Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

Recent Musical Finds

May 22, 2017

You never know when inspiration will strike, so I sometimes take a few nights to focus on my blog rather than on my novels.  I have a backlog of blog stubs, nothing nearly as robust as I’d like, for circumstances where I want to focus on my writing.  That backlog didn’t work out so well over the past few weeks, as I haven’t been inspired to publish any of them.  Something happened last week that inspired me to freshen up this one: Chris Cornell’s death.  Audioslave was the soundtrack to my first couple of years in college.  While my roommates and friends had albums from Collective Soul, Depeche Mode, Dashboard Confessional, and U2 blaring from their computer speakers, I picked up Audioslave from one of my closest college friends, and played that album regularly. 

I don’t think “Like a Stone” ever made it to my weekly radio show, but that’s because I focused on bands I knew and loved from the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s.  In music terms, I was a throwback; my musical tastes are classic rock, and are probably considered oldies by now.  I rarely picked up new albums, because I was too busy fishing through bands of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and the more I listened to bands of that era, the more obscure the bands became.  Things have changed over the past year.  For the past year (at least), I’ve been listening to WKIT: The Rock of Bangor, and I’ve picked up a lot of songs that weren’t standards in my rotation.  One of those songs was Chris Cornell’s “Nearly Forgot my Broken Heart” from his 2015 album, Higher Truth.

The following includes some of my more-or-less recent finds in music.  These intentionally excluded bands and musicians I knew, such as Alice Cooper’s new band, Hollywood Vampires; David Bowie’s last album, Blackstar; or Chris Cornell’s “Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart.”


Recent Finds for Music

A few months ago now, I caught myself trying to remember the lyrics to Midnight Oil’s song “Beds Are Burning.” A year ago, I had no idea this song existed.  Heck, I didn’t know that the band existed.  It’s one of those bands, much like Manic Street Preachers, where I had no idea who they were in their heyday, and it wasn’t until much later (“Bed are Burning,” for example, was a popular song in 1987), when I stumbled upon the song for the first time.

Mountain Climbing – Joe Bonamassa

How is it that I’m only now hearing about Bonamassa?  The 39 year old Bonamassa opened for B.B. King 27 years ago.

I’ll let that sink in.

As WKIT calls him, “Joey B” was only 12 when he opened for B.B. King.  When I was 12, I thought my little tan recorder was too difficult.  As a teenager, he was rubbing elbows with famous guitarists, such as Robbie Krieger of the Doors, and was playing in a band with Krieger’s son, Waylon; Miles Davis’ son, Erin; and Berry Oakley’s (of the Allman Brothers) son, Berry Duane.  Bonamassa first charted on the Billboard Blues chart as a 23 year old.

In 2016, the 38 year old Bonamassa released Blues of Desperation.  On that, he included track number 2, “Mountain Climbing.”  If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear this track was written and performed by Robert Johnson after he made a deal with the Crossroads Demon.  (Johnson, one of the original members of the “27 Club,” died in 1938).  This may be classified as a blues song, but make no mistake about it, this is a hard rocker.  It has the B.B. King sound, but it could just as easily be Jimmy Page on the guitar and Robert Plant penning the lyrics.  Bonamassa’s movement between ‘clean’ guitar work and distortion adds a unique voice to his guitar, and compliments the throaty tenor of his singing voice.

Rebel Heart – The Shelters

The Shelters owe their big break due to producer Tom Petty’s ear for talent.  Guitarists Chase Simpson and Josh Jove were studio musicians on the 2014 Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album Hypnotic Eye.  After forming The Shelters in 2015, the four person band released their eponymous album in June 2016.  The first single off of that album, as well as the first track, is “Rebel Heart.”

So, what makes “Rebel Heart” special, aside from the fact that I first heard of it on WKIT?  Well, it’s a throwback.  I think that the folks at WKIT compare it to the Monkees, but I don’t see that.  It does have a poppy, ‘60s style to it, but the guitar work reminds me a little bit of the Byrds, and most particularly of Jim/Roger McGuinn’s guitar solo on “Eight Miles High.”  There are elements that remind me of a Beatles single, as well, but the vocals are decidedly from this century, as Josh Jove’s lead vocals, as well as the band’s backing vocals, are melodic without being the silky smooth harmonies that were popular in the ‘60s.  I haven’t heard any of The Shelters’ other work, but this song alone hearkens back to an era of rock that has been buried by album after album of pop and R&B.

Heartbeat Smile – Alejandro Escovedo

First, let’s talk about the man and his pedigree. Alejandro Escovedo, a first generation Mexican-American from San Antonio, started his career with San Francisco punk band “The Nuns” in the mid-‘70s.  He has been a part of the Austin music scene since the ‘80s, and has cut his own solo albums since 1992.  His family includes his niece, Sheila E, one of Prince’s frequent collaborators; his brothers Coke and Pete, one-time members of Santana’s band; his brother Mario, the frontman for the Dragons; and brother Javier, former frontman for the Zeros.  Clearly, Alejandro has both years of experience and a family bond that ties him to music.

In 2016, the 65-year-old Alejandro released Burn Something Beautiful.  The second track on that, “Heartbeat Smile,” is a catchy tune with some pleasing rock riffs.  The lyrics aren’t deep, and he’s not going to be confused with Robert Plant anytime soon, but the simple aesthetic of his lyrics lends itself to something that is a cross between sorrow and joy.

Two Stroke Machine – 7horse

A lot of people have side projects, and the same is also true of professional musicians. Joie Calio and Phil Leavitt have been members of the alternative rock band dada since 1992, where Calio is a singer and guitarist and Leavitt is a drummer.  They lose guitarist Michael Gurley when they tour as 7horse, a blues and rock duo, and Leavitt takes the lead vocals duties.  In 2016, 7horse released the album Living in a Bitch of a World, with the song “Two Stroke Machine” as one of its lead singles.

“Two Stroke Machine” isn’t the most uplifting of songs, as its full of signs of serious family dysfunction, and I like to pretend that I don’t know the lyrics when it comes on, because it is a bit of a downer. However, it is a catchy song with pace and instrumentation that’s reminiscent of old school blues and rock and roll.

When I first heard this song, I was under the impression that this was a much older song.  The lead singer reminded me of Tom Petty, only without his characteristic twang.  It surprised me to read that he (Leavitt) has made a career out of something other than lead vocals.

All I Wanna Do Is Make Love to You – Halestorm

First of all, nobody quite compares to the divine Ann Wilson when it comes to vocals, just as nobody quite builds upon the almost engineer-like precision and complexity of sister Nancy’s guitars.  The only way you could improve upon Heart is by getting rid of the synth in their poppy ‘80s era and replacing it with a combination of electric and acoustic guitars.  Lzzy Hale doesn’t quite have the depth of Ann Wilson’s voice, but she manages to provide a sharper edge to Ann Wilson’s lyrics in Halestorm’s interpretation of “All I Wanna Do is Make Love to You.”

If you look at my music collection, you’ll find a lot of males: male drummers, male guitarists, male bassists, and male vocalists.  This is what I get for insisting that it must be rock.  I have looked at bands with female leads.  Yes, some of them absolutely rock, but none of them carry that sustained intensity that comes with Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend of The Who or Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith.  Halestorm is one band with a woman who rocks.  Out of Red Lion, PA, Halestorm may only have one woman, but she absolutely delivers as both a vocalist and a guitarist.  I am not as keen on their original work, but Lzzy and the band shine on some of their covers.  They’ve covered Joan Jett, AC/DC, and Soundgarden, but I think their best cover is that of Heart’s “All I Wanna Do is Make Love to You” off of their ReAniMate: The CoVeRs EP (2011).


As mentioned, the occasion of Chris Cornell’s death wouldn’t have reminded me of this post if I hadn’t heard “Nearly Forgot my Broken Heart” recently on WKIT.  It’s funny, because before I heard this song I’d never really thought about Cornell’s vocals, his charisma, or even his guitar as what made Soundgarden and Audioslave special.  Instead, I attributed it to the ensemble of each group.  Now that I have been able to single out Cornell, I realize the gravity that Cornell’s death has with respect to the total rock scene.

I listen to music throughout the day, but I don’t always listen to music with lyrics when I write because I prefer to focus on the words on the page.  Perhaps in a future blog post, I’ll discuss what I listen to when I write.


Update: Absconded by Sin (5/22/2017)

I am still looking into publishing Absconded by Sin.  I’ve shared bits and pieces of the novel through Facebook Live and through writers’ circles, but its publication has taken a backseat toward completing other projects.  If you’d be interested in seeing Absconded by Sin in publication, please let me know.  I’ll talk more about this in later posts, I’m sure.


Update: Their Sharpest Thorns (5/22/2017)

Last night, I finally completed a very rough first draft of Their Sharpest Thorns.  It was very drafty, as I wanted to get most of the story on the page, and I will soon commence going through and tightening it, firming up characterization and improving overall cohesion.  The initial draft is ~92,500 words, which is a little shorter than what I anticipated.  Considering that I am already aware of areas that need more verbiage, I wouldn’t be surprised if I have 105,000 words by the end of my second or third review.


Update: The Modern Meltdown

I’m still in the queue in terms of my debut on a podcast.  No word yet on when that might be, but it’s still at least two weeks out.  The host, Holly Hunt, publishes about twice per month, and her most recent post was on Friday.


Do you have something that you’d like to see me discuss in my blog posts?  You can reach me through this blog, or by tweeting to me at @jowenenglish, or by connecting with me by other electronic means, if I’ve otherwise provided them to you.  Bear in mind that I’m already work full time, and I’m moonlighting as a novelist, so it might take a while before I get to blog about your topic.  That said, I’m always interested in new ideas!

Picture credit (applies to links from other sites only): Tookapic via Pexels, CC0 License.

To Two Teachers: Sra. Diego & Prof. Gorsch

May 9, 2017
At work this morning, a colleague reminded me that today is National Teacher Appreciation Day.  After reflecting a little on teachers, I decided to give you this bonus post.  I hope to finish my thoughts about my venture into podcasts later this week, until then – – here’s a tribute to two teachers who have influenced me for the better.

As a MAE student at UCSC, I worked on two projects that served as alternatives to a thesis.  The first, part of the New Teacher induction, was a BTSA binder that prompted me to write about certain experiences in my teacher training and to provide examples of my lesson planning and pedagogy. The second, referred to as my graduate capstone, was a lengthy personal essay that described my teaching philosophy and the elements of education that I had taken from mentor teachers, my own personal teachers, and what I’d observed in the broader education sphere.  A significant portion of this turned into a discussion of things that I enjoyed from my teachers.  Considering that this is National Teacher Appreciation Day, I thought that I would write a little about some of the teachers that influenced my life, namely Yolie Diego and Robert Gorsch.

I don’t know when I decided that I would be an English major.  I know it was some time in high school, and that it factored heavily into how I viewed schools as I whittled my list down from a dozen or so colleges, prior to actually applying.  I do know that Yolie Diego made the decision to be an English major complicated.  Yolie Diego was my Spanish teacher for three years, starting with Spanish 3 and going all of the way through AP Spanish. In that time, I learned a lot about her, from her taste in music (decidedly not a Barry Manilow fan) to her journey from Colombia to the United States.

Sra. Diego kept a tight, well organized class, and provided us with many multi-modal means of learning the language, from having us teach the rest of the class how to cook a Spanish or Mexican meal, to performing a Saturday Night Live style comedy sketch, to singing along with the class to Shakira, Sra. Diego had an array of tricks up her sleeve to make us conversant in the Spanish language.  One of these tricks was simple, let us talk about ourselves.  Every week, we would be paired up with a new conversational partner, and would take a walk around the block in the quiet neighborhood that surrounded our school.  During that short walk, we would ask our partner about their weekend — practicing Spanish the entire time, I swear!  By the time we returned to class, we were already processing things in Spanish, and were ready to continue on with the day’s lesson.

Our high school had a unique structure that allowed individuals to accelerate their learning across a variety of disciplines. Being more inclined to learn languages, I opted to accelerate my education in Spanish.  As a result, I completed AP Spanish in my junior year of high school.  This, of course, meant that I was a little rusty by the time I took my first Spanish class in college.  At the time, I was looking to add a minor, if not a second major, and Spanish was my first choice.  Unfortunately, due to the rigors of my major, and the breadth of the general ed courses that I needed to take, I couldn’t fit in any more Spanish beyond that, but I’d always hoped that I would continue to learn Spanish.  Now, nearly fifteen years later, I hardly ever use Spanish.  However, I will always think of Sra. Diego’s classes among the highlights of my time spent in the classroom.

When I arrived in college, I didn’t know much about individual members of the English Department’s faculty.  I happened across Robert Gorsch through St. Mary’s collegiate seminar program.  Professor Gorsch, like most other St. Mary’s professors, would cycle through the collegiate seminar courses.  One year, he would teach Roman and Early Christian Thought, and the next he’d teach Twentieth Century and Modern Thought.  He was the second literature professor I’d had in the seminar program, the first being my first advisor, Br. Ronald Gallagher.  Professor Gorsch, much like Br. Ronald before him, did a good job of holding students to the fire with respect to reading the material; even then, the fact that many seminar students are forced into the class as a requirement, and do not care to read the material, took away some of the luster from Professor Gorsch’s depth of knowledge.

I took multiple other classes with Professor Gorsch, ranging from Literary Theory to Early British Literature, and several things impressed me with Gorsch.  One was his ability to speak Middle English.  As I’ve mentioned in a past post, the language of the Chaucer era is hardly recognizable to our modern ears and eyes, and Professor Gorsch taught us why.  Not only did he teach us why, but he spent a class teaching us how to read in Middle English.  Aside from his depth of knowledge, one of the lasting items that has stuck with me about Professor Gorsch’s courses, now more than a decade in my past, is that Professor Gorsch is passionate about his subject, whether teaching about the Confessions of St. Augustine of Hippo or teaching about Aristotle’s three artistic proofs, Ben Jonson, Samuel Johnson, or Alexander Pope.  Recently, I noticed that Professor Gorsch taught a course in Science Fiction.  I would have greatly enjoyed that class, I’m sure… even though it would suffer from a pronounced lack of Stephen King!

Hey, I did read Danielle Steel for a non-Gorsch Literary Criticism course, so King wasn’t off limits!

I have had the great fortune of working with and knowing many great teachers, even outside of my former occupation.  I even have two educators in my extended family, including one who is back at our alma mater, teaching a subject that I once enjoyed nearly as much as English.  Teachers are people who capture the imagination and instill practical skills across the world’s population.  They leave an imprint that can last for the rest of your life, whether that’s 40 or 100 years spent out of the classroom.  Without educators sharing their knowledge, writers would be even fewer and farther between; there would be less of us able to appreciate them, and even fewer of us who would create a demand for writers!

So, with the time winding down in today’s National Teacher Appreciation Day, I implore you to reach out to teachers who have influenced you for the better (hopefully, at this hour, you’re doing so via social media or email). It’s your turn to return the favor.

Photo Credit (applies to links from other sites only): Pixabay via Pexels, CC0 License.

Finding Time to Write

March 20, 2017

It has taken some time, but I am now back on a roll with writing.  After four straight days of contributing something to my current novel, I’m not riding a marathon high just yet, but I think I can work my way back to that kind of “writing shape” with relatively little effort.  Nevertheless, I need to find time to write.

Finding the time to write is an imperative for any writer, and it comes in increasingly short supply for all of us, whether one of those industrious writers who by either luck or the ideal cocktail of imagination and vocabulary are able to do it for a living, or for the rest of us who are hoping that we get there someday.  It has been difficult for me over the past several years, as well, with a job that has become increasingly rigorous in its demands, and a range of other interests and distractions that have shaped my life.  Some of these diversions and distractions are great, such as riding my bike and participating in “century rides.”  Others are not so great… thank you, Facebook and YouTube!

In certain respects, things were so much easier when I was writing Absconded by Sin, the novel that I completed in 2011.  At that time, I was transitioning between jobs.  Yes, there is a bit of euphemism there, as I was unemployed.  However, I was moving from education, a field that had consumed my life for four years (and well before that, if you consider my time as a student), to any field that matched my skills and interests.  At that time, I would spend a good four hours every day focused on fiction writing, another couple of hours spent on job hunting, and the remnants spent on cooking, errands, exercise, and household duties.  I could go to the beach, do hill repeats by running up and down the sand dunes, and sit down and spend as much time as I needed mapping out my next scene or considering my characters’ motivations.

After some time without a full-time job, I again joined the regular 9-to-5.  As I settled into being a desk jockey, I was still rolling to an end with Absconded by Sin, and had about a quarter of the narrative to go before I was ready to put my stamp on the first draft.  This latter portion of Absconded by Sin took a long time to unwind, and I was caught between trying to balance all of my focal activities from my transition period with the new job, while also trying to get up to speed with this new landscape.  On some nights, I was lucky if I strung together 100 words, while others yielded far less modest word counts.  Still, I didn’t have those four hours that I’d used to put together 2,000 word segments; when I did, they lacked the same flow and richness that I’d enjoyed in November of 2010 (my first NaNoWriMo).  Over time, I adapted, but I was far less likely to put together monstrous word counts.  Even then, it took about ten weeks to put together the first 140,000 words, and about four months to put together the next 45,000.  Believe me, it took a long time to reduce all of that by a third, as well!

Life always intervenes with writing.  In some ways, I’ve improved at striking this balance.  However, not every aspect has improved for the better.  The house I keep is not nearly as tidy as it once was – and I was never an expert at it, to begin with — and laundry often doesn’t enter the landscape that I paint for a given week.  Even then, I try to write a little every night, whether it is something that I will use in a novel or something I will use in any of the various side projects and endeavors that I undertake.  Even emails and other correspondence are important to my creative process, as long as I am writing something.

In October 2016, I was ready to start my current project, tentatively titled “Their Sharpest Thorns,” and I had a general outline of the story, up until the third act, and some decent character notes that I hoped to flesh out as the novel started.  At that point, I learned the hard way that it’s best to back up your writing.  After hours spent on outlining and uncovering critical details that would make my novel whole, I damaged my thumb drive – which contained the only version of that document – beyond repair.  Thus, going into November’s NaNoWriMo, wherein I typically make my big push on my projects, I was flying by the seat of my pants.  Some writers thrive in those conditions.  I must admit, I enjoy the spontaneity of such an undertaking, but I need my thoughts to look good “on paper” (to use a somewhat apt sports analogy) before I can commit words to the page.

I was able to eclipse 63,000 words during NaNoWriMo 2016, but now rest at 65,200, just 1,700 words and change beyond where I stood at the beginning of December.  Not all of this is due to inactivity.  Just a few weeks ago, I completed a project for a friend.  This is a 21,000 word (plus another 1,100 words from my wife) effort that mixes memoir with travelogue.  Through this, I intend to surprise my friend and pay a debt of gratitude for his kindness  — if you think you know who this friend may be, please keep this detail to yourself; I am sure that he does not read this blog, and I’d like to maintain the surprise.

In addition to that large project, I have rekindled my blog and am starting to promote both this blog and my book through various avenues.  As you can see throughout my various posts, these undertakings can easily exceed 1,000 words.  With that 21,000 word project off of my plate, and with the blog now flowing again, it is time to see another work of fiction through to completion.  There will certainly be more to share about this journey as my word count continues to rise. Until then, I’ll leave you with the words of Herman Wouk, author of The Winds of War:

“I try to write a certain amount each day, five days a week. A rule sometimes broken is better than no rule.”

Author’s Note: Ironically enough, as I put aside the time to write this post about finding time to write, I broke that four day streak of fiction writing.

Image Source: endlesswatts on Pixabay, listed as public domain.

A Little Love for the SMC Gaels

March 15, 2017

In preparation for this year’s NCAA March Madness tournament, I’d like to take a look back into the annals of my personal history.  To say that I am a basketball fan is a bit of an understatement.  At one time, I had a favorite player from each team, and could identify colleges and hometowns for many of the players in the NBA.  I still, on occasion, will surprise somebody when they mention they went to Southwestern Missouri State and I ask if they’ve heard of Jackie Stiles, or they mention that they went to UC Riverside, and I say “Oh, the Highlanders?”  In college, I put this passion to work, as I broadcast the women’s basketball games for our campus station, KSMC.  This year, I expected to see both the Gaels’ men and women in the NCAA tournament for the first time since I began following SMC athletics.  Alas, the women’s team did not beat the Zags in the conference finals, and the NCAA wouldn’t let two or three teams in from the tiny West Coast Conference.

I get a little worked up about the NCAA tournament games, yes, but at a certain point, I’m cheering for the laundry.  Without cable (and I’m definitely not complaining here), it’s tough to watch any NCAA games.  I am a bit removed from my alma mater, which is understandable given that I graduated more than a decade ago; I haven’t met any of the Gaels’ current players, and I don’t expect to do so any time soon.  At the same time, I have had a positive relationship with virtually every student athlete that I’ve met from St. Mary’s.  I’d like to take the time to recognize two of these student athletes for their endeavors into the world of writing, as well as their kindness and care as ambassadors for our alma mater.

Jon Sanders (Class of ’05)

I had very little interaction with the men’s basketball team as a whole; I shared classes with one player, a reserve guard who played sparingly, and the only times I could see a men’s game were when the women’s team was out on the road or had a gap in their schedule.  For these and other reasons, I saw far less than I would have liked of Jon Sanders.  Sanders, a 6’8″ point forward from Colorado, transferred to St. Mary’s and began playing as a Gael during my freshman year.  I had very little interaction with Jon, except to occasionally see him around campus or at parties, so I never had any conversation that was of any real substance with the man.  However, I could tell from our many brief interactions, which are more likely to happen on a small college campus, that the man had a great outlook on life.  He called me “Little Buddy” on a couple of occasions, which probably was just what he called people, but I think he understood his role as a celebrity and as one of the many faces of St. Mary’s College.  It was also one of the few times in my adult life that I’ve been called little anything, so there’s a novelty to that expression.  My correspondence with Jon since he graduated in 2005 has been brief.  For a while, he became a post player for teams overseas (Taiwan and Lithuania). Now, he spends his time as a trainer, a coach, a poet, and an author of children’s books.  Jon expresses an interest in politics and race relations, and I think that these are evident in his most recent poems, “Confused, Naked, and Cursed,” and “JIM CROWING ONCE AGAIN!”

These poems, perhaps a result of the recent socio-political climate, include two speakers who both express pain.  The first poem, which is in the first person and is apparently written from a female’s perspective, is different from many of Jon’s poems in the sense that it has an alternating rhyming scheme.  In most stanzas, every even line rhymes.  It’s not a consistent rhyme scheme, as there are also rhyming couplets, and the first stanza has only a near rhyme of “kill” and “feel.”  “JIM CROWING ONCE AGAIN” is more indicative of what I’ve seen from Jon’s work to this point, with a free verse and no consistent rhyme scheme or meter.  He uses allusion or reference more than he uses rhyme, and is much more direct in his subject matter.  His first-person speaker makes very little reference to himself as a speaker, and only uses indications of the first person to set a conversational mood.

Jon published his first book, a childrens book, The Kid Who Found a Basketball, through McNally Jackson Press.  You can find it here.

You can read Jon’s poetry here.

Mikaela Cowles (Class of ’08)

When I signed on as the play-by-play man for KSMC radio coverage of St. Mary’s Gaels women’s basketball games, I held true to a mandate that I was to be a fly on the wall, and a guest to the teams that I covered. It was, indeed, a privilege to cover the women’s basketball teams and, on rare occasion, the men’s baseball team. To their credit, the teams largely left me alone; they were able to focus on their games, and I was able to focus on my broadcasting. This isn’t to say that they weren’t friendly, and there were several players that I saw around campus from time-to-time. Two were English majors in my graduating class, so I would see them virtually every day, except for when they were out on the road. I’ve lost touch with many of the players that I knew over the years. To the best of my knowledge, only one player has pursued a career in writing: Mikaela Cowles.

Mikaela is two years my junior. She came to SMC from the Seattle area.  As a 6’1″ forward, Mikaela may have guarded every position on the floor in her time as a Gael.  Mikaela was the definition of a student-athlete, as she not only was a member of our basketball team, she was also a member of the highly-prestigious Integral program, an intensive liberal arts program that was effectively a university-within-a-university, and SMC’s closest equivalent to an honors college.

Mikaela has taken a very different route to her blogging.  While I want to engage with my audience in order to share my experiences and thoughts as a novelist, Mikaela blogs to advertise her business; Mikaela runs Making Language Count, LLC, a language consultancy firm, where she assists in creating tag lines, generating copy for small and mid-sized businesses, and various forms of editing work.  Creating marketing and sales copy does not fall within my particular expertise. However, I have looked over Mikaela’s portfolio and blog.  Her writing illustrates several characteristics of language that make me reminisce of times spent with SMC’s creative writing instructors.

When we talk about language, we observe several things.  On the macro level, we might talk about the content of the story versus the delivery.  On the micro level, we might talk about diction, or word choice.  I’ve observed the particular treatment that SMC professors give to word choice.  Within poetry, it may come down to a single word choice, but short story writers are also highly concerned with the delivery of the message, from the individual sentences on out to the entire 500 or 2,000+ word story.  Mikaela uses both of these to address concrete tasks, such as creating a bio, as well as the more abstract or bare bones, such as pacing a narrative.  When investigating her site for the purposes of this post, I uncovered her post about reasons for and against using long sentences.  It reminded me of one of my classes.  My professor drove home the point about using long sentences sparingly.  He, of course, showed us examples of long sentences followed by incisive, short sentences.  I’m sure that he isn’t the only writer who feels this way, and wasn’t the only professor at SMC to advocate for short sentences.  I am also certain that, if he ever read this post, he would immediately point out a dozen sentences that were too long for his liking. It makes me think that Mikaela was also one of Professor Tenorio’s students.

Through editing my own work, I’ve realized the usefulness of being terse.  There are actually statistics to back me up on this. In his recent blog post for Medium, Joshua Isard directed readers to this site: LitCharts.  Note where Hemingway stands relative to other great novels of the early 20th Century.  Note where The Grapes of Wrath lies relative to Hemingway.  One of the most recognized works by one of the most recognized writers in American history averaged less than 10 words per sentence.  Furthermore, neither Hemingway nor Steinbeck provide a high frequency of long words; in fact, they venture far below the average when it comes to words that exceed eight letters.  In terms of making language count, there’s a clichéd sports term that may apply: it’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.

Find out more about Making Language Count here.

Thanks to fellow Gaels Jonathan Sanders and Mikaela Cowles for showing great examples of scholars and athletes.  Before I go, there’s one other Gael wordsmith-athlete that I’d like to mention; Tom Meschery, the former San Francisco Warrior, graduated from St. Mary’s in 1961.  Before he ended his career as a professional basketball player, he published his first book of poems in 1970.  Tom Meschery retired after a second career as a teacher, and continues to write poetry and blogs.

Most, if not all, of Tom’s blog posts end with a poem. Check them out, here.

The countdown to tipoff is starting, and I’m looking forward to the NCAA tournament.  Are there any Gaels writer-athletes I’ve missed?  How about any other writers who were also collegiate athletes? Feel free to mention them in the comments below.  Until next time, Go Gaels!

On to victory, the Red and Blue will win today…


In case you missed them above:

The Poetry of Jon Sanders

The Kid Who Found a Basketball

Making Language Count

Meschery’s Musings on Sports, Literature and Life

For more information:

Saint Mary’s College of California

KSMC 89.5: The Voice of St. Mary’s College

Short Recommendations: Books to Help You Write Books

March 1, 2017

I remember hearing somewhere that there is more money in books on how to publish novels than there is in publishing novels.  This is clearly not cited, verified, or quantified, but there’s no doubt that there’s money in “how to” books, and one of the most meta how-to books are books about publishing books.  In this brief blog post, I wanted to highlight three of the books that I’ve used through the years.  These are in no particular order, as I’ve used all of these, and found them all to be useful.

The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published – Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry

My wife gave me this book as a gift several years ago.  It has helped me map out the route between a completed manuscript and publication.  Time and again, I hear subject matter that I first learned about in this book, and it is a great reference for deciphering “agentspeak” and “publisherspeak.”  I’ve primarily used it as a resource for creating my author packet.  In essence, what do publishers and agents see when I submit my query letter?

David and Arielle’s site:

Story Engineering – Larry Brooks

It has been a few years since thriller-writer Larry Brooks has published an entirely new novel.  Instead, Larry has paid a particularly keen focus over the past several years toward helping other writers provide their best possible product.  Story Engineering is one of the first in a line of books that aims to do just that.

A lot of us have worked on projects where we have to clearly understand the requirements, and then we design the project around those requirements.  Story Engineering explains the purpose that engineering plays within writing. No, you’re not going to need to learn any JavaScript or Python, but you are going to need to learn about your book before you actually start your narrative.

Larry’s Site:

On Writing – Stephen King

As you well know by now, Stephen King is my favorite modern author.  He is my favorite in the pantheon of modern storytellers, and I’m sure I’m not alone there.  At one point, I was reading from this book every day.  There are some items from this book that I took to heart.  One of which was the 2,000 word per day rule.  I strive for this during NaNoWriMo, and was attempting to do this every day in my down period between careers.  By using this dictum, I’d complete a manuscript in 50 days, if I put my mind to it.  Of course, not everything goes as planned.  There are some other interesting discussion points for this book that are worth mentioning, with one of my favorites being “the road to Hell is paved in adverbs” (paraphrased, as I, sadly, don’t have the book in front of me at the moment).

Stephen King’s site:

A Storytelling Weekend (And I Only Listened)

February 27, 2017

This weekend was a weekend of stories for me.  I didn’t spend much time on my own fiction, but I was certainly involved in the storytelling scene.  On Saturday, at a friend’s suggestion, I sat in on a writer’s group.  There were some established local writers, who varied from poets to essayists, from non-fiction to memoir.  The first speaker of the day was none of these; instead, he was a letter writer, and shared some letters he had written in exchange with some sort of public figure.  Dan White, the keynote speaker for this gathering and the writer behind Under the Stars: How America Fell in Love with Camping shared a tale of how he encountered some young campers in Florida (if I recall correctly, the Everglades).  He then asked us all to share our bad experiences with camping, as bad camping stories are immeasurably more entertaining than good camping stories.

Considering that I don’t know these writers, and that I don’t know of the protection, if any, that these writers have on their work, I will refrain from anything specific about the writers.  What I can say is that there was an interesting dichotomy.  Not all men shared poetry, but everyone who shared works that were clearly poetry was male.  Women writers predominantly shared personal essays, although some of them ventured more towards memoir or journal writing.  There was one woman whose content could have been poetry, but it sounded far more like prose, and particularly like journal writing.  I guess it depends on what the writer intended, as well as how the reader interpreted it.  These original works reminded me of the many expressions that come in writing.  Several of these writers expressed humor, and a few expressed piety.  Interestingly enough, with many of the writers being of the same era of Kesey and Cassady, many of the poems were visceral and made mention of sex or nudity.  It wasn’t something I expected when a good portion of those in attendance were SSI-eligible.

Later that afternoon, that same friend sold us some spare tickets to the Banff Mountain Film Festival, which highlights the best films that discuss sports and the wilderness.  This event shared some remarkable films.  I can’t name all of the films that we saw at once, as it is a bit of an overload, and I wasn’t even considering discussing the visual storytelling until I started this post.  My favorite was a documentary of young ultra-marathoner Mira Rai, a trail running champion who hails from the remote Bhojpur region of Nepal.  However, there were also compelling stories of Falconer Shawn Hayes, who was there in the crowd; the “Four Mums in a Boat” who were the oldest female rowers to cross the Atlantic; and the entirely visual storytelling of trial rider Danny MacAskill.  Another piece that tugged at the heart strings was a short piece about climber Paul Pritchard, whose accident on Tasmania’s Totem Pole sea stack left him partially paralyzed.  His ability to overcome that disability with ingenuity and friendship in order to clime the Totem Pole again was nothing short of an inspiration.

Through these interactions and taking in this story, I am reminded of three basic elemtns of storytelling:

  1. a. Be mindful of setting.  There’s nothing worse than a novel that is completely devoid of setting, where the characters could live in a vacuum, or in places that are so ill defined that they could be anywhere from Beverly Hills, CA to Calgary, AB.
    b. Sometimes the setting is part of the narrative (i.e., the setting can form a character, or a plot point, or just something more than a point on a map.)
  2. Comedy.  It’s not exactly the “Make ’em Laugh” from Singin’ in the Rain, but every story needs a little bit of levity.  The humor doesn’t need to be overt, and probably shouldn’t if you’re writing about such terrible things as the Holocaust or the Inquisition (though Mel Brooks may beg to differ).
  3. Emotions – What tears at your characters’ heartstrings?  What do you expect will tear at your readers’ heartstrings?  When I was writing the end of my first manuscript, I was choking up.  If you don’t have an emotional reaction to your own work, work it over until you do.

Curious about anything you’ve read here?

Dan White,  Under the Stars: How America Fell in Love with Camping

Banff Mountain Film Festival: Banff

Mira Rai, Ultra-marathoner: Mira Rai

Shawn Hayes: Shawn Hayes

Four Mums in a Boat: Four Mums

Danny MacAskill: Danny’s Wee Day Out

Paul Pritchard: Pritchard Climbs Totem Pole

Paul Pritchard’s book: Totem Pole

But Wait… I Need to Market it, too?

February 22, 2017

On Tuesday, I spoke with my friend, a published indie author named Janice Mock.  Janice’s first book, Not All Bad Comes to Harm You:  Observations of a Cancer Survivor is a bit what it says on the tin.  Janice is a cancer survivor, and has been dealing with the fallout from that ever since.  I’ve known Janice for a few years now, and the one thing I can say about Janice is that she is strong, both physically and in spirit.  I am sure that I have not seen Janice in her weaker days, but I have seen her climb 3,800ft. in 35mi. on her road bike — post-treatment — so I know that the power and determination that she brings to everything in her life.

Janice has taken a slightly different route than I have in her publishing quest.  Janice has absorbed the costs upfront and has self-published.  She used the iUniverse service out of Random House to prep her book for sale, taking advantage of their professional editing and cover design facilities in the process.  Since then, she has been responsible for promoting all of her content through her website, social media channels, and by interacting with individual booksellers.  In December of 2015, she spoke at Book Passage, a small, but mighty trio of Bay Area bookstores in San Francisco, Sausalito, and Corte Madera. Through her experience as a writer, she has come to realize that the marketing and selling of her book has become just as much work — if not more — than the writing process. It’s still a long road from a complete draft to getting your books on the shelves!

Janice is currently writing her second book.  I didn’t get much of a chance to inquire about its contents, but you can check out her writing for yourself!

Janice’s website:

Book Passage’s Website:

Writing: A Little Gael Pride

February 20, 2017

Yesterday, I received a phone call from my alma mater: St. Mary’s College of California.  A sophomore in the Integral Program called me to learn about what I’ve done since college, and to try to convince me to donate.  She was an outstanding representative of the college, and knew that the best means of encouraging an alumnus to donate is to get them to reminisce and to talk about themselves.  Over the course of the conversation, it came out that the student had participated in JanNoWriMo during St. Mary’s College’s Jan Term course.  In that month, her professors set a goal for 32,000 words in a month.  This is well short of the 50,000 words that participants in NaNoWriMo target, but it is a great target for a college student.

I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo for the past six years.  In that time, I’ve worked on a different project every year.  Two of those projects have completed drafts, and I’m finally making a push to publish the first one, Absconded by Sin.  In each of those years, I’ve made an effort to knock down at least 1,667 words per day in order to get to that 50k.  During some years, that has been easy.  I’ve knocked out 5,000 words in a day before.  If word counts are the object, then that puts me well in the black (as opposed to the red — accounting analogy).  As my faithful readers have seen in my other posts, a long story doesn’t make a novel.  So, whether 50,000 in a month or 32,000 in a month, it’s quite a task to get the right words on the page.

When I went through Jan Term at St. Mary’s, it wasn’t always about the classes.  Yes, some classes were amazing.  Adam Desnoyers gave us a truly memorably short story writing class in my first year.   As a senior, my ’60s in Film class was also amazing.  Learning about the whole vampire mythos and C.S. Lewis was fun as well. However, I could probably speak for many in my social group to say that Jan Term was also the biggest social month in the school year, and there were tons of distractions to keep me away from my studies.  Every week was a four day week, meaning Friday and Saturday would often be a combination of trips to the City, hikes behind SMC’s cross, and late nights with the gang. If I had NaNoWriMo to look forward to (I hadn’t heard of it at this point), I would have been the most antisocial person during the most social month at SMC.  To borrow from Carl’s Jr.:”don’t bother me, I’m writing!”

To say that 32,000 words in a month is NOT a challenge would be a grave mistake, particularly when your world is full of distractions.  To all of those SMC students who hammered out 32,000 words during their January Term, I salute you!  Even starting a novel during the most distracting month of the year is quite a task!  Mitali Perkins, facilitator for JaNoWriMo, this was a great idea! I wish I had that push when I was at SMC!

My distractions usually come from being too tired (as I suppose they did back when I was in my early 20s).  When I get home from work and have dinner, the call of YouTube is frequently very strong.  As a slightly-reformed gamer, I’ve been getting into the “Let’s Plays” that appear on the Internet, and watching the likes of WhiteHawke, NintendoCapriSun, CarlSagan42, and Grand POOBear play Super Mario Maker over the past year.  It’s a nasty habit, and I initially started this in order to better capture natural speaking patterns (believe it or not) through hearing individuals say what they will when they’re relaxed and focused on something else.  Nevertheless, as I have come to learn, good writing cannot continue when distractions sap what little energy you have.  I am trying to cut the LPers out of my habits, particularly as my dream of being published seems so close.

Interested in anything I’ve said above?


St. Mary’s College of California:


Mitali Perkins:




Grand POOBear:

On Fandoms and Writing… and other stuff

January 21, 2017

I come from a Giants family.  From March onwards, you cheer for the Giants; in Fall, you cheer for the Niners; and the rest of the year belongs to the Warriors.  The Warriors are my contribution, as I’m not sure that anyone in the family was all that dedicated to the Warriors as their team until I found basketball.  Basketball was a part of our lives in many ways; however, for many years before that, we were a baseball family.  At least three generations of my family have cheered for San Francisco baseball, whether it was the Seals up until the 1950s, the DiMaggio brothers in the 1940s, or the Giants since 1958.  Giants baseball cards occupied a space alongside the photos I kept in my desk, and a Giants pennant had occupied a prominent space on my wall for many years.  Kruk and Kuip were always on TV from April until October, unless we were listening to Jon Miller and Ted Robinson.

When I was a teenager, one of the first Giants games that I attended in person in years was a game against the Chicago Cubs.  Some of my dad’s work connections had scored us tickets, and we were up in The City for a game.  We, unfortunately, had found a section that was occupied by Cubs fans.  These fans are like many fans in the sense that they identify the other team as the enemy.  Thus, of all of the places we could be in the ballpark, we were in the section that booed when Bonds and Kent got to the plate and cheered whenever the Cubs did anything positive.  For a Bay Area native, nothing could boil the blood in quite the same way.  From that point forward, the Cubs had been the subject of my scorn, and have been baseball annoyances that are only eclipsed by the Dodgers as the baseball enemy.  It wasn’t that I’d disliked anybody specific on the Cubs (aside from Sosa, but that was completely different), but rather that I couldn’t stand Cubs fans.

Imagine my vitriol when the Giants faced the Cubs in the 2016 Divisional Series.  The Cubs fans were again in the stands at AT&T, proving they either come from everywhere or travel well, while many of us were watching the games on TV or listening on the radio.  With all of the posturing and youthful gamesmanship that came out of Chicago, the sting of watching that Giants-Cubs game in the thick of the Cubs fans once again felt fresh, and the Giants’ loss to the Cubs felt just as bad as if the Giants had just lost to their hated rivals on a Yasiel Puig walk-off.  It felt just as bad as having Madison Baumgarner pitch eight innings of shutout and watching the Giants lose it in the ninth.  It felt just as bad as watching Kobe Bryant get 60 points on 50 shots (and 10 free throws) and hearing people proclaim it a masterpiece.

Fandoms: Golden State vs. Cleveland Tirade

Let’s stay out of politics here, but 2016 was a difficult year for every cause I cheered for and every team with whom I’ve felt allegiance.  Aside from the Giants losing to the Cubs and the Niners flat-out losing their minds, the Warriors lost last year’s finals to LeBron James and the Cavaliers.  Many people that I knew in real life (primarily via Facebook, as I hardly see anyone interested in team sports on a day-today basis) and via the Internet (message boards, comments, and the like) were actively cheering against the Warriors because the Warriors had a super-team, and won more games in the regular season than the ’97 Bulls, breaking the NBA record for regular season win total.  Not all was bad for the Warriors; after all, they did pick up Kevin Durant in the offseason, but that was met with even more scorn than I knew how to handle.

One thing that irks me is that those same people who were actively cheering against the Warriors before the Durant deal because of the ‘superteam’ characteristic of the Warriors were cheering for the Cavs.  Last year’s Warriors squad had four starters that were drafted by the Warriors.  The fifth was Andrew Bogut, a first overall pick, but a player who has trouble staying healthy for an entire season.  Yes, they acquired Andre Iguodala, but Iggy is not the same player he was when he was 24.  He’s 32, and playing a position where 32 is only a few years from the expiration date.  He might be able to be a perennial sixth-man of the year candidate for another four years, but he isn’t a top tier starter anymore.  The Warriors also acquired Shawn Livingston prior to their 2015 title run; this same player was almost out of basketball entirely due to an absolutely horrific knee injury in 2007; YouTube that sucker if you don’t believe me (but do so on an empty stomach).  He’s 31 now.

The Cavs, meanwhile, have been lauded, and are what some people view as the only hope to stop the Warriors.  However, I wonder just how much people realize that Cleveland is very much a superteam that was built via less scrupulous means than what has happened to the Warriors, the Spurs, and other teams that have had three or more All-Stars in recent years.  Here’s how:

1) In just a few years prior to their rise, the Cavs had LeBron James return without giving up any players in return.  They already had Kyrie Irving  — and the only reason they had Irving, Tristan Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, and Anthony Bennett in recent years was because LeBron “took his talents to South Beach” to win his first two titles.

2) They acquired Kevin Love for (get this) an unproven rookie in Andrew Wiggins, an infamous lottery bust in Anthony Bennett (I still have hope for him), and a 2015 first round draft pick (which became Tyus Jones).  Over the first two-plus years, Cleveland has clearly won that trade, but Minnesota may have the long-term advantage here.

3) They traded malcontent Dion Waiters, energy guy Lou Amundsen, and Alex Kirk for Iman Shumpert, JR Smith, and a first round pick (which is lottery protected until 2018).  Cleveland has clearly won this trade as well, and I don’t think it’s ever going to be anywhere close.

4) They acquired center Timofey Mosgov for two first round picks that were owed to them from previous trades, and Channing Frye for former-NBAer Jared Cunningham and a future second round pick.  Neither of these trades were big risks for Cleveland, but those future picks may eventually turn out to be something – stranger things have happened; in the mean time, Mosgov and Frye have been solid contributors in this league since those trades.  Cleveland also acquired former All-Stars Maurice Williams and Richard Jefferson via free agency.

5) They recently traded Williams and Mike Dunleavy, a former top three pick, for Kyle Korver – that’s probably going to favor the Cavs in the short term.  To the non-basketball fan, these might not seem like a lot.

To put it into perspective, this would be like trading in your old bike with training wheels, some old clothes, some old helmets that you don’t use and maybe that Walkman that you had when you were fifteen and getting a $4,000 bike, a nice bike kit, and your groceries for a week.  The loss is sentimental, sure, but you’re getting far more things that you can use now, and more than the cash value of your goods on a dollar-for-dollar basis.

Even now, I see these people bashing the Warriors online and cheering for the Cavaliers, and it makes me mad.  I’m not mad at the fact that they’re cheering for the Cavaliers; as a long-suffering Warriors fan, I know what a championship means to a fan base, and the Cavs fans deserved a championship for their long wait. However, the fact that some of these fans, Cavs fans or otherwise, were only cheering for the Cavs as a way of cheering against the Warriors.  Some famous commentators are even in on this, even as others are unapologetic Warriors fans.  If you ever see Jeff Van Gundy and (particularly) Mark Jackson, broadcast a game for ESPN, it becomes clear that something is amiss.  Two similar plays will receive the comment “Stephen Curry clearly traveled there/he clearly pushed off to make space” versus “Kyrie Irving has amazing footwork, and he does a great job of creating space.”  Meanwhile, there are only subtle, nuanced differences between the two plays and the letter of the law remains the same.

Every fan thinks that their team gets the short end of the stick, and sometimes they have good reason.  Recently, the NBA has publicized its reports about plays occurring in the last two minutes of each game, and this transparency has worked against them, while some are saying it doesn’t go far enough.  A lot of Warriors fans would have liked to have some transparency surrounding the game four incident between Draymond Green and LeBron James. Did Draymond attempt to nail LeBron in the groin (which merited his suspension)?  Yes.  Did he deserve a suspension for that act? Yes, probably. However, the important question to ask is this: why was he doing it?  Hmm… I wonder.  Did LeBron receive any punishment for his role in that play, prior to stepping over Draymond?  If so, it wasn’t publicized.  And if you count a foul… well, a foul is not the same as a retroactive suspension.

Regardless, Cleveland fans (and fans all over the NBA) have their right to dislike the Warriors, just as how I have my right to dislike the teams and players that I dislike.  The point, I suppose, is that those that feel the Warriors have wronged the league, and that Draymond Green or Zaza Pachulia or Steph Curry are detestable, have a short memory.  It was just five years ago that the Warriors had made the playoffs just once in eighteen seasons; it was just two years ago that the Warriors won their first NBA championship since 1975; and NBA players have been trying to form alliances with other superstars since at least the late 1990s (Barkley joining Hakeem and Clyde Drexler).  Oh, and LeBron did it first. 😉

Political Rant

This leads me to the one section of this where I will get into politics.  I promise this will be short.

This has been a long, long election cycle, seemingly gearing up right after the start of the second Obama administration.  Through it all there’s been mud-slinging.  Oh my god, has there been mudslinging. It got to the point where I don’t think many people, Democrat, Republican, Green, etc., were even paying attention to what any of the candidates said about their policies.  With Clinton, it was slogans about her email, or whispers that she was complicit in acts of rape or murder; with Trump, it was slogans about his similarity to a certain 20th Century German leader; with Johnson, it was jokes of his absolute naiveté about many things that had nothing to do with the election.  Whoever shouted their slogan the loudest seemed like they were going to win.  This activity reminded me of the cheers that we’d come up with in college, throwing shade at others, and what Kobe apologists would term as “haterade.”  To some degree, this needed to happen, as people cannot be blind to how it appears to the other side and people need to understand the many facets that go into any public official’s character.  At the same time, this shouldn’t happen, as this means that the only people that will want to enter political office are the people who are more unscrupulous in exposing their opponent’s flaws and have the thickest hides when it comes to having their own flaws exposed.  There’s probably many candidates of outstanding moral character, who are accepting, compassionate human beings, but wouldn’t dare run for the presidency due to the scrutiny that such an office holds.  That leaves us with characters that one side can tolerate, but the other cannot.

The World witnessed the inauguration of a US president yesterday.  At that same time, hundreds were arrested, protesting his policies, his words, and his attitudes.  It was well within their right, but people did vote for him, which is something the protesters needed to (and probably did) consider.  It could have been worse.  How worse, you might ask?  Check out news of the recent presidential inauguration in the Gambia, and realize that their democratically elected president couldn’t even enter his own country for fear of retaliation from the previous administration.  That’s a scary proposition, and it puts our own political unrest into perspective.  As bad as it has been for some, and as bad as it will get for others, I don’t think either side of the US political spectrum is capable of what we’re seeing on the other side of the world in 2017.

What Fandoms Mean to Writing

Let’s forget that nasty business about politics now.  Please do.  It’s like watching eighteen wheelers play chicken all day.  It may be entertaining to some, but it’s obnoxious and wasteful. Let’s talk about fiction.  Fandom and fiction go hand-in-hand.  Sonic vs. Mario?  X-Men vs. Justice League?  Twilight vs. Odd Thomas?  We make many assumptions about people based on their tastes.  I’m not sure what assumptions Mario fans made of Sonic fans back when the SNES and Genesis were the two biggest platforms on the market, but people clearly had affinities for one over the other.

I haven’t read or watched Twilight or any of its successors.  Nor have I read or watched 50 Shades of Grey.  With any luck, I won’t.  I know enough about the story to know that it doesn’t suit me.  I might deride Twilight because of its treatment of vampires, and how it is so far divorced from the legends, the Bram Stoker novel, or even the Bela Lugosi-Christopher Lee archetype of vampires as the archetype for how those bloodsuckers look and act.  Of course, it is clear that I am no more the target audience for Twilight than a teenaged girl is the target audience for Blade.  I could never understand the “Twi-hard” fandom, but the important thing is that Stephenie Meyer does.  To translate this over to my readers, and other writers: an understanding of your target audience is critical to success in writing, but even readers who fall outside of the target audience will be aware of your book, may pick up your book, and could actually read your book.

As any reader familiar with my blog or with me will know, if I have the choice between reading something from Stephen King or some other guy, I will choose Stephen King more than 90% of the time.  I don’t care if the other writer earned a Stoker award or a Hugo award or the Amazon Breakthrough Novel award, there’s something about the way King characterizes the players in his novels, the way that he world-builds, and the references that he makes, that makes Stephen King appeal to me as a reader.

I’d never really heard any Stephen King opponents, except for people that used broad strokes, “I don’t read horror,” “doesn’t he talk about devil worship,” and “that’s just too creepy for me.”  These comments may have been based on some former experience, but they didn’t resonate with me, because I always felt that this line of commentary came from people that really didn’t know Stephen King’s writing. However, I recently read some commentary about Stephen King that was very critical, and provided criticism that had most likely come from someone who was familiar with King’s work.  Among their comments, the writer, posting in a forum, stated that the everyman quality of King’s characters didn’t speak to her and bored her, and that his characters were clearly “self-insert” protagonists.  Thus, while King speaks to me because of the variety of characters that all have some glimmer of familiarity, other readers turn away from him for it.  I consider myself to be a member of his “constant reader” fanbase.

In recent years, I’ve read a lot of free ebooks from Amazon.  One writer that I can enjoy with a critical eye is named Jason Halstead.  Halstead is probably writing with a target audience that is similar to him in mind: white, male, 30s, likes action/adventure.  He likes strong female characters, but his female characters tend to be physically strong with emotional flaws that cripple them in the long run, and one prime motivator for many of his female characters is sex.  Again, with a male action-adventure intended audience, this may be par for the course, or even progressive in the sense that the women are either kicking a** or grabbing it.  I’ve also seen the critiques of his work, and can understand where they’re coming from; a focus on the female as a sexual hunter does have the literary equivalent of the male gaze, and may come off as being male fantasy.  Such flaws don’t bother me as much as they should, because I am probably in his target demographic and I don’t “turn off” from a writer emotionally if I read such depictions; however, I can see where other readers would easily turn off, and would deride Halstead’s work.  It’s a shame; Halstead has spun many entertaining tales, and his sense of pacing is often spot on.  I hope that he does get a loyal fandom, but know that his fans will be pegged as men of certain (perhaps uncouth) tastes.

When writing with your audience (or fans) in mind, it doesn’t hurt to take into account what other readers might think about the characters that you hold dear.  Is a character too much of an archetype?  Are they a stereotype of someone who is African (or African-American, Afro-Canadian, etc.), LGBTQ, Muslim, disabled, female, etc.?  Are their motivations too transparent or too single-minded?  Readers, much like sports fans or voters, are complex individuals.  Including the right details may hook some readers, but can cause other readers to grow emotionally detached from your work.  As your base of your most loyal readers grows, and fandoms emerge from your invented worlds, so too will your base of readers who are just testing the waters.

If you learned anything from Polonius in junior year English, it’s this: “to thine own self be true.”  Be true to yourself in your fandoms and your writing, but be aware that there’s an other side.

Paring Knife

January 5, 2017

Hello and welcome to 2017.  We’re still less than one week in, so I figure it’s safe to provide that welcome.

Over the past few months, I’ve been working on a number of different projects, with the chief project, which has consumed many hours since Christmas, being getting a final pared down edit of my current manuscript, Absconded by Sin, so that I may meet submission criteria for many of the publishers out there.  Right now, I’m focused on one publisher, which has been so gracious and so understanding as I have worked to reduce my novel from 187k words to just under 122k.  That’s right: a third of my novel is on the cutting room floor. Today, with one third of that novel in the ether, I officially submitted my novel for consideration.  It’s the first time I’ve submitted any work of fiction to anyone in more than five months.

It was a difficult task, trying to pare my novel down and still have the same cohesion.  A lot of characters lost much of their depth.  In particular, one scene that called for two characters (and was one character’s swan song) was reduced to one character talking to himself.  Another scene, meant to illustrate the conflict plaguing one of the two antagonists in the story and provide a motivation for that previous character’s swan song, is also no more.  The character, modeled after the Indian in the Scarlet Letter, is now reduced to a bit part, just like his predecessor.

In the mean time, I have been working on a lot of work related projects.  My Nanowrimo project from 2016 is still on my mind, but I have two lengthy reports on the horizon. We’re under NDA for both, but they’ll amount to about 600 pages when all is said and done.  I have another project, a series of autobiographical vignettes, that I’m working on for a friend.  I still have quite a ways to go on those, and I was hoping to have them done by Christmas.  Oops!

At least I’m doing something I’ve intended to do for a long time — writing in my blog.  It’s not much, but hopefully it will keep coming in the new year!