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Inversion Week and Hey, Some Books.

Thanks to a lovely December temperature inversion, I’ve been spending most of the past week indoors. The air is so toxic and nasty, taking the dog for a 30 minute walk on Monday made my throat hurt for hours after. For both our health, we are putting walks on the shelf until this nastiness clears out.

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When too much gunk and moisture get trapped in the valley,  dense fog forms, and as it is super cold as well, these lovely layers of hoar frost form on everything. I’d find it beautiful if it hadn’t been created by toxic air.

I’ve lived in the Salt Lake Valley most of my life, and this is the one thing that makes me wish I lived somewhere else. Sometimes these inversions last weeks, and along with the health risks, winter depression settles in. The hours of light are already fewer, and when you add gray skies, bad air, below freezing temperatures, warmer, sunnier days can seem far away indeed.

I usually enjoy winter. And more often than not, it is spectacular here in Utah. DSC_0015

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I try to remember that beauty, but it is hard when I’m trapped indoors, experiencing the same day over and over.

So, in an attempt to keep my chin up and talk about more interesting things. I’m presenting this photo of five of my favorite reads from this past year, and—IMG_0176.jpg

hoping you fine readers will share your favorites with me.

I wouldn’t really call the following paragraphs reviews. Think of them as reasons I liked and recommend these titles.

I found it nearly impossible to pick a favorite this year, but My Absolute Darling came as close as any.  I almost hesitate to recommend it as the subject matter (emotional, physical and sexual abuse) are difficult topics for many, and this book does not shy away or hide the horror. That said, it is an important book, and Gabriel Tallent is a fantastic writer.

History of Wolves vexed me. It is a coming of age story that refuses to fit the mold. It took me several days of pondering to decide if liked the book. Months later I realized I loved it. I’m a sucker for flawed characters, and this book is full of them. The ending left many feeling confused and frustrated, but the ambiguity worked for me. I didn’t need to have everything explained, and the answers I was offered were satisfying.

Good Morning, Midnight is also atypical of its supposed genre. An post Apocalyptic novel that ignored many tropes. Themes of regret, loneliness, ambition, loss, redemption are beautifully explored. I highly recommend this one. Also, it made me cry three tears.

The Nix surprised me over and over. Nathan Hill weaves a very compelling story about a son trying to understand his estranged mother. I laughed out loud several times, felt disgust and sadness, and found myself completely wrapped up in events. Again, this book is filled with awesomely flawed characters who might get it right in the end, but maybe not.

American War offers a glimpse of a very likely future for the United States- A second civil war. Omar El Akkad gives striking insight into how someone becomes indoctrinated, and how quickly that indoctrination can lead to extremism and horrible acts of violence.

Don’t forget, I want to know your favorites as well.

 

 

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IWSG-December 2017

The first Wednesday of the month is IWSG blog hop Wednesday.

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

You know the drill. Check us out and sign up here!

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The optional question for this month is- As you look back on 2017, with all its successes/failures, if you could backtrack, what would you do differently?

One of the things I’ve tried to do over the last few decades is not dwell on my past. I spent most of my 20’s convinced that the best time of my life had already come and gone. Of course living in the past, wishing, longing, wondering ensures you’ll likely miss out on most of the awesomeness of your current life.

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but here it is again. Being 25 was the worst year of my life. I felt stagnant, and very unaccomplished. I was years away from graduating from college, which of course felt years away from being settled in a career. Most of my friends (and my wife) were well ahead of where I was, and I was sure my life were slipping away and there was little I could do to change it. I needed to somehow slow down, gain perspective. So, on my 26th birthday, I told a little lie. If anyone asked how old I was, I said 27. I told that story enough that after a few months, I actually believed I was 27.

It might seem counter productive, pretending to be older, but it had an amazing effect on my mental state. What day or month it was mattered less and less and focusing on the good things in my life became easier. I was 27 for two years, and by the time I turned 28, I was less consumed by regret and anguish over things I could never relive or change.

I’ve tried to hold onto that perspective as I’ve aged. I keep in mind that each choice alters my life, what I do, who I meet, and where I end up. And I usually like where I end up. So as for last year, I am perfectly okay with how everything played out. There isn’t anything I would do differently. Sure, It would be great if I’d written more, been more diligent in searching for an agent, or submitting stories and poetry, but I still have time to do those things. I will try and use this past year as a learning experience, not as a way to punish my lack of action or be too proud of the things I did accomplish. I can always do better, be better.

What a wonderful concept.

 

 

A Little Behind

Halfway through the NaNo month and I’m already behind. It shouldn’t surprise me as I’ve been hanging out with my wife every day since last Friday. It is easy enough to write and focus when the only distractions are the dog and maybe the urge for an outing to the bookstore, but when your favorite person is home, writing desire goes out the window.

And as today is my birthday (don’t ask, I’m really old), my motivations are low low low. I’ve new music to spin on the turntable and Sugarhouse BBQ is calling my name, begging me to come eat there tonight.

I’ll get it together, I promise. This weekend, I’ll be heading to Cedar City to drop my boys off at SUU for their Red Riot shindig for high school seniors. I’ll have 15 uninterrupted hours to write something clever.

The good news- Writing short stories has been a great idea. I’m sure they will all need loads of work after the month is over, but I honestly enjoy the editing/rewrite process (almost as much as the creating part). Once there is a completed draft to work with, so many interesting possibilities present themselves. I’m hopeful there is a quality manuscript waiting in the jumble of words and images I’ve been throwing together.

How about you fine writers? Any good works flowing from your fingertips?

Out From Under

Hey friends. I’m sorry to have missed last week’s blogging fun, but I have been a bit under the weather. I’m sure you don’t need the details.

The good news is I feel mostly better and am back into the swing of most things. I’ve not been around to comment on all of your lovely blogs, but I hope to use some time today to do so.

On the writing front, NaNo is off and running, and I have chosen to write a collection of unconnected short fiction. So far so good, and I am right on word count to this point. Some of the stories are rewrites of older (often shorter) works, so I’m unsure if this really qualifies as a pure NaNo WIP. Honestly, I couldn’t care less. If some project gets me writing and creating again, that makes me happy.

What surprises me is how different my writing style has become over the last five years, from the way I approach the story, to the overall tone and voice I’m writing with. I will let you know if this is a good or bad thing as the month progresses.

Any of you taking the plunge this year? I’d love to hear about your progress.

Some blah news- As my stories did not score enough points, I will not be continuing on in the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction contest. I’m not surprised. I really didn’t write well for this competition, and was mostly unprepared for the way the assignments were structured. I’m not too discouraged and might even enter the contest again next go around. This is a learning experience, and gosh, I like learning.

As always, I’d love to read your comments and talk some about writing, yours and mine.

 

Trying Again

Last October I attempted to compose the first draft of my 4th novel. Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful. Honestly, I was surprised at the failure. Writing the first three books hadn’t been easy, but I’d remained focused, determined each time to pound out a draft. Three completed manuscripts are evidence of my success.

I don’t know what was different last time from the previous three years, but my usual tricks failed to keep me on track, and the story never seemed to find a solid foundation. Convinced the problem was with the story idea itself, I shifted gears and tried to write the sequel to the science fiction novel I’d written in 2014. Again, I was unable to keep focused, and while this story seemed to have direction, I still couldn’t complete a draft.

I was discouraged enough to leave both stories untouched for a full year. I’m still a bit shaken by the failure, and not convinced I’ve the stomach for another attempt. But November is nearly upon us, and I have to admit, I really want to try again. I’m going to take the next week and re-read my failed manuscripts, see if either of them has a second life. If not, a short story collection might be a really good idea. Either way, I need to fight through whatever this is and get writing.

I don’t like this feeling of not creating. It’s empty.

Humbled

The #MeToo campaign has been eye opening for me. I thought myself well aware of the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault against women (and men). I was wrong.

As my social media feed continued to be filled with heartbreaking post after post (some with sickening stories, others with no details at all), the weight of it brought me to tears. So many people that I knew (many very well) had been victimized. I felt angry, horrified, disgusted, ashamed. Trying to figure out what to do or say was overwhelming. Any words felt forced, and writing them seemed more like “well at least I’m not THAT guy” than an honest acknowledgment. Even liking the posts seemed an empty gesture, though I did continue doing that throughout the day because it felt necessary.

I promised myself again and again that I would continue to speak out, call attention to actions, teach my children better,  be the sort of human being who joined others in fighting to end abuse.

I still wanted to do more.

Towards the end of the day a good friend of mine made a simple, perfect, and poignant Facebook post. He wrote: I believe you.

Those three words summed up everything I’d been trying to expound on all day (and perhaps most of my adult life). It should be obvious, but somehow it isn’t- Believing  victims of sexual assault is critical.

I wanted to go outside and shout that sentence over and over. I believe you.

I settled for copying my friend and posting those words on Twitter.

And because they are important, I wanted to share them with you all as well.

IWSG-October 2017

The leaves are changing on the mountains. Temperatures are hovering near perfection. I get to wear sweaters and long sleeve shirts. Autumn is here! Oh, and also, it is the first Wednesday of the month which is when the Insecure Writer’s Support Group gets together for their monthly blog hop. Check us out and sign up HERE 

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From the website:

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling.

You can also answer the optional question each month.

for October the question is: Have you ever slipped any of your personal information into your characters, either by accident or on purpose?

When I first read this, I thought in terms of identity theft. You know, something like I wrote my social security number on page 17, or maybe used my current street address. I can say with surety I’ve never done that.

But slipping personal things about myself, stories, traits, desires and dreams, sure.

When I was in my teens and twenties, the majority of my protagonists were loose representations of myself. I’d write about actual events, slightly tweaked, but anyone who knew me or was there could see through the flimsy disguise.

With practice, I got better and hiding things. Like many writers, I was able to create characters who could do and say things I might never dare try in my actual life. I would write idealized versions of who I’d like to be (and on one creepy occasion, someone I’d never want to be). The fictionalized adventures would be mine, become something like my memories.

If I’m being honest with myself, I think I still do this more than I’d like, but rather than jumble all these things into one character, I spread them out over everyone in the story.  Maybe others are talented enough to write complex and interesting characters based entirely on speculation, void of any connection to themselves or anyone they know. That is beyond my skill.

On another note, I finished the second round of the NYC Midnight flash fiction challenge. Hopefully this story is more well received than my last effort, which honestly wasn’t very good. This time, I wasn’t sleep deprived or unable to focus. Hopefully, I’ll actually score some points and maybe advance to the final two rounds. If not, it was a fun and challenging experience.

My only complaint about the contest is the rigid use of  genre and accompanying expectations. I know it makes judging a bit easier to have set criteria, but it makes the writing feel very controlled. I mentioned my story wasn’t quality work, but one of the critiques was, in romantic comedies, we expect a happier conclusion. In other words, don’t play with the genre. That seems a strange and vapid critique.

What about you clods? Any good words to share?