Tuesday, October 21, 2014

500 Words- Day 22 (Fear part I)

As part of my participation in My 500 words, I am posting what I write each day. I’m following the suggested prompt today, which was to write about fear.
     I passed a milestone last week when I marked four years at my current job. I’m 47 years old and I’ve now been at this job longer than any other job in my life. My current boss asked me why I thought it was, never holding a job for more than 4 years in my life. I had to reflect. I sound like a shiftless drifter in some ways, or perhaps a romantic jack-of-all-trades with wanderlust. The truth is a little of both.
I was a young kid I wanted to grow up to be a policeman or fireman, this was mostly so I could drive a vehicle real fast through the streets with flashing lights. As I grew older I liked to draw and design things. I thought I might design cars or be an architect. I liked writing even back then and made up stories all the time.  Then I discovered acting. I performed in community theatre and decided I wanted to be an actor.
     My first job was mowing lawns for my dad’s church. I took my first real job working for a paycheck after high school. All day long I cleaned hotel windows. I worked slowly, daydreaming I supposes. I was fired after about two months. Then I worked as a pizza cook for nine months.
When I went to college to study acting, it was not an acting college and the theatre department was very small compared to performing arts schools. But I didn’t really know what I was doing. So I studied a lot of humanities as well as the few acting courses. I worked in the mailroom and the switchboard for work study. Over the summer I worked fast food twice and drove pizzas one summer.
     I graduated college with a useless degree and tried to get into radio. The major stations in Honolulu may or may not have been interested in an intern, but I only applied to my favorite station once. I went back to delivering pizza for several months until I took a leap of faith and moved back to Maui where I’d grown up. There I finally got a job at a radio station.
     At last, I was at a job where I had fun, mostly. I worked graveyard, which was fine as a bachelor, but not so good when I got married and started a family. When a day shift opened up, they didn’t give it to me. I was reliable and needed on nights. I realized it was time to move on. I had been there 3 years.     
I thought I had a job lined up, but I didn’t. I spent a few weeks unemployed while my wife had National Guard Duty. Then I got a job driving shuttle vans to and from the airport. I spent two years there building seniority. The job had fast employee turnover. Soon I was getting the nicer vans and the hours I wanted, which was first thing in the morning. I was often at work at 5 to do a pickup at 6. I worked for tips as well as a salary, bringing home different amounts of cash each day.
In 1996 I applied to teach overseas as mission work. We were accepted, and after 5 weeks of training, I went with my wife and two young children to Budapest, Hungary where I taught English as a second language for two years. We came back with 3 kids and my wife was pregnant with our 4th.
We moved back into our first floor condominium on Maui and I looked for work. I cleared lots for a few weeks, did some stage setups with union guys and finally found a job as a substitute teacher.
Then in 1999 the worst thing in my life began.
And I haven’t even written yet about what I’m afraid of. I know what I’ll be writing tomorrow and look forward to sharing more.  


Monday, October 20, 2014

500 Words- (We and They Who Hurt)

As part of my participation in My 500 words, I am posting what I write each day.
     Sometimes writing character-driven stories can be more exhausting than any other kind of writing. But in real life, it’s people that make things happen. Sure, there may be natural occurrences, that affect our lives, but how people react to them is still what drives humanity.
     When we start out our life as infants, we’re selfish and hungry. If we develop normally we eventually learn empathy and how to care for other’s needs. But do we ever lose our selfish desires? Do they just lay underneath our conscience, under control most of the time? I think so. It’s why there’s conflict in the world.
     When I hear or read someone’s story, their testimony or an account from their life that explains who they are, that person becomes more real to me. In my few years in Celebrate Recovery I’ve heard some powerful stories of people’s lives. Each time, I’m reminded that these people have been shaped by events of their life and choices they made. They’ve been hurt and betrayed. They’ve had role models, good and bad. They’ve made choices they’ll regret forever.
     I’m reminded that these people are just like me.
     While I know a few people that it’s hard to imagine them ever being unkind or selfish, there are the other people. I don’t know most of them, but I see them being rude to cashiers or driving their loud vehicles above the speed limit in a school zone. Then there are people I know whose character flaws are all I seem to notice most of the time. These people might seem very selfish. They might make other’s lives more difficult for no apparent reason. They might be bullies, passive-aggressive saboteurs, or power-tripping micromanagers. We all know people like this, do we?
     But what’s more, are these people any different than us? The man in his illegally parked Corvette who’s rude to the girl at Starbucks. The woman who spreads hurtful gossip. Even the schoolyard bully. We all have a past full of incidents that shaped us and people who’ve hurt us. We all have coping mechanisms that we use to deal with life’s hurts. I have them and so does every person who irritates me or makes my life difficult.
     We all have a past that defines us. Some of us may not like what we’ve become from it and feel the need to act in a certain way, hoping to find security or identity. Some of us may not be aware of how we are and we think we’re doing the best we can. I know I’ve been there. I’ve thought I was doing it right, indispensable, and doing no damage. I had a cold wake-up call when I finally saw how I had been with others. The damage took years to mend.
     I’m not offering a solution to my observations other than this: I think we all know people in our lives that we don’t care for. Personally, I’m going to try to remember how it is for me sometimes. I’ve felt insecure and alone. These people do too sometimes. They’re coping with life in the way they can. Yes, it’s hurting others, and sometimes these people are poisonous to the point where they just need to be cut from our lives. But they’re this way for a reason.
     Readership on my blog has been down. If you are reading this, you might wonder if there is anyone in particular on my mind and this is my own passive-aggressive way of dealing with it. If you have questions, please message me. The point of today’s blog was to write 500 words about what’s on my mind. Mission accomplished.      


Sunday, October 19, 2014

500 Words- Day 20 (Innocence)

As part of my participation in My 500 words, I am posting what I write each day.
     The theme of the story is the truth that if proves. Even fiction proves some kind of truth. It can be something as simple as “good triumphs over evil” or “love conquers all”. When I am serious about writing something, I want to have a theme. When it was time to start developing my novel for this November, before I thought too much about what it would be about, before I even really tried to think of an ending, I felt I needed to know what I wanted to say. I needed my theme. And from what I had of the story, the theme revealed itself, innocence.
     The theme of The Snowdrop Princess is going to be preservation versus loss of innocence. The little girl in the story, from the beginning I have now, is innocent to anything in the world. She will be brought up by holograms, probably run by some central computer system. She will have one hologram, maybe created especially for her that will be her best friend. That best friend hologram will be The Snowdrop Princess, representing innocence.
     But what if prisoners of the state are incarcerated at this fortress? The government thinks that it’s empty of real people. They don’t know there’s a single little girl living there who was mysteriously dropped off as a young toddler, who spends her days running and playing with a hologram resembling a girl her age. I see conflict.
     For the past two days I’ve alluded to something else. Several years ago, I had a vision of a little girl, perhaps school-age, wandering around a smoke-swept battlefield littered with bodies. The girl isn’t disturbed by death. She closes the eyes of some fallen soldiers and searches them for any provisions. So I sat down and wrote something, first just pen and paper, where the girl is finally frightened off by wolves. Then I took a few days to sit and type up what I could.
It was an exploration. The girl was looking for food, but I learned that it was to take back to someone. Someone was holding her father hostage, compelling this girl to go and search dead soldiers on the battlefield. My story began the day she found a handgun. Acting on her father’s instructions, the girl took a single bullet and filed it down near the primer. (I asked an ex-policeman if this would happen). The girl took food and the gun back to where her father was being held prisoner by another man. This “bad man” as the girl thought of him, seemed to me some fugitive from the war, desperate enough to hold a father and daughter. The father was injured, sick and dying. The girl gave the pistol to the desperate fugitive, and later provoked him into shooting it. With the altered bullet, the handgun misfired, seriously injuring this bad man. He soon dies of blood loss. The  father also passes away. The girl, on her own in some dystopian wilderness, moves on.
That snippet came to me the other night. What if I could incorporate that into my story? I’ve been keeping it on hold for years, it’s not like I’m desperate to use it soon, ideas don’t really expire. But will this idea work for The Snowdrop Princess? Who is this girl? She’s too old to be the one dropped off at the fortress unless I change things up. Does she make it to the fortress years or decades earlier only to live and die and eventually be resurrected as a hologram?
Is she one of the criminals who is sentenced to the fortress?
There’s lots to think about and ponder. I’ve got just under two weeks to figure at least a few things out. There’s a chance this November novel could be little more than a convoluted mess. But with enough thought and planning, I might create something that shines.    


Saturday, October 18, 2014

500 Words- Day 19 (Keeping a Theme)

As part of my participation in My 500 words, I am posting what I write each day.
     I get asked questions like this sometimes: What makes a book great? What’s the most important thing for a fiction book to have?
     I will see plenty of answers, some are obvious, like a good plot. Other answers say good characters. I try to always answer the same thing. What makes a story great is when the author believes in their theme. The theme is the truth that’s proved by the story. To me, the writer has to passionately believe in that truth. If they do, everything else should follow. They will take the time and make the effort to develop life-like characters and an engaging conflict to drive the plot. How this conflict is resolved says everything about who the writer is.
     The best stories that I have written are the ones that have a theme I believe in. I don’t always start with the theme, but I keep it in mind when I’m plotting. Whenever I am faced with a choice of how the story will go, I refer to the story’s theme for direction.
     I have a story idea for my November novel. A little girl is left at a mountain fortress to be raised by holograms. Okay, I had a premise and a title, The Snowdrop Princess. But what was actually going to happen in the story? How much of this was going to be based on the story I told my kids years ago? I needed a theme.
     I had some ideas for what would happen in the story. God forgive me for jumping on the dystopian genre bandwagon, but the story is in a future where the government is rebuilding after a collapse of civilization. This government wants to create a prison that’s humane, but safe. Why not have it guarded by holograms? In fact, history shows that there is a mountain fortress populated by nothing but holograms.
     I can see a complicated conflict here. It needs a lot of development still. And my theme, what truth do I believe in that I want this story to prove? What will be the DNA of this story’s structure?
     It’s times like this I wish I could take a sabbatical like last year, where I went out to the desert, scores of miles away from another human being. I had notebooks and pens and I sat and worked on Sidewinder. That turned into a pretty good first draft and it’s on its way to becoming a good novel. Is there magic in a sabbatical?
     Well, yes. But it’s just not possible this year. And while there is mojo in a sabbatical, I can dig it up elsewhere. And I did. I know my theme.
Like I mentioned at the end of yesterday’s writing, I had a story opening in mind that led me to want to write The Snowdrop Princess as my November novel. Then, two nights ago, something came to me, and now I’ve got a choice to make. I thought of a story opening I wrote a few years ago, not knowing where to take it. I thought someday I would use it for a November novel. And the other night I realized it keeps with my theme more than the other idea I had.
On a different note to anyone who reads this: Thank you for indulging me these “cliffhangers” as I end uncertainly like this so often. It’s not to draw readers back. It’s to draw me back to writing tomorrow. And thank you, too, for reading. Your support is encouraging.