Category Archives: Writing

Posts whose primary focus is writing

When does the comeback begin?

Sitting at my keyboard and making words appear on the screen has been a rare event for me during recent months. Almost as exceptional have been the times I’ve laced up my running shoes and got out the door. If writer’s block or injury were behind this awkward, embarrassing separation from two activities that I purport to love … stop—I have to be honest with myself—love doesn’t cover it. Writing and running are two things that I have tried to use to define my existence. During these last few months without them, I have felt as though I am slowly losing substance—losing my place in the world.

Don’t get me wrong; I haven’t been wallowing in a pit of despair while I waited for my own Fezzik and Inigo to rescue me. Hikes with my wife, visits with family, and caring for my grandson helped me maintain a framework as I struggled with the direction my life was taking and the cumulative effect of the dramatic changes it has undergone over the past three years.

I’ve made a few stabs at getting back on my feet, both writing-wise and running-wise. In the latter, attempts have been half-hearted and riddled with missteps. In the former, every renewed writing effort has died aborning.

After several unproductive bouts with my keyboard I have come to realize that I have been avoiding a deeper problem. This problem is both a dilemma and an obstacle that may be causing the dawdling uncertainty that plagues me.

Although Harvest of the Heart has been positively reviewed by everyone who has read it, it isn’t the novel I first envisioned. In the editing process, I followed the advice of others—which was, from one point of view, excellent advice—to make changes and cut elements that both shortened the book and simplified the plot. I fooled myself into believing they were the right moves.

At the time, I thought I saw a way forward for my main character, but that path just isn’t one I want to follow. This is a problem because  the clear path I desperately want to take will require, to some degree, trashing an already published novel and doing a major rewrite. That means no sequel this fall; the way things are, that wasn’t going to happen anyway. Following this path also means retracing my steps … a lot of work to get to where I had hoped to be almost a year ago.

So… when does the comeback begin?

I ran today. I wrote these words today. I made a decision today. Although the proof will come only with results, today seems as good as any for starting a comeback.

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The Morning Stretch #14 – Kaleidoscope writing

Different pictures formed from the same jumble of crystals in a kaleidoscope. Some writers manage the same with words. (Pic courtesy of Wikipedia)

There are some writers—Neal Stephenson comes to mind—who treat words as if they were various colored crystals in the lens of a kaleidoscope; they throw them together, jumble them up, and bizarre, often beautiful, patterns emerge. You have to wonder—applying that word’s double meaning of  awe and confusion—whether the message you have divined from the mystical pattern is one the author intended. Sometimes you doubt any true meaning is contained in the ornamental arrangement on the page, even as you stand in awe of the artistry.

While I believe a writer, in most cases, should use the simplest combination of words to achieve his desired outcome, I can’t deny the pleasure I sometimes derive from complexity. But if a sentence is constructed to maximize its lyricism, as opposed to its meaning, the writer risks confusing and losing the reader. If that’s the goal, you should write poetry. (No offense to poets intended :-).)

So, why take the risk? For one, I’d consider being called an artist whose canvas rests between the covers of a book as high praise indeed.

Today’s exercise … craft a lyrical sentence whose meaning is secondary to its beauty.

—–

Plowed free by the tip of a pen, rough stones write the history of my run on the moldy carpet; hard testaments of a conquered trail soon swept out the cabin door and returned to the mountain from whence they came.

—–

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Teaching Granddad Nanny

Hello! My name is C and I’m five months old.  Last month Mommy and Daddy went back to work and I started spending my days with a nanny. Not just any nanny, but a HE nanny who is also my Granddad … Granddad Nanny. Teaching Granddad about this nanny business is hard work.

It's hard work taking care of Granddad!

He’s doing a pretty good job but he’s confused sometimes because he thinks the answer to anything is on the internet and boy-oh-boy is that wrong.

So, I thought I’d start doing these posts to help Granddad keep things straight. Besides, he thinks I’m funny when it’s really him that’s hilarious, so I wanted to set the record straight on that.

For example, lately I’ve started clocking myself in the head when I’m feeding. These aren’t little love taps, but full-bore, Mike Tyson knockout punches. Naturally, GN (Granddad Nanny) googled and came up with a bunch of stuff like it was a “manifestation of tantrum behavior” or that I was frustrated, or teething. For crying out loud! I’m five months old, besides I do it while I’m eating—nursing or taking a bottle, it doesn’t matter which— and eating is something I love to do almost as much as peeing on GN when he’s changing my diaper. Believe me, it isn’t a temper tantrum or frustration.

What I’m teaching GN is that, at my age, everything is about sensation; new experiences, new feelings are what I’m all about. Okay, I’ll admit it, a good punch in the cheek does take my mind off my gums, but that’s just a small part of it. The real reason I do almost everything is that everything is all so new! Not much bores me yet … oh, except those phony sneezes. They cracked me up a month ago—you looked so ridiculous!—but, seriously Granddad, you need to get a new shtick.

Anyway, giving myself a good whack on the noggin stimulates some different senses. Yeah, it hurts a little, especially now that I’m building some arm strength, but that’s all part of the learning process. Yes, I admit it. I don’t know it all … yet. That will take a few more years. In the meantime, I’m learning that if I hit myself smack-dab in the corner of my eye … IT … IS … PAINFUL! But, oh the rewards! The look on GN’s face was priceless! He didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I had to do it again just to see that goofy, wide-eyed shock and hear that strangled guffaw. And he thinks I’m funny.

So, there it is … my first post. I wonder if Mommy will try to put this in my baby book. I’ve got lots of stories to tell on Granddad—the triple poop, the dorkiest dance in the world, the monitor game,  how he sucks on my thumb and tells himself it is only because it makes me laugh—and he keeps doing new silly stuff everyday! I don’t know how I’ll keep up.

Now it’s time get Granddad up and hopping again. Catch ya later!

Oh, the other reason I like to duke it out with myself? I’m learning to be tough … I heard preschool is brutal!

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The Morning Stretch #12

It looks like I might be falling into a hard-easy-hard routine with these writing exercises. Today’s stretch is hard … or at least harder.

A character with “issues” grabs a reader’s attention, whether they are physical or emotional doesn’t usually matter. They can be an important part of the story, such as Monk’s various phobias, or a minor tic that adds comic relief when needed. The right “flaw” can be used to manipulate a reader’s feelings toward a character.

Write a scene introducing  a character with an unusual problem. This can be a fictional condition or malady, as long as it is believable.

—–

Harry clenched his teeth and tapped his left foot rapidly on the floor of his Buick Wildcat, taking care not to hit the brake peddle—he couldn’t afford to lose a second. The spot where his shoe beat against the carpet was worn bare. Beads of sweat broke out on his forehead and soaked into bushy brown eyebrows, or swept down the hook of his nose. He took a deep breath and blew it out through thin, pursed lips; sweat splashed onto the leather steering wheel cover.

None of his efforts reduced the pressure in his bladder which had increased dramatically the moment his destination came into sight. “Arrival anxiety” the urologist had called it. What crap! It happened even when I’m coming home from the grocery store; why would I be anxious about that? Naming his “problem” hadn’t yet produced a solution.

When he started flapping his knees together, Harry was sure that Sandra’s eyes were boring holes in the side of his head. Why the hell did I think I’d get away with this? She probably thinks I’m having a mental breakdown. Although it was their third date, it was the first time he’d picked her up instead of meeting somewhere. Harry felt as dry as a bone—no drinking since lunchtime, not even water—and had spent the last moments before leaving the house in a desperate effort to squeeze out every last drop … and still he was dancing desperately in the seat with a burning tingle in his lap, feeding the flames of his panic.

After wiping the back of his hand across his forehead, he jammed it into his crotch and squeezed, hoping that his jacket would cover the movement. The sharp intake of breath coming from the passenger seat proved that hope fruitless. Bright red spread up his neck, but he’d rather be embarrassed now than when he arrived at the posh restaurant with a dark, wet stain on his pants.

The physical sensations were all too real, but Harry knew that, if there were no destination waiting, he could probably drive all day without a pit stop. Instead, he raced the last block, sped under the awning of The Flapping Goose, and slammed on the brakes. He jumped out of the car and tossed the keys to the valet.

“I’ll be right back,” he yelled over his shoulder to Sandra as he sprinted to the entrance. The startled maitre d’ pointed when Harry burst through the doors and gasped.”Where’s the men’s room?”

Relief, when it finally came, was so strong his knees buckled; he had to grab the chrome fitting of the urinal to keep from falling. What came next was just part of the routine. Washing his hands, he looked in the mirror. “Ol’ Buddy,” he said to his reflection, “we really need to do something about that plumbing of yours.”

He wasn’t surprised when he returned to the curb, but still raised a questioning eyebrow toward the valet. “She hopped in a cab as soon as you went through the doors.” The kid looked like he was about to apologize until Harry glared at him. Instead, the valet asked the logical question. “Should I bring your car around?”

He had a brief, dark thought of going through it all again so soon. He shook his head and went in for dinner.

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The Morning Stretch #11

Here’s an easy stretch for today, in case you are sore from yesterday’s tough one.

Describe the sky, as it looks right now.

Every jet in the world has crossed the Laramie Valley and left behind a jumble of pick-up sticks on a powder blue table. The newer lines are crisp  beams of white shooting across the sky. Older ones drift and dissolve, twisted by high-altitude winds that leave me untouched as I enjoy the gentle, sunny morning.

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The Morning Stretch #10

There are two purposes for The Morning Stretch: 1) Loosen my creative muscle for a successful day of writing. 2) Strengthen my writing skills by stretching beyond the comfort zone. This won’t always produce great prose, but the goal is to become a better writer and trust that great prose will be the ultimate result.

If characters are to be believable, a writer of fiction must be able to empathize with each one he or she creates, at least to some degree … even the nasty ones. Otherwise, characters won’t act or speak authentically. For a basically decent human being, this can be difficult and I believe that anything difficult requires some practice if we are to do it well; a lot of practice if we want to excel.

Today we have another challenging stretch. It may loosen and strengthen. Do the first step before reading the second step. 

Step One – Make a list of three things you would NEVER do. Two of these can be things that frighten you or are physically challenging, but they should be possible. Don’t put “Grow wings and fly” or “Meet the creature from Aliens in a dark alley.” One of these must be something that you would never do because even the thought of doing it is repellent, illegal, or immoral. Give this some thought and be willing to get uncomfortable. Don’t list things you’d like to do, but can’t, such as “Keelhaul any agent who sent me a form-letter rejection.”

Here are mine –

1. Work in a needle factory. The one thing that turns my head from the movie screen is seeing someone get a shot/injection. I hate needles.

2. Smoke. I was raised in a haze of smoke; both parents dead from smoking related illnesses. ‘Nuff said.

3. Harm my grandchildren, or any child for that matter … just the thought is upsetting.

Step Two – Choose one item from the list and write a fiction scene where the character is doing the thing you would NEVER do. Write in first person, present tense. Don’t let yourself off the hook by being a reluctant character—if your choice was “murder my mother,” don’t write about how you were forced to do it, or that you felt terrible.

—-

My foot smashes through Oscar’s mouth but it doesn’t end the grating sing-song words. The shattered and sparking flat-screen is on its back—one end on the TV stand and the other balanced precariously on the sill of the freshly-cracked living room window—but an incessant  “Doin’ the Trash … Doin’ the Trash .. Doin’ the Trash!” is still goose-stepping through my aching head.

I kick the bedroom door so hard the knob punches through the drywall and keeps it from bouncing back in my face.

“Christ, Tommy!” I yell at him. “I told you not to leave the damn TV on! Now shut the hell up!”

Spiderman’s leap into Aslan’s mouth is arrested mid-air as my grandson looks up from amid his toys. He drops Spiderman and clutches the stuffed lion to his chest. I see the bottom lip pucker and clinch my fists. The three-year-old’s blue eyes are huge and his breath begins to hitch, “wuh-hic … wuh-hic … wuh … ”

I won’t be able to stand it if the tears start, and they do. Damn Sharlene for sticking me with this … this … who knows what he is? My whore of a daughter probably doesn’t know who the father is. From the doorway, the smell of sour piss almost makes me gag. Almost four and nothin’ seems to get through his head what the commode is for. Damned if I’m gonna change his dirty diapers.

As I step into the room, Tommy raises his hands over his head and wails. Shit! If he knows what’s coming, why doesn’t he just shut his goddam pie-hole? Still in the boy’s grip, Aslan stares at me as I aim the first slap at Tommy’s head, knocking away his only protection. The wails are louder now.

My arm is drawn back once more and for certain the damn racket will soon end. I clench my fist and swing again.

—-

Ugh! That’s an exercise that makes me feel like I need a shower.

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The Morning Stretch #9

A writer wants the people who inhabit his stories to resonate with readers. Physical description must deliver a picture that will help make characters, especially the main characters, real in the reader’s mind. You can more readily get readers to invest their emotions in a character if they “see” that character within a scene.

The face will often be the feature that distinguishes one character from another and it doesn’t take a lot of description to give the reader a template on which they can use their imagination to imprint a recognizable face. You don’t need to provide a laundry list for every, or any, character. Don’t talk to the reader like you would a police artist; one distinctive phrase is usually enough. Other features can be delivered in an almost unconscious fashion in the course of the story: “He wiped the sweat from his wrinkled brow” or “A finger brushed the pale scar on her dimpled chin.”

Today’s stretch: In one sentence, write an initial description of a new character’s face.

His flat, round face glowed from the effort, mottled like the bottom of a copper pot fresh off the burner.

 

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