Archive for January, 2013

“Every day we read stories about our troubled youth, and if you are our future, then what a glorious future South Africa has.”

It doesn’t matter if you are South African or not, this video is one of the most beautiful and touching things I’ve ever seen. If she is our future, then what a glorious future this world has.


 
Thanks to Michal for posting this to her Facebook page.

Back for another book recommendation! Short and sweet, as always.

Chris has written and published a couple of books so far, and I’ve been lucky enough to pretty much read them all. His Only Star, though, is an amazing YA novella that I literally flew through. It’s a five-star read and completely worth your time.

It’s a story about Oliver and Trista, two young runaways that learn hard lessons while they’re out on their own. It’s a story about drugs, sex, and that ever elusive thing called love. It’s a gritty and realistic portrayal of life, and one that grips you tight and never lets go.

It’s action-packed and funny and emotional and poignant and heartbreaking all at the same time.

It’s half love story and half adventure, but it’s 100% enthralling and, to tell you the truth, I can wait to read it again. It was that good.

Here’s the cover:

His Only Star Christopher Stocking

You can check out Chris on his blog, Twitter, Facebook, or on Amazon. You can buy the book on Kindle for $1.99. Trust me when I say it’s completely worth it!

Click HERE to add it to your Goodreads list!

ROW80LogocopyAh, well. I tried.

Life got in the way this week, big time. I’ve been getting slammed with copyediting gigs, which is both a blessing and a right pain in the butt. But I’m not complaining. No, definitely not complaining.

Okay. Maybe I’m complaining.

But just a little! I’ve been super busy with it, which means I’ve had no time to write. That’s the only thing I’m complaining about. But I did get some words in this week, and that’s definitely better than nothing.

On to the breakdown…

Main Goals

  1. Write or edit every day. 4/7 I didn’t get in any editing, and I didn’t get much writing in either. Hopefully next week is a lot calmer and I’m able to focus on that again.
  2. Read every day. 1/7 Despite the fact that I’m loving Divergent right now, I only picked it up once this week. Usually by the time I’m about to fall into bed, I fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow!
  3. Exercise twice a week. 3/2 I’m still doing great with this goal, and having fun with it too. I’m actually looking forward to exercising again!

Bonus Goals

  1. Finish edits on chapters five and six of L1. Nope.
  2. Keep writing W2. I had too many ideas to just go back and edit W1 even though it was a mess, so I decided to just keep writing in W2 while they were fresh in my mind. I still have to come up with a main plot line, but I’ve got the beginning all figured out. It’s going well so far, and I’m almost up to the point where I need to figure out what the major conflict of the story is. That would be an important thing to know, wouldn’t it? ;)
  3. Update my contests doc. Nope.

List of Awesome

  1. I’m slowly trying to transition myself into working at home more and more often. I’m extremely lucky that I have a very understanding boss who is willing to allow me to do this so I can have more flexible hours. We’re still working out the details, but I’m hoping this will allow me to meet my deadlines a bit faster when I have a lot of them, like I did this week.
  2. This is something cool that I’ve never had happen to me before. This article on Examiner.com (a site that is about 10x bigger than us) referenced a news piece I wrote about Teen Wolf for Hypable, and actually quoted something I said about one of the characters! I may have done a happy dance when I saw it…
  3. C.G. Cooper’s second episode of the third book, Prime Asset, in the Corps Justice series is now live!
  4. Warm Bodies hits theatres on FRIDAY. I’m going to see it next weekend, and I am so excited!!

Points and Words

Each of my main goals gets FIVE POINTS. Bonus goals get TEN POINTS if they’re completed.

  • Week 1 – 95 points
  • Week 2 – 100 points
  • Week 3 – 50 points

This week I wrote:

  • Week 1 – 8,284 words
  • Week 2 – 13,697 words
  • Week 3 – 5,365 words

That brings my total words for the year up to: 36,169 words written since January 1, 2013

Anyone else going to see Warm Bodies when it comes out?

Wednesday saw the introduction of this topic when I discussed how technology can be harmful to us, how it can make us lazy and dumb, and asked you whether or not you thought we had anything to fear from the advancements that happen at an alarming pace in this industry.

Today I’m here to tell you that’s a load of crap.

Okay, well, no, I’m not. BUT, I don’t actually think robots are going to take over the universe, and I don’t actually think we need to worry about becoming too dependent on technology for everything we do. Sure, there are issues regarding this topic – but there always have been. There always will be.

Instead, it’s important to focus on how technology can assist us. There’s a very strong argument to be made about technology limiting our experiences, but I think there’s an even stronger one to be made about how it can expand our knowledge.

About every other week I hop on Skype and talk to a girl from Australia about Teen Wolf (hey-ho, self promotion alert!). Some of the most remarkable people I know, the people that I talk to on a daily basis, don’t even live in New York. Some of them don’t even live in this country! I’ve never even met them, yet we share common interests that allow us to bypass the limits of physical boundaries and develop of strong relationship.

On Facebook I can talk to one of my best friends (a former exchange student) whenever I want – despite the fact that she lives in Argentina. When I’m doing research for my writing, the answers to all my questions are right at my fingertips. When I want to spread the love and tell people about a great new book I’ve read, all I have to do is take thirty seconds and tweet out a link.

Technology can divide us. It can keep us from having “real” conversations with each other. It can keep us holed up in our room, bent over our computers for hours at a time, instead of going outside and playing with the kids next door.

But it also connects us. The world is interdependent, and that’s a wonderful thing. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I’ve learned about other countries and cultures since I started (virtually) hanging around people on Twitter. A simple e-mail can get me in touch with a friend in California, a friend in England, and a friend in India.

Without technology, that literally wouldn’t be possible.

So, sure. There are disadvantages to this technological boom. But let’s not forget there are advantages too. In a growing world, it’s important to stay culturally aware. It’s important to stay in touch. It’s important to stay conscious of what is going on around the world.

As with anything, this whole technology thing requires balance. I’ve been in plenty of situations where people side-eye me because I’m holding a smart phone in my hand. I’ve had people look down on me when I pull it out to check an e-mail. They’ve judged me based on a thirty second assessment of the type of person they think I am. And it isn’t fair. Not everyone is the type of person I described in Wednesday’s post.

So the important thing here is to maintain balance. As an individual, we must maintain balance. Take the phone out when you need to, when you want to. Put it away when you should. Technology is wonderful, but we must remember to stop and appreciate beauty when it’s staring us in the face.

As a people, we should continue to rely on and develop technology. There’s nothing wrong with using it to help us become smarter, faster, stronger, better people. Let’s just make sure that doesn’t get away from us. Technology has made us care more about updating our Facebook status than having meaningful relationships with other people. But it has also taken us out into the vastness that is space to discover new stars and new galaxies.

It’s up to us to decide which direction we want technology to take us in.

So, what do you think? Do you think the pros outweigh the cons when it comes to technology, or do you think we’re just one step away from Matrix-esque enslavement? Leave a comment, and let me know your thoughts!

There have been countless movies that have detailed the way in which the world will be overrun by robots. The Matrix. I, Robot. Terminator. They’re usually set in the not so distant future, and we have to wonder. Is this a possibility? Could robots really enslave us?

Maybe one day. Hey, I have an open mind. But right now? Not so much.

But it brings up and interesting topic doesn’t it? We live in a world run by technology. Maybe there aren’t robots that can take our clothes to the dry cleaners and walk the dog for us, but we’re inching our way toward that possibility. The growth in technology is exponential.

But I guess the real question is…is it dangerous?

Is technology harmful to us? Should we worry that it’s actually cutting us off from once in a life time experiences? Should we worry about the impact that it has on our daily lives? I’m not talking about inventions like machine guns and the atomic bomb that are obviously meant to kill people. I’m talking about simple things, like the internet and cell phones and cars and planes.

Today I’m going to argue that, yes, we do have something to worry about. On Friday I’m going to say the opposite. Then I’m opening up the floor to you to see if one side outweighs the other. It’s obvious that technology inherently has both pros and cons – but we need to determine whether the pros outweigh the cons, or vice versa.

Here’s the thing. I’m 24, and my generation gets criticized by those before us who think we’re dumb, lazy, arrogant, etc., etc. It’s never right to hold any group of people to a stereotype like that. But there’s a reason why stereotypes exist, and I can’t help but believe this of my own generation once in a while.

I go to restaurants and see two friends having lunch. Only, they’re not talking. They’re bent over their phones, completely absorbed by a non-existent, digital world. Kids these days (I just grew a gray hair as I typed that) don’t even know how to spell. The computer fixes it for them, and they never learn because they don’t need to. We rely on cars to get us from one place to the other. Less and less people walk. Less and less people exercise.

Technology has made us lazy. And I’m not just talking about the Millennials here, though I think a case can be made for us being one of the strongest offenders. Why go outside and play basketball when you can be talking to your friends on Facebook? Why walk around in the woods when you can be shooting down bad guys on a video game?

This is why I go on mushroom forays. I want to be able to survive the Zombie Apocalypse when it hits.

Technology has also put us inside our own little bubble. Why have a face to face conversation when you can just text? Why go out and socialize and interact with people when you can do the same thing from your computer and not have to get out of your pajamas?

It’s made us dumb. Who uses a dictionary anymore? It feels like our vocabulary is shrinking. Words like obvs and probs and def and totes are used not just on the internet anymore, but in real life conversations. Sure, it’s funny now. Until we start using it so much we forget what the real words are. We can’t count using just our brains. We have calculators for that. We can’t read maps anymore. We have GPS units for that. Our attention spans have become so short that a thirty second wait for an elevator seems like a lifetime.

I’m all for technological advancement. In fact, I thrive on it. I have a wii and a laptop and an iPhone. I love looking at all the sleek, new inventions in development. We should always strive to be great. We just have to be careful that greatness doesn’t come for a price we can’t pay.

The world is at our fingertips. But should it be? Should we have such immediate access to everything around us? Time will tell what the exact effects of this will be, but I can guarantee they’re not all going to be good. What do you think?

I have to preface this blog post with a few things. First, it’s going to be long. Second, the article I’m referencing is old (by nearly six years). And third, just by reading said article, I cried big sloppy tears I usually reserve for the 2011 Doctor Who Christmas special and that moment in Deathly Hallows when Fred dies. So, yeah. You know this is going to be something special.

I came across this article a week or so ago. It was posted in April of 2007, written by Gene Weingarten and contributed to by Emily Shroder, Rachel Manteuffel, John W. Poole and Magazine Editor Tom Shroder of the Washington Post. But this is the first that I’m hearing of it. I’m shame-faced to say that. I wish I’d had it in my life a lot sooner than now.

In a nutshell, it’s a story about Joshua Bell, the world-famous violinist, who dressed in jeans and a baseball cap to go play in a metro station in Washington D.C. It was an experiment hosted by the Washington Post. Would people recognize the talent? Would they recognize that they, quite literally, had a front row seat to one of the best classical musicians on the planet?

Please go read the article. It is very, VERY long, but it is so worth your time. Underlying it all, it’s about taking the time to appreciate beauty in a world that moves so fast that we aren’t even aware of what is around us anymore. If you can’t take the time to read this beautiful and emotional and spot-on-correct article, then I’m sorry to say that you fall right into the same category as all those people who passed by Bell without a second glance. Don’t be a statistic.

So go read it now and come back so we can cry and hug and ramble on about it together, ‘kay?

I just read it a second time and – ugh – tears. Again.

Where to start? There are so many brilliant pieces in this article. Moving and emotional and funny and infuriating. I think, however, the best place to start would be with the man himself, Joshua Bell.

Interview magazine once said his playing “does nothing less than tell human beings why they bother to live.”

Shouldn’t all art do that? I’m not opposed to the frivolous entertainment that we’re subjected to on a daily basis. I like to read fun, meaningless stories. I like to watch TV shows that make me laugh rather than think. I’m constantly pummeled by information that, frankly, is completely and utterly pointless.

And that’s fine.

But I wish it wasn’t all like that. I feel like art – true art – is a dying breed. Whatever happened to reading something or watching something that meant something to you? That taught you lessons and made you want to be a better person? That’s why a silly little show about a vampire slayer named Buffy is so insanely popular after all this time. That’s why 1984 hasn’t lost its brilliance even though the story is outdated and outlandish. Those things are entertaining and funny and witty. But they’re also thought-provoking and memorable and make us want to be better human beings.

Shouldn’t everything we consume strive to do the same?

“I’m not comfortable if you call this genius.” “Genius” is an overused word, he said: It can be applied to some of the composers whose work he plays, but not to him. His skills are largely interpretive, he said, and to imply otherwise would be unseemly and inaccurate.

It was an interesting request, and under the circumstances, one that will be honored. The word will not again appear in this article.

Continuing on with Joshua Bell, I just wanted to point out this section because, well, we need more people like him in the world. Talk about humble. Can you imagine literally being one of the greatest classical musicians on the EARTH, and saying, ‘Please don’t call me a genius. I don’t deserve it.’

We can pretend that we would have the same response, but 99.9% of us would be in denial. How could you not get a big head when you become that famous based on a talent that is obviously not common or simple?

There are people who become famous because they have money and a pretty face. The talentless oftentimes are more arrogant than those who are actually deserving of the spotlight, the people we wouldn’t blame if they admitted that they were the best of the best.

And, yet, those people are never the ones to do that. Strange, isn’t it?

At the top of the escalators are a shoeshine stand and a busy kiosk that sells newspapers, lottery tickets and a wallfull of magazines with titles such as Mammazons and Girls of Barely Legal. The skin mags move, but it’s that lottery ticket dispenser that stays the busiest, with customers queuing up for Daily 6 lotto and Powerball and the ultimate suckers’ bait, those pamphlets that sell random number combinations purporting to be “hot.” They sell briskly. There’s also a quick-check machine to slide in your lotto ticket, post-drawing, to see if you’ve won. Beneath it is a forlorn pile of crumpled slips.

This is less of a comment on the situation itself and more of a, ‘hey, let’s just pause here for a second and marvel at the beauty of this paragraph.’ It’s a good lesson in how to write description succinctly. Not too many details, yet the words jump off the page and form images of those things in your mind. We get a sense of the atmosphere – of the attitude of the people – from the description of the setting.

If Bell’s encomium to “Chaconne” seems overly effusive, consider this from the 19th-century composer Johannes Brahms, in a letter to Clara Schumann: “On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind.”

So, that’s the piece Bell started with.

This just speaks volumes about Bell, doesn’t it? A song like that – something so powerful and passionate and obviously extremely intricate and difficult – is performed as the opening piece. The talent must just seep from his pours at night. I wonder if he’d be willing to bottle it up and sell it to the rest of us? I’ll take six gallons, thank you very much.

Bell was, by the way, merely 39 when this article was written. It is, I would think, a young age for a musician as talented as he is, one that has gone so far in such a short amount of time. I do believe that people are pre-disposed with talent. I’ve been rubbish at math my entire life, yet writing has always come easily to me. There’s a reason for that. There’s a reason why a child picks up a guitar rather than a soccer ball. We gravitate toward the things that interest us, the things that we are good at.

But that’s not what makes someone talented and famous and a master of their craft. Sure, it helps. But Bell says it best when he talked about the fact that he executes his pieces not focusing on the actual playing of the instrument, but on the emotion he is evoking and the story he is telling. The pieces are performed by memory – muscle memory. And how do you get that? Practice.

Talent makes us good. Hard work and practice make us great.

Only then do you see it: He is the one who is real. They are the ghosts.

 
This is one of the truest statements in this article. It seems like we’re all ghosts these days. Those commuters – heads bowed, no eye contact, rushing off to work, on their phones, listening to their iPods – they don’t exist. Or maybe they do exist, but they’re not present. They’re not corporeal.

We have a tendency to work as hard as we can now so we can relax later. But do we ever relax? The age of retirement keeps going up, and I know plenty of people who can’t retire until well after that point passes them by. From a young age – maybe about 16, when we determine we want our own job so we can spend our own money on whatever we want – it is ingrained into our minds to work hard. Hard work means more money. More money means more happiness.

Right?

Maybe. Maybe not. The saying ‘work hard, play harder,’ has a negative connotation associated with it, but I’ve got half a mind to think that’s one of the most brilliant philosophies I’ve ever heard. I don’t discount working hard – I said just a few paragraphs ago that it’s the only way we’re going to become masters of our crafts – but I also think too many people don’t understand that working hard for the majority of their lives isn’t going to bring them happiness.

I’m in a unique position to say that I enjoy my jobs – all of them. I love selling on eBay, and I actually look forward to going into work each day. Hypable is my dream job, and I have fun writing articles and recording podcasts and editing posts. My freelance copyediting stint is growing organically, and it makes me excited. I love it. I love all of it.

Does that mean I don’t work too hard? No. I absolutely think I push myself too hard at times. But there’s a huge difference between working hard at something you loathe with every cell in your body and working hard at something that you enjoy because of the thrill you get when you’re doing it.

Work hard to become great at what you love to do. But don’t be a ghost.

IF A GREAT MUSICIAN PLAYS GREAT MUSIC BUT NO ONE HEARS . . . WAS HE REALLY ANY GOOD?

It’s an old epistemological debate, older, actually, than the koan about the tree in the forest. Plato weighed in on it, and philosophers for two millennia afterward: What is beauty? Is it a measurable fact (Gottfried Leibniz), or merely an opinion (David Hume), or is it a little of each, colored by the immediate state of mind of the observer (Immanuel Kant)?

We’ll go with Kant, because he’s obviously right, and because he brings us pretty directly to Joshua Bell, sitting there in a hotel restaurant, picking at his breakfast, wryly trying to figure out what the hell had just happened back there at the Metro.

“At the beginning,” Bell says, “I was just concentrating on playing the music. I wasn’t really watching what was happening around me . . .”

Playing the violin looks all-consuming, mentally and physically, but Bell says that for him the mechanics of it are partly second nature, cemented by practice and muscle memory: It’s like a juggler, he says, who can keep those balls in play while interacting with a crowd. What he’s mostly thinking about as he plays, Bell says, is capturing emotion as a narrative: “When you play a violin piece, you are a storyteller, and you’re telling a story.”

With “Chaconne,” the opening is filled with a building sense of awe. That kept him busy for a while. Eventually, though, he began to steal a sidelong glance.

“It was a strange feeling, that people were actually, ah . . .”

The word doesn’t come easily.

“. . . ignoring me.”

Bell is laughing. It’s at himself.

“At a music hall, I’ll get upset if someone coughs or if someone’s cellphone goes off. But here, my expectations quickly diminished. I started to appreciate any acknowledgment, even a slight glance up. I was oddly grateful when someone threw in a dollar instead of change.” This is from a man whose talents can command $1,000 a minute.

This passage, coupled with this one…

“It wasn’t exactly stage fright, but there were butterflies,” he says. “I was stressing a little.”

Bell has played, literally, before crowned heads of Europe. Why the anxiety at the Washington Metro?

“When you play for ticket-holders,” Bell explains, “you are already validated. I have no sense that I need to be accepted. I’m already accepted. Here, there was this thought: What if they don’t like me? What if they resent my presence . . .”

He was, in short, art without a frame. Which, it turns out, may have a lot to do with what happened — or, more precisely, what didn’t happen — on January 12.

…is astounding isn’t it? Exceptional. A man who had played all across the world in front of some of the most important and influential people of our time was stressed out playing a little gig in a metro station in downtown D.C.

Instead of taking this for what it is – the obvious portrayal of an artist who reflects all artists’ insecurities about whether or not they’re good enough even AFTER they’ve been validated a hundred times over – I’d just like to say that we have hope. Hope that if – no, when – we do make it, we will be set. Sure, there’s a lot more pressure. And yes, there are expectations that you will want to live up to. And of course there will be people who will always be disappointed. But – and this is the clincher – it gets easier with time.

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But look at Bell. He’s talented, and he put in his hard work. He’s on top of the world right now. He’s played in front of the crowned heads of Europe. He’s certified. People go in expecting greatness and, in turn, they see greatness. It’s only when you take that sort of thing out of context that people see average because they expect average.

So, yes. There’s hope for us. When you write your stories and put them out to the world and honestly and truthfully feel that they are great, people will pick up on that. And when more and more people find your works to be great, the trend will continue. When you become great, you will continue to be great. It’s hard to see that sort of thing happening when you’re so far away from it now. It’s difficult to realize that once you dig your claws in, they’re going to be there forever. As long as you keep producing and keep being you, you will keep being great.

Unless you take yourself out of context. But only a masochist would do that. And, apparently, Joshua Bell. Or Stephen King a la the Richard Bachman pen name. Obviously there are some people in this world that just like to hold a flame to their hand to see what will happen.

MARK LEITHAUSER HAS HELD IN HIS HANDS MORE GREAT WORKS OF ART THAN ANY KING OR POPE OR MEDICI EVER DID. A senior curator at the National Gallery, he oversees the framing of the paintings. Leithauser thinks he has some idea of what happened at that Metro station.

“Let’s say I took one of our more abstract masterpieces, say an Ellsworth Kelly, and removed it from its frame, marched it down the 52 steps that people walk up to get to the National Gallery, past the giant columns, and brought it into a restaurant. It’s a $5 million painting. And it’s one of those restaurants where there are pieces of original art for sale, by some industrious kids from the Corcoran School, and I hang that Kelly on the wall with a price tag of $150. No one is going to notice it. An art curator might look up and say: ‘Hey, that looks a little like an Ellsworth Kelly. Please pass the salt.’”

Leithauser’s point is that we shouldn’t be too ready to label the Metro passersby unsophisticated boobs. Context matters.

Kant said the same thing. He took beauty seriously: In his Critique of Aesthetic Judgment, Kant argued that one’s ability to appreciate beauty is related to one’s ability to make moral judgments. But there was a caveat. Paul Guyer of the University of Pennsylvania, one of America’s most prominent Kantian scholars, says the 18th-century German philosopher felt that to properly appreciate beauty, the viewing conditions must be optimal.

“Optimal,” Guyer said, “doesn’t mean heading to work, focusing on your report to the boss, maybe your shoes don’t fit right.”

So, if Kant had been at the Metro watching as Joshua Bell play to a thousand unimpressed passersby?

“He would have inferred about them,” Guyer said, “absolutely nothing.”

So, does this mean that there’s hope for us, the human race? When I first read this article, I was outraged, and possibly feeling a little guilty. I was outraged because here was this divine person playing this incredible music amongst the ‘little people.’ This was a once in a lifetime chance to literally stand inches from an exceptional violinist. And people were ignoring him. Some people were even annoyed. Annoyed! It’s unbelievable.

And, yes, I felt guilty because I know that I don’t always take the time to look around me and observe the beauty of the world. Beauty doesn’t have to come in the form of Joshua Bell playing “Ave Maria” in a metro station in D.C. Beauty can be how the snow is lying on the tree branches in my back yard right now. I hate to say it, but I don’t always see that. Sometimes I’m too busy.

But, according to Guyer and Kant, it might not be our fault. In order to appreciate beauty, we must have optimal conditions. So, cool. We don’t have to feel too guilty for putting our nose to the grindstone and ignoring the brilliance around us.

But – and this is a big, giant but – I do think it’s up to us to make conditions optimal once in a while. What is life without beauty? Empty. You might as well be a ghost. At least you’d have an excuse. It’s important to work hard to become great at what we love to do, but it’s also important to notice that there is beauty in this world. Without noticing that, how can we hope to replicate it in our stories? Writers are in the unique position of being able to take literally anything – books, movies, TV shows, the flower out back, the dead squirrel on the side of the road, the cows in the pasture, the car accident on the highway – and replicate it. We view it, we internalize it, and we spew it forth colored with our own interpretations and call it something new.

It’s so important to make those conditions optimal once in a while. Allow yourself to see the beauty. If you can’t see the point in doing so simply to make yourself a better human being – and I feel sorry for you if you can’t – then at least do it in order to make your writing stronger. Because it will. And you owe it to yourself to experience those things.

THERE ARE SIX MOMENTS IN THE VIDEO THAT BELL FINDS PARTICULARLY PAINFUL TO RELIVE: “The awkward times,” he calls them. It’s what happens right after each piece ends: nothing. The music stops. The same people who hadn’t noticed him playing don’t notice that he has finished. No applause, no acknowledgment. So Bell just saws out a small, nervous chord — the embarrassed musician’s equivalent of, “Er, okay, moving right along . . .” — and begins the next piece.

The parallels between these moments for Bell and similar moments for authors should be glaringly obvious. It’s that moment when we finally press the publish button on our story. It goes out into cyberspace and we wait for the crowds to flock and herald us as a genius of our time.

Only, they don’t.

Ouch. It is painful, and it can be intimidating and disheartening and frustrating. But look at Bell. He went through the same thing and he IS validated as an artist. He can charge pretty much whatever he wants for a concert and people will pay it because he’s that good.

Yet when that same person plays in front of unsuspecting strangers, they don’t flock to him and herald him as a genius of his time. As stated before, Bell was a painting without a frame. Newly published authors are quite similar – their frame is still being built. It still needs to be pieced together and varnished and placed around them like a laurel wreath on top of their head.

You’ll get there. Just be patient and never, ever give up.

The poet Billy Collins once laughingly observed that all babies are born with a knowledge of poetry, because the lub-dub of the mother’s heart is in iambic meter. Then, Collins said, life slowly starts to choke the poetry out of us. It may be true with music, too.

It’s so accurate, isn’t it? I know so many people who don’t read. Why? Because they hated reading in school. Poetry and classics were shoved down their throats. They were forced to dissect each sentence. It was torture. No wonder they were turned off by it.

Faults in our school systems aside, life finds other ways to cheat us. Why read the book when you can watch the movie? Why go to a museum and appreciate three hundred year old art when you can just pull up icanhas.cheeseburger.com? Why watch opera when you can turn on American Idol and laugh at the people who clearly don’t have a talented bone in their body?

But the behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.

Nothing more needs to be said than, ‘I told you so.’ We’re doing it to ourselves. We’re doing it to our children.

For many of us, the explosion in technology has perversely limited, not expanded, our exposure to new experiences. Increasingly, we get our news from sources that think as we already do. And with iPods, we hear what we already know; we program our own playlists.

It’s ironic, isn’t it? We have something like the internet at our fingertips. It grows exponentially every day. Nothing is deleted from it, not truly, and millions of people add to its files with each passing second. Yet, we’re so limited. We stick those headphones in our ears and we walk by the likes of Joshua Bell. Oh, maybe not in the literal sense – unless, of course, you were one of those people in the metro station that day – but in a metaphorical sense. We limit ourselves because it’s comfortable. We don’t expand because staying the same is safer. We don’t seek beauty because we don’t have time.

“YES, I SAW THE VIOLINIST,” Jackie Hessian says, “but nothing about him struck me as much of anything.”

You couldn’t tell that by watching her. Hessian was one of those people who gave Bell a long, hard look before walking on. It turns out that she wasn’t noticing the music at all.

“I really didn’t hear that much,” she said. “I was just trying to figure out what he was doing there, how does this work for him, can he make much money, would it be better to start with some money in the case, or for it to be empty, so people feel sorry for you? I was analyzing it financially.”

And even when we make time, we can’t stop working. We can’t stop analyzing. We can’t stop dissecting the beauty until it’s unrecognizable as the thing it was before. No longer is it Joshua Bell’s masterful rendition of timeless classical music. Now it’s money. It’s a means of living. It’s a list of pros and cons.

So, even when we slow down to appreciate the beauty, we can’t see it for what it really is. And that’s the biggest shame of all.

We’re busy. Americans have been busy, as a people, since at least 1831, when a young French sociologist named Alexis de Tocqueville visited the States and found himself impressed, bemused and slightly dismayed at the degree to which people were driven, to the exclusion of everything else, by hard work and the accumulation of wealth.

Not much has changed. Pop in a DVD of “Koyaanisqatsi,” the wordless, darkly brilliant, avant-garde 1982 film about the frenetic speed of modern life. Backed by the minimalist music of Philip Glass, director Godfrey Reggio takes film clips of Americans going about their daily business, but speeds them up until they resemble assembly-line machines, robots marching lockstep to nowhere. Now look at the video from L’Enfant Plaza, in fast-forward. The Philip Glass soundtrack fits it perfectly.

“Koyaanisqatsi” is a Hopi word. It means “life out of balance.”

And this is the point. I’m sorry it took 4,000+ words to get here, but I hope you’ve stuck with me so far. I hope you haven’t become a statistic.

Work is good. We need to work. Unfortunately, we can’t run around open fields with daisies in our hair praising the sunshine and looking for four leaf clovers all day long. For better or for worse, life just doesn’t happen that way.

And, hey. That’s fine. Jobs are vital. We’re a consumerist society, and jobs are how we survive the world. Jobs can be fun and beneficial and make us grow as people. We should work, or else we tend to start looking like our couch, all stationary and poofy and lumpy in odd places, and that is a very bad thing.

But please, I’m begging you. Stop. Look around. Appreciate the beauty. Don’t dissect it. Don’t analyze it. Hell, don’t even try to understand it. Just soak it all in. Let it speak to you in words that your mind doesn’t understand but your heart does. It’ll teach you things you didn’t even know you still needed to learn.

In his 2003 book, Timeless Beauty: In the Arts and Everyday Life, British author John Lane writes about the loss of the appreciation for beauty in the modern world. The experiment at L’Enfant Plaza may be symptomatic of that, he said — not because people didn’t have the capacity to understand beauty, but because it was irrelevant to them.

Beauty is irrelevant to people. Or so this experiment seems to be telling us. What do YOU think? I didn’t write this blog post – this essay – to spew forth my ideas into the void, not even hearing an echo in return. I want to have a discussion. I want to know what you think. I want to know if you agree or disagree with this article and with what I’ve said here in this post.

Do you stop to appreciate music? Art? Beauty? Do you try to tear it apart and see what makes it tick, or do you just immerse yourself in it and enjoy it for exactly what it is? Do you think the results of this experiment are skewed because of the conditions? Do you think most people are like this?

Bell headed off on a concert tour of European capitals. But he is back in the States this week. He has to be. On Tuesday, he will be accepting the Avery Fisher prize, recognizing the Flop of L’Enfant Plaza as the best classical musician in America.

ROW80LogocopyHey, guys! I had a super week. Not only did I meet all of my main goals, but I also overachieved on exercising (ALWAYS  a plus) and finished the first step on a MAJOR project.

*dances*

Main Goals

  1. Write or edit every day. 7/7 I wrote each day and edited on three of the days as well. More on the big goal accomplished down below.
  2. Read every day. 7/7 Divergent is so, so, SO good. I just wish I had more time to read it. Reading a chapter a night is agonizingly slow. I wish the third book was out already too. Having to wait for it once I finish Insurgent is going to be brutal.
  3. Exercise twice a week. 4/2 Four times!? I must be crazy. Or I’m just addicted to Just Dance 4. I’m going to venture a guess that it’s the latter. I also dropped two pounds from last week, which is, like, WHOA. But, hey. I’m not complaining.

Bonus Goals

  1. Finish edits on chapters five and six of L1. It’s a no go on this. I’m doing up a spreadsheet right now to help me figure out what needs to be changed and what parts are lacking. So actual edits are on hold until that’s done. Then I’ve decided – against my better judgment – that I’m going to rewrite a few of the major plots. I just…didn’t like them. Basically, this was me:
  2. Continue writing W1. THIS IS DONE. You guys, I FINISHED IT. *flails* It’s 34.5K words long and it’s…pretty terrible. It’s going to need an overhaul. I’m talking chainsaw, hazmat suits, and maybe some dynamite. But I don’t care. The words are on the screen. The plot is down. It just needs some fine tuning, and then it will be GOLDEN. I’m really excited about this one. New goal is to keep writing W2. (More on that at the next check-in.)
  3. Update my contests doc. I didn’t quite to this yet. I was too busy. Oops. *hides*

List of Awesome

  1. DID I MENTION THAT I FINISHED WRITING W1???
  2. I attended a WANA webinar titled Agent Secrets, and it was awesome! I learned a lot, and I think I’m finally getting a game plan in my head for what I want to do. Yeahhh!
  3. Episode 14 of Onceable is LIVE! We discuss Once Upon a Time’s “The Outsider” in our episode titled “Belle and Hook.”
  4. Episode 9 of Not Another Teen Wolf Podcast is also live! We talk about the Teen Wolf webisode series Search for a Cure on our episode titled “Webisodalicious.” (Which I seriously have trouble pronouncing.)
  5. I finished a very big article for Hypable. It’s about Harry Potter, and I’m super proud of it. Hopefully it’ll go live next week some time so I can share it with you.
  6. My friend’s fiancee’s band (Echo & Drake) is up for a chance to play at the Grammy’s! You can vote for them here (which I would really appreciate – as would they). I also scored them an interview with Hypable. Yay for sharing the love!
  7. I broke 5K words on Wednesday. Holy cow!!
  8. Added three more chapters to my spreadsheet for L1.

Points and Words

Each of my main goals gets FIVE POINTS. Bonus goals get TEN POINTS if they’re completed.

  • Week 1 – 95 points
  • Week 2 – 100 points

This week I wrote:

  • Week 1 – 8,284 words
  • Week 2 – 13,697 words

That brings my total words for the year up to: 30,804 words written since January 1, 2013

What book are you currently reading? Any I absolutely need to add to my (gigantic) TBR list?

Corps Justice Back to WarHey, everyone! I’ve got another book recommendation for you guys. Gonna keep this post short and sweet so as to not waste your time if you’re in a hurry or this isn’t your cup of tea. I would really appreciate you taking the time to read this and spread the word, though!

C.G. Cooper has written a series called Corps Justice, and it’s all about a company called Stokes Security International that takes the security business to a whole new level. They use their technology and high profile connections to work outside of the law in order to protect the United States from all sorts of danger.

The best way I can describe these books is the A-Team meets the Avengers.

Corps Justice Council of Patriots

 

If that’s got you intrigued, and I hope it does, you can check out book one, Back to War, and book two, Council of Patriots, on Amazon. They’re good, quick reads and really worth the couple of bucks you’d invest in them.

If you like military type thrillers, then I think you’ll like this. It’s action-packed and full of enough butt-kicking to get anyone’s heartbeat up. I find his writing and scenarios to be realistic and the cast of characters to be vivid and memorable. Neil is my favorite, so keep an eye out for him!

 

I didn’t meet Mr. Cooper until both the first two books were already published, but I’m currently working my way through the third novel, Prime Asset, which he’s releasing episodically. You can get the first episode of this third book for FREE right here. I just returned the second episode to him yesterday, so that should be going up soon.

Corps Justice Prime Asset

Again, thanks for reading and being supportive. It really means a lot to me and the people that I work with!

What books are you currently reading? Got any cool indie or self-pubbed author recommendations for us?

I am a proud pantser

Posted: January 16, 2013 in Writing
Tags: , ,

For those of you who are not immersed in the writing world – or even for those of you who are, but have no idea what I’m talking about here – let me just start off by saying this isn’t exactly what it sounds like, IYKWIM. ;)

There are two generally accepted types of writers: plotters and pantsers.

Plotters love organization. They live for outlines. They like to beat their WIP into submission before they even get started on it. This often means they spend hours, days, maybe even WEEKS thinking through their story and working out the kinks. Once that’s all done, they just have to sit down and bang out the words, already knowing where they’re going and how it’s all going to end.

Pantsers are the opposite. They fly by the seat of their pants (hence the name). Organization? Bah! Outlines? Yeah, right! A plan of action? A series of established events? Actually knowing the ending? Where’s the fun in that? These guys literally sit down and start writing. Usually they have a vague idea of where it’s going to end up, but they let their muse lead them down a winding path full of false starts, tangential plots, and random side characters.

Both have their pros and cons. Plotters tend to have a more focused and polished story by the time they’re finished, but that much organization can also cramp creativity. Pantsers get to explore more of their story in a way that’s less formatted (which means more creativity), but unless they’re Freaking Amazing, it requires a lot of editing on the back end.

From the title, I’m sure you’ve realized which category I fall into.

I’ve been sitting on this topic for a while because I wanted to explain why I’m a pantser and why it works for me. I’ve been hemming and hawing and putting it off (much like procrastinators and pantsers tend to do). But I came across a blog post by L.G. Kelso titled “Accept your writing style,” and it sort of kicked me into gear and helped me to figure out a bit more about myself and the way in which I write. Go check it out. It’s a great read.

But, basically, she recommends everyone accept their writing style for what it is. One strategy isn’t better than the other. It’s like doing the breast stroke or the back stroke when all you want to do is get to the other end of the pool. Will they both get you there? Yeah. Is one harder than the other? It depends on who you ask.

Besides, you’ll find that a lot of people aren’t strictly one or the other. Those that draw up outlines tend to deviate from them here and there. Those that throw caution to the wind and just dive head first often know which major events they want to occur before going in. If they’re like me, they may write a one page summary of the book just to make sure they don’t forget where they want to end up.

With that being said, I’m a proud pantser.

Why? To tell you the truth, I’m not sure. I don’t know where this stems from or when I decided this is how I would write books. It’s just always been that way. And that’s cool with me. I do some organizing. Mostly after the fact, when I begin my editing process. But mostly I just sit down and write.

In L1, I began the story with a clear image in my head: a girl lying on the floor, just regaining consciousness, looking up at four people standing over her. She didn’t know who she was or where she came from. That’s still my opening scene, and the story just evolved from there.

I actually wrote L1 in about two months. The story just spoke to me. I followed it wherever it led me, and it came out so strong. That’s not to say that it didn’t and still doesn’t have problems, but allowing myself to just write and not worry about all the technicalities really let the story breathe. It definitely took me in a direction much different than I thought it would. I love being surprised by my own plot twists!

But there were downfalls to writing it like that too. It was actually quite a solid story – and I chalk that up to it being so vivid in my mind – but I’m finding that I don’t actually like the main conflict of the story. I don’t like some of the fundamental parts of the book. That’s a big OH NO! that I’m dealing with right now, and I think it comes down to the fact that I pantsed my way through it. (Ooh, look! A new verb!) I was more concerned about getting from that opening scene to the ending scene, than actually fleshing out a story with that little thing we like to call structure. Is that a bad thing? Yeah, ‘course it is. Can’t have a novel without structure. But is it fixable? Definitely. (But it doesn’t mean I have to LIKE fixing it! *grumble grumble*)

I’m in a similar situation with W1 right now. I knew the beginning and I knew the end. Vividly. The scenes were practically written inside my head already. I even know how I want W2 to begin. But how do I connect point A and point B? If you’re a pantser, you just start writing and see where it takes you. W1 is much, much messier than L1 was. I’m already dreading the editing process. It needs a major overhaul. I need, like, a hack saw and a hazmat suit. But the cool thing is that I know what I like and what I don’t like because I’ve already written it. Words on a page are better than a blank page any day.

What am I trying to say here? Basically, I’m trying to say that I agree with L.G. Kelso up there. Figure out your writing style and accept it. Do what works for you, no matter what other people say. One style is not better than the other.

But also know when you need to adapt. I think I’m reaching that point now. I love writing when even I’m surprised at where the story is going. It makes your character’s reactions more realistic and really brings them to life. But, man, that editing process will kick you while you’re down. It’s hard, and it often results in multiple drafts. That’s not very efficient.

So I guess this is me raising a plotter flag alongside my pantser flag. I need to find a happy medium. I need to learn to outline so I don’t have as many plot holes when I go to edit. (Especially since the W series is a time-travel story, and OH MY GOD IT’S SO HARD TO KEEP THINGS STRAIGHT.) I’m not giving up my pantser flag, because I’m proud of it and it’s sparkly and green. But I am going to learn to adjust to both methods and make them both work for me.

Are you a pantser or a plotter? Why? Have you ever tried writing using the other method? Did it work?

I swear this is not an advertisement! I’m just an advocate. ;)

When I finally got an iPhone last year, I did it because 1) I needed a new phone, and 2) I knew it would help me stay on top of things like my e-mail and various social media notifications. Plus, I’d be able to surf the internet. Because, you know, I don’t do that enough as it is already.

What I didn’t realize was that it completely revolutionized – and I use that term very specifically – the way that I manage everything I do. It really was like a revolution. Suddenly I had a one man army at my fingertips, allowing me to keep tabs on everything I do. And I do a lot. I became more efficient and was able to interact on social media a lot easier. This was important to me because it’s not just fun, but also good when you want to build a readership and make connections with other writers.

There are cons, of course. Anyone with a Smartphone will tell you that they can become addictive. I check mine constantly, though I try not to do it when I’m around other people. The internet can suck a lot of our time and energy without us even realizing it. And it can cause tension on relationships. I try not to let that happen.

As with everything, there needs to be balance. And one of the best things about the iPhone is that it actually gives me more time to do other things – namely writing, but also spending time with my family and friends. Instead of having 50 e-mails waiting for me at the end of the day, I can keep an eye on them as they come in and read or delete them sooner. I can respond to tweets instantly, or check Facebook when something comes up with Hypable.

It’s hard to pick just five, but I’ve narrowed down my favorite apps and why I like them so much. These are the ones I use most often, and the best part about them is they’re FREE! We all like free.

ONE. Notes

The notes app is just a simple little application designed to look like a yellow legal pad. You just open it up and start typing. You can use it for reminders, to keep your grocery list, or to write down ideas as they come to you.

I tend to use this for the last option. I have background information on my characters written out, lists of blog ideas, outlines for stories, and so much more. The best part is that it’s so portable. You don’t need to drag a laptop around with you just in case an idea strikes. And those ideas never strike at opportune moments, do they? Who doesn’t carry their phone on them at all times these days, especially given the fact that most bloggers/writers are so dependent to the internet.

TWO. WordPress

The WordPress app is one of my favorites (don’t tell the others). Instead of sitting down each night and replying to a dozen comments on a blog post, I can just respond to each person as they come in. And it’s so easy to keep track of it, as they end up in a queue in the comments section of the app.

For the longest time, I was only half using this application. I never used the reader portion – which is where new posts from the blogs you follow end up. Until recently, I would just go to my email and open up each one to read them, sometimes having to click through to the actual site. It wasn’t a pain in the slightest, until I realized there was a much, much simpler way to go about it.

When my inbox backed up to about 150 e-mails – most of them being blog posts – and I was drowning trying to keep up, I finally had the brilliant idea to check out the reader in the app. I flew through those blog posts like you wouldn’t believe. I could now do it anywhere – not just when I had my laptop on me. Of course, I could have done it from my e-mail on my phone before, but I’d have to log in each time to leave a comment and that was just such a pain.

Keeping up with blog posts now is a breeze. I hardly have any lying in wait in my e-mail because I can get to them whenever I have a few minutes. And the best part is that the app always has you logged in. You don’t need to constantly input your information, which can be frustrating on such a small screen when your fingers never quite hit the keys you intended.

The only problem I find with this part of the app is that I have to click into the blog post from the reader, then click into the person’s site, and click into post again in order to leave a comment and be able to mark it to notify me of any further replies. (I do this as an easier way to see when an author replies to me, but there’s also some hidden gems when other people leave comments. Plus, I’m a sucker for notifications/e-mails. Sue me.) But it’s a problem I’m willing to work with if it means I won’t be staring at an inbox of 150 blog posts any time soon. Hallelujah.

THREE. Twitter/Facebook/E-mail

Okay, I know I’m cheating here by giving more than one app, but these sort of go hand in hand for me. They’re ways I keep in touch with people – Twitter for writers (mostly), Facebook to keep an eye on our Hypable group, and e-mail for, well, e-mails. As with the WordPress app, these other apps keep you constantly signed in, which is one of the perks for me. (And I realize this makes me sound like someone who is too impatient to even sign in each time I want to go on these things. You may or may not be right…)

Twitter makes for great distraction. I keep to my lists, which I’ve broken down into categories for why I’ve followed certain people. I’ve followed a lot of people on Twitter, and so it can be a little overwhelming at times. Having it broken down like this is much easier to handle (though sometimes I still avoid certain lists because – WOW – so many things to read). Twitter is, unfortunately, inundated by an incredible amount of people all sharing links. I see this a lot with many of the writers I follow. Twitter is a great place to share information like this, but it’s hard to get through a list when there’s hardly any “real people talk” and it’s mostly just links. But it is what it is, and I still enjoy it. It’s a place where I can share my thoughts and be more of myself than I can be on Facebook (sad isn’t it?). The only thing I wish would change is the ability to add people to lists directly from the application, rather than having to jump on my computer to do it.

The facebook app is a great tool, and I mostly use it to keep an eye on the Hypable group (where we share ideas and make sure all the news is being covered) and my writer page. I hardly do any “real” Facebook-ing, but I don’t mind. I generally keep my thoughts to Twitter. ;) The one problem I’ve noticed with this app is that I don’t always get notified when there’s new activity. But so far it hasn’t been much of a problem, and I just make it a point to check in on everything once in a while.

FOUR. Goodreads

The Goodreads app has so much potential, I’m sure, but I don’t really use it to its fullest extent. I’m not super active on Goodreads anyway, so I’m not bothered. It makes it much easier for me to update which page I’m on in my book – something that has no real use (because I don’t my friends on there really care I just read 15 pages), but makes me happy anyway. I also use it to quickly add books to my TBR pile or to add to my already-read list. It’s nice for when I’m suddenly struck with a memory of having read a certain book, or see a book in a store that I’d like to eventually read. I can just whip my phone out and input the title. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy!

FIVE. Pocket Frogs

Yep, this is a tried and true app, and one that I am so glad I found. If you’re unfamiliar with the game, it’s pretty simple. You have a bunch of frogs that you breed and can either keep or sell. The game is super simple, but incredibly addicting. It’s fun to see what combinations you can come up with and to try to obtain all of the awards.

Smartphones can be distracting, and this is one instance where I can get sucked into a game like this (or Fruit Ninja, which I recently discovered and have a fondness for). When your main goal is to write and not be distracted while typing away on your computer (which sometimes feels like an impossible feat), having games on your phone isn’t always the smartest decision. But, I’ve also found it to be a nice break. A game like Fruit Ninja doesn’t take long (if you’re not too great at it like I am, that is), and it’s a good way to reward yourself once you’ve accomplished something on your to-do list. For someone who tends to reward herself with food (bad, bad habit), this is a much healthier alternative.

Do you have a Smartphone? Do you use any of the apps above? Which are your favorites? Got any good ones that aren’t on my list?