Write...or Die Trying

I used to work in a factory. Now I work in an office. Either way, my writing was dying. So now I must: Write...or Die Trying.


Concentration? What Concentration?

What with all the hullabaloo over upcoming deadlines for projects at work, trying to at least stay informed about the dramatic and flagrant political hood-winking going on in Boston, and projects on the side, I simply cannot concentrate today.

This is somewhat of a systemic problem lately. I sat down to write the other day and I simply could not focus. It's probably just marketing, but those recent commercials on TV lately about Adult ADD (I don't remember what they said about it, actually, because I've been too distracted to pay attention), I wonder if I don't suffer from that malady. I've suffered off and on with depression and an inability to concentrate for many years. Is that a cop-out? I was accused of that in school, but I'm wondering if there wasn't something more going on.

It's said that creatives are more susceptible to these kinds of things. It's probably all in my head. That's a strange thought: whether a medical malady is really my problem or not, it'll be in my head either way.

Oh well. Back to more being bored and trying to pay attention to what I'm doing long enough to be productive. I'm not holding out much hope, though.

Bubba Ho-Tep

We watched a pretty cool movie the other night. It's that new Bruce Campbell movie Bubba Ho-Tep. It doesn't really fit into a genre, but it's got a couple of old codgers in a nursing home (Campbell and co-star Ossie Davis) fighting a 4,000 year-old soul-sucking Egyptian mummy.

It's quite a trip, but highly recommended.


To me, feedback for my writing is vital. I talked someone into giving some feedback on a story I'd written the other day and it was refreshing to get some real advice.

Writing is a lonely lifestyle. You work alone and, for the most part, create in a vacuum. One of the things that excites me about getting back into class is the constant feedback on my writing. I'd like to think I'm already a somewhat accomplished writer, having done it freelance for several years. But my fiction writing is new to me. I'm struggling to perfect my craft to the level I feel I'm capable. I don't think I can do that without meaningful reactions from readers.

Sometimes, writers just start writing and submitting for publication. Kind of a "throw it against the wall and see if it sticks." This does work. I've used this technique before myself. But I'm at a point now that I'd rather get some useful input from people to not just attempt to force them to swallow whatever I'm interested in writing, but to enjoy it. You certainly don't want to squelch your creative juices, but it's not all about you as an author, but about the auidience.

Sometimes You Just Need a Break

I've been banging my head against a wall with the problem at work for about 2 1/2 hours now. It's driving me crazy because I got the darn thing to work once. Now I can't make it work to save my life.

I really don't like the feeling of being out of my league. I like to think I can figure out just about anything with enough time and energy. Being entirely self-taught in the area of computer programming, I often get into areas I'm not familiar with. I don't have anyone more experienced than me in this particular area, so I can't go anywhere and ask. I've posted some questions on the mailing list, but you usually have to send quite a few emails to get everyone to comprehend what you're asking. It can be frustrating.

At least it's friday and the day is nearly over. I went fishing last night and even though I didn't catch anything, my second oldest caught three, which really thrilled him. He hasn't had much luck in the last few weeks, even though we go down to the pond several times a week (some weeks every night, depending on how frustrated I am with work) and "throw at the fish a while" as a friend of mine says.

School starts in a couple of weeks and I'm quite ready. My wife is ready for the kids to go back to school and I'm ready to get back into the swing of things. I've been bugging my future professors with critiques of my writing and it's getting me excited to have that kind of meaningful and helpful feedback. Some writers shrink from criticism of their work. I can understand that because it's not comfortable to have someone tell you your writing isn't quite up to par, but if you're thinking about becoming a professional writer, I think you just have to get over that. Your words aren't sacred. After all, it's not all about the writer, but the audience. Self-indulgent artists never make it very far and I can't imagine that their work is very fulfilling.

The GI Bill

I finally got some of my financial aid information for this fall. Between my GI Bill and a Pell Grant, my tuition is completely covered. The GI Bill program is such a great thing, it's hard to quantify the benefit to our society. Both of my grandfathers got degrees through the GI Bill. One bachelors and one masters degree. I don't think I'd be the same person today without the influence of my grandfather. I've talked about this before. He established himself in the community through his work at the Ag Service Center. My mother's father, who died before I was born, has left an important legacy in this rural town as well. A long-time principal and superintendent at our school, it was strange for me to go to high school every day and walk past a portrait of my grandfather hanging on the wall. I was picking my kids up from school one day and I showed them granddad's name on a plaque that was installed when that part of the school was built.

I can't say that because I'm working on this degree, thanks to my service in the military, that I'll leave that kind of legacy. But the important thing to me is that the GI Bill allows anyone the possibility to do that. Don't misread me: I don't believe that a college degree can transform someone into something their not; the exercise in persistence it takes to finish a degree with a family and a job is what does the transforming.

I've never felt like I belong here, in this corporate office. I think I've always wanted to be a writer. Now that I'm pursuing it in an "official" capacity, I'm really starting to look forward to something. I have a goal to achieve for the first time in a long time. The degree is not the end for me, it's the road to it that's important.

M. Night Shyamalan

We just finished watching that "documentary" about M. Night Shyamalan on SciFi. It's actually a pretty good film, even if it is fake :-) I had my suspicions with the shots of him and the crows in their teasers. At every commercial break their was a trailer for The Village, though, so I kind of had it figured that Mr. Shyamalan had something to do with this mockumentary.

I enjoyed the show as a good work of fiction, but I was disappointed that there wasn't any actual substance to it. Isn't he an interesting enough character to just do a simple documentary on? Apparently not. Even though I didn't learn anything, it was a good three hours spent. I sometimes get tired of SciFi with their excessive commercial breaks, but I guess that's the price you pay to have a limited audience.

Even though it's not real, I still recommend The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan.

Thoughts About a Gun

Grandpa had a Model 1903 M-1 Springfield 30-06 (that's thirty ott six, for those not into guns) that I inherited. I haven't ever shot it, even though I get it out of the closet occasionally and think about doing so. To tell you the truth I'm a little afraid of that gun.

I haven't gone deer hunting for a good many years; not for any reason in particular, I just haven't made the time. We have quite a few deer on the property and the overall population in Missouri is dangerously high. I decided I'll go hunting this year, but I haven't decided whether to use the Winchester .270, which is an excellent gun--and one I have shot, or this 30-06.

The M-1 Springfield is a very important gun. Although some would argue that WWI was a pointless war, I disagree. Such a discussion is well beyond the scope of this essay, but suffice it to say that we wouldn't have had WWII without WWI--and I'm not being sarcastic, either. America and Britain showed the world such strength in their alliance that it has prevailed upon our common enemies till this day. If the victors of WWI hadn't treated Germany so harshly (just like Northern carpetbaggers ravaged a destroyed American South), however, Hitler and his fascists would have held no sway with common Germans.

One thing WWI gave us, besides a festering wound we would have to amputate later, was the Springfield M-1 rifle. It's exceptionally heavy. Just carrying the thing around makes me wonder how tiring it must have been to have had to become one with it in a hot, revolting trench somewhere in France, wading through a knee-deep slurry of clay, mud, and dead bodies. The rifle's weight and full-length walnut stock make it a superbly accurate weapon. This particular gun has Vernier sights, which increase the accurate range of the weapon to 1,000 yards. That's 3/4 of a mile. My grandfather won a marksmanship award with this gun in the 1,000 yard range. I have trouble hitting things accurately at 100 yards. I'm anxious to see if I'm any better with open sights with such a stable gun. For those not familiar with shooting guns, a heavier weapon often means a more accurate weapon because the weight prevents a lot of minute "wandering" caused by the shooters breathing or weak control of your entire body.

My kids saw me looking at this gun just a few minutes ago. My oldest remarked: "that looks like a very lethal weapon." He's absolutely correct. I never got the straight story from my grandpa, but I believe this gun has taken the life of Japanese soldiers.

My kids are used to guns and they know what they're for. I've always found it interesting that people who don't know much about guns mistakenly assume that the mere presence of guns in the house is an encouragement to kill. My kids don't feel that way at all. They have a proper respect for guns and having this Springfield around has given us opportunities to talk about why such devices are necessary. They get to feel the weight of the rifle and think about how hard it was to be soldier carrying one. They get to touch the dark, worn stock and think about all the sweat of other soldiers that has polished the wood. When they get older, they'll think, like I do, about the mud and blood that, although not obvious, must be part of the stock's patina.

My grandfather never told me much about his service in the Philippines. He was a military policeman, and I don't think he was proud of the fact that he had had to kill people. But he did it. He did it for his country. They asked him because we had been attacked for being a country of courage, morality, and principles, even if some of our individual countrymen weren't. Collectively, we believed in something that had to be defended. I am saddened that so many want to create an environment for our country like they did in the '60s and '70s. I guess they just didn't get enough of that hedonistic and nihilistic lifestyle.

Not a Good Day for Writing

I'm not in a very good mood today. Every time I tried to sit down and do some writing this week, I was interrupted. Something always had to be done. Someone was hitting someone else. Someone was crying because they'd just been wrestled to the ground and given a flogging by their sibling for some perceived greivance.

Now I'm out in the pasture, trying to unplug a lateral line. It's all silted up with years and years of crap (literally) that's now been composted into dirt. It's hot, hard, and tiring. And to top it off, I have no desire to write about any of it.

Maybe after I've got some real rest. Not the kind you get when you swig a healthy dose of Nyquil for a week, just to sleep. But a genuine good night's rest.

Man. I sound like a woman (no offense to the fairer species)...

Elizabethan Demonology

Found an interesting eBook on Gutenberg today. It's called Elizabethan Demonology and looks at the role supernatural elements play in Elizabethan literature.

Although it was published in 1880, it's still an interesting read. I haven't made it all the way through yet (I am at work, after all) but I've found some interesting tidbits.

Sphere of Influence

One of the things I've always found interesting about living in a small town is how local events make you realize the spider-web of relationships a person builds over a lifetime.

Instead of having thousands of choices in gas stations, restaurants, businesses to get things from, and businesses to be employed by, you have only a handful. If you need that businesses service, or are employed at one place for several years, then you pass beyond the white noise stage most city dwellers enjoy and enter the collective psyche of the rural mind.

My family name is moderately well known here. My relatives have lived in this general area since the War Between the States. It's certainly not known because we have money. We don't. Trust me. But my grandfather and father have been making friendships, relationships, and contacts in this community for over 40 years. When people hear my last name, they ask: "You're Anthony's son, right?" They usually don't know me personally. That suits me just fine, as I'm not sure I want to be as well known as my dad is. From what I've seen lately, though, I think it's going to happen anyway.

We went into town last night because my oldest daughter had a dance recital at the Relay For Life rally at the city park. It's one of those singularly small-town activities that bring everyone you know to the same place, at the same time. That's when you realize that buying milk at the same grocery store, shopping at the same Wal-Mart, and any number of other chance encounters of small-town life makes a lot of faces well-known to you--even if you've never spoken to them. You end up recognizing people, their children, and sometimes grandchildren on sight, without knowing anything about them.

Some people you end up knowing quite well. I worked at the state highway department for a couple years before I went into the Air Force. I made friends with a guy several years short of retirement. He and I stopped to talk last night. I hadn't seen him in a year or so--I think at last year's Fair (that's where you see almost everyone you've ever known--including their relatives that come back on vacation to visit.) We talked about his garden and his stay-busy retirement projects. It turns out he had done some work on the custom-made equipment in the factory where I worked last year. My Mom and Dad walked up not long after. Dad hijacked the conversation and started talking to Keith about some place they had both worked 30-odd years ago. They racked their brains trying to think of the names of people they hadn't seen in decades. That's when I realized how much of an impact one person can have in a small town.

A network of contacts, relationships, friendships, and enemies one can make in a lifetime of living in rural America is genuinely staggering. My father has many thousands of contacts. Naturally, I inherit that portion of his network that I happen to run across. But I'm always curious to note how, as I get older and my family gets more involved in all manner of things, my own sphere of influence grows.

As I pulled the minivan into the park last night, this kid I worked with in the factory stuck his head out of the car window and hollered a hello to me. It took a little while before I remembered his name, but I finally pulled it off. I knew what family he belonged to and who his uncle was, but I couldn't remember his name. I suspect that happens a lot with me.

Most of my extended family lives in this general area. My Mom's cousins live over near another rural farm town about 25 miles away. One of her cousins is a bail bondsman. He's a fairly big guy. He and his wife--who I also worked with at the highway department--just walked by. His gray hair is pulled back into a ponytail like always. He has a bushy mustache that reminds you of a walrus, and he's pulling a little red wagon with--after much chatting amongst ourselves and asking my mother--his step-granddaughter in it.

Although I don't (deep-down, anyway) care what people think about me, I do have to keep in mind that such a far-reaching influence can have a tremendously positive or negative effect on future generations of my family. I'm reaping the rewards of a well-respected and somewhat beloved family name. I'd like to keep from spoiling that so my sons will be known as "Jon's son" when they go to the lumberyard or call the plumber; the alternative being: "Oh...you're Jon's son, huh?"

Ellery Queen

You should check out the latest issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. It's got some great short stories in it and you'll be supporting a potential market for writers like me for our future stories. Besides, it's only $4...

What a Novel Idea

I was following a thread of discussion on a writer-related website the other day. One of the members suggested a short story contest where a group of people could get together and write a short story in a limited timeframe. The idea being an exercise in actually writing, instead of just talking or thinking about it.

What struck me was the lack of writers familiar with the short story. I don't mean a particular writer's story--I mean the actual device of the short story. Most of the posts said something to the effect that the writer hadn't written that many short stories and hadn't even read that many. Most thought it would be a good exercise to "do something new."

I'm not knocking the novel. I aspire to write my own novel one day. But the short story is such a powerful tool for the writer, it would be foolish of us not to recognize it. Some of the best stories (not literature) I've read were relayed through the device of the short story.

Maybe the lack of interest is the perception that no one reads short stories. For a lot people, that may be true. But there are a growing number of us who are finding the short story a popular alternative to investing time we may not have into reading a novel. Short stories can convey your story to readers that are too busy to otherwise read you. Short stories give you a lot of options for publishing, since the needs of publishers for short fiction is much greater than that for novels. Of course short stories don't pay as well, but if you're planning on getting J.K. Rowling rich by being a writer, then prepare yourself for disappointment--not that I think you can't achieve it, mind you, just be prepared anyway.

Short stories are difficult to write. They require immense focus and clarity on the part of the author. If you get one little thing wrong in a piece of short fiction, you could ruin the whole thing. But you can also write one in a day; and if you get it published and only get $350 out of it, isn't that considered a Good Day's Work?

What a novel idea!

A Life of Its Own

Today I did something I don't often do: I started and finished a short story. I start a lot of projects at once, just like I read a lot of books at once (six at last count).

I love the feeling of having finished a piece, though. There's really nothing quite like it. You work hard to create and it's always a nice feeling to not have it hanging over your head afterwards. There's always editing and rewriting, of course, but if the work is considered complete before entering this stage, this seems to flow easier.

One of the things that fascinates me about the writing process is how a story can take on a life of its own. I ended up finishing the story in a different place than I had planned on. I don't understand how this happens. It's enjoyable for a writer, I think, because a lot of writing involves pursuing a pre-planned route. Some of the most powerful literature I've read was well planned by the author. Another style of literature is more event-driven. The author changes where the story goes based on his discovery of the characters as he fleshes them out.

I don't mind when a story starts to take on a life of its own. I'd like a little warning before it happens, though :-)

I Got a New Laptop

Due to my duties of maintaining the website for the folks I work for during my day job, I talked them into getting me a new laptop. It's a beaut. 1.5GHz and only 256MB of RAM. Enough to do what I need at home and support my writing.

I've never written on laptops much since I've never been able to afford a nice one. I really like this one, though. I'm going to do some writing on it and let you know how things go. I know a lot of writers use laptops exclusively, so there's got to be some benefits to it.

I really like my Underwood typewriter, though...

Spider-Man 2

We dropped the little kids off at a friends house and took the other three to see Spidey 2. Not a bad flick. What you'd expect to see in a big-budget action movie. I'd tell you what I was surprised about, but that would be a spoiler. You'll just have to see it yourself.

I hate reviews. I know I don't give a flying rip what someone else thinks about a particular movie. I like a lot of flicks the critics hate. Does that mean I don't have taste? Shaaa, right. Tell that to my face! ;-)

It was nice to sit still and not have to chase a four-year-old and (almost) two-year-old around the theater and try (usually unsuccessfully) to keep 'em quiet.