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Hibernation

16 Jan

Hibernation:  to become inactive or dormant.

That’s not terribly accurate in describing my writing journey so far this winter.  I am quite active with customers. I probably have more work than I want to have, truth be told.  But my creative pursuits regarding novels are in hibernation and it is a fascinating process for me.

I thought I’d share it with you.

I started my newest “Shadow” novel, “The Magician’s Shadow,” about two months ago.  I breezed through the first 22,000 words and then called a halt to the proceedings.  I did not call a halt because of a brain freeze, or the so-called writer’s block, but simply because I was at the point where my muse had to decide on the direction of the story.  It’s always like that when I write a novel.  When I start out I have a general outline of the story in my brain, but the specifics and quite often the ending are unknown.

So I call a halt to the proceedings and allow my muse the freedom to do her thing . . . which she is, thank you very much.  I haven’t written a word in that novel for three weeks now, but as I go about my daily activities, little snippets of the story will come to me.  Yesterday a major future scene came to me while I was out walking the dog.  I wasn’t thinking about the book at all, but there it was, delivered to me on a silver platter, with love from my muse.

And so it shall be. When my muse is finished she’ll let me know, and at that point I’ll continue writing the novel.

I always feel my explanation of the writing process should come with a warning label . . .  don’t try this at home . . . because it really is a random process which is impossible to teach to others.

My best words of advice . . . trust in the process!

In the meantime, I’ve finished another coloring book, which will be published soon, and I continue to pick up new customers for my freelance business.  More money is always appreciated!

So there you go! Don’t sweat it.  Let the story come to you.  In the meantime, be productive.

Thus sayeth the old man!

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

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Reciprocation

9 Jan

Reciprocation . . . five syllables . . . a word which has importance for anyone in this writing business . . . hell, for anyone in life.

Let me tell you a story.

We moved into our new home on 18th Street in Tacoma, Washington when I was five years old. My parents were seven years removed from Charles City, Iowa, a small farming town where seemingly everyone knew everyone else.  There wasn’t much privacy in Charles City, but there also wasn’t much isolation either.  If you needed help, help arrived in that town.  Building a shed was a neighborhood occurrence back then . . . it’s just the way things were.

So when my parents moved us into this new neighborhood, my dad did what he was accustomed to doing: he helped neighbors with their chores.  He would shovel walks for Mr. and Mrs. Conrad next door when it snowed.  He would help load trash onto trailers when a neighbor was cleaning out a garage.  It’s just the way my dad was wired.  He didn’t mind doing it.  Mom was the same.  Someone sick?  She was there at their door with a freshly-cooked meal, offering to run to the store if they needed anything.

So after about a year, dad decided to build a cement retaining wall separating our back yard with the empty lot next door.  It was a big undertaking, one which would easily take him a couple months of hard labor after he got home each day from work.

The Saturday arrived when he was going to start this project.  He got his tools together, ran to the hardware store to pick up things he would need, and came home to a group of ten neighbors who were waiting for him. They had come to help. They all had their tools, they were all dressed in work clothes, and a one-man job became an eleven-man job that morning and every evening until the job was completed eight days later.

That’s just the way things were back then.

And that’s what I’ve noticed, for the most part, in the writing community.  Reciprocation . .. friends helping friend . . . friends sharing the work of others . . . friends commenting on articles and blogs . . . reciprocation, only five syllables but a ton of importance.

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

 

The Totality of Marketing for Writers

2 Jan

I have a news flash for you:  everything you do is a part of marketing your product.

Including your product!

I don’t care if you write novels, blog for a living, or submit articles to magazines . . . everything you do is a part of your marketing program.

My wife Bev and I play this little game while watching television.  We rate commercials.  It’s nothing too complicated . . . the rating system spectrum is something like “that sucked” to “totally tubular, man!”

There was one commercial that really stood out. I think it was for Volkswagen, and it happened a couple months ago.  Some family took a cross-country road trip with grandpa’s ashes, and it was a series of memories of love ending with them on a cliff side tossing the ashes into the sea . . . and it was powerful, so powerful, in fact, that I have remembered it for quite awhile.

It was powerful and effective because it played to our emotions.  We have all experienced the loss of a loved one.  It was something we could all relate to, and I think that is the point many writers completely ignore . . . their work, their notifications, their blogs, and their marketing materials, all should be something we, the buying public, can relate to and want to experience more of.

Give me a reason to read your blog.  What is there about your blog that is unique?  What does your blog give me that I didn’t have before?

Give me a reason to read your novel. What is there about your novel that hasn’t been done, ad nauseum, a million times before?

Give me a reason to get excited about your product.  I am bombarded by between 4000 and 10,000 ads per day, so why should I pay any attention to your product?

Be brutally honest in answering those questions. The answers you get just might make a difference in your sales one day.

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

The Yin and Yang Of Us All

26 Dec

My dad and his parents

My parents were racists.

I don’t know of any way to sugarcoat that fact.

They were, without a doubt, products of their upbringing and the atmosphere in which they lived, but that’s like saying they were only Level Four Racists as opposed to Level Five, the really bad racists.

The weird thing is, I didn’t really notice it until I made it to college.  I was simply unaware of their racism as I blithely frolicked my way through adolescence.  But once in the hallowed halls of higher education, this being in the late 60’s, it became painfully obvious, all too quickly, that my parents were lilly-white to the bone, lower-income Irish mutts who looked down upon anyone else of “color.”

It seems odd to say this, but that’s just the way things were back then.

I’ve written often of the admiration I had for my father.  He was the most influential person in my life, and much of who I am today is because of who he was and how he raised me . . . much of who I am, but not all of who I am, and it is essential to realize that fact.

It’s complicated!

We are complicated!

And I always try to remember that fact when I’m writing and creating characters.

People are complicated!

We are not one-dimensional creatures.  There is some good in all of us.  There is some bad in all of us.  The Yin and Yang of the human spectrum, in each of us, a constant struggle, which will win the final battle, no holds barred, may the best quality win.

It would be easy for me to condemn my parents for their racism, but if I do that I’d better be prepared to take a long look in the mirror at myself.

I also try to remember that when I’m writing and creating characters.

We humans have depth.

A good writer understands that.

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Connecting

19 Dec

Really connecting

I received an email from a woman in England the other day.  She had reached out to me several months ago about her daughter, an alcoholic, but I hadn’t heard from her since that initial discussion.  Originally she just wanted to “converse” with someone who understood addiction. I don’t think she was looking for any answers.  She just needed to be heard by someone who understood what she was feeling.

Anyway, I heard from her again.  Her daughter died.  She needed to tell me, and she also wanted to thank me for the comfort I had given her, in that initial email, and in my articles about alcoholism.

I am humbled!

What we do, as writers, matters.

Never doubt that fact.

And what we do as human beings matters.

Never doubt that fact.

It is so easy to lose sight of that point.  We lock ourselves away in a spare bedroom, office, or writing studio, and we pour out the words, one-thousand, two-thousand, three-thousand and more, day after day, week after week, in some cases reclusive by choice, no other human contact, and then we publish and we start all over again . . . but our words, published, go out there to the seven billion, and for some our words mean a great deal, a human contact, an understanding, a touch of empathy when most needed . . .

Really connecting

And that is, in my opinion, a miracle!

I now have a friend for life, that mother in England, suffering from a terrible loss, all because my words reached her at exactly the moment she needed them . . . one person touching another . . .

A miracle!

Do not mistake . . . this is not about me or how great I am or any of that other nonsense.  This is about the importance of caring, and the importance our words can have.  Two human beings making meaningful contact and connection . . .

Tears

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Making It Through The Holidays

5 Dec

“All the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray . . . “

Well our leaves are gone, not brown, and the sky is definitely gray, and most likely will be until April.

Sigh!

Holidays are tough for me.  They have been since my teen years.  I suspect I’m not alone in that statement.  I don’t know what the classic dysfunctional family looks like exactly, but I suspect quite a few of us can give particulars which add up to the whole, and I’m sure my dis-ease during the holidays traces back to family.

To overcome this malaise and semi-depression, in the past, I’ve consumed copious amounts of alcohol. That is no longer an option for me, not for the past eleven years, so to compensate I either get real grumpy or I attempt to act like nothing at all is wrong, everything is wonderful, and by God we are going to have the greatest Christmas ever, with presents and decorations and forced gaiety.

It has only been in the past couple years that I’ve come to realize it’s okay to be depressed and out-of-sorts.  I don’t have to act like I’m enjoying Christmas if I don’t want to.  It’s not my responsibility to make sure everyone else around me is happy.  I can just be me.  I can own my feelings, deal with them the best I can, and keep marking off the days on the calendar until normalcy returns. And thank the gods I have a partner like Bev who allows that and totally understands that.

And I always have writing!

For me, writing is therapeutic.  Writing allows me to escape.  Writing gives me a release of the frustrations and sadness and yes, anger.  Writing is now my drug of choice and I will forever be grateful for it.

So this year I’m not going to kick myself in the butt for not putting lights up outside; I’m not going to feel bad about not buying more gifts for people;  and I’m not going to fake laughter or feign joy if it’s missing.

I’m just going to be me . . .

And write!

Happy Holidays to you all!

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Do You Believe In Magic?

28 Nov

No talent there . . . or is there?

I don’t remember much about Thanksgiving when I was a child.  Odd, I think, but memories are so random for us all, so maybe not so odd.  By the time I was ten, death had whittled down our extended family, so it was not a huge event with great multitudes of people after that.

I do remember mom cooking most of the day.  I remember me eating dough not used for pie crusts. And I remember me and some friends always finding time for a touch-football game down at the park, no matter the weather.

Oddly, when I have relapsed in my sobriety, it has always been Thanksgiving.  I’m not sure why, but it is something I’m aware of, so I’m extra vigilant this time of year.

And that’s about it!  Christmas holds many more memories for me as the years accumulate.  Christmas was always a grand affair, what seemed to be a two-week, non-stop barrage of activities and traditions.  I find great comfort in traditions, and now Bev and I are making our own traditions, together and with combined families, and that is all well and good and as it should be.

The little kid in me surfaces at Christmastime.  It’s really the only time of the year when I see that little rascal, and it’s nice to say hello again to him and have him remind me of the magic inherent in certain situations in our lives.  And I think we all need that touch of magic, that feeling of suspended reality when for one day, or perhaps several days, the worries and stress disappear and we can just enjoy friends, and family, and not be burdened by the weight of life.

So that’s my plan in December this year . . . to simply allow the magic to return.  As I approach seventy, I am very much aware that the window for magic is shrinking, so I suspect that each Christmas, from this point onward, will be more precious than the one previous.

And that is something to look forward to, for sure!

That’s how I view writing, by the way . . . magic!  We all, all seven billion of us, work from basically the same alphabet, the same number of words available, but only a true writer can take those meager tools and produce magic.

I hope you remember that the next time you sit down to write . . . you are a magician and what you do is special!  A side note: I recently received an email from a complete stranger telling me how much an article I wrote about alcoholism helped them in dealing with their alcoholic spouse.

Magic!

Important!

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Geography and History Go Hand in Hand

14 Nov

I recently had the pleasure to read an article by a writing friend of mine, Ann Carr . . . the shortened title was “A Sense Of Place, A Sense Of History,” and it was brilliant.  I don’t say that about too many articles I read, but this one deserves it . . . brilliant!

In it Ann suggests that writers stand in a place and study the surroundings. Study the geography and try to imagine how that geography shaped the history of that particular place.  It is an exercise I have done myself, here in my city of Olympia.  It is a fascinating exercise, to see things as those centuries ago saw things, and to imagine the decision-making process which shaped that area.

Read the article if you get the chance, and try the exercise where you are.

In Olympia, it is the geography which made the city, and in particular it is one small river, the Deschutes, which spearheaded the homesteading movement.  The Deschutes empties into the lower end of the Puget Sound, the inland sea here in western Washington.  In 1848 settlers arrived here, having heard stories about a swift-running river emptying into a deep waterway.  They arrived and immediately built lumber mills, and to ship that finished lumber they started a shipping line.  Other families arrived shortly after that, and Olympia became, at that time, the most influential city in what is now Washington State.

Later, that same river became the impetus for a brewing company to be formed, Olympia Beer, “It’s the Water” their logo, and that company became one of the leading employers in the area for decades.

One river, untamed, flowing with possibilities.

Go outside . . . look around at your surroundings . . . what do you see?

You just might be surprised!

Kneel down!  Scoop up a handful of dirt.  The dirt in my hand is actually rich soil, and similar soil, accompanied with a long growing season, are the reasons people flocked to the Oregon Territory starting in 1843.  The promise of a better life resides in that soil, rich alluvial soil, silt, sand, and clay, with generous amounts of organic matter, all promising abundant crops for Midwest farmers wishing for free land and an easier life . . .

Do you see it?

Do you feel it?

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Remembering the Soldiers

31 Oct

It was during a trip to the dump (city landfill) with my dad that I learned a lesson about war I’ve never forgotten.

My dad served in World War 2. He was part of the Italian Campaign, the liberation of Sicily and Rome, and I have no doubt he saw some serious action during that time.  Like any kid of ten I was curious about war, and like any kid I had this romanticized version of it, the good guys overpowering the bad guys, a sanitized version based on the games we kids played in the neighborhood, bang-bang, you’re dead, raise the flag and whooping and hollering in victory . . . then go home for lunch and play some baseball.

So on this trip to the dump I asked my dad what it was like, being a soldier, killing the enemy, that sort of thing.

He stopped what he was doing, which was unloading the trailer and tossing our junk into the big pile, and he stared off into the distance, most likely seeing the bunkers, smelling the smoke, and hearing the sounds of agony.  He shook his head, clearing it of those memories, and he told me war was not something you spoke about, that there is no glory in taking a life, not for freedom and not for any other political or philosophical reason.

“It’s something we had to do, son,” he told me.  “But I didn’t know anyone who took pride in it.”

My dad and his parents

Since then I’ve heard similar statements from Vietnam vets and more recently from Desert Storm survivors.

What does this all have to do with writing?

We writers chronicle the human experience, or so it seems to me.  I will be forever grateful that I did not have to experience war firsthand, but I do need to understand it as best I can.  My characters need to reflect the words of my father and other veterans in order to be believable.

And so I observe . . . and I remember what I’ve observed, and heard . . . and eventually those memories become part of a story.

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

The Consequences of Hastiness

24 Oct

“There are consequences to being hasty, Bill.”

Words spoken by my Uncle Jim when I was, gosh, maybe eight years old.

My Uncle Jim was a dredger by trade and a carpenter in his spare time.  Carpentry was his love; dredging put food on the table.  He would be gone to Alaska for three or four months each year, helping to dredge out harbors for the towns up there, and then he would return to Tacoma and build things in his garage.

Sometimes I’d go in the garage and watch him.

I loved the smell of newly-cut wood.  Loved watching him work with the grain, and listening to him talk to me about lumber being a living thing, and watching him take pieces of wood and create something beautiful from them.

One day I asked him if I could build a toy boat and he said his garage was my garage, as long as I remembered to put all the tools away where they belonged . . . very important to him, returning those tools.

Well I was in a hurry to slap that boat together, so I did the job as quickly as possible, finished it, put the tools away, rode my bike down to the waterfront, and set it in the water for its maiden voyage.

I think it might have sailed ten feet before a wave capsized it and it sunk.

Back to my Uncle Jim I went, totally pissed and swearing to never again try my hand at carpentry.

“There are consequences to being hasty, Bill,” he said.  “The key to a sea-worthy boat is not in what you see but rather in what you don’t see.”  He then went on to explain ballast and how it works, how a ship’s hull is not solid wood but rather it is the air inside the hull which actually keeps a ship upright and functioning properly.

“You would have known these things, Bill, if you had taken the time to ask.  Don’t be in such a hurry to learn.  Take your time and learn properly.  There’s joy in the process if you are willing.”

 

I was thinking about that time last week when someone asked me what was the secret to success in writing?  My answer to that person is the same as my uncle’s answer many years ago.  Don’t be hasty!  Take the time to learn the craft of writing.  Learn how good writing works.  You can’t fake it.  You can’t pretend.  Good writing is good writing is good writing, and fakers, and those in love with shortcuts, need not apply.

Bill

My new book is out, “Shadows Fall On Rosarito“….check it out!

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”