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The Universal Joy of Literature

12 Mar

I remember way back to a time I was ten, eleven, in that neighborhood, at least.

My dad had a manual labor job for twenty years.  He left the house every morning by six, so I rarely saw him as he headed out to work.  For some reason though, one morning, I staggered into the kitchen at some ungodly hour and Dad was sitting at the kitchen table, a cup of coffee in front of him, and he was holding a Louis L’amour paperback.  It was an odd scene for me. I couldn’t remember ever seeing my dad read a book.  Dad had dropped out of high school as a sophomore, during the depths of the Great Depression, and never did return.  He signed up to fight in World War 2, got married in 1945, and started the next chapter of his life as breadwinner and family pillar.  To see him reading was inconsistent with everything I had seen before.

I mumbled “good morning, Dad,” and sat down at the table.  “Whatcha reading?”

“Just an old beat-up copy of a western, Bill.  I like to read in the mornings.  It’s a good way to start my day, take my mind off things, that kind of stuff.  I like the quiet of the early mornings, a good cup of coffee, and some entertainment before I head to work.  There’s never any time for reading once my day begins.”

I’ve never forgotten those words.  Even for a man like my father, a person who would never be labeled an intellectual, reading provided entertainment and gave him some peace of mind before his day began. I try to remember that when I write an article or a novel.  What I do matters. What all of us writers do matters.  We entertain.  We provide an escape from the mundane, and we provide an exit strategy from the worries of the day.

Don’t ever think what you are doing is not important. I don’t care if you write novels or you write blogs only, what you do matters.  In this day and age of instant sound bites, purported fake news, and unsupported hearsay, what we do is damned important.

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Feel Me!

5 Mar

I was talking to my best friend yesterday.  Frank came up from Oregon for a visit, so he and I spent yesterday just hanging out and reminiscing, as old men have a habit of doing.

Frank has been my best friend since high school. We were college roommates.  We think alike, look alike, and act alike.  It’s a bit freaky, truth be told, but it’s also very cool, that kind of deep bond with another human being.

So we were talking about our childhoods, and we were marveling at just how normal our childhoods were. Our parents may not have been perfect, but by God they knew how to raise children.  There was dysfunction in our families, for sure, but our overriding memories of those years are good memories, and you better believe we are both very grateful.

I bring that up, on a writing site, because it is part of the marvel that is creative writing.  I have no dark memories from childhood. I was not molested, I did not suffer emotional abuse . . . there was nothing of the sort.   I played ball, I had friends, I goofed around, I got average grades, and I was loved.  Yes, I experienced darkness during my adult years, because of alcoholism, but the years prior to that were sunshine and chocolate chip cookies.

And yet I am able to find empathy for those who have suffered. I have found compassion for those who have led much harder lives than I have. I am able to understand what they feel, and my characters reflect that understanding.

I have never been in the military, but I have an understanding of the experience. I have never been in a truly violent situation, but I can imagine what it must be like.  I have never owned a gun, never will, but I write about them all the time and I’ve been told my writing is believable.

I guess, what I’m saying, is you do not have to experience that which you write about.  Human emotions are transferable for those who simply observe and are accepting.  Pain is pain is pain, no matter the source.  Elation is elation is elation, and loss is loss is loss.  I was watching an interview with an actress, and she was explaining how she is able to cry during some scenes and emit such believable angst. She said she simply remembers moments in her life which were especially traumatic, for her, and transfers those feelings into her acting. I can relate to that easily having held my dying father, a man I loved greatly, when I was twenty.

Tap into it all when you are writing. Somewhere you will find inspiration if you welcome it with open arms!

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

My Fascination with Human Beings

19 Feb

I am fascinated by human beings.

I love to people-watch. Being an introvert, I’m quite good at it. I have no problem sitting in a corner, in a social gathering, and just observing.  You might not even know I’m there, so unobtrusive I am, coffee in hand, kicked back and relaxed, watching the players of life act out their parts.

Some, who do not know me, think I am sitting in quiet judgment, but that is in no way the truth.  Who am I, with the life I’ve lived, and the mistakes I’ve made, to judge others?  No, I am simply soaking up the marvelous nuances of the human species.  I love to watch people in different scenarios and see how they adjust and handle it all. Why does one person handle a crisis so effortlessly while another freezes in fear and indecision?  Why do some show so much self-confidence while others shrink from any position of responsibility? Why are some so demonstrative with their feelings while others resemble the Sphinx?

I observe . . . take mental notes . . . practice conjecture . . . role-play with me in similar situations . . . wonder about what-ifs and what-nots.

What is the goal of it all?  I don’t know that I have one.  I’ve always been that way, since my youngest days, the face in the shadows, the quiet kid with the active mind, blink and you’d miss him, that sort of person. I do  not want attention;  I shrink from it as a matter of fact.  I am comfortable with solitude and I abhor small-talk.  I’m a meat and potatoes kind of guy, skip the appetizers, I can’t be bothered with the hi, how are you, what’s new, nice to see you sort of sugarcoated nonsense that passes for conversation in most social settings.  It’s just the way I am and I’m fine with it.

And perhaps it has all led to me being a writer, a profession which allows me to thrive as an introvert, an opportunity for me to converse about important issues without ever opening my mouth in public.

My old man used to tell me a man must demand respect, that it is not given freely but is earned. It seems to me that the act of “demanding” is not so much a vocal order as it is the way you act towards others.  If I treat you with respect I will receive the same in return.  If I treat you with love, love will flow back in my direction.  I can do both without being vocal or invasive or obnoxiously self-serving. I can quietly embrace my fellow man. I can try to understand him.  I can show that I care, and if I do those things respect will be earned.

I am fascinated by human beings.

I am a writer.

I observe and I chronicle that which I observe.

Life is good!

Bill

On Friendships

12 Feb

One of the common themes in all of my novels is friendship.  I’m not talking about acquaintances, or the casual friendships we all have, or the instant friendships on social media, but rather the “I would do anything for that person” friendships which are so rare in our lives.

How many such friendships do you have?  Not counting family I can count two.  It’s a small number, for sure, and I’m not sure what that says about a man who is now seventy years old and literally knows hundreds of people, but there you have it.

In “Resurrecting Tobias” it was the Three Amigos, Toby, Maria, and Pete.  In the “Shadow Series” it is the group of Eli, Liz, Lyle, and Striker.  They are inseparable, they would die for each other, and, well, that’s how I feel toward my two dear friends.

It is such an important part of being human, those deep connections where warts are shown, truth is mandatory, and small talk is for someone else.  The bond is so strong . . . thoughts are shared without being spoken . . . almost like a silent language is shared that no one else can hear. It is at the core of what it means to be human, a bond like no other, and if you experience it you don’t want to ever lose it.

Am I happy with just two?  An odd question, that one . . . I am thrilled by the two I have . . . I wish I had more. I have tried, at times, but for a variety of reasons they have not worked out. So I am satisfied for having two, and wishful for more.

Anyway, you’ll find it in most of my writings . . . certainly in my novels . . . friendship and love, the only two ingredients of life I absolutely must have to happily survive.

And I wish those for you, as well . . . happiness and love to you all!

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Investment in Characters

5 Feb

I was talking to our barista the other day, and somehow the conversation came around to bucket lists.  One of the items on her list is to see a herd of wild horses running across a field.  I don’t know why, but that just seemed so random to me.  Never in a million years would I have thought of that as a bucket list item.

Then last night I watched a news special report on the BTK Killer, who, to all who knew him, just appeared to be the most normal neighbor and co-worker.  It was as though he was a random selection by nature to be this ghastly serial killer.

Now the reason I mentioned those two “random” thoughts is because, as a creative writer, I am always creating characters, giving them personalities, making them come alive in some sort of realistic fashion, and those two examples remind me that truth is often stranger than fiction, and I really do have the freedom to expand my thinking when I’m creating a “person” in a book.

I’m not sure if it is terribly important that a character be “believable” compared to my logical world; what I do believe is that we make that character someone we can invest emotional currency in.  In my Shadow series I have a character named Striker, who is a stone-cold killer, really completely unlike anyone you and I would ever meet in real life.  My job, then, is to transcend logic and make Striker so interesting that you, the reader, look forward to every scene Striker appears in, and forget that Striker is almost totally removed from our realities.

Does that make sense?

I think what I’m saying is don’t let logic stop you when creating characters.  Make the character interesting and people will accept the fact that reality has been suspended.

It is, after all, fiction we’re talking about.

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Somewhere Along the Road

29 Jan

Forty-five years ago I fell in love with the lyrics of a young songwriter/performer, Dan Fogelberg.  As music often does, his spoke to me, connected with me, and those lyrics have only gained in value over the decades.  Here is an example of a songwriter sharing his gift with the world:

Joy at the start
Fear in the journey
Joy in the coming home
A part of the heart
Gets lost in the learning
Somewhere along the road.

Along the road
Your path may wander
A pilgrim’s faith may fail
Absence makes the heart grow stronger
Darkness obscures the trail.

Cursing the quest
Courting disaster
Measureless nights forebode
Moments of rest
Glimpses of laughter
Are treasured along the road.

I will never be able to write poetry, or song lyrics, like that.  I say that, not from humility, but from an understanding of my gifts and abilities.  There are things I do well as a writer, and there are things I fall short in.  That’s all right. I can live with that.  The point being that writing gives me joy, and it is my hope that my writing gives joy to others along the road.

It is all I’ve ever wanted as a writer.

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

A Journey Through Ground Fog

22 Jan

Ethereal concealment, almost an oxymoron, dense and yet incomplete, as though it was only important that the first ten feet of any vertical matter be hidden from view.

There is mystery in that ground fog, childhood fears, real and yet untouchable, muted laughter and weeping, emotions spanning the years, memories with no expiration date.  Thoughts move with footsteps through the haunted atmosphere, decades disappear, replaced by memories, as real as any figment of the imagination.

Red is gray and yellow white, this day in white satin, excuses offered to the moody blues, playing on the Victrola in my mind, days of future passed, as all time is, morning or afternoon, evening or the dark before dawn, impossible to tell as Nature spreads her veil upon us.

Walking through ground fog is unsettling. We rely so much on our senses. When one is altered, or deprived, adjustment takes time, and that time is filled with measured steps, halting steps, as the familiar becomes mysterious.  Ground covered many times in the past, committed to memory, is no longer.  Confidence falters and each step is a reminder of years long ago, the toddler years, when adventure equaled risk and the accompanying trepidation.

Ground fog gives the impression of walking among giants, mythological beings rising out of the primordial ooze to rule the earth, tree tops and shed roofs, floating above a sea of white, or gray, no foundation, nothing to anchor them in place . . . nothing to anchor you in place.

It seems odd to say, but there are no odors associated with ground fog, as if they are not allowed, or there is limited atmosphere and no room for them, but at the same time the untouchable seems to have substance, a trick of the imagination, perhaps, for how can vapor and molecules have sufficient density?

WHAT’S THE POINT?

None, really, just a writing exercise to sharpen the skills.  So many people ask where my inspiration comes from, or where my muse resides. I thought I’d show you.

Have a great day!

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Randomness from Mr. Observation

15 Jan

Maggie and I went out to the farm the other day, which is not news since we do that every single day to feed the chickens and collect eggs.

Just before we reached the main gate I looked off to my left and saw the coyote which has been killing our chickens of late.  He was standing in a hollow about one-hundred yards from us.  Maggie did not see him.  So I parked the truck on the farm, now maybe two-hundred yards from where the coyote had been seen, and Maggie and I got out of the truck.  Maggie sniffed the air once and took off running in the direction of the coyote.  Mind you, we could not see the coyote from where I parked the truck, but Maggie was aware enough of the scent, carried on a gentle breeze, and she was off and running.

It was an amazing moment, really.  Of course I am aware that animals have keen senses, but to actually see just how keen, firsthand, took my breath away.

Things like that happen all the time on the farm.

Did you know that chickens have independent eyes? One eye is constantly looking at the ground in search of food; the other eye is always looking for predators.  It’s pretty cool to watch if you find yourself on a farm someday.

There’s a llama out at the farm, and the two sheep that are at the farm instinctively stay close to the llama for protection. Two difference species which somehow understand their roles in a partnership.

Walk up to that llama and the first thing she will do is put her face directly in front of your face, and I’m talking two or three inches.  She is smelling you, determining whether you can be trusted, and one thing you can do, to build that trust, is to gently blow air in the llamas face.  I swear I’m not making this up. I’ve done it, and that llama will come to the fence line to greet me whenever I’m at the farm . . . because she trusts me, and I passed the greeting ritual with flying colors.

It’s all just fascinating to me!

There are also guinea hens on the farm, and peacocks, and when they sense a predator is nearby (usually the same coyote) they will join in on a chorus of high-pitched screeching to warn all, and as soon as that screeching commences Cleo, the farm dog who lives there, will come racing out of the home to chase off the coyote. Who needs ADT Security when you have guinea hens and peacocks?

Anyway, the point is this: there is a big old world out there which is fascinating if we allow ourselves to observe, and observation is a valuable tool for a writer.  Go take a nature walk and really observe what’s happening around you. Go walk downtown and really observe the people you see.  It’s all there for you, for free, and it is all fuel for the next short story or novel.

Next week I think we’ll talk about ground fog if you have no objections.

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Rows and Flows of Angel Hair

8 Jan

I was listening to Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” the other day:

Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way

But now they only block the sun
They rain and they snow on everyone
So so many things I would’ve done
But clouds got in my way

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all

Similes and metaphors . . . so very cool!  That, my friends, is beautiful writing.  You can call them lyrics, or you can call it poetry; whatever you call it, make sure you add the word “brilliant” to your description.

Here’s the thing about similes and metaphors: they have to be relatable and easily understood; if not they are simply clever writing which has very little value to the reader.  In truth, I’m not sure what Joni meant when she said “I really don’t know clouds at all,” but I also don’t really care.  The line “feather canyons everywhere” is so damned brilliant that it transcends the importance of understanding the final meaning, at least for me.  Comparing clouds to angel hair, or ice cream candles . . . man alive, that is just brilliant writing, and only a true Creative would see those things while looking at clouds.  You can’t really teach that kind of vision, and I don’t think Creatives really have to force the creative process.  It’s just how their minds work . . . how our minds work!

We are members of a very select group. We see things through decoder lenses, and those lenses are not available to everyone.

Enjoy them!

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

The Power of Emotion

1 Jan

It’s been fifty years, this week, since my dad died in my arms.

Some dates .  . . some events . . . you never  forget.

We all have them.  Many times I’ve talked to people who remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when Kennedy was shot, or when the Challenger disintegrated, or when the Twin Towers were attacked.  We remember the finest details of those moments, even though we have a hard time remembering what we had for dinner three nights ago.

The power of emotion!

I remember the first kiss, the sweetness of it, one mystery unlocked.  I remember making love the first time, the frenetic, confusing energy of it, another mystery unlocked.  I remember several broken hearts, a love lost to a young death, tragedies and triumphs, slights and recognitions.  They were recorded in my memory banks, stored away, hermetically sealed in a Mason jar for safe-keeping, called upon from time to time, when story characters need a touch of humanity . . . and when I need a touch of humility.

I saw a “hanging tree” in New Iberia, Louisiana, and felt, at that time and at this time, sorrow for our  species, and I saw mangled limbs on veterans who paid the ultimate price for a government’s hubris.  I saw burned children in a hospital, and learned more about dignity from them than from anyone else in my lifetime.

Stored away . . . the power of emotion!

I’ve known addicts most of my adult life.  I’ve known hookers.  I’ve heard their stories and seen the pain on their faces, and that shit will stay with you forever, just as the testimony of the abused and discarded will brand your soul with the stench of truth.

The power of emotion!

I’ve shaken hands with Death and lived to tell of it.  I’ve comforted those who live in the aftermath of violence, and I’ve celebrated the seemingly mundane events of life with those who didn’t have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out.  I remember it all, and it all is reflected in my writing, in my voice, and in my style.

How could it not be?

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”