Monday, July 28, 2014

You Should be in a Writers' Group

You should be in a writers' group.

"Oh, but I'm a writer, a loner, an introvert."

Yes, and you should be in a writers' group.

I'm a bit embarrassed that I lived in this town for about 13 years before I found a writers' group (in my defense, 11 of those years I was working more than full time at a day job and had little time or ambition to write).  And to be honest, they found me.  A member hunted me down at a signing and I'm so glad she did.

So why should you be in a writers' group?  Well, for the fun and camaraderie to start with.  Now each group will have its own dynamic and if you live in a populated area you may be able to find one that meets your style (I live in a small town and am limited to one group, which luckily is a great group for the most part).

"But what can a writers' group do for me?" you're asking.

I'm glad you asked.

A writers' group is a great place to share and develop ideas.  You can brainstorm plot points, plot holes, plot development.  I was recently stuck for how to proceed on a work in progress (WIP).  So we brainstormed ideas and one of them ended up being in the book.

And they will encourage you to write.  I know I wouldn't have started let alone finished Gods of Strife without the "let's sit down and write" part of my writers' group meetings.

Members will have different expertise.  Some might be great with grammar, some might know publishing inside and out, some might be able to format books for the Kindle and other eReaders.  Some might know about cars, guns, military equipment (that's me in my group).  In the same WIP I mentioned before, one member helped me with horses.

Members can exchange beta reads and give good, constructive feedback.  Be aware, if you are going to ask for beta reads, you're going to have to do beta reads.  But it's worth it.  The feedback and ideas and proofreading will improve you're writing tremendously.

A writers' group can hold you accountable and encourage you to actually, you know, write.

An active group will be looking for signings, promotion, and public event opportunities.  It was because of my writers' group I went to and participated in my first con and sat on panels and gave out swag and got my name out there.

Yes, we are all introverts, preferring to stare at our computer screens rather than interact with humans.  But a writers' group will help your writing and your career.  So get out there and find one.  Maybe check bulletin boards at bookstores?

Friday, July 18, 2014

Flash Fiction Friday: Caveman

Every morning I wake up in the armpit of this alien world.

Life has a way for making funny turns.  I was a wealthy shipping magnate, moving cargo and beings between planets.  I had thousands of employees, a young, attractive wife who at least pretended not to only love me for my money.

Then came interstellar war and "civilian shipping" was a "legitimate target" and the insurance wouldn't pay because it was "an act of war" and I lost everything.  My yacht was confiscated in orbit around this planet where I hoped my creditors wouldn't find me.

So here I'm stuck, trying to make enough money to buy a steerage ticket back to Earth.  Or work as a deckhand on a ship going back to Earth.  Or stowaway on a ship going back to Earth.

Only problem is, no Earth-bound ships come here since the Gralvalians won the war.

I sat up on my rock and stretched my body. Fifty-year-old humans were not designed to sleep on rocks.  But the natives of this planet haven't invented the bed, yet.  And they wouldn't for about 50,000 more years.  I walked to the entrance to the cave where I slept.  Because the only transportation on this planet was walking, I was stuck withing about a 20 mile radius of where the repo company's landing boat set me down with only the clothes on my back, which were now rags.  I'd have to kill and animal for some skins, soon.  That was not a problem, I'd gotten quite used to killing animals for food.  I'd developed some weapons of a fashion: a spear, a flail with a rock at the end, and even, of course, a club.

I looked at the sun.  I rued that sun, about 52,000 years younger than I remembered it.  And I swore next time I hid from repo men, I wouldn't go back in time.  And now that the Gralvalians have captured all the wormholes, I'll never go forward in time, either.

A nice seeming Neanderthal family had moved in a bit away.  Maybe I'd go visit them.  Archaeological evidence was that "modern humans" and Neanderthals interacted, including interbreeding.  Funny, I could be the cause of the very articles I read 52,000 in the future.

I slung my club over my shoulder and headed out.  I'll call the neighbors "The Jones."

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Movie Review: The Lego Movie

Last night I watched The Lego Movie with my 22-year-old son who really really really wanted to see it again (he'd seen it in the theater).  And I could see why.  It's funny, clever, with parodies of Lord of the Rings and Star Wars and even pokes fun at . . . Legos a bit.

When I was a child I loved my Legos.  I built worlds and would then tell stories (which is what I do now, just not with Legos).  I got a very nice Lego set at a rather young age and I don't remember there being instructions.  Doesn't matter, I never followed instructions.  I built things from my imagination.

Since I had children, they always had Legos with instructions: this is how to build what's on the cover.  And I thought, "Okay, they are learning a few things, but they aren't really using their imaginations, much."  And often they would build the things, set them on a shelf in their bedrooms (or around the house) and never touch them again. (I have a space shuttle built of Lego on the window sill of my office, given to me by one of my sons.)  And this annoyed me.  "Build something original!" I would say to myself.  The same 22-year-old son did actually make some original creations, but if his brothers did, I never noticed.

(Yes, that paragraph is relevant.)

So I was happy when, in The Lego Movie, there were people who just followed the instructions and there were "master builders" who could build things from their imagination.  The character arc of the protagonist, Emmett, is that he goes from only following the instructions to using his imagination and building original creations from Lego.

My biggest complaint about the movie was the name of the bad guy was "Lord Business."  I mean, come on, isn't that a bit obvious.  And his actions are more of someone named "Lord Government."  But, I will admit, toward the end when it was (sort of ) explained I wasn't quite as annoyed.

A fun movie, good CGI, fun use of Lego memes (and Legos).  Worth watching at least once.  Or twice if you're my son.

UPDATE: My son had a birthday last month and is now 23! Just when I figure out how old they are, it changes.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


Mt. Hood from the Portland, OR area
(Lynn D. Townsend)
I like living in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) and except for short stints in California and Texas during my time in the Army, I have lived here my whole life.

One thing you have to contend with living here is vulcanism.  That is: volcanoes.

Now we don't have hurricanes and we don't really get tornadoes (and if we do they are small and limited in damage).  But, especially on the coast, we have earthquakes and volcanoes.  Both are caused by plate tectonics, the movement of Earth's crust plates.  Here in the PNW we live with the results of the subduction of the Juan de Fuca plate under the North American Plate. (This is part of the "Ring of Fire" that surrounds the Pacific Ocean with volcanic activity.) This causes . . . volcanoes.  Now this is a eons long process and the Cascade Volcano Arc has been active for 37 million years.  But just 34 years ago, Mt. St. Helens erupted catastrophically with loss of life and a large amount of economic damage.

Living with volcanoes is a double-edge sword.  We have beautiful mountains and other geological features as a result.  Where I grew up in Southeast Idaho there were lava plains and Craters of the Moon National Monument.  We could see extinct volcanoes on the desert floor north of town.  When I moved to Washington State a few years before Mt. St. Helens erupted, I learned about columnar basalt and Mt. Rainier, the tallest volcano in the US outside of Alaska.  Then on May 18, 1980, Mt. St. Helens erupted and the resulting ash plume buried the town I lived in in nearly 6 inches of ash.  That after the ash blocked out the sun at 1:00 P.M. turning day into night.
Mt. Rainier from my deck. (S. Evan Townsend)

But still, I love volcanoes.  From my back deck I can, on a clear day, see two Cascade volcanoes: Mt. Rainier and  Glacier Peak.  Admittedly, I can only see the tops of them as they peek out from behind the other Cascade Mountains.  But still, I can see them.  With binoculars on a very clear day I have see volcanoes as far away as Mt. Hood in Oregon.

Because of PNW volcanoes, I can visit without too long of drives Yellowstone National Park, Crater Lake, the Columbia River Gorge (formed by fire and ice), and see pretty mountains whenever I drive west.

Now, there are worries.  Mt. Rainier is close to heavily populated areas such as Tacoma and Seattle and is overdue for an eruption.  It is being eaten from the inside by sulfuric acid and if part of it collapses without an eruption, it can send lahars into the populated Puyallup River Valley south of Seattle.  Even today you can see the evidence of lahars in Western Washington were valleys will have abnormally flat floors where a lahar "spackled in" the valley.

The beauty of the PSW is born of fire (volcanoes) and ice (ice age glaciers).  We love it.  But we have to be aware of its dangers.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Flash Fiction Friday: The Hunger

Today's Flash Fiction Friday is: The Hunger

Lord Vlad hated this era.  Once he was called "Lord" by the servants, soldiers, and serfs of his little kingdom in what is now someplace in Romania.  He ruled over all he could see or conquer.

But then he met her.  She was a maid, beautiful by the standards 500 years ago.  His attempted seduction of her had an outcome he did not expect as the pain grasped his neck and wouldn't release him.  And hasn't released him, for 500 long years.

And now he was a vampire, living in the Twenty-first Century, and just another man with a social security number and living off the interest from his 500 year old investments.  But money did not interest him other than it was needed in this era to keep a place for his coffin.

And tonight, he had the hunger.  Worse than ever before.  He skulked through the darkness, avoiding streetlights and brightly lit storefronts. He was dressed in a black suit with a blood red tie.  Clothes in this era are so unfashionable, he thought.  And wearing armor was completely passe.

But tonight he would feed, late into the night, satisfying the need, the want, the desire that only one thing could satiate.

A young girl, couldn't be more than 20, was walking down the street.  He could smell her, smell her warm flesh.  The blood she held would be warm and salty and would keep him alive another decade.

He smiled as he walked past.  She whispered, "Creep" and kept walking.

No one respected him anymore, he growled to himself.

Then he saw his goal.  Glancing at his watch (one of the many technological marvels of this age that he really couldn't appreciate still longing for a time past), he knew it was not too late.  It was summer, the sun did not go down early and this late at night was his only chance.

Stealthily he approached his goal.  Unfortunately, it, too was well-lit with those damnable electric lights.  He so much preferred the flicker of a candle but that, too, was a relic from the past denied him.

The door opened easily despite the late hour.  He quickly walked forward, squinting against the bright florescents overhead.

The girl smiled at him and he smiled back.  Yes!  This was it.  This would feed his hunger.  The hunger that started at sunset when he arose from his coffin and could only be satiated by this.

"Welcome to Taco Bell," she said.  "May I take your order?"

Monday, July 7, 2014

Continuous Improvement.

Back in my corporate days, I worked in quality.  Without getting into too much detail there is a concept in quality called "continuous improvement." This is where you set up systems that ensure your processes and procedures always get better yielding fewer mistakes, fewer off-spec or off-grade product, and saving the company money.  The "Plan, Do, Check, Act" cycle portrayed at left was one of the tools used.  Because if you don't continuously improve, your competitor who does will sell better products for less money and take your customers away costing you profits and perhaps even killing your company.  Think Japanese automakers versus U.S. automakers in the 1970s and '80s.  Japanese industries took these precepts to heart after World War II which is why in less than a generation they went from "They make crap" to "They make the best stuff."

As a writer, you should also be striving for continuous improvement. I know I do. Even best-selling authors are very likely trying to write better all the time.  If they don't, they won't stay best-selling very long (this is, I think what happened to Tom Clancy; he got lazy).

For example, after my first couple of novels were published (Hammer of Thor and Agent of Artifice), just for fun I went to this word cloud website and made word clouds from the edited manuscripts.  And here's what I found:
Word Cloud for Hammer of Thor

Word Cloud for Agent of Artifice
And I noticed that I apparently used the word "looked" a lot.  So now I'm on a mission to eliminate it by instead of saying "He looked" saying "He glanced" "He stared" "He scowled" "He squinted" pretty much anything but "looked."

Then my writers' group told me I should avoid adverbs.  So I do that, too.

Lately I'm on a mission to avoid the word "seemed" because I have noticed I use it way too much.  I don't have to say "The room seemed charged with her power" (a line from Gods of Strife) but "The room was charged with her power."

If you aren't striving to improve you're writing (and I don't care how many books you've sold) you aren't going to get better.  And all the writers who are working hard to improve their writing are going to be a better writer than you.  And you'll be left in the dust.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Flash Fiction Friday: George Washington's Body

Today's Flash Fiction Friday in honor of Independence Day, has a patriotic theme.  It's called "George Washington's Body."

They broke through the last gate and pushed it open,  After more than 200 years it screeched like a miserable banshee on the barrows of Ireland.

"Shhhhh," John whispered.  "The guard will hear."

Jack rolled his eyes.  The guard was at least 80 years old and on the other side of the Mount Vernon complex.  It would take him at least half an hour to get here as slow as he walked.

"Why are we here again?" Jack asked.

"To prove my thesis that they laughed at."

Jack nodded.  He didn't really care, John paid well, having a trust fund apparently, and if he wanted to break into George Washington's tomb, Jack was going to help "facilitate" that (in John's words).

Jack had spent months casing the joint.  Security was a joke at night.  One octogenarian watchman who walked around the grounds.  Slowly walked around the grounds.  He wasn't due in this part for at least an hour.  Jack glanced at his watch.  Make the 55 minutes.  Plenty of time.

"Your thesis," Jack said.  It wasn't a question.  He walked farther into the dark tomb.  It did occur to him that no one had probably been here since Washington's body was entombed in, what was it, 1799 if he remembered right from his research.

"Yes," John hissed, following Jack.  "My thesis, which I proved through the historical record, is that George Washington is an alien."

Jack had a difficult time not laughing himself.  But his employer might take offense.  "Okay," he said, hoping that would end the discussion.

It didn't.  "First of all," John started reciting, "Washington was preternaturally tall.  Six feet two inches.  Tall today, back then nearly a giant."

Jack was half listening, thinking they buried the father of the country awfully deep, still walking forward, holidng the flashlight.

"Second," John continued, "He couldn't have children which indicates he's another species other then human."

"Or couldn't get a boner," Jack mumbled.

"Third," John kept talking, either not hearing or ignoring Jack, "He had horses shot out from under him, bullet holes in the coat, once his hat was shot off according to some reports.  That indicates advance technology, a shield or some sort.  A force field."

Jack pretty much stopped listening because they'd come to the end of the tunnel to a room with what looked like a stone coffin.  Jack inwardly groaned at how heave the lid would be.  "We're here," he said.

John came up beside him and fumbled with his digital camera.  "If he's an alien, it should be obvious from the bone structure," he breathed.

"Help me get this lid off," Jack growled, and leaned against it.  John, he thought, couldn't weigh more than 100 pounds but he pushed as well as he could agaisnt the lid.  It budged, then started sliding which made moving it easier.  It fell off the coffin and crashed to the stone floor.

Jack shone his light in the coffin, expecting to see bones and clothing fragments and not much else.

The clothing fragments were there but the body was intact, whole, almost looked as if Washington were merely asleep.

John gasped.  "See, that's not natural."  He took a picture with the camera's flash on.

Washington opened his eyes.  He sat up and looked around.

"Who the devil are you two?"

John fainted.  Jack looked at the man who had been dead for 215 years, supposedly.  "That's complicated."

"Well, thank you, good sir," Washington said.  "I've been inactivated for years, 215 according to my internal clock. That bright flash as activated me again.  What was that?"

"Um, the flash of a camera," Jack said.

"Oh," Washington replied, not acting at all surprised.  "And I see you are holding an artificial light.  Electrical powered?"

""Uh, batteries, yeah."

"Excellent," Washington said.  "And you've come to take me back."

"Back where, sir?" Jack asked.

"My planet, good man.  After all, I've been wating two centuries to be rescued from this dirt ball."

"You're and alien?"

"No," Washington said, "I'm an American.  But I'm also from another planet the orbits another star.  Do you understand that?"

"Like Star Trek?"  Jack suddenly wished he'd watched more science fiction.

"I assure you, sir, I don't know of what you speak.  I get the feeling you are not here to rescue me."

"Uh, no, we're here to-"  Jack decided it was best not to explain why exactly they were their.

John stirred at that moment, and tried to get off the floor but saw Washington sitting up and fainted again.

"Well, then may you please put my coffin cover back on?" Washington asked.  "I guess I have to wait longer for rescue."

"Sure," Jack said.

"And what of your friend?" Washington asked.

"I'll let him sleep.  Apparently his thesis was correct."

Washington frowned.  "Well, then good day, sir," he said and lay back down.

Jack ran out of the tomb as fast as he could, leaving Washington and John behind.