Forever and Ever and Ever...

I was watching part one of the season finale of The Bachelorette. Wait. What? No. I didn’t choose to watch this. Common! Psh. My sister was watching it and I was like, yeah, I’m just gonna get something to drink and relax and since I was enjoying my drink I was like, yeah, I’ll just relax and hang and spend time with my sis and was like, whoa, The Bachelorette is on. Yeah.

Now watch as I break these apart

Now watch as I break these apart

Anyways, the bachelorette had mentioned that she wanted to make the right choice from the last three men because she wanted her marriage to last forever. Nothing wrong with that. I think that’s what we all want at some level. But…I feel that we focus so much on the forever, wanting it to never end, needing that security that that person will be there forever, to never leave for any one else that we miss out on what’s truly important.

This potion will make him love me forever

This potion will make him love me forever

As writers, we know one thing for sure. We toil away in some dark corner of a cafe for literally thousands of hours, thinking, rethinking, agonizing over every single word, words that the average reader will nonchalantly read over, and we wonder, in those moments when we take a break, whether anyone outside of our circle of friends and family will read this incredible story. Hell, none of my family has read my books. So why write?

In life, there’s no guarantee. Even in death, we don’t know if we are truly dead. Do we have a soul? Where does it go once our bodies end? And even if we don’t have a soul, and death is the end of our existence, does that really matter? Regardless, to focus on death, like focusing on the forever, is a waste of time. When we hone in on something that is in the future, be it tomorrow or many years down the road, we miss out in the moment.

You built a time machine out of a Delorean?

You built a time machine out of a Delorean?

What? Psh! That’s it? The MOMENT. Don’t tell me. Live in the present. What other choice do I fucking have? You see a fucking time machine here, buddy?

Living in the moment has been a tenet for many, if not all, artists. It’s the only place where we create. It’s the only place where truth comes from. Even if we use our past as inspiration, we’re bringing it to the current moment to use in our creation. And there’s nothing in the future that we can bring back because it hasn’t happened, yet. So to focus about the future is like that proverbial over filling the teacup. Empty it and live. We’re all gonna die, we can’t stop it, so why worry about it? Same thing with marriage and relationships. They’re all gonna end either by choice or death do we part. So why not just enjoy the moment?

Nothing else in the world has taught me about living the moment, enjoying the process, more than writing. Because such a small number of writers ever make it, and even less make it big, to think about the possible “wasted” time I’ve spent working on my books is useless. The pure fun of telling these stories is exhilarating. The excitement of plotting, seeing the story write itself, develop, and watch the characters growing, or not, is an experience I can only imagine to be like watching children grow. And I guess that’s why so many writers refer to their works of art as their babies. In many ways, it takes a life of its own.

In life, living in the moment is important because that’s all we really have. The past is gone. The future has yet to arrive. And in the moment, we choose whether to be happy or not by how we perceive things. So why not just be happy?

All In My Head

Ooh. Ah. Oh. Eee. Eye.

Ooh. Ah. Oh. Eee. Eye.

It's been a month and a half since coming back from my month long trip in Hawaii. For me, I needed some time to let the whole trip simmer inside my head.

A lot of people think Hawaii as this exotic place. Don't get me wrong, it can be if you're going there on vacation, and in my opinion, Waikiki is what people think of when it comes to da H.I. That's what it was to me. Although, I've spent time hiking in different places, most of my experience was trapped there. Get it? Cuz it be a tourist trap. Sorry. This time around, I wanted to explore a bit more, the neighborhoods where the locals lived, and even took a cool bus trip up the north shore.

The beach front properties, the massive luxury hotels like The Sheraton, Hilton, Moana Surfrider line the man made beach of Waikiki. Most people don't know that most of the sand people sunbathe on originated from California and Australia. Waikiki stretches about two miles along the south. Even walking a few blocks away from the beach, behind Ala Wai Canal, you'll see that Hawaii isn't just about luxury. Comparable to the streets of San Francisco, the homeless team the sidewalks and beach and grassy parks. I mean, why wouldn't you? As opposed to sleeping on the streets in the city by the bay, Hawaii's weather, even at night, provides more than comfortable temperatures. During this trip, I found the definition of beach bumb was literal and not just figurative.

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Locals hang their clothes to dry, kids play in abandoned parks, buildings, and concrete beds seen usually in war torn countries, and religious groups, usually non-whites, gather for their weekly meetings in out-of-the-way parks; parks where I had to walk a good half hour back away from the pristine shores of Waikiki. Though, I never felt threatened, maybe because after a few days on the beach, swim trunks, and flippity flops I looked like a local.

I thought I had seen some of the worse. Don't know why I thought this, but here we are. Then I ventured down to Chinatown. I've been to the Hawaiian Islands many times and have always drove past Chinatown on the way in from Honolulu airport. It wasn't until this trip I had the time to go to mytown.

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I took The Bus to downtown Honolulu, where Chinktown is, and got off at...how do I say this...a small version of the ghetto, if the ghetto was located next to Hell. Despite my own slanty eyes melding me into the background of the locals, I didn't feel safe. The homeless occupied every corner. Stores felt dirty, icky, and every package I picked up to look at the price left an invisible layer of gunk on my fingers. It got so bad, I had to rush into a bathroom to wash my hands. Garbage carpeted the streets, piled high in some places. Store fronts were dilapidated, and a local who used to live on the mainland told me all the health scores of eateries had failing grades. Fantastic. Needless to say, I never ate there.

Now before you tell me how my blood has thinned cause I live in the burbs, I visit my mom weekly and she used to live in West Oakland. West Oakland is also known as the void cause white people avoid it like the plague, where the white on rice hold on to their brown husk.

In saying all these positives, I actually loved exploring these areas. It gives a neat dimension to any place and provides perspective. So far, I don't have to wonder about where or when my next meal will come, I'm not in the business of curing cancer, and I don't suffer from anything beyond a caffeine high, a brain freeze from drinking an Icee too fast, or the occasional fear of public speaking. Whether my books will be widely received or not, I don't know, given the thousands of hours spent working on them. In the end, I have no right to complain about anything.

And, really, that's what this last trip to Hawaii sunk in for me. All the problems in my life are in my head, and no matter where I go, I bring them with me. But I also have the power to let them go, cause their in my head. Another words, they ain't real. Unless I'm being chased by a great white shark, in which case bye-bye world.

Slice of Heaven

Sitting in Starbucks, drinking a tall coffee with cold soy, and enjoying CANNERY ROW is a piece of heaven for me. Especially when that Starbucks is located in Cannery Row, Monterey, where John Steinbeck is revered.

Paul Walker?

Paul Walker?

In school, I hated the required reading. I think because it was required. I tend not to read while writing new material, but I've been steeped in a year and a half long rewrite/edits/plot hole closing venture. So absorbing other authors' voices is not too much of a worry. Plus, John Steinbeck's voice wouldn't be so bad to absorb, but then I'm not writing great American literary fiction.

I'm not sure if it's Steinbeck's romanticism of Monterey or the fact that I've brought most of my girlfriends here, but this little vacation spot always brings solace for me. It definitely helped inspire me to read CANNERY ROW, which I'm enjoying.

Tha Row

Tha Row

One of the characters is Henri the painter, who's been building a boat for seven years. Hazel says that every time the painter is close to finishing the boat, he changes it, never ever having to finish it. Doc says the painter does this so he never has to sail, having a great fear of the water. This reminded me of a conversation at a recent holiday party where a university instructor asked me if I was still writing. Seven years, I responded. He smiled at me, a hint of elitism (me self projecting I'm sure), and advised that I need to get it out there. I explained that I have, gotten rejected by all of the agents I queried, and am in the midst of the second book in the series.

I think you missed a spot

I think you missed a spot

Then he said something that I have a pet peeve about.

I'd told him my book is about a father losing a child through a tragic accident, and how he must contend with his and his wife's issues about that loss. My scholarly friend knows I'm neither married or have kids and suggested I write about what I know, chuckling.

Normally, people of "less" expertise and education never suggest I write what I know. With the advent of science fiction and fantasy, who would ever suggest that. Would anyone tell Suzanne Collins she shouldn't write HUNGER GAMES because she doesn't really know anything about rebellions, fighting a war, or how the hunger games would be preposterous?

What is under my shoe?

What is under my shoe?

Stories by humans are always about the human condition. And if you're human, then guess what? You know about the human condition. That doesn't mean that I wouldn't have more insight if I was married with children. But that shouldn't limit me either. Or maybe I couldn't write this story if I was married with children. May be too painful.

Experts are defined as having comprehensive and authoritative knowledge in their field. So is this guy right? I mean, I've yet to be published.

The creative process is really interesting. No matter the subject matter--industrial design, sculpting, software development, writing, robbing a bank, conspiring to overthrow--insights and the creative process always come from within. To take the words from new age fanatics, from the formless to the form.

So if an author is given a story, like the image of Harry Potter in a Manchester train, as told by JK Rowling, then who's to say that she or any one of us shouldn't write it. Who's more of an expert on our stories? The expert not given the story to write? Or the individual who was given the story to write?

Smart Ass

In my most recent post, I'd mentioned that a reviewer who defended the atrocious plot holes of Prometheus had said we are to suspend our logic because this was a science fiction movie. For any storyteller, we know that's not true. We suspend our disbelief. Logic is the hallmark to any good story. Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities, truth isn't -Mark Twain

Again?!

Again?!

I had watched several flicks with the backdrop being aliens invade the world. More often than not, we humans at the very least kick enough ass to survive: Independence Day, Battle Los Angeles, Battleship. Of course the only way we could win is by dumbing down the aliens' tech.

Come on.

It be right here

It be right here

It's fairly common knowledge that Alpha Centauri is around 4.4 light years away from us. So common that I had to look it up. It's more common knowledge that it would take us hella days to get there. Shit. We don't even have the tech to do that. As a freakin' result, any alien peeps that could come here would have weapons beyond any common man's imagination. I would think they'd kick our asses, if they so choose. They'd be like, "Nuclear missiles? Are you kidding? What is this? The Stone Age?"

When I created my antagonist, the bad dude, I knew two things. As a former actor, one of the pillars of acting is not to judge your character. For example, if an actor was hired to play Hitler, the last thing he (or she) should do is judge the character. Or else you're playing character (scowl and yell and be a real meany) instead of being Hitler. I think he truly wanted to improve the world by creating an Arian race and committing genocide on the Jewish. We know that's wrong, but that's for the audience to decide.

Secondly, he had to be smart. If I dumbed down the bad guy, any wins the good guy accrued would mean nothing. Any losses would make my good guy look stupid. They complete each other.

Samurai male pattern baldness

Samurai male pattern baldness

The movie 13 Assassins is a great example of this. Lord Matsudaira Naritsugu is just an asshole. He rapes and kills simply because he can. He's sadistic. So a government official realizes that things would get worse once this Lord ascends his political position. So he hires a Samurai who then gathers a dozen more, the best of the best, to assassinate the Lord. You'd have to. Any Lord in Japan during the Edo period is gonna have awesome Samurai to protect them. Thirteen against the Lord's countless horde. Odds are against the thirteen. If they lose, it's to be expected. If they win, monumental accomplishment.

Now. Imagine this. Lord Matsudaira Naritsugu has a squad of twenty Samurai who are dufuses. Type of guys who wouldn't know how to use toilet paper. Don't know if they had toilet paper in the Edo period. Then this government official hires thirteen of the most ruthless, skilled Samurai to kill the sadistic Lord. Not much tension or conflict.

What did you do!?

What did you do!?

The antagonist doesn't always have to be a person or a group of people. One of my favorite Samurai movies is Twilight Samurai. Here, we have a father, a Samurai on the floor of the totem pole. He lives life, saves money by not taking baths and reeks of fish, and wears rags for clothes. He makes wooden cages for pet grasshoppers that aren't in great demand, and barely has enough money to feed his two daughters and ailing mother. He can't get ahead and the need for Samurai dwindles. We're told ronin are becoming the norm, Samurai with no Lords looking for independent work. We know from hearsay our hero is a great swordsman, so we are guaranteed an eye-popping sword fight. He down plays his skills, which only speaks truth to the rumors. But where is the bad guy? Where and how will this epic event happen?

Then I realized something. The antagonist is society, his situation, ultimately, himself. Light from the heavens beam down all over me as I jump for joy. Angels sing as the warmth of my ego's hug tighten. In the end, we do see a great and very realistic sword fight, but it symbolizes his view of himself. He becomes the person he should be, completing his character arch.

Moral of the story: run away from aliens, sadistic dudes should watch out for thirteen assassins trying to kill ya, and don't make dumb assess of your bad guys.

Center of Universe

Take me off yo list, sucka!

Take me off yo list, sucka!

Do you sign up for emails you wished you didn't sign up for only to have them barge into your email, despite unsubscribing to them?

When I started writing, I was very open to learning cool techniques and concepts about storytelling. I read magazines, blogs, talked with other writers, read their recommendations on writing books, taken seminars, and gone to conferences. Almost all talked about theory. Very few talked about actual techniques.

Waaaahhhh!

Waaaahhhh!

As I checked my emails, I saw one come in. And he, a published author, who mentors other writers, interviewed a woman, who is also published and mentors. She said something interesting:

Beginning writers tend to think of themselves as the center of the universe and expect huge successes. They're often not open to criticisms. Blah blah blah...

I haven't encountered that, but I don't mentor other writers. In taking classes, I am asked to read others writing and comment.  Whether they listen to me or not doesn't really matter because it's not my work. Only they can determine whether the criticisms are justified.  I've applied many suggestions and criticisms and rejected those that don't help the story. I don't make changes from a place of fear. Another words, if I fear that my book won't sell because I don't have a certain element, then I'll probably reject that criticism.

Well...this is more than a grain

Well...this is more than a grain

Now going back to the email, here's an example of taking advice with a grain of salt.  The interviewer asked her why she got into writing.  She said (her exact words):  For me it's been looking back over my life and seeing all the input I've received over the years. Folks told me I could write when I wrote Christmas letters. My teachers saw the gift. And, yes, mentors have helped me hone the gift and encouraged me to continue.

Paraphrasing:  Praise the Lord, for He hath layeth on me a gifteth!

Is this what the Lord looks like?

Is this what the Lord looks like?

Did you read that?  She, in her head, is the center of the universe. She thinks she's special after she just said beginning writers think they're special. She ain't no beginner, so does that mean you don't have the right to feel special unless you've acquired a certain level of success?

In every moment of life, people should feel special about themselves. Who else, besides our doting parents, is going to feel that way about us?  Everyone has the right to exist. Everyone has the right to follow their passions, to explore their lives in different ways, and to live it as they wish, barring hurting anyone outside of themselves.

And the interviewer went along with it.  And this guy is reputable!

There's some good advice out there. But when it comes to a story that is close to your heart, trust that that story will come out well, use actual writing techniques that will help tell your story (don't use a flat head screwdriver on a phillips screw), and be clear about where your story and characters are heading.  That way when people give you suggestions or criticisms, you'll know what to implement and what to throw out.

My face!

My face!

I usually use Steven King's method.  Pay attention to the most common critiques. It's a good sign you may need to fix it. But I had a friend point out my character's reaction to a tragedy felt false to her. She explained why and I immediately took her suggestion and made the change. No one else pointed it out, but it matched exactly where the character was headed.  This same friend made a similar suggestion farther down the story, but to change it would flatten the overall character arch.  So I rejected it.

No one knows your story better than you. So be confident in it. And be open to learn and see what others see. Sometimes we writers are too close to see the forest.

End of an Era

Why you don't like?

Why you don't like?

I had ended a three-year relationship with a woman that I had planned to marry. She had everything that I wanted: beauty, kindness, highly intelligent, financial stability, close knit friends and family, love of dogs. But something was missing. It wasn’t passion. Nor the connection. Or maybe it was those things, there in the beginning, then slowly seeped away like pinhole in a water balloon. I didn’t have the tools to fix our relationship. And the only solution was to end it.

And it pained me to do so for several years.

But something great came out of it. I had sunk myself into my new found passion, writing. Actually, it wasn’t writing as much as book one of the 7th Province: NIGHTFALL.

Thousands of my heart wrenching emotions helped fuel my main character’s emotions on paper. Losses that he goes through were better felt, understood. Of course, what I went through is nothing compared to his emotions, but without the breakup, I couldn’t have delved as deeply as I did. Tears was always a sign I was heading in the right direction.

Ahchoo!

Ahchoo!

Writing, however, requires some level of consistency. I have to sit down somewhere and write, be it on paper, computer, or imagination. Unfortunately, I’m a lazy person.

In my emotional turmoil, I had found a home away from home.

My Church

My Church

Borders café had become a place I could sit down from all the things that would tear me away from writing my book: TV, Internet, refrigerator, bed, couch, HGTV. OK. I was watching a lot of HGTV. OK. I still do. So to help focus myself and give me little excuse to do anything else, I bought a coffee or tea, glued myself to a small wooden table in the dark corner of the bookstore, and dove into the world of NIGHTFALL. Despite the babies crying, college kids laughing, soccer moms arguing, coffee beans grinding, and the constant frothing of lattes, I was totally undisturbed.

Time flowed by like a bunch of kids playing in the field with the warm sun shining.

I had spent thousands upon thousands of hours writing at Borders. People knew my name. I had seen cycles of baristas drift through like ghosts. Specialty drinks changed with the seasons. It was a safe haven for me to call upon my tormenting muse and write. My bliss.

Bathroom?

Bathroom?

Then there was a disturbance in the force, more aptly called, the Internet. Rumblings of Border’s financial troubles sounded through the grape vines. Months went by with nothing happening. Barnes and Noble fell into a similar predicament. They came up with a simple solution. They saw what Amazon was doing with the Kindle and created the Nook. It was a brilliant move and probably saved Barnes and Noble from bankruptcy.

Borders wasn’t so fortunate. They ignored the potential of e-readers. Their predicament became worse. They had dug themselves into a black hole by acquiring too many stores. Cut back their closing time from eleven PM to ten to nine. This forced me to change my schedule so I could still write. Reducing the hours did nothing to save them. So they heeded their competitors and came up with their own e-reader, the Kobo. Did it work? Kobo is a monetary unit of Nigeria. Not sure if that was a great choice.

News ebbed that Borders was going to close down low performing stores. I had no problems with this. I doubted my Borders would be closed. Border’s parking lot was always full. Except after closing but that’s obvious.

One day I had walked in and I saw this:

Chirp chirp

Chirp chirp

A few days later, I’d found out my Borders was closing and they had let go of all their baristas. An era had ended for me. My home away from home was leaving. My tormenting muse had no use for me. Simply put, I had gotten over my old flame. With it the completion of NIGHTFALL, four years in the making.

Borders may have been a conglomerate, but this Borders became my refuge. I, for one, am grateful. Thank you.

Girl Fight, Good vs. Bad

BS
BS

Just watched Black Swan this weekend, starring Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis. The movie is about the character’s psychological breakdown, which parallels Swan Lake’s story between the dark and light side of the Swan Queen (and no, I’m not familiar with the story). A subplot in the movie is Portman’s character’s struggle of technical perfection in ballet versus artistic expression.

Good Girl

Good Girl

When I started to write consistently, I had struggled with wanting to be the good girl versus the bad girl (not sure I’m doing myself any favors here). The good girl is being technically good at writing, and the bad girl is allowing myself to suck and the freedom to just write whatever comes out.

Which is better?

Bad Girl

Bad Girl

So I started with the bad girl (yes!). I started to write Nightfall, and allowed whatever to come out, come out. I wrote sixty pages worth of material.

Then I talked to my friend who’s constantly working on being a technically perfect writer. He turned me to books and seminars that taught me how to be a good girl, how to write well technically. They focused on structure, emotional techniques, how to build depth in character, scenes, overall story, and provided a mechanic’s dream full of tools. More than what any writer would use in any single work.

But deep in my heart, I felt the bad girl pounding, wanting to get out and expose herself.

I’d talked to a friend recently, and she told me she wrote a book with her eyes closed. As far as I could tell, she’d done little research on writing technique or structure but was inspired to write. I haven’t read it so I’m not sure of the quality. However, when I was listening to her talk, the good girl inside shook me and said, “She’s crazy!”

Was my friend unconsciously incompetent (the individual neither understands nor knows how to do something, nor recognizes the deficit, nor has a desire to address it)? Google the four stages of competence and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

To be fair, my technically induced friend does allow for inspiration, and my crazy friend could be a great writer. But these two people showed up in my life as symbols of two extremes because I asked the question:

Which is better?

What's coming out of your butt?

What's coming out of your butt?

In life, too much of anything isn’t good.

Humans can’t live more than a few days without water. But drink too much of it and people can die of water intoxication. Take in what you need. Leave the rest.

Today, I’ve used very little of what I had written during my purely bad girl days. But I learned what not to do, and in the process of my redemption, I had taken the time to learn. In doing so, I found out something interesting about myself that is the fundamental philosophy behind Bruce Lee: When one has reached maturity in the art, one will have a formless form. It is like ice dissolving in water. When one has no form, one can be all forms; when one has not style, he can fit in with any style.

What?

Learn what you need to learn. Leave the rest. You don’t and can’t know everything. Just make sure what you’ve learned doesn’t imprison your soul, that you can still express yourself wholly. Another words, forget what you’ve learned and just go with it.

As renowned photographer, Rodney Lough has said, “Art is the language of the soul.”