“Common Sense”

This week I’m in the process of researching a nonfiction book; one that has some big ideas I it that I’m currently working on how to relate. It’s funny how when I do things like this I find seemingly unrelated stuff that is really significant…

We talk about the ‘five senses’ (though there are actually more) and we talk about ‘common sense’. Would you believe these ideas actually come from the same source?

And, common sense was the actual original sixth sense.

The ‘five senses’ come from the writings of Aristotle who discussed the senses of sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste as how we explore the world around us. He also talked about the common sense.

Aristotle’s common sense was an internal thing, a thing of the mind. Instead of the nebulous ‘don’t be stupid’ sense that is thought of today Aristotle’s common sense was (and is) a coordinating and interpreting function. The ‘common’ sense was that internal system that coordinated the data we got from our five external senses into something useful and meaningful. In Aristotle’s thinking (and mine) a lack of common sense meant not using the data you have in front of you.

If anything, the ‘common’ sense is more important now than it ever has been. Modern folk are bombarded with more information than at any time in history. We need to learn to evaluate, coordinate, and utilize that information correctly.

‘Common sense’ is truly the vital sense of the twenty first century.

Of course you and I both know that it is not that simple dear reader. ‘Common sense’ is a learned skill. Actually it is a learned skill set. What that means is that we are not automatically experts at using common sense. We are born with legs but have to learn to walk. The same logic applies.

The good news is that we can learn and improve in our skills. It is not always easy, but when we put forth the effort we will improve over time. If we consciously work on our skills for evaluating and using information we will actually get better at it faster.

I’m not trying to tell you everything about common sense today dear reader (this is a blog post not a book). For now know that we all have the capacity for common sense. We all have the need for common sense. And, we all have to accept that common sense comes to us “some assembly required”.

See you next week…

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Change and ‘normality’ (one round of many)

A few months ago two really important things happened at the same time: my wife graduated with a doctorate in instructional design and I released Johnson Farm: my first novel, my first nanowrimo win, and a book that I was forced to admit really did need a sequel (and after I promised myself I wouldn’t do that…).

We were done and life was going to get back to ‘normal’ (yes dad I can hear the laughter from here…). I jumped straight into the second book. After all, being a writer is what I do. Unfortunately it’s never that simple…

  1. In becoming a full time writer I decided to create my own publishing label and that needs regular attention, just like the writing part.
  2. As much as I hate to admit it I do have a life outside of books (gasp! It scares me too!)
  3. I went full time on the writer me and invented the publisher me while my wife was working on a doctorate.

When combined these facts mean that Farangian the full time writer, and Forever Mountain Publishing, had never known life without a grad student in the house. We have spent the last couple of years in a ‘make it work’ mode. And, while it’s good we can do that, it’s not really a healthy thing to do long term. So, about a month ago I gave myself the task of reanalyzing and making things work better in a ‘normal’ life (I know, there’s that word again…). That meant stopping the blog for a couple weeks, stopping the writing for a couple of weeks, thinking, reorienting, and then starting the whole thing up again with a new plan (it also meant my wife hiding the swords, axes, fire arms, plasma cannons, and so on until it was done…).

Going forward

Now we’re at the point where everything is moving forward again. I’m keeping semi-regular office hours (I still get book ideas at 5:00 AM on a Sunday morning, but I try not to be working on work stuff while I’m spending time with my wife in a non-work setting). I’ve reworked my weekly schedule so that things like website maintenance are less likely to be forgotten (I know I still have catching up to do, but at least it’s regularly on the plan and starting). And, I’m back to writing and putting out the blogs.

Things won’t change too much here. My blog at FMP is about writing: the mechanics of writing; life as a writer; the publishing process; and other things or interest to writing and publishing people. Words Mean Stuff is about words and ideas. That might sound like the writing blog, but from here on out it is about words and ideas about life: Making positive choices, finding meaning, and other “humany” stuff that words represent.

I will talk about books and projects that I am working on in both places, but I will try to talk about them in context appropriate ways. I will also talk about crafting stuff from time to time, in contextually appropriate ways. What I’m not going to be doing (well, I’ll try not to, but I’m not perfect) is ranting and spewing hurt feeler negativity. Those things happen in life, but I have no desire to speak of them here.

These blogs are about ideas and communication. You need a safe, open forum to talk about those things, and that’s what I’m going to make here. Speaking of talking… I love comments and discussion. So, dear reader, feel free to comment on the blogs, or share them if you find an opportunity and find the blog post worthy.

That’s it for this one dear reader, time to stop talking about and start doing! See you next week.

When it happens it happens…

It’s a short and sweet one today because a lot of things are starting to move very fast on a couple of book projects. On the other hand… I decided to push off the post I’d planned on doing today because some of what’s going on is really exciting (to me at least…).

Some days you can’t see that far ahead…

This week I’m seriously started on Jamie’s Sacrifice, the third book in a series that started with Johnson Farm. I got chapter one written last week (at the dreaded reunion…), but that was as far as I got. So, I started this week with a hand written chapter one to transcribe, and no idea how to get to the events I knew were happening at the end of act one (apparently three act structure is a thing for this book…). I also had a ton of stuff that had piled up on my desk while we were gone (still digging out actually…).

Monday: I got the prologue and the first part of chapter one transcribed, but still no idea what came next.

Tuesday: I got the rest of chapter one transcribed and still had no idea what to do next.

Wednesday: I figured out what should be in chapters two and chapter three, but didn’t actually get to write much of it. I got about three hand written pages and conked out again because I wasn’t sure how to attack the next section.

This kind of thing can be quite disheartening. I know of more than one project that has failed at this point because the artist/writer/creator allowed him/her self to become invested in not knowing how to move forward. Things get depressing. You want to stop. But, you can’t let yourself do that.

Some days you can…

Thursday came and I transcribed the first part of chapter two. Almost immediately it became clear what needed to happen in the next section! I ‘pencil whipped’ nine pages in a burst of activity that persuaded more than one customer at my hangout of the day that interrupting the ‘mad genius’ was a bad idea…

Friday (today) started with basic (non-writing) ‘get it done’ stuff. Then, while watering the roses, I realized that not only did I know what to do with chapter three, but chapter four followed pretty logically.

By the time I could put things down and do something about my ideas I knew what had to happen in chapter five.

By the time I got inside and finished writing myself a note I knew what was happening in chapter six.

Between finishing that note and actually getting into the shower I knew what I had to do for chapter seven.

By the time I was out of the shower I had worked out chapter eight and had a pretty good idea about what was happening in chapter nine.

At this point I realized I had caught up to the end of the first act stuff that I’d already planned. And that I really needed to get all of this formally written before I tried to push further…

We all do have hard days and hard times on the projects we work on. Actually I have to ask… “If they didn’t challenge us occasionally would they really be worth doing?” I am not going to say “buck up and get going” because that’s both insensitive and stupid (it overlooks people’s reality and situation. It’s an attempt to get people going while not really paying attention to what’s going on). But, I will say that if what you’re working on is really important to you and one of those down points hits. Don’t give up! Hold on to the project. Hold on to what you want to achieve and keep trying to find that next step forward. If the project is worthy and you are willing to keep trying, the answers will come and you will be able to move forward.

The universe is a really big place dear reader. The answers are out there and they will come in their own time.

Until then, good luck and I’ll see you next post!

Would You Believe It Isn’t the Money (Why We Do This part 4)

Last Friday (a week before this post went live) I did a book signing thing with the cover artist for my novel Johnson Farm. The next day I got to hand deliver a copy to another beautiful and intelligent young woman who just happened to have been one of my most important helpers in this process. She was the first teen to read the manuscript (kind of important for a YA novel…). Both of these experiences are ones I treasure. Both of these experiences reminded me that there is a lot more than dollars and cents involved in being an author.

Before anyone accuses me of making excuses because my book isn’t selling… I’m not.

A first novel (like Johnson Farm) usually isn’t a big cash machine and I know that. Also, Johnson Farm has outsold my previous book already… Literally it brought in more in the first month than my first book brought in in its first year (and I’m not expecting sales for Johnson Farm to really take off until the second or third book is released). I’m not being bitter about money. I’m just saying that there are other rewards that are more important.

Non-monetary rewards…

Both of the young women I mentioned were excited to be part of something. They got to do something, achieve something that they hadn’t done before. Both got to be on the inside. Both received a tangible artifact that demonstrated that someone valued them for their talents and abilities.

And me? My reward? You could hear it in their voices. I touched their lives. I gave them something more than just paper with words printed on it. I honestly feel like I made their lives better, at least a little bit.

Actually there is no practical empirical measure of how much of an effect even a small nudge toward the good can have. A single pebble, a single sound, can start an avalanche that seems vastly out of proportion to the energy put in to start it.

If you choose to create (write, draw, paint, sculpt, whatever), or just in living your life; if your only purpose is money, yours is going to be a sad and shallow life. There are greater things out there.

In the scripture my religion holds sacred it is said: And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!

It’s not about huge numbers, it is about the one.

What I will say to you dear reader is: If you choose to create, if you choose to build or make something that helps others access and understand the beauty, greatness, and power within them, then you are a force for good in the universe. And that has its reward’s dear reader, rewards that you will not understand until you see them. And even then you might not understand the true measure of what you have done.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Go, do, create, and be a force for good. See you next post.

 

When you are ready…

I’ve read it. I’ve said it. I’ve proved it true… You will get what you need when you’re ready for it.

I actually almost wrote about this last week, but the experience was a little too fresh and I guess I needed a little more distance…

As regular readers of this blog know I’m working on a young adult novel. The novel (actually the series now… Hard Way is the second book) has to do with a teenage boy trying to sort out his life. He is trying to sort out who he is; who his family is; who his friends are; and what he really believes. As the writer, it’s a challenge, but it’s a challenge that I’m willing to take. It’s a challenge I am taking.

I’m editing the second book and learning a great deal in the process. I’ve accepted that the third book (which I’m starting the first draft of next month…) is going to be even more of a challenge for reasons I’ve discussed here (link) among others.

I’m working hard, putting all the pieces I can into place. And yet, there are things missing. There are things that I can’t seem to find (on my own at least…). And then it happens…

Out of that tangled web we call the internet the girl I cared about back in high school, the girl my wife and I are both grateful to for having the courage to introduce me to the gospel of Jesus Christ, contacts me on facebook.

At the time I needed it most, the moment I was ready to receive it, someone from my past appeared and gave me what I needed. Someone provided the trigger to the memories I needed to get through the project.

You can get what you need to achieve any worthy goal dear readers. You need to be worthy of it. You need to look for it and prepare for it dear reader. But, whether you choose to call it a loving God or just a bountiful universe there is a source out there that will provide what you need when you are ready for it.

So dear reader, figure out your worthy goals. Figure out what you need to achieve them. And then get started. What you need will be there for you when the time is right.

I’m grateful to Susan and her family for really helping me when I needed it. And whether she knows it or not she’s helped me once again (Thank you Susan).

(A note for anyone wondering… No, neither one of us is going to allow anything inappropriate to come out of this. I love my wife. Susan loves her husband. I’m just telling the story of my adventures and thanking an old friend for some help along the way. (Oh, and my wife is nearly as good a shot with a handgun as I am…))

That’s it for this one dear reader. See you next post.

P.S. In an effort to become more social I’m going to be trying to respond to likes, follows and comments more consistently in the near future…

Last week I approved the proofs for the paperback edition of Johnson Farm

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I’ve talked about the book here, but I’ve never really introduced the hero and his family here. That should change…

So…

John closed the book and looked out through the windshield. One of the green freeway signs was just coming into view. Interchange coming up in three miles… “Dad, why can’t we stop at Craters of the Moon?”

John’s father, Lieutenant Commander Donovan Johnson United States Navy, looked straight ahead and kept both hands on the wheel. He wore the look he used when dealing with ‘official businesses’ at work, or with his family. “Because we need to get to the farm. Theo will be waiting.”

We haven’t seen Uncle Theo since my second birthday. How much of a priority can he be?  Besides, Craters of the Moon is on the way.  “We’re going to be driving right down the middle of them,” John muttered.

“So you will get to see them.”

“No Dad…” John flipped the switch for the door lock. “I want to get out and see them.” If we stay on schedule we’ll get to Uncle Theo’s around two. There’s plenty of time. It’s not like Dad wants to get there either…

John looked over his shoulder at the garment bag that held Dad’s dress uniform and John’s suit, his new black suit. “It’s not fair,” John said, “We were supposed to be going deep sea fishing.”

“That’s life John. We have to go. We’re expected.”

‘We’re expected…’ How many times have I heard that before? Every time Dad has some party, ‘We’re expected’… Every time Dad’s lady of the moment arranges a date, ‘We’re expected.’ Every time it’s what someone else wants, ‘We’re expected’… But when it’s something I want… Or need… Or care about…

“It’s a funeral John.” His father didn’t look at him, there was a van to pass. “It’s important for the family.”

John rolled his eyes. Uncle Theo, Aunt Mary, Uncle Harley, and some guy that was dead now, that was ‘the family’. Mom didn’t count, not to Dad. Her side of the family hadn’t counted since the divorce. Dad rarely talked about the people he did count as family, especially Uncle Harley.

It doesn’t matter. Can’t do anything about it anyway. Two more years and I could drive myself back to Craters of the Moon. Dad would probably claim I stole the car… If it was summer he could have been at Moms, and Dad could have gone without him. Does the custody agreement cover that?

John turned back to his book and let the miles fly by. The story of the Lost River has to be better than this…

At least the trip got John out of school for a few days, even though he had to do a book report. Roadside Geology of Idaho would be easy enough to report on. He’d been collecting rocks for years. And I’m actually getting to see some of the stuff I’m reading about…

When he finished the chapter he flipped through the book looking at the pictures. He stopped on a shot of reddish sandstone. There’s a lot of ancient seabed around here, and fossil fish…

We should be fishing right now… Deep sea fishing was supposed to make up for the Padres game when Dad ended up with CDO watch. And the game was supposed to be to make up for… It doesn’t matter…

John went back to flipping through the book. He stopped on a picture of some rhyolite. “Couldn’t we have come up through Nevada?” John asked.

“I’d rather stay on the fifteen,” Dad said, “Some of the stretches through Nevada are pretty desolate. Besides there’s probably still snow.”

That was true enough. There’d been unmelted patches as they went through the Milad Pass. But, there were a lot of places to stop for rocks on the Nevada road. Not that we would have stopped… Dad didn’t see the value of ‘digging up rocks’.

Sometimes Dad talked about the ‘rock machine’ he and his brother had when they were kids. That was about all he said about Uncle Harley, that they had a rock machine. He hadn’t even said that much since the divorce.

Mom could have gotten Dad to stop. Before the divorce…

Mom did a lot of things before the divorce, she was a stay at home mom then. Now she was dating some guy from work and going to events with some ‘office professionals’ organization. But, beyond the delusion that the 1950’s were still cool she didn’t really do much anymore. Who would believe that staying with Dad was better?

“Look, basalt,” Dad said.

John looked up. They’d reached Craters of the Moon. He laughed when he saw the sign. “No Hunting. Yeah, take a shot out there. That’s a self-correcting problem.”

Dad almost laughed. “What?”

John rolled his eyes again. “Look at all the rocks Dad. If you took a shot out here it would probably ricochet back and hit you in the head.”

Dad shook his head and went back to watching the road. “I don’t think…”

John scanned the scenery. There was a little scrub, but more lichen on boulders than real plants. “Besides,” John said, “what is there to hunt around here?”

Dad pointed. John followed the line from his finger to the doe that was disappearing between two boulders.

There really are things to shoot out there… “Hey Dad,” John asked, “Think we could get some shooting in once we get to the farm?” A deer’s too big, but there’s got to be rabbits and stuff.

Dad flinched just slightly. John almost missed it.

“Can we?” John asked.

“We’ll see,” Dad said. He muttered something under his breath. All John could catch was “Harley” and “Last time.” Probably shouldn’t push…

John watched the terrain, looking for more deer. He spotted a couple rabbits between the rocks. He’d brought his air guns, the rifle and the pistol. If he could elude Dad and the uncles for a while he could get in some shooting whether they liked it or not.

The rocks were beginning to blur together. You can only look at so much basalt, even when you’re a rock hound. There was no help for it. John laid back and tried to go to sleep.

His mind wandered. Some blond girl was waving at him.

The next thing he knew Dad was shaking him.

John pushed Dad’s hand off his shoulder. “What?”

Dad pointed, then turned at a sign that read ‘private road’.

They were in rolling hills, more dirt than rock. But still some boulders though… There were fields, some short and green, others just rows of dirt. There was some kind of irrigating rig in the field just to the left. Ahead of them was a cluster of buildings. A couple of barns stood off in the distance. The houses were closer.

The smallish house on the left was faded avocado green. Between the peeling paint and the aged wood of the porch it could have blended into the surroundings, or been written off as abandoned. But, the roof was too new, red and black asphalt shingles.

The house to the right was bigger, newer, and painted the same red as the barn behind it. Someone had even used the same white for the trim. The chairs on the porch were done in a floral pattern that Mom would have loved. Real 1950’s escapees…

John’s eye was drawn to the thing between the houses. So, what is…?

It looked like a cross between a chicken coop and a little girl’s playhouse. But, whoever she was, the girl had been gone a long time. The coop’s faded avocado paint had pealed, revealing a faded blue underneath. Where the blue paint had peeled away there was old, worn wood. Above the walls the roof was brown and vibrant green, old wooden shingles playing home to lively moss.

“Dad, what’s that?”

Dad ignored him. He stopped the car in front of the red house and pointed to the door that was just opening. “They’re waiting.”

Johnson Farm is available in E-book form here and from other major online sources. The physical book will be available as soon as they get here from the printer.

Thanks dear reader. See you next post.

Don’t write (all) your obsessions!

One of the first, and best, pieces of advice young writers are given is: ‘write your obsessions’ (you can substitute passions for obsessions if you must). It’s good advice, but it’s a guideline with a dirty little secret.

You should write things you are interested in, things you know about, care about, and are willing to spend time with. Those are the things that you do. They are part of your natural way of going. Those are the things you know enough about to write them well (or at least you are willing to learn about them to a high enough degree to write about them well).

Writing about things you really know and do saves you a lot of time in research because you know the basics already. You know the language of what you’re writing about. This is a good thing, but it will also require you to think about what you’re writing and who you are writing for.

“Well Farangian… I’m already thinking about those things!”

Yes, but sometimes the way you have to think about things to write about them is different from the way you think about them to actually do them. You have to think about audience. You have to think about presentation, formatting, packaging, grammar, narrative structure… Sometimes you may even find yourself trying to work up projects just so you can write about them.

And there dear reader is the dark secret. If we write about our obsessions, if we write about the things we love, it can easily turn what we love to do and do for enjoyment into work. Turning what we love to do into work can kill our enthusiasm for doing, and for writing.

The way out is to write about your obsessions, but not all of you obsessions. And definitely do not write about all of your obsessions all the time.

Yes, if you love pottery you can write pottery books. But, when it gets to feel like work you might need to back away for a while. That may mean putting the writing down, or going to work on some other interest (for a while at least… Don’t give up entirely on you obsession, or your writing). It may be a good idea to separate what you love from what you write, or spend some time with another interest that you’re not writing about (at least for a little while).

Sometimes time away from a project is the best thing you can do for it. To achieve that ‘step away’ time you need to have something you’re not writing about (Gasp! I know… It scares me too!)

So, yes dear reader, write your obsessions. Just don’t write about all of them all the time.

Now, if you’ll excuse me I think Delta and Echo companies need their commander…

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See you next post!

Whine or Do?

Occasionally when you are working on a project you get to learn something. If you’re lucky you might even learn something about yourself…

I initially wrote this on Tuesday after finishing a little work on Going Home the Hard Way, my next novel (and my most recent NANOWRIMO project). I’d just finished going through chapter 1 for the fourth (fifth?) time. While I was feeling pretty good about the chapter I was a bit worried about my hero being a bit of a whiny brat (he is fourteen…)

I realized that, for the character, occasional bouts of whininess are to be expected (again, he is fourteen and from a broken home…). John growing out of that whininess is part of the story I’m trying to tell. The important part of things is to not let myself (as a theoretical adult) be a whiny brat.

It is easy to complain about the ‘breaks’ and chance you didn’t get. It is easy to say “if only I had what he/she has, then I could succeed!”

One of the miracles of our world dear reader is that we have the ability to change. We can become more than we have been.

Another miracle of our world is that we can achieve our worthy desires. Maybe not in quite the way we initially see them, but we can achieve them. We will be given what we need to do so, if we will do the work and be ready to receive what we need when it is given.

It takes thought and effort, but we can really achieve our worthy desires.

Stay tuned dear reader, and see you next post.

Geometry and Reality

I’d like to start with a thought I had while doing some book research:

In geometry terms a line is a theoretical, it has no ends. A line segment is the thing with two end points. For our purposes we can have as many line segments as we need, in any direction we need, as long as the overall line from us to our goal is followed.  When we stray from that (mental) line we are in trouble.

When we actually try something we want to do the result can be pretty ugly. We will make mistakes. We will have missteps…

But, if we learn from our mistakes and missteps we can progress toward the thing we really desire, even though the line segments in reality don’t line up as perfectly straight and true as the mental/theoretical line we wanted.

How this has applied in my life:

As of this Saturday (20 May 2017) the novel Johnson Farm is finally on sale. It’s been a long time in coming. It would have been quicker to arrive if I could have held closer to that mental/theoretical line between where I was and me being an author. It would have been a much longer process if I had continued to listen to those who told me I couldn’t do it, or pushed me in other directions.

I will admit that my first attempt at writing a novel wasn’t very good. It was a first attempt; I was going through a lot at the time; and I was about twelve… Just because I didn’t knock it out of the park on the first one doesn’t mean I should have given up!

That first attempt still exists as a file on my computer. Elements of that story also exist here and there in other stories I’ve written (and some I’m writing right now…). I keep that story around because it helps me see where I was when I started down the path to being an author and novelist. It helps me measure my progress.

What it actually means:

Sometimes the real life line isn’t as straight as the mental/theoretical one. But those shifts aren’t necessarily mistakes, unless you give up. That’s an important distinction. The time I said “that person is right, I can’t succeed as an author, I should be a computer programmer” was a mistake. It was me shifting from the true line. The times I set a story down to get a little distance and perspective before I picked it up again were not.

Ultimately it is that mental line from where you are to where you’re going that matters. If you have to side step to get around (or over, or under) an obstacle that’s OK. If you’re beating your head against a cement wall, you’re not getting anywhere. If you shift slightly to walk through a doorway you’re making progress.

The sidesteps and diversions that come from giving up on a goal are the ones that can kill you. The ones that you can explain in terms of how they get you closer to your goal (including making it possible to get to your goal…) are the ones that save you.

The biggest threat to your success is the same thing as your biggest asset in becoming successful. It’s  you, dear reader, ultimately it all comes down to you, and your active choice to do the things that will get you where you want to go;  even when it doesn’t look to others like that’s what’s happening.

That’s it for this one dear reader, see you next post.