Saturday, April 28, 2012

Reflections in Coffee

Coffee is what allows me to be a human being.  

It's a vice, I know, but as far as things like that go, it could have been worse.  This post was inspired while sitting at the computer, working on my latest project, I saw the words reflected in the coffee mug I inevitably had sitting in front of me.  The image seemed quite poetic and appropriate.  It represents what drinking coffee is for me.  Inspiration often comes from the most generic of places.  Today it came from an image captured in a coffee cup.

While I drink my morning coffee, though I also have children running around my ankles and generally making a fuss, it gives me a reason to pause and think about things.  A lot of people read the morning paper while drinking coffee.  I write while drinking coffee.  It brings my thoughts into focus, and it gives me creative permission.  It makes me daring.

Sure, on the surface I may look like I'm only drinking coffee, but what you see is only a reflection on the surface of something far more mysterious and exciting.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Writers Get Rich, Right?

The stories of writers like J. K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer give us hope that we may someday write the next big thing that will make us millions.  That's a fun dream to play around with, but for the time being, I need to stick to more realistic expectations.  I'd be happy with making a modest living off of what I love to do. Heck, I'd love to just have a book published, whether it makes any kind of real money for me or not.

One small step at a time, I guess.

The dreams of wild success will continue, of course.  I'm only human, after all.  At least I was the last time I checked . . .

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Character Profile ?'s: Choice of Weapon

Now to continue with the seemingly strange questions.  Perhaps this one is not so strange as my first one, but as I always leave room for all conceivable options, the answers I come up with may be odd in nature.  Again, you're talking to an irreparable sci fi geek.  There is no fixing me to fit in with the so-called normal crowd, and take my word for it, I'm fine with that.

Question #2: If your character is faced with a situation where they have to fight, what weapon would they choose?  And this can include any real or fictional weapon such as light sabers, ray guns, or a bat'leth.  And when they fight, do they fight to kill, or merely to wound or frighten?

The type of weapon you choose for your character says a lot about their personality.  Some will fight with words first and foremost, only resorting to using a physical weapon when forced to do so.  This indicates that they value life enough to avoid hurting their adversaries.  The weapon chosen goes hand in hand with whether they want to kill, or if they find it more honorable and good to leave their enemy alive.

The bat'leth (sword of honor), the weapon of choice for Klingons in the Star Trek universe, is a very physical weapon.  It requires close proximity to your enemy, which is perfect for a warrior species that finds honor in battle and death.  It is shaped to effectively block another weapon and has various points with which to stab your foe.  The Klingons, who find honor in dying in battle, would kill therefore kill their enemies.  Any character who chooses a weapon like this would have to have a warrior mentality as well.

Combat with a light saber is also physical, but the configuration means you won't always have to get as close to stab an enemy as you would with other weapons.  It is also made of light, which shows that wisdom and order ultimately defeat the dark side.

pics on Sodahead

Now, I'm describing weapons from sci fi, because A) I love it above all else, and B) it helps me to demonstrate my point in a more unique way.  Conventional, real life, weapons are of course acceptable, and the choice of any one of them is just as telling.

Although, apparently the bat'leth is now a real life weapon for some criminals.  And the Klingons would be disappointed, because there is no honor in this.

To take an example from something I've written, though the book needs editing that I plan to address once my new WIP is completed, I'll answer this question for Gretchen. Only a handful of people who know me will know who this is. Let's just say that she is an athletic person who is dedicated, in the beginning, to find a new challenge. She finds one when she begins to learn and perfect telepathy and telekinesis.  I would say this, her primary weapon, is most similar to the force in the Star Wars universe, so if she had to choose a fictional tool to fight, this would be it.  However, she would use hand to hand combat first.  She is a physical person who fights well, and she needs to keep her true power secret for personal reasons.  However, her goal is not to kill, but to subdue.  Killing only comes when absolutely necessary.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Character Profile ?'s: Time Travel

As a way to speak more to my creative process, I decided to start posting about some of the more interesting questions I ask as I develop my characters.  Most of the standard questions are:

  • What is your characters name?  Gender? Age?  Occupation?
  • Where does your character come from?
  • What is your character's favorite hobby?

These are all good questions.  In fact, they're vital.  You can't have a rounded character without them.  I answer each one of these before I really begin the writing process.  I'll occasionally write a couple of scenes to get a feel for my characters before I make any hard and fast decisions about them, but I certainly can't complete a first draft without this basic info.

As a writer, though, I ask much more complicated questions than this.  In fact, I ask some strange ones.  If anyone knew the scenarios I run through in my head while developing my characters, I'd probably be committed to a mental institution.  And now, here I am, ready to share this process with you.  I'm probably dooming myself, but here we go.

Strange Q #1:  In a time travel scenario, how would this character react if they met an older version themselves?  How would the older version react?

Image: Victor Habbick /

Odd, I know, but I guess that's the science fiction in me coming out.  I ask this for every story, even ones that don't ever involve time travel.  And I'll admit, as much as I love time travel, I almost never write it into my stories.  It's one of those elements that has to be integral to the plot, otherwise it just feels tacked on and doesn't work.  However, knowing how a character would react should they ever meet another version of themselves answers a lot of important questions for me. 

In juxtaposing them, I typically use my character as they are at the beginning of the story for the young version, and the character at the end of the story, or perhaps a year or two after, for the older counterpart.  This allows me to visualize the transformation they undergo during the course of the story.  It also lets me flesh out each version of them.  How does the younger one see themselves in comparison to who they will become?  Do they like what they see, or do they want to avoid that outcome?  How does the older one see their past selves?  Do they wish they could return to that state of being, or are they happier with who they are now?  The older character gives me the advantage, as a writer, to explore how they feel about the events they lived through, while the younger one tells me how they respond to knowing what will happen.  As we all know, how we anticipate an upcoming event and how we feel about it afterward are often entirely different.

I'll give you an example from my WIP.  My character Ralph is a gay man who grew up in a society where his sexual orientation was illegal, and punishable by death.  As a child, he was forced into a brutal regimen of  treatment aimed at curing him.  When that failed, he was sentenced to death for the so-called good for himself and society as a whole.  He escaped to and started over in a place where he could, for once, be himself.  The change is gradual, and is impacted by the constant threat of war with the place he was once forced to call home, but he eventually becomes someone quite different than he used to be.

In encountering one another, the young version would be shy, avert his eyes, and entirely skeptical of a future where he could be at all self-assured or able to be honest with anyone about himself.  The older Ralph would look at the old him and feel grateful that he made it out of that.  He would also feel sympathy for his younger self, and would want to reassure him that his life really does get better.  Even their physical appearances show the dramatic shift in the course of his life.  I could give more details than this, but I don't want to give everything away. 

In employing my time travel question to this particular character, I was able to visualize this transformation in a very dramatic way.  Strange, maybe, but it's effective for me.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Sister's Perspective on Bullying

I've said it many times: words have power, especially in the age of social media where those words can spread like fire for the whole world to see.  Now, I'm limited in my capacity to say how hurtful those words can be.  You can only learn how painful it is to be tormented by your peers through hearing personal stories like this one.  Here in my home state of Iowa, 14 year old freshman Kenneth Weishuhn told his community that he was gay.  His friends turned against him, and about a month later on April 14, he committed suicide.

Here is what his older sister Kayla had to say about her brother.

Think before you speak. Consider the fact that the person you're tearing down is a real, flesh-and-blood human being. They have feelings, and they need to feel loved just like anyone else.  And sometimes, when someone is surrounded by rejection from all sides, the love they still get from their family isn't enough to combat the pain.

People may say they didn't intend for things to go this far, but that doesn't change the fact that they did.  There are far too many stories like this one.  There's no longer any room for the excuse "Well, I didn't know it could end this way."  If you've ever read or seen the news, you know.  And believe me, caving in to the pressure to fit in right now won't drown out the regret you may feel later for hurting someone, even if it doesn't go as far as suicide.

Just think before you actively harm someone this way.  Say what you will, but know what can happen and ask "Is it worth this?"

This story, as well as the countless others like it, must remind us of what can go wrong.

Monday, April 16, 2012

View From the Top

As a kid, I had an obsessive relationship with tall things.  Any time I saw a tall parking garage or tower, I imagined myself at the top of it.  I wanted to go into space and view Earth from above.  I wanted to fly planes.  I dreamed of what my world would look like from that altered perspective.  Although I didn't get the chance to do some of these things, I relentlessly dreamed of them from the garage roof.  During the summer, my dad and I would climb onto the roof and stargaze.  During the day, when the ladder was still left leaning against the garage, I scaled it's wooden rungs and ascended to a new world, notebook in hand.  I loved watching cars go by.  I looked at the treetops, and watched my parents move about the yard.  I loved climbing trees and seeing what the world looked like when no one knew I was there.

Sounds a bit voyeuristic, I know, but I just loved seeing people like they were characters inside a story.  I was the narrator.  Walking through stores, I saw so many people, and though I didn't know them, I write their back story in my head.  Seeing emotion in their faces, I imagined reasons behind those feelings.  I decided what they would do next.  Though they were clearly people over whom I had no control, it was a good way to flex my creative muscles.  It's research into the way people behave.

I still do these things every day.  So if you ever see a stranger staring at you for no discernible reason, they may be creeps you should avoid, but they also may not be.  Perhaps they're just budding writers, trying to figure you out, trying to see how you and your coy smile or brooding temperament fit into the world.  I try not to stare, because it is rude, but people watching is by far one of the more fascinating hobbies a person can have.

I am the narrator, and this is my story.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Bullies and the Beaten Down

I just want to say this much.  I HATE it when people bully others who are different from them.  Whether it's due to race, economic background, sexual orientation, personal interests, or a child's inability to relate easily with others, tormenting people needlessly is a despicable act.  Young children and even adults can become overwhelmed with the negativity thrust upon them, and some of these people resort to suicide.  It's a serious problem.

On the one hand, I think legislation aimed at this problem may be a good thing, but when it comes to 1st Amendment rights, things get a little bit tricky.  The last thing in the world I want is for us as a nation to lose our ability to express ourselves freely.  That is part of what defines us as a people.  If we overly restrict our speech in the realm of electronic media, as many say AZ House Bill 2549 would, we all ultimately lose.  The bill would make it unlawful to  use language intended to "terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend."  Now, to be fair, the law does attempt to make it clear that the person issuing such speech must have intent to harass the target, and the target should have a reasonable fear for the safety of themselves or those close to them.  If you want to determine for yourself whether this is the case, here is one article that briefly addresses the concerns that have been raised.

Even so, is that enough?  Who judges?  We all know judgments can be flawed.  We're all human, and there are always those who will twist any situation to their benefit.  The democratic process is made possible by our freedom of speech.. We lose that, and we could lose everything else.

Legislation aimed at disarming bullies treads a thin line, and any line crossed to benefit one group can ultimately be turned against them as well.  If the 1st Amendment is violated, that impacts us all.  Such bills need to be very specific in their language and should undergo rigorous review before they are passed.  The public should have every opportunity to see such bills through their various stages of revision.  We are, after all, the ones who ultimately hold our legislators accountable for the work they do.

I believe schools have the right to regulate bullying through policies that address the unique situations of their district.  Students have a right to free speech, but the school should also remain free of tormenting behavior that adversely impacts the learning environment.  These policies are left to the school board and parents to decide.  We need to make it clear that harassment is not acceptable.  If people actively and consistently stand up for the bullied, we wouldn't need policy to begin with.  In our schools and in our towns, we can see the difference between off-handed comments or one time statements of opinion and bullying.  With laws, we leave the decision to someone who may not have seen all the facts.  In our lives, we will see the facts if we choose to look out for them.  When local policies cross a line or are clearly not doing enough to address a serious issue, then the government may step in, but in a limited capacity.

I know I've said this before, but what bullies need to understand is that hurtful words have a power they may not fully understand.  I have to believe that those who bullied people to the point of suicide didn't intend for things to go that far.  And for those bullies that genuinely hope to inflict real pain on others and enjoy it for their own sick benefit, the fruits of your actions will catch up to you.  And this is not a threat.  It is a statement of fact.  People will only tolerate the brutally hurtful for so long.  You have the right to say mean things to someone, of course, and that should remain the case.  However, that doesn't make what you're saying right.  You should know when you're crossing the line, you should understand there are consequences for that, and you should know what they are.  Before you say something, you should be willing to accept those consequences.  Words have staying power, especially in a world with the internet.  Don't claim ignorance when something you said is used against you.  This is a risk you take when you utilize your 1st Amendment rights.

Now, to briefly address another concern I've heard.  Some have said that bullying aimed at homosexual students in particular should not be regulated because it would infringe upon the religious liberties of those who believe homosexuality is wrong.  I must say this: there is a difference between expressing a deeply held belief in a civilized manner and being openly hateful to someone.  When you're harassing someone for something like sexual orientation, even when it does correspond with a deeply held belief, you can't convince me it isn't hateful to do so.  We need to learn to love people and be kind to one another, even when someone lives in a way that violates your own conscience.  Bullying them won't save them.  If anything, it will only make them feel more isolated and alone.  And in those instances, they may not even be able to turn to their own family.  Love and kindness should be the default position anyone takes.

So what do you do if you're bullied and feel like there's no way out?  First of all, you need to find someone you can talk to.  Even when there is no policy in place that can protect you, the best protection you can offer yourself is the support of others.  This can be family, friends, anyone who will listen.  And for those of you who can't find anyone you know to listen to you, you can turn to the online community.  Yes, cyber bullying is an epidemic problem with social media, but that same social media can be your ally is you know how to use it.  The story of a girl who used Reddit to stop cyber bullying shows how people can band together to stop this kind of behavior before someone gets hurt.  We can take our own power back. 

While I doubt anyone would want to talk to me, I want to make it clear that I am also willing to listen.  I've been bullied, so I understand the pain all too well.  It can wreak havoc on your self-esteem, but you don't need to be alone.  I'm putting this out there because I want to reach people with my point of view, and if I weren't willing to accept the consequences of that, I'd be a hypocrite.  Plus, I really do care.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

I Need A Vacation From My Holiday

My other grandpa died yesterday, making for two big funerals in two weeks.  I swear, in the last year I've been to more funerals than anyone should have to deal with in a decade.  It really puts life in perspective.  And next month, only six days after Lyle's first birthday, will be the one year anniversary of my mom dying.  We'll see how that goes.

Anyway, I need to keep pushing on with life.  The more I focus on taking care of my kids and working on my writing, the better I feel.  I can't change what's going wrong.  I need to keep going with the things I can control.  

Okay.  At least I should post an update on my writing progress since that's what this blog is supposed to be about.  My WIP is about to cross the 40,000 word mark, which means it will officially be novel length (according to the opinion of many at least . . . the one consistent thing about word length is that no one really seems to agree entirely).  It's a bit sporadic because I've been hopping around a bit, but I'm actually confident I'll get there in the end.  There's potential in it.  I just need to put in the effort, and of course have the confidence  that I can do the story justice.  After all, it is a story of a nation so divided along political lines that it actually results in the country splitting in half and eventually going to war.  Seems appropriate for the times, does it not?

Still quite a way to go on that front, but after that I also have three completed novels that I want to revise, and a new novel that I've been toying around with for awhile.  I have enough in my head to keep me busy for years.

Although, I have made one solid conclusion.  If I manage to sell a book in the near future, I'm using the money to take my family on a mini vacation.  I think we need it.  How much do you think it would cost to go here?

Thanks to Victor Habbick for this lovely photo!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Learning to Love

Given the heated rhetoric I've been hearing lately, I find it refreshing to read something that doesn't focus on trying to find someone to blame for the world's problems.  Thanks to the sharing abilities of Facebook, I was able to read from a blog post that said so many of the things that I've felt needed to be said.  And I won't lie, it can be construed as offensive to people of faith purely from the title I'm Christian, unless you're gay, but in order to really get at the message, you need to look past that.  The point the author makes is simple: if you're going to be a real Christian, or even just a decent human being, it is unacceptable to hate people just for being different than you are.  If we are to have a better world, we need to really learn how to love.

On the same blog, the author posted the contents of an email sent to him as a reaction to the blog post.  In it she reveals how she realized that her own son was gay and how she came to terms with the hateful things she used to say about gay people.  Sometimes people can go through amazing transformations when they're willing to keep an open mind and open heart.  If only people didn't need to be personally affected in this way to question the way they treat others.

I know, I sound like a hippie right now, or a promotional spiel on the Lifetime Movie Network.  That's not my intent.  I just want to be honest about how these pieces of writing touched me.  I have a lot of friends who have struggled with hate because of sexual orientation, religious preferences, and many other reasons.  There are 7 billion people on this planet, and none of us are exactly the same, but we all need love.  And expending the energy on hating others takes away from our precious time and energy that we could be dedicating to something else.

We all have a personal responsibility for the way we speak of and interact with others.  Before you say something cruel to or about someone you barely know, think about the impact your words may really have.  Even if you believe the way someone lives is sinful, is that enough reason to treat them as less than a human being?  If you were them, how would you want others to treat you?

Anyway, it's something to think about.