Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Change Management

I've been dealing alot with "change management" lately. My company recently merged with a competitor and it's causing a culture clash of a magnificent nature. Lots of ruffled feathers, lots of stress and anxiety, hard to get things done. All the things people tend to love about work.

The first thing I did when I knew this was coming was to talk to the man whose job I shared. He was moving to a new position and I would be taking our position for both of us in the new company. One of the things he recommended I do is read "Who Moved My Cheese." I did. It's silly but makes a point. What I find funny is that all the things he promoted to me by asking me to read the book are all things he is doing the opposite of. He's the mouse continually going to where the cheese used to be, hoping it will return, refusing to try new things and look for new cheese.

I know in many ways we all tend to live in the past. I know that there are time and moments in my life where I wish I could live in the past in my own life. I'd like to push the ole pause button at several points in my life and just remain right there in that moment forever. But we can't do that. Pushing pause isn't an option. Pushing pause is impossible. It's a fallacy that we can push pause and things will just remain the same when we come back. Life moves on regardless of our desire to remain in one moment.

I like to think a hallmark of my working life is that I'm an innovator. I am definitely not a craftsman. . . I don't have the patience. I'm not an intellectual . . . again, that patience thing. I am an innovator. I will use technology or new processes or anything to make life easier for me and those around me. I am finding that many of the people in this organization we have merged with are content and happy just to have things remain the way they've been for ages.

One of my favorite classes in graduate school was "Organizational Behavior." I believe I loved it not only because the professor was engaging and compelling, but the subject matter was one that I had never considered before and found intriguing. This merger of our two companies would be a wonderful paper for an Organizational Behavior thesis. There are so many political positions and cultural differences all clashing at the same time. Fun stuff unless you have to live through it.

Finally, the reason for all of this today goes back to themes. Yesterday I wrote about the theme of addiction that cropped up in my latest draft novel. Now that I'm working on "Kenyan Night Sky" (working title) I'm looking for a theme or themes there. Maybe change and living in the past would make a good one and help me navigate the changes taking place in my life.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Wag and Prudence

I had a coffee date with my long time friend and former/still might be, co-worker, C the other day. Two things popped up in our long and ranging conversation that would make the date notable for this blog. The topics included: home grown inventions (Popquiz Password), life hacks (Styrofoam coffee pot timer) applications (Wag . . . an incredible Uber for the dog walking world), Eastern philosophy (who knew she was into that), and series 7 exams (again, who knew!). But the two that made a dent in the writing world were: children’s books and addiction.

C has recently written a book about her dog, Prudence (pictured above), that she wanted to talk to me about. Naturally I foisted upon her my own book, and we didn’t discuss publishing to the degree she might have wanted, but it was a topic. My take was the same that my writing friend Allie from years ago told me; we live in an age with an amazingly low bar to enter the market. The ability to write and publish a written work and produce it, advertise it, and market it for an audience is easier now than it has ever been. There are multiple channels for printing, print on demand, and an amazingly quick and inexpensive creation ability. This was the reason I eschewed the typical, literary agency mode of publishing. There’s just no benefit for the hurdles one must endure. If I had the date to do again, I’d go back and talk more about this. Still, way to go Prudence.

The other factor that came up quite a bit was addiction. C and I have a mutual friend who is facing some stiff challenges in terms of addiction, either to pain killers or drinking or perhaps both. My latest novel draft that I have just completed for NaNo had a theme of addiction and how to deal with addiction. Thankfully, I’ve never had a problem with addiction so it was tough to write about, but I expanded my horizons and looked at my life outside of the typical addictions and I was able to find some “unhealthy” things in my life and realize that I had a hard time giving them up even though my life would be better if I did.

It was over that cup of Joe that C both gave a word of thanks that we weren’t addicted to anything.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Great First Line

THE SMOKE CARRIED UP FROM THE Cahuenga Pass and flattened beneath a layer of cool crossing air. From where Harry Bosch watched, the smoke looked like a gray anvil rising up the pass. The late afternoon sun gave the gray a pinkish tint at its highest point, tapering down to deep black at its root, which was a brushfire moving up the hillside on the east side of the cut.

Connelly, Michael - The Black Ice

Yep, I am back to writing out the first lines of books. Micheal Connelly's first lines are just as good as Lawrence Sanders who I think is the best of them all.

In these first few sentences Michael Connelly does all of the things that I find both intriguing and irritate me about Californians. Connelly (and most Californians) are obsessed with the nomenclature of their area and particularly so when discussing traffic patterns and highways. I despise this but I suppose he is trying to immerse the character in the writing and the setting.

The other thing that Connelly does that Sanders does as well is use color in the imagery. That "gray anvil" or "pinkish tint" and "deep black" are all there giving more depth to the sentence. I like the fact that there is that next level of modifiers in first sentences. These tell me that Connelly, unlike other sentences and passages that just move the story along, this first sentence is crafted and tuned to what it is now.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Greatness of NaNo

So I finished the 2017 NaNoWriMo successfully and it's a great feeling to have accomplished that. Is it a complete novel? Far from it. In fact I remember it was Vapor Trail (here) that made me realize that writing isn't "writing" . . . writing is "re-writing."

I wrote Vapor Trail as a NaNo submission back in 2013 or 2014. I only published it last year. It takes a lot of re-writing to get a NaNo submission into a publishable book . . . and even what I think is publishable is still a long way from perfect.

Still, it's nice to have a draft. Am I working on Sunset Perfect now? Nope. Not even considering it. I have a great 50,000 word draft, but it will be another year or two before I work on it and want to try and publish it.

What am I working on now?

I'm working on my 2015 NaNo submission. I wrote a thriller about an orphanage in Kenya, and a team of mercenaries who are hired to protect it. The great thing about NaNo is that I have absolutely no recollection of ever writing that draft. None whatsoever. It's like picking up a completely foreign manuscript and being able to work on it. It's a great feeling to be so far into writing a novel and already be so far along.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

First in the Trilogy

My new best friend, B, recommended a book for me. B likes long winding novels with lots of plots all going on at the same time. I'm happy for the recommendation, Ken Follet's Fall of Giants.

I've been a fan of Follet's for years. I read The Pillars of The Earth way back in my early twenties I believe. I've read and reviewed several of Follet's books since starting this blog five or six years back (see here).

Fall of Giants was a lot of fun to read but it certainly is the beginning of something much much longer. It reads like just the introduction for a larger story. That's low hanging fruit to predict since the entire Century Trilogy has already been published, but I'm looking forward to Winter of the World.

My favorite parts were not the descriptions of trench warfare on the Western Front, which were fun to read, nor were my favorite parts the story lines about turn of the century British nobility, a la Downtown Abbey. Not even the secret love affair between Maud and Walter, which I thought was well weaved, my favorite part to read. The portions of the book that called to me the most were those that dealt with the Eastern Front and the Bolshevik Revolution.

I remember taking a Russian History class back in college. What I liked about this story was that it simplified and made the Bolshevik Revolution understandable. Follet uses a foil, Grigori, to show how the revolution took shape and to show the reader how Trotsky and Lenin were able to take power. Easily the most interesting parts of the novel.

If you enjoy long, historical novels with winding story lines like a soap opera, then this is a great book for that. Can't wait for book two!

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Still Hanging in There

So we are less than a week away from the end of NaNo and I'm still in there.

I got alot of writing done on the flights and at the airport. Over and above that I was able to wake up super early before the family got up to work on my novel as well. With today's fifteen hundred words moving me along I've hit 41,800. What's great is I still have lots of story left to write. I'm barely 60% through the story. I feel quite confident I'll make 50K and not only that when this story is complete it will easily meet my past standard of 90K words.

Things are looking up and I'm plugging along. The finish line is in sight. Just need to power through.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Characters All Around Us

Yesterday I wrote about Composite Characters (see here) but today I was reminded about characters in general; those characters who are all around us everyday.

This week I've been in some terrific "people watching" places. A couple of airports (I'm writing from one now), buses, trains, mono-rails and amusement parks. A plethora of characters have passed by me. All of them insanely interesting and incredibly compelling, crazy wardrobes, interesting walking styles, funny faces, incredibly engaging (sometimes hostile) attitudes.

Apparently, I'm a character myself. There was a family in line with us for a ride at the amusement park. The line was an over two hour wait. That's not hyperbole. It was two hours and fifteen minutes of slow walking, needing to use the restroom, needing water, waiting in line. While waiting I chatted with the cute couple from Mississippi next to us. Just little chitter chatter to do something. We never really met, just joked about the line mostly. Today, I'm getting a coffee at the airport and up comes the mom from the cute couple to flirt. Made my day! Apparently I'm a memorable character to her.

But that's not the point of this post.

Today as I was walking throught the security line on Thanksgiving day, I took out my clearly metal money clip and put it in the dog bowl that the screeners use to put loose things through the x-ray device.

The TSA screener stopped me and said, "You shouldn't put you money through the x-ray. You should hang onto that."

"But it's metal," I replied.

"Then just hold it in your hand and don't let them see you do it."

Cracked me up. Here is a TSA security screener telling me to hold some metal in my hand and hide it from her co-workers. Not only that she told me to take some metal through the metal detector. It was absurd on so many levels. What did I do? I put it in the dog bowl and put my hat over it so no one could see it. Better than being dinged at the walk through screener and having to tell the security agent why I was holding a piece of metal in my hand.

That lady would be a perfect character for a thriller novel.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Composite Characters

In each of my novels I like to include as many characters as possible who have compelling and interesting back stories. I don't remember where I read about it, but I remember reading that plot can only take a book so far. Readers don't read a book for the plot, they read a book for the characters. It's not the distance or route traveled that readers want to know about, it's the story of the people on that journey that is important and compelling.

I create composite characters. Madison and Wynn in Toe the Line, Joe in On the Edge and Stubby and Elizabeth in Vapor Trail are all composite characters of people that I've known. It's not just one person but a whole host of people encapsulated in one character. But always there is a basis for that character. One single person who inspires the character. For Sunset Perfect one of the cornerstones for one main character is going to be my wonderful friend and neighbor, Marianne.

Marianne is a terrific neighbor. I've yet to see her down or depressed. She is perhaps the best cocktail party guest in that when she arrives for a visit she always brings something (usually many things) to help make the food and drinks, and she doesn't drink so she's a cheap date too! She's the best and I can't wait to use here as the foundation for a terrific character. Sure it may not look like much, those characteristics up there, but they will be enough for me to create someone that readers are drawn to and want to know more about. She's a terrific angel, or white knight to come charging in to help the main character with his problems.

You'll notice that I've labeled this post Composites, so I expect to write more of these in the days to come to discuss some of the other characters who will be showing up in Sunset Perfect.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Expelling Demons

No update today . . . only that I'm on track and ahead of schedule already and I'm not even on the flight or waiting at the airport. Things are trending up.

Today it's about getting rid of ghosts. One thing I love about writing is that it lets a writer put himself/herself into the mind of a character and really expel some demons and ghosts that may be lurking there. My character is dealing with a breakup, a slow, agonizing one that he doesn't want to have to face but is forced upon him. Working him through that is really helping me through some stuff, but it's not enough. Today I found myself asking, "What more can I do to really screw this guy up."

One of my favorite books that I've read lately is "The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August" by Claire North (here and here). One of the things I loved about the book is that the author put her main character through so much pain and suffering. To put it simply he relives his live over and over again and remembers all of his previous lives. There's a lot more to the plot than that, but she kills Harry off in some spectacular ways. The death at the hands of his arch enemy in Russia is particularly unnerving.

I loved the movie The Butterfly Effect because I enjoyed the idea of someone being able to change the world and their own timeline through small changes in their life. I also enjoyed the movie 12 Monkey's for the same reason, the paradox of people going back in time and making changes that affect the future. Groundhog Day with Bill Murray (which savvy readers will know I've written about many times before and even contacted the author, see here) is also a favorite of mine, although I think the movie is a bit too light hearted. Harry August leaves them all in the dust.

Still and all it's a love story as well as a great story about friends and enemies. It was always the love story that appealed to me because the main character was not only able to meet the love of his life, but also to shape his next life to make sure he marries her. Sadly, it never worked out the way he hoped with her, which I suppose was Miss North's way of saying a person can never truly find and manufacture true love, still that was the part that drew me in the most. Perhaps it will be something I find time to explore in NaNo 2018!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Barely Keeping Pace

The fastest mile I've ever run was five minutes and eleven seconds. I ran it when I took running in college. We would go out to Research Park early in the mornings and the instructor had set up a course and I remember the foggy, cool morning when I ran that five-eleven mile. Sadly, I was not elated by my time. I came in second out of a class of about twelve, so I should have been proud. I weighed about two-hundred twenty pounds and a five-eleven mile was unheard of carrying that much weight, so I should have been proud. Why wasn't I proud?

Cause the guy who won came in with like four twenty-nine time. He was a blaze of speed. All leg muscled and stick frame upper body.

That's how I feel right now. Not proud but at least glad I finished.

I am barely keeping pace. I wrote about 1700 words today and as you can see from the table that's about two hundred twenty-three more than I need to keep things in the black.

It was fun writing. Got a lot of things out on the paper. The meaning behind the title, the interaction between the main character and his former love interest. Very invigorating to write but I didn't rack up the numbers like I had hoped to.

Tomorrow I have a long plane ride so I hope to knock out several thousand sitting in airports and on planes. I better, if only because I doubt I'll have much time during the next week.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Still On Par

So I am proof that NaNo does work. I did NOT want to write today. Been busy at work. Distracted by closing on a house. Got personal issues that I'm contending with. All sorts of reasons not to write . . . but write I did. Why?

This whole time I've been writing I've been ahead of par. I didn't want to fall behind.

I am still just above par at seventy-seven words over 25K. Tomorrow will be a true test. I don't think I'll have time to write much less the inclination.

I have come up with several knew themes for this novel. My last novel, Vapor Trail had several themes that dealt with family loyalty, friends vs family, secrets, and the nine circles of hell. This new novel, tentatively titled Sunset Perfect, will be dealing more with perspective and how two different perspectives can see two completely different events in amazingly different ways. This will be good to use by having the short story about my novel at the end of the book. It will literally be the same novel from a different perspective. But all throughout the story I'm going to play on this theme of differing perspectives, particularly in the MC's relationships and his working with issues in his own life. So all in all it was a good thing I wrote today.

And like I said, I wouldn't have written if not for NaNo and just having the little bit of mass hysteria to prompt me forward.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Lots of Change

My life is filled with change at the moment. My company has been merged with another larger company (our HR Dept has asked us to eschew the term "been bought by") . . . friendships, some of them quite close are dissolving before my eyes . . . moving forward in many ways with the family and our future . . . and even my own job is on the verge of changing drastically.

It's nice to note that among all the change there are still some things that don't change. Among the non-changer's in my life . . . NaNoWriMo (see here). Yep, it's National Novel Writing Month and it's nice to embrace the constancy of that event.

I've been working on a novel for the past year now. After suffering through Vapor Trail (see here), a novel that took three or four years to complete, but that finally came out and has been my most well written (see here), my fourth novel is turning out to be as much a marathon as my third novel. As much trouble as I was having with this fourth novel, NaNoWriMo has certainly helped me get over several hurdles.

So far I am on par for finishing the 50K words by the end of the month. I'm looking forward to writing the second 25K words as much or more than the first 25K. I usually work as a (seat of the) pantser, not a planner, but this novel is based on a short story I wrote almost fifteen years ago. I'd share it with you here, but then the mystery that is woven throughout the novel would be immediately ruined. I am thinking about including the short story at the end of the novel just so the reader can see a different perspective on the same story.

Nevertheless, back to change. Before the "merger" I made sure to read "Who Moved My Cheese" to try and get some perspective on change management. Change happens. It's nice to reminese on the Golden Moments in our lives but things never stay the same. It's nice to find consistency and constancy in our lives where possible to help overcome the challenges of change.

Onward to the next 25K.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Been Some Time

I realize that it has been a long while since I posted here, and for a long time this blog was turned off (unbeknownst to me) but, in my defense there was a setting that wasn't correctly clicked that stopped the site from being made public.

That being said, I've been doing quite a bit of writing in my down time. Not a ton, but quite a bit (naturally "quite a bit" is less than "a ton" but more than "a fair share"). What have I been working on? Well, it depends on what I'm reading.

When I read a Frederick Forsythe, which I'm about to do, then I work on my thriller novel about the mercenaries who are out to safe the African elephant orphanage.

If I'm reading a first person mystery/thriller, like the Dick Francis novel I'm reading now, then I work on my next mystery novel, this one revolving around the NFL and our foster kiddo, Anthony (see here).

If I'm reading anything else I work on that romance I've been plugging away on. That one is probably the most polished of the bunch, but also, strangely, has the furthest to go.

What's been most frustrating is that just the other day, when I'm on the cusp of going fully cloud capable, my dang window gets busted out at my workout and my computer is stolen. That same week, still reeling from that, my hard drive with all my backups craps out. I've lost a good 20 thousand, perhaps as much as 40 thousand words toward that NFL story. Not a huge loss as it was still such a rough draft, but still now I have to go back and rewrite all of it.

I find it interesting that I don't care about that loss more. I think it says something about my writing process and my drafts. I believe I read that Dick Francis worked on just one draft. He might do one or two edits, but his first draft lead directly to his final. He was definitely a planner. Robert B. Parker who wrote the Spenser novels did the same. I know I read that somewhere.

I am a "pantser" . . . I write by the seat of my pants. I'm beginning to believe that may not be the best use of my time and effort. Perhaps with a bit more planning I could knock out better novels, quicker. Then again, if I was to have it stolen from me again, I'd care a whole lot more than I do now.

Now that I'm fully on the cloud and the only thing that could wipe out my drafts is an electro-magnetic pulse that fries tons of servers all over the world, I don't see myself losing anymore drafts, so perhaps this is just the kick in the pantser I need to become a better planner.