December 29, 2010

Top 10 Things I Love About My New Kindle...Thank you, Santa!

I now have all the resources I need to increase my number of books to read in 2011. My New Year's Resolution was to read a book each week. But after hearing about the annual count of books read by the avid readers in my life, and seeing that I am now the owner of a funky fresh Kindle, surely 52 books seems to be a modest goal.

On to the Top 10...
1. Freebies! - Thanks to the copyright-free days of pre-1923, there are enough free downloadable e-books in cyberspace to keep all of us from having to reach for our virtual wallets. After splurging this holiday season, frugality will be my friend into the spring.
2. Catch Up On Classics - I know I need to read more Swift, Dickens, and perhaps refresh my love/hate relationship with Chaucer. Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote... 
To begin my e-book career, I am bouncing between freebies, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin and Oliver Twist. Oh, and I downloaded the top "selling" free game as well. ;)



3. Fits In My Back Pocket - So far I've only tried this with jeans. Can't wait to take Walking with me on my next hike!
4. Just Read, Baby! - That's what it's for. Don't argue with me that you can do the same thing on some phone app or your iPad. I'm just trying to get lost in a story, not stay connected with the rest of "real" world.
5. Noone Else Wants To Use It - They're all playing with their own gadgets. Plus, who picks up another person's book, reads some of it, then remembers to replace the bookmark where they found it?
6. Battery Life - That e-ink takes little to no energy to display. Going to Europe for a couple of weeks and can't fit your Kindle charger? This puppy will last up to a month!
7. No Glare - Hey, it's winter so I'm not out e-reading by the pool. But so far, I have yet to get distracted by the reflection of my eyes. This is also an effect of the e-ink technology.
8. Author Pic Screensavers - When it times out, it still continues to inspire with its black-and-whites of famous authors. Hello, Emily Dickinson, Jane Austen, and Oscar Wilde. I will be reading each of you soon!
9. Eco-Friendliness - I'm not burning gas to hit up Borders or Barnes & Noble. I'm not purchasing some classic that will sit on my bookshelf--it's former tree self wondering when giving up its life will no longer be in vain. Just polluting my own little WiFi network, that's all.
10. Just Read, Baby! - Yes, I am using this one again because that's all I want to do. Just read.

December 22, 2010

Hello, my blogger friend. Haven't forgotten about you. It's the holidays. You understand, right?

Yes, I did most my shopping online. Yes, there's always time to blog. Sorry for pushing you away.

But right now I'm losing money playing poker online. Until next time...

Happy Holidays...and Go Ducks!

December 10, 2010

Collaborative Learning Environments: Online Vs. Traditional Classrooms

Adjuncting. Can I use that as a verb?. It certainly feels as if I'm in action, from the keyboarding and mousing my facilitation of online courses to the cardio world of last-minute tie tying, speed limit pushing, and eventually in-front-of-the-whiteboard pacing for the on-campus night courses I teach.

It does help to know that I am not alone, though. My students...they are with me, right? We're collaborating--no matter in what setting the learning takes place. Woohoo!

But is the online learning environment more collaborative than the traditional one? Why in classroom settings am I always referred to as an instructor; whereas, for online courses I'm trained to be more of a facilitator?


Collaborative learning environments create a setting in which the facilitator takes an andragogical approach to teaching rather than a pedagogical one. This approach better fits adult learners that are more autonomous in how they acquire and apply information. Coupled with the online classroom, the facilitator’s role is to establish the tempo of the asynchronous learning environment.

In traditional settings, instructors and students depend upon live interactions for feedback. Here, an instructor’s interpretation of student comprehension may be limited to the scheduled hours spent with the class. In contrast, the online facilitator elicits ongoing class discussions which require students to respond to the facilitator while also encouraging them to build collaboratively with their peers.

Having experienced both learning environments as an instructor as well as a student, I feel that each hold their value in their own unique ways. Being an English major, I appreciate the lively debates that the asynchronous model allows because its flexibility fosters critical thinking and research skills. On the other hand, if I were to take a math course, I would choose a traditional setting for more immediate feedback.

As a composition instructor, the online learning environment is appealing to me because it contains aspects of a writing workshop, establishing me as the facilitator and my students as a collaborative learning team. Yes, learning through a workshop model is possible in a physical classroom, but I often feel the students expect to receive actual instruction from the other side of their desks.

What say you? Please indicate in my poll to the ------>.

December 1, 2010

Post-Thanksgiving Thanks

Back in February, our family suffered a tremendous loss when my wife's father, Rick, passed away. Being a military family, they (Dad, Mom, my wife, her sister and brother) moved around often, making friends wherever they lived. One of their closest family friends is James Colvin.

I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Colvin (while shotgunning beers in the cold of midnight, my bro-and-laws began referring to him as "Mr. Jim") when he drove down for Rick's funeral. Yes, the circumstances under which we met were emotional for all, but through the pain I recognized that Mr. Jim is one of those people I will always be proud to have met. Further confirming this sentiment is how highly regarded my wife and her family hold him. Mr. Jim attended our wedding this October, making our special day all the more special.

The other day, I ran across a Muskogee Phoenix article on Mr. Jim. What an asset he has proven to be for my wife and her family through the years. And what an asset he has been to our country! Many thanks to staff writer, Keith Purtell, for a great article on a great man.

Life has its own way of getting people together. Thankfully, it continues to introduce me to remarkable people. I'm sure you all have met people recently who have added significance to your life. If you have, I would love to hear about them!

November 24, 2010

Catching Up On Reading

Starting my New Year's Resolution early by reading a book a week. It's been less than three weeks, and I'm three books down--a few days ahead of schedule.

It's really not as hard a goal as I thought it would be. The trick is to keep it going. I'm forever catching up from days I find myself in Goodwill, snagging an armful of 25 cent paperbacks and dollar hard covers. And if I want to justify asking Santa for a Kindle this Christmas, then I'd like to knock out at least the top of my must-read list from the overpopulated living room bookcase.

First was 'Tis by Frank McCourt - Loved it. Quite sad though. Led me into a full hour or so of contemplation.
Next was I'm An English Major--Now What? - I should have read this right after my undergraduate years, though.
And last week I finished Atwood's Oryx And Crake. - Awesome. Very thought-provoking.


Phew! It's been a hectic Thanksgiving week already, blog, but I haven't forgotten you! 
Next up in the reading list: Mitchell's Cloud Atlas and Lamont's Bird By Bird.

November 12, 2010

Whiskey Vs. Wine While Writing

Trolling the blog universe, I notice many writers mentioning different beverages while they write. Seeing that it's NaNoWriMo time, coffee seems to be the quencher of choice. Presumably, these are the writers that begin their day with their craft. Afternoon writers supplement their wordy diets with an array of refreshments from the sugary, indulgent soda family spirited by Dr. Pepper and Mountain Dew, to the well-centered, always hydrating warm water with a mind-cleansing slice of lemon. 

Sure, I partake in various beverage adjustments throughout my writing process during the day. In the evenings, however, after adjunct duties free me to late night worldly vices such as 4th-quarter endings (November begins Thursday night football), TiVo, and the lure of attaining REM sleep should I turn in at a proper hour, I provide my laptop and me a mediator from the adult beverage family. That's right...a night cap while I write. Stop slapping my knuckles with that ruler, imaginary Catholic-school-English-teacher-I-never-had!

French press writing is great. If When I get myself an agent and my first novel is published, Mr. Coffeebean will be thanked. Those peaceful mornings that lead into an afternoon of reaching or surpassing my personal writing goal for the day are sublime. After the day's work is done, though, I put back on my writer's hat again. The inspirational moments cannot be ignored, and drinking caffeine at night makes my skin itch. Lately, I've been paying attention to which nightly beverages affect my writing and how.

Not Near Beer Right Now
I love beer, but I begin by eliminating it as an option for this post (hence it's absence it the title). Whereas beer is fine for watching football and appreciating a newly mowed lawn, its influence has produced little writing from me. Now that Texas' heat has finally succumbed to seasonal change, the hops have lost their appeal a bit. Nearing Thanksgiving, the warmth of wine and whiskey reintroduce their attributes.

The Case for Whiskey
Yes, this is a bold taste, especially if you drink it on the rocks as I do. Not yet a scotch enthusiast, bottled variations of Jack and Crown supply the current extent of my name-brand mentioning. 

Whiskey aligns the mind with hand to hammer away at that keyboard. Have an idea? Punch it out. Edit later. Press on and fill that page. It's the evening equivalent of caffeine: the difference being a hint of arrogance minus the jittery attention to incessant proofreading. Just remember to hold to one or two glasses at the most. Any more and you're spending the evening on PokerStars.com rather than with MSWord.

The Case for Wine
I can only speak for red here because I am not a fan of white. And as Dr. Frasier Crane said, "Why go Merlot, when you can call a Cab?

Wine offers a unique writing episode to me. Cooool, calm, collected, and possibly clich├ęd. Okay, so I used the past tense of that one French word writers most consciously try to avoid falling victim to its denotation. Big deal. If you are writing with a nice glass of red wine at your side, chances are that creativity is flushing to the brain as fast as the blood and sulfites are to the cheeks. Let it flow.

Depending on if you are master of your alcohol domain, you can choose how you want to write late at nights by the beverage you sip. If you are not master of your alcohol domain, then your beer, whiskey, or wine nights may be uncooperative. But your mood, the mood in which you want to write, should take precedence. If you're at all a fatalist, your writing intentions will always choose your drink. 

Think not of me not how you think you should; but instead, how you feel you might without those constraints."

That's a real quote. I swear. 
A guess at whether I'm a whiskey or wine blogger tonight? Here's a hint: Thursdays are my Fridays.

November 8, 2010

Three Benefits of Retweeting

Plant a retweet and watch it grow.

Frequent Twitter users know what a retweet (RT) is and how to use it. It's simple. See a tweet you like and want to pass on to your followers, just highlight it and hit the Retweet button. Even easier on a smart phone: just hit the retweet icon (left) and confirm. If you prefer the old-school style, copy that person's message and paste it into your "What's happening?" box, and then precede it by manually typing the RT and @thatperson'susername.

Surely, there are long lists of benefits to retweeting out there in the web and blogosphere. These are three of my favorites as to why my little bird passes on what other little birds say.

1. Selflessness

Sharing the thoughts of those you follow with the realm of your own followers is a form of altruism, isn't it? That person tweeted something meaningful to you, and by you retweeting their message you are now showing your common interests with that person. That is the way Twitter works. Unless you are following somebody simply because they followed you first, then you often follow people with whom you have common interests.

Once you build a good number of folks to follow, you can expand that group further by paying attention to their retweets. The networking possibilities from this are seemingly endless. Following those retweets to their original tweeter opens a connection you may have had a tough time finding through the site's Search box.

It's always exciting to find the Twitter account of such authors as a Margaret Atwood or a Chuck Palahniuk. My small band of followers could then become an Oryx and Crake or Rant fan just by checking out their respective homepages after I pass along something from them I find retweetworthy. Twitter-based book clubs, anybody?

2. Selfishness

Tweeters are aware of how many people follow them. For those of us who just surpassed the century mark in terms of followers, we know the exact number. ;)~  Of course, you want your follower count to represent a steady supply of possible readers of your 140-word influence. The SPAMmy ones come and go, but it's those within your fields of interest that you really want. In essence, you want to attract followers that you, yourself, are following or would follow.

Retweeting is an exchange of information that can lead you to attracting more followers. In a way, it is a shameless act of self-promotion that says, "I found this interesting, so could should you." With a click of the mouse, you have shared an insightful comment or video/article link without having to post anything original. In a perfect world, I would recommend viewing/reading the linked sources prior to getting retweet happy over its title. Sometimes you will find disappointment in that newly opened tab or window, which you may regret retweeting to your followers.

Another selfish reason for retweeting is that the original tweeter may take note that you were kind enough to pass along their wisdom. This may be somebody of great influence to you--somebody of a networking influence. If they end up following you back, that could certainly make your Monday! And if others retweeted the same message as you, check out their profiles. They, too, may be people in which you'd be interested in following.

3. Archiving

This is my new favorite reason for retweeting. Being an aspiring writer, I love reading articles on blogging and writing. Twitter makes that so much easier. I've started a list of writing related tweeters, and follow their stream of knowledge, quotes, and links which serve to make up my own frequently updated self-help page. When I find inspiring information, I retweet it. This is not just to share with my followers, but to keep for myself for future reference. Fortunately, there is a wealth of knowledge for young writers on the web that others thankfully tweet. Unfortunately, it can be information overload.

Retweeting articles I want to read later provides me a working archive on my profile page. There are only so many a guy can read when writing calls and grading papers can't wait. Personally, I rarely "favorite" tweets. When checking my Twitter between classes, I retweet the article I want to read later at home. It is then stored on my own profile page. This makes it much easier than trusting my memory to recall who tweeted that link about revising first drafts or that vlog about the future of vlogging. And it makes it much, much easier than having to scroll through the thousands of general timeline messages looking for one specific tweet.

Of course, you don't want to retweet everything somebody posts unless you want to be that person. However, those various tweets that tickle your inspiration bone, pass them along. Retweet. I might like to read them too. Then, maybe we will enter that superexclusive club together: Retweeted by you and __ others.

November 3, 2010

A Wee Bit Obsessed With "The Avengers Initiative"

Allow me to get all Comic-Con for a moment. No, I don't read comic books anymore, but I wish I did. Back as a tweenager, I read them daily. Grapevine Comics & Cards just down Thornton Road was my haven. Also had me a subscription to G.I. Joe and Wolverine. The whole Batman "Death of Robin" episode captivated my entire attention for at least four or five issues.

As any responsible, respectful reader, I kept the best issues in plastic sleeves, the best of the best received Mylar treatment and/or a supportive board. All were kept in those long white boxes with the handle holes in each end. Trust me; those boxes treat the comics rather well over the years. And yes, I still have my collection.

Back in the day I would've loved for Marvel to be in the movie business. With the Batman movies and the success of the Superman series, DC's heroes were all we had. Every now and then some lame version of The Punisher would come out. The TV series finale of The Incredible Hulk was something to remember, especially because it featured Daredevil. I knew I was a bit too old to watch Spider-Man & His Amazing Friends, but I didn't care. I watched anything Marvel-related I could fix my eyes on. Decades later, my wish has been granted.

First, thank you Jon Favreau and Robert Downey, Jr. for keeping Iron Man cool. This whole bit with Nick Fury, the Avengers Initiative, and character crossovers has me incredibly intrigued. Only Tony Stark is charismatic and resourceful enough to pull off "putting a team together".

Sure, Captain America was the leader of the Avengers in the comics, but he's a couple of movies behind Iron Man. And Stark is already inquiring about the Hulk (Ed Norton, by the way, is an awesome Bruce Banner). I know Captain America: The First Avenger is set to come out in Summer of '11, but I don't know how the movie will transport him from WWII days to hang out with a present-day Stark. Samuel L. Jackson is in the cast as Nick Fury, and is the voice of this little teaser for 2012's The Avengers.



Checking out the IMBD's cast for The Avengers, I'm excited to see that this should rival the X-Men movies. Yes, that's saying a lot, but consider this cast of characters. You've got Downey Jr's Stark bringing with him Don Cheadle as War Machine and Scarlett Jo's Black Widow, formerly of Fury's S.H.I.E.L.D. Captain A (Chris Evans) is there as is the Hulk, except Banner will be played by Mark Ruffalo (who is just as cool as Norton) and the Hulk will be voiced by Lou Ferrigno (nice touch).

The Mighty Thor will joineth the group after releasing his own movie, directed by Shakespearean movie maker Kenneth Branaugh. It looks as if Loki (Tom Hiddleston) will follow him from script-to-script. Isn't that what any dark Norse deity would do? Oh, and lest we forget superarcher, Hawkeye, to be played by Jeremy Renner.

Here they all are at this year's Comic-Con.


It will be interesting to see how director, Joss Whedon, teams up Stan Lee's characters. I'd imagine it would look something like this...

Great to see Favreau will be involved in the production, too. I can hardly wait for May 4, 2010. Between then and now there will be plenty of teasers to digest. Surely, the crossover characters will be injected into the Captain America and Thor movies as they have succeeded to do in the Iron Man and Hulk movies.

While I could dig out my old comics, I should get a couple of new issues to see what's been going on with each of these characters. What do comics cost now? Any under a buck anymore?

A little investigation via new media will work just as well for now. I'm jumping further into YouTube on this matter of The Avengers Initiative.

'Nuff said.

November 1, 2010

Lawn Mowing Musings

Once it roars to a start, focus begins. While settling into its incessant hum, the rest of the world takes a backseat to the mundane: mowing the lawn. While safely directing the mower along whichever course works best during the outing, the imagination kicks in.

The reality of humanity leaves for an hour or three. In its stead, inner musings consisting often of to-do lists and imaginary ramblings take place. I suggest an obliging wave or nod to neighbors to deter having to shut off the mower (and thus, the imagination) for potential real-world conversations. Having already attained historical context, the imaginary conversations are just as good, right? Just as real?

Anyhoo, here are some of my lawn mowing musings from this weekend:

Random Rambling: Attack of the Acorns
I don't remember that big oak dropping this many acorns last year. Of course, last summer was much hotter so perhaps they dried up before they dropped. Is that even possible?

Slippery little boogers. There must be a million acorns covering that side of the yard. Okay, that's an exaggeration. What do you think? Fifty, a hundred thousand? I'd say about two to three hundred thousand, realistically.

See you built a firepit.

Yeah, I'm hoping most of the acorns fall in there. The smoke isn't hitting your house is it? We've only used it a couple of times: when we first built it and when we had a ton of family in town. I trimmed up the oak branches overhanging it so the smoke funnels the other way.

They really sting when they hit, especially if there's a little wind behind their fall. Who knows if an acorn can cause a concussion. One has hit me in the head...I think. I do remember a couple nailing me in the chest, and boy did they sting! Probably left a welt or at least some redness. Suppose if one of the kids got hit in the head with one, they'd be wailing. They do hurt, but it's hard not to laugh when you see someone getting beaned in the head in the middle of telling a story!

To-Do List
Mow the front too, or save for tomorrow? It won't take much time even though there are papers in the office in need of grading. But do those tomorrow while watching football. Get all yardwork done today. Why do tomorrow what you can do today? Who said that? Somebody made it famous.

Did NaNoWriMo start yet? Is it the 1st? If not, then it hasn't. Duh. Sooo, what does it take to register? Ready yet, or still dinking around in sports writing? Fiction needs attention, especially with how frequently the days have been overcast. Ahhh, the Pac-NW mindset. Always welcomed.

Commit to either rewriting that first draft or moving on with that new story. The new story has hit a wall and that first draft is screaming. You know what to do. Plus, the wine-induced epiphany Friday night produced some good notes on how to rewrite the entire novel. Going from third to first-person will do it some justice. Should of thought of that before, but it makes much more sense now.

Finish reading the novels you've started. Stop starting a new one before finishing the last one. Focus. Plus, efficiency is a must to get a jump start on that New Year's resolution to read a book a week.

Writing workshops: Research online options. Throw them up on the blog.

Lowered the wheels to the second lowest setting on this outing. Doing that along with the effect of the cooling weather will keep the grass short for months. Unless I mow to "vacuum" the leaves, these musings will take place in some other yardwork-oriented fashion. There's always gathering firewood musings, barbecuing musings, putting up Christmas lights musings.

No humming motor with those though. Verbal contact with the world is to be expected.

October 25, 2010

Too Much Dialogue in Your Fiction? Me too!

My characters are taking over my story!
This epiphany hit me last night. After spending a little more than an hour trying to rewrite a chapter with tired eyes, I grew frustrated. While my characters chit-chatted and my story sped on, I felt uneasy. Something was missing.

1. Setting - I could always use more details, more imagery. Sights, sounds, and a taste or two made their collective presence known. No touch though. And no smells either. How inhumane can I be? No wonder my characters are talking so much!

2. Subplots - In a first-person narrative, subplots are rather limited to the extent of the main character's perspective. Nevertheless, the depths of characterization from those who support him/her ought to be explored, especially if it is a longer piece of work.

Instead of using conversations between my main and supporting characters, I am substituting in more people-watching scenes for him. This should help me show those other characters through his perspective.

3. Pacing - In graduate school, I took a screenwriting course and loved it. However, I am afraid its influence has leaked more into my fiction than I want. When I write non-fiction, I use quoted material for support. This is the mindset I take with me into fiction rewrites.

Can I show this (scene) rather than depend on my characters to tell it? Almost always. Showing helps to slow down the tempo of the story, so it does not read like a script. Trying to show through heavy use of dialogue tags is distracting, and the preferred "he said/she said" approach with tags is often skimmed over by readers.

For me, it is easy to get caught up in listening to what my characters are saying to one another. Right now, it's distracting. Part of me wants to transcribe their conversations while fresh in my mind. There could definitely be good ideas in there upon which I can expand. Without having the dialogue written out, I may miss out on a great reference to setting or subplot. It's all about balance now.

Compounding my frustration last night was the realization that I had spent that valuable time proofreading rather than rewriting my chapter. Not until I had given up completely to call it a night did it hit me. A good night's sleep soon followed, but not before I scribbled out these three words on the cover of a magazine atop the mess that is my nightstand: "Too much dialogue."

I'm not going to go all-Cormac McCarthy, but I am working to cut out around half of these quotation marks. If my problem persists, sorry Mr. Keyboard. You're going to have a gap between your Colon/Semicolon and Enter keys.

October 21, 2010

Choosing a Beginning Writing Course: Composition vs. Traditional Workshop

Imagine being back in those wide-eyed undergraduate years with that shy temperament and the great American novel churning in your brain. You consider taking "English 101", a composition course taught in the lecture hall that seats hundreds of students. "Creative Writing 101", a workshop course taught in a small classroom with a maximum enrollment cap of twenty students, is also available. The requirements of the workshop may seem more of the freestyle-nature, right? You know in the composition course you will write essays on assigned topics complete with designated word counts and that the instructor will most likely be your only audience.

While disciplines taught in ENG 101 are necessary for learning rules of writing, how much more of your novel will CW 101 extract from you? You are sure to get more chances to workshop some of it. But what if your peers and instructor don’t like your story? And is there a possibility somebody will steal your ideas? 

Fears turn people towards safety. The comfort in composition is that it contains creativity within structure. Creative writing classes offer a counter to that structure in the workshop. For students, creative writing classes introduce different expectations. These expectations mix aspiring writers' apprehensions with the excitement of knowing that much of the course material is crafted and shared by its own participants. 

As for professors, they don a different cap when teaching workshops. Shedding the "power of the instructor" is necessary. This role could ease the judgmental worries prospective creative writing students may feel, as the the classroom is more student-centered.

Creative writing teachers, much like their composition counterparts, must somehow use the workshop as a means of assessment for each student’s growth as a writer. The challenge of extracting text from the students can be similar, but the text with which the creative writing students work is less prescriptive academically, favoring a more raw, progressive approach to the craft. Theoretically, the creative writing workshop is also ever-evolving; and thus, instructors must be open to the changes that such ideas as New Criticism, feminist theories, poststructuralist criticism, etc. introduce into each new class of students.

The traditional workshop model works successfully because it adds a social obligation to that of an academic one. In a composition class a student writes in an objective manner, following formatting and topical guidelines to achieve a high mark and meet a due date. In a workshop, students share texts with their circle of peers for the goal of receiving input to better their text, their overall craft while simultaneously developing their own feedback skills. The workshop fosters a sense of community, one that is unmatched in other academic settings.

My experience in an undergraduate workshop setting felt liberating because I wrote for me rather than to appease the standards upon which I would be graded. Sure, I wanted my writing to impress others into thinking I was the next Anne Rice or Allen Ginsberg. First, it had to communicate my message in a clear manner. My desire to do so amongst my peers provided me a different kind of motivation. The experience showed me that the traditional workshop model exemplifies what seem to be some universal understandings in the world of writers. First, the majority of us feel insecure about sharing our work. Second, having readers to share work with fires up more ambition to produce. Last, the writing community is more encouraging than competitive.

Comfort is a necessity for creative writers in a workshop setting. Without it few would attend, preferring instead to remain unnoticed, in the back of a lecture hall, amidst hundreds of other hungry-for-the-security-of-structure writers. This is in no way a knock on composition classes. I love taking them. I love teaching them. If I had to start again, I would still take the composition course first. Just a structure first, creativity later-type of guy, I guess! 

All writers are different. If you are choosing a beginning writing course, research the requirements of the course. Know your own writing level. If you feel strongly enough about your mastery of the language, go for that creative writing course. You won't regret it. But remember: there is always much to be learned in a composition course.

October 16, 2010

MFA Thesis: Rewrite, or Chuck It?

One lesson I took with me after reading Stephen King's On Writing was that a writer should take a good deal of time before rewriting that first draft. Hide it away in the back of the closet. Pull it out in six months with a fresh eye and mind. Rewrite.

That lesson struck gold in me because at the time I was wrapping up my MFA thesis, which so happened to be a novel length work of fiction. I figured I'd knock out the first draft, polish it up with my classmates' and mentor's feedback, and stash it away for half a year after graduation. Well, I graduated in October of '09. It's been a full year and I still have yet to dive back into my "debut" novel. The poor thing is buried way back within a folder of a folder that's within a folder that is My Documents. There is a hard copy too, which is sure to be in one of two spots: the office closet in some unlabeled box that should be labeled "Misc. Crap", or in the bottom file cabinet drawer that always puts up a fight when I try to open it.

As you can see, my problem is not that I don't know where my story is. My problem is I don't know what to do with it. Like that bottom file cabinet drawer, I am simply stuck.

The story that makes up my thesis is one I conjured up back as an undergrad. Then, everything seemed so fresh. The world was mine to write. I scribbled notes creating this great, apocalyptic landscape complete with dense forests and deformed humans. The end of the world happenings would flesh out history's mysteries, such as vampires. In fact, two vampires would play important roles in my story. One was my protagonist's love interest; the other was the main antagonist. Ahhh, the innocence of yesteryear.

Now, quite honestly, I am vampired-out. Back in 2000, the Anne Rice novels dominated vampirology. Her stories were cool, calculating, and exposed aspects of humanity that I had never before considered. Today, the shared success of the Twilight series, True Blood, and The Vampire Diaries has taken bloodsuckers from the realm of the supernatural to the front covers of the celebrity gossip mags.

The next hot, new monster?

If I am vampired-out, then surely others must be getting there as well. The window for vampire-themed entertainment will cycle out within the next few years once some other sexy, cool new creature takes HBO and the CW by storm.

One thing is for sure: I want to cut the vampires out of my thesis. If I am going to rewrite that and work it into my first novel, then that is one aspect of my story I must change. The tough part is figuring out how to change those characters into some other superhuman being that can still bounce from treetop to treetop (insert Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon joke here) and kill victims with little remorse. Once I decide on antagonists that offer both sweetness and villainy, I can make a go of it. Up to this point, my indecisiveness is stalling me. My thesis story stales by the day. In a way I have already given up on it, chalking it up to a learning experience. I'm afraid that's not the right decision though.

Meanwhile, I have started a new chapter (in the most literal sense). While I go forward with this new story, my thesis, my once-expected-to-be debut novel idles. Creating new material is such a thrill, but the screaming distractions that are my thesis' plot holes are tough to ignore. I am considering donning my most powerful mental earplugs until I finish the first draft of this new novel, but easier said than done. Winter is fast approaching, which means the apocalyptic setting of my thesis will be most relative to my seasonal writing disorder. I began my second novel during the spring, so it features a much lighter, more summery theme. 

The thesis. Make it into something or move on from the learning experience. Tough choice.

October 15, 2010

Morning Procrastination Practices

Getting off to a good start every morning is important for writers with stories on their minds. Here are some  ideas that might save you a bit of time in those wee hours o' the morn.

1. Use a French press.
No having to wait for the percolation. No depending on the clean operation of the pause-and-serve feature. Spills, after all, keep you from your work station even longer. Those one-and-a-half to two minutes could make all the difference between catching that idea worded to your liking or having to settle for the default sentence strung together by the limits of your short-term.

French press is where it's at. Take it to your desk with you, but make sure you initially pour in enough creamer for a few warm-ups straight from the coffee maker. Sit back and guzzle. You will get a good three cups. That should suffice at least until 11.

2. Autonomize your dog.
The little furry friend wants in and out for potty breaks or just to chase a squirrel along both fence lines. Leave the door open. She doesn't have thumbs to turn that doorknob, so her sense of autonomy suffers.

When she's in, she wants out. When she's out, she wants in. Leave the door cracked for her. To hell with it. A house can always use a fresh flow of air. It's getting a bit too chilly now for many flying insects, so take the risk.

The computer needs more attention than your anxious pet. Only one offers you unconditional love. Take advantage of it.

3. Run through your social networking sites first.
Face it--even if you ignore all browsers in a daily attempt to focus on working only with your word processing program, all those unread emails, tweets, and Facebook updates swirl around in the back of your head. Get them out of the way first.

The trick is to limit your time involvement in these sites during the early hours. You don't want to look at the clock and see it's almost noon and that you've been doing nothing but blogging for four hours. But do scan through your pages to prioritize important information that you feel you will have to get back to. Who knows? Something somebody posts could be exactly what you need to read that day to help with your next writing hurdle.

Ahhh, the art of productively procrastinating. Everybody has the same 24 hours in a day. Some of us use part of that time wisely...to blog to ourselves.

Surely, there has to be some afternoon procrastination practices. I'll get into those later.

October 14, 2010

Writing Workshops in San Antonio

On a mission to find a writing workshop in S.A.?
"Join a writer's group or workshop."
This is a common comment made in many bios of debut novelists. It's always intriguing to read how others got their "big breaks". It's fun to imagine how they reacted to the highs and lows they experienced during their respective processes. Many attribute their successes to a certain practice they developed and follow, such as getting up early every morning to write, reading everything they get their hands on, or staying active in the writing community.

Getting active in the writing community can test the agoraphobic visions of the lone writer hammering away at the keyboard, up all night in "the zone" swearing off the rest of the world. Though when the sun comes up, joining a writer's group or workshop doesn't sound so intimidating. Choosing which one to attend is a big, initial step.

Being rather new to San Antonio, I have yet to look for any groups or workshops around here other than those offered in the neighborhood community center catalog. Those seemed a bit pricey for non-members. Plus, the members were of retirement age. I'm in my mid-thirties. 'Twould be nice to have a couple more folks from the Millennial Generation there.

So I used this thing called Google and came up with a short list of writing groups and workshops holding meetings here in the 210.
  • The San Antonio Writers Guild looks to be the mothership of all things writing in the city. S.A.W.G welcomes writers of all levels and sponsors contests, offers workshops and critiques, and holds meetings every first Thursday of each month at 7PM. Meetings are free and often feature guest speakers. 12-month memberships cost $28 for individuals, $36 for couples, and $15 for full-time students.
  • Gemini Ink is a non-profit organization that aims towards building community through literary arts. It encourages writers and readers of all ages and levels to participate in its programs and events. Open workshop classes can be taken from the Writers in Communities or the University Without Walls programs. Classes and many events take place in the organization's bright turquoise building located in the heart of San Antonio’s Southtown Arts District and King William Historic District.
  • The San Antonio Writers Meetup Group gets together on the 2nd and 4th Sundays of the month at La Taza Coffee House in the Brookhollow shopping center. Participants are encouraged to bring with them an 800-1,200 word short story for a light critique. Informal meetings allow writers to choose their own subjects or they may select from those provided by the group. "We provide the inspiration. You provide the perspiration."
  • For romance writers, there is SARA: The San Antonio Romance Authors group. Meetings take place on the third Wednesday of each month. The group also sponsors its own contests and publishes a monthly newsletter.
  • For Texas teachers, Discovery Writing Company will feature Gretchen Bernabei's Voice Lessons for TAKS Writing workshop in San Antonio on October 26, and Barry Lane's Hooked on Meaning workshop on November 15. Both workshops are scheduled to be held at the Norris Conference Center.
When teaching night classes though, committing to workshops is rarely an option. And it is not always feasible to attend on weekends. However, I can sign up for an online workshop. Research is a must there, which I will do for an upcoming post. Workshop suggestions?

October 12, 2010

Fear, Procrastination, and the Apparent Lack of Confidence in Writers

How ironic is it that the writing articles that most appeal to me lately are all based on writers' fears? Fear of simply expressing the self, or of rejection, or of not being considered an expert, or of some unconfirmed worthlessness leads an aspiring writer straight into procrastination. At least, that's what I've gathered from the countless numbers of online articles found via my Twitter feed and in each back issue of Writer's Digest I continually rotate.

I love reading these "lack of confidence" articles because I can relate. Or is it more because I want to relate? I want to struggle with other writers--aspiring or professional. Ideas can escape my mind quickly, so in the meantime I can at least read one of these articles on how to "write what I know" with "passion", drafting it out with no respect to grammar. "Just get the ideas out onto the page." Okay, but before that I need to read one more article with tips on how to avoid distractions and how to just plant me arse in the chair. Stare at the damn, blank screen all night if you have to.

Fine. I will stare at the blank screen all night right after I read your related, linked article about avoiding writer's block. Then, I will summarize my new wisdom gained from all the blogs and articles I read when I could have been writing. Then, I will open up that Word file in my taskbar titled, "TitleUnknown", and will edit my newest short story, or novel, or whatever it is before writing a new scene. That way, the story is fresh in my head, as are the lessons learned from all my readings.

Fortunately, I went through this process yesterday so now I only have half of my pages left to edit before beginning that new scene. Unfortunately, I've left my wife (still getting used to saying/writing that because I'm newly married) alone in the living room and she needs my opinion. Jonathan Adler is being featured on HSN and there is a nice looking salt & pepper shaker set. One is a pear and the other is an apple. You can leave them out year round, as their shade of green is presentable across all four seasons.

Some Fall Writing Contests

Autumn's oranges and browns will soon dominate the lush green of summer. Now is the time of year in which summer readings begin their initial step back in lieu of winter writings. Of course, there is always time for both.

If you are like me though, I look forward to the pick-up in my writing production during the colder months. Something about sipping hot beverages, flipping fire logs, and the anticipation of the holiday season feeds my creative hunger. It also helps that Mother Nature is more determined to keep me indoors for the next four months.

Looking for some writing contests to enter this season? Here are some links you may find useful.

October

Narrative's 30 Below Story Contest is open to artists ages 18-30. This is an annual contest focused on finding emerging new artists in such categories as fiction, non-fiction, photography, film, and graphic novels/comics. Submission deadline is October 29.

Glimmer Train is accepting submissions for its Family Matters category throughout the month of October. The Portland, Oregon based press offers this opening biannually for short stories that focus on...well, family! 

Inkwell's 13th Annual Short Fiction Contest and 14th Annual Poetry Contest is accepting submissions. Deadline is October 30.

The Writing Site is sponsoring the 6th Annual Arthur Edelstein Prize for Short Fiction. The contest is welcome to all writers during the month of October. Stories may be up to 6,000 words.

November

Middlebury College's Bread Loaf Writers' Conference accepts submissions for its Bakeless Literary Publication Prizes until November 1. Prizes are awarded to the categories of fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry.

Narrative is also accepting submissions for its Fall 2010 Story Contest. Here are some of its guidelines:
We’re looking for short shorts, short stories, essays, memoirs, photo essays, graphic stories, all forms of literary nonfiction, and excerpts from longer works of both fiction and nonfiction. Entries must be previously unpublished, no longer than 15,000 words, and must not have been previously chosen as a winner, finalist, or honorable mention in another contest.
Glimmer Train Press, Inc.'s Short Story Award for New Writers accepts submissions all throughout the month of November. As the contest title indicates, submissions focus on original, unpublished works from new voices. Stories may be up to 12,000 words.

Roanoke Review is accepting submissions for its $1000 Short Story Contest. Stories should be 5,000 words or fewer. Deadline is November 8.

The Writer's Guild has these fall submission deadlines for its awards:
OCTOBER
Fri. Oct 15 - Deadline for submissions: TV-Radio and Paul Selvin Award scripts
Fri. Oct 15 - Deadline for online submissions: Drama/Comedy/New TV Series
Tues. Oct 26 - Preliminary Drama/Comedy/New TV Series online voting begins
NOVEMBER
Fri. Nov 19 - Deadline for submissions: Theatrical Screenplays
Tues. Nov 23 - Deadline for Documentary Screenplay, New Media Writing and Videogame Writing submissions
Tues. Nov 30 - Deadline for Preliminary Drama/Comedy/New TV Series online voting
Choose your contest(s) wisely, as entry fees can add up in a hurry. And remember to always follow each contest's submission deadlines exactly how they are written. 

Best of luck to you and write on!

October 11, 2010

More About Me

Writing has made me a fan of deadlines. Whether they are firmly established dates or just some incessant internal reminders, time escapes me when I'm not writing. Also, it's nice to feel forever parented.

I'm not an expert on anything, except I think I am one in fantasy football. That, my opponents would say, is debatable. Non-fiction is my wife, fiction is my mistress. Or is it the other way around? I am not a fan of redundant questions, but I am a fan of italicizing thoughts out of the side of my mouth keyboard.

Stories often get stuck in the back of the mind waiting to be told, don't they? A movie preview can trigger them. A childhood memory a grandparent shares perhaps. Or maybe just some coffee-infused brain activity during those quiet moments right before dawn.

Regardless, something must be written everyday.

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