Hi Diddly Dee, the Writer’s Life For Me…

“So I’ve decided, I’m going to become a world renowned writer.
I shall write great books and earn barrels of money and I will give you all
everything you’ve ever dreamed of!”
Jo – from the musical Little Women

I’ve been horribly remiss in posting here. I really have no excuse other than I’ve been struggling with writing. I haven’t had as much time as I had hoped to write and when I have, it’s been hard to get words onto the paper. I don’t know why – I’ve really wanted to write but when it was time, I seemed to be earning my title of “Reluctant Author”. The words that came out, came out slowly and haltingly.

I also just finished playing in the orchestra for a production of the musical Little Women. Every night, I heard Jo give the above line. And every night, I heard that line and couldn’t help but laugh. It also reminded me of the scene at the end of Down With Love where Renee Zellweger launches in to her monologue about how she would make Catcher Block fall in love with her by writing a New York Times best seller.

It just sounds so easy – “I’m going to write a best selling book!” And while I had no illusions that I would write a best seller, The Reluctant Captain came out of a single batch of condensed writing – about three months from start to completion of the initial draft. I think I had the beginner’s attitude that it looks easy and you just have to do it. I’ve experienced this in other areas of my life where I tried to do something new. I thought I knew what I was doing and I just did it. Later, I realized just how little I knew and when I tried to do it again, I found myself second guessing myself and somewhat paralyzed by knowing what I didn’t know.

Maybe that’s been my problem; maybe I don’t like where the story is going; or maybe I’m just being lazy. I think I’m working through my reluctance. In the new book, I have more work changing scenes and getting characters to and fro and I’m finding it taxing. I think I’m getting past this and that I’ll be able to drive to the end. Then of course, editing starts!

But despite how miserable it feels to stare at the screen and barely get a couple of hundred words out, I don’t think I’d change it. Pamela Slim, a respected business writer, once told me that writing a book is hard; having written a book is great (I hope I got that right Pam). I have to agree with her – the work can take you back to your high school or college days where you had a paper or essay due and all you had was an empty page and no idea where to begin. Some days it’s magical and the words can’t get on the page fast enough; other days feel like sheer drudgery. I shouldn’t complain because it’s not like I’m doing back breaking work, but it is tiring.

So here’s to powering through to the end and following Jo’s lead to become a world renowned author!

Happy Journeys!

Mike

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2016: It Was The Best of Times; It Was the Worst of Times

So another year is almost over and I guess I will bow to the tradition of reviewing the past year. And when I think of 2016, it could be best summarized by the opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities.

The Worst of Times

I know I’m not alone when I say that much of 2016 was just plain awful. We’ve lost so many talented actors and musicians this year that it borders on the ridiculous. The election process was absolutely painful with all of the divisive, hateful rhetoric.  For the first half of the year, I was working tons of overtime and not feeling very appreciated at work which made me feel stressed and miserable. And of course, that led to little time or energy to write. I tried many times to change my situation at work with no results. In many ways, I couldn’t wait to see the back side of 2016.

The Best of Times

But starting in the summer, things changed. The biggest change came with The Great American Road Trip that I detailed in this blog. I saw sights that I’m not sure I would ever see like Mt. Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, the Crazy Horse Monument, and Old Faithful. The time (and probably the distance) gave me a different mind set and certainly did much to reduce my stress and change my mood. In addition, we also traveled to Kingston, Ontario as part of the college visit process and got to have haggis, just like Malcolm.

This year (in which Star Trek and I share the same “anniversary”), I indulged my love of Star Trek to an unprecedented degree. We toured the Star Trek:Exploring New Worlds exhibit at the Experience Music Project in Seattle; made a pilgrimage to Riverside, Iowa to visit the future birthplace of James T. Kirk; and travelled to the Intrepid Air & Space Museum to take part in the Starfleet Academy Experience to celebrate my birthday.

Professionally, things finally changed with a promotion and a slight shift in responsibilities. Now, I don’t loathe going to work. Don’t get me wrong; if I won the lottery tomorrow, I wouldn’t be sticking around very long. But I’m not unhappy – which for those who know me, is a very new thing.

And on the writing front, I didn’t finish The Reluctant Agent. In fact, I’m barely past the halfway point of the first draft. But I had my very first signing at a Barnes & Noble, I took part in the inaugural Indie Author Day, and I had my very first writing retreat. So, it was a big year for me as a writer, even if I didn’t write as much as I hoped.

And What of 2017?

What about 2017? I’m not going to make resolutions for 2017, but I have a few goals for 2017:

  • Finish and publish The Reluctant Agent – I am having a writing retreat at home to begin 2017 (my family is at a student theatre festival) so I’m hoping that it will be the catalyst to finish the first draft.
  • Post more frequently (and predictively) on this site – time will tell…
  •  Be mindful of life and take advantages of all of its gifts and opportunities – with all of the deaths this past year and the significant milestone I reached this year, it really reminded me that life is never guaranteed.

I’d like to end the year by thanking everyone who read my blog this year; I hope to see you again 2017!

And I’d like to close by wishing everyone an exceptional 2017! Let’s make 2017 kick 2016’s sorry ass!

Happy journeys,

Mike

 

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Thankfulness

Thankfulness

Thanksgiving has come and gone and now the crazy race for the holidays begins. But I wanted to stop for a moment and reflect on why I’m thankful this year.

Things For Which I Am Thankful

(OK – it may be acceptable now, but I have a near manic obsession of not ending a sentence with a preposition. I always remember “A preposition is a bad thing to end a sentence with”)

  • I’m Thankful for the Travel Experiences I’ve had this year – This year, I think I’ve travelled more than I have in many years and that makes me thankful. In edition to our epic road trip across the country and back again, I got to spend a day in New York City getting to live my fantasy of joining Starfleet at the Starfleet Academy Experience at the Intrepid Air and Space Museum, a trip to beautiful Kingston Ontario for a college visit for my son, and our annual trip to the Theater Association of New York State (TANYS) Festival where I got to see a number of quality community theatre shows. And the icing on the cake was that I got to enjoy them with my family
  • I’m Thankful for my Writing Experiences I’ve had this year – It was kind a big year for me as a writer (despite the fact I haven’t sold a significant number of books). This year, I took part in a book signing at a Barnes & Noble (where no one came), I sold my books at the Sherburne Arts Festival, I had my very own “Writer’s Retreat” where the whole point of the trip was to write, and I took part in the Indie Author Day event. It’s really made me accept myself as a writer. Now if I only had more time to write….
  • I’m Thankful for Professional Success – People who know me will know that I haven’t always been happy with my day job (that’s probably a bit of an understatement…) However, seemingly out of the blue, I was promoted! This really meant a great deal to me because I feel like I earned it the old fashioned way – through hard work. And I’ve finally been promoted to the highest level I’ve had in my career – some of that was my own doing, some of it wasn’t. Either way, I’m thankful for it and look forward to the new challenges it will provide.

I hope that anyone reading this can look at their life and find thankfulness in their life. I know that sounds trite and just a year ago, I might have looked at my own statement very cynically. And we all know that there are many things going on in the world right now that can challenge that viewpoint. But I just want you to know that things can change and there are many things that can make us thankful.

Novel Update

Because of all of those travel experiences listed above, the actual writing of the next novel has slowed down considerably. With my promotion comes a great deal of knowledge that I need to document. So I am doing a ton of writing – just not on the novel. I’m hoping to carve out some time in the next month to spend more consistent periods writing. I can say I’m about half to two thirds of the way through the first draft – so I am making progress in drips and drabs.

Let me leave you with a picture from one of my more recent travel experiences. When we were in Kingston, we ate at a pub housed in the former law office of the first Prime Minister of Canada and I got to have the traditional Scottish “delicacy” Haggis with Tatters and Neeps. Malcolm would be envious!

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Happy journeys!

Mike

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Embracing the Writer Within

Embracing the Writer Within

Since returning from my writing retreat, I’ve had a couple of experiences that have encouraged me to embrace the fact that I really am a writer as much as I am a programmer or musician.

Saturday, October 8, I participated in the Indie Author Day at the Sherburne Public Library. This was a national event and I was so very happy that our library chose to participate.  The goal of Indie Author Day was to bring together libraries, independent authors to start a partnership to get independent works into libraries and to new readers. I was fortunate enough to share the event with Herm Sherwood-Sitts, Justin Palmer (local authors), Brian McDowell, owner of Log Cabin Books (a small independent publisher) and a number of people interested in becoming authors. Writing is a solitary pursuit so it was nice to have a discussion with fellow writers and share experiences. And to top it off, I sold a book to a high school friend who I haven’t seen in a long time.

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One of my takeaways from the Indie Author Days was learning not be afraid of asking people to buying your books. This was the push I needed to take part in “Artistic Discovery”, an event where people can sell arts and crafts at my place of employment. I really had no idea how many I would sell, but I was very surprised that I sold fourteen books.

Between my writing retreat and these two events, it’s forced me to really embrace the fact that I’m a writer. As I mentioned in my last post, I tend to not self identify as a writer. Although I’m really proud of the fact that I’ve written a book, I am hesitant to mention it. I’m not sure why exactly. I think it comes from being picked on in high school about being smart. It’s taken me a long time to embrace being a a computer programming, Star Trek loving epitome of a nerd. One thing that has helped is that there’s been an acceptance of geek culture in the last ten years or so.  And social media has allowed people of the various geek tribes to come together. But writing is a little different. Writing is perceived as more intellectual. And without getting too political, I can safely say that there definitely is a large current of anti-intellectualism going on in this country. Admitting you’re a writer is like admitting you’re an intellectual elitist.

Especially now, writing is NOT elitist. Anyone can write, anyone can publish. All you need to start is a pen and a bunch of paper. My former English teachers and English teacher friends will hate me for saying this, but our educational system crushed any love of writing out us with the essays analyzing the symbolism in Farewell To Arms (here’s where I’m going to be a heretic: I pretty much loathe anything I’ve read by Hemingway). The truth is, almost everyone writes on a daily basis: email, social media posts, etc.  If you want a real writing challenge, try to express a complex sentiment in the 140 character limit of Twitter. Talk about  an intellectual exercise!

But we never stop to think of that as writing. And it is. Writing shouldn’t be this big scary thing; it’s something we should all embrace. Whether you publish it or not, the act of creating is important in and of itself. But if you want to publish and see that book on a library shelf, there’s never been a better time to do that.

So I’ve decided to embrace my identity as a writer and I’m asking anyone who reads this to embrace it too. We are all writers; we all have a fundamental need to communicate in a way more permanent than the spoken word.  Even if we never share the words with another soul, we are at the very least, communicating with ourselves.

Now if I only had more time to write, but that’s a different story….

Happy Journeys!

Mike

 

 

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Being a Writer: Thoughts from my Weekend Writing Retreat

On this past Friday (9/30), I left home and drove a few hours to Saugerties for a writing retreat. Last year, our family stayed there for a week in one of a quiet group of cabins set in the woods. After we left, I thought, that would be a good place for a writing retreat. I tried to pull it together last Fall, but it didn’t work out. But this year, my wife “gave” me the retreat for Father’s Day and I choose this weekend to “redeem” it.

You’re probably thinking to yourself, “Why would he leave a perfectly good house and office to go write in the woods with dodgy wifi?”

A valid question, indeed.

A big part of the answer to that question is..so I can feel like I’m a writer.

“But Mike, you have a written a book. Doesn’t that, by the very definition of the word, make you a writer?”

Well, a bit, I suppose. But when I meet people and they ask what you do, I automatically default to my safe answer “I’m a programmer.” because it’s safe and easy. And true. But this weekend, when I met my neighbors in the next cabin and they asked why I was camping, I said “I’m writing”. And it felt good to self-identify as a writer. I do many things: I program, I play in a number of bands, and I also write. I tend to always acknowledge being a programmer, sometimes acknowledge that I play trumpet in bands, but rarely do I come out and say “I’m a writer”. I’m not sure why. I guess it’s my innate fear of sounding too smart (a trauma from high school that I still try to overcome) or hoity-toity.

This weekend was a chance to play out the fantasy of being a full time writer. After setting up camp and making dinner, I wrote around 1300 words, which is equal to my output on a very good evening of writing. Saturday, I got up a little later than I wanted, made coffee and breakfast and settled down to write. I wrote for a couple of hours and took an hour break which included, wrote again until 5:00 where I took a break to make dinner. I started again a little later and worked until 10:00 PM. In the end, I wrote nearly 3500 words on Saturday. I didn’t write anything this morning because I wasn’t overly ambitious and packing everything up took longer than I thought.

So this weekend represented a real chance to say to myself (and make me believe it): I am a writer!

And since we’re talking about me identifying myself as a writer, I’m going to be attending the Indie Author Day at the Sherburne Public Library on Saturday, October 8 from 11:00 – 3:00 PM. I’ll be talking about how I became an independent author (you can take it as an inspirational or cautionary tale – I’ll let you decide). I’ll also have my book The Reluctant Captain available for sale and I will sign any copy, although the other authors might not want me signing their books. If you any interest in writing and finding out what it takes to publish a novel, please stop by and Saturday, I’d love to meet you!

Until next time, Happy Journeys!

Mike

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And Now Back To the Novel Previously in Progress…

Let me turn this blog away from the Great American Road Trip and Star Trek back to its original purpose – talking about my novel(s).

It’s now been a full two weeks since we returned from our trip and life has settled back into the usual rhythms of school and work. For at least the previous five months before the trip, I was working a great deal of overtime in my day job and had no time or energy for writing. I channeled my little time for writing on our trip to blogging the experience. But things have opened up now and I’ve had time to write…and found it hard to get anything out. I’m not sure what the resistance is, but I find myself trying to do anything else but sit down and write. Last week, I had two whole evenings free to write and all I got out of it was two paragraphs. My wife was away  today and the weather was supposed to be crappy, so I tried to focus on writing. And I kept finding things to do to avoid it until I finally put my head down and just wrote. I managed to get nearly two pages written. I’m not sure what’s up with my sudden reluctance to write now that I actually have time to do it. It’s not writer’s block in the sense that I can’t think of anything to write – there’s just a reluctance to get going on it.  I’ll keep working at it; hopefully I’ll get this resolved before my writing retreat.

Yes, I’m going on a home made writing retreat in less than two weeks. For Father’s Day, my lovely (and understanding) wife “gave” me a writing retreat. In two weeks, I’m going to a KOA camp that we visited last year. I have a cabin in the woods from Friday through Sunday and I’m going to write. I’m sure I’ll do a couple of other things, but the focus of that weekend is to write and kick some butt on this book. Perhaps I’m subconsciously waiting for the writing retreat to open the creative faucets. Personally, I’d like to get myself back on track so that I’m writing more freely when the retreat starts.

And speaking of writing, I have been listening to Julia Roy’s podcast How We Work Now, available here or on iTunes. In her podcasts, she interviews writers and editors mostly in the business or non fiction genre (but also includes a few fiction authors and even a poet).  I’ve been listening to this on the way to work every day and it’s really got me thinking about my own writing in ways I never considered. Even in episodes that I think won’t pertain to me at all, I usually find some nugget of information. I went into the episode where she interviewed the poet (let’s cut a long story short and say that I don’t care for poetry much at all) thinking I would hate it and I think it’s my favorite episode to date! If you’re interested at all in writing, I highly recommend it!

And finally, I’m happy announce that I will be participating in the Indie Author Day Event at the Sherburne Public Library on October 8 from 11:00 AM – 3:00 PM. I’m still working on the details, but the event culminates in a 2:00 PM Webcast with writers, agents, and the industry leaders. I’ll send an update out once I have more details.

That’s all for now; I need to get back to writing….

Happy journeys!

Mike

 

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Happy 50th Birthday Star Trek!

Happy 50th Birthday Star Trek!

Anyone who has read my blog (or knows me) knows about my unabashed love for all things Star Trek. If you followed our adventures cross country, you know that even though it was about looking at schools for my son, I somehow turned it into a trip all about Star Trek.

Star Trek and I are only a month and a half apart in age, so obviously, I never saw the first run episodes. I did, however, see them in syndication when I was very young. I seem to remember that they were always on late Sunday afternoon and I watched them with my dad who also liked science fiction. And I was hooked. For Christmas and birthdays, I received a phaser that was really an overgrown flashlight that projected various ships from covers that you put on the end and a set of Star Trek communicators (i.e., walkie talkies).  I remember going with my dad to see Star Trek The Motion Picture and watching the rollout and flight (on the back of an airplane) of the Space Shuttle Enterprise.

Alas, Star Trek faded from my TV watching in my youth, although through high school, I did see the subsequent movies. In college, I renewed my love of Star Trek when I would join my roommates to watch it on WPIX at 11:30 (after The Honeymooners) and we would try to name the episode during the first scene before the credits. Since then, I’ve seen all of the movies and all of Star Trek in it’s various incarnations. In fact, Star Trek helped me come up with the idea for my novel The Reluctant Captain.

But why do I love Star Trek so much?

The answer to that question has changed throughout my life. I think when I was young, it was the idea of going to outer space. The Apollo missions were still going and I remember watching some of the coverage. The thought of a future where we were roaming the stars inspired me to want to be an astronaut – until I realized that my eyesight would never let me be a pilot (at the time, a necessary stepping stone to becoming an astronaut).

Later in my life, my love of Star Trek became more about how engineers and knowledge of technology were valued. In high school, I received a ton of crap for being a “brain”. I often felt that because I was smart that I was inherently socially unacceptable. In Star Trek, people who were well versed in science and engineering were actually heroes. They were valued members of the crew and friends.  Scotty became my role model because of his Scottish heritage (my maternal grandmother was a Robertson), his approach to almost never giving up on a problem, and his jovial nature. I have tried to model my professional life as a computer engineer on his work ethic. Channeling my inner Scotty has held me in good stead in my work as I try to solve problems; something that I will say, I’m pretty good at doing.

The themes of Star Trek have always resonated with me. Star Trek has always examined the human condition; showing the best of humanity in its heroes and worst of humanity in its villains. Its vision that we as a planet would move past our national differences to all work for the betterment of mankind while maintaining ones cultural identity is a vision I wish was true. At its best, Star Trek explores both the outer reaches of outer space and the inner space of the mind and what it means to be human.

Despite the overacting, the styrofoam boulders and other cheap scenery, here’s to Star Trek. May its vision of the future of mankind come true!

Live long and prosper,

Mike

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