Actually, not so new. I started writing Jokers in my travelling heyday from my trailer in Key Largo. Realizing I didn’t have enough writing skills yet to properly tell the story, I stopped writing on page 181. I never abandoned the story, though. It lay in the back of my mind for over twenty years before I tried my hand at it again.
It’s now my current project. I’m roughly three quarters the way through the first draft, and enjoying it immensely. The characters and story line have had plenty of time to ferment. And in tribute for making the novel sit for so long, it takes place in the original year it was supposed to: 1994.
It’s the first installment in what, I believe, will be a trilogy.
Winter Wheat Festival 2014
A blustery, cold day, indeed, when I attended the Winter Wheat Festival. A small price to pay for the festivities and to satisfy my inner writing geek. Another year visited (I attended the 2013 event, as well), another year satisfied.
What Is This Winter Wheat Festival, Anyway?
For of those who don’t know, shame on you– if you’re a writer in the Northwest Ohio/Southeast Michigan area, at least. All shame aside (I hadn’t known about it until last year myself), it’s worth the trip, and definitely worth the price (free– donations are welcome, though).
The Winter Wheat Festival isn’t a festival, per se. It’s more of a convention, in my humble opinion. The fine folks at Mid-American Review put it on every year for writers to come and partake in the myriad of presentations to learn about writing and better themselves at the craft. It’s held on the Bowing Green State University campus in the Student Union.
You can out more about it here.
The Winter Wheat Festival always has a good variety of sessions to choose from. With multiple sessions running at the same times, it’s often difficult to choose. However, I muddled through. I didn’t attend the first days’ session, which consisted only of a reading. I did go for the entirety of the next two days with some of my fellow members of the Toledo Writers Workshop.
The first day was a bit short, running only a couple of session blocks with reading afterward. Mike Hackney ran one of the sessions ourselves: “Running a Fun and Effective Workshop.” A bit of small turnout, but overall, I think it went well. The other session I attended was “Playing God: Breathing Life into your Characters.” Afterward, the Toledo Writers went to dinner, and then hit a nearby pub for some karaoke and to partake in the local spirits (which strangely resembled the local spirits of just about everywhere, including mixed drinks and Anheuser Busch products). After some (if I must say so myself) pretty solid annihilation of a slew of karaoke tunes, we drove back to Toledo.
I was still wired from the day’s activities, so sleep didn’t come easy. In total, I scraped out about an hour’s worth of sleep. Then off to Mike’s again at 8 am to carpool to Bowling Green.
The next day included 4 more sessions. I chose:
- “Postmodern Place Writing: Recovering Lost Places”
- “Bitches Be Crazy: Portraying Madness in the Short Story”
- “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? The Road, the Traveler, and Beyond”
- “Websites for Writers: Launch Your Website in a Weekend”
Then another reading with two published poets. I’d like to say I took it all like a trooper, but even with half a gallon of coffee pumping through me, I started nodding off in the final session and the reading. I hope they didn’t take it personally.
I acquired some good information over the two days (though admittedly not as much as the previous year). On top of that, many of the sessions include workshops, where you do some writing and, if courage and humility allows, share it with the rest of the class. Most of what I wrote wasn’t of any note. I did get something from one of the sessions where we had to write a paragraph about a place we were familiar with, then write a second paragraph about it, seen through someone else’s eyes. I chose the Davis Besse Nuclear Power Plant.
Here’s my paragraphs:
I could start to see it from Oregon. It, a beacon that capped in the chasm of Route 2 (even before its lungs were expanded to more inhale and exhale the semis and passenger cars cars of the city). This beacon was crowned with living white that would tell me the predictions for the day: the wind was harsh and from the North, the lake would be turbulent; or there was no wind at all, water skis would glide, we would not bounce in our wooden sled. As it grew, its hourglass frame filling the horizon, we were close. Close to the cottage, the boat, the happy memories that unfolded before my young eyes.
A retreat to nature. A chance to skim on waters of seemingly endless horizon. To the north, islands and other countries. To the south, trees, and beyond that, promises of middle America. But also that creature that reminds me of man’s encroaching interference. A steel frame, belching smoke (that is smoke, correct? Not the the steam they claim). Inside, its blood boils with the heat of radiation.
All right, it needs some work. While I do like to participate in these impromptu writing blocks, sometimes we aren’t given a whole lot of time to complete them. All well and good, plenty of time to hit it with an editing pen later. Or give it a proper burial in one of the conveniently-placed trash receptacles.
After the final session, they served us an off-site dinner at the same place we assaulted with our karaoke singing the night before. Then, an open mic, allowing writers to read the stuff they wrote during the festival. After that, more karaoke. I couldn’t do it. Nope, couldn’t get my tired, glazed eyes to read the screen even if I wanted to.
This year’s Winter Wheat was another overall good experience for me. I’ll definitely be attending again next year.
How to find the time to write
When I was younger, it certainly was about finding the time to write. I had much to do between work and recreation. I considered both these things a necessity (still do, by the way), and writing was a thing I needed to set time aside for.
I did a fair bit of writing when I lived in Key Largo. I worked waiting tables and would mostly spend my leisure time fishing and puttering around the Gulf in a small rowboat I had borrowed. It wasn’t hard finding time to write. I had the time. And I certainly had the inspiration. But most of all (I only came to realize later in full), I had the routine.
Writing in your routine
It isn’t just finding the time to write. “Finding the time” to do something trivializes it; lowers it on the scale of importance. Try saying “I’d love to drive to work, but I just don’t have the time” or “I haven’t eaten in three days. I’ll need to elbow out some room in my schedule to do so.” If you were to say one of those things in all honesty, you’d have to admit you have to re-structure your routine a bit.
And that’s the thing about routines. They are the structure of your life. If you have to squeeze in something around your routine, then it simply isn’t important enough to be in your routine. The moment I realized that, I started writing a lot. That was when I stopped making excuses not to write and started pushing out more trivial things, so that I could write.
Writing as a habit
As anyone who exercises regularly knows, it is part of their routine, not something that they do when they have the time. Many regular exercisers start to feel bad about themselves if they haven’t worked out in a while. When they first started exercising, they had to force themselves to do it. If had to be a conscious effort that broke them out of the norm. But at a certain point, it became a habit–something they didn’t have to think about twice about doing.
Your writing can be the same way. I hit the bed and I haven’t written all day, I feel off. Somewhere in making it routine, writing became an essential part of my day.
So if you’re looking for tips on how to clear out your day so that you can write, you’ve started with the wrong attitude. Yes, you can get up an hour earlier, get your mother to pick the kids up from school, or pry yourself away from Facebook to make the time. But if you go in with the right attitude–making writing essential, you’ll be surprised that you’ll be able to come up with these tips all on your own.
Why Adverbs are Bad
Those evil, snot-ridden adverbs creep into our fiction and tear down our sentences, foul plot lines and make the reader want to send the story straight to the garbage can or recycle bin. Every -ly word an author drops kills a pixie somewhere and feeds festering demons and evil corporations, who use this power to dominate worlds and, worst of all, the internet.
Not really. But using adverbs is a bad habit that’s best avoided. The reason for this, is that the weaken sentences—or more accurately, prevent you from writing stronger sentences. Most of the time, adverbs are a cop out.
I could quote famous authors such as Mark Twain and Stephen King on their ill feelings toward the use of adverbs, but I’ll save you the argument from authority and just tell you why adverbs are bad.
The Weakness of Adverbs
Often, they are used to prop up weak verbs. And weak verbs are boring. Even if you aren’t writing and intense, action-filled suspense novel, you want to keep the reader awake, right? Let’s compare sentences to see the difference.
She ran quickly up the stairs.
Fair enough. This sentence gets its point across. But let’s see what happens when we lose the adverb.
She raced up the stairs.
Better? Shorter, concise and more active. The first sentence by itself isn’t bad, but a whole book full of similar phrasing can be a snooze-fest in the making. Even if its supported with riveting plot, why not make it even better by sharpening up those verbs?
Here’s a paragraph full of adverbs:
Callimus walked limpingly into the room. He was very tired. The battle was won, but there was one more foe left. The baron was in the room, waving his sword crazily in the air. He was no match for Callimus, who pointed his rapier steadily at the baron. The baron yelled loudly for his guard, but none would come. Callimus had bravely killed them all.
If reading this hasn’t irritated you, it should have. Adverbs have watered down a pivotal action scene. Let’s correct it:
Callimus limped into the room. He was tired. The battle was won, but there was one more foe left. The baron was in the room, thrashing his sword about in the air. He was no match for Callimus, who levelled his rapier at the baron. The baron screamed for his guard, but none would come. Callimus had killed them all.
You could probably find more colorful verbs to liven the previous paragraph, but it’s miles better than the first. Not only did I replace the weaker phrasing, but I eliminated adverbs that weren’t really very necessary.
Adverbs in Dialogue
One of the most common occurrences of the adverb is in dialogue.
“You haven’t begun to know me,” he said softly.
“You haven’t begun to know me,” he whispered.
Or better yet:
“I’m all yours,” she whispered softly.
“I’m all yours,” she whispered.
I know. One would think that adding that adverb adds something to the mood of the character. But it’s a lazy way to do it. Get rid of that adverb and do it the right way. Read the next section for clarification.
Adverbs Often Violate A Fundamental Writing Rule
I think everyone would agree that “show don’t tell” is one of writing’s fundamental rules. Often when you use adverbs you are breaking it. Let’s take the example from the above section.
“I’m all yours,” she whispered softly.
As I stated before, it gives the appearance of adding something to the mood. Maybe it’s from a seductive scene. Perhaps the author added ‘softly’ to convey how sultry the woman was. But if the author had to add that word to set the scene, he or she has failed to show it.
A good part of showing is allowing your characters set the scene by their actions and words. Here’s another example:
“Go for your gun,” Bart said.
We can alter the meaning by adding an adverb:
“Go for your gun,” Bart said menacingly.
Now it’s on. The character’s words are a threat. And that adverb let’s us know it. But it’s the lazy way out because it doesn’t show is it’s a threat, it tells us. Here’s how we can correct it:
Bart’s hand hovered over holstered pistol and his mouth curled into a sneer. “Go for your gun,” he said.
Now we can see that Bart means business by his actions.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that all adverbs are bad all the time. But every one of them should be scrutinized. Is it necessary? Is it a cop out? Can it be shown rather than told?
If you’ve written a story or novel, do two searches. First, search “ly” for those pesky -ly words. Just count how many you have, where they are and what their role is. Next, search the word “very.” Read the sentence, then remove the word and read it again. You may be surprised at how little you actually need it.
On Keegan’s End, Horror Story
If you’re looking for a hack and slash type of horror story, this just isn’t it. The premise of the story is focused on the protagonist (Kyle Manning) trying to root out the truth behind the mysterious town of Keegan’s End. It’s a journey for him both in miles and character. He wants to peel back the town’s enigmatic layers, but in order to do so, he has to come face to face with his biggest monster: his own cowardice.
His fear is justified, as I reveal in the latter half of the book. And the way he deals with confrontations, while lackluster, does have a driving force behind it; even though some of his reactions are downright childish.
On Writing Keegan’s End
While I do add elements that would classify this as a horror story, that certainly wasn’t the forefront of my mind while writing this piece. The backbone is the mysteries of Keegan’s End and Kyle’s revealing of those mysteries.
As for the writing style, I think the shorter, simpler sentences best matched Kyle’s personality. And with the story being told through his eyes, I thought that style was the best way way to deliver it. Not that Kyle is a simpleton. His view of the world is just direct and concise.
I practiced a lot of subtlety in this tale, and that was purposeful. I’ll leave it up to you, the reader, to decide whether or not I was too subtle. The story is entirely through Kyle’s point of view and he doesn’t get everything that goes on, but I’m sure that the reader will draw their own conclusions and be able to figure things out for themselves, despite him. I warn you, I don’t do a lot of hand-holding. But, hey, consider that a compliment to your keen intellect and sleuthing skills.