When it flows

When humans write, certain things happen in our brains that help us do what we do. The more we write, the more we train our gray matter to blot out distractions.

Fluffy's in the yard, somewhere.

Fluffy’s in the yard, somewhere.

Rather than think about the laundry that isn’t getting done or the grass that’s drawn the attention of the Home Owner Association’s lawn Nazi, we focus on getting our fictional hero into or out of a jam. Alternatively, instead of focusing on paying bills or ironing shirts, we zero in on a recount of the day Uncle Rupert got stuck under the house trying to rescue the neighbor’s cat, which turned out to be a possum.

Our brains learn other coping skills, too. Like ignoring hunger pangs, monotonous noises, even uncomfortable clothes. Once we’re finally on task and the words have begun to flow, it can become very hard to stop. If you know the flow, then this will be all too familiar:

mad“Yes, dear! I’ll join you in a little while. I just have to finish this paragraph.”

Of course, the paragraph turns into a page; the page morphs into a scene, and just about the time you realize you can completely wrap up the chapter with just a tiny bit more work, you detect the sounds of an aggrieved spouse flipping through the Yellow Pages in search of a divorce attorney.

If this hasn’t happened to you yet, just keep writing and it will.

Fortunately for me, my marriage has survived such flows. Most recently, however, there haven’t been any. I’ve allowed myself to be consumed in non-creative stuff such as taxes, lesson plans, and other worthy commitments. (I won’t dwell on the amount of time spent on FaceBook or “research.”)

For every writer who goes on a tear and becomes so immersed in an evolving tale, there must be thousands of readers who experience something similar. Who hasn’t been so absorbed by a story at one time or another that they just couldn’t stop reading?

man-reading-bed“Turn off the damned light, Filmore! You have to go to work in the morning.”

Mumble.

“Filmore? Did you hear me?”

Mumble.

Filmore! I’m talking to you.”

“Hm? Hang on, dear. I’m almost– Hey! Why’d you turn the light out?”

If you’ve been through something like this, then you’ll have an inkling about what a writer experiences when it flows. I can’t even talk about it without tripping over clichés. The experience may well be supernatural. And if not, then it’s almost certainly driven by the creative equivalent of endorphins. I shall henceforth call them plotdorphins. Someone alert the OED!

tangled lightsBut seriously, when it flows, something does happen in your brain, and it’s gotta be way more than one tiny little synapse firing. It’s more like a whole series of them, winking on and off like a string of cortical Christmas lights–the super deluxe kind with plastic reflectors and a built-in controller to manage the blinkeration. Only organic.

I don’t know what it is or how it works, but if I could boil it down, ferment or otherwise distill the stuff, I’d sure as sugar bottle it. I’d pour myself a serving every time I sat down to write, ’cause I’m already addicted to it, and I can’t get enough.

And I need it now more than ever.

–Josh

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And so it begins….

Polar bear OYAfter much soul-searching and considerable head-scratching, I’ve decided to push Artifacts, my former work in progress, to a back burner. I don’t take this action lightly, but I find that the story I see evolving isn’t nearly as much fun as I’d hoped it would be. I’ve poured significant energy into the project along with a great deal of study. I dearly love some of the characters, too. Alas, the vital bit of chemistry I need has yet to show itself. And while I could continue to stew over it, cursing my utter inadequacy, it’s not in the least productive. Feel free to sigh alongside me. ????????????????????????????????????????I’m NOT admitting defeat. Not yet, anyway. I’m just going to step away and work on one of the dozen or so other projects that have been clamoring in my brain for attention.

The top candidate has long been a third book in the ongoing Little Primitive series.

Those of you who enjoyed the first two books will hopefully share my excitement about the new volume. I won’t make too many promises beyond trying to create a fast-moving, high-energy tale with the usual complement of oddball characters and bizarre situations. What other choice is there in the world of Mato, a Chihuahua-sized Indian with the heart and soul of an Irish Wolfhound?

And just to show I’m serious, here’s the very first draft of the very first scene of book three, A Primitive In Paradise:

Chapter 1

“Hormones don’t care how big you are.” –Caleb Jones

Mato wanted a new T-shirt. And jeans. And paints. And one other thing he couldn’t bring himself to mention. He tried to clear his mind of any thought of it, lest its absence drive him mad.

He had come to appreciate many new and wondrous things while living among the giants. But once he’d rescued his pregnant mate, Reyna, and returned from the far-away place the Big Ones called Po-kip-see, she wanted only to go home to The People.

And stay there.

Mato recalled the warnings of an older warrior who fathered several children. He claimed that pregnancy could alter more than a female’s shape. Sometimes it allowed lessor demons to settle within and render an otherwise reasonable mate… difficult. Mato hoped that explained Reyna’s displeasure with the giants and their world, for he considered some of them to be good friends, especially those who had helped him save her. But once they finally located and returned to The People – something no giant had ever done – Reyna’s irrationality grew worse. Simply being away from the giants was no longer enough; she now insisted he remain close at all times. She remained adamant in this demand despite the obvious fact The People depended heavily on what its greatest hunter could provide.

Winter months were always the hardest, and life in the mountains made the winter even harder. Food stores never lasted as long as the snow, and without Mato and his gigantic dog, the tribe’s hunters often returned empty-handed. Mato knew the “greatest hunter” accolade rightly belonged to Shadow, the dog they had borrowed from Tori. Few others in the tribe even dared to approach the massive animal Mato and Reyna had ridden all the way from Tori’s cabin.

The search and journey had taken weeks, but without Shadow, it would have been impossible. Reyna would have had their baby among the giants, in Tori’s cabin. Such a prospect posed no problem for Mato, but Reyna could not imagine giving birth without benefit of her aged grandmother, Winter Woman, considered the wisest living member of the clan.

With the birth of their child imminent, Winter Woman ordered Mato to move in with the single warriors. Such had been the tradition among The People since time began. If they wished their child to be born healthy, Mato and Reyna must live apart during the last month of her pregnancy and stay apart until the first full moon after the baby’s birth. Though Reyna had long known about the required separation, she argued vehemently against it.

Winter Woman’s superior standing among the tribe carried more weight, of course, and Reyna’s protests accomplished nothing. Mato had neither the heart nor the stomach to tell Reyna that he looked forward to the solitude such a separation would provide. As the weather improved and signs of spring became obvious even to the least observant, he admitted to himself that The People could survive quite well without him, and solitude wasn’t what he really wanted.

He craved something only the giants possessed, so he gathered his weapons, climbed back upon the great canine, and left the clan.

 ~*~

There’s a great deal more to come, of course, and I may or may not dole out bits of it from time to time. You’ll need to drop by often lest you miss something.

More soon, I promise.

–Josh

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It’s all about words

As a writer, it’s quite natural that I have an interest in words. And it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’m familiar with quite a few of ‘em. Which is not to say that I don’t use a Josh stocks CUthesaurus or a dictionary from time to time. But I’ve yet to see a thesaurus offer up one particular kind of word–the sincerely obscure variety.

And that’s a tragedy, because many so-called obsolete words are still perfectly good. Granted, not many folks will understand them, at least not right off the bat, but with continued usage, such familiarity could grow. And, I submit, it should be allowed to.

Here’s one: anonymoncle. This lovely noun, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, or OED for the highbrow set, refers to a “small-time writer.” It is derived from “anonymous” and the Latin word, “homunculus,” meaning little man. As I’m a good six feet tall, and a bit <cough> portly, I hardly qualify as a “little” man. In one sense, anyway.

terpsichoreanAlthough size might have something to do with my lack of grace when it comes to things terpsichorean, a word one can find in dictionaries as common as Webster’s, it’s the rare reader who will understand when I lament that I don’t waltz, I balter. (It’s dancing, yes, but done clumsily.) Paradoxically, I seem to move about on a dance floor somewhat less catastrophically if I’ve been consuming adult beverages. I’m told there are photos which prove this, but they’re under lock and key. With any luck, they’ll remain so.

Paulsen for presWho among us doesn’t know of someone afflicted with empleomania. This charming noun refers to someone with an insatiable desire to hold public office. Lyndon LaRouche and Harold Stassen come readily to mind, but younger voters may not recognize their names. My favorite, Pat Paulsen, made presidential candidacy something of a career. And, considering some of the folks who’ve held the office since he first offered himself up for the post in 1968, he might have been a better choice.

I ran across an extremely useful word some time back that I’ve often been tempted to use in polite company. Thus far, I have resisted. The only dictionaries I’ve found which support this verbal gem are of the on-line only variety. The word is ignoranus. I mention this simply as a means to introduce a synonym of older vintage. To whit: bayard (n.), a person who sallies forth with the unquenchable confidence that can only come from profound ignorance. Seriously, how could we have let this word fall into disuse? It’s appalling, really.Belfrey cartoon

Much as I’d like to continue pushing the envelop of obsolete words, I’ve probably come to a good stopping point. So I’ll close with but one more, which I hope is so clearly useful that no one could object to its use. The verb in question is fard, and it means to cover blemishes with cosmetics. I’ve known quite a few folks who regularly fard in public, often while driving. I’ve even seen a few farding at formal affairs.

More soon; I promise!

–Josh

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Well, look what I just discovered…

Having finally recovered from the celebratory launch of Treason, Treason! I floated back to Earth and began paying attention to the world around me. Since I can’t do anything about Russia, Ukraine, or the Muddle East, I focused on local issues. And the best bit of news I found is that Kathi Schwengel, a wonderful writer pal, is on the brink of releasing her new novel, Emergence.coverreveal

Why is this exciting news? Because Kathi is a helluva writer, and her work deserves to be seen by anyone who enjoys a well-written fantasy. I know what went into this book, because I was fortunate enough to be one of her first readers. This lady knows how to tell a story!

Emergence is the second book in Kathi’s fantasy series, Darkness & Light. And just like volume one, First of Her Kind, Emergence doesn’t pull any punches. There are good guys and bad guys, and readers won’t have any trouble telling them apart. There’s romance, intrigue, and of course the Big Three in Fantasy: danger, delusion, and deception. You’ll find plenty of all three, and a whole lot more in Emergence. (I wish I could show you the full cover art, but it’s not mine to reveal. Fortunately, it’s available for viewing on Kathi’s website, which you can get to by clicking here. She’s also posted the first chapter.)

For those of you who need a little more to go on, here’s the blurb for Emergence you’ll soon see when you go looking to buy your next great read:

The battle for Ciara’s power has drawn the full attention of the Emperor and the Imperial Mages, forcing Bolin to put duty above safety and take her to Nisair. It won’t be an easy trip, even with an Imperial escort and a Galysian elder accompanying them. Especially since Donovan has found himself some new allies, one of whom wields a dark magic that has literally gotten under Bolin’s skin.

For Ciara, coming to terms with the increasingly tangible manifestation of her power could destroy her. Even if they make it to Nisair–something that grows more unlikely by the day–there is no surety of safety for Ciara, or any of them. Not with Donovan willing to gamble everything to achieve his goals, or Bolin’s uncharacteristically reckless behavior, the result of which is the attention of something that has everyone worried.

Loyalties will be tested, lives will be lost, and no one will emerge unchanged as they find things are not always so clear on the line dividing Darkness and Light.

mequinnAfter earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and spending  years working as a freelance artist, grocery clerk, art teacher, graphic designer, stable hand, advertising account coordinator, dog trainer, and process technician (among other things), Kathi answered the call of her writing muse. When not writing, she trains and trials working Australian Shepherds, does still painting, and dabbles in photography and graphic design. And in her free time– No. Wait. Free time? What free time?

Oh, and she likes Guinness. So, if you’ve got a barn to rebuild or a book to launch, having someone like Kathi Schwengel there to help out is a HUGE bonus.

So, look for Emergence, which should be out in another week or so. If you get impatient, grab a copy of First of Her Kind so you can hit the ground running when the sequel finally arrives.

–Josh

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Wow — what a party!

Colonial dames

You couldn’t hope for two nicer gals than Pam and Faye.

It’s hard to know where to begin. Let’s just say I was a lot more worried than the folks who did so much to make this happen. No one could ask for better friends. My only regret is that I let some of them hide behind their cameras when what I wanted was good pictures of them. Are you listening Kathi and Dave Schwengel? Jim and Amy Hunkler?

Several folks pulled out all the stops, like Pam Olinto and Faye Martin (shown here), who not only brought in goodies, but dressed for the occasion, too. Talk about “colonial dames!” Look no farther than these two lovelies. Several other folks joined in the effort, too. Doris Reidy, and Pam’s husband, Crosby, Steve and Madison Boyce, Rhonda Zion and Flora Odum. Most of these folks were decked out in colonial era finery.

TT and JL

Can I interest you in a book about the revolution?

It’s terribly risky to name names, because one always runs the risk of leaving someone out. So let me just say the turn out was spectacular. So many friends, new and old, showed up to support the whacko in the red suit.

I think some people may have mistaken me for Santa Claus. It’s understandable, as we share some characteristics, most notably a [cough] aerodynamic shape and a red suit. And yet, despite my lack of a beard and the requisite fur-lined red hat, sack of toys, and team of reindeer, folks still wanted me to pose with them for pictures. (Just ask Faye for details about our walk down the street after the “After” party! I’m sure we fogged up the camera lenses on half a dozen smart phones.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The cake was truly a work of art.

We ate well, however. The good folks in the deli department of the Publix at Macland and Powder Springs Roads knocked the redcoats off the battlefield with their cake. It looked magnificent, and tasted awfully good, too. If you were at the launch and didn’t get a taste, shame on you. You left too early!

The book signing went well, although I had to stop and sharpen the nib on my quill way too many times. Who knew so many folks would want signed copies? I had high hopes, but thanks to so many great people, they were exceeded. I’m sure I annoyed everyone with my smiles, but I just couldn’t stop.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Happily, no one stoned the author during or after the reading, even though he tossed out suspicious-sounding terms like “brazen,” “missionary position,” and “in flagrante dilecto.”

The gathering took place at the “Local Exchange,” an amazing store on the square in downtown Marietta, GA. The staff there is nothing short of terrific–always pleasant, helpful, and eager to be of assistance. Working with them was a joy.

Steve and Maddie

Steve and Madison Boyce had the whole place envious.

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His nibs, sharpening–wait for it–his nib!

I’m happy to report that I gave away almost as many books as we sold, since anyone who wore a period costume to the event was given a signed copy as a token of my appreciation.

Now I’m really going to have to buckle down and get some work done on the new book. It’s set right here in Georgia, so I’m hoping I’ll get many volunteers to costume up for that launch. ‘Course, a good half of that tale takes place circa 12,000 BC.

Should be a hoot!

Thanks again, everyone!

–Josh

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The “Launch” at last!

Blast-OffShort of bolting the cover to a rocket, how does one go about “launching” a book? I’ve written (or co-written) eight of the darn things so far, and have worked on several different events to get these literary masterworks off the ground. Not surprisingly, some efforts have accomplished more than others. Up ’til now, however, I haven’t figured out how to tell if they’ve been successful.

On the positive side, all of them have involved contacting folks I haven’t seen in way too long. Fortunately, quite a number of these people made the effort to attend one or more of my excuses for a party. While admittedly strange, it’s not a bad way to get reacquainted, although the requirement of writing a book in between get-togethers could be seen by some as a bit of a stumbling block. Oh, well.

I’ve done my launches, thus far, in a retail wine shop, a neighborhood clubhouse, an aircraft museum in Calgary (technically, we shared that one with the publisher), and on Saturday, Feb. 22, in a fabulous boutique in downtown Marietta, GA called the Local Exchange (check it out here: http://www.thelocalexchangemarietta.com/).

It’s true, I haven’t sold many books via these launches. That’s never been the goal, but I have given away quite a few. The idea is to generate excitement, trigger some curiosity, and get folks talking. And maybe even reading. (One can always hope.)

TT cover frontWhat excites me about this latest launch is the book itself. Treason, Treason! is set mostly in New England during the American Revolution. Although it’s an alternate history tale, the bulk of the historical content is non-fiction. When I researched the period, I was blown away by the bizarre nature of the events surrounding Benedict Arnold’s betrayal of his country. The history reads like something a novelist dreamed up.

My job was to construct fictional characters to play alongside many of the names we’ve heard since childhood: George Washington, Sam Adams, Ben Franklin, and others.

Portrait_of_George_Washington(By the way, writing dialog for General Washington turned out to be much harder than anticipated. I went through some seriously anxious moments trying to come up with words worthy enough to put in his mouth. C’mon! George Washington? The father of our country? Who am I to pull the strings and make him a puppet? I just couldn’t do it. Consequently, I used his actual words, lifted from his notes and letters, and the correspondence of others who quoted him. Granted, some of it was taken <cough> slightly out of context, but the words were his!)

JandA costue1

Wait! Who are these people? Especially that handsome devil making a move on the innocent young maiden?

Anyway, I’m looking forward to this launch. I know of at least three people who will be attending wearing colonial attire. I hope there will be more. I’m prepared to give autographed copies of the book to anyone brazen enough to join me, my darling bride, and our dear friend Faye as we prance around like escapees from the 18th century.

We’ve also got some folks coming from the wilds of Wisconsin and the untamed wilderness of suburban Boston. What do they know that you don’t? Come find out. You could do a great deal worse than joining us!

Look for photos next week.

–Josh

 

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My grandmother used to say…

Gramma01

Anna Hasdal at work. Circa 1910. She appears to tower over the sink. In reality, she was standing on a wooden crate.

I missed out on the potentially helpful nuggets of wisdom which three of my grandparents might have shared with me. Unfortunately, they all left this world by the time I was three. I sincerely hope the jump they got toward the next great adventure made it worthwhile for them. They are sorely missed still.

Happily, one of my grandparents lived a long and bountiful life, and I have a number of very fond memories of her. Standing 4 foot 10 in her sensible, sturdy little shoes, Anna Hasdal left Norway at 18 and sailed to America. She shuffled through Ellis Island at the beginning of the 20th century and made her way to Chicago where she sought her fortune as a housekeeper. She met and married yet another ex-pat Norwegian, and they had four children, one of whom was my late mother.

So, what does this have to do with sayings? Plenty. Hang with me. Gramma was a no-nonsense gal, and I dearly wish she were in one of my writing classes now. I’ve no doubt she could teach me every bit as much as I could teach her. The big difference is that she learned everything she knew in a world which no longer exists. What she learned about that world, however, still applies to this one.

Gramma02One phrase in particular used to annoy me greatly as a child. I tell myself it’s because I heard it so often. The truth is that I hated it because it was true, and it applied to me so often. God, how I hated that!

I have since enjoyed punishing sharing it with my own children — and grandchildren. The little ones haven’t heard it enough to really despise it the way I did as a child, but my kids might feel differently. I dunno. The line?

“What you don’t have in your head, you have in your feet.”

Huh?

How many, many times have I been reminded of that as I reach the car without my car keys, or get to the mailbox only to realize I left the stuff to be mailed sitting on the kitchen counter, or… well, I’m sure you get the idea. I use the walking time to contemplate Gramma’s sage, albeit repetitive, observation.

Lately, I wondered what other gems have filtered through my brain, whether or not dear sweet Anna channeled them. There’s an abundance of them on the internet, but few have the puzzling yet prophetic truth of the “empty head/busy feet” line. Most lack charm as well, capitalizing on pronouncements that dawn with all the subtlety of a clogged toilet.

“The easiest way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it in your pocket.”

Not bad, and often true, but hardly something that requires much thought either. It scores a solid 7 on a 10-point scale. Here’s one I’d give a 9:

“Chickens don’t praise their own soup.”

Anna Mpls 59

Blazing needles.

I seriously doubt my grandmother ever said this, but I can easily visualize her doing it, and I can almost hear that faint Scandinavian lilt in her voice, which was every bit as small and charming as she was. Best of all, this one takes a moment or two to absorb. And, seriously, shouldn’t advice be something one has to think about to appreciate? Otherwise it’s not much more than, “Be careful, or you’ll shoot yer eye out!” Okay, got it. Moving on now, sans BB gun. And self respect. Here’s another my great dame would surely have endorsed:

“Don’t talk unless you can improve the silence.”

Y’know? That’s probably a good one to end on. And who could ask for more than a grandmother’s seal of approval?

Peace.

–Josh

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