Monday, April 25, 2022

Want a Beer? All Aboard!

I once heard a writer say they’d written 7,000 words, but only 5,000 good ones -- I know what that feels like. Sometimes, when the thoughts are flowing, you just keep writing. Even though I realize not everything I write will wind up in my final work, I keep writing. There is always the chance I might use these words somewhere else later if I at least take the time to flesh out the thoughts fully. Likewise, there are events and places I'll put into a story only to take them out later because they just don't fit or because they prove to be distracting. I try to avoid distractions to keep the reader focused on what's important. I like to include enough detail so they can imagine a fully fleshed out world where the story is taking place, like the Aglow nightclub in Firebird's Nest

I was recently working on my current WIP and creating a place for two of the main characters to meet. It was a place where they used to hang out years before when they were in college. So I invented a pub that used a model railway set up to take orders and deliver food. 

The train system ran around the outside wall of the restaurant, which placed it at the internal end of the table for the booths. You would push a button on the table to call the train, and when it stopped, you would place your written order on the flatbed car. Then, it would disappear, and another train would show up with your order in tow a short while later. Sounds like a unique idea, right? Then the reality of it started to hit me.

The train would have to be rather beefy to handle a pitcher of beer and a couple plates of food. Then, when the train stopped and started, there was always the chance of things spilling drinks and food. Suppose someone took off their coat and threw it into the booth, and it landed on the tracks? Along comes a train with an entire order of food and drinks, then…what a mess. Of course, as in real life, there would also be the chance of someone hijacking a pitcher of beer as it went by or stealing a few fries. It could happen.

In the end, I went for a rather blasé pub with a few dartboards. Yeah, it's boring, but what is important about that particular scene is the conversation between the two people. It is their first phase in quite a while, and it is because a hacker they knew from way back during their college days is up to some rather nefarious doings. The two were previously married. Due to a variety of issues, they ended up divorced. Still, they maintain an occasional professional relationship when they need to mount up against a particular cyber threat. He is the one who filed for divorce due to several reasons which will get brought out later, and she is bitter because she thinks he found it too easy to dispose of her. The man didn't. He's still deeply in love with her and, worse yet, fiercely attracted to her.

I think the tale will be gripping. Like many things in life, the way the story came about has its own path from genesis to where I am now. If the story works out as well on the page as it does in my mind, I will owe someone a thank you letter for suggesting it.

Note: After writing this update, I was researching pictures and came across Výtopna in Czechoslovakia. There are probably others in the world. Since this one has been in operation since 2009, I’d say the idea is entirely feasible. Maybe in the next book-- Maksim could drop into this place for a drink. 


Thursday, April 14, 2022

By Any Other Name

Along with creative titles for books and stories, I admire the appropriateness and cleverness of the names some authors come up with for their characters. I guess it probably started with Ponyboy and Sodapop in The Outsiders. Original and unforgettable. Sometimes names are pulled from history and inserted into a story to purposely push the characteristics of the original owner. Once in a great while,  there is just certain poetry to the names being used which has to be admired -- Katniss Everdeen. 

In my writing, I try to use names that fit the personality of the character they are assigned to. I'm also mindful of the cultural and national origins when assigning names. Maksim Fillyp Bondreovich, the main villain in the Evan Davis Tales series, is obviously Russian - the first name being a Russian derivative of the Latin Maximus, meaning greatest. The Arabic names I used in From Within the Firebird's Nest, were all based on the Arabic meaning of the name as a word. The first name of a secondary villain in the story, Qa’id Al-Abidin, means leader. A purposeful name. 

I strive to be faithful to the timeline of the character as well. I don't think anyone could imagine giving a newborn today the name Percy, however, it was popular at a certain time in history. Likewise, I avoid names that have preconceived conflict attached to them. Some names will carry baggage forever and distract from the story. 

I can't think of a time when I purposely used the name of someone I know in a story. I purposefully try to avoid it simply to avoid the real-world conflict that might arise. That doesn't mean that I haven't been tempted to name a villain in the story after a villain from my personal life or to use the name of a high school crush for a romantic interest in a book. Like all writers, I mine my experiences for bits and pieces of stories, but I shy away from including names and places where it all took place. 

As I started writing my first stories for public consumption, I came across an interview with Elmore Leonard who wrote the stories and books that eventually became the TV show Justified. He was talking about how he came up with the name Raylan for his main character. He confessed that he didn't imagineer it but stole it from the sewn-on name on a workman's shirt he saw while traveling. In fact, Leonard told the man he was going to use his name and make it famous. He did. I thought obtaining interesting names by thievery was a great idea. From that point on, I've kept a list of names that I come across and find interesting. As of today, there are fifty-eight names on that list.

Once in a great while, there is a confluence of forces that brings a name to me just when it is needed. That happened recently.  My current work in progress has a character who was nameless, not an unusual situation in an early draft. Then out of the blue, I got an email about another matter and the name of the sender was perfect for the character. Yoink! Lightning strikes.

Every now and then, just to shake things up, I do something like what happened in DD603 (POMSILv2)-- none of the characters are named.  It wasn't intentional. I was midway through the story when I realized I had not named anyone. It also occurred to me that adding names might take away from the story's meaning, so I didn't add any.  For that story, it worked. After all, if a rose by any other name still smells as sweet--  why do you need to call it by a name to enjoy its smell?


Tuesday, April 5, 2022

A Reading Tool -- Goodreads


Unlike many during the pandemic, I found it difficult to concentrate enough to read a book, let alone write one. Deep down, I felt this loss. It is through reading that I exercise my mind and at the same time escape reality for a bit. I've long been a member of Goodreads but aside from using it as a writer's tool, I've never used it as a reader's tool. That changed in January.

Aside from being able to see what your friends are reading, and maybe find some good books, there are also many reviews online for independently authored books that are generally worth reading. I’ll provide a warning here that not all reviews are worth reading, as I detailed on my blog but, it only takes a few minutes to sort out genuinely bad books from just bad reviews.

Thanks to my membership in a Book Club, I was already being steered to some pretty good books. That was when I found the reading tool inside of Goodreads which lets you track your progress through a book either by page numbers read or percentage. It may seem like a minor thing that you could actually do a lot of different ways, but something about it being organized inspired me to make reading a habit again. Using the tool, I have a goal of completing 10% of any book I'm reading, every time I pick it up.

Generally, I read three books at once. One is a novel, one is nonfiction or some kind of self-improvement, and one is humorous. It is a balance of genres that I've had for many years and that works well for me. More than anything, it gives me an escape from one book to another if I find myself losing interest. Currently, I am reading the novel Dead in Their TracksThe Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life, and a collection of humorous and poignant stories called Keys to the City: Tales of a New York City Locksmith. It may seem like a really strange selection of books for one person, but there is variety in the way each came to me.

The first book is this month's choice for my Book Club. I heard about the Jesuit’s Guide while listening to a podcast while traveling (sorry the name escapes me now). Finally, the author of Keys to the City (James Martin) was doing a reading of the book on the radio and I found the story about Tarzan intriguing enough to seek out the book.

What am I really saying here? Be a reader. It improves your mind, it gives you an escape and gives you something to discuss at a boring dinner party if you need a topic. There are literally zillions of books available at your fingertips – – pick one up and read it. Not only read that one, make it a habit to read at least a few times a week if not daily. Your mind will thank you. The authors will thank you. And that other person's board at the dinner party they will also thank you.


Saturday, April 2, 2022

Karma With a Free Side Order

This morning, I had to take MacBeth for his annual well puppy exam. In addition to him, I have to take a recent poop sample so the Vet can check it for heartworms and other parasites. I usually put it inside a Ziplock bag, which I stick inside a plastic grocery bag to keep the package non-descript and sanitary.

On the way to the Vet's, I needed to pick up a few items at the grocery store. Even with the poop packaged as I mentioned above, it could still let off an obnoxious scent. Since MacBeth was going to stay in the car and I didn’t want to imprison him with the smell, I took it with me. Once outside the vehicle, I hung it on the driver's side rearview mirror. 

I went inside and retrieved the two or three things I needed, then when I got back to the car, I was surprised to find the bag I had hung from the mirror was gone. I looked around to ensure it hadn’t just fallen off, but it was nowhere to be found. 

I can only surmise that someone saw a plastic bag with the store's name it hanging from the mirror and stole it assuming something valuable was inside. I snickered all the way from the store to the Vet's office thinking about the person who stole the bag, I imagined how it would go when they got home and were surprised by the object of their thievery inside the bag.

Karma's a bitch -- and sometimes it comes with a side of poop.

Note:  MacBeth's physical went fine and except for a minor liver issue, for a thirteen-year-old puppy he is doing great.