Friday, February 26, 2010


Well it's Friday and it's the end of a long and weird week. I really can't say that I've accomplished a great deal because of all the running that we've had to do this week. I did, at least, make a pretty good dent in finishing off the wedding photos that we've had hanging over our heads since January.

Today promises to be a little spiffier, I think. I'm about to dive into the daily chores and thankfully, the list isn't very long today. After that, I have thoughts of turning my attention to the guitar and working on Gravity and perhaps even Slow Dancing In A Burn Room. One of the exciting things about learning John Mayer songs is how much they add to my store of knowledge, both musically and of guitar techniques.

After that I think I'll work a bit on Blood & Steel in honor of surviving the first round of cuts in the ABNA competition and then I'll polish off a few more wedding photos.

The weekend looks pretty promising too. Neither Bethany nor I really have to be anywhere. Patrick and Amber may drop in a bit on Saturday and Sunday looks like the kind of day of leisure that it's supposed to be. My parents are under a blizzard warning and as of this posting have nearly a foot of the cold, white stuff on the ground with the promise of more than double that amount by Sunday morning. We're not seeing any inclement weather here other than high winds, so I think the worst of it is going to miss us this time. I'm looking forward to seeing the weather break out into Spring soon.

In honor of Mom and Dad's blizzard, however, I've posted the photo you see above. I took it during a snow of about eight inches two years ago when I was experimenting with composition and other elements for a Black and White class that I was taking. I've recently rediscovered some interesting photos from that period of my career and I may post a few in the next few days as the mood strikes me.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Survived The First Round!

Yes, I can celebrate tonight. The Crownless King made it through the first round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel of the Year contest. While I don't know the exact number of entries in the young adult category, I know that it was open to 5,000 entries and that the first round cut that number down to 1,000.

The next stage of the competition is the reading of the excerpt, which is up to the first 5,000 words of the manuscript. That's actually not as long as it sounds, but I'm pretty proud of my excerpt. I think it's strong enough to contend, but I don't know what I'll be up against, so we'll just have to see how it goes.

I didn't find out that I made it until just a few minutes ago. I spent the day watching for it and the list was just released after 8 p.m. eastern time, as near as I can tell. Talk about a really, really long day. Not knowing was pretty aggravating. I could have handled had I not made the cut...I just wanted to know.

So needless to say I really didn't feel like writing much of anything today. I spent the time polishing off a book I was reading and processing photos. I put a dent in them, but I still have a ways to go. That's what tomorrow's for. Tonight I'm going to enjoy having made it this far and I hope that I can do the same again in a month.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Briefly Updating

It's been a tiring week. The last three days have been pretty well filled with constant running with little time for anything else.

It's looking to slow down a little tomorrow. I figure I'll make some serious progress on Blood & Steel as well as knock out some serious photo processing since the deadline for delivery is fast approaching. I'll also be finding out if I survived the "pitch" round of the ABNA contest, so I hope all goes well there.

In the meantime, I'm going to keep this one short and sweet and go find a book to get lost in a little bit before heading off to catch up on some sleep. Tomorrow will bring a calmer day and I'm looking forward to it.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Fundamentally Challenged

Have you ever had one of those days when all the little things in life just won't add up?

I have this theory about life that I try to apply to my everyday living. If you can take of the small details, they'll add up to the big things and life in general will go your way. Think about play any kind of sport, you have to master the fundamentals first, right? Passing, shooting, have to know how to do all the basic stuff before you can play a real game.

In life I find that taking care of the basic stuff makes taking care of the bigger stuff easier to deal with. When I'm having a bad day, I absolutely must have a clean house. I can deal with the clutter in my mind if there's no clutter surrounding me.

Well, today the little things just aren't adding up. This is the week we have to finish off processing the wedding photos that we took at the end of January. I should have had them finished by now, but the truth is that dealing with unemployment distracted me and then led to a watershed week of writing that just couldn't be stopped until it ran out. So, honestly, part of the reason for the sudden crush of photos is my fault.

This morning I woke up with the intention of fixing all that. I did the little bit of chores around the house that needed doing and then sat down to check my e-mail. The laptop won't access the Internet. I don't know why, but it won't. I then went to work cleaning off the desktop and backing up files, all part of the process of getting the photos processed. It still won't connect to the Internet. Nor will the hard drive defragment or the the anti-virus software open up.

So I fall back to the desktop machine, which needs software updates and defragmentations and various other little details to be ready to work. I've had some success here and am down to the intensive virus scan that I try to do at least once a week and usually fail to do more than once a month.

But that's OK. I'm making progress. At this rate I should be on those photos by dinner.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Snow Is Deep In West Virginia

It has been a busy couple of days in my world. I spent Thursday helping Mom and Dad get shoveled out from under the multiple feet of snow that they've had on the ground for weeks on end, went to Roanoke Friday and then came back over to Mom and Dad's Friday and spent a huge chunk of today (Saturday) helping them shovel out some more.

Friday was a nice day since I hadn't been able to get out with Bethany lately. She found her a pair of much needed snow boots and I snagged some quality reads at the Paperback Exchange, three Star Trek novels and Julie & Julia for under $10. I'm comfortably covered with reading material for the next two weeks and then I'll happily renew my library card at the Clifton Forge Public Library to get deeper into the Aubrey-Marturin series since I just finished The Mauritius Command.

Blood & Steel is coming along nicely and I'm at a critical point in the writing. I've been mulling things over for these past three days and I think I may let my pen rest until Monday. Sometimes it takes a couple of days away from the notebook to ponder over things and let ideas take form inside my head. It's a part of the writing process that you don't hear much about, but it is absolutely vital to the end product. I spent a laborious day over three pages because it was pretty critical to get a certain character's reaction to a situation down because it will determine how he behaves for many pages to come.

I'm five days away from finding out if I survived the first round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel of the Year Award. I'm pretty excited to find out, one way or the other. If I don't make it, I'll just move on to something different. It is important to keep in mind that writing contests are all subject to the whims of the judges, be they good or bad. The feedback I've been on The Crownless King has been pretty encouraging and I think that if I don't win this, I'll see about getting someone to help me through the painful process of finding a different and larger publisher, since I hold all the rights to the novel.

That being said, I still really want to win.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

An Avian Visitor

It's been a while since I uploaded an image to the blog and I was so excited about this one that I couldn't wait until later to post it.

Since I'm home alone most days now I open up all the blinds and turn off all the lights. With all the snow outside there's plenty of bright, natural light to see and read by in the house. Of course, this fun habit tends to cut into walking around the house naked, but oh well.

I was talking to Dad on the phone and just happened to be looking out the bedroom window when this hawk swooped right over the corner of the house, through the yard and up to a perch in the neighbor's pine tree above her shed. Naturally I lunged for a camera and shoes, frantically trying to tie them while praying that the hawk didn't move from its perch.

I carefully went out the back door, moving easily so as not to make too much noise and scare my subject off. I even took my time walking through the snow, stopping every few steps to give the hawk time to adjust to my presence and not see me as a threat.

The sky is washed out, as happens when you're shooting into the sun with a very shaded subject. Even still, I was able to get at least two very good photos of this majestic creature before it became tired of me bothering it and flew deeper into the woods. I probably could have waited a few minutes and pursued, but I thought better of it since my feet were cold and wet.

It's been a while since I've taken a nature photo. It kind of makes me want to attempt to hike Roaring Run before the snow melts off.

Shakespeare Didn't Have A Lap Top

It's Wednesday here on the hill and there's a light snow drifting down from above on the wings of a light, cold breeze. Winter's grip can still be felt pretty strong here in Clifton Forge, though a trip west last night showed me that we are experiencing the lighter side of a  heavy winter.

In Lewisburg there are still streets covered with a blanket of icy white. As I drove my wife to chorale practice last night, we made our way through an old, well established subdivision with large, two and three story houses and sidewalks lined with streetlamps. They were all buried in feet of snow. It was hard to tell how much there was on the ground, but there were split rail fences that were nearly completely buried. The longer we were in town, the harder it snowed. As we left there was no doubt in our minds that they would get the six inches that was forecast for the area last night.

Since the stage at Carnegie is being fixed up, the Greenbriar Valley Chorale has been practicing in an Episcopal church just down the road a bit. The church opened up their fellowship hall to the chorale and they eagerly went to work. With the weather being bad, I stayed around in the back of the hall last night with my trust mp3 player and notebook and cranked out quite a few pages. It was a very productive evening.

After an hour and a half I had written almost eight full handwritten pages in my notebook. It doesn't sound like a lot of output for 90 minutes, but it really is. When I  looked at my final tally for the evening I considered briefly the question of whether I would be better off writing my first draft on a computer. I decided against it, since I liked the portability and ease of a notebook.

This morning I read a blog posting that only served to further reinforce my decision from last night. Over at The Writer Unboxed, one of their bloggers is visiting Paris and decided to keep a journal of her trip. Instead of using a laptop she found a nice notebook and pen, much like the writers of old once did, and is keeping her journal in that for the duration of her trip.

Sometimes ideas just require a handwritten touch. A lot of people ask me why I don't do my first drafts in any sort of word processing software and I just prefer the ease of being able to take my work anywhere I go. With a notebook I don't have the hassle of finding an outlet for a laptop or constantly monitoring my battery status. I don't have to go through the hassle of finding a desktop to plug my jump drive into (that I constantly lose anyway).

Most importantly, writing in a notebook slows my thinking and creating down to a pace that I can record it. I can type a lot faster than I write and I can think a lot faster than I do either. Typing sometimes gives me the false hope that my hands can keep up with my thoughts and things tend to get messy and confused soon after that happens.

I may be a little old fashioned in this, but I'm OK with that. Shakespeare didn't have a laptop.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

An Authorial Milestone

Last night I hit a pretty big milestone in the writing of Blood & Steel. I successfully completed the first third or "act" of the novel.

Those of you who read The Crownless King will know that I wrote that novel in three distinct sections, each with its on title. Right now, I plan on doing much the same with its sequel. Last night I finished the last of 42 handwritten, college ruled front-to-back notebook pages and realized that I'd finished the first third of the novel. I knew it was going to end somewhere around the major event that happened there and I think it wrapped up nicely. I had originally figured on taking the first act just a little farther, but I believe it ended well where it did.

Yesterday was a good day. I did the basic chores early, had lunch and then played guitar and wrote for hours as the snow fell outside my window. I realize now that this would be my ideal write for a living. I had a taste of this back in 2006 when I took three days off from work to prepare Chaos Reborn for final submission. During those three days I got up, ate, wrote and edited, ate, went to bed and repeated the process the next day. The Crownless King was completed mostly in the evenings during a four month stretch late one winter into early spring.

I don't know how long my unemployment hitch will last, but I do know that I'm dedicating as much of it as I possibly can to the completion of Blood & Steel. I'm not going to rush the project, but I'm going to work steady at it and see what happens. It would be wonderful to have it finished by summer.

I'm officially nine days away from finding out if I survived the first round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel of the Year Award contest. The first round is a 300 word pitch and I feel if I can just survive that first round I'll have a decent shot. After the pitch round, they read your excerpt and I feel like my excerpt was some of my stronger writing. If I survive that, it's on to the final manuscript and then on to voting on Amazon.

I would love to be able to present Blood & Steel a year or two after winning that award. I'm writing everything now in hopes of winning the prize. If I don't win, I'll keep on writing and look for alternate publishing arrangements. But until I win or lose that contest, my publishing schedule is totally locked to the ABNA contest, so stay tuned for more details as I have them. I do know that the winning entries will be published by Penguin in 2011, so I hope to be on the shelves then.

It looks like Bethany will actually be able to make it to chorale practice tonight, so that will interrupt the writing a bit as I travel to Lewisburg with her. Fortunately it will be a chance to hang out for a little while with my family as she practices. The amount of snow they've had this winter boggles the mind. Mom told me this morning that it was deeper than she'd seen it in a long time and Dad told me that there was only one day in the next 15 that wasn't calling for snow.


Time for lunch and some more writing.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Lesson On Perspective Reinforced

I had one of the greatest lessons of writing reinforced to me this afternoon as I was working on Blood & Steel.

In writing The Crownless King I came to realize that the characters were absolutely vital to the success of a good story. While the plot is essential and can be used to build characters, the reader has to have some connection with the character, be it basic or complex, that keeps him interested in what is going on. After all, I can remember countless times when I've refused to put a book down because I can't wait to see how a character is going to react to what happened.

I also learned that once a character is established, as a writer I have to be true to that character. I can't give a character certain characteristics and a certain attitude and then make him react to a crisis in a way inconsistent with his character just because I like how someone else did it. As much as the writing and the narration gives me a place to voice my thoughts, I have to allow the characters to freely voice and act out their own feelings.

Blood & Steel took a twist this afternoon that I wasn't expecting it to. I know there are people out there who will wonder how something I'm creating can go somewhere I don't expect, but it happens. And it happens chiefly because I'm making a real effort to listen to what the characters want to do.

From the beginning I had planned for Sam to return to his former home to find his own roots and learn the lessons he needed to learn to be able to be the kind of leader he wants to be. (If it sounds a bit general it's because I don't quite yet want to give away what's going on in Blood & Steel.) I always planned on Sam making the journey alone.

But this afternoon a character spoke up and had valid reasons for wanting to go with Sam. And I found that I couldn't argue with those reasons. Not only did the character have valid reasons, but the situation I'd created for Sam had demanded that he deal with this character in some fashion. I hadn't planned on any of that happening, but it did.

To my mind, writing sometimes is as much a process of discovery as it is planning. I do know how this novel is going to begin and I know where it ends. As with all things in life, it's the journey from beginning to end that gives these moments meaning and perspective. We all lose perspective sometimes, be it in life or writing. It can be difficult in either case to find it again, but I've learned that in writing the trick to finding it is to listen to your characters.

They'll see that you get home again.

A Day Fraught With Possibilities

So here it goes. A day where I'm only going to focus on the projects that need my attention and not other worries. I'm going to spend some time in the working notebook for Blood & Steel and see where that gets me. I'm going pick up the ol' acoustic and see what I can work out on Iron and Wine's Naked As We Came, which is rapidly becoming one of my favorite tunes. And then I'm gong to polish off the portraits of my little cousin, Lauren, that I've put off for too long because I've hit a wall that wants to hold me back from processing pics. After that I'll cook dinner and watch the Monday night comedies (or the Olympics) with Bethany.

I have a quiet, snowy house surrounding me that will only help fuel the creative fires. I can crank music, get into the groove of writing and put the words down without distraction. Today is a day fraught with possibilities. And reconstituted homemade chicken noodle soup for lunch.

It's really snowing outside now. There's a forecast calling for another four inches on top of what we can't get rid of on the ground. The icicles hanging almost to the ground from my roof were finally starting to melt and break off. For a while it was like looking through prison bars made of ice. I somehow doubt the melting process will be gaining any ground today.

Oh, and I found an interesting new blog this morning, Writing in the Wilderness. It seems so much harder to find blogs about writing than other blogs, but this one looks promising. I'm interested in following future posts.

More later. It's time to get busy.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Dinner & The Olympics

Ah, it's Valentine's Day. And while my original plans may have fallen through due to economic concerns, Plan B is looking pretty sharp. I've been working on prepping dinner for the better part of the last hour. I have a couple of new variations I'm going to try out on some recipes that I feel really good about. I've attempted these recipes in the past and fell just short of culinary goodness, but this time around I think I've made the needed adjustments for it to work out well.

The prospect of my first full week of being unemployed looms before me and I have to say it doesn't look as bad as I once thought it was going to. I'm seeing an opportunity here to get ahead on the photos waiting to be processed and the writing that needs to be done. Since I'm pretty comfortable staying cooped up the house for long days at a stretch, the prospect of staying home doesn't bother me at all. The only thing I see cutting into my productivity is the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

The Olympics are addicting. I only watch skiing, bobsledding, skating, luge and all those other various sports once every four years. And though we missed the opening ceremonies, Bethany and I have been glued to the Olympic competitions ever since. I can't imagine how amazing it must be to stand atop that podium with a gold medal around my neck and knowing that I'm the best in the world at this sport for the next four years. It has to be an incredible feeling.

There are always compelling stories to be found in any sport and the Olympics are no exception. I can't wait to see them unfold over the next couple of weeks. I'll definitely be looking forward to Sports Illustrated's phto coverage of the Olympics. Next to National Geographic there's no organization whose photos I enjoy looking at more.

And it's time to go see how this dinner is going to work. I'll post reviews later. The menu includes homemade oregano & garlic bread, steak with white mushrooms sauteed in port accompanied by hand cut grilled potato wedges with a light Italian seasoning.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Job Everyone Only Works One Time

Given my current state of unemployment, I've obviously given thoughts to different types of jobs that I would be interested in working and the possibilities of my career going in new and unexplored directions. I'm not looking to change professions, but it's only natural to ponder over these things in a situation like mine. As I was rolling Clifton Forge late this evening I rode past Nicely's Exxon & Car Wash and I started thinking about the job that everyone only works one time.

I took my turn at this job during the summer prior to my freshman year of college. It was an experience I'm not likely to forget and one that has become legendary among my friends. See, the story goes like this: My friend and coauthor, Devan, has family ties to this particular establishment. Patrick, whom readers of this blog will remember from earlier posts, will eagerly work for food. And since a few bucks cash always came in handy in those days I was happy to jump in for the ride.

Now, I guarantee most of you out there in blog land have never considered this, but take a moment to wonder where all the dirt and gunk that you wash off your vehicle at a car wash goes. Next time you're washing your car, look down. There's a little grate and drain beneath your vehicle where it all goes. It piles up, almost composts and turns to an inhumane, foul smelling sludge that should give the EPA absolute fits.

So Patrick and I meet Devan at the car wash and he proceeds to pull up the grates covering the pits. We look down at this and start to wonder just what we've gotten ourselves into. Devan disappears around a corner and returns with buckets and a couple of shovels.

That's when we realize we're screwed.

The only way to get that sludge out of there is to suck it up, hop down in that pit into sludge up over your knees and start filling buckets. I think we made $15 a piece (or some other paltry sum that wasn't really worth it). There was no recovery for our clothes. Three showers later and I still smelled like that sludge. We met Patrick's then girlfriend (and now fiancee) at Wal-Mart that night to buy a huge fish tank and we used every bit of lotion that she and her friends had with them.

We still smelled like that sludge.

There is a legendary story about this job that I can't verify because I wasn't there to witness it. I believe it was two of Devan's brothers cleaning the pits out one time. Legend has it that a homeless man walked up to them and gave them both a dollar and offered these words: "You obviously need this more than I do."

Most everyone who knows this branch of the Nicely family gets drawn into this job at least once. I've yet to know of anyone who will admit to doing it twice.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Icicles & Soup

Well it's Thursday. Typically, if I was employed, Thursday would be my Friday as it's usually the last day we work during the week. I'm getting into a bit of a routine here at home, though I'll break it tomorrow by taking a trip to Covington. A stop by the VEC followed by a couple of stops by a couple of places of business for job references will take up the morning.

Today I watched three episodes of Firefly while processing photos. I'd forgotten how amazing that show is. The dialogue and the interplay of the characters is amazing. I hope that one day I'll be able to write something like that. After getting through the first and only season of Firefly I'll probably move on and watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel again. You'll notice the trend here is that they're all created by Joss Whedon. What can I say? The man knows how to make television.

The weather here still isn't any fun. There's a stiff wind out of the west that's enough to make anyone think twice about going outdoors. Along the entire length of my house are icicles, some of which are almost touching the ground. I remember it being colder this time last year, but we didn't have near this much snow and ice on the ground.

I think I'm going to try my hand at making some homemade chicken noodle soup after this post. This would be the recipe that once caused my sister-in-law to blow up my Pyrex baking dish. If you haven't heard that story then you should backtrack a few posts. You'll find it in the blog.

Hmmm...maybe a nap first...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

An Aimless Day That's Finding Direction

So I haven't really made a great deal of progress on anything really creative today. It was a bit of an odd day in which I've only started to mentally wrap my mind around everything that's going on. Being unemployed, albeit temporarily and hopefully briefly, is mentally stressful. Right now it's hard to enjoy any of the time I have to myself since I don't yet have any real answers on how much help the unemployment funds will be or any thought on how long this will last. I can fly by the seat of my pants with the best of them, but to take that flying leap I have to first know where I stand. Tomorrow I'm going to meet with an Employment Commission representative so I hope to have more of a feel after that.

I played a little guitar today, but really only played some songs that I knew just to take my mind away from thinking about everything else. I didn't quite make it to writing more of Blood & Steel today, but I'm at the cusp of one of those planned scenes that I've had in my head for a while and I hope that after tomorrow morning I'll be able to get some ink down on paper.

As I started writing this post my good friend Dick Muterspaugh texted me with the name of a band he'd just discovered, Iron and Wine. After listening to their first tune I clicked through to some more of their stuff and found a great tune, Naked As We Came. I just flipped on Boy With A Coin and the guitar is amazing. This definitely something I'll be passing on to a couple other of my friends and I hope you'll take the time to look them up. I'm always excited about discovering new music and artists and that certainly makes the day end a little easier.

Now that the day is coming to a close and the wind is howling outside and rattling the windows in the house I think that I'll pick up O'Brian's H.M.S. Surprise and see how the intrepid Captain Jack Aubrey is about to take to the seas against the naval forces and allies of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Courage of Conviction

Day one of being temporarily laid off has passed fairly quickly. I wrote in my last post about the situation and my plans for dealing with it. I spent today catching up on the housework and downloading photos to be processed for the wedding we have on "film".

One bonus of being off is being able to have dinner ready for Bethany when she gets off work. Cooking is nearly on a level with writing for me. I've spent the past forty minutes preparing my ingredients before stirring them together in a pan and adding a splash of white wine.

Last weekend we watched Julie & Julia and the movie opens with Meryl Streep as Julia Child hosting her television show. She's about to attempt to flip an omelet and tells the viewers that to flip anything, you have to have the courage of your convictions. If you don't, you'll fail.

I took a lot away from that opening scene. The courage of your convictions...that speaks to a lot of different aspects of life, doesn't it? As a writer, first and foremost I have to have the guts to honestly think of myself as a writer. Then I have to find the courage to reach down inside, open up a vein and use my blood for ink as I put my soul into every word.

As a cook, I have to have the courage to take strange culinary chances without fear of what's going to happen. Toss in a little garlic, Italian seasoning, perhaps a bit of lemon doesn't have to make sense going in, just in the end result.

Playing guitar requires a certain amount of fearlessness, of being willing to attempt the hard chord progressions and tricky bar chords. The world of music is wide open and full of room to explore and experiment if only one has the courage to take that leap into the unknown.

Having the courage of your convictions is the first big step in creating anything, be it a novel, a song or something as simple as dinner. The world we live in began with an act of creation. Creating something is a bit like touching the divine, even so far removed from perfection as we humans are. To take a blank sheet of paper and turn it into poetry...mixing a dozen separate elements into something satisfying and tasty...bringing something new into the world isn't easy. But as I've heard all my life, easy isn't worth doing anyway.

My Dad once told me, so long ago that I don't even remember what we were talking about, that if I knew where I stood then I wouldn't have to watch where I stepped. What he said comes to mind as I think about having the courage of my convictions. I didn't realize then how true his words were of life, but then again I rarely do when he speaks them. As time passes and I digest the ideas, what once seemed complex on the surface tends to be based on a foundation of deeply simple wisdom.

At it's most basic, what we create is a reflection of who we are. If we know where we stand and then have the courage of our convictions to go forward with it, then there's no limit to where the dreams inside us all will take us.

A Temporary Suspension Of Work Related Activities Due To Inclement Weather & Economy

Well, this blog posting started off a little differently yesterday. I was going to do a little sports writing, something I enjoy doing and haven't done since I quite the newspaper a while back. After all, the Super Bowl was chock full of goodness to write about.

But the news I received yesterday but a damper on the festivities. I have been temporarily laid off. The combination of the economy and all the snow on the ground (and the eight inches we're supposed to get today) have seriously hampered my place of business. It's only temporary, but it's still a new and somewhat uncomfortable experience. Fortunately Bethany is still gainfully employed and my layoff is only temporary. There's help out there and we're going to make it, so I'm trying to keep a positive attitude.

I'm trying to look at this as a chance to do all those little chores around the house that pile up and don't get done because I'm busy doing other things. There's also the opportunity to get a lot of work done on some novels in progress and pick up a little more guitar.

With a little faith and trust in the Lord above, we'll get through it. I feel like somewhere in this experience is an opportunity to learn and grow. I have to be open to it and be willing to face the challenges that will be heading our way in the future.

Maybe I'll write a New York Times Bestseller with my time off.

But first I think I'll do the windows...

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A New Sunday Afternoon Tradition

There's a new Sunday afternoon tradition here on the hill and I have to say I'm not really a fan.

Shoveling snow. We've had three really good winter storms this year and they've all set in on a Friday, poured snow through Saturday and then leaves to allow me to spend a part of my Sunday afternoon shoveling out the vehicles so we can be ready to go to work when Monday rolls back around. Today the snow was sandwiched between layers of ice and it took a bit of work to get Bethany's car shoveled out.

Ah well. Spring will be here soon.

Last night we were both up late reading, Bethany was working on Pat Conroy's South of Broad as I finished up Modesitt's Arms-Commander. This was a great weekend for cooking, writing and reading and I can't remember the last time that I stayed up until 3 a.m. reading. I made a great deal of progress on writing Blood & Steel and I even picked up a new technique on the guitar.

I've found some encouragement in the writing world in some blogs, a few of which you'll see listed to the right of this posting. I've also spent some time watching the special features on DVDs, particularly the ones that talk about the writing on Seinfeld and Bones. I'm looking forward to diving into The Office special features. I'm sure there's plenty of gems in there.

So after a good, solid weekend of progress on many fronts, I think I'll likely take the evening off. There's some bread that needs baking and I need to find something to read next. Oh...and the Super Bowl kicks off around 6 o'clock.

Very cool.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Spirits And Vibrato

You know what I find amusing? Brown paper bags.

The roads were clear enough to make it out to Kroger for a couple of things we didn't have in stock. Bethany and I are planning on baking up a couple of loaves of bread before the Super Bowl kicks off tomorrow and we needed some yeast and she wanted some sharp cheddar for a cheese sandwich. While I was out I took the opportunity to put in some spirits for the cooking. White wine does great stuff for chicken and port works wonders on mushrooms. A bottle of either of these will last for months in my house since neither Bethany or I actually drink.

But I find the brown paper bag humorous. These bottles ride through the store in my buggy in plain sight. I obviously have no problem purchasing the wine or the port. Yet when it comes to time to place these bottles in the reusable black bags that we take to Kroger, they bag these bottles up in individual brown paper bags that are longer than my shopping bags are tall in an effort to be discrete as if no one would know what was in the bag.

I guess I just found that amusing.

On a completely unrelated note I spent a little time on the Strat this evening and for the first time pulled off the vibrato. Unless you play guitar, it's going to be hard for you to geek out with me on this, but it's exciting. Basically you play the note and then run your finger across the string for the length of the fret. Vibrato wasn't something that I picked up in my lessons last year and it's a technique I'll need for playing a lot of songs on my Strat.

After all the power surges we've had here it seems as if things have finally settled back down. The roads are driveable and the skies are clear. The weatherman says that won't last and that there's another storm moving in Tuesday, but we'll commence to swimming when we hit the creek as my main man Jed Clampett once told Jethro.

Why borrow trouble?

Oh, and my Super Bowl pick? Saints by a score.

Silence Is Deafening

It's amazing to me how loud silence can be.

Last night the power went out. It's not surprising that it did since there's well over a foot of heavy, wet snow coating the world right now. As the power went out, so did the noise. There was no refrigerator humming, no heat pump blowing out reassuring warm air...nothing. Just pure silence.

It's a bit disconcerting to be suddenly standing in total silence. We live in a world where we have a constant background of reassuring noise. Technology has settled so deeply into our lives that we call silence is really filled with a lot of background noise that we have become accustomed to tuning out.

Our situation last night was by no means dire, but it makes you think. Completely snowed in, more snow falling, no electricity, no sound... And oddly, it was the lack of noise that made me take notice. It gives you a taste of just how uncaring the world truly is. It also makes you think of how far we've come since the days of wooden sailing ships and colonies struggling to survive on a new and strange continent.

Before the darkness settled heavily over us last night I made quite a bit of headway into Blood & Steel. The story's really starting to flow and get its feet on the ground. I've topped the handwritten 30-page mark and I have no idea how that translates into being typed and I figure I'll need to start working on getting some of it typed up soon.

I heard from Devan briefly yesterday. My Sixth Sword coauthor is Mississippi training to be deployed to Iraq later this month. Surprisingly, he is finding some time to get a little authorial work done in the midst of all that and hopes to be able to continue that work while deployed.

As I write this, the snow is still falling and the power is flickering pretty frequently. I think that I'll get this posted and see what, if anything, needs to be done against the possibility of being powerless the rest of the day.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Snow Shovels and Pizza

It's snowing! And surprisingly our road has been scraped. We're usually the absolute last road that gets scraped, which tells me one of two of things. The first is that VDOT is staying ahead of the storm this time and actually keeping the roads fairly clean. The second is that they feel bad because they haven't scraped our road in either of the past two snows and they're trying to make up for it. I kind of favor this theory because they sent two plows, one about 50 feet behind the other.

Bethany finally completed the quest for a snow shovel yesterday. After calling around nearly everywhere looking for shovel, I had given up hope before Bethany found one of the last few in the Highlands down at the True Value. The Farmer's Almanac is predicting 80 inches of snow this February. I'm ready for it now.

After getting in really late from the Jason Aldean concert last night we slept in 'till late morning today, I woke up and made a few phone calls to talk to my family and now I have two slices of thin crust supreme Pizza Hut pizza reheating in the oven. Today is promising to be a good day.

We had great seats at the concert last night...row 7. I'm glad I wore ear plugs, though, because my ears felt great afterward. The bass was so heavy that you could feel it shaking the concrete floor of the civic center. I could even feel the air inside my pants legs vibrate in time with the beat. Jason Aldean had two opening acts, the biggest of which was Luke Bryan. Luke's lead guitarist was one of the better guitarists I've ever seen in concert. I'd have to say that the best I've ever seen was Brad Paisley and the second best would be Larry Chaney, who plays lead for Edwin McCain.

Yes, today promises to be full of progress on the projects. I only have a little laundry to do, so I figure I'll do that and spend some time with my wife in addition to writing and working on the six string. Since I've been learning One Last Breath and Gravity I've mostly been playing my Fender Starcaster, but I might even break out the acoustic and work on Free Fallin' just a bit. And since I'm home, I'll have pretty much all day to marinate something for dinner.

Life is good. And I don't care if my road is clean or not. I'm happily snowed in.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

We Interrupt This Blog To Bring You....Math

I feel like I should start this blog posting off by apologizing to every teacher that ever tried to teach me math.

See, I was a horrible student in school. My grades were good (with the exception of math) but I have to admit that I didn't put a great deal of effort into 90% of my schooling. I was the kid in the back of the class only half paying attention because I was reading a book hidden under my desk or because I was just daydreaming. About the only exception to my goofing off was any math class.

I'm a writer and a one-time English major. Math just didn't translate into the way I saw the world. I had to actually work hard in some of those classes just to have a passing grade. A "C" was a cause for celebration. A "B" or an "A" was almost unheard of and accomplished only with stacks of extra credit. Where the histories and sciences (except chemistry, which is just math in disguise) and English classes all came naturally, math was like being taught how to speak in a foreign language by someone who only spoke that language and not English. It just didn't translate into something I understood.

Now, nearly six years after receiving my associate's degree from Dabney, I have a job that's purely math surveying. Everything we do here, from the field work to the drafting, is based on algebra, geometry and calculus, maybe even some trig. Once in a blue moon I'll be working on a project and a light bulb clicks on above my head because something I learned in high school and thought I had forgotten comes back to me and actually makes sense.

Just this morning, after battling the elements to make it into the office, I spent a couple hours calculating the grade of a slope using algebra I learned as a freshman. All that talk about slopes and rise over run didn't make a bit of sense then. Seeing it applied out in the world brought it all together for me.

I'm still not a person who looks at the world and puts math on it and probably never will be, but when the situation calls for it I can figure it out with a little help now. So all those times I shrugged off math because I thought that I'd "never use it outside of school" now seem a bit ironic. I earn my bread money by doing math every day.

Somewhere, I'm sure, my former math teachers are having a nice laugh about that.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Sneak Peek Among The Snow

The snow here is never-ending apparently. I just heard that we're supposed to get an additional 3 to 7 inches on top of the 2 to 3 inches we weren't supposed to get today. Word is that there will be 30 inches heading our way this weekend.


I just knocked off a few pages of Blood & Steel and decided to take a break for a different kind of writing and see what's happening on the blogs I'm following. You can check those out yourself by scrolling down just a bit and clicking on any of them that interest you in the list to the right.

I'm excited to say that Blood & Steel is starting to tell itself. I mentioned earlier today how I was hoping it would happen and it is. The blanks between the major plot points that I know exist are being filled in by the story. There are some major things happening in the life of our stalwart hero Sam and he's going to have to face the unforeseen consequences of his choices in The Crownless King. Without spoiling anything, I'm going to offer a little preview from the opening of Blood & Steel.

There are lands where kings rule by divine right. There are lands where kings are elevated to the level of godhood by the people they rule. The idea is that monarchs are infallible, that to question them is to question the divine. Kings are supposed to be perfect.
The sad truth of it is that we kings are just as flawed and imperfect as the next man. We make mistakes just like anyone else. Heaven knows I've made my share. Unfortunately, the mistakes of kings have consequences that touch the lives of thousands. My mistakes started a war.
And there you have it. Here, for the first time, the world premiere of a little piece of Blood & Steel. I know it's not quite as exciting as a cool trailer for an upcoming movie, but it's exciting to me. I'm nearly 30 handwritten pages into the story and things are starting to move along in the plot. I'll keep you posted.

For now it's time to bundle up against the cold and snow that's piling up against the house and do a little reading.

Libraries & Days Gone By....

It's officially snowing outside. Again. It is going to stop snowing here in a little bit but only because it's going to turn into ice that will then turn into rain that will then turn back into ice. It seems Old Man Winter was ready for the world this time around. I can't remember the last time we've had a winter this wet. It makes getting things done in the world of surveying increasingly difficult.

Bethany has started singing again with the Greenbrier Valley Chorale in Lewisburg, W.Va. Weather like this can make getting to the weekly Tuesday practices a challenge and if this keeps up she may not make it this evening.

One nice thing about the weather, though, is it lends itself to staying home and pursuing hobbies that otherwise get pushed to the side as we're out and about. Monday evenings between the hours of 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. are devoted to CBS since it's the one evening of television we watch a week, but as The Big Bang Theory ended last night I wandered back into my library and picked up the Strat and tried my hand at Gravity.

From what I've studied, the actual picking pattern isn't difficult. What is difficult, however, is timing the slide from the third fret down to the ninth and making the bends and vibrato sound right. The entire intro to the song and the solo are both built off of two strings as best I can tell, so fingering is pretty simple. It's just the little techniques that I didn't realize were in there until last night that are really difficult. I played the opening two or three measures repeatedly for 20 minutes trying to work it out. The way the weather is it looks like I'll have the chance again tonight.

After reading a little bit of Arms-Commander to put me in the mood for writing I cracked open the working notebook for Blood & Steel. I haven't put a great deal of anything down on paper for a week or so. There have been some scenes I've mulled over as I went about other tasks and I'm just about to an interesting point in the writing of this novel.

As with The Crownless King, I know where Blood & Steel will end. I had a pretty decent idea of where it began, though it needs some smoothing over at this point. I'm just about to the point where I don't know what's going to happen next. I have perhaps two more "scenes" to write that I know what's going to happen. After that there's a long stretch to be written that's as much discovery as it is writing before I get to the next scene that I have planned in my head. I have rough outlines of a couple of possibilities, but I'm hoping that the story itself will decide whether or not these will be included.

Here is as good a time as any to mention some good news about The Crownless King. The Clifton Forge Public Library, one of two libraries I begged my Mom to take me to when I was a kid, called last week and wanted to know if I'd be interested in making an appearance there in March. Of course I was excited to do it. Not only does it mean publicity for me and the chance to get my story out there, but it's also an opportunity to bring people to the library.

Libraries may very well be one man's best inventions. I remember being a kid and asking Mom to take me to the library nearly every time she went to town. We lived about five minutes away from the one in Clifton Forge and about fifteen minutes away from the C.P. Jones Memorial Library in Covington. Both libraries have undergone extensive renovations since those days, but I can still remember walking in and being hit by the smells of stacks of old books. I remember distinctly that the C.P. Jones library had a big, long desk bent like an "L" by the door and directly in front of that was the kids science section. At the other side of the building in two narrow aisles crammed with books was the science fiction section, where I spent the bulk of my time.

I could've spent hours in the library each visit, wrapped in the smell of old books and the silence of reading that was broken only by the "ka-chunk" as the librarian inserted the due date cards into the machine that automatically stamped them. When I was older and finally able to drive I did spend a lot of spare time in libraries. When I worked at the paper I'd gobble down lunch as quick as I could and spent the rest of my hour (and sometimes more) reading and writing in a cubicle at the C.P. Jones library. Sometimes on days off I'd just go sit in the Clifton library and read. When it was late and they were closed, I'd go down to Dabney and find a comfortable chair near one of their big windows and spend some time reading. I went there a lot to do homework during my college days, but truthfully the homework would be put aside after only a few minutes to pick up a book I'd found while wandering among the shelves.

Reading this and thinking about it, I realize now that I probably need to do more to support the local libraries. I haven't checked a book out in years, mainly because I've found the funds to work on building my own private library, but the libraries for me were gateways to other worlds and my own dreams of writing began to take shape among those shelves.

It was a pretty big thrill for me to walk into the Clifton Forge library and see a book I'd written on a shelf, waiting to be checked out. I'm looking forward to that experience again.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Directing The Rambles

Well it's Monday again and back to work. I enjoy my job, though it does have some very steep moments that make me question what in the world I'm doing climbing a mountain with all that gear on my back. It's challenging, both mentally and physically and I appreciate that.

It was a good weekend, though Saturday was snowy and hectic with the wedding. I didn't get anything written but I read a bit of Arms-Commander and continued to pick up the main riff of One Last Breath by Creed. It's the longest riff I've attempted to learn to date and I figure on being at the polishing stage (hopefully) by the weekend.

My next musical goal in life is to pick up John Mayer's Gravity and Free Fallin'. Yes, I know that Tom Petty originally did Free Fallin', but I actually prefer Mayer's acoustic cover. I think I'm going to start looking into lessons again. They're good to keep me honest on reading music and playing techniques and I need to pick up more musical theory if I want to write my own music someday.

I guess that here is as good a time as any to talk about the changes in the ol' blog here lately. This project started out as a way to reach out into the worlds of photography that I enjoy. While that still happens on occasion, I've found that I'm turning more to exploring writing and the creative process, be it in music, photography or writing. It's turned into a notebook of sorts that I use to explore what happens in my every day life and look for deeper thoughts among the mundane.

After watching Julie & Julia Sunday afternoon I became enamored with the idea of dedicating the blog to a project and sticking with it. After some careful thought (mostly in a long shower because that's where some of my best thinking happens) I decided that devoting this blog to one project in particular would be a bit boring. After all, writing is a solitary art for the most part and the process is generally of interest only to other writers.

So I've decided to dedicate this blog to exploring the creative process itself. You'll see the same sort of posts you have been seeing lately. Sometimes they'll be about writing, other times about guitars and music. Sometimes I'll just write about what happened that day and what I've been thinking about and then I'll throw in a dash of photography.  When it's all said and done I'll tie it, however it fits, into the projects I'm working on.

That does seem to be a broad outline, doesn't it? Truth is I don't know where this blogging project will take me. I'm enjoying it, especially now that I'm finding both time and opportunity to blog on a daily basis. I don't know if there's even anyone out the reading this, but if you are, thanks. Feel free to pass it along to people you know, be sure to sign up to follow (it's free and easy to do) and definitely feel free to add some comments of your own.

I'll also be experiment with new features, just like the media player at the bottom of the blog. I'll add some different music when the mood strikes, quite possibly some instrumental stuff to minimize distractions as you read.

So keep in touch and keep reading. I have no idea where it's all going to take me. It'll be fun to find out.