Thursday, September 25, 2014



    This week's article is going to be a brief one. I wanted to wax rumanitive about background noise when you're writing. Some people are not only able to write in a cone of utter and complete silence, or as close as one can get, but they even require it. I can't imagine that - silence drives me crazy. To me, and this is just my opinion, but I'm sure certain others of you out there agree, silence isn't anything in an of itself, but rather the lack of something...noise.

    I've been known to write in noisy places: the cafeteria in high school; at home with parents and siblings talking or arguing or playing loudly; at a restaurant or cafe; etc. Once I lived in a house in which my den window overlooked a preschool. It was about a half a block away, so it wasn't too loud, and I actually found the mixed and incoherent sounds of children playing soothing and very conducive to concentration. Some of you probably find that hard to believe, and I suspect you have children of your own and so hear such racket much too often and much too closely.

    A writing buddy has a machine...yes, an actual machine...that produces "white" noise, which from all I can tell is pretty much just an electronically produced hissing or shushing noise. He finds this most conducive to writing. Others I've talked to have machines that produce the sounds of the ocean, tropical rain forest, deep woods, etc. That does sound kind of nice, to me.

    These days more often than not I put on one of several Pandora stations I've created to listen to while writing. For those of you who don't know, is one of those websites that allow you to define audio channels to your own taste - you can thumbs-down tracks you don't like and don't want included in that particular channel, and thumbs-up tracks that fit well. Based on this Pandora does a remarkably good job at selecting tracks from literally millions at its disposal that most closely fit the tracks you've indicated you like. The more thumbs you click, up or down, the better job it does at this. The free version includes ads which aren't too intrusive, or you can pay the nominal monthly fee for the ad-free version, which has turned out to be worth it to me.

    I've created a couple of favorite Pandora channels that are so ideally suited to my writing I find it hard to imagine how I got by without it before. For calmer, beatific, even romantic scenes or chapters I have a channel with mixed New Age classical music, which is absolutely NOT muzak, but a softer mix of music influenced by Celtic, Native American, Asian, even sometimes African traditions. For more lively, upbeat, or silly passages I have a channel of Broadway musicals. Yes, that's right, I love broadway and I'm with it! Heheh...

    But given that I mostly write adventure/thrillers, my favorite channel by far is the one I call Epic Soundtracks, which plays instrumental tracks played behind some of the world's greatest movies. You don't often notice the music when you're at a movie, but listening to these tracks I've discovered some of the most surprisingly beautiful and inspiring orchestral pieces I've ever heard before in my life. Music from movies like Pandora, Lord of The Rings, Cloud Atlas, and so many others is not only ideal for writing scenes of epic struggle and sacrifice myself, but has actually become one of my favorite things to listen to even when I'm not writing.

    I'd love to hear about the kind of background noise you have to tolerate when you write, or choose to listen to for inspiration. Drop me a comment.

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Thursday, September 18, 2014



    We all know it. Like the demon possessing the man from Gadara, it is Legion, and it goes by a hundred different names. The bog; the swamp; the stairway to nowhere; the wall; the well; the pit; the wasteland; the middle part; etc. It is that part of our story past the setup and the inciting incident, but before the build to the climax. It's the middle part of our book in which the story must be carried forward, but we have no earthly idea what to do with it. Understandably, the opening and inciting incident of out book gets a lot of attention - often it was the idea that sparked us to write this book to begin with. Generally the climax and denouement of our story has gotten at least some focus, as well - we've at least imagined variations on how to bring our story to a close. But the middle part rarely gets much thought until you're there. And then, you're stuck.

    Generally I find this is a great time to introduce complications into your story, subplots, if you will, as we discussed earlier this month on the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers blog. But what kind of subplot could we introduce? We've given our main plot a lot of thought, now suddenly we have to come up with another?

    I've heard the advice before, and though I've never had occasion to use, it, it's an interesting thought. Think of the worst thing that could happen in relation to your story...and then make it happen and see how your characters react. If you've set up a murder mystery in which an innocent man is imprisoned forma murder he didn't commit, ask yourself, after all the setup and inciting incident, what's the worst thing that could happen? Maybe he gets shanked in prison by someone connected to the victim; maybe his six-year-old daughter is kidnapped by a disgruntled relative of the victim; maybe he is visited in prison by a US Marshal and we discover that not only has he been living under Witness Security, but because of the arrest they are cutting him off. Anyone of these twists can eat up a lot of pages to bring around, meanwhile still advancing your main plot.

    I keep telling myself one of these days I'm going to try this in one of my books. Unfortunately up to this point my stories have been pretty tightly scripted, with not a lot of room for experimentation like that. But if anyone out there has tried this trick, or plans to after reading this blog, my readers and I would love to hear about how it all came out in the comments, below! Drop us a line.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014


Willie Wonka

"Wait...strike that...reverse it...okay." - Willie Wonka

So many of my friends have asked me how I stay so laid-back, easy-going, and calm all the time. One friend even described me once as having a perpetual island attitude, referring to the relaxation one experiences on vacation in the Caribbean or some such place. Well, first of all, those who know me best know that isn't always me - I can sometimes get tweaked, just like everyone else. Usually what sets me off is when I feel as if I'm being mischaracterized to others by someone who has no real clue who I am or what I'm like. I know, ultimately it says more about them than it does me, but we all have our triggers.

But it is true that most days it takes a lot to stir me up. It isn't that I don't have overwhelming demands on my time, like everyone else, which is the primary cause of stress and mood swings. It's that I've learned - for the most part - to compartmentalize stress and manage the many chores and deadlines and expectations pressing down on me. I'd like to share with you some thoughts on this, see if it helps you, the reader, to manage stress in your own life.


The most common way in which people get overwhelmed is by trying to look at the entire pile of things they have to do all at once. Think of it this way - there is never going to be a time in your life when you don't have tasks ahead of you that need doing sooner or later, and who would want a life that didn't? How boring. So trying to wrap your arms around everything all at once is going to overwhelm you, it just is, there's no way around it. But you can manage that feeling of standing at the bottom of an avalanche waiting for it all to come crashing down on you.

This is going to be profound....are you ready for it? Make lists. All right, rather less profound than, well, boring, but I swear it works. Put the things you have to do in lists, and add to or rewrite these lists often. This not only helps you feel as if you've at least got a handle on the things you have to do, it even gives you a small feeling of control, just identifying the things that you have to do.


The next thing is, do the things that need doing. Again, this sounds stupidly simple, but I've known people who get so wrapped up in making lists and buying colored pens and bulletin boards and bins and shelves, etc. all to organize their "things to do," that they spend more time getting ready to do the things that need to be done than actually doing them. Your list should be a very informal thing jotted down on the nearest thing to hand - a piece of paper, a paper sack, an old grocery receipt, whatever. Then go do the things that need to be done. Do them. With each task you complete and put behind you you'll feel a growing sense of accomplishment and control, and there is nothing better than this naturally earned feeling to combat stress and especially depression.


The other thing I hear a lot from people who feel overwhelmed by everything they have to do, is that they don't know where to begin. My answer is simple, and it comes from the canon of slogans shared by attendees of 12 step programs: Do the next indicated action. In other words, do whatever needs to be done next, then after that, do the next thing, then the next. If it's dinner time, cook dinner. When dinner is cooked, eat it. When dinner is eaten, do the dishes and clean the kitchen. When cleaning a room, pick up the top-most item on the floor, then the next, then the next, and put them where they belong. Prioritizing those things that need to be done doesn't take much thought, you generally know what needs doing, and what must be done first, or next. Do the most pressing or important thing first, then do the next. You'll be surprised how intuitive that is.


I want to write a few words about urgency and crises. With very few exceptions, if you look at your most recent crisis, it didn't really come without warning. Much as we will deny it, in most cases crises occur as a result of us neglecting our responsibilities in one area or another. For example, when you don't pay your electric bill in a timely manner, your electricity gets turned off. If you don't take care of your health, you get sick, sometimes quite critically. And crises caused by neglect have a way of cascading. If you don't do mow your lawn, it grows long, you get a warning from the HOA, then when you try to mow it the mower can't cut the long grass, so you must go to the expense of hiring a professional or renting heavier landscaping equipment, money you might have been able to spend on a much nicer anniversary gift than you end up affording, and the cheapness of your gift hurts the feelings of the woman you love, bringing you yet another inexorable step closer to divorce...

Stay ahead of crises by doing the next indicated action - the most important and urgent thing that needs doing at the moment, then the next, and the next. You'll find the emergencies and crises in your life occurring less and less often. I promise.

And now for the great news, if you've stuck around long enough to read this far. I know all of the above makes it sound as if all you'll ever be doing is trying to keep ahead of all of the things you need to do, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact quite the opposite. By following these guidelines you'll actually find yourself getting ahead of the stuff pressing down on you. As impossible as it sounds, you'll actually start getting out from under that mountain of chores. You'll find that not only does your leisure time expand, but because you've done the things that needed doing, that leisure time will be so much more relaxing and stress free.

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