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Archive for February, 2015

We’re having a busy month around here. Lots of prep for one of our major historical events. Taxes. Doctors. And the annual I-Love-You-Here’s-More-Chocolate-Please-Don’t-Kill-Me-For-Another-Year festival dedicated to a saint beheaded by a Caesar for proselytizing. That would be Valentinius, of course, who besides being the patron saint of lovers also patronizes the plague and epilepsy. Makes me wonder if that is some sort of commentary.

The continuing saga with the eyes is still amazingly annoying. Went for a follow up on the right eye’s floaters, and the doc found an area in the retina that was very thin and appeared to be on the verge of tearing/detaching. Thankfully, it was early enough to avoid full-blown surgery. Five minutes in the chair with the laser and it was all tacked down again. No shots, no anesthesia, no scalpels. Just an eyeball-frying white-hot nuclear blast of coherent light. I spent the rest of the evening looking at blobs on the computer and trying to figure out what gender they were, while my eye and head ached. But that was certainly preferable to the two weeks on my right side and the Tin Man’s eye patch. Not to mention the bill. I guess this shit is going to be with me for a while.

In an effort to keep my mind engaged (since reading is such a bitch right now), and also to try and keep my emotional self from digging any deeper into the pit, I’ve been visiting TED.com. If you don’t know TED, you need to. Starting in 1984 as a conference for Technology, Entertainment and Design, it has evolved into a global community embracing people of all kinds from all sorts of fields. The belief is that big change can come from even the smallest of ideas as long as it’s shared. So with that in mind, I’m going to share some of the TED talks[1] I’ve found particularly interesting and hope you’ll enjoy them as well. Plus there’s a quiz next week…

 Michael Specter

Michael Specter: “The danger of science denial”

http://www.ted.com/talks/michael_specter_the_danger_of_science_denial – t-966766

 

 John Hodgman

John Hodgman: “Aliens, love – where are they?”

http://www.ted.com/talks/john_hodgman_s_brief_digression

 

 Taylor Wilson

Taylor Wilson: “My radical plan for small nuclear fission reactors”

http://www.ted.com/talks/taylor_wilson_my_radical_plan_for_small_nuclear_fission_reactors – t-759128

Go forth and learn something. Then share it. The more we all know, the better we will all be.

[1] TED Talks are shared under a Creative Commons license Attribution – NonCommercial – NonDerivative (BY-NC-ND). No changes were made to any of the material.
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One of my favorite writer stories is about Billy Wilder, the multi-Oscar winning writer/director known for such little movies as “Some Like It Hot,” and “Sunset Boulevard.” An Austrian Jew who escaped Nazi Germany, he developed an acerbic wit and boundless energy that kept him going well into his 90’s. The story comes from his days as a contract writer with Warner Brothers. Jack Warner was a relentless taskmaster and infamous miser. He walked past Wilder’s office one day to see the writer stretched on his couch gazing at the ceiling. Warner burst in, chastising Wilder about wasting his time and money and demanding he get back to writing. Wilder’s cool response: “I AM writing. Later I’ll be typing.”

So, in that vein, I’ve been doing a lot of writing lately. Just not much typing. And it’s not like I’ve been actively thinking about my latest novel or the short stories, or even what I should say in the next query letter. It all just kind of rumbles through my mind like a Mobius loop of conga dancers, in between bursts of music (Hozier’s “Take Me To Church” mixed with Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.” Yeah, my mind is a weird place.), lists of chores I need to do, and ways I can get out of cooking dinner.

Yesterday, as I’m fussing with the last of a batch of sewing for our next big historical event, I had an epiphany about my novel. It’s taken up most of the RAM in this Commodore 64 of a brain I have, so sometimes it takes awhile for the issues to finally surface. Now, mind you, I’m already 60K-plus words into this monstrosity, with what can only be termed “infinity” to go. Because I’m a “pantser” (supposedly so is Stephen King, so there), I only have a vague idea of where it’s all going. And though I’ve not actually outlined anything officially, I do have a sense of the general story arc, character development and ending. I even have a few scenes I’ve already written that aren’t until much later in the story because they HAD TO BE WRITTEN NOW. Hopefully I can figure out how we all get there and fill in the details as I go. That’s if the characters let me.

Anyway, my epiphany was this: I’m too nice. Or rather, my writing’s too nice. There’s good grammar and spelling, proper organization and witty dialogue. Everything is running along smoothly and pretty words fill the page. You might be asking yourself why this is a bad thing. I’ll tell you: this isn’t a pretty story. It’s a story about genocide and bigotry and a seemingly hopeless search for redemption. It has characters forced to work together that, by design, should be at each other’s throats, in a situation that is tenuous and bleak and dark. And what do I see on the page? Star Trek.

Don’t get me wrong. I love me some Star Trek. I grew up on that show and it’s various iterations and it’s definitely the benchmark I set my sights to. But it has a positive look to the future and humanity’s place in it, set in clean, well-designed environments. Logic and reason and diplomacy dominate – things which I dearly hope will indeed dominate our future. But that’s not what I’m writing. Or that I’m supposed to be writing.

I have two characters that keep telling me they’re supposed to be gay, but I’m insisting they’re just good friends. Another character reminds me that he’s still much closer to the hedonistic murderer he once was than the redeemed priest he seeks to be, and I’m sitting here with my fingers in my ears going “LA LA LA.” There’s a pair of hotheaded mercenary brothers hiding from the authorities, and I have them taking orders like good little soldiers.

There’s a lot more, but you get the gist. This thing isn’t supposed to be diplomatic or positive or logical. It’s supposed to be a dark mess of all humanity’s failings that, somehow, someway, eventually allow the anti-heroes to sneak out the other side to find a level of sanity in an insane universe. It’s supposed to be dark and gritty and I’m painting it Rainbow Brite.

Once I realized what the problem was, I went looking for the reason behind it. What I found didn’t make me any happier. The problem isn’t that I’m not any good at writing bleak and ugly. The real problem is that I’m afraid to. My natural tendency is to gloss over the ugly because I’m trying to escape all the BS that’s going on in the world. But there’s something I want to say with this novel – a number of things, actually – and to do that right I have to let it all hang out.

I forget who I first heard this from, but I’ve been told writers should write more than just what they know or what they want to read, they should write what they’re most afraid of. Write that which will give you the greatest challenge. Stretch yourself to the breaking point, scare yourself, make you wonder at your own sanity.

I have to do that with this latest novel. It’s going to mean a major re-write of those first 60K words, but I’m not going to do that now. I’m going to make some notes in my character pages and on a running problem sheet I keep, and then I’m going to dig into the rest of it with this newfound purpose. It’ll be a jagged change but I need to do it that way so as not to lose momentum. The basic arc of that first part stays the same, regardless of the details, so I’m reminding myself this is just the first draft. First drafts can be ugly and jagged and inconsistent – just get the shit down on the page. Pretty is what rewrites are for.

Whatever you do in your life, whatever creative endeavor or professional passion or gentile recreation, don’t hold back. Don’t pussy foot through things. You’ll challenge yourself, and learn things and produce the best you can produce. And, mostly, you’ll have no regrets.

 

© 2015   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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I’ve been listening to quite a bit of music lately. As I try to adjust to my new (hopefully temporary) normal, I’ve made myself work on a number of sewing projects: 1) because they’re relatively simple, 2) I can feel like I’m making progress, and 3) it’s stuff I’m going to sell as part of our side business. My ten-year-old iPod in its Bose (I love Bose!) SoundDock has been a constant companion. The iPod holds an eclectic collection ranging from Aerosmith to Zamfir, which gives me a wide range of support for my equally eclectic moods.

That and the recent Grammy awards got me thinking about how little I’ve talked on music here. I have that fancy-schmancy music degree and yet since I’ve done next to nothing with it in decades, it almost seems like a waste of time. I also haven’t been very good about keeping up with current artists in the music scene, partly because I haven’t had the money to splurge on new music, and partly because so much of what’s out there on the charts just doesn’t do anything for me. I’m not a big Hip-hop fan, I can’t stand most Rap, and so many of the current Pop/Rock stars are so over-processed, auto-tuned and under-talented it just seems a crime against real musicians to support them.

Of course, being classically trained, I tend to be a bit biased about the “real musician” part. I started as a toddler picking tunes out by ear on the piano, then went to violin in elementary school, and finally transitioned (if one can really call it that) to oboe in middle school. Later in high school I added tenor saxophone and clarinet, with flute and bassoon coming in college (along with general studies in brass, strings and percussion to finish my instrumental degree). I won numerous awards and competitions during my school years, culminating with All State Band here in California. I’ve played professionally in dozens of groups at untold numbers of events, including at least half a dozen musicals (my favorite of which was A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum). I’ve taught music in public and private schools, and privately to individuals. I’ve composed several pieces, including one for full orchestra that was then performed at a national music festival, and I still doodle occasionally on my electronic piano just because it helps me exercise the demons.

Quite the resume, when you look at it all in one shot. Things I’m proud of, despite the years gone by. Even now my intention is to get back to doing something musically on a regular basis, at some point. My instruments sit in the office, patiently waiting. I’m sure by now my embouchure is completely non-existent, my technique laughably bad, and my tone has reverted to something akin to a flock of ducks being chased by raccoons. But the musician in me still dreams.

As a classical musician, my tastes lean toward the Romantic era of music, especially the latter end, and have a distinctive German/Austrian/Russian slant to them: Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mahler, Strauss, Rachmaninoff, with a little Dvorak, Holst, Beethoven, Brahms and Wagner thrown in for good measure. My favorite of all time doesn’t really fit in the box defined by the period, but he was a student of Rimsky-Korsakov and took “classical” music into an entirely new level, even causing a riot at the premier of one of his most acclaimed works. I’m talking, of course, about Stravinsky and The Rite of Spring.

A monumentally difficult piece of music, The Rite of Spring not only challenged the accepted tenets of the time, but also challenged the musicians and dancers themselves. From the opening bassoon solo in its (near impossible) highest range to the seemingly jagged and random time signatures, this masterpiece set the music world on its ear, and changed the way “emotional” music was done thereafter. Reams and reams have already been written on its affects by those oh-so-much more learned than I, so I won’t add my drivel to the mess. Suffice to say Stravinsky’s influence is felt to this day, not only in orchestral and ballet music, but in movie soundtracks as well, where the likes of John Williams, James Horner, and Hans Zimmer have penned their variations on his legacy.

BBC Proms offered a centennial performance in 2013, with the Orchestre Les Siècles and conductor François-Xavier Roth using the original score and period instruments for the full affect. It is a fabulous rendition and can be seen via YouTube here.

I had originally thought about giving you listings and sound samples from a variety of genres for this entry, but I think I’ll save the rest for another time. Go enjoy the maestro’s masterpiece with a cup of tea shot with bourbon. You’ll thank me later.

 

© 2015   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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The fight continues.That would be the one between the creative artist who needs to get shit done, and the whiney depressive who keeps finding reasons to avoid everything. The latest reason de jour is the whole vision issue. I’m trying to tell myself that it’s largely a temporary issue, that I can make adjustments and still get things done. But then I have to correct the check book because I miss-read numbers, or unweave a few inches because I can’t get the edge straight, or rip out top-stitching on a bag because it wanders all over the place like a drunken sailor on a pitching deck. Things I could do in minutes with little effort now take me four or five times longer, even with more care and attention than usual. The frustration level is off the charts.

 Grumpy_Cat_016SheKnows

There were a number of things I wanted to accomplish – or at least start on – this year that I’ve found myself pushing off indefinitely. I go about my days on autopilot – taking a shower, putting laundry away, cooking dinner – doing things because I promised my husband I would, not because I have any real desire to do them. Left to my own devices I probably wouldn’t even get out of bed.

But the voices in my head won’t stop. Even though this blog is about all the “writing” I’ve done over the last few months, there’s still plenty of stuff swirling around in the dark matter of my mind. I’m constantly mulling over issues with my latest novel, noodling with short story ideas, drafting query letters, and listing research I should do. This tells me that my soul is still on the path, still hungry to make the dream come true. I just gotta find my heart and get it back in the game.

The problem is, I’m not motivated for myself. I’ve always done better when there was an outside force in play: did good in school because I wanted the approval from teachers; was a star musician because I had others to compete against; performed well in the workplace because I wanted to impress the boss. Doing something just for me, on my own time, never seemed to work. Lots of unfinished projects sitting on the shelves, waiting for me to get back to them. I know that goes back to my lack of self worth – the whole “I suck, so why bother doing anything for me?” thing. Always seeking affirmation from without instead of being satisfied within. Yeah, I’ve had enough counseling to recognize the problem, but not enough to fix it. I really need to get back into regular sessions, but neither the health insurance nor the bank account support that at this time, and since I don’t have a cat right now, you’ll just have to do.

 Cat in glassesCare2

 The writing has always been just for me. The desire to create is far stronger than the desire to actually have it read and be well received. Don’t get me wrong – the latter is certainly wanted, but it’s just never been the driving force. I write because there’s stuff I want to read, but can’t find on the shelf anywhere. I write because there’s things I want to say that others haven’t, or because others just didn’t cover them like I think they should be. Writing has been as much therapy for me as it has been a hobby. And now that I’m (sorta) working toward being a published, paid writer, I’m finding the scared little girl inside is having a hard time sharing. Maybe that’s why there’s a “sorta” in that sentence instead of an “actively.” Maybe it’s time to yank the controls away from that insecure little bitch.

So here’s the writing stuff I should do this year:

  • Update the blog site
    1. Refurbish the look
    2. Organize old posts into categories for easier searching
    3. Transition to full-blown website
    4. Update copyright statement (Creative Commons?)
    5. Find ways to market and get more traffic
    6. Guest blogging
  • Aggressively query agents and publishers for Decker (Novel A)
  • Finish 1st draft of The Unbound (Novel B)
  • Work on short story collection for possible e-publishing
    1. Research e-publishing
    2. Theme?
  • Develop freelance copywriting skills/clients so I can actually make some money
  • Become involved in writing forum(s) for support/advice/critiques
  • Read more fiction (and play fewer computer games)
  • Stop being afraid

And here’s what I need from you: get your boots on and don’t hold back. Maybe if you all kick at once, I’ll finally get out of this rut I dug myself into.

© 2015   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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