Thanksgiving

It’s certainly been a crazy year and particularly, the last few months. The one good thing about Thanksgiving (besides eating yourself into a food coma), is that it makes me think of the things for which I am (or should be) grateful. 

Things For Which I Am Thankful

  • My Family – I thankful for my family, particularly my wife and son. They put up with me when I’m writing and when I’m stressed out and overtired.
  • My Job – I’m thankful for a reasonably stable job that provides for my family. Having been through times without a job, I realize how fortunate I am.
  • Music – I’m thankful for being able to perform music. I hate practicing, but I love playing. Although this time of year, it can get a little crazy (7 concerts within the next month).
  • Writing – I’m thankful that I’ve been able to finish another book and I’m well on my way to finishing the first draft of another.

I know there are many things I’m not remembering. What are the things that you are thankful for?

A Holiday “Tradition”

And what would Thanksgiving be if I didn’t bring out my Thanksgiving story…


The Call of Cthurkey

by Michael Tefft

(with apologies to H.P. Lovecraft)

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human stomach to tolerate the most obscene combinations. Cooking shows on the Food Network strain in each direction to inspire more and more strange combinations, but so far, none that our stomachs can’t handle. But someday, we will find the combination of foods that will surely drive us mad.

My knowledge of such a thing occurred this Thanksgiving. As was tradition, we assembled at the house of my parents. In the morning, we gathered in front of the television to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, as was our want. I could smell a strange odor coming from the kitchen; at once delicious, while at the same time repugnant. Strangely, my mother would not let me help in any way with the cooking, saying simply she was trying something different and wanted to make it a surprise.

After some time, I asked my father if I could borrow his computer to check the hockey scores as cell reception was nearly zero at my parents’ house and my fantasy hockey team was not going to run itself. He grunted from his recliner and I went to my former bedroom, now the home office.

As I brought up the browser window, I noticed that one of my parents had left the browser brought up in a page full of strange and arcane recipes. As I read the page, I looked in horror at combinations of gelatin formed into translucent prisons for meat, vegetables or fruit. As the dread rose along with the bile in my throat, I read the “Comments”. And buried in the comments was a link to what was described as the most forbidden food combinations put together. The link simply read “Crockernomicon”.

With some trepidation, I moved the mouse and with a deep sense of foreboding, clicked the link. The site loaded; I immediately felt like I had stumbled on some lost and forbidden lore. I saw recipes for Jellied Chicken Loaf, Shrimp Aspic Mold, and Pickle Stretcher Salad. The more I read, the more my stomach gurgled and I swallowed hard to force down the rising bile. And then at the bottom of the page was a link to “A Truly Unique Thanksgiving Treat”. To my horror, I realized that the link had been already visited. With trembling hand, I clicked the link.

At the top of the page, I saw the phrase “In his tureen of Gr’vy, Chturkey waits for dressing”. Before I could read any more, my sister came to the door to tell me that the feast was ready. I closed the browser before I could finish looking at the screen, sure that I saved my sanity.

I followed my sister to the dining room table and froze. Before me lay a tableau out of a nightmare. A collection of abominations that would destroy a man’s sanity covered the plates and serving trays. First, a transparent green tower trapped what looked like coleslaw within its shiny emerald walls. Nearby, a translucent white mound with flecks of red and green; the whole thing wobbling as the plate was handed from person to person. More and more of these transparent or translucent concoctions were handed to me. I knew what was expected and with rising dread, I scooped the various congealed food onto my plate. As I stared at the utter horror awaiting me, I was snapped from my daze by my mother’s voice. “Now for the main course.”

Nothing that I had seen in my life prepared me for the horror that arrived on the platter. On a bed of brussels sprouts that looked like the spawn of the Triffids, lay a true abomination. A fully roasted turkey with the tentacles of an octopus and the legs of a crab stretched the limits of sanity of my mind. This could only be one thing: the dread Cthurkey. Nothing I had seen in the Crockernomicon had prepared me for this. My father took his electric carving knife and hacked into the monstrosity. When asked if I wanted white meat or dark, I asked for white in fear that I might be eating turkey stained with the inky blackness of the octopus.

I ate and soon the strain was more than my brain could handle. Dinner became a blur. I must have passed out as I awoke alone on the recliner in front of the television, dimly aware that a football game was playing. As I tried to shake the horror of the feast from my mind, I kept hearing  the words from the dread Crockernomicon in my mind:

“In his tureen of Gr’vy, Cthurkey waits for dressing”

I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Mike



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The Times They Are A Changing

The Times They Are A Changing

Hello again! It’s been a while since I’ve posted. The major reason is that my mother has been in the hospital (She’s being released on the day I write this). What that’s meant is that I have had almost no time for writing. That will probably continue for the near future. I realized that if I want to keep writing (and I do), I need to change how I write and I think I’ve come up with an approach that works

The Good Ole Days

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a programmer in my day job. I’m used to dealing with manipulating large sections of text. That’s why I’ve had no issue writing in Microsoft Word. I would open up the Word Document and just pick up where I left off. If you had to rearrange paragraphs, it wasn’t great, but I could make it happen. And it supported the way I write. In the writing world, writes tend to fall into two camps. Plotters outline and plan each chapter and scene in detail before writing. “Pantsers” write by the seat of their pants; they just dive in and see where the story goes. I have been much more of a “pantser“. I have the overall story plotted out at a high level, but most of the details and how to get there are made up as I go. This means I really need more continuous time to write because I have to make those decisions while I’m writing. And it’s worked well for me until now.

Changes

A couple of months ago, I decided to buy a program called Scrivener by Literature and Latte (what an awesome name for a software company). The product is made to help you organize and produce documents. You may ask, “What’s big deal? Word can do that.” And the answer to that is “Yes, it can.” But Scrivener can do some much more. You can keep notes about characters, setting, or any research you need within your project. If you break your writing down into smaller units such as chapters or even scenes, you can move them around and rearrange them to your heart’s content. And when I, you click a menu item to turn this back into a Word document or even into a digital book.

Since I realized that I am mostly going to have short blocks of time to write, I decided to plot out my short stories in more detail. I took each story (except the previously completed story) and broke each of them down into the scenes I needed for the story. I think that’s going to help me in two ways. First, I think I’m an impatient writer. I know, how can I say that when I’ve been working on The Reluctant Agent for three years? What I mean is that I really want to get the plot out. I think that means I tend to want to race right to the plot (especially in short stories) and I sometimes skimp on things like characters and description. Plotting out the scenes helps get that out of the way and I’ve scratched that itch. Second, I now have a roadmap for getting work done. Since I’m likely to have much smaller units of time, I can work on a scene where I know what’s got to happen and I can make small incremental progress.

Here’s a screenshot of my current horror story anthology project;

I don’t know if this will work, but I’m giving this experiment a try.  I have mixed feelings about my potential success. As a writer, I’ve been lucky that I’ve always been able to outline in my head. Doing all of those outline exercises in English class felt so tedious for me because I just did it in my head; why did I have to write it out?. On the other hand, Scrivener feels in some way like the Visual Studio of Writing. I use Visual Studio for programming. In modern programming design, you break things down into very small units that have certain properties and can do certain things. To write an application, you have to tie all of these units together to make the program do what you want. I can’t help but think that Scrivener is just like that. So maybe this experiment will work after all.

In Other News

 You may have noticed that I just made The Reluctant Captain available on Kobo, another e-book distributor. I’ve been doing a tremendous amount of driving lately (approaching 200 miles a day), so I’ve been listening to podcasts to past the time. I’ve recently started listening to The Creative Penn which focuses on the business side of being an author. It’s an excellent podcast and I’ve learned so many things. One of which was that I really should make my book available via Kobo, especially since all of the work to create the e-book was already done. I took about thirty minutes, set up the Kobo account, and uploaded my book. The very next day, I had a new sale. So, yeah!

In a few weeks, I’m taking a mini writing retreat. I’ve reserved a cabin for two nights and I’m hoping to get a bunch of work done on these horror stories. We’ll see if this experiment helps. If it does, I intend to use this approach with my next novel. 

That’s all for now. I plan to do a post after the writing retreat to report how that went and if my experiment is really helpful.

Happy journeys!

Mike

I think because it’s Fall, I’m thinking of all things macabre. While the editing work begins on The Reluctant Agent, I thought I’d take the time to write some horror short stories. I’ve previously had written one story and was expired to write another one after our vacation this summer. So I decided to pull to

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What I Did Over the Summer

Good gracious, it’s been a very long time since I’ve posted…anything. As usual, it’s been a very hectic summer. And as we near the end of summer, I’m resurrecting the time-honored bane of every student’s existance: the “What I Did Over the Summer” essay.

Music

As usual, I spent a very large part of the summer playing in community bands. This summer, I played 15 concerts in 3 different bands and also played in the orchestra for a musical. Summer band season wrapped up with my last concert on August 24. I love playing, but I’m glad it’s over for this year.

Family

My mother has had some health issues over the last few months, so factored into all of this has been visiting her on a regular basis after work. I’m adjusting to a new normal now and I have to make real choices about how I spend my time.

Vacation

I did, with all of this craziness, find time to get away a couple of times. Earlier this month, we went shared a HUGE house in Williamsport, PA with my wife’s parents, sisters, and their children. It ended up being a perfect blend of doing stuff and doing nothing. We also just got back from a long weekend in Lake Placid where we saw many of the Olympic venues, purchased insane amounts of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and had a good time.

And the thing you’re (hopefully) curious about…Writing

And, believe it or not, I made progress on the writing front. I completed the fourth revision on The Reluctant Agent. I’m letting that sit for a bit and I’m working on some other projects. I finished a horror short story I started in January and I’m writing another horror short story based on something from my vacation. I also have ideas for another horror short story and a brand new idea for a novel that is not in my planned Reluctant series. Strangely, I’ve been remarkably creative, even though I haven’t had as much time to write as I’d like.

What Continues To Motivate Me To Write?

The answer to this question is two fold. 

First, it’s readers. I’ve been blessed that many people have read and enjoyed The Reluctant Captain and that means the most to me. Sure, I’d like to be a best-selling author, but I’m really happy to have people who genuinely anticipate my next book. To you, I say thank you…and be patient. It is coming.

The other answer is being part of the writing community. In this case, it’s an online community. I don’t have many writers that live near me, so I’m not part of a writer’s group. But as I mentioned in my last post, I’ve found podcasts that have really helped me feel part of the writing community. I’m now listening to three writing podcasts and finished a podcast about creativity. The podcasts are:
Writing
1.  Write Now by Sarah Rhea Werner
2.  Horrible Writing…and Whining by Paul Sating
3.  The Creative Writer’s Toolbelt by Andrew Chamberlain

These podcasts offer three different things. Write Now is inspiring and nurturing; Horrible Writing…And Whining is the kick in the pants you need to get going; and The Creative Writer’s Toolbelt is, not surprisingly, about the nuts and bolts of writing. I’ve really enjoyed this podcast because it’s the creative writing class I never had in college. A key feature common to all three podcasts is author interviews. I think I learn something from every one of these interviews and it really helps me feel like I’m part of the greater writing community 

Creativity
1. Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert

This podcast starts with Ms. Gilbert interviewing a person who is having some sort of creative issue. After she gathers the facts, she suggests an assignment to help move the person forward.  She then discusses the issue with some noted creative person who has had success in that creative field and gathers the advice. She checks in later with the person to see how they are progressing. It’s very inspirational and I know I related to one or more of the people in the podcast. There are only two seasons, but I think it’s worth a listen.

Wrap It Up Already…

That’s what I did with my summer. I hope that you had a great summer as well.

Happy Journeys,

Mike

PS – I know that summer is over so you won’t be taking a book to the beach, but it will be cold soon and you’ll want to snuggle up with a book. You could always jump over to the link on the top right of the page and pick up my book…I’m just saying…

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One Is The Loneliest Number – Finding a Writing Community

Writing is a solitary pursuit. It’s your mind versus a blank screen. You spend hours locked in battle to get the words that sound so magical in your head to appear as magical on the page. Or simply staring at the screen not knowing where to begin. Until that story is out of your head on the page, it is just you.

And that can be a very lonely place.

Getting By With A Little Help From My Friends

As I’ve relayed here (on more than one occasion), I have a real problem fighting the Imposter Police in my head telling me I’m a fraud. In the last month or so, I’ve been able to quiet the Imposter Police to the point that I can ignore them and get work done.

How did I do that?

I became part of a community of writers.

I’ve been listening to two writing podcasts: Write Now by Sarah Rhea Werner and Horrible Writing…and Whining by Paul Sating. They have two totally different styles but have the same basic mission: they want people to write. The podcasts connect me with other writers so I feel like my struggles are not unique. Sarah started the I Am A Writer Facebook group as a place for writers to congregate, ask one another for help, celebrate our successes, receive sympathy and support for our failures. I’m more of a lurker than a contributor, but I do contribute.

I’ve also had the pleasure to communicate with both Sarah and Paul. They are both incredibly busy people, but not so busy to acknowledge an email.

All of this has made me feel not so alone. I’m sure my wife is glad. I know she’s sick of me bouncing into the living room because, on the third try, I’ve finally fixed that scene so that it now adds to the story instead of taking a left turn. Just being able to say “I’ve finally fixed my plot problem” to an audience that understands what you go through helps so much. And it helps me claim the mantra, “I AM A WRITER”

I’d love to be part of a physical writer’s group. I’ve tried a couple of times, but the group seems to fall apart (maybe it’s me?) If anyone is nearby and wants to get the ball rolling, let me know! I’d be happy to assist. Until that happens, I’ll continue with the podcasts and the Facebook group.

Happy Journeys!
Mike

PS – Summer is nearly here and that means beaches…which also means reading. And if you need a book….take a gander to the right.  I’m just saying.

 

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Creativity on the Brain

Lately, I’ve been encountering discussions about creativity: what it is, how it works, how to be more creative. Some of it was on purpose, some of it was serendipitous. I know that lately, I haven’t felt as creative. I sit at my desk to write and I’m immediately out of the chair, trying to find some reason to not write. And those times that I do force myself to sit in the chair, almost nothing comes out. But yesterday, I spent about five hours at my desk and had a really productive day. I’m really eager to figure out how to even this out so it’s not feast or famine. My guess is this is what has pushed my interest in creativity.

Creativity as Magic

About a month ago, I listened to Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. I think the title accurately describes the tone of the book: creativity is magic. Ms. Gilbert tells us that the way to receive the magic is to basically get your butt in the chair so that you are available to listen to the creative voices in the universe and can be the conduit for them to manifest. It’s a little New Agey so that can be a little bit of turn off, but much of it resonated with me. The book is definitely more inspirational than instructional.

Creativity as Process

Last week, I listed to the Write Now with Sarah Werner podcast and her guest was Bob Stromberg. During the podcast, Mr. Stromberg detailed his process for creativity he called GIT for Grab things that interest you, Interrogate them, Transform them. The podcast is fascinating and thought-provoking and I encourage you to listen to it in its entirety here.

Creativity as Activity

Last weekend, we spent Saturday with our son and ended up spending time in a bookstore. I picked up Unstuck: 52 Ways to Get (and Keep) Your Creativity Flowing at Home, at Work & in Your Studio by Noah Scalin. This book is exactly what it promises: a series of little exercises that are meant to get you thinking differently (yes, Apple; that’s the grammatically correct way to say that!) and shift your thinking to make you more receptive. I haven’t actually had an opportunity to play with them yet, but the ones I’ve read look interesting and non-threatening. Most of the exercises I’ve read have a very small time commitment, so even if they don’t “work”, you haven’t invested enough time to be invested in the “success”

Which One Is Correct?

I’ve had experiences where I tend to think creativity is magic. For the last several weeks, I’ve been struggling with how to restructure a part of my new novel. I sat here for days and days, just staring at my screen. And then earlier this week while I was taking a shower to get ready for work, the solution became blindly obvious, like a bolt of divine inspiration.

When I was listening to the podcast this weekend, I realized that my first novel followed the GIT process. The thing that grabbed me was “What if Scotty was the primary hero of Star Trek and not Kirk?” I thought about this idea for several months because this was going to be my novel for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and then I transformed that thought in The Reluctant Captain.

And as far as activities, I participated in a number of them. One common trick is morning pages, an exercise from Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way. For morning pages, you write three handwritten pages of whatever is in your head right after you get up in the morning. They are good for getting the crap out of your head. I’ve keep falling in and out of the habit based on when I need to go to work. Natalie Goldberg suggests timed writings of first thoughts (no stopping, no crossing out, just moving forward) in her book Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. 

I honestly don’t know what the secret is to creativity. I suspect that the real answer is part of all of the above. It is a mysterious thing so I definitely buy into the magical nature. But I’ve seen exercises and process lead to results. I also know that it sometimes happens when you don’t actively try to hunt it down. I honestly think that the way it works is that you have to show up at the desk (or studio, or rehearsal room) and try. Try anything. It could be just writing pages of what a horrible author and person you are and how you’ll end up living in a van down by the river. It could be repetitive scales. It could be an exercise.

My personal thought on creativity is that it’s two parts showing up and listening, two parts work, two parts leaving it alone, and one part coffee.

Until next time, happy journeys!

Mike

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Miscellaneous and Sundries

Miscellaneous and Sundries

It’s only been two weeks and I managed to make another blog post! Will wonders never cease?

Writing Updates

I’ve been trying to take the comments of my beta readers to heart and make some changes in the novel. A new character was falling a little flat and was part of a subplot that while important, veered too from the main story. It was cool, but the point I was trying to make was lost because it took a left turn in Albuquerque. My mission was to flesh out the character and reconstruct that section of the novel.

And, until today, I was not very successful. My attempts turned into sessions at staring at the screen, knowing I needed to do something, but not sure what. This past Friday night, I tried just writing a mostly useless backstory for the character…that is when I wasn’t falling asleep at the computer. Today I sat down this afternoon and with the power of coffee (the true source of many writers’ superpowers. Some writers will tell you it’s inspiration and creativity. Bullshit. It’s the caffeine!), I made substantial progress. I kept filling out useless backstory until he started to come into focus and the solution to fix the subplot came to me as well. I still actually have to write it, but at least I have a vision of where I’m going.

Genre Bending and A Wave of Nostalgia

Last Sunday, my wife and I went to see Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox in concert; the tickets were one of my Christmas presents. Here’s an action shot from the concert:

Postmodern Jukebox takes current pop hits by Taylor Swift, Beyonce, and even Justin Bieber and transforms them into songs that could have been played from the 20’s to the 60’s; from jazz to swing to Motown to gospel. The musicians were absolutely AMAZING – even my wife liked it and she’s been only moderately interested in the group. If you get the chance to see them, I totally recommend it!

But what does this have to do with…anything on your blog?

My love of PMJ is similar to my love of steampunk: in both cases, they are genre-bending. Where PMJ takes music and transforms it into something that could be from another era, steampunk does the same thing with science fiction. It creates an alternate reality where we have major technological advances in a society we recognize. I know that some people like to keep their genre’s pure, but I love a good mashup. Often times, taking two things and putting them together can create something totally new that isn’t really the child of either parent. It can be good or atrocious, but it’s something new.

The other parallel is that they both thrive on nostalgia and the conceit that things were so much better in the past. In truth, that’s not true in the slightest. The styles of music that PMJ uses were often developed by musicians that couldn’t play “white” concert venues. While we view the Victorian/Edwardian era as a time of manners and class, it was also a time where women weren’t allowed to vote and colonialism was at its height. Nostalgia can be a good thing: it is important to remember and honor the past. But it’s important to note that the “good old days” were often not good old days for every one. However, I have to say, I don’t think it’s possible to leave a PMJ concert and not be in a good mood. If you want to catch them on tour, check them out here or you can watch many of their videos on YouTube.

What’s Up Next?

I’m going to be struggling to fit in writing in the next few months. This coming weekend we head to Canada to spend the weekend with our son and next month, I’m playing in the orchestra in three high school musicals, so the writing time will be a little harder to find. But later this spring, I hope to have more exciting news

Until next time, Happy Journeys!

Mike

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