Motivation is a Fickle Thing

Motivation is a truly fickle thing. It’s like a brick in a satin glove one day and a feather pillow the next. At least it seems to be that way these past couple months. Confused? Welcome to the club.

First off I have my edits to do on my Camp NaNo novel so I can ePub it and get copies out to the donors. My most productive work time has been spent dragging my butt out of bed in the morning. Also, without write-ins any post work day time seems rather lonely. It’s like I forgot how to be a solitary writer. In reality I know I just need to motivate myself to set up the library at Casa de Zombie to be my editing station. Every weekend has gotten away from me before I could do this.

Reading has been filling in my time. I have not only a stack of books I want to read, but a box of books to read and blurb for another web site. Luckily the first couple of books from the box were ones on my list already. Though I have been pushing others on my list (latest in a series from authors I enjoy reading) further down. Really this is motivation rallying against a desire to read my favorites. This I can manage. Though I am going to hit one I have been waiting for after the next blurb read.

New stories. Well this is another can of worms entirely. Over Twitter we had one of those discussions of a series of short stories that would be fun to write. A couple of us joked about doing it. Really, we were just joking. I think. Of course on the drive home I came up with ideas of a story or two for the theme of the anthology. I suggested to one of the others involved that we actually look at putting it together. One of our other “Twitter peeps” had done a similar thing with erotica stories revolving around office supplies. (It’s called Felt Tips, if you wanted to check it out.)

"I'm so tired..."

“I’m so tired…”

Sounds like I was pretty motivated there, right? A couple of people have since told me they thought the anthology sounded like a bad idea. Something people wouldn’t be interested in. Yeah, that was the sound of my sails deflating.

Seriously, it feels like one of my gorillas is suffering from mono and the other never made it out of the zoo.

My answer is clear. I know the problem. You can’t edit a blank page and as Billy Crystal said in Throw Momma From The Train, ” A writer writes – always.” So I have to set aside a schedule, get my materials together, and write. And edit. And work.

This changing around my library to be a better environment to edit in is my version of Neil Gaiman’s gazebo. At least one or two of you will remember that one. You don’t need Neil Gaiman’s gazebo to write, so stop obsessing over it. Or, to reference another Gaiman-oriented piece of advice… Make Good Art. My leg may not be down the throat of a mutated anaconda and my cat may not have exploded (only partially because I have a dog, not a cat), but I’m letting less traumatic experiences keep me from making good art.

For those of you still confused, this is the blogging/literary equivalent of me pulling myself up by my bootstraps. Even though my Wolverines don’t really have bootstraps. You get the idea though.

That said, I’m going out tonight and will make something. With a spot of luck it might be good art. And if any of you might be interested in throwing in on a collection of short stories in the horror comedy genre… let me know. Leave a comment. Or, for the fans of the horror genre (bonus points if you can identify the source of the quote)…

Find me. Heal me. Save me from my enemies.

Zombie Joe’s Bucket List

While not as morbid as it sounds, for a while I have been saying, “That’s totally going on the bucket list.” The thing is, I’ve never really started one. At the same time I know from experience that while my memory is strong, things can change. (Like any and all memory of the mid to late 80’s for instance.) So, I thought I could start my Bucket List and give people a chance to chime in on things they think should be on it, or are on their bucket lists.

Attend Band Camp

For those not local to Madison, Band Camp is a rock festival put on every August by WJJO (the local rock/alternative station). While I am not young enough to hit the mudpits, the mosh pits, or really any pits in general, I do enjoy most of the acts they bring there. When I finally make it there I will likely spring for the VIP tickets with the parking, early admittance and seating area.

Attend a JJO Sound Lounge

The station mentioned above hold occasional events at the station itself called Sound Lounges. When a band is in town for a concert, they’ll come in and do some acoustic stuff live on the air and have a Meet & Greet with fans. Usually a local tavern is providing food and drink. Sure, you have to win spots on the list, but the more remotes I make it to the more likely I am to win one. Getting the time off is the easy part.

Halloween at the Hawthorne in Salem

The Hawthorne Hotel hosts a Halloween party every year. Now, while I have been to Salem before (a rather humorous family story), I haven’t been there for Halloween, or stayed there. 75% of the area I don’t have to check out. But I can’t deny the fun that would be had doing Halloween there. It would be the same as doing it up in New Orleans.

Stay at the Skirvin Hotel in Oklahoma City

Supposedly one of the most haunted in the US. Direct reports from a friend list it as having some creepiness to it. Now I just need to find another reason to go to Oklahoma City. Anyone have any non-haunted things to see in that town? Let me know.

Go to the Literature Festival in Mantova Italy

Not only Madison’s Sister City, but the city of Mantova hosts a yearly literature festival. A big one. Every September. The name of it is Festivaletteratura. In my mind, this one is a two-fer. (The site linked is in Italian. Fair warning.)

Learn to Speak Italian

Not only is it a heritage thing, but it would really help in doing a trip there for the literature festival if I spoke the language.

Travel to Scotland/Ireland

This is in the plans for the 30th anniversary (a cruise around Great Britain) but if we’re going to fly over there, I’d like to take some time and stay in Dublin and possibly Edinburgh. I hear there are some excellent ghost tours there. A Guinness Brewery Tour might be in order as well. Just sayin’.

Self-Publish a Book

Okay, this is kind of cheating as it will be completed this year, but it was still a goal. Under the Hood will be coming out this year. I decided to self publish it so I had control over it and could produce it to give to the people who donated to the Young Writers Program for it.

Traditionally Publish a Book

I have two manuscripts that I plan on shopping out at a couple of writing conferences in the coming year. Hopefully it will go as well as the self publishing task. I may have three depending on how quickly I work. One of them may be in the same setting as Under the Hood.

Go to LA and watch a taping of the Late Late Show

Pretty easy one, but I think it needs to be on here to make sure I do it. There’s not much that would drag me out to California. This is one of them. (For the record, I have been to the state. Twice. Once by choice!)

Promote My Book on the Late Late Show

It was kind of the point of re-branding this blog, right? So I suppose I should put this here. This one would trump simply going to a taping. It also leads into the next one.

Win the Golden Harmonica

Assuming they still do it by the time I have something to promote and can get on the show. This past year for the Change Write Now challenge I actually started learning to play for just this reason. This is also provided my hands don’t get so messed up that I can’t hold the damned thing. (Writing kills the poor fingers, wrists, etc… I need to get braces for my hands.)

A Night of Writing Dangerously

One of these years I’ll make the trip to California for the NaNoWriMo event “A Night of Writing Dangerously.” More so than just it is a fundraising event, it quite honestly looks like a blast. Not to mention the whole thing of hanging out and writing with people just like me. (Well, maybe not JUST like me.)

Anything Else?

Is there something I’m missing? Should I include something else? Is there something awesome on yours, you think I’d like to add here? Let me know in the comments.

A New Day

This morning marked the first time in over fifteen years that I didn’t turn back from driving the foggy streets in the morning. I took the back way towards the Victory this morning and as I went up and down the rolling hills and past the fields, the fog covered a good chunk of it. Rivers of mist flowed around the hills and through the dips. The hazy tops of hills stood out like little islands of plant growth in the sea of fog.

For the first time since the car accident that knocked the sense out of me and stole over 4 years worth of memory from me I didn’t respond to the site with quickening breath, adrenaline and skirting the edge of a panic attack. I looked at it and saw the beauty of it.

Don’t get me wrong, I may still freak out if the road visibility shoots down to nothing while I’m in a car. Even still, this is an improvement that I’ve been waiting for. I used to really love foggy mornings along the rolling hills of Wisconsin. Maybe someday I will again.

A Tale of Two Questions

It has been a while since I have blogged, so I thought I would jump in. This would explain my return to Dickensian titles. Also, there was the hacking of a Facebook account belonging to one of my favorite authors. While it was a surreal thing to think for a reason why Steven Barnes would be trying to sell me Air Jordans, it did make me think back to something that was said by him at a recent convention. Basically his statement that was in all things, be it life or your writing, there are two questions that need to be asked. Thus the title and focus of the article.

The two questions which would relate to your story, your life as a writer, (anything really) were simple.

Who am I?

What is the Truth?

I know. More philosophical than you’d expect out of me. Consider that they came from an author I read, not from my own wrinkled grey mass. Of course there is relating those two questions to my life and how they relate to the overall stance of “Make Good Art.” Let’s ignore for the purposes of this piece the fact that I have regurgitated the advice of two influential authors, thus making me the literary equivalent of the younger sibling idolizing the big brother and mimicking what he does. Humor me, it’s my blog.

Nearly twenty years ago, after my son was born I was faced with a decision. I had left college to enter the work force. I figured I could be a writer without a degree. My family needed money right then. (Keep in mind I was 21 years old with a wife and three kids, my stepson entering into preteen years.) I was working at a CompUSA during the day and a Big Apple Bagels at night. Roughly about 80-85 hours a week. In an effort to appeal as a manager more than a simple floor worker at the computer store, I decided to grab onto another piece of advice many of you have heard. “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.”

This led to me looking to pick up more dress shirts and ties. Probably a pair or two of pants as well, so I wasn’t using the pants from my single suit to work in. Coming into Madison (I had still been living in Waukesha at the time) I made my way to the mall. I had determined that I could use some help from my father. After all, he wore a tie to work every day. Even jackets. What stands out the most to me about the day is that it was raining. Not open downpour, but a nice gentle rain. The kind I am likely to go walking in.

Keep in mind that nearly twenty years ago not all places were set with automatic opening doors. At the set of doors leading into the mall people were popping in and out going about their business. I was as well. At the corner door there was a person in a wheelchair having problems getting in. She was stuck out in the rain, crying because she couldn’t manuever the doors to get in. What happened then is something I have only ever told my wife.

I almost went into the store without stopping. Almost. I wouldn’t have the words to explain what went through my head in a rush as I backed up, went to the woman and asked if she could use some help. But as I opened up the door and helped wheel her in I thought about what I was doing. After asking if there was anything else I could do for her I had made a decision. I didn’t need a whole new wardrobe. I would get a new tie that day, but not the one I had intended to at the start of the day.

All these years later I have identified what I knew back then. Who am I and what is the Truth? While my father would be proud to see me become the manager of a computer sales department or the store manager of a chain store, he wouldn’t want to see that if I became the kind of person who was blind to the efforts and needs of others. The Truth is that I wasn’t a retail lifer. Though I was good at it, I wasn’t meant to be staffing a store for the rest of my life.

After my day off, I showed back up at the store wearing a new pair of black dockers and my red CompUSA shirt. My manager who gave me the advice didn’t ask, and I didn’t offer. I didn’t need to explain anything to him. Besides, he was one of the people that wouldn’t notice the person in need of help on the way going about his business. I come from a family that is taught not to put ambition before compassion.

Fast forward twenty years. I am considering this story from my past again. Technological attacks having reminded me of the Two Questions that Steven Barnes had urged us all to ask at OddCon this year. I was formulating this blog in my head as I shopped for the last minute things I would need for my upcoming trip to New Orleans for Authors After Dark. Twenty years and I am finally progressing towards my dream of being an author. In some ways, I already am one. You know, the “if a tree falls in the woods” gambit.

Going through the checkout at Target I watch the items being rung up. Quietly. Usually the cashier will give you a statement of some sort. Ask you if you found everything okay. Something. As I swiped my card and waited for the reciept, I noticed the woman mouth the words thanking me. Without a thought I signed “thank you” to her. Her eyes brightened and she signed “you’re welcome” to me. Before I had made my way up to check out she’d been running through the sales. After I left she had a bit of a smile to her face.

Who am I? I am a guy who took a class in ASL so that he could more easily communicate with the person he was volunteering for at a Seattle area game company. Albeit I was also the guy would forgot most of what he learned with continued lack of use, but knew enough to say thank you to someone at the store.

The Truth? The Truth is many people know some of the basics. People use ASL to teach their pre-language children to communicate now. Knowing when to pull the trigger on using it with other people is something you’ll never know. At least not until that first time you are faced with it in public. My personal truth is that I am careful when using the sign for the word cookie – long story.

My intention had been to limit the stories to two. It had symmetry and serendipity due to the timing. The Universe wanted to remind me that sometimes these things come in threes. In this I refer back to the friend of mine that I took the ASL class for. Let me introduce you the best I can without getting to into it. We’ll call him Jonas. He has since changed his name, but that is an entire article in itself.

Jonas is one of those people that I find myself drawn to for their nature. Sometimes it can take a bit to get used to people like this, but to me he is a Force of Nature. I have known a few people like this. The woman who is working as a TA in a college but does cartwheels down the hall to her monastic cell of an office because it had to be done. The woman who is older than my parents and has the look about her that she has seen so much and done so much. And has. That alone doesn’t make her a Force of Nature, but the fact that she’s still learning and still acts like those of us in our 30’s and 40’s does. The friend that is so open to new things, she will not only go climb a tree in the rain for the experience, but will learn to turn a person into a zombie in three days time – because it sounds like fun and something she should know.

Some of you may recognize these people. Some of you may be these people. If you are one of my friends, you are likely this way. Not all my friends are like this, but many are. Internally I refer to them as my Elementals. Even when I lose touch with some of them, I am protective of them. I never tell them this as there is no reason. Also, most of my friends probably know that I am protective of them.

Jonas has such a sharp attention to detail and a nature that demands learning. He has trained at the culinary institute, lead the MechWarrior game line along with the volunteers for a gaming company, written novels, and drives a lightning bug. Literally. Ever seen a VW bug with blue lightning bolts all over it?

The night I was finishing this blog he posted to Twitter a charity link. His brother-in-law is in cancer treatment. He has insurance but the other bills aren’t covered that are associated with treatment. This man has taught children and coached wrestling. He led his team to a national championship without telling them about the cancer. He’s walking miles around the hospital while undergoing treatment. Miles. These facts alone make him a unique individual, an Elemental if I knew him. But Jonas, one of my friends who doubles as a Force of Nature marks him as not only his brother in law, but his best friend. Any man that can be the best friend of this friend of mine has to be a unique individual.

Who am I? I am a person who values the opinions of my friends, and wants to be there to pitch in when I can. Not an easy task when you consider how many of my friends don’t even live in the same state as me. I value my friends and my community, whether that be the local Italian community through the Italian Workman’s Club, the local NaNoWriMo writing community (or greater NaNo Community for that matter) or the local published authors group.

What is the Truth? In June a bunch of my friends donated to my story for my chosen charity. They did so to put friends and family members in my story. They did it to have friends mauled by monsters in a novel. They did it to support my art. In all things and all aspects, Make Good Art. And the Truth is that while it didn’t feel right for me to donate to my own pledge page, I can return the favor by siphoning off some money from the monthly budget to put towards the fund to help with the bills for this best friend to one of my people. And my personal truth (like every one of us at this point) is that I have lost someone to cancer. I’ve also had people I know been saved from it.

(For any interested in the full story, or offering some help, here is the charity page link…)

My final thoughts through these people I’ve either encountered or known fairly well is this. Though not friends with them, I have found two new Forces of Nature. A pair of elementals that have given me a path to follow. So I sit in the coffee shop, finishing my blog and being thankful for the opportunity I had to meet Steven Barnes and his wife Tananarive Due at OddCon. I also thank the Internet Dieties for bringing me a speech from Neil Gaiman, another elemental, so that I can remember that not matter what life brings me – gazebo or not – Make Good Art.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to make some art.

Dance Like Nobody’s Watching

Cliche, no? How many times have you heard this? How many friends have tried to be “helpful” with this advice? How many people have you actually seen do this? These answers and more on today’s blog…

Actually that sounds like the opening to a video blog more than a blog. I blame it on the videos I have been watching on YouTube lately. Mostly Charles St. Micheal a funny, irreverent and kind of offensive guy that leans to the right like I lean to the left. My personal proof you can disagree and still discuss. But I digress (as he does in nearly every video too).

The idea from this blog came a while back, after the episode of Supernatural titled The Girl with the Dungeons and Dragons Tattoo. Specifically from the opening scene. If you haven’t seen it, check it out over on YouTube. Consider it 45 seconds of homework. Fun little scene, no?

It probably won’t shock anyone to hear that after that episode aired there was a string of posts to FB and the like touting that “I’m totally going to do this from now on.” I sort of did myself, but for different reasons. My posts looked similar to this;

I’d totally do the elevator dance, but I don’t take the elevator from where I park.

Seriously, I take the elevator today but now out of the 8 albums of music I have a Felicia Day song!

WTH? 3 songs out of several hundred and this is the 2nd time this week!

You get the picture. Out of five days of that first week, I had one of the three Guild songs come up on my shuffle three different times. This is after loading up several albums into it so I had some appropriate scene music for my morning writing. Sort of like a playlist for the book – which I totally have now for when it publishes. The odds of probability there were pretty astounding. My thought? It must be serendipity. In short, the message is coming in and I am ignoring it.

Seriously, considering that scene from the video above, what better music to elevator dance to? Keep in mind I am a large redneck looking dude with a multitool strapped to his belt. I have actually had people speed up in walking or cross the street to avoid being on the sidewalk near me. Nobody wants to see me dance like that. Which is more than enough reason for me to do it. Of course I am the geek working “behind enemy lines” in a university athletic department. They already think I am just too odd.

This is my challenge to y’all. Don’t just say “dance like nobody’s watching.” Do it. Out in the open. On the street. Let people look at you strange. I had this attitude for a long time and something in my recent (last 10 years) past changed it. I remember my last flight to Texas the TSA agent asking if I was uncomfortable or embarrassed taking my tub back up for scanning. My answer was, “Sir, I am a gamer. I could carry it back over my head singing Zipadee Doo Dah and not be in the least bit embarrassed.”

Now, do I do this every day? No. Last thing I need is getting a “talking to” at my day job because I’m scaring the straights. But every now and again do I bust a little dance move going up the stairs to my office? Yup. The Athletic Director doesn’t take the stairs, so I’m okay with scaring a coach or two.

Recharging the Batteries

Honestly I never really got the whole “recharging the batteries” thing. Catching up on sleep was another one that eluded me. It just doesn’t make sense. After this weekend, I may have changed over to Team Recharging the Batteries. I’m still fully against the whole catching up on sleep bit though.

To set the picture you need only look back at the blogs from the past month or so. Aside from the bleak number of them, you’ll see that most of them are about the political landscape of Wisconsin right now and my reactions to it. Don’t worry, I’m not going to rehash it here and kick the long-dead horse. The single point I will add is the bit of gallows humor I have added to my conversations these past couple of weeks.

Not only did Governor Walker remove collective bargaining rights and introduce all sorts of programs that don’t really benefit Wisconsin, but he also publicly executed my muse during a press conference.

Fine, maybe not gallows humor to you, but I see my muse as a living breathing thing. And right now, if she’s still alive her mouth has been taped over with duct tape. Thus, I have lost the voices of the two characters I have been working with that are the least like me as any I have ever tried.

Furthermore, most of my reading time has been spent on newspaper articles, bills and legal statues. This is fine if you’re a lawyer or politician, but not so good if you are attempting to use your little free time to write stories. Hell it took me almost as much time to read Aftertime as it did the book before that one and I liked Aftertime!

So this past weekend I took a road trip to Missouri. Originally it was for a stop at Recruits Gaming Con in Lee’s Summit to compete in the Highlander TCG Regionals. So my friend Josh and I planned for the trip. With the weekend off, my son Nick came along as well – which lead to a much more packed truck.

So Highlander was the initial plan as Nick’s 40k army wasn’t fully painted yet. We included in a potential coffee meetup with some Twitter authors I had met at RT and at least 1 I had not. This being Kansas City area, apparently one cannot do coffee, one must do BBQ. There’s a whole set of statues on the books covering the regulations and sanctions.

Let me just say this… meeting for BBQ instead of coffee… best… idea… EVER! Which is to say that the light to turn into the restaurant’s parking lot was the longest light ever with the smoke smell reaching across the way to us. After 9+ hours in the truck it was damn tempting to just blow through the light. The second best thing about the plan for BBQ? The Starbucks that was in the same mall-area.

For the record, I damn near killed Josh as he kept up with me shot-to-shot on espresso.

After one hell of a dinner and some awesome conversation we grabbed the coffee and headed back to Lee’s Summit. Although I firmly believe there is some fae magic surrounding Independence, MO as we got lost both on the way to the BBQ place AND on the way back. With a map. And a GPS.

We checked in to the con (a small con held on the gym floor of the local high school), signed up for badges ($5 for all three of us as I was the only non-student) and picked up the single cards Josh had ordered from the guy running the event (who also is the only guy selling single cards for the game). A quick jaunt to the hotel and we were deck building until I was falling asleep in the cards.

Saturday was a blur of cards, coffee and three liters of water each. The highlights were winning the Sealed Championship and Nick ranking up in the prize pool (top eight) in Constructed. Between the events and the championships, Nick had plenty to talk about to his mother and our gaming group when we got home.

By the time we finally made it home (just in time for the Sunday Gaming Group’s field trip to go see Sucker Punch) I was tired, sore, but feeling more refreshed than I have all month long. Not even the stories of all hell breaking loose (politically) on the Friday I was en route to MO could get me down.

Honestly even though I didn’t have enough time to have a decent piece to share at tonight’s Writing Group, I am starting to hear the whispers in my ear again. Those pesky little characters are coming back out and convincing me to start telling lies on paper again. The plan is to do so Wednesday night (after Encounters) and get a good head of steam going so that I can make it out to the Zombie Protest March on Saturday without losing the will to finish the story.

In short, count me as a newly committed member of Team Recharging the Batteries.

Big Weekend

Fine, it was sort of a big weekend. Lots of stuff going on. Let’s take it in order then.

Friday, Feb. 11th – Highlander Night

The group of 3 of us met at the local game store to play some Highlander. I played the Methos deck that was inspired by a tweet from Marjorie M Liu again. I also threatened to keep playing that deck until they figured out a way to beat it. If Ms. Liu ever does a signing or seminar in Wisconsin I fear I may have to provide security.

In the upside I dished out three sealed setups (starter and two boosters) for us to play a sealed after the constructed. Lots of fun was had.

Saturday, Feb 12th – Birthdays, Basketball and WoW

The morning was taking the dog in for blood-tests at the vet. Apparently with him being 12 years old they wanted to test his thyroid with the infections he’s been getting. That lead to coffee and scones for breakfast before my father took my son to the basketball game. For the Badger fans out there, yes… THAT basketball game. So my son spent his birthday watching probably the best game of the year while I spent mine writing my 542 words for the day waiting for the call that my dog was ready to come home.

I was then given the present that he is right on the borderline of normal and hyper-thyroid. So I get to give the dog a pill twice a day for the rest of his life. It could be worse. I had to give the cat insulin shots every day for way to long at the end of his run. On the upside he came back with a lot more energy and was showing off the valentines bandanna he got from the vet. Definitely liked it more than the brown plaid one he got last time. Clock in a few hours watching movies with the dog and spoiling him a bit and then my son was back from the basketball game.

From there we grabbed a couple of “fat packs” for WoW and headed over to Justin’s place to play some WoW CCG, watch videos and order pizza. I had forgotten how much fun it was to sit down and flop some cards. Even if I did overdose on it a bit this weekend. For those of you who are local there is a sealed qualifier taking place in Fort Atkinson in the middle of March. I might consider going out to that one.

Sunday, Feb. 13th – Cupcake Clash Milwaukee

This was something I had been planning for a while. The owners of Bleeding Heart Bakery were going to be there as one of the celebrity judges, and their book has been the one I have been basing most of my concoctions off of. You just know that meant I needed to get it signed. Also Duff from Ace of Cakes was going to be there which meant I could get a signed book from him for my wife. While I am not a stickler for greeting card holidays, Valentines Day was good enough reason to get it for her.

Most of the time we were there, I was standing in line. Standing in line to pay for parking (and wishing I had thought to bring a jacket by the end of the wait), standing in line for tickets (knowing it was the best idea to have my father and son wait for tickets while my mother and I paid for parking) and then standing in line for a signed book. This gave me a number of “skin of your teeth” moments through the day. Had we not split up to stand in the two different lines we might not have gotten in (they did sell out of tickets at the door). Had we not run into our friends CJ and Kim paying for parking, they would not have gotten in (wasting a trip to Milwaukee from Madison). Had I not gotten in line when I had I likely would not have gotten a book from Duff (I got one of the last 3, and the last undamaged one).

Meeting the Garcias was great as I have talked with them on Twitter for a while now. One of the best things about their cookbook was that when I had problems with a recipe I would take a photo of what happened and post it to Twitter. As I was learning to make cakes from scratch that way I was given all sorts of help with what might be going wrong, typos in the book (which have since been corrected should you be looking at picking it up) and just baking tips in general. In fact during the course of the day there CJ went up to let them know that it was because of them that he had bacon in his cupcake, and thanked them. I think he told me that he was also talking about getting Kate to show up to the game with a cupcake embargo.

After the signing we stood around a table tasting the numerous cupcakes that were there competing in the amateur and professional categories. There were several highlights for me. Some were good and some were not so good…

Devils Food Red Hots “Naughty” Cakes – chocolate and red hots. Each one was topped with either a pair of red chocolate panties or a bra. Tasty cupcake with just a little zing… until you hit the bottom where ground up red hots settled. In hindsight, I think a denser batter would have evened the distribution.

Jalapeno Red Velvet dipped in Ganache – This one had a bright yellow filling, orange frosting with a flames logo with the table number on it. It looked like a NASCAR and all you could really taste was the jalapeno. For my part, I would have lowered the amount of jalapeno and made it in a chocolate cake to give it a mole taste to it. Top it with cream cheese frosting colored red for the look. I may have to try that one sometime.

Strawberry Vinagrette Cupcake – It was an unusual combination of part sweet and part savory and was tasty as hell. I made sure to bring one of those home for Robin. I just wished I could have gotten the recipe for that one.

Guinness Cupcake – A stout chocolate style cake. It was moist and tasty and was Kim’s favorite, which means that I was given a request to make that one for Sunday Game Night. I guess that means it is time for me to start practicing the chocolate bases now.

Once home, the rest of the night was just sitting at home, relaxing and watching the shows with my wife she had missed while she was gone. Or at least the last two episodes of Face Off and the last Cupcake Wars she missed.

Very low key, but one of the more relaxing weekends I have had in a while. The only thing that would have made it better would have been if I had managed to get my gaming content all organized and back on the shelves and if the dog had not been given a sentence of hormone pills for the rest of his life. Overall though, if that’s the worst I had to face this weekend considering how badly it could have gone – I was happy.

Chain Stats

  • Feb 12 – 542
  • Feb 13 – 0 (that didn’t take long)
  • Feb 14 – 511

The Chain Gang

Between audiobooks this week, I stocked up on a number of podcasts. Specifically writing podcasts. We were discussing them at our writer’s group this week and I was actually kind of ashamed I had little to no knowledge of them. So I stocked up.

Wednesday I spent going through the batch of episodes I grabbed through iTunes for I Should Be Writing, by Mur Lafferty. If you are attempting to get published, this is a great podcast to listen to. There are others, but today I am mainly going to gush over I Should Be Writing as it gave me a kick in the pants to do something I have heard about before and sorely need – the writing chain.

Starting tonight I am going to write 500 words a day. Every day. No matter what. I even have a spreadsheet all ready to go. (Don’t give me crap about the spreadsheet being a gazebo, it only took me three minutes to do!)

I will also put a short blurb up here each day or two with totals. And to keep it in perspective, this blog entry alone will make up about two hundred words. Stay tuned for more on The Journey.

Dare to Suck

You might think this a cautionary tale, but it is only in the loosest sense. It is more the caution of not letting that little voice inside you talk you out of doing something that could be potentially embarrassing. Before the “don’t touch my junk, bro” session of the TSA tales, I once said to the guy with the metal/bomb detecting wand at the airport, “Sir, I am a gamer. I could take that tub of belongings over to the scanner holding it over my head singing YMCA and not be embarrassed.” Today I might do the same thing, just replacing the word gamer with writer.

But this identity wasn’t born overnight. Hell, it wasn’t even really born but spat from my brain through the cleansing fires of a lot of childhood hassles. It really was a miracle I came out of it with as few broken bones as I did. Specifically there are two stories from early on in high school that I remember in the wake of my failing memory of those years. Well, two stories that have any entertainment value to them whatsoever.

The first takes place during Homecoming Week. I want to say my Sophomore year. Our choir was doing a stirring rendition of Jailhouse Rock on stage for the school. If you are not familiar with the song stylings of Elvis, here are the only lines you need to know from the song;

The sad sack was sitting on a block of stone.
Way over in the corner weeping all alone.
The warden said, “Hey buddy, don’t you be no square.”
“If you can’t find a partner, use a wooden chair.”

Can you see where this is headed? Any ideas who the “sad sack” was in our rendition?

Now before I get into the humorous part of this tale, let me set the scene for you. I was 6’2″ and around 148 pounds. I was a year into my training in Tae Kwon Do Open, but had not yet learned that my lack of a torso beyond skin and bones would start to really hurt my ability to breathe. I was just agile enough to be really dangerous – as was to be proven in front of the entire school.

The idea was that I would sit on the lunchroom chair being the “sad sack.” Four girls would come up and heft up each of the four legs of the chair and do one of those 1, 2, 3 rocks and then throw me in the air. I was to land on my feet, grab the back of the chair and dance with it. Lucky for me I was allowed to not sing that verse.

Thanks to martial arts, I also had an affinity for those black cloth shoes with the brown rubber bottoms that we saw in all of those Hong Kong martial arts films. Needless to say they’re great when you’re practicing or want to be able to move quickly. That would make them great for dancing, right?

First show, during the school pep rally day for Homecoming. The girls heft my scrawny ass up, do the 1,2, 3 countdown and launch me. Benefit was at under 150 pounds they could do it. The disadvantage was at 150 pounds it was like they were launching Sputnik into friggin’ orbit. Thus I fly up much higher than I did in any of the practices… at the edge of the stage. Having trained in how to fall, I was able to angle myself enough that I didn’t drop 15 feet or so to the floor below. I landed with both feet on the stage – and my center of gravity all off.

My feet slipped from under me and I hit ass first onto the stage with an audible thump. I sat there for a quarter of a second considering how it is possible to break one’s ass before hopping up and dancing with that stupid chair like it was my prom date.

As I came out into the lunchroom I was given a couple of “nice moves” comments to which I replied, “Hey, it takes skill to break your ass on command like that.” Should I have been embarrassed? Maybe. But where’s the fun in that?

Fast forward to spring the same year and we are doing a cabaret. For the event we chose some Doobie Brothers song to sing, I forget which one. The important part was a friend and I deciding to do Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First” bit for the show. We had plenty of time to practice, wrote up a transcript of it and our Drama teacher even let us perform it for extra credit in class.

The issue was in dealing with the roles. My friend wanted to be Abbott’s role – the straight man. Classic paired comedy like that, the straight man takes some serious work. It not only involves timing and style, but you have to know the act backwards and forwards so that if the goof takes it off on a tangent like Robin Williams hyped up on nuclear espresso beans you can follow it up.

He really wasn’t ready for that.

So here we are on stage, he has his normal suit and fedora style hat (which all geeks who saw Indiana Jones during that time had). I’m doing Lou Costello’s part so I have my suit but with a baseball hat and a bat. Props, lines, audience. Check. Check. Check.

We’re going along fine until a little over half way through, he gets hung up on a line and keeps repeating it like he was a scratched record. For those of you too young to get that reference, like a corrupted MP3 file. So I kept stepping back to his cue line, but after the 3rd or 4th run through it I figured he need a more solid cue.

“No, who’s on first?” THUMP!

My line was followed by a straight swing of the back as I nailed eye contact with the audience. Without looking, and breaking the 4th Wall I buried the bat squarely in his belly. After a whoosh of air flying out over the audience like watermelon at a Gallagher show he remembered his line and we moved on – even if his first couple lines after that were a little stuttered.

Should we have been embarrassed? Maybe. Did it suck? We switched roles for a couple lines, but some of the comments from the parents were how they had always wanted to see Costello take a shot at Bud Abbott like that.

Never be afraid to suck.

I have heard this several times at writing conferences or simply repeated in social media by published authors and professors. The strongest quote I took away from the GenCon Writer’s Symposium was Anton Strout saying, “Don’t be afraid to suck. We all suck!”

So no matter if it is falling on your ass in front of the school, performing assault and battery in front of a hundred witnesses or writing a story about a young party girl socialite when you are neither young, nor a girl, nor a socialite – don’t be afraid to suck. You might be surprised.

First Step on a New Path

Today I am heading out on the first steps of a new path on The Journey. I have outlined where the story from NaNoWriMo is going and continued along in writing that tale. At the same time I have started submitting the first chapters to my writing group for critique. Their feedback has been strong and I have a direction to go that will strengthen the first 6,000 to 8,000 words of the story. To that end I took a couple of chapters from the first start of the story and molded it into one – before making the editing suggestions the group gave me.

Any of you who are published authors or who have attended writing conferences are probably cringing at editing the beginning before finishing the end. Normally I would agree. Of course that’s assuming that the outlining I did had no affect on the chapters I had already drafted. Also I remember Patrick Rothfuss telling us at GenCon a couple years back how he did his manuscript in the worst way possible and not to follow his example. It has occurred to me that sometimes the wrong way can be the right direction on your journey. Everyone’s journey is different, right?

If it seems like I am asking permission or validation, I’m not. I know this is the way I need to go. The energy bubbling beneath the surface in spite of the fact I haven’t started in on my cup of coffee yet tells me this. Tonight is writing group, they will get the rest of the story that is going into this opening rewrite, leading to next week’s revision.

Do you have any writing practices that are bad form but seem to work for you? What are they?