Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

Mr. Owen Ventures into Podcasting

July 9, 2017

Author’s Note: Apologies for the delay.  The July 4th holiday (America’s Independence Day) has fouled up my schedule, and I am trying to get back on track.  This coming week is going to be very busy for me, but I hope to post another author website feature on Wednesday.

Jim “James” Owen’s podcast appeared on Wednesday, July 5, 2017.  To hear it, click here.

Four months ago, I answered a post on Nanowrimo about being part of a podcast.  A few missed connections later, I was moving forward with my first foray into voice media since I was broadcasting basketball games at my college’s radio station.  I was on my way toward being a guest on The Modern Meltdown (For more about the Modern Meltdown, click here), an entertainment website that has scores of podcasts about everything from books and movies to video games.

It was not necessarily an easy process, as The Modern Meltdown is Australian, and Holly Hunt, the host of the Beyond the Words (click here) podcast, resides in Canberra. Canberra is seventeen hours ahead of the Bay Area, my stomping grounds.  Thus, 12:05AM Thursday here is 5:05PM Friday there, and 7AM here is 2AM the next day there, and so on.  Due to this significant time difference, and the fact that we both work more or less regular hours, either a Skype call or a phone interview would be out of the question.  I had to get creative, as I was looking forward to this opportunity, and I wasn’t about to let a time difference get in the way.  Thus, I had to make my own recording studio.

My Makeshift Recording Studio

Over the years, I have also done some recording for my company’s webinars.  Through this process, I’ve grown accustomed to using Audacity.  Audacity (click here) is a free, open source digital audio recording software package that has editing capabilities.  Designed and released in 2000, this package may not have great aesthetics, but basic capabilities are easy to find and intuitive to use.  All I needed was a microphone.

One of the problems that I’ve noted is that a lot of computer microphones don’t pick up bass nearly as much as they pick up higher registers, which makes my voice sound nasally.  When I was working on the webinars, the best microphone I’d used was a lavalier microphone that we’d simply used as a computer microphone.  Somewhere, I also have a wand microphone, but I haven’t bothered to look for that in years.  The microphone on my laptop picks up too much sound from my fan, and my phone?  Ha ha ha, that’s a good one!  I had a few other workarounds that I couldn’t get working, so I was left with a few interesting alternatives.  By using the microphone on my camera (very good quality sound), and capturing myself on video, I was able to pick up a broader register of sound.  I used another program (Lightworks) to separate the audio from the video by converting an .MP4 file to an MP3, and then used Audacity to clean up the audio.

This still left me with the issue of where to get the optimal sound.  While working on the webinars, our recording studio is an office with paned-glass doors and windows.  No matter where I sat in the room, the audio would pick up the sound of my voice bouncing off of the glass, giving everything a slight echo (or, if not, then the sensation that I was recording in a tunnel or a bathroom stall).  Luckily, my home office has two small windows and a great deal of solid wall.  Thus, while recording, the only things I needed to worry about were my voice, the content, and my cadence.

I was tasked with addressing the very beginning of a story.  How do I construct an opening?  Well, that’s a long story for me, but Holly Hunt (click here), a fellow author, was kind enough to provide me with a few questions so that we could play off of each other.

For my podcast debut with the host, Holly Hunt, please click here.

What I’ve Learned

Through this process, I noticed a few things:

  1. Mapping this out allowed me to be much more succinct with my answers, and (hopefully) more informative.

2. It’s hard to sound like an authority when the item over which I have authority, my book, is not even published yet.

3. I had a bit of trouble anticipating my audience, as my only experience with Aussies has been discussing basketball video games (as well as a few web comics I’ve followed over the years).  Was I over-explaining a little by describing The Scarlet Letter as if they’d never heard of it? I don’t know.

4. I think there was some broken communication about the intent of the questions, and a few questions were not as I remembered them (funny thing, memory).

5. Ultimately, Holly Hunt was great to work with, and I feel like she did a great job of putting together the final product.  It was an experience that I’d definitely take on again.

I listen to a few podcasts, and one thing that I notice in those podcasts is sound quality, but another is the amount of energy that the participants bring to the table.  If they bring too little, it makes me feel a little bored, but if they bring too much, it’s like listening to monster truck commercials for half an hour.  I think that both Holly and I brought the appropriate amount of energy, and I’m fairly certain that our Audacity-augmented process helped.  What do you think?  Did we do well?  Is there anything else you’d like to know surrounding getting started with a novel?  Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Did you miss that link for my turn on Holly Hunt’s Beyond the Words?  Click here.

About Holly Hunt:

Ms. Hunt, host of Beyond the Words on The Modern Meltdown, is a Canberra, Australia, -based author.  She has published a dozen graphic and written word novels spanning the fantasy and horror genres.  In July 2017, Ms. Hunt published The Devil’s Wife (Click here), a print novel in which Lucifer is alive and roaming the streets of New York City.

About James (call me Jim) Owen:

Mr. Owen, a native of Santa Cruz, California, is an author who is looking to take flight.  Absconded by Sin, his first novel, is currently in closed beta.  A graduate of St. Mary’s College of California (with another stop at UCSC), Mr. Owen has spent the past 6+ years in market research.  Prior to that, he taught high school English… and lived to tell the tale.

Writing, Basketball, and Other Things

June 26, 2017

Author’s Note: For those of you looking for another website tour, don’t worry! One will come.  I will continue my website tour on Wednesday, as I evaluate the website of author Suzanne Collins, writer of the famed Hunger Games trilogy.

As writers, we are so fortunate.  We get to share our thoughts with the World.  The format doesn’t matter so much. Poetry, songs, prose; blogs, flash fiction, novels.  They’re all what we get to do.  Often times, they are what we must do.

On Saturday, poet Stephen Kessler (link here) shared his poetry with us at the Santa Cruz Community Writers monthly meeting.  He shared the circumstances of his poems (a nice glass of pinot noir, if you go for such a thing), the places that inspired his poems (the San Lorenzo River, the Kuumbwa Jazz Center) and the feelings that he had that inspired his poems.  He is one of those authors who likes to write in crowded places, and he would bring his notebook to Kuumbwa to write before, during, and after concerts.  He gets to write in the places that inspire him.

I’ve enjoyed blogging, as I get to share my thoughts with you.  I’ve also enjoyed sharing my work with the Santa Cruz Community Writers, a group that I am beginning to feel comfortable calling my own.  I am also learning, time and time again, that I need to work on my skills as an orator.  When I read my work, I often go too fast.  I just need to remember the lyrics to “Feelin’ Groovy.”  I need to record myself in order to better understand my pace and my diction.  It’s the easiest way of overcoming my chronic speed-speech.

At some point, I will share my fiction with you, dear readers, so please be on the lookout for when that time comes.  Right now, my work is in beta, with another work still months away from reaching my alpha reader.  I am glad that I get to share my fiction with friends, and greatly anticipate the day that I can share these with the wider world.

I don’t have a long, semi-connected diatribe to share with you today, but I thought I’d share a few thoughts about things going on in and around my life.

Editing

I’ve been editing my latest work, Their Sharpest Thorns.  It has not been as consistent as I’ve anticipated, and I might not finish this editing effort until the Fall.  Nevertheless, I have a few long weekends in front of me, so I might be able to carve out more than i think I can.

New Projects

I’ve begun work on an untitled project that is classic horror, with particular emphasis on body horror.  I’m thinking of making it more comical.  My primary focus right now is world-building.

Podcast

I will be featured on an upcoming episode of The Modern Meltdown’s Beyond the Words, and would like to thank Holly Hunt for putting this all together!  I will provide a link in a bonus post this week, once it hits the Internet!

Camp NanoWrimo July 2017

I’ve toyed with the notion of completing another Camp Nanowrimo next month.  Given the season, and the fact that I have a lot of other projects going on, I don’t think that I will participate in July’s event, even if I can manage a sizable word count.

The NBA Draft

If you came here for the writing, then I’ll bid you farewell until next time, because the rest of this is all basketball!

Ever since I was young, the NBA Draft was like Christmas in June.  When I was at the height of my basketball fanaticism, I watched easily 60+ Warriors games per year (I’d say more, but let’s play it conservative).  I awaited the NBA season, wondering if Antawn Jamison would go for 50 again, wondering if Adonal Foyle would find a bigger role in the offense, and wondering if Donyell Marshall would put it all together.  I rejoiced when the Warriors added names like Tony Delk and Muggsy Bogues, and lamented the trade that sent Jamison, Fortson, Mills, and Welsch to Dallas for Van Exel, Popeye, and cap relief.  Whether the Warriors were rumored to draft Todd Fuller or take a flyer on Chris Porter, I was inspired by all of the potential that these young men held.

Many professional basketball players come from dire circumstances.  They do not come from the suburbs, or even those penthouse apartments overlooking the Embarcadero, they come from the projects, the rural country bunkhouses, and the oppressive city.  Regardless of race, religion, or national origin, these players often come from places where they have to live in fear of the bullet, the switchblade, or the needle.  They have friends, brothers, and neighbors that have succumbed to addiction, joined gangs, or been gunned down in a case of mistaken identity.  It’s not all bad for these players, as many come from loving families, with dedicated mothers and fathers, but it can get so much better for those who click in professional basketball, either in the NBA, or the many esteemed overseas leagues.  Players sometimes find their niche in places like Iran, where they use basketball to overcome prejudice and preconceptions, and live within a society that many of us might consider hostile to Americans.  Even if players do not “make it” in the NBA, they OFTEN get to make it somewhere else, and get to spend ten years out of their lives doing something that they love for a living.

I didn’t have much of a horse in this race for the 2017 NBA Draft.  My cheering interests didn’t have many NBA-bound players, and my teams didn’t have many (or any) picks.  There’s a few players that I really wanted to see go to certain teams, and certain teams that I really wanted to see do well.  Here’s a few quick hits:

  • I feel like both the Celtics and the Sixers got what they needed out of the trade of top picks, and that the Sixers have really hit a home run.  They’ll be exciting for years to come, provided they’re all healthy.  If the Sixers are healthy, they should be a playoff team this year.  If the Celtics are healthy, they might take down Cleveland this year.
  • I’m happy to see the Suns get a star.  I have a feeling that Josh Jackson will be the best player out of this draft.
  • De’Aaron Fox and Jonathan Isaac went to the exact two teams that I wanted them to go to.  I have a feeling they’ll be great fits, and I’m glad that the Kings got a high character guy.
  • Speaking of the Kings, I think that they have two immediate starters that come out of this draft, and two more that will eventually become major contributors in the NBA. I’m just not exactly sure who that second immediate starter will be.
  • Thank you, Philadelphia, for breaking the streak of players that I’ve heard about all year long. Anzejs Pasecniks, I hope to one day pronounce your name correctly.
  • Jordan Bell!!!! Jordan Bell!!! With the Warriors getting Bell and signing Chris Boucher, I think that they’ve come out as real winners in a draft where they didn’t even have a pick!
  • Nigel Williams-Goss and Jabari Bird were vastly underrated.

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.”

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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: http://www.thebookdoctors.com

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: http://www.storyfix.com

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: http://www.stephenking.com

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: https://www.janicemock.com

Book Passage’s Website: http://www.bookpassage.com

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?

NaNoWriMo http://www.nanowrimo.org

St. Mary’s College of California: http://www.stmarys-ca.edu

JaNoWriMo: https://www.stmarys-ca.edu/january-term/course-listings

Mitali Perkins: http://www.mitaliperkins.com/

WhiteHawke: https://www.youtube.com/user/WhitehawkePAUNCH

NintendoCapriSun: https://www.youtube.com/user/NintendoCapriSun

CarlSagan42: https://www.youtube.com/user/CarlSagan42

Grand POOBear: https://www.youtube.com/user/nilladh