Month: August 2014

The Hot Wax Challenge

“When one takes action for others, one’s own suffering is transformed into the energy that can keep one moving forward; a light of hope illuminating a new tomorrow for oneself and others is kindled.” – Daisaku Ikeda

I was recently challenged to participate in The Hot Wax Challenge to bring awareness to ___________ (fill in the blank).  OK, there is no Hot Wax Challenge but there could be and it might be for a great cause.  Philanthropic events like these pop up all over both mainstream and social media and serve a purpose in raising awareness. There are also many other events that do the same thing. There are walks, runs, and bike rides. There are fundraising marathons and concerts. The platforms to raise public awareness for a particular medical condition or human suffering are endless.  The potential groups that need awareness are plentiful as well. We have a plethora of cancers, diseases, child abuse victims, rape victims, domestic abuse victims, violent crime survivors, natural disaster victims, and so on and so on.

There are critics for many of these type of events who will argue that the event itself is self-serving or fun for the participants with little or no thought given to the downstream beneficiaries of the action. There are also complaints that many of these fundraising activities rob other organizations of much needed money, assuming money is actually raised. There is some validity to this yet in my opinion, the greater good is still served.

So, after weeks of blogging about writing, why am I writing about this? I read a blog a few weeks ago by an author friend of mine who talked about the faces behind the challenges; the faces of those who are suffering from the very condition that these challenges, athletic events, and other fundraising venues are based upon. Those faces are everywhere and for her it was something extremely personal and her post that day brought me to tears, both for her and for her family. Often  many of us don’t think about that and I for one had been just as guilty of it for many years. For example, I rode my bike in a MS150 years ago.  I did slightly more than pay my entry and raised money for the event. Big deal. It only meant that instead of just getting the T-Shirt and medal, I would also get a racing jersey and shorts. What ended up being a big deal was the medal placed around my neck as I finished the 150 mile ride. A medal placed by someone suffering from MS.  A face.  Then my grandfather was diagnosed with Leukemia and I participated in Team in Training to raise money. A face very dear to me and one who didn’t survive.  I followed this up with the Tour de Cure, Tour de Tucson, ‘insert name’ 5K, concerts, and golf tournaments. More faces of people suffering; some who beat it, some who didn’t, and some who are just dealing with it yet making the most of an unfortunate situation. There is always a face and it might be a face you know. It could be someone within your circle of friends, a family member, a coworker, or maybe just a small face next to a tweet or Facebook status you are looking at.

Monday Blogs.  As a newbie to having a blog, I assumed most people blogging are those like me; either writers developing an author platform or writers who are already well established. Because I read every blog I re-tweet, I have discovered blogs that cater to much more than just the writing journey I find myself on.  There are blogs about reading, cooking, raising children, health, sports, and so much more. What I have also discovered are faces. People with MS, Cancers, Lyme disease, mental illness. People who are victims and now survivors of some horrific act or social injustice.  Beautiful faces.

As a society, we can be very giving and in my heart of hearts, I honestly believe the majority of people are good and have the best of intentions when participating in any sort of event or fundraiser that benefits a cause.  My only suggestion is to take a moment and associate your participation, and your donation, with a face.

OK…time to lighten it up and address what you are probably asking by now. Why hot wax? Although the subject of hot wax paints a picture of a very beautiful Kelly LeBrock discussing evening plans with a teen’s parents in the movie Weird Science from the eighties, it means nothing more than the first thing I saw this morning when I turned my head to the left searching for a title to this blog since my mind was drawing a blank.  My wife has numerous little burner things around the house that burn scented wax. The one next to me happened to be knocked over by one of our cats and I just noticed there was still hot wax on the back side of the bar where it sits.  Had I turned to my right and searched for title inspiration this could just as easily have been titled “The Kitty Litter Challenge.”  It’s just how my mind works.

The title to my blog this week really doesn’t matter.  What matters?  The faces.

Bill

My Tata & Nana: Enrique and Socorro in their prime on a beach in Mexico. My Nana died on a Wednesday after complications brought on by both Alzheimer’s and kidney disease.  My Tata died from Leukemia, three days after my Nana. Doctors predicted he would last six months once diagnosed.  He lasted a year and a half because he was so worried about who would take care of his wife.  Two of my faces.

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I Have Stood Up And Lived

“How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.” – Henry David Thoreau

I remember reading this quote as a child, most likely a result of some required reading in high school. I can’t really say with any degree of accuracy what it meant to me then but I will make a guess that the meaning was explained to me by a teacher with the best of intentions.  I am older now, and my interpretation of any reading or quote is based on my knowledge of the subject matter, what I might or might not know about the author, and my own life experiences. This particular quote by Thoreau happens to be one of my favorites.

As I embark on this journey we call writing, this quote has new meaning to me due to how I define living at this point of my life. It doesn’t translate that I must venture down a path on some spiritualistic quest in order to write with conviction. Nor do I interpret this quote in a literal manner.  I do however; feel there is a continual element of self-reflection involved regarding my life that allows me to write.

I have lived. I have lived through hundreds of books that I have read over my lifetime. I have lived through life experiences. I have lived through imagery, both real and imagined. I have lived through other senses: tasting, smelling, touching, and hearing.  I’ve lived through both physical and gut wrenching emotional pain. I’ve lived through loving and having been loved. I’ve lived through life’s lows and euphoric highs. And so have you.  Toss vanity aside,  we have something to write about.

As for what I haven’t lived?  We have technological tools today, that combined with imagination and life experiences, allow us to write about almost anything, regardless of age, demographics, or any other self-imposed barrier we tend to use as an excuse .  I have been fortunate enough over my life to travel to many places both domestic and abroad, yet I feel I could write about a place I have never been to.  For example, I have traveled most of the United States with the exception of the Pacific Northwest, New England, and the South. Could I write a scene or story based in Oregon? Absolutely.  I’ve read others who have written about the area. I’ve watched movies and documentaries set in the area. I have friends who have lived there. I could get on the internet and ‘walk’ along a street, seeing what the storefronts or homes look like or browse photographs of a trail and walk it in my mind.  I’ve enjoyed a rainy day served with dark clouds, hold the sunshine, and can imagine what multiple days of that entrée would be like in a city such as Astoria, Oregon. And yes, I have watched Goonies at least twenty times over the years. At some point, I am living it. And so are you.

With all due respect, I am not diminishing the artistic value or skill levels of those who have mastered the craft of writing. Nor am I demeaning a quote that resonates with me on a very personal level. I am simply stating, and a bit cliché: everyone brings something to the table.

The amazing thing about my writing journey is that I am still a student and will be for some time.  I welcome that because lifelong learning is a mantra I subscribe to. There are, however, a few things I do know: I’m not vain, I have stories to tell, and I have stood up and lived. I will write knowing that.

Happy writing!

Bill

KISS, Tacos, and Beer

“Un buen escritor expresa grandes cosas con pequeñas palabras; a la inversa del mal escritor, que dice cosas insignificantes con palabras grandiosas.” –  Ernesto Sabato

I find myself struggling with trying to balance showing versus telling in keeping my writing simple and fluid, all while allowing my own style and voice to develop. I won’t be one of those writers who writes three pages to describe something that could have easily been shown in a paragraph.  Number one, I don’t have the literary tool-set to do that and number two, I wouldn’t want to even if I did. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with those who can dazzle us with prose that showcases their mastery of words and ability to crank out intricate sentence structures. There is a time and place for complexity and for me personally, I don’t care to see it  over an entire novel. Poetry and short stories; yes, but not for ninety thousand plus words. Often, it leaves a reader confused and doesn’t move the plot. OK, it leaves me confused, like I might leave many of you confused rambling on about finite element analysis, proof load testing, and stress failures.  I don’t want to be that kind of writer.

My advice to writers as both a reader and a writer: balance. Use words that challenge, inspire thought, or paint pictures but don’t do it in a way that has the average reader wondering if he or she should have continued education beyond grad school just to understand your work. Remember that the reader is the customer. If you don’t care about that then by all means, impress yourself and a few others but don’t complain about lack of sales or interest in your work.The old adage “Keep it Simple Stupid” plays a part in writing and there is plenty of advice out there on the subject. One can still have creativity and depth in simplicity.  I’m a firm believer that reading the work of authors who master this helps make me a better writer.

The translation for the above quote by Ernesto Sabato?

“A good writer expresses great thoughts with simple words, whereas the bad writer says insignificant things with grandiloquence.”

So by now you are wondering what the heck KISS, Tacos, and Beer has to do with any of this right?  It’s just how my mind works.

Last month, we went on a vacation to Arizona to see my family.  This included a three day side trip to Las Vegas with my entire Arizona family so that my brother could finally marry his fiancé.  I hadn’t been to Vegas in years and my wife and kids had never been so we were excited about it.  Las Vegas is both beautiful and exhilarating but designed for one thing: to dazzle your senses in a manner that lessens the realization of how fast money is leaving your wallet.  I quickly became frustrated at how expensive meals were in the resort: one hundred plus dollars each time for a family of four.

I could write an entire short story about our experiences in Vegas but in keeping with the theme of this post, I will keep things moving and simple.  Getting off the the main strip, we drove down a side road en route to the KISS Wedding Chapel. Yes, this is where my brother and now wife wanted to be married, and by a friend of mine who plays in a Vegas KISS tribute band called Sin City KISS.  Along the route, I was determined to find an alternate place to eat after the wedding so my wife and kids were rattling off names of restaurants they were seeing on the way to the wedding, names that told me nothing with the exception of one. As we pulled into the chapel, I saw the huge KISS sign and it hit me, knowing immediately where we were going to eat after the wedding. Keep it simple stupid.

Bill

 

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My Writing Process: A Blog Tour

A writer friend of mine, the very interesting and genuine E.L Wicker, invited me to participate in ‘My Writing Process: A Blog Tour.’ Emma is an English writer working on a series of YA books about vampires, with some twists and rule changes best described here on Emma’s site: E.L. WICKER A Writers Journey

Each person who is tagged or asked to participate in this blog tour answers four questions about their work and writing process, then introduce three other writers. This gives readers and writers a chance to meet and get to know writers they might not have otherwise known about.

With only three blogs under my belt and my WIP far from being complete, this should be interesting.

What am I working on?

I write fiction and am presently working on a novel. It is my first and will be a mystery that is leaning towards somewhat of a thriller. My original intent was to write a series around a NY State Police Detective and somewhere in the process another character was crying out to build the series around him. I went with it and had to do a bit of rewriting but am very pleased with the detour I took. It is about a serial killer who is targeting women in the medical field and my somewhat dark, reluctant protagonist’s involvement with it all.

How does my book differ from others in its genre?

This question was the hardest for me to answer because I’m not sure it will differ in some aspects. Basic recipes for this type of genre can be modified in a number of ways.  I read somewhere that many authors tend to have characters in law enforcement stereotyped with marital problems, alcohol problems, tendencies to break rules in order to get the bad guy, etc.  I wanted to break away from that and have a character in law enforcement that doesn’t fall into those stereotypes. The problem it presented to me was in the process of making my main character a poster child for law enforcement, a secondary character became more interesting and subsequently became the main character.  My hope is that I can maintain the basic ingredients for a novel within this genre, yet mix it up enough by adding elements of humor, clever character development and growth, tangents exploring the killer’s POV, and situations and people the average reader can both relate to and become engaged with.

Why do I write what I write?

I could come up with something very profound here but I am going to borrow something from another author I have made friends with: S.S. Lange, who describes herself on her website as a  “writer of stuff I’d read.” Although I have read books in many genres, my favorites will always be mysteries and thrillers.  I am writing what I want to read. Simple as that. I’m also lucky enough to have plenty of life experiences to draw from, friends and family in law enforcement, and friends and family in other fields relevant to the stories I plan to write making it a very easy genre for me to write in.

How does my writing process work?

I am fairly new to writing in the manner that I am writing now (see my ‘about’ page), so I have a lot of flexibility and am finding my writing process is in a constant state of change.  I recently wrote a short story, followed a very detailed outline and in the end it worked out perfectly.  In regards to writing a novel, my process is evolving.  I started out with an idea, a very detailed character breakdown with sheets on each, a detailed outline, detailed sheets on scene locations, and much of my research already complete.  Definite plotter.  Then things started happening, characters started talking to me, I changed my protagonist, ventured down paths and subplots that were not outlined, researched on the fly, and I am enjoying that freedom immensely.  Panster.  I believe long term; I will balance between the two, all subject to change of course.  I’ve also played around with writing on paper lately which brings about a sense of intimacy with my work. I have no intentions of writing a complete novel that way but it is a nice break from fingers pounding away at a keyboard and a different mechanism to get through tough writing sessions.

Since I work full time, I balance reading and writing throughout the week then focus on heavy writing in the wee hours of the morning over the weekend.  I love the quiet house, morning coffee, and refreshed mind that this time of day brings.  I don’t set unrealistic goals and am happy with any word count as long as I am making progress and pleased with what I’ve wrote. An intangible in my writing process and very worthy of note here: support and encouragement from both my family and from a handful of writers I have had the pleasure of getting to know over the last few months.

So, that is me at this stage of my writing. I will be curious as to how I will answer the question regarding my writing process a year from now.

Bill

Now to tag three others… coming soon.


 

Writer #1 – Meet Dena Rogers, a writer friend I have gotten to know over the last few months. We made an immediate connection beyond writing with small town living and Whataburger.  She is a talented and recently published author, yet has taken time to provide support and encouragement to a beginning writer like myself.  Please find Dena’s addition to the “My Writing Process: A Blog Tour’ HERE

Dena’s Bio:

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A day job that often deals with the negative side of relationships, Dena turned to writing romance as a way to ensure that each day was filled with a little “Happily Ever After.”   She is a wife, mother, government worker, part-time cake decorator and moonlight writer.

Originally from Texas, she lives in the foothills of Kentucky with her husband and two sons.  She’s a lover of music, Kentucky Basketball, and can often be found watching her husband race at one of the local dirt-tracks or planning her family’s next road trip.  When not doing one of those things, she’ll have her nose in a book (and two or three in her purse.)  Her debut novel, Drive Me Sane, published by Crimson Romance is now available.

Hey, I Can Use That!

Something has changed around my house as my writing progresses.  I, as well as other family members, have become extremely aware of happenings going on around us.  My initial question of whether or not I would have support at home, something I feel is crucial for any writer, has been answered by not only being allowed uninterrupted writing time, but everyone chiming in with suggestions and ideas I can use in my present work in progress. These suggestions are derived from everyday events and encounters.  Some of them have been quite clever and as a family, we run with it.  Our creative brainstorm sessions usually end with my wife or sons saying “hey, you can use that, make sure and write it down so you don’t forget.”  With that, my notebook continues to fill up with ideas, ramblings, and other odd entries that would only make sense to someone living in my house.

Write what you know. Yes we’ve heard this quote and it has been dissected a thousand times by writers of all levels. I have my own take on it and I imagine most of you do too.  To me writing what you know leads to writing what you don’t know. We don’t know everything but have the ability to take what we do know, use it, and venture off into what we don’t know through either creative thought process or research.  An author writing about a futuristic society is certainly not writing about something he or she has experienced firsthand, yet much of what they are writing about is built off what they do know or have experienced, along with what they don’t know but had the creative mindset to envision. For example, most of us have experienced a power outage. We could write about that as something we know.  What if the power failed to come back on? What if that power outage was a huge grid failure and power was now going to be off indefinitely? We don’t know what that is like, but we can imagine how it would make us feel, what fears we might have, what adjustments we would have to make, and now we have something to write about. Writing what we know or don’t know?

What I know. I know that there are experiences and encounters I can draw from and use in my writing, some very real and some imagined or requiring further exploration and/or research and some, now at the urging of family members who have an uncanny ability to ask “what if,” are drawn from tangents we venture off on.  Maybe a customer at the local gas station convenience store acts or says something out of the ordinary and has a menacing look about him. By the time we get back in our car, he has become a serial killer or wanted fugitive hiding out in a small town.  Yet there are those life experiences we have that are so odd and unbelievable that they stand alone, not needing any further exploration or creative process but still worthy material that must be filed away even if it is only something used in a short scene.

We have a cat. Well actually we have a few cats and dogs. We had put off fixing the young male cat, a beautiful, evil-looking creature named Choo that my oldest son named after a rapper he listens to, out of laziness on our part.  For some time I felt Choo was purposely doing things to piss us off because his male hormones were running rampant. He would climb up on the dresser; stare at himself in the mirror while growling, then turn and look at us as he proceeded to knock things off (cups, jewelry box, pictures, etc.).  I would get up, move towards the dresser and he would immediately jump down and run. This would continue multiple times throughout the evening as we were winding down and each time, Choo wins and I would vow to make an appointment to get him fixed.  I remember joking one time that he wasn’t purposely trying to make us mad; he was just tired of listening to the entire “you can use that” dialogue taking place earlier and was simply vying for a role in my novel.

One evening I was sitting in my bedroom recliner writing while my wife was reading in bed. Choo came into the room but instead of jumping up onto the dresser, he jumped up onto the bed, stood on my pillow, started the little pitter-patter cats do with their front paws, all while staring at my wife in what I honestly felt like was a seductive manner.  I wasn’t imagining this; he was alternating between a growl and a purr, his unwavering eyes glued to my wife.  He then proceeded to “hump” my pillow and I jumped up laughing in disbelief and said “Hey, I can use that!”

After a few more evenings of this, we made an appointment for Choo to get fixed and I took him in a few days later.  He even still appeared to like me afterwards. Life is back to normal, and my family and I continue to have fun with our brainstorming sessions.  As for Choo, he still knocks things off the dresser but has stopped his romantic escapades with my pillow.  He has however; found a page in my notebook.  Maybe I will have a very dark scene that needs a bit of humor, or a guy that feels he is competing with his girlfriend’s pet for affection. Regardless, somewhere, someday, somehow, I can use that.

Bill

A special congratulation to two Twitter friends of mine for their debut novels released this last week:

Dena Rogers – Drive Me Sane

S.S. Lange – Long Lost: A Charlotte Hayes Novel

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