Butt In Chair

Dusting off this blog is the first step in preparing for NaNoWriMo in November and I have a good friend of mine who is publishing her first novel next month to thank for the best advice I think a writer can hear:

Butt In Chair (BIC)

Three simple, but effective and critical words for writing success. So, here we go!

Idle time is the devil’s workshop. My mind was wandering the other day when suddenly an idea for a new novel popped into my brain. I usually consider this a good thing, and I believe this one has real potential, but that thought ignores that I already have two novels “in the works” with no end in sight.

In 2013 I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time and flames ignited from the spark of writing that was living inside me. But I entered that challenge ill-prepared, with no research and no outlining, and it sputtered out after about 32,000 words. At the end of the month, I decided I did not like the work in progress so I shelved it for a rainy day and then spent some time reading and learning how to effectively outline and prepare for writing a novel.

I started my second novel during the bitter, cold winter of 2014. I spent time creating a working outline, and did some initial research into the time line and physics that were critical to the storyline. When I started putting pen to paper however, I found that my research was a bit lacking and I allowed that to create excuses to stop writing and do research. It was during this research block, that I came up with the idea for my third novel. The details are still sketchy but there is excitement in my head that wants to flesh this idea out and give it a go.

So I now have six weeks to outline, research, re-outline and structure my new novel and then sit down and churn out the words. I know my November travel schedule this year, and I know how to plan my word count so that I complete the requirements of the challenge by the end of the month.

BIC only works if you are organized and make writing every day a priority. I have 1.5 months to figure out the best times in my days for writing, and get back into the habit of writing on a daily basis. Fun times ahead!

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Android vs iPhone

I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am to be the very first blog to ever tackle the hard hitting issues behind the Android vs. i Phone debate. What’s that? There are already hundreds of thousands of blogs doing this? Oh. Well, what the heck.

I recently took the $99 challenge of dropping my HTC One and going with an i Phone 5S for two weeks. And while I am still recovering a bit from the experiment, thanks to some major iOS 7 bugs and iMessenger, I am glad it was something I was able to do.

At the end of the day, there are really only two major things that seem to be important between the two warring factions. Camera and Screen Size.

Sure, i Phone users love to brag on the ergonomic features of the tiny i Phone that fits perfectly into your hand (it does) or snugly in your shirt pocket (never worried about it falling out) but i Phone users are invariably “taking a look” at a friends HTC M8 or Samsung Galaxy 5 and seeing for the first time just how important a big screen really is. Which leads us to the camera.

I phone’s used to have a monopoly on camera quality. From pixels, to lens, to industrial gorilla glass protection that shot pictures of amazing color. Tied into the retina display, it was pretty awesome. But then something strange happened. Android, led by Samsung (no doubt thanks to some dubious tactics at best) caught up.

Nowadays, discussion of camera quality is down so far into the technical levels that the average consumer can see the clarity and quality of the new zit on little Susie’s nose, immortalized forever. They could care less about, as one of my old bosses would say, “Giggawhammys”. They look almost the same.

Bottom line is personal preference, and a nod to the Android manufacturers for sticking with screen size and fine tuning performance. It isn’t there yet, but getting better all the time.

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2014 A to Z Challenge Reflections

A to Z 2014 reflection

The 2014 A to Z Challenge marked the second time I participated in the event. Right up front, we should all be thanking the A to Z Challenge folks for their hard work and dedication to this fun annual event. It is a great experience and I recommend that anyone looking to write, whether a short blog entry or a novel, to participate and engage this community.

My approach in 2014 was different than the one I took the first time around in 2013. This year, I set three simple goals:

1) Create a theme and address it each day.
2) Write with meaning and purpose every day.
3) Meet new people and read interesting stuff.

For the 2014 A to Z Challenge, I developed a theme of “Science to Science Fiction” and took a random word that popped into my brain for each day and then apply the concept to both the science side of things as well as the potential science fiction application. With the exception of a few days, one by choice, I was able to accomplish this. And in doing so, I hope that I was able to stimulate thought on how practical science can be applied to the plots and stories in science fiction writing.

One thing I did not do a good job of in 2013 was writing with a meaning and purpose each day. Sure, something like NaNoWriMo is a good exercise for cranking out quantity but it leaves a lot to be desired in the area of quality. The words that popped into my head were truly random, and some times I would dig into the second and third level of a definition to find the best fit for the “Science to Science Fiction” theme. By finding those “nuggets” in the definition the theme was able to flow through each day and hopefully inspire thought and insight.

The quality of the blogs I visited varied, but I found this year that topics and content were not as interesting to me as in 2013. This isn’t a negative comment at all about the quality of the writing and a lot of the themes were superb. I just didn’t have anything specific I was interested in reading, so I just muddled around. No harm in that! But what I got on almost every visit was the chance to meet new people and pick up a few followers for my humble musings nestled in a small corner of the Interwebs. I appreciate everyone that signed up to follow my writing journey and appreciate all the insight that has and will be offered up.

The A to Z Challenge gives those of us crazy enough to try to become writers a diverse community and long-term support system. That benefit alone should be enough to get people thinking about next year’s challenge and I look forward to seeing how other writers are evolving along with me.

The most important thing I took away again this year is the importance of writing every single day. Every successful author, published or unpublished, repeats the daily writing mantra. Until you do it every day for a month, you can’t fully understand the overall importance of writing (or trying to write) every single day.

Happy writing!

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Zealot (noun)

: a person who has very strong feelings about something (such as religion or politics) and who wants other people to have those feelings : a zealous person

A great way to spice up any story is to make your villain some kind of zealot who pushes himself on the protagonist and other hero characters. Even more appealing is the idea of a villain that is a zealous person who is powerful enough to penetrate the most secret of circles. An intelligent and ruthless villain completely filled with evil can open up so many story lines.

A zealous person generally develops as such over the course of time. There are many options for a back story on a zealous villain that can be used to build the worlds you are creating. Especially cool are the protagonist and villain growing up as friends and then being split due to the evil that grows in the villain. Obi-Wan and Anakin; HAL and Dave; Joanie and Cha-Chi.

I imagine there are equally zealous scientists in their respective fields. Those working tirelessly on their experiments and trying to recruit young scientists to their cause. No shortage of evil out there but for the most part, I believe science is a noble pursuit. Mankind is ultimately better because of their pursuits and we should all be thankful for their work.

Thank you all for reading during the 2014 A to Z Challenge and I look forward to reading your prose and wisdom on this writing journey.


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Yarn (noun)

: a long, thin piece of cotton, wool, etc., that is thicker than thread and that is used for knitting and weaving

: an exciting or interesting story; especially : a story that is so surprising or unusual that it is difficult to believe

I have been excited about writing the “Y” entry for the 2014 A to Z Challenge today, for two reasons. First, I will be breaking all the rules today and not following our science to science fiction theme. And this is because, second, I will spend time telling you about the greatest storyteller I have known, my father.

Recently, the 24th anniversary of my father’s passing (I struggle with the word anniversary, as it is usually so cheery, but I digress) came to be and on that date each year, I practice telling the single greatest joke I have ever heard. The yarn about Wigglesworth.

Now, the details of the joke are not what is important, and in fact, I don’t believe the joke has ever been committed to writing. What is important is the way the story is told. It is a long yarn, a tale that builds up over the lifetime of the young protagonist. There are obstacles every step of the way, and failure leads to strengthened resolve.

The intonation and inflection in the voice, the commitment to the tale from the first word to the last. Knowing the right time to spin the yarn to maximize the effect of the story. The care spent on every last detail of every last scene. The crescendo at the punch line met with a mixture of awe and a hearty laugh.

I heard Wigglesworth about a dozen times in my life from the greatest storyteller I know. And I am proud to practice it at least once a year, to celebrate the joy and happiness he still brings to life today.

Certainly more appealing than knitting or weaving.


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Xenobiotic (noun)

:  a chemical compound (as a drug, pesticide, or carcinogen) that is foreign to a living organism.

Well, the human race has certainly done a good job of using science to introduce a wealth of xenobiotics to pretty much ever other species on Earth. Scientists discover new chemical compounds all the time to help with fertilization, crops, insecticides etc. and a by product of that is introducing them to other living organisms in the process.

Not judging this either way as there are benefits and risks in almost every case. It just bugs me that I know people that won’t even acknowledge that mankind is doing bad things to the Earth. We are, and that’s part of the natural cycle of things. Denying it makes you look like a fool!

But I digress. I was kind of glad I stumbled across xenobiotic when pondering X words for the A to Z Challenge. The whole science aspect of this fits into science fiction writing so naturally. As authors, we are creating whole new worlds. Part of that process includes developing new civilizations and introducing them to new and exciting worlds. Places where the habits, lifestyles and mannerisms are foreign to others.

And if developed right, xenobiotic relationships are also prime for creating and resolving conflict. How many wars started over misunderstandings of culture or heritage? By bringing disease or on the flip side a cure? Giving your characters something new to deal with is a great way to bring excitement to your novel.

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Whittle (transitive verb)

:  to reduce, remove, or destroy gradually as if by cutting off bits with a knife

I tried to learn how to whittle when I was in the Boy Scouts. It was a great way to sit and relax on a nice summer day, but with no artistic ability, I usually ended up with stick people made of sticks. None of my works will be in the Field Museum. Trust me.

I chose the transitive verb definition of the word for our A to Z Challenge — Science to Science Fiction theme this year. Part of the scientific process is to start large and end small. By that, I mean scientists look at all the information, whittle it down to relevant or key parts, and then execute. The whittling is important because even while something may not make the final cut, it is knowledge to fall back on if you run into an obstacle.

The same goes for the writing process and I believe is especially important in writing science fiction. Maybe I am making it more difficult than it should be, but I find there is an underlying need for just story boarding new worlds and civilizations in bulk and then whittling them down to a concise time line and develop my story from there.

How do you approach building a new world or civilization? Do you go into it with clear, concise notions of how these new worlds will be? Or do you prefer to just let it flow and whittle it down from there?

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