Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Rude Mood

The blog in which I rant about things that bug me.

Today I'm in a rude mood. And since I don't have many followers, and I choose to let some things bug me, and I just don't care, I am going to vent. So on to other things . . . .

Bloggers tend to read blogs about subjects they are interested in. In many scenes they also give advice, information, link to informative posts, and try to set parameters for what is kosher and what is not. For instance, I've read blogs about dance etiquette on the social dance floor. I've also read blogs from writers about whether or not writers should include a prologue in their work. Many people write blogs to gain some sort of following or attention, or to promote themselves. 

Guess what? I don't care about you or your blog. 

Now let me qualify that statement. If you are going to rehash something you've heard from someone else, or some supposed authority on the subject without giving any valid reasons, explanations, or qualifications, go away. I don't care. If you can give me a well-reasoned, thought-out treatise on the subject, I will take interest. 

You see, I don't care if you are trying to be an authority on the subject. Most people who can't give a valid reason or explanation about their topic is obviously not an authority. They just quote authorities on the subject. Here's one reason why. If one cannot articulate something in a clear, concise, meaningful manner, then they don't understand the subject well enough to pontificate about it. That isn't to say the pontiff doesn't have knowledge of the subject, just that the pontiff's knowledge isn't enough to be considered an authority.

Let's examine a rule that floats around in the writing scene--ly words. Many writers group all "ly" words together as adverbs. Guess what? Some of them are adjectives. Can you tell me which ones are adverbs and which are adjectives? (I can tell you, but I'm not going to because I want to make a few other points here.)

So, for decades authorities have been spouting the no "ly" word concept. In fact, I can't think of any grammatical category that gets beat up on by writers more than "ly" words. Why? Because many times authors misuse them. 

Consider this sentence. Sheila went to the law office to take care of the problem personally.  Whether or not personally is an adverb or adjective in this sentence doesn't matter. What matters is that this sentence is stupid. The sentence tells us that Sheila went to the law office to take care of the problem, so, it's kind of redundant to say she was taking care of the problem personally. 

Consider this sentence. Jessica reacted furiously to my statement. Inherently, there is nothing wrong with this sentence. However, for writers, it isn't the best technique to use, because it's telling not showing. Consider this instead. I said, "Dad's dead." Jessica grabbed a chair and threw it out of the window in reaction to those words. More showing less telling = better writing. 

Consider this dialogue. "Dad, I really, really, wanted to win the game," Timmy said. This is very good use of "ly" words. Why? Because you could hear a young man saying that. It's realistic, and very well could be used in a number of settings. In fact, "ly" words abound in our everyday conversations. Just listen to people talk and you will find how often you and others use "ly" words in everyday speech. As a writer, do you say, "Damn, I just used an "ly" word in that sentence while I was talking to you?" No, you don't. So don't sell your dialogue short by not using "ly" words in dialogue. However, I try not to use them in my dialogue tags because it's another case of showing and not telling. 

See what I did there? I made a case, for and against the subject. Do I claim to be an authority on the subject?  No, I don't. However, my English degree might disagree with me. Anyway, there is a reason and rationale behind my thoughts, and whether you agree or disagree, you might find the blog interesting, because I stated everything in a clear concise manner. It doesn't bother me when I disagree with someone's blog if it is well-reasoned and articulate. In fact, I find the opposite point of view refreshing to read. 

However, there are clear cut ways to describe just about anything . . . authors have been doing it for centuries. I guess in the end, what I am saying, and what I could have said in one sentence is this: don't talk about what you don't know. Because those of us who do know about it will think you are an idiot. 

If you read this whole thing and are still here, kudos to you! I see so many blogs that try to explain concepts that the writer doesn't truly understand that it makes me sick. This goes for just about any topic. I've seen it in genealogy, music, skateboarding, writing, dancing, and on and on and on. 

And just one little note. My lady friends over at just wrote about adverbs. This is not a response to Angela's post. The three ladies over there are talented, unique writers who constantly help me improve my craft. This is however, a statement about life, blogs, the reason people blog, and me being tired of reading things from people who are only out to inflate their egos. 

One last little note for those who use their blogs as a kind of diary or journal. That's kind of cool. Keep it up. Okay, it's really cool. And since this blog as a rule must have something to do with music, here is a little Stevie for you, summing up my mood. 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Insane Asylum

Writers are insane. And when I say insane, I mean, psychotic, strange, weird, salivating, eyes bigger than the moon, I have an imaginary friend, I may think my shoe is good for dinner, and that a watch is really a sock--batty, crazed, insane. 

If you are a writer admit it to yourself now that all the cogs and dials may not be functioning on all cylinders up there in your brain. 

Did you admit it yet? Good.

Writers constantly set pen to paper or type on a word processor all for little or no money. When the work is complete, they send it off to friends, relatives, and critique group members, where they will receive generous amounts of criticism and rejection. If the writer can overcome that criticism and rejection, said writer will spend more time with pen to paper, keys to keyboard, furiously slaving away at the project. After endless amounts of work, if the writer is lucky, they will pass the criticism and rejection test from friends and critique group only to send the work off to agents and editors, who then reject and critique the work further. More work ensues until the work is either cast aside or deemed worthy for publication. If the work is published, then it is in the hands of book critics and reviewers to reject or criticize. . . again! (Whew you writers must be crazy!)

Writers constantly write for pennies. I know from experience. The pennies are all laid out on a table next to my computer to remind me of all the good times I had from my 500 words a week column. Some of you have made even less.

Like other artists, companies want to make millions from your creative genius and provide you with pittance. True story. 

Writers are constantly subjected to advice from everyone who knows better than you what you should write, how you should write it, where to send it to, and blah blah blah blah blah. The insane forget the advice, write what they want, send it to who they want, and succeed in their own manner. 

Writers are insane enough to dream. They create worlds and characters filled with love and hate, beautiful places, and experiences that enrich the lives of others. Their dreams are recorded for future generations to see, understand, and love. The lives they touch are many, few, or even just one. 

Writers are insane enough to believe that if they only touch one life, it will be enough. 

The insanity of writers brings the world love, peace, joy, and happiness to others in ways few can know or understand. 

Admit you are a writer and as such change the world for the better for someone else. 

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Work Song

Do you have any specific feelings about work? Are you afraid to go to the office 8 hours a day because you despise your boss, co-workers, or anybody else who is around? Are you loathe to sit down and finish the latest chapter in your book because you only want to work when you feel creative?

Ray Bradbury, in his essay Zen in the Art of Writing, gives us three keys to greater creativity. They are work, relaxation, and don't think. Working leads to relaxation which leads to not thinking which leads to greater creativity.

It might sound kind of backwards to some people, but it's true. Everyone knows what it's like to get in a rhythm and not want to stop. Bradbury's basic principal is if you work enough, you will almost always be in the zone, have the rhythm, because going to work will cause relaxation. Aren't you relaxed when you are in the zone?

Well, according to Bradbury work is the cause, and relaxation, or the zone, is the effect.

It reminds me of those who say that the first million words are just practice. Have you written a million words?

I'm in need of some practice.

One of my goals for the year is to work, relax, and not think. Because then my characters will whisper their stories in my ear, if they're not already. And maybe the lost ones, the ones I've loved but have slipped through the cracks will appear.

As with any skill you might want to develop, writing takes work. Some days will be a struggle, but other will be as Emerson said, "That which we persist in doing becomes easier for us to do; not because the nature of the thing has changed, but because our ability to do it is increased."

Anybody else think work and relaxation sound good?

P.S. check out Bradbury if you get the chance. He's the man. And for good reason.

P.P.S. Some of us need to Whistle While You Work. Feel free, you have my permission.

P.P.S.S. if you want to sing, you have my permission as well, or if you want to just turn on some cool tunes that is fine too. Here is some catchy Nina for you.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Thrill is Gone

For some of my friends, the thrill is gone. In fact, as I read blog after blog about the publishing industry I've noticed the thrill is gone for a lot of people. The fight between self-publishing and traditional publishing rages, and I feel like I should be paying forty bucks to watch the fight on pay per view. I have a lot of thoughts on the matter, although I won't share most of them with you here. On this page I will only share two.

First. Soon people will realize that traditional publishing and self-publishing will one day coexist. The publishing world will not be what it was, yet the two will find that the world is big enough for both.

Second. A friend asked me to join her and another friend for lunch to discuss my thoughts about self-publishing. This is my thought on the matter. For those who have ears, let them hear. The video clip tells all. The last line in the clip is really where I am coming from.

If you don 't understand that's ok. It's just a little matter of how I feel.

Either way, hopefully people will keep the thrill of writing under their skin, even if they are unsure whether to try traditional publishing or self-publishing.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Healer

The world doesn't owe you anything, it was here first.
Mark Twain

I'm glad to know the world doesn't owe me anything. That knowledge helps me to move beyond experiences that would otherwise crush me. 

Too often in our world of instant gratification I see people who expect that everything in life should be given to them. Somehow, other people are expected to provide them with the necessities of life, whether it's a job, car, money, or whatever.

However, this is a tale about me, not them.

In the 5th grade I wrote a short story called The Time Toilet, which included a giant porcelain toilet bowl that would flush you through time. That story sparked the idea that one day I could be a published author.

In the 6th grade, with the encouragement of Mr. Baziuk, one of the world's greatest teachers, I began work on my first book.

25 years later I remain an unpublished author. In the last year I've written two novels. The first received some mild attention from a few agents who requested material, but nothing came to fruition. The second book I finished around January 31, about two weeks before my pending marriage and honeymoon.

Excited for both my marriage and the opportunity to query a new work, I labored deep into the night, rewriting my manuscript. In the early hours of the morning I completed the work in time to take the next three weeks off for my big day. Exhausted from the lack of sleep, I fell into my bed, forgetting to back up my work as is my customary practice.

The next day, I went to open my file. No luck. Something corrupted the file. 80,000 words--gone. Lost somewhere in the depths of computer hell.

Oh, I still retain the unrevised version and an unrevised paper hard copy, but the latest, most polished draft, with five new chapters disappeared overnight--all because I felt too tired to copy and paste my new version into my dropbox folder.
Artists and writers often know heartbreak. If we didn't, how could we expect to tell a tale effectively? We also know perseverance, diligence, and drive. These are the tools that keep us in the game. We work, sweat, laugh, cry, hope and dream everyday. Published or not, we work hard to feel the satisfaction of producing a work we can be proud of.

And we dream. We dream of new worlds, wonders, women, men, children, struggles, happiness, and life. We dream of getting published, or feeling satisfaction and helping others to dream.

To some, these things may sound cheesy, but nevertheless, they are true.

Writing and music helped me through the loss of my book. They helped me to realize that this experience will help me to touch others as well as to regain my dream. In my life writing and music are the healers.

In the month since my marriage I've halfway completed my new manuscript. And when it's done I will return to the one I lost.

Remember, never take life for granted or believe that life owes you something . . . you might just lose 80,000 words of the book you just finished.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Night Time Is The Right Time

As a writer I must say the first lesson I learned when thinking about Ray Charles classic tune The Night Time Is The Right Time is how important a title can be. Without listening to the song or reading the lyrics I am immediately thrust into a mood. Sultry, sensual, romance, and innuendo are a few words that invade my mind before any notes erupt.

Like many chapter endings this title also leads us somewhere and leaves us with a cliffhanger. What exactly is the night time the right time for? In order to find out one must listen to the tune.

Another important writing lesson that we can learn from Ray's song is point of view. The song starts out with Ray on main vocals with a spattering of back-up singers in the background. Ray could be considered the main protagonist, while the back-up singers are the supporting characters. However, later in the song, Ray passes the vocals to Margie. She can also be considered a protagonist, although I wouldn't consider her the main protagonist. Without Margie's vocals the song wouldn't be as effective. In fact the song might not work at all. Can you imagine this tune without those vocals?

While Margie's vocals are needed to keep the song interesting (the song lacks certain song writing structures to keep it interesting i.e. bridge etc.), her vocals do not overpower or outshine Ray's. Yet, her words are essential. They bind the song together. Many stories need a second pov in order to work. Writers must be careful when deciding to use multiple povs. Ask yourself if it is absolutely necessary to utilize multiple povs? Will my story lack mystery, intrigue or tension if I switch povs? Who is the most important pov out of all those I am using? One will usually edge the others out, if only slightly. You need to know these things before your beta readers or critique group get their hands on your material.

Although critiques and beta readers can be helpful, they often only have a portion of your story at a time. This limits what information they get and often they want to know everything right away. Because of this they might tell you that your pov switches aren't working because they haven't read the rest of the story. I'm not saying don't listen to those who can help. I'm saying be careful and know how you want to execute pov switches before you have written yourself into a mess. (Your readers might be the ones to tell you you are in a mess.)

Sometimes your story might not need to switch pov at all. It can be hard to know when and where to switch pov or if the switch should even happen at all. Harry Potter, a book written from a 3rd person limited perspective, works because we only have Harry's pov. We learn things as Harry does. Yes, Rowling does some cool stuff to escape Harry's perspective. She introduces the pensieve or newspapers and such, but the point is that she knew what pov to use when weaving her tale.

Not all of Ray Charles' songs have multiple lead singers. Not all books work from multiple povs. However, if you look at the structure of your story, and maybe listen to Ray's song, you can learn whether or not multiple povs will work.

And just because I can't listen to this tune without thinking about Bill Cosby, I've added the clip for your viewing pleasure.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Evil (Is Going On)

If you make it to your house,
Knock on your front door,
Run round to the back;
You'll catch him before he goes.
That's evil, evil is going on.
I am warning you brother,
You better watch your happy home.

Oh the lessons a writer can learn from a simple blues song. The first thing that comes to mind when listening to Howlin Wolf is conflict, conflict, conflict. In a few short verses we have all the trappings of so many stories. Bluesman comes home from a gig to find his wife in bed with another man. Domestic violence occurs, but the offending adulterer gets away. A week later, the bluesman is arrested for murder. Did he do it or was he framed? Wolf's song, written by Willie Dixon, doesn't have a murder in it, but what I am getting at is that the tune has all the makings of becoming a good book. 

Without conflict nobody would read books or go to the movies. Seriously. If Anakin Skywalker just forgave everyone of anything that happened to him we wouldn't have Darth Vader or the Star Wars films. Vader's ability to hold a grudge presented us with conflict for how many movies? Chew on that awhile.

Storytellers and authors, do you have any Evil (Is Going On) in your stories, novels, etc.? If not you are probably going to lose some of your readers, for Evil is the source of conflict.

Yes, I realize you might be writing a memoir about overcoming your debilitating disease and there is no inherent "evil" in the cancer eating away at your body. However, the cancer is a source of conflict, which will give you what you need for a touching story.

Speaking of evil, it seems that recently I've had many conversations with people who don't believe in good vs. evil, or the concept of evil at all. I'm not here to preach at people about my beliefs. Really I just want to point out a few ideas sparked by a cool blues tune. Having said that; if you don't believe in good or evil, remember that our world is full of opposing forces that will provide you with conflict. And forgive me if I believe in good vs. evil. It's led me to create some heinous characters.

Genre writers--keep giving us the battles between good vs. evil. Literary fiction writers--whether or not there is evil in many literary tales can be debated, and everyone loves to debate if there is evil in literary fiction. Yet, there is conflict, and the reader can decide for themselves if a character of conflict is evil.

However, if I come home late at night and find evil is going on . . . those involved may find me remunerating their actions in full.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cain and Abel

Cain and Abel. Two Brothers. Two everyday people. One Farmer and One Shepard. One murder.

There's a story there. Yeah, you might say the Bible's full of them (stories that is), but when you really get down to the nitty gritty of the Bible, it's kinda like a family history book. And a lot of people I know don't like reading family history books.

I bet if you told your kid that there's a story dripping with murder and intrigue he might get interested. On the other hand, if you told your kid it's just the story of everyday people he'd probably couldn't care less.

So, what's the point? To get your kid to read the Bible? No. But please, bear with me a moment.

I read and write fantasy as well as other genres of literature and I've found two rules apply best.

1) If you spice your fantasy elements with what is real or true, you will write a more engaging story. Case closed.
2) What is real is more fantastic than people might ever guess.

I'm not here to debate or give credence to those rules. We can do that another time. Neither am I here to tell you that the story of Cain and Abel is real, although it definitely follows those two rules I listed above.

I am here to tell you that as a writer I follow these rules. I live and breathe these guidelines. So much so that I've started doing my family history (geneaology) just for story ideas. And believe me, it is fascinating stuff, very fascinating stuff.

What I'm finding are everyday people with everyday problems placed in fantastic situations. These situations are filled with action, adventure, intrigue, mystery, suspense, romance, love, betrayal and everything anyone could want in an engaging story.

So yes, the point is a plug for family history, geneaology, and even keeping a journal of what happens to you, because, man, life can be frightening, fantastic, awful, and marvelous. Live it and don't be afraid to lift real life stories to place in your writing if you need to.

All of my posts somehow talk about writing, dancing, or music. Everyone of them, regardless of topic, is named after a song. Go out and listen to any of the hundreds of songs inspired by the story of Cain and Abel. Today I am listening to the Marsalis Family version.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Living a Boy's Adventure Tale

The record would spin over and over again, the crackles and pops spitting from the speakers along with the music. The needle rode the waves of vinyl up and down until the A side finished. When the album repeated my brother would stalk out of the room to get away from a-ha.

What my brother didn't know was that the Hunting High and Low album set the perfect mood for me while I read. Somehow the music sent me to places as magical as Middle-Earth or the archipelago of Earthsea. Without the music I couldn't seem to picture Samwise Gamgee or Ged with the same vivid clarity. With the music I was, as the title of the fifth track says, Living a Boy's Adventure Tale.

In High School the albums changed, though it seemed I always listened to music as I read. Maybe it started in the second grade when I would come home from school and put on James Bond's Greatest Hits and The Great Muppet Caper soundtrack while I completed my homework.

What's the point of the memoir one might ask? Music functions as a daily part of our existence. You hear it on television, in movies, on the radio, when you walk into Taco Bell (or wherever you are dining), in elevators, while shopping, on your iPod or other gadget, or just where ever. Come on, you can hear the Ice Cream Truck's music floating in your window or while you're walking down the street. So, for me, I've got to have music while I read, study, or write--that's the point of the memoir. What about you? Where do you have to have music?

(Besides those times when you want to be Living a Boy's Adventure Tale, cause that one's mine.)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Blues In Orbit

Not only is Blues in Orbit the name of my radio show, but it is a classic Duke Ellington album. An album, that as a fan, often seems to go overlooked.

Before I ever became a disc jockey, dancing permeated my soul. For years I spent multiple nights a week lindy-hopping. I became part of the scene, living and breathing the dance. Somehow, dancing became part of the marrow of my bones, a precious life giving substance that couldn't easily be infused in others.

To a dancer, the songs are life. Nothing can rupture your Aorta or Carotid faster than an uninspiring song. Dancers everywhere want inspiring music and will frequent a club based on who the dj is. You see, the djs are either viewed as serial killers of the dance or messiahs. The problem is that what one person likes others may not like.

Even before I loved dancing, I loved music. When I was young my mother said "Tombstone, you love music more than anyone I know and it's unfortunate that you don't have any talent for it." Thanks for telling me my singing sucked before I made it to American Idol, Mom!

This love of music reminds me that despite my affair with dancing, there are many songs to enjoy that aren't danceable songs. I could always understand that an album by a great composer like Duke Ellington could contain some songs to dance to and some to just sit and enjoy.

Blues in Orbit is just one album. There are some songs I love to dance to. Some songs I love to relish--love to feast on. I imagine myself at a table, enjoying one of the seven sins--gluttony. Some songs might even dribble down my chin as I imbibe myself on the intoxicating power that is Ellington's music.

The inebriation I feel at the music lends me to keep the Blues in Orbit album for whatever occasion may be fitting. Once, when I asked a swing dj to play "The Swinger Get the Blues, Too" at a dance, he told me he didn't have the Blues in Orbit album. I was horrified. My terror grew as I learned dance dj after dance dj didn't have the album. I have to satisfy myself that when I dj a dance, I can play songs from the album.

I understand that, to the public, the Blues in Orbit album never was or will be, what some other Duke Ellington albums are. The album came later in his career (albeit 14 years before his death). I think often critics and the public spurn the later work of artists. One reason could be that the critics and populace want artists to be unchanging, unevolving creatures. They remember the glories of an artists prime and try to pigeon hole the artist as only being relevant in that prime. Evolution is often the most damning, career murdering effect that can occur in an artist's life.

Why do I mention this at all? The smoky jazz-joints that are portrayed in Hollywood's golden age are gone. Some of those musicians such as Duke are gone. Had I lived in the era, I would have made it a point to visit some joint--dressed like Cary Grant or some such Hollywood type, and listened to the music. But I will never know the era, except through the music, the dance and film. I can live the era through those things.

Now that the dust has settled and Duke has been gone, and the critics gone...try out the album. See if you like. Listen to it and live it. See if it doesn't have a place on the shelves with what people might consider his more classic albums.