Weekend Coffee Share: Of Birthdays and Writing Skills

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you I’m officially a year older than I was last weekend. It’s one of those odd, nondescript birthdays that don’t mean much except that I’ve survived another year, but it’s been a good one. We had a few family members over for snacks and cake yesterday. It’s the first time in several years I’ve celebrated my birthday with anyone outside the immediate family, and it was nice. Having a decent-sized house with porches instead of a tiny, impossible-to-clean apartment really helps.

weekendcoffeeshare

My grandson, who is seven, got me a push-broom for my birthday. He thought of it himself. Sweeping the porches is mostly his job. Since we only moved to this house recently, the novelty of having porches to sweep hasn’t worn off.  It’s still more play than work for him.

We found an old pushbroom in the toolshed when we moved in and I taught him to use it because sweeping a carport, a front porch, and a back patio with a regular floor broom is a  bit of a chore. We broke the old push broom last month, and when my wife and stepdaughter stated talking about gifts for me, he told them I would be “tickled” to get a new push broom. And he was right. I am tickled by it, because it’s a thoughtful gift.

The highlight of the day, though, was the gift my grandson gave me last night after everyone had left. He made me close my eyes and hold out my hand, and presented me with a tiny blue jay feather. I collect cool natural objects, and I have a little shelf where I keep them. I have an old deer antler, a 30-year old rattle from a rattlesnake one of my grandfathers killed a long time ago, and some other things there.

We picked up a barn owl feather and added it to the collection last week, and Blue Jay feathers are somewhat hard to come by in these parts. I was pleased that he picked it up and even more pleased that he saved it and made it into a birthday present for me. After we were done with that and had hugs all around, I helped him start his first short story.

The short story writing is something we’ve been talking about for a week or so. Last weekend, the grandson had to write several pages of sentences to correct a behavioral thing that was getting out of hand. I supervised that and made him report to me at the end of every page, because I wanted to see how quickly he could write a page of sentences for future reference. He did the sentences neatly, and in good time.

coffeeWhen he was done with the sentences he said, “writing is kinda fun,” and we had a conversation about things he could write other than sentences. That conversation turned to stories. What he wants is to write stories on a keyboard and publish them on the internet, but I’ve explained that he needs to start with stories on paper, and that it takes a while to get a story to the point that it’s ready to publish.

So, last night we sat down with a notebook and I helped him start his first story. I taught him about brainstorming, asked questions to help him keep his ideas in order, and helped him with spelling. The conversation started with him asking whether the story should be fiction or nonfiction. I told him to write whichever he wanted, and he decided to write fiction because, he said, “I don’t know any true stories to write about.”

An hour and a half after we started, we ended up with a single hand-written page, plus one line on the next page just to keep the thing rolling when he sits down to work on it again. It’s already better than the first story I ever tried to write, because it has a real plot. Here’s an excerpt.

Once upon a time, there lived a cow. The cow was magical. It was evil. It wanted to rule the world. It had a secret lair and lots of  weapons. It made a war with the king.

The cow said lots of cuss words at the king . . .

He totally came up with that on his own. All I did was ask open-ended questions like “Okay, stories need characters. So, what sort of character do you want to start with? It can be a person, and animal, a talking car . . .” But you can definitely tell from this opening that he spends a lot of time with me.

He asked permission to put that last line in there, and given that I’m trying to teach him to think for himself and take risks with his writing, I thought it was important to let him include it. There’s also a queen who makes her first appearance in the next paragraph, armies with super-cool names, and a dungeon. All in the space of four paragraphs. I’m hoping he comes back to this and is able to sustain this narrative for another page or two.weekendcoffeeshare_2015

I’ve promised to publish the full story for him if he finishes it. We’re negotiating a price for it. I’ve offered him $5. He isn’t sure he wants to sell his VERY FIRST STORY EVER for that small a sum. I can’t say I blame him, but I’m not sure he understands that all I’m going to do is type it and post it, and he gets to keep the physical copy.

And that was my weekend. We’ve got the usual comics coming at mid-week, but I’m not sure what we’re doing tomorrow. It will likely be something brief and strange.

Happy Sunday. Don’t forget to add your coffee post to the linkup at Part Time Monster and share it with #WeekendCoffeeShare on Twitter.

Advertisements

Sourcerer’s 11: Questions for Blogger Gretchen Kelly

Welcome to the August edition of Sourcerer’s 11, our monthly interview series. I’m pleased to have my friend Gretchen Kelly of Drifting Through My Open Mind in the hot seat today. Gretchen is one of my best friends in the blogosphere, and is one of a handful of bloggers I followed when I first started blogging here in 2013. She is an active member of Sisterwives and has been published by The Elephant Journal, Blunt Moms, and Mamapedia.

Unsplash photo by Daniela Cuevas

Unsplash photo by Daniela Cuevas

Welcome, Gretchen!

Thank you Gene’O! I’m glad to be here!

Great! Let’s get down to the questions.

Q1: Let’s begin by talking about your blog, Drifting Through My Open Mind. Can you share a little bit with us about why you started it and how you came up with the concept?

I fell in love with writing in the Third Grade. It’s always been a part of me. But for years I wrote nothing. I began to really miss writing for a purpose beyond my own eyes. I felt like there were things I wanted to say. And I knew I had at least one book in me that I needed to write. I felt like a blog would be a good place to find my voice again.gretchen

The title of the blog is from a Beatles’ lyric “Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup, They slither while they pass, they slip away across the universe. Pools of sorrow, waves of joy are drifting through my open mind” This encompassed everything I felt about writing and the purpose and feel of my blog. And music is one of the biggest influences in my writing. I am inspired by lyrics and music. Often a song or lyric directs me in what to write.

Q2: When you and I compare notes on blogs we like, our conversation often turns to authorial voice. I’m not sure I’ve ever told you this directly, but I sometimes describe you as having a “voice that can break windows.” Which is a compliment. I’m curious about your writing process. Do the words come out all at once, mostly-done but for proofreading, or are you a revision maniac, as I am?

Wow. No, you’ve never told me that. But I find that to be a high compliment.

My writing process varies. Sometimes the words come out effortlessly. Other times I have to tug and pull to get to what it is I really need to say. That is the hard part. That’s part of the reason it takes me days to write one blog post. I usually have to ruminate on the topic for a few days. I write and rewrite until I feel like I’m satisfied with the thoughts. Then I pick apart the wording. I read and re-read endlessly, up until I hit “publish.” Honestly, I could edit and rewrite forever. Writing is the only aspect of my life in which I’m a perfectionist. (And no, you won’t find perfection on my blog. But I obsess over it.)

Q3: Much of the art you create for your blog is brilliant. I like that you often feature your family in the images, but do it so as to protect their privacy. In the beginning, your about page image is one of the things that made me go “woah! Follow this blog, Gene’O.” Can you tell us anything about how the art gets done?

Ha! The art on the “About” page is my daughter’s work. She’s a bit of an artist herself, but that was a photo editing app she was having fun with. She likes to take family photos and add her comedic take. When I saw the family photo she altered I gleefully put it on my “About” page to represent the people in my life that represent my heart.

I truly struggle with finding art for my blog (don’t we all?) On occasion I’ve taken a picture specifically to represent a topic. (My favorite is the photo I took for my Elephant Journal post.) I would love to spend more time playing around with photography for my blog but as it is I barely can squeeze in writing time! I often use photos from Unsplash or MorgueFile and occasionally art from DeviantArt.

Photo by Gretchen for The Elephant Journal

Photo by Gretchen for The Elephant Journal

Q4: Sourcerer is somewhat notorious for being politically neutral at this point. But we started a #FeministFriday thing here that’s still going, and you were the catalyst. Why did you jump into the Feminist Fridays with both feet, and what has that project meant to you?

I was raised by a strong, feminist mother. She is one of my real life heroes. And it’s a cause I’ve always been passionate about. I knew I didn’t want to write about politics on my blog, but Human Rights, Feminism, Racism, social justice causes aren’t political in my mind. At least they shouldn’t be.

Both you and Diana inspired me to want to write about Feminism. Reading some posts on Sourcerer and Part Time Monster gave me a push and encouragement that there would be an audience for that kind of writing. Between comment exchanges on both of your blogs I felt emboldened to reach out to you on Twitter to see if you’d be interested in some kind of feminism project. It’s hard to believe that it’s been going on for well over a year! And since then, an ebook and a growing group of contributors and an ever-growing audience… it really is exciting. The Feminist Friday Project is the thing I’m most proud of in the two years I’ve been blogging. It has been enlightening and invigorating and I feel it is a really important thing we’re doing. I know for a fact that some minds and perspectives have been changed because of what we’ve all written about (I’ve had a few people who’ve told me as much.) Is there anything more important than that?

Q5: Lots of bloggers — I daresay most — struggle to balance family time with blogging time. I certainly do. Any advice on how to manage that?

It is something I’m still trying to figure out. I try to carve out little pockets of time here and there. I do most of my writing at night after all of the kids are in bed. Some weeks allow for more writing time, others are so busy with life and obligations that I can hardly write at all. Weekends are my protected and sacred family time. I try to be mostly unplugged and engaged with the family.

Q6: You were Freshly Pressed, early on. What was that like?

It was incredibly exciting. Getting Freshly Pressed was my first priority/goal when I started blogging. The idea for the post had been brewing in the back of my mind and it was after reading a post of yours on Sourcerer that I felt motivated and inspired (thank you!) and moved forward with writing it.

The funny thing is, the post almost never saw the light of day. I was editing the final draft late one night, intending to publish it the next morning. Something happened and WordPress deleted my draft. I had written what I felt was the most important blog post at that point in my short time blogging, and I had nothing. It was all gone. After a few tears and a few choice words I re-wrote the whole thing from memory. I had only basic notes and references in a notebook. I almost gave up and didn’t finish it. The next morning I hit publish and later that day found out it was going to be Freshly Pressed! Incidentally it was a feminist piece about women and online harassment.

Q7: What’s the best post, in your own estimation, you’ve ever published?

The best and the one that is closest to my heart is “Lessons From the Worst Day Of My Life” I wrote it about losing my brother to cancer 10 days before my wedding. It was the first blog post that got any kind of response. At that point I had only been blogging for a few weeks and had no blogger friends. But I shared it on FaceBook and it got a huge response. To this day, it is the blog post that means the most to me. I view it as a tribute to my brother and it is a glimpse into what my book (a work very slowly in progress) will be about.

Q8: I know you follow quite a few blogs that I have no inkling of. Can you recommend one single blog other than your own to us, and tell us why you like it?

Oh, this is a hard one. Just one? OK… Sandy Ramsey of An Honest Sinner is one of my favorite writers. She writes real and raw, and her positive energy comes through her writing. I commented recently on her blog that her writing is “like a refreshing rain.” Her writing is gorgeous and she talks about important stuff.

Q9: Any advice for bloggers who are just starting out?

Find your voice. Every time you write something, try to dig a little bit deeper. Then a little deeper. Don’t just scratch the surface. Find other blogs you like. Follow them, comment on them. Engage and connect with other bloggers. You will learn a lot from doing this. You will find support and if you’re lucky you’ll make some great friends. Oh, and know that you will feel like giving up and you will doubt yourself every time you post something (or is it just me?) but just forge on and keep at it.

Unsplash Photo by Joshua Earle

Unsplash Photo by Joshua Earle

Q10: Give us your best elevator pitch. In four sentences or less, why should we read your blog?

Ugh, the dreaded elevator pitch! You know I’m not succinct! OK, here goes: A blog that is sometimes serious, sometimes funny, always real. Reflections on life and love and parenting. Thoughts and rants on equality and justice and things that matter. Writing from the heart.

Q:11: If you could own one magical artifact or piece of out-of-this-world technology – large or small – from the simplest magic wand to a Death Star, what would it be?

A time machine. I would only use it to visit the past. I would use it to visit people. I would go back in time and stand stage-side at WoodStock while Jimi Hendrix was playing. I would have conversations with John Lennon and hang out with Janis Joplin. I would pick the brains of inspiring and influential people throughout history. I would go back to meet long lost relatives and see my grandparents when they were in their youth. But most of all, I would go back and relive so many moments with my brother.

Sourcerer’s Eleven: Questions for Author Joshua Robertson

Welcome to round three of Sourcerer’s Eleven. An interview series where contributors within the site get a shot in the big chair. The Instigator-In-Chief, Gene’o interviewed Luther Siler, who then put me through my paces, so now it’s my turn *rubs hands together*. In the hot seat today is Joshua Robertson, author of Melkorka (Book 1: Thrice Nine Legends), and A Midwinter Sellsword (Book 1: Hawkhurst Saga).

AuthorPic2

  1. You recently released Gladiators and Thieves, book two of the Hawkhurst Saga. Can you tell us a little about that series and how it came about?

You will have to forgive me if I momentarily nerd rage. The story of Hawkhurst was never intended to be in my collection of stories. Hawkhurst first began as a politically-themed RPG MUD (Roleplaying Game Multi-User Dimension) played through text on a web-based platform. I spent an entire weekend creating a complex city from the ground up – detailed with theological and political underpinnings – vibrant with unique shops, guilds, and NPCs. Unfortunately, the group of players only were able to engage in the game for a few weeks. I could not let the creation go to waste, so I started restructuring the themes of the plot into an engaging tale.

MidwinterCover

The series is about Argus, the bastard child of House Madrin, who ran away from Hawkhurst years ago after being enslaved as a gladiator. Argus is tricked into returning to the underground city. He soon finds himself trapped and subjugated to the political games between the noble houses. In desperation, he is forced to trust old friends with hopes to escape again before anyone discovers his true identity.

GnTCover

That’s a great origin story, and an extremely rewarding outlet for the nerd rage! For the plotters among us, it’s a dream come true – a whole platform with which to expand on. Those who know you, will be aware that you began crafting the world for your dark fantasy series Thrice Nice Legends in 1999. I really like the fact there’s a fan site for the series, and a TnL tabletop game. I’m going to leave the gaming element there for now. There are several contributors at Sourcerer who will be chomping at the bit to ask you questions so we’ll leave it for the thread!

  1. I had a great deal of fun on my visit into the world; Melkorka is a wonderful introduction to the series. I know the sequel Dyndaer will be released in January 2016. You’re also co-writing a standalone within the Thrice Nine Legends. How did that particular collaboration come about?    

melkorka

Ooo…there is a good question. You weren’t kidding about the hot seat! The TnL Game originated from a collaborative plan back in 2013, where my world was used as the primary setting. The game continues to be tweaked and play tested, but to answer your question – JC Boyd, the co-author to Anaerfell (the standalone novel) is also my partner in the TnL game. He and I developed an idea for a book in 2004 and Anaerfell is the final result of that original idea. Thrice Nine Legends will soon be better described as a shared universe (much like Dragonlance) with a series of stories taking place in the same world. Melkorka, Dyndaer, and the final book, Maharia (set to be released in 2017), will be a trilogy within The Kaelandur Series.

AnaerfellCover

  1. That is incredibly cool, it has to be said. I can see it now; novels, game accessories, films, audiobooks – a hugely exciting project in more ways than one! You recently set up your own company, a small press (Crimson Edge Publishing), specializing in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Dystopian Fiction, and Horror. That in itself takes considerable planning, not to mention the shared universe. What’s your secret when juggling all these projects (we can’t all have J.A.R.V.I.S) – is there a programme you use, a specific system, a container full of notes, an army of minions, how exactly do you keep everything straight?

That would be incredible. When I sell just one book, I’m like an 80s child discovering Q-Bert for the first time. If my stories ever made it to film, my mind would be blown! [And, I’d beg to be an actor in the movie.] As for keeping it straight, I wish I had something cool like JARVIS, but my budget only goes as far as sticky notes (the computer-widget kind). In all seriousness, I stick to a structured schedule for gym, writing, editing, publishing, marketing, family, and so on. I only deviate to fill the coffee pot.

  1. I have planners envy! I couldn’t stick to a schedule if it followed me around all day 🙂 I can totally appreciate the Q-Bert reference, and that feeling of excitement (though I was a Donkey Kong fan myself). But in all seriousness, when we writers dream, we tend to dream big…so I’m sure, if you don’t already have the full cast in your head, you have an idea of what your characters would look like on the screen. Do you have detailed character profiles, concept art, that kind of thing?

There have been several illustrators who have created rough concept art for Thrice Nine Legends, but there are no pictures of the characters found in the stories. I would be thrilled to have some fully framed, canvas images of the characters to hang up around my house. But, yes, I have files upon files of detailed character profiles. I have a short biography on each character that outlines their homeland, family and upbringing, major childhood events, adolescence and training, religion, romances, and motivations for the plot. The motivations are the most important! My kingdoms, cities, and other settlements are far more detailed than the characters, mirroring the same complexity as Hawkhurst. I have folders embedded in folders embedded in more folders that have been created over 15 years. However, despite all the information known about the world, a writer has to be clever in how the world is discovered with their characters. I once did a short interview on Building World and Story.

void_final

  1. Thanks for providing a link to the interview. I enjoyed your views on the art of world building in fantasy, especially the section on inference. I also agree that a reader enjoys to learn with a character. We’ve established your admirable organisational skills (read the article, folks!) and it’s clear the worlds you create are as rich and diverse as our own. If you could bring one of your characters into this reality and teach them the ways of our particular universe, which one would you choose and why? Tell us about them – what job would they have and how would they adapt to their new surroundings?

I have to consider my main character, Branimir. He could not only use a little acculturation into the world of humans, but he would be the most appreciative of the experience. Branimir has a free spirit, rarely bound by any personal ambitions. He is extraordinarily blameless and kind, but he is also quite inquisitive. This would make him ideal in venturing through our world. I think his long life span and natural curiosity would set him up to be an archaeologist, a historian, or a world traveler.

  1. I loved spending time with Branimir, and as Melkorka was the first book of yours I read – I’ll probably always have a soft spot for him! We tend to be loyal to our firsts 🙂 And now I’m curious. Which fantasy character/s have stayed with you?

I would give most credit to Matrim Cauthon, who is a character in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. Mat is a roguish guy who is all about women, gambling, and drinking! Today, I meet several folks that grew up with Harry Potter. Well, I grew up with this brazen kid from Emond’s Field and lived vicariously through him.

Other characters that have stuck are between fantasy and science fiction genres: Gandalf, Han Solo and Chewbacca, He-Man, Ender, and Spock. I know – some all-time favorites for many geeks in that line up. Beyond that, there are a handful of characters that I have played in Dungeons and Dragons for almost twenty years that are close to heart.

  1. I’d love to discuss some of those fine characters with you, but perhaps we’d better save it for the thread! Let’s bring it back to you. In terms of writing, what is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

That is an easy one, Melissa. Keep writing! There are many tidbits out there to help a writer hone his or her craft, but the number one thing that any author can do is to keep writing.

  1. I actually have that printed on a t-shirt (I kid you not!) Keep writing. It’s important – as is reading. It should be in the induction pack – well, if there were such a thing. Okay, so we’ve discovered a lot about you in terms of your work, your tastes, and how you approach certain projects. Now tell us something you’ve never revealed before – one thing you enjoy. I’m not talking deep, dark secrets here, just something we don’t yet know.

The only thing that comes to mind are random facts, like I always order a 5-layer bean burrito when I go Taco Bell or I’m one of the two members of my family tasked to be the ancestral historian (very enjoyable!).

  1. We don’t have Taco Bell in the UK so I’m not going to lie, I googled the 5-layer bean burrito because my curiosity got the better of me. It looks delicious! And I love researching my ancestors – those nice little surprises that always seem to end up in a story (very enjoyable indeed!). Are there any writers in your family tree? Artists? Gold miners?

I have yet to find any writers in the long history of my “family tree”; we have oodles of farmers. However, we make up for it in my immediate family. My older sister wrote stories when she was younger. My younger sister is currently working on her first novel. And, JC Boyd is not only my best friend and co-author, but he is also…[drum roll]…my younger brother.

anatwittercard01

  1. That is beyond cool! It’s so great that you get to share the journey together. The following two questions are unique to Sourcerer’s Eleven, so – first up: Give us your best pitch elevator pitch. In four sentences or less, why should we read your books?

Is there a restriction on the sentence length? Wait! Did that count as one?

There was a time when gods were gods and men were men. Before legends divided truth from untruth, love from hatred, or the righteous from the wicked, the world was nothing but a veil of myth and misconception. It is heroes who defied what it meant to be a man or a god, seeking a purpose for themselves and humanity. My stories are about those heroes and their legendary adventures.

  1. Sold! Though I didn’t need the pitch – I’ve already spent time in your fantasy world. Final question – If you could own one (and only one) piece out-of-this world technology or magical artefact, large or small – anything from the simplest magic wand to a Death Star — what would it be?

Besides the infamous Horn of Bubbles from DnD? 🙂 I choose the Ring of Gyges introduced to the world by Plato. The story explains that this ring gives the power of invisibility to its wearer. In addition, the owner may forever have whatever they touch as though it were their own. There is some speculation the tale of the Ring of Gyges was the inspiration behind Tolkien’s LOTR.

Thank you so much, Joshua. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed chatting with you, and I look forward to the conversation in the thread – I know people will have plenty of follow up questions from this engaging interview.

Meet Melissa Barker-Simpson, and prepare for some Arrow!

I am thrilled to announce that author and blogger extraordinare Melissa Barker-Simpson has joined the mighty mbsimpsonSourcerer crew for 2015. Melissa is a writer, a sign language interpreter and a mother. She is also a movie buff who loves superheroes and all things fantasy. She runs a fabulous writing blog. If you’re looking for writing prompts to help you get going, check out her Writing Room 101. You might also find reviews and interviews there 😉

Melissa has graciously agreed to review Arrow here. (Yes, I just said Arrow!) And you know how much we love TV reviews with comics tie-ins around this place. 😀

Arrow-arrow-cw-fanpopShe’s also working on an occasional, just-for-fun series. That one will be better if we let the details be a surprise, so I’ll just say the concept is brilliant and leave it at that for now. Look for Melissa’s posts to begin once we get a little closer to the Arrow mid-season premiere on January 21.

You can find information about Melissa’s books at her blog, which includes her author page. She also has a Facebook page and tweets @mbarkersimpson.

Melissa and I met a while ago through mutual friends. We did a word sprint together. When I advertised for early-week contributors back in the fall, we struck up a conversation. I’m glad we did, and I am oh so happy to have her aboard.

Arrow image: Free wallpaper from Fanpop.