My Year of Finishing

2018 is over

The turning of a calendar is arbitrary and perhaps an odd time to be making assessments, although there is no bad time to take stock and decide whether everything is on track and moving along on plan. For that matter, birthdays work for this purpose, too, the passing of a year being complete with a full journey around the sun measured and filed away.

Being born on the first day of spring, more or less, has its advantages, as I have always had three-quarters of a year to prepare for the coldest and harshest time of the journey through the cycle of seasons. Or is my assessment that winter is the most unpleasant time simply my perception because of when I was born? Do December babies love winter? Do we always love our first season the most? Have I just solved Ray Bradbury’s love of late summer and fall – Ray, who was born Aug. 22?

Last year I resolved to write a short story a week, a la Bradbury, an exercise that survived perhaps 10 weeks. It did result in Chapter One of what I consider my best idea in a while, the Comfort & Joy Detective Agency, although even that has stalled after that one chapter like so many of my projects. I have struggled with stick-to-it-iveness, which is why my journals have become my most successful writing project: I have done some scribbling almost every morning for almost four years now, contemplating goals and issues and navels, tossing out fragments of story and imagery.

Some of those fragments and observations have appeared here, some of them have been transcribed into still-unfinished projects. Here’s one from New Year’s Eve, this past Monday:

“You’re finished,” she said. “So celebrate.”

“That sounds so final,” he said nervously. “Like I’m finished, so it’s time to die. I want to call this new year My Year of Finishing, but to me that makes it sound like ‘this will be the day that I die’ or something.”

“Can I point something out?” she said. “The man who wrote the song with the refrain, ‘This will be the day that I die,’ lived to write the song. Last I looked, he was still alive almost 50 years on.”

“Oh yeah,” he said, now sheepish. “OK, then: 2019 will be My Year of Finishing.”

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The Man Who Was Scared of Finishing

the end dreamstime_s_13037813

Finnegan Moore was good at starting things, but he seemed to have a phobia about endings, completions. It was if he believed that endings were little deaths, as if finishing a book was a good time to die, or finishing a work project, or the last film in a trilogy, or the last show of a series – and he didn’t want to die.

“Lord, let me live to see how the story ends,” was a constant refrain of his life. He was relieved to reach the end of the Harry Potter stories, but also terrified, because now that he knew how the story ends, would someone in the sky decide it was now an appropriate time to take him?

“But you know how the story ends,” his friend Dan said one day. “You know how everyone’s story ends – with an ending, and not necessarily wrapped up in a bow.”

“That’s just it, you see,” Finnegan said. “That’s just it. I’m afraid of finishing because it’s a little death.” Continue reading →

Dance as long as your Heart can stand the Joy

Writing

While rummaging through my writing for a project to be announced later, I came across a line that begged to be expanded:

Dance as long as your heart can stand the joy.

Yes.

Joy makes you want to move; it’s expressed in dancing of all kinds – from the tapping of your foot to the spreading of arms to reach the sun and jumping.

Joy brings the dance, and the dance brings joy: Dance as long as your heart can stand the joy.

The heart is the conduit: Dance, and your heart will seek the joy. And through the joy, the heart dances.

Cause and effect – which comes first? Which is cause? Which is effect? Both.

One brings the other.

With hours left in NaNoWriMo

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It’s Nov. 30, and thousands of would-be novelists are reaching the end of their quest to lay down 50,000 words worth of story in NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month challenge.

Many have finished and learned just how few words are 50,000. Others have struggled and discovered that 50,000 are too many. In both cases they’re right.

I have probably composed millions of words in my lifetime and produced hundreds of hours of radio and other audio programming. (80 Uncle Warren’s Attic podcasts, 150 Ikthuscast podcasts, and 13 78 Revolutions Per Minute podcasts = 40 hours + 37.5 hours + 6.5 hours = more than two work weeks of stuff to listen to in that format alone.)

But I have yet to produce 50,000 words worth of one story. The closest I’ve come is the accumulated 160,000 words or so of Myke Phoenix adventures, but that’s 16 novelettes.

And so I understand how daunting 50,000 words are.

That’s why I hesitate on the brink of committing to write a minimum of four 60,000 word books in 2019, essentially the equivalent of five months of NaNoWriMo over 12 months.

More on this later.

For now, congratulations to those who reached their 50,000 words this month, and for those who did not: Don’t quit. Ray Bradbury wrote, in seven words I have taped just below eye level on this computer, “You only fail if you stop writing.”

How to get it done

how to get it done

“I don’t have time for all this!”

Yes, you do.

A person is what she thinks about. As a man thinks, his thoughts become him. If she thinks she will fail, she will. If he thinks he can do it, he will find a way. It’s that simple, and it’s that complicated. Because thinking is step one; now comes the doing.

A person does what he thinks about. As she works on the task, her thoughts determine the outcome. If he thinks he’ll miss the deadline, he will. If she thinks she can make it, she will. As Mr. Ford (or whoever) said, whether you think you can do it, or you think you can’t, you’re right.

Break it down so you can see the possibilities. Can I plot out a book in X days? Sure, if I invest Y minutes or Z hours a day. It’s like the person who wants to stop drinking: Can you go without a drink for this minute? Good. Now, how about this next minute? And the one coming after this? Pretty soon you’ve gone without drinking for a half-hour, then an hour, then two hours and four hours and eight.

Don’t have time for all this? Can you focus on doing it for one minute? Good. Now, how about this next minute? And the one coming after this? Pretty soon you’ve made the time and it’s done. Try it.

about that box

dreamstime_xl_9150573 box vertThink outside the box, because there is no box. Not really.

The box is the little cube where you store all the ways you have done things as they always have been done, the ways you have done them, and the ways everyone says they’re supposed to be done.

But you know there has to be a better way. And what you may have forgotten is the box is not there. It’s just a mythical construct created to memorialize the routine.

The routine is easy. The routine gets the job done. But is it enough? Does it get you to the goal? More important, does it get you to YOUR goal? Does it fulfill you, or is it just a paycheck? The paycheck is even sweeter when the work fulfills you.

Imagine how it could be done if you weren’t in this box. Because remember, there is no box. It’s a convenient structure you and your colleagues built to get the job done. It you poke your hand at the walls of this box, it will pass right through and you may be on your path to a better way.

So: Imagine what could be done outside the box, because you’re already outside, because there is no box.

4 short stories less than 30 words each

4 short storiesSo there was this dragon and he had to pee and the house was surrounded by wildfire and about to be lost. The yard stank for weeks, though.

The guitar mounted on the wall came down, and he began to pick. They found him that way, guitar where it belonged, a grin on his face.

The last thing anyone remembered was the stranger turning to them with a smirk, saying, “I wish you hadn’t done that.”

“You’ve done well today,” she told the class. “That was a thoughtful and insightful discussion, but truth be told, the first thing you know is old Jed’s a millionaire.”

Captain Zap is 50

Captain Zap No 1 webI don’t know what made me write “11/4/68” on the cover of Captain Zap #1 when I finished it. All I know for sure is that it was 50 years ago today.

Captain Zap was my first experience in public acceptance of something I created. It was a ridiculous superhero comic book written and drawn in pencil, four pieces of typewriter paper folded in half to make a 12-page comic book with a cover.

When I say “ridiculous,” I mean it was intentionally silly. It was filled with moments like the assassination of Mayor Snort, who, when told, “Someone’s taking pot shots at you, sir,” replies as he falls from a balcony, “Pot shot, my eye! I’m dead.” The sound effect is “POT SHOT.”

Captain Zap was once Ralph Smith, who is struck by lightning one day while rushing to work. Rather than killing him, the lightning endows him with a strange power – energy bolts (er, lightning bolts?) that emerge from his hand when he points at something.

Of course, like any ordinary person, pretty much the first thing he does is decide to become a superhero, but the very first thing he needs is a good name.

“It must be something that would strike fear in the hearts of bad guys!” he proclaims, discharging one of his bolts. As it turns out, a nearby kid is saying, “Hey Joe, have you read the latest issue of Captain –” and his next word is drowned out by the “ZAP!” from Ralph’s energy bolt. Voila.

“And thusly was born Capt. Zap,” the origin story concludes.

I passed around the single copy of Captain Zap #1 and it was met with bemused approval, and so I ended up distributing 23 issues the same way, 22 of which survive, plus Captain Zap Annual #1 (64 pages!), a horror comic called “Tales of Fright (Stories That Reek),” two issues of a spin-off villain-turned-hero called Mass the Mighty, covers for Captain Zap #s 24-27, and a partially finished Captain Zap Annual #2.

Captain Zap - pot shot webOnly Captain Zap #11 is lost to the ages, having not been returned after being passed around. I even have Kapitän Zeppelin #9; a friend in my German class translated that epic battle of Captain Zap versus his archenemies Dr. Skull, the Red Demon, Mass the Mighty, Logicman, Vampireman, the Devil, and the Human Wrench (der Menschwrensch).

Dr. Skull was reborn as “The World’s Nicest Bad Guy” in my Myke Phoenix Novelettes, but otherwise Captain Zap was essentially forgotten until my brother found them in a box in my old closet a few years ago.

be silly - webActually, gone but not forgotten. I never lost the fun of entertaining my friends with my silly stories, and that motivated me to keep trying all these years as a “wordsmith and podcaster” while I made a living as a reporter and later editor. Maybe my friends were just humoring their eccentric lunatic friend, but we had fun together with Captain Zap, I think.

I pulled the pile of old pencil scribblings out recently because I wondered if I could adapt the concept for contemporary readers – Lord knows we all could use a little silliness – and that’s when I saw “11/4/68” scrawled there.

And so this morning I offer a toast to that high school sophomore who dared to be silly. That skinny, crazy kid still exists somewhere inside an overweight, somewhat addled older guy who counts among his prized possessions a plaque on his wall that says, “Be silly sometimes.” And he treasures the people who, 50 years ago, smiled at the “pot shot” joke and said, “This is kind of cool.”