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Devil in the Details

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Writing about a culture other than your own can provide more than a few complications. I a pure fantasy setting, the author has more control and, so long as he is consistent, can tweak things a bit and make it work. However, when we use a real culture to base our story on, and where a member of that culture may pick up and read your story, we had better get the details right. Unless…

My protagonist is half-Apache, a native american tribe that lives in the southwestern United States and into Mexico. His father was a tribal holy man and taught my protagonist the ways of spiritual medicine. During this instruction a ritual takes place to help my protagonist find a spiritual guide. The spirit guide helps an individual travel along life’s ever changing path. The spirit guide turns out to be “Snake”. This is where things get dicey.

I had written about three-quarters of the story before I found out how Snake is viewed in the Apache culture. The Apache see Snake as a very negative spirit. Often seen as evil, the Apache people will distance themselves from anything related to Snake. Whether it is the real creature, an image, a vision, or a story, Snake is Very bad medicine.

When I first made this discovery, I began to panic. Thinking I would need to rewrite whole sections to either change the spirit guide to something else, or change his tribe to something that looked favorably on the Snake. Instead of jumping off a cliff, I decided to go ahead and finish the first draft without making huge changes. I tried very hard to not let this knowledge guide the story in any way.

After the required cooling off period once the first draft was finished, I did a quick read through and a second read through where I jotted down the more glaring issues and holes. During the second time through, it hit me that the main character was still a little flat.Along with this I was leaning toward changing his tribal lineage.

Then while I was discussing a similar topic with my brother, it dawned on me that the answer to my flat character was right there. The fact that an Apache shaman has Snake as a spirit guide would add several layers of conflict for the character.

So not counting the major conflicts he faces throughout the plot line, he has to deal with being a half-breed, an Apache with Snake as a guide, and his job makes him walk the line between the normal world and those who use magic.

Now I have a character with more than a little color. Yes, I have to add a few sections to exacerbate and the situation, but it will definitely make for a more memorable character.

This turned out to be one of those details that worked out in the end. However, I am more careful about performing research on areas that I am not 100% sure of.

 
 

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Comeback

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It has been a very long time since I wrote a post for this blog. If I go back to this time last year, My life was turned upside down. Since September 2015, I nearly lost a couple of members of my family, I accepted a new job, sold our house, moved my family, bought a new house, and finished the first draft of my first novel. All in all, a pretty wild ride if I do say so myself…

The bottom line is that even though I haven’t written a post for this blog in four months, I have been writing…a lot!

Now I’m a believer. You see, you can find the time. You can devote the energy even when it seems like there’s none left in you. It is possible, if you want it bad enough, to actually finish something you have always wanted to do. Now I’m not patting myself on the back. I have no delusion that the revision process won’t be a chore. However, the first milestone has been reached.

I will try to do better about regular posts on this blog, as life seems to be leveling out somewhat. As I work through the revisions, expect to hear about it and I may be reaching out for some guidance from some of you overachievers. You know who you are.🙂

It is now bow hunting season here in Wisconsin so there may be a post or two relating to my experiences.

For those of you who have stayed with me, Thank you! I am looking forward to sharing on a regular basis with you my friends.

 
 

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Wanderlust

“Not all who wander are lost.”

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Something that has always intrigued me, is why wanderlust only strikes a group of individuals and not everyone. Some travel the world, never staying in one place. Like a river , they may slow down for a time but never come to a full stop unless forced to. Others remain where they were are, never venturing beyond their home county or state borders. Seemingly afraid they might explode if they crossed some invisible border on a map.

I seem to fall in between. I tend to stay in one place for long periods of time, but I’ve never been afraid to drop everything and move the family across the country. Perhaps not having children makes moving easier, I ‘m not sure.

Stranger still is the fact that siblings raised in the same household can show signs from either end of the wanderlust spectrum. One can’t wait to get out of their home town and explore the world while another wants nothing more than to find a job and a spouse, buy a little house and could care less what the rest of the world is doing.

Is it DNA? Choices of the parents? What makes two siblings who, though are only a year or two apart in age, see the world so differently?

I have seen this first hand within my own family and for the life of me, I cannot figure out why it happens. One choice is no more valid or real than the other. It’s just different. When I ask them to try to explain how they feel, the response is the same, “I don’t know. it’s just the way I feel.”

I do understand the ones who go out into the world and explore for a while and then return to their roots. That makes sense to me as they have made a choice based on experience. The ones that baffle me are the ones who never leave and are not interested in ever travelling. Yes, it’s their choice but really? You never want to see other places? It’s hard for me to grasp that.

So, how about you? Are you consumed with the wanderlust? Or, are you a die-hard homebody? I really am interested to hear.

 

 

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Story Plot Grist Mill

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As writers, we should see ideas everywhere. They can come out of the most surprising places or something mundane can trigger that creative spark.

Over the last 60 days, I have quit my job of 20 years, accepted the job of a lifetime, sold my house, bought a new house, started the new job and survived the first week of orientation. All without losing my mind or my temper. But, more important, there has been no fewer then eight ideas for story scenes pop into my head based on the situations I’ve been dealing with.

For example: I was sitting at a bar having a going away lunch with a dear friend. I ordered a glass of Macallan 12 year scotch with one cube. Except that instead of “cube” it came out of my mouth as “stone”. The young female bartender with the face of an angel smiled and asked, “Would ice be okay?” Realizing my poor choice of words, I apologized for confusing her.

Her eyes twinkled as she replied, “You’re going to make me cry.”

My friend quickly recommended, “You should go into the freezer to cry so that your tears make him some special ice cubes.”

At this point my overactive imagination took over and the next five minutes, I “think wrote” a scene for an upcoming short story involving a beautiful barkeep, a character ordering a drink with one stone and some ice made from the tear of a goddess. The scene will be the catalyst some unusual story lines.

My friend, who is also my alpha reader, laughed until she cried at the way the scene came together. She had never seen me do that before and has been wondering how I worked.

Every personal interaction can be tweaked a bit and used as the groundwork for your story. Maybe the arrogant moving company agent turns into the guild master who doesn’t realize he’s dealing with a master assassin. Perhaps the talkative real estate agent makes the perfect noble fop to obtain intelligence from on the royal court.

The bottom line is this: keep your eyes and other senses open because you never know where the next interesting idea will come from.

 

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Woodsman

The Magic Wand

The Magic Wand

He wielded the ax like a side-show magician waving his wand. Pieces of the dried oak log flew apart almost before the razor-sharp blade made contact. A single log, a foot in diameter, would be turned into thumb-sized kindling under the spell of the woodsman.

Gnarled hands gripped the hickory handle like a mother holding a baby. Whipcord arms worked effortlessly as they repeated the motion: left hand set the log, right hand dropped the ax, left hand set a piece, right hand dropped the ax. As the pieces became smaller, the left hand never left the wood. It would simply relax long enough for the ax to strike and then quickly catch both pieces before they fell to the ground.

How could anyone who looked so frail make cutting wood look so easy? Born before natural gas or fuel oil furnaces, he cut wood to heat his mother’s home and provide fuel the wood stove where she made biscuits and gravy. Thousands of strokes with that ax, made over a lifetime, honed timing and strength into the perfect harmony of tool and man.

Try as I might, duplication of his effortless precision is beyond my grasp. Perhaps, it was magic after all…

 
 

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Treasure Found!

First book

My First book

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While cleaning out my father’s study, I came across a book that I had not seen in nearly thirty years.”Where Eagles Dare” by Alistair MacLean. It was the first book that I every read, cover to cover, on my own, without being forced to! And, I can honestly say that it is still one of the finest WWII spy novels ever written. *There, I went out on a limb on that comment.*

Seriously, if you like the spy thriller genre and you have not read this book, you are missing a real treat. Mr. MacLean spins a story web as well as any spider. He keeps you guessing until the very end. Since then, I have polished off many of his books and have never been disappointed. Many of his books were turned into movies which he wrote the screenplays. Hence most of the movies did the books justice. A rarity in the film industry.

Anyway, I’ve got my first book back and it has found an honored place among my “to read again” list…next up!

So, how about you? What was the first book you read? Do your still have it? Would you read it again?

 

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2016 in Other Strangeness

 

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First draft. How bad can it be?

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Every professional writer, every editor and every How-to book will tell you that the first draft of your story is garbage. That’s not the words they use but I’m trying to be G-rated here. Being the analytical sort, I’ve asked the question, “If it’s so bad, why do books ever get finished? If the first draft is always toilet water, why on Earth would the writer, editor, or publisher ever get beyond it and find a good story somewhere inside the garbage?” There are an awful lot of books and magazines out there with stories in them. Granted, not all of them are prize-winning quality. However, there are a ton that are much better than they are given credit for. So, somehow, the first draft makes it out of the cellar and onto the bookshelf.

My current project has been in the works for a long time. It’s been on again, off again with two short stories and numerous articles interspersed within the timeline. For the most part the internal editor has been kept at bay. I have gone back and re-read several sections to get back into the story line or to verify a detail or two. I have tried not to be judgmental of my writing or the story at this point. Then one evening last week, I sat down to write. I was feeling a little out of sorts and lacked focus bur I was determined to work through it and get a thousand words out before I turned on the idiot box (television). As I wrote, I kept saying to myself, “This is crap. This is crap. Oh, this is really crap!”

Finally, I hit my goal of a thousand words. I think I may have even finished the sentence before I closed the laptop. Maybe.

“Thank God! It’s all crap, but I got through it.” I set the laptop aside and proceeded to watch some mindless TV.

Two days later a friend asked me how the book was coming and the nightmare returned. “Oh, I’ve written some, but it’s all crap.”

She replied with the kicker, “Yeah, and…?”

“And, what?” I said.

She smiled and calmly replied, “You have always told me that the first draft is garbage, right?”

“Uh…yeah, I suppose so…but you don’t understand, this was really crap!”

She continued to smile but said nothing so I changed the subject.

That night I went back and looked at the “mess”. After reading over twice, it dawned on me that except for a minor change to the laws of physics and relocating my main character’s “dying” body, the scene actually works, for now. Not quite as bad as I had imagined. Hmm…

I thought of my friend and just shook my head.

So, there must be various levels to crap and as long as there is a desire to edit the work until it is no longer crap, there is hope. And eventually a story.

Note to self – Finish the book dummy and quit worrying about the quality. It’s going to be crap until you start editing it. Just write!

 

 

 
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Posted by on February 1, 2016 in Thoughts on Writing

 

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