Friday, May 31, 2013

Remembering Sam

Today, I remember Sam who died nearly a year ago.

We worked in the same general department at an investments firm for more than ten years, though never on the same team.  I can't remember how we started talking, only that he started the conversation, because I would have been too shy.  Over the years, we intermittently discussed books, and movies, and stories in general.  He thought it pretty doggone cool that I spend so much of my time writing stories.

He always asked how the writing was going.  I always said it was great, whether it was or not.  He offered a number of times to read and critique my stories.

I never took him up on it.

Didn't matter that few had read my stories.  He always thought that my attempts were amazing.

Stupid me.  I took his awe with a grain of salt.  Oh, I thanked him.  I did that.  But in my heart, it had the same level of sincerity as if someone opened a door for me:  immediately appreciated, but forgotten a second later.

He asked my opinion on books I'd read.  I turned him on to Harry Potter and, years later, The Hunger Games.  He brought a couple of his favorites for me to read.  One I liked, and told him so.  One I didn't care for, but told him I liked it all the same.

I had no clue about the depths of the man's loneliness.

According to company policy, they cannot intervene until an employee misses three days of work.  By that time, Sam had been dead for at least three days.  He apparently died in his sleep, fifty-nine years old, only five years older than me.

Heart attack?  Aneurism?  I still don't know.  But does it matter?

Three days?  No one missed him for three days?  Except the company he worked for?

I've heard many paradoxes about writing, and have participated in more than a few of those discussions.  And, for me the most poignant is how much time we spend alone trying to communicate.



I've noticed a number of changes I've made or attempted to make in my life since Sam died.  I've started reaching out to others, and it's been a HUGE risk for this inherently shy man, whose years of acting taught him how to APPEAR outgoing without REVEALING a damn thing.

I belong to two writers groups.  In one, The Writerie, I'm the only man of five members.  In the other, The Wayward Writers, I'm one of four men out of seventy-eight members.

When a member of the Wayward Writers requested that we save dates for a campout next month, I took a HUGE risk (for me) and asked if gentlemen were invited.  She said yes without question. 

I booked it, flight and all.

And I was scared to death that some may not venture forth because I ... a man ...  had booked the trip.

What a ridiculous fear!

A year and a half ago, I would have found a way to back out.  Now, I'm soooo looking forward to communing with fellow writers as I do at the writers conferences that I attend.

This last President's Day, I attended the San Francisco Writers Conference knowing no one.  I took risks (for me) and joined several wonderful folks for dinner and drinks, and no one found me wanting.

I even allowed my picture to be taken!  Whoa!

In April, I finished the A-Z blog challenge, and had so much fun and am now following SOOO many wonderful blogs! 

What a lesson to learn when I'm fifty-five years old.

What a lesson to learn because a man died.

It's just that I'm now seeing life pass me by faster and faster.  I've lived much more than half my life.

I'm learning things quickly.

And ... I'm so sorry that I didn't invite Sam out for a drink to discuss ... stories ... novels ... whatever.

It wouldn't have prevented his death, I know.  But it might have made his life a little less lonely.

I hope he's singing with the angels.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Before Midnight

Those who know me understand that I'm a hopeful romantic.  I cry at Hallmark cards, for goodness sake.  Despite Christopher Plummer's proclamation that The Sound of Music was "sappy" and "gooey," it ranks as one of my favorite movies of all time.

And even he's come around over the decades.

That was a big movie.  Enormous, and with worldwide acclaim and favor.

In 1995 I saw a small independent movie that captured my heart.  Before Sunrise.  Directed by Richard Linklater and starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, the movie told the story of two young tourists who meet on a train and cram a lifetime's worth of romance, deep discussions, and arguments into a single night in Vienna Austria, promising each other at the end of the movie that they would meet again six months later at the same train station.

I watched the movie several times over the years, marveling that such a simple premise could produce so touching a film.

Nine years later, in 2004, I'm watching trailers at the cinema before a movie I can no longer remember when I saw Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy on screen.  Could it be?


Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy had taken up the characters Jesse and Celine along with the story and romance and updated it nine years later in Paris.  This movie, called Before Sunset brings us up to date ... for 2004.

In this amazing sequel, we learn their fate over those nine years, whether they actually met at the train station, how their lives have been, and ... oh, what a cliffhanger ... did Jesse stay in Paris with Celine or fly home?

These characters love each other.

It's 2013, nine years after Before Sunset.

Guess what?  Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy have been at it again.

More Jesse and Celine nine years later in a movie called Before Midnight.

It hits theatres near me on June 7th.  Guess where I'll be folks?  Right now it has a Tomato Meter reading of 97%.

This looks like a most promising continuation of one of my favorite love stories.

I'll be blogging about this again, once I've see Before Midnight.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Killing My Darlings

The great Southern writer William Faulkner once said, "In writing, you must kill all your darlings."

For the longest time I believed that to mean that when your very best description or funniest scene (sometimes the best writing you've ever done) conflicts with the story, you must get rid of it.

Kill it.

All writing must serve the story.

This is true and I've taken out some damn good writing on that premise.  The phrase "kill all your darlings," though, has taken on a different meaning for me recently, one that most novelists fundamentally understand, but that I've always struggled with.

As the writer, I have to get my main characters into trouble.  Period.

Kill my darlings, or at least make'em sweat.

Not to do so cheats those wonderful readers I'm trying so hard to cultivate out of the very reason they pick up a story.  Me, as well.  When I pick up a novel, something big better damn well happen or I'll consider the experience hours I'll never get back.

When I give birth to characters in my imagination, I care for them or they would not have attracted me in the first place.  I don't want bad things to happen to folks I love.  Don't want bad things to happen to my characters and therein is the paradox.  While I don't want to hurt my characters, I have to bring huge conflict into their lives or who-the-hell is going to want to read?

Me either.

So, here in draft four, I'm going to have to make things more difficult for my protagonists, taking them right to the edge of a cliff and dangle them off the drop.

They must then work to save themselves.

I don't have to kill the characters per se.  That's not what "killing all your darlings" means to me in this context.  I just have to make them work for it.

And, being a lifelong romantic, I'm rooting for them even while I'm being sadistic as hell.

Back to Draft 4.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Pretty Dark Nothing

On April 23rd, my friend Heather L. Reid's debut YA novel Pretty Dark Nothing hit the bookshelves.  I have it on my Nook, but can't wait to buy a hard copy and have her sign it to me.

Then I will proudly put it on the shelf I keep especially for books signed to me by their authors.

She has worked hard over the years, often bleeding over her word processor.  I know.  I read it in its early draft stages.

And she has turned it into something special from the first pages I've read.

For those in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area she will be signing copies May 22 at the Irving Public Library.

Stop by and say hello to a wonderful writer, one I am proud to call my friend.

In fact, I'm having dinner with her and her husband Dave this very evening and looking forward to it.

And to finish reading Pretty Dark Nothing.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Draft Four Begins

I'm scared.

For nearly twenty years I've written novels, seven unpublished manuscripts so far.  Truth be told, I wrote my first complete manuscript in 1987 intending to sell it to Silhouette Romance. 

Shhh.  Don't tell anyone.  :-)  Not because I intended to write category romance, but because I've been knocking at the same door for twenty-six years now.

What's the definition of insanity?

This novel is different, though.  I can feel it.

We're partners this time. 


Those other efforts I tried like hell to control it and each time it took control of me.  The results ranges from uneven to downright awful.

This time is different, and not just because it's a ghost story.

She whispers to me in the dark.  I listen.  I feel.  I think.  And we decide together.

My writers groups then help refine, tweak, sculpt.

So I'm starting draft four, knowing the story well and in how many different directions it can go.  More important, I know which direction we should travel.

My lovely ghost will guide me.

So why then am I scared?

Am I scared?

In zoology class I took in college in the 1970's, the professor proclaimed that the chemical response in the human body to fear and excitement is identical.  Our mind determines which.

So, no.  I not scared at all.

I'm damn excited.

So I begin today by reading draft three.

I'll keep y'all posted on my progress

Thursday, May 2, 2013

A-Z Blog Challenge Reflections

First, many, many thanks to Arlee Bird and everyone with the A-Z Blog Challenge team.  What a wonderful experience this has been, and all of you made it special!

I’m writing a novel, one I refer to as an old-fashioned ghost story, but the industry would call everything from paranormal romance to gothic romance with a mystery tie-in.

I finished draft three just before the A-Z Blog Challenge.

I intended to set draft three aside for a few weeks and let it stew and work on something else.  I thought of adopting one of my short stories to a ghost story. 

My friend Dawn suggested the A-Z Blog Challenge.

I mentioned it to a couple of folks, but demurred.

My friend Jodie offered the convincer by participating herself.

My topic then became… Ghosts: Real, Imaginary, and Metaphorical.

So how did I find the experience?

Fun, in that I had to come up with ghost topics from A-Z.  Some, admittedly were a stretch, but always enjoyable

Social, in that my blog had 2 followers before the challenge began.  It now has 30.  Thank you all for that.  And I found a number of wonderful blogs to follow that I had no idea existed before this challenge, and will continue to follow.

Painful, in that a number of posts required me to sit in front of my laptop and bleed.  That, however, was my choice, not a fault of the challenge.

Overall, I’m so happy to have made it through.  I’m exhausted, but am filled with accomplishment.  I also feel as though I’ve been molded by a blacksmith into a better writer.

I read many incredible blogs.  Here are some amazing ones I came to through the challenge.

And this is just a sample. 

If you’ll notice, a number of the bloggers here are writers.

And here are some individual posts that grabbed me and held on tight, one even staunching some emotional bleeding.

I’m now ready to start draft four of my ghost story.  It’s good.  I know how to make it better.

The challenge has helped.

I’m such a newbie that I hesitate to offer suggestions to make the A-Z Blog Challenge better.  But I do agree with fellow blogger Mina that one should have to choose a category, even if that category is (PP) Potpourri for those who want to mix things up a little.

To that end, offering more categories, and allow a blogger to choose more than one.   One of my favs involved both travel and food.  (TR) (FD) or whatever the acronym will be.

Choosing a category might make the blog hop a little more focused and purposeful.  Like if I’m walking into a bar for a drink and they don’t serve wine, I’m outta there.  I’m not interested in straight liquor, not that there’s anything wrong with that or folks who prefer it.  It’s just not my thing.

Requiring a category (and offering more choices) would, I think, enhance the hopping experience.

I'll check out as many of the reflections as I can, and will return next year.

In the meantime, with my regular posts, I'll keep y'all up with what I learn about writing, storytelling, provide a story here and there, and keep everyone posted on how draft four is coming along.  I have three agents interested in seeing it on its completion.

Until then, happy blogging everyone!