Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Putting the "Poe" in Poem

I've been reading some works from Edgar Allen Poe lately. In fact, I've got his complete works on order and on the way right now.

Some folks also know that I occasionally write some poetry. Not necessarily good poetry ... but it works for me. So, here's a poem that starts in the vein of Poe, but instead of it being a dark, scary, morbid thing, I thought I would try to skew it as an erotic or love poem of sorts.

Dark against the moon's pale light
Charcoal ravens taking flight
Through the veil of resting sight
I dreamt of her again last night

Never knowing from whence she came
So very softly whispering my name
A lover's bed from which we lain
Without regret and without shame

I wake to find my dream a lie
Weary in heart I heavily sigh
Remembering flecks of gold within her eye
Hoping that my dream won't die

In the second stanza, I wanted to add the line "In her excitement she sometimes says dang" but didn't think it would fit with the rest of the work. Seemed like a good idea at the time though.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Wrapping Up a Good Week

A few things happened this week that I feel rate as accomplishments.

At the beginning of the week, I submitting a story to a paying publication for the very first time in my life. Of course, after I clicked on "send" in my email, I quickly realized that I did not address my cover letter to an actual person. I also did not include a short bio of myself, instead saying only that it was my first submission. Oh well, I'm sure the editors will get a good laugh out of my inept attempt.

I feel that now is as good a time as any to start my rejection collection.

I also made a commitment to be more Earth friendly. I live less than three miles from where I work so I thought I would buy a bicycle and start riding it to work instead of putting undue wear and tear on my truck. Did I mention that my truck was a Dodge SRT-10 with a 500 horsepower V-10 racing engine? Well, it is, so I'm sure you can understand I will also be saving a bunch of gas. I'll keep the truck though, because I'm a guy after all, and it's nice to get in the thing once in awhile and stomp on the gas. It's very exciting and just a little scary. I gain a wonderful appreciation of life when the truck is slipping sideways and my tires squeal at 60 MPH. I still fear the power just a little.

I also decided I would start planning for a home garden for next year.

One thing I realized when I started planning for a garden area is how much planning a garden is much like planning (or plotting) a new story idea. One must create a basic structure that allows additional material or items to be added later.

I"ve had many story ideas and projects, and I've oftentimes found a project floundering as I'm writing a draft and I've reached about 20-30K words. This is because a once great idea becomes stagnant if a structure is not built that supports adding on later.

I now have learned to keep my outlining very loose and allow for the addition of other ideas, characters, plot lines, or scenes later. In the end, a loose flexible structure makes for a better, tighter story.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Further Adventures of Daleville Dan

Daleville Dan spends the entire morning working in the yard. He cuts overgrown bushes, trims the grass, and picks up the general debris spread throughout his back lawn. Of course, he cannot possibly make it through the day without placing himself in some precarious position or another – that’s just not his style.

There’s a spot in the back yard Daleville Dan likes to use when he’s got something to burn. It’s not an area specifically designated for burning or anything, it’s just a charred spot in the grass where he tends to pile stuff up until he feels he’s gotten enough for a respectable bonfire. After all, nothing flavors a hotdog better than a couple of burning rubber tires.

Now, Dan’s been working all morning and managed to pile sticks and debris so high that he must use an old wooden chair to pour the gas out of the five-gallon can in order to properly light off a fire. Hey, don’t worry folks, Dan is an ecologically respectable man. He uses old gas from last year for fire starting. It won’t work in the lawn mower anymore. Daleville Dan even adds his own artistic twist to the fire starting by pouring the last little bit of gas remaining in the can into a trail he can use to light, and then watch as the fire “walks” along until it reaches the main pool of gas for a spectacular kick-off.

After putting the wooden chair away, Daleville Dan retrieves his trusty Zippo and prepares for lighting. He stands proud as he surveys his handy work. The brush pile stands at least five foot high and extends out in a circular pattern at least ten feet in diameter.

With a flick of his wrist, his Zippo lights up and he holds the flame under a small stick until it catches. With great ceremony, Daleville Dan extends the stick out to arms length and lets it fall into the trail of gas on the ground. The flame walks slowly toward the huge pile of sticks and debri – a little too slow for the likes of Daleville Dan – so he picks up the burning stick he had thrown on the ground and walks it to the base of the pile.

Just as he drops the burning stick, and, more-than-likely, before it even hits the ground, the fire lights off. Now, this gas has been sitting within the pile of debris for at least five minutes, soaking into the wood and evaporating into a highly flammable state. The entire pile, it seems, explodes at once.

If you remember, Daleville Dan had previously walked the stick up to the base of the debris pile, which has left him standing well within, what one might call, the epicenter of the blast. In other words, he is violently, if not momentarily, engulfed within the fireball and pressure wave that precedes the sound of the explosion.

Daleville Dan is thrown to the ground and finds himself waking with his hair on fire (literally). After beating himself about the head and shoulder in an effort to put out the fire, he picks himself up from the flat of burning grass, then checks, first to make sure no one saw him, then that all his clothing was still intact.

Of course, he had burned off his eyebrows, eyelashes, and a good portion of the hair at the front of his head, which meant he would have to spend the rest of the day outside poking the fire with a stick.

He would have to wait until dark to go inside in hopes that his wife would not notice the loss of hair, second-degree burns, and charred clothing. Just another day in the life of Daleville Dan.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Need the Info

Ok, so I'm working on a project that I would like to consider submitting somewhere.  Problem is the project I am taking this from came from a short story I wrote (and never submitted to anywhere) of about seven thousand words.

I am trying to shorten this work to seven hundred-fifty words or less. I've accomplished this task, but at what cost, I wonder. Is it possible to reduce something down to the point that all the information is lost?

Here is the opening paragraph of this project for your consideration. Read carefully, there will be a test at the end.

Something isn’t right. Alpha Two-Four feels it in his bones; his reactions are off. He gives himself three squirts of adrenaline as he heads into the caves, but feels nothing. Maybe it’s this dismal planet. Just another rock deemed worthy of colonization. No, that’s not it; he’s been on a hundred planets like this one. It’s something else. He felt it in the landing craft, a feeling, or premonition,  something beyond his understanding. Feelings he should not have. He pushes the button on his exo-suit giving himself another squirt of adrenaline. Still no response. The atmosphere permeates his suit, filling his body and soul until he becomes one with the eerie cold blackness of the cave.

Now, I have some questions about this paragraph that beg for answers. I am purposely withholding valuable background information to avoid influencing anyone in their understanding, but will tell you that this is a kind of science/speculative fiction piece. I'm hoping you've already gotten that from the paragraph above.

First off - the name. Is the name "Alpha Two-Four" too impersonal? I want to convey a sense of disconnection, something completely impersonal, but I don't want one to read this and think the main character is a robot or something.

Is there a sense of place, of location in the work?

Does the paragraph, and the last sentence make one want to read on? Is there a sense of foreboding?

Lastly - Does the character seem human? Does one get the sense that this human has been "enhanced" somehow?

Tell me your thoughts.

Now that you've had some time to take in the full extent of my weirdness, I will fill you in on the rest of the story.

The premise of this story is about loss of emotional control and how it affects decisions. My main character is a kind of future soldier, born, and trained specifically for combat. Through the combination of advanced training and chemical enhancement, he is allowed to become a kind of super soldier - devoid of the mechanism of sentient, emotional thought that can stand in the way of ones ability to complete orders. His enhancements also free him from suffering the emotional aftereffects of the things he does, killing, maiming.

Of course, his suit malfunctions and he begins to feel, to empathize, and soon is confronted with the conflict of fulfilling a search and destroy mission or allowing emotion to influence his decisions when he comes across a woman and her child in the cave.

Hope this helps. This is the project I will read at a local writer's group meeting tonight. I just thought I would post this and give others a chance to evaluate as well.

Writer's Groups - The Good, Bad, and Ugly

Attending a writer's group or critique group can be a good thing. Attendance gives one valuable insight into  their own work, and a chance to see others' work. A writer's group can also give one companionship and a sense of community in this solitary venture.

One thing that attendance at a writer's group does for me is to keep me consistent and encourage me to keep writing. It is embarrassing to show up to a meeting with nothing to read and no new projects to report on.

One bad thing about a writer's group is that they can sometimes serve to remove focus on a long term project in lieu of more short term efforts to impress others. It can also be a bad thing, or at least a waste of time, if one cannot receive objective, fair, and impartial critiques on one's work. Sometimes a critique group can turn into a mutual admiration society where a member will read their work and everyone claps and tells them how wonderful it is.

Sometimes things can get ugly in a critique group. everyone has a tendency to get jealous of others, or to be over zealous when critiquing. There are always going to be politics involved anytime more than two folks gather. Some people get ugly when giving or getting an objective opinion of their work.

Enough said for now. I think the subject of writer's/critique groups deserves more research, so I will revisit this subject again.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Review of "Mind Walker" by Roy McConnell

Roy McConnell sent me a copy of his first novel, Mind Walker, and I feel I owe him an honest review of the story.

First off, I must say that I read the book in two days. I am a slow reader and tend to analyze, critique, and rate books as I read them. It's a curse that I must live with.

While reading this story, I stumbled very few times. I simply did not want to put the book down until I was finished! Roy McConnell did an outstanding job of weaving twist after heartbreaking twist into this thriller; all revolving around a fresh and unique story line.

The story is 228 pages. The book is perfect bound, six by nine inches. I would have preferred standard trade paperback size binding. Nevertheless, the book was easy to carry and read.

The book is printed by IUniverse and sold through all major online booksellers.

I believe it is also available through Barnes & Noble stores, although I have not checked our local store.

The printing is very professional with short chapters, broken into scenes with plenty of white space to help keep the reader focused. The reader is immediately drawn into the story through conflict and action. In the very first chapter, one gets a sense of just how cruel and selfish the antagonist is when he engages in a heated argument with the main character.

The joining of the main characters into a common goal is seamless. Before long, enemies become friends but the antagonist (Wolf) always seems to be just one step ahead of them. I found myself cursing Wolf in every chapter as he plotted and schemed against his own daughter.

I don't want to give away too much of the story, but suffice it to say, Roy McConnell is proving his writing prowess with this first novel with all the elements of suspense, and even a little science fiction; great tension, and even some very steamy love scenes.

I found only four instances of missing or misspelled words throughout the entire book. This attests to the excellent editing performed on this story. I know this seems like a little thing, but I pay attention to little things like this. Maybe it's the writer in me, but I am critical of everything I read and can become totally disengaged when faced with numerous grammatical errors in a printed story.

This book had so few errors that I had no problem staying with the story until the end. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys thrillers, suspense, or even romance.

If you enjoy Dean Koontz, Lee Child, David Morrell, James Patterson, or even Dan Brown, you would do well to buy this book and give it a read.

I, in no way, am endorsing or advertising any specific product. I'm merely providing my personal opinion of a work I've previously read.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Dora Phenomenon

My two-year old Grandson that loves to watch Dora the Explorer. It's a part of the bedtime ritual each night to sit on my lap with a small drink and a Dora show on.

While this is a pleasant experience for a two-year old, it's pure torture for me. Yes, I've grown to despise Dora and all her gallivanting around and silly antics - along with all the other characters. True, the show is a great tool for teaching children basic problem-solving skills, and the Spanish language, but does Dora have to yell those commands all the time? "Get up, get up!" "Vomonos!"

Since I have the mind of a writer, I cannot help but sit there holding my Grandchild, plotting my own episode of Dora where she meets her demise. Or, maybe she could be the catalyst for the demise of the other characters. I mean, come on, I see a very different Dora if the writers of the show were to take reality into consideration, and write the show for a more "adult" audience.

I imagine it would go something like this:

Dora is at school with all her so-called, friends, Boots, Benny, Isa, Tiko, and even Swiper. The children all scramble to take their seats at the front of the classroom, throwing elbows and pushing each other in order to get that prized spot in front of the teacher.

It doesn't take long for the pushing to turn into a shouting match as Dora muscles her way to her favorite seat (easy for her because she outweighs the other children, and talks much louder too). Of course, Swiper is not involved in the action since he has an assigned seat at the back of the class due to his inherent behavioral problems.

Now, all the other children, hurt and angered by Dora's actions, simply retaliate with harsh words and name-calling. Dora is infuriated with the other students speaking ill of her big, bulbous, fat, football, head - and she vows revenge.

After school, the other children ignore Dora and head to the playground without her. Even boots has left her! Dora decides she will find her freinds, one by one, and teach them a lesson they won't soon forget.

But wait. Where is this playground? Who do we ask when we don't know which way to go? That's right, the map! "Say map. Say map, damn it!"

Of course, the map will tell Dora that she must travel through the sleeping forest, and over the troll bridge to get to the play ground. So, Dora sets off on her adventure with her trusty backpack firmly affixed across her shoulders and back, but without Boots since he sided with the rest of the class, called her names, and left with them for the playground. It wasn't entirely his fault though. Isa inticed him with a fresh bunch of bananas.

Dora runs through the sleeping forest and aross the troll bridge. She doesn't have time to deal with the grumpy old troll so she just performs a round-house kick to his bearded chin when he appears in front of her, and continues running across the bridge. She arrives at the playground in record time.

Hiding in the bushes, Dora consults her backpack for an appropriate weapon she can use to beat the crap out of those malicious friends of hers. Backpack gives her a choice of sticky tape, an umbrella, a red crayon, and an aluminum baseball bat - she chooses the aluminum baseball bat.

When all of her friends are splayed out on the dirt of the playground, Dora feels vindicated and goes into her little jiggy dance. "I did it!" she sings.

Ok, I doubt the producers of the show would accept my alternate version of a typical show. There are things that still bother me about Dora the explorer though. For instance, She seems to have reached near cult status, and my poor Grandson, who is just now learning words, can barely speak english. When I ask him what color an object is, he is likely to answer in Spanish. The upside to this is that I watch the show with him so I understand what he is saying.

Along these same lines, and while I am deep into my rant, I must say I'm more than just a little concerned with the new image of Dora. This new image is sure to give all the little girls body-image issues. Apparently, Dora has gone on a serious diet or thinned out tremendously. It also appears she's had some kind of head reconstructive surgery to decrease her head to a more believable size.

The next thing you know, the producers of Dora will further change her image to reflect the realities of modern society. I can just imagine it now, Dora all knocked up after running around all over the place in all her adventures. Of course, we never saw her attend school much so she finds herself in one bad relationship after another until fate shows its cruel hand, landing her in the welfare line.

One of the really scary things I find about Dora is the huge, gross costumes one can find people wearing while trying to emulate the character. I just think I would find it disturbing, and risk permanently damaging a young child, if a big-headed Dora character showed up in real-life at a birthday party.


Kind of reminds me of our strange fascination with the Burger King character. Is it just me or do others find this guy just a little creepy?

One last thing I would like to mention about the creepiness of Dora, does this Dora toy seem just a little odd to anyone else? I don't know, maybe it's just me and my warped sense, but I would think this toy was made more for an adult, than a child.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Overcoming Fear

What is it you fear most? Is it darkness, or something that may lurk in the dark? Is it becoming socially ostracized?

Some folks actually fear success. But, in reality, I think they might fear failing while trying to succeed more than success itself. I've found that writers fear more than most, but have a strong sense of self-motivation and achievement.

Sometimes one must face their fears head-on and plunge through in spite of that fear, in order to overcome it.

I fear not completing writing projects. It sometimes becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as I avoid writing on a particular project, afraid I might finish it and it will turn out to be crap. This is what a writing group does for me. Other members keep my in check and I must try to have something to show every once in awhile, even if it is crap. In this sense, I'm forced to overcome my fear of non completion by simply writing through to completion.

I remember a time when I was young and was forced to face my fears. We were camping near the Skokomish river in Washington State and I had wandered down to the edge of the river. I was specifically told not to venture into the river beyond ankle level water. Of course, Ankle level water is not very deep. What kind of fun can one have with just an ankle's worth of water?

My exact age escapes my mind but I do remember I was young enough that I had not yet learned how to swim. Can you imagine where this is going? I did venture beyond the depth of my ankles and promptly slipped and fell into the strong undercurrent of the river.

I was swept down the river, bobbing up and down, probably screaming, as my father ran down the river's edge after me. I somehow managed to find a log stuck in the middle of the river and grabbed hold, my fingernails transforming into claws as I clung to the floating debris for my life.

I was finally rescued, scalded, and sent to a long time-out in front of the camp fire, still shaken from the event. After that event, I quickly learned how to swim even though fear wracked me every time I would go near a swimming pool.

I now enjoy swimming immensely and go into the pool every chance I get.

The point here is, sometimes one just has to go on despite fears in order to overcome them. I enjoy writing but the fear of not completing projects, or that my completed project will be stupid crap; sometimes keep me from completing work - kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So, If I were qualified to give advice in this area, I would say one can work on overcoming fear by following a few simple rules.

1.  Admit fear. It's OK, if you're scared, say you're scared.

2.  Set a schedule and plan to work through your fear - and stick to it.

3.  Make it OK to accept less than stellar results. Even if you are, in my case, writing crap; at least you're writing - and that is what is most important.

Before you know it, you will be meeting your fears head-on and working through them without thought or reservation. What was once a feared thought or action will become natural and commonplace. Then you can move on to conquering other fears.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Special Post

I will keep my post short today as my main focus of care and support goes out all the Mothers, past, present, and future.

I know that, even on this special day, a Mother does not stop caring, supporting, nurturing. So, while folks like me, Husbands, Sons, Fathers, and Lovers, all try to show their love and respect in physical and finite ways, the jesture is but a nod to the great sacrifice that Mother's make each day. It is a simple thank you that falls short of expressing the capacity that a Mother has, shows, and gives every day.

Thank you Mothers. Without the special caring and nurturing you provide; without your strength, the world would be a much colder place.

My special and heartfelt thoughts go to Laura, Erika, Ann, Amy, Ronnie, Anna, Aileen, Lizabeth, and Jacki. Happy Mother's day.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

How Did That Happen?

It's funny to think about the foods we eat. I remember some of the foods I learned to love while in South Korea. Of course a rare treat while hanging out down by the Han River were these little boiled snails. They were boiled in some kind of herbed brine and were served in a small cup. They were rather difficult to eat as they were tiny and, therefore, were eaten one at a time. I remember sucking the meat out of the shell. As strange as it might sound to some, they were quite tasty. I must say though, that in Korea, Squid and Cuttlefish are major dietary items, and I did not particularly enjoy them. I tried to swallow a whole live octopus one time and it fought all the way down. I remember (vaguely) having to drink about three bottles of Soju (Korean Rice Wine) to get the thing down.

One of the things one might find sold in the local village to Americans on a Friday night is something we called "Chicken on a Stick." It was really chicken strips bar-b-cued and skewered - very tasty. Although, I remember on more than one occasion, the chicken looking eerily like a rat.

Being a newcomer to the South, I've found many enjoyable foods. Of course there is cheese grits. Cheese grits make a great holiday dish.

Now, since I love fried foods, I am in gastric heaven. I think that maybe, just maybe, we Americans might go a little overboard on our desire to eat fried foods. One item I've found to be quite tasty is fried pickles. Fried pickles make a great appetizer.

If you are at the fair, or peanut festival as it's called here, you might find fried Twinkies or fried candy bars. I can only imagine how this food was discovered. Maybe some cook was eating a Twinkie or candy bar while deep-frying some chicken when the dessert fell out of their hands and into the batter. I would think it only natural for the person to then wonder, "what would happen if I put this into the deep fat fryer" and, shazam, the fried Twinkie or candy bar is invented.

The only food (or drink) item I cannot understand the discovery of is Kopi Luwak Coffee. This is the most expensive coffee in the world, costing upwards of $600.00 dollars a pound. And what is so special about this coffee, one might ask? Well, before it is brewed and ready for consumption, it is consumed by a small rat/cat/weasel-like creature known as the Asian Palm Civet, or simply "Luwak" by local Indonesian folks.

The Luwak eats the raw coffee beans, digests the outer skin and excretes the rest in their feces. Then we humans follow behind them and pick the beans out of the poop, so it can be ground and brewed for our consumption.

It just makes me wonder, how was this product invented? I can just imagine how it all went down.

"Martha, that damn Luwak's been eating our coffee beans," Joe said, as he threw the hut door open.

"Joe, you get that thing. I don't care what it takes."

So, Joe and Martha set off through the jungle to follow this vile creature. They follow the Luwak for nearly three days when they finally find a sign.

"Look there," Martha says. "looks like Luwak sign to me."
"Ya," Joe says. "And look, those are our coffee beans in that poop."
"Them beans is expensive, and they still look OK," Martha said, as she poked at the pile.
"Ah hell Martha, I'll just pick them beans out and we can still use'em."

The next morning Joe and Martha ground the "Luwak" coffee beans into their normal brew and, behold, it was the best coffee they had ever made.

I still just can't wrap my head around the mentality required to allow one to think, "Hey them beans are still good, just pick them out of the poop."

I suppose it's like some extended version of the five second rule used when one's food falls onto the floor.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Circle of Editing

Editing is a good thing, right?

I think so too, but, like everything else, good things can become bad things if taken to excess. I cannot imagine how many great stories there might be out there that never made it to print, or even submission, because of overzealous editing.

I say this because I am guilty of it. I have countless projects sitting idle in my files right now that never made it to the finish line. Why? Because I edited them to death.

I am not saying that making your work is the best it can be is wrong. What I'm talking about here is editing compulsively while you are putting words to paper (so to speak) and getting your story down. For instance, I am currently twelve chapters into a project and am struggling to finish the story. This is because I have gone back into chapter one as I was writing another chapter to "read for ideas and inspiration" but ended up correcting misspellings and re-structuring sentences that didn't seem to flow right. The next thing I knew, I was adding characters and creating additional plot lines.

I say this because I know that I cannot be the only person that struggles with this incessant editing. Although I still struggle with it like an alcoholic struggles for the rest of their life, I've found a few things that help me move past it.

First, I do my best to following the well-worn advice of writing first to get the story down, and then editing. This is difficult because, as a growing writer, one always sees flaws in their work and wants to correct it immediately. I can only hope that, as one matures as a writer, they start to put better ideas to paper the first time.

Next, when in a slump, stop and think about your story. Analyze the timeline and character growth. I keep another file for this and it can sometimes get very full with ideas and alternate timelines. The good thing about this is that it keeps one writing.

Finally, it is always best to make sure you take your writing seriously. A new story should be like a secret only you know about; something you go to when you want to get away. I don't know anyone in my situation that just writes full-time. Time is a precious commodity and should be treated as such. Sometimes I only have minutes to squeeze in some writing so I make it count. I tell myself I musts scramble to write. This immediacy actually helps me to get more done, along with staying away from any kind of Internet connection.

Hope this little statement helps somebody out there. I should be writing right now but am, instead, sending this work out into cyberspace.