I was born in a small town

Burllington

When I was a young boy I was positive that a big chunk of the world resided in my little town.

I knew there were other places. I saw them on the news, on a map or pictures in a book. Sometimes I’d see a faraway town in a movie and wonder if it was real.

Burlington was 80 miles north of Seattle, Washington. Every now and then we’d take the trip south to the big city and visit relatives.

Seattle was a different world full of magical roads and fast walking people. The cars were faster, the trucks bigger and the buildings touched the stars.

Seattle

I knew I didn’t belong in that city which explains why there was always a fear that I would be left behind.

In my valley I was certain only two towns existed besides my own. The big town across the river known as Mt. Vernon and our border town, Sedro-Woolley.

Sedro Wolley

In many ways Sedro-Woolley felt like home. It had a history similar to Burlington where a lot of my family use to live. But there was something else. I could feel it welcome me like an old friend.

My hometown took care of me. Every day I was safe and everything around me was mine.

The trees belonged to me. The river and fields knew my name and our rocks were one of a kind. Amazing, don’t you think.

Burlington 1

During the summer days my town smelled like strawberries, our butterflies danced to the breeze and we danced in the backyard until our legs couldn’t move.

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At night everyone ate corn on the cob and cucumbers smothered in vinegar and pepper. And just before we fell to sleep we searched the sky for a new star.

Once a year we traveled to a far off country called Canada. The locals looked like us and dressed like us. Their money was pretty and their trees looked the same. But I could tell we didn’t belong.

Our sky was the bluest in the summer and the prettiest in the winter.

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During the spring the blackbirds would come to visit and nest in our tallest tree. They were the only blackbirds in the world and our trees were one of a kind.

One day I was told a secret that the caboose would be sad if I didn’t wave as it passed by our house. I made a promise that it would never be sad as long as I was around.

Burlington 2

Our train was the only one in the world and a busy one at that. It raced west and east disappearing into far off places. Sometimes the engineer would wave at me and that was the greatest thing ever.

 It was a time when the world was small and young like me. Where the sound of the train and the warmth of its tracks were full of wonder and surprise.

I have a feeling I write about my town in everything I do. The home I grew up in, the people I knew and the feeling I had will always draw me near.

My town was one of a kind and I have a feeling it was just like yours.

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Happy Friday Everyone!!!

Book Two – What I have learned so far

The Things I’ve Learned

Sully 1

As you know I’ve been working and reworking on my second novel. Earlier this week I put together a complete first draft of Part 1 and was able to add a few pages in Part 2.

I’m already seeing a difference.

The protagonist is funny, clumsy and at the same time kind of unlikable. He’s clueless to the mess he’s created and has yet to learn to take responsibility.

He’s in his late 20’s, maybe 30 and is what we would call a man-child.

 

A Mystery

Sully 2

This guy is a challenge. He may be the biggest challenge of any character I have written. It’s as if he’s daring me to get it right. Sometimes I wonder if he wants me to wave the white flag and walk away.

Or maybe he wants me to try harder.

When I original wrote him I gave him a tragic story. His young son was killed in a convenience store robbery leaving him full of guilt, depression and suicidal.

It was a long brutal first draft leaving me and the reader sad and unfulfilled.

When I rewrote the outline this summer I came close. He started to make sense to me but as you know the plot sunk.

Now that I have a new plot things are beginning to make sense. I can see him. He is now in a world where he belongs and as a writer I am too.

 

Forgetting the Past

My biggest challenge was forgetting who he used to be. His voice, his look and his past were completely new. It’s easy to forget we can change these people and mold them into someone much better.

If only life could be that simple.

Now that the story is ticking I am having fun. I can see and feel the adventure. The pieces of the puzzle make sense.

I will always be amazed at how this works. The art of storytelling is full of tiny sprinkles and spice.

I am not much of a cook but I have a feeling a chef feels the same way.

 As I write this first draft I am reminded by the words of a car mechanic I knew in my high-school days: “There’s a good car in there,” he use to say. “I just need to find it.”

Truer words ever spoken.

As I begin Part 2 I have to wonder – Is there a good book in there and if so will I find it?

Time is going to tell but one thing is certain: I’m finally having fun with this puzzle I am building. 

Sully 3

SPONTANEOUS FRIDAY

Name

Mister French

A long time ago I stepped into a foreign land known as the friend zone.

It was uncharted waters. Mountains yet to be climbed, coupons soon to be clipped…yes, I’ll stop.

Like any kid new to the game I had no idea such a thing existed and when it ended I was positive I was the only one in the history of human existence to live through such a thing.

As time passed I was grateful for the experience. I was the type of kid who made a mistake, learned and stopped myself from repeating it.

Fool me once as the old saying goes.

 

What’s in a name?

Years later it happened again but this time there were no games. She was a great friend and I was the luckiest kid on the planet.

The story would have ended beautifully had it not been for one tiny wrinkle:

Her father’s name.

He may have told me his first name the day we met or she may have said it at another time or place but for the life of me I could not remember.

A simple solution would have been to ask. An explanation that I’m terrible with names. We should all have a permanent name tag embedded in our forehead. Don’t laugh, I think it’s a great idea.

A little messy but great.

 

I’ll take Mr. French’s first name for $100 

The problem would have been solved in seconds. An embarrassing laugh and a promise to remember her father’s name would have smoothed out the embarrassing wrinkle.

But who says I’m a problem solver?

I was known in her family as the polite boy. The only one who addressed the father of the house by his last name.

Sure, I knew her mom’s first name, her sisters, the cats and dogs and the rabbit that liked to nibble on my shoe.

Name 2

 

But her dad’s name was a no-show

I tried to be creative. I would ask people around town if they knew him. I would listen closely hoping his name was called out. Every ounce of creativity and imagination ended in epic failure.

As time has passed I have made it a mission, a bucket list if you will, to solve this pesky mystery.

Yes, I can hear say, why don’t you simple ask but where is the challenge in that?

 

I don’t do cemeteries

Sadly, this good man died twenty years ago. Yes, I could pay a visit to his grave but I prefer memories instead.

That in of itself is a post of its own.

So the question is this – Do I really need to know his first name? Will that mystery take away the spark of who he was?

He was an excellent father to my friend and her sisters, a wonderful husband and a good friend to me. He also liked rabbits.

But damn it! What the hell was his first name!

On the bright side I will go down in history as the polite kid and if I can walk away with that, I’ll take it.

Name 1

 

Happy Friday Everyone!!!!

The stories that won’t go away

A while ago I described the epic destruction of my second novel What if your story is boring?. For starters it was a solid idea. Sadly the storyline was not. 

Shred Pic 1

 

It was tough to shred months of hard work but it is what it is. I am a firm believer we didn’t choose this line or work, they chose us.

Monday morning was a new beginning. I was cautious in a way one would be if they were stepping on glass. But it wasn’t the story I was cautious with.

I was cautious with myself.

 

Can I sell it?

If I believe in something I can sell it. Just ask Sears when I worked for them during my college years. I could sell you a hammer in your sleep. But there was something in this story that I couldn’t sell and the person I couldn’t sell it to was me.

There was a doubt I couldn’t shake. A feeling that my balance was a little off. The shirt was a bit too tight. The hat to loose. You get the idea.

 

The audience wasn’t buying it.

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Some writers can get past this. They put their head down and plow through to the finish line. I envy you if you are the one reading this.

Unfortunately for me there’s no plowing. There is no knocking over boulders and there’s no finish line. If I can’t feel it I can’t write it.  

When I completed my Monday morning writing things were different. There was no frustration. No regret. I started feeling the same way when I wrote book one.

 

It was exciting.

cautious

I could finally see the protagonist. I could feel him and in some ways I could relate to his troubles. That’s a good thing.

I saw him stumble and laugh when he was tossed out of his comfort zone. It didn’t take long for the confidence in me to come back. That tiny smile you and I have where we say – I got this.

I always understood the supporting characters but now I know where they fit. As we all know this is a puzzle we’re creating and sometimes we choose the wrong piece, or worse, the wrong box.

In this crazy journey sometimes the story chooses us. I’ve always envisioned pockets of stories floating around like clouds and every so of often they rain down on one of us.

That’s what this story has done to me.

It entered my mind years ago. A crazy scene that made me laugh. That little moment is all it took for the cloud of ideas to appear.

 

I am grateful it hasn’t given up on me.

It seems to know I messed up but a pat on the back and a promise for better days is all I really need. I am amazed at its patience.

This story reminds me of a best friend who looks past a bad moment and sees the big picture. They know what we’re trying to do and they’ll make sure we achieve it.

So here I go. Draft one all over again but this time it’s a much better feeling. I’m traveling along a far better road. The conversations are a whole lot livelier, the scenery a tad bit brighter.

I’m curious where this idea is taking me. It’s funny, I’m not the most patient guy in the world but times are a changing.

Rainy books

SPONTANEOUS FRIDAY

Music and Diaries

Piano 2

I am a firm believer that music has a soul. It touches us with its magic and buries itself deep inside to a place no one else knows.

I’ve had a special relationship with music since I was a kid. My earliest memories are filled with guarded secrets, buried deep inside the grooves that carry the sound.

These songs are diaries full of memories of people and places, some no longer here and others I haven’t seen in a lifetime.

I was thinking about this the other day when I was driving through town. I had on a local radio station that played the hits of the 80’s and 90’s. It was a normal day. The sun was a little hot. The traffic a little thick and a truck rudely cut me off.

The commercial ended, the music played and suddenly a memory came to life.

Piano

A band called The Sunday’s played and a beautiful song packed full of heartache followed.

Instantly it was 1990. August to be exact and The Sunday’s – Here’s Where the Story Ends  flowed through my speakers. In an instant the emotions and memories of that song came to life.

My mind took me back to that summer evening. I was knee deep in a shouting match with my best friend. I made my point. I won the argument and just as I was about to celebrate I watched as she cried and ran to her car.

Piano 1

The victory was short lived but the guilt that carried with it came back 28 years later.

Why this song, I asked. Was it playing that night? Was it on the radio, a CD or was it MTV when they use to play videos?

Whatever it was that song became a mark in a diary forever etched in my mind.

Sometimes I wish I could listen to a song and not be thrown back to a certain place and time. I wonder what it’s like to listen to a tune and simply enjoy it.

Sometimes I do. Not every song is like this. Some of it is high adrenalin and nothing more while other songs are pleasing to my ear.

But there are those that will always carry special meanings. They are a circle on the calendar reminding me of a time that otherwise would have been forgotten.

After listening to The Sundays I started thinking of ways to use it. Maybe it doesn’t have to be a curse. Maybe it can be an advantage.

I’m about to start Book Two. Like every story I write it will be packed full of emotion. There will be days where I will search for that emotion and at times I’ll come up empty.

Maybe it doesn’t have to be that way.

I could take these songs that I hold dear and exploit them. Ring the towel dry as they say and use them for the memories and emotions they are.

I have no doubt it’ll be exhausting.

Take Super Tramps Give a Little Bit. Something happened with that song. I don’t know what it is but whenever I hear it I have the greatest zest for life on has ever known. The cloudy days are full of sunshine. I’m as excited as a five year old on Christmas morning.

You get the idea.

Not everyone can do this. Maybe they’re the lucky ones but since I have this crazy relationship I might as well find a place for it.

If I need to be sad I’ll search out a Journey song from 1982 – minus Don’t Stop Believin‘  – who could possibly be sad to that?

And if I want a beautiful memory I’ll simply punch in The Cars – Just What I needed. I can still see her smile and taste the M&M’s. Especially the green ones.

So I guess it’s not all that bad. Looks like I’ve got some work to do.

Piano 3

 

Happy Friday Everyone!!!

Clueless in Critiquing – The things that I learned

Nervous

I remember the first time I critiqued someone’s work I was nervous. It was my first writers group and I wasn’t sure I belonged. It was not because of my writing it was because I had no clue how to critique.

I remember it was a nice story. Not something I would actually sit down and read but it was nice and the person who write it was nice.

There were parts that could have been better. Certain scenes, I remember, that could have been explained or drawn out and there were some areas that were not necessary.

When my time came, I sat up straight, cleared my throat and gave a sixty second mumble, stumble, rambling mess.

 

Clueless

Offhand I haven’t a clue what I said but I do know that those sixty seconds dragged on for the longest time. 

Luckily as time went on I improved. I stopped putting feelings ahead of the critique and the more I did the more confident I became.

But it took a while.

I’ve learned a lot since those early days. I think a lot of it has to do with listening to others who were way better than I was.

The way some of them could turn a story inside out and see details I couldn’t see fascinated me. It always amazed me how a person could grab a scene and see it in a way that captured an unknown light.

 

Teachers among us

coffeshop writer

The biggest lesson was watching them when they worked on my story. The way they could chop a paragraph in two or expand a sentence. It not only made my story better it taught me how to critique like them.

The most valuable lesson I learned was that it was not my story. For the longest time that was my biggest challenge.

I kept seeing their stories in my voice and in my eyes. By doing so I tried to turn their story in my direction. It took a while but in time I learned to drop that dreaded habit and respect the writer.

One of the hardest things to do when critiquing a writer’s work is pushing away the temptation to make it your own.

It’s tempting to take a chapter and advise them to redo it your way. Along the way I learned to turn off the switch and force myself to see the story in the writer’s vision.

When this finally happened I knew I had a chance to actually help them.

 

You did good my son (daughter)

The other thing I learned was compliments. It’s so easy to concentrate on mistakes we lose site on their excellent writing. It’s easy to scan for improvements while ignoring the good stuff that’s already there.

I try to point out a scene I like. The reason is not so much a compliment as it is to high-light good writing. It’s my way of telling them their story needs more of this.

When I first started I had no idea critiquing would help my writing. I always figured it was a one way street.

I was wrong.

It allows me to see the different ways a writer will explore a scene. More often than not, critiquing is a classroom where every day I come away with something new.

Try to find time to critique someone’s work. Not only will it help them it will make you better.

How perfect is that!

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100 FOLLOWERS

 

One Hundred

I never post on a Tuesday but this is the exception. I just received my 100th follower and I want to thank every single one of you for following this crazy little blog of mine. 

I started out with an idea to write about things that made me laugh and think. I never realized I’d meet so many cool people. You are smarter than I’ll ever be and you make me laugh and think every day. 

THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

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SPONTANEOUS FRIDAY

Do you love your Smartphone?

Smartphone

Earlier this summer I was relaxing at a friend’s house. We were watching a movie, eating pizza and living the good life.

Suddenly a situation occurred that was far more entertaining than the movie. My friend lost his smart phone.

 

Honest officer, it wasn’t my fault!

Smartphone 2

I was sitting on the couch nestled between a dog, three cats and a plate full of pizza. My friend was reclining in his favorite easy chair complete with an excellent armrest perfect for all smartphones.

From my vantage point I saw what happened. Somehow his smartphone slid off the edge and landed safely in the side pocket of his chair. I could have easily pointed this out and within seconds his panic would have ceased.

But where is the fun in that?

 

Nicotine – Smartphones – Oh My!

Smartphone 4

A long time ago when I was a young boy I witnessed a scary scene. My three pack a day uncle lost his cigarettes. As I sat and observed my friends frantic search I was suddenly reminded of that fascinating day.

With the movie long forgotten my friend tossed throw rugs in the air, pillows and cats to the side. He even checked under the pizza box and the dog.

Thankfully I was left alone.

 

Angry wife and cats galore!!!

How he missed his phone’s hiding place I’ll never know. But I’m glad he did.

I grabbed another slice – Spicy Sausage, hamburger and pepperoni – and settled in for the scene.

My friend moved from the TV room to the kitchen. His voice was high, his mood agitated. He yelled at his kids, the neighbor kids and the dog. For reasons unclear he decided now was the perfect time to bring up a two year old argument with his wife that I’m guessing was unresolved.

With my friend and his wife bringing up bad memories, the dog barking and the kids disappearing to the neighbors, I calmly plucked his smartphone from the chairs comfy pocket.

I found an old shirt rolled up in a corner and laid part of it over his phone just beneath his chair.

With his wife in tears and the dog joining the neighbors I called out and pointed to the half hidden phone.

 

Memories of my Uncle

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The relief in his eyes matched the memory I had of my uncle when his MIA cigarettes were discovered.

So I ask – where are we in this world? Are smartphones the new cigarettes?

I will confess if smartphones were available when I was a kid I would have been knee deep in everything they have to offer. In fact my entire generation would.

Don’t let them fool you. We were just as bad or worse.

It’s easy to see the addiction. They look cool. They give you instant gratification and they give the user a sense of importance.

I have a lot of use for smartphones but at my age there’s a balance. I like them but I do not love them.

I wish I could see the world in a hundred years. I truly believe we are in the infancy of stranger things.

We love our gadgets. They are exciting and earth shattering but for some they turn into addiction.

I dodged a bullet.

The future will be fascinating but somehow we’ll survive. We always do. Every generation is convinced the next one will destroy the world but if you notice it hasn’t happened yet.

But just in case I’m wrong, please hang on to those damn things. Trust me, you don’t want to lose them and if you do some guy like me will keep them hidden for all the wrong reasons.

 

Happy Friday Everyone!!!

Smartphone 5

What kind of reputation do you want?

Mandy Hale

About a month ago I went to a message board and started a topic. The board belongs to a novel and short story site where one can add their work for critique. It’s also a great place to learn the craft of editing.

I rarely reply or start a topic. Not that I don’t want to, it’s simply a matter of time. Not enough hours in the day as they say. But in this particular moment I saw something missing.

A simple little thing that I felt needed to be filled.

 

Walking the tightrope of etiquette

My topic was all about giving thanks to others. A simple thank you when others critique your work. And another thank you if they felt your critique helped theirs.

I’m big on acknowledging a person’s good work or act of kindness and I’m not alone on this. For the most part we all think the same. Don’t believe the news you hear on the state of the world. People are generally kind and helpful.

Yes, I’m talking to you.

I didn’t think too much when I created the post. We’re all at fault for expecting things and sometimes we need to take a step back and realize how good we have it.  

By the end of the day my topic hit the twelve page mark with each page containing at least a dozen replies. The results you might be thinking were positive, sadly they were not.

reputation 1

Sorry I drowned your puppy

After reading just a few replies one would have thought I had called their mother wicked names or worse…an offering to drown their puppy.

Most of them accused me of stepping over the line. To them I had walked into something far more personal than needed to be. After a few replies defending myself I stepped away. I’m pretty sure my days of creating topics on that board are over.

One of the first lessons I learned in our world of writing is proper etiquette. A simple thanks or a like on a page goes a long way. 

We have chosen a profession where reputation matters. Going an extra mile or two does wonders for us all.

I’m a friendly person by nature. I was taught to give everyone a chance and to be nice. Not everyone appreciates the kindness but most do.

Creating a positive reputation is gold. The last thing I want is for anyone to think of me as high maintenance or demanding.

I have received a handful of rejections from agents and publishers in my days and I have replied to all of them with a thank you. I am not thanking them for turning my work away, I am thinking them for their time.

It’s the professional thing to do.

I’m not sure why I upset so many people. Maybe it was the guilt in them coming out. Whatever it was we need to pack the negative remarks in a box and open up a can of the good stuff. It’s all about the long term. Every now and then ask yourself a question:

What kind of reputation do you want?

Reputation