Sunday, January 31, 2010


Sometimes I wish I lived someplace more remote.

We have a nice home in a little subdivision outside of Clifton Forge. It's fairly quiet and not packed too closely, though I can throw a football and easily hit the neighbors to either side. And it's nice to have neighbors. At times we trade recipes and food. There is an inherent comfort in having people live around you because it brings the understanding that you are not alone and that help, if needed, is right next door.

But sometimes I can't help but wish I lived someplace more remote. Yesterday we had our second big snowstorm of the year and there's probably about a foot of the white stuff blanketing the ground. There are a couple of big pine trees in my neighbor's yard and they're beautiful under the cover of snow.

I walked outside just a few minutes ago to put some pork loin on the grill for lunch and I took it all in...the clear blue sky, the not uncomfortable chill in the air and the silence disturbed only by the occasional vehicle on the interstate just over the ridge from the house. My backyard and my two neighbors' back yards are a perfect, undisturbed blanket of white. I enjoy looking at snow before people have trampled through it. It's like a blank canvas that is a masterpiece in it's own right.

It was easy to imagine being somewhere a house atop a hill, all snug and warm with snow piled heavily outside. No sound but the whisper of the breeze as it stirred the top of the snow blanket. A hawk shatters that whisper, it's white underbelly a stark contrast against the clear blue sky as it hunts...

Inside the cabin I could take it all in from my writing desk that sits in front of a large picture window overlooking the valley. A mug of hot chocolate or a cold Pepsi coupled with a hot lunch....

Maybe someday...

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Busy Day

Shooting a wedding is mentally draining. I guarantee most people do not realize how challenging it is and that's mainly because we live in a world of digital point and shoot cameras that take wonderful pictures.

I'm always glad to press that shutter button for the last time. Tonight especially. It started snowing sometime late last night/early this morning and hasn't stopped since. It let up just a bit during the ceremony and started snowing heavy again during the reception. Just before the bride walked down the aisle the National Weather Service raised our expected snow total to between 11 to 15 inches.

I'm home now. I have nowhere to be tomorrow. Let it pour.

As soon as dinner comes out of the oven I'm going to hit the couch with a blanket and a tall glass of Mountain Dew and knock down an episode or two of The Office. Tomorrow I'm sleeping in because I seriously doubt that our road will be plowed and the good Lord was watching over us to get us home safely tonight. When I wake up, I'm reading a book all day.

And if our road does get plowed tomorrow, I'm still going to be happily snowed in. I've already made up my mind.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Thoughts On Inspiration

Sometimes it takes so little to get my brain stirring. I've written before about how I find inspiration in music, particularly rock and roll. Well I found it again two days ago, this time from somewhere completely unexpected.

As a writer, words stick with me. They always have. I have a head for remembering things I've read. I still remember reading Beowulf for the first time one night, about 2 a.m. or so back in the days of high school. I made it to the part about the dragon and there was this epic line..."For the first time, that mighty prince fought with fate against him and glory denied him, and he knew it, and still he raised his sword and struck at the dragon's scaly hide." I cheered. Out loud. At two in the morning. Needless to say my parents weren't happy to be woken up.

I've only read Beowulf once and that line has stuck with me for easily a decade. Well, we were watching Jeopardy two nights ago and a first round category dealt with the French Revolution. Contestants had to identify the historical figure by quotation. One of the answers was this, which I'd never heard before: "I killed one man to save a hundred thousand."

I don't remember the answer. I don't even remember watching the rest of the episode because I spent the next 20 minutes or so wrapping my mind around that. At first blush it seems like such an easy choice. One man to save a hundred thousand...but then why would the speaker say it that way? Why do those words seem so laden with sadness?

And therein lies the inspiration for story. Think of the possibilities. Perhaps the speaker was such a dedicated pacifist that even taking one life to save thousands of others was a betrayal of his beliefs that deeply wounded him. Then again, maybe the life he took was his best friend and he had no other choice. Either reason begs the question of why? Why did he have to kill one man?

Inspiration is a many and varied thing. There's no telling when it will strike or how. One sentence that I can wrap a novel around. I love it. Immediately I started thinking of Blood and Steel and how I could fit that in the sequel to The Crownless King. After some careful thought I've decided that it doesn't belong. True, it fits very much with the mood of the world I've created in those novels but the plot is crafted around another sentiment, one which I won't put out here on the World Wide Web just yet. I'll be keeping this thought tucked away, both in my head and here on this blog. I have a feeling it's going to be revisited soon.

To change subjects just a bit here, it looks like we're settling in for another snow. I haven't yet heard any sort of reliable forecast for accumulation totals so I think I'm just going to wing it and see what happens. Typically, I'd hope for three feet so I could be happily snowed in my warm house. Tomorrow, however, brings a wedding to be shot.

As much as shooting weddings sometimes stresses me out, I find myself looking forward to this one. The bride presented us with a neat idea for a photo guest book where we would take a black and white portrait of their guests holding up a chalkboard with a simple message to the bride and groom. When all is said and done the happy couple should have a bunch of photos with messages instead of a book full of signatures. Pretty cool, eh? Wish I'd thought of it. I'm anxious to make it happen though. It will make the reception more entertaining for me to shoot.

In honor of tomorrow's wedding, I've posted the photo above. These aren't the people getting married, though their turn will come this summer. I'm sure you remember a few posts back when I wrote about getting stuck on North Mountain in attempt to take their engagement photos. Well, after all the efforts of freeing the car and getting back down the mountain I did manage to snag this photo. It was extremely windy and cold outside that day and this is really the only true portrait that turned out. After looking at it, it's become one of my favorites and I've added it to my portfolio that I show potential clients.

Since I have the house to myself for at least a couple more hours I think I'm going to go get lost in the pages of Modesitt's newest novel. The laundry can take care of itself.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Closest People To Heaven

Ah, to be a kid again.

As adults we forget the true innocence that children have. We admire it but we forget what it's like. I had a pretty cool reminder as I ate dinner this evening.

Bethany and I made a trip to Roanoke to stock up on the essentials. After hitting Sam's Club and then swinging by Barnes & Noble to pick up Arms-Commander by L.E. Modesitt Jr., (one of my favorite authors. Extremely excited to have a new Modesitt to read) we decided to have dinner. It's a perk of going to Roanoke and one we enjoy pretty infrequently.

Most of the places were jam packed but Golden Corral seemed to be just about right since we were both pretty hungry and it was almost 7:30. We grabbed the first seat we found, which just happened to be the one near the ice cream machine and dessert bar.

Little kids are some of the coolest people you'd ever want to meet in the world. But you have to watch out for them. I always try to do just because I don't want to trip over them and sometimes they need a helping hand. I always worry about 'em when I see them wandering around a place like that by themselves. I find myself looking to see if their parents around and sadly it seems like they're nowhere to be found.

At a buffet style restaurant, kids invariably make their way to the dessert bar. There were three kids this evening that caught my eye and made me laugh. The first we shall label as the Pie Kid. He was with his dad and you could tell because they had the same haircut and matching red shirts. His dad handed him a slice of apple pie and put his hand on the kid's shoulder (who couldn't have been more than five) and guided him back to their seat. As they passed our table the kid, who was proudly holding the plate with the pie in both hands, looked up at his dad, looked around to see if he would get in trouble and then buried his face in the pie and started eating. As he was walking. Without ever looking up. And his dad didn't figure out what was going on until they were back at their table. It was hilarious.

The second two kids that entertained me we'll call the Ice Cream Kids. Both of these kids were barely tall enough to stand on their tip-toes, stretch and grab the handle on the soft serve machine with their fingertips. The first kid didn't have a bowl. He had a plate and he piled ice cream on that plate higher than gravity should allow. He turned around without even looking for toppings and started weaving his way through the crowd with eyes as wide as saucers as he looked at the frozen dessert.

He walked past another kid who turned and stared as he passed. I could hear him say "Wow". The kid was impressed, I could tell, and he was smart because no one was watching him and he dived for the closest plate. I'm not even sure he grabbed it off his own table. He went straight for the soft serve machine and there's where he paused. He looked it up and down as if he was sizing it up and then decided to go for it. He stretched with everything he had, barely grasped the handle and pulled it down. He wound up with a plate full of ice cream stacked so high that Isaac Newton would've questioned the pull of gravity on soft serve ice cream had he seen it.

All three of these kids were just as happy as they could be and it took so little to make their day. A piece of pie, a stack of ice cream...All so perfectly happy and innocent and free of the troubles of the world coupled with the faith that Mom and Dad would make everything OK. It's no wonder Jesus once said the closest people to heaven  are children.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Six Jars of Salsa And A Pickle

Sometimes the world laughs at me.

See, it all started last night. Bethany had to go to Lewisburg for her first practice for the spring concert season of the Greenbrier Valley Chorale. Since I had to meet with a bride whose wedding we will be shooting in a foot of snow Saturday, I couldn't go with her. Since the next day (today) was going to be trash day, I cleaned out the refrigerator and threw out everything that needed to be thrown out.

I know I've been a little under the weather lately and haven't handled any grocery shopping or much in the way of cooking. Even so, what was left in our fridge caught me by surprise. Six jars of salsa, two cans of those Pillsbury biscuits that come in the vacuum sealed cans, three jars of pickles, two bags of cheese and a green pepper.

I have nothing for that. Those ingredients won't even make a decent stuffed pepper. I even called Dick Muterspaugh, my usual culinary consultant, and he couldn't come up with anything. Fortunately, there was a can of homestyle chicken noodle soup in the cabinet.

Fast forward to this morning. I always set two alarms that are 10 to 15 minutes apart depending on what I have facing me the next day. I have a habit of hitting the snooze too much and setting two alarms cures that. Well, I figured last night I would set my first alarm and use Bethany's alarm for my second alarm. It would have worked out beautifully except that she had her phone on vibrate during chorale practice and hadn't switched it back to ring. Instead of ringing like a normal alarm, the phone vibrated. That phone vibrated its little heart out for at least 15 minutes before either one of us realized it.

So my day was off to a roaring start. To make it better, my subscription to The Amazing Spider-Man is about to run out, so I try to renew online and Marvel's online renewal system is experiencing technical difficulties and will be for the foreseeable future.

Yes, I'm pretty sure the world is laughing at me today.

I did make a little headway with the guitar last night. I've been working on finding the tone I like best for my Fender Starcaster. A Starcaster is basically a Stratocaster without some of the fancier bells and whistles. It's perfect for an advanced beginner/intermediate player such as myself. One of the neat things about an electric guitar is the ability to flip a switch and change the blending of the pickups to give the guitar an entirely different sound. It's taking some work but I'm finally getting my Strat in balance in regards to what I like in the tone.

I learned the majority of Wonderwall by Oasis last night. The bridge needs a little work yet and I hope to polish it off tonight. After I get the mechanics of playing down I'll start playing against the song and working on learning to sing it at the same time.

But all that will happen after a much needed trip to the grocery store where I refuse to allow a single jar of salsa, can of pickles or pack of cheese into the buggy.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Where It All Comes From

As a writer, I'm often asked two very popular questions, neither of which can be answered easily. The first of these, being "What is your book about?" is nearly impossible to answer. The second question, "Where do you get your ideas for your books?" is a little more easily answered, if not briefly.

Writers have a way of looking at the world and wondering how it works. We look at the stories written before and compare them to where we live and wonder about the tales inherent in our own world. I do belive the Man Upstairs has a hand in my inspiration at times, since after all He created me and everything else.

The Crownless King is an example of a book that, in the creating of it, I had to search for the story. I'd had a vision of the ending in my head for years, at least the very bare bones of it. I'd written the beginning of a novel toward that ending and tossed it aside after nearly a hundred handwritten pages because it just wasn't right for the tale.

I began looking for my hero. I studied the writings of L.E. Modesitt Jr. and admired the way that he made his main characters human before he made them heroes. I'd been trying to figure this out for weeks when I went to spend a Saturday working with my Dad and Papaw, who you see picture above, on the family sawmill.

If you've read anything I've written on here before, you'll know that I found my character Sam that morning. It just seemed to make so much sense then to make Sam a miller's son and it still makes sense to me today. In doing so, I was able relate to Sam on a very personal level. I feel like just giving Sam that beginning was enough to let me give him a depth and feeling that I haven't accomplished with my characters before.

I chose to write The Crownless King predominantly in the first person perspective. I wanted to do it after spending a season reading Pat Conroy's works and discovering exactly how much more depth there is in that perspective than I once believed. Letting Sam tell his own story made him real to me and took the story in places I didn't expect it to go. Sam told his story to me and I couldn't change a bit of it.

All of this happened because of where the story was rooted. I've always been different than most of my family. I was the odd kid in the corner reading a book when everyone else was out working or building things. Oh, I'd pitch in, mostly when they pulled me out of my world of books, but I was far from my element.

After high school I found a job as a reporter and learned to work for someone other than my family. All the things they had tried to teach me about work in the previous 18 years started to make sense and I finally learned how to work. In learning to work, I was able to appreciate spending time at our little Wood-Mizer sawmill that we have at Papaw's house.

It was as this point when I began to understand that I wasn't all that different from my family. Working the mill became an opportunity to spend time with Dad and Papaw and get to know them. The work itself became secondary to working together and the hard manual labor that once seemed so tough now became enjoyable.

Most everyone who reads this blog knows how sick Dad was last year and how close to death he was. Thanks to the Good Lord above, he's made a full recovery. There was a time, however, when I contemplated not having him around anymore. A lot would have changed and I'm not sure that the sawmill would have run again with just me and Papaw.

For whatever else would have changed, I made myself a promise that the mill would be taken care of, somehow stored away until a time when I could teach my kid (that I hope to have someday) to run it. Granted, most of my work on the mill is more of the toting and stacking of lumber and the positioning of logs, but I would've found a way. Had the worst happened, it would've been the best way for my kid to meet his grandpa.

You see, I'm just as bound to that mill as Sam is to his dad's. For different reasons, maybe, but bound just the same.

It's where the stories come from.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Morning After

It's too early for morning.

If you read the previous post (and if you didn't, then you should) then you know that last night I was waiting on the Amazon Breakthrough Novel of the Year Award contest to open for entries. Apparently I was one of thousands who had the same idea of entering at midnight. In my head I had dreams of being the only one who stayed up late to enter and I'd be able to fill out the form, upload my manuscript and be off to sleep inside of five minutes.

Well, I'd forgotten about people in other time zones who would still be up and waiting with the luxury of an hour or two to go before they had to go to bed. Or the other people like me who are pinning their dreams on this contest.

We all combined to overload the site. It took nearly an hour of constantly hitting the refresh key before I could get to the entry screen. I had to reload the entry screen three times so that it loaded properly and would allow me to upload anything. When I finally reached the point where I was happily entered, had a confirmation number in my e-mail and could shut my computer down and drift off to sleep, I was way too keyed up to get any sleep. So I wasted probably another hour of my precious slumber laying awake listening to the humidifier drowning out sound of the rain.

Needless to say, 6:45 a.m. came much too early this morning. And while I may spend my off hours in pursuit of creating the Great American Novel my working hours are spent doing math. More specifically, I'm continuing to "put math", as we call it, on these construction plans so the field crew can go out and do their jobs. Staring at complicated construction plans on about five hours sleep isn't how I prefer to spend my Monday mornings.

Still, life's pretty good. I have food in my refrigerator, a sandwich in my lunchbox, a novel with a legitimate shot at a contract and a job that pays the bills until the writing does. I really shouldn't complain. I should be happier than a bird with a french fry.

But even the birds know that McDonalds doesn't serve french fries until 11 a.m.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


I'm sitting here at the computer in my bedroom watching the clock tick toward midnight. Outside the rain is falling so loudly that I can hear it over the sound of the heat pump fighting its constant battle against the cold. It's a night for shutting the house up tight and pulling the blankets even tighter as you settle in to listen to the lullaby of the rain beating on the roof.

Instead, I'm watching the clock. It took me a minute to write the preceding paragraph. Wonder if I can write another one inside of a minute.

Tonight I'm waiting on the Amazon Breakthrough Novel of the Year Award contest to open for entries. I'm entering The Crownless King in the young adult category. This year there are two categories, young adult and general fiction. The competition is limited to only 5,000 entries in each category and the first prize in each category is a contract with Penguin Publishing and a $15,000 advance. The advance would be nice. The contract would be even better. It would give me the chance to turn my passion and hobby into something that would pay the bills and then some.

So I'm watching the clock. That paragraph took two minutes.

The rain is really coming down outside. As the Saints beat the Vikings tonight to earn a trip to the Super Bowl the National Weather Service put up emergency alerts for a Flash Flood Warning for our area. I've heard a forecast calling for a couple of inches of rain tonight. Add in all the snow that's been on the ground since Christmas and was finally erased by rain earlier this week, that's a lot of water. It's no wonder we're under a Flood Warning.

Hmmm....two minutes seems to be about average for these paragraphs.

Right after graduating from high school I went to work as a reporter for the local paper here in Covington, The Virginian Review. The job was nothing glamorous, mostly work in the sports department handling Little League games. But it did allow me to call myself a "Sportswriter" and then later a "Local News Editor" who was responsible for two pages of the paper each day. I learned to right pretty quick in those days. I even scooped the AP twice on a couple of big stories. I learned after nearly five years that being a reporter wasn't how I wanted to spend my days.

The Good Lord made me a writer when He put me on this Earth. It may not be the job I hold that pays the bills, but it is what I am. At the present time I work for a surveying outfit, mostly as a draftsman and at times part of the field crew. I like to think that I'm working toward getting my surveying license and having that for steady income. However, my dream that trumps everything is to be a bestselling novelist.

Wait...actually it was to be an astronaut but I think that rocket's long since blasted off.

Hmmm...those two graphs took five minutes to put down. Still not bad.

Fifty-one minutes to go until it opens for entries.

Outside of stuff for school I've only ever entered one other writing contest in my life. It was the 10th annual F. Scott Fitzgerald Short Story contest, held annually in Rockville, Maryland. The contest is open to writers in Maryland, Washington D.C. and Virginia. I think I may have been 21 when I wrote A Second's Thought and took home the second place prize of $200. My parents took me to Rockville to attend the conference and I was fortunate enough to meet Pat Conroy, an amazing author who inspired me to write The Crownless King from the first person perspective.

The most difficult thing about the contest was writing the "pitch." The rules of the contest only allow a 300 word pitch to sell your book to the judges. Ever tried taking a complex idea that took you 62,000 words to explain the first time and paring it down to 300? It's nearly impossible. It's like answering the most common question an author hears..."What's your book about?" People are looking for a quick and easy answer (most of the time) and it's nearly impossible for me to give it to them. It took over 62,000 words for me to answer it when I asked myself that question the day I took up my pen. There's never an easy answer to that question.

I am a writer. It's what I do. It's who I am. But 300 words to get the judges to pass my manuscript to the next level where they actually start reading it?

Now I know how Brett Farve tonight felt when he rolled out of the pocket to his right on third down with fifteen yards to go with the game (and the season) on the line very late in the fourth quarter. He threw the ball back across his body and against the grain threw only his ninth interception of the year. The Vikings lost it in overtime and the Saints move on to the Super Bowl.

Hope my 300 words find a little more success than that pass.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Something A Little Different

Here's a little something different. My sister took this snapshot while we were at Grandpa's house today.

See, Grandpa has a pool table in the basement. I grew up in that basement. It's hard for me to even begin to tell you what it was like to have the opportunity to learn the game at his hands. My grandpa is one of the most competitive people you'd ever want to meet. He's 90 and he still plays like he's a kid. You'll receive no mercy at his hands. If you're playing him, you'll have to do everything you can inside the game to beat him. And it doesn't matter what the game is. He wiped the floor with me at Monopoly when I was five and showed absolutely no remorse as he took the last of my money. He never lets anyone win so when you beat him at something, you know you've done something.

I've been shooting pool since I was old enough to drag an old Coca-Cola crate around the table, stand on it and see over the edge of the table. Grandpa even built me a miniature table when I was that small so I could shoot on my own. We've spent countless hours down there around that table, sometimes with his friends, sometimes with family and sometimes just the two of us.

There's probably not a topic that hasn't been discussed over the sound of billiard balls smashing together...politics...religion...anything was fair game.  Sometimes you could get him off his game by distracting him, but not often. Over the years Grandpa's practiced his game to near perfection and age hasn't touched his skills.

I have a lifetime of memories around that table. He's taught me lessons about fair play and competition, about family, about the history that my he lived. On one wall there are two large format black and white photos, what we'd call panoramic today, of the old coal mining crews that worked alongside Grandpa. In them you can find a younger image of him and his brother, of friends that have since passed and even of distant relations I never had the opportunity to meet.

On rare occasions, Grandpa puts up the map he was given after World War II that lays out the path his unit took through Europe and gives the dates of a few significant events. He's never been one to often speak about what he did in the war, but he's told me quite a few stories around that table. I've been told he's told me more than most people and I've tried to write some of them down. I need to make a serious effort to do that soon. I don't think I'll ever forget those tales, told in his own simple way. He's never embellished them, as best I can tell, and he always speaks quietly and humbly, almost as if he's reluctant to talk about it. Mom once told me she thought that Grandpa rarely talks about it because he thinks no one wants to hear about it.

I've heard every word he's ever told me about it. I wish he'd tell me more, but I'm not going to push him into stories he would rather not remember. I'll be content with what he has to tell me.

They're lessons and tales I won't soon forget.

Monday, January 18, 2010

So it's Monday. I'm not really happier than a bird with a french fry because I'd imagine a bird with a french fry would be pretty darn happy. Me, well I guess I'm content at the moment.

There was one bright spot on the day so far. I stumbled on to a new podcast called "Yoda & Me". It is a revamp of an old podcast called "Tech Talk" and it's pretty hilarious. The voice sounds nothing like Yoda, but they give a good reason for it and the podcast is extremely enjoyable.

In the past week I haven't really accomplished anything other than discovering the Dsus4 chord, which pairs fairly decently with a Csus4. So now I'm up to two chords that I've discovered recenly that I like. They're pretty, have a somewhat nostalgic and melancholy feel to it that makes me want to write something, so we'll see what happens.

I was looking through some old photos last night and found this one. It was taken in the field behind my uncle's house. I used a filter to shoot in the Near Infrared end of the spectrum, which gave me a great dramatic sky. The trees and grass and such looks frosted because in Near IR photography, photosynthesis shows up hot, which looks white. It also tends to darken blue skies, an effect I particularly enjoy.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Pyrex Explodes...Who Knew?

Now that I'm older and more mature (something that I'm sure a few people would debate) I find my culinary tastes a bit more varied. Once, I had no interest in soups. Today, I can appreciate a hearty soup, particularly one that's hearty enough to be eaten with a fork.

My sister-in-law makes a mean chicken noodle soup. She came in over the weekend to celebrate "the second anniversary of her 27th birthday) and was going to attempt to make her chicken noodle soup. Well, I was asleep because I wasn't feeling all that well, but I woke up in time to see the whole chicken being taken out of the pot and placed in a Pyrex baking dish to rest.

The trick to resting the meat is to allow the chicken to reabsorb some of the juices, and thereby the flavor, until you're ready to add it back into the soup. In the mean time, you add the noodles to the stock and bring it back to a boil while you saute the vegetables in mushrooms. Well, instead of turning on the burner under the pot of stock and noodles, she turns on the burner under the baking dish holding the chicken. A few minutes later there's a loud pop and glass goes everywhere.

I mean everywhere. All over the kitchen. Down the hall. Very nearly into the TV room and all over the stove and vegetables and noodles. Fortunately, no one was injured by flying glass and it took us about an hour to get everything cleaned up and scrubbed. A couple of potatoes sliced in half came in pretty handing for picking glass up off the stove.

Of course we had to toss everything we'd made up to that point. Tonight we attempted the soup again and it turned out excellently. I was tempted to post a photo, but that wouldn't of been much value other than just to show off and I've never been one to show off.

I've felt better today than I have in more than a week. I'm looking forward to starting off Monday with a clear head and really having a good week. Tomorrow, I'm going to try to wake up with the attitude of being happier than a bird with a french fry.

It'll be Monday. We'll see how it goes.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Bigger Photos and Great Characters

Wow, so that's how big an extra-large photo looks on here. I upgraded the dashboard to the latest version mainly because they promised larger photos. They came through on this one. Awesome.

I took this photo a couple months back in downtown Roanoke at the same wedding where I discovered the graffiti artist. I knew immediately what I was going to do with it when I took it. It would have been posted a long time ago if not for the fact that I filed it away and stumbled across it when I was cleaning up our desktop last night.

I actually cranked the contrast all the way against the stops on this one. Twice. I love how it made the colors pop and deepen the blacks. If I had my way, I'd shoot black and white almost exclusively. Somewhere high in the mountains. But I take my photos where I find them.

I'm still recovering from the bronchitis I came down with late last week and I'm at the point where the side effects from the medicine make you feel as bad as you did when you were sick.

And as I'm writing this I have Star Trek playing on my Blu-ray player for the second time and my fourth viewing counting the theaters. I've come the conclusion that of all the new actors, Karl Urban nailed Bones better than anyone else hit their characters. I've also come to the conclusion that I'm looking forward to having enough age on me that people have to listen to me. Like Bones McCoy. Of course, Kirk as the rebel looking for a fight and believing he's better than anyone else at what he does is pretty cool too.

Writing in movies and television is something that interests me greatly. Both the big screen and small screen shows have multiple characters with wildly different personalities. I understand fitting them into archetypes and using teams of writers, but even still the skill to keep them all sounding and acting different is impressive. It's very hard to juggle inside a novel, particularly one with as many characters as The Chaos Chronicles. I'm sure that it helps having different actors bringing their own personality to each role, but I still find it interesting.

Characters are what make a story. Most people think it's plot, but if you have interesting and real characters then the story will take care of itself. Think about the shows you watch or the books you read. Chances are there's a character in there somewhere that you absolutely love to read about. A character that gets you excited so you can't wait to see what they do next.

Think about it.

Are you thinking about it?

See...told you. If I was older you'd be listening to me know.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Back to Work & Dreaming of Writing

Today was my first day back to work after being cooped up since Friday with a case of bronchitis. Fortunately things didn't pile up too badly and I was able to catch back up fairly quickly. On another bright note, my Jeep has been repaired thanks to the services of the excellent local mechanic Don Dulaney. So things are getting back on an even keel.

I also found out this weekend that The Crownless King is eligible for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel of the Year Award. I think I'm going to enter it into the young adult division. First prize is a contract with Penguin Publishing and a $15,000 advance. While the cash advance is pretty cool, the contract itself would be a dream come true. I've always wanted to write books for a living and that would be my opportunity to do just that.

Naturally, being sick over the weekend brought everything to a screeching halt. Devan has headed out west to finish his training before he is deployed to Iraq. We don't know yet how much work we'll be able to get done over the course of the next year because we don't yet know how much communication we'll have. He's pretty optimistic that he'll have a lot of time on his hands. The plan is to have a "Next to Final" draft for a final review when he is back in the States and then off to publisher after that. The Sea of Souls will follow soon after.

Oddly enough, I've done a bit of work on the concept of Blood and Steel before I shut down for a week. Music is a very key element of my writing and while I never quite know what will inspire me, rock tends to hit a chord somewhere inside. The Sixth Sword was written to the soundtrack of Breaking Benjamin's album Phobia. The final battle was actually written to the heavy metal sound of Saliva's "Raise Up."

Writers listen to music in a very different way than most people. My wife, Bethany, comes from a family of musicians and singers. She hardly knows the words to the music she listens to. Instead, she focuses more on melody and structure of the song. I, on the other hand, appreciate the music and the sounds of the guitars in addition to listening very intently to the lyrics. The lyrics, coupled with the tone of the music, brings it all together for me and paints a picture in my head of what the artist is trying to convey. I pay attention to the unique phrasing and depth of emotion in the words. I've always thought that music would be the next step in my writing career and that is one of the reasons I picked up a guitar.

That paragraph was a bit of a diversion for me to get around to telling you that I found inspiration in Linkin Park's Reanimation, particularly in track No. 7. This is an album I've had since high school and listened to countless times. It's actually a really creative remix of their first album and has been one of the best albums I've ever purchased. This time I could see the ending of Blood and Steel in my head as that jarring mixture of rap and rock beat up my speakers. It was surprising and pleasing all at once.

So I made a note of it to come back to later. When I'm thinking about the novel, that will be on the list of songs that I listen to as I work out stuff in my head. The writing process is very fluid and different for everyone and mine is very greatly dependant on music.

Blood and Steel is also shaping up to be a little different from my usual work. In my previous novels, the climax tends to center on a choice that must be made by the hero. In The Sixth Sword, Alexander has to ultimately choose between good and evil, a choice that will have much greater consequences than he yet realizes. The Crownless King pits Sam against many difficult choices and he decides he has to live up to the demands of his conscience without any real thought for the consequences.

Blood and Steel, as it is turning out, is going to be about the consequences. Sam is loosely, or not so loosely, based on me and my own life. I very much have a tendency to leap without looking, though it's been tempered a bit with age. I understand this about myself and have learned when it works and generally when it's going to come around and bite me in the rear. Now Sam is faced with the consequences of the choice he made at the end of The Crownless King. He's made mistakes and he'll pay for them and he'll have to find himself again as the easy complacency of his life is once again broken. So it's less about the choice and more about the consequences this time around. I didn't really understand that until this weekend and I think that this new understanding will help the novel take shape.

I'll be working steadily on these projects in the coming year. I hope and pray that my schedule gets completely disrupted by the Amazon award. Until then, I'll just keep writing...

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time...

This story definitely comes from the filed of "It seemed like a good idea at the time."

Patrick and Amber are getting married. Yay for them. Since Patrick and I have been good friends for a long time, naturally we volunteered to give them their engagement photos. Amber wanted to go to the Rock Wall on North Mountain. It's a great place for photos.

Except when there's a pile of snow on the ground. And you're driving a Honda.

The trip up the mountain on a winding road wasn't all that bad. We made it unscathed and without much difficulty. We come to the intersection at the top of the mountain, shown in the photo above, and Patrick, who was driving, pauses. The road has two ruts in it and a high pile of snow in between. "This might not work," he observes, and the proceeds to head on down the road. We make it about 200 feet or so and we can feel the snow grinding against our feet on the bottom of the car.

So Patrick stops. Turns out those two ruts were solid ice. We couldn't back up at all. So Patrick and I spent about the next hour stuffing sand and towels under the tires and shoving the car back up the hill as Bethany worked the car in reverse. We eventually made it back up the hill to some solid ground at the intersection, ripping off the plastic cover on the bottom of Patrick's car in the process. A bungee cord fix later, we back down the mountain to the warmth and comfort of the house.

When we left the house, it sure seemed like a good idea at the time. Goes right along with the ballistic jello story. Perhaps I'll tell that one next time...