A Writer’s Biography, Volume III, Part 6: The importance of writing groups

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: My deepest apologies for releasing this blog Monday rather than sometime civilized on Saturday. Still getting used to the new schedule.

[SECOND AUTHOR’S NOTE: OK, it’s at 12:10 p.m. rather than 12:00 p.m. Still pretty close to what I promised, right?

[PHOTO NOTE: This is not my actual writing group, past or present. This is the first image that popped up when I did a Pexel search for “writing group.” And, there you go.

If you would, permit me to make a small detour into the world of politics.

It was in the middle of running for his second term as president in 2012 when Barack Obama got into a minor controversy over a statement he made on the campaign trail. At a campaign stop in Virginia, he was trying to make the point that rich people don’t become rich just because of their own efforts, but from the help of others, the help of government, and good fortune. He said in part:

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.

Barack Obama

I bring up this statement not to debate its value (I personally agree with it) nor to explain why it is so. I wanted to compare this idea with another idea that has long been popular – the idea of a writer as a singular artist.

This is an idea that, if it cannot quite be classified as a cliche, maybe could be considered more like a trope. I can remember so many scenes in films, television, and (yes) books as well, scenes of serious, dedicated writers hunched over hand-held notebooks, legal pads, typewriters, or word processors. They’re always so serious, aren’t they, their isolated rooms echoing with the scritch scratch of pens or pencils, the slamming thunk thunk of typewriter keys or the tiki-tak tiki-tak of word processors. Those scenes burned into my brains so much I’ve worn out keyboards for the past 25-plus years. Wasn’t it Sean Connery in Finding Forrester who said “Punch the keys, for God’s sake!” Oh, I lived that idea for many years. It is the reason that all of my spacebars on my keyboards have some worn-off parts, as well as a few other keys.

A writer lends a person so well to being a solitary artist. Not quite sure an idea is going to work out, or if somebody else likes it? Who cares, nobody is going to stop you, right? You are the final say over your story except for those sorry brothers who agree to collaborate with one or more writers. No worries about how much it would cost to render a scene for your reader, no worries about filming budgets or payrolls for actors and crew – you can build any world you want, any characters you want, for the cost of your imagination, your time imagining, and the cost of a workable computer or typewriter if you have a real 20th Century mentality. Especially if you have a nice little writing space, you can shut everyone out and everything out except you and your imagination. You would be the classic, mythical rugged individualist as artist.

However, as Barack said at the start of all this, “You didn’t build that.” Sure, you did build those worlds, those fascinating characters, those wonderful stories. Those are your words on the screen or the page. But, you didn’t get to that point on your own.

If we look into ourselves and understand the real writing process, the real ins and outs of how literature comes to be, we know that we are not just lone gunmen spewing our stories into the ether. There were so many that got us to the point where we were able to tell our stories and share them with the world.

There were other people that helped us to be able to share these stories, these writings, with the rest of the world. It is the same for all you writers out there just as much as it was for me. For me, I admit, I relied on my fellow writers to get me to where I have gotten to today.

I specifically remember the late Aughts of 2007 or so in regards to myself. I was returning to my hometown (Muscatine, Iowa) after a 10-year stay in Clinton, Iowa, and what felt like an equally long hiatus from writing. (I was writing off and on, but in no way consistently at all). In fact, initially I just sat and stewed for a while, which I might have attributed to entering the teaching profession and getting adjusted to that. But another part of that was the fact that I was writing in a vacuum, with nobody I could turn to for advice or guidance.

It was then that I remembered a local writing group called Writers on the Avenue. There were many differences between me and the other members. I was generally younger than most of them. Many of them preferred to work in poetry or mainstream literature, and I was the crazy kid writing thrillers or sci-fi/fantasy. We had differences of opinion on a lot of things about life. But we all had writing in common.

I went off and on between not participating in the group to at one point serving as club secretary. However, the feedback I got from them all about writing was invaluable.

They helped shape what eventually became my first published novel, The Holy Fool. They also provided critiques of my other novel projects as well. It was through them that I was able to network and get in contact with groups such as the Midwest Writing Center, where I learned a lot from the seminars and critique groups they had. I was able to network with other writers and get ideas about expressing myself through writing that eventually led me from repurposing an old Facebook page I had used as part of my past journalism career to creating the blog that you see here. I even got into poetry because I kept listening to their work and finally decided to try my hand at it. Some of those poems you can find here.

One of the real downsides of moving to South Central Iowa (Chariton, to be exact), is that I’m not able to meet with those groups on a regular basis. I’m glad now that I have started to settle in and get to be part of groups such as the Iowa Writer’s Corner. I’m hoping to get together with some other writers in the Des Moines area and continue my progress as a writer.

And who knows? Since Zoom has become such a thing, maybe I can get together with some of my old Eastern Iowa writing friends without burning too much gas.

I’m Having A Promotional Event on July 10th. Think anybody can make it out there?

After an extended absence from doing any sort of in-person promotional events due first to my move out to South Central Iowa and the whole COVID situation, I thought it was time for me to finally bring that dry spell to an end.

I will be making an appearance at the 6th annual Indie Author Book Expo at Valley West Mall in West Des Moines July 10th. I will be at the expo from 11 am to 5 pm that day.

Come down to talk with me and pick up a copy of my novel The Holy Fool. It’s my debut novel, a journalism thriller about a reporter trying to break a big national security story in Chicago on the eve of the 2008 elections and the Great Recession while trying to help keep his paper alive. Go ahead and come to the My Works page on the blog for more information about the book and links to buy paperback and e-book editions.

Here’s a link to the expo. Hope to see you there.

A Writer’s Biography, Volume I, Part 8: The Old Mississippi

I recently completed my move from Muscatine, Iowa, where I’ve lived for more than 30 of the fortysomething years I’ve lived, to Chariton, Iowa, in south-central Iowa. In many ways, I’m excited about the move – it has been a great professional opportunity for my wife, a good financial move for us, and a good change of pace for me. Being closer to Des Moines might even be helpful for me as far as writing goes – more writers, more people to network with. My wife even has suggested that I start a Chariton or Lucas County writer’s group, but I have to admit that I have no idea how many writers are out there or what type of writing they might do. I’d be open to the idea, however.

It’s going to be the river, however, that I’m going to miss the most.

For more than forty of my years, I have lived a couple miles or so from the Mississippi River. That has been something that I truly treasured. I remembered when I was a little kid, reading something in a National Geographic book about how the Mississippi/Missouri/Ohio river system was the third biggest river system in the world, topped only by the Amazon and the Nile. Heady stuff for a little kid.

I want to describe what this river meant to me, then and now. Doing justice to the subject is a little intimidating, to be honest. I haven’t done much looking at other people’s writings about rivers or the Mississippi in particular.

When I talk about this, I need to be honest. It wasn’t like I was some river rat, hanging out on the shore every weekend or even every month. If I wandered down to the riverfront once every week it was an uncommon occurrence. But the fact that the river was there was reassuring to me. It was a living, breathing river and passageway to me, a place where I could lose myself if I had the chance.

Since I learned that we were going to be moving to South Central Iowa, I’ve been thinking more about my feelings about the Mississippi, some of the ways that I have experienced the river. My old writing group back in Muscatine did a lot of poetry and a lot of writing about our region. I decided to finally try my own hand at poetry, which turned into my current Project C.

So, I’m thinking that maybe a poem might be a good way to maybe get at the way I feel. This is the first time I’ve shown this – be gentle.

NO-MAN’S ISLANDS (A River Story)
2.2019
The thing that The River has over other rivers and streams
is its own land.
Usually, it’s just a dirt road of two-lane blacktop of muddy water
or a four-lane at best.
But The River has its own land, right there tucked in the channel.
Carved and molded and rounded-off by the ever-shifting waters
with no shape but overwhelming mass and motion.
These are the No Man’s Island’s.  
Temporary Sentinels guarding the river for as long as they’re around.
They are for no one for everyone that has a boat
or strong enough swimming stroke.
Some are bare sand, all but ready for a rise in The River
to send it away.
Others are thick jungles, oaks and maples cluttering the interior
and hanging off the banks like a daredevil hanging from a bridge.
They’re perfect for parking your boat,
and getting some sun quota for the day.
You hang out with love behind the trees and bushes
obscuring the view of the jet skiers and party boat passengers and barge crews.
It’s their own little fiefdoms away from the cares and stresses
On Shore.
At least, they are until the snacks and beers in the coolers run out.

I’m planning on trying to do more of that poetry with river themes, as a way of keeping those memories alive with me and keep creative.

There’s no rivers the size of the Mississippi around here. There are some sizable lakes around here, including Lake Rathburn and some others within decent driving range. However, I do have an active railway not a block away from my house. I’m actually living on a highway for the first time in my life, as well.

Maybe its time to try out some train and road poems.

OK, I Actually Wrote Fan Fiction

Saturdays on my writing Facebook and Twitter pages are #SciFiFantasySaturday. I usually post cool stuff I’ve read about the science fiction and fantasy genres. Growing up, they were among my favorite things to read or watch on television or the cinema. So, I figured I might post this tonight, even though I’m posting late again like the social media people advise me not to do.

As I mentioned previously, the final season of Game Of Thrones did not leave me happy. As a result of that, I found myself looking over several different fan fiction reinterpretations of that final season.

What I was impressed with was the volume of people doing this. When I ran across more than 4,000 examples of a particular type of stories, that blew my mind. I always read the cliches about fan fiction being the breeding ground of bad writing. But in a world where I keep hearing that writers and the written word are eventually going to die out, I keep seeing example after example of people who love to write and want to blend their love of why they’ve read and watched into their writing. Why shouldn’t that be encouraged as long as people acknowledge what they are doing and don’t try to profit from other people’s copyrights?

So, I finished Project S, my previously-named epilogue to the Game of Thrones TV series. I called it The Reunion Of The Pack. It takes place three years after the events of the series finale. It shows what happens when Arya Stark returns to Westeros after sailing around the world and learns how her family and friends have adjusted to the new order of things.

After posting on FanFiction.Net and Archive Of Our Own (AO3), I decided to let you know about it here. As on Reddit, my username on both FF and AO3 is librarysquatter.

It’s here that I will make a standard announcement that this work is absolutely inspired by the writing of George R.R. Martin and the writers of the TV series. I have no interest in monetizing this story in any way. I did it solely to entertain myself and hopefully anyone who reads it.

This process has inspired me to do a few different things. I now feel compelled to write a total redo of Season 8. This is not going to be a short-term or even a high priority project for me, but I am going to do it. I’ll likely post it on FF and AO3, but my question will be about format and timing. I definitely do not want to take away from my other projects like my original fantasy project, known as Project F.

But, yeah, this is a thing. Go ahead and read it if you’d like.

The Reunion Of The Pack (AO3)

What I’m Working On Now, June 2019 Edition

A while ago, pretty shortly after I started this blog, I let readers know some of the bare-bones basics regarding some of the projects that I wanted to work on and that I was working on. I thought now might be a good time to update that, just to keep myself, much less any readers, in the loop about what’s coming down the development pipeline.

I’ve mentioned these projects before in some of my writing journals, but to keep from being too repetitive, I decided to put them all in one place as a reference. I’m not going to mention working titles or big details about plots, etc. However, I think you will get an idea of what the gist of each of the projects are below.

I also think, looking at some of the items on this list, that you’ll see that I’ve been bouncing around with several different genres and subjects. I appreciate writers who want to stick to one thing, but I enjoyed too many different styles and genres of writing to stay in one wheelhouse. I want to create and I want to spread my work to others – that’s basically my life goals regarding writing.

And Now, The Projects

  • Project A: This is a book about a young man who is a football player and the son of a famous college football coach who is also obsessed with soccer. I first got the idea to write about what I thought the first American Lionel Messi might be like and it turned into one of the richest characters I’ve ever written about.
  • Project B: This is a short novel about a young teen who shoots two of his classmates during a psychotic break. After five years imprisonment, he is looking to rebuild his life with the help of his brother, but former high school classmates start turning up dead around him…
    A former NaNoWriMo project, this is one of the shortest books I’ve written, around 50,000 words. I want to make this one nice and tight, not much longer than it is now, which I think will be a good plan for a thriller.
  • Project C: For someone who never messed around with poetry, the idea of me putting together a poetry collection is a real trip. The poetry enthusiasts of Writers On The Avenue in Muscatine were so much into poetry that I decided, starting around 2010 or so, to give it a whirl as well.
    However, I think this is some of the most interesting stuff I’ve written, and a way for me to connect to where I grew up. A big theme in this collection is the Mississippi River, how I’ve experienced it, and what it means to me. I first got the idea of this project well before I knew I was going to eventually leave the Mississippi River area, but I think it’s been a good reflection of what I will be leaving behind. (People leaving their homes for various reasons appears to be a reoccurring theme in a lot of my work).
    I had originally decided to try to put this out as a whole project, but some recent advice from a poet I’ve met has convinced me to try and get some of these out individually. So I’m going to start looking into those markets, with the intention of getting those poems published and thus generating interest in the larger collection.
  • Project F: This is the fantasy project I was inspired to write based on my Game of Thrones obsession. The basic theme that I’ve been playing around with is this: So, I started thinking of a scenario, of a new fantasy world, where civilizations representing the concepts of magic, chivalry, and science and progress would clash and face each other. The more that I’ve watched Game of Thrones and what they’ve done right and wrong, the more this idea of writing fantasy intrigues me. I’ve started to look over fantasy map building sites and think about what these civilizations would be like.
  • Project S: What started out as the idea for an analysis of one Game of Thrones character has now turned into an epilogue for the series that is running over 27,000 words as of this writing. Obviously I have no interest in monetizing this whatsoever. I’m going it as an exercise and as a way to get over how ridiculous the last season was.

Also, there are the following projects that might get letter designations as well, to help keep them straight.

  • Project R: A story of a fictional indie rock band and its history from the early 1980’s to the early/mid-1990’s, my love letter, so to speak, of the indie rock that caught my ear so many years ago. This will likely turn out to be a trilogy.
  • Project W: A thriller, just the germ of an idea. But, it’s pretty intense, pretty heavy material. This might wind up simmering for a while.

As part of my greater efforts to keep myself publicly accountable for my writing successes and failures, I also want to list when I am planning to get these projects done. So, feel free to cheer me on or have a laugh at me, depending on my successes and failures. Putting my goals in print makes them more real for me.

  • So, here are the current projected deadlines for those projects:
  • Project A, begin querying agents and publishers: Sometime in early-mid summer 2019.
  • Project B, finish major redrafting of the rough draft (more of a second rough draft rather than a more focused revision): End of summer 2019.
  • Project C, finishing creating rough draft poems: End of 2019.
  • Project F: None at this time, but I would like planning for the project to be well underway by the end of 2019.
  • Project S: Maybe posted by the end of the month (tentative)
  • Project R: None at this time
  • Project W: None at this time

Finally, don’t forget my first published project, The Holy Fool: A Journalist’s Revolt. That project was years in the making and getting it out this year was a major life accomplishment for me. Get to the My Work page on this blog for all of the links if you want to find out more about it and (possibly?) buy it. But, there’s other ways you can support it, too.

Anyway, that’s what I’m working on. If you’ve got any questions or comments, leave them here and I’ll be glad to answer them.

Hello From The Road

Yeah, I promised I would be working on things – now I know what George R.R. Martin feels like. 🤣

I was on the road today to visit the new community my wife is going to be living in and where I’ll be moving to in a year or so. So, I thought that since I had some time sitting in the car, I’d let you know what’s been going on.

Although I haven’t done much on my upcoming projects, I have been writing – quite a lot, actually. I’ve talked before about my Game Of Thrones addiction; now, I’ve been busy on writing an epilogue to the series that, to me, wraps it up in a way that’s generally satisfying (in several ways) to the series and in my mind makes it canon.

I’ve been writing this thing for the past several days. I’m now over 8,000 words into it and I’m not nearly done.

😬 Yeah, that’s not what I expected, either. 🤷🏻‍♂️

I learn more about writing every time I do this. This week I’ve learned about true writing motivation. For the past week, I’ve been tapping on my cell phone writing something that I have no expectation or plan to make money on at all. (Plus, it would be a massive copyright © violation if I did.) I didn’t do it to prove anything to anyone, or as some sort of protest for how the last season worked out. I wrote it as s way to work out how I did feel about the series and the characters I fell in love with. I wrote it because writing that made more sense than worrying about any of the stupid things in life that can get you down for no reason.

Anyone who tells you that writing is just a profession is either a liar or delusional. If you’re serious about writing, it is a way of life. Money is an important thing, you know that you are a writer when you are so compelled to tell a story you can’t not do it. That was my lesson this week.

BLATANT SELF-PROMOTION HERE

Speaking of writing and talking about it, this is just one last reminder that I’ll be at the Rock Island (Illinois) Public Library at 2 p.m. tomorrow (Saturday) giving a book talk about my book, The Holy Fool: A Journalist’s Revolt, as well as a few things about my life as a writer. Here’s the event announcement if you want to see it. You know I truly care about this event because I’ll be missing the first part of the UEFA Champions League Final featuring my English Premier League team, Liverpool FC. I might have to run to the nearest sports bar to catch the rest of it.

BLATANT SELF-PROMOTION ENDS

As for the rest of my weekend not having to do with promotion, football, or life changes, I need to finish at least two book reviews for people and get active on my Goodreads doing reviews there. I’ll probably wind up posting some of those reviews on here, as well.

Coming up will be the regular weekly journal report on Sunday, and my Game Of Thrones reaction (as well as that epilogue I’ve been writing) maybe by the middle of next week. See you then.

So I Want To Be A Fantasy Writer…

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: Yeah, I know I said I was going to write this in the middle of the week. Blame the end of the school year craziness for that. But, as it turns out, I’ve long had a theme on my Facebook writing page of #SciFiSaturday (or, as I should say now, #SciFiFantasySaturday). So, maybe it was for the best that I saved this for now. Anyway, here’s the post.]

Genre fiction was my thing growing up. (Maybe I should have made this into one of my Writer’s Biography pieces. Oh, well, maybe another time.) Science Fiction I was into for a long time – I was a Star Wars and Star Trek kid and loved the classic scifi of the 20th century (Frank Herbert, Ray Bradbury, etc.)

Fantasy, however… it wasn’t unknown to me, but it wasn’t something that was near and dear to my heart. At least, it wasn’t at the same level as the science fiction was. But it always was there, lurking around the margins. When I was either in elementary or middle school, I discovered Lloyd Alexander and his series The Chronicles of Prydain. I remember The High King making a massive impression on me, the epicness of it, how Taran was forced quickly to become a man and the choices he had to face. I loved that book.

There were other fantasy things that fascinated me, both growing up and in recent years. The film Conan The Barbarian came out when I was in elementary school, and I dug that character so much. I saw The Dark Crystal in the theater, watched the animated series Dungeons and Dragons and even played the game it was based on once or twice. (I spent more time reading the dungeon master’s manual than playing it, however.) I never have read The Lord of the Rings series, although I’ve now seen all three movies.

And finally, I have seen a good portion of the series Game of Thrones, and have read the first book in the series A Song of Ice and Fire. I keep promising that I’m going to give a quick review of the TV series (maybe this coming week?). There have been many think pieces written about the final season, and the series as a whole, but I would describe the series as follows: a flawed masterpiece.

What I will say is that all of the comments about the series and the inadequacies of it’s writing (which can certainly be argued) didn’t depress me, and the fact that the series didn’t end exactly the way I wanted it to didn’t depress me. No, what it did do was inspire me. It was the same thing that has always inspired me, looking at something in a book or online or on the screen that immediately made me think “I can do that better.”

So, I started thinking of a scenario, of a new fantasy world, where civilizations representing the concepts of magic, chivalry, and science and progress would clash and face each other. It’s been a theme that maybe my mind has been… playing with for a while, taking the concept out for a test drive. The more that I’ve watched Game of Thrones and what they’ve done right and wrong, the more this idea of writing fantasy intrigues me. Now I’m starting to look over fantasy map building sites and thinking about what these civilizations would be like.

Yeah, it looks like I want this to happen. I’ll let you know more about it later.

A Poem Idea?💡

Today I’m off from school due to ice storms.

This is the eighth snow day at least since school got stared.

That’s not counting early/late outs due to weather.

During the past three years I had maybe three snow days combined.

I think there might be a poem in the idea of sitting at home late at night or early in the morning, checking your phone or the local news, seeing if you are staying home that day more than you expected and all day.

There also might be a few lines covering what it’s like to be off those days, relaxing but not really relaxed, wondering how this throws off all of your well-laid plans.

What do you think?

I think I’m going to give it a shot, even if what I produce is rubbish in the end.

A Poem: Closing Doors

Have to admit that I am running low on material just sitting around as far as short stories/poetry to show here. Mainly it’s older stuff that I might be interested in publishing someday – my main focus has been novels.

Anyway, read this if you want and see what you think.

Closing Doors

 

Down the grey hall, fluorescents

flickering more and more as the clock hands

drag

I walk past the doors.

Some are French, others

industrial with piston handles,

others are American Revival

(when is that coming?)

Years back, I remember

that all of the doors were open,

and you were able to walk in.

It wasn’t quite as easy to walk in

some of the doors, however.

There were doors that led to long

flights of staircases, or

balance-beam narrow bridges,

for instance.

Some of the doors had come from bank vaults,

so it took my shoulder and my bulk

to get it open.

Sometimes I ducked my head behind the door

and found empty desks or rows of kids playing all board games I’d gotten tired of when I was 5, so I didn’t walk in.

I walked into other doors, though, even the occasional vault door or the one where I had to wrestle it open or climb a hyperangle hill.

As I look around now, though,

something has slowly changed.

Every year, I would try the handle of a door and find it locked.

Every year, I’d discover a couple more doors locked, or chained shut.

There were even a few metal doors that

I could see had been freshly welded shut,

the gun-grey solder ice-hot to the touch,

the door handles smashed.

Nowadays, I’d say whenever I stalk the hall,

half of the doors can’t be opened

for one reason or the other.

I’ve realized those closings can’t be helped, that you can only leave the doors open for so long before closing up shop.

The only door that doesn’t seem ready for the lock is the one at the end of the hall.

It doesn’t appear to even have an actual door, just an ornately carved oak doorjam and

ink darkness bleeding out from it.

I always walk down there to the end, but I’ve never looked in and never walked in.

Maybe later.

Maybe I’ll have to, when all of the doors

are locked and I’m not able to open

anything else.

Every time I have fewer doors.

Usually, that makes me sad to tears or makes my nerves raw.

Just recently, however,

I’ve begun wondering if what I will feel when the time comes will be simply relief.

Or, maybe I’ll be able to pick a few locks

by then.

Who knows?