This is a Journey into Sound

I was recently invited to participate in a sort of flash fiction experiment. A friend and author, Jack Wallen, asked a few writers to listen to a song and then write a flash piece inspired by the music. No rules, per se, just go where the music takes you.

Several writers have been included in the experiment and, for the first round so far, include: Jay WilburnChad ClarkJaime JohneseeLeigh M. Lane, a close friend Todd Skaggs, and Jack Wallen himself. 

There will be other songs in the coming weeks and I’m really looking forward to seeing what comes next.

My own contribution is here: Ossuary

Thanks to Jack for including me in on the fun!

WIP It. WIP It Good!

I currently have two projects that are keeping me busy. One is a stand-alone novel and the other is one that may very well become a series if I play it just right (we’ll see). One is more along the lines of a dark urban fantasy (leaning to YA), while the other is a not-so-bright future vampire tale. I know, I know… but come on – we all have at least one vampire story in us. It’s a challenge to keep both going at the same time, but I want to get both stories out while my brain has the momentum to make it happen.

Now there’s a third novel that’s been kicking around in my head for quite a long time. It’s not scary, nor is it magical or even dark. It’s small love story built around a broken family. I’ve recently started to draft a simple outline in a small pocket notebook – nothing fancy, just a few notes on the bigger plot points and such.

My goal isn’t to have three works in process, but rather to ensure that I always have something in process. I don’t want to finish one project and not already have a start (or at least a damn good idea of where to begin) on the next one.

As cheesy as it sounds, the old adage “writers write” is really something I take to heart. If I’m not working on something, then I cease to feel like a writer – like someone who is contributing to the community of inky cohorts that I so dearly love. I start to feel as though something is missing. I lose sleep (really, I do). Why? Because I need to write. Sure, I want to write, but I’m talking about a genuine need that feels like an itch that can only be scratched if I have pen in hand or fingers on keys.

What are YOU working on? How many WIPs do you have going at any given time? How do you feel when you aren’t actively working on a project?

Busy, Busy, Busy!

It has been a crazy week since my last post here. Okay, that’s not necessarily accurate. It has been a hectic week, with both food and bad moments scattered throughout. 

Work has been quite busy (not complaint, just reporting), and I’ve been wrestling with my current WIP. It has taken a direction that I didn’t originally expect and I’m not super happy with it. One of my other planned projects is also starting to call my name and take up more brain cycles. That energy and excitement you get about a new project idea is great and all, but when you’re also dealing with another, yet unfinished work, it can be frustrating.

I’ve also been sleeping like hell thanks to this one:


She’s beautiful, but also pure evil. And when I say that, I don’t mean she’s evil in a “oh, she’s precocious and occasionally gets a bit wild” kind of way. She’s evil in a “its like she embodies every villain David Warner has ever played” kind of way.

So, not much to report this week, friendo. But, I’ll keep working if you do, too. Until next time.

The Power of Quiet

I recently wrote an article for a project management publication on the topic of asking questions. I won’t bore you with the details, but the point of the article was to be the noisy one – ask questions all the time and strive to be as interactive as possible with your teammates.

Today I’d like to focus on just the opposite: being quiet. Ironic, since I’m sitting in the corner of a very busy Panera Bread Company store with Erasure’s “Phantom Bride” blasting in my earbuds.

Anyway, what I want to talk about today is the act of being quiet. The act of taking a moment and focusing inward. I’m not talking about finding your chi or staring at your navel and contemplating the universe. Nope, today I’m talking about meditation. You may have heard of it. It’s all the rage with the hipsters.

Okay, I made that part up. I’m most definitely not a hipster. I’m not plugged in to hipster culture, and I can’t claim to be a spokesperson for the movement. Besides, I’m about 35 years too late to the skinny jeans party and my beard, when I do bother to try, is egregiously inglorious. But I digress.

Meditation, in my humble opinion (see, a hipster would have said “IMHO”), is one of the most badass things I’ve ever learned how to do. People who know my personal history with growing up in a non-religious house (because my parents were too busy diving for rings in the deep end of the pyramid-power new-age pool) will tell you that I very purposefully avoid things that have a specific spiritual, or otherwise faith-based, framework. I am a humanist and skeptic through and through. That notwithstanding, I did complete a course in Transcendental Meditation (TM) many years ago. I was desperate for tools to pull me out of a persistent depression, and TM was recommended by my then therapist. I needed something that was going to help me reduce stress, big time.

TM gave me the opportunity to commit myself to a daily practice of meditation. I found it to be quite relaxing, and it certainly went a long way to keep me away from getting into a cycle of depression medication. There’s a catch with TM, though. You can do all the research yourself (there’s a ton of stuff online about TM, both pro and con), and I won’t try to repeat it here. However, practitioners of TM are working to connect to a global/universal consciousness. I didn’t know this going in, but after learning the mechanics of the meditative act, I didn’t really need to focus on any of the other stuff. It’s not a religion, but it certainly has a spiritual vibe about it that is difficult, if not impossible, to avoid.

There’s also the fact that the TM class cost an embarrassingly high amount of money and takes four sessions (a couple of hours or so each) to learn. I want to be very, very clear here: I don’t want to bag on TM, nor do I want to come down on people who practice it and get value out of it.

I stuck with my practice of TM pretty steady for the first five years or so after I learned the technique. Twenty minutes, twice per day. I let my practice slip after a while and eventually found myself living meditation-free. This allowed my depression to return in all of its glory.

Early on in 2016 I decided I needed to do something about it and figured I would get back into meditation, but wanted something other than TM. I hadn’t forgotten how to practice TM (the technique is deceptively simple and I’ll never forget the how’s and what-for’s of it). I started to look around online for local meditation instructors and kept seeing references to “mindfulness”. What I found was that the act of mindfulness meditation (MM) was a well studied area and had demonstrable positive results. Of course, the TM organization has studies that show its efficacy, but those studies are a bit specious if you ask me. Both styles offer stress reduction, there’s no doubt in my mind of that. But, I have yet to see a genuine independent study on the effects of TM that validates its claims.

I discovered a couple of great books on MM (referenced below) and began to study and practice. As a result I have been able to significantly reduce my stress levels and have been able to stave off the beast of depression that has beleaguered me for as long as I can remember. It’s still there, of course, huddled in the dark recesses of my brain, occasionally getting the better of me and reminding me that it is still strong and needs to be fed from time to time (ala the Babadook). Nevertheless, mindfulness meditation has proven, in my experience, to be more effective than Transcendental Meditation. Plus, you can learn how to practice MM in about 2 minutes. Cost? Free (unless you get picky and want to count the cost of your Internet access to YouTube). Bonus: if you’re a bonafide, card carrying, humanist skeptic like me, you’ll appreciate the fact that mindfulness meditation is not associated with any religious, or otherwise spiritual, dogma. Galactic consciousness-free, baby!

So why tell you all of this? Well, if you’re a writer (or otherwise a creator of stuff), there is a high probability that you deal with some level of FED (frustration, exhaustion, and depression). I know I do. Practicing meditation can help you deal with this phenomena.

I try meditate two to three times per day (depending upon my work/personal schedule) and usually only for five to ten minutes at a time. However, I will go a full 20 minutes if I can (it’s kindof like a power nap, only better). Quiet your mind. Quiet your body. You’ll be better for it.

I highly recommend meditation to ANYONE who needs a way to deal with day-to-day stress (i.e. everyone). Here are some links that might interest you:

  1. If you’re into exploring Transcendental Meditation, then check out the official TM organization at  https://www.tm.org/
  2. For a really entertaining journey to discovering the power of mindfulness meditation, read Dan Harris’ “10% Happier“.
  3. For a really good book that gets you schooled up on how to practice mindfulness that also comes with an audio CD, check out Sharon Salzberg’s “Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation: A 28-Day Program
  4. Both Dan Harris and Sharon Salzberg have some entertaining and informative videos on YouTube. Start with this one and do your own homework afterwards: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6T02g5hnT

 

 

Spoiled. Rotten.

My daughter took me to a show the other day, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about how great it was. We went to a performance of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone In Concert”.

John Williams is one of my favorite composers. Of course, there are some scores that I like better than others (I’m not a fan of the “Memoirs of a Geisha” and “Home Alone”). Just about everything else (“Jaws”, “Raiders”, not to mention “Star Wars”) have so many perfect, iconic moments that I will likely never forget. I love the music for all the Harry Potter films, but the Williams scores are the best of the bunch. Doyle, Hooper and Desplat all did great work, but Williams set the foundation.

Here’s how the Harry Potter concert was set up: the full symphony orchestra was assembled on the stage and a large movie screen hung above them. It’s that simple. The film played with all of the dialogue and sound effects, but had the music removed since it would be provided by the live orchestra. From the first notes of the celesta all the way through to the finale of the end credits, we were glued to our seats. The audience was prompted to cheer when something they loved would happen in the film (which they did), and for their favorite music (which was just aboThe ut every piece). We were lucky enough to be close to the stage, and we could see the conductor’s monitor, which also played the film and used a series of flashing dots (for time keeping) and scrolling lines (for cues).

So, now I find myself completely spoiled. Absolutely spoiled rotten. This is how I want to see EVERY movie. Watching the film but also watching for the musicians who aren’t so stuffy that they can’t get down and feel the music they’re playing. Hearing the subtle notes that might otherwise get lost in the sound mix. And what if the score is a little more esoteric? How cool would it be to hear a live performance of Jerry Goldsmith’s opening to “Alien”? Or even better, his score for the original “Planet of the Apes”?
I’m really looking forward to next year. The conductor at the Harry Potter concert said they would be back next year with “The Chamber of Secrets”.

What movies would you like to see “in concert”? (And don’t say “Star Wars” – we all want that)

I Have a Plan…

There seems to be no end to the debate, both online and in person at conferences or anywhere else that writers may gather, about whether it is better to be a plotter or a pantser. I see the merits of both approaches and, truth be told, combine them depending on the situation. While I’m certainly not expecting to go above and beyond what many other people have to say on the debate, I figured I would add my voice to the conversation.

I am a project manager by trade, so my natural inclination is to have a plan for just about anything. Even if it’s just the barest of bones, I need to know (or have a strong opinion about) at least three things before I begin a draft:

  1. Beginning
  2. Midpoint where main character is at their lowest moment
  3. Ending

Those are the things I must know in order to get a start. Seems pretty basic, I know, but I like to keep things as simple as I can (at least at the beginning of the process). Just like when I manage a project – if I can get away with using Post-it® notes on a wall vs. drafting a list of tasks in Microsoft Project, I’m going to do it!

How deep I go on the outline depends upon how complex I think the story is or may become. Some theories say that a writer should start with the end in mind, then work backwards to the beginning of the story. I’ve tried this and it works just fine, but I prefer to start at the beginning. I tend to write the first line or paragraph as I am thinking of the other two must-haves. The ending is usually the next thing to come to mind, once I have a clear(er) picture of the beginning and have had a bit of time to think about the opening inciting incident and/or the arc on which I want my character to travel. I like to have an idea of what event/scene/image is going to mark the end of this particular story. Typical for any project manager, I need to know what “done” looks like. I need to at least have a general idea on what the end product is supposed to look like.

Once I know how I’m starting and where I’m going, I’m free to either outline the rest to an appropriate level of detail, or to just start writing and see where it goes. Even if I am just going with the flow and full-on pantsing it, I still need to have an idea of where I start and end, but beyond that, it’s up to whatever spills out of my hands. Just about any time I go down this path, though, I end up pausing and doing a little outlining to give myself more of a roadmap – I draw the cities on the map, but no direct path drawn in. I will try to give myself the freedom to go with whatever comes out because, in this situation, I’m not outlining every single beat.

I naturally lean towards having things planned out (but appreciate the freedom of being able to go with the flow), I end up frustrating people when they ask if I am a plotter or a pantser. My answer is, simply, “Yes.” I plan as much as I can, or few like at the moment, and then fill in gaps with whatever comes to mind once I’m into the work itself. I don’t want to limit myself to one method or the other and don’t believe that there’s any one correct approach to writing.

I’ve read a few really good books on the subject of outlining/plotting. As for pantsing, well, just take a look at the Nike slogan and you have everything you need to know right there.

The books I recommend for outlining* are (in no particular order):

  1. “Super Structure: The Key to Unleashing the Power of Story”, James Scott Bell
  2. “Write Your Novel From the Middle”, James Scott Bell
  3. “Take Off Your Pants”, Libbie Hawker
  4. “Outlining Your Novel – Map Your Way to Success”, K.M. Weiland

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend one over another, as they all have something good to offer, but I do recommend reading more than one book on the topic. It’s always good to have more than one methodology or framework in your toolkit. You may even decide to combine them in some way(s) that makes your writing life easier.

* I am not affiliated with any of these writers and do not benefit from mentioning them here or linking to them.

Stuff I Dig: The Music Edition

“Stuff I Dig” will be a casual series that I’ll post over time. I’m not really into the idea of presenting a top 5 or 10 list of the things that you absolutely must do/see/experience/read/use. I just want to occasionally give you a list of things that I dig, and maybe prompt you to think about the same in your world.

This time it’s about music, which is huge for me. Probably for you, too. We don’t need to have the same taste in music to agree on the influence that music can have (and likely has had) on our lives.

I often go back and listen to the funk, R&B, and rock that I listened to on the radio during the mid-late 70’s. Of course, I’m all about the 80’s music and everything it brought along with it (skinny ties, no collar shirts, parachute pants, etc.). And, yes, there’s some country music that has made its way into my collection (albeit not much, but what’s there is gold). I remember watching the Donnie and Marie Show when I was a kid and I guess I took their song to heart… “I’m a little bit country, and I’m a little bit rock-n-roll!”

Vocals are a little distracting sometimes, so I’ve been focused mostly on instrumentals lately. Here’s a sample of what’s on the playlist this week:

  1. Jean-Michel Jarre, “Oxygene Trilogy”
  2. Kraftwerk, “Tour de France Soundtracks” (okay, this one is pretty much always on the playlist)
  3. Tangerine Dream, “Exit” and “Sorcerer, Official Soundtrack”
  4. Jóhann Jóhhannsson, “Arrival, Official Soundtrack”
  5. Disasterpeace, “It Follows, Official Soundtrack”
  6. Deadmau5, “while(1<2)”
  7. Beethoven, “The Complete Symphonies”

Sometimes it’s about setting a mood, while other times it’s just about having a solid groove.

Of course, there are times that I don’t want to listen to music, but I need something to fill the blank space. Noizio is an app that I have on my phone that gets a lot of play. I mix some rain and thunder with a little coffee shop and I’m good to go. There are other apps like it, but this is my favorite one of the bunch. It’s available for iOS and Windows

If you’re a writer, or otherwise a creative type, what do you listen to while making your art? Music? Ambient sound apps? Nothing?