SPONTANEOUS FRIDAY

Bucket List 1

To Bucket List or Not to Bucket List

We live in a world of bucket lists. At least I do. I think the reason many of us do is to avoid as many regrets as possible when our final day arrives.

Years ago my big regret was travel. Being from the Northwest I travelled all over the west coast. From Alaska to the southern tip of Baja. I saw it all. But when it came to traveling east Utah was my limit.

Thankfully all that changed by way of a ten day trip to the deep south. A year later I added New England to the list.

This morning, however, my bucket list traveled to another direction –

 

The Anti-Bucket List

Yes, I had no idea one existed either.

It all started when my pesky cat, Flash, thought it was a great idea to plop a dead snake on my lap. After a few choice words along with the removal of the dead snake, I decided to create my very own Anti-Bucket List.

By the way – This is Flash:

Flash

 

Don’t let the photo fool you. He has a sick sense of humor.

 

How to Create the Anti-Bucket List

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To start with let’s get the dead snake out of the way. In fact let’s broaden the scope and say anything dead on my lap is a bad thing.

Following close behind I’d have to say being stuck in a spider’s web is right up there. In other words, me trapped like the guy in the movie The Fly. Google the ending and you’ll know what I’m talking about.   

Spider webs and dead things are easy but, I asked myself, what about the true annoyance of life. Things that my OCD and other mind controlling stuff would easily place on the list.

 

Little Annoyances Big Problems

  • The first would be a cluttered work area that never gets clean. Think of a bad dream running over and over in a vicious cycle.

 

  • Another thought would be a work area deep inside a cold, dark concrete cave. The old Kingdome in Seattle comes to mind. Trust me, I spent many summer days watching terrible baseball while trapped inside that ugly concrete bubble.

 

  • Moving further down the list, how about my favorite pens permanently replaced by cheap knockoffs. For all of you writers, you know what I mean. We love our favorite pens.

 

  • American football becoming illegal. With all the head injuries this may one day be true.

 

  • Spending months on an outline full of chapters I hate or eating peas every night and never getting the taste out of my mouth. I’m not sure which ones worse?

 

  • Becoming a Panster – No! Not again!

 

  • Spending my entire time and money at a writer’s conference pitching to agents. Please stop me!!!

 

  • Follow the advice of every critic and trying to please all of them.

 

  • Give in to Netflix every time the mood strikes.

 

  • Wave the curfew on my soon to be sixteen year old daughter.

 

  • Give the neighborhood’s semi-wild cat a hug. I still have the scars.

 

  • No pizza for life.

 

  • And finally – No carbs ever!

 

Let’s face it, some things we should never do and some places we should never go. But at the same time we should all be allowed to enjoy life’s rewards…..

…….in Moderation of course.

So there you have it, my very own Anti-Bucket List. I have a feeling it’s going to grow.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to eat Pizza.

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Happy Friday Everyone!!!

The First Page

First Page

Guilt

You and I are guilty of many things. We eat the last doughnut. We skip to the end of books and movies. We forget to water  mom’s favorites plant when she’s out of town and sometimes we’re guilty of asking a co-worker when they’re due when all they did was eat one to many pizzas.

It is true, not everyone is guilty of such things and for those of you who have never experienced such drama I applaud you.

But there is one thing we all have in common.

We all judge books by their cover 

I am a sucker for old book stores. Give me an old building crammed full of books, a creaky floor and walls in dire need of a paint job and I’m hooked.

Thankfully Eugene, Oregon is full of books and old buildings. The town is also full of people like me in search of the perfect story.

I am a sucker for dazzling book covers and equally dazzling openings. I have no doubt the greatest book I have yet to read is hiding in a nearby bookstore wrapped in a lifeless book jacket along with a poorly written first page.

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The Ever Important First Page

It is not fair to the author that there are so many people like me. All of us should look beyond the cover and the first page. A book is a relationship between reader and writer and like all relationships time and patience is a necessity.

But life isn’t fair is it and that is why a writer needs to be at the top of their game on that very first page.

A writer needs to concentrate on the one thing they can control: Their writing. In that first page they need to grab the reader and hold them just long enough to capture their curiosity.

As a reader walking around a book store we’ve all been there. An opening line catches our attention. We turn the book over and read the back. We hesitate and hold it a little longer. We walk around looking for something better and if it doesn’t happen, we buy it.

If you listen closely you can almost hear the author celebrating.

Last Sunday morning I played a little game. I grabbed random books off my shelf to see what exactly it was that caught my eye. I’ll have to be honest, some were a mystery. How they made their way to my shelf I’ll never know, but the ones I’ve included below were a no-brainer.  

Below is a list of some of the books I picked. I included the author, title and the first line or paragraph. I also added my two-cents to it all.

Check it out:

Stephen King – IT: The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years – if it ever did end, began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.

This read like a first person account…..so far as I can tell…which immediately caught my eye. The word terror and paper boat caught my curiosity. But the biggest one of all was at the very beginning….if it ever did end….I had to know.

 Stephen King – The Gunslinger – The Dark Tower 1: The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.

I’ll be honest, I am not a fan of the Gunslinger series but aside from that this is the best opening line I have ever read. One sentence. One comma break. The entire story is told. Incredibly hard to do but the master did it.

M.K. Martin – Survivor’s Club: Subject 12 had forgotten her name. She’d forgotten her boyfriend and her dog, her parents, her friends, school. The only thing she remembered was that horrible day.

There was no first name, just Subject 12. Why? She forgot her life. Why? The final three words sold me…..that horrible day. Perfect!

Lawrence Sanders – McNally’s Puzzle: She slapped my face.

It made me laugh and I don’t know why. I didn’t know if this was a comedy a drama or what. Those four words drew me in. I wanted to know more.

Keven Wilson – The Family Fang: Mr. and Mrs. Fang called it art. Their children called it mischief.

It seemed backwards to me. Shouldn’t the children be full of mischief? What exactly were the parents calling art and why were their kids embarrassed?

J.K. Rowling – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold such nonsense.

I did not want to do Harry Potter. I didn’t buy the series, my kids did. But there it was, within reach so I looked at it and I’ll be damned, JK hooked me. It was so real and honest. This was the Dursley’s voice. I could feel the uncomfortable tone in their voice and I had to know why. What strange and mysterious event happened to them?

Tori Carrington – Dirty Laundry: One of the great things about being a private dick – aside from saying those words and presuming to lay ownership to something possessed only by men – is that it gets you out of going to Sunday Mass.

I’m sure some people would have found this offensive. I’m not one of those people. This is one of my favorites. It was so good I was afraid to put it down. I just knew the other people in the aisle would grab it.

Robert McCammon – Boy’s Life: I want to tell you some important things before we start our journey.

I knew this story was about an eleven year old told in his words. The important things he had to tell me drew me in.

Tim Dorsey – The Stingray Shuffle: Uh-oh. Lenny slipped me LSD. That can be the only exception.  

Clearly something happened and it wasn’t good. Obviously it was Lenny’s fault. Or was it? The main question for me – What happened during the LSD trip?

 So there you have it. Put everything you have in that first page. It could be the difference between a dusty shelf in a bookstore or a reader’s home.

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SPONTANEOUS FRIDAY

Branching 1

Young and Dumb

A long time ago when I was a kid I liked people just like me. If you were loud and obnoxious and just a little rude you belonged in my circle. But if you were none of those you did not exist. The world included me and my kind and nothing more.

Yes, I was young and dumb, but one day it all came to a crashing end.

 

Moving Objects

I was working at a restaurant full of people just like me. We were loud, obnoxious and for reasons I’ll never understand – Employed.

I had been there for almost a year. I remember faces coming and going. Those who were in my cycle I missed when they let but those who were not I barely noticed.

For many they were nothing more than moving objects. Their lives non-existent. Their names a mystery.

One evening while on a break I announced with my usual excitement that a movie was coming to town that I wished to see. Figuring my circle of friends would join me I began making plans for an evening of fun.

To my dismay all of them said no.

How could they, I asked. Clearly we were all the same. Not only did we eat the same food, laugh at the same jokes and work at the same place, we obviously liked the same movies.

 

Quiet and Polite

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Grumbling and mumbling I began to face the reality that I would be going at it alone. The mere thought of doing anything alone was shocking and saddening. But the movie had to be seen. I was told it was a classic and the experts were never wrong.

Without warning a soft voice appeared to my right. She was about my age or maybe a little younger. I was pretty sure we worked together for a long time or did she just start? Do I know you, I wondered. You look familiar.

She was quiet and polite and sort of invisible. Another one of those moving objects I told you about. I glanced at her name tag and remembered we worked the same shift.

We saw one another 30 hours a week but for the life of me I had no clue who she was.

 

The Unexpected Date

Overhearing my complaints she too was counting the days for the movie’s arrival. She confessed she was going alone and suggested we go together.

Guessing we’d have nothing to talk about but at the same time not wanting a solo trip I agreed.

Looking back the movie was forgettable but the company was not.

Thanking her for coming along I suggested we treat ourselves for a quick pie and coke at a nearby restaurant. I figured our conversation would be just as quick.

Three hours later I paid the bill.

 

The Amazing Evening

Branching 3

This quiet and polite person who I saw, foolishly, as an object was funny, curious, and smarter than I’ll ever be. I realized than it was I who was the object not her and a dumb one at that.

It wasn’t long before I began to question the circle I was a part of. Thoughts begin to surface – Is there more to life than what I know?

Her father was a minister. Her mother a teacher. I was not the religious type nor all that interested in advanced education. Keep in mind I knew all the answers. Why would advance education apply to me?

But as our friendship grew so did my interest in other things.

 

Branching Out

How many others like her are out there, I wondered. Could it be that the quietest person in the room is the most amazing person I’ll ever meet?

I can still remember the thrill just thinking about that.

I started branching out. I learned religion, farming, planting trees, hanging out with people who were nothing like me. At one point I learned the proper way of handling baby chickens. Trust me, there’s a system.

And my circle? Let’s just say it crumbled.  

I cannot remember the movie we saw or the others that followed but I do remember the lessons I learned.

We kept in touch throughout the years. The last I saw of her was just before I moved away. Looking back she had a lot to do with the way I am today.

Amazing how one person can change things especially when they were once viewed as nothing more than an object.

Was I really that young?

As for you, my favorite reader, the next time you’re out at a gathering search for the quietest person in the room. Don’t be surprised if they are secretly the life of the party.

Branching 4

Happy Friday Everyone!!!

What We Learn by Watching Movies

Splash 1

Have you ever watched a movie and asked why it was so good or in some cases why it was so lousy?

Every now and then I’ll catch myself asking these questions. Most of the time I’ll do it because I cared about the plot or the characters. This is true for the ones I didn’t like.

Last week I dug out a movie I hadn’t seen in years. The movie was Splash. A 1984 comedy/romance staring some new guy named Tom Hanks.

Splash 4

I was in the mood to watch an oldie but goodie and after watching it I started to remember just how good it was.

The 1980’s had a handful of classics – Amadeus, Platoon and Driving Miss Daisy – but comedies were slim pickings. Sure, there were some great ones but in most cases the writers tried too hard for laughs. The storyline was weak or the casting was wrong.

But Splash was different. It could have been a disaster, instead it was one of the best movies of the decade. At least I thought it was.

Curious as to why I thought it succeeded I broke it down and gave the movie a closer look.

I’m glad I did.

The writers created a wonderful balance between comedy and drama. One seemed to feed off the other. They were a team. Not once did I feel one needed the spotlight more than the other.

Tom Hanks played the lonely hearts brother. A responsible business owner going through a recent breakup. The other brother, played by John Candy, was the comedy portion of the team. He was immature, careless and had no boundaries.

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The writers could have messed this up. They could have gone over the top, forced the story line with punchlines, creating phony scenes and empty characters. Instead they took their time. We got to know the brothers by watching how they handled good or bad situations. We understood through their dialog and interactions who they were. Nothing was forced.

 Daryl Hannah played Tom Hanks love interest.

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She was part mermaid part human. It would have been easy and tempting to focus on the mermaid’s side of the story. The writers could have given us endless backstory or side characters in her underwater world. Instead, they focused on the moment. It was as though they were telling the audience to come up with their own answers.

For me this is why I liked her. The mystery drew me in. Where, if I were told everything, I might have become less interested.

At first she struggled to interact with humans but as the story unfolded we learned she was a quick learner. It was never explained and it didn’t matter. The writers challenged us to figure it out.

As I thought about it a lot of it had to do with Tom Hank’s character. We were struggling right alone with him and because we liked him and we wanted him to succeed, we were fine being confused and searching for clues just like him.

Eugene Levy, one of my favorites, played the antagonist. Or so we thought. His goal was to expose the mermaid’s true identity but grew frustrated when nobody believed him.

Splash 5

At first Levy’s comedy approach turned his character into a clown. This could have been a deal breaker but the writers were one step ahead of us. As with John Candy’s character, the writers could have gone too far. They could have turned the viewer off and slowed the pace. Instead, they turned Levy’s character from the antagonist to one of the heroes.

As a viewer the writers did two things that turned this movie into a success:

  • When the mermaid was exposed and taken into captivity John Candy’s character grew. He realized in that moment how happy his brother was with her in his life and understood what really matter.
  • Levy’s character experienced the same thing. He saw the hurt that he created and took responsibility. Immediately the audience went from hating him to caring about him. We now had four heroes instead of two.

I will stop here just in case some of you have never seen the movie. Check it out sometime and when you do use it as a learning tool like I did.

Splash succeeded by concentrating on the characters first, plot second. The writers went below the surface and tugged at our hearts. By doing so we were allowed to see their faults. We saw tiny bits of ourselves which gave us more reason to care.

Splash 2

Every now and then I’ll watch a movie that works. Splash doesn’t work for everyone but for those like me it not only worked but taught me as well.

Someday when you have time to kill do what I did and find one of your favorites. But this time, instead of watching it break it down and discover why it worked for you. What did it teach you as a writer that you didn’t know before?

The results may surprise you.  

Splash 3

Puzzles and Novels

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The other day I had an idea. It was an idea I had never tried before but one that I wish I had. What if I took my scribbled chapter outlines and turned them into the world’s biggest jigsaw puzzle?

When you think about it all we’re doing is creating a puzzle. As the reader turns the page the puzzle we create becomes clearer and clearer. Pretty cool, if I say so myself.

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Going with that thought I took each page and placed them on the floor in order that I wrote them. At the time I didn’t think much of it. I knew each page by heart and figured I’d be reading them at a different angle.

But that wasn’t the case.

Once I laid them out something strange begin to happen. A movie of sorts immediately clicked in my head. Within seconds, like someone turning on an old movie reel, my scribbly notes began to move.

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I could see my characters in action. Talking, walking living in the world I gave them. They were coming alive in our only room with carpet.

It wasn’t the little things that I saw. No highlights or bit parts or the epic ticking clock complete with bad guy vs. good guy….spoiler alert! No. It was everything.

Including the stuff that didn’t work.

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Identifying the bad stuff I made a note on the pages and took them out and rewrote them. I experimented with a few pages, placed them back where they belonged and presto….

The movie I had created looked a little clearer.

Like you, I’ve read all kinds of advice. Some I’ve used, most I have not. But one thing I have never tried is this. I’ve heard writers talk it but it always sounded kind of nutty.

Why would I physically arrange notes on the carpet? The cats would have a field day. But cat field day or not, as you can see, it worked.

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As I look at it now it all makes sense. I’m a visual person. Give me directions full or words and I’ll probably get lost. But give me a google map, now we’re talking.

So much of what we do is planning. Even the pantsers are planners in some way, but all of us can agree a game plan is always in the mix in one way or another.

Starting a novel is exciting and grueling….mostly grueling. But what if we discover something to ease the pain? I think we can all agree a little pain easing is worth a try.

I’m now planning on giving my notes a once over. I’ll make them a little tighter. Maybe shift the story a bit and see where it goes.

Whatever I do I’ll continue to playout my little movie. Hey, it works for me and let’s face it – This writing thing is hard and if we can find something that works, good for us.

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Most of all if that something involves cluttering the carpet with pages of scribble so be it. Who needs all that gruel?

 

Happy 4th!!!

To all of my American friends please have yourself a fun and safe 4th of July. To my other friends from around the world I will see you next week. The 4th of July celebration is taking me out of town through the weekend.

Safe to all and I’ll see you next week.

July 4th 2

SPONTANEOUS FRIDAY

Cat yawning

Through my life I have had more cats than dogs. In fact I have had only one dog.

In an earlier post you read about my dog Copper.

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I loved my dog to the moon and back but still, most of my memories are filled with cats.

For the longest time I figured it was all by chance. One cat dies or one runs away or one is a little psycho. We once had a cat with the personality of Hannibal Lecter ….long story deserving of a post all to itself. We later gave him away to a junkyard dealer.

It ended happily.

I grew up with the idea that this cat thing was a cycle and nothing more but now that I am older and a tad bit wiser I have come to the realization it wasn’t a cycle at all. It all had to do with the obvious:

 A cat is one cool dude.

Sleeping cat

I like the way they handle themselves under stressful conditions. An outsider will never see them sweat. They keep their emotions in check no matter how dangerous the situation may be.

They go to sleep when they’re tired and wake when they’re rested. If you try to wake them in between they quickly remind you how foolish you are and you believe them.

They analyze a situation long before they make their move. A characteristic I wish I had. I’ve lost count the number of times I’ve jumped into the deep end of life regretting my decision.

Had I been blessed with a cat attitude I never would have driven a car with the poorest of engines up the tallest of hills. Never would I have chased the wrong girls or listened to wrong advice.

In essence, had I been blessed with the attitude of a cat I would have avoided a huge mess.

A cat is picky and shows no apologies. If you don’t believe me I dare you to switch brands.

They have their favorite chair, their favorite corner and sometimes your lap. When it’s your time for attention there is little one can do about it.

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They are dedicated, don’t get me wrong, but they are dedicated on their own terms. They are alone by choice, independence is their comfort zone. But sometimes they strive to protect and comfort one another.

A favorite example would be our two brothers. One enjoys water and dirt, the other does not. One day the anti-water brother got caught in the rain. Needless to say he was a mess.

As he dried off in the corner of the house his big brother laid near, his paw resting comfortably on little brother’s shoulder.

In a time of need they are there.

We all need a dash of cat. A one a day cat pill would do just fine. If that were possible our confidence would be high. We would laugh at our critics and choose our friends wisely.

If by chance you are not a cat person and one crosses your path, take a moment to admire him. But most of all remember:

A cat is one cool dude.

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Happy Friday Everyone!

 

Great Ideas – But are they good enough?

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Dusty Files

A couple of weeks ago I was cleaning out a bunch of computer files. It was supposed to be a ten minute job, unsurprisingly it lasted most of the day.

I found things I had long forgotten, both good and bad, and came to the conclusion if I ever had money to spare one of the first things I’d do is hire an assistant.

Clearly, being organized is not one of my strengths.

Curiously one of the files I came across was a novel that I had written way back in 1992. It was titled, The Cabin. It ran about 75,000 words. Every chapter appeared to its own little story and it seemed to have ended on a cliff hanger. Was part two in the works? I have no idea.

Cabin

Curious why I called it The Cabin, I ran a search and discovered not one word in the entire novel contained the word cabin. I kind of remember writing it but I have no idea why or where it was going.

I decided to keep it anyway. One of these days I will break it down and try to figure out what in the heck I was trying to do. It’s clear I had an idea at the time, it just didn’t translate all that great into a novel.

Ideas worth keeping

So here’s a question: What makes a great idea and is that idea good enough for full length novel?

I come up with lots of ideas and I’m always writing them down. I’m the guy you see with a notebook and pen in his pocket. I write down everything that pops into my head knowing full well only half will make the cut and some of those that do survive aren’t all great.

But that hasn’t stopped me from trying to create something out of nothing and if you don’t believe me I have a mystery novel titled The Cabin that contains no cabin coming to your town.

A Great Idea

Book 2

One of the lessons I’ve learned in this world of novel writing is to be honest with my self. The ideas may seem exciting but are they good enough for a novel?

Throughout the years I’ve learned to draw my ideas out. Can I see an ending? A middle or a beginning? But most of all does it feel right? Does it contain a dash of magic that pulls me in to their world?

Years ago I wrote a time travel murder mystery. The idea was great. Let’s face it, who doesn’t love time travel with a spic or two of murder and mystery. But not matter how excited I got the story fell flat.

I remember summer came and I rewrote it. Pleased with my newest version I shared it with a handful of people. Sadly it fell flat again. In the end my newest version was nothing more than pumping air into a flat tire.

Most of would have given up that sinking ship and moved on, which is exactly what I did. But a chance meeting with a brilliant high-school kid pulled the ship to shore. Now I can write. Now I can see it where I went wrong.

What do we do?

So where does that leave you and me and our lists of great ideas? Do we file them away and wait for a rainy day, do we pick one and give it a shot or do we hope we bump into a brilliant kid who can steer us away from the rocky shore?

The answer is yes and no. Trust me, I’m still trying to figure it out.

But the one thing I’ve learned in all these years, if an idea will not go away maybe there’s a reason for it. If this idea follows you like a lost puppy in a storm maybe it’s time to put on the breaks and listen. Clearly it’s trying to tell you something.

In the end take your ideas and give them a long look. Including the bad ones. The results may surprise you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a Cabin that needs to be inspected.

Cabin 2