Sunday, June 17, 2018

Happy Father's Day!

Today is June 17th, 2018 and today many of us celebrate that most noteworthy, yet also often dubious, of holidays... Father's Day.  Noteworthy because, despite what many mothers and/or wives think, being a father is a tough job.  And dubious for pretty much the same reason.

Long ago, when my son was expecting his first child, I explained to him that being a father is no easy task.  Let me explain... I told him that no matter how good a father he will think he is, his partner or even just other folks may always say that there is room for improvement.  His own kids will love him one minute and vilify him the next.  A father must always walk that thin line between sage advice and tough love... figuring that he knows best, but secretly afraid that he may make a mistake.  Often feeling like the odd man out, but always being willing and able to lend a hand physically, emotionally, spiritually, and financially.  A father must be the secret keeper, yet must sometimes violate that trust in order to safeguard his child.  A father must be the good guy, the bad guy, the strong, stoic guy, and the guy that cries when his child goes off to school or the military.  A father must be able to weather the storm of doubt or criticism that may come his way with good humor, quiet strength, a calm demeanor, and, hopefully, common sense.  He must exude confidence when his family is unsure, he must portray skill and know-how when his ability is needed.  He must be willing to graciously accept being ribbed about his attire, his singing voice, or even his hopes and dreams so that his family may benefit from the strength of his patience and love.  I told him that a father must also emanate a barely restrained ferociousness when it comes to the health, safety, and well-being of his family.  Bad guys must be able to sense that messing with his family would be a bad idea filled with dire consequences.

It's a lot to ask of someone, especially someone who is embarking on the path of fatherhood for the first time, but that's why I stated that being a father is no easy task.  And when a father makes it look like it is, that's proof that he's a great father.  I'm proud to say that my son is twice a father now, and everyone tells him (and me too sometimes) what a great father he is.  I like to think that maybe I had a little something to do with that.

And now, I'd like to mention some well-known fathers in literature that may have exhibited one or more of the traits that I mentioned above.  I know that I'll miss some, and for that I offer my humblest apologies.

 1. Mr. Bennett and Elizabeth Bennett, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
 2. Atticus Finch and Scout Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
 3. Liesel and her adopted father, Hans Hubermann,The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.
 4. King Lear and Cordelia, King Lear by William Shakespeare.
 5. Jean Val Jean and Cosette, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.
 6. Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
 7. Xenophilius Lovegood and Luna Lovegood, The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.
 8. The unnamed man and his son, The Road by Cormac McCarthy.
 9. Belgarath and Polgara, The Belgariad by David Eddings.
10. Tom Harry and Rusty, The Bartender's Tale by Ivan Doig.

I had to stop  at ten or else I'd still be writing.  There are a lot of books with great Father/child relationships, I just don't have the time or space to list them all.  If you know of one, please let me know via a comment.  Anyway, 'til next time.  Happy Father's Day!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Writer's Conferences

Tis the season for Writer's Conferences!  Every year about this time writers all over the world are gearing up to attend one or even a series of conferences dedicated to writers, writing, and the business of writing.  Some conferences are huge affairs featuring a grand multitude of speakers, booths, classes, vendors, and fellow writers.  These big conferences, usually located in cities like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, etc., can be intimidating to attend for a first-time or beginning writer.  A big conference that attracts big crowds can seem like the superstore where you mostly just wander around trying to navigate on your own, or where you look around in frustration hoping to find someone to help you.  I've met quite a few new writers that attended a big writer's conference and came away feeling a little lost, and maybe even a little rejected.  A new writer that is used to working alone on a project with a little soft music playing in the background can be easily overwhelmed by the orgiastic literary event that a large writer's conference can become.  Does this mean that big writer's conferences are bad?  Oh, heck no!  I've personally gone to big writer's conferences where I left feeling re-energized, inspired, and where I even learned a thing or three.  I got to meet some of my literary heroes, hung out with like-minded, talented people, and was even able to pitch my work to an agent.  I had a great time and brought back ideas and goodies that I was able to use in my writing.

So why am I trying to dissuade you from attending a writer's conference?  No, what I'm trying to point out or suggest is that, for the beginning writer, maybe forgoing the larger, flashier writer's conferences for one of the smaller, cozier, less frenetic ones might be a good idea.  There are a lot of conferences that are quieter, more intimate, and much easier to handle.  These smaller conferences can be found in the big cities too, but are also often found in quaint small towns, charming villages, libraries, schools, or even historic old mansions.  Now, while these conferences may be smaller in terms of attendants, speakers, etc., they are no less energizing, inspiring, or helpful to your career as a writer.  In fact, many established writers actually prefer the smaller venues to the larger ones, enjoying the more laid back atmosphere and the opportunity to interact more closely with fellow writers.

Either way, there are some things to expect at most writer's conferences regardless of size.  Writer's conferences almost always have guest speakers that range from famous and wildly popular writers, to literary agents, publishers, and other people in the literary field.  The larger conferences often feature vendors that will sell you (or giveaway!) items from t-shirts to writing software.  Conferences may have classes about different aspects of writing, marketing, or business-tips geared specifically for writers.  There are also conferences that prepare you to, and arrange for you to, pitch a manuscript to an agent or publisher.  A harrowing but fun experience!

So, before you actually attend a writer's conference, I strongly suggest that you do your research and prepare yourself well beforehand so that you may have the best experience possible.  Here's what you need to do:

1. Visit their website.  Gather as much information as you can.
2. Make sure it's the right conference for you.  If you write romances, don't go to a horror writer's conference.
3. Download maps and directions.
4. Download and go over the conference itineraries, especially if you're going to one of the larger conferences.  This way you have a pretty good idea of where to go to see or experience the people and/or events that are the most meaningful for you.
5. Pack some business cards... hey, you never know!
6. Be sure to bring your phone and a charger.
7. Pack a bottle of water and some snacks.  All that walking around can make you thirsty.  Some conferences have vendors that will sell you (or giveaway!) bottled water, but it's better safe than sorry.
8. Bring a pen (make sure it works!)
9. Bring some extra money.  Some of your fellow writers may want to hang out after the conference and drinks are expensive!
10. Bring your "A" game!  Be polite, patient, respectful, positive, confident, and informed.  You don't want to turn off the very same people that may be able to help your career!

All that being said, you should attend at least one conference in your lifetime, if only to bask in the creative energy of so many talented and like-minded souls.  By the way, below you'll find a list of writer's conferences for 2018.  It's not a complete list, but maybe it will help to get you started.

14th Annual Eckerd College Writers' Conference: Writers in Paradise
January 13, 2018

14th annual Mayborn Literary Conference, July 20-22, 2018
July 20, 2018

2018 Agents & Editors Conference / Writers' League of Texas / Austin, TX
June 29, 2018

2018 BookBaby Independent Authors Conference
November 2, 2018

2018 Summer Writing Program :: The Capitalocene :: Naropa University
June 10, 2018

2018 Writing By Writers Fall Manuscript Boot Camp
November 9, 2018

2018 Writing By Writers Tomales Bay Workshop
October 17, 2018

2019 ASLE Biennial Conference
June 25, 2019

26th Annual Winter Poetry & Prose Getaway
New Jersey
January 18, 2019

30th Summer Fishtrap Gathering of Writers
July 10, 2017

Algonkian Writer Conferences
New York
Year Round

Antioch Writers' Workshop at University of Dayton--Summer Program
July 14, 2018

AWP Annual Conference & Bookfair
March 7, 2018

Boldface Conference for Emerging Writers
May 21, 2018

Chesapeake Writers' Conference at St. Mary's College of Maryland
June 24, 2018

Dallas-Fort Worth Writers Conference (DFWCon)
June 9, 2018

David R. Collins Writers' Conference
June 28, 2018

Elephant Rock Retreats for Writing & Yoga
Year Round

Furious Flower Collegiate Summit: Poetry Without Boundaries
March 22, 2018

Hampton Roads Writers Tenth Annual Writers' Conference
Year Round

Highlights Foundation Workshops
Year Round

Indiana University Writers' Conference 2018
June 2, 2018

Iota: Short Prose Conference
August 15, 2018

IWWG 41st Annual Summer Conference
July 6, 2018

Juniper Institute for Young Writers
July 22, 2018

Juniper Summer Writing Institute
June 17, 2018

Kachemak Bay Writers' Conference
June 8, 2018

Kauai Writers Conference
November 5, 2018

Kentucky Women Writers Conference Inc.
September 13, 2018

Kenyon Review Writers' Workshops
Year Round

Key West Literary Seminar and Writers' Workshop Program
January 10, 2019

Longleaf Writers' Conference @ Seaside, Florida (formerly Seaside WC)
May 13, 2018

Memoir in a Year-2017
Year Round

Mendocino Coast Publishing Boot Camp
August 5, 2018

Mendocino Coast Writers' Conference (MCWC)
August 2, 2018

Midwest Fiction Writers Workshops
Year Round

Minnesota Northwoods Writers Conference
June 18, 2018

Napa Valley Writers' Conference
July 29, 2018

NCWN Squire Summer Writing Workshops
North Carolina
July 19, 2018

New York State Summer Writers Institute
New York
July 2, 2018

Nonfiction Authors Association Free Teleseminars
Year Round

North Carolina Writers' Network Fall Conference
North Carolina
November 3, 2017

North Words Writers Symposium
May 30, 2018

Odyssey Writing Workshop
New Hampshire
June 4, 2018

Pacific MFA in Writing | Residency Writers Conference
Year Round

Pennsylvania Writers Conference (PWC)
July 29, 2018

Postgraduate Writers' Conference
August 13, 2018

Publishing Workshop
New Jersey
March 2, 2019

San Francisco Writers Conference & Pre/Post Classes
February 15, 2018

Sewanee Writers' Conference
July 17, 2018

Steel Pen Annual Writers' Conference
October 27, 2018

Summer Retreat at Ragdale
July 20, 2018

The Creativity Workshop in New York
New York
Year Round

The Frost Place Conference on Poetry
New Hampshire
July 8, 2018

The Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching
New Hampshire
June 23, 2018

The Frost Place Poetry Seminar
New Hampshire
July 29, 2018

The Frost Place Writing Intensive
New Hampshire
June 27, 2018

The Loft's Pitch Conference
April 20, 2018

The Writer's Hotel 2018 NYC Writers Conference
New York
June 6, 2018

Tinker Mountain Writers
June 10, 2018

University of New Mexico Rananim Online Writing Workshops
New Mexico
October 2, 2017

University of North Dakota Writers Conference
North Dakota
March 21, 2018

Unworkshops: Your Room to Create
Year Round

Washington Island Literary Festival
September 13, 2018

Washington Writers Conference
May 4, 2018

Wesleyan Writers Conference
June 13, 2018

Western Reserve Writers' Conference
April 28, 2018

Willamette Writers 2018 Conference
August 2, 2018

Writers at Work 2018 Writing Retreat
June 6, 2018

Writers at Work Annual Writing Competition
November 15, 2017

Writers Studio at UCLA Extension
February 8, 2018

Writers Week at Idyllwild Arts Summer Program
Year Round

Writing from the Inside Out: Getting to the Gut of Your Words with Laura Munson at Madeline Island School of the Arts (MISA)
July 16, 2018

I know that the dates for some of these may have passed already, but if you're really interested in attending that particular conference, Google them and if they have a website they'll probably have information concerning the time and date of their next conference.  Good luck and enjoy!

Thursday, June 7, 2018


Up until a few weeks ago, that number, 4,645, didn't really mean anything... except to maybe the people on the ground in Puerto Rico who knew that the government's estimate of 64 dead in the wake of Hurricane Maria wasn't right.  On a sub-tropical island populated by millions of people, 64 dead after the devastating effects of such a powerful hurricane would seem like some sort of miracle.  Even if it were "only" 64 dead, I'm sure that the families and friends of those dead consider their loss to be incalculable.  How much more so then when that number balloons to almost 5,000 souls lost?  One must understand the enormous amount of damage that can cause the collective psyche of the people on the island.  A people that are as close-knit and proud as the denizens of any small-town on the mainland U.S.A.  A people connected and made sturdy by the sharing of many decades of neglect, pain, and often outright abuse at the hands of their federal and local governments.  Such is the case of the "Cenizas", the ashes that were being dumped all over the island and whose dumping was being vehemently protested against by environmentalists and island residents.

 "Environmental pollutants increase the risk of developing cancer, which by the way, is the leading cause of death in our country. Exposure to environmental carcinogens is one of the main factors that leads to the development of multiple types of cancer, and one of those toxic wastes that dangerously contaminates our environment and that today is in public discussion, is the ashes product of the burning of coal. These ashes are deposited in Peñuelas, but it is known that they affect many towns and sooner or later it will be to the whole island.
The Guayama AES coal plant generates between 600 and 800 tons of ash daily. These ashes contain extremely toxic metals such as arsenic, mercury and lead, among others. The scientific evidence on the damage of these metals, the radioactivity and the particulate itself that produce the ashes is serious and forceful.

Ashes increase the risk, not only of certain types of cancer such as lung cancer, but also respiratory problems. It is no coincidence that Puerto Rico leads the list of respiratory diseases when compared to other countries. And although there may be genetic predispositions, it is known that environmental factors are largely what make these and other diseases manifest. But, in addition to cancer and respiratory conditions, the ashes also increase the risks of other problems such as spontaneous abortions, malformations, reduced cognitive capacity, severe allergies and other diseases."
 - by Vilma Calderon, writing in El Nuevo Dia newspaper

So should it really come as a surprise that in the midst of the worst natural disaster to hit American soil in decades that the people of Puerto Rico would once again be victimized by their own government?  It's a damn shame that the vulture capitalists, the equivalent of modern-day carpetbaggers, arrived faster and stayed longer than the Army Corps of engineers, FEMA, the Red Cross, or the USNS Hospital Ship Comfort; which only admitted 6 patients a day before leaving long before the job was finished, and whose early and ignoble departure certainly contributed to the deaths of so many. 

Arelis R. Hernández and Laurie McGinley, in writing for the
Washington Post, wrote:

"At least 4,645 people died as a result of Hurricane Maria and its devastation across Puerto Rico last year, according to a new Harvard study released Tuesday, an estimate that far exceeds the official government death toll, which stands at 64.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that health-care disruption for the elderly and the loss of basic utility services for the chronically ill had significant impacts across the U.S. territory, which was thrown into chaos after the September hurricane wiped out the electrical grid and had widespread impacts on infrastructure. Some communities were entirely cut off for weeks amid road closures and communications failures.

Researchers in the United States and Puerto Rico, led by scientists at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, calculated the number of deaths by surveying nearly 3,300 randomly chosen households across the island and comparing the estimated post-hurricane death rate to the mortality rate for the year before. Their surveys indicated that the mortality rate was 14.3 deaths per 1,000 residents from Sept. 20 through Dec. 31, 2017, a 62 percent increase in the mortality rate compared to 2016, or 4,645 "excess deaths."

"Our results indicate that the official death count of 64 is a substantial underestimate of the true burden of mortality after Hurricane Maria," the authors wrote.

"The true burden of mortality."  An eloquent way to phrase the deaths of so many.  Puerto Rico is, right now, suffering through something akin to death throes.  Although far from dying, the island and it's people are still reeling from the effects of the storm and the laissez faire attitude of those with the power, resources, and obligation to help.  But one thing that the people of Puerto Rico have learned over the years is how to survive.  This is undeniably their toughest test yet, but Puerto Ricans are nothing if not resilient, resourceful, smart, inventive, gracious, and possessed of an infectious can-do spirit and an ancient music in their soul that is irrepressible.  We as a people will survive this, as we have survived so many other things, and we will be the stronger for it.

So what does this have to do with writing you may ask?  The answer, dear reader, is everything.  Everything.


Saturday, June 2, 2018

In Memoriam

Memorial Day has come and gone.  The somber and celebratory rites honoring our fallen heroes have taken place in towns and cities across the U.S. in the forms of prayers, parades, bar-be-cues, wreath laying and flag waving.  Fitting, and yet somehow inadequate, tributes to the brave men and women in uniform that died in faraway lands fighting for ideals, or people, that didn't always understand or appreciate their sacrifices.  Three of my favorite uncles were veterans, Duhamel Lopez, Pablo Rosario, and Esmeraldo "Cuquito" Lopez (I'm sure there are more), and while at one time I was too young to fully appreciate  the substance of their military service, I still saw them all as heroes, and I still do.

And while we honored, and continue to honor, our fallen in uniform, there is another group of fallen that I'd like to pay homage to as well.  I'm talking about our fellow writers that passed away in 2018.  Now, before you start getting up in arms about me paying tribute to writers in this way, please Google how many writers (usually reporters) sacrificed their lives in the theater of war doing what they believed in... 26 since 2001 in the war in Afghanistan alone.

But it's not just being a War Correspondent, most writers die far away from any military battlefront.  Yet, the weight and poignancy of a writer's words have sometimes even turned the courses of battles, or started or ended a revolution, or contributed to the making or changing of laws that have improved people's lives.  Books like 1984, Animal Farm, The Good Earth, or Fahrenheit 451 have all served to open the eyes of those being unfairly governed, and have all helped lead to change.  Remember those famous words, "The pen is mightier than the sword" by English novelist and playwright Edward Bulwer-Lytton?  Well, the same is true today.

"Handle them carefully, for words have more power than atom bombs." -Pearl Strachan Hurd

And so with the power of the written word in mind, I'd like to include in this blogpost the names of those writers that have passed away this year.  Whether prose or poetry, no matter the genre, no matter if their sacrifices were great or small, they were a part of our greater brother and sisterhood.  They were writers.

Richard Peck, (1934 - 2018)
prize-winning children's author, died Wednesday, May 23, 2018, at his home in New York City, after a battle with cancer, according to the Associated Press. He was 84.

Philip Roth, (1933 - 2018)
the prize-winning novelist and fearless narrator of sex, death, assimilation and fate, from the comic madness of "Portnoy's Complaint" to the elegiac lyricism of "American Pastoral," died Tuesday night, He was 85.

Tom Wolfe, (1930 - 2018)
the white-suited wizard of "New Journalism" who exuberantly chronicled American culture from the Merry Pranksters through the space race before turning his satiric wit to such novels as "The Bonfire of the Vanities" and "A Man in Full," has died. He was 88.

Sergio Pitol, (1933 - 2018)
the celebrated Mexican author, essayist and translator and winner of the most prestigious award for literature in the Spanish-speaking world, died Thursday. He was 85.

Anita Shreve, (2018)
the best-selling novelist who explored how women responded to crises past and present in her native New England in favorites such as "The Pilot's Wife," ''Testimony" and "The Weight of Water," has died, she was 71.

Emily Nasrallah, (2018)
Lebanese author and feminist Emily Nasrallah has died following a struggle with cancer. She was 87.

Penny Vincenzi, (1939 - 2018)
British writer Penny Vincenzi, whose stories of romance, rivalry and family secrets topped best-seller lists, has died. She was 78.

Jack Ketchum, (1946 - 2018)
a prize-winning horror and screenplay writer known for such fiction as "The Box" and the controversial "Off Season" and once labeled by Stephen King as likely the scariest writer in America, has died. He was 71.

Ursula K. Le Guin, (1929 - 2018)
the award-winning and best-selling science fiction writer who explored feminist themes and was best known for her Earthsea books, has died at 88.

Walter Skold, (2018)
the founder of the Dead Poets Society of America, who visited the final resting places of more than 600 poets, died Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, of a heart attack, he was 57.

Peter Mayle, (1939 - 2018)
the British author known for his books set in Provence, France, has died, he was 78.

Julius Lester, (1939 - 2018)
an author, musician, civil rights activist and university professor who made a late-life conversion to Judaism, has died, he was 78.

Well, that's about it for now.  There's no doubt that unfortunately, the list will grow as the year plays out.  I apologize for any writers that I may have missed, especially those who may not have been quite as famous or mainstream as the ones mentioned above.  May they Rest in Peace.  And as for the rest of you, get back to writing.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Writers: Tough as Hell!

Writers are often portrayed in the media as introverted nerds, men and women possessed of buttery muscles barely suited for carrying a ream of paper to their printer.  And if you want to be really honest about it, a lot of writers are indeed introverts, preferring to dwell in the worlds of their own making than deal with the hassle of navigating the real world outside of their cozy, little writing nook.  But hey, what's wrong with that?  And besides, there have been plenty of famously tough writers, like Ernest Hemmingway and Dashiell Hammett, among others.  But it's not always about physical toughness, writing, contrary to what many, if not most, non-writers believe, is hard work!  It isn't easy creating believable characters, engaging dialogue, thought-provoking conflict, and so on.  Is it any wonder then that so many writers develop writer's block?

Writer's block - Wikipedia
Writer's block is a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work, or experiences a creative slowdown. The condition ranges in difficulty from coming up with original ideas to being unable to produce a work for years.

For many writers, their biggest obstacle is that first blank page.  Yet, a writer cannot and must not wring their hands in frustration and cry, "Woe is me!"  A writer has to reach deep inside and overcome whatever physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual obstacles may be hell-bent to deter them from accomplishing the task at hand.  And believe me it isn't easy.  As I have mentioned earlier, a lot of writers are introverts.  This is of necessity.  How can you write that great poem, short-story, novel, or script, if you're out and gallivanting about instead of actually writing?  Okay, I know, I know...   F. Scott Fitzgerald, the author of "The Great Gatsby," was famous for doing just that.  But that argument brings us back to the question of toughness.  He had to have been hella-tough in order to have written as well as he did, after spending much of his time living it up.  And as I've pointed out before, it's not just a question of physical toughness.  There are many, many writers out there that have suffered through break-ups, the death of a loved one, the trauma of becoming homeless, the horror of being abused... and yet these same folks have the guts to sit down, look at a blank sheet of paper, and share their experiences with the world.  They are quite literally laying their souls out to be scrutinized by an audience that is no way guaranteed to be understanding, accepting, sympathetic or even polite.  That takes an enormous amount of guts.  A writer has no choice but to be tough as nails.

"By far the most damaging thought I’ve heard from the confessors – and other authors have told me the same thing over and over – is the expectation that writing should be a “fun” or “leisurely” activity. Pop culture reinforces this by perpetuating the image of the writer as a mega-talented, but lazy and self-indulgent buffoon (think Hank Moody).
And so, many overcome the first hurdle – deciding to start – ready for the magic to happen. Expecting it all to emerge, freshly baked and ready for primetime.
Then, of course, it doesn’t.
Then anxiety kicks in.
Fear of judgment by others, doubts about one’s abilities. Mounting frustration as to why it’s so much slower and more agonizing than one expected.
The plain truth is, writing is a predictably painful process. It is far more hard labor than careless play.
And it’s not like the greats haven’t warned us.
Becoming a masochist early on – embracing the pain to the point of enjoyment – may be the single best investment an aspiring writer can make.
The pain takes many shapes, all of them useful along the writer’s path.

1. Embrace the Road to Hell
As Hemingway once so elegantly put it, “the first draft of anything is shit.”
And that’s only when one produces something so elaborate as to be called a “draft”.
Most of the time, writing remains stillborn, in a kind of literary purgatory. Outlines, random notes, sketches, hackneyed bits and pieces – they have a way of quickly prematurely bursting into life, only to suddenly stop breathing and just hang there.
Philip Roth was slightly more inclusive when he said “the road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.”
Both Hemingway and Roth touch on the elemental truth of all writing: it’s not good.
At least not at first.
Kerouac’s celestial typewriter notwithstanding, good writing doesn’t just naturally “babble flow”. And when it does, it’s usually shit.

2. Connect to the Pain of Others
Pain is not, however, an end in itself.
Its purpose is often times to link the writer to the pain felt by others. Most entertainment distracts us from the pains of daily life. Writing and reading, can, at their best, be about placing those pains under a shining light.
Anais Nin implores us that “if you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write. Because our culture has no use for it.”
Likewise, for Kurt Vonnegut, the pain of writing is a mere reflection of the pain of existence – you provide others with relief by admitting to the suffering publicly.
“Do you realize that all great literature is all about what a bummer it is to be a human being?” Vonnegut asks. “Isn’t it such a relief to have somebody say that?”
One of the tragedies of social media has been its penchant for turning writing into oceans of brainless typing – another trivial form of expression in a culture filled with them.
But, at its core, writing is – and perhaps always has been – a cathartic activity.
Those who disagree would do well to keep Nin’s advice handy."
 - Frederick Pinto

When it comes to the toughness of writers, we can even turn to a group of people that are world-renowned for their toughness: The Marines!

“In my younger days dodging the draft, I somehow wound up in the Marine Corps. There's a myth that Marine training turns baby-faced recruits into bloodthirsty killers. Trust me, the Marine Corps is not that efficient. What it does teach, however, is a lot more useful.
The Marine Corps teaches you how to be miserable.
This is invaluable for an artist.
Marines love to be miserable. Marines derive a perverse satisfaction in having colder chow, crappier equipment, and higher casualty rates than any outfit of dogfaces, swab jockeys, or flyboys, all of whom they despise. Why? Because these candy-asses don't know how to be miserable.
The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell, whether he knows it or not. He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation.
The artist must be like that Marine. He has to know how to be miserable. He has to love being miserable. He has to take pride in being more miserable than any soldier or swabbie or jet jockey. Because this is war, baby. And war is hell."
― Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles

And there you have it.  It was probably tough just reading through all of this stuff, but I also hope it was worth it.  When it comes to your chosen profession, nobody ever promised you a rose garden.  Writing is hard work, it costs you, it bleeds you dry and then asks for more.  But it's the job we chose... it's what and who we are.  So gird your loins, strap on the big guns of patience, research, and talent, grab that second or third cup of coffee, and go kick some ass!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Cats and Keyboards

As I write this, my son's cat is sitting on the floor staring intently at my fingers as they move across the keyboard.  She is joined shortly by my daughter's cat, and now they're both staring . hard.  They can't be hungry because I just gave them a huge meal consisting of wet and dry food.  They can't be thirsty because I just filled their water dish with some nice, cool refreshing agua.  So what's going on?

 If you're a writer (and I'm assuming that you are if you're reading this), and if you have one or more cats in your home, then you know what's probably going to happen next.  It's a situation that I was hoping to avoid by feeding them and filling their water dish before I sat down to write.  Yes, you know what I'm talking about.  In a few minutes or less, one or both of them will pounce on my keyboard and then proceed to walk across the keys, or sit there and look at me as if pondering why in the world would I be doing something as silly as typing away on the keyboard when I could be doing something much more constructive like, say, scratching her back or rubbing her belly.  At one time I actually thought that I was the only one afflicted with cats that felt divinely endowed with the right to interrupt my writing, but I soon found out that many cat-owning writers were under a similar siege from their feline friends.

"Cats are narcissistic. Their needs come before ours. They don't understand the word "No." They carry themselves with that aloof, arrogant sense of perpetual entitlement, they will jump up and insinuate themselves wherever they please--on your lap, on your newspaper, on your computer keyboard--and they really couldn't care less how their behavior affects the people in their lives."
 - Caroline Knapp

Does Caroline's assessment match up with your experience?  The cats here in my home still haven't moved, so maybe they're enjoying my discomfort or maybe they just haven't made up their minds... geez, there's a horror story in this somewhere.  Cats, as you may well know, are curious, intelligent, and territorial.  So you pounding away at your keyboard as you wend your way through your most recent work-in-progress, may set off one or more of your cat's natural attributes.  They may jump up on your keyboard because they're simply curious about what it is that you're doing.  Their inherent intelligence may also prompt them to see how what you're doing correlates to their own lives and quality of existence (am I reaching here?).  Your cat(s) may also be wondering why your keyboard, a usually inanimate actor in their territory, warrants more attention than he/she does at the moment.  I mean, really, who knows?  I could go on at length but must stop myself short before I find myself anthropomorphisizing these wonderful creatures further and thus relegating them to the realm of cartoons.  Let's hear (or read) from another cat-owning writer:

"Recently, Japanese website My Navi examined this issue that has confronted cat owners as long as there's been computer keyboards. Cats, My Navi pointed out, love warm places, and computers offer just that. In fact, cats like temperatures as hot as 126 degrees Fahrenheit! This is why cats are always lounging in the sun, and this might be due to the animals' desert ancestors.
What's more, cats love things that move and make noises. Computers are a hive of activity, with things happening onscreen as well as blinking LED lights on monitors, computers, and keyboards. The cursor, in particular, is of great interest to our feline friends, My Navi notes. Its movement probably reminds cats of insects.
Keyboards are somewhat pliant in that they "give" when they cats walk across the keys, pressing them down. Cats love soft things, and this probably also helps your keyboard seem like a cool kitten place to hang out and punch out a few paw strokes.
And finally, cats want attention. They want your attention! And if you are spending too much time at the computer, a stroll across your keyboard is your cat's way to say, hey, look at me. But since the area is warm, active, and tactile, it makes the computer a place your feline friend likes just as much as you do."
 -Brian Ashcraft

So there you have it.  I hope that this post has helped solve why cats are so darn attracted to your keyboard, especially while you're using it.  The two cats here seemed to have gotten bored and wandered away, giving me the rare opportunity to get some writing done uninterrupted and unimpeded... Or maybe they're just plotting their next move.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

It's raining...

Rain, rain, go away, come again some other day!  Remember saying that poem when you wanted to go outside and play but the wet weather outside (and maybe your parents) dictated that your day would probably be spent indoors?  Well, the weather here in New York has been wet, dismal, overcast and rainy for about a week now and so I'm inspired to write a blog post about writing and rain.
  Writing is a task of the soul, or so I've always felt.  It's something that requires the very best of you at all times.  And whether you view it as a task or a pleasure, there are so many outside elements and distractions that can and will affect your writing that sometimes it seems as if you are fighting a losing battle when you'd rather be in the midst of world-building or creating an amazing bit of dialogue.  Can the weather be yet another possible obstacle to your writing?  Can Mother Nature be so cruel as to joust with your poor embattled muse over control of your mood and creativity?  The answer, of course, is yes.  Some writers, my self included, love to write while it's raining.  There's something inherently romantic, maybe even visceral, about sitting down to your work while the world drowns outside your window.  There are a lot of other writers however that say that their moods are so affected by the rainy weather that they find it nearly impossible to get any writing done.

Andressa Andrade, a Brazilian Mental health advocate, states:
  "Well, it turns out that yes, science backs up the idea that sunlight makes you happier. According to my research, sunlight has the power to give the body a cue to release more serotonin. Serotonin is known as the “happiness hormone”. It lifts our moods, gives us more energy and increases our concentration. Low levels of serotonin are one of the typical symptoms of depression — the mental illness, I mean.  So when it’s raining a lot and you don’t get enough sunlight, that can lower your serotonin levels and trigger what we call “seasonal affective disorder” (SAD), a type of depression that comes when the seasons change.  But rainy weather doesn’t always make people sad. There are people who prefer cloudy days to sunny ones. I for one, love them. I like reading a good book under the blankets while listening to the sound of the rain.  Scientific research has shown that people can be divided into four groups: Summer Lovers, Summer Haters, Rain Haters and Unaffected (people whose mood is not altered by changes in the weather). You may be a Rain Hater, but not all of us are.

I also believe — and this is a personal belief, not linked to any of my research — that we are culturally conditioned to associate rain with sadness. Have you ever noticed how it almost always rains when everything goes wrong in movies?"

  So if you find yourself less than eager to get into that novel, short-story or poem you were working on while it's raining, you may now understand why... or why not.  As I mentioned before, writing is a task of the soul, it's a very deep and personal thing, no matter what you're writing.  And, like it or not, your writing is usually deeply influenced by the world around and inside us.  Some of the best love songs ever written were written by people who had suffered the loss of a loved one.  Outside influences, no matter how much we try to insulate ourselves and our writing from them, can still trigger feelings that we may not even be fully aware of...  like the rush of emotion you may experience upon hearing an old song or catching a whiff of a particular perfume...  rain can do that too.  And it doesn't have to be negative.  Maybe the rain outside can somehow make it inside your work-in-progress: 
“The rain continued. It was a hard rain, a perpetual rain, a sweating and steaming rain; it was a mizzle, a downpour, a fountain, a whipping at the eyes, an undertow at the ankles; it was a rain to drown all rains and the memory of rains.” - Ray Bradbury.

In his article, Rainy Day Writing, Bryan Cohen tackles the same subject:
  "Rainy day writing can be a difficult task for people who let the weather affect their mood and productivity. I choose my words carefully here, "people who let the weather affect (them)." It shouldn't be a surprise to you that most people (probably including you) like to absolve themselves of responsibility. I know there are conditions such as Seasonal Affect Disorder that can really mess with a person when he's trying to get something done, but most who have issues during cold, windy or rainy days are letting the weather get to them. Sometimes, you need to take control of your life by taking control of your mood.  As I'm working on this post, I'm engaging in a bit of rainy day writing myself. It would be silly for me to claim that this is an easy task, since I used to be one of those folks who would, in the words of Milli Vanilli, "Blame it on the rain." Much like that band's fake singing, blaming a lack of productivity on the rain doesn't have a lot of substance. I recall back in my coffee shop days when I would ask people how they were and they would respond, "Well, it's raining outside." They would respond as if the weather was directly related to their mood. Isn't that kind of a crappy way to live? Completely dictated by something you can't control?"

It is indeed a "crappy way to live."  It's also a crappy excuse for not getting any writing done.  Look, as I was doing the research for this blogpost, I found something uniquely suited for those of us that refuse to let something as trivial as a little rain affect our ability to write.  I share it with you below:

Rite in the Rain All-Weather Top-Spiral Notebook

That's right, Amazon sells a waterproof notebook which can be used to write in the rain, and it's called the "Rite."  Now honestly, I can't vouch for how well this item actually works, but I find it intriguing that someone thought of it at all, and then made it happen.  If any of you out there have used it, please write me and let me know your thoughts.

Anyway, it looks like the rain is letting up for now, so I guess I'll take a break from my writing and make a quick trip to the local bodega to pick up some milk for my coffee.