though, we're going to talk about Demands.  This is a subject close to my heart, because it's something I struggle with constantly.  What I'm talking about are demands on my time.  If you're anything like me, you have way too many things you could be doing (or should be doing) and not enough hands and feet to juggle it all with.  No, I'm not an accomplished foot juggler, but wouldn't that be an interesting ability?

Anyway, I have always found that I have way too many interests, responsibilities, and obligations.  And unfortunately, I never have enough time to do them all.  So how do I overcome this problem?  Eh, I just wing it, which probably doesn't help much.  On the good side, I am trying to cultivate some kind of organizational calendar of sorts, but it's a rough road for me to travel.

One important thing I've learned lately is how important it is to make writing a priority.  Okay, I've been told that over and over but maybe it's just recently sinking in.  I had a dry spell where I wasn't even putting an effort into making time for writing.  The minute I sat down and started working on it again (editing, no less), I felt invigorated.  I haven't yet squeezed in writing every single day, but at least it's more often than never at all.

If we steer this topic towards how we write, have you ever thought about the demands placed upon your characters?  We often envision entire stories in our heads, but if we can consider how the rest of the world affects things (because only hermits can avoid some kind of affect from the world around them - and that's only a maybe), it throws a new dynamic into our writing.  I can't say I remember to do it all the time myself, but I'm learning to alter my thinking in that direction.

Demands are a tricky beast.  If we get too overloaded (or our characters do), nothing gets accomplished.  But if we have nothing demanding our attention, we're a pretty boring story.

Have you taken a look lately at the demands on your time (or your characters)?  Are they in tune with where you'd like them to be?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A To Z - All Hail Christine

We're into day three of the challenge and the letter is C.  I didn't even have to think twice about this one though, because there are two great things going on.  First off, Christine Fonseca is putting out another great book called 101 Success Secrets For Gifted Kids.  I am honored to say I am a friend of hers, and as such I figure my C post can be used to help her celebrate and launch this awesome book.  Christine has challenged us to answer the following question:

My advice to a child would be very simple.  Find a smile in everything you do and hold on to it.  Life isn't one big ball of fun at every given moment, but learning to appreciate the fun things in life is what allows us to coast past the times when life gets a bit tougher.  A smile and a laugh helps keep us child-like in our hearts, helps keep us young.  Remembering to take time out to play once in a while keeps us from getting so serious that we're not enjoying our lives.  There are times when we have to work hard, there are times when we have to trudge through uncomfortable or difficult situations, but it is the smile we maintain that allows us to be better people regardless of what we face.

Now don't get me wrong.  I don't mean we should all walk around grinning like idiots.  But I do honestly believe in the power of a positive outlook.  I do believe in the magic of playtime.  And I believe that we only get one spin on this ball of rock.  If we don't take advantage of every moment given to us, there are no do-overs.  So I guess my advice amounts to telling a child to stay a child for as long as they can, even if that just means being a child at heart.  Being a grownup isn't all it's cracked up to be, and there are plenty of us grownups that do it all wrong.

Because I'm having such a ball with this A to Z challenge, I also want to take this opportunity to use a second C word.  I just hit 200 followers, so that means its time for a CONTEST!  I'm going to do a random drawing in two weeks time  (on April 17th) and one of my lucky followers will receive:

A $30 EGift Card from Barnes & Noble

It's not a million bucks, but maybe one of you can use it to get a book or two.  I thought about giving the winner a couple books that I own, but that presents problems.  For starters, that would mean parting with my books.  Yes, I'm selfish and don't EVER want to get rid of my books.  Even if I haven't read a particular book in years, I NEVER want to get rid of one.  Secondly, I'd have to cough up money for shipping and right now, $30 is what I can financially do (especially if I don't want the wife yelling at me for spending money LOL).

I don't have a Facebook page nor do I use Twitter, so here are the ways you can increase your chances of winning:

Long-time Follower                                  +2 points
New Follower (i.e. just joined)                 +1 point
Doing the A to Z Challenge                      +1 point
Tell me the one book you're dying            +1 point
to buy with this prize and why.
Total Points For Me                                +1 point

Place your entry in the comments of this post.  All entries will need to be in by midnight on the 16th (Mountain Standard Time/MST).  I'll then do the random drawing on the morning of the 17th and announce the winner.  I wish everyone luck and hope you spread the word.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A To Z - Into Something Good

As the song goes, something tells me I'm into something good.  This A To Z Challenge is just that.  I don't know about the rest of you, but I've been having fun deciding what to post about and today is no exception.

Today I'd like to talk to you about my B word, namely Beginnings.  Now, I'm not necessarily talking about just the start of a story (although that applies).  I'm just talking about beginnings in general.  I love beginnings.  I love beginning a new vacation.  I love beginning a new writing project.  I even love beginning a new job.  That last one might not be easy to believe, but bear with me and you'll understand why.

You see, beginnings are one of the few times when we have an opportunity to really enjoy ourselves.  Take any project, any vacation, any new job, and in the beginning everything is golden.  We haven't had time yet to experience anything that might bring a dark cloud to our shiny fun.  Every beginning is full of promise, full of possibility.  Even a new job has the possibility of being more fun than the last one.  Sure, things might take a downward turn later on, but in the beginning we can still enjoy ourselves.

This A To Z Challenge is still in the beginning stage and it's still a lot of fun.  Maybe it won't be by the time I hit Z, but right now it's a blast.  The trick for us is to keep that early momentum and excitement going for as long as we can.  We have to keep telling ourselves why the beginning is so much fun and keep a grin pasted on our face.  Most things begin to dull if you continue doing them long enough, but hopefully you can inject a new beginning into the mix now and then.  When you do that, you get the magic back and can find a new reason to enjoy what you're doing.

As I finish this up, I've just noticed that I have a new beginning here at Da Muse.  I hit 200 followers.   Holy Cow!  This means I need to begin celebrating.  I'll have to think up some details and announce them soon.  Keep your eyes peeled, because you never know what oddball idea I might come up with.

What is the newest beginning you've experienced lately?  Do you still have the grin or have you allowed the golden outer coating to fade?

Friday, April 1, 2011

A To Z - And They're Off!

All over the blogosphere, people are beginning the A To Z challenge.  Since I'm also one of those participants, I figured I better get my post up.  Which brings me to the first letter, A.

And what does this post have to do with the letter A?  The word Almost.

For starters, I almost forgot to get things started.  Today has been such an awesome day, with me spending all kinds of time with the family.  Because of my distraction and fun however, I almost forgot to post something.  I almost forgot to do my homework.  I almost forgot to get some writing done.

The word almost is such a funny thing.  It can mean either promise or pain, success or failure.  Let me illustrate what I mean.  If I say I almost sat down and did some writing today, I'm fairly certain most of my fellow writers would call that a failure.  The pain it causes me to think about that use of the word comes from NOT getting writing done.

If we look at things another way however, almost can hold some great promise.  For example, if I say I almost finished all my edits today, everyone knows that I worked hard and that I was striving towards completion.  The very act of trying to succeed in this case overrides the fact that I didn't actually make it.  It's like an amateur runner finishing in second place on a 10K, when it's his first attempt.  Although he doesn't finish first, so many others finish behind him.  He almost wins, and yet there is still cause for celebration.

Maybe I'm stretching things a bit, but I like the possibilities that almost can present.  It gives us an opportunity to pat ourselves on the back, even though we may not have completely accomplished all our goals.  And sometimes that's exactly what we need; a little encouragement and self confidence so that our next attempt results in a big YES!

Before I go, I'd just like to say congrats to everyone who has joined this A to Z challenge and managed a post today.  And for all you visitors, while I doubt we expect that you'll visit everyone's blog (since there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 600+ blogs participating), please stop by as many as you can.  This is a really fun challenge and we all want to hear from you during this month.

Lastly, what goal did you almost succeed at?  And did you pat yourself on the back for the attempt?  Take care all, and see you tomorrow.