23 January 2011

Friday, 21 January 2001:

I'm up between 4 and 4:30 AM Monday through Friday.

I write, revise, read, or grade papers until around 6 AM.

At 6 AM, I begin the arduous process of rousing Caleb and Kyleigh from their slumber. Kyleigh is easier than Caleb.

While they are maneuvering from dreamland to reality, I go into the kitchen to fix their breakfast.

Then I fix their lunch for the day.

Except today!

Today I'm letting them eat the school food. The calendar says they're having burritos. I've eaten the school's burritos. They're not bad. So, I'm letting Caleb and Kyleigh eat burritos with Spanish rice, fruit, and milk.


The best part--the very best part--is I don't have to make their lunches for the day.

I have fifteen free minutes to do with as I please--to jump up and down, to sit and relax, to drink coffee in peace, to get a massage, to read the news--

--to write!

I have fifteen more minutes to write--900 extra seconds.

Before Caleb and Kyleigh came to live with us, we had not had any children in our home since 2005. We haven't had any small children for twenty years.

Before Caleb and Kyleigh came to live with us, I thought and planned my writing and, basically, my life in terms of days, weeks, and months.

Since Caleb and Kyeligh came to live with us, I have re-learned to think in and plan my writing, and, basically, my life in terms of minutes and seconds.

Every multiplication of minutes, every compounding of seconds I have just for myself is Christmas gold.

900 seconds just for me.

I can write another couple of pages.

I can revise a particularly unsettling scene.

I can dream.

I am a happy man, indeed.

See you on the bookshelf.

Larry Mike.

PS: If you know where I can get a fifteen minute massage at 6 AM, forward me the info, please.

17 January 2011

The Relativity of Riding

To paraphrase my favorite Twentieth Century physicist, "Reading and writing are both but different manifestations of the same thing - a somewhat unfamiliar conception for the average writer."

My granddaughter Kyleigh gave me "The Perfect Stocking Stuffer" for Christmas--a book. The quote was on the front cover of that gift book, 'The Christmas Clock' by Kat Martin.

I'm not a romance reader, but I thanked Kyleigh most earnestly for the gift of a book, then I swallowed hard, and I set about reading the novel in plain sight as I knew Kyleigh would be watching to see if I would read and enjoy her gift.

So, on our two-hour outings to the park nearly every day during the Christmas break, I took my comfy folding chair, my reading glasses, and "The Perfect Stocking Stuffer" with us.

I sat and read as Kyleigh and her brother, Caleb, played on the equipment and made new friends in their new town.

Now, Kat Martin's been quite successful, and I'm never one to deride the success of a writer in a genre I have absolutely no interest in writing let alone reading. So, my comments are not directed at Kat or romance writers; rather, the following merely reflects my personal tastes, likes, dislikes, and sensibilities.

I read the Prologue. At the first break in Chapter 1, on page 4, I knew how the story would end.

Okay, I thought to myself, this is going to be a long trip until I finally get to the Epilogue. I never turn to the back of book I am enjoying to see how many more pages I have to read--not since graduate school when I had to read some god-awful artsy-fartsy Euro-trash novels.

At that Chapter 1 break, I flipped to the back.

Whew! Thank God: the final fifteen pages were discussion and an excerpt from an upcoming novel. 

However, I still had to ride it through to the Epilogue, which finally ended on Page 172.

I felt as though I were slouching towards Bethlehem rather than participating in a wonderful and insightful adventure.

The reason the trip was long for me is because I had nothing to do as the Reader.

I was a passenger in the backseat being taken for a long ride to a place I didn't want to go. I couldn't see over the front seat to at least get a glimpse of the approaching scenery. Besides, the trip was quite predictable anyway--but, still, "A view! A view! My Reader's Sanity for a view!"

The back windows were tinted and the driver was going at such a pace that the view from the back was dark and uninteresting even if I could see it clearly.

I the Reader want something to do while I'm reading. I'm not merely a some wayward passenger being taken for a ride. I'm an active participant in the tale's journey--at least I should be!

After all, damn it, I paid for the trip when I (or at least Kyleigh) bought the book. I have some say-so in the type of road upon which I'm being taking for a trip.

So, I've come up with my Relative Theory of Story Telling:
Or, Reader Enjoyment=Writer and Reader Journeying Together.

Note to Writer Self: Give the reader something to do while he is journeying through the tale--not just merely reading--not merely a bored passenger in the backseat with a limited or no view at all. 

Place the Reader in the Front seat. Your book, my book, all books should be like one of those driver's ed cars that has a steering wheel and a brake on the passenger side as well.(Second Note to Writer Self: Post it note this reminder to the wall in BIG BOLD RED LETTERS.)

Let the Reader drive occasionally.

Let the Reader be a "backseat driver" occasionally.

Let the Reader turn left even if You the Writer want to turn right.

Let the Reader brake, accelerate, cruise, or drag race occasionally.

In non-analogous words, bring the Reader into the Story.

The Story should be told in such a way that the Reader is as much a Character as the Writer, the Protagonist, and the Antagonist are.

Sadly, too many writers treat the Reader like a scurvy hitchhiker the Story has had to reluctantly pick up along side the road and then treated like one of those bobble head dogs on the dashboard.

For, Reading and Writing are, after all, different manifestations of the same thing--the Adventure of Story.

Kat's story gave me nothing to do after page four.

Kyleigh would quiz me at times about the tale, and I would tell her what was happening.

I'm glad she didn't ask me if I liked the story.

I don't like being dishonest or deceptive to my Grands.

She did ask me if I liked the book as a gift.

Oh, yes, Kyleigh! I loved the gift of a book from you.

Actually, Kyleigh gave me two books for Christmas. The second is much more to my liking, and I'm dieing to sink my teeth into it next.

The book? 'Abraham Lincoln--Vampire Hunter'!

See you on the bookshelf.

Larry Mike

PS: To be honest, I liked the tale of 'The Christmas Clock' itself--it was the storytelling, the mode of transportation, that bored me. I was taken for a ride in a 1976 Chevy Chevette when I prefer to ride in a Lexus of any year.

08 January 2011

The Non-Revision Revision

October 1998: As the Holiday Season approached, I was inspired to write a Christmas tale based on a children's card game called The Wish.

The story's basic plot, the characters, the setting--all began to formulate as I drove from Altus, Oklahoma, to Marlow, Oklahoma, five days a week to teach school, a 172 mile round trip--three hours a day.

Plenty of time to think.

As Halloween approached, the Holiday Season began to blanket me, and the Christmas story wended its way through my brain.

I called the story 'The Wish'. I talked the local newspaper into serializing the story. Two chapters a week were published with the climatic final chapter published on Christmas Eve.

The Wish cover 1998The local newspaper and I received many positive responses from readers, especially children. A few parents said they had cut out the chapters, scrapbooked them, and intended to read the story each Christmas. Some children wanted to know where they could buy the special cards the protagonist used in the story to play the card game The Wish, the same game the protagonist plays and the major plot catalyst for the tale.

After that serial run, I literally handmade several copies of the tale for family for Christmas 1998--this was before the days of PoDers such as Lulu and CafePress.

But, the story went dormant in my files. I had intended to send the tale on the rounds of agents and Houses, but something about the story just didn't feel right.

Feary Tales Vomit 1Halloween 2010: I was thinking about another addition to my previously self-published 'Mr. Creepers Presents FearyTales-Vomit 1'. I had PoDed several copies of 'Feary Tales Vomit 1' from Lulu and gave to family and friends as a 2008 Halloween treat. As I was thinking of the tales to include in 'Feary Tales Vomit 2', I was inspired to pull out 'The Wish', revise it, and make it available for Christmas 2010.

End of school finals, grading essays, the addition of two Grandchildren coming to live with us, and other erstwhile distractions didn't allow me the concentration I needed to put forth a valiant and earnest effort into the tale. So, I put 'The Wish' aside until things settled down, and I had more time.

When my two grandchildren, Caleb and Kyleigh, came to live with us, I decided to read the original version of 'The Wish' to them as their bedtime story, a chapter each night until Christmas Eve.

Caleb & KyleighOne night, after I finished reading a chapter of 'The Wish', and after I hugged and kissed the Grands good-night, Kyleigh said, "I want some cards like Angela has." (Angela's the protagonist of 'The Wish'.) "I want to play the Wish game and win a Christmas wish like she did. And I know what I would wish for."

I told Kyleigh I'd think about it.

As I closed the bedroom door, I thought to myself 'Why not?' I had always thought a set of cards as described in the tale would be a nice addition to go along with the book.

ExaltationDesigning, printing, trimming, and making the cards obsessed me for three days. During this spate of non-writing creative activity, the cards I was making for Kyleigh took on a life of their own and looked less and less like the cards I had described Angela had used in the book to get her Christmas wish.

As the cards evolved, the story walked up to the edge of my mind, did a perfect swan dive into the folds of my brain, delved into the deep abyss of dream thought, and then swam through the sea of synapses until it finally came to rest on the sands of Revelation Beach.

Ah, ha! Now I knew what the tale wanted me to do.

A new AngelaAs I began to retool the story I soon realized the revision of 'The Wish' had begun not in the usual rewriting and editing of the tale but in the creation of the cards for Kyleigh. The cards told me a similar but better story and helped me to understand the basic problems with the original tale.

I learned three lessons from this:

1. The 'inspiration' for the revision would not have happened without Kyleigh's pleading to make The Wish cards. Plus, the timing was serendipitous as well: The crispness of the cold wind, the colors of the season, the smells of holiday food, the excitement and anticipation on the faces of Children--these only happen for a brief period. I've learned over the years that 'inspiration' does not always lead to Story or Story Revision, but it's a good place to start--to record feelings, events, fears, needs, wants, and dreams--to be quiet and listen to that still small voice.

Hungry Bear2. For me, revision and hunger are synonyms--a bear hunting salmon during the spawning season--plenty of fish for the taking, but it's hard work that pays off only with tenacity, stamina, and stubbornness--and how hungry the bear is.

3. NOT actually rewriting the story is often better than trying to force myself to revise when there is no revision 'inspiration', no revision hunger. Making the cards for Kyleigh let me see the story from a different creative point of view, to explore avenues of plot and character, to understand motivation, and to begin the revision process.

Some writers paint, garden, photograph people/nature, restore old cars, and any number of activities not directly related to the craft of tell-tale story making, and such activity actually releases the creative hunger within them.

After the experience of making the Wish cards for Kyleigh, I'm determined to create things (games, cards, pictures, videos, faux newspapers--as in the 'NEVRLAND' tale) based on the story I am revising (or even writing) and open the sluice gates to allow different creative streams to contribute to the irrigational flow of Story Telling.

See you on the bookshelf.

Larry Mike

05 January 2011

For Whom does the Sugar Plum Fairy Call?

Inspiration is often used as the catalyst for story telling. A sound, a smell, a daily event, a passage from a favorite book, a lyric from a song, the image of a photograph, a wisp of yellow hair in a painting.

A holiday season.

Christmas DreamWith the Christmas season still dancing around in my head like a Sugar Plum Fairy, now is the best time for me to capture in words these transient feelings, sights, and sounds of family, friends, inspiration, and insight before they all meld into the misty realm of dreams.

Which writer during the Holiday Season has not been inspired to write the next holiday classic?

When did Moore first think up 'A Visit from St. Nick'?

I'd like to know when Dickens was inspired to write 'A Christmas Carol' or exactly when Dr. Suess's Grinch began to percolate in the great author's brain.

I'm going to guess that the germ of the ideas for 'St. Nick', 'Carol', and 'Grinch' occurred within a whisper of the Holiday Season.

Now, the actual writing might have taken place during the hottest months of the year, but the inspiration- the jotting of scenes, the snippets of character, the notes recording the sights, sounds, and smells--come from being an active part of the Holiday Season--of being alive and sucking in the verve of reverie.

The time to start that next great holiday classic is Now. Work hard enough and I'll have something to share with family and friends for the next Holiday Season, and maybe a nice contract as well.

The Sugar Plum Fairy is allowed to work her magic.

So, for whom does the Sugar Plum Fairy call?

The Sugar Plum Fairy calls for Thee (and Me)!

See you on the bookshelf.

Larry Mike

01 January 2011

Angel's New Year

We all need an Angel to welcome the New Year.

New Year Angel

I've had this Angel since I was a baby, and she has topped the majority of the Christmas trees in my life and welcomed in the New Year as well.

Happy New Year.

See you on the bookshelf.

Larry Mike

No Resolutions--A 'To Accomplish' List Instead


It's that time again--the perfunctory resolutions that look good on paper but which slowly fade as time and reality creep into the fibers.

So, my resolution is to make no resolutions.

Instead, I'm making a 'To Accomplish' List.I've read some writers are putting "Get Published in 2011" on their resolution lists.

Really? I wish getting published were that easy.

My 'To Accomplish' list doesn't have "Get Published in 2011".

Oh, I'm going to do all the right things to better my chances of getting published, but, ultimately, I know that actually getting published requires that a House somewhere out there wants to publish me. I'll make myself presentable, lovable, approachable, workable, amenable, punctual, and just down right adorable.

My job as a writer isn't "To Get Published". My job as a writer is to tell stories. Getting published is the reward for well-written tales and hard work, research, resolution, and stamina--not wishing.

If a writer is burning to get published, there are plenty of vanity and POD "houses" itching for such a writer's business. Hell, Tate Publishing needs another $4,000 from some publish-me-hungry writer.

My 'To Accomplish' includes finishing three novels I've been working on the past year, each with its own self-imposed deadline as well as two anthologies of short stories each based on a common theme. Sounds like an overload. Each task, though, is at the near completion stage, and I've been procrastinating about finishing any of them.

Entering writing contests is another "To Accomplish" goal. I've shied away from them--not because I was afraid of not winning, but because I was afraid to simply enter. It's like a runner who has talent and speed but is just too afraid to toe up to the starting line, or a talented surgeon who sweats bullets to make that very first cut.

Attending more writer meetings is on my 'To Accomplish' list as well. Living in Southwest Oklahoma is a bit like living on Mars, and if it weren't for email and the Internet, I wouldn't know what the hay was going on with the groups to which I belong. But, the Ethernet doesn't replace flesh and blood, and I not only want but need to be around other writers of like mind.

I started a writers group in SW-OK but with vacations and conferences, we only had two meetings. I've also got a creative writing club going at Altus High School with about 20 student members.

The more I'm around other writers, neophyte and professional, the more I want to write.

One way "To Accomplish" my goals is to actually Be A Writer. I read Carolyn See's "Making a Literary Life" a few years ago. I need to read it two or three times a year. So, I've started reading it again. I met Carolyn many years ago at a writers conference, and we've exchanged a few post cards since. The theme I get out of "Making a Literary Life" is that to Be A Writer I Must Live Like A Writer.

And that brings me to my next "To Accomplish" objective--read more. I teach high school English. I read constantly--student work, the works of the writers we're studying, reports, essays, research papers. By the time I get some time to myself, my eyes are crossed, my synapses have snapped, and my soul is exhausted.

I've found over the past few years that I have gotten away from reading just for the sake of reading. I read a few books this past year, but not near the number I want to read. Reading what others have published is to a writer what viewing game film of the opposing team is to an athlete. Read, read, read. That's what I tell my creative writing students. Good advice for me, too.

That's it.

I'm not actually making a list.

These "To Accomplish" objectives won't do me any good on a list. I've never been a "list" kind of guy. I prefer to mull and meditate so that what ever I have to accomplish becomes imbued with my heart and soul.

Putting these objectives on a list and posting them to the wall in front of my writing desk won't do me any good. After a while, the list will be absorbed by the wall and disappear, along with all the other lists and notes I have posted on the wall in front of my writing desk.

Kyleigh GarmonOh, yeah: I'm raising two of my Grandchildren for the next 12 to 14 months while their father is deployed to Korea.

See you on the bookshelf.

Larry Mike