View from the end of our street, February 22nd, 2019

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Pretentious? Moi?

          I will turn 68 years old a week from tomorrow.  In sixty-eight years, I have managed to log a couple of accomplishments.  I have walked around the block all by myself at least three times.  I've learned English, a bit of Mexican Spanish, a smattering of Japanese, plus Morse Code and semaphore.  I've even picked up a few words of Swahili from my work on Beyond the Rails.  The Morse and semaphore came courtesy of my hitch as a radioman in the navy, where I also learned about a number of other things, from fancy knots to dead-reckoning navigation to how to deal with an exceedingly dangerous class of weapons, the naval mine.  Because many of these mines are triggered by the magnetic field of a steel ship, the minesweeper I served on was made primarily of Douglas Fir, making it an almost unique experience in the modern navy; minesweeper sailors learned things that sailors on the USS Constitution had to know.  The motto of the Mine Countermeasures Force was "Wooden Ships and Iron Men..."  They do it with helicopters nowadays.  I played a season of football on a Welfare & Rec team while I was in the navy.  I was a pothead for a bit after my discharge, hung out with (and was one of) the colorful characters in a southern California beach town.  I got clean, enrolled as a student in the San Diego chapter of the Japan Karate Federation, where I eventually rose to assistant instructor.  For all of that, I'm more closely akin to Kwai Chang than Toronaga, charming my way out of trouble when the opportunity presents itself.  I've had two fights, won them both, and backed off a snarling dog once on a walk with my wife-to-be.  Based on that one incident, she believes to this day that I'm the toughest bastard since Al Capone; I should have bought that dog a beer!  For thirty years, I was an avid wargamer.  Without going into a lot of detail, these are games that simulate historical events.  They simulate the randomness of combat and the fog of war by compiling tables of possible outcomes, and asking the players to roll dice to determine what happens when the two armies finally clash.  My life-long best friend has a daughter who is deaf, and inspired by her condition, I read a book on American Sign Language.  Curious about how such things work, I bought a Taro deck.  Couldn't make heads nor tails of it.  My mind doesn't flow along those channels, but I'm aware of their existence, and have a slight grasp of how their practitioners use them.  Believe it or not, I have actually done a couple of other things in that brief span of 68 years.
          Well, of course you have, you may be thinking.  So have I.  What's your point?
          It seems that two days ago, while attempting to contribute some bits and pieces of my accumulated life experience to a conversation taking place at Scribblers' Den, I was taken to task by a relatively new member for being a bit of a know-it-all, and he eventually wrapped up his discourse by remarking on the remarkably full life I must have led, suggesting that 68 years is not long enough to have learned about (not mastered, mind you) such disparate subjects as sign language, Taro cards, and die-rolling.  He even seemed to be suggesting that no one could have possibly figured out how to make a list of possible events, then choose one randomly by rolling dice before he thought of it; makes me wonder what dice were used for before he came along.  Anyway, his concluding statement was to wonder  "How can your good self always seem to be ahead of others, including sign language, etc., in a subject that doesn't normally cover such themes often?" Apparently his point, which I missed the first time through, is that, as a steampunk author, I'm not supposed to be knowledgeable about anything except corsets and dirigibles.  Allow me to take this opportunity to apologize for having a life outside the page.
          Now, taken in isolation, this event can only be seen as the half-assed joke that it is, but nothing ever happens in isolation, does it?  People who have known me for a while are aware that writing has become more and more of a chore for me, an increasingly uninteresting exercise in pounding my head against the wall of a blank page.  That seems to describe my lifestyle, and the very reason I have such wide-ranging yet shallow knowledge of so many subjects.  I'm a collector of experiences.  When my interest is piqued by something, I jump into it and gain enough knowledge to satisfy my curiosity, then move on to the next thing.  My approach to the journey is to try on what life has to offer like so may sets of clothes.  Writing seems to be no different.  I've written two books, which seems to be one too many.  My subconscious mind has crossed that accomplishment off the bucket list, and is urging me to move on, and offended, insulted, and angered by my encounter with this gentleman, the day when I do exactly that has moved dramatically closer on my desk diary.  I haven't offered any comments to Scribblers' Den since Tuesday, and I may not again.  This kind of crap isn't what I go there for.  Scribblers' Den is my baby.  I created it, and added such peripherals as the shared world of Port Reprieve, and the Empire Booksellers listing of members' published works.  This stuff didn't just fall out of a tree, it took time and creative energy, and it continues to take time and energy to maintain them.  I don't do this so that I'll have a convenient place to go when I want to be insulted and all but called a liar in front of all my friends, thus making this little near-humorous event the straw that broke the camel's back.
          So, what does the future hold?  I'm almost finished with Beyond the Rails III, with just a couple of chapters left to go.  I'll probably go ahead and complete that, changing the ending to bring the saga to a full conclusion.  Stingaree is almost certainly dead.  I haven't given anything beyond that more than cursory thought, and now even that cursory thought will be replaced by the next exciting exploration.  There's no knowing how long I might have hung on to this writing gig, and all the peripheral social media that goes with it, if I hadn't been shaken out of the doldrums by this one abrasive character, so far from being angry and insulted, if I go on to another adventure or two, I will owe him a great deal for jarring the stalled mechanism loose and getting me moving along to the Next Big Thing.  And in answer to the opening question, Pretentious?  Yes, I suppose I am!
          And that about covers it.  I'll see you next week, maybe, with something, I don't know what.  Until whatever time we may meet here again, question everything!

~ "Blimprider"

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The right-brained writer

          For those of you about to take me to task, I am well aware that this isn't Thursday.  I am lifting my head from the sea of fun and games that have become my life in order to celebrate a milestone in my writing career.  It was September 19th, 2014 when I opened the Groups page on The Steampunk Empire and clicked on the "Add Group" button.  I posted there, as I have in so many places, a picture of my classy old desk.  Whenever I want to add a bit of elegance to a project, the grand old lady never lets me down.  It then asked me to write a description of the group I was creating.  These words described it perfectly, and in the last two years, not one has been changed:
          "Welcome to Scribblers' Den, the online tavern where authors of the ~punk genres can meet to share concepts and philosophies of The Craft in the hope that these conversations will provide the fertile ground that will give rise to tomorrow's incredible ideas.  You needn't be a famous author, nor even a published one to be a member.  You need only be serious.  This group is not about exclusion nor limitations, in fact it has only one rule:  No personal attacks on a fellow member for expressing his or her own opinion.  Violation of that axiom will get you thrown out of here so fast it will leave you with whiplash, and this is the only warning that will be given.  So pull up a chair, order a round, and put your wares on the table.  This is the place where imaginations fly!"
           There are 180 members of Scribblers' Den, a writers' group within the Steampunk Empire as most of you know, and we are far and away the most active group in the Empire.  Last year the anniversary fell on a Saturday, and the members, from sunrise in Australia to sunset in California and British Columbia, celebrated by way of a virtual tea party, each member joining in as his or her part of the world came into daylight.  This year, the date falls on a Monday.  As many of the less fortunate Denizens have nasty ol' jobs, we are moving the party to the following Saturday, and we invite everyone, members or no, to join us at the Scribblers' Den website for fun times and stimulating conversation.  There is also an exciting announcement for fans of steampunk literature which you'll find at the bottom of the post, so read on to the end; you'll be glad you did!  Meanwhile, here's a bonus article to tickle your thinking bones.
          Among my writing friends, I am known as something of a freak for my lengthy and detailed outlining.  This occurs in layers, and I find that I must outline straight through to the final scene before I start writing.  I've tried starting the writing without the outline finished; it hasn't gone well.  Some of them find my process so disturbing that they find ways to insult me, mostly saying that outlining stifles creativity, reducing the process to more or less filling in the blanks.  I insult them right back, pointing out that outlining simply moves the creative process to a step where it is much easier to correct problems when something goes awry, negating the need to rewrite half a novel after you've written yourself into a corner.  Sometimes, when I'm feeling particularly nasty, I challenge them to explain how they can tell me a story when they themselves don't know what it is.  But this is all just friendly rivalry between people with similar interests, and means no more to outsiders than the squabbles between sailors and marines that seem to predate recorded history.  What I decided to do is to try to analyze the reasons behind our opposing styles.
          People who follow my process are known among enthusiasts as Planners, for obvious reasons.  We make a plan, and for the most part, follow it.  The opposing camp is known as Pantsers, or those who "fly by the seat of their pants."  I can't talk about their process.  Can't do it.  Tried it once, it was a disaster.  Perhaps a Pantser would care to explain in a guest post?  The conclusion I have come to is that I am pretty dominantly right-brained.
          The right hemisphere is known to manage the creative stuff, the intuitive, things like interpreting facial expressions, vocal inflection, and performing quick, rough calculations and estimates.  The left hemisphere is the home of math, science, and engineering, so it would be natural to imagine, as I did, that left-brainers would be the outliners, and right-brainers the chaotic free-form composers.  In practice, though, just the opposite seems to happen.  My primary writing skills, which people have long remarked upon and complimented, are in weaving the story in great surprising arcs, and dialogue, free-flowing and natural.  This creative material is right-brained stuff.  What isn't is structure, the tight integration of plot points in logical order from inception to conclusion, and that, friends, is why I have to write it all down, scene by scene as it comes to me.  I can't carry it all in my head, count sections, plug them all in and out and evaluate where they fit, and where they might be better without having them all written out where I can see and evaluate them all at once without losing any.  In other words, all those things that Pantsers do with a facility they take for granted.
          I have long used a notebook.  I had to have something I could carry with me, because what with the work environment, I was always on the go.  The disadvantage to a notebook is that once you write something in there, that's where it is, in terms of the outline.  The tenth thing you write remains the tenth thing you write pretty much forever.  Oh, you can write in pencil, which I do, but then if you start changing stuff, your life becomes erasing, and trying to remember what you'd written long enough to write it somewhere else.  I have long read of Planners who use index cards to write each plot point on, and can then shuffle the order, add new ones between existing ones, and all sorts of flexible things that give them a great advantage over a notebook.  Now that I'm retired, and the only place I have to be is home, I'm going to give that a try.  I can spread them out, sort, shuffle, reorder, all without worrying about a boss who's going to want to know what the hell I'm doing.  I highly recommend retirement. It stops the bullshirt train dead in its tracks!
          So, do Pantsers, for all of their effortless facility with pulling a plot out of thin air, suffer with the weaving of story lines and the easy facility that I enjoy writing dialogue?  Is their experience the exact opposite of that of a Planner?  Curious minds want to know, so maybe some of the Pantsers among you can enlighten me.  I wasn't ready to hear you before.  I am now, but if you're going to be insulting, don't expect to get off lightly!

          And now we come to the mysterious announcement.  Some of the Denizens have collaborated on an anthology to celebrate our anniversary which is being collated and formatted by Bryce Raffle, one of the true movers and shakers of the Den, and is tentatively being considered for release around November 5th.  Updates will be announced here and at the Den as they become available.  If you have ever been curious about the literature of steampunk, this is a golden opportunity to obtain some short, easily digestible works by some of the leading lights at the forefront of the movement today...  And there's a story in there by me, too!  So come indulge your curiosity, and get a collection of brilliant offerings by some hard-working authors who aren't writing for a publisher in pursuit of the Last Big Thing!
          When one thinks of a den, one tends to think of comfort.  A cozy room in the house—a quiet, comfortable place, a room for conversation, reading, or writing.  One doesn’t tend to think of high adventure, dragons, vampires, airships, or paranormal creatures.  And yet, that’s just what you’ll find in these pages.  Stories of adventure and mystery!  Paranormal, dark, and atmospheric tales!  The fantastical and the imaginative, the dystopian and post-apocalyptic, and everything in between!
          So settle in to the coziest room in your house, plop down into your favorite armchair, and dive in to the Den of Antiquity.  Featuring stories by Jack Tyler, E.C. Jarvis, Kate Philbrick, Neale Green, Bryce Raffle, N.O.A. Rawle, David Lee Summers, William J. Jackson, Steve Moore, Karen J. Carlisle, Alice E. Keyes and B.A. Sinclair.
          October 8th is National Independent Author Day.  Sign up to participate at a library near you, and make Den of Antiquity part of your celebration.  Meet a dozen indies on the frontier of imagination.  Maybe you'll discover a relationship with your new favorite author.
          And until we meet again, read well, and write better!

~ "Blimprider"

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Character study

          "Discover everything about your characters that you can before you write your story.  If you get stuck at any point, they will write your dialogue for you."
                              ~ MICHAEL J. KANNENGIESER

          Over the next weeks and months, I am going to share some of the techniques I use in the composition of my own books and stories.  I had intended to open this installment with a quote very close to, "Writers don't write books, characters do," but I couldn't find an attribution.  My memory is telling me Arthur C. Clarke, but I can't find it anywhere.  I know I didn't say it, but somebody did, so there it is.  In any case, truer words were never spoken.
          I can't tell you how to create a character from nothing.  That's one of the primary skills of the writer, so I'm going to assume that you have it.  You're just walking along minding your own business, when BAM, a trapdoor opens in the gray matter, and out climbs this person.  Suave guy, tough chick, or someone completely different, it doesn't matter.  Another thing that doesn't matter is whether you were already working on a story, and this spontaneous creation is in response to that, or if this person just popped into being and inspired a whole narrative for his or her own use.  It is a character, and as such, has to be developed.
          First, compare him to the story you are writing.  Comedy, romance, action, horror, all have their denizens that populate their pages.  Writing a comedy, and the guy who popped up bears a striking resemblance to Indiana Jones?  Then you need to look at whether he'll stand for you making him a bumbling sort of action hero.  He won't have it?  Then consider a role as a pompous straight-man.  Now comes the tough part:  If he refuses to fit into the story you're telling, then he needs to go.  Not to the gallows, but to a sort of author's limbo where ideas, settings, characters, and situations percolate for use on future projects.  If he just won't gel, then maybe he does need to go permanently; if you can't make him hold still for a snapshot, how are you going to manage him for the marathon that is writing a novel?
          Let's assume he does work, though.  Now he needs to be developed to a level where you know him better than you know some of your own family members.  People are going to say, "I'm a pantser," or "Planning stifles creativity."  If that is your philosophy for the story as a whole, that's fine, your style, your business, but a character is much more complex than a simple plot.  Plots tend to behave; characters are people, and if the ones you know are anything like the ones I do, they're as drifty as the most chaotic subatomic particles.  Every plot twist, every unexpected development, every decision in which your character goes to the street corner and waits for the light to change, or just darts out into traffic comes down to who that character is, and you, Mr., Miss, or Mrs. author have to know.  You have to, because if you get it wrong one time, your readers will know, and you can take that to the bank!
          This requires some form of character sheet.  I'm sorry, but no short cut exists.  You have to know far more than you will ever put on the page, because if you don't, your character will be a straw man, a stick figure, with no more depth than the page he's described on.  If that's good enough for your purposes, then you may as well stop reading now, but before you go, consider all the most powerful works of literature, from Dickens to Rowling.  Every character comes alive, leaps off the page, draws you into the story and keeps you there for the whole ride.  If you want your fiction to grab your readers like that, then read on.  Writing is hard work.  If it wasn't, we'd all be on the best-sellers list.  If you want to be a top-tier writer, it begins with doing the work.
          So, the Character Sheet.  What goes into it?  When you first think of this character, record the obvious things.  Height, weight, build, color of eyes and hair, distinguishing marks, all the things you'd tell a cop if you'd witnessed a robbery.  Ah, but then it gets interesting.  Let's examine each point that you need to know intimately to make your character come alive.
          ROLE:  The first thing you need to decide is whether this character is the Lead, the Opposition, the Confidant (sort of the Lead's version of a Henchman), the actual Henchman, the Romantic Interest, or a Minor Player.  If a Minor Player, it is important to know whether he favors a victory by the Lead, or if he's partial to the Opposition.
          CONNECTION TO LEAD:  If this character is not the Lead, then he or she must know or otherwise have an interest in the Lead's success or failure, and you have to know what that is.  Whether a blood relative, childhood friend, or someone who read about the Lead in the paper, and views him as a villain who must be stopped, there is a connection between them, and it must be defined.  It isn't enough to throw a character into the mix who wants to bring the Lead to his knees.  There is a reason, and knowing that reason, and keeping true to it, is what elevates the story above the level of Archie and Jughead.
          STORY GOAL:  Every character wants something tangible, something that will benefit him personally.  It isn't enough to say that the Confidant wants the Lead to win.  It's all about the why.  What does she gain if the Lead goes home victorious, and what does she lose if he loses?  That's the motivation, and without it, the Confidant becomes a Sidekick, motivated only by hero-worship, and any other character becomes less interesting than that.
          MANNERISMS:  This is very important, and one of the few things that can grow as the character does.  If you have anything in mind for him, write it down here.  Talks with her hands, sways when standing in one place, nervous tic in the left eye, anything, anything at all.  Then leave a lot of space, because much of what you write as the story develops will need to be recorded here.  Don't skimp on this.  If your character drums the fingers of her right hand on the outside of her thigh when she's agitated, and a hundred pages later, she starts popping bubble gum under the same kind of stress, readers will notice.  Readers notice everything, and that's only good if you've gotten everything right.
          SPEECH PATTERNS:  Here go your character's regionalisms and accents, his embarrassment talking to the opposite gender, his stutter, the way he says "y' know?" at the end of every sentence, and all that jazz.  I suppose you could combine this with Mannerisms, but keeping it separated helps me keep these points from getting lost in the shuffle.
          PERSONALITY:  List here the character's basic traits, the qualities that are going to inform his every action, be that a bubbly optimism, cowardice, underhandedness, saint-like honesty, any sort of quirk or flaw you can think of, and stay true to them.  Again, readers will notice.  Note: the four indispensable traits of the Lead must be Courage, Virtue, Likability, and Competence.  Lose Courage or Competence, and you have a comedic hero, as in Beverly Hills Ninja.  Lose Virtue or Likability, and you have an anti-hero; think Paul Newman in Hombre.  Lose two or more, and you will have an unsympathetic ass who will kill any story you place him in.
          BACKGROUND:  This is simply the pertinent facts in your character's life up until the beginning of the story.  Examine the story you are writing, and let your imagination run wild; a young woman who had grown up in a convent wouldn't likely choose to become a gangster's moll, for example.  Jot down a few details.  They needn't be exhaustive biographies, but you need to know what has driven these people to the time and place of your story, and what factors they believe are important.  A few areas to solidify:
               Geography:  Where was he born?  Into what conditions?  Where did he grow up?  Was the childhood location stable, or did the family move around a lot?
               Family:  What were her parents like?   Does she have siblings?  What is their relationship like?  Did she marry or have children, married or not?
               Childhood:  What was his childhood like?  Was he happy?  Abused?  Popular?  Miserable?  Lonely?  What caused his underlying condition, and what sort of person did that make him?
               Education:  Did she go to college?  Where?  Did she do graduate work?  Was there any other sort of training such as vocational school or military training?
          PERSONAL LIFE:  Where does the character live?  A house, an apartment, a co-op, a condo?  In what state, city, or town, real or made up, in what neighborhood?  Is there a spouse?  A parent?  A partner?  Are there children or pets?  What is his social life like?  Who are his friends?  How does he socialize with them?  Does he go to the gym, do things with his son, enjoy a night out with the boys, or a card game with his wife?  Does he like to go dancing or visit museums?  We are all products of the road that brought us to this point.  I will be 68 years old in two weeks, and I still carry baggage from my childhood home.  Your characters do too.  You need to capture it.
          PRIVATE LIFE:  What does the character like to do when she's alone.  People don't just sit and stare at the wall until the next dramatic plot twist arises.  We all have things we like to do.  I write, play video games, read, watch music and documentary videos, and sometimes work out just for a few examples.  You need to know whether your character is a bookworm or a squash player.  Also, most people have a secret they would kill or die before disclosing.  Maybe your character is a porn addict.  Maybe she's into BDSM.  Maybe she's a Furry.  Once you know what that character is hiding, she will fairly leap off the page!  It needn't even be that dramatic.  Patience Hobbs, the airship pilot of the Beyond the Rails series, has a small tattoo in an area that is always covered by Victorian clothing.  None of her friends know she has it, and it doesn't come up in the stories, but I know she has it.  I know who put it on her, why she allowed it, and what it signifies, and it informs her actions in ways almost too subtle to imagine.
          PROFESSIONAL LIFE:  What does he do for a living?  He does something, unless he is retired, a bum, or a member of the 1%.  What is it?  Did the story you are telling come about because of his job, such as a police officer or a journalist?  Or was it an obligation dumped in his lap by his shiftless brother-in-law, and attempting to solve the dilemma it presents is going to bring him into conflict with boss and coworkers?  How is he viewed at work?  Is he a valued team member, or a problem employee?  Who are his friends?  Who are his allies?  These are often not the same people.  Who are his enemies and his rivals?  Again, not always the same.  Does the story take place in his work environment, or is it going on outside, maybe affecting his performance?  All things that contribute to a well-rounded character, and vital for the author to know.
          SKILLS:  These are special abilities that the character brings to the story.  This is perhaps easiest to envision in a fantasy story.  If your character is a mage, what are her most familiar spells, the ones she will go to in an emergency because she can rely on them?  Which are harder for her to manage, ones with a high payoff, but a big risk attached to attempting them?  The housewife in your story may have dropped off the kids at school and gone from there to a two-hour karate lesson every day for the past five years.  This will inform the way she looks, carries herself, and her confidence level at the very least, but it will also render her attempt to free her children from their kidnapper considerably more believable than if she's a librarian who hasn't exercised since the Bush administration.  Once you identify a skill that your character is going to need, identify in parallel with it a reasonable way she could have acquired it, and should it come up in the story, you will have a full understanding of it, and be ready to explain it in a thoroughly believable fashion.
          STRENGTH:  What is this character's strongest positive trait, the one that will inform his approach to solving every problem?  Express this in one word, if possible, certainly not more than three or four.  This character may be completely villainous in his outlook, but everyone believes that he himself is righteous, and has powerful strengths to support that belief.  These are things like loyalty, ingenuity, discretion, and adaptability.  Most of us would be honored to be described in those terms, but those are character traits that would serve a villain well.
          WEAKNESS:  Similarly, what is the one dominant weakness that will test your character to the fullest when the going gets tough?  These are the Seven Deadly Sins sort of traits.  Envy, greed, laziness, arrogance, and selfishness all belong on this list, along with sloth, gluttony, and so on.  Tempting though it is, pick one, and make your character face it.
          NAME:  I know, it's a small thing to name a character.  Throw a dart at a telephone directory, and there you are.  True to some extent, but it's not quite that simple.  There are a few considerations you have to take into account. Is your character ethnic, or from an ethnic background?  A migrant Mexican worker is unlikely to be named Clive.  You need to consider the period in which the child was born.  When I went to school, the most popular name for girls was Debbie; my daughter's school was awash in a sea of Jennifers.  Girls in the Victorian era, in which most of us steampunks write, are more likely to carry such cumbersome handles as Theodosia, Eudora, or Henrietta.  Consider who the character is to imagine how her name might have been changed with use.  A party-loving club-crawler named Cecelia might encourage her friends to call her CeeCee; a college professor of the same name might decline that particular honor.  Nicknames are usually given by others, and they aren't always flattering.  My mother's legal name was Kay Frances Tyler.  Not the worst name in the white pages by any means, but it didn't quite fit the professional gambler that was mom, a fun-loving girl at home in a man's world with the nerve to bet it all on the turn of the next card, and show a steely-eyed poker face looking over a pair of deuces.  At home, the other adults called her Kay, but on those occasions when I found myself accompanying her to the local gambling haunts for any reason, everyone I ever met in that world called her Frankie.  It fit her to a T.
          Most importantly, help your readers out by choosing names appropriate to the character.  A high-powered attorney might be named Grant or Elliot; the drug dealer he's defending probably won't.  Finally, keep your names distinct.  Do not, under any circumstances, have three important characters named Edmund, Edward, and Edwin.  Okay, nobody's that heavy-handed, but a useful trick is to write down the alphabet on a page of your notebook, and when you name an important character, for example, David Smith, cross out the D and the S, and don't attach them to any other important characters in that story.
          All right, I know I said a few naming considerations, and this is the biggest paragraph in the article, but naming conventions are important.  The name describes your character, and a well-chosen name defines her.  Done right, you can tell a bank officer from a pre-school teacher, a liberal from a conservative, one who embraces life from one who endures it.  Done wrong, names can lead a reader into a minefield of confusion, and I've been led to believe that readers don't like that.  They don't like it to the point that they will remember your name, and never buy another book that has your name on it.
          The biggest no-no?  Resist the temptation, no matter how strong, to impart all of this information to your reader.  The readers should glean, whether through dialogue or exposition, no more than two-thirds of the information you compile on these characters, and on the thoroughly detailed ones, closer to a half.  Part of the character's power to hold the reader spellbound is the mystery, the uncertainty, the romance of what's implied.  Use that mystery to seduce, to charm, to intrigue.  Never relieve that curiosity, and they'll remember your characters into their old age.
          Okay, I've given you a ton of material here to use in creating and developing your characters, and you're probably thinking, "What's the matter with this guy?  I just want to tell a story!"  Well, I'm honest.  That's my character trait that I fall back on when the going gets tough, and make no mistake, if you're a writer, the going is tough!  It's hard to get a firm figure, but taking the averages of the various places I've looked, it appears that some 5,000 books are published every day!  The majority are self-published, which means the writer is responsible for the quality of his own work.  No one is standing over him making him take care of the details, and so most of them don't.  There are millions of books available for sale on Amazon; go on, ask me how I know!  Vast numbers of them have sloppy grammar and spelling, improper punctuation, ridiculous premises, and are riddled with plot-holes.  They are a complete waste of every aspect, from the writer's time to the reader's 99c, or whatever he paid for his Kindle edition.  Anyone who has the misfortune to encounter one of these is probably going to swear off indies for life, so they harm all of us.  The things I'm telling you in articles like this are the secrets of success.  Do the work.  There are no short cuts.  Writing is hard work.  After all, you're creating a world, a society, a culture, and all the people in it.  You're controlling every aspect of every character.  Do you think it's going to be as easy as dealing a hand of solitaire?  If you haven't been approaching character creation using some formula similar to this, why not?  The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary.  First do the work, then enjoy the success.  It doesn't happen any other way.
          And I'm going to wrap this up here.  That's a lot to take in, and if you have been pantsing your characters, you're probably in shock right now.  I'll be around for questions and comments, and would love to hear your thoughts on this.  Until next time, read well, and write better!

~ Blimprider


          A couple of things that didn't fit the theme of the article, but need to be passed on...
          First, I mentioned before that Beyond the Rails was nominated for a Metamorph Publishing Summer Indie Book Award, and that I found out the day after the voting was closed.  This was BtR's first real recognition outside of my little circle of friends, and it would have been nice to have the associated badge as a souvenir.  I Emailed them to ask about that last Monday, the 12th, and was told that I would have it in a couple of days.  It's ten days later, and no badge.  I suppose it could still turn up, but I'm no longer hovering around the Emailbox.  Too bad...
          Second, allow me to introduce you to Prachi Naik.  Find the link to her blog in the Friends do Great Work list in the sidebar.  She has a profound voice when it comes to expressing emotion, and I'm very impressed with the young lady's work.  I think you will be, too.
          All right, that's it.  Now get out there and live life like you mean it!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Me and Dr. Pavlov

          Good Saturday morning, all.  The furniture's arranged, the drapes are hung, and most importantly, the coffee maker is set up and bubbling nicely!  For a number of reasons, most notably to avoid interference with my writing projects, I plan to move this blog back to Thursdays, but I wanted to have a little housewarming party for followers and friends old and new, so I'm going to lead with a post that will give a good representation of what you can expect to see here for the foreseeable future.
          How do you get in the mood to write?  Most people will probably say they just sit down and start writing, either when the urge strikes them, or at a certain time of day.  To a great extent, that's my approach, as I have the house to myself in the early mornings, so I get up and make use of the time.  But how do you make yourself ready to make best use of the time when it is available?
          Ivan Pavlov was a Russian physiologist who accomplished many amazing things that helped lay the groundwork for modern medicine, and was awarded both a Nobel Prize and a Copley Medal, but he is best remembered today for his work in the field of Conditioned Response.  Who hasn't heard of Pavlov's dogs?  In its simplest form, the story is related that he rang a bell each time he offered food to a test group of dogs.  Said dogs would quite naturally salivate at the sight and smell of food.  Eventually, the dogs would salivate and otherwise prepare physiologically to eat at the sound of the bell alone.  The question I pose to you is, how can you take advantage of that in order to maximize use of your writing time?  All I can tell you is what I do.  If you're a writer, you must have a good imagination.  Maybe you can think of something similar that will get your creative juices flowing.
          I get up in the morning and put the coffee on.  Yes, I'm quite addicted to the Sweet Nectar of Life, and no cracks, if you please!  While that's perking, I look over my notes and outline to get a feel for what I hope to accomplish in the day's session.  Once the coffee's ready, I light a stick of incense.  I prefer nag champa, with sandalwood running a close second.  Perfumed smoke rising, I pour a large cup of coffee and infuse it with a flavored creamer.  Again, I have favorites, among them Coconut and Almond, Hazelnut, and Irish Cream.  I then take that cup to the beautiful Queen Anne desk in the photo above (relax, it's a reproduction), take that first sip to get the flavor on my palate, and with the incense teasing my olfactory lobes, I can almost feel the neural channels to the creative wing of the old brain expanding for the free passage of ideas.  I have somewhat ambiguous feelings about grouping myself with a pack of conditioned dogs, but I know it works; advantage is where you find it.
          In the ongoing discussion about doping in sports, a question that always comes up is, "If you could take a pill that would make you significantly better at your job than your competition, would you?"  Well, would you?  Here's a drug-free "pill" that you can use without guilt or repercussion to make your writing flow.  It takes a little while to condition yourself, but once you do, you'll see a dramatic improvement in production.  I did; I know it works.
          Will you take it?  I guess the main point is to establish a routine that you follow, little pleasant details, like a pre-reward for performance, every time you sit down to write, and very soon that part of your mind, whatever it is, that sets up blocks will come to understand that this is writing time, and you don't plan to entertain any resistance.  It will get used to taking a couple of hours off, and you will get used to turning out copy at a level you never dared dream of before.
          Will you take it?
          Whatever you decide, read well, and write better!

~ "Blimprider"

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Coming Home

          They say you can't go home again, yet here I am.  I just need to blow the dust off the furniture *cough cough* and knock down those cobwebs, and I'll be all set.  A bit of background would be in order.  I began blogging here on Blogger back in 2010.  Jack's Hideout was my second site, and this takes me back to the carefree, innocent days of meeting Nicole Vulcan, and the Nerd Lunch crew.  Back then I hadn't been published, and had left all such thoughts far behind.  I drifted away for the bright lights and fancy bells and whistles of the Weebly provider, self-published my steampunk epic, and conducted all my book business over there with their simple interface and killer fonts.  And then I got an Email telling me that they were hooking up with something called Scribd, whatever that is, that Scribd would be carrying everything I posted there on their site as well, and that beginning October 15th, I would be subject to Scribd's Terms of Service.
          Unlike almost anyone else on earth, I opened them up and read them.  Behold Clause 6:


          By uploading User Content via the Scribd Platform, you hereby grant to Scribd a worldwide, non-exclusive, transferable, assignable, fully paid-up, royalty-free, license (with the right to grant and authorize sublicenses) to host, transfer, display, perform, reproduce, distribute, compress or convert for distribution, monetize, charge money for, restrict access to view, restrict access to download, advertise against, and otherwise exploit Your User Content, in any media formats and through any media channels, in order to publish and promote such User Content in connection with services offered or to be offered by Scribd. Such license will apply to any form, media, or technology now known or hereafter developed. Whether your content is uploaded under the free access or paid access terms, you grant Scribd the right to restrict access to view or to download your content (for example, without limitation, to paying users) and to charge users for access to your content, subject to certain configuration options provided to you by Scribd, Subject to the terms and limitations set forth herein, you may terminate this grant of license to Scribd as to any specific piece of User Content by removing or deleting that piece of User Content from the Scribd Platform; provided, however, that it is understood and agreed that Scribd may retain a copy of any User content as necessary to make it available to any other user who has paid for that access, and provided further that Scribd may, but is not required to, retain indefinitely a copy of any User Content for archival purposes."

          I'm no lawyer.  I read stuff like this and simply see what it says in English, and what this says to me is that anything I post there becomes their property to do with what they will.  After careful consideration, I have decided to decline the offer to trust an anonymous, largely unaccountable corporate entity with my created and copyrighted material, and so I am back on Blogger.  This is the new digs, folks.  Anyone wanting to follow needs to bookmark this site.  I'll need to rearrange the furniture, and bring in a few new pieces, but this is, with the exception of a few details, the final appearance.  I have several samples at my Weebly site that will be migrating over here within the next couple of weeks, and soon nothing will be left there but a link to my new, old address.
          Looking back through the posts, you can see that I was just blogging about anything that took my fancy, and having some fun into the bargain.  Now I will be blogging almost exclusively about writing, the Craft, the methods, the peripheral items that come with it, a lot like the old blog, but without agreeing to let my provider steal it.
          This represents a new start for me, and as I turn over this fresh page, I promise you that I'm going to try to leave behind my doubts about my own ability.  I have in the past aggravated my readers something awful with my frequent expressions of self-doubt.  I am no big-time author, and have no huge collection of reviews, but the ones I do have are uniformly good, and I have no reason to think my skills are lacking.  Beyond the Rails was nominated last month for a Metamorph Publishing Summer Indie Book Award.  It didn't win, but it has officially been noticed by the literary world.  In short, my readers have confidence in me; now it's time for me to have some confidence in myself.
          I have a considerable amount of material to move over here, and it will necessitate setting up pages, and probably things I haven't thought of yet.  I'm going to take my time and get everything just the way I want it, and then we'll begin this new phase of the journey together.  Meanwhile, come in and sit a spell.  You may have to sit on a packing crate and drink your coffee from an old tin can, but I promise you warm companionship and friendly conversation.  Anyone who would like to check out the old site, and the posts that are being left behind, can find it at  And until I get this new endeavor up and rolling, remember to get out there and live life like you mean it!

~ "Blimprider"