For Robert.

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Here sits a lump of clay, ready for me to shape. / Photo by Kidzond.

 

I’ve been reading a book this week. Sort of a horror/dystopia story about vampires. I have about another 90 pages to go before the end of the story.

I didn’t like how the author started off the story. The setting was cool, but he seemed to lack focus on what the issue was. Hints to, but never explains what the real issue at hand is.

Despite the grammatical errors, hiccups with elements of the plot, the two main characters are good. I am truly curious as to what their fate will be. And that has to be the best part of the story. I actually care as a reader what will happen next.

Yes, this is my story, my first draft of my ‘first’ novel. Why quote marks? Because it truly isn’t my first. I wrote a novel a few years back and sat down to read it, like I am doing now. My father’s ghost tapped me on the shoulder and whispered in my ear.

“That truly sucks you know. What are you trying to even say? What is your point?” I could only look over my shoulder and nod, placing the pages into a manila envelope and dooming the novel to sit upon a dusty shelf for all of eternity.

This book I am reading? It may actually see the light of day. I hope it does. It is still a lump of clay, but has a shape. A structure that I can look at and say, “I see where you are going here.” and take out my tools and start to shape it into a book that will keep some up past their bedtime, turning the page to see what happens next. That is my hope, the hope of every wannabe author.

Stories rarely just pop into my head. Usually a scene does, one that I think on, expand upon, and if good enough, commit to paper. I normally hand write out my stories, then sit at my laptop and tap them out.

This story, came from an oxymoron. We went swimming at a local pool years back. I was sick, so I did not want to get into the water. My youngest children were kiddy pool age, so I sat and watched them. It was on July 14th, Bastille Day for the French, that will become germane in a moment.

So, sitting down, watching my wife and kids splash around in this public pool that is only opened during the day, I notice they had lights. A really good lighting system. New. But why?

“Well maybe it’s for the vampires.” I mused. Swimming on Bastille Day, a short story, was born. I wrote it down, then I tapped it out on my laptop. It sat. I tweaked it, it still sat. I had in my cloud, and thus on my phone. By now, almost 3 years had passed. And every once in a while I would look at it. I had the good luck to look at on the flight back from our family vacation. It caught the eye of my sister-in-law’s fiancé.

“What’s that your reading?” He asked.

“Oh, short story I wrote.” I said.

“Really?” He said as I handed him my phone. A half hour later he handed it back. He liked it, but had so many questions. In the end, the story didn’t make sense to him. I needed to explain it more.

I think I rewrote that short story a dozen times, cursing at each draft. It was not going to happen as a short story. Maybe a Novella? Wasn’t sure.

The novel was delayed by a conversation with my brother Jay. Who stated that everyone wrote about vampires. Which, is absolutely true. Stick a fork in the genre, it is as crispy as a vampire in the sunlight.

As I turned away from the novel, and life interrupted me more than I wish, drawing me farther away from my writing, I considered something. Is my story about vampires? Is any story just about its genre? No, it’s about the characters. How they react to the situation they are in.

It took me 45 days to write the first draft. Countless interruptions, coffee breaks, smoke breaks, potty breaks, and life’s general interruptions.

Then I started to read my book. I frowned a lot at the first 70 pages, had to do my best not to pick up a red pen and attack it. I reminded myself this is the critical part of writing. Do you like your work? Are you, as the author, curious as to the ending. Even though you know the ending? Like re-reading your favorite novel again? Does it still peak your interest? So far, yes. I want to know what happens to my characters.

While writing a story is the fun part, the nuts and bolts of creating a novel really intrigue me. I am doing the first read of the first draft. I will edit my novel. Then, hoping it won’t cost me a small fortune, get with an editor I know. Have her go over it with a nit comb. Then after that, have it proofread again. Finally have a few people read it.

One person that I hope will have the time to read my story is the person who looked at me on that airplane flight and asked so many damn good questions. Yet still said, they liked it. My brother-in-law Rob. He’s a bit of an asshole, which is fine, because so am I. We argue, discuss, and love each other fiercely. We truly are family.

Yet I would be remiss to say I don’t dread his reading of my tale. For while others will tell me they like it, yet secretly harbor dislikes, I will not get that from him. He will simply hand me back the printed pages and shake his head. “Nah, didn’t like it.” And that will be the truth. It is rare to find an individual with his bluntness. It is also alarming and scary.

However, if you want to succeed at anything in life, you need a Rob. You need someone to tell you if your work is good, and to give you constructive criticism. To ask the hard questions and have you explain yourself. And, like he did on that flight, when I explained a point to my ill-fated short story.

“Why didn’t you say that in the first place then?”

So, with so many people I will have to thank for this novel when it sees the light of day, I could think of only one person to dedicate it to. My harshest critic.

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Vampires Suck!

 

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Although Vampires exist in many forms, a Child Vampire is always creepy. / Photo by KidZond.

 

“A story about vampires? Oh Jon, come on! Everyone’s writing about vampires! Vampires suck!” my brother said to me.

“Actually they are writing about Zombies.” I said in a rather meek come back.

However, with my brother’s assessment of my future novel, he raised the specter of my Father’s Ghost. It’s a dumb idea, Jay is right, everything there is to say about vampires has been written. What could you possibly add to the genre?

Suddenly it was pointless to move forward with my novel. So, being this conversation happened in June of 2017, the opening pages of my novel, all 22,000 words, sat on my laptop, collecting electric dust, and I moved on to other projects, other ideas. Original Ideas. Because, well, you need to be Original right? Right?

Nothing is Original. Not really.

So, my Father’s Ghost won again. I shelved the story and went on to other projects. Yet I kept thinking about my vampire story. In my mind I was adding little details, dropping plotlines, adding others. Thinking on it the whole time I was working on ignoring it and being ‘original’. Yet, nothing is original. Not really. Most stories are based off of other stories. Even Dracula was based on a Balkan Legend and a popular story from Stoker’s time, The Vamprye. 

Most of us believe a great story is original, but when asked, the Author often cites one or more sources as their inspiration. Either a story they had read, heard about, or one, recounted to them. Usually the story is a mishmash of previously known stories, with their own spin on it. Grimm’s Fairytales comes to mind. Shakespeare was well-known for taking popular legends and turning them into plays.

The concept of having to be original is, honestly, a little over the top. Yet, some storylines, genres, can beat the proverbial horse to death. Vampires have been mostly played out.

I accepted the fate of my novel, it would sit on the electronic shelf forever, never to be printed out and have me cuss over the editing process. The story was doomed.

Inspiration comes to you in the strangest ways.

My life has taken a few twists and turns since I had that conversation with my brother. I had written a few short stories, polished a couple of others, was in the market for Writing Competitions to get my name out. Yet I had to deal with a busy social year in 2017 and the discovery of my youngest daughters Autism.

During all this I changed jobs. Going from moving semi-tractor trailers in and out of docks for a Gum Factory, to doing the same at a Potato Chip factory.

I seem to be attracted to snacks companies.

And it was at my new job, that I saw something that gave me inspiration. Next to the Potato Chip factory is a Metal Work Shop. The shop causes some consternation with me and my colleagues. Huge metal plates, and small bits of metal litter the drive next to ours. Both plants share a common driveway. We have to be careful not to run over a metal scrap or drive into a huge steel beam. Yet the Metal Work Shop made me think…

“You know, if the zombie apocalypse happens, I would come here to outfit myself. You could make any sort of weapon out of this scrap metal.”

And of course there were potatoes to eat. And a nice National Guard Armory nearby. What a great place to hide out when the poop hits the rotating oscillator…

…or a great place for two child vampires to hang out.

You see, my story isn’t original. But it’s mine. It is my take on vampires. It may follow certain guidelines, certain rules of a storyline, but it’s mine. And that is where I vanquished my brother’s advice and my Father’s Ghost this time. Because while vampire stories have been played out. Glitter & Sparkles, Day-walkers, Assassins of Werewolves and even Diaries. No one has read mine. No one has seen what I have to offer. So, with a new angle, a fresh view, a great idea for a location, I wrote 4500 words of my tale last night. More to write tonight. And the next day, and the days to follow till I have the tale told.

Now, it may end up on the electronic bookshelf. It may die during the editing process, or suffer a worse fate. Sitting on the Cyber-Bookshelf without any takers.

But it will be done. I will have told my tale.

Because I have my story to tell, my version of vampires. Characters for you to explore, to laugh with, cry with, hate and love. It may revolve around vampires, but it will be the characters that drive the story.

While vampire tales are not original, my take will be ‘original’.

See, I let self-doubt and the fear of being lost in the crowd stop me from writing my novel. I was held back because I feared my brother was right, that my Father’s Ghost was right. But they weren’t.

Each of us, whether you are a published author, or a wannabe like myself, brings our own unique perspective to our tales. So, don’t be afraid to write what has already been written. Some of the best novels, best movies, even best t.v. shows are new versions of the same tired genre.

It’s not the lipstick on the pig that matters, it’s the shade of lipstick that matters.

 

I should just be an Author.

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Part of my HUGE pile of stories and plotlines. / Photo by KidZond.

 

“You should just become an Author.” My 7-year-old son said to me today. I was taking him to school, and we were discussing my new job and my new hours.

I told him that I took my new job because it’s days, and it also gives me more home time. The ‘price’ I pay for this is working Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Long hours, yet the free time, and being home with the kids to see them off to school and pick them up is worth it.

Then I added, “And I can write more, you know, become a famous author and we can travel the world. You know, so I could see new places and meet new people for my stories.” That’s when Nick had the simplest of solution. Just become an author.

If it was that easy.

I have been writing seriously for the last 10 years. Working on plots, styles, narrative methods, dialog, you name it. It’s been a fun journey. Yet the serious part always seems to elude me. I’ve submitted, been rejected, didn’t take it personally. I’ve read hundreds of articles on how to be a better writer, thousands of inspirations memes and quotes, listened to famous authors opine upon their craft and still…yeah.

Over time I have come to the conclusion I write like a sculpture. How so? Easy. If you have ever sculpted in clay (which I have) or know of the process, it’s a little weird. You start with a hunk of clay and pull parts away. Molding those parts to become the basis of your work. You will add this, take that, look at that small piece off to the side and maybe put it on, like it and keep it on, or hate it and remove it. In the end, you will have a round pile of ‘useless’ clay that will become another project. And hopefully you will have a finished piece. Or cover it in plastic to get back to later.

But it is that round pile of useless clay that may spark a better sculpture. One that you will really love. Sometimes, the small pieces become larger works.

Either way, you become attached to your sculpture. Even if after it is done, and you put it on a shelf, you will one day go back to it and smile. Thinking to yourself  “Wow, that sucked, but was fun” or “I should rework that piece, maybe paint it, or add this or that.” You rarely toss it in the trash. Because, well, you made it. It’s got a whole bunch of you in it.

When it comes to writing, advice is always nice. Honest opinions better. Yet I have found that the best advice is my own.

I can’t write for money. It would be nice, just to sit back, watch my works sell at an insane rate and have to hire a financial advisor to help me with my oodles of royalties. But I’m not that kind of writer. I tried that on a few stories, geared them for commercial success, but they didn’t have any heart.

It took a while for me to realise that I have to write for myself, and hope what I, like others, will too. That is a gamble, a big one. Yet if the story is going to go anywhere, I have to love it first before anyone else will.

Not good enough.

Like all writers, I suffer from self-doubt. That of course is what is holding me back. Well that and a little ‘Dad Issues’.

My father was a voracious reader, as was my mother. I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t see a book in one of their hands. My mother was such an avid reader that she would get a quarter way into a book and put it down. When I asked her why, she told she had read it before. Dad was mostly into histories and biography’s. Thick tomes that he would stay up to the wee hours of the night reading and smoking his Mores cigarettes, a pall of smoke above his side of the couch, as he quietly turned the pages.

Yet my father was one of those people who belittled the achievements of others. If you had a great idea, my father had either thought of it, or told you why it wouldn’t work. It was this odd ‘Not good enough’ attitude that I believe has seeped into my brain and stops me from completing my books.

Even those novels and short stories I have finish, sit. Put into file cabinets or xerox boxes waiting for me to take them back up again and breathe life into them.

Yet my father’s ghost haunts me. Wandering through my mind to give me an excuse not to finish any of my works. I’ve cheated his ghost several times, yet those submissions fall under the umbrella of commercial works, going for that mythical Financial Advisor, just to have them tell me, that I may want to keep my day job.

“You know, Dad was pretty hard on you.” My brother Jay has told me often. He was right, dad was hard on me. I’m not certain why.

I find myself wanting to feed my father’s ghost. Find reasons to despise my own works. Even when I have finally convinced myself that I need to write for Me first, Readers second, his “No one would read that.” pops into my head. And I put my project aside.

Over the years I have conquered many of my fears, psychoanalyzed myself to the point I know where my arachnophobia, relationship problems, brussel sprouts hatred and fear of white rabbits with black eyes all come from. Oh, and Japanese Silky Chickens, the Hens, they give me the creeps.

I get myself, for the most part. Always something new to learn about yourself, yet for the most part? Yeah, I get me.

Except for my father’s ghost. That is still with me, and I still struggle to conquer that fear. That I will never be Good Enough, no matter how hard I try.

It is a totally irrational fear, one that should not have a hold on me. And maybe, from the proverbial mouth of babes, I should just be an Author.

 

Even if my works aren’t good enough.

The future for Authors…

…or where my first book is destined to end up.

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Books for Sale at the local Goodwill Store. / Photo by KidZond.

If you haven’t noticed, I like to write. Not just blogs about my family, but fiction. I tend to stick with the whole Fantasy / Science Fiction genre. I just find this realm my cup of tea. Sort of suits my creative personality.

Now even though I write, I rarely submit my writings. Because, well, it sucks. Maybe…not sure…but I am pretty sure it does.

But I want to write. It makes me happy and I have a passion for it. Writing for me is fun, entertainment, and well maybe, just maybe, I can make a few bucks off it all.

Maybe.

Then on a shopping expedition to Goodwill I found the used book section, and was humbled a bit. For several reason, let me explain.

There were a fair number of books on the shelves. Some of the books made sense that they found their way to the resale shelves. Children’s books, kids grow up, other Parents may want them. Cook books, because cooking is always a fad. Cajun cook books may have been all the rage 5 years ago, but now? Not so much.

Romance novels, well come on. Even their authors expect them to hit the resale shelves. Hope so I would think. People buy one for a buck, then buy their latest novel for $14.95. Great for marketing.

Other authors, many who have passed on to that great typewriter in the sky, well their books find their way to the resale shelf.

Others? They make you think. A story may be behind it. Books about becoming a new parent, what to expect when you are pregnant….

…Breast Cancer for Dummies.

I looked long and hard at that book. Did they survive? or did some love one sadly pack the book with other belongs to give to Goodwill? I wonder.

Books can tell a story about a person.

Unlike others who have that nosey habit of looking into your medicine cabinet, I will look at your bookshelf. What you read tells me a lot about you.

Romance lover? Then you probably are a hopeless romantic. Horror lover? Well, you like to be surprised and scared. You probably love rollercoasters and haunted houses. Science Fiction lover? Then you like to think of What If? and love NASA with a passion. Spy Novel lover? You always think someone is keeping secrets, you love cat and mouse games. Crime novels lover? You are always looking for the reason why behind everything, noting clues when something is amiss. Fantasy lover? You like to look at the magic in the world, see the connections that others miss.

Of course these are generalizations. You read to escape. To find a little bit of entertainment in-between the pages of that book in your hands. You want to forget about your problems and worry about the Main Characters problems.

And of course, when you are done exploring those other worlds, and those characters become fond memories just collecting dust on your bookshelf, or taking up room in a box in the basement. You end up giving up on them, shipping them out for others to find and enjoy. For a new generation of reader to find that escape you so loved.

For some, this bequeathing to new readers, may happen soon after you read the book, or years down the line. Then again, if you are like me, it will happen when you can no longer read the books, because, of course, the dead can’t read.

Yet eventually, one day, those books you read will end up on a shelf (if the book is lucky to survive that long) and will be sold for a pittance of what it original value was. Many may pass it by, others may pick it up and look to see if it peaks their interest. Some will smile at the book because they have already read it. Still, it will sit.

As a would-be author, this is my future. My books…you know, when I get around to writing them…will end up on a shelf one day.

I can take a little satisfaction that the library of congress may keep a copy. You know, if I publish.

 

Then of course, there is this…

 

Although I desire to be a writer, and have written many short stories and a few novels, they all sit in old xerox boxes and filing cabinets in my basement. Dozens upon dozens of storylines and plots waiting for me to get off my butt and get serious about it all.

Yet while I desire to be a writer, my youngest daughter will be. For in an odd twist, my autistic daughter loves to create stories. She loves the English language, and would give a ‘Grammar Nazi’ a run for their money. She has the potential to be a novelist, to do this thing that I desire, far better than I will.

And unlike me, who looked upon with a little sadness at the realization that my future books will end up on a Goodwill shelf, I think Alexis will relish the idea. Than even though her books may fall off the Best Sellers list, she will be delighted to know that they are still there, out there waiting for others to discover.

Argh! A writer’s life for me!

[ Well sometimes…]

 

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Nick and Alexis enjoying the new deck. / Photos by KidZond.

 

If you like to write, like myself, you will eventually run into this problem. Life gets in your way.

There are a whole list of problems that confront you, that whole sleeping thing, eating, and well the dog looking at you because you’ve been writing for the last 10 hours straight and she really needs to pee. Hopefully you notice before you step in the puddle.

Of course those are the more silly aspects to writing. The reality is your job, (unless you write for a living – and I’m not there yet.) your family, and well things that just need to get done.

Take my porch for instance. My porch, or rather stoop, was not in the best shape. What’s worse is that the walkway to the stoop, had sunk and with this wet summer we’ve been having, has caused a 5 inch deep by 4 foot wide lake. Hey, it’s a lake when you try to walk across it at night after getting off work.

So, it had to go. After talking over options with my father-in-law, he had a simple solution.

“Hey I want to try out this 16 lbs sledgehammer, see if we can get that  concrete stoop out and then build a deck.” Is what he texted me.

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Hey, sledgehammers do work pretty well! Also great for punishing sarcastic son-in-laws.

 

What started as a trial of a sledgehammer has turned into a full-blown project. Because, well, it needed to be done. So, I went from working, household chores, children and writing to working, household chores, children and building a deck while trying to squeeze in writing. The trick on the writing is to write when you are mostly coherent, not at 1 a.m. after a day of shoveling in 3000 lbs of fill dirt and working 8 hours. Something was going to have to give.

Writing took a backseat for the time being. Okay, Blogging took a backseat for the time being. I still write, everyday, usually on my downtime at work, using pen and paper to craft out an idea for a novel. Yet sitting down to write after a full day just turned out gibberish. Ideas were lost in my tired mind and blogs were relegated to the trash heap. Hopefully to be resurrected in the near future.

All writers face this problem, heck you don’t even have to be a writer to have life interrupt you. Car problems, house issues, and children will often throw your plans off kilter. It’s a fact of modern life. Pretty sure it was a fact of ancient life.

“Dear? Weren’t we going to go hiking today?” Roman husband asks.

“Yes why? Mt. Vesuvius is just lovely this time of year.” Roman wife says.

“Yeah, well it’s erupting, we may want to go sailing today instead.” Roman husband says quickly packing.

 

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This is only 1400 lbs of dirt, 1600 to go.

 

Whether you have a home improvement project, or life just interrupts you, learning to take time off from what you love, and not fret over it like a Mother cat who has misplaced a kitten, will make your life a whole lot easier.

Many articles are written about guarding your writing time. Finding a time everyday to write uninterrupted. They’re good articles, they make a good point. For those of us who live that ‘organized chaotic life’ with children and life’s interruptions, what sounds like sound advice, isn’t always practical.

Even successful writers have trouble getting time to write. And those lucky S.O.B’s probably have to do book tours and a host of media interviews that cut into their next novel’s time. So while us personal bloggers slog along in life, remember, it could be worse. You could have that million dollar book deal you are working on, and have to hire someone to build your deck.