So, I don’t know about other authors, but one aspect of writing fiction I really enjoy is creating characters. Like the story itself, they often take a life of their own after a time. Well, to put it a little more precisely, sometimes they immediately do and other times they emerge from my mind more slowly, like a mist that eventually condenses into a pool of water.
Take for instance that character I wrote about in my last entry. He began as very one-dimensional, a cruel, vain, betraying person with nothing else, no background as to why he evolved in such a manner, how he got to be the way he was. He was just a mean guy, plain and simple. But as I thought about him more and more, I began to realize that he was a very complex and often confused person, something I have to admit I didn’t originally give him credit for. He actually did have a heart but, unfortunately for him it had been mangled by outside forces in his life which ultimately compelled him down a path of destruction, regret, lost love, and an inner agony that no matter what he did could not find any sort of happiness. I began to see the real conflict within him as we explored his life together and all the events that had conspired to bring him to what he is today. Instead of my initial dislike and sense of repulsion toward him, I began to pity him, to feel a tremendous amount of empathy toward him and I saw qualities that had been overlooked by many he knew, which is a real shame because that kind of acknowledgment might just have been a saving grace. In short, this character evolved over time and I’m glad I gave him a chance to have a voice to do so.
He just needed me to listen.
In contrast, his best friend was immediately apparent in my mind. I saw him for what he was, what he stood for right off the bat. His authentic kind, gentle nature exuded from him in waves that were completely impossible to ignore.
I guess some might say that characters can be an alter ego of sorts within a writer’s mind. Or perhaps they are parts of ourselves that we either don’t care to admit or are desperately yearning to be heard. Maybe they’re both and more. I really don’t know but, I do know they’re real. For me, they become as real as any other person I know or have known. They are living entities, beings with beating hearts just like the rest of us.
Sometimes, I have to admit, I don’t like a particular character very much. He or she seems to be inclined to do things that I don’t really care for or they react to circumstances in ways that I wouldn’t. But, like the story, their stories are exciting to see unfold. And, like the story, they are often just telling me about their lives and experiences, not the other way around.
Once again, I find myself as merely the transcriber, the outlet for them to have a voice and I’m wondering where they are going to take me next.
Posted in Writing | Tagged characters, creating characters, fiction, writing | Leave a comment
So, the other day I went out to lunch with a friend of mine. We like to do this from time to time, it’s a great chance to catch up, see how things are going with each other, and sometimes even vent the frustrations from our daily lives to each other.
He asked what I had been writing lately, if I was thinking of returning to Lines in the Sand, perhaps write a sequel to it, the aftermath of what I went through when I came home from the war.
“Nah,” I said. “Lines was an intense writing experience for me and I’d like to put it down for a while.”
I told him that I wanted to have a little fun, dip my toes into fiction for a while, write something that didn’t have so much to do with real life. Of course, this began a discussion as to how much of “real life” is injected into fiction and we both came to the conclusion that “real life” and fiction are intimately linked, that an author will naturally project at least some portion of his life, his experiences, or feelings into any kind of fictional work. I think that’s true.
But I digress. He asked what I had been writing and I told him that recently an idea occurred to me when I was playing Roller Coaster Tycoon a little while ago. He was slightly taken aback. A video game? Really? Really.
I had created some custom buildings and scenery for a spooky park, two houses… and my mind began to turn. What if there were two men of aristocracy living in each and what if they had feuded for many years over the rulership of the land? What if one of them betrayed the other, a betrayal of the deepest sort because these two had been life long friends. Where would it go? What would happen?
So, I turned to my trusty word processor and before long I had written out a very rough draft, somewhat of a sequence of events, for the story. Originally, I had intended the story to be in verse, kinda like Beowulf. But then it turned into a narrative. Originally, I had intended it to be rather short and whimsical, not very serious. It’s turned out not to be so. Originally, I had intended the betraying character to be of the most dastardly sort, a real mean guy. He’s far from that.
And that brings me to my point. I’ve often found that stories seem to blow up on me. They seem to take on a life of their own after a time. They seem to be guiding me, not me writing them. Characters come to life before my eyes without me even realizing it taking on personality traits I don’t expect. What was once a single tree in a meadow becomes a forest.
I love that about fiction. I love when the story is writing itself not the other way around. After a time, I often find myself “in” that world. I know every piece of it, every hill, valley, house, person.
That story I spoke of has now become a real world and the characters have become rich and textured with their own pasts, feelings, experiences, and motivations. Honestly, I have no idea where it’s going to lead but I feel safe to say, the story will tell me.
It always does.
Posted in Writing | Tagged characters, fiction, nonfiction, writing | Leave a comment
There are many reasons why I enjoy writing and they have their roots in my youth and the books that fired my imagination, my sense of adventure.
When I was a kid, my appetite for reading was voracious. I read all sorts of books but, I tended to lean toward stories that focused on fantasy, science fiction, and what I call classical literature. Some of my favorites that I still have on my shelf today, old companions I will never let go of, are Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dracula, The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Food of the Gods, The Invisible Man, The War of the Worlds, Frankenstein, Gulliver’s Travels, The Complete Works of Edgar Allen Poe, The Grapes of Wrath, A Tale of Two Cities, a short story collection of Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, From the Earth to the Moon, Around the World in 80 Days, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, King Kong, The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, The Time Machine, The Lost World, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?… the list goes on.
What I loved about these stories is that I was able to step into another world, to lose myself in a fantasy, to disappear into an adventure that in all likelihood wouldn’t happen in my own life. And perhaps that is why I have spent so much time traveling and sometimes getting into adventures of my own. Perhaps reading those stories fueled that desire in me, the desire to, in some fashion, actualize my own adventure so that what my imagination absorbed through reading could become real in front of my very eyes.
But I also wanted to create my own adventures on paper. I’ve discovered throughout my life that I have always felt somewhat awkward in what we call real life. I’ve never felt as if I completely fit in, as if I’m a misfit, as if I don’t belong. Real life has always felt somewhat strange to me, chasing our tails for the latest technological update or worrying about life insurance or making sure the oil is changed in the car. Naturally of course, I know these things are a part of living and must be attended to but, I guess I feel more comfortable tucked within my adventures. And I believe that’s why I love writing so much. I get the chance to go into another world, to create another world, to develop characters who can do things you just can’t do in real life, to transpose traits from my own personality to those characters and allow them to explore them in ways real life prohibits.
I love writing because absolutely anything can happen and I can bring that to life within those pages.
Posted in Writing | Tagged writing | Leave a comment
So, I’ve been thinking… well, what else is new? It seems to me that when I think back on when I enlisted with the Army, it doesn’t seem very real to me… or let’s put that another way, it didn’t seem real to me back then.
I’ve had to face some uncomfortable things about myself back then when I was getting ready to sign the enlistment paperwork and I’ve spent a good deal of time trying to figure out what motivated me to do things that I wouldn’t have ordinarily done.
Back then, I’ve come to realize that I was terribly confused about my life and what I’d like to do with it, who I would’ve liked to become, and what directions I should have been taking to be where I wanted to be. I had tried a number of different directions and I felt they just didn’t pan out the way I had hoped or intended. So, I think it was desperation that compelled me to enlist. Desperation for some sort of direction, for some sort of stable ground with which I could begin to define my life more clearly. Ironically, enlisting with the Army merely caused more confusion and turmoil in my life but, I wouldn’t have believed anyone if they had told me that back then. And I remember someone I once knew in the Army telling me, “Only people with no where else to go join the military.” Now, I don’t think that’s necessarily true for everyone but, for me that seemed to fit the picture. I got quite a chuckle out of that one.
So, I joined and I began what I call nowadays to “play soldier.” I say that because, as I said before, it didn’t seem very real to me. Being a soldier only became real to me when I was notified of my deployment. Before then, it was all make believe, as if living in a dream. Basic training, as much as it’s meant to be what it is, learning the basics of what you’re supposed to be as a soldier is still, in my mind, not real. You shoot at little plastic targets, you are safe and snug in the barracks, you are stateside, you know you’re going home eventually, life is still familiar even if you are in an unfamiliar environment because after all… it’s just basic training.
The idea of actual war, of actual killing, of actually being deployed overseas didn’t seem very real to me either. I can remember my recruitment sergeant brushing off the question of whether or not I would have to serve in a war saying, “Ahhh, that never happens. You’re National Guard, you never have to do that.” Drill weekends never amounted to much, a few formations, some small talk with the boys, plenty of boredom, perhaps a weekend of cleaning gas masks or something along those lines. So, I guess in some ways a certain innocent, ignorant complacency set into me as well. Naïve? Probably. But it is what it is.
So, when I was notified of my deployment, reality hit hard for me. Everything, all the illusions of “playing soldier” came crumbling down in a heartbeat and I realized that I had to actually become a soldier. And it was also then, in a flash, that I realized that I wasn’t really a soldier, that I didn’t agree with war and the effort of killing. But… I went, I went because I did feel a certain honor to the men and women who were going and it wouldn’t have been right if I hadn’t gone, my conscious wouldn’t allow that. But I made sure that I filed for Conscientious Objection when I returned home because my conscious also wouldn’t allow me to not take a stand against what was going on in Iraq and for that matter against the very idiocy of war itself which by then I had acquainted myself with all too much.
It’s weird. I’ve come to realize there is definitely a duality in me to this day. I still do think of myself as a soldier in many ways yet, I hate war and I hated Iraq in particular. Perhaps I am still living in my little pretend world. It’s a dichotomy that quite frankly, I can’t reconcile sometimes in my mind. Perhaps I never will. Perhaps I am just a mass of contradiction. Perhaps I am still just as naïve as I used to be. Perhaps my head isn’t screwed on right.
Should I have known the reality of the situation when I enlisted? Probably… but hindsight is wonderful like that and innocence, naivete, complacency can effectively throw the blinders on hindsight. Personally, I think I was young and had no idea what I was doing. I was just a guy trying to find direction and looked in the wrong place to do so out of desperation.
Posted in Iraq, Military | Tagged conscientious objection, iraq, military, soldier | Leave a comment
The dictionary defines inspiration as the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.
I agree but, I’d also want to expand on that a bit.
I think inspiration has to come from within… or let’s put it this way, something external sparks something internal and that internal spark is what triggers the flames of inspiration.
For me anyway, to be inspired to write about any particular topic or create a fictional story, it has to move me somehow. More often than not, I have to be touched personally, perhaps a memory has been evoked or something happens that elicits a feeling I’ve not had in a while. And that provocation always seems to come from outside myself. It can come from anywhere. From an ad on television, from watching someone’s behavior in a grocery line, from having to take care of a loved one, from seeing an act of kindness… or for that matter an act of hostility or anger, from taking a walk and watching two birds flitter and fight over a speck of bread. I’ve even been inspired playing a video game.
Wherever it comes from, if it moves me, touches me, allows me to relate to my own past and experiences, I can more often than not feel inspired to write about it. Further, that seed can blossom into a full grown tree, a story that branches off in directions I would never imagined until I’ve begun writing.
Is that too limited a dimension for me as a writer? Should I push myself to write about something that may not particularly move me? I don’t know but, I think if something doesn’t move you then you don’t feel as passionate about it. If you don’t feel passionate about something, are you going to be able to produce something to move others and invite them to feel passionately as well, perhaps even inspire them? Are inspiration and passion intimately linked? Can you have one without the other?
I’m not convinced you can.
Posted in Writing | Tagged inspiration, writing | Leave a comment
I’ve been asked sometimes how I come up with ideas for stories and to be truthful that can be hard for me to answer… well to put it more concisely, I don’t have a clear cut answer for them.
What I’ve found is that when I try to force myself into a position of coming up with idea, I end up with writer’s block. My mind tends to get bunged up, as if closed off to ideas, frustration appears, and I end up with nothing. It’s as if I’m swimming upstream or sailing against a heavy headwind or trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. It’s as if my mind turns off and the more I try and force it, control it, the more the cycle repeats itself.
I’ve found that if I let go, not “think” about it, let anything and everything flow through me naturally, at its own pace, then things begin to develop for me. I first discovered this concept while I was learning how to play guitar. One night I was practicing my F Major chord and I couldn’t get it. My fingers wouldn’t make the shape, the strings were muffled, sounding just awful, and the more I tried and tried and tried, the worse it got. It was horrible and I was so frustrated with myself that after all the feverish practice I had put into it, I just couldn’t get the sound I wanted. Finally, I put my guitar down, took a deep breath, distracted myself with making some dinner, and a couple of hours later picked up that ol’ six string and tried again but… this time not scowling with concentration, not thinking about it, not feeling tense and defeated. It worked. I played a great F Major.
Since, I’ve translated this concept into various aspects of my life and I’ve found it works wonderfully, especially with writing. It sounds funny I know but, when I don’t think, I come up with ideas. When I don’t think, I see something that inspires an idea or something pops into my head that triggers an idea. I’ve also found that if I go to bed with this mindset, I often wake in the middle of the night, a whole storyline or dialogue or imagery of what I want write into a story flowing before my eyes in the dark as I stare at the ceiling. Again, it comes naturally, appearing when it wants to.
Wherever it comes from, the point is the same. Let it go. Don’t get bunged up. Stop trying to force it. Rather, let the idea make its appearance when it wants to and when it should.
I guess everyone has their own way of doing things but, for me, this my key to coming up with writing ideas. Whatever works.
Posted in Writing | Tagged story ideas, writer's block, writers, writing | Leave a comment
So, last night I was browsing the web and found a remake of one of my most beloved Twilight Zone episodes – “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” written by Rod Serling. I’ve always loved The Twilight Zone, it’s actually one of my all time favorite television series. I love it because the stories were so original, well written, compelling, and examined even critiqued so many relevant aspects of human society and people’s behavior.
I first saw Monsters when I was a child and it immediately struck a chord within me. At the time, I couldn’t articulate why it had such an impact, I only felt a gut reaction within me that told me they were on to something when they wrote it.
In the original, neighbors and friends on a quiet suburban street begin to turn on each other after a power outage because paranoia, suspicion, and hysteria have set in. They begin to think that one of them is talking to aliens from outer space, invaders, and the thought is originally instigated by a comic book a kid in the neighborhood had read. In the end, it is revealed that a couple of aliens have landed and are manipulating the power to see how humans react.
So, flip forward a few pages to our own present. To be truthful, the remake I saw last night hardly did the original episode any justice, however, one thing that was interesting to me was that they updated the cause of the fear to reflect our modern world, the fear of terrorism. Now, the residents fear that one of them may be a terrorist and that the power outage is a prelude to an attack. They attack and burn down the “odd ball” reclusive neighbor’s house as a mob convinced and driven wild by paranoia that they are the enemy who wants to kill them.
Crazy? Most likely.
But the point is valid.
Could this happen in a neighborhood? While not convinced, I do believe it is a very plausible possibility.
I’ve noticed lately that there seems to be more and more outbursts of anger and violence toward certain populations of our society, namely Muslims and their communities. I’ve read and seen news pieces where people have verbally threatened others for what they perceive as being different, perhaps the enemy, an enemy potentially planning an attack or a mass shooting. These outbursts have occurred at political rallies, at Mosques throughout the country, on our streets, and it seems as if more and more people are arming themselves in what they perceive as an effort to protect themselves. I’m not even sure some of these people know exactly who they are trying to protect themselves from. Sometimes it merely seems as if they are just plain scared, pure and simple.
But how far does it go? If we, as a civilization, would be willing to threaten and possibly hurt a segment of the population, a person who might just be our very own neighbor, then who’s next? Who’s next on our list of potential enemies? Who’s next on our list of someone being different, strange, or threatening? Where would it stop?
Our modern world seems to have become more and more ruled by fear. That fear is transforming into anger and sometimes violence. How do we reasonably protect ourselves without becoming a paranoid mob and possibly hurting someone who is a decent person, a fellow citizen, a neighbor, a human being who is merely trying to make a living and live peaceably in this world?
I came to believe, while fighting in Iraq, that fear is the root of most, if not all, of our problems in this world. Fear fuels anger, hate, violence, ignorance, prejudice and a host of other dark emotions we all have experienced at one time or another.
But I don’t believe it has to be that way. It is only when we give in to fear that we will, in my opinion, eventually end up self-destructing or hurting someone unintentionally and without a just cause. Maybe that’s one of our great challenges as a species, a challenge that I believe we can overcome in order to move forward together and live in a better world than the one we are building.
Posted in General, Iraq | Tagged fear, iraq, paranoia, terrorism, the twilight zone | Leave a comment
Well, another year has ended… and another year has begun. It’s all very cyclical in my mind.
Arabic: سنة سعيدة (sana sa’eedah)
Catalan: Feliç any nou
Danish: Godt nytår
Dutch: Gelukkig Nieuwjaar
French: Bonne année
Garifuna: Buiti iseri irumu
German: Frohes Neues Jahr
Greek: Καλή χρονιά (Kali chronia)
Gujarati: સાલ મુબારક (saal mubarak)
Hebrew: שָׁנָה טוֹבָה (shana tova)
Hokkien: Kung Hee Huat Tsai
Italian: Buon anno
Japanese: あけまして おめでとう ございます (Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu)
Latvian: Laimīgu Jauno gadu
Lithuanian: Laimingu naujuju metu
Mandarin: 新年快乐 (Xin Nian Kuai Le)
Polish: Szczęśliwego nowego roku
Portuguese: Feliz ano novo
Romanian: La mulți ani!
Russian: С Новым Годом (S novim godom)
Serbian: Srećna nova godina
Slovak: Šťastný nový rok
Spanish: Feliz año nuevo
Thai: Sawatdee Pi Mai
Turkish: Yeni yılınız kutlu olsun
And lastly… happy new year everyone!
Posted in General | Tagged 2016, happy new year, new year | Leave a comment
When I was promoted to sergeant while in Iraq, I really didn’t want it. Well, let’s be honest. Part of me did, part of me didn’t.
I have to admit that when I joined the Army, I used to look at all the rank charts and my mind would fantasize about all those stripes on my arms. Part of me even wanted lieutenant’s bars on my shoulders.
As a child, I would gaze with wonder and youthful adoration upon my father’s old corporal stripes on his faded and worn Korean war uniform. I wondered what it would be like to wear them, to be in charge of men on the battlefield, to be a hero like the kind I saw in war movies.
Upon joining the Army, slowly but surely I began to change my mind about having those stripes. Perhaps I was getting older, more mature, my war hero fantasies fading with age, youthful infatuation wearing off. Perhaps I was beginning to realize just what it meant to have those stripes and the duty that came with them. I mean let’s face it, being promoted to sergeant literally means 10 times the responsibility for about a 1 percent pay raise – perhaps I wanted to avoid that obligation. Perhaps I didn’t want to be in charge of more people, the spotlight of answerability that much brighter. Perhaps I had realized that the rank I held as a specialist allowed me to repair helicopters and being promoted meant less of that work and more bureaucratic work. Perhaps I was realizing that although the Army had been an interesting experience for me, I really didn’t like being in the military and I certainly didn’t like war.
So, when my platoon sergeant came to me one day in my helicopter repair shop while we were in Iraq and told me my promotion paperwork had come through, I was apprehensive and told him I didn’t want it. He laughed, as he knew me very well by then, turned, and as he was heading out the door still laughing he said, “Too bad. You’re getting your stripes.”
It was a surreal experience to say the least. As a matter of custom, my unit typically held promotion ceremonies at our morning accountability formations. I was the only one being promoted that day and as I was called to the front of the company to be “pinned” by my commanding officer I remember my knees being slightly wobbly, a nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach. Upon saluting him, he told me he was proud of me, that my new rank suited me, and gave me the traditional shove with his hand to make sure the small spikes of the new rank sank fully home through my uniform and into my skin.
Throughout the day, I was congratulated many times, people calling me “Sarge,” many chuckling and asking me how it felt to be a glorified private.
As expected, I was inundated with more responsibility and I found there was a tremendous amount to learn if I was to adequately perform my new duties and discharge my new obligations. Slowly but surely I worked through that crash course and it proved to be the ultimate in “on the job training.”
After a time, I began to realize that what had begun as childhood vanity and fantasy on my part to have those stripes on my collar was remade into an adult embracing the burden that higher rank entails and as a consequence growing into a leader and better person because of it.
I came to absorb being a sergeant, to love being a sergeant far beyond how good it felt to have the stripes.
I came to realize it as one of the greatest personal achievements of my life and I still feel a sense of pride because, as I’ve heard said many times, the sergeant is the backbone of the working end of the military. I was proud to be a part of that.
Posted in Iraq, Military | Tagged army, iraq, iraq war, military, on the job training, promotion, promotions, responsibility, sergeant | Leave a comment
Recently, I was asked what I wanted for Christmas.
Funny question and one I really didn’t know how to answer.
I’ve never known how to answer that one.
When I was young, I could think of all sorts of things, toys, trinkets, games, records, posters, anything and everything I thought I needed to fill my world. As a child, having those things really meant something to me.
Nowadays I don’t feel that way. In fact, I spend time thinking of things I need or want to get rid of.
Has anyone ever noticed that no matter what you do, things accumulate seemingly on their own? Weird isn’t it? They just appear… out of nowhere and sometimes I look at something in my house and wonder why it’s even there to begin with. I have to laugh at myself because I know I bought it or acquired it somewhere but, I often forget why I felt such a need for it after a time. At the time, it seemed to be such an urgent need, something I absolutely could not do without.
And as usual, I start thinking. I think back on when I had very little, like when I came home from the war. I think of when I was homeless with nowhere to go. I think of how liberating and free that was. All that I owned could fit in my CR-V and I think of how happy I was without things.
I’ve found that things tend to make me feel weighted down. Things seem like a burden to me more often than not and I often feel that the best times in my life were when I was free of things.
I remember when I was younger and spent a great deal of time on the road. I was a drifter, free, rambling on from place to place, spending time in every state, meeting interesting people, and exploring the culture of America. I loved that and have a mind full of memories that make me smile to this day. I’ve crossed this country more times than I can count and back then all I had was a bag of clothes, a sleeping bag, a journal, my Honda Civic, and a full tank of gas.
I can remember picking raspberries in the mountains of Utah with a bunch of migrant workers so I could buy a tank of gas to get back to Denver. I remember being chased off the plains of Wyoming late one night soon after I pitched my tent by a pack of coyotes. I remember the waitress who chatted with me when I stopped by the restaurant she worked in late one night in Kansas City. I remember waking up soaked in sweat in my sleeping bag as I was camping in Florida one morning, only to take a sunrise swim in the ocean. I remember marveling at the Native American ruins in Arizona, cliff dwellings still intact. I remember going to the top of the arch in St. Louis, the Gateway to the West. I remember watching the surf on the coast of Oregon and walking the beach with the seagulls flying overhead. I remember Bourbon Street in New Orleans, with the music undulating through the air and the smell of good food. I remember the thunderous roar of Niagara Falls and wondering why on earth anyone would want to go over them. I remember the wind in the Badlands of South Dakota and the sunset over the farmlands of Illinois, corn gently swaying in the summer air. I remember field upon field of sunflowers in Nebraska and watching a lightning show on the horizon late one night while parked on the side of the highway.
These memories mean more to me than any “thing” I could possibly imagine.
I guess when someone asks me what I want for Christmas it isn’t a thing that I want, it’s the memory of spending and sharing time with them. No matter what happens, that will always be with me.