Category Archives: Cartoon

A Dangerous Place To Write

dangers

Don’t envy me because I’m in Sunny Florida. (That sounded pretentious, didn’t it?). This is not a safe place. It’s downright dangerous. I’ve already had to pull a snake out of the pool!

And I was talking to my sister, Annette, a couple of nights ago. She said she doesn’t go anywhere near the beach. Sharks. Loads of ‘em. And if they don’t get ‘ya the rip tides will.

My sister Lucille, has a lake in the back of her house. They have to be careful when they go outside. There are three alligators in it and they like to come out of the water, every now and then, and and walk around their property.

And now people are telling me about bears. Black bears walking around the nieghborhoods. What? Oh, yeah, they say. You’ll see them sometimes in people’s back yards. Don’t feed them, someone told me. Like she had to tell me that! As though I’d be outside calling out, “C’mon over here, seven foot bear, and take this bread from my hand.” The idea of feeding a bear that was in my back yard would never occur to me. But I guess there are people who need to be told that kind of thing. It’s the reason they have to put warnings on stuff that say things like, “This lawn mower is not to be used for cutting hair.”

And Panthers. Can’t forget those. I was warned about them, too. And don’t let your little dog go outside alone. Hawks will grab her. Okay, what the hell did I get myself into? I had visions of sitting out in the sun with a cold drink at my side and my laptop in front of me, happily typing away at the keyboard. I imagined writing with the warm rays on my face and the sound of the pool’s gurging water in my ears. How relaxing. Now it seems as though I’ll be taking my life in my hands.

Oh, okay. It’s probably not all that dangerous (glances out the back window looking for bears). But there really is a lot of wildlife walking around. We heard a racket one morning and ran to the front window. A flock of four foot high, grey birds, with long legs and necks were coming down the street like they owned the place. About eight of them. They were screeching loud enough to wake the dead. It was like they were daring anybody to come out. They were like feather covered gangsta’s. “Come on out! I dare ya’!” We all cowered inside our houses until the went away.

It’s cool, though, really. There’s a huge conservation area nearby and people really did tell me all those things to watch out for. Being a writer, this is all just more material. There are stories, here, just waiting to be told.

I’ll tell them from inside the house, though. No, I’m not scared of the animals! It’s the sun. It’s very hot. Really.

Goodbye, Texas…Hello, Florida!

 

carExcuse the quickie cartoon. I’m so damn tired that it was my eight year old daughter who reminded me about my blog. “Did you do your blog?” she asked me.

“Uh…no!” I said as I ran to grab my laptop.

It’s been crazy getting ready for this move, but by the time you read this we will probably be in Florida.

Why? Well, my wife has wanted to do it for years. She never quite got used to Texas. She’s a beach girl, and well…there’s not much water in Dallas. Of course that’s not something I could have said about a week ago. We were giving the tropics a run for their money with all that rain. This is Dallas, though. They’ll be a drought in no time.

But, really, this woman was serious about getting out of here. She had been telling me, for years, that as soon as our teenager graduates high school she wanted to move. Well, June 9th is graduation day. June 10th we’re on the road. This will post on the 11th so we should be seeing palm trees while you’re reading this (Hopefully, someone is reading this).

I can’t say that I was happy about it right from the beginning. The idea of moving terrified me. I’ve done it so many times that I feel like a gypsy. But she was charging forward regardless of what anyone was saying. Every day she was on the house-hunting sites. “What do you think of this one?” became her mantra.

We went to Orlando on vacation and I started to come around. It sure is a lot prettier than Dallas. But, and no offense of course, most places are.

One good thing about moving to Florida is that I’m working on a novel that takes place in the South Pacific during World War Two. I can sit out in my back yard and gaze at the tropical looking surroundings and feel as though I’m there. It’s Orlando and not the jungles of New Guinea, of course. But still, as I sit out back in my yard surrounded by palm trees, sweating in the humidity and fighting off the mosquitos, it will help to put me in the moment. The pages will almost drip with perspiration!

So, off we go on a new adventure. I hope we can stay for a while. The wagon is getting worn out.

Can You Have Too Many Books?

LOTSA BOOKS

Some people say that you can never be too rich or too thin. Some people who like to read (and maybe write, too) say that you can never have too many books.

Well, I’ve heard of people who are too rich. Take the Kardashians. Or how about Paris Hilton? They’ve got so much money they don’t know what the hell to do with themselves! “I’m bored. Let’s release another video of ourselves having sex.” Yeah, they have too much money.

And, c’mon! Of course you can be too thin. I know people who are really proud of the weight they just dropped, but I don’t want to tell them that they may have overdone it. I feel like force-feeding them some cheeseburgers.

And I know that you can have too many books. I found that out because I’m packing to move. We’re heading to Florida. Sun, beaches and Mickey Mouse.

Now, I already knew that I had a large amount of books. But I found that I had a staggering amount of books. As they were coming off of the shelves and being boxed, I suddenly realized that I could not take all of these books with me! I had twenty, thirty, and then forty boxes of books. I was like some insane book hoarder. Some were already in boxes, piled up in a large closet because I didn’t have enough book shelves for them. I had books that I’d had since 1967! It was time to admit some of them had to go.

Wow! Now the big decision. Which ones? I started to go through them and saw a few, right away, that I realized I could part with. I’m an airplane nut so a lot of my library is about aviation. But, even the most avid airplane nut doesn’t need ten books about the P-51 Mustang. So I started thinning the herd by cutting down on some of the redundancy. There was a lot of it. That helped a little bit, but it was only a dent. I had to start getting really serious. Cold blooded. None of that, “Oh but I always liked that book. I can’t part with it.” I already read it. Will I read it again? Probably not. It goes.

But, goes where? My wife was having a garage sale, so I started there. I sold a few, but not enough. And so I hauled four boxes of books into my SUV and headed down to Half Price Books.

I heard, “Joe to the counter! We have your offer.” I went, hopefully and naively toward the call. Eleven dollars and fifty cents! Four boxes of books? Eleven dollars and fifty cents? That was barely going to pay for lunch. Oh what the hell. I thought about carrying those heavy cardboard boxes back to the car. I took the money and walked off grumbling.

A few days later my wife had a doctor’s appointment in downtown Fort Worth. We decided to take some books to the big Half Price Books down there. Man, that place is big. Maybe I’d get a better deal there.

Three boxes of books. Seven dollars and thirty cents. Grumbling once again, I took the cash.

So, even with the garage sale, the theiv…I mean, Half Price Books and giving a few away, I’m still hauling a lot of literature to the Sunshine State. I don’t know…maybe I’ll put some on E-Bay once I’m down there. My wife wants to sit out back one night, at our new home, and have a big bonfire. She wants to roast marshmallows to the sound of flames crackling over burning paper. I think she’s kidding. I think.

So, in answer to my question…can you have too many books? Hell yeah!

 

Someone In Your Corner

 

THE CHAMPEverybody needs someone in their corner. Someone who can tell you that you’re good at what you do even though every part of you is trying to convince you that you suck.

It all comes back to that self-doubt problem that has been written about in this blog (and probably countless others) already. It’s just that it seems to be a constant issue with writers. We have to have people telling us that what we are doing is worthwhile to keep us going. Good sales on your books, help, of course. That knowledge that you have people out there buying and enjoying your work and anxiously awaiting that next installment is certainly a shot in the arm. But what if you’re new at this and don’t have that yet?

I’m lucky enough to have a group of friends and fellow writers who seem to think that what I write isn’t blech! And that is a big help in keeping me going. But even more important is the fact that I have a lady at home who thinks that I’m the next great American novelist and that my writing is going to make us rich. While I’d be happy if my book simply helps to pay the bills, she is convinced that Stephen Spielberg is going to read it and want to make it into a film and offer me a multi-million dollar movie contract. I think she’s being a bit optimistic but it’s great knowing that someone has that much confidence in what you’re doing.

It would be hard to keep writing if I was being told that I was wasting my time. “Why don’t you stop with that stupid typing and go mow the lawn, or something!” Ouch!

No, instead I have a wife who says, “What are doing that for? Get upstairs and write!” Sometimes I feel a bit like Paul Sheldon in ‘Misery.’ I hope my wife never reads that book.

Oh, okay. She’s not that bad. That’s just a slight exaggeration. But she won’t let me sit around doing nothing. If I have some spare time, I’d better be writing or else I’ll hear about it. And that’s good, because left to my own devices I might wind up getting lazy and my wife won’t allow that to happen. After all, I need to keep turning out that work for Spielberg.

Hopefully, most of you who are reading this have someone in their corner that has faith in what they are doing. A writing group. Friends. And, best of all, your own personal cheerleader at home. Right now I’m picturing my wife wearing a cheerleader’s outfit and waving pom-poms. She’s screaming, “Joe! Joe! He’s our man, if he can’t write it, no one can!”

All right, that just got weird there, didn’t it? She looks cute in the outfit, though.

 

 

So Many Ideas…So Little Time

story ideas

Where do you guys get your story ideas from? There’s gonna be a lot of different answers, I know.

It could be a movie you saw, a book you read, a video game you played or even a dream you had. Or, of course, something that you experienced. There’s no right or wrong way. Whatever works! A lot of my stories come from history. Some, just pop out of my head. They’re swimming around in there, all the time. Just got to reach in there and grab one of the little buggers.

I got an idea for a story, once, by seeing a street sign. Out by me there are two roads that cross one another. One is Anita and the other is called Bourland. I saw the signs hanging over the street;  Anita Avenue and Bourland Road. Hmmm…Anita Bourland. What a great name for a character. I started running the idea around in my mind. Who could that be? It sounds like an old film star. Maybe she’s in an old age home. Yeah…she’s being taken care of by a young girl who works there who doesn’t believe all of the stories that Anita is telling her about the great old movie stars of the past. Now, I’m driving and I’m thinking about all of this. Such is the messed up brain of a writer. I got home and started writing it. It’s one of the many stories out on the back burner.

That’s the way it happens for me, sometimes. There are so many story ideas all around us that I can’t understand some of the things I see people asking in the writers sections of Facebook. “What should my character do for a living?” somebody asks. “I’m trying to think of a good idea for a story that I want to have take place in my home town. Any suggestions?” says another one. My favorite was one who wants to do a non-fiction, self- help, book. She says, “I’m writing a book called, ‘How to make a Million Dollars on E-Bay in 14 Days.’ Does anyone have any ideas on what I should put in it?”

I had to answer that one.

I said, “If you are writing a book called ‘How to make a Million Dollars on E-Bay in 14 days,’ and are asking US what to put in the book, then maybe you shouldn’t be writing a book called ‘How to make a Million Dollars on E-Bay in 14 Days.’ Because you obviously don’t KNOW how to make a million dollars on e-bay in 14 days.”

I did start the post with the words, “No offence, but…” I’m not all that bad a guy. But really, was that a bit too harsh? I don’t think so. How can anyone who calls themselves a writer be asking other people what she should write?

It’s got to come from you. Having ideas is actually a lot more important than knowing how to write. That part you can learn. Nobody can teach you how to have an imagination, however. I see two people arguing in a car and I see a story. A text message just came over their cell phone. The wife is angry because it’s a woman asking her husband about getting together. Uh…oh, busted. “Are you cheating on me?” she’s screaming as he’s trying to navigate through the traffic. I was sitting outside with my laptop one morning and sipping my coffee when I heard a motorcycle roaring by. I was annoyed at the racket at that time in the day and began typing a little snippet about a ‘bike rider who is screeching through a quiet neighborhood one morning and runs a stop sign. A car is coming and, well…you know. Yeah, I killed him. Felt good.

Sometimes I worry myself. My wife is from Chile and we spent a week down there on vacation. We were at a beautiful beach and I saw a girl walking into the water. My brain went into story mode. I imagined my character sitting on the beach watching the same scene. All of a sudden some men run up and try to grab her. He saves her and winds up getting tangled up in a story involving drug dealers and the white slave trade. I thought all of that just by watching a girl walk into the water. Is that even normal?

But that’s the way my mind works. It’s not always a good thing. It means that I have what OUR LEADER calls “popcorn kittens.” Ideas all over the place that aren’t complete. But boy, if I ever get to them all and finish them, I’ll have quite a body of work out there!

So much is going on around us all the time that a story idea should be easy. And if you can’t think of any fictional ideas than maybe non-fiction is for you. But if you need to ask others what you should put into your book about becoming a millionaire on e-bay, then maybe that’s not for you either. Maybe, just maybe…(Dare I say it?) you aren’t a writer. And that’s okay. It’s not necessarily a good thing to be someone who drives around talking to himself about a story idea he got after reading a street sign.

Writing History, Right

 

Noah

I’m a history nut. Historical non-fiction and historical fiction is what I enjoy reading most. When I read that stuff I expect the writer to know what he or she is talking about. I don’t think it’s too much to ask, is it?

I’m also an aviation enthusiast. My wife would replace the word, “enthusiast,” with the word, “fanatic.” I prefer the former. So being a fana…um, enthusiast, it’s another area where I expect an author to do their homework. Information is too easily accessible, today, to accept lazy writing. There is no excuse for having your characters going out to the airport and boarding a Boeing 707 when your story takes place in 1949. There were no 707’s in 1949. A quick Google search would have told you that.

Recently, I read a crime thriller. Something I don’t normally read. The bad guy works for the U.S. Government. The Government, as in many recent books and movies, were all bad guys. He enters the story flying an F-14 Tomcat. Now, okay, it’s a novel so I’ll forgive the fact that the Navy gave a civilian an F-14. My problem is when he lands. The writer says that he “engaged the reverse thrusters.” Reverse thrusters? On an F14? It’s a jet fighter not an airliner. Sorry, no reverse thrust on an F14. Am I being too much of a geek to expect that to be correct? I don’t think so. But he got away with it because 99.9% of the population doesn’t know an F14 from a Piper Cub. But okay, I’m just enough of a geek that it bugged me.

Now, like most writers, I tend to write what I like to read. My novel, ‘Jenny,’ is an historical piece that takes place in 1928 Texas. Obviously things were different then. It’s up to the writer to know, or at least find out, just how different. We’ve already established the fact that it’s no longer hard to do. I actually find the research enjoyable. I have a Model T Ford that plays a prominent part in the story and I did a lot of reading and Google searches on Model T’s. I like finding out things like the fact that the car’s gas tank was under the front seat. I love passing information like that on to the reader. I even watched a video by a guy who owns one. He showed how to start it. I got a kick out of that and worked it into the story.

And the history itself has to be right, too, of course. Not just the little details. If it’s 1928 you have to be careful that you don’t have your characters talking about something that happened in 1932. Make sure you don’t have them heading out to see ‘Gone With The Wind.’ That wasn’t until 1939. You have to do the research. I’m sure this scares a lot of people away from doing period pieces. It’s time consuming, that’s for sure. But, again, I like it.

But a writer can also have fun with history. Embellishment often works when doing historical novels. Putting your own slant to an historical event. In a great novel about the old west called, ‘Little Big Man,’ Thomas Berger decided to make George Armstrong Custer slightly insane. There’s no way to know if he was, or not, so he could do that sort of thing. He shoots down a bunch of other western myths, too. Terrific book. But even there, his history was on the mark. He just made use of a little artistic license, that’s all. (Which reminds me, mine is up for renewal, soon).

However, I don’t think you should mess with the facts as much as Noah’s biographer did (see cartoon). Then you’re leaving the historical fiction genre and moving into fantasy. If I pick up a book about ancient Rome and it starts with Nero pulling up in a limousine, I can be pretty sure that the writer didn’t do his research. Or that this is gonna be a really good story!

 

 

 

Fear Of Blogging

BLOGGERS

I resisted blogging. Didn’t want to do it. Amanda, the leader of our demented little bunch kept telling me I needed to blog. My wife kept telling me to start a blog. If I told someone I was writing they’d ask, “Do you have a blog I can go to, to see your stuff?”

No, I didn’t. And I didn’t have a Facebook or Twitter account, either. And I didn’t want one! But it did seem that everybody and their brother had a blog. What was so great about having a blog, anyway? And where the hell did that stupid word come from? Blog. It sounds like the name of an alien in one of those cheesy 1950’s science fiction movies.

I don’t know, maybe it was the fear of commitment. I didn’t want to worry about having to come up with something to write about every day. What if I didn’t feel like doing it, sometimes? My God! It sounded like being married! (It’s okay. My wife doesn’t read the blog.).

But then some trouble maker came up with the idea of us all, in the writer’s group, starting a blog. Everybody agreed that it was a terrific idea. “Uh…yeah, yeah…” I stuttered. “It’s a, um…great idea.” Oh no, what would I write? What if I couldn’t come up with anything? It was only once a week, though. We each had a day assigned to us. Mine was Thursday. Surely, I could come up with an idea once a week, I realized. I stopped hyperventilating. Yes, I could do this.

And here I am! Look Ma, I’m blogging! And I’m actually enjoying this.  Yeah, I’m having fun. All that fear was unjustified. I still wouldn’t want to do it every day, however. Don’t know how people do it.

But now I can see the importance of blogging if you are a writer. Getting your name out there. Showing your stuff. Building up a fan base. And I’ve even broken down and started a Facebook account. I belong to two writer’s groups over there and I’ve joined the throngs of people checking their Facebook pages to see if anyone liked their comments. I don’t know why, but a part of me feels so dirty.

So, okay. I humbly admit I was wrong. Blogging was a good idea.

But now I’m worrying  whether or not people like my posts. Why aren’t they leaving comments? Maybe it was a bad one. I’ll have to try harder next week. One week they seem to like me and the next week they don’t… It is just like being married.

“Popular” Writing versus “Good” Writing

 

angry crowd

The success of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ got me to thinking about popular writing versus good writing. Not that they can’t be one in the same, of course. Often they are. It’s just that, well…often they’re not.

Now, I haven’t read the book, so I can’t give an opinion on it. A lot of people I know have, however. Read it, that is. Not one of them liked it. As a matter of fact, several couldn’t get through it. These are people who, in my humble opinion have some pretty good tastes in literature. And most professional book critics seem to have torn it apart.

And with ‘Fifty Shades,’ not only has it become a runaway best seller, they went and made it into a flick which is doing very well in the theaters. On top of that, there’s a sequel planned, I understand. The writer of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is obviously very rich at the moment and probably isn’t caring very much about what the critics think. And why should she (Or is it a “he”) care, anyway. She’s giving the public what they want and they’re eating it up. And copy-cats have sprung up. One is called ‘Fifty Shades of Blue.’ The author is I.B. Naughty. Ya’ gotta love that one!

So, as a new writer, I can’t help but wonder how much I really need to work to try and turn out a successful book. I can’t help wondering if I’m trying too hard. Maybe I didn’t need to take three years to write ‘Jenny.’ Maybe I could have slapped a few hard core sex scenes in there and not worried so much about the story. If that’s what the public wants, why not give it to them? After all, there’s nothing wrong with sex. Right? It’s good. I’m not a Puritan, I’m all for it

But how would I feel about it, even if the book sold well? Roll around in my money and not care whether or not I’m considered a “serious” author? Or guilty that I had sold out? Hmmm…money would buy a lot of pretty things. And my wife really wants a house on the beach… (Sigh!).

There’s always a pen name, of course. Yeah…that would work. I.B. Naughty seems to have been taken. But I’m sure I can come up with something. How about Hugh R. Hornee? That’s not bad. I could write as Hugh and watch the money pour in while I satisfy the literary part of me by writing my “serious” book. I’m weak, though. I’m afraid that if I did that and started to see thousands of dollars rolling in from Hornee’s work I’d kick the “serious” work to the curb. Hell, if Hugh R. Hornee’s novels just bought me a yacht, screw Joe Bucemi and his high-falootin ways!

But, what if you can’t have it both ways? What if it was time to make a deal with the Devil? He gives you two options. You can write a trashy book that critics are practically laughing over, but sells a million copies and gets you a multi-million dollar movie deal. Or you can write one that is generally regarded as one of the most beautifully written pieces of literature ever seen by human eyes. The trouble is, hardly anyone will read it and you will barely make enough money on it to pay your electric bill. Ironically, it will become popular ten years after you’re dead.

Hmmm…again. Would I start to think of all those pretty words, or all those pretty things and that house on the beach? I would have to make sure my wife wasn’t in the room while I was making my decision. I know which one she would pick.

 

 

Let It Go!

 

LET IT GO

Sorry, I’ve probably stuck the song from ‘Frozen’ into your head, now. But that’s not what this is about. It’s about how hard it is to hit the enter button when you’re done with that story or book. Well, it is for me, anyway.

It took me about three weeks after telling my writer’s group that I was done with my novel, to finally post it for them to read. I checked it, double checked it, triple checked it and…okay, you get the picture. It had to be right. Spelling and punctuation. And did I spell that character’s name the same way every time I used it? I had to check, again. And now that I was reading it once more, I wasn’t so sure that I liked that conversation between two of the main players in the book. Maybe I should change that, I thought. And I wonder if I should rethink that ending…

Oh man! That can go on forever if you let it. And I was about to let it. I had already been writing that thing for three years. Enough, already! Let it go!

I’m sure there are plenty of writers, out there, who finish the piece and kick it out the door. Five minutes later they are already working on the next one. That just takes more confidence then I have, at the present moment. Maybe I’ll be there, someday. I’ll write “The End,” and off it will go. “If people don’t like the ending, the hell with ‘em,” I’ll say as I spit into my spittoon and wipe my mouth with the back of my hand. Then I’ll confidently begin to bang out the next book.

But right now I can give myself a headache agonizing over it all. Is this the correct word to use? Maybe I should change that character’s name. Should that scene happen inside the house or outside? Nothing is too minor to worry about. It causes me to take a long time to finish anything. And, admittedly, sometimes not finish. I’m too much of a perfectionist.

And it doesn’t have to be perfect. Not right away, anyway. It just has to be finished. Working out the bugs is what the beta readers are for. And, of course, editors. I know all this and yet it’s just that, as I’m writing, I’m aware of the fact that the words I’m typing are what people will judge me on. Those words will be who I am. They are all that the reader will know about me. I’ll be judged a genius or a complete dumbass according to the words on those pages. Maybe that’s what a lot of us are afraid of. Maybe that’s why a lot of people who want to write, don’t. They are scared that people will think they are dumbasses. It takes a little courage to put yourself out there.

But, I’m doing it. My finger may be trembling as I press the enter button, but I press it. Yes, I do it after checking, double checking, triple checking, etc…Hopefully, with time, I’ll just hit that button with confidence and let it go.

(Cue Music…)

P.S.

I don’t really spit and I actually don’t own a spittoon.

Criticism

 

LARGE BUILDINGS

The word criticism has a certain stigma attached to it. It conjures up images of your work being torn apart. Often, by people you do not consider worthy; the unwashed masses who are not intelligent enough to share your vision. Really?Geez…get over yourself!

Criticism, unless it’s done with some evil intent, can be a very good thing. As a matter of fact, it’s very often a good thing. It keeps you from getting lazy. A bit too complacent. I’d start to get a little suspicious if all I heard was how great I am. Okay, not that there is any danger of that…but I’d figure they must want something.

No, I want you to tell me that something is wrong if something is wrong. I can’t grow as a writer if you are trying not to hurt my feelings. Our Twisted group is terrific when it comes to this. We have all become friends, but when it’s time for critiquing, don’t think for a minute you’re going to get away with showing us something that you slapped together without putting in any effort. We will see the lack of effort and you will be called out. But no hard feelings. After the meeting we all meet at the Twisted Root for a couple of beers.

We have had those who could not get over themselves, however. And yes, we were considered dullards and our I.Q.’s were thought not to be high enough to appreciate the magnificence of the work in question. We do not meet at the top floor of a skyscraper, so they did not throw themselves out the window. They just did not return to the group. And that’s fine. We aren’t a mutual admiration society. We’re a writing and critique group and would prefer to have people who want to be critiqued and improve as writers.

When I read some of the work I did when first joining the group and compare it to what I’m doing now, I can see such a dramatic improvement. And it’s because they let me know when something was wrong. That’s why you don’t ask your Mother to review your writing. She won’t tell you it’s bad. She’ll just proudly hang it on the refrigerator with a magnet that has a nice yellow smiley face. If that’s all you are looking for from your writing, then that’s great.

But, I want to be published. That’s why The Twisted Writers are reading my book, ‘Jenny,’ in preparation for a review. I’d prefer to hear about the mistakes from them rather then read the lousy reviews in Amazon. I hope they like it. But, if it’s really awful, what the hell. I’ll just  hang it on the refrigerator with a smiley face magnet.