Sunday, September 25, 2011

Artist Identity

I had my first class with my new Yoda, the writing master who will instruct me. We have a total of 5 people (2 men, 3 women) in my class and everyone of them is smart and talented. We were paired up with a critique partner. Mine was a double major, microbiology and English. Yeah, I'm in trouble. Everyone seems like they are very serious about becoming good writers which gives me high hopes for the group.

We did the standard meet and greet where in all likelihood I rambled. Who me? Ramble? Perish the thought.

My takeaway from the first night was:

Thinking of my writing as art - The leader of the group challenged us to think of ourselves as artists, and our writing as art. I have never felt comfortable doing that. I'm a writer, and until the class I didn't see the connection between what I did and what a painter or sculptor does. But as my teacher explained writers are like painters and sculptors. They interpret reality and then present it back to the audience in a way they can better understand it.

I see her point, but it's still going to take a while before I'm comfortable labeling myself as an artist.

sunflowers When she brought out some famous paintings, it started to click with me. By happenchance, that painting I was given was Vincent Van Gogh's Sunflowers, and immediately my mind went to Grandmother.

My Grandmother was/is an artist, a painter to be exact, and Sunflowers brought her work immediately to mind. My Grandmother’s specialty was still life and she painted in a very similar style to the the Van Gogh I was looking at. My Grandmother actually had a chance to go pro, but she had two young boys at home, (who ironically enough would end up becoming my dad and my uncle.) Her husband's job had him on the road 3 or 4 nights a week. (As an aside, my Grandmother claims this was a key to their long and happy marriage.) She had to make a choice, the family or her art. She chose her family. She never stopped painting, but no longer did the show circuit.

I'm very close to my Grandmother, but I've never been able to draw worth a lick. Stick figures are about the extent of my talent. But to think that perhaps my writing might be how my Grandmother's artistic talent has expressed itself in me makes me all kinds of happy.

We also talked about valuing our work as art and not to concentrate on the monetary value other people put on it. If just our friends and family read our work, we have made a contribution to the art of our world. This one really challenged me. For me to think my work has value, I really believed that someone needed to validate that by being willing to give up their hard earned cash for it. This idea has made me look at my writing in a new way. If even a single person is entertained or moved by my stories, I have done my job, and have created art.

We also talked a good deal about critiquing. Thanks to the Saucy Ink group, I've had lots of practice critiquing, so I'm feeling pretty confident I can give good, constructive critiques to my partner. One interesting thing she's doing is we have different partners for critiques. In other words, I'm sending my work to a different person than the one I'm critiquing. It should be interesting.

Our first assignment was writing a scene, no more than 3 pages. My mind started reeling. Who writes a 3 page scene? Then I looked at the first scene in "Authenticity" (my unicorn project entry). It's four pages long. I thought about using the first scene in Dream Chaser, and in hindsight that’s probably what I should have done. I chose instead to use the opening scene from a second unicorn story I’m writing (working title Unicorn II, oh the creativity is flowing tonight!) It’s the second unicorn story idea I had for the compilation, and I like it so much that I want to write it.

I’m also working on a story for entry into the Blizzard Short Story contest. More on that later.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Class Is In Session

Tonight I'm starting an intense 7 week writing course offered by a local published author where she will be teaching us how she writes. The class is small, just 6 students, so we will get some excellent one on one training. I love HTTS and I'm learning many ideas in that class, but I learn better in a classroom environment than reading a book.

We have been assigned a critique partner. Each week we will have assignments, and we will exchange the assignment with our partner and critique each other. I hope the teacher will also offer some critiques. This is another chance for me to practice writing, giving critique, receiving critique and applying critique.

Now, I don’t think this author has any sort of magic pixie dust that she can sprinkle on me and magically my writing will improve. I do think she’s been vetted. She’s been through the course and pass all the markers. She's climbed the mountain I so desperately want to climb. I've been told that if you want to accomplish something, find someone who has accomplished what you want to accomplish and learn everything you can from them. That’s what I see this as.

Between this, How to Think Sideways, and the books on writing I’ve read (Bird By Bird, Writing Fiction for Dummies, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years), the myriad of blogs I’ve read on writing,  I’ve accumulated a ton of head knowledge about writing. Dave Ramsey always says that personal finance is 20% head knowledge and 80% doing it. It seems to me writing is similar. You can learn a lot about writing, and good gravy there’s a lot of information out there. It’s time now to put all that head knowledge to work with pen to page or finger to key.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

9-11 Reflections

WTC

10 years ago, our lives changed forever.I was in my office on a conference call with our Sales Representitive in our southern California office working on a project when the reports started coming in. After a few minutes, we cancelled our conference call. The break room had a TV in it and for about an hour everyone from the President of the Company to the guys who wrapped the crates for shipping was huddled in there together watching the attacks.

Looking back now, my first thoughts seem so naive. I asked who would have sold these guys airplanes. It never occurred to me they would hijack planes to fly into the buildings. We eventually returned to work, and to some semblance of normal, but we were all forever changed that day.

The image that will never leave me if watching people jump from the World Trade Centers, taking their chances with gravity rather than burn to death. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

The challenge of his memorial has been to try to explain the events to my daughter who was about 18 months at the time of the attack. She’s now an 11-year-old. She understands the mechanics of what happened, but I don’t know that she’ll ever really understand the impact it had.

What brings it home most to me is watching the stories of the children of 9/11. These kids were babies who were in in utero during the attacks and lost their Mom or Dad. They have lost more than any of us.

We had a brief moment of remembrance in our service Sunday, and I watched some of the memorials on TV.

9/11 is a watershed moment for all of us, and something none of us who lived though it will ever forget. I hope and pray we will never have another occasion like 9/11 ever again.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Ted’s 2011 NFL Predictions

This is just one of those off topic posts I put on my blog.

My mistress is returning Thursday night. I have missed her so. This summer was especially tough on our relationship because I wasn’t sure if or when she was going to come back, especially once the lawyers got involved.

But now, all is well, and she is returning, right on schedule. I’m so happy and excited to have her back in my life.

I’m talking about the NFL of course!

Seriously, I love NFL football, and I'm getting totally jazzed for the upcoming season. As I write this we are less than 24 hours away from kickoff.

All the experts around the league are putting out their predictions for the year, so as we count down the hours until Kickoff Thursday night, here are mine.

nfl1. Down South: The entire NFC will be down this year. Tampa will struggle to reach 8-8, Atlanta (13 wins) and New Orleans (11 wins) will win less games than they did last year. One of the pervasive myths of the NFL is that the difficulty of your scheduled is influenced by last years performance. Busted! The 2011 season has yet to have a game played, and 14 of the 16 games for 2012 are already locked in. Only two games are determined by your finish. The NFC South last season played an NFC West division that was bad from top to bottom. They played two games against my beloved Panthers who were having a terrible season.

2. Make Mine a Ham(string) Sandwich: Both Frank Gore (SF) and Chris Johnson are out of the lineup with soft tissue injuries, likely pulled hamstrings before Week 4. They sat all virtually all of the abbreviated training camp, and now expect the flip the switch and go all out in the regular season. That is a recipe for disaster.

3. Point of No Return: No less than 5 teams which made the playoffs in 2010 will miss the playoffs in 2011. When you see my predicted playoff teams you’ll notice Kansas City, Seattle, Pitt, Indy, Chicago all missing.

4. In Luck: The 49ers and Seahawks will battle for the worst record in the league and the right to draft Andrew Luck, but ultimately, I think the 49ers will take the prize. Neither of these teams has a good starting quarterback. Travaris Jackson and Alex Smith are not NFL starters. I hold out hope for Seattle only because I expect that at some point, they will turn to former Clemson Tiger Charlie Whitehurst who actually might be halfway decent.

5. The Heart of Rock and Roll: The surprise team of the year is not the Detroit Lions as all the sport yaks are predicting. No the surprise team this year in the Cleveland Browns. Colt McCoy in Pat Shurmur’s West Coast Offense and a cotton candy soft opening schedule will lead to a fast start for Cleveland and give confidence to a young team that has a tough road down the stretch. But they will be ready and eventually challenge for the AFC North division crown.

6. We Cam Do It: Cam Newton wins Rookie of the Year. This may be a little bit of homerism (gee, ya think!) but I’ve been impressed with Cam during the preseason. If he has a decent year, which I think pray he will, then he’ll walk away with the award.

7. Corn on the Kolb: Kevin Kolb will show this year that he is, in fact, a JAG (just another guy). There is a parade of former Eagles quarterbacks who have gone on to ignominious careers once they leave the all powerful gaze of Andy Reid. Does the name A.J. Feely ring a bell for you? Donovan McNabb? Yeah. What amazes me is that other teams still let Reid scam them out of draft picks for average quarterbacks that Reid makes look good.

8. Man(ning) Down: No, not Peyton (I’ll talk about him in a minute) Eli Manning will have the worst year of his career and fans will be calling for his head. He lost security blankets Steve Smith and Kevin Boss. Not that I put too much weight on the preseason, but the Giants made the Panthers (the Panthers!) look good. Gonna be a long year in the Big Apple.

9. Steelers Rust: I know everyone is talking about their old defense, but the real problem is the Super Bowl hangover. Teams that lose the Super Bowl struggle the next year, regardless of how invincible they look in the preseason. Mendenhall will go down early in the year with an injury and Big Ben won’t be able to carry the load all by his lonesome. They will miss the playoffs.

10. Go West, Young Man: Before the end of the 2012 season. the Jacksonville Jaguars will have announced they are moving to sunny California to be the Los Angeles team.

One last item, Make It a Tom Collins: How many sport yaks are going to be rethinking the greatness of Peyton Manning if Kerry Collins can run the offense to any semblance of what Manning could coming out of retirement. Could Manning be a system quarterback? We’re about to find out.

Division Winners, Wild Card and Doormats:

NFC East:
Winner: Dallas Cowboys, Wildcard: Philadelphia Eagles
Doormat: New York Giants

NFC North:
Winner: Green Bay Packers, Wildcard: Detroit Lions
Doormat: Chicago Bears

NFC South:
Winner: New Orleans Saints
Doormat: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC West:
Winner: St. Louis Rams
Doormat: San Francisco 49ers

AFC East:
Winner: New England Patriots, Wildcard: New York Jets
Doormat: Buffalo Bills

AFC North:
Winner: Cleveland Browns, Wildcard: Baltimore
Doormat: Cincinnati Bengals

AFC South:
Winner: Houston Texans
Doormat: Jacksonville Jaguars

AFC West:
Winner: San Diego Chargers
Doormat: Kansas City Chiefs

Super Bowl

San Diego Chargers Beat Dallas Cowboys 31-24

Monday, September 5, 2011

Pulling a Lucas

I asked my wife to read my Unicorn story and give me some feedback. I am blessed to have a wife that loves to read and has an eye for spelling and grammatical errors. She asked if I needed her to edit it. I knew Steve would gets his mitts on it, so I told her just to read it and not worry about editing.

So she asked what kind of feedback I wanted. I told her to see how she liked the story, the characters and to see if I had pulled a Lucas.

Pulling a Lucas is an inside joke shared between us. It refers to a plot hole or inconsistency in the story and was inspired by George Lucas and the myriad of plot holes introduced in the ‘new’ Star Wars moves Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.

Our favorite example has to do with Leia. In Return of the Jedi, Luke asks Leia to tell him about her mother, her real mother.

Leia says that her mother died when she was young, that she was beautiful, but sad. Then in Revenge of the Sith, we find out Leia’s mother, Padme, dies in childbirth. So when she says her mother died when she was young, she means really, really young.

Another example is when in Empire Strikes Back, Luke is told by a ghostly Obi-Wan Kenobi to go to the Dagobah system to continue his training. Obi-wan says, “there you will learn from Yoda, the Jedi Master who trained me.” Then in Phantom Menace we learn that Qui-Gon trained Obi-wan, not Yoda. So what he should have said “there you will from Yoda, the Jedi Master who, well he didn’t train me, but we passed in the halls of the temple a couple of times. He’s a swell guy, you’ll like him!”

Hopefully, I’ve avoided pulling a Lucas in my Unicorn story.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Saturday Six: Weather

Six questions from my friend Patrick.

1. The weather’s just too hot for you and you decide to escape for a week to somewhere cooler: what’s the first place you’d think of?

Bryson City, NC. My wife and I spent both our honeymoon and babymoon in this lovely little city near Cherokee. She loves waterfalls so we would hike to various waterfalls nearby. We rode the railroad and just took in the amazing mountain scenery. I don’t if you appreciate how different the mountains look to people who live their whole life on the coast. We are just amazed by them.

2. Months later, the weather’s now too cold for you and you decide to escape for a week to somewhere warmer: what’s the first place you’d think of?

If we are going somewhere warm, it’s probably Orlando. Our daughter loves Disney World. We’ve gone three times and each time we go it’s a better experience than the last. Some of her favorite things to do are the Indy Speedway in Magic Kingdom, Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure in Epcot and the Kilimanjaro Safari in Animal Kingdom.

3. Severe weather is moving your way. Which are you more likely to turn to first to get information on the storm: your radio, your television or the web?

As long as we have power, it’ll be the web, then the TV. The radio is broken out once we lose power. On the web we like the National Hurricane Center’s site, and the Hurricane Tracker on weather.com. When we go to TV, we prefer Bill Walsh. So many of the local weathermen try to overhype and sensationalize hurricanes as they approach. We find Bill to be the most even tempered and we appreciate it.

4. You find yourself sitting on a screened in porch during a strong thunderstorm: do you find this relaxing or terrifying?

I don’t think I’d be either relaxed or terrified. It’s not something I would particularly want to do, nor really enjoy. I’d much rather be inside.

5. What is your thermostat set to right now?

78. We keep it there most of the summer.

6. How high do you set it at the coldest part of winter?

I’m pretty sure we keep it around 72. We have an eastern exposure house which helps some.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Unicorn Revisions

Today is the day my revisions are due in the Unicorn Project. I'm going to give it another once over before I turn it in tonight, but I'm pleased to say I feel pretty good about turning it in.  I would have loved for the group to critique this version of the story, but we only get one critique and it wouldn't as good a shape as it is now without that first critique.

Revisions took much longer than I anticipated. I figured writing the first draft would have taken the longest amount of time, but revising took much longer than writing. I’m not sure exactly why. When I wrote the initial draft, I just wrote it and didn’t worry about pretty much anything other than getting the story ‘on paper’ so to speak. As I was revising, I was looking at each scene and taking into account the critiques I had received from the group. I was looking at each character, and each situation more closely.

I was also forced to cut some scenes and lines that I really liked from the first version. Okay, I wasn’t really forced, but during the course of the rewrite it became apparent those scenes and lines just were not going to fit into this version of the story. It was harder to let them go than I thought it would have been, and I fought the urge to find some place to shoehorn them back into the story, but it just didn’t work.

It was interesting looking at the places in the story where the critiques disagreed with one another. One person didn’t like the way I had written something, but another disagreed and thought it was fine as it was written, but had an issue with something else entirely. I looked at the story, and looked at what I was trying to accomplish. Ultimately, I had to make the call and go with one opinion over the other.

My biggest fear is that I’ve overcorrected. That’s a pretty common issue when you are learning a new skill. I tend to vacillate between not enough description and too much. I hope that in this draft, I’ve got the balance right.

This processes has removed any concern I’ve got over the relatively small word count I have for Dream Chaser. I’m getting closer to the end of the story, and I’m fairly certain the word count will be much less than the 80k I was shooting for. But then I looked at how my Unicorn story developed. The first draft was about 4,400 words. The second draft, the one I had critiqued, was about 5,200 words. My final draft is about 6,900 words. Each time I revised it the word count went up. I anticipate a similar scenario working out with Dream Chaser.

The title of the story also changed. That’s one of the changes I made that I wish I could have gotten some feedback on.

Besides being proud of myself for finishing the stuff I started, I’m also proud of myself for hitting nearly every deadline I was given. I did have to get a small 2 day extension of this final deadline. Working to deadlines is an important part of the writers life, and I’m glad that I was able to turn each step in on time. I’m usually a terrible procrastinator, and there were several nights when I chose to work on my story rather than indulge my passions of playing video games or watching football. I chose to make finishing this story a high priority and it worked.

I can’t remember where I read it, and I’ll have to search it, but someone once said that books (and short stories) aren’t so much finished as they are abandoned. At some point, you have to let it go. Whether that’s running up against a deadline, or just coming to the place where you know it’s time to work on something else, every story gets abandoned. I could have kept working on Unicorn for several more weeks and it would have kept getting better. But our copy editor has about 8 of these stories to edit, and he needs time to get through each oen so he can do a through job.

I’ll give her one more once over tonight and then I’ll save it and send it off to the copy editor. Once the anthology is done, I’ll be sure to let you know how to get your hands on it.

Edit: I have added an affiliate link for the How To Think Sideways course I'm taking. I'm enjoying it and I'll have a more through review once I'm done. It is an affiliate link so I get money if you use it to buy the course.