Nano and beyond

One of the most important things I’ve learned is “don’t forget the regular stuff, but don’t let it impede what you need to do.” It’s a hard balance to strike, but it’s important.

With NANOWRIMO coming up and a couple other major projects needing attention, I’m stepping back from the blog for a little while. I may or may not post again before December, but I’ll be back after the new first draft is done.

In the meantime, good luck with your own adventures, dear reader. And. I’ll see you next post.

It can be done!

This week I submitted my book Names and Secrets for publication. The first draft was written as a NANOWRIMO project last November, meaning the total time from first word to last gasp was 11 ½ months. So dear reader, you really can create a book in less than a year.

Now, the time from publisher submission to copies on Amazon is still in front of us (and will probably be another year if the book is accepted…). But that’s a new adventure (the minute publishing a new book isn’t a new adventure I quit…).

To get from wanting to write a book to having a published book is a long road. There are many steps and terraces along the way. Sometimes we get stuck. Sometimes we have setbacks. But the key thing is to learn from every step, every sticky spot, and every setback; and then keep going. Nobody knows it all right away. Not even Steven King hit a home run with his first submission. It is a learning process.

As you may know (I’m sure I’ve mentioned it at least once…) NANOWRIMO is coming quickly. I know there’s a lot going on in the world. But the writing and discovery process teaches us about ourselves and helps dreamers fulfil dreams. I’ll be working on a sequel to Names and Secrets this year, and I can use the company. So please, if you want to write a novel, give it a shot and join us for NANO this year. It can be done.

Good luck with your dreams dear reader. And I’ll see you next post.

Words greater than my own…

Last weekend an event happened that many people may have missed. Believers in Jesus Christ from around the world met in conference to learn of him and ways to make our world a better place. Today I’m sharing a talk given during that conference, one that touches on things on my mind and relevant to the things we talk about here.

Please read or watch this message (the link gets you to video and print versions). Enjoy and take head of the things taught. And I’ll see you next post.

Doubling down on NANOWRIMO

Well, dear reader, November is nearly upon us again. This year I’ll be working on the sequel to last year’s project, which had been called Ruby’s story. I say had been because the final title will depend on editor approval. Yes. That’s right… As I mention over at Forever Mountain Publishing this week, the NANOWRIMO project I’m starting next month is the sequel to a book that’s going to the publisher this month!

So, in celebration of getting the book ready, to fulfil my promise of sharing my writing here in the blog, and as a shameless plug… Let’s meet a few of the characters from both the book I’m sending to the publisher and the one I’m writing starting next month. As usual, the writing presented is my work and protected by my copyright.

Wilfur and Momma

Ruby lay in bed with her eyes open. Momma and Wilfur were up talking again. I want to know. But if they catch me again…

She lay on her straw mattress under the quilt she’d made and looked up at the wooden beams and wooden roof above. The room was small, but at least she and Hattie had a room. In some ways, Wilfur’s place was better than Poppa’s. Sorry, Poppa. But it’s true. I know you were trying to make the house better. And you would have. If you were still alive. The room was warm and dry, and gave her more privacy than she’d had in the old house. It was an improvement. Almost.

“Momma.” Hattie muttered the word in her sleep.

Ruby felt her teeth grinding together. If she was mumbling about her own mother, that wouldn’t be so bad. But she’s not. She’s mumbling about mine.

Eight-year-old Hattie had her own straw mattress. Her father made sure all the kids had a mattress of their own. Having her own mattress is kind of good. I guess. Too bad Wilfur isn’t always that kind. He’d insisted that Hattie got the quilt she liked. Even though I made that one for myself. But I am the step daughter I guess.

Hattie snuggled deeper into Rubie’s quilt and mumbled, “Momma.”

Relax. It’s not her fault that her mother died any more than it’s my fault Poppa died. Ruby pressed her head back into her pillow and tried to sleep.

It’s no good. Ruby climbed out of bed. The wood floor squeaked just a little. At least it’s worn enough I don’t have to worry about splinters. But it would be nice to have a rug.

Faint starlight came in through the window, but not even enough to match Momma and Wilfur’s single candle flame out on the table in the main room.

Ruby pawed the floor with her toes and tried to see Hattie in the darkness. Please stay asleep, little girl. Was I that skinny when I was eight? Ruby felt her 12-year-old body starting to fill out. At least a little…

I wish I could tell what they’re saying. Momma and Wilfur kept their voices low. I guess I have to get to the doorway.

Ok feet, don’t hit any squeaks now. Slowly, carefully, she made her way to the door, then peeked out into the main room. Please don’t look this way…

Momma and Wilfur looked at each other across the table in the candle light. Momma’s long blond hair was braided as usual and hung down the back of her gray homespun dress. Wilfur stroked his short brown beard. He’s thinking. The wrinkles around his eyes always moved just a little when he was thinking.

What? A shadow moved in the corner of Ruby’s eye. Bo… Her ten-year-old step brother hung out his doorway just a little too far, and only inches from her own doorway. He craned his head out a little more, shaking his floppy brown hair in the process.

Bo, if you get us caught again… Got to do something before they look this way. Ruby rocked back and forth for just a moment before diving from one door way to the other, pushing Bo back out of their parents’ sight.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Bo whispered a little too loudly.

You’re just mad you’re not the oldest anymore. And that I got you. Hattie or little Dickon would never have been able to move him. I might not have if I didn’t surprise him. Even though he was only ten Bo worked hard on his father’s farm, and that made him strong.

“I was trying to listen to momma and Wilfur,” Ruby whispered, “Be quiet. You’d better not wake up Dickon.”

“You better not wake up Dickon,” Bo growled, “And don’t get us caught.”

“I wasn’t the one sticking my head all the way out.”

“Your mother kept dropping her voice,” Bo said, “I think they were talking about Beto again. And the new hetman that’s coming.” Bo backed up. He knew Ruby got touchy when someone mentioned Beto.

Beto ruined everything. Beto had been hetman, for a little while at least. The big family from the city had sent him to run things after the old hetman died. And then married Emara. He didn’t even ask Momma’s permission. And then he died. And Emara disappeared.

“They said a new one is coming,” Bo said, “They sound worried.”

Ruby nodded. They both crept to the doorway to listen.

“They have to send a new one,” Wilfur said, “and after what happened to Beto I wouldn’t be surprised if they sent soldiers with this one.”

Momma nodded.

The hetman before Beto died the same day we lost poppa.

“I can’t say I’m sorry about them sending troops,” Wilfur said.

“You know what happens when the Pollonas, or any of the families, send out troops,” Momma said.

“That’s why I’m glad we live out of town,” Wilfur said, “But the soldiers should help keep the Ravens out of the area.

Momma’s eyes flicked toward the kids’ rooms. Ruby and Bo ducked farther back into the darkness.

“The Ravens are up to something,” Wilfur said, “The last time Geron was in town he said there’s a new leader, Lord something or other, in the village up toward the mountain. You know, the one up on the valley bench.”

Momma turned back to Wilfur. “Shouldn’t a new leader calm things down?”

Wilfur shook his head. “Geron’s got his doubts. And others say there are shamans about. A traveling merchant said he saw the gray-haired one and the one with the feathered cloak. Together.”

“Two of them?” Momma turned to look at the kids’ doorways. She’s remembering again. Back when I was a baby. Momma forced herself to look at Wilfur, but kept her thoughts to herself. She’s never even told me what happened, really.

Bo pushed Ruby’s shoulder. “You better get back. Poppa will invent chores for both of us if we get caught listening again.”

Ruby ducked out of Bo’s doorway and into her own, just before Momma’s head swung back toward their rooms.

“The shamans are up to something,” Wilfur said, “Ask Geron, he’ll be in town for market day.”

Geron…

A shiver ran down Ruby’s back. The way he looks at me, like he used to look at Emara. Like Beto looked at her before he took her away. And Wilfur will expect me to help sell at the market.

“He’s our best source of information,” Wilfur said.

Momma nodded and got up. “I think I better check on the children.”

Not knowing…

Want to amuse and annoy those around you? Try to persuade an audience of actual experts (or knowledgeable amateurs) that you’re an expert on something you’re not.

For some reason, people with expert knowledge in one area think they have great knowledge in other areas too.  It’s not something I can classify as a “them” trait either. I’ve seen examples at the university, the hardware store, the gaming table, the doctor’s office, the gun counter, and the grocery store. I’ve even been guilty myself once or twice.

Because I’ve been guilty of the error, and a witness to other’s mistakes, I have some insight on why it happens. Two major causes seem to drive the behavior: desire to appear knowledgeable (or at least competent…) and fear of appearing uninformed (or incompetent, etc.…). And when our desires and fears start playing with our heads, we make mistakes.

Knowledge isn’t a “fake it till you make it” thing. Unless you’re on the bleeding edge or only surround yourself with people less knowledgeable than you, somebody will recognize you’re wrong. And they may well call you on it. Sometimes, they have to call you on it to keep people safe (trust me… playing with power tools and clicky boomy things without knowing what you’re doing is a fast track to getting hurt).

Fortunately, there is a solution. Don’t be the person who doesn’t know. Don’t be the person who pretends to know but doesn’t. Be the person who knows how to (and does) find out! Learn to do research. Learn to ask questions. Learn how to problem solve. When you have these skills, it becomes easier to admit you don’t know; because, you have the power to find out. You become the person who doesn’t have all the answers, but knows how to find them.

When you have the skills to find out you can learn anything you need to know. You need not worry about people looking down at you for not knowing because they know you can pick things up and learn anything you want. They might even start overestimating what you know because you’re so good at finding things out.

Sometimes the person who knows how to find out has an advantage over the person who “knows” because things change and the “knower” is working with old information (Oops… forgot to mention we upgraded to the new model last week…).

In our world, everyone wants to seem knowledgeable. The best way to really do that is to develop your knowledge of how to find out. When you focus on learning stuff, you’re limited to what you’ve learned. When you focus on knowing how to learn, you can find any other information you need.

Good luck in your learning, dear reader. I’ll see you next post.

You are what you eat… And so’s your brain!

Just a short one this week dear reader. I’ve got two books in the works, a short story due today, two videos in production, and an RPG adventure to run tonight. That’s a lot of work! So, I’m taking a few minutes to step away and do something fun.

Variety in our diets is a key to good health. Variety in the things we think about refreshes our mind as much as adding a salad with that burger (or some protein with your salad…) does for our bodies.

That goes for just about anything. Dwelling on one subject, or listening to just one source of information wears you down in the long run.

So, get out there and do something different dear reader. Try some different thoughts. I’ll be doing the same. And, I’ll see you next post.

NANOWRIMO, gearing up

Yes, dear reader, it’s only September. But I’m already planning for NANOWRIMO this year. The first draft I wrote during November last year is about six weeks out from going to the publisher. My test readers are already asking about the next book. So, I guess I’d better write it.

This year will be my sixth doing NANO and, even though 2020 is a mess of a year, I’m going in with some advantages. I’ll be starting on November 1st with a blank page (like everyone else), but I’ve already met the major characters (well, except for the one I don’t know about yet. But I don’t know about that yet…).

Today I’d like to introduce two of those characters (thus talking about my NANO project and plugging my new book at the same time!). The characters and material presented below are my work and I hold the rights to both the characters and text (I own the copyright).

I hope you enjoy the section and I’ll see you next post.

Ophid

Geron trudged along, leaving a path through the valley grass that even a city born could follow. He tried to dodge the bushes and sticker plants. It wasn’t easy. Sometimes they were just over a rock, or a boulder got in the way.
He trudged toward the big rock, the one where Lord Ophid liked to meet. It didn’t make sense, and Geron knew that. He should have been running his trap line again.
They both wanted him to go to market day, to the one in Wilfur’s village.
He should have been running his traps. Checking his traps meant more furs. More furs meant more money. More whiskey.
With more money he might even convince Wilfur to let him take Wilfur’s step daughter up into the mountains surrounding the valley, take her up to his secret places.
Geron should have been running his traps, but Lord Ophid wanted to meet.
Geron should have had a horse, but the wandering Raven folk liked to steal horses. Even his friends in the Far Riders liked to steal horses.
The village dwelling Ravens were more like Geron. They were more trustworthy.
But then again, that was where he’d met Lord Ophid, in a Raven village.
The spot wasn’t hard to find, a big pink and black granite boulder out in the middle of nowhere. Slowly but surely, it came into view.
Lord Ophid sat on the boulder as usual, almost swallowed up in his big green cloak, except for his bald head which faced down into the middle of the big valley.
Somehow it seemed as if Lord Ophid knew Geron was coming, even though Ophid has his back to him.
Lord Ophid turned, but didn’t make eye contact. He never did, not at first.
Geron got closer to the rock.
They locked eyes.
Lord Ophid waved him closer with a long, thin hand.
“You wanted to talk?” Geron asked.
“Yes,” Lord Ophid hissed, “We talk, then you do.”
Geron shrugged. Lord Ophid understood the obvious.
“I talk, you do,” Lord Ophid said.
Before Geron could respond Lord Ophid made a strange sign with his hand.
Geron felt himself stiffen.
He felt his mind grow muddy.
“You will go to the market day,” Lord Ophid hissed.
“Yes.”
“They say the village will have a new hetman soon,” Lord Ophid said, “possibly by the market day.”
Geron shrugged again.
It was a Pollona village, a city village. Beto was gone and someone had to be sent to run the place.
“You will go to the market day,” Lord Ophid repeated, “You will communicate to me about this new hetman.”
Lord Ophid made another sign.
“You will tell me what I need to know of this man, the town’s defenses, the stone house. You will help me find it.”
Geron wanted to ask what ‘it’ was, but he couldn’t quite find the words.
“You will find out for me,” Lord Ophid hissed, “Go Now.”
Geron felt himself turning.
He started walking toward Wilfur’s village.
It would have been nice to check the trap line again. But, Geron had important things to do.

The most frightening words in science

There is some debate over whether the most exciting words in science are “Eureka! I’ve found it!” or “Gee, that’s funny.” But there is one phrase that should strike fear into the heart of anyone who values truth or learning, “We must defend the theory at all costs!”

The first instance (that I’m personally aware of) came in the battle between Behaviorism and Cognitivism. Chomsky and his team were kicking B. F. Skinner and his people’s gray feathered butts (sorry Behaviorists, it’s true) and Skinner and his people pivoted from making new discoveries to trying to disprove Cognitive Psychology. They shifted from learning to trying to prove we didn’t need to learn (or at least that learning should be kept in areas they approved of).

The dreaded words have appeared in many places: education, religion, politics, management, and marketing among others. They’ve built summer homes in certain media corporations. Pretty much anywhere people stop learning and start “sweeping up mouse turds” the words “We must defend the theory at all costs!” have entered the discussion.

There is a time and place to defend your theories and beliefs. But, when you defend them at all costs, you’ve just lost the battle.

“At all costs” doesn’t just mean “I’ll run another experiment”, it means giving up honesty, integrity, and the search for truth. Defending a theory at all costs means giving up things of value for something (probably) already dead.

So, when should we defend the theory? When it’s truth or when you have good reason to believe that it is true.

The danger comes when you defend the theory because you’re afraid your wrong (or you know you’re wrong). That’s when people start down the dark path. That’s when people start ‘fudging’ things to make results come out their way. When you sacrifice the truth for your theory, you decrease your ability to recognize truth. And then, being right becomes nearly impossible.

Be honest with yourself and your truth, dear reader. And, I’ll see you next post.

History. Forgive? Maybe. Forget? Not if you’re smart!

Over at my FMP blog, I’m starting a series on improving stories you’ve written, using one of my own stories as an example. As a writer, I’ve felt what a lot of us do: IT’S HARD TO LOOK BACK AT THINGS I DID IN THE PAST WITHOUT ASKING, “HOW COULD I DO SOMETHING THAT BAD?” The thing is, often the story was the best I could do. I’ve learned more since then. I’ve moved on as a person.

We as individuals, families, nations, and humanity have things we don’t like in our past. But we’re better off not trying to hide our mistakes and missteps.

If we hide our mistakes, we increase risks and lose opportunities. We may fall prey to the same mistakes again. And, because we’re using attention and energy to cover them up, we have to split our focus. Splitting our focus decreases our ability to move forward and increases the probability that we miss other mistakes. We lose opportunities because, if we’re hiding our mistakes, we can’t learn from them.

When we own up to our mistakes, we gain the opportunity to examine them, to learn from them, and (hopefully) not repeat them.

When we look back at our mistakes, we may be embarrassed by them. If we tried to cover them up, we will be embarrassed by them. If we learned from them, we can say, “Yeah, we screwed up. But look how far we’ve come since!”

Recognizing our mistakes, learning from them, and putting them behind us helps us to move forward. We can become better and achieve more.

As humans, we are able to learn from the mistakes of others. We can learn from the stories we hear. People in the past have done some messed up stuff. But we can look back and see how far we’ve come. We can learn what mistakes they made and why they made them. Then we can avoid those mistakes ourselves.

When we try to cover up the past, when we try to erase it, we put all those mistakes back into play. We make ourselves vulnerable to mistakes we didn’t have to make. When we cover them up, it’s that much harder to avoid them.

Yes, people in the past have screwed up and caused a lot of suffering and hatred. Yes, we make mistakes and that ain’t good. When we cover those things up, we allow history to repeat itself. When we examine those mistakes and learn from them, we are that much closer to not making them ourselves.

That’s it for this one dear reader. I’m off to pick apart one of my stories, so I can learn from it and make it better. See you next post.

It’s not one or the other

I ran into a weird concept this week. I mean genuine WTF stuff here. Someone told me that all facts are racist and part of the patriarchy! The theory was that all facts are bad and we should just run on emotions.

Emotions are important. They are. But just running on emotion is problematic.

Emotions change regularly. In the time it’s taken me to write the first draft of this post over a million teenagers have fallen in love. A million teenagers have also fallen out of love. And about three hundred thousand of those million have fallen back in love with the same person who they just fell out of love with. And that’s just the teens, there are plenty of younger kids and adults with emotions too (and I’ve seen enough of them turn on a dime from happy to angry, from angry to sad, or even from sad to happy…) Emotions are mercurial at best.

If we run just on emotion, we eliminate the ability to ask why questions. We can’t ask ourselves or anyone else, “why do you feel that way.”

If your answer to “why am I depressed?” is “because I’m depressed,” you’ve just turned the emotion into a fact.

If you’re operating on a “facts don’t exist, only emotions do,” basis and turn your emotions into facts; then your emotions can’t exist either (they’re facts, which you’ve just said don’t exist…).

We also can’t stick to the Drag Net catch phrase of “just the facts ma’am.” Emotions are part of us. We’re wired for them. They’re part of how we understand ourselves and other people.

Both emotions and facts are part of how we understand the world. That means we have to consider our (and other people’s) emotions along with other facts if we have any hope of understanding our world and what’s going on around us.

In one way, our emotions differ from other facts. If we let them, our emotions control us. Otherwise good and normal people have done terrible things because of something they were feeling at the moment (situations include domestic violence, rape, drug relapses, bar room brawls, losing bets on basketball games, time share property ownership, and certain elected officials).

The good news is, with self-awareness and effort, our emotions are also much more controllable than other facts. I can tell myself, “I’m angry but I’m not going to lash out.” And I can do that. Telling yourself “I hate gravity so I’m just going to levitate” and then accomplishing it takes a lot more work.

Our emotions are important. They are part of us and carry a lot of information. But they aren’t everything.

Facts help us understand ourselves and the world.

Using emotions and facts together, we can eventually come to know truth (but that’s a subject for a whole ‘nother post…).

We need to understand how to examine and deal with both facts and emotions. If we don’t figure out how to deal with both, we aren’t getting anywhere.

There are facts and techniques we can share in common, but ultimately, it’s an individual choice and individual struggle. We have to do it for ourselves, and no one else can do it for us.

It’s difficult. But it has to be done. I for one will continue to work on it.

I’ll see you next post.