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The Iron Y

Yeah, that’s my lame attempt at self-deprecation.

Note to self: the next time you write a blog post stating that a writer writes every day, don’t follow it up with a year of not writing.

 

I had a couple of projects offered last summer which I passed on simply because I was at a mental point where writer’s burnout seemed a valid option, so I’ve done (very) little writing this past year and concentrated more on hanging out with my wife and kids, shuttling the latter to and from various activities, helping out more at the elementary school my daughter attends (for which I wound up being awarded Patron of the Year honors which had been completely unexpected), playing video games with the kids, and watching too much TV (still). Basically, what I’ve been doing the last few years without the headache of forcing myself to sit at the keyboard every day either writing or attempting voice-over.

What I’ve discovered is that I still want to write, but the need to do so is less aggravating. Either I write or I don’t write. I spend a lot of time writing in my head, but when I sit at the keyboard, I wind up staring at a blinking cursor, decide to hop on the ‘net for inspiration, and two hours later I’ve surfed a dozen sites, given myself a headache doing so, managed not to write anything, and it’s time to pick the kids up from school. And wasn’t the whole point to do this without the throbbing skull? What I’d really like is a means to just think about writing and have the words magically appear on screen. That way I could write in my sleep.

Which would likely get me in trouble, so scratch that idea.

Now, when I say I haven’t been writing, I’m not being completely truthful. I still carry around my notebook and keep track of ideas as they float between my ears. I have notes for a couple of novels and half a dozen short stories, ideas for possible blog posts, and scribbles here and there on a setting or two that came to mind during the past year.

The kids and I were watching The Musketeers on BBCAmerica¹ and I found myself admiring the overuse of leather in the costumes, the dusty settings, the brawling sword fights, and the crack of musket fire. A few weeks after the season ended I saw Quigley Down Under (which I still think is one of the best Westerns ever produced), and I thought Musketeers + Old West + Pirates (since everything is better with pirates), so I began jotting ideas for what I’m currently calling the Crossbones & Cattle Barons, or Swashbuckling Old West, setting.

I know I want a continent ripe for plunder, discovered sometime shortly after a protracted war between various political factions across the remainder of the world. The continent has arable land, wide open spaces, mountains filled with jewels and precious metals, and it includes creatures not encountered in other countries along with a native population that fiercely guards its homeland. Tentatively, I’d be running this with the Honor & Intrigue system² because a few members in my gaming group (including me) are interested in seeing that system being used. Not that a system should have any real bearing on the setting itself and it probably wouldn’t anyway, but I do have a tendency to make system mechanic notes as I’m brainstorming.

I’d wavered awhile on including non-humans in the setting but decided since one of the major resources found in this New World would be Dragon Stones, the fossilized remnants of long-dead dragons, that having non-humans was a small step (and allows use of those elf, dwarf, orc, and goblin swashbuckler figures from Reaper). So, yeah, the standard fantasy races are there but with minor tweaks. Many of the standard fantasy monsters will be included as well but I’m working on reasons for them to exist and not drop them in just “because they’re in the monster manual.”

I know one of the towns at the edge of settled lands in this New World is Farkeep, a mining colony, at which is stationed a regiment of King’s Musketeers to guard against monsters and those natives I’d mentioned earlier . . . halflings (or gnomes). I haven’t come up with a better name for them yet, but I wanted a race that is small and would refer to the long-dead dragons as creators or deities. Yeah, I could go the 3rd edition D&D route and have them be kobolds, but I still recall images of the dog-headed creatures from the 1st edition Monster Manual. That may all change.

One of the areas near Farkeep is a ranch called The Iron Y, run by a retired alchemist named Yeager. He has a problem with those halflings (or gnomes or kobolds) and might wind up hiring a group of adventurers to exterminate the varmints. And, of course, the alchemist will wear a shooting iron slung low on his hip and chew up the scenery, claiming he had been born on the wrong continent . . . or maybe not.

I’ll keep plugging away at the setting, jotting notes as they come to mind, and I’ll try to post ideas here once every few weeks. We’ll see how things go.

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1. The first season of which we thoroughly enjoyed. The second season was less enjoyable for the kids because it was a bit darker (and methinks the third season will be even more so) and they found Rochefort less amusing as a villain than Cardinal Richelieu. And I thought Peter Capaldi was excellent in that role.
2. Which you might recall my mentioning previously as being a variant of the Barbarians of Lemuria system.

What Makes You Think You’re a Writer?

Nathan Richmond over at Scrawlings of a Mad Man has been mulling the question “what qualities make a writer or do writers possess?” and has been wishing to Hulk-smash said writers for the various evasive non-answers he’s received along the lines of a writer being someone who writes X amount daily or sets a schedule and sticks with it or similar. I commented maybe he needed the rephrase the question, then I went back and re-read the question above that he had posted on my Facebook page and realized that A) what I suggested he rephrase the question to was really the same thing he was asking in the first place and B) I haven’t been paying much attention to posts I’ve read lately (and then replying to).

Oops.

Not a quality that an editor (nor an audience) wants in a writer.

I still contend that a major quality/trait/whathaveyou for any writer is that daily grind,[1] in addition to a need to put words on paper whether it be telling stories or having an intriguing (or humorous) way of interpreting topics. For me it was another means of getting images out of my head.

When I was younger, I carried around a sketch pad and pencils and could usually be found doodling something (if I wasn’t reading), and most of the time I would have a story surrounding the events depicted in the drawing. During junior high, a buddy of mine showed me a collection of stories he’d been writing based on some artwork of his. I’d written a couple of things for class a few years earlier but never thought about putting the back-stories for my drawings to paper. I started doing so and realized I enjoyed it. Images in mind evolved into scenes then short stories and chapters then to novels. By the time I finished high school my tendency to draw had lapsed, and I seldom put brush to canvas anymore.[2] I was bound to the written word. I read everything I could get my hands on regarding the craft of writing. I took writing courses in college. And I spent at least two or three hours a day, five days a week at the keyboard (or writing in a notebook) just getting those images out of my head.

I have an on-again/off-again relationship with writing. I’ll go for months where I write nearly every day followed by months where I don’t even want to look at the keyboard or a notebook and pen.[3] If you haven’t figured out by looking at the last time I posted here, I’m currently in the latter state of mind. I’ve spent most of my free time reading, watching TV, or playing video games, and the odd thing is I have not had the nagging sensation that I need to sit at the keyboard.

Burn out/malaise creeping from my gaming into my writing (and voice-over work)?

Maybe.[4]

So what qualities make a writer?

The need to write and having a dedication to the craft.

Things like inquisitiveness and knowledge and interest in people are necessary support for the writer (because the writer has to develop ideas), but that need to write is key.[5]

So, what makes you think you’re a writer?

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1. Or weekly as the case may be. Just the act of putting words on paper (or pounding them into electronic form) with regularity does the same for writers that standing at the baseline tossing a yellow ball in the air and whacking it over a net at least once (or twice or three times) a week does for tennis players. It’s that repetition that says, “I’m taking my skill seriously.”

2. I took up painting during high school, which lasted just long enough for me to discover lead miniatures, which became the only thing I painted afterward—aside from an occasional piece of tabletop terrain. I have doodled seldom since college though of late I’ve considered drawing again.

3. Take it from experience, if you write longhand, do so with pen, and if you’re left-handed, make sure it has quick drying ink. When I moved from my parents’ house, I tossed several boxes of notebooks illegibly filled with smeared graphite. Several years’ worth of notes from various classes, ideas for stories, stories themselves were trashed.

4. Though I have met occasionally with a group at my local game store for board games, and I keep reading new roleplay game systems (or struggling through them anyway—most just bore me after two or three pages).

5. Just as the need to X (or passion, to use the term supplied by Bob Mayer) is the key for any who strive to excel in their chosen field whether it be driving really fast in an oval, smashing yellow balls over a net, twisting and tumbling across a 4-inch wide padded beam, or whathaveyou.

Blogging Toward Oblivion (or the end of 2012, whichever comes first)

OK. So I’m lazy, I’ll readily admit, more so than usual of late, but this rather beats most of my records for laziness.*

Nathan over at Speaking Out nominated me awhile back for a Liebster Award both here and here.

Thanks, Nathan.**

After doing a bit of rooting around on the ‘net I discover that this award is somewhat akin to the chain letter, something I tend to opt out of whenever I receive one. Years ago when I was on AOL, one of my friends would always send chain letters with a notation at the bottom that read: “Darin won’t forward this but might find it amusing anyway.” And he was right nearly 100% of the time.  Ditto Facebook these days. I’ve a few friends who post a “copy this to your timeline if” passages and I tend to ignore them but have forwarded one or two over the last couple of years.

But to avoid being labeled a complete ass, I’m going to finally get around to acknowledging the nomination in this last blog of the year 2012.

Now, along with this nomination thingy, the nominee is supposed to follow a number of “rules” which include things like “post an image of the blog award,” “answer a bunch of questions asked by the blogger who nominated you,” nominate X number other blogs, and “ask a bunch of different questions of those bloggers,” yadda ya.

I suck at following directions and sticking with rules. Especially since there are no “rules” for this award. They’re all made up anyway. The earliest posts I’ve found regarding this award were along the lines of nominate 5 fellow bloggers with fewer than 200 followers or some such. A year or so later the rules were simply “nominate 6 blogs.” Note that the nominations Nathan had forwarded to me had 5 questions in one and 11 in the next, so in the spirit of not following rules, I’ll answer a handful of questions selected from both lists (my answers in blue)and just list another handful of blogs that I find really fun to read. No questions of my own because I just don’t have any to ask, and I don’t want these bloggers to feel they have to even acknowledge my nomination of them unless they really want to do so.

  1. You get to choose your last meal, what is your last meal and why? If I know it’s going to be my last meal, I’d probably go for a large meatbuster pizza, no veggies, with a large chocolate chip shake to wash it down. No need to worry about the high cholesterol and calories so make it count.
  2. What time period would like you have like to been born and lived through? Mid-to late-1600s western Europe. I look good in puffy-sleeved shirts, silk cravats, and tight-fitting pants over colored leggings. At least I did twenty years ago and sixty pounds lighter.
  3. You have super powers, what are they and do you fight crime or become the criminal? Morphing powers, the ability to change my looks and shape, but I’d likely neither be a crime fighter nor a master criminal. I’d probably use the powers just to practical joke, which I guess in some places might classify me as  criminal.
  4. What is the one cuisine that you would love to learn how to cook? Chinese food and not the high cholesterol, high sodium floating in oil and soy sauce stuff made at most Chinese restaurants. Heck, I can’t even cook fried rice correctly. I always wind up with a burned clump of sticky goo.
  5. What is one subject that you would like to learn about? Quantum Mechanics, but I never got through physics (see laziness, above) so the math is just beyond me, and I have tried. I even had a couple of books around here at one point on the subject that I’d tried wading through.
  6. If sex sells why isn’t there more sex in political advertising? Because politicians want you to think they’re above that sort of thing, never mind the fact that a number of them get caught in scandals every year. Besides, I wouldn’t want to look at nude images of most politicians.
  7. Favorite candy or sweet treat? Toss up between cake and cookies. Homemade, of course, is best.

And a handful of blogs I find fun to read are as follows:***

Greywulf’s Lair

Get Write Down To It

Fork in My Eye

Rantings of an Amateur Chef

The Black Campbell

Eagle-Eyed Editor

*Games

Mechanics & Meeples

Again, no questions to answer, no need to nominate anyone else for an award, etc. If you do, great. If not, fine as well. I just like reading your blogs.

Keep the posts coming.

And for those (few) of you who visit this blog, thank you for reading my (semi-) weekly wordy tossed salad.

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*Not that I actually keep record, of course, that’d be silly.

**Really, thank you. Being noticed—even if for a chain letter blog award—does mean at least someone likes/pays attention to my writing, and you’re not only a damned good writer (if I could ever get you to figure out commas, quotation marks, and punctuation in general . . . I’d likely no longer have anyone in need of my editing services) but also a good friend. And I say that even though we’ve never met in person.

***A couple of these haven’t been posted to in a month or so. The writers have had periods where they go silent for a month or so then pop back up with stuff. Hmmm, sounds familiar to me. And this isn’t the complete list of blogs I find fun to read.

Failing to Get Anything Done

That pretty much sums it up, writing-wise, that is. I’ve always had this difficulty getting to the keyboard between October 31 and the second week of January. The various high holy days (nope, no football included here—sorry, Nathan), end of semester school goings on, and just stuff in general kind of gang up with the result of my lack of writing.

This year has proven no different.

I had planned to force myself to sit and write, had signed up to participate with NaNoWriMo, and wound up writing all of zero words on the current novel, which hasn’t received much attention from me in a little over two months at this point.*

Ah, well.

I always find myself remembering what Mike McQuay told me during the end-of-the-year holidays back when I took classes taught by him and later when hanging out at his house during a Wednesday night writer’s group: he never could figure out why I didn’t write during the holidays. He said that was the only time for sanity he found during the turkey orgies. But he also said that the publishing industry tended to slow to a crawl at that time anyway, so he could somewhat understand it.

This doesn’t mean I’ve given up writing. Doesn’t mean I’ve given up on the blog. I’ll continue posting but will limit myself to once a week (or every other week) until I can get myself past the start of the new year. It’s only a few more weeks anyway.

Until then, have a pleasant month of December and a happy holiday, whichever one you happen celebrate this month.**

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*I’ve also gone a month at this point with no voice over work done on my part. I’ve received invites from Voice123 for several projects, but haven’t managed to clear time in the mornings to set up my recording booth.

**A friend of mine in college would always celebrate a different holiday every year in December.

Meandering Through the Muddle

I’ve been working on a novel lately. Well, by lately, I mean something going on 3 years now. I started the thing when I was taking the novel writing course with Long Ridge Writers Group,* plowed through writing the required first 3 chapters along with summary and letter of inquiry, and received positive feedback and encouragement from the instructor of the course. I kept chugging along and hit chapter 10 or 11 or so and came to a dead stop.

That was about a year ago.

I hit the “muddle” as I call it, that point in writing where you have no idea where you’re going and you look at your summary, but it doesn’t really give you any clues, either.  The muddle, I am familiar with. I’ve encountered it on, oh, I’ve lost track of the number of novels since I started writing waaaay back in junior high.

I wrote a novelette at the time, actually a trilogy, centered on a group of characters fighting an evil empire in a galaxy far, far away. The original Star Wars had come out a year and half or so earlier and it influenced much of what I did (as it did others of my generation), and I discovered I really enjoyed writing. I wrote short stories through high school and college, won a few awards, received praise from instructors and friends, but floundered my way into the muddle of every single novel I started at that time.

I’d get bored with loss of traction, find some other idea that seemed more likable, and jump ship to work on it until eventually, always, I’d hit the muddle again. Rinse and repeat.**

I took numerous courses in writing and have a bookcase loaded with books on the subject. If there’s a book out there on the topic of writing fiction, I’ve probably read it. If not, I’ve likely skimmed it at the bookstore and decided it contains enough similarity to books I already own that there’s no need of purchasing it.

Yet I continue finding myself in the muddle.

In one of the writing courses I took with him, Mike McQuay always said, “If you find yourself at a slow point in the story, have your protagonist open the door to face a man with a gun.” It was a paraphrase of a Raymond Chandler line***, but the point is, if things are slow, introduce conflict. Numerous books on writing repeat the same information; in fact, it’s the focus of Scene & Structure by Jack Bickham, which I was so recently reminded of while perusing the posts on Kristen Lamb’s Blog, specifically her post on The Anatomy of Conflict.

Scene = Goal (of character) + Conflict (as character runs into someone/something that doesn’t want the protagonist to reach his goal) + Disaster (failure of said character reaching his goal).

This continual development of disaster after disaster (followed by the sequel, as Hickham calls it, wherein the character reacts emotionally to the previous scene, thinks it over, makes a decision, then sets a course of action) drives the story forward and hopefully pulls your reader along with it.

Thing is, whenever I run a role-playing game session, I always do this**** and when I write I think I always do this, but  the other day when I looked back through the first few chapters of the current novel I asked (as my son would put it), “Where the beep is the conflict?” (And, yes, he does say “beep” on those occasions he doesn’t say “tartar sauce” or some other Spongebob epithet.)

So back to the basics for me.

Start with the first scene (which I think does work for the current draft) and take it scene-by-scene establishing the point-of-view characters’ goal, find the conflict, and ramp things up. We’ll see how things go from here.

How do you work your way through the “muddle”?

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* I’d taken the original Long Ridge Writers course just to force myself to write everyday to hit a deadline and to reinforce what I knew about writing. I enjoyed it enough to take the novel writing course a year or two later.

** I did finish another novel in college, but somehow the move between parents’ house and apartment ate and digested the manuscript. I’ve tried numerous times to rewrite it and given up each time as a lost cause.

***“In writing a novel, when in doubt, have two guys come through the door with guns” is the actual quote, according to Goodreads.

****Well, I say that, but the last campaign I ran–even though my players loved it–seems now as though I’d done little more than railroad them through the whole thing.

Inspiration is, uh, inspirational?

I read a post at Kristen Lamb’s blog the other day titled Finding Inspiration from Unlikely Sources, and it got me thinking about where the heck do I find my inspiration.

Ideas are one thing. I grab those just about every time I get up in the morning. Heck, even when I don’t get up, I often have ideas banging around in my skull and oftentimes too many to figure out what I’m thinking. Ideas are a dime a dozen, to use a cliché (which you’re always told in writing courses is a big no-no). I’d mentioned in the feedback on Ms. Lamb’s blog that a few years ago my daughter had been hopping about, clapping her hands, and patting her shoulders while playing something she’d made up and that had inspired a Seussian title in me. But I had erred.

After a bit of reflection, I realized that inspiration is whatever kicks the drive to put those ideas into practice. My daughter’s playtime activities gave me the idea of a title. Some definitions would state that I was inspired, yet having since then jotted a few notes on what might follow that title, I’ve allowed the idea to lapse. If I had truly been inspired, I would have sat down and thoroughly worked the idea until it sparkled. But maybe not. Maybe what I felt was delayed inspiration.

When my kids were younger and at home all the time I often listened to/watched an hour or so of Nick Jr. every day while jotting notes for whatever story I was working on at the time or for whatever game I was running, or making to do lists, or folding clothes or whathaveyou while my kids took a snack break from playing. During the week we’d have episodes of Blue’s Clues, Dora the Explorer, Diego, The Backyardigans, and various other shows. My kids also enjoyed playing Candyland whenever they could talk me into it. The repetitious nature of the Nick Jr. shows and that colored striped board and its cast of characters somehow melded and gave me the idea for a series of adventures for a Dungeons & Dragons campaign I was running at the time. I took notes, figured out stats and backgrounds for various characters in the adventures, and finally ran them for my group of players. They loved it, even the ones who aren’t married and/or have children. In this case, I was inspired: an idea occurred and I took action.

All rambling aside, this brings me to ideas for the next project that Nathan and I are tossing about. He’d originally suggested something about animals that know kung fu. Based on that, an image of Tigress (from Kung Fu Panda) dressed in S.W.A.T. riot gear of some sort came to mind in addition to that of a water buffalo similarly dressed and lugging around a tank buster of some sort. That image stuck with me. We’ve kicked about the possibility of going with modern or futuristic since Nathan has already worked something similar and/or seen too many projects with a (quasi-) historical or fantasy settings. So we’re going with a far flung future and anthropomorphic characters. He’s already posted a teaser concerning his thought process in development here. I know the tiger and water buffalo characters will figure in somehow, but I don’t know where yet. Is it merely a dime-a-dozen idea on my part or was that image inspirational?

Maybe we’ll know by next week.

Where do you find you inspiration?

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