Preparing For Stupid

It may seem harsh to call other people stupid, and even politically incorrect (if that is still a thing), but I am heading into the devil’s den of dumbness today as I prepare for another workday in the crazy world of retail.

With Christmas approaching fast, the Electronics Department has been busy selling lots of expensive items, such as TVs, gaming systems, and, of course, phones.

Sales make the retail world spin pretty fast and make CEOs awfully giddy with joy. So why would an assistant manager want to take customer service away from that department and have them fluffing towels, rearranging pens and pencils, and stacking cans of pet food, instead of helping the customers still shopping for the latest electronics gadget and its accessories?

It doesn’t make sense, which has me shaking my head and wondering why a manager would try sabotaging sales at a store that gives her a fairly decent paycheck.

It has my coworkers in that department up in arms. And since I am in their neighboring department, I get to witness their conflict. It’s an uneccessary stituation that only adds stress to an already stressful time of year.

To them I say, Hang in there, care for your customers first and foremost, and perhaps this hiccup of stupidity will pass soon.

Walking the Lonely Road [writing]

My blog is often a neglected child crying for attention. I have a tiny window of time to write, proofread, and post new blog posts. My daily life is a rush that keeps the heart pumping and puts a limp in my walk at the end of the day.

Smile. There is always a moment when I can write a few sentences or thumbnail a new drawing or painting. It’s a yin and yang thing that keeps me balanced.

I have pages of incomplete sentences too, in notebooks, on index cards, and even in fancy leather journals. I am a sketcher. I see a light at the end of a tunnel and work my way to it. Sometimes, it takes years to get there. Sometimes, which is often the case, I find another tunnel and branch into a new direction.

Sometimes the tunnel is not a tunnel at all, but a lone highway that starts with no people, houses, or traffic. I take those lonely walks along such highways when I begin writing my stories. But I soon meet an interesting character—sometimes two or more. They join me on the journey, taking me to places and other people, showing me which way to go and telling me how to get there. That’s the fun of writing stories.

But that is internal. Externally, I am by myself, thinking, planning, writing—or thinking, planning, making art. I suppose, that’s the true walk on the lonely road. It’s what writers and artists do.

An artist friend calls her time spent sketching, her social time. It’s time spent with family and friends while she gathers and plays with ideas. But the time she spends while painting is a time for solitary confinement. And she’s right: I cannot write a book, or draw or paint artwork without shutting myself away from the rest of the world.

It’s lonely, yes, but necessary. Because that is where the lightning is—the juice that brings your creation alive. Without it, you’re just walking alone in the dark, going nowhere in particular.

To all my creative friends, I encourage you to walk the lonely road and create something great.

Birthdays and Life

My baby picture. Circa, December 1957.

Today is my birthday. Another year older and closer to death.

Death is a common theme the older I get. But that’s life for all of us.

I was born on Sunday, 62 years ago. My mother said she went into labor while laughing at Jerry Lewis. She and my father were watching Hollywood or Bust at the movie theater. She loved watching Jerry Lewis movies. My dad didn’t like Jerry’s style of humor, but he enjoyed Dean Martin’s singing. It was Dean and Jerry’s last movie together.

So I came into this world around 11:30pm that Sunday, during a typical February snowstorm in northwestern Pennsylvania. I was Mom’s second child and the first to survive childbirth.

In 1957, Dwight Eisenhower was the US president and a postage stamp Cost 3 Cents. Some of the news during the year told us…

  • Congress approved the first civil rights bill since Reconstruction to protect blacks’ voting rights,
  • Hurricane “Audrey” destroyed Cameron, Louisiana killing 390 people,
  • National Guardsmen barred nine black students from entering previously all white Central High School in Little Rock,
  • The Russians launched Sputnik I, the first earth orbiting satellite,
  • The FBI arrested Jimmy Hoffa and charged him with bribery,
  • The Milwaukee Brewers Braves won the World Series,
  • The Detroit Lions won the NFL championship,
  • The Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup,
  • Jack Kerouac published On the Road,
  • Dr. Seuss published The Cat in the Hat,
  • And Laura Ingalls died in Mansfield, Missouri.

I became an avid reader by the age of 5 and wrote my own stories. My schoolteachers encouraged me to write. Comments in report cards and letters to my parents said

  • Steve loves to daydream;
  • He has an amazing mind;
  • His writing is extremely original.

But I wanted to be an artist more than a writer. I drew every day. Even later in life, I knew I wanted to be an artist. Aptitude tests for the Navy and college said I was creative and artistic. And the Navy said I would make a good leader. I think my Myers-Brigg personality type indicator listed me as an ISTJ. Strengths for an ISTJ are responsible, reliable, and hardworking. ISTJs get the job done. They make great business executives, accountants, and lawyers.

But I wanted to be an artist.

I have always had a very active imagination. I live in a bit of a dream world when I can. I’m a visual person and I appreciate beauty and design. And most of all, I feel extremely anxious in the wrong surroundings. Working a job that shut me in an office would have likely driven me insane.

So, I headed to the outdoors and became a wildlife artist. I didn’t become rich or famous, but I did well enough doing what made me happy. Later in life, around 45, I began writing again. I had too many stories in my head, many leftover from my high school days, that I needed to let out. A writing quiz for authors suggested that I write Young Adult stories. It summarized me as someone who “loves to write about years gone by” and is “flexible enough to write like a teenager, with the wisdom and perspective of an adult.” So I did.

Since then, I don’t write or make art as often as I did. Now, I read and think a lot. It’s only natural. I’m in the Thinking and Judgement part of my ISTJ personality, doing some soul searching. I have always been philosophical and contemplative to seek an understanding of the deeper reasons for life. Now, more than ever, I’m intrigued by the unexplained, the mysteries of life, and the phenomena of nature. My kinship and love for the outdoors sparks a deep appreciation for the wonderment and beauty of nature. When I’m outdoors in nature, I feel fully alive.

It’s that feeling that has me looking forward to full retirement from the 9-to-5 working life that I do to pay the bills. 4-and-a-half more years to go.

Quiet and serious, you are well prepared for whatever life hands you.
—An ISTJ personality strength

Being Me, a Writer

I am me; not who others think I should be.

When I write, I write for me. I know what I like, so that’s what I write about. I stay away from topics I find offensive, which places me among writers whom many of our critics label “conventional” and “old school.” I don’t think being conventional is a bad thing. But it seems many critics believe writers should be avant-garde, pushing the envelope of taboos to acme just to shock and titillate their audience.

I don’t like vulgarity, but it’s a common theme in contemporary adult fiction. However, I prefer not to read extreme foul language, extreme violence, sex, or any other types of debauchery in literature. If there is an audience for it, I’m not a member. Keep it in the porn shops.

But it’s in all the bookstores. Even in the children’s section.

I know this because one of my critics suggested I read current books written for the age group of adolescents I write about in my books.

Imagine my surprise and disbelief when I read a recent popular YA novel about werewolves and vampires where foul language and graphic violence and sex occurred in almost every chapter.

Why are YA authors making this crudeness a reality and turning their young readers into voyeurs?

Perhaps they mimic life in the city, which hardened some of my relatives and made them crude, rude and almost criminal. Or maybe they find it on TV and the Internet, which are cornucopias of everything mentioned. I don’t know. I grew up during the late 1960s and early ’70s out in the country, went to a small school in a rural town, and kept my virginity into my 20s. It’s how life was for me. I know it well, remember it easily, and write about it a lot.

And that makes me “conventional” and “old school” to certain others who try to manipulate what’s inside the books we read.

Bah! I enjoy reading what I write. It’s the innocence of youth, when becoming an adult was years away and adolescents didn’t worry about pregnancy and STDs. It’s out of touch, I’m told, with most of today’s adolescents, but it’s in touch with me.

And when I write, I write for me.

For Whom Everything Is In Question [poetry]

Rain bundled like hay,
hit like bricks that obliterated homes to sea;
now she lives home-wrecked with her bony children
and colorless neighbors on a tropical dune
where they search for old haunts
in sand,
on waves
and in the sky.

I tell you this in memory of dancing bears
and the drunk in the furnace—
they who look for the old
always find the past,
but when they look for the new,
whatever they do has just begun.

Waxing Nostalgic, Rush [music]

If we could go back in time and if I could invite you into my home in 1974, I’d want you to listen to my brother Russ’s favorite music for a moment. It was heavy, hard, crashing, wild, and untamed at times. Raw. Energetic. Heavy metal. Thundering.

Outside, it was summer. I had just graduated 11th grade. Playing sandlot baseball was all I had on my mind. My friends and I sometimes played all day at the high school ball field . All we needed was a pitcher, a first baseman, someone at shortstop and second base, and two outfielders. Right field was forever out to right-handed hitters, and left field was forever out to left-handed hitters. And any foul ball hit after two strikes was an out and sometimes resulted in a search for the ball in the woods behind home plate and along right field.

Some days we had to head to the Western Auto store to buy a new baseball, which sometimes led us to the Ben Franklin five-and-dime store to see what new music came in.

That’s how it happened one day, late in the summer, when Russ and I perused the rows of factory sealed records. A friend told us about a Canadian group called Rush. “Heard them on a Cleveland radio station when my folks took us to an Indians ballgame.” The song was Working Man. He talked to the store manager about ordering the record.

I thought nothing more about it. School started and one day (yes, we listened to the radio during study halls) we heard it. My friends and I flipped. We had to have it. But the Ben Franklin store still didn’t have it in because of a label change within the band’s management, or something like that, which held up the order at the distributor in Canada.

Meanwhile, back home, my brother and I immersed ourselves in music. To our delight, a local FM station (WMDI, McKean PA) played LPs at night. Whole records. It’s from that tiny station that we were able to hear Yes, Cream, Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin—the list is huge. There was and still is no better way to appreciate an album than hearing it first before plunking down some hard-earned cash for the LP.

One winter night, the station played Rush’s album. It moved us, reached into our hearts and souls and connected. When it was over, we knew we had to own it, to have it in our music collections. I didn’t hear the album again until three months later, on my 18th birthday when Russ handed me the LP and said, “Play it.”

I did. I still do.

Rush, released in 1974 by Moon Records in Canada and by Mercury Records in the United States and internationally

Side 1
Finding My Way
Need Some Love
Take A Friend
Here Again

Side 2
What You’re Doing
In The Mood
Before And After
Working Man

Waxing Nostalgic, Paul McCartney [music]

My last post was about music I grew up listening to. I featured 10 albums that I call “The soundtrack of my life.” Actually, those albums are mostly the soundtrack of my early teen life. Each one has a reason for being on the list that I kept at 10 albums due to time restraints, which omitted many other important ones.

The first album on that list, Revolver by The Beatles (1966), led me to seek out more songs by the group. I ended up with a hefty collection of 45-rpm singles. By the time I could afford long-playing albums, The Beatles were disbanding. My next Beatles album was Let It Be, the US record version released by Apple Records (red label) in 1970.

As quoted at Wikipedia, “Original American copies of Let It Be bore the Apple Records label, but because United Artists distributed the film, United Artists Records held the rights to distribute LP copies of the album in America. (EMI subsidiary Capitol, which held the Beatles’ US contract, had simultaneous rights to the music on the album, allowing them to distribute pre-recorded tape versions of the album, as well as to release its songs on singles and compilation albums. Capitol, however, did not have the rights to release or distribute the album in LP format.) To indicate that Let It Be was not distributed by Capitol, the Apple logo and record label in America sported a red apple, rather than the Beatles’ usual green Granny Smith apple.”

In the wake of The Beatles’ legal hassles, the outcry of the band’s breakup, and the debate of whether Phil Spector did them favor dubbing in orchestral and choral accompaniment of some of the songs on the Let It Be album, I wanted to like the record as well as I did Revolver. I gave the album away a year later in exchange for Paul McCartney’s Ram.

Paul McCartney – Ram, released in 1971

I owned and liked very much the 45-single “Maybe I’m Amazed” by McCartney from his first album, but missed out buying the album. So, when the song “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” hit the radio airwaves, I hurried to the local record store and bought the single, hoping to buy the LP too. Unfortunately, the album never made it to our small town 5 and 10 cent store, so I ended up trading to a friend who lived in a bigger town for his copy of Ram.

Ram is a collection of quirky songs, similar the quirkiness of the songs on Let It Be, but, IMHO, much more fun to listen to. I recall it getting unfavorable reviews by Rolling Stone magazine. Actually, I recall the magazine giving many of my favorite recording artists and bands unfavorable reviews. Looking back, Rolling Stone had a pretentious air to it, which was a deciding factor to cancel my subscription to it in 1977. Years later, I still laugh and thumb my nose at critics who think they have their fingers on the universal pulse of things, but are really out of touch with the other side. Because that’s what life is: Two sides. Take it or leave it.

Anyway, Ram was important because it was fun to hear. And its critics were important because it made me aware of human pretentiousness. That’s when I quit making fun of my younger brothers liking The Osmonds.

Ram was high on my favorite albums list and it sat next to Revolver. It was the only McCartney LP I owned until Band On The Run came along two years later.

Side 1
Too Many People
3 Legs
Ram On
Dear Boy
Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey
Smile Away

Side 2
Heart Of The Country
Monkberry Moon Delight
Eat At Home
Long Haired Lady
Ram On (Reprise)
The Back Seat Of My Car

Paul McCartney and Wings – Band On The Run, released in 1973

Without argument, this is McCartney’s most successful and celebrated album. It joined Ram as a top favorite record and got me closer to my brother Russ. His music preferences were much harder and louder than mine were. I recall some nasty hard-edged rock coming from his bedroom at the time, especially from Aerosmith’s debut album and Black Sabbath’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. But he took a liking to Band On The Run and borrowed it often. In turn, I borrowed Aerosmith’s album until I bought my own copy later on when I was in the Navy. I’ve always liked their version of the Rufus Thomas hit Walking The Dog.

Side 1
Band On The Run
Jet
Bluebird
Mrs. Vandebilt
Let Me Roll It

Side 2
Mamunia
No Words
Helen Wheels
Picasso’s Last Words (Drink To Me)
Nineteen Hundred And Eighty-Five

What’s important about these albums and the ones featured in my earlier post, is that they played in the background while I wrote my Ridgewood stories from 1970 to 1974. I believe the songs helped me create the characters and their scenes and stories. Today, when I listen to these LPs, I can still see in my mind the people and stories that came about. This, I think, is why the characters still live in me.

Next time, some nasty hard-edged rock that brought Russ and me closer than ever.

Waxing Nostalgic [music]

Music is a big deal where I work at and I hear a lot of it on their radio that I don’t like. No matter how well I try to appreciate music after the 1980s, “I like that old-time rock ‘n’ roll” best. Of course, my definition of old-time rock ‘n’ roll differs from some of my older friends who grew up listening to singers like Elvis, Pat Boone, and Little Richard.

The music I grew up listening to is the background soundtrack of my life right now. It’s what I play when I’m writing, making art, driving, or just kicking back and being cool, daddio. (Sorry. I’m too young to have been a beatnik, but I couldn’t resist throwing daddio out there. My generation would have said “man,” which lacks poetic finesse.)

My life’s soundtrack takes me back to the 1960s and 70s. The albums listed below are off the top of my head and ones I still listen to. (I kept the list at 10, which omitted many other albums that are part of my background soundtrack.) They all packed a punch to my heart and soul when I put needle to their black and shiny vinyl those many years ago.

Here they are, chronologically.

The Beatles – Revolver, Capital Records version, released in 1966

Revolver was the first Beatles album I owned because my Beatle Fan cousin didn’t like it. What? How is that possible? Anyway, my dad was not a fan of the band, so I had to keep it under lock and key and listen to it with headphones on. The music blew me away. Got To Get You Into My Life was my theme song for many years.

Side 1
Taxman
Eleanor Rigby
Love You To
Here, There And Everywhere
Yellow Submarine
She Said She Said

Side 2
Good Day Sunshine
For No One
I Want To Tell You
Got To Get You Into My Life
Tomorrow Never Knows

Steppenwolf – Steppenwolf 7, released in 1970

In 1969, I became a paperboy in my little hometown and delivered the “big city” newspaper trucked in from the shores of Lake Erie, so I could suddenly afford $5 albums instead of the usual 25-cent 45s. My first Steppenwolf album was the band’s fifth studio album for Dunhill Records. None of the songs made the top 40. But all were instant hits to me. They still are.

Side 1
Ball Crusher
Forty Days And Forty Nights
Fat Jack
Renegade

Side 2
Foggy Mental Breakdown
Snowblind Friend
Who Needs Ya’
Earschplittenloudenboomer
Hippo Stomp

Sugarloaf – Sugarloaf, released in 1970

Yes, I played Green-Eyed Lady to death when it became my favorite go-to song when I was feeling down. I was 13; nuff said. The rest of the album has great rock rhythms and riffs to perk up your day.

Side 1
Green-Eyed Lady
The Train Kept A-Rollin’ (Stroll On)
Medley: Bach Doors Man / Chest Fever

Side 2
West Of Tomorrow
Gold And The Blues
Things Are Gonna Change Some

Yes – Fragile, Released in 1971

Although I thought The Yes Album, which came before this one, was the greatest progressive rock album ever, Fragile blew me away. So did the following album, Close To The Edge, which gets an honorable mention. In fact, I can go weeks just listening to these three albums and nothing else.

Side 1
Roundabout
Cans And Brahms
We Have Heaven
South Side Of The Sky

Side 2
Five Per Cent For Nothing
Long Distance Runaround
The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)
Mood For A Day
Heart Of The Sunrise

The Who – Who’s Next, Released in 1971

I had the 45-rpm I Can See For Miles by The Who that I played to death, and I had heard their Tommy album a few times at school in my English and creative studies classes before I bought the Who’s Next album in 1971. A few months later, I bought their compilation album Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy and wore out several needles playing the two albums. But Who’s Next is my favorite—a classic!

Side 1
Baba O’Riley
Bargain
Love Ain’t For Keeping
My Wife
The Song Is Over

Side 2
Getting In Tune
Going Mobile
Behind Blue Eyes
Won’t Get Fooled Again

Deep Purple – Machine Head, Released in 1972

Deep Purple’s most successful album. I never tire of Space Truckin’, Highway Star, and, of course, Smoke On The Water.

Side 1
Highway Star
Maybe I’m A Leo
Pictures Of Home
Never Before

Side 2
Smoke On the Water
Lazy
Space Truckin’

Uriah Heep – The Magician’s Birthday, Released in 1972

I had a “hard rock, acid rock” friend who was a fan of Ken Hensley from a band called The Gods. When he found out that Hensley was with a new group called Uriah Heep, he bought their albums. One of our favorite albums was Salisbury, and we played Side 1 until we wore it out. I still love those songs: High Priestess, The Park, Time To Live, and Lady In Black. When Mercury Records released The Magician’s Birthday by Uriah Heep, I bought it immediately and never regretted it. This is probably Heep’s greatest album—great stuff for heavy rock fans, though Hensley pens some nice gentle songs too.

Side 1
Sunrise
Spider Woman
Blind Eye
Echoes In The Dark
Rain

Side 2
Sweet Lorraine
Tales
The Magician’s Birthday

Moody Blues – This Is The Moody Blues, Released in 1974

I had many 45s by the Moody Blues that I liked before I bought this compilation album and wore it out. It has been my go-to album for many years.

Side 1
Question
The Actor
The Word
Eyes Of A Child
Dear Diary
Legend Of A Mind

Side 2
In The Beginning
Lovely To See You
Never Comes the Day
Isn’t Life Strange
The Dream
Have You Heard (Part 1)
The Voyage
Have You Heard (Part 2)

Side 3
Ride My See-Saw
Tuesday Afternoon
And The Tide Rushes In
New Horizons
A Simple Game
Watching And Waiting

Side 4
I’m Just A Singer (In A Rock And Roll Band)
For My Lady
The Story In Your Eyes
Melancholy Man
Nights In White Satin
Late Lament

Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here, Released in 1975

Everyone loved Dark Side Of The Moon, including me. But Wish You Were Here was my go-to album for many years.

Side 1
Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I–V)
Welcome To The Machine

Side 2
Have A Cigar
Wish You Were Here
Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts VI–IX)

Queen – A Night At The Opera, released 1975

I had graduated high school in May before this album came out in November. This is Queen’s first album and IMHO, their best.

Side 1
Death On Two Legs (Dedicated to…)
Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon
I’m In Love With My Car
You’re My Best Friend
’39
Sweet Lady
Seaside Rendezvous

Side 2
The Prophet’s Song
Love Of My Life
Good Company
Bohemian Rhapsody
God Save The Queen

Me [poetry]

Inhabited between
wild things,
wonderful things,
Who Am I?
No longer a main priority,
no longer stapled to a better forever
determining worth and future.

I am the problems I’m not letting go of.

I am the energy and struggle to do better
in this Magical universe,
reincarnate like eggs in a nest.

My wonderful soul is witching on Cosmic music
sounding brighter than the sun to every Poet
driving everything fresh
alive;
caressing the Muse upon my brow.

The most clouded minds
find a way into the Beautiful.

Let’s dance that jive a bit confused
alone together.
Inhabited between
wild things,
wonderful things,
greatly used into a smile strangely grinning
through the garden door of life,
into a Beautiful high.

Writing Time

I could write more books—and blog about them—if I had more time to write. My 9-to-5 job—the one that pays the bills—runs within a timeframe of 8:30am to 10pm, five of the seven days of the week. My hours worked during a week fall between 30 and 38 hours. A typical schedule looks like this: Saturday and Sunday, 8:30am–5:30pm, Monday and Wednesday, 1pm–10pm, and Thursday, 5:30pm–10pm. Those hours can switch so that another schedule can look like this: Saturday, 1pm–10pm, Sunday, 8:30am–5:30pm, Tuesday, 5:30pm–10pm, Wednesday, 1pm–10pm, and Thursday, 8:30am–5:30pm. As you can see, I am never scheduled to work on Friday because I requested that day off for doctor appointments, car maintenance, housework, and if time allows (which is rare), writing. As such, I get one guaranteed day of the week to write. One.

So what happens on that only day I’ve set aside for writing?

I begin the day by waking up no later than 9am and taking my morning medication for my thyroid disorder. Then, while I wait an hour before I can eat breakfast, I go over last week’s notes of whatever story project I’m working on and jot down any ideas that come to me.

10am, I eat breakfast, feed the dog, and take him outdoors for his morning constitutional.

11am, I get back to work on my story.

Noon, my wife calls from her babysitting job to chat about her morning. This usually lasts for 15 minutes, so I wash my breakfast dishes and pour a glass of juice. Sometimes I make tea. Then, when my wife is done, I hurry back to my writing, which usually lasts until 2 o’clock.

2pm, our dog needs to outside again. If the weather is nice, we run in the yard for 10 minutes. If not, it’s a quick trip off the porch so he can do his business, then it’s back to my writing for me and a nap for him.

2:20pm (some days), my daughter calls from work and asks me to watch her kids when they get out of school at 2:40pm. I say yes and force myself away from my story, which often has percolated into a bubbling action sequence that has me rubbing my hands together and chuckling diabolically.

3pm, my first grandchild shows up. He is always hungry, so we spend about 15 minutes in the kitchen, looking for foods that he likes to eat and isn’t allergic to. By that time, my second grandchild shows up, so we look for different foods for him to eat. He has no allergies, so it’s usually pb&j sandwiches. Then they argue over what to watch on TV while I pester them to do their homework first.

4pm, my two grandsons have lost interest in their school assignments, so I turn on TV and alternate between SpongeBob SquarePants and All Hail King Julien for the next 90 minutes.

5:30pm, my wife arrives home from babysitting and I return to my writing for an hour.

6:30pm, my daughter has picked up her children and my wife and I sit down to supper.

7pm, I spend another hour writing, unless something comes up (visitors, we have to run to the store, our daughter has an emergency at her house and needs a repairperson). Something always comes up.

8pm, I take the dog out and get ready for bed (unless our visitors haven’t left/our daughter’s emergency hasn’t been fixed).

9pm, bedtime, unless (see previous).

Overall, I get about 5 or 6 hours of writing done per week. I can get a few hours more writing done if I have a noneventful Friday or my day off from my 9-to-5 job falls on Saturday or Sunday, but rarely does either of those lucky events happen. It takes me about 700 hours to write a 300-page book. At 6 hours per week, that equals one book every 2.25 years if I don’t lose interest in the story along the way. My last 300-page book came out in 2014. You do the math.

Some of you may wonder why it takes me 700 hours to write a book. Below is a description of the sequences and drafts of my last book.

Draft 1 was the “Inspiration” draft. I wrote whatever came to mind until the story ended. It took 140 hours to write.

Draft 2 was a complete rewrite where I bled over getting the characters to seem real. That took 200 hours to do. Big name authors call this “fleshing the characters.” The title omits pumping lifeblood into your characters’ veins and giving each one a personality. When you change a character’s personality, you change the entire book.

Draft 3 took 98 hours to write after I showed Draft 2 to some of the writers group I belong to and considered their suggestions. As I mentioned earlier, when you change a character’s personality, you change the entire book. The same is true when you add a new supporting character.

Draft 4 was a continuation of Draft 3. This was after I put it aside for a month, then read it from the viewpoint of a reader. The trick here was not to start writing any new books in the same genre during this time, especially if the new book had reoccurring characters, which it did and influenced changes to my story when I took it from storage and read it. After fighting and holding those influences at bay, I strengthened the emotional parts of the story. I tend to shorthand emotions, so I had to get deep into the heads and hearts of my characters. The total time for Draft 4 of my last book took 130 hours.

At 568 hours, I wasn’t done.

After I eagerly presented Draft 4 to my writer friends with a promise “You’re gonna love it,” I licked my wounds and began Draft 5 where, if you’re familiar with Stephen King’s help book On Writing, you end up killing your darlings. So I butchered mine by chopping out chapters and scenes that were redundant and didn’t move the story toward the end, i.e., the boring parts. Most of these were downtime events where my main characters regrouped. Total time for Draft 5 was 102 hours.

After I wrote Draft 5, I contacted people from my writers groups who had read my earlier drafts and wanted to be my beta readers. Beta readers are people who provide honest feedback on your book. Best friends, spouses and family members are the worst beta readers. They’re predisposed to loving whatever you write—no matter how crappy it is. I contacted people who like reading the genre I write and, after I got five readers, I asked them for their opinions about what the liked and didn’t like about my book. After I collected their opinions, I began Draft 6, the final tweaking of my book. From their opinions, I looked at why certain things confused them. Many were story elements missing from my draft, so I corrected them. That took 70 hours. Then I let my ultimate beta reader—the one who was most brutal with my book—have the final lookover. Once a few more corrections were made—8 hours—I headed off to publish it.

Overall, the book took 748 hours to write.

I’m making no promises, but I hope to have another book written before 2018 ends. Maybe sooner, if I don’t lose interest and can squeeze more hours from my busy life.

Mundane Job Blues

I’m writing this before I leave for work. I have a 1-10pm shift today. Next month I celebrate 16 years at the store I work at. Celebrate is the wrong word. I don’t celebrate anything about my job. Well, maybe the paycheck. But that isn’t much to party over.

To say my job is depressing is an understatement. I wonder how high the suicide rate is in retail work. Probably high. Really high.

The worst part of my job is interacting with people. It’s important that I smile, be friendly, and make my customers feel relaxed and welcomed. I do that, pushing my depression down, deep inside me. It resides there with the anger I have from the little recognition I have received from my managers. 16 years of rarely getting a thank you or a job well done.

So I dip in the kindness still alive in my soul and make my customers feel welcomed and cared for … just to listen to them gripe about how awful the weather is, how awful the service is in other departments of the store, and how awful technology is. The last one is usually from people who don’t understand how their smartphones work. You see, I work in a photo center and many of today’s customers print pictures from their phones. The worst customers are the ones with iPhones. Apple thought it a good idea to make storing photos in clouds a default setting on their phones. And I get customers who have no idea what a cloud is, other than what sits in the sky when they gaze out their windows. Since I get a lot of these customers, and since I work alone because the company is skimping on hours to its employees to save a buck, I have little time to service all of my customers. Some of them complain to my managers, and I get to hear how I need to be a better employee.

Working in retail sucks.

Now, it’s time for me to push down my anger and put on my “happy” game face.

Until next time, this is Steve saying, “Is it too early in the year to take vacation?”

Corry Writer’s Block

I joined the Writer’s Block writing group in Corry, PA in 2002, three years after Corry author and newspaper columnist Beverley Bittner founded the  group.

A quick shout-out to those of you who remember us.

Above is the group’s official logo.

For historical reasons, I decided to post some the group’s old news columns and stories here at my website. Our group didn’t have an official historian, so I will use old notes and files from the nine years I was president and webmaster. I lack many newsletters and website archives from the earlier three years, so contact me if you have any 1999–2002 newsletters and any photos of the group in action.