Archive by Author

The Magic of Smell in Writing

8 Oct

Really connecting

I recently mentioned in my Writer’s Mailbag series that I have certain smells which instantly transport me back in time to my childhood.

I loved the fall season as a kid.  It just seemed like the best season for smells around our neighborhood.  Mr. Conrad burning a pile of leaves . . . Mrs. Shaffer baking bread . . . my mom frying chicken . . . drives in the country and the smell of fertilized fields . . . I’m sure there is some medical or psychological reason why this happens, but I’ll leave that to those much smarter than me . . . I just know it happens.

Someone mentioned in comments the smell of freshly-mowed grass . . . most definitely!  And someone else mentioned the smell of the air after a shower . . . again, that is a smell which is hard to describe but you know it when you smell it . . . and that’s the point, we all know it when we smell it, we can all relate to it, and it could be used in a story or a novel with that in mind.

The writer’s job is to describe a scene for the readers, and to make that scene instantly relatable to the readers.  It requires talent and hard work to do it.  Let me share with you a scene from “The New Iberia Blues” by James Lee Burke:

“Her living room was tiny, the doorways hung with beads, an ancient Victrola against a wall, the couch and stuffed chairs maroon and purple and tasseled, incense burning in a cup on the coffee table.  Bella wore sandals and jeans and an oversize Ragin’ Cajuns T-shirt and a gold chain around one ankle, a charm balanced on the top of her foot. I could smell ham and eggs cooking in the kitchen.”

One paragraph, carefully crafted, sights and smells categorized, and as a reader I am there.  The description is sparse and yet it plays to my imagination, leaving me to fill in the blanks and make some assumptions, which is also the mark of a master craftsman on the job.  Regarding smell, Mr. Burke chose incense and ham and eggs cooking, two smells most of us can relate to, and that’s an important distinction . . . most of us can relate to it.  I can come up with some rather bizarre smells I remember smelling during my life, but not all of them are relatable, so I probably would not use them in a story or a novel.

Just something to think about before you craft your next scene.

Someone recently asked me . . .

How do I notice all of these things in order to make my scenes realistic?  For me it comes naturally. I’ve always been a shy observer.  For others it takes work and practice.  Remember the senses. What do you smell? What do you see? What do you hear?   We all share the senses, so make them work for you.

Have a great week! If you need me, I’ll be outside soaking it all in.

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Embracing Sweet Melancholy

10 Sep

I was watching a movie the other day . . . Elizabethtown . . . for maybe the third time, possibly the fourth.  For a variety of reasons that movie touches me, reasons I don’t need to go into at this point, in this place . . . but there was one scene where the girl tells the guy to go take his trip and allow sweet melancholy to overtake him.

That line has always stayed with me. I just love that phrase “sweet melancholy.”

Many of you know I’m a recovering alcoholic.  In November I will celebrate thirteen years of sobriety, and one thing I have learned over those thirteen years is that I need to avoid depression.  I cannot allow my mind to dive back into the deep pools of darkness.  For me it is a matter of survival.

But I can allow sweet melancholy, and that is what I’m feeling now.

A little over a week ago I made an unplanned trip down to Ashland, Oregon, to see my best friend Frank.  When I say “best friend” it is a bit weak in describing him.  “Brother” would be closer to the truth. I have known him since 1962 and I truly love him like a brother.  He is one of the few people on this planet I feel at ease with, and one of the few people I can be myself around.

Frank is dying.  He was diagnosed with spinal cancer four years ago, and a few weeks ago he called me and told me we are now down to weeks rather than months.

So I made the trip to Ashand to see my brother and to say goodbye to him.

Sweet melancholy!

We sat as old friends sit, and we reminisced.  We laughed about shared memories, and we cried.  We found the time to tell each other how important we were to each other, and we expressed sincere gratitude for the connection.

And then it was time to go, and I said goodbye!

It is so rare that we humans make that kind of deep connection with another human being.  I am grateful and blessed that I found it with Frank.  I am grateful and blessed that I can write about this without wanting to drink.

I am grateful for sweet melancholy.

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Show Me the Passion

27 Aug

I see sunshine and beautiful colors

What are you passionate about?

What makes your heart sing?

In a world of seven billion people, I would imagine there are some fascinating answers to that question, including the answer “nothing!”

Truth: I have a good friend, someone I have known for decades, and I’m guessing his answer to that question would be “nothing.”  I have never known him to be passionate about anything. I have never heard him speak about such a passion. Oh sure, he’s interested in many things, but his heart singing?  No way have I seen evidence of that, in him, in all the years I’ve known him.

But if you were to ask that same question to him, about me, he would most likely tell you that I was once passionate about teaching and that I am now passionate about writing.  He knows me well enough to answer that way, and that would be the correct answer.

When I was a teacher, I lived and breathed teaching. I woke up every morning excited about going to school. I could hardly wait to share a lesson with my students, and I went to bed each night thinking about classes the next day. I found incredible joy in that work, and today I find similar joy in writing. The process of creating an article, a story, or a novel is thrilling for me, just as teaching was at one point in my life.

But to be passionate about nothing? I can’t even fathom how that is possible and yet I am quite certain there are many people like my friend . . . and that’s okay!  There is no requirement for passion in life. I make no judgment one way or another. I just find it interesting, being an observer of people.  I’ve seen some people so beaten down by life there is no way they can find the passion.  I’ve seen some abused, some totally ignored, some rejected, bullied, beaten, and some trapped in addiction.   There are countless reasons why passion would be missing.

I’m just curious.

And then there are those who are passionate about being a parent, or passionate about being married, and I can see that as well.

How about you?  What is your passion?  Do you have one?

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

 

 

Aimlessness Be Gone!

6 Aug

Aimless . . . without aim . . . purposeless . . . an arrow without a target, nothing more than a wooden shaft with feathers, fairly useless in a quiver without a bulls eye to seek.

Welcome to my world, August 2, 2019.

I am not sad, nor depressed.  Simply aimless, anchorless, drifting through days, taking care of business, where the hell is that rudder, aware of the shifting tides but unaware of a solution.

It will come to me.  It always does.  In the past it was teaching, and the owning of businesses, farmers markets and volunteering, over fifty-five years of focus and goal-setting.  Today it is nothing.

Perhaps it is all right.  Perhaps, at seventy, it is all right to have no purpose in the daily meanderings.  Perhaps it is all right to simply be.

But it doesn’t feel all right.  Not at all!  It feels . . . incomplete!  I’m simply not ready to “retire” from life.  I still have something of value to offer to society.  I just don’t know which avenue I wish to travel on.

And so, for the time being, I write about it, and ruminate while on walks, and look inward for the truth I know exists but which has remained hidden to this point.

More naps these days

I had an interesting chat with my son, now thirty-four, about this matter.  He was telling me he doesn’t understand people who work after retirement age.  He was completely baffled by it.  When he’s of age, he told me, he was going to shut it all down and actually be retired.

Different strokes for different folks.

I need to be doing something of value.

I’ll let you know when I come up with something.

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Confidence and Chasing Away the Demons

30 Jul

A word or two about confidence and chasing the demons away.

I was reading a book by Lisa Messenger . . . “Daring and Disruptive” . . . and her opening line is this:  “To succeed in business . . . hell, to succeed in anything in life . . . you must have an unwavering, insatiable, tenacious belief in yourself.  You have to be able to back yourself, to harbor that kind of unbridled passion for winning that will stop at nothing until you reach your goals.”

Writers, pay attention to those words!

It is amazing to me how many people I know do not have confidence in themselves, and being a reflective sort of person, I often wonder why that is?  How often have those people been told they are not worthy of succeeding? How often have they been beaten down psychologically, with words or actions, and told in a variety of ways they are not good enough and they will never accomplish their goals?

When does that happen? During the childhood years?  As a teen?  As a young adult?  And who is it telling them these negative things?

Or is it a DNA thing? Are there some people who are simply born lacking confidence?  I suspect it might be a combination of the two.  Of course it got me thinking about myself and my life.  I was bullied in elementary school, but I would then go home to parents who told me I was good just the way I was, and hard work would accomplish great things.  So I fought through those early years at school, took my parents’ advice, and soldiered on. Today I am brimming with confidence.  I know I can accomplish what I set out to accomplish, as long as my goals are realistic.  I will never be a civil engineer or famous doctor, but those are not my goals. If, however, I choose to start up a new business, I have every confidence it will succeed.  If I choose to write another book, I am confident it will be of high quality.  If I decide I want to turn my backyard into an urban farming classroom, I know I can do it.

Thanks to my parents! An adopted kid could not ask for a better mother and father than I had.

How about you? How’s your confidence level?

You are good enough just the way you are! Believe it as much as I believe it.

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Early Morning Ramblings

23 Jul

It’s Sunday morning as I write this.  Bev is out walking the dogs.  I’m sitting in my office looking out the window at popcorn skies, and my mind is all over the place, skipping through a field of random thoughts.

I’ll share some with you.

DEATH AND TAXES

The only two things we can be certain of, or so we are told.  A former student of mine died this past week. She was forty-two, a mother of two, healthy one moment, spinal meningitis the next, two strokes to follow and dead within a month.  I have nothing terribly inspirational to share regarding her death.  It takes no talent to die.  It takes no special social standing, no set of specific beliefs . . . death only requires that you stop breathing whenever your number is drawn from that lottery headquarters in the sky.

Death has no hold on me. I have given it no control over my emotions since the day my dad died back in 1969. I refuse to mourn and I choose, instead, to celebrate the life of the person passed.

R.I.P. Sara . . . I’ll be joining you at some point, so save a spot for me please!

YOU ARE A WRITER?

You meet new people and eventually the conversation comes around to “what do you do?”  And my answer is always “I’m a writer,” and their reaction is always “WHAT?????”  Like total disbelief, mixed with sadness,  look at this poor creature, wasting away in a fantasy world, actually believing he is a writer.  If I told them I was a plumber their reactions would be much different . . . a grocery store clerk . . . an office worker . . . a school teacher . . . but a writer?  WHAT?????

If you have ever faced that kind of reaction, or if you have ever been looked upon as slightly mad for following your passion in writing or art or music, consider this: We have a talent shared by only about 5% of the people on this planet.  Out of seven-billion plus, you and I and a small handful of other writers are capable of creating works of art using words, works of art which will make people laugh, or cry, or shout to the heavens “OH WOW!”

So, what do I do?  I am a writer.  I create art, using words, in a world hell-bent on ugliness and  destruction.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it!

CONNECTIONS

When I was maybe ten, or eleven years old, a friend and I started our own neighborhood newspaper.  His last name was Bird…mine Holland…so we called the newspaper The Flying Dutchman!  Get it?

The reason I mention that is because even at that age I was interested in writing and connecting with people.

Flash forward six decades and how cool is my life?  Because of writing, and because of the internet, I have several good friends living in California. Several more in Florida, a couple in Ohio, one in Iowa, Dubai…where the heck?…China, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, England and Italy and Canada and…and…and….all told, friends in forty-one states and fifty-three countries.

Pretty damned good for the original Editor-in-Chief of the Flying Dutchman!

Have a great week!

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Just Playing Around With Words

9 Jul

More naps these days

Just playing around with words, seeing where they lead me, that sort of randomness.  Maybe this guy will show up in a novel one of these days . . . or not!

 

Those who understood him best were knee-deep in the life themselves.  Grifters,  hookers, money washers, brunos, fakeloo artists, street dips, shylocks, old-time petemen, hypes, all respected him. Alkies and needle embracers had no beef with him.  Strong-arm robbers, those who would impose their wills on others through violence, the child abusers, wife-beaters, button men, all feared him.  When his anger was unleashed he transformed into a Greek god, anvils for fists, arms swelling, splitting the stitching in his clothes, fire spewing from his mouth, havoc the only path he traveled when the River Styx was in view.

He dropped a San Diego pimp from the top of a high rise.  He grabbed a corrupt Teamster official by the ears and tossed him into the tar pits at La Brea.  A bag man with a penchant for beating women was drowned in a toilet bowl, and he took out a sex-trafficker in Miami with a fire hose switched on full.  There was the time in Portland when he filled a corrupt politician’s car with cement, and the time in Dodge City when outlaw bikers were rushed to the E.R. with pool cues rammed up their asses.

He protected the weak and innocent, tossed scat at the strong and guilty, and somehow came through it all unscathed.  His appetites were enormous, for booze, for drugs, for sex and rock n roll.  He loved Van Gogh, for obvious reasons, but hated Shakespeare for reasons forever locked in his child-man’s mind.  To some he was simple-minded, but I knew him to be one of the most intelligent men I had ever known.  Saving others was his purpose on earth, as was his penchant for self-destruction.

And he was, and is my best friend!

 

I love to play around with words, with phrasing, and with images.  I never know where I’m going with any of it, but the journey is a blast!

Thanks for hanging out with me. Have a great week!

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

A Piece of Me

2 Jul

How about I share a section from my upcoming memoirs, “And the Blind Shall See?”

They all did the best they could with an impossible situation.  We are all wired differently.  One size does not fit all with human beings, and that’s just the real of it.  It took me decades to come to that realization, and another decade after that to forgive myself and accept the fact that the same rules apply to me. I did the best I could with an impossible situation.  There are no qualifiers with that statement, no buts or howevers.  I did the best I could.

No talent there . . . or is there?

I don’t know how others view their parents.  I suspect my impressions are shared by many.  When we are young, our parents are all-knowing, all-wise, and all-loving.  There is no fault within them. They understand the world; we do not; it’s as simple as that.  We assume their decisions are based upon some warehouse of knowledge we are not privy to as children, but it turns out our parents are just skin and bone, marrow and muscle, indecision and concern, nightmares and fear, just as we all are.  Just as I had no “Adulthood for Dummies” book to reference, the same can be said for my parents, my sister, and all my other relatives.  My mother was pregnant and married at fifteen, divorced at sixteen, and barely functioning at forty-seven.  My sister Darlys lived her own “hell on earth” life as a child, married and pregnant at seventeen, and was trapped in unhappiness at thirty-one.  My dad worked hard, played hard, and fought hard, constantly trying to outrun beatings as a child, and horrors of war no man should ever see, and he was dead at forty-nine.

How wise were any of them?  How all-knowing?  Or any of us?

The truth of the matter is this: we are all moving forward blindly, uncertain of our next steps, constantly concerned that our decisions are incorrect.  We buoy ourselves up with bravado and an air of confidence, both of which have the consistency of an under-baked meringue, but then we chastise ourselves when we make poor decisions when in fact the odds were against us from the very beginning.

“Trial and error” isn’t just a catchy three-word toss-away.  It is, in fact, how we all learn the most valuable lessons in life, and that’s scary as hell . . . and yet, necessary.  It seems to me, in the year 2019, parents spend far too much time protecting their children.  It’s natural to do so, for sure, but I also see it as harmful.  Children need to occasionally fail, and children need to occasionally feel pain, and they need to understand that neither are the end of their world.  Failing a test is not the worst thing that can, and will, happen to you.  Breaking a neighbor’s window while play ball is certainly not a joyful experience, but it also is not the worst fuck-up we will do and, in fact, on the “fuck-up” scale it barely registers.  Losing a girlfriend to a rival sucks, but life goes forward, and losing a loved one to heart disease can be crippling, but even those with walking impediments learn to be mobile.

Philosophical discussions, like this one, are enjoyable and, at times, enlightening at the age of seventy.  At the age of twenty, having just lost my Rock of Gibraltar, my father, philosophy was just a four-syllable word.

I was scared shitless and determined to never show it.

 

Do You Feel What I Feel?

25 Jun

More naps these days

So I was watching “America’s Got Talent” this past week . . . oops, before we get to that, we have this:

“Humans aren’t as good as we should be in our capacity to empathize with feelings and thoughts of others, be they humans or other animals on Earth. So maybe part of our formal education should be training in empathy. Imagine how different the world would be if, in fact, that were ‘reading, writing, arithmetic, empathy.” ‘ Neil deGrasse Tyson

So now, back to the show.  The last act of the night was some children’s choir from Detroit, Michigan.  It was a big choir, probably thirty kids of various ages, all lower-income, inner-city, underprivileged kids, all living in a dead-end part of a major U.S. city with very little hope for the future.

The choir director started the choir as a way of giving these kids something to do, something which would give them a sense of purpose, a sense of value, a distraction from the bleak existence they had been born into.  His mission was one of love, volunteer only, giving back in a way someone had given to him when he was a child.

The choir sang.  They sang beautifully, and then they were voted on to the next round and I swear, their reactions, well, about 4,000 people in that auditorium cried as did Bev and I.  I have no doubt most of those kids had never been on an airplane.  If I know anything about inner-city poverty, I’m willing to bet most of them had never been out of Detroit.  It is entirely possible that the trip to Hollywood, the performance, and the applause will be the highlight of their entire lives.

I’m telling you, it was impossible to watch that sequence and not feel elation for those kids.

That’s empathy, folks!  We need more of it, and as writers we need to call upon it to make our writing relatable and real.

TOTALLY UNRELATED

I was sitting down to continue working on my memoir, and the intro to a new “Shadow” book popped into my brain. I guess I’m now working on two books at once. I wish my muse would make up her mind!  LOL  “Shadows Across the Pond” is the working title.  I’m taking murder and mayhem over to Engliand.  Great fun!

Just some random thoughts on this Tuesday . . . have a great day unless you’ve made other plans.

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

The Fading Summers

18 Jun

The heat slowly pushes northward, from the Simi Valley to the Redwoods, across the Rogue River to the Mighty Columbia, and finally to Olympia, capitol of Washington and home to new, and faded, dreamers.  Pushing the envelope, they say, record temps they say, an oddity for sure, clouds and heat, oppressive by mid-morning on this twelfth of June, a dog day afternoon approaching, thunder heads forming on the horizon, and time slows for us all.

Colors are muted in the heat.  Voices are quieter, movements slower, and chores cut short.  Children race through sprinklers or slide down sheets of plastic, road crews battle dust, visions of an iced cold one waiting at the end of their shift, and the elderly shed their coats and prepare for a game of chess in the park under spreading maples and elms.

Dogs call a postponement of all games, their tongues lagging, bees rejoice in the flowering berry bushes, hummingbirds are oblivious, wings beating furiously, and chickens head under the shed, not to be seen again until the cooling evening. Streets shimmer, wisps of white hang suspended from the heavens, and somewhere in the distance Mungo Jerry sings about summertime and women on his mind.

Memories of long ago, flip flops and drive-in movies, snow cones and sizzling burgers, bike rides with friends, all convinced the sun would never set on our multi-act play, “Help” by the Fab Four playing on  KJR, 950 on your dial but #1 in your hearts, long summer days, hot summer days, ball games and talking ‘bout girls, showing our plumage and not knowing a damned thing, clinging to a rapidly-fading innocence, hoping against hope, knowing it’s a fool’s game to do so, no chance at all of it all lasting.

Reminiscing plus a couple bucks will get you a cup of coffee, the truth of the matter, and yet the value of it is priceless as time grays the hair and shortens the stride.  We are the summation of those memories, walking, talking time machines, straight out of Jules Verne, with a few more miles of tread left on those tires, and memories can soothe us, keep us company when the summer fades and the shortened nights of winter wrap around us, stealing the heat needed for survival.  Those memories are peaceful now, their sharp edges worn smooth by time, and forgiveness, and they spread over me like my favorite toddler blanket of long ago.

Wishing for you all that same peacefulness!

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”