Friday, November 29, 2013

Nano is a four letter word

Friday's original fiction this week: (based on actual events...)

Once upon a time there was a boy who started a novel.  23 years later he still hadn't finished it so when his friends said, "Try Nano, you'll love it," he did.  50,000 words in 30 days sounded like a lot, but he was used to writing about 2,000 and was confident that with a bit of stubborn discipline, he could make it.  In 250 words he'll meet the mark for the contest, but not for himself -- the novel will be a stopping point but not at the end.

Then of course he'll have to do a rewrite.

But this will be a novel that was finished.  Not like the other one from 23 years ago.

And the blog will resume.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Almost there.

No Tales From the Script this week.  I'm too busy writing a novel in a month to watch any more movies.  Next week will be December.  I'll have succeeded in my goal and be back to the usual schedule.

Have a great Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Nobody got time for that.

Today's tool of the trade is prioritization.  Instead of writing some clever insight or pithy rant, I'm going to demonstrate it.  I'm in the final week of nanowrimo and have 13k words to go.  I can do it, if I buckle down.  I plan to do it.  I've come to far to not make it.  But I can't do that and everything else.  My family is a bigger priority so I won't steal their time.  My job is a bigger priority (can't buy groceries with a nano badge) so I won't shirk my duty.  But the blog?  Well, I love writing the blog but it's a few hundred words I could add to my nano total coming in on the train.  Through the sleet and snow.

**update.  I was able to knock out 1200 words this morning.  Thank you for your understanding.

Monday, November 25, 2013

"Tom said to himself that it was not such a hollow world, after all."

I have not been this cold in a very long time.  I can barely type.  In fact, I can't really, very well.  I'm making lots of mistakes that will be corrected (hopefully) before you ever read this.  But with the cold comes a sense that the air is somehow cleaner and fresher.

Is it?  It's denser so there may be more oxygen in it so it may actually be a little sweeter.  But noticeably?  Hmmm.  Oh, the odd crevices that I find to explore.  I'm going to have to look that up.  See if anyone has done a study on it.  Do you chase threads like that down?

Or at least ponder them?

You should.  Life's wonderfully exciting when you hold on to that curiosity of youth – the curiosity that led Tom into the cave.  I'm sure what's curious to me is not curious to you, and that doesn't matter.  What's important is that you keep exploring.  The path will suggest ideas, it will force you to stretch your mind, and you'll...


And pondering is very, very good.  Not being stuck on something, not stewing, not fixating.  Pondering.  As in, considering all angle of a thing.  What it is, how it is, where it came from, where it's going, and then going beyond what's obvious into nuance.  From what is, to what if?

I love being presented with an alternate view of things.  It teaches me to be a bigger person.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Lights, Camera, AKTion!

I'm writing a bit on the late side today not because I was allowed to sleep in -- I wasn't (Pony detail) --but because my wife and I were members of a team competing in the "First Annual Kettlebells for Food" tournament.  We did well.  She rocked.  Big time.

The kettlebell meet was run in a series of heats called "flights" and two teams faced off.  Totals were tracked for each individual as well as the overall team score.  There were four exercises available, each with a different point value, and you were allowed to transition between them at will.  One of the competitors on the winning team actually only did three of the exercises, skipping the heavy weight (despite each rep being worth 3 pts.) and focussing instead on high rep rotations of the others.

It was very interesting and I learned quite a bit about the world of compettivie kettlebelling.  I also got to watch normal people and not-so normal people (as in super fit scary people) face the same challenges and how they handled it.  Great as a character study.  Also great as a work out.  My arms are so tired I can barely type.

Friday, November 22, 2013

"This is not a nice game."

Friday's are for original fiction.

All Consuming Oblivionby Jon Stark
November, 2013

“Choose your poison.”  That’s what he always said, when they gathered in his studio apartment, cobbled together with materials he’d rescued from construction sites during a midnight walk-about.  “And don’t be stingy.” he’d say, guiding a guest from the door to the corner where everyone else already sat, staring at some new painting, or photograph.  Imbibing avant-garde performance art.  Or listening to the reading of a poem or play.  Or eulogy.
They joined in by invitation, but once invited, members were always welcome to come.  To the part of the city where there were no streetlights.  No traffic cops in their funny little three wheeled go-carts.  Welcomed to the falling down warehouse, condemned before any of them had been born.
Jenny always drank rum and coke, but tonight she’d brought arsenic.  Pauline drank wine – always red – but tonight it was vinegar.  The boys weren’t picky and often drank little more than whatever beer was cheapest at the bodega half a mile away though tonight it stank of sweat and urine.
Brandon had his usual bottle of Maker’s Mark, but the whisky was sticky like kerosene, and no one smoked as its vapor seeped into their pores.
He hadn’t greeted them at the door.  Hadn’t ushered them to their places.  The air was heavy with incense, like it always was, but he hadn’t lit it.  Someone had arranged him in his usual place, but his arm wouldn’t stay put and kept flopping down.  In life he’d always pulled one leg up, and rested that arm across the knee.  That arm, hanging limply, was more a sign of his passing than the blow flies that covered him -- undisturbed as they fed.
“Don’t be stingy.” he’d say, “That glass is only designed to hold your poison long enough to get it from the bottle to your lips.”  Then he’d gulp down the absinthe and pour another.  An untouched bottle of it sat beside his corpse, “Absinthe of Malice” scrawled gloriously on the label, the surgeon general warning that it would kill you in neat print below.
The assembled guests, the watchers of the dead, poured out their drinks that night in to a decanter that had been purchased years before, especially for this occasion.  “Fill your glasses.” he’d say.  And they did, toasting him.  And they drank.
All consuming oblivion.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

"Did you hear we're running out of bullets ?"

Today is November 21, the publication date of "Ebb and Flow" in Apocrypha and Abstractions.  See my name?  It's time to put up an "I love me wall."  Never heard of that?  I'll tell the story on the page when it goes live.  Meanwhile, be excited with me.  It’s been almost 10 years to the day since I’ve published anything else.

Must see TV this week takes another look at the show Revolution.  Why another look?  It's been quite some time since we tried it last and it keeps getting recommended so maybe we missed something.


What Revolution does very well is create a world where society has collapsed.  The sets are good and it's refreshing that there are no aliens running around the carnage, or zombies, and because the collapse was brought about by the power going out we don't have cities laid waste by war.

Revolution also has an intangible going for it – somehow the show makes you want to like it.  And sometimes you do.  But not very often.  There are interactions between the "plot" and the setting that have dramatic inconsistencies -- like, is there an ammo shortage or not?  You keep saying there is but then everybody is always shooting, even when there are alternatives.  Alternatives that make for much more compelling drama.

I have found that there are a couple of characters that I like and, interestingly enough, they haven't had flashbacks to explain why they are who they are and act how they act.  The shallow characters need flashbacks or the show would seem even more random.

Maybe they should rename it to “Random.”  I will probably continue to watch it, in small doses when nothing else sounds good, until I get to the end.  As I said, it really wants to be liked.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

"Because, we weren't friends before."

Changed a headlight bulb with #1 last night in his new-car-that-is-older-than-he-is.  He was quite surprised at how easy it was.  Even in the dark.  Without the right screwdriver.  He did happen to be looking right at the bulb when I plugged it in, and we did have the lights of the car on so we could see, so it did blind him.  But he did not drop the hood on my head.  Level thinker, that one.

Of course they all (the boys) want to buy chain mail jerkins to protect them from the zombies so -- maybe not so level?

Tales From the Script this week is about Monster's University.  I liked the film though not nearly as well as the first one which sits firmly in the #2 spot of my favorite Pixar movies.  There were several things that they did very well, but to discuss them requires spoilers.


First off, making Mike the main character was a great choice.  There are others in the story with big parts but he's the driver.  The voice (sorry Billy) started to get to me by the end, but there really isn't any other way to tell the story.

Setting Sully up as the anti-friend was cliché and they did such a great job of making him the bad guy that even at the end of the movie I didn't really like him.  Which stinks, because in the first one he was terrific.  Setting up Randall as Mike's best friend was refreshing and brought a great twist to the story.  It let us in on a secret that Mike didn't know and we were, naturally, very curious to see how Randall became an adversary.

Which is another thing they did right.  Monster's University is a prequel which, while lacking the "whoa, cool" factor of the original because now we've seen the idea, still managed to provide greater depth to the universe and the recasting of the characters allowed for discovery.  This was not a Star Wars prequel debacle.

The lines were funny and the art was very imaginative.  I will probably watch it again when I get a hold of the script.

As great and wonderful as the movie was -- this one didn't coast on the name Pixar -- there were some things that didn't sit right with me.  Like the themes of dishonesty, disobedience, and "the ends justify the means" (found in pretty much all kids movies) being integral to the happy ending.  I'm not big on blind adherence to rules, but there are a hundred different ways to beat the system when you're as smart as these characters are supposed to be and yet they cheat, lie, steal, and vandalize to get what they want.  And they get it.  Without consequence.  How do you tell your child not to lie when he says back, "Sully did."  Or how do you say, "Cheaters never prosper" when clearly, if this movie is to be believed, they do?  And the children will believe this movie.

What happened to the hard work and perseverance of Flik in A Bug's Life?  Where's Bob's comeuppance from The Incredibles?  And where's the learning to get along and model of true friendship in Toy Story?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

"That's not fair."

Last night #4 heard a suggestion that it was about time to brush his teeth and get ready for bed.  Since it wasn't a direct command, he decided to disappear into the laundry room.  Not to do laundry, mind you, but to prepare an act for us.

He came out with his PJ bottoms rolled up into shorts and the waistband about four inches above his belly button.  He danced around a bit humming a song that I recognized more my context than his rendition, and said, "Who am I?"

My wife wasn't sure so he said, "Come on, Higgy-baby, who am I?"  I helped by joining in on his song.  She guessed at once and started laughing hysterically.  The night before we'd watched an episode of Magnum PI and she had commented on his shorts.  My daughter, flabbergasted, said, "You're only just noticing them now?  They're awful.  They’re always awful."

I thought that was a bit harsh, but the shorts were pretty funny looking.  And #4's interpretive dance lampooned them perfectly.

Which brings me to this week's tool of the trade - Voice.

Voice is your specific style, the way you communicate your unique vision.  Without voice you're just part of the crowd, a cheap knock-off.  With strong voice you not only stand out but are immediately recognized.  If #4 had just put on a pair of goofy shorts and asked, "Who am I?" he would have just looked like a Magnum wannabe and we wouldn’t have thought it was funny, but by being himself and clowning it up, his brought his own style.  It was fresh and fun.

I do a lot of writing for my job and in previous years that included ghost writing for my superiors.  The first time I was asked to write something for my boss to distribute was about 5 years ago and he came to me with my wonderful memo and said, "Jon, this is great but I'd never say it this well."  He was a very good boss.  Told me I'd failed at the assignment but was a good person in that one sentence.  I was immediately hooked on the challenge of writing like someone else.

In my "hey-day" I was writing in 4 distinct alternate voices - three senior managers and something boring I'll call "generic office."  It was really interesting work and I got very good at it.  But there's a world of difference between emulating someone else's style and having your own style.

You will absorb things into your writing style from others -- maybe sentence structure, or specific vocabulary and that's good.  Musicians do that all of the time - Heart was heavily influenced by Led Zeppelin and if you listen carefully you can hear that.  But Heart wasn't a Led Zeppelin cover band.  When you write, you shouldn't be indistinguishable from P.D. James even if she has influenced you.

To develop your own voice you need to read a lot, from different authors and genres, and write a lot, preferably on different topics and from different points of view.  These two things will expose you to a multitude of style choices and provide ample opportunity for you to practice putting your ideas to paper in a way that is instantly recognizable.

It also helps if you untuck your shirt when wearing shorts that hug your ribcage.

Monday, November 18, 2013

"He was my father my entire life..."

I pass a sign every morning that encourages me to drive carefully and provides an update on the number of deer strikes "this year."  I grew up in a part of the world where there were deer strikes nearly every day so when we entered November with a grand total of 18 here, I was not especially impressed (or encouraged to drive any more carefully.)

This morning the total was 23.  It's only been three days since the last time I drove by and that’s quite a leap.  I immediately began to wonder if five deer had been hit over the weekend or if a single animal - perhaps part of some elite Special Forces unit - was responsible for striking all 5 vehicles.  I flashed back to the movie Kung Pow! (with the cow that was a Kung-Fu master).  But then, as I suffered along through the traffic, I began to suspect that they only update the sign once a month or so.  My image of Deerbo, or RoboDeer, or John McDeer (former NYPD Cop) was shattered.

They don't make many movies dumber than this one.
The cynicism of daily life can do that to you.  The part of me that has come to understand how the world works is convinced that the monthly update is the reason for the sudden spike.  But the writer loves the idea of a Jedi Deer.  Bambi Strikes Back.  The Deer Hunter.  V for Venison.  The writer is much more fun.  No Country for Old Deer.  See?  This can go on forever.

In junior high school I was subjected to many things and one of them was Robert Frost.  Specifically the "Two Roads" thing.  I thought it was the dumbest poem in the world for many reasons -- not the least of which were the endless poster variations that always showed the woods and two paths.  I grew up in the woods.  I spent most of my free time wandering the woods.  It was a very big woods.  There was nothing inspiring about the posters or the poem.  In my experience, both paths in the wood led to interesting things and I took them both quite often.

So I changed the poem to read, "Two paths diverged in the wood and I took the one on the left and it has made all the difference."

Wasn't nearly as profound to the world but it actually meant something to me.  I was making a decision based on the journey, not the destination.  Suddenly the poem made sense.  I'm older now and I realize just how fortunate I was to grow up where I did with the freedom that I enjoyed. I can understand why so many people needed a poem like that to encourage them to move up out of the ruts and do some exploring.

I hope that the next time you find yourself at the proverbial fork you'll pause to consider taking the path on the left.  Who knows?  Maybe you'll run into SpiDeerMan.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Pressing Leaves

I missed yesterday's post.  I was on the road early (driving, not riding) and tied up for the rest of the day.  But never fear, Friday's fiction is here... on Saturday.  And I did get a little bit of writing in at the very end of the day.

Pressing Leaves

Shelly was vacuuming.  It had to be done.  And it had to be done without dirty little feet pattering all over.  That's why Andrea and Gomer were outside.  The little girl had a rake but it was taller than she was and the piles were not especially neat.

Pile, singular, to be precise.  6 year old girls don't clear their yards of leaves.  They make castles and forests out of giant piles -- leaping in with wild abandon -- and then thrashing about, making angels with their arms, or pretending that they are resting on one hundred mattresses and that uncomfortable pebble is a pea.

Andrea was pretty sure that she liked fall the best, not counting Christmas and swimming during the summer.  She threw handfuls of leaves into the air and ran through them.  She burrowed underneath them.  All the while Gomer barked and jumped, chasing her and scattering the golden yellow memories with his tail.

Shelly looked out of the window as she finished in the living room and unplugged the vacuum to move toward the back of the house.  She smiled, watching the two of them.  You couldn't help but smile, they were adorable together and there's something about watching a black lab playing with a child that forces contented happiness.  He was two but still acted all pup and his barking was as energetic as his lunging and leaping.

Shelly was in the back of the house, running the vacuum cleaner over the throw rugs in the bedrooms, when the red truck stopped along the side of the road.  Andrea didn't see it at first, her eyes were closed and Gomer was tickling her with slobber.

"That's a cute dog you have there." said the man in the truck.  She sat up and pulled leaves from her hair.  She missed quite a few.  "What's his name?"

"Gomer." she said carefully.  This man didn't look like someone she knew.

"That's a fine name." said the man, nodding.  "Is he yours?"

"Yes." she answered.  She cocked her head sideways at him.  "Who are you?"

"I'm sorry." he said.  "I'm Tim."  She still looked puzzled.   "I work with your Dad."

"My Dad's not home." she said.  The man smiled.  "Do you want me to get my mother?"  Gomer wasn't leaping and playing anymore.  He wasn't barking.  His tail wasn't wagging.

"No, that's okay.  I can just talk to you." Said the man.  "I used to have a dog like that.  Do you think it would be okay for me to pet him?"  He opened the door of the truck and climbed out.

"I guess." said Andrea.  Gomer wasn't so sure of that.  He growled softly, a deep, low sound that, after he did it, made him look around wondering where it came from.

When the man started to come across the ditch Gomer barked.  The man stopped for second and then continued.

"Stop, Gomer." said Andrea.  "He just wants to pet you."  But Gomer didn't stop.  And neither did the man.  He was moving quickly now and when he reached out it wasn't to pet Gomer.

Shelly thought she heard the phone ring and shut of the vacuum cleaner.  The phone wasn't ringing, but the sound of Gomer's bark had changed and she responded to his urgency.  The truck on the road barely registered as she flew out the door to her daughter.

The man looked up at her.  "Who are you?" demanded Shelly.

"That's Tim." said Andrea.  "He works with Daddy."

Shelly stared at him hard.  Her expression equal parts, “The hell you do” and “Get away from my daughter.”  The man backed away from her toward his truck, slipping in the ditch and nearly falling, but not slowing.  When he pulled away she started shaking.  Gomer came over to her and she patted his head.

Andrea wanted to jump in the leaves, wanted her mommy to rake them for her.  Shelly shook her head.  "Let's go inside for a while, okay?"

"But I want to jump!" said Andrea.

Shelly picked up one of the discarded leaves, a giant deep orange one bigger than her hand.  Andrea stopped and looked at it.  She found one like it and held it up, beaming.

"That's very nice.  Let's press them."  said Shelly.  Her little girl was confused.  "In wax paper.  Then we'll always have them."  That satisfied Andrea and she followed her mother into the house.

But Gomer didn't come in until much later, after the truck that had been parked at the end of the road finally left.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

"Would you like a mint?"

I saw several movies this week but only tried one new TV show.  It watched like a movie though, and I am once more reminded that the shape of moving picture media is changing, lines are blurring, and I’m entering an industry in flux.

This is NOT Footloose.

The show was Kevin Bacon's "The Following" and we watched the pilot.  It was well acted.  The production style felt fresh and kept everything moving very quickly.  There's a scene of Kevin waking up that cuts three or four times with him shifting position or action just a little.  Very neat effect and you sort of knew how he felt before he stumbled to get water.  Lots of water.

The writing was top notch.  Dialogue was spot-on, the characters were very, very distinct.  The premise -- half of the premise, anyway -- was pretty good.  This episode was one of the best pilots I've ever seen, you want to know what comes next.  You have to know.  The twists and turns, in that one episode, were amazing and flowed logically, even though we were only just meeting everyone.

It was all too good.  Critically I would have to give it top marks.  Personally, it wasn't for me.  We don't watch Criminal Minds because of its well-written, well-filmed depiction of gruesome violence.  To us that's not entertainment, it's depressing.  I'm not sure exactly where the line is (we do like shows that venture in that direction) but wherever that line is, if you stood on it and looked, you'd only be able to see The Following on a clear day.  A very clear day.

It's brutal.  It's gruesome.  It's suspenseful.  People get hurt and you care.  I've seen enough of that in life, when I turn on the telly I want to be able to laugh, even if it's only once.  I can’t, in good conscience, recommend this show.  It might be for you, and the people who like it really like it a lot.  It’s just really disturbing.

Have you seen it?  What's your thought?  Should fans of The Following be confined in the mental wards of our maximum security prisons?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

"Buy my book."

Let's get right to it, shall we?  Tales From the Script today looks at Oliver Stone's remake of Wall Street.  There will be spoilers aplenty and I should warn you up front, not only was I disappointed with the film, I didn't really care for it.  But it did offer an important lesson to aspiring writers and students of story.  Speaking of students of story, I made the finals again last night (reader beware: some of the entries were a bit gritty including an F-bomb or two).

Wall Street was well acted, well directed, well shot, and packed reasonable star power.  The writing was okay -- not inspired but sufficient for carrying the narrative.  In short, almost all of the pieces were there to make a good picture, perhaps no Oscar winner, but certainly an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours.  What seems to have happened though was that “they” missed the first page of the "Make a good movie" book.  The page that says, "Thou shalt have a concept that people care about."  The central conceit of Wall Street is greed.  Everyone in it is greedy.  Even the girl who's only job is to say, "It's not about the money."  Watching her was like watching King Kong -- just replace the leading lady's scream with "It's not about the money."  But it wasn't really replaced because every time she said it, I screamed.

The problem with Wall Street was that the main idea didn't matter.  Rich people stealing from rich people.  Rich people stealing back.  New kid tied to old dog thru cheese whiz romance, always trying to get more.  The elements of the story that are supposed to make us care were tacked on as after thoughts.  Green Energy investment is supposed to make Shia more likable than Michael?  Really?  I think it makes him a dweeb.  He's gone all-in for a buzz word and you think, "How can anybody buy into this?"  Not because green is bad but because its inclusion in the story is so forced.

Michael Douglass was perfectly cast.  He's a sleaze ball in this film (like pretty much every other movie I've ever seen him in) and you don't ever have to guess what he's about.  Susan Sarandon nailed Long Island but, and I can't stress this enough, just because you can do a thing doesn't mean you should do a thing.

There were two good lines - both by Michael.  "Buy my book" being the funny one but at the expense of a monologue that lasted way, way too long.  The second, a well delivered "I'll make a deal with you.  You stop telling lies about me and I'll stop telling the truth about you."

There was plenty of good in the film, but it was all wasted because the central idea was bunk.  At the end of the day (really, about 5 minutes into the movie) we just don't care about the problems faced by investment bankers and the characters came off as self-absorbed brats throwing tantrums rather doing anything important.  They're rich and anyone who pays attention during election cycles knows that the bourgeois, those who buy the tickets, do not like the rich.

I asked my wife what she thought and after a minute she said, "I liked that one girl's hair."  You know the one, she kept saying, "It isn't about the money."

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

"Why didn't you answer?"

When Tuesday feels like Monday it's hard to keep the schedule straight.  Not that I'm complaining, I've been fortunate enough to have many, many years of employment during which Tuesdays that feel like Mondays mean a four day work week and, dedicated civil servant or not, I like days off.  (No sarcasm.)

I had the refreshing experience of being stuck on the wrong side of the tracks this morning.  (Dripping with sarcasm.)  A mile or two of passing freight train blocked the road while the commuter pulled in, boarded, and departed.  If it weren't for the biting wind I probably wouldn't have complained.  After all, the train is only taking me to a place where everyone wants something.  At my cafe table there are no such demands.  Just a blank page that needs to be filled.

I don't have any high heeled shoes.  Not a single pair.  That shouldn't surprise you.  If you know me you'd probably think the idea of me wearing high heels is pretty silly.  I absolutely agree.  It isn't that I have anything against them but they aren't something I need (which is why I don’t have them).  Why in the world would I spend time shopping for, and then money to buy, something I have no need for?  My height/weight ratio is one that I'm comfortable with.

As a writer subscribed to blog feeds from business which sell writing products, I'm always receiving email notices and alerts to buy stuff.  Stuff that promises to make my writing easier and better.  I buy very, very little of it (Storyist, Final Draft, and... guess that's it).  Why?  Because I don't need any of it.  I have been attracted to the shiny packages and thought, "Wow, that looks nifty" a few times, but in the end I haven't bought anything because it really doesn't do anything to help me.

It might for you - but make sure it does using the free trial versions before you buy it.  Too many of the products aren't really making your writing easier, they are just making it electronic.  Like "Save the Cat."  It's a really neat little program that works well and duplicates, electronically, the notecard system that the books promote.  Thing is, it DUPLICATES something I already use and as fun as it is to play around with, it doesn't help my writing at all.  It's a distraction and sucks time away from writing because I have to figure out how to use it.  I have to configure reports.  I have to transfer into other programs.  I have to print things out so I can I take them with me -- essentially creating a paper product that duplicates my paper system.  It will even print directly to index cards for me.  That's a wonderful feature because index cards are wonderfully useful.  I know this because I already write onto index cards...  See where I'm going?

For some people, and I believe this, the computer application increases productivity.  But not for me.  As much as I wanted to buy it because of the gee-whiz factor, it would keep me from writing rather than increase productivity.  Writing isn't like hunting where there are only certain times you can be out doing it and when you can't, browsing catalogues and reading magazine articles lets you dream about the next time in the woods.  Writing is something that can be done anytime you are at the keyboard and when you're playing with a shiny new piece of software you are not writing.

Don't be the sort of writer who isn't writing.  Don't be the starving artist that spends grocery money on something you don't need.  If you don’t need the tool to do a specific task right now, you don’t need the tool.

Monday, November 11, 2013


We played paintball on Saturday afternoon.  It isn't something we do often.  In fact, the last time I played was a year ago.  It's a time consuming and expensive proposition around here - sort of like skiing if you live in an area where you can ski, but not next to the slopes.  You have to make a commitment to go and there are lots of factors you can use to justify not doing it.

Sort of like a few other things including writing.  There reaches a point where you have to make a decision or you'll never do it - indecision defaults to not doing anything because you run out of time.

Two of my children were interested but then weren't.  There was concern about what, exactly, it feels like when a paintball hits you.  There was concern about how long, exactly, we were gong to be gone.  There was a general sense of, "How can it be fun enough to be worth going."

It was fun.  We were gone most of the day.  And depending on where it hits you, a paintball might really, really sting.  My kids learned all of these things, tasted victory (and paint), and are still talking about it.  Niether would have gone if we hadn't provided a little push.

If you're struggling, accept the push when it comes.  Find people who have your back and will get you through.  And once you are zooming along, give someone else a push too.  It may be just the thing they need.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

"You've got red on you."

At some point yesterday we crossed the 5k page view mark.  Thank you for clicking by!  It's very encouraging to me that this project has not withered and died for lack of attention.  I don't know exactly when we crossed the line -- likely when I was wrestling with the new fridge or leveling a camper.

The fridge.  My goodness.  I usually have good experiences with Lowe's but this fridge was not quite so wonderful.  I haven't had so much trouble getting someone to take my money since I moved to VA and tried to transfer my license - DMV made me work very hard for the privilege of paying their exorbitant fees.  The fridge is nice, but I had to pick it up and install it rather than take advantage of their "Any day, anytime you want it" free delivery because they weren't available to do it on the days I wanted it.  They didn't know how to load it into my truck.  I should not be the guy saying, "Let's try lifting it this way."

Our house guests were very helpful for getting it from the truck to the kitchen.  It involved stairs, doors, and both the dismantling and reassembly of the major appliance.  The easiest part (not counting plugging it in) was connecting the water line.  Not that the doors were complicated (not very) but it did take a long time.

Now, though, we have a cavernous fridge that makes ice regularly and (for some reason this is important) matches our other major appliances.

Today we're off for some paint balling.  Keep your head down.  And if you're writing Nano, don't take a day off.  It's painful to get back into it.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

"Trust in me."

Today we celebrated a birthday in my house.  Birthdays are always great fun and one of the very times that everybody likes to get up early.  We open presents before school, before work, and when the tea kettle takes too long, before coffee too.  There was the usual collection of cool stuff, books, and checks but for anyone looking to find the perfect Christmas gift for a Nerf junkie I need to tell you – the “Nerf Zombie Collection”  is very, very cool.  The shot gun variant is semi-steampunk and fires 3 darts at once.  Hint, hint.

The other big news today is that I won the 5 minute fiction contest this week.  Thank you for voting, and an extra special thank you if you voted for me.  If you have never experienced an adrenaline rush while writing, I recommend you try this contest at least twice - the first so you get used to the panic and figure out just how much time everything really takes - and the second so you get to actually enjoy the stress of competing.

The November issue of Apocrypha and Abstractions is out but they spread the content out over a month of postings so my story won't appear until 11/21.  I'll post the link then too.  I'm still going great guns with nano - no burn out to date - and have had a couple of +2k word days.  It seems that many of the other folks buying groceries with non-writing jobs are backing off on their blogs to focus on the novel project this month.  I will not be doing that.

However, today I will not be writing about TV like I usually do because I haven't seen anything new to comment on or anything new in the few shows I have watched to highlight.  Well, there is one thing.  When you are writing dialogue for a script rather than a novel, less is definitely more.  Let the actors and setting show so you don’t have to tell.  Three lines in a book might only take three words in a script.  Trust the actors.  Trust the director.  Trust the snake voiced by Winnie the Pooh.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

"I am Iron Man."

It's Wednesday, let's talk about movies.  But first let me catch you up a little.  I was a finalist in this week’s 5 minute fiction (vote HERE if you like), and had two short story rejections.  Okay, now we're caught up.

I first encountered Ben Kingsley when he played Gandhi.  This weekend I saw him twice, once as Mazor Rackham in Ender's Game, and then as the terrorist in Iron Man 3.  Oh, the irony of his career's characters.  The rest of this post is filled with spoilers for Iron Man 3 --  If that's possible.  It really wasn't all that complex.  If you saw the poster then you know about as much about the plot as I do.

Iron Man - larger than life.

Writing that line really hurts me.  I like Iron Man.  Always have.  When the first movie came out I was really impressed.  It was a good movie.  I can tell you what it was about, describe scenes, and even recite bits of dialogue.  Robert Downey nailed the character.  Yah!  Everybody's happy.

Problem is, I watched IM3 less than a week ago and I can't tell you what it was about.  I don't remember the names of the villains.  I don't remember the name of Ben Kingsley's character.  I don't remember the name of the little boy in Indiana (or Tennessee?  I'm thinking now it was Tennessee.)  I do remember that there were a lot of explosions and suits flying around with nobody in them.

The writer of IM3, Shane Black, is something of a legend in the screen writing world.  I was expecting better.  But I shouldn't have.  IM3 had no chance at all.  It's a tent-pole sequel designed to squeeze the last little bit of money possible from the franchise.  The insistence on including bits from all of the other Marvel based movies was forced and the entire premise of the film was drawn from Avengers - not IM2!  Not only does it fail as a standalone story, it fails as a sequel.

There were very serious attempts to create a great story.  Tony was vulnerable and cranky, there was a kid, Colonel Rhodes had a big part and was very good, and even Pepper got to try her hand at flying the suit.  Unfortunately there were too many threads dangling from too weak of a premise and too complicated of a world domination plan for it to work.

There were some great moments in the movie and I won't be packing my Iron Man shirt off to the Goodwill, but it could have been so much more.  IM1 and the Avengers showed us that.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The 5 Worst Goals for New Writers

Today’s “Tool of the Trade” is helpful goals.

I used to go camping with a friend of mine that lived out of state.  We'd talk about how much fun we were going to have, toss a couple of dates around, and then watch life pass us by without a camping trip.  Our problem, we eventually discovered, was that while dreaming up the big event, we never bothered with setting a date - saying, "April sounds good" or "Let's shoot for the end of August" just doesn't provide the precision necessary for success.

Writing is like that too.  (So are many other things but this blog isn't about manufacturing 'O' rings for NASA's now retired shuttle fleet.)  If you set a goal (and you should) then it should be chosen with care.  Don’t go with the first one that comes to mind, don’t pick some nebulous moving target.  To make things easier I’ve written another “top 5” list so you’ll be able to avoid wasting your life.  Pretty helpful, hunh?

Here is my list of The 5 Worst Goals for New Writers -- feel free to sound off in the comments if I’ve missed something even more important.

5.  I will get published.  This is a terrible goal.  Unfortunately it is also more common than congressional gridlock.  There is nothing wrong with wanting to get published but too often this goal ends without the needed follow-up details.  You must be more specific or this goal becomes nothing more than a will-o-the-wisp that you chase sporadically.  You may take this one in a couple of different directions – I will get published in Analog/Smithsonian/The New Yorker or I will always have a manuscript in the mail to a publisher – but you must be clear about exactly what "published" means so you aren’t thrashing about aimlessly.

4. I will make industry contacts.  I have industry contacts - I know people who sell cars, repair leaking pipes, and build houses.  You know how much good that does me most days?  Not much.  The only time I need the industry contact is when I need to buy a new car, get a pipe repaired, or I've sold my Great American Novel and can afford to build a new house.  When you have a completed body of work (a single manuscript does not count) you will have no problem getting your contacts.  Seriously, when was the last time you walked into a car dealership ready to buy and were ignored?  A better expression of this goal to specify the type of industry contact and the purpose you are seeking that contact for, something like “I will develop a professional relationship with the editors of XYZ so that they will contact me for freelance work” or “I will develop contacts that will be able to provide professional guidance to help me advance my career.”

3. Any goal with the word 'try' in it.  Do not "try to finish the draft by Thanksgiving."  Do not "try to find a market for your short story about a 10 foot tall dwarf with a rabbit that lays Cadbury eggs."  To quote someone who died a long time ago in a galaxy far away, "Do or do not.  There is no try."  There’s no commitment in ‘try’.  Don’t believe me?  Ask someone if they want to try being a parent with you.  ‘Try’ is what you do to Aunt Edna’s squash and brussel sprout casserole, not skydiving.  Goals are about commitment and if you put the word ‘try’ into them you are suddenly giving permission for a "quick" game of Plants vs. Zombies and, guess what?  You fail.

2.  I will make every page perfect.  You already know better than this.  You're probably still stuck on page one.  You can't make it perfect.  If I look at this blog post six months from now I'm going to cringe because "I can't believe I wrote that!  It's terrible.  I should have..."  That's how we are as writers.  Remember that you are writing a story, not a page.  So write the story, not the page!  When you finish writing the story, go back and edit it.  Then do it again.  When it’s good and tight all that worry you put into the first pages will seem silly because you've completely changed the ending anyway.  You might win a Pulitzer or Hugo but I assure you that, upon a reread, you will be horrified by what you wrote.  Forget perfect, focus on story.

1.  Someday I will... whatever.  Great dream, but it’s not a goal.  Keep your dream.  Cherish your dream.  Protect your dream.  But when you’re ready to roll up your sleeves and achieve it, you need to set goals.  I dream of becoming a commercially successful writer someday, of being able to retire and write.  From my yacht.  But that’s not a goal.  Writing a blog six days a week every week for a year?  That’s a goal.  Finishing Nano?   That’s a goal.

Don’t tread water or spin your wheels.  If you’re serious about something, be serious about it.

Monday, November 4, 2013

"It's why you did it."

Today is a fall day.  There are only a few each year and they are very special.  The temperature is just above freezing, the sun is blindingly brilliant, little wind, and the smell - a woodsy smell, the scent of the forest creeping into civilization.  And everywhere there are the leaves.

I grew up in the woods and fall was always my favorite.

While I was growing up I had extended family with an overwhelming need to provide me with books.  All sorts of books (“Flatland” to “Dragon Riders of Pern” with “Johnny Tremain” and “Farmer Boy” tossed in for good measure).  I read most of them, and to my family's credit, enjoyed nearly all.  One that specifically stood out from the crowd was "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card.  I still have my well-worn copy.  It's one of the only books I ever recommend to anyone and the only book I ever kept track of who borrowed it.

The backstory of the book is very interesting, if you are interested in that sort of thing, and for authors of any stripe, the anonymity to superstardom magic of "Ender's Game" for Mr. Card should be an encouragement to keep typing.  But I learned all of that after Ender Wiggin changed my life.

I have made life decisions based on the book – no other work of fiction has had that sort of impact.  I have actually been faced with a situation and, twenty years after reading the book, said, "Ender would do X."  I never wanted to participate in his world - no fantastic daydreaming about zero-g freeze tag or preparing for battle against a foe set to destroy everyone.  There was no desire to write more - Ender didn't get a "last chapter" like Guy Montag did.

I described the story as "universal" this weekend.  I think that's true.  Nobody has ever complained about what a stupid book it is.  A friend of mine (the one who has admitted to never seeing "Casablanca") told me it's on the Marine Corps. reading list.  That's a good thing.  Our soldiers can learn from a commander like Wiggin.  Avoid battle.  When forced to fight, chose your battlefield for best advantage.  Seek to end the war in every battle.  It's sound strategy, distilled from a riveting narrative that, remarkably, does not glorify combat.  The bibliography of reference materials is impressive, Mr. Card wrote with authority.

When I first read the book nearly thirty years ago I wanted to see the movie.  This weekend it came out.  I don't like hype around films because they can never live up to it.  I will say, instead, that this film is the movie I've always wanted to see.  My entire family went and enjoyed every minute.  I saw a brilliant adaptation of, perhaps, my favorite book.

Consider your words carefully.  You will never know who is inspired by them, what choices they will make for themselves and others because of your portrayal.  Be responsible, be thorough, and above all, be inspiring.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

"His turn of phrase clearly had her entranced."

I have thrown my hat into the ring.  I am now a Nano (or NaNoWriMo) participant.  Hear me roar.  There are plenty of reasons for both doing, and not doing, Nano, but for me the positives outweighed the negatives.  All that's left is to write 50k words of a novel draft before 11/30/13.  I've got just over 2k right now.  If past performance is any indication of future results, I should be okay.  I'm averaging about 2k a day during the week if I count the blog and the writing projects.  Some days I get far more than that - a few of the recent shorts were over 1900 words and they were all written during a single sitting on the train.

Word count does not a novel make, but neither does a final draft appear magically from space.

I will post more on this epic undertaking as I go.  If it is interesting.  Meanwhile, I will continue to consume vast quantities of "extra work" sized Snickers bars left over from Halloween.  (Okay, the label says "fun size" but what's fun about a candy bar that's a quarter the size of normal one?  You have to do 4 times the work for the same amount of satisfaction.  I bet it was named by the same people who came up with the idea of self-checkout at the grocery store.)

Friday, November 1, 2013

Two Sheets

Robin Hood and some faceless creature in a black robe greeted me with hugs last night when I got home.  Faceless, not headless - the mask was elliptical and reflective silver, but designed in such an ingenious way that while I saw only myself reflected back, the wearer could see the world almost normally.

I was entrusted with the candy for the door whilst the rest of the clan went foraging.  I thought to turn off the lights and keep the sweets for myself but then I remembered Karma and so decided I would continue to hand out bites of milk chocolate ambrosia but also offer up the cat.  There was only one taker but he wouldn't come to her so I'm still stuck with him.

For now.

Today's short fiction is a *gasp* revision of the story I wrote for the 5 minute fiction contest this week.  The prompt was this image.  I'm not trying to cheat, it's just that I thought it was a neat idea and wanted to play with it some more.  I hope you don’t mind.

Two Sheets

by Jon Stark; 892 words

Earl Weaver was not a complicated man.  Nor was he especially good at complicated things.  "Simple's good." he always said.  Unless he was saying something else - like "Dog gone 'coons got in ta my meal 'gain." or "Sally?  Sally!  SALLY!  Get me som'in."

He was not the sort of man that liked work but he'd stumble across some here and there.  When the bottle was empty he'd do his part and collect the wage but if it was only partially empty, he was forced to use "that darn rathmatic thing" and figure out how likely he was to find another job before he did run out.  His formula was simple:  X = (3+(Y*T/d)+A)*0.

It was during one of those odd job times that Earl first saw them.  He was raking leaves at the McDougal place because Mr. McDougal had said, "I'll pay ye dollars for thy labors if ye remove the vile taint of autumn from my yard."  It sounded perfectly vague to suit Earl and he accepted.  He raked for a time but grew weary of it for a strong wind had arisen and made it difficult to keep them leaves in piles.

He paused for a drink and when he put the bottle down he saw two sheets floating just above the earth.  The tops were gathered into a globe roughly the size of a noggin while the rest of the sheet just hung down.  "Where'd you come from?" asked Earl.

The only answer was a low howl that chilled his blood and set his knees to shaking so fiercely that he thought the world was being consumed by an earthquake.

He quit at once.  "Mr. McDougal, I'm a finished here."

McDougal purveyed the grounds.  Nodded once, and removed a large wallet from the breast pocket of his coat.  "Finished you are.  Thy work is satisfactory.  Into thy hands I commend these promissory notes."  Earl took the proffered bills, and wandered down to Mack's place.

Mack was a character too, but the story of how he came to be the sole proprietor of "en Fromage" is best left for a day when you would rather be anywhere else, doing anything else, and your toe nails have already been trimmed.

Mack poured out a drink for Earl.  "I heard you were working up at McDougals." said Mack.

"That's so." agreed Earl, finishing and asking for another.  Mack obliged.  "Saw a couple ghosts." said Earl.  The old man talked for a very long time while Mack poured drinks and listened to the wild tale of ghosts settling out of the sky, and then packed his oldest, and craziest, customer off for home.

Two days later Earl found himself near the McDougal place.  He considered approaching Mr. McDougal for work again but did the calculation and chose against it.  While he was considering, a white sheet floated out of the gate.  It stopped and watched him.

Earl was a generally friendly old soul and so he tipped his cap and then raised the bottle to the sheet.  "Good day to you, ghost."  It bobbed at him.  Then a second ghost came through the gate and the two of them watched the old man.  The wind came on, advancing with ferocity and driving sand, grit, branches, and leaves into Earl’s face.  A low howl whistled along the path and through the gate.

"What en all tarnition?" said Earl.  He fought to keep his hat in the gale and, surprisingly, he succeeded.  When the wind stopped - quite suddenly, of course - he saw a ripped piece of sheet on the top of one of the iron fence posts.

Earl didn't bother to cross himself.  He just went straight to en Fromage.

Mack was as patient as ever, but some of the other patrons in the pub were not as kind.

“I saw ‘em.” said Earl. “Standing there again.”

“Sure you did.” Mack poured him another pint and slid it down the bar.

“Sure as I’m see’in you right now here.” he insisted.

Jake slid up next to him, an arm wrapping good naturedly around the old man’s back. “Look, we know-”

“Git yer hands off a me.” said Earl. “Don’t need no condecension.” He took a gulp from the glass. “I know what I seen and it was them, standing there. Jez like b’fore.”

Jake laughed. “You ain’t seen nothin. Probably just a couple of strays s’all.”

Mack frowned at Jake and tried to wave him away but the younger man wasn’t paying attention. “You prolly fell and hit your chin or -”

Earl whirled on him, fierce in his certaintude. “I know what I seen, mister.” His bony finger jabbed for the other’s solar plexus. “I saw them two standing by the gate, sheets a billowin’ and wind a howlin’ and all’s hell calling fer ‘em from inside.”

The younger man was taken aback but quickly recovered. “The only two sheets blowin in the wind was you, ya old coot.”

Before Mack could intervene, the two men were at each other. Rage driving the old man into a carnivorous frenzy. The younger man fell beneath him, screaming for help. The other patrons in the bar moved quickly to separate them and so they didn’t see what Mack did.

The two of them, standing outside the door, two sheets to the wind. Watching.