Friday, February 27, 2015

Why Blog?

At the end of our last writing group meeting, the Scribblerati all fessed up that we haven’t been that great about keeping up with our monthly blogging assignments.  We once again got into the territory of “what’s the purpose of blogging” and “why blog?”

I’m not sure we came up with a definitive answer, but here’s a response from me on why I blog—I wrote it a while ago, but it still holds true for me today.


Why I Blog
By Mark Teats

I blog because I have no choice. Blogging is addictive like alcohol, crack, or nacho cheese Doritos.
I blog because it’s the right thing to do.
I blog because good blogs don’t write themselves.
Bad ones don’t either.
I blog because once as a child I ran headlong into a sharp-cornered wall at full speed, knocking myself unconscious. If I touch just above my forehead, under my hairline I can feel the cleft in my skull where my brain tried to leak out, where it was permanently damaged, and more particularly, the region of the brain that decides if you blog or not. Brain damaged? You’re probably a blogger.
I blog because George Takei has not posted anything fun for me to repost in the past hour. Don’t worry, my other geek friends who also follow Takei will share, post and repost many times as soon as George has found another jewel. We’ll all know. Ohhhh Myyyyyy.
Because all the really good material in my head is gone and only the garbage thoughts remain. Blogging is kind of like taking out the trash. You get rid of that junk idea and make room for the new, shiny, good stuff.
Because the crap in my head is more interesting than the crap in your head. (Scott Adams said something like this, once. It’s true, right?)
Because I agreed to do this once per month for my writing group.
Because blogging is what you do when you can’t get on with the real writing.
When blogs are outlawed, only outlaws will have blogs.
Blogs don’t kill people—oh wait, yeah, they kinda do. Only on the inside. The “little death,” I think the French call it.
I blog because everyone in the world wants to know what I think.
I blog because NO one in the world wants to know what I think.
I blog because of the 356 blogs I follow and seldom read. Sorry my brothers/sisters in blogging arms. I’ve failed you.
I blog because once as a four-year-old child I got on my trike and rode, the wind in my sun bleached hair, and I almost got away, free from my parents, from The MAN, made it a whole mile, close to the river that could easily have drowned me, before a kindly old man, a stranger spoke to me, and said, “Young man. You’re a long way from home. Shouldn’t you be somewhere blogging?” He was right. I turned that tricycle around, put on my shades and pedaled for all I was worth. It was another 25 years before I saw the Internet. But I was ready. Good blogging starts young. It starts at home. It knows the fury of a runaway child on a red tricycle; it knows the kindness of a blog-loving strange old future-man who smells like ass and day old donuts.
I blog because blogs don’t write themselves. If they did, I’m guessing they would blather on about something no one cares about. They’d post themselves frequently, and never be read. By anyone. EVER.
I blog because the technology is there. Computers are like genitalia. You were given this equipment for a reason. Use it. Flail it around. Get the feel for it. Yes, yes, yes, that’s it! Hit post. Hope you used protection.
I blog because every time I blog a buxom, bat-winged, red-skinned succubus in skintight black nylon and high, high heels, gets a new cat o’ nine tails. Ouch! Or so I like to imagine. Do I smell sulfur and brimstone? No?
I blog because it’s the “In” thing to do. Everyone is doing it. Do you have a blog? Why not? Come on! Don’t be a chump! Blog early, blog long, blog frequently, outright rant, go on and on and on. Don’t hold back. Still no blog? You are so sad. You make puppies and angels cry.
Don’t be confused. It’s time to blog. It’s always time to blog. Now. Blog. Come on! Do it, do it!
I blog because I am immune to peer pressure.
I blog because of that one time I drank too much, and almost died. I had a vision; I was a disembodied soul, floating in the void. Everywhere there was blackness, darkness, nothingness. I was reduced to spirit, pure energy, as I whimpered, “I want to live” and a voice—was it God?—spoke unto me, cut through the darkness, all powerful, all knowing, said unto me, in a voice not unlike Morgan Freeman, or Jim Caviezel, or some other actor whose name escapes me who once played God or Jesus in that bad movie once, He said, “Blog. It’s the only way to go. Now get back there and stop wasting my time.” I’ve sworn off Jager Bombs ever since. But I still blog.
I blog because everyone wants to know about my favorite episode of “Kolchak the Nightstalker” (it’s the one with the invisible space monster, or maybe the one with the boogie man) or about when they should stop reading the original “Saga of Swamp Thing” comic books (about episode 21 is a safe place to stop, they got kinda stinky and or eco-preachy after that), or what my favorite Stephen King book is (The Stand, or course).
I blog because it’s a word count race to the death and only the swiftest of bloggers will make it to the finish line. Blog eat blog, as it were.
Blogging, the gift that keeps on giving, the curse that has no end.
31 million of us bloggers can’t be wrong. That’s in the USA only. Bloggers in other countries are not counted. They do NOT matter. In exotic countries like Uruguay, Macedonia, and Columbus, Ohio if you blog and the government finds out, you’ll never be heard of again.
I blog because I could not stop for Death, and he has not yet kindly stopped for me—so in the meantime I have plenty of blogging time to kill.
I blog because I’ve always wanted to disappoint my parents and had neither the courage nor talent to go into acting nor the ability to become a poet laureate.
I blog for love.
I blog for life.
I blog for the pursuit of a really good French dip with fries, and maybe a Coke.
I blog for you. I’ve always done this for you. A perfect, selfless act. I was never there when you needed me, but you let me go, and I came back, like that butterfly in that saying, and here I am, just a boy, with an eight pound head, standing in a doorway, the black gaping void doorway to the infinity of information and porn that is the Internet, putting it all out there, giving it everything I’ve got for you. To live the dream, to write the unthinkable, the unpublishable, the unfathomable, to write about that which will never be seen nor spoken of nor cared for again.
To blog.
No.                                                         
That, that’s not quite true.
None of this was for you. I’m lying.
Nor was it for our blog’s one reader or 37 followers.
No.
I blog for myself.
Only for me.


~Mark
@ManOwords
professional blogger to the stars




PS> OK you bastards. It’s your turn to blog. Get to it.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Writing: Reading Out Loud

For best results please read this post out loud.

As an IT guy who spends my whole day in front of a keyboard, as a writer who then goes home and spends more hours at that same keyboard writing and editing, as someone who always tries to carry a notepad and a pen with me—or at least in my car, as someone who keeps a dream journal and pen next to my bed to capture my first thoughts by hand when awakening, as a reader and favorer of paper books with shelves and stacks of them cluttering up my house, it’s easy for me to always think of writing as the written word.

A first attempt to convey ideas by written symbols or images may have been with the earliest cave paintings (approx. 30,000 years ago) but many sources would point to the Sumerians and then Egyptians with their first efforts putting down symbols indicating individual whole words or ideas about 5,000 or so years ago. Fast forward to the invention of the first printing press (1400AD) and then into our modern world with our copying machines, personal computers and the Internet—for anyone living today written language is everywhere, easily accessible and often taken for granted.

But before language was ever written down, it was first spoken. The ability to use language--spoken word--is one of the uniquely human abilities that separate our brains (cerebrums) from that of other animals. According to some sources whatever variety of human beings were walking around on the planet a million years ago were already speaking to one another.

For the past many weeks I’ve been in a creative writing poetry class where frequently our teacher, individual students or the whole class will read/recite poems out loud. It’s interesting to me that a poem that I read silently to myself from our assigned book that didn’t make much of an impression on me—when read out loud suddenly works—certain words, phrases, maybe even the entire poem taking on new interest and meaning when put to a human voice.

My class also had the benefits of having some wonderful visiting authors who read their work to us. The difference of the emotional tone that can be heard when listening to an author read his/her work out loud, the words they choose to emphasize, the places they choose to pause, sometimes blew me away.

So where am I going with all this? The next time you read something, I encourage you to read it out loud, listen to what is on the page or screen. It may bring greater understanding to the material. But, especially if you’re a writer, and you’re editing your own work, I think it’s especially important for you to try to read your own work out loud as another way to improve your editing. (And believe me I am working to do more of this with my own writing and editing.)

When we read to ourselves our eyes tend to ignore/skip over problems that may be there—but when we read out loud, awkward phrases, skipped and/or incorrect words stand out. Sections of dialogue in prose, I think, are great candidates to evaluate aloud. As you read does it sound natural or not? Your ear will know.

This last week I had the cool experience of attending a reading by poet, Jamaal May. I really enjoyed his book Hum and the emotion he put into his live reading (performance, I should say—he memorizes most of his poems and recites them) was phenomenal. Based on this experience I have spent some time recently seeking out more poems to listen to by various slam/performance poets. I’ve included a few links below that I think illustrate how powerful writing can be when spoken (in case you haven’t already found these artists on your own).

Thanks for reading—out loud.

~Mark
@manOwords






Monday, November 24, 2014

Where are we?


Hey there.

As many of you have no doubt noticed by now, we, the varied and sundry Agents of the Scribblerati, have not been too active here on our blog of late. Now, I'm sure over the course of the last few days/weeks, many of you out there wanted to write or call and give ease to your desperate rush of concerned questions. I'm sure some of you, in your panic, maybe even considered contacting the authorities. Completely understandable, completely, but ultimately unnecessary. Everything's cool. Everything's fine. I'm here to calm your fears, my friends, to soothe your nerves, to grammatically rub your back in slow circles all while whispering: "Don't worry, my friends, we're here now."

But where have we been?

Good question. The short answer is: We've been busy. But how busy? Well, that's a longer answer. Read on, my peeps, read on and let the Scribblerati make their own excuses...

Mark


I'm doing lots of writing lately--filling notebook after notebook with of all things, Poetry! This is first most on behalf of my "Groundings in Poetry" class--part of my MFA program at Hamline--but I'm really enjoying it. (My instructor Deborah is also awesome--very supportive and encouraging.) My default when writing is to write fiction (and often novel)--but poetry forces me to write differently (shorter, for one) and write about "truths." I think it is also acting as "therapy" for me--about half of what I'm writing is about dealing with recovering from cancer. I won't say it's good writing--but I'm getting it out of my system. A requirement for this class is to also complete a 30-page chapbook. It is taking shape!
My undead novel, SUNLIGHT is about 30 pages away from being a complete 2nd draft. My goal is still to knock this out before the end of January.
This summer I also joined a second writing group in Eagan through my local church. It's been fun meeting other writers who live right in my neighborhood. There are all levels and styles of writers in that group--and it's been great having a different audience for me to give/receive feedback from. (A shout out to Bruce, Rich, Jodie, Roxane and Kate!)
I've sent out a couple short stories this year in hopes of publication. So far only rejections on that front--but I'm also not trying very hard. I do have a poem entered in a contest that will be judged in early December. Fingers crossed....

Shawn


Where's Shawn at? On the one hand, procrastinating. On the other, in the weeds. To Kill the Goddess is done, pending a copy edit. When will that happen? Once I get further along with Book 2, which is in said weeds. I have a little over one third of the first draft done, but this book is a bear. Book 2 is – at its heart – an old school order vs chaos fantasy epic (think Michael Moorcock) and the writing of it pretty much embodies the topic. The story wants to cut loose and go every which way. For now I'm letting it, but at some point I'm going to have to impose some order and wrestle the darn thing into shape. Elric would sympathize.

Claudia


Claudia has temporarily set aside her book to pursue her passion for herpetology. It turns out, however, that the snakes won’t enact the little scenes she writes for them, so she’ll be heading back to her 3rd draft of Ursula Evermore and the Case of the Man who Wasn’t soon.

Lately, Claudia’s writing has consisted mostly of press releases. She feels pretty lucky in her day job, where she gets to work with The Moving Company, a national theater company based in Minneapolis. She’s been busy this month helping to launch their production of Love’s Labour’s Lost. A review. It's now showing in Minneapolis, click here.

Lisa


1). She's finished trying to weave her five post-plastic apocalypse stories together into a novella and awaiting Scribblerati's comments on how successful she was
and
2). Has tried her hand at a fairy tale, trying to get at the power of fear of our deepest desires. What she likes most about the hero of the story (Birch) is the tattoo of an octopus arm that she was given by the sea; what she likes most about her anti-hero (the flat-chested woman) is the lengths she will go to quiet her fears. Lisa also likes the trees which were once whales an awful lot too.
and
3). She's contemplating her next story. She thinks it will involve a girl and an acorn. An acorn of a girl? It's still shadowy.

Jon


And me?

I'm currently finishing up a small writing project. I've talked about it on my own blog. Long story short? After my last WIP crashed and burned, I have been spending some time on a quartet of story ideas, writing a rough 1st Chapter for each one. I'm just about done with the fourth and final one now. It was a fun exercise, a creative workout, and I'm hopeful one of the eventual results is a ready and waiting springboard into future projects, plus, that it will stop those nascent, but very insistent book ideas from rattling around in my head, clamoring for my attention, and generally distracting me while I'm busy trying to focus on my next project.

What is that next project?

I intend to return to a former WIP that I finished the 1st draft of about two years ago. I wasn't very happy with that draft at the time, I felt it needed a lot of work. So, after it was done, I set it aside to let it stew a bit. In the time since, I've just been kind of thinking about it in the back of my head, and I've finally hit on some ideas concerning what to do with the book moving forward. I'm ready to dive back in. So that's my plan for the new year. Hopefully by Fall I'll have a brand spanking new 2nd draft all done. Hopefully.

Also, there was this here: My Short Story. I was a bit busy with that too.

Woo.


So, that's it. That's the news. That's where we've all been lately. Time marches on, and the Scribblerati are busy entering a new phase in their careers.

Keep an eye out for us, folks, we're doing stuff.
Jon

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

ON SALE NOW - Harris by Jonathan Hansen


You may or may not have heard by now, but... my short story HARRIS has been available for download to your various e-reader devices for a few days now... well, pre-order, but hey... why would you want to waste time, right? Beat the rush. The early bird gets the worm, as the kids say.

But now the long pre-order nightmare is finally over, kids. Today. Finally. Today you can go online, you can order my story, and you can get it, all within moments. Think of the instant gratification! You know how much you like instant gratification, right? I know I do.

And you can find it all right here.

Muy convenient, huh? You're god damn right it is. Check out my sweet cover too. Totally sweet, right? Now, some of you out there probably remember the last time I was talking about this story (remember?), back when it first came out in the local sci-fi anthology Cifiscape Vol. 2--which is still available here, btw--Well, this is the same story, almost the same. I've added some new content, nothing major, just a bit of fleshing out here and there. If pressed, I'd say it's a deeper experience... but if pressed. If you've read it before, you probably won't notice, so read it again, what are you doing that makes you so busy, huh? And if you haven't read it before now, oh boy, are you in for a treat. And let's not forget about the price? $.50 direct? $1.00 from Amazon? Come on, man! That's a bargain, baby... That's a bargain!

Also, if you love it, leave a review.

Thanks,
Jon

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Dancing, Envy, and Character


Last night I danced to New Order’s Blue Monday at Transmission and it was a freaking blast!

Why does a 40+-year-old man get excited about dancing to New Order? Well, you have to understand, I grew up in Iowa. That doesn’t help? Okay, New Order was the kind of music that if you requested it at a high school dance A) you were lucky if the DJ knew you were talking about, B) luckier if the DJ had it, and C) and “OMG go buy a Powerball ticket right now” lucky if the DJ actually consented to play it, but then when the DJ did play it the dance floor would disintegrate into a bunch of morons staring stupidly at one another until Poison came back on.

High school was four years of wishing I was both somewhere else, and someone else. I wanted to live somewhere where I could go clubbing and dance to New Order, the Smiths, and Depeche Mode, like those characters you saw in the movies. I soooo envied them, because I was that person, despite being locked away in backwards small-town Iowa. I’m sure this was a factor – at least in part – as to why my nose was stuck in a book for most of the time I was growing up. Reading about the lives of those I envied, admired, or identified with was so much better than my own stifling sentence in purgatory.
All this has led me to wonder, what is it about character that hooks a reader? Specifically, myself. Certainly, it’s all those things I just mentioned, but those span a wide range of possibility, and why would I be drawn to those qualities more than others?

Last week Mark talked about the everyman – that guy/gal who was is just a regular old person with whom we could all at least partially identify with. That kind of character never would have kept my attention back when I was a kid. I was already too much the everyman, and I desperately wanted to be someone else. The characters I was attracted to had powers. I didn’t read comics – there was really nowhere to get them and at the rate I read we just didn’t have money for it – so it was books and movies for me, fantasies that had characters with magical powers, and the wilder the better. Man did I eat that stuff up. For me, those kind of stories had the trifecta. I envied their power, I admired their fortitude, and a completely identified with their need to affect change and right the wrongs in their world.

A few of my faves:


Elric of Melnibone – Michael Moorcock
Raistlin Majere – Weis & Hickman
Garion – David Eddings
Arthur, Merlin, & Excalibur
And of course a certain boy from Tatooine who needs no introduction:



Nowadays, the characters who tend to draw me in aren’t usually superheroes.









They are regular people who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances.









These are characters whose devotion, stubbornness, anger, and pathology enable them to exceed their limitations and become something more.


To name a few:

Deena Pilgrim – Bendis and Oeming

Hawkeye – Fraction and Aja

Boyd Crowder – Justified

Roland Deschain – Stephen King

Londo Molari – J. Michael Stazcynski

Starbuck / Kara Thrace – Battlestar Galactica



Who’d I miss?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Everyman & Everywoman in Fiction

While critiquing the latest chapter of my book-in-progress, Sunlight, our writing group got into an interesting conversation (at least I thought so) about my character Laura. Laura’s a secondary character, and in the timeline of my story she’s only been around for about 24 hours. The general consensus of the group seemed to be that although Laura seems like an average/nice/likeable character, certainly with her real life problems—so far something is missing about her: Her AWESOMENESS. I tend to agree—but her lack of awesome may be OK—at least for now.

In this early draft of my book, I’m still getting to know my characters (like Laura), and I know things in her back-story that are awesome but haven’t made it to the page yet. There are also challenges to come that she’ll have to face that will bring some of that out. BUT this still raises a more general question—do all characters (even secondary characters) in your story need to be awesome?

In our group discussion we never fully defined what “awesome” meant, but for me when I think of awesome characters, my mind immediately jumps to those with extraordinary, super-abilities or traits: Sherlock Holmes smart, Superman strong, Buffy’s ability to kick some vampire ass, or Dean Koontz’s well, odd and supernatural Odd Thomas—characters so full of great capabilities, contradictions and strengths (or so unusual) that they stand out, can carry their own story and are easily remembered.

So should every character in your story be awesome? I think the answer is yes and no. All well written characters should be unique, should stand out in their own way, ideally they should be flawed/troubled/complicated enough to seem real. My goal and hope as a writer is to bring characters to life that people care about, want to hang out with, spend time with maybe even think about and remember after the story is over. But I think there is a character type in literature and film that somewhat defies the idea of the “awesome” character.


The “Everyman” is a somewhat generic character that people can often easily relate to, who is taken from their own, mundane, normal world and plunged into a crazy or abnormal situation or reality. The interest in the story of the everyman usually comes down to “what would an average person do in this strange/terrible/tragic situation?” Often they end up surrounding themselves with many stronger, talented and/or more interesting characters to help them accomplish their goals.

My lead character Job in Sunlight fits the bill as Everyman. He’s a cop trying to cope with the loss of his family in a world taken over by monsters. He doesn’t have super-powers, he’s not the “chosen one,” he’s not an antihero, etc. He’s just an average guy doing the best he can in taxing and extraordinary circumstances. I do want my readers to strongly relate to him. Likewise with Job, as I develop him further in my rewrites I hope to make him seem real, unique, likeable, etc. But he’ll still be an “everyman.”

Some of my favorite fictional literary and film “everyman” characters:
• Rick Grimes, from the Walking Dead series. (And just about every lead in every zombie story starting with Romero’s The Night of the Living Dead.) I have to say, I don’t really “like” Rick, but I can always relate to him.
• Sherriff Brody from Jaws
• Arthur Dent from HitchHiker’s Guide…
• Peter Parker (when not Spider-Man)
• The Man and The Boy from McCarthy’s The Road. (Very generic but relatable characters.)
• Mario from Nintendo Games (and just about every main character from any first person-shooter game)
• Frodo, from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings might qualify as an everyman, too… despite being a Hobbit, even though he’s also the chosen ring bearer. He starts the story living in a hole in the ground, afraid of adventure. Compared to his other companions in the Fellowship, his extraordinary/awesome levels aren’t that impressive. He’s got his own skills, but he’ll never face down a Balrog on his own.

More specifically the conversation in our writing group focused a bit more on women characters. Do female characters all have to be special, unique, more than just your run-of-the-mill person to be a worthwhile/interesting character? Can they be a good character without being “awesome”?

Maybe. I’d like to believe there is room in fiction writing for the “Everywoman” character, too. I tried doing a Google search on this concept, of an “everywoman” character, and I didn’t find much information at all. I did find this posting on the everywoman that I though raised some good points, especially “Why is there only “room” for “extraordinary” women?” in literature.


Images of the “average woman” from various countries, 
created from hundreds of pictures of women from all over the world.
Although I haven’t read Stephanie Meyer's vampire-romance Twilight books (and don’t intend to, it’s just not my thing—and the movies fill me with a vague sense of nausea and sadness for sparkly vampires… I can't watch them, either) from what I know of the stories, my gut instinct was that the main female character “Bella” is an “everywoman.” This post on the “everygirl,” (also nicely done), confirms this idea, and also lists some other great examples of the “everywoman” in literature.

So after thinking more about this, I do think there’s room for the Everyman or Everywoman in your story, depending on what that story is. If you are looking for a way for people to relate and sympathize with your main characters, especially if the world you’re creating is crazy/dangerous/abnormal it can be a great way to go.

But--don’t be afraid to bring the awesome. If it’s there in your character, let it out on the page.

Mark
@manowords



(Source for the "Average Woman" photo article linked above)


Friday, July 11, 2014

A Peck of Villains

As you may know from previous posts, I spent my winter and spring reading the novels and stories from Le Guin's Hainish World. I made sure to request later editions from the library so I could read the introductions. Written by Le Guin well after she wrote the pieces themselves, they are full of her later thoughts on each piece, as well as her ruminations on writing.

In her introduction to City of Illusions she touched on something that I find I'm struggling with in my own WIP.

Villains.

Le Guin's thoughts:
Real villains are rare; and they never, I believe, occur in flocks. Herds of Bad Guys are the death of a novel. Whether they're labelled politically, racially, sexually, by creed, species, or whatever, they just don't work. The Shing are the least convincing lot of people I ever wrote.
In the series of integrated stories I am finishing up, I've got some baddies that I'm just not all that satisfied with. They are called Thority (a "what if" spinning out of a world in which the transit authority ends up as the sole organization, and having access to resources they can wield quite a bit of power.)

Mostly these baddies are in the background, just another feature of a world that has newly fallen apart, one of the many defining features of the new environments within which my characters must make their decisions about how best to live their lives. That's probably one piece of why I'm dissatisfied with them: there are no unique Thority members as a characters, so they are all just a grey wash of badness.

As the stories have evolved, I've found myself needing to explain why they are bad. I didn't want it to just be because Power Corrupts. Maybe that impulse was a good one, a step away from the grey wash and the Herds of Bad Guys that Le Guin regrets in her own writing. If you give the bad guys a story, rather than just having them fit a category, maybe they will be more interesting. More real.

But the story I have told has explained away their moral culpability. They've got soft-wiring that's gone glitchy. And right now it feels again that I'm taking a step back toward category-badness. I didn't set out to write a zombie story, but in way I think Thority have ended up fitting into that trope.

Which has gotten me thinking about the Zombie trope itself. Given that it has been so popular, it seems that many folks are convinced by the mass-bad-guy. Or is it that zombies work as background, but never as real characters in a story? The real enemies are ourselves, and other folks just like ourselves: unique individuals with individual histories, wants, and needs. Individuals who all must interact with one another within the environments they find themselves (which may contain zombies like Jon's Gunslingers or zombie/vampires like Mark's Sunlight or as in my story cycle: radiation, strange new diseases, the reemergence of old diseases, self-aware plant/animal trains, and zombie-like Thority-figures...).

So maybe Thority really aren't the villains in my stories. Maybe no-one in them is. Maybe all my characters are each doing the best they can with what they have, even if that best sometimes results in a whole lot of pain.