Changes

Labor Day, the unofficial transition between summer and fall, is a time of change. Kids go from the carefree days of summer back to the reality of school and the changes that happen every year. For adults, it means the end of vacations and back to the grindstone. If you live here in the north, leaves start changing and slide into winter begins.

This Labor Day has marked a number of changes for me. Right before I left for Labor Day weekend, a reorganization at work has me managing people for the first time in my career. Second, and more importantly, my wife and I took my son to college this past weekend so we are now officially “empty nesters”. This Labor Day has been a clear demarkation between the way things used to be and a different reality.

So What The Hell Does This Have To Do With Your Writing?

It has everything to do with my writing. In The Reluctant Captain, Malcolm has to deal with the change of becoming captain. And in a perverse sense of life imitating art,  I’m beginning that same journey. In the next book, The Reluctant Agent, I think you can deduce from the title that yet another change is in store for Malcolm. This change is not necessarily to his liking and echoes frustrations that I’ve had in my career. My story is going in one direction while Malcolm’s is propelled in the opposite direction. People like to say that when visualize something, you bring it into being. Maybe my work on The Reluctant Captain and now The Reluctant Agent has brought that change into my life. Or maybe it’s just serenedity.

So What’s Up with The New Book?

I’m still revising. I got detoured in August getting ready for my son’s departure. I think I have one or two more passes through before I’ll take it out for others to see. I’m shooting for a Spring 2018 release and I should be able to do it now that I’m an empty nester. Or the new job responsibilites will suck up my time. Time will tell!

Anything Else?

I’m planning on participating in Indie Author Day again this year on Saturday, October 14. I don’t have any definitive plans, but watch for more news here.

And again, please sign up for my email list! There’s a handy dandy sign up just to right over here. I want to keep in touch with anyone who reads my books and blog. So please sign up!

Happy Journeys and Embrace the Change!

Mike

 

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Seeing My Characters

Seeing My Characters

And just like that, three weeks blow by and I didn’t make one single post to the blog! It’s been a whirlwind summer. What with summer band concerts (my last one is this coming Friday) and my son’s imminent departure for college, I’ve haven’t had much time. I’ll try to do better once September starts!

Tonight, my local library held a “Learn How To Make Your Own Cosplay Costumes” seminar tonight. I went with my family and had a great time. It was a short seminar geared toward illustrating and designing characters. We started with pre-drawn character forms to create our own designs. I took this opportunity to sketch out Saxon and Joan from the novel (DISCLAIMER: In truth, it was really supposed to be Malcolm and not Saxon, but the face definitely came out much more like Saxon than Malcolm). Here they are:

Saxon

Joan

Although the drawing of Joan is stylized, I am happy that I was able to capture some of the images floating around in my cranium. I feel like I’ve finally got to see them in more detail.

When I write, I tend to imagine it as a movie playing in my head, albeit a very fuzzy movie. I usually can’t completely imagine my characters’ faces in any detail whatsoever. If I was better at faces, I’d try to draw Malcolm, but given my design of Saxon, it would likely look exactly the same only with a different name.

In other news, work on The Reluctant Agent continues. I’m in the middle of the second round of revisions. I’m hoping that September sees it ready to show to someone else. And after that, more revisions!

Before I sign off, let me once again encourage you to sign up on my mailing list. I still only have four subscribers – and one of them is my wife. I don’t want to make one of those annoying popups asking you to subscribe, so please consider subscribing. I promise I won’t spam you with tons of email. I’d just like to keep people up to date. And please feel free to interact with my by leaving comments – I try to administrate them as quickly as I can.

Until next time, happy journeys!

Mike

 

 

 

 

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The Relationship Between the Author and the Reader

As I’ve mentioned repeatedly, I listen to Sarah Werner’s podcasts Write Now!  and its companion,  Coffee Break regularly and am a big fan. On the most current episode of Coffee Break (available here), she interviewed author Ryan Dalton. In their discussion, Mr. Dalton mentioned that he was disappointed when a writer he followed tweeted about a crappy day at his non-writing day job. He felt that it broke the “brand” of the author and was inconsistent with the image that writer typically portrayed.

What Should the Relation Be Between an Author and Reader?

While I get Mr. Dalton’s point, I don’t share that opinion. I follow a couple of authors on Twitter and on their blogs. I love it when I get to peek behind the curtain and see the big time authors have the same struggles as me: finding time to write, struggling to get words out…the whole topsy-turvy world of writing. As a reader, I think we often put our favorite authors on mental pedestals. I like getting to see the glimpses that they wish to share with their readers.

Building a Community

As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, I read Amanda Palmer’s book The Art of Asking or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help.  The other night, I noticed my copy of Felicia Day’s You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost): A Memoir and the parallels between the two books really struck me. Both books describe how Ms. Palmer and Ms. Day built communities where they shared their projects. They both interact with their fans and encourage interaction with their fans. I think the only way you can have that kind of community is to share yourself with your community. As I mentioned in my last blog post, I think if I can build a community, that would be my definition of success as a writer.

In The Spirit of Sharing

I just got back from a weeklong vacation in the Adirondacks with my wife’s family. It was the perfect balance between relaxation and activity – something I don’t always achieve. The Great America Road Trip of 2016 was certainly all activity as the goal was to visit the colleges and other attractions in the three weeks we had….Alright, who am I kidding, it was a three-week excuse to do Star Trek activities. We did some of the typical tourist attractions, rode a boat up the lakes. And most importantly to you (I hope), I finished the first revision of The Reluctant Agent, my next book. It still has more work to go, but I have it in a form that has mostly complete sentences and real words (while I’m a writer, I’m a terrible typist). I’ve been back to work and I’m not going to complain about that simply because complaining about work is universal. While work certainly helps define who I am, I don’t let it define me completely. I’m an engineer, but I’m also a musician, a writer, a father, a son, and many other things. There’s a great line in the musical Working (adapted from the novel by Studs Turkel) where one of the characters says:

“Jobs aren’t big enough for people. When you ask most people who they are, they define themselves by their job. I’m a doctor. I’m a radio announcer. I’m a carpenter. If someone asks me, I say, I’m Amanda McKenny. At certain points in time, I do things for a living.”

In the spirit of community, please join my email list. You can do it at the handy dandy signup are on the right. I certainly won’t inundate you with email because right now, I have approximately four people in the list. To the four people who did sign up, thank you! And please feel free to leave comments – I try to approve them as soon as I can, but if you leave a comment during the East Coast workday hours, there’s a good chance I won’t get to it until the evening. But I’d love discussion and feedback, so feel free to leave comments.

Until next time,

Happy Journeys!

Mike

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The Writer’s Equivalent of Winning the Lottery, Part II

With San Diego Comic Con right around the corner, I remembered this post from two years ago: The Writer’s Equivalent of Winning the Lottery. In it, I wish for my book to be a best seller, getting to do signings, seeing it made into a good movie, and getting to speak at some sort of conference. I wrote this only four months after my book came out.

So I decided to re-examine that dream. While I still would love to have all of that come true, the past two years have shifted those dreams.

What Do I Want Now?

Here are things that I think are my equivalent of winning the lottery:

  1. Having a Community of Passionate Fans – I follow a bunch of writers on Twitter and I watch their fans interact with them (I’ve been known to interact with a couple myself). And reading Amanda Palmer’s book, The Art of Asking or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help, I’m struck by how she built her success by building a community. Interacting with people and sharing our passions. This sort of covers the desire to do signings and speak at a conference. It’s really the chance to interact with people. I think that I would enjoy that more than being a best-selling author – but please note, I’m not turning that option down. That would be good too!
  2. Having Time to Write Consistently – This past Spring, I was able to make time to write on a more consistent basis, but since June, that hasn’t happened. Some of it is the season – I play in two community bands and then attend the Music At The Park concerts in the park across from my house. There are three nights of the week gone. Work has also been demanding and we’re preparing to send our son off to college for the first time.
  3. Taking Writing Retreats – I did this for the first time in the Fall of 2016 and I really liked it. I was truly by myself and got a fair amount of work done. I think I would love to go on one of those workshop/retreats where you spend the day writing and then gather with everyone else to talk about the day’s work. But with college tuition on the horizon, I think these may be few and far between.

What Am I Going To Do About This?

Since these are relatively modest goals, I think I can take steps to make these happen:

  1. Blog More and Reach Out On Social Media More – If you try to follow this blog, I’m horrendously inconsistent in blogging. I don’t tend to write if I don’t feel I have a topic. But I’m going to commit to writing more on the blog, even if it’s to discuss books I read, movies I’ve seen, etc. I want to encourage a discussion. I’ve also joined an online writing group and I’m trying to be active without feeling like I have to comment on every single thing. And I think I’m getting the hang of the Twitter thing, so look for me to be more active there.
  2. Writing More Consistently – This will be the hardest of the three tasks. I just need to make some iron clad time in my schedule to write. Maybe start writing first thing in the morning. I’ll keep you posted as to how well this works.
  3. Writing Retreats – This may have to wait, but in the mean time, I’ll keep saving my pennies. Since I often get paid to play music, I tend to funnel that money back into my writing, so I might be able to swing one through that. If not, I’ll look for mini-retreats on the cheap – like a day at Barnes & Nobles. I live in the middle of nowhere, so there aren’t many options for coffee shops.

I still haven’t given up hope that Felicia Day got my book, might yet read it and give it Joss Whedon. I think it has to have a better chance than winning the actual lottery.

Felicia, I hope you can make it happen! Until then, I’ll aspire to more modest goals.

Happy Journeys!
Mike

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The Fraud Police: Who the Heck Do I Think I Am?

And once again, I look up from my keyboard, and three months have passed since I wrote a blog entry. This summer seems more hectic than usual: first, there were preparations for my son’s high school graduation and party. We’ve now also entered the time when my second artistic career (musician) kicks into high gear with community band concerts. And we’re planning for the departure of my son for college.

But in the middle of this, I FINISHED THE FIRST DRAFT OF MY NEXT NOVEL!!! It took over two years of inconsistent effort, but it’s completed. Now the fun of editing! No ETA as to when it will be fit for human consumption, but I’ll let you know when I know.

And now to start the blog proper…

The Fraud Police

This blog post was inspired by a convergence of events (which often seems to happen). I’m currently reading The Art of Asking or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer. While I’m reading that, I also caught an episode of Sarah Werner’s podcast Write Now entitled  Self-Writing and Self-Talk available here and wherever fine podcasts are available.

Who Are The Fraud Police?

Amanda Palmer’s book The Art of Asking or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help grew out of her TED Talk of the same title which you can see here. In her book, she describes The Fraud Police; her visualization of the imposter syndrome. Here’s her definition:

“The Fraud Police are the imaginary, terrifying force of ‘real’ grown-ups who you believe – at some subconscious level –  are going to come knocking on your door in the middle of the night, saying:

We’ve been watching you, and we have evidence that you have NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE DOING. You stand accused of the crime of completely winging it, you are guilty of making shit up as you go along, you do not actually deserve your job, we are taking everything away and we are TELLING EVERYBODY.”

This passage really hit home with me on so many levels. I feel like I’m constantly trying to elude capture by The Fraud Policy. This feeling hits me hardest when I’m playing in the pit orchestra for a musical. Almost everyone else in the orchestra is or was a music teacher meaning they took years of music classes. I feel like I’m largely self-taught because due to freakish timing, I had 6 different band teachers in 6 years. My music education was messed up to be sure. I strongly considered going to college to be a music teacher, but I found computers and that was that.

So, I sit there, surrounded by all of these professionals and I wait for The Fraud Police to take me away because I don’t have all of that training. I can usually rise above it, but when thrown into a situation like that, I almost feel like I have to apologize for being part of the group.

And Now The Other Shoe

Right after reading about The Fraud Police, I listened to Sarah’s podcast. The message of that podcast was to treat yourself the same way you would treat someone else. Don’t call yourself an idiotic, untalented hack. You likely wouldn’t say that to anyone else, why should you say it about yourself?

And that’s when it occurred to me how the two are interrelated. The Fraud Police are definitely inciting the riot in your mind that tells you that you’re no good, no one wants your work, and to quote Chris Farley’s character, Matt Foley, you’ll end up “living in a van down by the river!”

How Do You Evade The Fraud Policy?

I’m not sure I have any real answers because I feel like I’m constantly being chased by The Fraud Policy in all my endeavors. Here are things that sometimes work for me:

  • Join a group – I’m not much for joining discussion groups, but one thing that’s helped me on the writing side is joining the I Am A Writer. group on Facebook. Meeting people who are at various stages of their writing journey had helped me see where I am on my writing journey. It made me realize that I had learned a thing or two so maybe I wasn’t such a fraud after all.
  • Give Yourself A Little Love – This is where Sarah’s podcast comes in. Try to remember that you should talk to yourself the same way you would talk to someone else. I know this sounds a little Stuart Smalley (“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!”). In Sarah’s podcast, she suggests trying to write yourself as a character, treating yourself fairly, adding the good and the bad. In another podcast, Sarah suggested getting business cards that say you are a writer…and that’s exactly what I did. I gave them away at the local Arts Festival, but I have one sitting on my desk at home and my cubicle at work to remind me.
  •  Just Keep Swimming – Dory’s quote from Finding Nemo is truly words to live by. Just keep trying. There’s something about that phrase “faking until you’re making it”. If you just keep doing whatever it is, you will get better, and very slowly, you begin to see The Fraud Police as a figment of your imagination. I’ve now finished writing two books. In my head, that means, yes I’m a writer. Writing a book could be a fluke, but finishing the second one to me means that I am a writer.

You Have the Right To Remain Exactly How You Are

I hope that I’m not alone in my fugitive status from The Fraud Police. I try to follow my own advice and most of the time, it works. But there are days when I do get caught by The Fraud Police and I just wallow in despair.

But today, I’m Mike Tefft – a geek, a musician, and a writer.

Happy Journeys!
Mike

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Writing and Coding

In the past few weeks, I’ve been writing and thinking about writing more. As I’ve mentioned in the last post, I’ve been listening to the Write Now podcast on my forty minute commute to and from work. The Write Now podcast includes a separate set of podcasts called “Coffee Break” which are interviews with authors. The mix of both episodes about writing and episodes about other writers got me thinking about how I write.

I seem to have been predisposed to wanting to write fiction. I remember my favorite times in English class were the rare times we got to do creative writing. In middle school, a friend and I wrote a very crappy (and short) derivative fantasy novel in the vein of Lord of the Rings and The Sword of Shannara. In college, I took Creative Writing as one of the three liberal arts classes I had in my schedule (I was an Electrical and Computer Engineering major).

I also discovered computers during high school. This was in the heady days where memory was measured in kilobytes and a storage device was a cassette recorder. To totally give away my age, I cut my programming teeth on Apple II’s and a Commodore 64. I am happy to have missed the days of punch cards, but not by very much.

My day job is software developement, so I write code. I’m at the start of an upgrade project where we have to rewrite a bunch of the code that makes the screen look pretty (there’s the highly technical description).  Between that and the podcasts, my brain has realized how writing code for nearly half the day impacts my writing.

Ways Coding and Writing Are Similar

  • Both Start with a Blank Page – When you write code, you are starting with a blank screen just like in writing.
  • You Take Thoughts and Give Them Physical Manifestation – In coding and writing, you take logical processes and translate them in a physical manifestation just like the writer takes his/her thoughts and creates the  physical manifestation of the story.
  • The Physical Act of Coding is Identical to Writing – It’s no coincidence that programmers “write code”. In coding, you have a fixed grammar consisting of words and rules for how they must be combined. Computers don’t let you violate the basic rules of syntax or grammar, but as in writing, there’s nothing to stop you from creating a non-sensical, grammatically correct statement.
  • You Have to Create a Logical Sequence that Directs the Flow– Coders constantly wrestle with taking data, applying some action, and sending to the next logical step in the process. Writing also needs to follow a logical sequence; if you’re writing a mystery, the killer has to pick up the weapon before it’s used, the body must be discovered, the inspector must uncover the clues and solve the mystery. Readers don’t like it if the plot of a novel doesn’t flow in a logical sequence or a deus ex machina device shows up to eliminate the conflict (although I could tell you there are days that I could us a deus ex machina device to fix my code!).
  • Debugging and Editing – Same thing. In coding, you fix your “shitty first draft” of code; in writing, you fix your “shitty first draft” of the story. In both, you have to fix syntax, correct logic errors and generally look at it and say “Why did I do that?”

 

Ways coding has influenced how I write:

  •  I have to start with a clear idea of the “problem” – Like in programming, you have to know what it is you hope to accomplish. For my novels, I have a very loose outline in my head where I know the general plot points so I’m always moving from or to the plots points. And like a programmer, none of that is documented except in my head.
  • I have to work in a linear fashion – I have to start at the beginning and work my way to the end. I would have a difficult time writing scenes out of order and reassembling them into a whole. I have to work chronologically in the story.
  • It impacts the tools I used – I write with Microsoft Word. Many writers use it; many writers don’t. Tools like Scrivener let you break your work apart into pieces and allow you recombine it however you wish. Other editors do this or also offer a distraction free environment. I like Word because it really is the IDE (Integrated Development Environment) of writing; there isn’t much you can’t do with Word.
  • I do best when I can scroll through the whole novel – This is related to line above. I need to see the whole novel and be able to scroll up and down. I have a sense of where the information I’m looking for can be found and I just scroll back and forth until I find it. I think that comes from moving back and forth betweens screens of code.
  • Coming up with a clever solution to a problem makes me happy – I get a great deal of pleasure from staring at a  problem (in either code or writing) and coming up with a clever solution to fix it. When I fix something that hasn’t been working, I get very happy. Conversely, when I can’t figure out what’s wrong, I get very frustrated.
  • Trying to avoid the use of if/then in my writing – I’ve heard it said that you can tell a programmer’s writing versus a non-programmer’s writing by the use of if/then in his/her writing. For me, this started with my first computer language: BASIC. The construct for determine what to do during a certain condition was always:
    IF <something is true> THEN
    do something
    ELSE
    do something else
    END IF
    While I don’t write exactly like that, it’s second nature to write something like “If I can’t fix this, then we can kiss our asses goodbye.” OK – maybe that wasn’t the best example, but it’s very easy for it to sneak into my writing. And I work equally as hard to excise it.

So What Does This Have To Do With Anything?

So glad you asked. I think understanding the things that affect how you write gives you a wealth of information. It shows you your strengths, your weaknesses, and things that can give you ideas to try something outside your comfort zone. Looking at this list, I think that a good challenge for me would be to either write something with a non linear plot or write the linear plot in a non-linear manner. Or use other tools to move the writing around throughout the work.

How does your profession influence the way you write?

Happy Journeys!

Mike

 

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How Mike Got His Groove Back

I know you’re shocked – another blog post within only two weeks! But that’s because I seem to back in the groove with my writing. Right about the time of my last blog post, I was starting to slowly pull myself out of a writing funk. As any part-time writer will tell you (or at least this one), finding time to write when you have a full-time career and a family can be a challenge. My problem was I couldn’t bring myself to actually write when I did have time  and if I did, I barely squeezed out a few hundred words. Each word felt like a heavy rock added to the pile (All I can think of now is the line from The Crucible when they are punishing Giles Corey by stacking rocks on him and he keeps saying “More weight!”).

But things have changed and I’m on the upswing. In fact, according to the WordCounter app I bought for my Mac, I have written more in the last ten days than I had since the start of the year. I’m actually optimistic that I might finish the initial draft in the next few months. I have lots of activities coming up in the next few months so time to write on the weekends will be scarce. But I’m actually looking forward to the times where I can really get huge blocks of writing done.

Other than writing, I’ve been spending more time listening to a new (to me) podcast called Write Now with Sarah Werner | For Writers, On Writing. I’m a little late to the game because this podcast has been running for over two years now. Sarah’s podcast is about helping writers find a healthy work/life balance that will keep them writing. If you want to write and need a little push, I highly recommend it. I really enjoyed several of the more recent podcasts to which I’ve listened, particularly the one titled “Does Listening to Music Help Your Writing?” (btw, the answer for me is YES!!).

And one more thing I’d like to plug is the blog of my friend (and illustrator of my book’s cover) Emilee Smith called  The Perpetual Creator. Emilee is very much a perpetual creator;whether it be music, food, crafts, or art, she always seems to have some project in the works. For the five people who actually read this, I encourage you to stop over and check out her blog.

I hope to come back to the blog more frequently to update you on the progress. I’m excited again and that bodes well for the book.

Happy Journeys,

Mike

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