TFW – I’m supposed to be dead

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I know how I am going to die. Like rock salt from a shotgun, the information hits me not all at once, but in stinging little pockets, searing into me the final piece of my future. The bits and pieces come together to form a nightmare I wish I could forget. Every day, sometimes many times, always inconvenient, I relive that which has yet to come. But there it is, like an old friend, reminding me.

The sinus numbing impact on the right side of my cranium comes first. Cracking, the bone conforms to something more resilient, more commanding of the need for space. As my skull gives way to a mass of pitted metal, bits of soil and rust fill my nostrils, pepper my eyes. On a hard exhale, involuntary to make room for fresh oxygen, ride human noise – primal, unmistakable. A desperate inhale stops short as my throat fills with cerebrospinal fluid. I choke on it. It’s acidic and thick. It doesn’t hurt. All I know is I can’t breathe and my head feels funny.

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Life is floating, rotating, like a planet circling a star. One trip around is all we get. When the ride is over, after we made the revolution, we are supposed to get off and let the next paying customer have a go. But what happens when we stay on past our turn? The ride keeps going, making extra runs, taking us to places we’ve been – or places we should have gone but didn’t. Showing us the ghosts of things forgotten or the edges of a close call. The girl, the job, the path not taken, the death designed just special but snubbed, by chance.

Are these memories of things that could not possibly have happened? The person I know, I know, but can’t place. The feeling of predicting with accuracy, what is happening, play-by-play, milliseconds in advance. That stab in the gut telling me to turn around but for what unknown. The “I got a bad feeling about this” feeling.

The older I get the more I feel like I’m not supposed to be here. It’s like I’ve taken somebody else’s place, walking in somebody else’s shoes, doing a job I am unqualified to entertain.

I should have died as a baby, with a failed heart. But, with 1972 technology, my pulmonary valve was stretched open (after two tries) and deemed “repaired.” After a slit wrist while horsing around in high school, an unsuccessful mugging in college, a heart valve replacement ten years ago, and I’m sure too may close calls while intoxicated, I’ve had plenty of chances to just die, already.

I am living, wandering through life – trying to make it through another day without looking for a reason. Because the reason is lost on me. Yet here I am waiting for my skull to be crushed.

The Slow Death of the Fact(s)

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As the line between entertainment and news blurs, Americans’ demand for actual facts has diminished in favor of sound bites, sometimes even settling on a meme as actual reporting. In the weeks following the massacre in Sandy Hook, I had a heated conversation with a friend who claimed it was a hoax initiated by the President to catalyze his anti-gun agenda. While presenting my friend with articles and links from respected news sources (NYT, LA Times, The Tribune, etc.) showing his outlandish ideas to be false, he claimed that his source held the actual truth and that all other agencies reporting on it were playing catch-up. His source – a single YouTube video put together not by trained journalists, but by a group of conspiracy theorists.

YouTube is an entertainment site. It’s a great place to watch cat videos, life-hacks, and train wrecks, but increasingly Americans are turning to their preferred media outlet as a catch-all for entertainment and news. Whether it be Facebook, Twitter, or any other app-supported pastime, the news is getting buried under quick-hit flash headlines that are taken at face value by the consumer. This is alarming. We all have a built-in Confirmation Bias and seek to consume “news” that we already agree with. Conservatives watch Fox and Liberals enjoy MSNBC for this reason. Both outlets pander. No surprise there. The issue growing right in front of us is that television, terrestrial or cable, is fighting a dying death against a more powerful technology – the smartphone.

So what can broadcast news outlets do to hang on? When the stations, local or national, get a few moments of our attention, they attempt to emulate what we see on our phones as we sit on the toilet or on the train. Quick headlines with little to zero fact backup and interviews full of lies floated as truth without a hint of push-back from the journalists are becoming commonplace. If one wants to fact-check something, there are a few places to go for unbiased information (factcheck.org, politifact.org, and others) but that requires more effort and, more importantly, a willingness to turn off our embedded confirmation bias. Preparing yourself to learn that your opinion is, in fact, wrong is not easy. No one likes to be misled by their personal choices. We must look inward and demand the truth. Fewer of us do this due to the way we consume our media. It is spoon fed to us by the outlets we choose and the entertainers we follow online. We have become lazy. And when confronted with opposing views, another phenomenon can strengthen the resolve to push back. The Backfire effect.

In 2005, The University of Michigan conducted a study wherein participants were presented with false magazine articles about subjects like the WMDs in Iraq, stem cell research, and tax reform. After the columns had been read, the participants were then presented with the factual articles, laying out the truth. The results showed that not only did the false articles support confirmation bias, but when presented with the facts (WMDs were never found, stem cells don’t come from aborted fetuses, and trickle-down economics has historically never worked), the beliefs of many involved in the study strengthened in the favor of the misinformation. This is the Backfire effect. We believe what we want to believe and when presented with conflicting information, we tend to believe it even harder. Why? It is threatening to be told we are wrong. It hurts.

Our current election cycle is ripe with misinformation on both sides and we should have seen this coming. Yes, blame can be laid at the feet of the technology, but it will move forward either way; there is no stopping it. We must take back the responsibility to be well informed. When I was growing up, the ten o’clock news was a stop-down in every household. So was the morning paper. Our parents got their news from reliable sources – ethical journalists, reporters, and news readers – on a daily basis and there was no need to go looking for a way to fact check or debunk a news organization. They had earned our trust.  Now, much of what we consider news is just twisted words stuck on an unflattering picture of a politician put forth by someone with an opinion. And looking for facts is just hard. Please, do the work. The next four years is hanging in the balance.

Is Writer’s Block a thing?

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Hello, friend. It seems as though this week has gotten away from me. How does that happen?

Two chapters per week. That’s the self-imposed goal I am punishing myself with. But I’m not going it alone. My writer group is also plugging away with the same directive. We have 60 days from today until we start a Revision class. Put another way, our novels need to be “complete” by then. By complete, I mean it needs to have a beginning, middle, and end…that makes up 80k words or so. I’m half way at 40K.  OiVey!

I have been asked, “how do you deal with writer’s block?” My usual response is,”I write through it.” That sounds so smug…what it means is this – I’ve never actually had writer’s block, therefore I reject it’s existence. I think I’m there now. And it’s not that I don’t have the words or the ideas , or even the motivation. I’m just stuck. Luckily, my cat ShayBear has a nice warm place to sleep while I dig deep and find the rest of my scene. Have a great weekend!

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Writing my Pitch

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Hello, friend.  Follow along as I craft an elevator pitch and logline for my Novel! Should be fun for you and painful for me 🙂

What is your book about? This is the most common question I get when I tell someone that I’m a writer. It’s also one of the most difficult questions to answer. It shouldn’t be . I’ve been working on some form of the same story for over a year now, based on a concept I dreamed up over seven years ago. It’s been knocking around in my brain for a while. So, what’s the big deal?

The short answer – it’s complicated…now you really want to buy it, right?

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The reason I’m writing about this today is that later in the week, I will be attending a GTG of beginning, aspiring(this is where I fit in) and published writers. The SMU Writer’s Path program is kicking off the 2016 season of classes by hosting a gathering at a local wine bar. Now, this is not an event where I will need to be ready to pitch to industry peeps, but I will be meeting other writers and I want to be able to articulate just what the hell I’ve spent the last year writing about. Here goes –

To get the brain-cogs meshing correctly, I’ll start with identifiable movies. These films share some  elements with my story and have influenced my thinking while writing.:

Think – The Matrix meets 500 days of Summer  How are those two related? They aren’t, not in the least, but my story contains elements of futurist technology, artificial intelligence, fight scenes and deception by supposed allies. It also has not one, but two strong female characters, and the male hero, not being a conventional Bruce Willis type, actually has feelings and is in love with a girl, who is kind of “meh” about him in the beginning. And they need to work together to save humanity from the machines. Okay, here’s another:

Think – Ghost in the Machine meets Fargo. Again with the futuristic techno-wiz stuff from above, but with a stronger human element. Add in a smarter and sneakier female character along with a few twists involving the difference of how family is valued among basic human needs (ie: money, stuff, comfort). Can’t forget the kidnapping and murder and deplorable people. Oh and machines…they want to eat people. Last One:

Think – War of the Worlds(2005 Tom Cruise version) meets Lost in Translation. This one might be a stretch…but the sudden threat and massive loss of life due to a mechanical re purposing of the planet rings true. We also have an element of two people, who are seemingly perfect for each other, but circumstances (not the age difference like the movie) prevent, or complicate the possibility of true love ever blossoming.

Moving on – now I’ll outline the main elements that need to be included in a logline:

SETTING, HERO, PROBLEM, VILLAIN, CONFLICT, GOAL                                                           When complete, it should look like this:

In a (SETTING) a (HERO) has a (PROBLEM) (caused by an VILLAIN) and (faces CONFLICT) as they try to (achieve a GOAL).

Setting – Near Future in New Orleans, LA

Hero – Ethan, a young hacker turned entrepreneur (inventor of cutting edge medical technology)

Problem – he is framed for kidnapping and double murder

Villain – his business partner who may or may not be augmented by an artificially intelligent agent.

Conflict – The combined intelligence of a self aware machine commanding the technology that Ethan created to fight diseases

Goal – stop the machines from forever changing the purpose of the human element on earth.

If I dump all this in a jar and shake it, I should be able to dump it on the floor and get a pitch:

What’s your book about? A young ex hacker teams up with his estranged girlfriend to stop a technology that he invented from enslaving humans.

And If I’m lucky, a logline(longer version of the pitch with more info):

Oh, really? Tell me more.  In the New Orleans of tomorrow, a hacker turned medical technology entrepreneur is framed for the murder of a colleague by his business partner, who has succumbed to the power of a technology they developed together. He must battle the combined forces of artificial intelligence, his own invention along with his inner demons to stop the machines from ending humanity as we know it.

This is step one. Over the next few days, I will be honing these to perfection. I’ll upload the finished product later in the week. Thanks for coming over! Feel free to LMK what you  think on FB or in the comments section(and if you have ideas, I’m always open to suggestions about this post or my blog in general).

 

My Process – Typical Friday

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Hello friend. I thought I’d share a bit of what my writing process looks like on a regular day.

Here’s my desk with everything I need to be productive. The must-haves are my OED (Oxford English Dictionary), Thesaurus, various journals (I scribble notes constantly and refer back to them when writing…I’ll have another article on journals coming up), printed copies of my latest chapters and a few of those from my writing partners for inspiration, A  novel I admire (for it’s energy), music, and my trusty laptop.

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This morning, I’m working on a new scene. It’s what I call a connector scene, meaning I need to drop some information on the reader and connect two previously unrelated events. So, when I start a scene, I usually walk over to my HJ (hero’s journey) board and just stare at it for a moment. I’m looking to see where the scene I’m thinking of will land in the big picture. Each post-it represents a scene; sometimes there may be two or more that will be combined in the same scene. The top row represents the 12 stages in the HJ, the thin strips on the left represent each character’s story on a granular level. The squares on the wall, above the board are my themes, just to remind me of my tone, and the left side squares on the wall IMG_5264are yet-un-applied ideas.

Sometimes, these notes need to be moved or trashed in favor of a better idea. I find that the more of the story I write, the less of the HJ board seems to apply. Writing is an organic process and it tends to tell you(the writer) where it’s going. So, starting out with a plan is crucial, but sticking to the plan is almost never possible.

Back to tIMG_5249he board – The big gaping hole in the bottom is not missing story or an under developed plot line. It’s Maggie: She likes to…umm…help me arrange my story. Yes, I realize that the cat tower probably should be moved to another location, but well, she likes it there.

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No idea what this scene was, I hope I didn’t need it.

Not only does she take down my scene notes, she eats them. I guess they must be good.

I have my plan on where the scene is going, so It’s time to dive in. I’ll typically just start writing with no attention to structure or style. I just get the ideas on the page. It looks something like this:

Ethan came home from the police station. Notices landlord door is open. calls out to Miss Francois. no answer. Walks in apartment and sees her Saints poster ripped and china cabinet turned over. Stove burning. dried crust in bottom of pot. Smells of burned coffee and bacon.(what is he feeling?) Remembers cops at door that morning. did they overhear the convo? how did they know to look in the china cabinet for the package? (how does he feel now?)  Looks for package. missing. Remembers Miss Francois has special hiding place. (does he call 911?, will he look guilty after last nights events?) Dread. sadness. anger. He checks the hiding place for the package.

So, this will become a scene of about 1000 to 1500 words. I refer back to this to keep me on track. If I don’t start with a rough draft of quick stream of consciousness writing, the birds in the bushes outside my window will distract me, or the cats, or something shiny.

So on to my scene. when It’s complete, I’ll post an excerpt so you can see what it looks like after some work. Thanks for coming over and have a great weekend!

 

My love affair with the 3G

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Hello, friend. How do you feel about your personal device? Do you feel like it owns you? Is it a tether? Does it aggravate you when an app takes too long to load or you drop a call? What about that darn autocorrect? And why the heck can’t Siri understand your thick Texas accent as you ask her for the best place to get some lightly fried fish?

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3GS v. 6+

Honestly, I try not to complain (outloud) about my device, an iPhone 6+. Like Louis CK said in one of his routines, and I’ll paraphrase – We really have no right to complain about anything that our personal pocket computer does or doesn’t do. The fact that it exists and we all have them is AMAZING. The reason I’m writing today is because of this:IMG_5246

A few nights ago, I opened my nightstand drawer to look for something and while rummaging around in the far reaches of the back, I found a box of my old phones. My son walked up as I was dusting them off and said, “nice iPhone graveyard, Dad.” To be fair, this was only what I had in my own bedside table. My wife and two kids are also iPhone junkies and have gone through their share.

I picked up one of the 3G iPhones and I was amazed at how tiny it felt. I plugged it in and powered it up, connected to Wifi and clicked around on it. I asked myself, outloud, “how did you ever use this miniature phone?”

But the longer I used it, I began to remember why I loved it. One reason was that until the iPhone came out, we were all still using flip phones or one of those bullet proof Nokia 1100 series and texting on the T9. BTW, T9 had its advantages. The main one being that, after some practice, you could send an entire message without looking at your screen…Like, from your pocket, or while driving(not that I condone this). The text prediction seemed pretty spot on for reasons I’ll save for another post.

After the euphoria of us
ing a touch screen device wore off and Apple introduced the next generation, we just had to have it. Why? I’ve heard theories that this is planned obsolescence, meaning that Apple(and Andriod) has tech in the pipeline for years to come, but only release it in small, dumbed-down versions every two years to keep us foaming at the mouth, waiting for the next big thing. Or, maybe we just like having new stuff.

When the 4 came out, I was amazed at how much it felt like a brick. Gone was the smooth, curved back that fit in your hand like it was made just for you. When the 5 launched, gone was the glass screen…they changed to some sort of glass/plastic composite.  Sure, the new IMG_5247versions were a little faster, but the 3 series of iPhones just felt sturdier than the rest. And they would take a drop much better than their replacements.

I remember when I got my first iPhone. It was a used 3G and I had been using a G1 (early Android, very nice unit actually). I was on Tmobile and they didn’t support iPhones at that time, so I jailbroke it so I could use it on my network. I was so proud of it. It did things other phones could not do.  I could play Angry Birds. When I replaced it, I didn’t need to –  I just wanted the new, shiny thing. But the new ones never seemed to shine as much as my first 3G.
So, after seeing that a writer buddy of mine still uses her iPhone 4 without issue and loves it, I decided to do an experiment. I ordered a SIMcard adapter kit that allows you to use a nano SIMcard (what’s in the 6+) in a Standard SIMcard phone (like the 3G). It was 6 bucks shipped(Amazon Prime, baby)!  The reason I’m trying this is that every time I get a new phone I complain(in silent agony) that the new phones are getting too big. I’ve been doing it for 8 or so years now. I’m putting my money where my mouth is.  I’m going to rock my old 3G as long as I can stand it and see if I miss the massive screen and lightning fast processor, and extra storage, and new apps, and Apple support, front facing camera…ugh…I should stop while I’m behind.

What do you think? Are phones getting too big? Why do you upgrade as often as you do? If you stick with the old school phone…how does it work for you? Remember when the forward thinking companies made their phones smaller than the competition?  How do you feel about it? LMK on Facebook or in the comments section. Thanks for coming over 🙂

 

Writing with cats.

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Hello, friend.

She doesn’t look comfortable, but I assure you, she told me that she is exactly where she wants to be. Writing with cats has proven to be challenging. Contrary to what some people may say, cats are needy little bastards. IMG_5213Don’t let them fool you. Disclaimer – I do have five of them, so I guess that makes me a crazy cat lady. I’m fine with it, except that I’m not a lady at all. But it’s not me – it’s them. They slink around my work space and look at me as if to say “look at me…I’m cute and furry and soft. You need to stop writing and pet me.” And I do it. I carry them around the house like an aimless fool. We look out the windows for squirrels and birds (we like birds). I’ll put them down when they get heavy, or when my arm starts to cramp. When  I get up for a cup of coffee and they follow me, I pretend they are my entourage. Don’t hate. It’s pretty Rad to have five kickass fur babies in tow. Okay, fur babies and kickass probably don’t go together, but it’s nice to be wanted. That’s what the cats tell me, anyway.