-The soundtrack for today’s writing session provided by the Beach Boys–
Welcome to the monthly IWSG blog hop. Check us out HERE, sign up and play along with the best bunch of writers out there.
For any who are wondering about my ongoing heath saga (see last months post), I’m improving, figuring out how to exercise, eat, function with the side effects of my medicine and my illness. My mental health is improving, and I’m starting to feel that writing urge. The blank pages still scare me, but I was able to hand write a few journal entries recently. Getting words on paper helps.
The optional question for the month of July is- What personal traits have you written into your character(s)?
Looking back at the history of my writing, almost every character/protagonist I created when I was in my late teens and early 20’s was a mash up of my good and bad traits. I don’t think I was ready or able to write outside of myself or at least what I thought about myself. These characters were idealized versions of me (both positive and negatively), and they were also heavy with hyperbole. Looking back, reading the stories makes me a little uncomfortable. The protagonists all shared my political ideology and world view. They looked like me, talked like me, desired the same things out of life. Every love affair was the most important love affair. Each conflict, the ultimate conflict. Any emotional crisis…
Well, you get the point.
I’ve gotten less pretentious, I hope, less judgmental, and hopefully that means better able to write authentic characters. They may still be infused with my personality traits, ones I find interesting or complicated, but I hope I’ve grown enough as a writer to add elements outside of my little world.
After missing a month (story to follow), I’m back in the game and ready for the IWSG monthly blog hop. Haven’t heard of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group? That seems very strange if you’ve been reading this little blog of mine for any period of time, but I guess it’s possible. Check us out HERE and sign up.
An insane story-
About 4 months ago, my wife and I planned and booked a vacation to New York City. It is our favorite city and our favorite place to vacation. We try to travel there at least every other year.
One thing about NYC- You walk a lot. And I was not in great shape for walking. I’ll blame winter, but really I’m just lazy. In order to enjoy my trip to the fullest, I began walking on the treadmill, uphill, about 45 minutes a day.
Sometime in the middle of April, during one of my workouts, I experienced a strange numbness in my left elbow. I immediately thought heart attack, but when I got off the treadmill, the numbness went away and I felt fine. Not wanting to overreact, I decided against going to the doctor.
From time to time, and only when my heart rate was elevated, the numbness would return. Each time, when I stopped and rested, things returned to normal. I knew something wasn’t right, but my trip to NYC was coming up (first part of May), and I really didn’t want something to get in the way of 8 days in my favorite place.
The first few days in the city, things were fine. I was tired, but the numbness stayed away. Over the next few days however, whenever I was exerting myself, the numbness returned. I was forced to stop several times each day and rest for longer and longer periods before I felt normal. It was starting to really freak me out. Rather than enjoying my visit, all I wanted to do was survive the week, get on the plane, go home.
Wednesday the 8th was the worst. I had several events, and spent most of the day resting in the hotel. After meeting a friend for dinner that evening, Sheryl and I stopped at Whole Foods to get some things for breakfast the next few days. On the five hundred yard walk back to the hotel, I was forced to stop twice, both times requiring 10 minutes of sitting before I could begin to walk again. Back in the hotel, I flopped on the bed and fell asleep very quickly.
I woke with a start just after midnight. For the first time since the numbness began, it manifested during a resting state. It passed in seconds, and my exhausted body fell back asleep. Forty minutes later, I was awake again, numb from my elbow to my shoulder and this time, my chest hurt, as if someone was pushing down on my sternum with tremendous force. I was out of excuses and rationalizations. I woke Sheryl, and at 1:00 AM Thursday morning, we found ourselves on the way to an emergency room.
24 hours of tests revealed the culprit. I had at least one, maybe more blockages in at least one artery. I had been suffering angina from lack of blood flow. Luckily, I did not experience cardiac arrest, but if I’d continued to ignore the warning signs, the chances of a fatal event were very high.
I spent a very stressful 36 hours worrying, wondering, thinking. I’d always considered myself an optimistic person, but most of those hours were lost in depression, the strangest and most intense sadness. All the medical personnel were certain I was a stent or two away from feeling better. Their confidence, and the continual presence of my amazing spouse kept me going.
On the 10th of May, I had an echo-cardiogram which revealed two blockages (one at 95+%) in the LAD artery. Angioplasty was performed. Two stents were implanted, and after 95 minutes awake on the table, I was back in the recovery room. After 24 hours of observation, they released me from the hospital, back to the city, the subway, my life.
We had to stay in the city an extra week, but the difference between the first 7 days and the second were night and day. I was able to walk without pain or numbness, sleep without being awakened.
Physically I wasn’t limited, but mentally, I had and still have some difficulty.
Every twinge of pain or discomfort and I’m sure it’s my heart again. I feel alright, but the side effects of the blood thinner are kicking my ass. I get tired easily, dizzy. Sometimes my breathing is labored (another lovely side effect of the meds). I hope as my body gets used to the medicine, things will balance out.
Writing has become difficult as I’m not sure how to process the strangeness of the past two months. I feel relieved to be alive and mending, but absolutely undeserving. I’ve sat at my desk a dozen times since returning home, hoping to write something, anything, but I don’t think I’m ready. I need more time to think, and while writing would certainly expedite things, there are very few sentences willing to come out and play.
If I’m honest, I’m afraid. Absolutely insecure. And right now, that fear wins out every time. Getting this blog written down has taken me several hours, and I’ve left out a great deal. Most of it is more instances of me ignoring obvious signs of distress. Some of it is the emotional stress of worrying each night that I might not wake up the next morning.
I’m going to get some help, talk with a professional. That seems like a really good idea. Maybe the best one I’ve had in a while.
Also, I really want to go back to NYC. All this craziness hasn’t diminished my love of that place.
And I would be very ungrateful if I didn’t mention how outstanding my cardiologist in NYC was. He saved my life. Angioplasty is a modern miracle. A little hole in the wrist is the only wound required. And that has already faded away.
The first Wednesday of the month (and apparently my entire blog) is reserved for The Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog hop. Check us out HERE and sign up.
The optional monthly question for April is- If you could use a wish to help you write just ONE scene/chapter of your book, which one would it be? (examples: fight scene / first kiss scene / death scene / chase scene / first chapter / middle chapter / end chapter, etc.)
When I finally summoned up the courage to start writing a novel, the first five pages came very easy. I’d already written, and rewritten the introductory moments at least ten times, thinking it would end up as part of a novella or short story. But when I embarked on the insanity of composing a novel length work, the idea crumbled and I found myself stuck, stopped mid sentence, looking at the screen, hands over the keyboard with no idea where to go or how to get out of the hole I’d dug for myself.
So I put the chapter aside, stopped writing, let myself be frustrated.
Two years later, I was going through some old files, hoping to find a fragment I could use to create something new. I like doing that, finding one or two discarded ideas and seeing if I’m ready to finally write them. I read the five pages, liked the feel of it, and in a flash, saw the way out of the scene.
Not only that, but I realized I’d been approaching the concept of the novel from the wrong angle. I wrote the rest of the chapter, pleased with myself, then sat down to write a prologue, which later became chapter one.
I adore the book, mostly. The ending is brilliant, and I especially love the prologue. What I don’t love, and what I would use a magic wish to make right, is those initial 5 pages, that chapter that stifled me once, and then gave me the insight to compose the novel. It is by far the weakest part of the novel, likely because the writing was initially unfocused, and then later, good enough to get the job done.
I should just rewrite it from scratch, see where I end up. At the same time, I’m not sure I should be pushing myself on this particular novel anymore. It was my first, and like most first novels, it suffers from my lack of ability. Still, whenever I read it, I don’t feel like it’s a throwaway book. At some point though, I have to move on and focus on the next project, which is finally (FINALLY) starting to take shape. I’m excited about that project more than revisiting an old one, and I’ve learned it is best to go where the excitement takes me.
The first Wednesday of every month is set aside for The Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog hop. If you don’t have a clue what IWSG is, you are ridiculously new to to my blog. Check us out HERE.
I’ve met some of the most awesome writers and people by being a member of this group. Also, they almost always have great advice on getting you through any writing troubles. Sign up. Play along.
The optional question for December is- What are five objects we’d find in your writing space?
My writing space lives in the basement of my home. I’ve filled it with all sorts of things that inspire creativity in me. It is a comfortable place, perhaps my favorite in the entire house.
I feel lucky to have such an awesome space devoted to creative thought and action.
Clearly there are more than five objects in this space, but there are five you would always find in any personal space I’ve set aside for writing.
- A quality laptop- I used to write everything by hand, but my handwriting is atrocious and often when I go back to read or edit, even I can’t make out some of the words. Writing software has made everything so much easier. Editing alone is exponentially easier on a laptop vs a handwritten text.
- A device for playing music- I learned years ago that I am more relaxed, better able to write when I’m listening to music. I’ve tried writing in quieter spaces and it just doesn’t work for me. In fact, I’m more distracted by a quiet room than a noisy one. In my current writing space, I listen to both vinyl LPs and compact discs. I have used digital music before, and will if I’m out at a coffee shop or library, but I’m a collector of things (books, music) and like the tangibility of objects, so my preference is for a physical copy of whatever I’m about to listen to.
- A mug of coffee- I don’t do this for the caffeine, but for the sensation of consuming a warm beverage. Honestly, it is among the most crucial aspects of writing for me, something to hold between my hands, something to sip at during a moment if indecision or when more thought is needed.
- A comfy chair- In this case, it is a mid-century modern, red leather, armless chair with a matching ottoman. Every writing space needs a place to sit and ponder before writing, during writing, or after a session is complete. It is also a good space for enjoying music or reading.
- A nice wide desk- I recently bought the desk in the picture after my old one decided it no longer wanted to stand. My new writing desk is huge, awesome, and has loads of space for me to pile papers (I hid them for this photo) or other objects that might be necessary. Also, it’s surprising how many coffee mugs, books, pens, etc. can pile up and clutter the area. The bigger the desk, the longer it takes for the stacks to becomes cumbersome.
Well, that’s it for me. I’d love to hear about what I’d find in your writing space. In fact, I think I’ll go read all the IWSG blogs and find out right now.
The Insecure Writer’s Support Group is a mighty fine group of people. If you haven’t already signed up, joined in the fun, I’m not sure I can do much to help you anymore.
Check us out and sign up here–
This months optional question is-
My wedding anniversary was Monday. Twenty-five years, which is a shocking number to me. I remember the first time I realized I’d had a friend for that long, or that an album I’d purchased with my own money reached that age. It isn’t new knowledge that the older you get, the faster time goes, but sometimes the realization hits home and staggers you a bit.
Sheryl worked on Monday, so we spent most of last Saturday out and about, celebrating by purchasing new books at our favorite bookstore (The Printed Garden), eating lunch at a delicious Chinese restaurant, and looking for new flooring (puppy claws and hardwood floors do not like one another).
It was a pleasant day, and I was feeling pretty good about things as we drove home. At the intersection of a major highway, I waited for an opportunity to turn right. Traffic on this road travels between 55-70 MPH depending on the time of day. It is wise to wait for a very clear lane before turning as to avoid misjudging the speed of oncoming vehicles. In my old age (wink), I’ve learned some patience behind the wheel, so I waited.
A minivan in the far right lane slowed to a stop, and I concluded the light was turning red. In the moment before I decided to turn, I noticed a white Jeep approaching the minivan at high speed. It wasn’t slowing, wasn’t going to stop.
The impact launched the stationary minivan through the intersection (which was luckily still empty), and I watched in fascination as the crumpled car wobbled past me. I marveled at the damage (the rear end was obliterated), amazed to see the driver still conscious, attempting to maneuver off the road.
I heard my wife next, shouting something like “Use your brakes. Stop.” and I looked to my left.
The Jeep was bearing down on us, rolling at around 20-30 MPH. There was little I could do but wait for the inevitable. The Jeep crushed my driver side door, nearly bending it off the hinges. I may have let loose a swear or two.
With some help from kind people we were able to move all the vehicles off the road. Before I was able to exit my Toyota (through the passenger side door), paramedics were already on scene and the police arrived two minutes later.
Fortunately no one was hurt.
Unfortunately, the driver of the Jeep was very drunk. He spectacularly failed every sobriety test, and a search of his vehicle uncovered an empty pint of vodka. He was arrested and taken away before the first tow-truck arrived.
I spent the next hour stewing about my damaged SUV, angry about what had happened, how it had unfolded, and how unnecessary it all felt. Driving home, most of the adrenaline was slipping away, and my thoughts turned to the absolute luck of it all. Things could have been so much worse. Someone could have been injured or killed. If children had been in the van, they would have certainly been hurt. If the van had not been there and the Jeep had continued through the red light, he would have impacted cross traffic and maybe an unsuspecting Ryan turning right.
The carelessness, the selfishness of one individual angered me.
But something else pushed through- Compassion
I felt (and still do feel) so much sympathy for this young man who had made a terrible choice. I doubt this was his first time driving drunk, but the repercussions of this particular decision will certainly be many- The hefty fine for DUI, the arrest record, loss of employment (maybe), loss of insurance (and the likelihood his insurance company sues him), the driver of the minivan will likely sue; the inevitable guilt.
I don’t know what events in this guys life, what decisions or outside influences put him in the position where he concluded getting behind the wheel was a smart choice, but I feel so sorry for him.
I might feel differently if I’d been injured, or if someone else had been hurt, but I hope my compassion would remain intact. I’m not naive and certainly believe there should be consequences for actions, especially those that adversely impact others, but I really hope this kid gets his life together, and that this one bad choice doesn’t ruin his life completely.
Hope is a good thing, right?
Also, these events have caused me a great deal of introspection, made me reevaluate every time I’ve been out with friends, had a few drinks.
But that is what life is supposed to be about, learning not only from our own mistakes, but from the errors of others.
As of today, I’m still feeling grateful, thoughtful, careful. I hope that continues.
A day early for the monthly blog hop of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. We get the 4th of July off, and I imagine the members outside the United States are wondering if they get their national holidays off as well. Nope. Sorry.
If you aren’t already a member of IWSG (and I honestly can’t understand why you wouldn’t be), check us out and join HERE.
The optional question for this month-
What are your ultimate writing goals, and how have they changed over time (if at all)?
From the time I was 11 years old, I’ve dreamed about being a published writer, being famous. My early stories were science fiction tales including my friends and love interests. My parents claimed to love them, and the one friend I dared to show really liked the part where his bully died. I liked writing about relationships, I was terrible at writing romance. That hasn’t changed much. I keep hoping something will click and I’ll suddenly figure it out, but at 47, that seems unlikely.
In high school, I switched over to poetry writing, and I tell you, If anyone ever wrote a collection of poems more sappy, more over the top, more ridiculous, I’d like to meet them. We could break the universe together. Even more surprising, I honestly thought there was a career to be had writing poetry. Silly Ryan.
I was sure once someone in publishing (magically) read my poems, I’d be an instant sensation. Even as I aged and my poetry matured, I still expected someone to just discover me. I made almost no effort to enter contests, submit to magazines (even at university, which should have been so easy and obvious). When my efforts and heart returned to writing fiction, I was so out of practice, my stories were pretty awful, but I had a wonderful professor who saw some talent in my writing and encouraged me. Still, I didn’t seek out opportunities, take risks.
I’d like to say I learned my lesson and submit like crazy now, but I don’t. My 30’s passed by in a rush and not until I finished my first novel (at the age of 42), did I finally take the plunge and seek out representation.
I still want to be a published writer, and still believe it is a matter of getting my work seen by the right people. What has changed- at last I understand that for that to happen, I have to put myself out there, take risks, be bold. I’ve entered two contests and queried several agents recently. I’m about ready to approach some small presses, ones that take unsolicited submissions. I remain hopeful, and while 11 year old me thought he might be famous one day, 47 year old me knows that is irrelevant.
Hey IWSG friends- I’m sorry to have not commented or returned comments for this months posts. Soon after publishing my blog, I came down with a lovely fever/cold that knocked me out of commission for five days. I’m just getting back into the swing of life, and might finally get to returning comments later this week.
I hate being sick. But so does everyone else. I’m not special.
This week, I’ve been going over my query letters, submitting to a few nibbles I received during #PitMad. I realized I haven’t really tested these letters out on any beta readers, and wondered if anyone would agree to help me out with that?
I’m looking for some honest feedback, and ways to make these letters pop off the page. If anyone is interested, please get in touch. I really feel it is time to submit more and in order to do so, I need to have top notch queries.
I am more than willing to trade for reviews, beta reads, whatever. Let’s help each other.
The afternoon I met Craig Arnold was a stressful one. It was my first day at the University of Utah (I’d just transferred from SLCC), and I was trying to pull a fast one. I had not taken the prerequisite for English 5520 (advanced poetry writing workshop), but regardless, had put myself on the waiting list. I’d been writing poetry for most of my life, and thought I had some skill. But that didn’t mean the professor was going to agree with me and allow me into the class.
Thirty one years old, Craig was a PhD candidate, the English department’s golden boy, about to have his first book published. He was the Yale Younger Poet of the Year for 1998, and from the very first moments, of our relationship I wanted his approval.
Craig asked me to email a writing sample, and if it wasn’t crap (his word), he’d sign off and let me stay in the class.
The workshop was small, 12 students, and my presence would kept no one else from joining the class, but I stressed over the writing sample for days. I highly doubt he gave it all that much thought, but he told me the poems were passable, that there was some potential.
“It’s not all bad,” he said.
In the workshop setting he was absolutely ruthless and absolutely always on point. Never before (or since) in my writing life have I felt like someone genuinely wanted my writing to be successful as when Craig was ripping apart my poetry.
It was never personal, and looking back it was in that class where I learned criticism had nothing to do with me and everything to do with the writing.
I am grateful for that.
Craig was also in a rock band called Iris. He played guitar and sang terrible songs with really odd lyrics. I saw them perform at a coffee shop in downtown Salt Lake City. Forty people were there, some of whom were likely annoyed that their late night coffee came with the added price of listening to live music.
And he had literary groupies who stood in front of the stage, sang all the songs, hung around after the set just because. Of course Craig soaked every moment of attention.
At the end of the semester, we gathered at the apartment of one of the members of our workshop to celebrate, drink beer, say goodbye. Craig’s book was coming out soon, but all he wanted was to talk about the female body builder roommate of our cohort (her photos from competitions were all over the walls), and how many times he’d had sex that day.
Three times in case you were wondering, and with a wink in my direction, he implied he was ready for a fourth.
But that was his personality- Brash, bold, confident to the extreme. And oh, how he could write. His poetry blew me away. My favorites were his narratives. One in particular was composed in couplets that flowed seamlessly from end rhymes to slants, rich and eye. His stories were precise, and his writing clean, tight.
That night at the class party, five or six beers into a twelve bottle night, after I spent fifteen minutes complaining about my lack of writing success, my envy at his, without the slightest guile he shook his head and said “your day is coming. Be patient.”
The most important thing he taught me about writing poetry- Form is the vehicle, not the destination, which altered the way I approached writing, changed how I used words.
I saw him sporadically after my graduation. He’d show up at the library where I worked, and we talk about what he was doing. He always asked about my writing, and I always lied, telling him it was going great.
A little over ten years after our first meeting, I learned he’d gone missing while hiking on the small volcanic island of Kuchinoerabu, Japan. Searchers found traces of him on a trail near a high cliff and it is presumed he fell to his death.
I had not spoke to him or seen him in at least 8 years, but losing someone I thought of as an important guide on my writing path was hard.
I don’t know what made me think of him today or why I felt like I needed to write down a few of my memories.
Craig could rub people the wrong way, and there are likely more stories about the awful things he did than the positive ones, but he was always good to me. I admired him for his fearlessness, his talent, his friendship.
He only gave us two collections of poetry, but they are powerful and worth your time. Check them out here–
All of us have people who influenced/impacted our lives, changed our direction for the better. I’m curious about yours.
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine tagged me in a Facebook post, challenging me to share a list of ten albums that had the most impact on me, and that still got regular play. I’ve made this sort of list many times in the past, and have my *go-to* albums I usually pull out whenever someone asks for my favorites.
I fully intended to do the same with this challenge, convinced that these records still were representative of my current tastes. I stood in front of the stacks of records and CDs, pulling out the albums I wanted to use. I made a mental note of them, made my first post.
I wrote a few paragraphs detailing why this record was important to me, how it has affected my musical appreciation and the sorts of music liking this record opened up for me.
So far so good.
Day two was much the same- an album, a description, an hour spent thinking about what that music has meant to me. Then my father commented that while he loved the album in question, it was not his favorite from the band. I was about to argue in defense of my choice when I realized it wasn’t my favorite either. In fact, it might have been my third favorite. At that moment, I realized this list was going to be very different from others I’d created. I no longer had interest in a list of favorites, but rather a list of records that pushed me forward.
Any mental notes I’d made about the remaining albums were tossed aside. With a different perspective and mission, I went through the records again. At least four of the titles I planned to use didn’t remain on the revised list. Some I never expected to be on the list suddenly needed to be there.
In the end, I think this current list is a much more accurate representation of my musical education. One realization, I talk a big game about my varied musical tastes, and while I do enjoy all sorts of music, my favorites reside in a very narrow style window. Which means I need to give more attention to other genres, styles, and see if one of those albums might push its way onto the list. Some are very close. Some I haven’t owned long enough to see where they take me.
It was a very fun project and as I always love listening to music, a great opportunity to spend ten days listening to the stuff that had the greatest impact.
Here is the list if you’re interested. It isn’t in any particular order.
Big Country- The Crossing
The Cure- Pornography
The Police- Synchronicity
David Bowie- The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars
The Nocturnes- Aokigahara
Russian Circles- Station
Siouxsie and the Banshees- Peepshow
Nine Inch Nails- Pretty Hate Machine
If asked, what sort of list would you make?