Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Intriguing Russia

Why do I find Russia so intriguing?

I loved Icon but Forsyth (here) . . .could be my new favorite book. The problem is that my old favorite book was Red Storm Rising (here) . . . an amazing book about war with Russia.

Why do I love Russia and Russian Wars so much? I can tell you now . . . for both Red Storm Rising and Icon the reason I liked those battles in the books was that they featured tanks. I don't even like tanks. I was in the infantry. We practiced with tanks and I hated them. We got to ride and drive one once . . . thought it was ridiculous. We even took a group picture while riding on one in the desert. Thought it was silly when I took it . . . still think it's silly. My colleagues didn't, but I did. I felt constricted and cumbersome. So why do I like tanks when I read about them in a fictional war with Russia? Who knows.

The book I'm reading now is the same. Command Authority. It's not as good as those other two, but wow. . . Russia is intriguing.

The flag of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics flew high above the Kremlin in a rain shower, a red-and-gold banner waving under a gray sky. The young captain took in the imagery from the backseat of the taxi as it rolled through Red Square. 

The sight of the flag over the seat of power of the largest country in the world jolted the captain with pride, although Moscow would never feel like home to him. He was Russian, but he’d spent the past several years fighting in Afghanistan, and the only Soviet flags he’d seen there had been on the uniforms of the men around him. 

His taxi let him out just two blocks from the square, on the north side of the massive GUM department store. He double-checked the address on the drab office building in front of him, paid his fare, and then stepped out into the afternoon rain. 

The building’s lobby was small and plain; a lone security man eyed him as he tucked his hat under his arm and climbed a narrow staircase that led to an unmarked door on the first floor. 

Here the captain paused, brushed wrinkles out of his uniform, and ran his hand over his rows of medals to make certain they were perfectly straight. 

Only when he was ready did he knock on the door. 

“Vkhodi!” Come in! 

The young captain entered the small office and shut the door behind him. With his hat in his hand, he stepped in front of the one desk in the room, and he snapped to attention. 

“Captain Roman Romanovich Talanov, reporting as ordered.”

Command Authority - Clancy, Tom.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Not an Excuse

This should not be taken as an excuse but it is just something I've noticed.

As I've mentioned several times were going through a merger at work (see more here). We have a culture clash going on between two types of people. The type I come from are innovators, they are people that push the envelope and try new things easily and aggressively. The other group we are merging with is more of a stay in your lane type of group. They like to keep to themselves. They like to do what they've done the same way every time.

(actual picture from work . . . that's me in the light blue)

This stay in your lane concept can be good because it makes for easily repeatable processes that are expected and understood. The problem is it leaves no room for trying something new or doing something different or better.

Today I was talking to a young lady who should've been on the innovation side. But the more I told her about this dream I have for training the more she pooh-poohed it. Every single argument I had she countered with another argument about how it wouldn't work, how it was too hard, how I shouldn't do it. It got to a point until I was out of arguments and so was she. Her final argument was, "it's just all so modern." I thought that was a pretty crummy way to end an argument and it doesn't really end it at all. Modern? Really?

So often I find that I know the expected argument from everyone from the other culture. Their arguments will always be well that's not the way we've done it . . .  it never works . . . we tried it once and it didn't work . . .  or no one's going to use all of that.

No this is not another post about mergers and acquisition's or about culture clashes. This is a post about why I'm having a hard time writing. After this 30 minute argument/conversation about my training dream I retreated back to my desk and realized I was tired. This was a moment when I had booked some time just to write and instead of writing I felt exhausted. I realized that for the last few months I've been more and more exhausted for this very reason. Not physical exhaustion . . . no, that comes from  my commute. This is mental and spiritual fatigue and exhaustion. It comes from always having to argue every single little point.

At my old company before we merged if you had an idea to push you talk to some people about it they would love the idea they would help you push it out there, add their insight then adjust, adapt and make it happen. No argument necessary.

Now, it seems everything from good morning to good night is an argument. Worst of all, as I wrote, I find that it's taking a toll on my writing.

But guess what? I'm not gonna give up on that training dream . . . and I'm certainty never going to give up on my writing. If anything by identifying the problem now, I can work to solve and work around it. Not only can I work around that young lady or find better arguments to convince her of my training dreams capabilities, now I also know that it's not worth the exhaustion to sacrifice my writing life. Or perhaps it means I should schedule around work in such a way that my ride in life is not affected.

So like I said it's not an excuse but at least I've identified the problem and I can work around.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Focused Thoughts

Although I did not particularly like On Writing by Stephen King (see here) I did get a few nuggets of valuable information from us.

One of the better tips I got was from some simple questions that King asked; if you aren't writing? What are you doing to advance your writing career or your writing in general. If you aren't reading about writing, what are you doing to become a better writer? If you aren't thinking about your writing, why not? What are you doing to become a better writer or make your writing better.

I may have mentioned once or twice before and this venue that I now have an extremely long commute every day. I have to wake up at 5:30 to commute to the other side of town, an hour long trip, and then I have at least another hour to get home. This is a lot of downtime to listen to books on tape, I suppose I should call it "Audible" now, to think about things, usually work, and to generally agonize about the day.

Lately I have been trying to train my mind to focus on my writing thanks to King. I have found it to be wonderfully productive not for actually writing but for providing some background and deepness to my writing, such as may exist there at all. 

Just the other day I was on my commute when I started to think about the history of one of my main characters and his motivation that led him to do certain things. All of a sudden I was able to craft a far deeper and richer history for that main character and I look forward to putting it into the novel.

Instead of having wasted time I'm hoping to produce some valuable time for my writing. By that same token I also hoping to find a better voice to text dictation app that will allow me to actually write my novel as I drive. That still seems to be a far distant future.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

After Shock

I lost a lot more than I realize when my computer got stolen.

At that time I was working on a couple of stories that I was really enjoying. I wouldn't have called one of them literary fiction but it wasn't quite romance either it was something in between with a little bit a thriller involved. I'm not sure what I would call it but it sure was fun to write. It's all gone now. I was probably up to 30,000 or 40,000 words on it and now I can't find even one word.

I had another story I was working on about that same time. All of it's gone now. I went upstairs yesterday to work on the first one. Much to my surprise I couldn't find any of it anywhere. Not on my external hard drive's not on my cloud drives nothing. That's when I realized it must've been in my laptop that got stolen.

It would be sad except I wonder if maybe I'll ever see that story in print somewhere else. I wonder if the burglar took the laptop opened it up found my stories and is now working assiduously to finish it off and get it published. How awesome would that be. A best seller gets to market I read it and realize it's mine. I wouldn't even be mad.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Perfection Delayed

Today I found myself telling someone I work with: "perfection will not be a part of our job description for a while."

We are going to a merger with my company. My old company I felt like we were very innovative and we were constantly moving in the right direction very fast. Swimming forward.

The company we merged with I feel like it was only treading water. Not only that, I feel like they didn't want to swim forward. Not only is there a culture shock but there is a work product shock.

My old coworkers and I are very used to moving forward quickly and efficiently. Our new coworkers are not used to that. They are more guarded, afraid of decisiveness, more risk averse. When you combine all of that with the fact that there's a culture shock… I told my coworker don't expect the perfection we are used to for a very long time.

What does this have to do with writing? Whenever I write novels I have to constantly remind myself not to expect perfection. Writing novels is an extremely arduous painstaking task. You've heard the idiom most of writing is rewriting. I would like to amend that idiom to say most draft a rough draft and their crap.

Novels take a very long time to write. I have yet to write one in less than three years. The other day when I was speaking to my father-in-law, a big wig with Marathon Oil, about our merger he said, "buckle up in two or three years you'll be back to where you started." That really hit me what he said. I liked where we were before the merger. It's hard to think about waiting to were three years to be back to that place. It's very similar to when I edit my final draft of an hour compared to when I write the rough draft. I three-year wait. 

If nothing else my writing life may have prepared me for my merger life. And I suppose that's a good thing.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Short Story Monday Again

Time to post another short story. I started this little, now-blossoming tradition two weeks ago (see here) and three weeks back (here). So here's a snippet for one I wrote in 2010 and a link if you want to read more.

Trivial Concerns

Laura followed her husband Tony out the door into the grey street. The city fit her mood. A nagging, discordant feeling had taken root in the pit of her stomach years ago, just about the time, Michael, their youngest child, moved out. That nagging had blossomed into doubt these past few days in New York. Usually a dull, low throb, it flared up into a fire-ball after their latest argument in their hotel room just a few minutes ago.
Ostensibly they came to New York for her nephew’s wedding, but there was another reason for the trip. The therapist recommended it. A vehicle to spark their love life. A chance to rediscover what had been lost through the years. Something to help them rediscover the couple they used to be. Before, she’d been excited by the prospects. Now, as she trudged down the icy sidewalk behind Tony, Laura felt lost.
The therapist made it sound so simple. They changed over the years. Things they loved about each another when they met were masked by the presence of their children. The children were gone and their personalities were uncovered again. It happened to millions of couples. The empty nest syndrome. It was just a matter of finding that person they loved. What she failed to mention was the number of couples who split up when they couldn’t remember what they had loved about their spouse. Laura realized that it wasn’t going to be as easy as the therapist made it sound. Instead she was more and more convinced that it was over. It was impossible for her to love Tony like she used to. This New York trip, instead of helping Laura find the Tony she once love, convinced her that Tony was completely different.

For the rest of this story . . . click (here).

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Writing Moods

I commonly talk about my moods like a sine curve . . . specifically I would be the red one below:

I have my ups and downs but in general they are smoothed out and most importantly even the low points, the nadirs, do not go too far below the threshold of unhappiness and certainly never hit despair. I'm sure there are folks out there who tend to go up and down well below that threshold, thankfully, I'm the type of person who is more generally happy than sad, but still have my ups and downs.

I think my writing moods are also similar to the red curve but that threshold between writing and not writing is higher rather than lower.

The area above the blue horizontal line would represent when I'm in a writing mood. The area below is when it is harder to write. Sadly, I think for me, those times when I want to write write write are few and far between. I have to force myself to write for the most part, and in general it's not fun.

The times when I find I write the most are when I am travelling. I wonder if I've forced my writing life to conform with my working life, where I spend time in airports and on planes, or have I picked a career that helps me work out my writing life.

Regardless, the answer I think for now is that I've got to get traveling again, and soon. Thank goodness I'm flying to New Jersey next week. Should force me to write quite a bit.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Comeback to Comback

I just finished reading come back by Dick Francis. Are used to think I had read every single Dick Francis books there was, but now I see there are a few out there I'll be there forgotten or I have not read. Truthfully I think that I've just forgotten them. I believe if I did read come back I read it when I was 16. That's 25 years ago. It's not remarkable think I may have forgotten it.

What's even sadder is that it's a completely forgettable book. That being said it was incredibly inspirational. One of the things I love about reading Dick Francis book is that I feel like I can go and do it better or just as good at the very least. While reading the last couple of books by him that I read I sell myself putting the book down running upstairs to my study and starting to knock out looks of my own. I don't know what it is but I feel like I can write just as well as he can. No I consider that a good thing he inspires me to write.

It was not that good a bug but it was decent, solid, well that written and worthwhile. There were a few too many characters to keep up with. The main character was the same main character that's in everything go Dick Francis book. The ending came way too soon. The romance was too superficial. One would think I didn't enjoy it, but I enjoyed it immensely.

 Now I'm on to a commitment book. One of those books I'm going to read and commit myself to not because I want to read it because I feel like I should. War and peace by Leo Tolstoy. I am Magent you will not hear a review from me quite a while. That's a solid chunk of book.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Show Don't Tell

At the end of last week's blog post I wrote the phrase, "are we showing them love . . ." This post will be about the writing technique that so many writers know, "Show don't tell."

I am accused often of being too analytical, I dwell on things too much, I re-read, agonize and over think things, usually things that don't matter. I used to live next to a craftsman and tinkerer. He could sit at his car all day and slowly tinker on it and eventually make it perfect and a work of art. I am not that guy. I am a forward mover. I'll move on and deal with the mess after. Forward movement is my middle name, but I'll also agonize afterward over things said, done, written and seen.

Lately I wrote the phrase, "I should have told you how much you meant to me," as a part of a character I'm writing for a short story.

This is the character I've been modeling for all these weeks.

Naturally, and if you've read these posts lately, I disagree. It goes back to writing technique. Show don't tell. It's more important to show you love someone than just to tell them.

How are you showing that person that you love them. That's the counter argument that the other character answers back with. Have you gone out your way? Have you racheted me up on the ole priority list? In what ways have you shown me that you love me?

Telling isn't always enough, particularly in writing. Showing should be the standard if you want to get the point across.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

How Do You Spell "Love"

Another post on characters I'm building for my next novel.

A crisis point in my marriage occurred a few months ago that has come full circle lately. I was on my way home from a business trip and gave a call to the wife to say "good morning" and "I'm about to get on a plane." Just a quick call. Sadly, I called at the wrong time and basically the wifey didn't have time to talk and blew me off and hung up on me. Fireworks. The problem was that those fireworks had to wait until after a three hour flight and a one hour drive home to be resolved. The fireworks only got worse with age.

What's the point?

A while back I heard and had the chance to use the adage, "Love is spelled, T-I-M-E." If you want someone to feel loved and needed you should give them them gift of time. Make that person higher in the priority list than other things. If you don't at the very least make time for that person, they're going to get the message that they don't matter in your life.

I think about vendors and clients at work. Clients get an immediate call back. I need them to realize they are worth my time. They are high on the priority list. Not all vendors get a call back. If I don't call a vendor back, if I don't return their email, it is a way of saying "you are so low on my priority list, I really don't care if you stay or not, and truthfully, if you don't write back it might make my life easier." How do I know this? Because as a vendor myself, I get blown off and I get the message too.

At the point of those fireworks with my wife, she was showing me that I was not as important to her as all the other hoi polloi in her life. At the time of that call she was thinking about work. That tells me that her work was more important than I was. This came up in the fireworks. I remember telling her that her company won't be there when she's 70, whereas I, her husband will be. Which should be given the gift of her time and being higher up on her priority list.

Guess what's gone from our lives now. Her job. The company is gone. It's not an "I told you so" moment, instead I see it as a lesson to both of us to not miss the forest for the trees. Know what's important in your life and understand what your action may be saying and how they are interpreted.

Should there be more important things in our lives than our primary relationships? Of course. Business calls come up. Other things happen that must be addressed. But are we showing those we care about that they are high on our priority lists? Are we showing them love through time? That's the question we should always ask ourselves.

Monday, January 1, 2018

An Old One

Time to post another short story. I started this little, now-blossoming tradition two weeks ago (see here). So here's a snippet for one I wrote in 2003 and a link if you want to read more.

Ralph's New Wife
By Dick Hannah
It’s hotter than usual in town today, and I’ve always found that people stray pretty far away from the ordinarily when it gets hot. Ordinarily I would not be sitting on a little park bench in Newton watching for a woman I don’t know. Ordinarily I would have told my ex-wife and her screwball cousin to go do their own damn spy work and leave me out of it. Ordinarily I would have worn my hat and white shirt, not my blue shirt with no hat at all, but it’s hot and things are out of the ordinary.
A small tow headed boy with shoes that look three sizes too big for him climbs up on the bench next to me. His actions are resolute and determined and once up on the bench he stares at me curiously. I try not to notice him but I can sense his stare and realize it is only a matter of time before he breaks the silence.
“Howdy mister.” Says the tinny voice belonging to the boy.
“Yep.” I say slowly not wanting to encourage him.
“Whatcha looking at?” He asks following my gaze across the street.
“That boutique.” I say nodding.
“What’s a boutique?”
“That’s a boutique.” I nod again.
“You mean the one with all the old women talking and laughing inside?”
“That’s the one.”
“My mom goes there sometimes, but she calls it a sl-on.”

For the rest of this story . . . click (here)