Bird Thoughts

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[Hi, everyone. Back from break after touring the best part of the Silver State via Highway 50 and back round Interstate 80. Fun times for this Nevada nerd. Now, time for the writing exercise. If you’re late to the game, I bought a book of writing prompts to kick start my butt back into the game. If you’re interested, these exercises all have the same hashtag (link). As always, my comments at the end are at the end in italics and brackets.]

Bird Thoughts

Think of a specific type of bird, such as a wandering albatross, and write a detailed description of it, including its appearance and its movements, and perhaps even its thoughts.

Argus of the Icari nest watched the human below climb the near-perpendicular shale cliff without rope or support. Even in the near darkness of the dawn, he could see the human was laboring, yet not being as careful as the others before today. He found himself counting the seconds for the man (perhaps women) to put a hand on a loose offshoot of rock. The cliff face was too dangerous to fly by, much less ascent, and he was sure the rock crumble under the weight of the climber. The fall would be sudden, too quick to save itself from the fall to the valley floor below.

Argus hoped for the fall, because if it made the ascent to his station, he would have to kill the human to save his nest’s secrets. Despite his training, he had no taste for murder.

His left wing quivered and he folded the tip to his face, plucking the small ant trying to nest between the feathers. Like those his age, Argus was a speedbird, the youngest of the warrior caste. Their youth and physical fitness made them the swiftest of the nest, able to fly incredible speeds during the hunt. Their wings were developed to the point where they could withstand sharp turns as high speeds, including the turn upwards from the ground after falling a far distance. Continue reading

Jesus Wept

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[Writing exercise time. My comments are italicized and in brackets, as usual.]

“Jesus wept” is the shortest sentence in the Bible, made up of only a noun and a verb. List random nouns and verbs below and see if any fit well together to create a short, impactful, and perfectly crafted sentence.

Armadillos strutted.
Bagpipe blown.
Bidet exploded.
Capon caught.
Chastity given.
Cleaner applied.
Click paused.
Consent given.
Cover blown.
Creditor fumed.
Dagger pierced.
Learning stopped.
Lily opened.
Log fell.
Netbook read.
Premeditation warranted.
Protocol followed.
Respite given.
Road traveled.
Rubbish tossed.
Slippers lost.
Software downloaded.
Sweat beaded.
Wonder felt.

[Okay, I admit I wimped out on this exercise and fell back to cliches. In my defense, I drove 300+ miles today over the most interesting landscape in the world: rural Nevada. Highway 50 is like butter to Nevada nerds. If you want to give me points, the nouns are random (link).]

Historical Juxaposition

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[Today’s writing exercise with three stories. Forgive the typos, as this is off the cuff with little to no editing. My comments are in italics and brackets.]

In the space below each of these three historical events, describe a seemingly mundane, everyday event that might have occurred on the same day, which serves to juxtapose the famous events:

  1. William Shakespeare dies, April 23, 1626.

Riku stirred the warm water over the fire in his family’s small kitchen, waiting for his father to return from the docks and his mother from visiting his aunt in the foothill. Though only ten, he understood the immense responsibility of tending the fire, not overstocking the flame or letting the sparks leave the same stone circle. His father’s father, his soku, still bore the scars on his arm from the Last Great Edo Fire, and his grandfather rarely let a month go by without telling how his mother was consumed.

But Riku was ten years old, and his mind wandered as a child’s mind does, even during important tasks. His eyes saw his hand stirring the water, preparing to add the chai, but his mind was far away. It was not on his small family, his parents or his poor maimed little sister whom he loved more that the moon, nor was it on the upcoming Kanda Matsuri festival, in which his father promised Riku could attend from dawn to dusk. His imaginations passed over even his favorite dream: success in school. It was not unknown for the best students to find a new life above their caste, far from this small Yokosuka apartment.

Had Riku thought of his favorite dream, he would have repeated his silent prayer thanking the gods his family was not burakumin, social outcasts. No matter their efforts, there was no light in the dark days of those untouchables. Continue reading

Unpublished

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I unpublished a book today. I ain’t happy.

Literary history is rift with authors who burned their own works: Whitman, Kafka, Stevenson, Bacon, and so on. The angel who blessed these and others with literary artistry became the devil with a lit match and a fireplace. The reasons are varied: mental health issues, crippling self doubt, the desire to die in anonymity, and so on. I do not include myself with them, other than to say I understand how it feels when the magic disappears, and when a sense of reality finds a home in your gut.

The book in question was my second book, and in my lofty dreams, I wanted to accomplish so much: testify to the strength of love; hold the Church accountable for its sins; solve an ancient mystery; create a sort of James Bond with a collar. The outcome was a gobbled mess of editing errors, underdeveloped characters, and plot holes the size of an Edsel. Amateur Hour in 60,000 words.

Unlamented by most, the book is gone, or it will be once Amazon removes the link from my author page. If I’m going to be a professional writer, then I must have the strength to know when I’ve done wrong and fix my mistakes. Book Number Two was the biggest mistake of my nascent writing career. Through it, I learned a ton of lessons. The good outweighs the bad.

I still ain’t happy.

Turmeric-Yellow Taxis

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Bought a book of writing prompts and exercises  to help kick-start the dormant writing career. Let’s see how long I stick with the words.

#1. Write down the colors of various herbs and spices and then use these spice/color couplets to describe the color of something else, suck as turmeric-yellow New York taxis.

Personal challenge: I’m not a cook and know nothing about spices and herbs, outside of salt and pepper. Spent more time doing the research than the writing.

“The streetlight through the motel curtains turn the walls into a shade close to curry yellow, reminding him he hadn’t eaten Indian food since they last loved each other in a humid Kansas night …”

“As I ran towards her supine body, her blonde hair masking her face, I was struck by the elderberry-purple shade of blood gushing from the arterial cut…”

“He was stung by her accusation, his face turning chili-pepper red, though she was unsure if it was from her tone or that she’d finally learned the truth…”

“He passed his hand over the coriander-yellow scarf, smoothing it flat across the casket, remembering better days that would be remembered by him alone from this day forward…”

“She resisted ruffling his cinnamon-brown hair, capturing in memory the image of snowflakes mixed with his thick curls atop a face framed with blue eyes and a strong chin…”

“The mud on the SUV nearly hid the nutmeg-brown chassis’ distinct features, not the least being the indented fender that clearly ended her client’s life…

 

Road Trip

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Hello, all. I’ve been on a writing sabbatical, a fancy-schmancy way of saying I’ve been busy with Real Life and not touching the keyboard in a fictional way. That’s not 100% true, as 15+K words were written during July’s Camp NanoWriMo, all for a brand-new book. The key-tapping stalled when Real Life came back. My other WIP, completed at 70+K, waits on the virtual shelf to be made publishable.

The two works have little in common save one grace: they’re both placed in rural Nevada. That’s not necessarily a good thing. To some outside the Battle Born borders, our nether regions are filled with under-educated western rednecks trapped in the Nineteenth Century sensibilities. I want to say that particular demographic is firmly the One Percent, a plague found in every state of the Union, but never having been east of Fallon, I don’t know.

Therefore, my two favorite words: Road Trip!

The Bride and I are leaving soon for Eureka, Ely, Elko, Winnemucca, and other parts East via the World’s Loneliest Highway to capture the flavor and nature of the Silver State. We’ll avoid all chains (Holiday Inns, McDonalds, and so on) to see if we can find the true center of rural Nevada. My hope is we’ll return with memories and impressions that I can stick in these two WIPs. Maybe this trip will give readers insight to what has been best part of my home for many decades.

I’ll try to post a travelogue. If you have suggestions for sights and stops, shoot them on over. Appreciate your attention. Thank you.

One Little Picture

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Social media shapes public perception, and nowhere is this truer than in the news business. When a professional and credentialed reporter with a respected news organization posts an article or even a tweet, the results can affect national policy, as it should. The media performs a critical function to our country. The freedom of the press is essential to democracy, and the current banner on the Washington Post’s web site sums up my beliefs about this freedom: “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” Our elected and public officials must be accountable to their constituencies, and accountability begins with thoughtful and verifiable reporting. Yet of these guaranteed First Amendment rights, freedom of the press is the only one that must show a profit to survive. I understand when some in the media pushes back on this statement, but most of us have heard the cliche, “If it bleeds, it leads.”

All this leads me to a friendly social media exchange I had under my personal account with reporter Taylor Pettaway with the Nevada Appeal. She posted a minor car accident on her feed this week that clearly showed a license plate. I tweeted to her that I respectfully disagreed with this practice, and she replied that there was no law forbidding this picture and that it happened on a public street, which is true. Basically, we agreed to disagreed and we got on with our lives.

But this Twitter string stuck to me (posted below). How would I have felt if I saw the tweet and recognized the license plate belonging to a loved one? One of the occupants was pregnant. What emotions would the husband/boyfriend be feeling if he were at work? What about the parents of the pregnant woman? And so on. And what value is gained by posting this picture with personal identifiable information? The same picture could have been taken from another angle without the license plate, and the same outcome would have been accomplished without possibly stressing out the family of the accident victim. I acknowledge that I’m creating imaginary and dramatic scenarios over a minor fender bender, but not unrealistic ones.

I do not mean to hold up Ms. Pettaway to negative scrutiny. I’ve followed her on Twitter for a while, and I respect and appreciate her energy and efforts to keep our community informed. If there is a wrong here, then I am equally culpable by publishing the picture below. What I hope to accomplish with this post is to inspire more dialogue and thought on the longstanding debate of media access and responsibility, a reasonable discussion in this Information Age of the 24/7 news cycle.

What do you think? Who’s right or wrong? Let me know and thanks for reading.

 

Out of My Groove

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You ever fall out of love with a work-in-progress, even after 60+K words? That’s my current rut after applying dozens of hours on The Sheriff of Jefferson County. Getting to this point was the usual pantser rodeo, the whirlwind of character and location development on the fly, but the energy is gone now. I’ve no real emotional desire to complete the book, though Maggie and crew will be a series. I’m more fascinated with the sequels than the first book.

It’s not that I didn’t try to get back in the groove: plotted out the previous chapters, did some on-the-fly editing, added the four S’s (sights, sounds, smells, sex), and rewrote a couple of chapters so they flowed better with the rest of the book. Yeah, no love, no luck.

Though they’re no excuse, Real World events jumped onto the dog pile, not the least of which were some health scares, a flooded basement, and the fact that my country’s leadership is bat-shit crazy. I hesitate to mention the RW because writers must be stronger than the distractions around them. I’ve published several books by overcoming reality, and I will publish again.

The best thing to do is to sit my wide butt down in front of the white box and finish the damn book without thinking about the damn book. A vacant brain can be both a good and bad thing in that the book’s destination is below the horizon, therefore I can’t be intimidated by something that doesn’t exist. I might wander off the reservation a little (that being the main plot), but, hey, that’s why we edit.

Have you been challenged by your incomplete works? What did you do to kick start your ass to the finish? Any and all words of wisdom welcomed!

Who Are My People?

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It’s said we cannot know where we are going unless we know where we’re coming from, yet I hesitated participating in a genetic study to learn more about my ancestors. Echoes of “Big Brother” holding my most intimate of data – my chromosomes – and I was worried they’d re-engineer them to create a conquering army (it’s been done, you know, a long time ago). The request came from our daughter, and our family’s most successful author (brag), as she is doing her own research on her/our backgrounds.  I spit in the tube and dropped it in the mail after remembering the amount of my blood that’s flowed in hospitals and donation sites.

Before the results, this is what I knew about the family tree: diddly squat. The Bride is our in-house ancestry researcher, and she found my family’s strong European roots, including a direct line to the American Revolution (hey, DAR, how you doin’?) and a Civil War doctor (Union, natch). Frankly, I’ve never been interested either way. Her work was interesting, but nothing changed the fact that I’m a tight-ass white guy.

Then the results rolled in. And they were a tad unexpected.

Here’s Generations One and Two from the 1900s. Nothing weird. Yet.

Generations Three, Four, and Five from the 1800s. Did not see that coming.

Recapping: when my ancestors weren’t trying to kill each other, they were having sex. There’s a thin line between love and hate, you know.

Then my ancestry went north, south, east, and west.

Jaw Dropper.

As you see below, the genetic percentages for some of these folks is fairly small, but, hey, let’s hear it for my randy great-grandparents.

The reality check here is not where my ancestors may have called home, but where they conceived and raised their descendants. It’s possible my ancestral lands are in Africa, Scandinavia, and Italy, but I think it’s more likely my ancestors were ashore in Europe and the Americas, and in tragic conditions (slavery and/or as indentured servants).

It’s likely they looked to the sky and prayed for a better life for their children and grandchildren, one of freedom and choice, and with less pain in their children’s lives than their own. If true, Grandmothers and Grandfathers, those of us in the 21st Century thank you for your strength, perseverance, and sacrifice. We thrive because of you, and now that I know you, you will never be forgotten. God bless.

Patriot

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[“Glances at History (suppressed.) Date, 9th century,” from a manuscript in the Mark Twain Papers at the Bancroft Library in Berkeley, California. (second source)]

I pray you to pause and consider. Against our traditions we are now entering upon an unjust and trivial war, a war against a helpless people, and for a base object–robbery. At first our citizens spoke out against this thing, by an impulse natural to their training. Today they have turned, and their voice is the other way. What caused the change? Merely a politician’s trick–a high-sounding phrase, a blood-stirring phrase which turned their uncritical heads: Our Country, right or wrong! An empty phrase, a silly phrase. It was shouted by every newspaper, it was thundered from the pulpit, the Superintendent of Public Instruction placarded it in every schoolhouse in the land, the War Department inscribed it upon the flag. And every man who failed to shout it or who was silent, was proclaimed a traitor–none but those others were patriots. To be a patriot, one had to say, and keep on saying, “Our Country, right or wrong,” and urge on the little war. Have you not perceived that that phrase is an insult to the nation?

For in a republic, who is “the Country”? Is it the Government which is for the moment in the saddle? Why, the Government is merely a servant–merely a temporary servant; it cannot be its prerogative to determine what is right and what is wrong, and decide who is a patriot and who isn’t. Its function is to obey orders, not originate them. Who, then, is “the Country”? Is it the newspaper? is it the pulpit? is it the school superintendent? Why, these are mere parts of the country, not the whole of it; they have not command, they have only their little share in the command. They are but one in the thousand; it is in the thousand that command is lodged; they must determine what is right and what is wrong; they must decide who is a patriot and who isn’t.

Who are the thousand–that is to say, who are “the Country”? In a monarchy, the king and his family are the country; in a republic it is the common voice of the people. Each of you, for himself, by himself and on his own responsibility, must speak. And it is a solemn and weighty responsibility, and not lightly to be flung aside at the bullying of pulpit, press, government, or the empty catch-phrases of politicians. Each must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, and which course is patriotic and which isn’t. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide it against your convictions is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let men label you as they may. If you alone of all the nation shall decide one way, and that way be the right way according to your convictions of the right, you have done your duty by yourself and by your country–hold up your head! You have nothing to be ashamed of.

Only when a republic’s life is in danger should a man uphold his government when it is in the wrong. There is no other time.

This Republic’s life is not in peril. The nation has sold its honor for a phrase. It has swung itself loose from its safe anchorage and is drifting, its helm is in pirate hands. The stupid phrase needed help, and it got another one: “Even if the war be wrong we are in it and must fight it out: we cannot retire from it without dishonor.” Why, not even a burglar could have said it better. We cannot withdraw from this sordid raid because to grant peace to those little people on their terms–independence–would dishonor us. You have flung away Adam’s phrase–you should take it up and examine it again. He said, “An inglorious peace is better than a dishonorable war.”

You have planted a seed, and it will grow.