Archive | July, 2017

That’s Something To Be Proud Of

25 Jul

My dad worked at a job he hated for twenty-five years.

Stop and think about that for a moment.  It’s really hard for me to comprehend.  I’ve had some crap jobs during my lifetime (cleaning pig pens comes to mind), but I’ve never stayed with them for more than a year or so. Twenty-five years?  My God, what that must have been like for him, or for any of the millions of other people who have done the same thing over the years . . . coal miners . . . assembly line workers . . . I can’t wrap my brain around what that must be like.

And the thing is, I never heard him complain.  I asked him about it once, back when I was maybe fifteen, or sixteen, I caught up with my dad one Saturday afternoon and asked him how he did it, getting up every morning, going to work at a job he disliked, knowing that day, like all the other days, was as good as it gets . . . no chance for advancement, no future prospects . . . how the hell did he do it, I asked.

And he simply told me that a man should take pride in a job well-done, and in providing for his family, and it was no more complicated than that.

Now, in my sixtieth year, I understand.  Now, as a writer, I get it.

At least, as a writer, I have the privilege to get up each morning and do something I am passionate about, but there are no promises regarding fame or future sales.  For all I know, I may do this for a total of twenty or twenty-five years, with no prospects and no chance of ever being well-known.  That’s just the reality all writers, artists, or musicians face.  So we take pride in doing our jobs well, in being the best writers, artists, or musicians we can be, and by doing that we will have advanced the Arts and done our part to entertain and inform the general public.

We are the voices of our generation, and our work will stand the test of time.

And that’s something to be proud of!

Keep that in mind as you go about the business of creating today.

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

The Storyteller’s Legacy

18 Jul

 

A long time ago, gosh, back before I decided I wanted to be a writer, maybe twenty years ago, I wrote a short story called “Sam’s Legacy.” I think I published it on HubPages, where is promptly died a slow death, and then I published it on NIUME, or some other site, where it also died a slow death.

I wrote that story about a next-door neighbor of mine when I was a little kid.  I was only about five when we moved into the home on 18th Street in Tacoma, and our neighbors were Sam Witherspoon and his wife Delores.  I don’t know how old Sam and Delores were when we moved next door to them, but I do know that Sam came across the Oregon Trail when he was just about my age of five. Well Sam and Delores told me some incredible stories over the years about life “out west” during the second half of the 19th Century, and I’m sure my love of history came from those stories that they told me about covered wagons, Indians, barn-building, drunken fights in mining towns, and the hardships and victories attached to life in the west way back then.

Yes, I was at an impressionable age, so obviously their stories were fascinating, but it was also the way they told their stories that helped them to come alive.  I could smell the smoke from the teepees on the Great Plains.  I could imagine gathering bison pies under the broiling sun in order to start a fire for cooking after covering another fifteen miles on the Trail.  I understood the fear they experienced, the bone-weariness of it all, mixed with the wonder of seeing a new land for the first time.

They were great storytellers, and their storytelling greatly affected me.

And now I’m a storyteller, and it is my hope that one day my stories will greatly affect another little boy, or girl, and they will decide to become a storyteller.

It is a noble undertaking we have chosen.  We are the storytellers of our generation.

Treat your calling with respect and reverence.

Be the best damned storyteller you can be!

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Trust Your Instincts

11 Jul

I was talking to my best friend, Frank, on the phone the other day.  I’ve known Frank for fifty-five years now, so we have a good amount of reminiscing to do whenever we talk.  On this particular discussion we were talking about baseball.

Summers were for baseball when we were growing up.  If we weren’t playing for a team we were getting guys together for games of “pick-up,” and if we weren’t doing that we were watching the local AAA team, the Tacoma Giants, play at Cheney Stadium during their homestands.

Frank and I were pretty similar in our playing abilities.  Neither of us could hit worth a damn, but we were both excellent outfielders.  We had that innate ability to track a fly ball off the bat, determine how hard it was hit, envision the path of the flyball, do it all in split-seconds, and take the shortest route to where the ball would land.  Not everyone has that ability.  There are players who will play for decades and never develop those kinds of instincts.  Standing three-hundred feet from the batter, hearing the tone of the bat hitting the ball, following the trajectory of that ball, toss in a little trigonometry, adjust for the wind speed, and knowing exactly where the ball will end up is not something you can teach a young kid.  They either have it or they don’t.  Practice helps, of course, but we are talking about a talent that goes beyond practice.

I’m not bragging, mind you.  I don’t brag. I’m simply stating fact.  Some have it, some don’t!

THE POINT OF THIS

It’s not that different in writing.

I re-read “The Grapes of Wrath,” by John Steinbeck, a couple years ago, and one sentence in that masterpiece stood out to me.  It was in the first chapter . . . hell, it might have been the very first sentence . . . anyway, that sentence seemed to go on forever.  It was the longest sentence I have ever seen in a novel.  It defied all logic.  It really broke all the rules.

And yet it worked perfectly for that novel!

You can’t teach that.  In fact, most teachers do not teach that sort of grammatical freelance.  If a teacher tried to diagram that sentence they would need a strong shot of whiskey afterwards.

And yet it worked perfectly for that novel!

The point is this: a large part of the craft of writing is instinctual.  There are times when grammatical rules can, and should, be broken.  I believe voice, and rhythm, are much more important than strict adherence to grammatical rules.  I can teach someone to write in a grammatically-correct manner.  I cannot teach them their own voice.

Thus sayeth Bill!

Have a great week of writing; have a better week of living!

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Learning in Real Life

6 Jul Learning from Real People

I love farmers markets!  Love working them, love talking to people, just love the whole atmosphere of it all.  A market is a community of sorts. The vendors all know each other, and you get to know regular customers by name, and it’s just a very cool scene to be in on a nice summer’s day.

Amanda and her husband just purchased a home and they move in August 1st.  She is quite excited about it.  Brenda tasted our goat cheese for the first time and said we should rename it “OH MY GOD!”  Bob’s daughter is going into first grade next year and he’s one proud father.  Olivia is on vacation in Atlanta to see relatives.  An old friend of mine, someone I haven’t seen in 35 years, stopped by and spent some time with me at the market last week.  It was great to see him. Bev is doing what Bev does best, making people feel welcomed, making people feel as though they matter, and they all love her for it. Anthony’s daughter played music for four hours, non-stop, guitar and piano, just winging it song after song after song, a twenty-something young woman with the talent of five people.  The local fire crew stopped by and supported us; I gave them some free cheese in appreciation for the work they do.

And so it goes, week after week, new friends, old friends, people being people, laughing, supporting, interacting, one big extended happy family, just one small event in one small town in the United States, Tumwater, Washington, a dot on the roadmap of life, but oh, so important.

These are the people we novelists write about.  These are the people you non-fiction writers write to.

I can’t say this enough: writers need to interact with the public.  We are the storytellers of our generation, and the public is our audience and, quite often, the inspiration for our stories.

IT’S IN MY BLOOD

Not really, but I do come from farming stock, Iowa to be specific, corn farmers, hard-working people who believed in community and believed in the importance of local farms and buying locally.  I love the tradition and perhaps that is why I love the markets so much . . . but the other part is . . . I just like people.  Oh sure, they can drive me nuts from time to time, but generally speaking I do love them.  People are fascinating, and community is important, and I can’t imagine anywhere I would rather be on a summer afternoon than working our booth in Tumwater.

Who knows? Maybe a few of my customers will be characters in my next book.

I’ve rambled on long enough.  I think you get the point I’m making.  We writers do not live in a vacuum.  If you want your characters to come alive on the page, you will eventually have to meet an actual human being.

Get out there and mingle!

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”