#YouKnowYouAreAWriterWhen you can flip your own switches. #VotB

I’ve been working on revising a short story, pruning words, tightening sentences, cutting adverbs, the word “now” which I’ve been fond of in the past, and searching for strong, active verbs to replace my wimpy ones. It never occurred to me that maybe I was using a different part of my creative brain for this work until I read Amanda Webster’s blog post below. It makes a lot of sense! And I’m very grateful for my internal editor, that part of my creative brain that loves to revise.

Write on the World

Original manuscript of a revision of "Spi... Even Poe had to revise his work! | Original manuscript of a revision of “Spirits of the Dead” in Poe’s handwriting. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At various crossroads on my writing journey, I have often happened upon “road signs” that let me know that I am heading in the right direction. These signs make me think, “Wow, I really AM a writer.” One example was when I completed my very first novel manuscript draft seven years ago. You know how it is. It feels like you will never finish. You often wonder if you are even capable of writing a complete novel. And then, one day, you find yourself typing, “THE END,” and you think, “Wow, I really AM a writer.”

At that moment, it feels like you have accomplished everything you need to do. You have reached the end of your writing journey. You wrote a novel! Woohoo! That’s a…

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Happy Anniversary!

7429pic2-thumb man in shadowsAs I began thinking about what to write here today, WordPress sent me an anniversary card.  It was 9 years ago this month that I signed on with WordPress and began to develop this blog. On September 18, 2007, I published my first post, “Writing to Date.”

Nine years! When I began, I focused on writing each week and never imagined how long I wanted to keep this blog up and running. Weekly posts challenged me enough.  But there have been some favorites over the years, and flops, too, and times when I needed to take some time off although I didn’t really want to.

I want to say a hearty Thank you! to all my readers who have stayed with me over time, and a welcoming Thank you! to new visitors and readers. I hope you’ll find much of interest here, and perhaps even a novel you’d like to read like my very own Perceval’s Secret.

Designed by Christopher Bohnet, xt4, inc.

Designed by Christopher Bohnet, xt4, inc.

Out of curiosity, I checked the stats for my posts over the last 9 years. I don’t usually pay much attention to stats, but today I wanted to see what had been popular over time.  Here are the top 10 posts in no particular order:

It amazes me how often ideas grab my imagination when I’m doing something truly boring and mundane. Showers seem to be the best place for me to muse about my writing. Yesterday, two ideas battled for my attention in the shower and while I dressed. One was for a short (or long) memoir or nonfiction assessment of The Golden Rule. Go figure. But it really excited me. The second was about taking a screenplay I wrote years ago and transforming it into a romantic suspense novel. This idea shocked me. Romantic suspense? Me?! But I’d recently reread Mary Stewart’s The Moon-Spinners and was so ridiculously happy after finishing it, I wondered if perhaps I actually like romantic suspense stories — or was it only this particular story that I like? And I’ve pulled out all my files for Perceval’s Shadow, the second novel in the series, to begin work on the first revision. I do wish I didn’t need to work to pay my bills.

I plan to continue this blog, writing about the Perceval series and my struggles and successes with it, my work on my other writing projects, writing about writing, being a writer, reading, classical music, and the occasional book or movie review. I may even write about writing a blog. I hope you will all continue to visit and talk to me in the comments section!  I love hearing from you.

My writing desk

My writing desk

Eleven Obstacles to Liking Classical Music

Music Score by the blue deviant fox

Not long ago, I ran across an article promoting the BBC Proms concerts in London entitled “The 11 obstacles to liking classical music (and why they’re all in your mind)” by Jonathan McAloon on bbc.co.uk.  Intrigued, I read through it, thinking about my own experience with classical music and attending concerts. I thought it’d be fun to share my thoughts about the obstacles noted in Jonathan McAloon’s article.

Concerts go on for too long: the point Altoon makes is that a 2-hour concert is no longer than a movie in a movie theater.  That may be true, but he overlooks the aspect of subject. Movies tell an overt story. With music, you have to listen and let your imagination discover the story within the music. I agree that 2 hours is not really that long, but I can understand if someone would rather not spend any quality time with his or her imagination during that 2 hours. The thing is, music is easy to listen to 95% of the time, and that’s as true for classical music as it is for hip-hop.

Concerts are too expensive: this point depends on how much you want to spend on music and your seat location within the concert venue. It’s possible to get quite reasonably priced seats for a classical concert. And often, symphony orchestras will offer people discounts and/or deals to make it possible to attend concerts for almost the same as a movie that includes admission and popcorn. Compare classical concerts to big pop or rock arena concerts and you’ll find the prices can be similar or even less for classical concerts. Most orchestras also offer cheap rush tickets available at the box office an hour before a performance.

Daniil Trifonov (Photo: trifonov.us)

Daniil Trifonov (Photo: trifonov.us)

It’s elitist: No, it’s not. That’s truly all in your head, you know. You do not have to dress up in formal wear to attend a classical concert. I’ve seen folks in jeans and sweatshirts, running pants, shorts and sneakers. You can bring some drinks into some venues, enjoy food in the lobbies, attend pre- or post-concert events like movies or talks about the concert program, participate in dancing, wine tasting, and any number of other activities offered by the concert venue. During the summer, some orchestras perform in outdoor venues where you can picnic on the lawn while listening to the music.

There are too many rules: this made me laugh. What rules? Oh, I suppose there’s the one about being respectful and considerate to those around you — after all, you’ll be sitting in a public space with 200 to 2000 people around you. Clap between symphonic movements if you really loved what you just heard. Being quiet during the performance is part of being respectful and considerate — in this case to the musicians performing as well as the people around you who’re are listening. Common sense, people! Cell phones do need to be turned off or put on vibrate, taking photos of the musicians when they’re performing is probably not allowed (for legal reasons), and perhaps the venue has a no shoes-no shirt-no entrance rule, but otherwise, what rules?

Newbies aren’t made to feel welcome: you’d be surprised how wrong this one is. Classical music lovers are the least snobbish people I’ve met. They love music and they love sharing it with others. You might begin with finding the classical music radio station in your locale or there are tons of them on the internet. Venture to a concert first like a cinema concert or a shortened concert to try it out. Then take the plunge on a full classical music concert. Say hello to the person next to you and see what happens!

Credit: Musicians of Minnesota Orchestra

Credit: Musicians of Minnesota Orchestra

I won’t know the tunes: So what? People go to concerts to listen. Maybe you’ll hear tunes that you really love. Or maybe you’ll hear tunes that you recognize and be surprised. It’s amazing how much classical music has been used on TV, in movies, and in commercials.  McAltoon also suggests browsing through YouTube’s collection of classical music. Search on the name of a composer like Beethoven, Mozart, or Rachmaninoff, and start listening!

Nonetheless, the music’s not for me: ah, I think you’d be surprised how much classical music you’ve heard and loved. For example, movie soundtracks. Which is your favorite? I love Lawrence of Arabia for example. Movie soundtracks are not only a gateway to classical music, they are classical music (except those that are pop or rock or jazz). Maybe just relax, close your eyes, open your ears, and see what happens.

The music is all written by dead white men: Not. Living composers, both women and men, can be found on today’s symphonic music concerts. If you like contemporary music, maybe try one of those concerts that mix contemporary composers’ music with that of the dead white guys. And then there’s Yo-Yo Ma and his Silk Road Project that plays music from all over the world.

It’s irrelevant to the modern world: I suspect contemporary composers would take issue with that. And what music is played at weddings quite often? Pachabel’s Canon. At funerals? After 9/11, I heard performances of A German Requiem by Johannes Brahms performed all over the country. Whenever there’s a huge national loss like the Challenger disaster in 1986, the most common piece of music played is Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. Classical music is as relevant as human emotion.

Ludwig van Beethoven        Source: Wikipedia

Ludwig van Beethoven Source: Wikipedia

It’s hard to find an entry point: Movie soundtracks, YouTube, classical music radio, and Beethoven are all fun entry points to classical music. Why Beethoven? Try listening to the last movement of his First Piano Concerto on YouTube sometime and you’ll know, I’m certain.

Classical music is boring and conservative: Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, Gabriel Yared’s haunting music to the movie The English Patient, or the Overture to William Tell beg to differ. Contemporary composers are also composing music that challenges the boundaries of music in all its aspects, just like Beethoven did in his time, Wagner did in his.  So, boring and conservative classical music is truly a myth.

Music is music. The poetry of sound. Some pieces tell a story, others are pure emotion in sound. Try it. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Writing the Future: the Mars Trilogy

KSR Mars TrilogyThis past week, I finished reading the final novel in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy: Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars. Besides bringing our beautiful planet earth’s physical attributes into focus for me to the point of overwhelming gratitude, this trilogy also provoked thoughts of just how difficult it is to write the future.

But how hard could it be to write the future? I mean, all a writer has to do is make things up, right?

Wrong.

For Perceval’s Secret and the rest of the Perceval series, I spent months creating the world of 2048-2050, thinking about all aspects of human life, plus environmental, political, geological, and technology concerns. I read books about futurism, which I hadn’t really known existed before. I read futurists’ predictions about the mid-21st century, fascinated by what they emphasized and what they didn’t. Then I had to put myself into the future I’d created in order to look for major holes in logic or in setting, and to write about it with confidence. It was hard.

I can only imagine the amount of research Robinson must have done for his trilogy.  He focuses a lot of his attention on the science of Mars, the science of human survival on Mars, and surprisingly, the geology of Mars because of one character, Ann Clayborne. Robinson put me there on Mars with his characters, especially for the first two books. I found it totally plausible what the characters experienced in terms of the Martian environment as well as in social and political terms. He didn’t spend a lot of energy, however, on technology which surprised me. He covered as much as he needed and no more. And I was quite satisfied with his future for the first two books.

Mars Bonneville Crater (Photo: NASA.gov)

Mars Bonneville Crater (Photo: NASA.gov)

But not for the third book, Blue Mars. The first two books remained true to their setting, i.e. Mars with all the challenges it presented. In the third book, Robinson takes us elsewhere in the solar system because humans have settled other places and Mars politically wants to have influence over them. While this was plausible from a social political point of view, I missed the survival experiences of humans on Mars. I missed how the personalities and desires of the core ensemble of characters intertwined and propelled the story in interesting and surprising ways. And it wasn’t because I didn’t like the younger generation of Martians. I found it fascinating how, in the third book, Robinson focused so much on the social aspects of living on Mars.

It took me several days after I finished the third book to figure out why I felt so dissatisfied with that last book. I realized that Robinson had abandoned the explorer and survival aspects that had begun the trilogy and shifted to a medical aspect. In fact, I realized that the gerontological treatment he introduced in the first book had struck me as a mildly interesting literary device to extend the lives of the original settlers through the trilogy. But it didn’t bother me at all in the first and second books. It bothered me in the third book which became a meditation on memory. So, the trilogy ends not on new ideas about space exploration in our solar system and beyond, but on a small group of people who are trying to remember their pasts. While interesting at times, I thought it belonged in a different book entirely, one about the medical and physical aspects of living off earth.  A book about the future trying to recapture the past or the old chestnut of humans seeking immortality.

Mars (Photo: NASA.gov)

Mars (Photo: NASA.gov)

Had Robinson run out of ideas about Mars settlements in the future? Had he lost interest in the science? Or had he written all he wanted to write about them? I don’t know, although it felt that way while I was reading the third book. Robinson showed that humans would do everything possible to recreate earth and life on earth in his trilogy, and I wondered how humans would evolve to adapt to the Martian environment. I continued to read despite my growing dissatisfaction and impatience with the third book because I really enjoyed Robinson’s prose, and I loved the way he threaded two elements through all three books: the Red vs. Green struggle, and John Boone and his death.

Finally, Robinson demonstrated just how difficult it is to write the future. I was very impressed, however, with just how far he went.

Journal Writing vs. Social Media

Dark Demon by ChrisCold

Dark Demon by ChrisCold

Guilt shreds my mood, rips through my mind, killing any creative impulse I may have had today. Wow. From where did it emerge? The Black Lagoon? No, it’s quite simple. I feel guilty because I haven’t been writing as much as I have wanted to in the last 13 months, specifically in my journal.

For many, many years, I’ve written almost daily in my journal, by hand, in a regular spiral-bound 3-subject notebook. While working at home for myself, my journal-writing time was immediately after lunch for about an hour. Whenever I worked in an office for other people, I wrote in my journal in the evenings, usually, and on weekends. This writing time I considered to be time spent with myself, learning, analyzing, working through problems, raising questions to wrestle, and celebrating as well as documenting my life. I have no plans to publish my journals.

The notebook I use for my journal

The notebook I use for my journal

Writing anything by hand nowadays is something of an ancient artifact of expression. But I continue to love pens, love the physical act of holding a pen, pressing its tip to paper and watching the ink flow onto the paper in organized shapes and swirls. This past week I wrote a personal note by hand in a blank card and I could not remember the last time I’d done that. What’s happened to me? Thirteen months is the longest period of time I’ve gone without writing in my journal in so many years I cannot remember the last time it happened. In fact, I doubt I’ve allowed such a long period to pass without journal writing since I began keeping my journal when I was 11 years old. And now I’m struggling with returning to it.

This struggle feels very much like wanting to reconnect with a friend but not knowing how to approach that person after too many years. There is no social media for journals and their writers to ease the way. In fact, I suspect that social media has prevented me from spending time with my old friend, my journal.

It’s not as if I spend a lot of time on social media. I rarely go to LinkedIn, even when I’ve been in the throes of a job search. When I do, I probably spend an hour or two. I’m not a big tweeter, and I don’t much like Twitter, to be honest. I don’t use Instagram or Pinterest or Tumblr or what else? Oh, yeah. Facebook.

fb

Facebook is the monster that consumes my time. I enjoy spending that time with friends, though, and with the few relatives that I have left. I decided several weeks ago, however, that I need to spend less time on Facebook because the political stuff bores me or disgusts me, the social commentary has been getting absurd lately, and the violence, the violence. Facebook amplifies everything about 500 times.  This is great for kvetching with friends, but heart-splitting for everything else.

I was thinking this morning that if I’d written in my journal instead of spending all those hours the last 13 months on Facebook, maybe I wouldn’t be aching from guilt today. My journal writing feeds into my fiction and nonfiction writing, too. And I have to say, journal writing is private, personal, and between me and myself so I can write anything, experiment, look at the different angles of a problem, etc. Facebook is not conducive for that kind of writing.

I used to feel a compulsion to document my life in my journal so I wouldn’t forget anything. But I still forgot things because I couldn’t possibly write everything down. Maybe this time away from it will help me come back to it with a different goal, a different attitude, a new feeling for it. I know it’s not the end of the world if I miss a day writing in my journal.  I’ve missed 13 months and I’m still here. But I must admit that I have missed it as I would miss a close friend.

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