Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Constructive Criticism

Tonight I received my feedback from the Amazon Breakthrough Novel of the Year Award contest.

Those of you who follow the blog know that I didn't make it past the second round. One benefit of making it to the second round, however, is that I received some professional feedback from their ABNA "Expert Reviewers".

After receiving my feedback, I thought over what they told me. I had two reviewers comment. The first reviewer tended to be a little more toward the negative (not in a harsh way, mind you) and I feel like had that reviewer been able to read more than just the excerpt, then his (or her) questions would have been answered. I even thought the "poor choice of language" comment was fair to a point. Devan made much the same comment about Chaos Reborn and The Sixth Sword before he left for Iraq. "It's like everything we write. The beginning we stumble a bit, find our feet and by the end we're running nice and smooth."

So my beginnings need a little bit of work. I'll buy that.

The second reviewer left me feeling pretty good about myself. He (again, or she) felt a strong connection with Sam. He felt a little lost geographically, which is a fair comment since I didn't really delve into that much at all other than to generally imply that Sam lived in the cold northern part of Menahra. The best part was the final comment he left, wherein he told me he couldn't really find any suggestions for improvement because he thought it was a well written and impressive piece.

So cool. I have professional feedback on something I've written. Short as the feedback was, I find it pretty very valuable and food for thought. I also concluded that it wasn't so much that the reviewers didn't like my work but that they liked others better. I'm fine with that (well, sort of. Obviously I'd prefer they picked mine) because, in the end, it is a competition and that's what happens in competitions. Someone has to lose.

There are many who didn't make the cut that are posting on the Amazon ABNA boards and seem pretty upset with their reviews. Some of them were pretty harsh from what I've seen.

It's never fun to hear criticism, especially about something as personal as The Crownless King is to me. However, I found my criticism to be pretty fair and, most importantly, constructive. I appreciate that.

I didn't win this year. I probably won't have anything ready for 2011. But I feel like 2012 I'll take a shot at this again unless something better breaks before then.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Electronic Combat Training

I woke up this morning without power. I don't mean power to get out of bed (though that was lacking just a little bit). No, I'm talking about electricity to turn on the lights. Last week, in an effort to prevent this from happening, the contractors were at the bottom of the hill trimming back the trees to keep them off the power lines.

They missed one. As I rolled down the road with Bryan this morning they were down there removing the tree and fixing the problem. It took a grand total of nearly four hours to restore power, so it wasn't anything more than a minor aggravation in a pretty good day.

I rode with Bryan, our local National Guard recruiter, to Staunton so that he could drop off some paperwork he was required to hand deliver. While in Staunton I participated in Electronic Combat Training (ECT). It's a military term we made up on the spot because what it really means is that we spent more than an hour in the arcade at the mall playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles In Time. Classic arcade game. Very awesome. It made the entire trip worth it.

We also played a couple of first person shooter games to round things out. And since it made us a little later than planned for our workout, we told the third guy who works out with us that we were ECT. We figure he's going to show up at his next drill and ask the Sergeant if he can participate in ECT. It's fifty-fifty as to whether we're going to tell him what ECT means before hand.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Different Kind Of Alarm Clock

I stayed up late last night to watch the end of the Kansas State - Xavier basketball game. It took two overtimes for the second seeded Kansas State to put away Xavier 101-96 in a thrilling match. The game was everything that's thrilling about sports. Two closely matched teams going down to the wire in a battle that in the end was determined by who had the sheer guts to see it through to the end.

There is a rugged beauty to sports. No, wait, rugged isn't the right word. Perhaps brutal fits better. Let's try again. There's a brutal beauty to sports. There's always two sides struggling to see who is the best on any given day. Sports is Darwinism at its best. Only the best and strongest are allowed out on the court to play and only the best and strongest will walk away with a victory. It's beautiful.

I awoke this rainy Friday morning to a different and more natural kind of beauty: birds singing. Spring has most definitely arrived here in Virginia and one of the tell-tale signs of its long awaited appearance are the birds chirping outside my window. It's usually an altogether pleasant way to begin a day,  but today it was a bit jarring.

As I mentioned, I stayed up late last night to watch the basketball game. I slept in a little this morning before going out to start the Jeep (I always let it warm up for a few minutes before I take off). My head was still down, my brain was still fogged by sleep and I was fervently wishing that I was back in bed. The first sound I hear as I step out my door had to be a mockingbird.

Now, I say it had to be a mockingbird because the last thing this mockingbird had to have heard was a car alarm going off. One of those irritating alarms that goes off because the neighborhood cat jumps on the hood or some other inane reason. And for whatever reason the owner of the car must have taken his sweet time turning it off because this bird was loud, incessant and sounded just like a car alarm.

I didn't even know that was possible.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


It still seems odd to me that I can walk outside and feel comfortable. After the winter we've had here, every time that I step outside my door I almost hunch my shoulders and expect to be blasted my bitter cold air and falling snow. I don't usually have this feeling because typically I would have spent the winter out in the elements trying to work. About this time each year I can walk outside in short sleeves and be comfortable when the temperatures finally make it back up into the 30s. This year I spent the cold months in the office and then home after being laid off so it's strikingly odd to walk outside and actually be comfortable.

I haven't really made any great strides in any of my projects this week and I find that I'm OK with that. Sometimes you just have to sit back and wait for inspiration to hit. I've spent some time reading and looking into new music, both that I want to listen to and want to play. Right now I'm listening to We Are The Fallen's new single and so far I'm not really impressed. It's good, but not great. They've taken the American Idol contestant Carly Smithson and mixed her with some former members of Evanescence. What you get is almost an Evanescence knock-off band with a lead singer who, even though she can sing really well, is no Amy Lee.

I'm writing today just to be writing. I don't really have much to say, other than I'm hoping my book comes in the mail today and that I'm really looking forward to some homemade hamburgers this evening. We have the tax information figured out and it's a matter now of taking them to be processed (which is good considering the deadline is fast approaching). Oh, and apparently there's a comic book convention at the Salem Civic Center next Saturday. That's exciting (yes, I'm a nerd).

Some days I just write to be writing, to practice the art of putting one word down on paper after another. I don't always have something to say when I start out, but often I find something to say before I finish. Obviously, this really wasn't one of those times where I found something to say. So I think I'll just go do my Krogering and look forward to those burgers.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

It's Wednesday

So I didn't make it into the third round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel of the Year Award contest. Oh well. That was farther than I made it last year and it doesn't mean my dream of writing novels for a living is crushed. It merely means that I'll just have to take a different path. I doubt seriously that I'll enter in 2011 when it comes around again. Most likely it will be 2012 before I have anything ready to enter and then we'll just see what happens next time.

There is something of an upside to being unemployed and that is that I can just drop off the face of the earth whenever I want to. I don't have to check e-mails. I don't have to report to the office every morning by 8 a.m. I don't have to report to anyone, really. It's nice. I could get used to that, though I'd much prefer to get used to that with plenty of money in the bank to take care of the bills.

So far I've been pretty good about taking a break this week from Blood & Steel. Instead, what spare time I've had I've spent reading O'Brian's The Ionian Mission and listening to The News From Lake Wobegone by Garrison Keillor. Both of these, particularly Keillor's podcast, have given me some inspiration to write something a little more humorous and accessible. Something more in the literary fiction realm, more so even than The Crownless King. I've only written a little comedy and that was inside the covers of Chaos Reborn and The Sixth Sword. When I was younger I really enjoyed private detective stories and that may even be something I revisit.

For now, I think it's time to visit lunch...

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Song On The Wind

Saturday was the first day of spring and the weather here has certainly been gearing up for it. This evening, I went outside just before dark and sat on the porch with my guitar. There was a nice, stiff breeze blowing in dark clouds from the west and the smell of rain danced through the air. It reminded me of that line from a Sister Hazel song..."Sometimes the song on the wind is the only warning before the storm."

So I sat outside and played whatever came to my fingers. I put my capo on the second fret, taking the tuning of the guitar up two steps, and just started strumming. In a small yellow legal pad I've been scribbling some thoughts on lyrics for a song I want to write. Writing music is a great deal more complicated than writing a short story or a novel. The music itself becomes a second voice behind the lyrics and the tune can completely change the meaning of the lyrics.

I've struggled trying to find that tune. Some of my struggle is based in the fact that I just don't have a mastery of the guitar. I'm still, at best, an advanced beginner. So finding the tune hasn't been an easy task.

This evening I made a lot of progress on it. Maybe it was just being outside, alone in the dying light of day and feeling the slight tension on the air as the rain moved in that finally helped me get a grip on what I'm trying to find musically. And I'll need the foundation of the music before I can stack the melody and then the lyrics on top of it. I think. I don't know. I've only ever written one song before and it was about as simple as you can get it. I did it for the final project of my guitar lessons last year.

I think I'm going to spend some time working on it this week and take a little break from Blood & Steel. I've made a tremendous amount of progress on that project and I need just a little bit of time to let my mind chew on some things before I continue on. I'm at a point where I can start really building toward the resolution, but I need to give some thought to whether or not I'm rushing things. I've even made some notes about the possibility of fleshing out certain scenes a little more in the second draft.

I haven't been in the gym since Thursday and I have plans to get back into the weights tomorrow. It should be a chest day, though it might be a leg day, I don't know. Bryan keeps the workout list in his office. Either way, exercising does help clear my head and let me think about things. Maybe it'll help me refine what I'm trying to play.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Smell Of A Story

The book signing at the Clifton Forge Public Library was a success last night. There was a good turnout and I sold some books. The speech I gave didn't even seem to bore anyone. So all in all, I'd say it was a complete success.

It's been a busy week and I've barely been home this week to do anything other than sleep. It's also been a week wherein the little things aren't bouncing my way. I have a philosophy that says if you can make all the little things go your way, then the little things will add up to the big things. When you live by a wing and a prayer like I tend to, you really need the little things to bounce your way.

To make things go my way again, I bought a book this morning. I've found recently that my taste in literature has changed. I couldn't begin to tell you the last time I picked up a fantasy novel to read. I dabble in science fiction these days, mainly to keep pace with the Star Wars and Star Trek universes. No, I've become intereted in more literary and historical fiction since last fall.

So, to celebrate the book signing last night and to make the world start spinning my way again, I purchased Wobegone Boy by Garrison Keillor. To make it better, the book cost me $0.01 and the shipping $3.99. I've learned to be frugal since being laid off, but I've also remembered the glorious days of used books.

I have my own private library. I've been building it for years. Recently, I trimmed it back to what I call the essentials - books that I've read or actually have an interest in and intend to read. At present count, I've just about 11 books in my library I haven't read and that list tends to hover around that number. Three of those are Patrick O'Brian novels, two more are Don Quixote and The Count of Monte Cristo and the remaining six or so I can't name off the top of my head. Wobegone Boy will make an even dozen.

When I was younger, money was harder to come by since I didn't have a job and depended on my parents' goodwill to fund my reading. In between trips to the library I'd get Mom to take me down to Mountain Book Store on Main Street in Covington. It was a small little store that had plenty of used books for half price or better and a science fiction nook at the back of the store that gave me hours of enjoyment. Used book prices would allow me to stretch what money I had and buy more books, so it just made sense to me.

Later in life, as I had my own job and spare cash for the reading, I only bought new books and kept them in near pristine condition as I read them. Some of you out there may scoff at that, but when you've read as many books as I have, you learn how to read them without destroying them.

A few months ago, I actually had some cash in my pocket and a little time to kill in Roanoke so Bethany and I stopped in at The Paperback Exchange on Williamson Road. Truthfully, I was looking for something to read without paying a great deal for it, because I knew that her surgery was going to leave us with some medical bills and I didn't want to spend frivoulously. So it may have been me trying to save a little money that brought me back around to used books, but in my heart, I think it was the smell of the store.

If you've ever been in a used book store, then you know what I'm talking about. It's an almost musty smell, the combination of glue, ink and slowly yellowing pages. It's the smell of stories I've never read, some that I may never know...It's the smell of literary possibility and it makes me just want to take a moment and take a deep breath of literature.

The only variation of ever known of this smell was at Wilmington Beach in the Carolinas (I can't remember North or South. I was a kid at the time. Cut me some slack). There was a used book store near the beach there. It didn't have a great deal of books, but it had the smell. Except there, the smell was tinged with the smell of the ocean. It was enough to drive a young kid to look for some kind of story about the ocean among the dusty books.

But what I remember most about the store was the guy running it. He sat behind an old counter. He was mostly bald, but he did have tufts of white hair that stuck out in a variety of directions. He wore half moon reading glasses low on a bulbous nose and his face was tanned and weathered, with a lifetime written in the lines of that visage. I don't remember his name. We only spoke long enough for him to ring up my purchase of Clive Cussler's Cyclops, but he just looked like a man who had stories to tell.

That was the only time I'd ever been to Wilmington Beach and the only time I set foot in that book store. I want to go back. Bethany and I even talked about swinging by the beach on the last couple days of honeymoon just for the fun of going to a beach. I've often wandered if his little store is still open. If I ever make it back down there, I'm going to see if I can find him.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Soundtrack Of My Life

I've written a bit on here about music. Personally, music is extremely inspiring and even something that I hope to write myself someday.

I have very eclectic tastes in music. My collection ranges from country (though it definitely is the thinnest of the genres in my CD case) to jazz, alternative, rock, blues and acoustic folk. Listening to the blues and jazz makes me want to play guitar. Listening to alternative and most definitely rock makes me want to write.

But of all my albums, there are a very few that have indefinite play appeal. I'm talking about music that is the soundtrack to my life, albums that have such a perfect selection of songs that I don't skip over a single one. These are the CDs that have stuck with me since the first time I heard them, some of them during my senior year of high school in 2002.

The first of these is Misguided Roses by Edwin McCain. The album was an epiphany in my writing career and was the first glimpse I had of the full potential of what lay in the written word. Every single song on the album tells a story, some plainly and some hidden among the lyrics for you to find. If you've heard of Edwin McCain, chances are it's because of "I'll Be" and you'll find it on this album of acoustic folk rock tunes. That song is why I went looking for the album way back in 2002. Coincidentally, Patrick had just purchased it and gave me a copy. We both love the CD for many of the same reasons and a lot of different ones. I've never heard music that moved me as much as what's on Misguided Roses, before or since.

The second album to resonate with me was Maroon 5's Songs About Jane. It was filled with stories of love and loss set against a groove-rock blend of music that I've never tired of hearing. The music itself is filled with enough emotion and attitude that you can almost tell what the band is trying to say without the lyrics. Maroon 5 has definitely, in my humble opinion, went downhill as they put out much more pop friendly music, but their debut album will always remain one of my favorites. Even Bethany has a favorite cut from this one, "Sunday Morning" and she and I rarely agree on music.

The next album on this list is Phobia by Breaking Benjamin. It's a hard rock album and though some people label it metal I don't think it's hard enough to qualify. Phobia became the soundtrack for The Sixth Sword and I believe the entire novel was written to it. The tone of the music paired with amazing lyrics was inspiring from beginning to end. If The Sixth Sword is ever made into a movie (hey, stranger things have happened. A writer can dream, can't he?) then I hope Phobia is the soundtrack.

The same summer that I first heard and was inspired by Phobia was the same summer that I purchased Sister Hazel's Absolutely. Sister Hazel is famous for the tune "All For You" and it's not even the best of their stuff. Absolutely became the soundtrack to my summer. Every time I mowed grass, be it here at the house or for the late Harvey Albert up on the heights, I listened to Absolutely. I wrote my best man's toast for Devan's wedding while listening to it. This was the album that introduced me to the song "This Kind of Love" which became the song that Bethany and I danced to for the first time as husband and wife.

I'm always up for new music, but these albums are the soundtrack to my life. I can listen to them just about any time. In fact, a few weeks back when I made a surprise visit to Mom and Dad's to lend a hand with the shoveling of many feet of snow, these albums where what I loaded on my iPod.

I bring all this up because tonight, on the way home from Bethany's chorale practice, we stopped at Wal-Mart in Lewisburg. It's been on my mind for some time now to purchase Shinedown's latest album, The Sound of Madness, so I picked it up tonight. They've had some radio hits off this one that I've thoroughly enjoyed, but what I found out about the album later intrigued me. The official iTunes description of the album goes into detail about how the band wrote in the ballpark of 44 songs for this, recorded them, and then cut them down into the 11 songs they thought best fit the album.

Now, I don't know about you, but any band that writes 44 songs and then cuts them down to 11 just to make one album has my attention. The Sound of Madness may become the newest addition to my soundtrack. I'm making a trip tomorrow (well, today since it's actually 12:30 a.m. We writers keep odd hours and tend to write when the Muse descends and orders us to take up the pen (or keyboard, as the case may be)) to visit my family in West Virginia and the 60 minute drive will be perfect for taking the new album for a spin.

I'll let you know how it sounds.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Brief Monday Evening Post

It's a great time to be a sports fan, particularly a college basketball fan. March Madness kicks off this week. My bracket isn't filled out, but at first blush I'm picking Kansas to take the title. West Virginia has surprised me with a Number 2 seeding but I'm not that the Mountaineers are a consistent enough team to take it all the way.

My big focus this week, aside from basketball, is speaking at the Clifton Forge Public Library Thursday evening at 6 p.m. I have yet to write my speech, but I've been giving it some thought. Truthfully, I don't know yet what I'm going to say but I'll have it down by six on Thursday.

I've also been invited to speak at Boys' Home as part of their reading program May 6 and I've even been told that they are interested in ordering books, which is always a good thing for us writers trying to make it big.

And for those of you keeping track, the next round of cuts in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel of the Year Award contest will be March 23. Needless to say I'll be anxiously awaiting those results.

In the meantime I think I'm going to work a little more on Blood & Steel, which is now coming along slowly but steadily after a brief break, and I'll be reading The Surgeon's Mate, part of O'Brian's Aubrey-Marturin series. My reading pile is pretty deep right now, with three more O'Brian novels, The Count of Monte Cristo and Don Quixote. I've resolved to read Moby Dick by the end of the year, so I have a hefty stack to plow through.

All is right with the world.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Words Of Warning That Often Go Ignored Just For The Fun Of It

The doors are now properly hung. Bryan fixed them. He walked in, looked at them, said "I have a plan," and then fixed them. In the space of 15 minutes.

As I said before, I'm a writer, not a handyman.

Now, I should mention that the phrase "I have a plan" makes me cringe whenever Bryan says it. His plans usually end up hitting their goal in the most roundabout, insanely complicated way possible that's usually worth a few stories (providing the judge hasn't forbidden us to tell them or the U.S. Army hasn't classified the events. With Bryan, either of those are realistic possibilities). And since the list of experiences he draws off now includes basically three tours of duty in Afghanistan and armed combat, I should probably start giving his plans a little more thought before I sign on.

All my friends have a cringe-worthy phrase. Well, Dick doesn't, but he's the quiet one. I should mention that among the crew I run with, I tend to be the voice of, well, if not reason then perhaps we could say common sense. That being the case, those of you who know me will immediately begin wondering how we survived half the adventures we've had or you'll understand why we get into them in the first place.

Patrick's phrase is quite simply "Oops." When I hear him say that I half expect the roof to fall in. The last time I heard him say that, we spent a long time shoving his Honda Accord back up a hill after we'd gotten it stuck. The previous time he said it was just seconds before a couple hundred pounds crashed to the floor of the weight room.

Devan is usually so deep into things that he has two phrases. Hearing "I've been thinking..." or "I've got an idea..." makes me wish I was somewhere else. I heard it once and it involved climbing a cliff to get off the river and when we made it to the top we were in a brier patch that left a scar on my arm that took the better part of three years to fade. The phrase "I've got an idea" once led him to light a brush pile on fire less than a hundred feet from the woods on what turned out to be the windiest day of the spring.

Collectively, we have a tendency to size up a situation in one of two ways, depending on who is around at the time. When we face a problem and come up with a potential solution, Devan tends to shrug and say "This isn't the dumbest thing we've ever done" and then proceed to get into a mess that'll take me and Patrick both to pull him out of. If I'm being honest here, I must admit that I've used that one myself a few times. Bryan tends to look at something, give that very same shrug, and say "Well, we can't possibly screw this up any worse than it is" and then proceed to screw it up way worse than it was to begin with.

Except this time. His plan worked and my doors are now in place. I guess these wild hares have to work themselves out every once in a while.

Home Improvements Are Overrated

"Dammit Jim, I'm a doctor, not a miracle worker."

Bones said that to Captain Kirk more than once on the decks of the Enterprise. Well, my version goes something along the lines of "I'm a writer, Bethany, not a handyman."

See, before I became happily married I purchased my parents' house when they moved back to West Virginia. The kitchen of our lovely abode has a nook, wherein rests the washer and dryer. The nook was once covered by a pair of bi-fold doors. I crashed through them a few times when I was a kid and I'm sure they were replaced at least once. The track that the doors ran on was so worn that it wouldn't hold the doors in place as tight as it should and when the water heater busted a few months back, I tossed the doors so I could replace them with new ones.

Well, Bethany finally decided that today was the day those doors were going to be replaced since she has a baby shower for a friend scheduled here for Friday and she wanted the nook properly covered. A trip to Lowe's took care of purchasing the so called "easy to install" doors.

I'm writing this post at 11:45 p.m. We started at 9:30 p.m. with one five-minute break for a telephone call. That alone should be enough to tell you how this is going.

The first section of track went up without a problem. I then proceeded to screw piece on that holds the door on the bottom into the frame. Well, there's been so many holes drilled into that piece of wood that the piece just pulled right out of the door the first time we tried to use it. Oh, and did I mention that piece was warped when it came out of the bag? I didn't? Well it was.

So next we try to screw the door knob into the "pre-drilled" hole 36'' from the bottom of the door. That "pre-drilled" hole was a dimple that didn't even break the surface of the wood. So I pulled out my handy dandy battery powered drill and fixed that problem and spent the next ten minutes trying to get the screw to line up properly.

After a completely irritating few minutes of struggling with the door on the right side of the nook, we get it in place and it looks wonderful. Well, it's time to move on the left door and the phone rings. As Bethany talks to her sister I grab a snack and two Reese Easter Eggs and open up the next door.

Now, dear reader, I'm sure you're thinking that we'd worked out all the difficulties on the first door and the second one would be a breeze. You did think that, didn't you? Well, you probably jinxed us and that's why it took just as long, if not longer, on this door.

The first mistake was mine when I put the pivot piece on the wrong side over Bethany's protests that I was doing it wrong. The holes for the top pieces are pre-drilled and it takes a hammer to drive the pieces into place. It takes a pair of pliers and me hauling back on them and pushing against the door with my feet with everything I have to get the piece back out again. Once that's accomplished, we get the pieces in their proper places, align the track and screw it in and then see about hanging the door.

With only a moderate amount of frustration, we get that door in place. We close the door and then pull the one on the right shut so that we can stand back and admire our handiwork. 

Except that the doors won't close. One door is striking the other on the bottom and there's a gap between them at the top. We spend at least 20 minutes trying to work this problem out and never manage to get anywhere. The doors are still hung, one closed and one a little more than 3/4 of the way closed.

After our workout tomorrow I'm going to ask Bryan to come up and see what we can do with it. I'm out of ideas.

I'm a writer, not a handyman.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Something New To Read

The mail finally came through! Yesterday when I opened my box I had two books, in almost mint condition, all for the cost of less than a dollar a piece from the Amazon Marketplace.

O'Brian's Desolation Island and The Fortune of War are now in my possession and waiting to be read. It almost presents something of a dilemma, since I'm already in the midst of The Count of Monte Cristo and Don Quixote.

The truth is that I'm a very impulsive reader. I do tend to get in a groove of reading certain kind of books and not want to get out of it. Right now I'm leaning more toward historical fiction with the occasional dabbling in science fiction. More specifically, I'm hooked on tales of the British Navy during the Napoleonic War era.

I discovered my interest in that world inside the covers of C.S. Forester's series about Horatio Hornblower and was able to follow it, more than a year later, in Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Marturin series. The idea of these ships, with only sails for power, carrying everything that they need and sailing halfway around the world to do battle is fascinating. I wouldn't ever have wanted to live that life, but it sure is interesting to read about.

I think it would be pretty awesome to have a sea worthy vessel of my own that I could take out on the ocean. In fact, I've always talked about having a yacht of my own one day and setting out on the high seas. My taste for adventure may have mellowed a bit as I grew up, but I could easily imagine taking my own ship across the Atlantic and visiting England and France on one very long and enjoyable vacation.

And that's one reason I enjoy the beach so much. I like the thought of standing at the water's edge and knowing I can make it almost anywhere in the world if I had a map and a boat. At the beach, you're standing in the same waters that Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the world in, where submarines wage their silent wars, where the Battle of the Atlantic was fought...There are countless stories out there and wonders that mankind has yet to discover.

It's enough to make me wish it was warm enough for a vacation.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Runnin' Round

Today was a day without a lot of direction so we just jumped in the car to see where it would take us. It took us to Smokey Bones where a completely random woman gave us a couple for a buy one, get one free meal, which was pretty awesome.

And since no trip to Roanoke would be complete without a trip to a bookstore, I came home with a copy of Cervantes' Don Quixote. It's a book that's been on my "To Read" list for a long time and I'll probably cross it off fairly soon.

I'm afraid I can't report much in the way of progress on Blood & Steel or anything else, here of late, but I'm not too worried about it. Writing, at least for me, happens in spurts. Sixty handwritten pages (front and back) is a pretty good spurt by my reckoning and I'm sure it'll pick up again here soon. In the meantime I'll be give thought to my speech at the Clifton Forge Public Library on the 18th and then eagerly delving back into the world of Captain Jack Aubrey as he takes on the French Navy in the Napoleonic Wars.

In a rare twist, Bethany and I both have next week off, though she's on vacation and I'm still laid off. Even still, it should be a great week. I'm hoping to try out some new recipes since we'll both have time to cook together.

So, yea. Not much food for thought here lately on the blog and I'm sure that'll change soon. For now, I'm just enjoying things being a little laid back for now.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Waiting Patiently For The Mail

My books still aren't here.

Granted, I only ordered them Tuesday or Wednesday and I managed to get two books, in good condition, shipped to my door for under $10. I guess that's the downside of online shopping. The shipping is never as fast as I want it to be.

While I'm waiting, I'm continuing to work on reading The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas. It's an extremely long book. Now I'm not a person that's intimidated by long books, but to give you an idea of how long this book is, I'm nearly 500 pages in and I'm not yet at the halfway point. Wrap your brain around that one. The novel's almost 1,400 pages long. Pretty incredible, isn't it?

So yes, the week is working out beautifully. Bethany starts her vacation tomorrow after what hopefully will be only an hour long orientation for the new company that's taking over her office. I believe that our one true appointment for the weekend has been postponed, so life is indeed good.

If only my books would get here...

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Surviving The Morning Workouts So Far

I'd forgotten how much being sore really isn't fun. It's been such a long time since I seriously lifted weights that I'd forgotten. Just today I had to be reminded of how to properly do one of my favorite lifts.

When I woke up this morning I was reminded of how much being sore hurts. When you focus a work out on a particular area of your body, say chest and shoulders, the next day isn't really pleasant, especially when it's your first one in a while. I know in a week or so I won't be near so sore until I move up in weight again. But that first week of a training regimen is rough. Today we added a little jogging to it and since my workout partner is a sergeant in the U.S. Army National Guard, we sing cadence just for the sheer fun of it as we run.


So while my butt's being kicked in the gym in the mornings, the afternoon is providing quality time for working on  wedding photographs and Blood & Steel. In fact, the workouts are providing valuable insight to some of what Sam is going through and I'm really putting some ink down on paper in the evenings. So oddly enough, this whole unemployment thing is actually turning into a bit of a blessing in many ways. I guess there's good in everything if you take the time to look for it.

Adversity can become opportunity with the right mindset. I don't know how much longer my unemployment will last because I hear that our workload seems to be improving a bit. Until I go back on the clock I'm going to use every bit of my time off that I can to advance my life in other areas. So far it seems to be working. I can't help but wonder, however, how this experience will pay off down the road.

Hopefully it will pay off with a writing contract and most of a sequel to The Crownless King waiting in the wings.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Pushing Weights

The week seems to be shaping up about like I planned it to. I even had my first work out in more than two years this morning and it didn't kill me.

Once upon a time I was a gym rat. During my senior year of high school it wasn't uncommon for me to be in the gym and weight room 15 hours a week or more. The weight room became a classroom for me and I much preferred it to the more traditional classrooms I was stuck in the rest of the day.

I live in a small town that's miles from the cutting edge of anything. But the weight room at Alleghany High School was sweet and simple. It had all the basics a man could need to working out and, with the exception of the neck machine, all free weights.

Every morning started off the same for me that spring. Out of bed, drive to school and duck into the weight room as soon as the bell rang. After the announcements passed Patrick would crank up the music and the two of us would push some serious weight. Each body part had its own day and we stuck to the schedule as religiously as any injuries we might have at the time allowed.

Patrick, at that point, had been lifting a lot longer than I had and the first week he squatted 405 pounds. Squatting involves a heavy bar across your shoulders, bearing whatever weight you want to attempt to lift, and bending at the knee until your thighs are parallel with the floor and standing back up again. The day he hit 405 I decided that, before we graduated at the end of the semester, I'd do the same.

And I did. I spent the entire semester driving toward it and slowly gained ground on it, adding plate after plate each week until I was finally able to pile four big 45-pound plates on either end of the bar (which weighed 45 pounds itself). I stepped under it, braced my shoulders against the bar and heaved. I took two tentative steps backward to position myself inside the safety rack, smiling in spite of the strain at the sound of all that iron rattling around my head. I went down, felt my legs shaking against the strain, and drove it back up, stepped forward and racked it.

There was a lot of cheering, because there were two or three others in the room and they all knew that I'd been working toward that goal. One of them was even going to take a picture of it with the little Kodak disposable camera (back as digital point and shoots were just getting to be common). But he blew it. And if I wanted a photo of achieving my goal I'd have to do it again.

So I did and nowhere near as easily as I did the first time. I have that photo stashed away somewhere and if I find it, I'll scan it in and post it. It helped preserve the memory for longer than the bruise the bar left across the entire width of my shoulders that day.

I year later and I could do reps of that very same weight. A few months later I received a concussion playing football that put a hold on my physical activities, and then another the following winter that more or less put an end to everything for the past couple of years. These days, having learned the lessons of a sports career that involved getting banged around a lot, I doubt I'll ever really push as much weight as I once did and I'm fine with that.

But it'll be nice this summer when I'm lugging a backpack full of surveying gear up a mountain somewhere to be able to do it a little easier.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Making Some Noise

Sometimes its just fun to make a little noise.

Recently I've been looking for something to play that would really bring out some of the attributes that Stratocasters are known for. I found it in the blues. I stumbled on to some of B.B. King's concert videos from the 90s and most especially Live From Memphis. It's a very moody, expressive form of music that will really put a guitar through its paces. King plays what looks like a Gibson Les Paul famously named Lucille, but I've seen him play with Eric Clapton and other greats who play a Fender pretty similar in build to mine.

So today I learned my first blues lick. It's a pretty simple lick in E, but boy is it a lot of fun to play. I sat down this afternoon beside my little amp, cranked the volume and turned on the distortion for a fatter sound. I learned this lick on frets 2 through 4, though I think it can be slid up to start on the 12th fret. I haven't quite worked that out.

I did find some classic rock and roll riffs, Crazy Train, Back in Black and a few others. They actually looked pretty simple and fun to play, but the blues spoke to me over the rock this time. I had so much fun that I came in and looked up B.B. King and found Riding With The King used on Amazon for $1. It's a collaborative album that Clapton and King put out back in 2000. It just sounds like it would have to be amazing.

It makes me wonder how it feels for those two legends to actually collaborate on an album like that. Do they consider themselves legends? Do they realize they're making music history with the kind of landmark album that will be talked about for years? Or are they just two guys who love to play guitar and are fortunate enough to do it for a living?

No matter how they feel about it, I'm excited to give it a listen.

Monday, March 1, 2010

A New Week

It's Monday!

Normally I wouldn't be so excited about Mondays, but last week was a bit weird and kind of hectic and this week looks to be (hopefully) a little calmer.

Today I've already made a good deal of progress on the wedding photos and the cleaning of the house. Interestingly enough, I have a new writing challenge opening up this evening. A friend of mine from school, Tony Angell, proposed that once a week we take a subject and write independently about it and compare notes when we're finished. The subject can be some kind of opening line, a plot idea...anything goes. I, of course, immediately jumped on the idea. It's a pretty cool way to practice writing and at the same time maybe put down some ideas I have rattling around that don't belong inside of Blood & Steel or The Sea of Souls or anything else I have going on at the moment.

Speaking of the books, I'll throw out a bit a of shameless plug here. I'll be speaking and signing books March 18 at the Clifton Forge Public Library. I'll have 20 books on hand and will happily take orders should I sell out.

Blood & Steel has seen a little hiatus over the past week and while very little has been written, I've given a lot of thought to what comes next. I'm at a point in the novel where Sam will have to undergo some serious changes, both physically as well as in how he views the world. The challenges he's facing in this novel are not small ones, but so far he seems to be up to it. Character growth does not come easily, to the character or the writer, and the time I've taken to think things through last week will come in handily as I put pen to paper once more this week.

I've found an exciting blog by Jef Mallet. You'll find it in my blog list next to the postings over on the right side of your screen. Mr. Mallet is the author of Frazz, one of my favorite comic strips, as well as a couple other books. His blog postings are interesting and humorous and I recommend them to anyone wanting a little food for thought.

Hmmm....speaking of food I think I'll go start the process for dinner.