Monthly Archives: June 2013

Salt Water Fishing

I went salt water fishing this week with my son, grandson, and a guide named Ed. He looked the part of a fishing guide. He was a deep bronze with bleach blond hair (by the sun, not the bottle).  He had a spiel befitting a seaman that included banter about fishing, local lore, island names, and fishing haunts. He kept up his talking almost non stop.

When we arrived at the fishing spot he picked for us. (It was special and a secret from all the other fishermen. (Aren’t they all?)) He stood on a platform on the bow of his boat and scanned the water in front of it.

I looked at the water too, trying to see what he was looking for. After a while, he said, there are some drum fish over there. I looked and could see nothing. He continued to see fish and to call out their location. He tried to explain what he was looking at, by saying, “It’s hard to express exactly what I am seeing. It is a slight change in the color of the water. Sometimes it’s just a pale white, others it is an even slighter reddish change in color. See, just there… There they are.”

Try as we could, none of us (landlubbers) could see the fish or the changes he was pointing out. At one point, my son looked at me and made a face suggesting he disbelieved the captain, just as I was beginning to doubt him as well. Just as I was about to return the gesture, I saw a slight change of color to pale white in the water, then an actual fish rolled in the water.

“I see them,” I shouted, as I pointed to the exact spot he was pointing.

My son and grandson looked at where we were pointing. They continued to scan the water without success for some thirty minutes. Then my grandson began to see the fish. A few minutes later my son began seeing them.  Then we all could clearly see what was not there minutes before.

Think about it.

More on this later.

Creative Waiting

I had a friend years ago, Jerry F., who didn’t use the word procrastinate. He would say he was creatively waiting for inspiration. Once ideas began to come to him, he would write. How different that is from the tendency some have to beat themselves up about not writing. I really liked his idea so much that I began to redefine many negative thoughts and make them into positive ones.

When I didn’t understand something, I said I was gathering data. When I had a complex task to learn, I said I was learning it in bite sized pieces. If I failed at something, I called that attempt practice.

Almost anything can be redefined. Redefining means taking lemons… you know, and making lemonade. You take a difficult situation, a problem, and by changing how you think about it make it a positive instead of a negative.

This time of the year is when many people take vacations. Family vacations are a difficult time to set aside time for writing. You may be away from your desk, your computer and other writing tools. You may not have access to the Internet. I went on a cruise recently where Internet access for a week cost five times what I pay for a month. I wasn’t willing to pay that much, so I didn’t have internet access.

So what. During that time, I set aside moments for pondering story ideas that had been in the back of my head. I didn’t intend to write anything more than a title and a brief sketch of the ideas that came into my head. Partial results of that can be found in my June 4th post (now archived). When I returned from my vacation, I transferred my ideas from a Moleskine notebook to my computer file, then to this blog. Just for fun, I added a status tag on the ideas so that you could follow my progress in finishing the projects, if you wished.

My point in all this: The next time you are stuck, can’t think of anything to write, have writer’s block, or are inconvenienced and can’t write, redefine your situation and use your time creatively, just like Jerry F. taught me to do.

Zen Writing: Reflection, Clarification, Discipline

My master instructor in martial arts was Grandmaster Daeshik Kim, President of the Society of Ho Sin Sul and the US Martial Arts Institute. I studied at USMAI from 1980 to 1989. While there, I attained 5th degree Tae Kwon Do and 4th degree Ho Sin Sul, making me one of the first four American master instructors of HSS.

For the uninitiated, martial arts is sometimes referred to as Moving Zen. At Dojangs the Zen part of martial arts is seldom discussed. It is just assumed to be part of everyday practice. To my way of thinking it is  Zen like in that one must be absorbed in practice to the extent that you are in a meditative state. It is often said that you don’t own a technique until you have done it 1000 times and do not truly understand it until you have done it 10,000 times.

The kata, or choreographed patterns of practice, either solo or in pairs, is similar to a moving Koan. The term ‘form’ is normally used in English.

Writing is to me much like martial arts training and practice. It requires deep reflection on your subject, often to a level of detail not experienced by many. Then it requires clarification of what you are doing. In clarification you often simplify, much like a martial artist’s attempt to find maximum efficiency with minimum effort in his/her moves. Finally, you must be disciplined. Discipline, to me, means you keep going when you are tired, discouraged, or wanting to do something else. You practice, practice, practice no matter  what distracts you, then you practice more.

There is one technique I recall that I couldn’t master, the Tornado Kick. It is a turning, jumping, 540 degree, kick found in Tae Kwon Do, Wushu Kung Fu, Shaolinquan, and Capoeira martial arts. I tried to do the kick for months, then years. Finally, after two years, I found myself coming into the dojang every Saturday to practice the kick. My friends offered me advice and encouragement and still, I couldn’t do it.

One day while stretching, I watched a young student go to the bag, wind up and execute the kick. I was watching without thinking about watching. Suddenly, I said to myself, “So that’s how you do that.”

I walked to the bag and executed the kick perfectly. Everyone in the dojang applauded. I took a well-deserved bow.

In writing, you may work on your technique for months, even years, without reward. Then one day, when you aren’t focused on the outcome, when you take your mind out of what you are doing and just do it (the Greeks don’t have an exclusive on that), you will surprise yourself.

Show, Don’t Tell: the Writer’s Koan

Koan: A Paradox to be meditated upon used to train Zen Buddhist. Every writer has heard this admonition from more experienced writers or teachers: Show Don’t Tell. I love to watch writer’s faces when they hear this for the first time. The first thing that happens is they look assured that they have just been told something meaningful and important. Then there is a note of confusion and they usually say something like, “What does that mean?” Then their teacher elaborates.

My thinking about this Koan is there is something useful about it and something lacking, or perhaps several things lacking in this three word instructional aphorism. First, the phrase is stated in the negative. Not a biggie, but my education degree says teach in the positive, not the negative. Second, in most new writers, it raises more questions than it answers, which is not altogether bad.

So, being critical of this aphorism, I feel some obligation to suggest either another one, or an elegant explanation of it that is almost equally short. To get to that end, I will attempt to explain the meaning of the aphorism.

Consider me saying, “I have a big pistol.” That would likely pique your interest for a moment, you might even ask a few questions, like, “What are you doing with that?!” or “What’s the caliber?”

But if I take a big pistol from my pocket, your reaction is likely to be very different. I once saw an student learning to be an instructor take out a pistol and load it in the classroom. The reaction of his fellow students and the instructor to his show and tell was not what he expected. He intended to describe how to load a pistol and show how to do it at the same time. Almost everyone had a flight reaction. One student even dove beneath his desk. The instructor quickly took charge and ordered the student to remove the bullet from his pistol and take it out of the classroom.

The first scenario produces only a response of mild curiosity. The second one produces an immediate visceral response bordering on panic.

To my way of thinking, the response to telling borders on the description of taking about having a gun. A loaded gun brings out immediate emotional response  – showing.

The distinction couldn’t be much clearer for me. But, there’s another problem. My example is about a fear response. Not all situations in writing are about fear. And in some situations, my statement would not produce fear, for example if some men were hunting together and one wanted to show off his new pistol, no one would be fearful when he produced it.

More on this topic later.

 

 

Bliss

Think of a time and place when you felt blissful. Close your eyes, relax and go back there until you feel a sense of peace. That’s how I feel relaxing in the mountains.
The surroundings are quiet except for birds chirping in the distance. An occasional humming bird buzzes the sugar feeder looking for a free meal. It’s repast never lasts long. Another hummer will soon dive bomb the first one and arial combat ensues, spilling over into a neighboring pine tree. A third one raids the feeder as the combatants disappear into the pine’s thick foliage. I pick up a book. It really doesn’t matter which one and soon doze off. Tomorrow I’ll go home taking the mountain in my heart.
There are only two classes: the aware & the unaware.

Mountain Retreat

I will be spending a few days in the Rockies for the next week. I love to go there. Where I’m going is so remote there is no TV, no telephone reception, little radio. Radio reception is like the old days. In the daytime it is sporadic. At night, radio comes in clearly.

I have noticed over the years of going to the Rockies that I come back feeling refreshed in a way that cannot be found otherwise. In short, I say my batteries are recharged. For several reasons, I was unable to go last year or the year before. I really felt deprived. So, I’m going to make up for it this year. I’ll go next week, then I have two other short trips planned for this summer.

In addition to hiking and enjoying nature, I love to sit on the front porch in the afternoon and read science fiction. Along with that, I outline characters I’m thinking about and stories I’m working on. I can usually produce more than a year’s worth of story ideas in a week of porch sitting.

My brother and his wife will be there also. He loves to sketch and paint. She does crafts. Both read. So, it will be a rejuvenating experience for us all. She likes to play table games. I usually opt out of those. If I’m going to waste time, I prefer to do it in other ways.

The last time I was there, my son wanted to cut firewood. I couldn’t as my back was bothering me, so I watched a pit oven (dig a hole, wrap your meat in foil, cover with coals, put in a pipe to allow air to get to the coals, let sit for the afternoon as it bakes) for my son. After I had watched the pit oven for about thirty minutes, a volcanic stone exploded. Yes, that’s right! A stone exploded.

I was hit by stone shrapnel and fell backwards off my chair. The report from the explosion was so loud my son heard it over the sound of the chain saw he was operating. He sent his youngest son to check on me. I was putting out the fire on my serape when he came around the corner of the cabin.

In addition to my serape being marked, there were holes burned in the webbing on my lawn chair.

What, you didn’t know stones would explode? Neither did I.

WIP: Finished Anthem III/Status of Anthem II

I went to visit my copy editor this weekend. When I arrived at her house, it was filled with moving boxes and stacked furniture. My reason for going there in part was to urge her to go a little quicker. I didn’t have the heart to do it. So, my plan to have it on CreateSpace by the end of this month is out the window.

Likewise, Anthem III will be delayed. I finished it tonight. I will delay sending it to her until she moves into her new place and is settled.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. That’s why this post is in categories ‘my experiences’ and ‘works in progress.’ I thought all weekend about how to end my last short story on Anthem. I had it planned out, but the more I thought about it, the less I liked my ending.

I met with one of my readers last Thursday. We had lunch and talked about a different story, Heddalig’s Break: The Making of Sgian Dubh, that’s found in Anthem II. He didn’t like the ending. He has told me several times he didn’t like the ending of some of my short stories. I finally understood what he was talking about. He has a Ph.D. in English (a good reader to have if you can find one). He explained the difference he expects in a short story and in a chapter in a novel. For a short story, he expects the story to be neatly tied up and completely ended. For a chapter in a novel, he thinks it’s okay to leave things open.

He feels like too many of my short stories are open ended. I see what he means now.

So, I changed my ending to Anthem’s Defense. I don’t think I can claim it is entirely closed as he would like, but it is more closed.

I had thought about killing the character. The last time I did that, I had a reader hit me in the parking lot at a college where I teach. She liked the character and didn’t want him killed off.

I though her critique of my work was one of my best compliments.

Stopped in Eden

I went through Eden, Texas yesterday. Yeah, really there is an Eden, Texas.

About 25 years ago, shortly after they built a detention center for illegal aliens. Most were Mexicans who were trying to make a living and were caught. They would stay in Eden until the courts processed them and they got a one way ticket back to Mexico.

While they were there, an American nutritionist created a meal plan that didn’t include Mexican food. After weeks of angry negotiation, they protested. Federal authorities were flown in from Washington, D.C. including trained crisis negotiators.

When the Feds got set up, the negotiator called into the compound with a bullhorn. He asked what demands the prisoners had.

The reply came in a sterotypical bandito voice, “They won’t give us no stinkin tamales.”

The negotiator turned to the warden who turned to the chief officer who turned to the nutritionist, who said, “They have a balanced diet.”

They got their tamales,  and the protest was over.

There are stories everywhere.

Works in Progress (NIPs)

I took a vacation last week and thought about new projects as well as contemplated some old ones. I decided to create a new category on my blog and call it Works in Progress (WIPs). As usual I generated more ideas for projects than I can do in a year, so my WIPs will be full for the next twelve months. Sometimes I work on several stories at once, so the numbers indicate nothing other that that’s the order I listed them in my idea book.

One of the issues I’m considering is doing the NaNoWriMo competition again. For the non-cognoscenti, that’s the competition to write a 50,000 word novel in a month.

I’m also adding to my WIPs three books on that I have at various stages of completion. For each project I mention, I will have a percent beside it indicating how complete it is. If it is completely new, I will have a N by it. So, here goes.

  1. 1.       Anthem III, 95%. This is the third book in my Anthem series. I hope to have it completed this month though I am scheduled for three trips out of town.
  2. 2.       Red Maslem and the Pilots of Anzu, 50%. I wrote this book last November for NaNoWriMo. It was written quickly, so it needs heavy editing and completion in parts of the story.
  3. 3.       Viney Woods, 40%. This is the first novel I wrote. It needs heavy editing. At this point, it is a candidate for staying on the back burner. I don’t know if the problems it has are insurmountable.
  4. 4.       Crystal Cave, 10%. This book is in outline form for three chapters and chapter titles for the next ten chapters or so. The outline is rough. I think this may be my candidate for NaNoWriMo. I will complete the outline for all the chapters by November.

What’s it about? It is about a young man discovering Shamen entombed in crystals in a cave. The cave is the universal burying ground of Shamen.

  1. 5.        Something Weird, N. Will be a story about an abandoned space colony. The only building remaining standing and complete is a strange building where noises can be heard at night.
  2. 6.       Rupture, N. Travelers going through a wormhole are thrown far off their course by a rupture in the WH. They land in a world filled with horrors, especially one…
  3. 7.       Secrets of Loma Prieta, N. A New York writer goes to a conference in Albuquerque, NM and falls in love with it. He brings his family there to a ranch he bought. Strange happenings occur and his daughter is drawn into enchantment by Spanish mythical creatures.
  4. 8.       Beyond Rescue, N. A space ship is passing an alien planet and is suddenly pulled inextricably to the planet’s surface. Everything happened so quickly, no emergency beacons were deployed. The survivors are at the mercy of the adventure that awaits them.
  5. 9.       The Ace of Spades, N. A drug dealer builds a house on a medicine mound. All of his excesses and abuses haunt him through the spirit of the medicine man who lived there.
  6. 10.   Navigation Room, N. A descendant of Salem witches and his wife, a descendant of American Indians who massacred at Jamestown, build a new house far in the western U.S. A mysterious young woman shows up at the home. The housekeeper’s curiosity…
  7. 11.   Calypso, N. A young man meets a woman he falls deeply in love with. When he brings her home, his father tells him that she is his sister. His mother has a different story.
  8. 12.   Generation Ship, N. A ship is sent to an earth like planet at less than light speed. It will take a thousand years to get there. This story reports the changes aboard ship at 100 year intervals.
  9. 13.   Can’t We Agree? N. A man and his wife, who he calls the Dragon Lady go on a cruise in space. He meticulously leaves lasting impressions on the people around him so they will testify for him when he is tried for her murder. Problem is, she doesn’t die.

That’s more than enough, I had a few more ideas, but I think I’ll let them lie fallow. If you find one that you think will be compelling, let me know. I may move it up to the top of the list.