Monday, March 11, 2019

A Time When I Was Deeply Embarrassed

“You can’t be afraid to deal with your demons. You’ve got to go there to be able to write.” Lucinda Williams

When I was a high school student I walked to school every day. I walked with a good friend of mine after meeting him in front of his house. During our walk we talked about the kinds of things all kids talk about, homework, movies, girls. I was a bit of a nerd so we talked about science fiction more than we talked about girls. One day I told him the idea for a short story that I had.

I gave him the details as we walked through the neighborhood. I can still remember how excited I was. He made some comments as I started. As I got further into the story he stopped commenting. A few minutes before arriving at school I got to the the surprise ending. I felt so satisfied and waited for the praise that was sure to come. He responded with something like, “You know, I’ve read that story.”

Shame washed over me. My story wasn’t my story at all. I had just repeated the plot of something I had read. Said it was mine. And I wasn’t expecting to be called out. Talk about not looking ahead. I mean it was obvious wasn’t it? Where the heck did I think I was going with this? Whatever words I said in response are long forgotten. We walked into school and went to our classes.

I still think about that day sometimes. It bothers me. It’s not  just the obvious shame and embarrassment of being caught lying. It’s something more. I was caught stealing. I felt like a thief. It wasn’t a good feeling. I never want to feel anything like that again.

I wanted the results without making any effort. I wanted to be able to say that I had written a story. I wanted all the glory without putting in any work.

The work. Taking an idea and turning it into a first draft. Making new discoveries and connections by editing a first draft. Finishing it. The sense of satisfaction after finishing. Moving on to the next idea without hesitation. Now that is a great feeling. I’d like to think that I learned something. Because what I know now is that the reward comes from doing the work. I can’t wait to get started on the next idea.

Next: The Bird Skull and Gaining Confidence

Saturday, March 2, 2019

My First Attempts at Telling Stories

“We live by stories. It’s the principle by which we organize our experience and thus derive our sense of who we are.” - Tobias Wolff

I’ve been interested in storytelling since I was very young. I didn’t realize it at the time, but as I was growing up I kept trying to tell stories of one kind or another. I just wasn’t very good at it.

One day, when I was around eight or nine years old, I was playing with my neighborhood friends. We were in the backyard of one kid’s place doing typical kid stuff. We got bored. I decided to tell a story. I had been listening to an LP story book of one my favorite TV shows at the time, Daniel Boone. Yeah, I’m old. So anyway, I decided to tell a spy adventure story. The set up went well. Adventure Team GI Joe (like I said, old!) on a secret mission all decked out in his spy gear. Dark alleys, fog, mysterious doorways. The sound of footsteps echoing. He’s being followed! When I began I had their rapt attention. I completely lost it within a few minutes. I had no idea what was going to happen next. Suddenly we’re all playing on the swings.

My next step was...puppet theater! I was in Germany visiting relatives. I had a collection of hand puppets so to keep myself occupied I put on a puppet show for my mother and aunt. I don’t remember anything about the story I told, I just remember that I came up with an adventure that included parts for every puppet, two puppets at a time.   

My stage was the back of a couch. My mother and my aunt sat in chairs facing the couch. I was behind the couch holding up the puppets just above the back. The first show was a resounding success. The second show, not so much. I didn’t come up with anything new. Just jumped in and found myself rehashing my previous performance. A few minutes in and I could tell that I was losing my audience. There was no third show.

Another summer, another visit to Germany to visit relatives. Once again I was looking for something to do. This was pre-internet and pre-video games. I decided that I wanted to create a comic book. Another one of my favorite TV shows at the time was The Wild Wild West. I came up with a character, a sheriff. He was easy to draw, get this...he was in the the shape of a star. I did a bunch of sketches. The only other character that I came up with was a villain.  He was also in the shape of a star. Hey, I was kid. The creation of a logical universe was the last thing on my mind. I sure was having fun though. I also had BIG plans. I would write and draw his aventures and then sell the comics to the kids in my neighborhood. You know how kids set up lemonade stands? Do kids still do that? Probably not. My plan was to set up a comic book stand on the sidewalk in front of our house and just let the sales pour in. When we got home my plans were quickly forgotten.

Years later I was in Germany again. This time as a university student for a three week study tour. One day the other students, the professor, and myself were all sitting around a table having lunch. My memory is hazy but I think we were sharing stories about crazy things we’ve done. I start telling my story. Everyone is focused on me. I get to certain point and as I pause someone says “And then?” I keep going and each time I pause “And then?!’ gets louder and more animated. I get to the end and everyone is laughing. That experience really stuck with me over the years. It was so much fun. I'd like to recapture that feeling.
Next: A Time When I Was Deeply Embarrassed

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Speaking Up

“You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.” - Stephen King

I haven’t always spoken up when I should have. Take for instance this one time in my high school English class. The teacher asked us, “What makes people laugh?” My hand shot up. She called on me and I answered with, “When something bad happens to someone.” A student a few seats away immediately shot me down. She said that my answer was stupid and that people cry when bad things happen. I heard such venom and anger in her voice and I froze. The teacher made some comments and somehow we moved on.

I had a clear response in my mind but I didn’t speak. I was seeing bad things happening every day. On top of that, people laughed. Hell, I laughed. What I wanted to ask was, “So you cry when a coconut falls on Gilligan’s head?” Because that’s what I was thinking of, the Gilligan’s Island sitcom I was watching everyday after school. I had just seen a coconut knock him out the day before. That coconut looked painful. And I laughed. Bad shit happened to Gilligan all the time. And we all laughed. And it wasn’t just on Gilligan’s Island! Warner Brothers cartoons as well! I wish to this day that my teacher asked me to explain. Maybe she was worried about how I would answer.

I’ve been interested in drawing and writing all my life. Except for a few stretches, I’ve usually been hesitant to commit. That’s changed over time, especially the last two years. It happened in stages. The spark was a speech by Ray Bradbury that I found on YouTube titled “An Evening With Ray Bradbury.” He gives advice to aspiring writers and one of the things he talks about is short stories. It was a good reminder for me. Short stories got me into reading. I love short stories. He gives all kinds of advice but the gist is to read a lot and to write a lot. He also recommends a lot authors. John Collier, John Cheever, Raymond Carver… I didn’t stick with the writing advice, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

The next step was discovering author Ken Scholes. His work really speaks to me. Of course there are a lot of other authors that I also feel strongly about. John MacDonald, Lawrence Block, Robert Parker, Leigh Brackett, Poul Anderson, Harlan Ellison, Ernest Hemingway, just to name a few. But I think I discovered Mr. Scholes at just right time in my life. Soon after reading his work I found an article of his where he recommends books on writing. He also explains how those books helped him. I read two of them, From Idea to Story in 90 Seconds by Ken Rand and Writing to the Point by Algis Budrys. Their advice changed things for me. Changed things for me in a such a way that I’m writing regularly. The spark turned into a flame. Oh, it’s a very tiny flame, and I keep thinking that any disturbance is going to probably blow it right out, but there’s some fire there.

Awhile back I bought a small notebook to use as a sketch journal. I chose the Hobonichi Planner. I got it because it’s small, portable, and each page is dated. My intention was to keep a sketch diary. It started out fine. At the end of each day I would do a quick sketch and write down a few lines about my day. Things changed after two weeks. I stopped drawing but I kept writing something about each day. My entries started getting longer. Then I started filling up the page. I thought about upgrading to a larger version but I realized the size I had was perfect. It helped me with being concise. I’ve been writing in my journal for about a year and a half now. The recent realization that I’ve been writing a little everyday for over a year, well, it blew mind and it feels really good.

It’s taken me quite awhile, almost a lifetime, but I’m ready to speak up.

Next: My first attempts at telling stories.

P.S. - Here’s some of the specific advice from the two books I mentioned.
From Idea to Story in 90 Seconds  by Ken Rand
“The right brain is the creator, the left brain is the editor.”
“Your left brain hates disorder. So when your right brain starts writing a story, your left brain, if not leashed, will interfere, even before you finish the first word, phrase, sentence.”
“Wear a hat labeled “writer” when you write, and one labeled “editor” when you edit.”
“Some is better than none.”
“The first 1000-2000 words may be a warm-up.”
“Missing elements will appear as you write. But the elements can’t appear if you don’t write.”

Writing to the Point by Algis Budrys
“Try very hard to establish a particular place where you are going to write.”
“...although Frederik Pohl and many others define their workplace as anywhere they happen to be, and simply take a laptop computer along.”

Sunday, February 3, 2019

My Struggles With Creating, Part 2

“When I’m writing, I am trying to find out who I am, who we are, what we are capable of, how we feel, how we lose and stand up, and go on from darkness into darkness.” - Maya Angelou

I’ve liked drawing from a very early age. I doodled whenever and wherever I could. One time I did a little drawing of my own superhero in the margin of a school workbook. I based it on a cartoon I had been watching and really liked. I must have been about five or six years old. I forgot about it and eventually turned the workbook in to be checked. I got it back with a note from my teacher. I got the message and stopped drawing in my workbook. So I doodled elsewhere.

One day just doodling and drawing wasn’t enough. I was around seven or eight. Star Trek was my favorite TV show and I had recently discovered Star Trek comics from Gold Key. I found myself with the desire to create my own Star Trek comic but lacked the skills to draw it. I didn’t let that stop me. I grabbed paper, pencils, and tracing paper. I came up with a story, picked out panels from various issues, traced them, added word balloons, then added my own dialogue. Tracing paper sure is great for tracing but makes for poor comic book pages when put together. I had a plan for that. I stapled the tracing paper pages to regular blank white pages to give the tracing paper a white background. I did the same thing for a cover, tracing the logo and a large panel of the Enterprise. Then I side stapled all the pages together. In the end I had a thick, crinkly, Star Trek comic book of my very own. Making it was so much fun that I made another one.

It’s amazing the lack of hesitation I had back then. No doubts, no concerns. I didn’t overthink things. I just did it. That’s something that’s gotten harder as I’ve gotten older. On the other hand it’s something that I’m more conscious of now. For years and years I was doing a little drawing here and a little writing there. Goals that kept changing, short term goals, vague goals. Recently I’ve become a little more focused. I’m writing regularly and I started this blog. What changed?

A number of things over the the last two years come to mind. Watching a speech a famous writer gave to aspiring writers. Discovering a writer whose work spoke to me in ways that others had not. Reading advice in a book on writing that was different from the advice I’d encountered in any other book. Starting a journal. Writing in it every day. My father’s recent health scare, which had me reflecting on life like I had never done before.

So here I am. I’m at a point in my life where the need to create and write has finally overcome the doubt and hesitation that I gained as I got older. I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to seeing where this leads.

Next: Details about the last two years.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

My Struggles With Creating

“The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.” Mary Oliver

I like stories. A lot. It started with TV shows and movies. Comics books came soon after. I remember pouring over comic book pages before learning to read. When I learned to read, I went from story books to short stories. From short stories to novels. Somewhere along line, just taking it in wasn’t enough. I started creating stuff. It just felt natural. I loved drawing as a child and I still do. Most kids like to draw but I went from drawing pictures of my favorite toys to drawing my own comics on notebook paper for fourteen months. Eventually I moved on to trying to write short stories. The thing is I didn’t stick with it. My attention kept moving on to other things. Life kept getting in the way.

For some reason though, I keep coming back to drawing and writing. The ideas keep coming and I feel the need to do something with them. It’s been happening for as long as I can remember.

When I was seven years old my family moved. New school, no friends yet. It was December and our teacher had us drawing and making Christmas decorations. I was drawing Santa Claus and nutcracker toy soldiers. The other kids noticed. I got requests for drawings. I started making friends.

Art class quickly became my favorite. One day in art class I was trying to draw the Enterprise from Star Trek. The drawing wasn’t coming out right. What my hands were putting down on paper didn’t match the image I had in my head. I voiced my frustration. I was all set to give up. My art teacher stepped in. He said it was fine and gave me some pointers. He encouraged me to keep trying. So I kept going and finished the drawing. Over the years I’ve often thought back on the that day and the lesson that I learned.

It can be a struggle to create. It takes effort to learn from what works and from what doesn’t. It takes effort not to give up. It takes work. It’s easier to order a pizza and binge on Netflix. It takes time and effort to complete things.

Although it can be a struggle to create, I’ve found out that not creating is even more of a struggle.

Next: My Struggles With Creating Part 2

Sunday, January 6, 2019

We Learn By Doing

Hi, I’m Jim. I love books, comics, movies, and drawing. I love storytelling in general. I also love to write, but I don’t do enough of it. One of my goals is to write more. I don’t just want to write more though, I want to get better at it. We’ll see.

My mind has been on the craft of writing lately. Reading interviews with authors and reading books on writing. I bought a new device which makes it easier to write on the go. I managed to write a short story. This blog is the next step. I’ll be writing about my interests and my experiences. I’ll also be writing about the stories and authors that speak to me.

One of my favorite movies is Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. In one of the early scenes Kirk advises a character that “we learn by doing.” It’s a small scene but it has stuck with me for a long time. It came to mind as I was thinking about starting a writing blog. So here I am. I’ll be writing here and hopefully I’ll be learning something.

Next: My Struggles With Creating

A Time When I Was Deeply Embarrassed

“You can’t be afraid to deal with your demons. You’ve got to go there to be able to write.” Lucinda Williams When I was a high school st...