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FemaleThis post is dedicated to the finer gender, endowed with prudence, grace, beauty, and compassion.
May the world mirror your shining example.

Tonight I finished watching the first (and now only) season of Amazon Video’s Good Girls Revolt.

It has been an excellent viewing experience: captivating, fun, poignant, reminiscent, educational, and above all, feminist.

The period drama portrays varied and realistic (if dated) female characters cast against the backdrop of a weekly, national news magazine chronicling the tumultuous end of the sixties, the then-endless Vietnam War, and a historic push forward for the advancement of women. Over the course of 10 engaging episodes, these women struggle, grow, and eventually unite around a call for equal opportunity that, sadly, still rings true 47 years later.

I suppose, then, it is no surprise that Amazon cancelled the series. Read the rest of this entry »

Yesterday, I hadn’t. But today…I have.

After nearly four years, lots of struggle, pain, heartache, and perseverance…

I just finished my first novel.

A draft anyway—but a damn solid one in my novice opinion. And with a full day to spare before my Christmas deadline.

Sure I’ve got some cleanup to go back and do, resulting from the plot-surgery I did over the summer. But I’ve got my list ready and none of it intimidates me.

I’ve wanted to know what this feels like for a long, long time. Sure, almost four years on this story alone, but it was a full 20 years ago that I truly dove in to my first novel (later abandoning it).

For the record (and for all you aspiring novelists out there), it feels really incredible. Inspiring. Liberating. Powerful.

Today, I am (technically) a novelist.

Can’t wait to start the next one.

Write on! And on, and on, and on…

Back in November, as I was savoring the last mild temperatures of the year, I finally sat myself down and dug in to sort out the rest of my plot. Ever since I shook things up, I’ve just been treading water. Unable to write much further without plotting a course (pardon the pun), and uninspired every time I tried to think my way through to a new ending.

I got it all sorted out that day (at least enough for this first draft) and once again felt invigorated to finish this beast. I finally set myself a deadline, and let my two writing confidants know what it was.

I’m proud to say that Read the rest of this entry »

I’ll admit I know very little about the machinations within the House Democratic Caucus. I have no doubt the strings and chains of its internal workings are beyond my comprehension and it would likely disgust me to understand them.

That said, I’m really upset that Pelosi has retained the post of Minority Leader. Even more so that my congressman, a ranking member of the Progressive Caucus, supported her in her bid.

So I wrote him today. Read the rest of this entry »

Psssst…I broke a hundred thousand words today. By a lot.

It fritzed the “Word Count” window in the status bar on Word for Mac. It’s just an empty box now, which if ever there were an indicator that this draft is going to be too long, I guess that’s as good as any.

One hundred thousand. 100,000. 100k. Cent mille. 100 Grand. Mmmmmm…I should eat one of those tonight as a reward.

327_100Grand

I know it’s just a number, like any other, a pointless milestone on this road to mastery or madness. But I can’t help feeling like I’ve gotten somewhere. Like this story of mine is actually becoming a novel.

It’s weird. I know it’s nothing, but somehow it’s something.

Anyway, just thought I throw that out there.

In answer to Karen Rawson’s recent gauntlet throw-down, I managed to sneeze out this, my first attempt at flash fiction. So here’s the 98-word “Drowned Out” which I based on the photo below.

DrownedYard

“Guess the party’s cancelled, huh?” he jeered.

“It’s nothing to smile about!” Kim snapped, hating him even more than the night before.

Her daughter’s 6th birthday party washed away in minutes. Streamers, croquet, cookout, slip-n-slide—all gone before Sandy had even woken. Kim’s tears welled as sandbox toys swirled in a darkened eddy by the grill.

“I guess I’ll call the moms and let them know.”

“Ya think?” he assed while she pondered his funeral as a suitable birthday gift. “Whole day’s free now! What to do…”

Drop dead, she thought and thanked God she’d hidden the whiskey.

I quit my job after nearly 14 years with the company.

It was time. I wasn’t happy there, despite my best efforts. Fortunately, my lovely partner is in a position where we could afford to do so. So I broke one of the cardinal rules of novel-writing: Don’t quit your day job.

Things are much better. Been knocking things off the life list, doing some freelance work when I can find it and, thankfully, I’m writing again after sitting at the 3/4 mark for half a year. I’m told that’s normal; I don’t know how it can be. But I’m not going to dwell on it. Ever forward.

So I’m walking the dog the other day, after the most productive day of writing I’ve had in six months, and I’m pensive.

One of the things that has been bogging me down is knowing that my plot intentions seemed to be Read the rest of this entry »

I finally broke 300. And it’s been a hard-fought 30 pages.

The closer I get to the end, the further away it seems. Not in terms of actual pages or plot points, but in all the holes and unresolved, unrefined, unrealistic details that pop up and needle me as I keep trudging forward. Which is disconcerting since I’ve been following this outline for almost two years.

I push this awful beast ahead; it pushes back. I make it through a tough chapter; three revisions stem out of what I wrote to be implemented at a later date. I’m starting to lose details I wrote months, even years ago. I know I have something to say, I just don’t think I’m saying it and I don’t even trust myself right now to be able to judge.

Unlike earlier in the process, any long day of writing ends with more misgivings and inconsistencies than when it started. I don’t hear my story, hear my characters…I don’t even hear my voice anymore. And while I may be sluggishly plodding toward a finished draft, with each page I become even more confident that it’s a giant pile, that the story is complete garbage, and that no one, NO ONE is ever going to read it.

I want to quit.
I mean I really want to quit.
But if I don’t finish this monster, I’ll be damned.

“The best way out is always through,”
                                                                            -Robert Frost

“When I face the desolate impossibility of writing five hundred pages, a sick sense of failure falls on me, and I know I can never do it. Then gradually, I write one page and then another. One day’s work is all I can permit myself to contemplate.”
                                                                           – John Steinbeck

I hate that I want this.

Look out writers, Karen’s talkin’ truth again.

Source: If You’re Like Me, Then You Hate John Green or How to Quit the Deadly Comparison Game

“So it goes.”

It’s a simple phrase.

Three words. A catchphrase, of sorts. Almost insignificant. And yet it perfectly demonstrates the magnificence of Vonnegut’s exceptional “writer’s voice.”

I’m still forging ahead. I took a little time off around the holidays (couldn’t you tell?). And I reluctantly embraced some long-avoided but necessary technological advances—namely a smartphone and a new(er) computer— which brought with them some setbacks to my workflow and productivity. But I’m back.

Story is coming along. Cranked out a long avoided chapter today that wasn’t easy to write. Probably still need lots of work, but it’s written.

Generally speaking, characters are coming along nicely. They are developing in ways that I like and, in turn, they’re starting to carry the story. I’ve had several 5-10 page days and when I do, they happen sort of effortlessly. So I’ll count my blessings.

But then I start thinking about that pesky “voice.” As in, I’m afraid I don’t have one. Or that it’s inconsistent, or undefined. Or that it just plain sucks. Read the rest of this entry »

Writer’s conferences are a double-edged sword. On one hand, you expose yourself to other writers’ sagacity and experiences that you would not otherwise encounter, expanding your horizons and possibly giving you a fresh perspective.

On the other hand, you also open yourself up to the sob stories, tales of woe, and harsh realities of the writing and publishing industry, which can snatch the wind from your sails faster than a slaughtered albatross.

The conference at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop was of the first kind.

The one this past spring in Badgerland was of the latter.

So many of its speakers and attendees were quick to relay the “truths” and statistics that serve only to muddy the waters of creative process: the unlikelihood of finding an agent, the slim chances of getting published, the even slimmer chances of your first book selling well (and the likelihood it will be your last), and of course, the absolute impossibility of ever making a living writing fiction.

One of those painful tidbits is looming large these days. Read the rest of this entry »

It took me a while to get in the Christmas spirit this year.  It’s not that I was down, or reluctant; I’ve just had a lot going on and it seemed like all of the build up evaporated before I hardly had a chance to acknowledge it.

We put up the tree a week later than usual, so that didn’t help (yes, it’s artificial and just the right size for our little house).  And we’ve been in such a “doing” mode all fall, it kind of perpetuated into the holidays and didn’t leave us much time for sipping cocoa (with Bailey’s) and singing carols in the living room.

The sad thing is, I recall having the same notion last year, that Christmas kind of snuck up on me, and quite possibly the year before that. I’m not certain, but it wouldn’t surprise me. That made me wonder if this is now going to be the norm.

I mean, ten years ago, the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas felt much longer. And thirty years ago it felt like an absolute eternity, sprawled out like an endless barrier between me and a host of irresistible presents sure to ceaselessly delight and entertain me for the rest of eternity, if only I could ever reach them.

As I’ve grown older my perception of the passage of time, of course, has sped up, as I’m sure will continue to be the case. But in regard to the month of December, it seems it has doubly so. No sooner has the last piece of pumpkin pie made it into my belly, than I am thawing the Christmas kringle to greet us on the morning of the 25th. Thrift! Thrift, Santa Claus! The Thanksgiving-baked meats do coldly furnish forth the yuletide tables. Read the rest of this entry »

Fine, so I’m not as far along as I thought I’d be.

It’s been just over two months since my plotting workshop and the big, hearty boost it gave me. Despite being all gung-ho and “I can take on the world” after it concluded, naturally, that wore off after a bit. No longer spending every minute of every day thinking about my novel, surrounded by interested and helpful writers might have something to do with that. Just as,  I’m sure, going back to work and taking care of a home and having to cook and do laundry and walk the dogs and tie my shoes all played their part.

But I’m really trying not to point to excuses or get down on myself for the modest gains I’ve made. The success lies in that I’ve kept at it, writing at least some notes 2-3 times each week, and writing 5-10 pages every couple of Fridays. Yes, the time I spend at my keyboard is productive all right, I just don’t spend it there often enough.

Nonetheless, I’m making progress. More importantly, I’m making process. After toying with an outline for several weeks after the workshop, I was getting frustrated at not getting any words on the page and still not having every little detail figured out. Finally, I said “to hell with it” and I started actually writing the first third of the story, since that part had the clearest milestones already in place.

It was the right choice. The day I stopped outlining and actually started writing, I pounded out over 10 pages. Pretty good ones too, for a 1st draft.

So, lesson learned. Work the outline as best you can. When it starts to piss you off, start writing. Lets you feel productive again and keeps the muscle flexing. Gives your characters being. Flushes out more of the story. Makes the milestones feel closer together and more congruent. Gives you a sense of urgency.

It’s Friday. Back to the story.

I’m going to do this.

GNP-AvLake-5Falls

Just before the turn of the century, I created an extraordinary opportunity for myself.

Taking full advantage of the privileges of youth, I decided to use my new home in the Tetons as the launching pad for what I would later call my “last great adventure of the 20th Century”.

GNP-GttSr-McDonaldCreekFor eight months I planned, prepped, scrimped, and saved, working a second and sometimes third job to sock away enough dough to take six weeks off (unpaid, mind you) to travel the western US and parts of Canada, free as a leaf on the wind. Well, as free as a leaf could be if, wanting to get the most out of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, it had a well-planned route and a fairly rigid schedule to see everything it wanted to in the time it had.

Despite my best efforts, every time I tried to route a shorter trip the main attraction at the apogee was always just a few hours from another “always wanted to see” place. After half a dozen extensions, I had a grand loop around the western third of the US and I knew I couldn’t do it any other way. So in the late summer of 1999, maps and sleeping bag in hand, I hit the road with one close friend and one acquaintance to tackle the amazing and mostly unseen-by-me western US, an undiscovered land that held so much to see that I just couldn’t do it half-heartedly.

A testament to my organized and preparatory nature, I am proud to say that in those six weeks we travelled over 6000 miles, visiting 9 states/provinces, 17 National Parks or Monuments, and 16 cities, almost all of which I had never seen before (nor since). Read the rest of this entry »

I never use the dishwasher.Dishwasher_Vortex

There are a host of reasons why, not the least of which is that I grew up without one and therefore became accustomed to doing the dishes by hand. As a result, I actually find solace in the peaceful process of hand washing, not to mention the satisfaction of seeing the gradual fruit of my labors, which demonstrates a crucial difference between the two—active versus passive, and I tend to prefer action.

When it comes to dishwashers, however, I have numerous complaints about the entire “dishwasher process” not to mention the typically dissatisfying results.

Yes, as a conservationist, I am aware of the argument and research to support the notion that using the dishwasher actually saves water. And whether the carbon footprint of electricity use offsets the savings in water remains uncertain to me. Nonetheless I prefer to wash by hand, keeping the water at a trickle for most of the process.

I should probably emphasize that most definitely I see where a dishwasher has its place. Specifically, when hosting large groups for dinner or assisting a family of 5 or more, I get it. But in the typical day-to-day, for a small household like mine, the dishwasher seems more of an inconvenience, even a nuisance, than anything else.

And so begineth my rationale: Read the rest of this entry »

Immediately after President Obama took office in Jan. 2009, I began to see unsubstantiated bumper stickers appear with slogans like, “How’s all that change workin’ out for ya?” and “Don’t blame me, I voted for McCain!” which I found both hilarious and saddening since the president had not even unpacked his suitcase before ignorant voters were blaming him for the state of affairs.

It was as if the direct links to the previous 28 years of Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush were completely erased the moment a black Democrat assumed office. After all, the president had not even addressed congress, much less signed any new legislation. But sure, the recession, the financial collapse, the burst of the housing bubble, the bank bailouts—all of which occurred before Obama took the oath—yeah, that was all his fault.

In other words, Republicans were all too willing to criticize the president for things that had nothing to do with his administration, and could not have since he wasn’t in office when they happened, and had no evidence (tangible or otherwise) to back up their claims.

If conservatives were so willing to blame President Obama for things that did not happen during his tenure, surely they will be equally anxious to decry the role of government and the office of the executive after witnessing decidedly sharp and notable declines resulting from several years of flawed, foolish, dyed-in-the-wool Republican policy from a puppet governor. Won’t they?

So let us examine the current affairs in the state off Wisconsin, shall we? Read the rest of this entry »

NixonThumbIn our second foray into rating past presidents, we’re going to tackle a political giant, an enigma whose presidency was both enamored with political sagacity and clouded with sordid scandal. Yes, after previously paying homage to one of our greatest leaders, this time we’ll be assigning D&D ability scores to one of our greatest disappointments, Richard M. Nixon.

Don’t worry, there’s much more to President Nixon than his shameful end and the arrogance that precipitated it, so I won’t just be harping on Watergate (in fact, it actually provided a boost to several scores).

This list of ability scores is generated according to the rules of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons – 1st Edition (again, ‘cuz I’m old). If you aren’t familiar with D&D, that’s okay, you don’t need to be. Here’s the gist: an individual is scored on six innate abilities: Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma. Human scores typically range from 3 to 18 (3 being pathetic, 10-11 being average, and 18 being exceptional).

So here we go, for big Dick’s scores: Read the rest of this entry »

PrintUsually, I try to concentrate on new writing projects. But every now and again, I am compelled to crack open my musty folders full of unpublished stories of auld lang syne and pore over them once again, full of reminiscence and longing.

In many ways they have withstood the test of time. They are still relevant, for the most part; I still like them and believe in them. I typically still like the characters too. And in feeling as much, I find I experience some regret, if not sorrow at their never having been published. And once that starts, I get sucked in.

“Why didn’t it get published?” I wonder. “Can I do anything to it to make it better?” After all, some of these tales are 10 or 15 years old and I freely admit that I’m a better writer now, by leaps and bounds. That being said, what if the story was great, but my talents were simply not up to the task at the time it sprang forth? Sure, I gave it my best, but now that the older and more experienced me has applied his scrutinizing eye, I can see scores upon scores of editorial notes that I know would make it read better. So out comes the red pen and the markups begin. Since they’ve never been published, what’s the harm in touching them up a little? No one would know but me.

But here’s the quandary, these stories have a certain sentimental value in their original state. As their creator, it is now somewhat painful to read them and hear the voice that I once had, laden with crudeness and amateur phrasings. Yet they are still reflections of who and where I was at the time they were written. And certainly they serve as a literary photo album, offering glimpses of past milestones on the road of my maturation as a writer. It occurs to me that, though they might not have been good enough to be published, they still have value, if none other than a stepping stone to the next story, and the next, and so on.

I don’t try to sell my short stories anymore; there just isn’t much of a market for them it seems. And what market does exist is inundated with submissions, slow to respond (if at all), and often governed by ridiculously low word counts. So in the end I suppose my time is better spent on other projects, but the question remains: is it wrong, a betrayal of sorts, to revisit old, unpublished writings from the past and try to remold them with the words from my inner voice of the present? Do an unsold story and its crafted characters deserve the finest presentation I can give them, the best shot possible at ever seeing pages of print? Or is it nobler to preserve the scribblings of my past persona, errors, clichés, and homespun howlings all included, and retain them as souvenirs of the writer I once was?

Perhaps someday I’ll publish a collection of my short stories and an editor will finally help me decide what to fix and what to forget. But until then, I fear I shall be tempted again and again by calls from my past yarns, yearning to be re-spun with the shinier tools I have today.

What’s your persuasion? Should I shine them up or shove them aside?

I practice a sort of thievery.

Not a malicious one mind you, or illegal, at least not yet. And as far as I know my crimes are victimless, and if I do well, often embraced and appreciated. I never plan my heists and never know what tiny observance may spawn one as it may be years down the road that I eventually recognize my plunder. My spoils are random, and often worthless by themselves, and they’re impossible to reunite with their original owners, but nonetheless I stole them.

Yes, in truth, I’m a bit of a thief. You may even be my next victim, and there’s nothing you can do about it; I have immunity. After all, I’m writer.

One of the arcane and villainous joys of creative writing is the license it gives me to draw upon just about anything I’ve ever encountered and use it unabashedly for my own selfish purposes. Read the rest of this entry »

In light of the approaching inauguration, rather than spurting the same old policy drivel that I usually throw out, today I’m going to toy with a new theme. Glancing back through our history, I thought it might be fun to examine past presidents of these United States and generate a list of their ability scores according to the rules of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons – 1st Edition (‘cuz I’m old and that’s what I learned on).

If you aren’t familiar with D&D, that’s okay, you don’t need to be. Here’s the gist: an individual is scored on six innate abilities: Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma. Human scores typically range from 3 to 18 (3 being pathetic, 10-11 being average, and 18 being exceptional).

All I’m going to do is rate past presidents on these abilities, based on what we knew about them. I think Dexterity will be the hardest, since we typically don’t hear about how nimble or agile our presidential figures have been. But I’ll do my best.

Why am I doing this? I suppose because it’s fun. And once we have a few, maybe I’ll match up a couple in a competition and role-play out a victor. I’d love nothing more than to orchestrate a scenario where John Quincy Adams completely embarrasses W. in a battle of wits or Taft squashes Martin Van Buren under his thunderous derrière.

So I think I’ll start with my most-favoritest President, the great and loveable Theodore Roosevelt:

TeddyLaughSTRENGTH: 17 – Known for his physical exploits, Teddy may be the brawniest of our past leaders. Though far from herculean, he is surely deserving of a near-the-top ranking. Read the rest of this entry »

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