Sunday, July 25, 2010

Not Quite the Breakfast Club

Both mornings this weekend, before the heat and humidity became too much to handle, and before most folks even thought about getting out of bed, Dad came over and helped me with some much-needed house maintenance and repairs. The work is by no means finished, but we Southerners learn to pace ourselves in the summer, a season which can start before the calendar says it does, and end long after the calendar says it should.

And we don't always eat first then go to work. The heat can make a person ill, and then all that breakfast needs somewhere to go when the stomach kicks it out. Eating later can actually be a good thing.

After work was done, and this being my house, I was the designated breakfast cook. Although Mom made sure my brother and I learned to cook and clean and take care of ourselves when we were still in elementary school, I've not had much use for making breakfast in all the years I've lived on my own. Yeah, I still rustle up some oatmeal on occasion, or toast, but generally I'm an on-the-go breakfaster: peel back the foil on a store-bought cup of yogurt and eat it with a plastic spoon while driving to work, or pop open a can of breakfast shake and use it to swig down some extra vitamins before heading out the door, and fixing a fresh cup of coffee after I get to work.

This weekend, though, I had to relearn old skills: scrambling eggs (too much milk made them watery Saturday morning), or eyeballing the water-to-oats ratio for oatmeal (measuring cups? what measuring cups?). The toast turned out okay. Boiled eggs Sunday morning -- not okay. We ate them anyway, mixed up as egg salad and slathered between pieces of toast.

Coffee, now, that's my specialty. It was perfect every time.

If I was really going to go for traditional family fare, there would have been biscuits and white gravy, sausage or bacon or both, fried eggs, grits, and probably buttermilk. But I don't keep that stuff on hand; Dad was fortunate to get those watery scrambled eggs and that chewy-thick oatmeal. He didn't seem to mind, though, because he ate two helpings and he sat long at the table, drinking coffee, talking. Saturday, he picked out a DVD, took his coffee into the living room, and watched 3:10 to Yuma. This morning, he ate those wonky egg sandwiches and talked about the movie, how it had lingered with him for the rest of the day and what it made him think.

So my cooking skills, or lack thereof, weren't important. Nor am I going to spell out what was important. The "moral" of this story is up to you, the reader, to infer.


Just as writers are often advised to begin their stories en medias res (in the middle of the story's events) in order to grab the readers' attention, so too they should be advised -- as poets are -- to know when to stop. Often, the best way to engage an audience in your story is not to tell them what to think or feel, but to lead them in a certain direction then step out of the way, and leave the rest up to them.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

I Write Like (fill in the blank)

Seen the news about I Write Like, a new website for literary geeks -- uh -- aficionados? You can plug in samples of your writing, the site will analyze the material, and a few seconds later will give you the name of a famous author whose style resembles yours.

Just for fun, I copied-and-pasted the first chapter of my first fantasy manuscript into the analyzer, and zappo! I write like Mario Puzo.

Huh? Wait a minute. Didn't he write a classic or something?

Not sure my sword-slinging captain of ragged but courageous medieval-type soldiers compares well with The Godfather, but, hey, this is all just in good fun.

And, apparently, I also write like Stephen King. At least that's the read on the latest episode of Thieves' Honor after it was dropped into the box.

Since the algorithm on the website checks and compares word choices from only about 50 authors, one can't really know if one's style is truly like that of another writer or not -- the site can only compute by the data and programming it is given.

Still, just out of curiosity, I tossed in a few other random writing samples, and here are the results:

"At the End of Time, When the World Was New" (published short story) -- like Vladimir Nabokov

"Jubal's Gift" (unfinished short story-turned-novella) -- like James Joyce

SF/F mashup short story (title withheld, written under another name) -- like David Foster Wallace

"Rowena" (award-winning story written under another name and title) -- like H.P. Lovecraft

Adam (unfinished novel based on family history) -- like Stephen King

Costano (unfinished "historical fantasy" novel) -- like James Joyce

(SK & JJ again -- I think I'm detecting a pattern!)

Eban's Crossing (unfinished YA fantasy novel) -- like David Foster Wallace

A Fist of Thorns (yet another unfinished fantasy novel) -- like James Joyce

"Wolf's Daughter" (short story written under another name and title) -- David Foster Wallace

(JJ & DFW -- really detecting a pattern!)

supernatural novel (written under another name) -- like James Joyce

Of the twelve samples I plugged into the site,
four were compared to James Joyce (an author I have struggled to read but just can't),
three were compared to David Foster Wallace (never read his work),
two were compared to Stephen King (watched movies based on his work, read a story or two),
one was compared to H.P. Lovecraft (again, I've only read a story or two, though friends are fans),
one to Vladimir Nabokov (only read an excerpt of Lolita, just didn't hold my attention),
and one to Mario Puzo (seen the movies, read excerpts of the books).

In this amateur analysis, it seems as if my writing most resembles that of authors I've never read. Good thing, bad thing? Hm.

Monday, July 12, 2010

An Old List and a Blatant Plea

Taped to the wire stand that supports my no-frills HP printer is an old, slightly-faded fluorescent yellow index card labeled "Wildly Impossible Dreams":

1) Finish not only DRAGON'S ROOK but also DRAGON'S BANE and the rest of the long, massive story.

2) Publish these books; that they will connect so strongly with readers that they positively affect lives for generations.

3) Be a cross-genre writer -- and be successful at it.

4) Make my living as a writer.

5) Involve my brother & other family members in my writing.

Well, Dragon's Rook is indeed finished but in need of one more gentle edit before it goes anywhere. Dragon's Bane is still being written. Brother and family are most certainly involved. I do write in more than one genre, but success is still elusive.

Notice how those "Wildly Impossible Dreams" aren't so impossible? How they all involve writing? Some might say my life is narrow. I just call it focused.


Issue #56 of Ray Gun Revival is live! Check out all the stories (I haven't had a chance to wade into it yet, but am looking forward to some good reads), and admire the excellent artwork.

Here's a request I don't make, except of the handful of pre-readers who help me prepare stories for submission: If there are any readers who are following Thieves' Honor, my space pirates serial being published in RGR, any feedback you care to give? I'll take the good, the bad, and the ugly, as long as it's legit. Any suggestions, questions, directions you'd like the story to go?

To tell the truth, I just want to know if the story's being read.


Friday, July 9, 2010

Kids and Living Lessons

So, yesterday, returning from a work-related errand, I walk in the door of the Club and am met with an ongoing girl-drama saga: a feud between two sets of sisters who live on the same street, attend the same school, and bring their mess to the same Club.

This time, there are threats -- "I'm gonna bring my momma here, and she's gonna beat you into the ground" -- and the usual name-calling, foul-language, biting, shoving, scratching. And then, when confronted with overwhelming evidence and witnesses, one of the main perpetrators gives me a wide-eyed look and swears (there are actual tears in her eyes) that she's never done anything to anyone.

Awww. Feel the sincerity.

Well, I've had as much sincerity as I can stand, so there's some discipline meted out, as well as some mercy, and I hope -- but don't really expect -- that little bit of mercy to be appreciated.

Not even an hour later, one of the four girls is back: after hearing the consequences of future misdeeds, and knowing she will have used up all her chances, all the available mercy, she has gone right out and done it all again. This time, she receives the full penalty.

Reminds me of the man in the parable told by Jesus: a man whose unpayable debt to the king is forgiven immediately goes out and shows no mercy to another man who owes a paltry amount. There is no gratitude for the grace that has been extended.

How many times have I forgotten how much I owe? How much thanks is due to Him and to others?

Then, this morning, there's a wail of despair and I come out of my office to see a boy standing at the front desk and gripping the edges of the counter, his head thrown back, his eyes closed in a face contorted with crying. Upon examination, he has no visible wounds, nothing's bleeding or broken. When he can speak, he hiccups and wails the words, "I feeelll! And Sebastian fell on top of meeeee!"

I press a fist to my mouth and endeavor to look as concerned as possible.

It doesn't help that his sister is openly smiling.

Later, as he's led back to the gym, I call after him, "Tommy, I feel your pain."

His sister turns to me, laughing, and says, "Maybe Sebastian was really heavy today."

And maybe Tommy was more embarrassed than hurt.

So, you may ask, what's the life lesson here, Keanan?

Maybe it's not as bad as it feels.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Expanding in the Void

Very little writing has been done at my address. There's the occasional e-mail, sure, but no fiction. Not since the submission of Thieves' Honor, Episode 12 to the Overlords at Ray Gun Revival.

No, I haven't lost my odd obsession with words (for instance, I hate obstreperous, because it's such a clinical-looking term for rowdy behavior), nor have I run out of ideas for stories. All the fantasy and science fiction projects are still in the works.

The house has been undergoing a spring cleaning -- summer cleaning? There's no cleaning like summer cleaning, like no cleaning I know.

(gulp) Did I just paraphrase a show tune?


Okay. All better now.

Despite tossing out bag after bag of old manuscripts and worn-out story notes, I still have two huge plastic tubs of notebooks, research, and ideas. It's a mother lode of my own making, but some of the material is so old that I'd forgotten it, so it's almost like receiving treasure from a total stranger.

Books, DVDs, crazy bits of nostalgia, clothes, the odd shelf or old coffee mug, they're all hittin' the road. The place looks bare, but I don't miss a thing. Stuff is a chain, and the mind clears as the space clears. There are still shelves stocked with hundreds of books and dozens of movies; if I didn't like them so much, need them for research, I'd send them down the road, too, just to create more space.

My imagination expands to fill the void, and I can hardly wait to get back to the business of creating.

-------------------------  And now a note for the insane:   -------------------------

Over at M. Keaton's blog, Speaking of the Mad, is a tongue-in-cheek, laugh-out-loud post about his theory of Quantum Irrationality. Please, do go read it.  Your chakras will thank you.