Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Bliss of An Uncluttered Day

calendar, agenda, planner, notebook, meeting, business, office, desk, meeting, workingI started to turn off my alarm this morning, but then I remembered that I have nowhere to be until 7:15 tonight, which means I am free for the entire day and I didn't want to miss any of it. I did lie in bed for about twenty minutes just enjoying the fact that I didn't have to get up and be ready to go somewhere. But then it was up for tea and devotions and browsing the Internet while I let my thoughts on my blog gel in a meandering, leisurely pace. I read a little, had some breakfast and another cup of tea, and here I am, two hours later, writing my post. After this, I might read some more--I'm getting to the good part of my book--or I may FINALLY get some writing done.

I have been thinking a lot about retirement lately. Trying to decide at what point I'm going to hang up my teacher spurs and turn to writing full-time. Despite the fact that I'm just in love with my kids again, there are times when I yearn for the ability to do this regularly. Get up early because I want to. Read. Write. Promote. Exercise. As my old friend Dan Daniel always used to say, make every week six Saturdays and a Sunday.

clock, timeBut then I think about just how much I was looking forward to today. A single uncluttered day in the midst of calendar slots filled with school activities and writing activities and church activities. And it takes me back to the summer, when I had great long stretches of days with literally nothing requiring my time. I took them for granted. I took no great joy in them. I failed to take advantage in the way I should have. I mean yes, I did travel a good deal and spend time with people I treasure, but I didn't get nearly the writing done that I could have and I definitely didn't read as much as I could have. Why? Because I had all the time in the world. If I didn't get 5,000 words written today, that's all right--I have tomorrow. Until I didn't. And then I looked back on all that time I didn't use how I could have. I'm not on a guilt trip. It was a good summer. But what I'm saying is that I tend not to appreciate free time unless I don't have it. Intellectually, I know that it's finite, but I'm not always intellectual. Sometimes I'm lazy and unfocused.
nature, outdoor, green, grass, forest, trees, plant, road, path, sky, wood, peaceful
But not on days like today. Today I'm like a laser. Reading. Writing. Cleaning up my room. Enjoying the fact that tomorrow, when it's back to the rat race of church and school and ClutchMOV stuff, I'll be able to look back at a day spent well.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Happy Birthday To Me!

For my birthday, I
became Batman.
It's my birthday, so I slept in today. When I woke up, my brain couldn't comprehend why it was so bright outside. I've gotten up before dawn seven days a week for well over a month. The last time I slept past daybreak was sometime in the summer. But I had a good excuse, aside from the whole birthday thing. Last night was my school's homecoming. As the assistant advisor to the Student Council, I had school all day, ran and grabbed some dinner, and then was at school again until about 11:15. It was a long but satisfying day. But I needed to get some sleep, so I turned off my alarm.

The other day my mother asked me what I wanted for my birthday. When I was younger, I always looked forward to being asked that because it meant the big day was coming. Then, when I got a little older, it was less of a happy thing and more of a reminder that I wasn't getting younger. Now, I'm in a good place in my life. I don't want to rush anything, but I'm at peace with the aging process. A lot of that has to do with my complete conviction that this life is only the beginning of a great adventure. Once this body dies, I'll get a new, perfect body and my soul will live on in the unending love of God. And so dying doesn't scare me like it used to. Which means I can celebrate birthdays all I want without an ounce of dread. I'm happy to say that I'm 53. I made it another year. I'm excited to see what the next one brings.

But the question still remains: what do I want for my birthday? Well, that's a toughie because it's hard to think of much that I could ask for that I don't already have. I have a big, close family who love me very much. I have a group of friends who are also my family. I have two great jobs, both of which I love; a comfortable, clean place to live; and a cool new ride. The one thing I never got to do was raise children, but I get my parenting instincts out on my students, some of whom have become just like my children. And there's a handsome young lad named Samuel Schoenhut who I love to the moon and back. I'm excited to help his parents guide him to adulthood in any way that I can.

So what does that leave? Frankly, not much. But if you put a gun to my head, I'd have to say--after I asked you to stop pointing the gun at me--that there are a few things I'd like to ask for this year. Here the are:

  • A publishing contract for my new, not-finished-yet book. I've enjoyed the independent thing with The Shalan Adventures and I intend to continue that, but I'm still old-school enough to want to publish at least one book traditionally. It doesn't have to be a bestseller. I just want to be able to say I did that. 
  • Speaking of the Shalan Adventures, I'd love to hear back from the production company who contacted me about the production rights on them. That would be a great present. 
  • Last, but most important, my wish is that the world and all its inhabitants would learn to live in the love of Christ. 
So there's my list. Publishing companies and studios, how about we get on those first two? As for the last one, if you want to know more about my faith, all you have to do is ask. 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

A Fun Night And Some Good Questions

Image result for serenity coffee house vienna wvAs some of you who follow me on social media or just know me in real life know, I was the featured artist last night at the monthly meeting of a poets' group that meets at Serenity Coffee House, a neat local place. I spoke, read from Dawn of Grace, and answered questions. When I was finished, I sold and signed some books. It was a really successful evening and not just because I made some sales.

The audience, made up of four people I didn't know along with three I did (shout-out to my cousin Joyce and two of my students who came to see me), was really appreciative. They laughed when they should have and one or two times I even heard some quiet exclamations of surprise. And when I was finished talking, the four folks I didn't know, who turned out to be the regulars, all asked wonderful questions. One asked if I did research before I wrote because the events and procedures I describe in the book seem so real. Another asked how I pulled off such good dialogue. Those questions had some pretty big compliments in them, things that all authors love to hear. But I thought their questions were worth discussing.
microphone, music, audio, podcast, musician, concert, stage, show, lights, blurry, bokeh
The short answer to the first question is yes, I do research. A lot of the time, that involves web searches that might make the FBI question whether I'm a serial killer. But when I want to know how the cops do stuff, I use my handy dandy cop down the hall, Chris Morehead. He's the Prevention Resource Officer (PRO) at my school. He's a regular city policeman, but his main beat is Parkersburg High School. So if I want to know police procedures or what a cop would do or even how a cop thinks, I ask him. He's been an amazing resource. For instance, in Dawn of Grace, I needed to know how a Parkersburg cop (Chris said they don't mind being called that.) would reach out to police from another city to find out about a case. He talked me through all the channels and permutations. He told me things I never would have considered. It was invaluable. And he's been a resource without even talking to me. Just watching him--how he moves, how he interacts with people, the difference between regular everyday Chris and Chris in cop mode--has helped me feel like I'm portraying police in a clearer and more positive light.

police car, sirens, lights, cop, crime, driving, speeding, roadAnd the short answer to the other question is that in order to write good dialogue, I spend a lot of time eavesdropping. Just listening to how people speak to each other helps me to write realistic conversations. Ironically, the one piece of professional advice I ever received was that my dialogue needed to stop sounding like real conversation. It should be clipped and quick. So I did that in my first book, Harsh Prey. It didn't feel right. The book didn't sound the way it should to me, but I went on because the pros said I was doing it how I should. But then I decided that, since I'm publishing these things on my own, I don't need to answer to anyone, so I can write the dialogue the way I want. And behold, everyone who read both books said the second was way better, in large part because the dialogue in Kisses and Lies sounded more real. You could actually hear the voices of the characters. You see, my writing is kind of dialogue-driven, whereas some other writers are more into narrative. When whole long sections of the story are dominated by dialogue, I think it's just wrong to make it sound like it's between Tonto and the Hulk. And my readers seem to agree.

So those are my writing tips for today. Make friends with a cop and write dialogue that doesn't sound like it came from a caveman. Hope you found that helpful.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Sometimes The Best Way To Improve Your Writing Is Not To Write

We all read those blog posts by writers (myself included) that say that you should write every day. Create a routine, write at least a little bit daily. And for the most part, it's good advice. If you aren't a writer but working to get better at something, the same rule of thumb applies. To get better, you need to practice regularly. 

ipad, tablet, calendar, time, keyboard, macbook, laptop, technology, office, desk, business, meetingBut sometimes the best thing I do for my writing is not to write. When writing becomes routine and I start to lose the joy of it, then some time off is just the ticket. I'm not talking about taking a year off or even a whole month. I mean a few days or even a week or two. And I'm not talking about not getting my writing in because I'm busy. I'm saying that sometimes it's best to simply say--and even put it on my calendar if need be--that I'm not going to try to write this week. I'm going to take a few days away and do other things. Maybe take a trip and not take my computer so I'm not tempted. Or lie in bed for fifteen extra minutes in the morning, just enjoying the opportunity to wake up slowly instead of hitting the ground already running. Take longer walks, read more, visit with friends--all the things we sacrifice for this thing we've chosen to do but still get a little frustrated by how much of our lives it consumes sometimes. 

beach, houses, sand, footprints, beach, rocks, shore, purple, sky, clouds, ocean, seaAnd by doing that, I find that when I go back to the writing, the joy has reappeared. I look forward to writing again. And I notice that I see my work-in-progress with fresh eyes. I become aware of plot-holes that weren't evident when I was in the midst of writing. I am excited to hear the voices of my characters again, to see where they've decided to go while I wasn't consciously thinking about them. 

How do I know how long to take off? There's no formula. I guess the best answer is just long enough. Long enough to be refreshed but not so long that I lose the habit and also lose the feel for the book I'm working on. Long enough that I start to miss it. 
restaurant, bar, drinks, beer, alcohol, smoking, people, talking, laughing, smiling, fun, tables, chairs, signs, license plates, friends
So, how about you? Whether you're a writer or singer or artist of another kind or you build houses or work in an office, if there's something you do for joy--as a vocation or a hobby--do you ever feel the need to step away from it for a while? If so, how do you decide when to go back to it? I'm interested to know what you think.