Some Skits I’d Write

Lately, as I’m going to bed, I’m starting to have viable ideas for writing. Last week, an almost finished poem burst forth from my tired cranium like Athena from the head of Zeus.

Last night, it was a series of skits based on what would happen if horror movie serial killers became examples in OSHA safety films.


  • A chainsaw killer goes after a co-ed, but he does not hold the chainsaw so it is not to the side of his body, so when he encounters kickback, it kills him.
  • An axe-wielding murderer, again, swings so that the follow through is in line with his body, so he strikes himself.
  • A poor oversexed teenager rests against a door or a wall to catch his or her breath, feeling momentarily safe, when the killer punches through and grabs the teen. When the killer punches through a door’s window, the killer is cut by the glass and bleeds out. When the killer punches through the wall beside the door, the killer hits the electrical lines leading to the light switch. Et cetera.
  • A killer has the body of his latest victim and takes it to bury it, but he did not call for a survey before he digs, and he hits a gas line and self-immolates.
  • A puzzle killer has chained a victim to a railing or piping, but the victim is able to pull the railing/piping free because the contractor cut corners. Actually, this was inspired by our experience at our Old Trees church yesterday when we were coming down some steep stairs in the rain, and my wife fell because the railing she was holding broke free. It looks as though the contractor who put it in had not actually bolted it down at all points, instead using adhesive, maybe. She is alright, but she made sure to completely break the railing down so that someone else, perhaps someone older, would not grab the unstable stabilizer.
    • You know, when I was younger, I might write these skits for fun knowing they would never be made. Although when I was younger, I was more optimistic and believed maybe they could. But now I am just pleased with the ideation.

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Two, Nan. Two.

I just read a collection of military science fiction (Terra Nova: The Wars of Liberation), and I’ve mentioned I have been plinking at a novel of military science fiction (tentatively entitled The Saviors From Mars Deep, spoiler alert).

But as it is November and the National Novel Writing Month, and all the lesser cool kids want to write a novel this month (the greater cool kids are novelists who write a book every month, like a lot of the newer additions to the blogroll).

Instead of writing a whole novel, though, I thought perhaps I would open a couple of novels I’ve started in various windows to switch between them every day and maybe build a habit of writing. One of the aforementioned new additions (Peter Grant? One of the members of the Mad Genius Club?) mentioned that that particular writer tends to have multiple projects going on at any given time and switches between them as the mood strikes. So I thought I would give that a real try.

In one window, The Saviours from Mars Deep (what, the English spelling? Does that mean something, or is it misdirection?). In another, Wraith, which I conceptualized in college (the air field in the book was originally Timmerman Field, walking distance from where I lived in college and the landing place of the only plane I’ve ever flown–briefly–but that’s another story, and not one to impress my cousin who just got his pilot’s license). And then….

Looking at the file names and dates, I found another, more recent entry: Canny, Awake!. I apparently typed the first sentence of that in April.

As you may recall, gentle reader, my poem “Canny” appeared in There Will Be War Volume X. The only poem in the anthology. The reason why I call Jerry Pournelle my editor, although not many kids these days know who Jerry Pournelle was. Also, perhaps a reason why I think I might already be a mil sci fi author.

So. I have two mil sci fi books in the works and one horror.

Okay, I could also open up my fantasy novel, Second Coming or Beyond the Range (it has had a couple of titles in the twenty-some years I have had it in various word processor file formats, probably starting with LotusWorks in the middle 1990s). I have a couple whole chapters of it, and my beautiful wife has read them and wants to know how it ends even before I got to how it middles. So perhaps I should open that in another window.

How’s it going, you ask?

Well, I have added two and a half sentences to Canny, Awake! Which is more than I have added in the last seven months. So, it’s going better. Although I have spent an essay-length amount of time and writing talking about maybe writing instead of actually writing.

Speaking of military science fiction, Wombat-Socho discusses a post on science fiction for the strategist and mentions a short story, “The Road Not Taken” by Harry Turtledove, whose outline I remembered from reading the science fiction magazine in which it appeared when it was new in the November 1985 Analog magazine. I’ll have to look to see if I still have it; although I don’t think I carted it off with me to college, I did inherit a collection of digest magazines from my sainted mother that might include it amongst the Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen mystery magazines of the era. I have actually recounted this particular story (“The Road Not Taken”) to my boys relatively recently (given the age of the magazine, the boys themselves are relatively recent).

Also, I would be remiss not to wish luck to other people striking out on the NaNoWriMo journey like K1 or K2.

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“So have you written anything?” I’d ask.

Back when I was at the university, getting my writing degree, I’d encounter people, mostly students but sometimes adults, who said they wanted to be a writer. So I would ask if they had written anything. In a lot of cases, the answer was no.

I don’t know what being a writer meant to them, then. A lifestyle of sleeping in, drinking coffee at a desk with a typewriter or a word processor, or something. But they weren’t writing, and they weren’t submitting things for publication. And I was.

Oh, it was so easy for me then. I was blatting out short stories, poems, personal essays, and articles, and I submitted them to magazines by the score starting with a short story I wrote from my dog’s perspective in the eighth grade. McCall’s passed on it (and where are they now?). As a matter of fact, most magazines passed on most things, but I have a collection of contributors’ copies, and I once got paid for a short story (“Reading Faces”) by a Kinko’s-produced magazine called Show and Tell. I even had an agent at one point, although I’m not sure if they actually submitted my first novel anywhere for publication.

Somewhere in my twenties and thirties, though, my writing tailed off. I wrote a couple of poems. I wrote a novel that I couldn’t place and self-published to no great success. I held a couple of technical writing positions, so I was a writer professionally, but not in the writer sense.

So I eventually stopped considering myself a writer. I don’t even think of myself as a blogger even though I’ve been tapping at this for almost twenty years. I’ve written and published some professional articles in periodicals, on QA Web sites, and on LinkedIn, but that’s more akin to technical writing than creative writing.

A couple of times at career crossroads, my beautiful wife asked me if I wanted to focus on writing another novel, but I’ve demurred. I did not have much luck with that first self-published one, and I have not been completing even short stories with any regularity.

So I don’t consider myself a writer, and yet within the last year or so, I have finished, what, five or six poems (and I’ve submitted them and gotten rejected from the local university’s literary magazine and sent them off to another literary magazine, but using the online submission system is less interesting and even colder than form rejection letters). And….

This year, I finished two stories.

The first, I wrote completely from start to finish. The second I finished from a draft I started probably not long after I read The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia. Reading that and watching the old episodes of that program stirred my creativity a bit, and I guess it’s coming to fruition.

I actually submitted that story for publication the other day.

So do I want to be a writer?

I guess time will tell. I didn’t have much success with it earlier in my life–the stack of contributors’ copies and a couple of appearances in national magazines notwithstanding.

But I have written something.

I’ve tucked the first short story, the one I wrote completely this year, under the fold. It’s a short military sci-fi thing, just a run through a draft, but it’s something that I powered through. Like I said, I used to blat out things like this all the time, and I need to get disciplined and used to doing it again, I suppose. If I want to be a writer.

Continue reading ““So have you written anything?” I’d ask.”

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One Writer’s Pinch At-Bat Strikeout

On the World Famous Ace of Spades HQ Hoity Toity Book Thread, someone recommends Thom Jones:

235 I’d like to recommend “Pugilist at Rest”, by Thom Jones. This book was a finalist for The National Book Award in 1991. The book is actually a series of short stories, of somewhat autobiographical reflections. A former boxer and Viet Nam veteran, among other things. The stories are real and raw. From the flap:

“Jones’s stories -whether set in the combat zones of Vietnam or the brittle social milieu of an elite new England college, whether recounting the poignant last battles of an alcoholic ex-fighter or the visions of an American wandering lost in Bombay in the aftermath of an epileptic fugue-are fueled by an almost brutal vision of the human condition, in a world without mercy or redemption. Physically battered, soul sick, and morally exhausted, Jones’s characters are yet unable to concede defeat: his stories are infused with the improbable grace of the spirit that ought to collapse, but cannot.”

Posted by: Brave Sir Robin at March 14, 2021 10:38 AM (7Fj9P)

This sounds like a light-hearted, happy, optimistic book that will pick you right up when you’re feeling low. The author sounds like quite the phenom, though:

Thom Jones made his literary debut in The New Yorker in 1991. Within six months his stories appeared in Harper’s, Esquire, Mirabella, Story, Buzz, and in The New Yorker twice more. “The Pugilist at Rest” – the title story from this stunning collection – took first place in Prize Stories 1993: The O. Henry Awards and was selected for inclusion in Best American Short Stories 1992.

If stories were drinks, Jones’ would not be those little froo-froo drinks with paper umbrellas and fruit in them, they’d be straight shots from a bottle you keep in the bottom drawer of a battered old desk.

Gentle reader, I myself read The Pugilist At Rest almost thirty years ago because an editorial assistant at Harper’s recommended I do.

Continue reading “One Writer’s Pinch At-Bat Strikeout”

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So I Wrote A Short Story….

Well, alright, alright, alright, I wrote a draft of a short story. Based on something my oldest said when he came into my office, “Imagine a soldier deployed gets a call that his spouse has died,” which I turned into a military sci-fi story, sort of. It’s kind of funny–I don’t read a lot in the genre of military sci-fi. Well, not counting The Hero (2016), Halo: First Strike (2011), Robotech Genesis/Battle Cry/Homecoming (2016), Titan AE (2020)…. Okay, I read some, and I read a lot of men’s adventure novels with a military bent. So of course I mash them up. My next novel is likely to be a military sci-fi book–I already have a first chapter, almost, I think, and the rudiments of an outline in my mind.

You know, I have written, what, five poems since November 2019 (and recently got my first rejection for them from a publication!). I hadn’t written a poem in years, either, but I finally finished off the one that’s incomplete on the cover of Coffee House Memories and then had some late night ideas for others, and I took to laundromats and coffee houses to scratch them out.

I have a new technique for writing poetry–maybe it’s the same as my old technique–it’s been so long that I might not remember, but judging by my old notebooks, this is a new technique: I write the opening lines and subsequent lines over and over again. When I get to a spot where I’ve stalled on progress, I re-write the poem from top to bottom. I make some minor changes, but then, hopefully, I surge onto the next lines until I am finished (which, granted, is sometimes weeks or months later–whenever I get back to the coffee shop).

This, of course, is no way to write fiction, either long or short.

When I was younger–college or thereabouts–I could sit down and pretty much plow through a draft of a short story with no problem. Of course, in those days, I was often writing short stories when I should have been writing papers for school. But I wrote them pretty much straight through with confidence that they would come out okay and that people would want to read what I wrote.

Well, fast forward a couple of decades. I managed to, over the course of a couple of years, write a novel that I thought was pretty good (John Donnelly’s Gold–which I still think is pretty good). I could not get an agent nor a publisher for it–and aside from a couple of publications in the middle 1990s (“Reading Faces” in Show and Tell–for which I got paid $5, brah–and “Small Bore Gun” in Artisan Journal in 1997), all I got for my short story submissions were rejection slips (apparently, I have not yet done a feature on my collection of rejection slips, which fills a 3″ binder). So my confidence has been shaken.

I mean, I have banged out some nonfiction articles about software testing, some in actual printed publications, but nonfiction is pretty linear when it comes to writing. Fiction is… different.

I have a couple of short stories that I’ve started but never finished. One, called “Gunter Escapes”, is on its second decade of incompleteness by this point. Another, “The Understanding”, is only a couple of years old. And the military sci-fi novel, The Saviors from Mars Deep (working title) is only a couple of years old. Surely not five (right?).

On each of the incomplete fiction pieces, I’ve gotten to a certain point and have really gotten stuck. On some, I’m unsure what to add or what to take out. I would reflect on the paragraphs I’d written and get hung up on them to the point of immobility. It’s not like writing the poems, where I can rewrite the whole thing to build the momentum again. So I put it aside. I put a lot of things aside and for long blocs of time. Sometimes, it seems, decades.

So with this last short story, I said damn the torpedoes and vowed to bang out a complete draft even if some paragraphs were only sentences. A couple of times I got to that point where I would put it up and abandon it, but I stuck through and finished a draft. Even though I am pretty sure the last half of it reads more like an outline with a couple character names in it.

But it’s done. Now I can revise it to shuffle in some better prose, characterization, description, and whatnot.

Except, I’m a little afraid to look at it right now.

I have printed it out, and it’s on my desk and has been for a week now. I have not read it nor started in with the red pen.

I should probably do so before it gets cast aside for a really long period. Maybe I’ll have my oldest read it first to see what he thinks of it. After all, it was his idea.

I’m trying to find this an encouraging step to the return of my dream of being a Writer, but once the story is revised and done, will any publication accept it? Will anyone read it?

Time will tell, but probably, no.

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But How Have They Lived?

In a post The Fremen are Chechens: “Sabres of Paradise” as inspiration for Dune, Scott Locklin issues this cri-de-coeur about current popular culture:

Similarly, our degenerate era of 0-dimensional Mary Sue NPC action heroes, we need better stories, and better heroes and villains. We need character arc and amusing relatable personalities which embody something like real people who actually lived, rather than unrelatable superhero robots which act like invincible video game avatars.

Ah, but what other experiences do the young have now? The ones that go to college all have the same basic sets of experience; the ones who go Hollywood all have the Hollywood screenwriting life or those who go onto writing Serious Books tend to end up teaching colleges themselves. And all of them have played video games as their main source of entertainment for decades now. So they’re following the adage of write what you know. Which, unfortunately, isn’t much.

Or maybe this is a bit of a personal projection cri-de-coeur. I have not written a lot of fiction since I started working a desk job–the stories that come out of being a middle-aged, work-from-home desk jockey don’t excite me, much less an audience. Let me tell you about my exciting career as a blogger! Let me captivate you with spending my days on conference calls where I only say things to make sure everyone knows I am actually here. And so on.

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The Folder of Broken Dreams

Okay, perhaps the title oversells it, but on my computers for the last, what, twenty-five years, I’ve carried along and copied over the novels I have started but have not yet finished.

I went looking for a novel I’ve been conceptualizing, doodling on legal pads, and, I thought, plinking on keys in a word processor for a couple of years now, off and on.

It wasn’t in my novels folder.

Instead, as I mentioned, a collection of mostly incomplete stunted attempts at novel writing, including:

  • Canny, Awake!, a science fiction novel based on my poem “Canny” which appeared in There Will Be War Volume X. File date 11/2/2015. One sentence long, but without the period at the end.
  • Down At Joe Jack’s, my post-collegiate “What am I going to do now?” novel. File date 8/24/2003. 7962 words.
  • The Flight of Ban Laoklan, a fantasy novel I started in college. File date 6/17/2001. 427 words. It has stray formatting marks in the title, probably because the file originated in LotusWorks on a 286. How old of a computer is that? We don’t even know what chips we have in our computers today.
  • The Gospel of John Methodis, a kind of From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler for adults. In the middle to late 1990s, I volunteered with a local theatre company, acting as their house manager, stage manager, or concession manager for various productions, and the performances often took place in an old Methodist church in a neighborhood where we had to lock the doors after the curtain went up. This novel was set in that church which has since been razed for upscale housing. File date 2/6/2007. 290 words.
  • Hellsgate Real Estate is more of an idea than a started novel; the only file in the folder is notes.docx. File date 7/12/2016.
  • John Donnelly’s Gold, the only published novel in the bunch (available on Amazon and other places).
  • Kinslayer, a fantasy novel. Features chapters with titles as does John Donnelly’s Gold, a device that helps me a bit in outlining the story. File date 6/7/2001. 5680 words.
  • Madame President, a sequel to Marquette Minus One below. Started in college, natch. File date 6/7/2001. 5307 words.
  • Marquette Minus One, a crime fiction novel I wrote in college, completing it circa 1993. This is the book I mentioned in the review for Killing Floor featuring the large ex-military protagonist. Haven’t considered self-publishing it because it’s not that good. File date 6/7/2001. 53190 words.
  • The Search for the Silverblade, a fantasy novel that, quite honestly, I don’t remember even though I banged out 6517 words on it. It starts with a long legend-like poem. File date 6/7/2001.
  • Second Coming, a fantasy novel. Features a prelude that is almost a stand-alone short story. My beautiful wife has read the draft, and she still wants to know what happens next years later. Folder includes a spreadsheet that tracks my progress and includes a list of scenes upcoming. Last file date 11/23/2003. 13873 words.
  • Unsecured, a thriller novel featuring a blogger protagonist. The novel I would have been working on before John Donnelly’s Gold. Folder also features a spreadsheet to track status. File date 6/25/2005. 2465 words.

The date of April last year represents when I copied the directory over to my new PC. 6/7/2001 probably represents a similar move across PCs.

But I could not find The Saviors from Mars Deep, the tentatively titled latest attempt at a novel. As I was working on this post, it occurs to me it might be in the temporary writing folder on my (old) laptop. I hope so. If not, I wasn’t that far into it, so I won’t have lost much.

As I look over the history listed above, it looks as though I got thousands of words into projects before abandoning them because I got bored with them or something else came up, and I abandon novel projects with fewer words invested in them. Either I’m becoming more efficient, or I’ve become more busy. Or lazy.

So will I get to finishing these? Perhaps Second Coming since I have at least an audience of one hoping for it.

And perhaps I will find the existing tappings at The Saviors from Mars Deep and get a couple thousand words into it before abandoning it or several tens of thousands of words before publishing it.

Time will tell.

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Oh, Poems, No Less. Poems, Everybody!

So I have released my infrequently threatened/promised collection of poems.

Entitled Coffee House Memories, it contains just short of 100 poems that I wrote mostly in my college and immediately post-college life. I spent a lot of evenings at coffee houses and their attendant open mic nights.


Man, I wrote a lot of sonnets, and some of them are pretty good, I still think. But some of them are a little, erm, saucy? Not bawdy, but they’re clearly about making love. So this, like John Donnelly’s Gold, is not something my children can take to school for show and tell. It’s funny; I used to perform said poems in coffee houses in front of dozens of people, but it’s been a while. I’m pretty sure I’d feel like a creepy old man reading one of them out loud now. And/or I’d blush furiously. But I’m convinced they’re good poems, so they’re in the collection.

Also in this volume:

Not included: “Springfield Panera Bread BDU”, although I did include a number of other haiku. And pantoum or two. And a couple villanelles, I thing. I did write a couple bits of free verse, but I always favored more structured forms, like the sonnet.

The book includes two chapbooks I released in the middle 1990s, Unrequited and Deep Blue Shadows. The latter is named for a poem inspired a bit by a song by the band Lillian Axe.

It might be the only poem inspired by anything by Lillian Axe.

In my defense, the book also features three poems inspired by “One Day I Wrote Her Name Upon the Strand” by Edmund Spenser. So clearly, my influences are varied.

At any rate, it’s available for Kindle now for 99 cents, and hopefully will be available in paperback in a week or so.

So if you’ve got a buck and a Kindle, grab one now.

In related news, I guess I still have four or five ISBNs left, so perhaps I should write something else.

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Smart Apostrophe Pro Tip

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch today talks about the use of the smart apostrophe, especially when used to start something like an abbreviated year:

When you shorten 2012 to just ’12, use an apostrophe. That versatile punctuation mark (a robust one being correctly used is pictured at left) fills in for the missing numbers, just like it fills in for missing letters in a contraction. Use it for decades, too! It can do it all, and here’s an example: Don’t forget that the ’80s was the height of fashion and music.

On the other hand, a single opening quotation mark is limited in its abilities. It looks like an apostrophe turned upside down and flipped, or kind of like a tadpole being held by its slimy tail. Use it to introduce quoted material within a quote. Example: “I love it when the Bee Gees sing ‘How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.’ ” Or:”I told those kids, ‘Get off my lawn,’ but they just laughed.”

The problem with a lot of software is the dreaded “smart quotes.” When you type a phrase such as “the ’80s,” you automatically get an opening quotation mark in front of that 8, not the correct apostrophe. Here at the P-D, you hit alt+shift+right bracket or hunt through a panel of special characters to get an apostrophe before the 8.

In Microsoft Word, you press CTRL+Z (shortcut for undo) after typing a quotation mark or apostrophe to turn it from a smart quote back into a straight quote. Additionally, you can cut and paste smart quotes and they won’t reorient themselves, so you can copy a smart apostrophe from within a contraction or possessive, for example, and paste it before your abbreviated year.

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What My Toddler Taught Me About Outlining

I have a college degree in English, specifically in writing-intensive English, but my classes covered topics such as learning how enjambment makes the poem, how authentic speech mouthed by authentic characters in authentic situations makes the fiction, and how complex sentences with many clauses and many conjunctions makes your writing dense, deep, important, and self-indulgent. Professors focused on the romantic visions of writing as organic growth, something done in Parisian or Nuyorican coffee shops in the afternoon.

Unfortunately, those ideals of youth and academia don’t reflect the realities of writing for a living or even as an ascendant hobby leading to writing for a living. Fortunately, though, my newest mentor and teacher has taught me a method to efficient, guided writing. My toddler has not only shown me the value of outlining, but has provided insight into effective outlining techniques to build better articles. Continue reading “What My Toddler Taught Me About Outlining”

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Now Available for the Kindle: The Courtship of Barbara Holt

Book coverAs you might have heard, I’ve been working to prepare another book for publication. This book is The Courtship of Barbara Holt with Dennis Thompson Goes On Strike, a five-act play followed by a short one act play. Here’s the back matter/summary:

The Courtship of Barbara Holt:
Mark Dever, English major, has trouble talking to women. It’s worse than being speechless: When Mark is interested, he speaks in blank verse, like some Shakespearean courtier. When he meets Barbara Holt, his inadvertent poetry goes into overdrive. But Barbara is not interested in some wishy-washy English major, unlike her friend Jenn, who is an English major herself. Can his friends help Mark woo Barbara successfully and, more importantly, woo Jenn?

Dennis Thompson Goes On Strike:
Dennis Thompson has had enough. All his life, some nameless author has been writing the book that is Dennis’s life, and Dennis has decided that he’s not going to play along any more. If The Author says, “Jump!”, Dennis is going to say, “No.” It’s like Six Characters in Search of an Author, but with a twist.

They’re definitely the summation of all the things I thought were awesomely funny 20 years ago, and they still crack me up.

The book is available for Kindle now at the low, low price of 99 cents.

I hope it looks all right; as you know, I don’t have a Kindle proper, and I had to rely on the Kindle for PC reader and the online Amazon Kindle emulator to see how it laid out, and in the process I found bugs in both Microsoft Word and the online Amazon emulator which led to a lot of frustration and hours upon hours of trying to lay it out properly (a play is different from a novel in that its layout is more complicated and depends upon more than a couple page breaks here and there). So if you see something egregiously wrong with it, let me know.

The book form is working its way through the channels (my proofreading and parlaying with the POD solution), so it might be available on Lulu in a couple of days and on by the New Year. It will be $6.99 for the paperback edition with the handsome cover I designed aw by mysewf.

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A Dilettante Writer

You know, I wrote my first short story when I was in elementary school. Entitled “Willie the Great,” it told the story of a handicapped kid who learned magic and put on a show. I wrote it in my grandmother’s trailer on a visit to Missouri from Wisconsin. My talented cousin Jack was doodling on some scratch paper my grandmother had, and I needed to compete. So my first short story was composed on the back of some yellow heavy paper with a fancy letterhead on the front, and I got to read it to my grandmother, mother, and maybe an aunt or two.

I made my first submission in the eighth grade, a story about my dog written in the first person perspective, that I sent to McCall’s because 1.) my mother had a subscription and 2.) I saw they published a short story each issue. It was rejected–or ignored–but I submitted bad short stories throughout high school and college to myriad magazines. I was going to be a writer.

I did some time as a technical writer, cranked out a novel that’s not half bad, and have blogged more or less continuously for 8 years, but my ultimate output has really declined to a couple real essays or articles a year and a couple of stunted attempts at short stories–after writing fiction mostly through school, suddenly I find fiction hard. I’ve even had pretty good luck actually placing work with consumer magazines you could pick up on the news stand and in trade journals that don’t pay money. But now I’m at an age where I’m no longer eligible to be a young writer success story and am too ossified to dream myself in a Manhattan apartment mingling with other denizens of the slicks (and I’ve outgrown that dream anyway).

The realization came to me when I read this Cracked piece and the writer says:

There are some days that I write for 16 straight hours, knowing that everything I just typed will be deleted and replaced with a completely different idea, or rejected outright.

That, my friends, is a writer.

Me, I’m a dilettante, living the rest of my life and sometimes dabbling in wordcraft.

I need to determine if that’s what I want to be, or if I want to dedicate a little more time and energy to the real writer thing. Maybe apply some, I dunno, discipline to it and write for sure every day on something that’s not a 200 word or less blog piece. I’m coming to a point in my life where more time will be available. I just need to commit to using it.

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Writing At The Coffee Shop

Marko Kloos, a science fiction writer with two munchkins of his own, links to a Wall Street Journal piece about writers looking for places to write that don’t have wi-fi:

The whole world is hankering for faster Internet access. Then there’s novelist Adam Langer, who does his writing in the low-tech Hungarian Pastry Shop in Morningside Heights.

“Not only do they not have Wi-Fi,” said Langer, 43, author of “The Thieves of Manhattan.” “They don’t have any usable outlets, so I have to be incredibly focused because I don’t have a ton of time on my MacBook battery.”

Langer isn’t alone. The Hungarian Pastry Shop’s wall of framed book covers, each by authors who typed amid the cafe’s din, is testimony to the growing appeal of Internet-free spaces.

Gone are the days when a café with good enough coffee, a lax policy on lingering and an open Wi-Fi signal made it the perfect spot for writers to work. With infinite temptations just a mouse click away, many writers are seeking out an increasingly scarce amenity in a wired city: disconnected workspaces.

Frankly, the problem is one of self-discipline. Of course, as the pot, I call the kettle black, but just because I lack self-discipline does not mean I cannot recognize the same in others.

Actually, I have just started toting the laptop to the Bread Co. (which these strange people call “Panera Bread”) now that I have the youngest in a little school program that takes him for 2.3333 (repeating) hours a day, two days a week. Given that I live 20-30 minutes away from the school, it doesn’t make sense for me to come home, so some logic I used to trick my wife compels me to stop there to drink cappuccino, eat pastry, and tap out some words.

You might have noticed some longer pieces appearing here every now and again. That’s why.

I don’t need to look for a place that offers me no wi-fi. I just don’t connect to the network. I have my laptop set to not connect to any wireless network it finds automatically. Ergo, it will tell me the Panera Bread wireless network is klaxoning its SSID at a frequency that only alarums my laptop, but I dismiss the button and then get to clacking at the keyboard.

All right, it’s not so much self-discipline as it is a touch of low risk threshold. I don’t trust wireless networks I don’t control. So I wouldn’t touch it anyway. Also, note I sit with my back to the wall in the coffee shop. Okay, that’s less paranoia and more the realization that it reduces the glare on the screen from overhead lights. But some people who conduct their business on the laptops in the Bread Co. exasperate me. In full view of everyone, they’re typing away on corporate documents and then they go for a refill without password protecting their machine. I had the brief urge to change the Facebook status of a local here on Thursday, someone whose name is at the tip of my fingers because he’s the sales rep for a memorable company and he participates in the local group on LinkedIn. But I digress.

So far, the change of scenery and the compressed time frame has really focused my effort. I open a couple things in tabs on my Web browser before I leave since I will want to just read while I chomp on a cheese pastry and as an eyebreak from writing. Then, I have two pieces in mind I want to work on: a blog post of some sort and an essay/article. I can flip between the writing things and the dwindling number of browser tabs for about an hour and forty-five minutes.

This week, I’ve dropped about 1600 words each day on two blog posts and an article (about blogging). A couple weeks ago, I tapped out an article about software testing that I’ve already placed with a British magazine. I reminded that same magazine that it was holding onto another piece I submitted a year ago, and bam! Suddenly, I have two forthcoming publications. This writing thing seems so easy sometimes.

When I’m disciplined, which means when I am in an area with wi-fi that I don’t trust. And, more importantly, a time and a place where I’m focused on writing.

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Curses: A Guide to Creative Oaths, Curses, Exclamations, and Epithets

Author’s note: For a long time, this essay was lost to the ages. Somehow, I lost it from the directories and folders that I migrated from PC to PC, from application to application, in the last decade and some. However, I was noodling around and found an old directory from my America Online Web page ca 1998 and found it in Web HTML form. Just so you know, except for the occasional lost item, I’m also a digital pack rat: somewhere, I have the raw hard drive copy of my old 286 and 486 hard drives as well as a couple of others. Not the hard drives. Copies of them. In case I forgot to properly migrate data.

I use four-letter words far too often. After all, I have an English degree from a respected private Midwestern university (Marquette, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin). I should have a collection of words to choose from that will convey a proper nuance for my varied daily experiences. Yet, when a crisis moment strikes, a flashpoint of frustration or sudden stress triggers a certain misnomered acronym to explode fricatively from my lips. A piece of pop culture verbal regurgitation gurgles out. But, as suddenly as it comes, it is gone, along with a small serving of stress that brought it on.
Continue reading “Curses: A Guide to Creative Oaths, Curses, Exclamations, and Epithets”

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Writing in the Winterlands

Tam encounters northern atmosphere:

When it’s sunny, I feel the urge to live deliberately, like Thoreau, but with dachshunds instead of ants. When the clouds and drizzle come, I instead feel the urge to write about shoggoths shambling about in pet semetaries.

Strangely, my most productive writing period meshes with the time I spent amongst my hearty northern clan, before I moved amongst the luxurious and decadent southern tribes and became soft.

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