Archive for February, 2018

Long before any cartoons, long before any movies, and long before any graffiti, there was Bilbo Baggins. And long before Bilbo, there was J.R.R. Tolkien.

I don’t remember whether I was 17 or 18 when a friend pressed a copy of The Hobbit into my hands, with the whispered secret knowledge that “Bilbo Lives!” In a way, it was her small revolt against the ubiquity of Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger In A Strange Land and its byword of “May you never thirst.”

It’s funny, now, when I think back 50 years later, that I don’t even remember her name, that rebellious friend who started me on what has become a life-long quest for well-written fantasy, science fiction, and the various sub-genres we now lump under the heading of Sci-Fi (or sometimes, Sci-Fy).

Today I came across an old, somewhat weathered paperback copy of The Hobbit, and I was instantly transported back to that day in the hall of Highlands High School when I first heard of the book subtitled There And Back Again.

“Bilbo Lives!” never became the great rallying cry that “Frodo Lives!” turned out to be. Maybe The Hobbit came too soon, or maybe The Lord of the Rings had better press. Either way, had there not been The Hobbit, there would have been no Lord of the Rings (LOTR), in the same way that had there been no monthly The Strand magazine, there would be no BBC series called Sherlock.

And there most certainly would never have been that great classic of modern literature,

But I digress.

The Lord of the Rings

We were in the early years of the reign of King George Jr. when The Fellowship of the Ring was released in theaters. Shrub (so-called by Texans because he was the little Bush) hadn’t yet embarked on his take-no-prisoners approach to the environment, but already I could see the parallels to the Orcs tearing down trees in order to fuel the flames which would birth the great army of Uruk-Hai that would soon ravish the land and enslave millions if Frodo failed in his mission.

After watching The Fellowship, I came out of the theater wanting to be Arwen (Liv Tyler), elf-maiden, and fierce warrior. And to be honest, the fact that she (like me) had the hots for Aragorn, played by Viggo Mortenson, didn’t hurt, either.

LOTR, Redux

17 years later, the Eye of Sauron has reopened. This time it has taken the form not of the ultimate evil but rather that of complete incompetence: Donald Trump as Gollum. Slimy, hate-filled, monomania wrapped in fascism and served up via a Russian samovar. Toxic masculinity at its absolute narcissistic worst.

Where is the Frodo Baggins who will destroy the ring in the fires of Mt. Doom? Or will he fail, and the country itself be driven there by Gollum?

Please. Vote sensibly in the mid-term elections this November.

But there is such thing as writer’s laziness, writer’s excuses, writer’s burnout, and any number of other excuses we use to justify our lack of desire? production? output?

I’m usually out of bed by 8 a.m. This morning, however, I slept in until 10. Yes, I know: I’m a worthless sinner. NOT!

But sleeping in so late – no matter how much I needed to – pretty much messed up my daily schedule. Between my tea and fixing breakfast and checking my emails, I didn’t have time to write. Or did I?

Here it is, 12:30 in the afternoon, and I’m finally writing. Oh, I could have started an hour ago, but I had nothing to say.

Which got me thinking: do I really have to await a visitation from Erato or Calliope or some other imaginary Greek muse to tap me on the shoulder with her magic wand to inspire me? Or can I just take out my iPhone and start typing?

Fortunately, I don’t believe in gods, goddesses, or any other imaginary characters, which means that whatever I decide comes from me and me alone. Nobody else.

Sure, sometimes I’ll read something that gets me thinking, and that might inspire? prompt? me to write a reply or a response.

But ultimately, I’m responsible for my own actions. And ultimately, only I can decide whether I’m going to use an imaginary excuse like writer’s block, or whether I’m going to pull up my big-girl panties, go to work, and write my arse off.

Writer’s block? Don’t make me laugh.

On Writing For Medium

Posted: 21 February, 2018 in Blogging, Medium, Writing
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How To Find Your Voice and Become a Superb Writer

Save your work, then step back and preview it. Periodically, as I am going along, I “listen” to what I have written. This ensures it still sounds like “me”, that it flows and represents the way I want my story to come across. –Enrique Fiallo

This is a crucial step, and given today’s fast-paced cyberspace, perhaps the hardest. I spend far too much time on social media, with the result that I feel pressured to respond to the latest Facebook post or Twitter tweet and so most of my responses are flippant, with no real thought behind them.

But Medium is different. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that I’m different when I’m in Medium. I like to think it’s because my visits here have taken on a somewhat ritualistic flavor: I spend time brewing a fresh cup of tea (using whole leaf tea, naturally) and engaging in deep-breathing exercises while it brews.

I then sit down with my mug of tea and open the Medium app, usually on my iPhone. I peruse (yes I do know what the word means) article titles, and click on ones that seem interesting. Sometimes – as in this case – I’m prompted? inspired? to write a response.

But this isn’t Facebook and it’s not Twitter. This is Medium, and I don’t want to come across as some young smart-ass punk (can I even be that at 67 years of age?), and so I do my best to respond in a deliberate and thoughtful voice. (I save my smart-assery for my blogs.)

Once I’ve finished my response I then go over it, making sure it is coherent and consistent. I delete a comma here and add one there, change a word to one that makes more sense or gives more clarity.

Above all, I want to communicate clearly, and if doing so requires me to break some arbitrary rule of grammar, so be it.

After, it’s my voice.

And Anyone Else Who Thinks They Know the Rules of Writing

Dear Mr. Lovecraft,

At night, when the objective world has slunk back into its cavern and left dreamers to their own, there come inspirations and capabilities impossible at any less magical and quiet hour. No one knows whether or not he is a writer unless he has tried writing at night.

Do you mind if I call you Herb? That is, after all, your name: Herbert Phillips Lovecraft.

Anyway, Herb, I tried your advice about writing at night, and it sucked. See, I’m a morning person. Always have been, always will be. I guess it’s just encoded in my genes that I’m at my most productive around 8 in the morning.

But just for shits & giggles, I tried your way — and gave up after 3 days. First, I could barely stay awake past 10 pm. Second, I still woke up at 8 the next morning, even after forcing myself to stay up until midnight — when I was far too tired to even have an idea, much less write it down.

The about writing is this, Herb: nobody can tell anyone else the “right” or “wrong” way to do it. Writing is communication, and the method is unique to all of us. I tried writing at night, and it doesn’t work for me. Does that mean I’m not a writer? Or — and this is, I suspect, more likely the truth — that I’m not a writer by your standards.

Here are some other ways I don’t write:

  1. With a quill pen, which I understand was once quite fashionable
  2. Standing up and leaning on my mantel
  3. With a typewriter
  4. With a pencil or a pen

All of these were once “rules” of writing for certain specific authors, and which have never worked for me. I grew up with typewriters, first manual and later electric. And while I used to love my IBM Selectric typewriter, and later, my IBM Displaywriter, I’m now perfectly content with my laptop, iPad, and iPhone.

The only hard and fast rule I have consistently adhered to for the past 50 years of writing was one taught by Dr. Louis Bittrich in my advance-placement college Freshman Composition class: “You can’t break the rules until you know them and understand why they’re there. Only then can you deliberately violate them, if it helps get your message across.”

So Herb, this is where you and I part company. I really love a lot of your work, but I’m afraid your opinion on writing at night will, for me, remain just that: an opinion. I tried it, it didn’t work, so I’m going back to writing in the morning, over a steaming mug of strong black tea.

Sincerely,
A Fan

I’m Enjoying My First Cup

Posted: 19 February, 2018 in Blogging, Writing
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It’s 11:00 o’ the clock in the morning and I’m enjoying my first cup of tea–which happens to be my second cup of the day. I didn’t enjoy the first cup so much as need it–I stayed up too late last night, so my first cup was for me what I assume other people’s first cup of coffee must be: a much-needed wakeup.

I’m retired, which means that I have a lot of time available for indulging in the two great loves of my life: reading and writing. Three, if you add tea. Or four, including photography. Or five… And it becomes easier to merely write about them than to actually do them.

Anyway, last night I decided to take the advice of HP Lovecraft:

“At night, when the objective world has slunk back into its cavern and left dreamers to their own, there come inspirations and capabilities impossible at any less magical and quiet hour. No one knows whether or not he is a writer unless he has tried writing at night.”

I even took a nap during the day to make sure I was up to the task.

It’s not going to happen overnight. Decades of awaking early in the morning and writing are hard to overcome. I’ve always been at my most productive in the morning, and it’s going to take a while to develop a new habit… assuming it’s even worth it in the first place.

I’ve often said rules are made to be broken; I’ve also said that you first have to know what the rules are before you can break them deliberately. So I’m going to give Lovecraft’s “rule” a couple of weeks before I decide if it’s effective, or if it’s just one more example of a rule that can be broken.


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