Call it a “Learning Experience”

There are times in life when you find it necessary to eat your words. Contrary to what anyone tells you, humble pie, though not the best flavor, is often good medicine. While I was indeed able to write for a time during my move from Georgia to Louisiana, the period after the fact proved to be far more of a challenge than expected. Adjusting to living close to ailing parents, transferring so much  information online regarding the change of address, fighting a battle to get reliable internet in a rural area and many other considerations not often obvious with major moves piled with a weight that completely killed my writing drive. So much for my belief that I could soldier through it as I had during a difficult NaNoWriMo.

Last year’s move showed me where my breaking point lay, at least when not operating under the necessity of a deadline. I have spent many hours staring at the horror of a blank page and needing no clock ticking to tell me what a waste it was. Where did my drive go? Would it ever come back?

I still don’t have a precise answer to the first question. Perhaps it hid under a heavy, dark rock where it would be safe from my increasingly frustrated recrimination. Thankfully, the answer to the second question is more satisfying. Yes, it came back, in part because I had the incentive of a deadline with a paid project, and more importantly because I love to write. My uncle used to have a saying, “You’ll always get where you’re going if you just get out of your own way.”

Although that has taken longer than I anticipated and proven harder than it sounds on the surface, I have finally managed to get out of my own way. One other thing. I’ll never get preachy about writer’s block again. If I do, feel free to redirect me to this post for a second helping of pie.

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News and Changes

As is often the case with moving, there have been some disruptions to my schedule. This means that updates to the blog for now will continue to be just regular-ish, but it doesn’t mean that I am not busy working behind the scenes on some ongoing projects and some exciting new things.

The first news is about the Monster Mayhem anthology which was so generously funded on Kickstarter. Although there have been a few delays, we are plugging away to get the book out. I am still working on edits, and many of the prizes for backers have been printed and are being mailed out. We will also have a table at Geekonomicon in Biloxi, Mississippi, December 11-13 of 2015, so if you’re in the area, stop by to say hello, meet some of the artists and writers, and pick up some cool stuff! I’ll be there.

In other news, I’m pleased to say that I am currently in collaboration with a talented comic artist and friend, Cat Santos, for an entry in this year’s Webtoon’s Superhero Comics Contest. Our entry will be up by December 13, and I’ll be sure to post the link so you can check it out. I’m confident you’ll love Cat’s work as much as I do.

Lastly, as I mentioned in my last post, I’ll be changing up the content and format of the blog. In addition to continuing to work on short stories for the magazine market, I’ll be dipping my toes into the water of interactive fiction/games with Twine. If you’re not familiar with Twine games (or the fascinating debate surrounding whether they are indeed games at all) you should check it out here at Twinery.org. I’ll be posting character profiles and all sorts of supplemental material in the coming months in addition to links to finished products as they’re completed.

Next week I’ll talk a little more about Twine and the enjoyment of interactive fiction in addition to why I’ve decided to go this route for one particular story that has been with me for a long time now but has yet to see the light of day. I hope you’ll enjoy this new project as much as I have so far. The blog should be back to a more regular schedule by the first week in December.

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Moving stage 1.5!

I’m in the process of moving back to my home state of Louisiana, so that means that the meta post for this week is going to be a few days late, probably around Thursday or Friday rather than Monday or Tuesday.

In that update, I’ll discuss the status of the anthology, delayed but still chugging along, a few upcoming projects on the horizon, and changes to the blog to shake things up and make it a little more exciting. I’ll still occasionally post writing exercises because they’re fun, and I’m optimistic that they could spark some stories for you as well. Mostly, I’ll be heading in a new direction, and I hope you’ll enjoy the ride.

Until next week!

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Writing Exercise 9 – Punctuation

Prompt: The correct use of grammar is the vehicle for your narrative. Create a paragraph that includes all of the following punctuation symbols: the colon, semi-colon, dash, question mark, parenthesis, and exclamation mark.

If you’ve never tried kayaking before—say, you’ve been living under a rock or sadly landlocked—I can’t recommend it strongly enough! Kayaks are even more versatile than canoes, good for the following: white water rapids, shallow swamp tarns, placid rivers, icy lakes, and even ocean surf. Try taking a canoe to the beach; you’ll regret it almost instantly. (Pounding waves against sharp shell shards and packed sand, anyone?) What are you waiting for? Find you a local rental spot and get paddling today!

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Writing Exercise 8 – A spark word exercise

In The Writer’s Block, spark words are one or two words accompanied by a photo meant to inspire a story. You can go off the word, the picture, or both, and it doesn’t have to be a literal interpretation. It’s just meant to get the creative juices flowing.

Spark word: Hitchhiker

Rain lay so thick across the windshield the flick of the wipers did nothing but create flashes of clarity along the dark, winding Arkansas back road. Choosing this route now felt like a mistake. If James had checked the forecast, he’d have stuck to the highway no matter how miserable he felt.

There was one good thing about the deluge. He didn’t have time to think about how frail his mother looked in her hospital bed or the look in his uncle’s eyes when he left, both of them lying to each other in optimistic tones that a little rest was probably just the thing. He almost regretted coming at all. The last time he had seen his mother a few months prior she was her usual strong self, insisting on hanging the wash out to dry rather than using the dryer he and his brother had bought for her for Christmas.  If he had to have a final memory, that one was preferable.

He almost ran off the road to avoid a pale figure that loomed suddenly in the reflected glare of his headlights. “Jesus!” he exclaimed. Trying to look in his rear view was an exercise in futility. He tried to tell himself he was just seeing things or that he had strayed closer to the roadside than he intended and just saw a sign. Under normal circumstances, he’d have succeeded and written it off as not his problem.

His mother was dying. There was nothing normal about this night. As soon as he found a piece of shoulder big enough to use to turn his beat up station wagon around, he did it little by little, paranoid some jackass in a big truck would just barrel around a blind curve regardless of the weather and t-bone him or worse. He crept along back the way he had come. After what seemed like longer than it should have been, he saw the figure again, a stick of a girl in a white t-shirt and dark shorts, hugging herself and trudging with her head down. She had to be freezing.

He swerved closer into the wrong lane and turned his dome light on, then rolled his window down enough to shout, “Get in! You’re going to drown out here!”

He caught a glimpse of skeptical eyes under a curtain of dark, sodden hair, hesitation that cost him a soaked arm and wetness seeping into his seat cushion. She nodded and hurried around to the passenger side to let herself in. The slam of the door shook the whole car. He quickly rolled his window up. “Where are you headed?” he asked. She flinched away from him when he leaned over to open the glove box. He leaned back again and held a hand up in a gesture of harmlessness. “Napkins. Help yourself. They’re not much. Better than nothing, huh?”

“Thanks.” She grabbed a few handfuls and began wiping at her face. He turned off the dome light and slowly pulled back into the correct lane. He had always been told never to pick up hitchhikers, that they were either maniacs or ghosts, bad news no matter what. “El Dorado,” she said, a thread of cautious hope in her quiet voice. “I was driving up to see my parents. My car died maybe a couple of miles back.”

“I just came from there. My folks live there, too. Well, my Mom. Dad passed a few years ago. I’ll take you back.” He picked up a little speed but not too much. He wanted to get her there in one piece.

“I should probably be scared half to death right now. I was before I got in the car.” She wiped until the napkins started to pill and disintegrate, then tossed them carefully onto the dash. “I’m glad you stopped.”

“I am, too.” It was more than just picking her up. He realized that once he dropped her off, he wasn’t stopping there. He was heading back to his Mom. How many people got a chance to rethink a decision they’d regret for the rest of their lives?

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Writing Exercise 7 – Extremely short stories

Prompt: Write a complete story of 55 words or less. The point of the exercise is economy of word use and building a scenario with minimal setup.

The door-to-door evangelist stumbled back off the porch steps and fell into a mud hole. The last sight that filled his eyes was impossible, a multi-armed man with an elephant’s head charging in fury.

His last thought was to curse his dyslexia one final time. He thought the sign said, “Beware of dog.”

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Roadblocks – Part II: Once X happens, I’ll write!

This isn’t just a roadblock to writing. This type of thinking can prevent you from accomplishing all sorts of goals. The world is full of would-be writers who are certain they have a novel in them once the kids graduate, or once they have more time to themselves from work, or any number of excuses. I’ll share a secret with you that I’ve discovered over time the hard way. There will always be reasons not to write or accomplish other dreams. Once the kids graduate, you’ll decide to downsize and move. Once you do that, you’ll spend time fixing up the new place, and so on.

Don’t wait. If you want to write and it’s a goal that means something to you, then make time in your schedule to do it regularly. If you can only manage an hour here or an hour there every day, then start there. Find ways to budget your time. Enlist friends and loved ones to help keep you on track with your goals. Explain that you need time free of distractions. Set up call and e-mail free times with friends and family. Create an office space in your house, however small, where you can work without interruptions.

Then do it. No excuses. The only way you’ll improve is by practice, and the only way you’ll succeed is by having completed works, submitting them, and being persistent.  It’s like that CCR song title says. “Someday never comes.” Make today the day you take the first step toward your dream, and once you start, keep going. There is no better time than now, and there never will be. I have written through emergency home repairs, full-time jobs, and am currently writing through a cross-country move. I am finally starting to see some small successes in getting paid for my work. I am determined to have more.

None of it would have been possible if I kept waiting.

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Writing Exercise 6 – Finding Inspiration

Prompt: Visit a garage sale or vintage store and focus on an unusual treasure that reveals something about its owner. Focus on the history of this object. Invent the history behind stains, nicks, dents, and other defects.

The old man almost looked like he was just sleeping, lying across his bed like that with his boot toes pointed skyward. Evan shook his head and rubbed at the messy curls across the back of his neck. Superstitious to the end, but at least he got what he wanted. He died with his boots on.

He was a little at a loss. Was there anyone to call? The old man had never said much about his past and didn’t talk at all about family. All Evan knew for sure was that he was from Big Sky Country–he was fond of saying it just like that–and that maybe he had worked a ranch. The boots were scuffed enough for it. Whatever finish the leather once had was now worn down and soft, creased in so many places it was hard to tell what was damage and what was part of the grain. Evan saw a hole in the right sole just beneath the ball of the foot, patched with something inside. He didn’t want to try to take it off to find out what. He was pretty sure moving a body around was tampering with evidence, or something like that.

He called 911 and then waited for someone to arrive. He only poked around a little with what was sitting out, an old, beat up moleskin journal filled mostly with lists, bill details, and a few little personal notes here and there about the weather or how the old man’s knee felt that day, his wallet, which was thin and had no credit cards, and a small stack of faded pictures with people dressed in 1960’s styles. One of them might have been the old man. If so, he had changed a lot.

The police arrived first, then the coroner. Evan stayed out of their way and answered their questions. Yes, he owned the property, no, he wasn’t next of kin, no, he didn’t know who was. When they wheeled the old man out on a gurney in a body bag, Evan looked around the place again. Strange how it didn’t feel all that empty without the old man, as though he had just been passing through. Evan thought maybe that was appropriate for a man wanting to die with his boots on. It’d be a shame to bury him in them. It was a good pair of boots.

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Writing Exercise 5 – A spark word exercise

In The Writer’s Block, spark words are one or two words accompanied by a photo meant to inspire a story. You can go off the word, the picture, or both, and it doesn’t have to be a literal interpretation. It’s just meant to get the creative juices flowing.

Spark word: P.O.W.

He didn’t like war stories. When his buddies came over and got to drinking, the stories would start, each more outrageous than the last. That’s the only time I can remember my larger than life uncle getting quiet. Sometimes the guys would notice and nudge each other, shoot significant looks, and the subject would change to red haired Gina with the gams for miles, or that catfishing trip that ended with Walter sticking his arm down a hole and coming out of it with two hundred stings and a new, healthy respect for ground wasps.

I asked my Mom about it. “Well, you know, honey, of course he wouldn’t like to talk about it. We thought he was dead for eight months, but they had him. The Germans.”

I didn’t have enough history under my belt to get it, not really, so all I knew of p.o.w. camps for a long time was a furtive, haunted look in eyes I was used to seeing filled with laughter, and by the time I had the context, I was afraid to ask. As far as I know, he went to his grave with those memories unspoken, letting that chapter in his life truly die, a dark shadow in his bright light.

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Writing Exercise 4 – Good beginnings

Prompt: Begin in the middle. Write your own opening line that begins in the middle. Establish characters, situations, and conflicts with a few choice words. Then drop your readers right smack in the center.

They said it was a bad idea. I was thinking battery licking bad. Maybe bobby pin in the light socket bad. I didn’t think Kirsten and me’d be running down East 9th at 1 AM with an angry flash mob chasing us. I’m not exaggerating. Some of these maniacs are still wearing tap shoes. The pounding of their feet is a sharp, concussive rat-a-tat-tat that reminds me of Tommy gun sound effects from Saturday afternoon gangster movies with the folks.

We’d probably be better off being chased by gangsters. Dancers are in great shape. I’m already huffing phlegmy Darth Vader breaths. Kirsten’s hand in mine is sweaty, but she’s got a grip like a pit bull. “Babe. Babe, your nails are killing me!”

“Shut up!” Everything she manages comes out in short bursts, not too different from our usual conversations, I guess, just louder. “Fire escape.” She points ahead. It’s rusty and looks like maybe it’s only halfway invested in clinging to the side of the building. The ladder is hanging too low. Good for us. We’re not dancers fueled by espresso and rage. At this point, I’ll take salvation with a side of wtf am I doing. It beats death by flash mob. Can you imagine that obit?

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