Monday, October 28, 2013

Who Humbug's Halloween?

That's right. Bah!  Humbug!

Those were the words spoken to me by my 13 yr old son many years ago.  We'd just moved to Maryland from rural Ohio.  I worked 'on the Hill' in Washington, DC... but that's another tale.

My wife and two youngest sons came to pick me up at the train station since the boys wanted to go Trick-or-Treating and we needed to get a few things for the spooky visitors to haunt our front door. During the ride from Brunswick to Frederick, MD, I innocently asked what each of them were dressing as for Halloween.  I think it was like maybe 2 or 3 days before Halloween.

My youngest, who had just turned 11 in the middle of the month informed me he was going to be a ghost and wear an old sheet.  Actually, he wanted to be a headless ghost.  More on that later.

The older boy informed me he was going as Dracula and showed me the vampire teeth he'd found from the prior year's bounty of party favors.

So far, so good.  Cheap costumes. Now is when things got a little more complicated... back to the headless ghost.

"So, Dad, I got this belt that I can wrap around my head and if I tie a stick to it, it can be the arms holding out the sheet.  All I need is a hat to cover the top of my head."

I wrapped my mind around the concept and it seemed feasible and doable.  "That should  be a great costume.  I can help make sure the stick is tied securely."  I figured an investment of maybe $2 or $3 for a stupid derby hat at the costume shop and I was still Scott-free of an expensive Halloween costume.

"All I need is a cape and walking cane, Dad," came the response from the older son. "It will make me look just too cool."

"Can't you use the black cape from last year's Batman costume?"  My penny-pinching kicked in.

"Yeah, but I still need the cane."

"But Dracula didn't have a cane."

"Sure he did, Dad. All counts have canes.  I gotta have a cane to look cool."

We bantered back and forth - him FOR a cane, me AGAINST the cane.  Finally, he relented.  Well, sort of.

"I guess I can go without a cane, but if I fall, somebody better help me up. I'll be like HELP! I've fallen and I can't get up. Somebody, help me.  I'm a vampire and can't walk without a cane."

I tried to keep a straight face as he continued...

"I'll tell them 'My dad wouldn't buy me have a cane.' so they know why I keep falling."  By this time the youngest is snickering uncontrolled and my wife is fighting a losing battle.  Even I am feeling myself smiling.

"Then I won't go Trick-or-Treating anymore and when I get older, kids will come to my door and ring it and I'll answer it and tell them to 'Go away!' and chase them off my porch.  I'll tell them 'My dad wouldn't let me have a cane so I could be a vampire. I don't believe in Halloween.  Bah.  Humbug!  Go away!' and then you'll feel so bad because you know I love Halloween."

"Do you really think a cane is all that important?" The words barely made it out of my mouth without me laughing. I was losing control as he continued his rant.

"Help! I've fallen and can't get up. My dad wouldn't buy me a cane. Get away! No candy for you! I'll just drag myself from door to door this year.  People will ask 'What are you?' and I'll reply 'My dad didn't let me have a cane so I'm a vampire who can't walk.' and then what do you think the neighbors will say?"

By this time, as he continued his rant, I was near tears laughing.  I actually considered pulling the car over to the side of the road - just for safety's sake.  He knew he had the car's occupants at his mercy and he wasn't about to let them go.

Even today, over 20 yrs later, all I need to say is "You still humbug Halloween?" and he will reply "Did you buy me a cane?"

FYI:  He didn't go as Count Dracula - he went a The Mummy.  I'm not sure that was a wise choice since it took several rolls of toilet paper to create the "illusion" and he didn't come home wearing his costume. I did notice the next day that a few neighborhood homes had been TP'd but I'm sure it wasn't due to the fact my son's costume molded and fell off at those particular locations!

Until next I ramble on...

Monday, October 21, 2013

NaNoWriMo Time

It's almost upon us again.  That's right - National Novel Writing Month or as it has lovingly come to be called - NaNoWriMo. I'll detail a little about it but if you want more info -- go here:  NaNoWriMo Webpage

A little history:  NaNoWriMo started in 1999 with about 20-some participants.  I joined the fray in 2000 at the urging of a friend from Portland, Oregon. There were only about 140 of us. I had a blast, I didn't finish, mostly because I attempted a cookbook which makes for a lot of timely formatting.  I did about 39k words which I thought was good. (Hint: Don't do a cookbook for this!)

I didn't do it in 2001 due to my father's death in October.

In 2002 I was approached by another friend, this time from Toledo, Ohio.  He dared me.  Well, I don't back down too often from dares and I found myself once more in the race against time with words.

BUT, this time, I was organized.  I created a small daily word count chart so I knew where I needed to be each day.  This way I would know if I was ahead (ha, ha, ha) or behind.  Now, 50,000 words divided by 30 days equals 1,666.66666(forever) words ... or rounded up, it would be 1,667 words per day.  I am not the type of guy who likes to play with funky numbers so I rounded it up to 1700 words per day and that makes it come out to an even 51,000 words.  That gave me a 1k cushion.  Something I can live with.

Also in my arsenal was an outline, a character list and research material.  But event he best of plans can go astray and I found myself needing more names and doing a little research on the internet.  If you're like me, that means getting sidetracked and then, well, time is gone.

At the start my writing was clean, concise and very well executed.  I was falling behind.  So, even though I can type 100+ words per minute with pretty good accuracy, it was my only savior.  I still needed to think faster.  According to my typing ability, I only needed to spend about 20 mins a day typing in that day's required word segment.

Okay, I'm back.  Even I couldn't keep a straight face with that last sentence and was on the floor laughing my ass off.  Twenty minutes?  Really?

So, I fell a little behind after the first few days.  I fell behind a little more a few more days later and then before I knew it, uh, I was BEHIND big time!!

Thanksgiving Day!

I'm sitting at about 36k and only a few days to finish.  I work a full-time job and have a family.  There are only 24 hrs in a day!  I have a 4-day weekend.  And now you know why it is called Thanksgiving!!  Other than a short time away from the keyboard to eat the delicious meal that my wife prepared and be minimally sociable with the family who had come to visit, I was locked in the backroom typing.

I worked into the wee hours of the morning.  Slept.  Okay, being honest - my eyes closed and I conked out on the keyboard.  Woke up and started typing.  By Sunday night I had the novel finished and I was sitting at well over 51k words.  And definitely in need of a long, hot shower!

2003, 2004, 2005, 2006.  Uh, I retired at year's end in 2006 and now would have a lot more time to spend writing during the month of November.


2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 always found me finishing up during the Thanksgiving weekend.  BUT, each of those years, from 2003 through 2012, I finished.

Now for some more truth.  Those last 5k to 15k words were pure, absolute diatribe.  Meaningless sentences of complete nonsense. How do I know this?  I proudly allowed a friend to read the unedited, finished product.  He thoroughly enjoyed the scene where the old Indian is dancing in the backroom with blood all over him. The young lady is talking to the detective. "Ignore the man back there. He's just doing a rain dance."  Now exactly how many detectives do you know who would see a bloody man dancing and think, Hey, he's cool... and move on?

After that, I learned to finish my novel, get my word count approved and NEVER show the story to anyone without first going over it and giving it a cursory edit or two.

Is NaNoWriMo worth the effort?  Yes.  My entries:  "2012: Timeline Apocalypse" and "Vamazonia" are now in print and available.  Of course, "Vamazonia" has been re-titled to "Ancient Blood: The Amazon" which has received great reviews.  In fact, it is now book 1 in a planned series.

There is still time to join the hundreds of thousands who attempt NaNoWriMo each November.  Just click the link and sign up.  You won't be sorry.

This year I'm still undecided if I will participate or not.  I mean, I've got about 3 books outlined, character cast and some research done.  I'm ready if I decide to.  Maybe I'll see you there.

Until next I ramble on...

Monday, October 14, 2013

Do You Know What I Know?

Just paraphrasing the well-known Christmas song - Do You See What I See?  One of the things a writer is repeatedly told - write what you know.

Now just exactly what does that mean?  What do I know?  I mean, that I can put into a magazine article or book or whatever?

Remember that jerk who cut you off at the intersection or parking lot in their race to get to that location of whatever?  Today I had the luxury of driving 70+ mph (speed limit was 70 - and I was definitely over it!) when I realized the semi-truck in front of me was not traveling at the same speed.  So, since it was a 4 lane highway, I moved to the left land to pass.  From out of nowhere a black car zoomed up to where I had just been mere seconds earlier and in the -- I kid you not -- about 22 feet of open space between the end of the semi and the front of my car - it zipped into the magical zone and then sped ahead.  My 2 sons were following me and when we arrived at our location, the first words out of their mouths were: Bet the f#@%! asshole in the black Lexus gave you a near heart attack.

To say my heart practically skipped a beat would be an understatement.  But, being the professional that I am, I did not slam on my brakes.  Well, actually, I didn't have time to even consider that option.  He broke speed limits and he almost broke a scientific law -- two body masses can't occupy the same space.

It was an experience.  That is something I can write about.

Last month I had to go in for some lab work - I had an EKG, a CT scan, an ultrasound and a fancy hemo-something scan.  I also had blood work drawn.  Now there is an experience.  I hate being jabbed and stuck with a needle.  It never fails, it takes 2 or 3 attempts and sometimes it takes more than 2 people to each have their try at the guy with no veins.  Again, something I can write about.

Ever watch a chick hatch out of an egg?  Or on an extremely boring day, sit and watch a bean seed sprout?

Or how about when you're sitting on the couch watching TV and you listen to the those infamous lines, all the while hoping some day to hear something different?  What am I talking about?

Game Host: Who is this beside you, Brad?
Brad: This is my beautiful, loving wife, Janice.
Game Host: Who is the person standing beside you, Janice?
Janice: This is the father of my 3 adorable children and the love of my life, my husband, Brad.

Really?  Wouldn't you just love, just once, to hear...

Game Hose: Who is this beside you, Brad?
Brad: Well, Tom, this is Janice, a dumb blond I thought I knocked up and married.
Game Host: Who is the person standing beside you, Janice?
Janice: This is Brad, a jerk who thinks those 3 delinquents I gave birth to are his.

Okay, sometimes stating the obvious is not a way to go in writing.  I have a very dear friend and she is great to be around but there are times I just have an extremely difficult time keeping my tongue about me.  An instance - we were traveling through a hilly area.  She noticed a mailbox along the road with a small gravel road disappearing down over the ravine.  Her words, honest to God. "Oh, look!  A mailbox. I bet somebody lives down there."  I so wanted to say, "No, Barb, they live about 3 blocks from the post office but like to get their mail delivered in the countryside."  I kept a civil tongue, more out of fear she might believe me.

Therefore, you can write about anything around you that is real.  Sharing it in a story will add a depth of realism.  Characters are more than just the leads in the tale, they must have a soul that makes them real for the reader.  By sharing what you know of the people around you - even a an unknown idiot in a Lexus - that can give the texture to your story to make the character come alive.

Until next I ramble on...

Monday, October 7, 2013

Ideas - Where Do They Come From?

I was asked a question at my last book signing.  Why do I mention it? This blog is released on Monday morning and on Tuesday night I will be at another book signing, doing the Q & A.  But back to the question...

Where do you get the ideas for your stories? The reason I ask is I read that an author should write about what they know. How do you qualify your skills to write in the genres you do?

Since that book signing I have had the time to reflect and review, honing my answer.

I write science fiction, fantasy, horror, and paranormal.  How can I relate any possible qualifications of my life to my writing?

I've always enjoyed science, both ancient and futuristic and try to keep myself informed with new developments in technology while also studying past revelations.  Yes, from archaeology to space exploration.  That, in and of itself, also lends to the paranormal which runs a parallel rail with science.  That which was spooky and unfathomable mere years ago can be easily explained today.  Sometimes.  Of course, fantasy is just a step away from the paranormal. One only needs to use an aspect of the paranormal, twist it, and suddenly you can weave a tale of the fantastic.  Horror?  Who doesn't like to get the s#!t scared out of them?  That alone qualifies.

Let's take horror.  I go into the doctor's office and have blood drawn.  How far of a stretch is it for me to tell in gruesome details the agony of the needle injection?  In fact, the lab where they do this work has a row of chairs - 4 of them - in a line and people are 'confined' by a front shelf being dropped down.  Add a smirk, a side glance and a sudden curl of the lip.  Tension builds.  It only takes a wrong turn and instead of the arm, the technician is now jamming the needle into the neck.

So where do the ideas come from?


As a child I day dreamed a lot.  I saw things differently.  I spent many hours laying in the grass on a summer day staring at the clouds, seeing what they reminded me of from reality.  We lived in the country but not on a farm so my brother and I had to make up our own games - my closest neighbor was over 1/2 mile away. My brother preferred to play cowboys and Indians.  I always got to be the Indian.  Again, imagination was critical since it was back in the 50s and fancy outdoor playground toys didn't exist.

I loved fairy tales as a child.  In middle school, I was intrigued by the Tarzan movies and read all the Tarzan books I could get from the library.  Edgar Rice Burroughs created Tarzan.  In high school I discovered he also created John Carter of Mars, Pellucidar, and several other series involving distant locales.  I read as many I could get my hands on. From there it was a short jump to Fritz Leiber, Harlan Ellison, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, J. R. R. Tolkien and several others.

So how do I justify my "ability" to write in the genres I do?  How can I say "write what you know" as advice to a new writer?

I have fifty-five plus years of reading in the genres.  In no way am I saying I know it all.  But, I know one thing I have that many of today's youth seem to lack.  An imagination.  Today's youth are involved with all the electronic gadgets.  No matter how advanced technology moves ahead, I don't believe it will ever match the imagination.  As a friend once said: No matter how many shades of gray a computer can define, it still comes down to either 0 or 1, yes or no.  Maybe doesn't exist.

I feel very sorry for whoever asks me the question tomorrow night regarding where I get my ideas and/or how I can write in the genre.

Until next I ramble on...