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In The Time Before

when you were only shadow and wonder, I asked an absent God to show me your face in a dream. Because the thought of missing the moment, the signs, the signals, of walking by you and not feeling that sense of instant recognition crushed my fragile heart.

But in that dream you were often unknowable, infinitely unfamiliar, a blur of features and colors outside my feeble ability to comprehend. Or worse, an amalgamate of every love and lust, imprisoned in comfortable names, fragrances, walking with recycled steps, singing reprocessed songs, and I would wake in fear, convinced I could never know you the way I was certain I had to know you.

But here in the time after, in the same room together, my old heart loving you the way only old hearts can love, I marvel at my good fortune, the life I never expected or knew I wanted unfolding in remarkably ordinary days and nights. You rise from the sofa, a half finished novel in your hand, take the three short steps that separate us. I look up, expectant. You smile that crooked smile I adore, kiss me softly on the head.

It is more than enough.

The Last

I’d been excited to read it, the book he’d written about playing poker, being in the big one, the tournament of tournaments. Not that I actually played poker, card games, games of chance, though that would lend credibility, but still I was interested, intrigued, curious (another list in threes) as to the hows and whys (only two?). His fictions struck me as nearly perfect, and though perfection itself is boring, near perfection, like the no skip album, is a treasure.

We won’t talk about that one book, the second effort, where I could only finish 113 pages before admitting failure. It isn’t the fiction’s fault. I completely blame myself.

But there it was, the last of his books I didn’t own, hadn’t read, right in front of me in the hotel room, purchased from the big store in The Big Apple, 16 miles of books. From the first page it was a struggle. Pretentious and dull, overwritten and deliberately (it seemed to me) difficult. Zero flow, Unfunny jokes, and so little writing about what I thought the writing was supposed to be about I checked the cover and blurb over and over to be sure I was in the right place, reading the right book.

And then came the heart stuff.

That pressing pain not so much immobilizing as terrifying. A pain that shouldn’t be, one that had no physical point of origin, but yet seemed to be cracking my sternum from the inside out, waking me from sleep, making the previous days of frequently being hunched over, gasping for air, dizzy, sweating, filled with confusion, seem like a welcome walk through light rain.

So many long sentences to say something so simple. My chest hurt. My heart wasn’t working right.

But it isn’t simple, is it? It is horrifying in its complexity and significance. And while I sat in the taxi, the driver speeding through the 2 AM empty mid-town streets, beseeching me under his breath to not die in his cab, I couldn’t shake the disappointing thought that the last book I would read was so awful.

Silly sure, but in my mind a cruel twist.

Of all the books to read last, I’d picked a complete dud.

I didn’t die, which was wonderful. There have been many more books, but the thought remains in the back of my brain, and from time to time it pushes forward. There will be a last book, a last song. There will be a final kiss, a final I love you. There will be a last sleep, a last sunrise. We know this and we don’t. We understand this and we don’t.

We want this and we don’t.

Poet

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.

Catharsis?

Maybe.

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. 

 

 

 

 

 

Selfish

As I looked up, streaks of pale pink and yellow stared back at me me. For a moment, it seemed as if the sky were moving at an incredible rate of speed, stretching the clouds, and the earth lurched to keep pace. I stumbled, confused and dizzy, forgetting why I had come to the city, who I intended to meet. A passing stranger spoke to me, but his words were a jumble of incoherent sounds. I could only stare at the fading light, awestruck.

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Three deep breaths, three rapid blinks, and I regained a recollection of my surroundings, who and where I was. She was waiting for me in the bar around the corner, a cold beer already placed on the table in front of the empty chair I would soon occupy. I was excited to see her again, share some conversation, one hundred laughs with someone I did not see enough of during the autumn months.

And in that moment, as I fumbled with my phone, framed a picture, instead of thinking how much she would appreciate the stunning sunset, the mountains dark silhouette like an oil painting, all I could think was how I wished you were right here to see this with me instead.

 

IWSGPit

Tomorrow is the Insecure Writer’s Support Group twitter pitch party! I’ve been gearing up for this day for the past three months, trying out various ways of pitching each of my three completed manuscripts, and somehow, I still don’t feel ready. When I look at what I’ve put on paper, each effort seems silly, and somehow not quite catching what I think the novels are really about.

I’ve always struggled with describing the first novel. I have three different query letters for it, each highlighting a different part of the story, and I am equally unimpressed with all three. Now, I’m trying to pitch the same novel in less than 100 characters. Thank goodness I have a clever wife who has a gift for simplification. She was able to send me two really decent ideas, both of which I will be using tomorrow.

As for the other two manuscripts, I feel a bit better about what I’ve put together for them, but I still wouldn’t say I’ve got it all figured out. And that’s okay, really.

I am going into this event with my eyes wide open. It is likely I won’t get any interest from publishers or agents. If  I do get a nibble, the manuscript or query letter might not satisfy. But this is all part of the process, part of putting myself out there and taking risks. Sitting back, doing nothing hasn’t been all that successful a strategy, so perhaps it is time to try a new, bolder approach.

Wish me luck.

Any of you planning on participating? How have your pitches come together and are you feeling confident?

And just because, here is a picture of my sleeping Athena. Athena

Flash Fiction Challenge

As if having a 12 week old, teething, biting, super curious, super sweet, quite devious puppy taking up most my time wasn’t hard enough, I decided it would also be super smart to enter a flash fiction contest run by NYC Midnight.

Writers are put into groups, given a genre, location, and item, all of which must be written into a story of no more than 1000 words. Oh, and that story must be completed and submitted 48 hours after receiving the assignment. Super easy, right? Even under normal circumstances, I’d struggle with something so structured. Add to that some severe sleep deprivation and I was in for a rough weekend.

Still, I was excited to get the email, find out what sort of story I was going to be writing. At 10:59 PM Friday night, my path was revealed-Romantic comedy, a tropical island, a brick.

What? People actually write romantic comedy flash fiction? Visions of Love Actually and a half dozen Adam Sandler, Drew Berrymore movies instantly came to my head. This genre was definitely not in my wheelhouse or toolbox. I would rather have had romance, a soviet era gulag, a french fry.

My first attempt on Saturday Morning was a disaster. I had a couple, a clever way for them to meet, but that moment itself took 400 words. Scratch that. Delete. Try again.

A second idea had more promise, but also took up too many valuable words without getting me anything resembling a story.

Then the tiredness took over. I couldn’t concentrate, spell, type, do much of anything but stare at the screen. Also, the puppy needed attention, and the puppy comes first right now.

A few hours later, I tried again, this time with some more success. I had several awkward encounters, silly moments, and the outline of a story. An ending still eluded. I had Sheryl read what I’d written so far and while she liked it, she agreed it wasn’t quite right.

Sunday could not have been a more awful day. I didn’t rest well, and a very intense wave of puppy depression hit me early that morning. I felt overwhelmed and hopeless. Writing was impossible. The contest was out of my mind completely.

I did some heavy soul searching that day, spent a lot of time talking with my amazing wife. I am so grateful for her advice, patience, love. She is my best friend and perfect companion.

With less than 3 hours until I had to submit the story, I had no draft, no ending, and very few ideas, but I was determined. I sat at the computer and hammered out three very sloppy endings, picking one to flush out and use. I read through, edited, read through again, edited, then asked Sheryl for her opinion.

“It’s okay, but the ending lacks pop. It’s too sweet. Something needs to happen that puts them at odds again.”

I was crushed, out of ideas, ready for defeat.

“Something like…” and she said it. The exact ending. And I loved it. With forty minutes to go, I rewrote the ending, not worrying about word count. When it was finished, I was at 1020 words, but the ending was just what this brief romantic comedy needed.

I spent the remaining time cutting words (easier than I thought) until I was at 997. One more read and edit, just to make sure, and it was time to submit. My first romantic comedy was complete. I’m not sure it will get me enough points to move out of the second round (two rounds are guaranteed each writer), but that is fine with me.

I’ll keep you posted.

Wish me good sleeps. I still need them.

And dogs are awesome.

 

Under the Influence

Music has always been a very influential part of my life. It is hard for me to remember a day without the presence of some song or other. I’ve talked before about how music (and books) are sacred to me. Musicians are storytellers, and as a storyteller I feel a connection with them that goes beyond just enjoying their talents. Certain music has the ability to reconnect me with my past, transport me places, allow me the opportunity to experience old emotions, people. I’ve been moved to tears by music more times than I can count, and each time I’ve been grateful for the experience.

Music also fuels my writing.

There was a time when I needed silence to work, and any outside distraction was a detriment. I don’t know what changed, but now I cannot compose anything without some music playing. It influences the direction of my writing, the tone, the development. I know certain scenes in my first novel were created in direct response to what was on the stereo at the time I was writing them.

And I have so much  of it.

discs

 

Hundreds of vinyl records. Thousands of compact discs. A few lonely cassette tapes.

I’m always acquiring more as well. The more new stuff that I add to the collection, the more some albums get forgotten. Some albums have not been played in years, maybe decades.

In order to try and remember the lost ones, I determined to listen to each of my CD’s (in reverse alphabetical, reverse chronological order) over a two year period. I call it “The Great CD Listening Adventure. I started in the fall of 2016 and just moved through L and into the letter K this morning (L7 to Kylesa, in case you were wondering).

Because some albums have not aged well, I give myself some outs- I play everything, but if after three songs, I’m not feeling it, the disc gets yanked (set on the pile to take to my local record store where I can get store credit). I can skip live albums and greatest hits collections. Singles are also optional. Otherwise, it’s every album by every artist. It’s been so much fun. I’ve rediscovered some forgotten gems, and realized that I’ve lost interest in some bands completely.

My tastes have always been all over the place, ranging from bubblegum pop to Black Metal and most everything in between. I firmly believe that there is a gem in every genre, and that some of the best music ever made is being created right now. If you’re wondering, disagreeing, curious, I can give you a nice list of artists to consider.

What about you? What sort of role does music play in your life, your writing? When authors use music, does it have any affect on the way you perceive a scene?

Who are some of your favorite artists? Who are you listening to right now? Tell me all about your love of music, please.

 

Old Things

I’ve had a really good week as far as writing goes. A short story idea has been rolling around in my head for months, and I finally sat my rear end in the chair and attacked it. The first few pages came quickly, and for a while I was convinced it would only take three writing days before a draft was complete. I should have known better.

As soon as I’ve nailed down one aspect of the story, something else decides to be a problem. The strange part is, I’m excited that it is being difficult. I want to be pushed and stretched. None of this effort means the story will be any good, but it will be rewarding to finish.

The only real distraction is another idea that popped into my head while I was reading a book called “Slow Boat”, by Hideo Furukawa. I’d written a story more than a decade ago that shared similar elements to one chapter of “Slow Boat”. As soon as I finished the book (it’s wicked short), I went to my computer and opened the file. The story was still in very rough condition, and I remembered I’d only loosely edited it after finishing the first draft. Reading through, I liked the flow of the story, and thought it would only need a few tweaks to be ready for sharing. Four hours later I’d rewritten most of it, changed the overall tone, and given the story an entirely different ending. It was the most fun I’d had with writing in more than a year.

Finding life in one old idea got me thinking about other abandoned work, paragraphs, pages, two or three lines that had promise, but I either lost interest in or wasn’t skilled enough to write at the time. I’m making a list of texts that need attention, and it is a good long one. I’m certain many of them won’t become anything more than they already are, but there are likely three or four that have some serious potential. The prospect is keeping me up at night, pondering.

What about you fine people? Have you ever gone back to an old idea and found it had new life? How did you approach the project? Were you successful?

One other note-

The shelf I was using to display my vinyl was near capacity, and I was not excited about the prospect of using crates or boxes to store things. I dislike clutter. Over the weekend, we picked up this fine shelf from IKEA.

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I’ve triple the space now. You should all come over and we can have a listen party. You bring the drinks, I’ll provide the food and music.

 

 

 

 

Some Changes

I’ve been playing about with this blog for almost 6 years. Originally, I planned to use this space as a showcase for writing ideas, flash fiction, poetry, other ramblings, and as a way to share those things with friends and family. I hoped that making myself accountable to something (committing to posting two or three times a week, sharing, sharing, sharing) that my writing voice would improve, and my work would become more accessible. I’ve had some successes and I am grateful for those who have stayed with me from the beginning.

Over the past year or so, I’ve tried to narrow the focus this blog, posting almost exclusively about writing and the things that inspire my creativity. I’ve stopped sharing bits of poetry and fiction (and in some cases, deleted old entries), not because I don’t want them out there, but because I felt that those posts were difficult for many to leave meaningful comments. What can you say beyond, “I like this” or “good job”? I’ll pretend no one ever wanted to type, “well that sucked.

Since implementing that change, I’ve seen an increase in readership and met some clever new friends.

I’ve tried building a reading base through social media as well.

From the beginning  I’ve shared the blog posts on my personal Facebook page, and that has been a very good thing. However, it has meant many great comments and ideas that could spark further conversation on the blog have been only seen by Facebook friends.

Twitter has been a different and strange friend, connecting me to some great people, but overall, so hit and miss that I’m not sure it has been as helpful as I’d like, at least the way I’ve been using it.

In order to change that, I’ve created a twitter account I will use exclusively to follow other writers and to eventually market my own work. If you are interested in that sort of thing (and who wouldn’t be interested in what I’m working on and thinking about, really), follow me HERE

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I’m hoping this new account will bring me some new readers and also offer me the chance to connect with  writers from all over the world. In the two days I’ve been using the account, I’m already having a great time. There are so, so many writers out there and most of them (wink wink) are creating amazing content. I’m excited to finally be participating in a more proactive and meaningful manner.

All of these tiny (but significant) changes are part of my grand plan (created in partnership with my wonderful spouse) to self publish and market a novella (I’ve been talking about recently), along with some accompanying short fiction (what stories and how many have yet to be finalized). I don’t have many concrete details, but once things start to take shape, I’ll certainly be posting about them on this blog and my other social media accounts (another swell reason to follow that new twitter account). For those of you who have self published, or published at all, expect lots of questions.

I’m nervous and excited at all of this, and hope I can have your support going forward.

People over things, always…

 

Dermatology Wednesday

Lucky me! I just returned from the dermatologist, where I had a few unsightly blemishes frozen off of my face. Better to have them removed, even if it hurts and makes me all teary. An interesting part of aging is the sudden appearance of crazy skin issues. Couple that with the ongoing assault of random body hair, and my once youthful looks have been ravaged by time(a Jasper Beardly reference).

On the plus side, I’ve been having loads of fun writing daily paragraphs. I’ve yet to park my rear end in the chair for an extended amount of time, but the daily writings are coming nicely. I’m remembering not to force them, to enjoy the process. A few of them have potential to become longer works, and one will certainly be a fun story to write (and hopefully, read). I’m thrilled with the prospects, and excited about writing again.

Another exciting thing- My friend, J.H Moncrieff just released the first two books in her GhostWriters series. I’ve read City of Ghosts and thoroughly enjoyed it, and I’m looking forward to reading The Girl Who Talks to Ghosts very soon. I recommend them for anyone who loves a good adventure, fun characters, a bit of a scare, and satisfying, shocking endings. Click HERE for more information, including where to get your own copy. All the smart people are doing it. You’re smart, right?