Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Young Adult Fiction

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In my local library there are the usual stacks of books reaching as high as I can reach. There's the dewey decimal system. There's the fiction section, taking up nearly half of the library.

But, beyond those stacks, there is another, more exciting section. It's located halfway between the regular fiction section and the psuedo-playground of the children's section. Something different. Something better.

Now you have to understand, I'm in my 30s and I have my own kids. I've got a university education and I've been published in scholarly and literary journals. I listen to NPR. I've read the giants of literature and the masters of pulp. But there's only one section I browse any more.

Young Adult.

There's something magical about that section, and I think I know what it is.

YA abandons its pretenses and embraces the story. YA doesn't care if the story is about a family living on an asteroid during the industrial revolution (larklight), or about a boy discovering the body of a girl in Ireland (bog child) or about a girl awoken from hyperspace sleep on a generations ship (Across the Universe). It doesn't matter. All belong. All are welcome. The story is paramount. You can even have distopian stories about people whose brains are programmed by colors (Shades of Grey) written with greater wit and creativity than any traditional literary endeavor.

Sure, the bookstore is overrun with paranormal romance, but this, too, shall pass. YA will still be there, entertaining us, telling us stories that stick with us for days. Bringing us characters who we love. YA abandons the pretense of literary greatness and just makes us feel things. If you ask me, that's the future of literature.

In celebration of YA lit. Beth Revis is giving away 50 signed YA books on her blog.  You can sign up for it right here.I've also put the banner from the contest below.

Go enjoy a YA book or two. You'll be hooked. There's nothing more fun than just kicking back and dropping into a whole new life and world with the ease of turning a page.





Wednesday, August 22, 2012

How to Write an Outline, Greg Style.

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I participated in nanowrimo for quite a few years, and always the same thing happened: I'd start strong, writing well for the first day. Then, maybe I'd do okay on the second day. By the third day, if I wrote at all, my word count was way, way down. I don't recall making it more than 5 days.

That was true until last year. Last year I determined I would do this thing, and do it hard.

But how?

My friend, that is where the miracle of outlining came in.

A night or two before November began, I sat down with my previous years' attempt. It had no title, other than Tower. It was a dismal affair. Four pages. No story. Just a scene and a character with no shape whatsoever. As I read the scene, though, I enjoyed the world it conjured for me.

I started to write little summaries of what would happen next. Here's an example:

"She needs to pick up her bounty. From who? local drug lord? local boss? sherriff? She picks up bounty and hears about strange group of men. She investigates. Why? Because her current bounty is dead so drug lord won't re-hire her and she needs a new job. She hears this new group is hiring. She meets main character 2 - love interest."

This goes on and on. Can you sense the spur-of-the-moment-ness of it? Can you tell that I'm figuring out the broad motivations as I go along? You could call it discovery outlining.

This outline got less and less detailed as the story went on. In fact, the end of my outline was something like "they experience stirring resolution." It was pretty laughable.

However...

It totally worked. 

As I struggled to write each day on this story about a girl in a desert, I found that when inspiration dried up I could return to my outline. "Just make it to the next plot point." I'd tell myself. "Doesn't matter how you have to do it." Sometimes it was easy. Sometimes it was hard. I discovered things about my world and my characters as I went. Halfway through my 50,000 word goal I re-did my outline, adding in later details and plot points using what I had learned so far. That made it even easier. It also made it longer. 55000 words ended up consuming only 1/3 of the outline, and the second half of it still isn't very detailed.

Can you tell I'm excited about it?

So try this, sometime. Just start outlining as if you have no idea where you're going and it doesn't matter. Ask yourself questions as you do it. Don't let yourself stop typing. Just outline. there will be time to think later.


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A cynical view of insurance agents.

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Just don't let it get too close to an open flame, okay?
And it really, really works!
Insurance agents are the meta-gamers of the working class.

See, here we have the working class. Here's a teacher. There we see an accountant. Here, a doctor. There, a fast-food worker. Each one of them earns a different amount of money in a different way. Each has goals relating to growing their income, moving on to better things - whatever they are.

Now, here, swimming among them and looking for all the world like a normal, working member of society, we see an insurance agent.

Full disclosure: I happen to be an insurance agent.

The insurance agent doesn't look at his own career and think about how to move up, adjust it, or change jobs. The insurance agent is planning on always being the insurance agent. What the agent is doing, however, is looking at your career. Your goals. Your future. He is evaluating you in the same way you evaluate your own career.

Why?

Because the insurance agent is a many-tentacled parasite who experiences gains only as his clients do.

There. I said it.

See, the insurance agent stretches a tentacle out and attaches it to a likely looking janitor. Perhaps this tentacle is called "disability insurance." With this small connection, the agent draws a tiny portion of the janitor's income away into its own being.

Another tentacle, this one called "health insurance," reaches for a small business owner.

The twin tentacles of "home and auto" lovingly embrace a teacher.

I brought hand sanitizer this time!
I was just thinking of a way to insure your insurance!
From each of these varied connections the agent draws a drop of others' earnings into himself. But what he's really looking for is the big money. The whale.

When he sees a likely subject, one who seems to be doing well for herself and who appears to have a bright future, the insurance agent clamps on with as much grip as possible. Why? To ensure that when the subject is making more money she sends it to him instead of any other insurance agent out there. He attaches as many tentacles as he can, and attempts to squeeze as much life insurance as he can out of her. Life insurance is his most profitable area, after all.

Eventually the insurance agent has thousands of tentacles, each one providing a dollar here, a dollar there. He doesn't care about his future. He's got your future to sustain him.

Clearly I've grown cynical about the insurance industry and those who work in it. I've been discouraged at the behaviors of many of those around me who only look to sell sell sell. Those who can't stop being a tentacled horror because they now have no other way to be human.

Let me add one thing, though - and this is important: There are some really amazing agents and advisers out there who will fearlessly tell you exactly what you need with no thought for themselves. They will inform, and not sell. They will lift and not drain. Do I have guilt about my years as an insurance agent so far? Well, in one or two cases I wonder if I made the right recommendation, but for the most part, no, I don't. I think that I really did try to always make it about the client and never about my income. (That may have something to do with why I'm not really making much money from it. Hmmm.) So what am I saying? I suppose I'm saying be careful. Don't avoid all insurance agents, just the parasites who see you as their next meal.


Friday, July 27, 2012

Reading, Critiquing, and Piano Wire.

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Ever notice there are 2 basic types of critiques out there?

First is what I call the 'artist's critique.' This is like those classes you took where the professor or teacher said "there is no wrong answer." Remember that? Sure it was fun, and you probably learned important writey things, but what didn't happen was constructive criticism. It's like putting a painting into a sculpture competition and getting the 'participant' award along with everybody else.

At the other end of the spectrum is the 'mechanic's critique.' This is what happens when you take the car in for an oil change and you end up being told your transmission is crap. In critiquing terms, this is when you hand an imperfect work over to somebody and they end up telling you every little thing you've done wrong, including the things you thought were right. Been there? It's like handing somebody a carving of a bear and hearing them say "This doesn't look like a painting of a dolphin at all!"

Seems like critique groups also fall into one of those two categories. And that's too bad because critiquing ought to be the most helpful stage of the writing process. It ought to be the impetus for making the rough become smooth in all the right places. Yet too often, critiquing and critique groups is what sends a fine piece of work into development hell, and what should have taken a few days or weeks to improve instead takes years.

Here is a story which helps me remember the key of good critiquing.

Back in my young and rude days I once visited a friend and mentioned to her mother that their piano was in need of a good tuning.

"That's odd," her mother said. "I just tuned it recently." She then brought out a tuning hammer and a small electronic keyboard. She then went through, note by note, and tuned every key on her piano to the corresponding electronic tone on her small keyboard.

I remember thinking, "well, that's a weird way to do it, but whatever."

After she finished, she played through all the notes on the piano with a smile. It sounded terrible. "That's better," she said. I smiled and wondered how things had gone so terribly wrong.

Years later I learned something interesting about pianos which explained why this carefully tuned piano had sounded so wrong. See, pianos have something weird in their physics called stretch. Without getting into details, it's stretch which makes it so that a piano must be tuned to itself. If you try to tune a piano to another piano or some other device you end up with pitches that don't sound good at all.

So,  when you have the honor of critiquing the work of another, remember to consider the work in terms of itself. Don't try to 'tune' the piece according to the standards of another work, especially one which is unrelated. Leave your preconceptions at the door and just try to get the writing in tune with itself.

 When looking for somebody else to critique your own work, have a conversation first. Maybe you should try and give them a work which you have already have critiqued and ask them to take a look at it. See how they do it. Find somebody who tries to make your work fit its own rules instead of theirs.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

This... Pinterest... thing. I will make it my own!

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So a lot of people have been using this site... Pinterest... I believe it's called.

Yes, I know. I'm just being silly.

I've decided to use Pinterest to catalog images, words, and whatever other gobbledy gook I find online which relates to my current story project - Tower. Make sense? So the idea is that if I see an image which reminds me of a scene or person in the book I 'pin it' to my Pinterest board.

I hope this keeps my writing in tune with itself and consistent throughout. It can also hopefully be used as a critiquing tool - where I can say "the city I envision looked like this picture on my pinterest board." And the reader / critiquer can say "That's not what I imagined at all!"

Anyway, I owed you an update, so here it is!


Sunday, May 20, 2012

Dan Lewis on finding yourself as a writer.

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Dan Lewis is the writer of a popular mailing list called "Now I Know." I had approached him about writing a brief article about how he has come to find himself as a writer in his spare time between all his lawyering and whatnot.  Here's what he had to say:

---

I started Now I Know -- http://dlewis.net/nik -- just under two years
ago. It was borne out of two goals. First, with Twitter exploding, I
wanted to build an audience for myself like many Twitter users had --
but I didn't want to restrict myself on Twitter to posting only about
certain topics. Second, I was enamored with email newsletters after a
failed attempt to start one about a year prior to that. So in a real
sense, Now I Know was a challenge to myself.

It's a hobby. I've never really seen it as more. I read a ton
anyway;coming up with topics isn't that hard. And I write quickly so
that part isn't terribly taxing on my time. The big time drain is
growing the list -- reaching out to people who can help, mostly -- and
I don't expect that to ever improve. I'm OK with that though, because
I really love how media and technology intersect, especially from an
audience building standpoint, so it's fulfilling watching the
subscriber count (hopefully) go up.

There are definitely times when it's frustrating. One of the things I
wasn't prepared for was the pullback after a big uptick in growth. In
April, I went from 40k to 50k, basically -- and in May, I'm net flat,
even though I've attracted about 1,000 or so new readers. What's
happening is that a bunch of the people who gave it a try decided it
wasn't for them, and I'm just treading water because of it. It's
disheartening to think that so many people just didn't like what I
wrote... but really, it shouldn't be for everyone.

Still, that's hard. I've been writing in one capacity or another for
over a decade, on and off. When first started, I was freelancing as a
sports analyst, sending unsolicited articles everywhere. It took me
months before I sold one, and even getting a rejection email was rare.
The typical response was silence, which I just ascribe to me being a
no-name. That's when I realized that writing for others would never
suit me -- I was too good at driving web traffic to ignore that part
of it. But the downside is that when you hit everything right -- great
piece, massive traffic, good conversion -- and it then recedes, yikes.

But those pass, and at the end of the day, I have a great conduit to
share my writings. It's been tough but well worth it.

---

You can sign up for Dan's email list here: http://dlewis.net/nik  It's informative and fun.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Music, relationships, and how we communicate.

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    Does music affect you?  

    Do you ever read or hear or experience something from popular culture which, instead of being temporary, passive, and distracting, becomes a changing moment in your life?
                       
    As a 16 year old I dated a young lady named Cara. Cara had an older sister who felt I was a good match for her younger sister and tried to encourage our relationship. She gave me a mix tape of her favorite music. I tried listening to it. I didn’t recognize any of the artists, and didn’t care for any of the songs save one. I filed the tape away in a shoebox. About 2 years later I was in my first year of college. I had come back for Christmas break and in my intense boredom I examined the contents of my closet. In a dusty shoebox I found a mysterious, unlabeled tape. I put it in the player and was amazed to hear some of my favorite bands and songs. “Ooh! R.E.M. – Orange Crush!” and similar comments were to be heard issuing from my mouth.

    I wondered what had changed. Had I changed to match the music or had the music changed me? I still don’t know. I know that as my friendships changed and evolved over time I was exposed to new music, and sometimes new music led me to new friendships.

    It seems to me that youth today talk about music a lot. The kind of music a person listens to is often seen as a key to understanding what ‘type’ of person he or she is. I know that for me when I run out of conversation I ask “What kind of music do you listen to?” (Or, if I know them better I ask “Which super power is better: flight or invisibility?” This is another trick I learned from my personal choice of pop culture – talk radio.) In group therapy sessions it is common for the facilitator to suggest that the participants bring a CD with a song that they feel ‘describes them’ on it. I find it significant that not only listening to pop music but sharing it becomes a therapeutic experience. I once had a college course where the professor asked us to bring the lyrics to a song to class that we felt described us and I quite enjoyed the search, but I wished that I could have played the song for the class.

    As I grew up I always harbored a secret desire to be a DJ. I wanted to play my music for everybody to hear. I suspect that on some level this was a desire to find acceptance. The thought was that if people accept my music they must accept me – after all, this music is so me. Later in life I did have the opportunity to be a DJ for the university station. I found I had a knack for it and even heard of people from other towns recording my sessions off the air for replay at home. (This was before the advent of the mp3.) I felt great when I was on the air. Napster was soon invented and we’d never heard of the RIAA, so I was determined to be the ‘music man’ of the dorms. My computer was constantly downloading songs. I made mix CDs for all my friends for Christmas. (Here, tiny Tim, Have a piece of my soul.)

    Looking back, I realize I was something of a freak.

    Yet at the same time I fit in perfectly. We were all music freaks together. We were young and in love with pop music. When we were angry we drove around town with angry music blasting. I can’t remember any aspect of my life that wasn’t touched by my desire to be constantly enveloped with music. Friends who went on religious missions said “The hardest part was that I missed music.”

    Two nights ago, when I should have been working on this paper, I spent my time on Youtube looking up music videos of yesteryear and today. I watched the White Stripes, Fall-out Boy, Ok Go, and many more. The viewing was like a kind of therapy for me. Songs that were “me” I would listen to. Songs that weren’t got skipped. Songs that were partially me got fast forwarded to the good part.

    I only just noticed but even as I write this paper I have an online music player called “Slacker Internet Radio” playing on another desktop. I don’t even know why, exactly.

    How has this music changed me? My initial / gut reaction is the feeling that it has kept me current. By allowing myself to be swallowed whole by the music monster (or the movie monster or the TV monster or any of my many other pop-vices) I allow myself to be ‘with’ people – especially the people that I care for. I know that my friends are listening to the same stations. I know that as I form friendships I can share the most current version of myself with them.

    I once had a friend come to my apartment in tears. She had apparently told her boyfriend “I love you” for the first time. He had responded with “Oh.” There’s a theory of communication called “Transaction theory” which tells us that we expect equal levels of communication. In other words, when you meet somebody for the first time you expect a certain shallowness to the conversation - phrases like “where do you work?” as opposed to “do you want to have kids with me?”  I think that music is an almost harmless way for us to ‘test the waters’ before jumping into conversations. At least, it is for me. I can play a bit of my music for people who visit – leave the computer jamming in the back room when the guests arrive – and see how they react. I’ll know which of the party goers is going to be my best bet for friendship. I’ll know who to send to chat with my soft-rock loving wife. I’ll know with whom my Pink Floyd friend can bond.
 
My national borders are marked with the likes of David Gray, Sting, Guster and Carbon Leaf. I pledge allegiance to adult alternative stations and NPR. Why go around asking who loves me when I can easily, and less emotionally riskily, ask who heard last weeks episode of “Car Talk” or who listens to “The End” on trips to Salt Lake City?

    Music has given / created a method of bonding with others. When music is not an option, other aspects of pop culture fill in the gaps. Have you seen “Good Night and Good Luck? Don’t you love it?” Do you watch “Life? Best new series of the year by far.” Strangely, some of the most lasting relationships are developed based on the most transient aspects of our culture. Is it good this way? I’m certainly not in a position to make a value based judgment here; I’m too busy checking out the latest Modest Mouse video on Youtube. Have you seen it?

----

In college I had 2 professors who never ever give 100% on assignments. Ever.  It’s like they thought it was against the rules. Except once. One time, I got 100% from the tougher of the two professors.

The assignment was to react to the question “How has pop culture influenced my life?”  I thought I did pretty good. What did you think?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

V is for Very Sorry!

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Vell,

It turns out the A to Z challenge is too much for me!  Adding a third job this month didn't help either.

The reality is that I now have very little time to write, and vhen I do I choose to vork on my projects rather than blog.  And I'm so sorry!

I vill finish the A to Z story of foolishness, though.

Thanks so much for stopping by. I really appreciate it. It's nice to build connections and to feel like somebody cares to read vhat I write.  I visit the blog of every commenter, so, even if I don't leave a comment there, know I'm paying attention and returning to see more!

Thanks again!


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A to Z challenge: J is for JuJu!

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So, my approach to the A-Z challenge is this:  Write a story using only words which begin with letters we've 'passed.' So, in other words, on day one I can use words which start with A, on day two it's words which start with A, or B, etc.

The goal here?  Silliness. Enjoy!

Day J!

A - Alan Adkinson attacked Alicia’s alabaster angel at Akron Academy. Afterwards, Alicia admitted attacking aggressively augmented Alan’s attractiveness. Alicia accepted Alan’s advances, and, after an adventure, Alan’s artless attitude.

B - Betty Boswell, bored and bitter behind Berkshire’s accounting arm, accidentally acquired Alicia’s alabaster angel. Bedeviled by aforementioned accursed angel, Betty began Alan’s annihilation by arranging an attack against Alicia and Akron!

C - Careful contemplation communicates certain conundrums: Could Alicia’s alabaster angel cause Betty Boswell’s baneful attitude? Certainly! Alicia’s angel actually contained a bound air creature; cruel, angry, and bitter. Bound constructs (as Alicia’s angel) actually commonly corrupt capable adults. (Beware both angel carvings and alabaster containers.) Betty, bound and controlled, behaved accordingly.

D - Deemed dangerous by Akron Academy, Alan admitted defeat. Alan denied Akron’s accusations, and Alicia accepted Alan’s comforting, but admitted certain doubts. Crushed, Alan departed Akron and abandoned Alicia, chasing comfort and direction abroad.

E - Eventually, Alan discovered employment as an excavator deep below Earth’s crust at “Everwilde Excavations.”  Although affording excellent compensation, excavation also allowed ample contemplation. Even abrupt, artless Alan discerned Alicia’s emotions. Contrite and chagrined, Alan examined evacuating Everwilde.

F - Fate eventually found Alicia alone and exhausted behind a Berkshire Accounting building, fainted from a fatigue and depression cocktail. Alicia’s angel felt Alicia’s fallen condition and acted fast. Betty, acting as Alicia’s friend, enticed forlorn Alicia, and Alicia became Betty’s flatmate.
 
G - Digging amid ancient fossils, Alan discovered a gray cube. Curious, Alan brushed and dug and ground dirt and dust away. Eventually, Alan found arcane designs etched along edges and corners. Gripping and dragging, Alan dislodged a cover and glimpsed a gem-covered case.

H - After dinner, Alan dozed and didn’t hear a faint call emanating from his curious case.
    “Hush...” air hissed, and bright eyes blinked from Alan’s box.
    “Alan.. Alan. Alan!” Alan dreamed he heard Alicia calling him.
    “Hush?”
    Alan awoke, his eyes blinking at empty air.
    “Hush!”
    “Huh?”

I - “I guess I’ll call it Hush,” Alan considered. He had discovered a creature in his box and it had hushed him.
    “Hush!” hushed Hush. “Hooooosh!” It bounced atop Alan’s hand. “Heesh heesh heeeeesh!”
    Alan chuckled at Hush’s antics. Its diminutive frame and itsy-bitsy claws brushed Alan’s fingers. Abruptly, Hush bit Alan’s fingertip, gently at first, but harder and harder. “Hey!” Alan hollered in aggravation. But Hush bit harder.
    “Hey! I-” Alan felt a curious feeling in his arm. Blood drained from his face, and he collapsed.

J - “Jerk.” Alicia deleted another email from Alan. “Just go away.”  Delete.
    Alicia had been Betty’s flatmate for a few days and her Angel’s evil juju had already affected her. Betty gleefully eavesdropped as Alicia fell deeper and deeper into darkness and despair - ignoring Alan’s calls, deleting his emails, and generally behaving just as her Angel desired.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A to Z challenge: I!

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So, my approach to the A-Z challenge is this:  Write a story using only words which begin with letters we've 'passed.' So, in other words, on day one I can use words which start with A, on day two it's words which start with A, or B, etc.

The goal here?  Silliness. Enjoy!

Today's Letter: I.

I - “I guess I’ll call it Hush,” Alan considered. He had discovered a creature in his box and it had hushed him.
    “Hush!” hushed Hush. “Hooooosh!” It bounced atop Alan’s hand. “Heesh heesh heeeeesh!”
    Alan chuckled at Hush’s antics. Its diminutive frame and itsy-bitsy claws brushed Alan’s fingers. Abruptly, Hush bit Alan’s fingertip, gently at first, but harder and harder. “Hey!” Alan hollered in aggravation. But Hush bit down even harder.
    “Hey! I-” Alan felt a curious feeling in his arm. Blood drained from his face, and he collapsed.

Scroll down for past letters and the beginning of this absurdity.

Monday, April 9, 2012

a to z challenge: H!

0comments
So, my approach to the A-Z challenge is this:  Write a story using only words which begin with letters we've 'passed.' So, in other words, on day one I can use words which start with A, on day two it's words which start with A, or B, etc.

The goal here?  Silliness. Enjoy!

Day 8: H is for Hush.

A - Alan Adkinson attacked Alicia’s alabaster angel at Akron Academy. Afterwards, Alicia admitted attacking aggressively augmented Alan’s attractiveness. Alicia accepted Alan’s advances, and, after an adventure, Alan’s artless attiude.

B - Betty Boswell, bored and bitter behind Berkshire’s accounting arm, accidentally acquired Alicia’s alabaster angel. Bedeviled by aforementioned accursed angel, Betty began Alan’s annihilation by arranging an attack against Alicia and Akron!

C - Careful contemplation communicates certain conundrums: Could Alicia’s alabaster angel cause Betty Boswell’s baneful attitude? Certainly! Alicia’s angel actually contained a bound air creature; cruel, angry, and bitter. Bound constructs (as Alicia’s angel) actually commonly corrupt capable adults. (Beware both angel carvings and alabaster containers.) Betty, bound and controlled, behaved accordingly.

D - Deemed dangerous by Akron Academy, Alan admitted defeat. Alan denied Akron’s accusations, and Alicia accepted Alan’s comforting, but admitted certain doubts. Crushed, Alan departed Akron and abandoned Alicia, chasing comfort and direction abroad.

E - Eventually, Alan discovered employment as an excavator deep below Earth’s crust at “Everwilde Excavations.”  Although affording excellent compensation, excavation also allowed ample contemplation. Even abrupt, artless Alan discerned Alicia’s emotions. Contrite and chagrined, Alan examined evacuating Everwilde.

F - Fate eventually found Alicia alone and exhausted behind a Berkshire Accounting building, fainted from a fatigue and depression coctail. Alicia’s angel felt Alicia’s fallen condition and acted fast. Betty, acting as Alicia’s friend, enticed forlorn Alicia, and Alicia became Betty’s flatmate.
 
G - Digging amid ancient fossils, Alan discovered a gray cube. Curious, Alan brushed and dug and ground dirt and dust away. Eventually, Alan found arcane designs etched along edges and corners. Gripping and dragging, Alan dislodged a cover and glimpsed a gem-covered case.

H - After dinner, Alan dozed and didn’t hear a faint call emanating from his curious case.
    “Hush...” air hissed, and bright eyes blinked from Alan’s box.
    “Alan.. Alan. Alan!” Alan dreamed he heard Alicia calling him.
    “Hush?”
    Alan awoke, his eyes blinking at empty air.
    “Hush!”
    “Huh?”

Friday, April 6, 2012

A to Z: D, E, F, 'n' G!

3comments
So, my approach to the A-Z challenge is this:  Write a story using only words which begin with letters we've 'passed.' So, in other words, on day one I can use words which start with A, on day two it's words which start with A, or B, etc.


The goal here?  Silliness. Enjoy!


Day : G


A - Alan Adkinson attacked Alicia’s alabaster angel at Akron Academy. Afterwards, Alicia admitted attacking aggressively augmented Alan’s attractiveness. Alicia accepted Alan’s advances, and, after an adventure, Alan’s artless attiude.


B - Betty Boswell, bored and bitter behind Berkshire’s accounting arm, accidentally acquired Alicia’s alabaster angel. Bedeviled by aforementioned accursed angel, Betty began Alan’s annihilation by arranging an attack against Alicia and Akron! 
 

C - Careful contemplation communicates certain conundrums: Could Alicia’s alabaster angel cause Betty Boswell’s baneful attitude? Certainly! Alicia’s angel actually contained a bound air creature; cruel, angry, and bitter. Bound constructs (as Alicia’s angel) actually commonly corrupt capable adults. (Beware both angel carvings and alabaster containers.) Betty, bound and controlled, behaved accordingly.


D - Deemed dangerous by Akron Academy, Alan admitted defeat. Alan denied Akron’s accusations, and Alicia accepted Alan’s comforting, but admitted certain doubts. Crushed, Alan departed Akron and abandoned Alicia, chasing comfort and direction abroad.

E - Eventually, Alan discovered employment as an excavator deep below Earth’s crust at “Everwilde Excavations.”  Although affording excellent compensation, excavation also allowed ample contemplation. Even abrupt, artless Alan discerned Alicia’s emotions. Contrite and chagrined, Alan examined evacuating Everwilde.

F - Fate eventually found Alicia alone and exhausted behind a Berkshire Accounting building, fainted from a fatigue and depression coctail. Alicia’s angel felt Alicia’s fallen condition and acted fast. Betty, acting as Alicia’s friend, enticed forlorn Alicia, and Alicia became Betty’s flatmate.
 
G - Digging amid ancient fossils, Alan discovered a gray cube. Curious, Alan brushed and dug and ground dirt and dust away. Eventually, Alan found arcane designs etched along edges and corners. Gripping and dragging, Alan accidentally dislodged a cover and glimpsed a gem-covered case.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

D is for... shut up, I have the flu.

8comments
Disaster. Got the flu, like everybody else in my family. Stayed in the blue reclining chair for hours.

Not to worry, I'll catch up on our little story as soon as I get the ol' brain working again.  Scroll down to read A,B, and C.  Thanks, and sorry!

-The Gregwriter.

A to Z challenge: C!

4comments
So, my approach to the A-Z challenge is this:  Write a story using only words which begin with letters we've 'passed.' So, in other words, on day one I can use words which start with A, on day two it's words which start with A, or B, etc.

The goal here?  Silliness. Enjoy!

Day 3: C

A - Alan Adkinson attacked Alicia’s alabaster angel at Akron Academy. Afterwards, Alicia admitted attacking aggressively augmented Alan’s attractiveness. Alicia accepted Alan’s advances, and, after an adventure, Alan’s artless attiude.

B - Betty Boswell, bored and bitter behind Berkshire’s accounting arm, accidentally acquired Alicia’s alabaster angel. Bedeviled by aforementioned accursed angel, Betty began Alan’s annihilation by arranging an attack against Alicia and Akron!

C - Careful contemplation communicates certain conundrums: Could Alicia’s alabaster angel cause Betty Boswell’s baneful attitude? Certainly! Alicia’s angel actually contained a bound air creature; cruel, angry, and bitter. Bound constructs (as Alicia’s angel) actually commonly corrupt capable adults. (Beware both angel carvings and alabaster containers.) Betty, bound and controlled, behaved accordingly.

Get back to the blog hop: Here.

Monday, April 2, 2012

A to Z Challenge, B!

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So, my approach to the A-Z challenge is this:  Write a story using only words which begin with letters we've 'passed.' So, in other words, on day one I can use words which start with A, on day two it's words which start with A, or B, etc.

The goal here?  Silliness. Enjoy!

Day 2: B.

A - Alan Adkinson attacked Alicia’s alabaster angel at Akron Academy. Afterwards, Alicia admitted attacking aggressively augmented Alan’s attractiveness. Alicia accepted Alan’s advances, and, after an adventure, Alan’s artless attiude.
 

B - Betty Boswell, bored and bitter behind Berkshire’s accounting arm, accidentally acquired Alicia’s alabaster angel. Bedeviled by aforementioned accursed angel, Betty began Alan’s annihilation by arranging an attack against Alicia and Akron!


Get back to the blog hop: Here.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A to Z Challenge: A!

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So, my approach to the A-Z challenge is this:  Write a story using only words which begin with letters we've 'passed.' So, in other words, on day one I can use words which start with A, on day two it's words which start with A, or B, etc.

The goal here?  Silliness. Enjoy!

A.

Alan Adkinson attacked Alicia’s alabaster angel at Akron Academy. Afterwards, Alicia admitted attacking aggressively augmented Alan’s attractiveness. Alicia accepted Alan’s advances, and, after an adventure, Alan’s artless attitude.

Head back to the blog hop: here.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Sad Songs (Blogfest entry.)

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When I first read the title of this blogfest I knew there was only one possibility for me.  There is one song which, when I'm sad, I return to again and again. It's simple, powerful, and beautiful. I enjoyed it so much I even wrote a paper on the symbolism of the music video. (The video is at the bottom of the post, by the way.)


In 1992 R.E.M. drummer, Bill Berry, was sickened by news of teenage suicides. He decided to write something specifically for teenagers contemplating suicide. What we got was "Everybody Hurts" from the incredible R.E.M. album Automatic For the People of that same year.


       When the day is long and the night, the night is yours alone,
       When you're sure you've had enough of this life, 

       well hang on...

 It's worth noting that R.E.M. was well known for mumbling from the lead singer, Michael Stipe, and obscure lyrics with incomprehensible meaning.  In this song, however, Stipe sings clearly. Every word is delivered with care and distinction. The lyrics are simple. Sometimes ridiculously so.


        If you feel like you're alone, no, no, no, you are not alone...

Later, Berry and Stipe explained that because this song was written for teens they wanted to keep in clear and simple. What's amazing is how such a simple string of words turned into something so beautiful. A survey done in the UK created a list called "Songs most likely to make a grown man cry."  Everybody Hurts was at the very top of the list. Clearly there is some power there.


         Well, everybody hurts sometimes,
         Everybody cries. And everybody hurts sometimes...


 The addition of the music video, in my opinion, only heightens the profound feelings of the song. Whoever decided to add the thoughts of the people in the cars was a genius. The feeling of slowing into an impossible traffic jam, the people all sitting in their cars, next to each other without talking... It's powerful, but then you add some of the sentiments and you begin to feel a connection.  For me it's that first moment with the mother in her car with her child climbing over the seats. "I had no idea" are her unspoken words.

      'Cause everybody hurts. Take comfort in your friends
      Everybody hurts. Don't throw your hand. 

      Oh, no. Don't throw your hand

 There are strong religious overtones in the video, which I don't pretend to understand the meaning behind. Maybe it was something from the band, maybe the director, son of Ridley Scott. I don't know if it was an encouraging or disparaging message.. who cares.   Just give this a watch and see how  you feel.


I hope you will enjoy it as much as I do.  

----


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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Picture Paints a Thousand Words Blogfest Entry.

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I've never done a blogfest before, so I hope this is right.  Below is the text of a super-short story written based on a picture found at Unicorn Bell. Personally... I wasn't too pleased with the results, but here we go:



The heat of a gun barrel pressed against the back of my neck was alarming. The gentle quiver of the hand which held it even more so. A hot gun barrel to the back indicates someone for whom the firing of the pistol is no longer in question. There must have been a test fire moments ago. Something my aging ears missed; muffled perhaps by the morning mist rising from the lake. The shaking hand, though... That was a problem. Adrenaline and inexperience could end my life if my assailant got jumpy. I left my hands on the cold stone of the crenelated wall, frozen in position. Focused on breathing steadily. Kept things nice and calm.

The barrel shifted to my back, just on my spine between my lungs. A firm push. “Move,” said a raspy voice. Indistinct, non-gendered. A tall woman or a short man from the positioning. Other hand on the shoulder to steer me. Gloved. My mind raced to calculate angles, find information. What had I missed? Latch on to any port in the oncoming storm.
I opened my mouth, prepared to question. “No talking,” said the voice. “One word and you’re a body in the lake.” The voice was more distinct as we slowly walked along the wall. Female. Choked with tears and strained with the task at hand. Something I did to a woman. Something I did to her family. Worse than I thought. No reasoning with this kind of vengeance. “You turn your head and you’re dead.”
We passed the spot where my lieutenant and best friend Alan had died years and years ago. Died defending us when the ghul army attacked. Creatures from legends who summoned magic as easily as we pull a trigger. You can still see the scorch marks where he had been standing.  
We emerged from behind the main keep and continued along the top of the wall over the children’s courtyard. The mist was starting to thin and I could see a few of the youth already out playing with a ball. Children young enough to have never known the war. No adults in sight.
“Don’t try anything,” came the whisper.
I wouldn’t have. I’m no fool. A hundred desperate battles and a thousand scars had made me tough - made me strong. Taught me to wait for the right moment. But would there be a right moment?
We descended into the cobbled alleys between ancient stone structures. Nobody but fishermen really came out this early. But where could she be taking me? If she wanted me dead I’d have been dead, wouldn’t I? Or was there a ritual - some path of vengeance she was determined to make me walk? Something she wanted me to see before killing me? I knew far too well that desire - the desperate want to prove to the guilty how badly and how deeply they’d harmed.
We skirted the decaying black stones in the tight area between structures where we’d killed the gug - the nightmare creature. It had taken the lives of two dozen defenders before I had finally been able to finish it off. Used our last grenade. Killed 4 good men in the process, but it was either those 4 or the 180 terrified souls in the castle behind us. It hadn’t been a hard choice, but it had made the following months and years vastly more empty for me.
Another lane, another building, more memories. The house where we tortured a witch we had discovered hiding among us. The street where the ghul ambassador had decided to molt. The dryad tree we had each fed with a little of our own blood. The shed where we cached our ammunition - now mostly gone. Death and blood and monsters and hope. Leading my men to triumph and to death. Years of defending and attacking until they stopped trying to fight us.
Finally we passed through the outer wall and to the dock. Waves lapped against the pier and I saw that our fishermen had already left for the morning. A sole fishing boat from the shore communities was waiting there. Grim men toiled over nets and line, looked up at me, then back to their work.
“Get on the boat, Edward,” the voice said softly.
I stepped onto the boat and it cast off. After a few seconds I turned around at last to see the anguish and the tear stains on her cheeks, the strength in her frame.
“Don’t come back,” she said.
Alan’s daughter. Lost a father to a war, lost a husband to a nightmare and a grenade. I was lucky to be alive at all. I thought about the other fifty or sixty men I’d led to their deaths. I nodded and took another step back onto the deck. “Don’t worry,” I said, “I was leaving anyway.” I knew it was the truth.
The sun emerged at last and the island fortress was revealed in ruinous splendor - one of the last safe places on the earth. Seeing it like that... for the first time I wondered if it was worth the cumilative cost we paid to make it safe. The compromises. The deals. The lives. Let them blame me, I thought. I think I may be strong enough now.


NOTE: A great deal of the text for this story, and the noir-ey feel, comes from the flash fiction blog of my friend. (used with permission) You can visit here: http://100waysto.wordpress.com/  You can see the story I blatantly robbed under the title "An Occasion" but I encourage you to read a few of his stories. They're all first drafts and wonderfully moody. Leave him an encouraging comment or two, while you're at it.

P.S. I could use more followers, if you've got nothing better to do. ;)  Come back and visit any time.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

This post will make you shift bricks.

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BRICKIES
I chose bricks instead of twinkies because I have my doubts as to the structural integrity of a palace made of twinkies.

Maybe I should have mentioned that after the analogy.  Hm.
In my father-in-law's back yard there is a large pile of bricks. If you suddenly thought to yourself Wow, I really want that pile of bricks on the other side of the yard to better display my brick enthusiasm you would have two options: 

1. Lift the pile, move the pile, deposit the pile.
2. Move the bricks one at a time until the pile is moved.

Only superman and certain species of forkliftae have the strength for option one. You? You have option two and only option two.
Looking at that pile of bricks stacked up in just the wrong spot it's easy to get discouraged. That's a lot - a lot - of weight to shift. You might feel like the task is impossible. You might wonder how something so frustrating could have happened. You may say to yourself "Tomorrow I will get it done." or "I'll start for real on Monday"

Eventually you may realize that National Brick Day is sooner than expected. So you'll think "Maybe I can move two bricks each day instead of one.  Starting Monday."

Monday comes and the task seems too big. 

National Brick Day passes and you wonder how you could have failed so badly.

My friend is in a hard place. He has an awesome job, but it pays only for production. In other words, the more he produces the more he makes. If he fails to produce, he makes nothing.

Tonight he said to me "I looked at my earnings for the year - March to March - and my goal had been $1000 per month. I only reached that goal 4 times over the entire year. Most of the time I earned less than $500."

Normally this would have let to a lengthy conversation about money, work, life, etc. but we had just finished a long game of Arkham Horror. Time for bed and interesting dreams.

So instead I summed up my thoughts. "When we look at a year of failures it's easy to get discouraged. It's important to let go of that and focus on the moment - on right now. The question isn't 'How am I going to make 12,000 dollars?' the question is 'How am I going to spend the next 15 minutes?'" 

Stop looking at the entire pile of bricks - the whole goal, the tremendous task. Let go of the past. There is absolutely nothing you can do about that now.

You have 15 minutes.  What will you do during that time? 

You have today. Move one brick.  Type one page. 

Yeah, it will feel like nothing compared with the job you're trying to complete. But that's part of the point. You'll look at that lonely brick now on the front yard and think "I guess I have time for another."

Step by step, page by page, brick by brick you will make your journey, you will write your novel, you will build your palace. Create something wonderful by focusing on the day by day. In a years time you'll look back and say "How in the world did I manage that?"

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Write With Friends.

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Back in November (yes, NaNoWriMo) I started outlining a fairly long and complex story about a strong female character solving mysteries in a dry and dusty world of the distant future. It was fun. The story gained complexity and went in directions I hadn't expected.

One problem, though, was this: I couldn't figure out how to end it.

Basically I had two options, both of which involved the main character making a difficult choice. Neither of these options really satisfied me, though. In fact, the option that I liked better was the least realistic choice based on the characters I had developed.

What to do, what to do?

Well my initial thought was to re-work the characters, but by the time I gave in to that idea I had already plowed through 60,000 words and felt really good about the characters as I had originally envisioned.

This indecision led to months of no progress on the actual writing of the story as I sat in writer's limbo.

Finally, a few days ago, I approached my long time friend and asked if he's read through my first draft - mainly just looking to see if the concept worked for him. He read a bit of it and a day or two later we talked about it. After his criticisms we talked about where the story was going, problems I hadn't resolved yet, and so-on.

At last, I revealed my deep dark secret. I presented my options to him. He agreed it was going to be tough to decide which would be best. Not too long afterwards he said "You know, you could always really mess with the readers..." He described a world which veered wildly from my chosen outline. It was entertaining, but not what I wanted to do.

Then the light bulb turned on over his head. I saw it in his left eyebrow as it lifted gradually towards his hairline.

"There's a third option..." he said.

And he was right. It was satisfying. It was surprising. It changed everything and forced characters together in uncomfortable and exciting ways.

So the message is this: Write with your friends. You don't need to actually write with them, obviously, but get people involved who can see things from the outside. We writers are a naturally secretive, suspicious and reclusive group of people. We tend to hide not just our writing but our ideas like it was a precious treasure. It may be time to change that behavior.

Find friends who can share your passion and excitement and work together. You'll be glad you did.

 

The Gregwriter © 2010

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