Oasis, they call it ...

I got ahold of the edge of an idea the other day, and it's been knocking around in my head for a few days, and when I woke up this morning, I knew that I had to write a story about this person I've gotten to know (made up) who got dropped (literally) into an impossible situation.

Oasis, they call it

Prison without cells, without guards, without walls, without horizon or edge or end.

Water and food and shade, all free for the taking, enough for all, enough forever;
that's the trap, the anchor, the walls, the cell.

An endless sea of sun and sky and scalding sand,
stretching to horizon after horizon after horizon after horizon.

I'm here, with them, the others, the forgotten, his discards;
they wait, for nothing more or less than life, or time itself, to end.

I was dropped into Oasis a month ago.

You can't escape, because you're free to go.

I left twice, with all the food & water I could carry;
both times I defeated myself, caught myself, returned on my own ... on my knees.

It takes a horrible mind, a horrible man, a horrible power,
to make a man his own jailer.

My reality is this desert, this deserted life,
but I dream of the woods and waters and beasts of my home.

Dreams are strength and power, especially in this place;
I still dream of home, I still have power.

I will escape Oasis.


On writing and editing and sharing one's work

I think about this, and how true it is ... a lot.

Writing is hard and often thankless and stressful and frustrating work (I was going to specify and say for indies, but I think it's true for all writers, so ignored that impulse). 

Creating something from nothing, much less something worth reading, something worth writing and reading, is slogging uphill all day, every day. But sometimes we produce a story (or a part of a story) that says something interesting or beautiful in a way that hasn't been done before, and that makes the piles of waste-words littering the floor and you brain worth it.

I love writing. I love the way it feels, even on the bad days, to reach around inside my head and feel for ways to put words together to express a feeling or paint an emotional picture.

I like this quote, but think that Nabakov's metaphor extends beyond the main character to entire stories. We write stories and then put them up a tree and throw rocks at them with the help of our beta-readers and editors, trying to find the weak points and fix/strengthen them.

It's a scary business writing stories, sharing thoughts and dreams and imaginings with the world outside your head.

It's a scary business editing stories, letting other people kill and maim your darlings, and then trying to put them back together (hoping that your ideas still come through, even when the words conveying them have been altered by someone else).

It's a scary business sharing stories, giving strangers an invitation to the way you mind works, and asking them to love or hate or ignore the words and ideas.

All of this is scary, but writers keep writing because stories are powerful magic. A string of letters, then words, then paragraphs, then pages, can change the world, or make an entirely new one.

Once the storytelling bug has bitten you, it's in your blood for the rest of your life, and while for some people it may lay dormant, for most it grows and grows in strength and volume and production with each story told.

I love to share stories ... I'm almost done work on the my next novel, have just submitted a story for an anthology that will be out in the next week, am working on a twitter novel (fun and silly), and am pushing on the next installments of a piece of serial fiction I've been having dreams about for a while.

Lots of stories, and as fast as they come, I have desperate hordes behind pushing for primacy, rattling the bars of my brain for egress and attention and their moment on the stage.




Talking about Writing

Yesterday I was lucky enough to be invited to present to a series of three English classes in the Middle/High School that I work in (day job) ... it was fantastic fun for me, and the children (60 eleven and twelve year olds) were interested and listened and asked great questions.

The best thing about the sessions, better than assuming my writer's mantle for a few hours was that I felt a spark ignite in more than a few of those kids ... some of them will give themselves permission to write.

I talked about the mechanics and process of writing/editing my novels and novellas, my favorite authors (when I was twelve and now), where ideas and characters and stories come from, how to push through difficult writing, and the general awesomeness of sharing stores with a worldwide audience.

One of the things that I was careful to stress (am always careful to stress when talking about writing) is that my methods work for me, but may not work for them. The only effective way to write that I know is mine, so that's what I talk about, but the truth is that I don't fully understand how I do what I do, and/or why it works for me.

The future writers in the audience looked at me and my books differently than did the other kids. They listened to me more intently, asked more nuanced questions (and often follow-ups).

I think the fact that they knew me as a teacher first, and only then met me as a writer was a benefit to me, and them, in my talks yesterday; it reinforced the idea that writer's aren't different than the rest of us ... they are us (I almost typed 'they walk among us', but thought it would be creepy and grandiose).

One kid raised his hand at the end and said, in a completely earnest voice, "You bein' a teacher and a writer ... it's like you have a secret identity."

I might have puffed up a bit when he said this, but was able to recover after a few moments lost contemplating costume options and plans for my lair ... I said, "I didn't become a writer after being bitten by a radioactive spider, I just made the decision to start writing, and did it."

I explained that everyone starts out writing stuff that's not as good as they wish it was, but that with practice it gets better, I got better, they'll get better. That the important thing is to start writing, and not stop ... to try new things, read as much as you can, take chances (in both reading and writing choices), and eventually find your path in writing.

I hope that my time in the classroom as a visiting author, inspires the kids, some kids, one kid ... I know it inspired and reinvigorated me.




Update on Current and Future Projects

At this time of year, about six months after writing the first draft of my summer novel, I start to get antsy ....

I'm ready for the new novel (this one is titled, "Between the Carries") to be done, out, published, but I know that the editing process is at least as important as writing the thing in the first place ... so I wait, and work, and write, and wait.

I've been working with my beta-reader and editors on the book since a few days after I finished the rough draft in July, adding and chopping and polishing what will be the third book in the Tyler Cunningham Adirondack Mystery series ... but it's not enough.

I need more writing stimuli in order to keep things rolling.

In the months since I finished the rough draft of BTC, I have worked on a variety of writing projects, and have been enjoying all of them immensely ... I love the feeling of having written something that nobody's ever seen/read before.

Each of these projects offers me another way to experience writing, to tell a story, and I can feel the pull of the words as I explore these different ways of writing.

I've been working on a piece of serial fiction, "Watcher in the Woods", that will likely be available in January.

I am still working on a short story for an anthology, it explores the concept of metafiction, along with a character/story the likes of which I've never tried to write (including, gulp, a sex scene), titled "Now is the Winter". The anthology should be available early in the new year.

I've been blogging more frequently than ever ... at least once, sometimes more, each week. I set a goal for myself, and find that forcing myself to blog, the pressure of a looming (if manufactured) deadline is good for my writing muscles.

I just began a #twitternovel, which is written in 140 (or less) character "chapters" ... it's fun, and supplies yet another challenge in writing in a new and different way.

All of these experiments in writing force me (inevitably/unstoppably) to grow, to change, to improve. The action of writing in all of these differing forms is stimulating/enervating/inspiring, and I constantly find new ideas for stories and characters coming to me (thank goodness for my iPhone's memo app).

I find that the toughest thing for me now, in my life as a writer, is finding the time to write all of the stories I have struggling for primacy in my brain ... they're all treading water, waiting for me to scoop them up and give them life on paper.

I have to be patient and fair, and give each one its turn/space/time on the stage of my brain and laptop.




Writing is Rewriting

Excuse the language (or don't), but his words are true ... for me at least.

My first drafts are written quickly, and just for myself and my beta-reader. I tend to know my stories so well by the time I begin writing that I leave out chunks that readers will need; leading to fixed/rewritten/finished products that are longer than my first drafts. Other writers (like Stephen King) often go the other way, writing too much in first drafts, and ending with stories that are much shorter than the rough drafts initially were.

First drafts are messy incomplete and certainly lacking in polish, but they serve a number of important purposes.

I write my first drafts as fast as possible, on purpose. In the summer I write my novels over the course of a month, during either July or August; during the school year, I carve out chunks of time to write novellas and other, shorter, works during short bursts of frenzied typing.

Before my fingers get to work on the keyboard of my laptop, I will have been working on my plans for the story over the course of weeks or months ... mapping things out, and getting to know the characters and setting and story arc.

Once I begin typing, I try to let my knowledge of the story carry me along, and when things are working perfectly, am just listening to the characters tell me what happens.

When the rough draft is finished, my fingers are tired, my brain is fried, and I'm left with a mess of words ... exposition and dialogue jumbled together, with too much in some places and not enough in others.

The important thing is that I've told myself the story ... I can/will/do polish it later.

It sounds trite, but the worst novel sitting on your desk, printed and red-markered and post-it-ed to death, is a thousand times better than the novel that exists only in your dreams. Once you've written something - anything - you can set it aside for a bit, share it with a trusted reader, take look at it yourself, and then try to figure out what you need to do to the monstority in your hands to get it from where it is to where you want it to be ... what you want it to say/mean/evoke.

If you can write it, you can fix it and eventually make it great. If you're brave enough to write, and share, and look at, and edit your own stuff, then you can produce quality writing ... you cannot, however, skip the first, crappy, draft, in the process.

So write, even knowing that it may be, will be, horrible the first time ... write!

Rewriting your stuff is hard work at every step.

I am so happy with, and proud of, my first drafts, seeing my ideas enter the world for the first time is magical; then my beta-reader points out their shortfalls and deficiencies, and I wonder why I bothered. A bit of time to lick my psychic wounds, along with some honest reflection (and a read-through of the story) always ends up with me agreeing with the beta-reader. I then work, sometimes with her, sometimes on my own, to try and figure out how best to share the story and feelings in my head with readers.

I chop and prune and graft and add words/sections here and there throughout the story, and give it back to my reader to see if we're getting closer. I often have to 'fix' sections of my stories multiple times before it reads the way that I imagined it to my beta-reader and me.

It can be intensely frustrating, to feel your work, out there, just over the horizon, needing something to land it as a successful story, but that's the job.

"Writing" isn't just writing ... it's writing and sharing and reading and troubleshooting and rewriting and rereading and analyzing and rewriting and polishing and trimming and editing.

Mostly, writing is rewriting.




Story Drift in Process

I'm in the middle of writing a short story for an anthology to be published by a group of Indie writers I hang out (hide) with in a private group on Facebook. It's different, experimental even, and loads of fun to write.

The setting and characters and conflict and story-arc are radically different from the style and stuff that I usually write, which is part (most) of the point for me. Writing in under 10k words is much tighter than I'm used to, meta-fiction is a whole new thing for me, and I'm purposely coloring outside of the lines as regards my regular process.

The cool thing (or one of them) is that it's working ... the story is coming together in an interesting way, I'm enjoying the unusual and somewhat unlikable cast of scoundrels, and it all feels as though things are working together in a way that will make people scratch their heads, look up at the ceiling, and think (in a good way).

The surprise for me is that although I had envisioned a story with some reversals and twists, the words and scenes coming out on my laptop are not what I saw when looking down the road ahead of my flying fingers. The story is changing as the characters grow to fill, and then escape the corrals in which I originally housed them.

This story (which I hope to finish this week through the application of a few stolen hours here and there), is schooling me on what the writing process actually is, and what my role is in the creative process.

When complete, my hope is that the story will imply more than it tells, suggest more than it states, and leave readers peeking around the corner of the final page ... hoping to see what comes next for Richard and Pepper.

I've been having a blast, and as is true for every word I write, I feel that working on this story makes me a better/stronger writer regardless of the actual final product I'll serve up to readers sometime early in the new year.




Seeing my writing from another person's point of view

 I love talking with, or hearing from, people who have read my writing ... and not just to feed my massive ego either (although, to be honest, that's a part of it).

I love hearing about their experience with my words and thoughts and the people and place who live and exist in my stories.

I am continually fascinated by the complex interplay between reader and writer and story. Having only switched from the reading side of the equation pretty recently, I am always fascinated by the way readers interface/interact with my stories, and to hear their reactions to the things that happen between the covers.

I write to let the words and stories out, to share how I feel with the world (or at least the small portion of the world that reads my stuff), and to imagine worlds and people and problems that otherwise would only exist in my mind. In this manner, I get to experience life twice, but when talking with someone who has read my work, I get a third crack at life ... albeit from a slightly different angle.

When you stop to think about it, reading and writing and the sharing of stories is magic, but it is so often seen that we take it for granted ... like the agility and grace and beauty of grey squirrels in the park.

I have a special feeling every time a piece of my writing is released into the world, knowing that whatever I had in mind for it, the story is now in the hands of readers who will experience it differently ... each of them from the others, and all of them from me.

This morning, I listened to the first 20 minutes of my first novel, "Here Be Monsters" as an audiobook, and it felt entirely new to me (although I've read the book a number of times since first writing/publishing it). The voice talent is superb, and breathes a new and different life into the story with his spectacular reading of Tyler Cunningham's first full-length mystery.

This actor's superpower is to transport the audience (in this instance, just me, but in a few months, hopefully many more people as well, I hope) with his reading. 

My superpower (and it's relatively unimportant how super it is) is to change thoughts into words, which can later be turned back into thoughts and dreams.

Your superpower, as reader (or listener), is to take the written (or spoken) word, and transform it into spectacular picture shows in your mind's eye.




My 7 Rules for Writing

I finished writing and editing my third full-length novel this weekend, so it may well be time to throw my hat in the ring as regards a set of rules for writing. 

In the last three years I've written and polished hundreds of thousands of words of fiction in novels, novellas, short stories, and poems; so I feel comfortable offering my rules for writing ... that is not to say that they'll work for you, but they have, and continue to work for me (so read on, or click elsewhere). 

W. Somerset Maugham was at once right and wrong, joking and serious, in his assertion ... nevertheless, there are many lists of rules that have worked for great writers, and over the years I've come up with a similar set that seem to work for me.

As the pirate said ... take anybody's rules, including (especially?) mine with as much salt as you feel will help your writing.

Rule #1: Read lots of great stuff

The biggest contributor to my being a writer is a lifetime of reading. I have always read anything that grabbed my eye, and make a point of reading everyday (I think this is more important than writing everyday). Fill your brain with great books and articles and novellas and poems and textbooks.

Rule #2: Write the kind of stories that you want to read

If you can picture yourself as a willing and enthusiastic audience for the stories you're writing, you're halfway to success (well, not really halfway, but it's a good start). Assuming that you're a lifelong and voracious and discriminating reader (see Rule#1, above), you'll have a good target audience.

Rule #3: Write fast, edit slow

I'm a big believer in writing a first draft as fast as you can, without worrying about getting it right the first time through. The first draft is telling the story to yourself (and your first reader). There will be plenty of time to take plenty of time when you are fixing and polishing the story in later drafts, but the first draft is a good place to hurry.

Rule #4: Keep your dialogue simple & direct & spare

What the characters are saying should carry the dialogue in your writing, not how the writer says it ... to that end, you should generally use 'said' when characters said something, and try not to modify 'said' with an adverb describing how they said something (let what they said speak for itself).

Rule #5: When in doubt, use less description

I think nothing bogs a good (or even a great) story down like too much detail. It's important for you, as the writer, to know everything about the scene, setting, and every single character in the story ... but it's your job not to burden readers with all of those details; only the ones absolutely needed to advance the story.

Rule #6: Trust your beta reader ... and yourself

When the first draft is finished, give it to someone you respect and trust (and think is at least as smart as you are) to read. They'll be able to see through the crapiness of your rough work to the framework/skeleton of your story. Trust them to know what works and what doesn't, what you need to expand and prune and move/graft; just don't trust them to know how to fix it ... that's your job, and is author-magic.

Rule #7: Work hard at writing, but know when to walk away from the table

Writing fiction is hard work ... anyone who tells you otherwise is promoting their course or book or simply hasn't done it. The way you become a better writer is to write and write and write. The flip side of that is knowing, as a writer, when you are heading towards burnout and brain-melt ... that's the time to take the dogs for a walk, watch a movie with your kid, start a new book/article, or go camping for a couple of days.

Bonus Material!!!
Rule #8: Start, keep writing, and finish your writing

Rule #8 is a combination of the previous seven rules, but is worth mentioning anyway ....

My rules for writing can help you produce a great book, but only if you start, keep writing, and push through to finish your book.

You have to be willing to take a chance on making a fool of yourself, writing crap, and disappointing your mom ... if you can live with those things, and just keep putting one word after another, you'll eventually get to:



9 Super Ways to Jumpstart Your Writing!

Everybody, every writer, has days (or weeks ... sometimes months) when the words and ideas just don't want to come, or flow. A sane person might take this as a sign that they should find some other calling, but writers are driven to get past the slump/block/lull.

I have a bunch of tricks that I use to force myself through the tough stretches, and figured that roughly a week into NaNoWriMo is the perfect time to share them. Explore, enjoy, and feel free to ignore any of them that either don't work for you, or don't appeal (although why not give it a shot, if I you're bogged down).

If I can't write something worth reading, I try to get up and out and do something worth writing about ... a walk in the woods with my dogs, a paddle on a quiet pond with my son, winter-camping with friends, or exploring a ghost-town with dogs/boy/buddies ... all of these make worthwhile breaks from failing at writing, as well as providing good fodder for future fiction.

I have an idea book, and also an app on my iPhone, and I try to have one or both of them with me wherever I go (and whatever I do), just in case an idea strikes and I (wisely) decide not to trust myself to remember it.

I also use them for journaling when I'm having trouble getting my writing started ... this may seem funny (it does to me, and it's me), that I write to help my writing when I can't write, but it's true. I start by writing about my day, my plans for the weekend, the shopping list for recipes that I want to try, and before long a creative thought wanders into my brain and (sometimes) onto the paper, priming the pump for less list-y writing.

I'm generally too much the introvert to be much good in/at face-to-face creative writing classes, but I do enjoy finding this sort of group online, and spend a fair amount of time talking with the people in them for the simple reason that they're crazy in many of the same ways that I am. Sharing my thoughts and problems and hopes and dreams and ideas and plans with a population in similar circumstances is a great way to keep my writing output 'regular' and/or act as a healthy dose of creative-writing fiber (to push the metaphor just slightly too far) to get my head/writing unplugged. 

If your significant other comes home, or your parents call, and they find you asleep on the couch, feel free to tell them that I said it was OK ... it won't help, but might give you time to think of something better to say.

I often find that if I run into a roadblock in my writing, that taking a break, sometimes in the form of a short nap, gives the minions in the back of my head the time they needed to figure things out ... this will often allow me to start writing again much more productively than I could have before my nap.

I don't think that it has anything to do with being tired, but is much more about focus and relaxation in problem-solving.

When all else fails, I read. Reading has been a constant source of comfort and refuge and inspiration for me, since long before I became a writer. I generally have a number of books going at any one time, and switch back and forth between them as the mood strikes me.

Besides offering your brain a chance to disconnect from the stress of creative output, reading also (hopefully) provides good exemplars for the sort of work you'll focus on once you're done reading.

I drink coffee when I write ... lots of coffee. I don't do this because I'm tired, lacking sleep, or need to wake up; I do it because the stimulation, the altered state of my consciousness, helps my writing process. 

If the flow of my writing is blocked or slow, I generally stop to stretch and make another cup of coffee (maybe two).

I have worked over the years to perfect the proper level of caffeination ... too little and the words stumble over my conscious self on the way out of my brain, too much, and I'm jittery and the writing comes out fast and loose and messy. 

I will switch to Coca-Cola on hot days, although the sweetness bothers me in the quantities I like/need to drink. 

Sometimes during extreme word-stoppages or when I'm almost done with writing for the day I adulterate my coffee (or coke) with bourbon, which gives both my writing and my caffeinated beverage an interesting flavor.

Writers tend to spend most of their time in one camp of the other when it comes to pre-writing and organization ... I'm an architect, a planner, I like working off of a general plan or roadmap. When I get stuck or stopped in my writing, though, I will often take a hard turn off the map and into the unknown.

The shift will generally jog whatever was jammed loose, and eventually allow me to get back to the story I had planned to tell. Similarly, I would recommend that someone who tends to write by the seat of their pants, but finds themselves temporarily without either seat or pants should try laying out the next few scenes that they want to write in meticulous detail ... whether or not you/they follow through is unimportant, when compared to the hoped-for benefit to your writing of the forced shift in procedure.

During the last few years of writing, I've found a couple of tricks that work for me to help 'tip myself over and let the beautiful stuff out' (as Ray Bradbury puts it). I noticed them working by accident, and while these particular ones may or may not work for you, if you pay attention over time, you'll learn the things that let you tip yourself over.

Going for a drive the window open enough to fill my car with the smell of the world passing by is one. Another is walking with a camera in my hand, looking for pretty things to take pictures of. Experimental cooking (exploring new/weird foods/flavors from the market or the depths of my pantry) also seems to tweak whatever is needed to jostle my brain enough to let spill some of the good stuff when creative writing is tough to do.

The tips above mostly deal with things that I do (to) myself in order to get things moving in a creative sense, but sometimes I can take a hand in things by forcing a change in the story I'm working on. 

Everyone knows that 'bad decisions make good stories', but perhaps even more important and interesting is the lesson learned from (or at least offered in) the quote above. 

Have a character in your story exhibit bad (even horrific) judgment in some instance that takes place within or outside of the context of your story. The events surrounding their poor judgment will often make for an interesting sidebar, and may even help you understand/form/develop the character (and/or your story) in ways you hadn't imagined previously.

I hope that these tips can help you to climb out of a writing slump, and to keep pushing through to your writing goals for the day/week/month/year!




13 ways that continuously writing continuously changes you

Writing three novels, four novellas, and a fair amount of shorter material in the last three years has changed my life, my outlook, and my world; my writing has changed, improved, no doubt, but there's much more to it than that ... the process of writing so much and so often has affected significant changes in who I am, and how I interact with the world.

To become a writer, you have to shed the fear of exposing yourself to ridicule (at least partly). Working on lots of different creative projects, and sharing them with the world forces you to relax when it comes to fearing the judgement of others.

When you make a habit of writing, your brain and outlook alters. I was terrified of not being able to produce a full-length novel at the beginning of my first NaNoWriMo, but now am fearful of not having enough writing time for all of the ideas vying for space in my head.

Time is fleeting, the life of a man is short, but something you've written can be around forever (as long as people keep reading); there's a magical glow that I feel whenever I finish a project ... and the desire to start the next one (and the next, after that).

I am reasonably sure that I haven't sent my books around to agents and publishers because I enjoy the freedom of being an independent author and publisher. I write what I want, when I want, and how I want. Doing this for days and weeks and months and years is cumulatively empowering in a way that I love and cherish.

The longer I write, the more I recognize writing as therapy ... at least for me. The things I'm stressed by, worried about, bothered because of, all seem less important when I can exorcise them through writing, and explore their greater meaning on the page.

I came across this idea of Hemingway's one day, and fell in love with it instantly. I can feel my writing get better, stronger, faster, and more precise (to finally climb away from Steve Austin-ish language) with each day, each page, I write, but there's a freedom in knowing that there's no final stopping point when I'll be good enough ... I look forward to my writing improving until the day that I can no longer put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard.

I used to be careful about what I said and thought and wrote, but the more that I write, the more I enjoy exploring subjects and people that scare and intimidate and fascinate me; cracking a topic or a new and interesting character open in front of the world (or simply in my writing journals/exercises) takes the power away from it/them, and gives it back to me.

Writing all the time forces your brain to grow in seemingly disparate ways, simultaneously. As your comfort with writing grows, you find yourself more easily able to embrace the apparent contradiction of the free flow of ideas in an organized manner ... of relaxing while concentrating, of giving your sub-conscious free rein while maintaining structure on a conscious level, of precisely controlled chaos. It's an exquisite feeling, and one of the great gifts a frequent writer gives to himself,

Over the years of writing, I've grown more than comfortable with the idea of walking through this world with multiple occupants in my head. Some of them characters in my books, others are just voices and opinions that rattle around in there; I like having all of them inside of, and contributing to, me. Bits and pieces of some of them end up in my stories, others never get out of my skull except for the exercise-yard of the occasional writing prompt. Over time though, my writing has rendered me more comfortable with all of them (what I think of as my extended, internal, family). ;)

Related to some of the items mentioned above, but there's something additional, worth noting, that happens with frequent and repeated and longterm writing ... I have found that while I still enjoy my earlier works, I couldn't write them now. I've grown and changed in the process of writing hundreds of thousands of words, and my writing and thinking and worldview aren't those of the person who wrote my earlier works any longer. I cherish this concrete (to me) evidence of change over time.

Writing is a hard and lonely and tiring and boring and stressful process, and if you're able to complete your writing projects, particularly again and again and again, you're doing something remarkable ... something that deserves celebration and notice. It took me years to comfortably accept this idea, and now that I've finally embraced this idea, I've been able to extend it to other things and people in my life ... finding reasons to celebrate peoples' unique and exciting achievements.

The goal of writing my first novel was important to me personally, but not in any greater sense (either to me, or the world at large), but the fact that I was able to complete writing the rough draft in a month was magical on a number of levels. It gave me, and it will give you, the power that comes from the knowledge that you have set, and met, seriously challenging goals for yourself, and that you can go on to bigger and better and greater things form there..

Doing 'the impossible' (which writing and publishing multiple pieces of work over a number of years, while maintaining most of your sanity, arguably is) has a cumulative and ongoing effect, in that you aren't scared to reach ... even, possibly particularly, reaching for beyond-rational goals. The fear of failure diminishes, and without that fear, you are able to do greater and greater things (you may fail occasionally, but so what? People fail at things all the time ... how wonderful a luxury to fail at something spectacularly).




The woods through their eyes ... and noses, and ears, and pads, and tongues.

My dogs are always exhausted at this time of year. 

 It's their absolute favorite time of year ... 
except for first snow, they love running/rolling around in that
oh, and when the ice goes out, so they can swim like polar bears, they love that
oh, and summer, when my parents come up and spoil them with treats, they love that

This time of year is a treat due to the sensual smörgåsbord our woods become to them, 
I try to leave my human self behind, in the house, and walk the woods the way they do.

The smells of fallen leaves rotting,
mostly maple and beech and birch in our woods,
sour and rich and musky.

Poplar leaves drop last of all,
after maple and birch and beech trees shed their leaves to dry and crumble,
the poplars seem oily (maybe waterproof, even) and slip/slide a bit under my feet,
while the other leaves just feel slightly spongy underfoot, doing their 'dust to dust' thing.

The tamaracks are narrow pillars of fire this week,
soon they'll drop their needles into the salad on the forest floor.
(everyone says dogs see in B&W,
but lacking direct evidence, I don't believe ...
Puck and Miles won't say)

The woods sound different as the seasons shift, and beasts prepare for the coming cold,
there's a businesslike feel, a sense of purpose missing during the indolent summer months;
the naked trees also clear out the woods, making it easier to hear over distance,
and crispy/crunchy leaves betray movement beyond our sight.

 Dog tongues fall or leak or leap slip out of their mouths for any, or no, reason,
lapping the air, a puddle, a mossy rock, dripping leaves/needles, me, and each other;
I sample drops on the end of leaves, rich green moss, a clean looking puddle
(wondering if the clean puddle is an oxymoron ... if I am a garden-variety moron)
with a fingertip to my tongue, perhaps to keep some distance from the dogs' world.
(it all tastes like finger with a hint of dirty water to me ... must be more to them)

 I love walking with my boys in the cold and wet woods,
sharing their excitement for the season and the onslaught of new sensations;
they love walking with me in the cold and wet woods,
explaining the things I miss to me and each other ...
and because I'm Dad (and they love me).

These walks, perhaps most at this time of year,
give me a glimpse into the corners of our world I don't know about,
can't know about,
owing to my particular limitations;
these weeks (and walks) in magical October make me want to be a dog ...
a Puck or a Miles or someone else, I can't say,
but I can feel the wanting, when I'm out there in the cold and wet woods...


3 brilliant tricks to writing better characters

My belief is that the effectiveness of any piece of fiction begins and ends with its characters. A story with characters I'm interested in, can believe in, and feel and empathize with, will draw me in and carry me along and teach/transport me, almost regardless of plot or setting or genre.

The characters in my stories are not me; if they were, I wouldn't be too interested in them, as I don't find myself very interesting. One of the things I love most about writing (and reading) is taking vacations from myself while wearing the personas of people not me for the duration of my experience with the various interesting/unusual characters one encounters in stories.

Writing compelling characters is important for writers, and their readers, because the characters in a story are the lens through which the action happens and rendered relevant. I have three tricks that I use to develop characters for my stories that people love and hate and wonder about and write letters to and ask me questions.

1) Build characters out of people you know and feel strongly about

Each of us knows hundreds, even thousands, of people; the ones you can make into characters in your stories are the ones whose names or pictures evoke the strongest response in you. They could be people you went to school with, friends of your parents or children, people you've seen on the news or in movies or read about in books ... for some reason, they grabbed, and continue to grab your attention.

When I start planning a story (be it novel or novella or short story), I think about the protagonist, and other major/minor characters, trying to picture them and who they are. I'll write a list of people that compose each character, like a list of ingredients in descending order of their prevalence in the character for my story (see an example below, with the primary 'ingredient' circled).
Richard is a character in one of my stories, primarily composed/based on five people that I know/knew in real life or books or the news; Toph is circled because he's the main ingredient in my imagining of Richard.

This method continues to work for me,yielding great places to start with characters who inhabit my stories because, and only because, I have strong feelings for, and familiarity with, the people/ingredients who are the constituent elements in my characters.

2) Know much more about your characters than you need to

Once I have a picture in my mind of who the character is, I work backwards to fill in the gaps, getting to know the character even better by exploring their background. There are lots of lists of questions available on the internet and in books designed to help authors explore their characters' backgrounds; I use the one below (You can right-click to expand it ... please feel free to use/modify it if it helps):

The purpose of this is not to make an exhaustive list of details that I'll include in a story, but so that when I finally get around to writing the story, I have such a clear picture of the character(s) that I'm writing about someone I know.
This is close to what I'm talking about ... if you know the character well enough before you start writing, you don't have to include all of the details of their past to infuse your writing of them with the feel of their past.

3) Climb inside your characters for a ride, but let them drive

It takes me a while to get to know my characters, so I often take them out for a test-drive with a writing prompt or jump to a scene that I know they'll be easy to write in (and/or they'll have have fun with), in the story I'm planning. 

By this point in our relationship, I can generally picture them quite easily, and hear their voice and tones when they engage in action or dialogue.

You know you're making progress when your characters surprise you. I always plan/map my stories out well ahead of time, but am forced to adjust the storyline in every one, when a major or minor character acts in ways that I hadn't envisioned when planning the story.

A great example of this in my writing is Barry, a minor character in my stories who died in my first novel, but surprised me by turning a cameo in my second novel into an ongoing and important character ... I was done with Barry, but he wasn't done with me.

If you have developed your characters properly, they should move beyond automatons, and become living and independent people in the world that you have built as a stage for your story ... when this happens, they'll surprise you (in a good way).

Good luck, have fun, and breathe life into your characters, then let them loose in the world!