Monday, October 25, 2010

Oh for a Thousand Stepping Stones

Two years ago, I felt like a failure. I had just gotten out of a meeting with my boss, the senior pastor of the church I was on staff at, in which we came to the mutual conclusion that my time working there was coming to an end. I had been there for over four years, which placed me in the statistical minority when it comes to staff pastors. I had seen a lot of my ideas and visions become reality, I helped to develop new ministries that the church had not attempted before, and I cultivated relationships that I still have to this day. Yet I felt like a failure.

Part of the reason was because I had made my fair share of mistakes, which contributed to the sense that my time had come to a close. I was a poor administrator, not very good at managing an office, and wasn’t the most reliable person when it came time to delve out responsibilities.

Another reason was because I didn’t ever really feel like I “fit” in the role of “Pastor.” I felt like a platypus in a dog show most of the time, out of place trying to be something I wasn’t. The areas that I was gifted at weren’t areas that I could be used in to the greatest capacity, and the areas I was needed weren’t areas I was all that good at doing.

So there I was, watching what, to me, was the biggest failure of my life happen. Everything I saw as valuable about myself (my ability to hold a job, to walk in my father’s footsteps as a Pastor, etc.) was crumbling at my feet. And the next thing I knew, I was loading up my family in a moving truck and heading to Missouri, no home to move to, no job, no vehicle, and only my fleas to mourn me. (Ok, that last part was from Aladdin, but I could identify.) Next thing I knew, I was in a pool of depression.

Depression is a funny thing. It sneaks up on you, and you don’t really know you’re struggling with it till you’re already too deep in it to get out. Mine was aggravated every day by the multitude of signs that told me I was a failure. I went back to school to get my BA, just another reminder that I hadn’t finished and wouldn’t finish before I turn 30. I began to work on writing a book and also writing/recording music, which seemed so futile considering how late in the game I was starting. Everything just seemed like a regression for me, a U-turn, and like I had wasted the previous four years of my life. So I sat in a pit.

Then my beautiful, wonderful, amazing wife stepped in. She is training to be a Licensed Professional Counselor, and she is gifted out the wazoo for it. She began to talk me through it all, and she finally helped me change my perspective on life. She helped me to realize that, in life, there really is no backward motion if you’re following God. Everything is progress. What that means is, everything that I’ve done and been through, even my own massive screw ups, are merely stepping stones to get me where God wants me to be. And God’s promise is true, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phi. 1:6)

Now, before I start getting lambasted by anyone about this being too “religious” of a post or anything else, let me just say that there is a principle that can be applied to anyone struggling with feeling like a failure, whether you’re a Christian or not. You’ve got to learn to reframe your situation and realize that if it wasn’t for the pain you had yesterday, you wouldn’t have the perspective today. And the perspective of today will help you to achieve greatness tomorrow, if you’ll just apply it to your life.

So, just be thankful for the stepping stones you have in life, and walk on them and the ones you’ll create in the future to achieve your purpose. That’s what I’m gonna do, and I believe I’ll be amazed at the result.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

I believe pigs fly

It happened. The unbelievable, the inconceivable. No one believed it could happen. Least of all me.
The texas rangers are in the world series.I've been a ranger fan since I went to my first game back in the 80's. It's been agonizing at times, but it's all worth it now. They're in it!
If the rangers can do it, maybe I can too. maybe I can overcome my own expectations or lack thereof. i can achieve the impossible.
I believe a pig can fly.
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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

From Russia with Love

I love Russia.

Let me clarify. I love Russian culture, provided it is from the 19th/early 20th century.

Ok, that probably sounds a bit prejudiced, and I don't mean it that way. I'm sure that there has been much to shout about from Russia in other years. I'm sure music from the cold war, or from the breakup of the USSR, or from the turn of the 21st century are all very intriguing. And I'm sure literature from Russia has had wonderful turns and twists and great examples of genius from other eras.

But my heart belongs to the Russia of the 1800's. Give me some Tolstoy and some Dostoevsky. Let me be moved by the compositions of Tchaikovsky. I'll gladly eat some borscht and wax eloquent on the destiny of poor little Anastasia, and the annihilation of the Tsars. And I'll even shed some tears for Prokofiev, as his body had to wait for the funeral of Stalin before he could be justly laid to rest.

I find it ironic that Russia and the US were at odds for the majority of my childhood, yet in my reading room or on my iPod, Chekhov mingled with Twain, and Rachmaninoff and Gershwin were partners. When I watched Bond films, I felt a strange connection with the bad guys. I secretly hoped the snooty Brit would get his comeuppance from one of the spies.

If fact, I had a hard time believing Russia cheated at basketball. Maybe they were just being creative in their rules. (If you don't get that reference, read this.)

What about you? Is there any culture outside of your own that you feel a strong connection with?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Blocked

I swore it would never happen to me. I was too inspired, too energized, too hard of a worker. I could push through anything, drive past all distractions, overcome all obstacles. There was absolutely no way I, of all people, would suffer from "Writer's Block."

Then it happened. I had a business trip that kept me from writing for over a week. Came back and wrote for one day, then…nothing. A whole new daily schedule started with the beginning of the new semester, new responsiblites were introduced, and my daily time budget got more cramped. Suddenly, I realized I hadn't written anything, ANYTHING! Not even a blog post, nothing!

I went in denial for a little while, I was just slumping, or simmering, or taking a much needed break. After a while, I realized that those were just excuses. I was a full-fledged subscriber of Writer's Block, and there could potentially be no turning back. How did I get here?

Well, first, I lost my momentum. I've already finished the book, I'm in the revision/rewriting stage. Not nearly as much fun as the actual creative process. Also, I lost focus. I'd forgotten why I was so passionate about this book in the first place, and slowly was cooling to the whole idea of writing. It slowly dropped in my priority list, and I finally stopped feeling like putting forth the effort it takes to write.

So, what did I do? First, corny as it sounds, I had to admit that I had a problem. I talked to my wife about it, and she more or less kicked my can into gear. Also, I re-read some of the book, not as an editor or a reviser, but as a reader. I began to remember why I love this story so much. And I decided to just have fun. I wrote without caring whether it was any good, I put my hero in a ridiculous situation for the heck of it. It made me snicker, if nothing else.

So, get out there, get into gear, and bust the block down!

Oh, and that ridiculous situation I put my hero in? It was so entertaining, I decided to keep it in the book.

Ah, the creative process.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Heading off to Motor City

Well, I have a business trip to go to, in Detroit. I'll be gone for about 10 days, and I'm not sure about the wifi situation in my hotel, so I may not get to posting for a little while. (Listens for weeping, hears crickets, shrugs, moves on)

I'm pretty excited about this trip, though. It's the National Fine Arts Festival, an annual event that celebrates and encourages the various artistic talents of Jr. High and High School students. There are awesome scholarship opportunities for students from various colleges if they receive a high enough ranking in their categories. Categories range from writing, film-making, instruments, vocal performance, puppetry, speech, and dance. I've been involved as a coach for years now, but this is the first year I'm working behind the scenes as a staff member. I do still have a vested interest, though, one of the drama groups is performing with a script I wrote. My fingers are crossed.

Anyway, hopefully I'll be posting pictures and awesome stories when I get back.

Off to Motown!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Let the Strings Arise!

I love to find new stories of people using art to benefit others. That's why I was so thrilled to read about the Thrive City String Academy. Founder John Littlejohn is doing an amazing work in empowering young string musicians to find the mentorship and opportunities to rise above their circumstances. Bravo!

If you're looking for an opportunity to donate some money, this would be a great one for you. A tax right-off that promotes musical literacy, talk about a win/win!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Ch-ch-ch-changes!

Ah, the beauties of revisions!

I finished my first draft a few days ago, as you know (right?), and I felt really good about it. I started doing revisions, generally minor stuff, and it was coming together. It genuinely felt like I could see the end of the tunnel. I was proud of myself, and wondered to myself why so many people found the revision process so stressful. It just seemed so easy.

Then a friend chimed in. Blasted. I was talking about my novel with one of my writing buddies, and he was getting into the story. So much so that he started asking questions. And he had to ask this one ding-blasted question, asking if I was going to tie something in to the whole thing, something I'd thought about but had rejected for many different reasons, which I voiced to him. He quickly dismissed my reasons and suggested that my story would be a bajillion times better if I added this one single element.

He was right. Ding-blast it.

So I started rethinking. I went to another of my writing buddies, he also loved the new idea and added a few more suggestions to the mix. Then I went to my alpha-reader (my wife), and she fell in love with the new direction, gave me a few more suggestions, and I was left with a rather unsettling realization.

All of these people are smarter than me. And they saw something in my story I didn't see.

Ding-blast it.

The cool thing is, though, that they were more excited about this new direction than I was. It seriously felt like some of the talks I used to have with my friends when we'd talk about LOST. We'd speculate about where the story was going, and what exactly Locke was going to do when he finally met Jacob, and so on and so on. And I realized, having fans of your work is absolutely awesome.

So, instead of a simple revision, I'm going in full blast into a rewrite. An awesome rewrite, inspired by people who love this story as much as I do. It's going to be really good, I am confident of that. But it's going to be a lot of work.

Ding-blast it.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Melia’s Miracle

I use Google Alerts to keep me abreast if any of the topics/names/locations I use in my stories comes up in the news. The other day, I got the alert about little Melia Cargill, 4 years old, who is training for a marathon. Read it here.

Did you read it? No? Go ahead, I'll wait.

You did? Ok, awesome! Then you know that she was a recipient of a kidney transplant, and she's joining the 2010 NKF US Transplant Games, right?

Good. Here's the deal, transplant stories always solicit an emotional response from me. Whether it's the movie John Q, which a lot of people didn't like, or the numerous examples on House, MD, which everybody loves, I'm a sucker for those stories. Why? Because I feel a tinge of guilt, to be honest, that I have all perfectly good working organs, yet there are over 100,000 people currently waiting to receive a transplant. In the first quarter of this year, there were less than 10,000 successful transplant operations. At that rate, by the end of this year, only 40,000 people, including children, will receive the transplant they need. And the number of those in need will continue to grow.

So, if you're like me at all, how about doing something about it? Why don't you become an organ donor? If you have some questions, check out the website for the Transplant Games above, consider it, and make a decision. You can donate to that group as well, and give them your support on Facebook and Twitter.

Who knows, maybe you can be another Melia's Miracle.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Revision: Saving your Garbage or Shining your Jewels?

Book Revision Progress: 2 Days, 15 Chapters.

I am furiously working on revising my manuscript. And I mean furious. I've already broken three bottles of grape soda and used the jagged glass as a weapon to get my dangling participles to tighten up. They don't like to listen.

There are about as many views and methods for revising a manuscript as there are published books. And I'm including E-Books in that equation. Oh yeah, that many.

Sometimes a story is so broken and jagged that the revision process is kind of like redemption. Like you're snatching your book out of the flames of rejections and covering it with your super cape.

Other times, the story isn't that bad. Revision is more polish than full on salvation.

My revision is somewhere in between. I wouldn't say the book is a pile of spaghetti, nor would I say it's a classic waiting to happen. It's cohesive, coherent, compelling, and comfortable to read. But it needs work, they all do.

So, what's my method? Well, I'm approaching the revision process as though my book is a movie and I am the full production company. The initial manuscript and the first revision are the screenplay. From there, I cast the movie, scout out settings, shoot the darn thing, then edit out the chaff. This method makes the most sense for me.

I'd be interested in hearing any of your revision techniques!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

That’s the breaks.

I haven't blogged in a week. Since I'm certain that you have been biting your nails, checking anxiously every hour to see if there has been an updated to this little shanty I call my outlet, I decided to clue you in on why I took a break.

I finished it.

Are you intrigued? Are you asking yourself, "What did he finish that would force him to pull away from us, his loyal and loving readers? Could it be that he finished his second round of experimental treatment for some unmentioned brain issue, or a face transplant, or some other earthshattering medical procedure? Or perhaps he finished his marriage, out with the old bag, in with the little hot-to-trot foxy he met on Omegle that will somehow swindle him out of his currently nonexistent fortune amassed from selling a million copies of…"

Let me stop you there. No. I finished something way more important.

I finished the first draft of my novel. Let me add the necessary "!"

80,000 words, 300 pages, a monumental effort on my part. This coming from the guy who still hasn't finished college, didn't finish high school, never quite completed most of his other projects, and has mountains of unfinished songs/artwork/ideas looming in the back of his brain. You might be able to grasp how life changing this is for me.

I finished the biggest project I've ever undertaken in my life.

So, I took a week off. I celebrated. I went swimming, went to movies, and experimented with Crystal Meth. No, that's a lie. My wife wouldn't let me. J

But now, I'm back in the saddle. It's time to go on from celebration, roll up my sleeves, and start polishing and fine tuning the first draft of my novel. Why? Because it is crap. Because all first drafts, no matter who writes them, are crap. It might be beautiful, fine smelling, incredibly appealing crap, but it's still crap. It's not until you've dug around in the crap that you find the engagement ring your dog ate (thank you Marley and Me), and that's why it's time for me to get down and dirty with this little tome I regurgitated. Hopefully, something will emerge that is appealing, life changing, entertaining, and, oh yes, marketable.

And, no, I would never really try Crystal Meth. It's too expensive a habit. That's why I write.

Toodles!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Macro Madness

Emma Davies posted an awesome macro tutorial on how to compile your word documents into one giant document. Great if you're saving your chapters as individual files, like I am. Here's the link:

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Target Locked: Writing With an Audience in Mind.

Rick Riordan is an absolute genius. I mean that. Stacey over at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management highlighted his story a while ago. What I love the most about the Percy Jackson series is that he created his hero to share the same learning disabilities his son had. It's this focused creativity that, I think, made "The Lightening Thief" and the subsequent novels in that series the chart busting best sellers they became.

Non-fiction writers and academic writers have a mantra: "Know your audience." But fiction writers don't talk about this subject with the same veracity. Of course there are the YA, Middle Grade, Children's, and Picture Book writers who have to understand the developmental stage of children and adolescents, but when it comes to adult Fiction, writers don't take as much time researching the kind of people that will be reading their stories. By doing this, they are missing a valuable doorway to creating stories that have a powerful impact and become indispensable parts of people's libraries.

So, my question to you is, who are you writing for? (And you aren't allowed to say, "I write for myself!" Feel free to write for yourself, but don't complain when you are your only fan.) Your target audience may look like one of these options:

  1. Genre Fans: You write for fans of Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Horror, etc. You know that these fans expect certain things from stories in the genre, and you would do well to include those elements. In other words, if Sci-Fi fans expect and enjoy reading about aliens and robots, maybe including those elements in your book is a good idea. If you're target is fans of the genre, that is. (This is a prime explanation for the influx of Vampire, Werewolf, and Greek Mythology storylines)
  2. Age Groups: Obviously in the aforementioned age specific genres of YA and KidLit, this is absolutely an element to consider. But I believe it's just as necessary when writing adult fiction. A book that is popular among 50 - 60 somethings will look much different than a book popular among 20-30 somethings. And rightly so. With a vast array of differences in life experience, tastes, and cultural background, to write without a consideration of the age of your audience can be literary suicide.
  3. Author Groupies: You love J. K. Rowling, and you know how to sound just like her when you write. Chances are, there are people out there that will buy your books if your voice is similar to their favorite author. If you utilize similar elements in your stories, you may be able to tap into an already established fan base. Why reinvent the wheel, right? Ok, so in all reality, this is probably a very bad idea. Everybody loves a successful trailblazer, but nobody loves a copycat, at least not for very long. Have you ever wondered why celebrity impersonators never go on world tours? It's because fans aren't stupid.
  4. Collective Background: My opinion, this is the target to lock in on. I'm talking here about people who have their own similar stories, similar life experience. There are a million people out there whose stories have never been told, or not in a way that they find appealing. Create a Fantasy about a Dragon that struggles with Bulimia, a Sci-Fi about a literal illegal alien, a mystery involving the kidnapping of someone's child out of their Florida time share villa. You just might tap into a powerful commonality between your characters and your readers. If readers can buy your characters, they will buy your book/movie/play/etc.

Can you think of any other target audience groups I didn't mention? Or, maybe you think I'm way off, go ahead and (nicely) clue me in!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Back from a holiday

Ah, the beauty of being a U.S.American. July 4th is a spectacular holiday, one so huge and intense, everybody takes the 5th off to recuperate. At least, that's what happened this year.

It was during this time of rejuvenation that I realized how much of my life has been put on the back-burner for the past few months, to make way for the grueling regimen of writing. Like what, you ask? Like:

  • Sports: Unbeknownst to me, my favorite Baseball team, the Texas Rangers, are #1 in their division, #4 in the American League. Of course, there's still a lot of baseball left to play, but still. Also, I haven't kept tabs on NFL news, partially because last year was so disappointing, and partially because I just haven't had the time.
  • Comic Books: So, Superman is walking around now. And Batman has already been a caveman and a puritan. These are HUGE happenings, and I was so far out of the loop, it took me twittering about Wonder Woman's new costume to even hear any tremors of these earth-shattering events.
  • School: Apparently some news finally broke from last year and I was placed on the Dean's list. W00t, w00t. J
  • Music: The last time a attempted any writing/recording was for a school project in April. Yeah, that's right. April. It struck me yesterday that what might have been a cutting edge sound I was writing six months ago is becoming commonplace now. SIGH Oh well.

The greatest thing about this weekend was watching fireworks with my four year old. I've never seen anyone as excited, thrilled, or ecstatic as she was. In fact, her reaction has officially become the benchmark definition of those terms. Watch me never say I'm excited about lunch again.

Well, there it is. What a wonderful weekend. Now, back to the grindstone.

Go Rangers!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

a poem

Death.
You have no victory,
But it seems
You have your trophies.
The scalps
Of those I've loved
Now hang
Off of your belt.

Notched
Upon the handle
Of your gun,
You have tallied
The fallen
Among the ranks
Of men
Your bullet fell.

Stung,
Yet felt no pain,
Your victims
Rest in peace;
But we
Who now remain,
Remain
To give you glee.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Purpose of Art, Vol. 1

I've been putting a lot of thought lately into Art and its purpose. Basically, I feel like my life's calling is to be an artist, both as a writer of stories and a composer of songs. I have this one nagging obsession, I have to assign a purpose to everything I do. Maybe I've read too much Rick Warren or something, or maybe too much Craig Ferguson. J

At any rate, in my time of study and reflection, I've boiled down the purpose of Art to a few points, which I'll expound on a little bit here and more, hopefully, later:

  • The purpose of Art is to be created. I've come to view art as the metaphysical blob that is waiting for some starving artist to give it a physical existence. It's waiting for someone to pull out the quill and ink, or strum the lute, and give it a birthday. Art is meant to be created, not copied, not rebranded, not even repackaged. What this means for the artist is that he has an obligation to be creative. The artist can't be happy with putting forth something that is half baked, or shoddily done. Everything the artist does should be done creatively, or else art does not realize its purpose.
  • The purpose of Art is to express. I've heard some people say that art is a form of communication, and I think that's true. But I think it communicates in the same way a face communicates, or a shrug. It's an expression, not a message. In "the biz" they talk about something being "on the nose" or "preachy," what they're saying is that the artist chose to deliver a message instead of express an idea or a theme. That's why it's the obligation of an artist to feel.
    So you want to decry the slaughtering of pigs for breakfast. Don't have a character talk about slaughtering pigs for breakfast. Stare into the face of your issue until you can't help but be moved by emotion, and then express that emotion creatively, without assigning it an essay or a platform.
  • The purpose of Art is to be interpreted. Some people believe art to be the result of a private moment between the artist and his canvas, whatever that may be. But art without an audience isn't really art, it's self-gratification. It is only when your art has been taken into the hands of others and they take ownership of it, assigning it their own value and meaning, making it a part of their own story, that you have truly created a masterpiece. It is therefore the purpose of the artist to have an attitude of open-mindedness. Go ahead and utilize those archetypes, let your work be rife with symbolism, add in the random stroke or chord or phrase that even you don't fully understand. The art isn't just for you, it's for everyone. Give them something to chew on that you might normally pass over, let them find a diamond where you had created sand. By doing this, you are allowing the art to go beyond yourself, and to truly reach the masses.

So, that's my take for now. If anyone has any additional thoughts, I'd love to hear them!

Peace!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Genre Issues

Ok, maybe I'm the only one who gets up in arms over this, but why isn't there a distinct genre for Young Professionals/College Students/Early Twenties?

I'll have to do some more research on this, but I know from experience that this distinct age group is not happy about being lumped together with all the "Adult" genres. Nor are they willing to be still reading strictly YA stuff either, although they tend to err on that side.

I demand a YP/CS/ET Genre! Now!

Ok, maybe not NOW, but, you know, soon. :)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Stop Being Afraid of Posting your Work Online

Here's a great blog about posting your work (in this case, a novel, but I think it applies to literature, music, etc.) online for public consumption. Pretty good stuff, if you ask me. Which, obviously you are, or you wouldn't be here. Right? Right?

Writer Unboxed � Blog Archive � Stop Being Afraid of Posting Your Work Online *

Time Saver Tip

I'm absolutely certain that this is old information to a lot of people, but I decided to try something last night as I was writing that has made it easier to write, and will make it easier to do revisions.

I had been writing my book, Incanto: A Fairy Tale, as one giant Word document. Almost 200 pages so far, and it was getting to be a bear to navigate, especially if I decided I needed to add a quip back in Chapter 7 so that Chapter 20 would make since, or something like that.

Then it dawned on me. I should just save each chapter as an individual document! I know, genius, right? So I created a subfolder called "Chapters" and proceeded to make 23 files, for all 23 of my currently finished chapters.

Besides the time saver thing, this has afforded me a few other advantages:
  • I can see which chapters are much shorter/less detailed than others. This makes revision easy.
  • I can reorder my chapters much easier.
  • I can copy and paste events between chapters.
  • I can fact check my names/titles/language usage better.
I am stoked about this. Of course, now I'll find out that everyone else has probably already been doing this since the days of Dickens, what version of Office was that, 98?

Oh well, I'll revel in my own discovery. Now on to find this place called "America." I'm sure it's out there, somewhere.