Forum Trap

One way or another I’m determined for this blog to serve a useful purpose. If I’m gifted enough (I already know I’m determined enough) to actually find my way to being published, then my blog will hopefully be educational and serve as an inspiration for the aspiring writers who may find their way here. Much like the blogs I have embraced. And if I never reach that pinnacle, it can still serve as a roadmap for how to get there, just drawn by someone who couldn’t drive.

Today I want to discuss the topic of writer’s forums. What purpose do they serve? First and foremost, they offer a medium to have your writing critiqued. Whether you’ve written your first short story, or finalized the first draft of your 10th novel, everybody needs to use a sounding board to see where they stand at some point. For me, I sought out the forums so I could have someone other than a family member or friends give me opinions about my writing. A lot of writers don’t have enough people around them to offer the kind of no-nonsense, unemotional assessment of their work, so they turn to the on-line forums. But these forums offer much more than just critiquing. They are a great source of information about all kinds of topics in the publishing world, and a social community full of like-minded individuals.

There’s a multitude of forums on the internet, some good, some bad, and some exceptional. The thing is they are different for each person who visits and you really need to shop around until you find one that you feel comfortable in. The social dynamic you find in these forums are all the same. You’ll have the members who contribute frequently and always seem to be on-line. These are usually designated as moderators and ensure that all members follow the forums guidelines (no flaming). Then there are the veterans who have been a part of the forum a long time and really are its backbone. They are the ones that offer the most useful critiques (along with the moderators) and can seriously help shape your writing if you listen to their comments. Finally there are the newbies. Visitors in that group come and go often. Writers with thin skin who don’t respond well to honest opinions don’t stick around very long.

The manner in which the forums operate is also similar, but each forum has its own guidelines and rules for critiquing. One universal aspect is that in order to have your writing critiqued, you must offer criticism of other writers work first. Some sites have rules in-place like - for every five critiques you write, you’re allowed to submit one piece of your own work for review. Other sites are less strict. Regardless of the rules, the more useful input you give, the more you get. Reading a chapter and leaving a comment that simply says “I liked this” doesn’t cut it. And for me, there’s the rub. I’ll explain in a minute.

All of these writing forums are sub-divided by genre, and by far the most active boards are the ones in the Sci-fi/Fantasy category. Second most active is the Romance forums. The Mystery/Thriller groups (the genre I write in) see very little activity. Don’t ask me why, that’s just been my experience on these forums. There is a lot of crossover though, so while I was a member of these forums I received a lot of valuable input from Sci-Fi / Fantasy writers. The problem was that in the give & take world of these forums, I was reading and critiquing a lot of material that I was only moderately interested in. Pretty soon I realized I was devoting so much time to these forums, and reading stories I wouldn’t normally read, that it was distracting me from learning my craft. As a result I was posting material for review that was sub-standard and I knew I could do better. I decided to back away from the forums all-together and just concentrate on improving my own work.

For those of you who are looking for a forum to fill your needs, here are a few suggestions:

Writers Digest
http://forum.writersdigest.com/category-view.asp?catlock=1

Absolute Write
http://absolutewrite.com/forums/index.php

Writers Beat
http://www.writersbeat.com/

Writing Forums
http://www.writingforums.org/index.php

The Writer Magazine
http://cs.writermag.com/forums/default.aspx?ForumGroupID=4

Be forewarned though, these can become addicting. In most of these forums I go by the tag of IMPOSTER, so if you see a post by me make sure you say hi. Someday soon I’ll return to them and pick up where I left off, but not quite yet.

Broken Wing

I was pulling my hair out (what’s left of it) trying to think of something to post today. I’ve already updated about my book this week, so I needed to find another subject. It’s important that I get more consistent with my posts and use them to improve my writing. I also don’t want to disappoint my loyal followers who are sitting on pins and needles waiting to see what I come up with (*cough*). I’m looking around, grasping for ideas, when I glanced at my Outlook calendar. On it I see where I’ve noted that Monday was the twelve year anniversary of breaking my left arm. That could make an interesting story . . . yeah yeah . . . that’s the ticket.

This wasn’t one of your run-of-the-mill breaks. It required surgery where they used two metal plates, seventeen screws, and oodles of staple sutures to repair the damage. I broke both bones in the lower portion of the arm, and one of those bones protruded out of my skin. They call those compound fractures, you know.

The incident instantly climbed to the top (where it has remained) of a list of serious illnesses and injuries I’ve put my body through over the years. It’s been my only exposure to surgery and I’m happy to report that I didn’t experience a problem with anesthesia like a lot of people seem to.

You’re probably asking yourself, ‘Was it a car wreck?’, ‘Did he have a horrible mishap doing yard work or some such endeavor around the house?’, or even maybe ‘Could it have been an industrial accident where he works?’ Nope. It was the right foot of a twenty-two year old intramural soccer player from a local college. Twelve years ago (Geez . . . it seems like a lifetime ago now) I was a member of an adult soccer team who played most of their games in an indoor arena in Little Rock. One bright and sunny Sunday afternoon, arrangements were made to scrimmage one of the intramural soccer teams at the university here in town. I know . . . I know . . . a bunch of 30-40 year olds up against a pack of college kids with enough hormones coursing through their bodies to fuel a race car . . . that’s a recipe for disaster if there ever was one. I went out there with my oldest son, who was ten at the time, and prepared to do battle anyway.

I was the team’s goalie, and for the first twenty minutes we old guys held our own against the studs. Then there was a foul right in front of our goal, which led to a penalty kick. For those of you not familiar with soccer, that means one of their players would face off one on one with me. The player they picked was six feet tall and four of those were just his legs. The two teams were tied at the time, so I was feeling the pressure to not allow a score and let the guys down. I sucked in some deep breaths and hopped up and down to get myself energized. I took my time getting into position, making the kid wait for me. I gulped down a swig of water, tossed the bottle to the side of the net, then moved to my spot.

The opposing player placed the ball on the penalty spot (13 paces from the goal), then backed away. I attempted to read his posture, his orientation to the goal, to anticipate which corner he was going to shoot for. I knew that 80% of the time right footed players shot for the opposite corner, which was my right, but I resisted the temptation to lean that way. I didn’t want to give away my strategy and cause him to kick in the opposite direction. He started approaching the ball, but I held my ground until the last possible moment. I leapt to my right just as his size 12 shoe struck the ball. The ball headed right for me. It struck me in the chest, but it was moving too quick and bounced off before I could wrap my arms around it.

The ball began rolling back out into the field of play and the opposing player, seeing the ball recoil off me, saw an opportunity to kick it again and score. I watched as he moved towards the rolling ball and without thinking knew I had only one hope to stop him from scoring. I dove once more, making a sweeping motion with my left arm to push the ball out of the path of the oncoming attacker. My arm and his foot reached the ball at the same time, except I was more accurate than he. I hit the ball . . . his foot collided with my arm.

I knew instantly the arm was broken, and it was bad. I clenched my arm tightly to my chest and laid there on my back. A lot of what happened following that moment is a blur. Making sure somebody found my son and got him home. Transportation to the emergency room laying in the rear of somebody’s Jeep Cherokee. Waiting to be seen. X-rays (the most painful part of the whole ordeal). More waiting. Friends showing up to see how I was doing. More waiting. Getting the news I would need an operation. Still more waiting. Finally being taken back and prepped for surgery. Laying on the operation table and being instructed to count backwards from fifty. 50 . .49 . . 48 . .47. Blackness.

I scared my wife that day. I didn’t mean to, but I did. She spent the hours during my surgery and waiting for me to wake up, fretting. I’m sorry for that, because that kind of worry stays with you for a while.  I guess I scared myself a little as well.  Up until then, apart from a stitch here or a burn there, all of my injuries were minor ones.  Going through all of that, especially the rehab and recovery afterwards, knocked me off of my indestructible throne.

Anyway, that’s the story about my broken wing. The plates and screws are still there, as well as one of the incision scars. I can even tell when a change in the weather is coming from the dull ache deep within the arm. If you remember only one thing from my tale, I hope it’s just one thing.

That SOB didn’t score!

What will the Harry Potter book burners do in the future?

With the introduction of Amazon's Kindle, Sony's e-Reader, and now Barnes & Nobles Nook, a lot of people are starting to ask if hardback books have become an endangered species.  It's a valid question, and one I thought I'd add my 2 cents worth today.

My short answer . . . No.  For me, and I imagine a lot of people like me, there's something ingrained about reading a hard cover book.  In fact, given a choice between a paperback and hard cover, I'll take the hard cover every time.  There's something about the weight and feel of it.  The way it lays open in my lap when I'm reading it, not having to use my fingers to prop open the pages.  I especially like how it looks on my book shelf when I'm finished with it, another well-earned trophy.  Our home has several book shelfs scattered in various rooms, but both my wife and I really want to add a formal library someday and fill it with all of the books we've collected over the years.  I can't see giving up that dream for a 5 x 7 inch electronic gadget.

Don't misunderstand me.  I'm a guy, and you kow what they say about boys and their toys, so our family will probably purchase one of these readers in the near future.  If for no other reason than portability for trips.  But in doing so I don't feel like I'm condeming traditional book sales.  The news media are reporting that even though book sales are down this year, people are reading more because of e-books. That sounds suspisious to me and I'm sure those figures are an anomoly steming from the introduction of a new technology. But regardless, doom and gloom was in the air for traditional newspaper sales when internet news sites became popular, but they're still around.  I'm one of those people who makes the rounds of sites like Google News, Yahoo News, CNet and USA Today every morning absorbing the days story's, but every afternoon I still sit back and thumb through the afternoon paper.

As an aspiring writer, the form that my work assumes in reaching prospective readers is irrelevant.  Being un-published I can be flippant and say that I'm not in it for the money, so I could care less if this hurts authors royalties.  I would love to be concerned about that, because that would mean I had something to be concerned with.  But I'm not.  Just like I'm not worried about e-books replacing my hard covered ones.

So the bible thumpers can stoke the fires all they want.  There will always be plenty of fuel to seek out.

So, whats up with the book?

Thanks for asking, I'd be happy to give you an update.

In one word: Semi-stalled.

I have sent off my first four chapters to be professionally edited.  I have always openly professed that my achilles heel is grammar, and I am striving to improve in that area, but I didn't know how weak it was until I paid to have my short story edited.  OMG!  The corrections suggested were amazing.  And this after it had been proof-read by at least a half-dozen people who know much more about grammar then me.  So I decided to only have the first four chapters of my book done because the majority of agents will request that many chapters initially if there is an interest.  If by some grand stroke of luck I find an agent who wants to see more, then I'll decide then whether or not to fork out more money to have the rest of it done.

In the mean time I know what I needs to happen next, I just can't force myself to take that step.  A lot of people in the publishing industry refer to it as the final edit.  It's where you go back through the book, line by line, making final corrections, fixing (obvious) grammar issues, expounding upon descriptions and other fine details.  Its a tedious process, but one that cannot be skipped if you ever hope to see your work published. 

So what's the hold up, you ask.  Fear.  I'm afraid that once I finish that last step, and I declare my novel finished and ready for submission, that will be the end of my writing stint.  I'm afraid that after going through the process of actually putting it out there for critical review, that the truth will come out and I'll be revealed as a shallow version of what a real writer produces.  And if that is the way this should play out, then so be it.  I'll be content with the knowledge that I produced two novels that a few people found enjoyment in, but weren't meant for the mainstream.  I'll be dissappointed for sure, but satisfied that I at least took a shot.

But I'm not ready for that bubble to burst just yet, so I procrastinate when instead I should be working on my novel.  I know I'll return to it soon, because I do intend to have it judged.  Just not today.

On a different note, I now have ten blog followers!  I recently stumbled across the blog of a newly published author . . . who only had seven followers!

Maybe.  Just maybe. 

ET. . . Phone Home

I liken grown children who have moved out from under their parents roof to Extra-Terresterials.  They no longer inhabit our world, having matured to the point where they've set their sights on exploring a new universe.  But we believe they visit from time to time because things have mysteriously been moved around in their room.  We try to convince neighbors and relatives that we've seen them, but the only evidence we can offer are blurry photographs and half-eaten bagels.  When the beings do decide to return to their homeworld and make themselves known, they regard their 'parental-units' like specimens underneath a microscope, trying to figure out what makes us tick.  Poke this, prod that, see what jerks. 

I can make fun of the situation, but its anything but comical for thousands and thousands of mothers out there.  When a baby leaves the nest, its one of the more impactful events of a mothers life.  A child stepping out on their own moves towards freedom, responsibility, choice, adventure, excitement, empowerment, and endless possibilities.  The mother is left staring at an empty doorway.

I find it odd that in the best of cases a mother/child relationship is an equation that is never fully balanced.  For eighteen or nineteen years she sacrifices herself totally for her child, only to endure heartache when the day comes for them to walk down their own path.  A cursory hug and peck on the cheek later, they're off without a second thought.  Children cannot understand the significance of their departure, or the depths of the void they leave behind.  They're not equipped yet.  They aren't a parent.  And not until they become a parent themselves will they understand and the equation begin to balance.  But in the end it is never re-paid in full.

As proud as a parent can be I've watched as two of my own have begun to find their own way,  But I've also watched how it has affected their mother, who is even prouder if possible, but she aches from an emotional pain there is no cure for.  Although there is no remedy, there is a medicine that can force her symptoms into extended periods of remission.  It's called contact.  Phone calls, text messages, or an occassional e-mail is all it takes.  I imagine its universal amongst mothers. 

I'll end this post with a message for anyone reading this who has recently moved out of your parents home (hint!).  Think about your mother, because I can guarantee you she is thinking about you.  Your wings may be spreading and the independence you so richly deserve is building before you.  New aquaintences, new opportunities, new surroundings.  But every day the woman who made it all possible for you is staring out the front window where you used to play for hours with your friends, or into your empty room imagining one of the many heart-to-heart talks the two of you had.  She walks amongst those memories everyday, and the longer she has to endure not hearing from you is a torture no interrogator could ever duplicate.

ET . . . Phone Home.

Please.

Passions - Evolution of a Browncoat

I’m a Browncoat.


Many of my readers (all four of you) might not know what that term refers to. In fact, the definition of what a Browncoat is has been a manner of contention on some popular web-sites. Here is my simple definition:

Browncoat - A fan of the “Firefly”/“Serenity” universe (TV Series & movie) that gets involved (however subtly) in the promotion of the series for non-commercial purposes.

FIREFLY was a show created by Joss Whedon on FOX. Joss Whedon is the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and more recently Dollhouse. All of these were, and still are, excellent shows. When FIREFLY originally aired it was on Friday nights. The network that commissioned the show, FOX, played around with the show (changing the order in which the episodes were shown, asking Josh to lighten up the content, continuously changing its timeslot, pre-empting it for baseball playoffs, etc.) so much so that it never had a real chance. I only caught a couple of the episodes (14 were filmed, 11 were aired) when it first came out and I liked it a lot. It received the axe after only 11 weeks and I was bummed, but not devastated because like I said, I only was able to catch a few episodes.

The show had developed a tremendous following in those 11 weeks (Whedon has a devoted fan base because of his previous shows) and because of the drive and determination of Joss Whedon and that fan base, they were able to get the show released on DVD and get a commitment to make a feature movie (SERENITY) based up the series. The rabid fans became known as Browncoats (a reference to a military group in the series that the main character was part of).

I’m what you would call an above average television viewer. That means I usually can tell you what night of the week something is on and usually how it is doing in the ratings. Like everybody, I have my favorite shows. Just to give you a sense of what I enjoy, my favorites this year are FRINGE, FAST FORWARD, MEDIUM, LOST, NCIS, GREEK, LIE TO ME, DOLLHOUSE, MODERN FAMILY, THE MENTALIST and NCIS. How do I watch so much television and get any writing done? Let’s just say the DVR is a wonderful thing!

I have always found it confounding how some shows which appear to be perfectly fine entertainment get cancelled, and other shows are allowed to survive. Don’t get me started on Reality TV. But overall, most of the time the shows cancelled deserves to be, and other times they are border line and just need time to find their audience.

So if I barely registered a whimper when FIREFLY was cancelled, you might ask how I can now claim to be a Browncoat. The answer is simple. When I heard that a full length movie was being released based upon a cancelled series (one that I liked) I became curious. I knew that the series was available on DVD, so I rented the first disc (there are 4) from Netflix and my wife and I watched it one weekend. FIREFLY was an awesome! I had no idea at the time it was originally cancelled what I was missing. We both fell in love with all of the characters interactions, the story-lines, and the wit. My wife, who begrudgingly watched the first episode with me when I started, had me march down to our local Hastings and purchase the entire DVD set after we had watched all 14 episodes! How can a show this good get cancelled? This was quality TV that most of America had no clue about. DAMN YOU FOX! When the movie (SERENITY) came out in 2005, although it didn’t make a ton of money it was one of the best reviewed Sci-fi movies that year.

Rent the DVD’s and see for yourself!

So now I consider myself a Browncoat because I sing the praises of Firefly/Serenity with the hopes of getting more people to fall in love with it. Maybe someday they’ll consider making some kind of sequel (movie or resurrected TV series), but I’m not holding my breath. This is an underdog story about a short-lived TV series that goes on to justify a major motion picture. It’s a story I like to hear . . . and tell.

So consider yourself enlightened. Check it out for yourself and make your own judgment.

Lists

So I was agoninzing the other day about ways to increase the traffic here on my blog, when I realized something.  DIGG is a web-site I visit almost every day, in fact I have it linked to my homepage.  Although technically not a blog, I refer to it as a model of how to generate interest in what would otherwise be obscure web-sites.  The application behind DIGG is that users submit links to various websites and everybody who is a member of the site votes (called a Digg) on which of those sites should make it to the homepage and been seen by millions of web browsers.  The exposure those sites receive are tremendous.

So what's this got to do with my blog?  One of the things I'm always seeing pop up on Digg is Lists.  The Top Ten Tear-Jerker Movies of All Time . . . The Top Ten Horror Movies . . . The Worst 'Take Me Out To The Ballgame' Performances Of All Time.  Get my point.  I'm gonna make up my own list.  But I need some help.  Below is a couple of idea's I'm thinking about pursuing.  Tell me what you think about them, or give me an idea for a list you think would make for some interesting choices.  Here's what I have so far:

1. Top ten excuses to use to get out of a blind date.
2. Top ten reasons I don't have my homework assignment today.
3. Top ten TV shows I'm embarrassed to say I love.
4. Top ten enbarrassing bathroom moments.
5. Top ten guys I would 'make my bitch', if we were in thrown in jail together.
6. Top ten headline hogs I would hit the delete key on.
7. The twelve women I would choose to pose for a calendar.
8. The top ten mysteries I would like to know the answer to.
9. If you had a million dollars and had to spend it on ten items, what would they be?
10.The top ten songs you would include on a make-out mix tape.

What do you think?  Have any other ideas?  Make a list.  

Seek Immediate Medical Attention

Something happened Saturday afternoon that was totally unexpected, but on the awesome scale of 1-10, ranked a 15.  All I can think of to explain what happened was that cosmically the planets must have aligned, and I was the recipient of a convergence of Karma points.  Whatever the reason, it ROCKED!

The family was shopping after our son's soccer game, and collectively our stomachs started to growl.  Where to eat?  North Little Rock is loaded with places to dine, but my only request was that we pick a place with televisions so I could watch some of the college football I was missing out on.  A couple of idea's were thrown around, then my wife blurted out, "Hooters?"  After re-directing the car out of the way of on-coming traffic, I turned down the radio because I had obviously mis-heard her. "Huh?" was my response. "Hooters," she said again, "they have TV's don't they?" She was being serious, I thought.  Better play it casual, and act dumb. "I think so." So off we went.

For the next sixty minutes I was in HEAVEN.  The rapture consumed me.  I sat there at our table, swiveling my head back and forth like a spectator at a tennis match trying to catch all of the football games on the 128 televisions they had installed in that place, gorging on a juicy hamburger, wiping off the BBQ sauce constantly running down my chin, and did I mention I was in Hooters!  My wife asked me why I kept pinching myself.  Football, Meat, and Boobs.  What a foolish question.

When we left, I fully expected to see the following warning on the exit doors.

SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL ATTENTION FOR ERECTIONS THAT LAST LONGER THAN EIGHT HOURS.  

Mask

This week an essay was published in O magazine by the mother of Dylan Kiebold, one of the boys responsible for the Columbine shootings. I took particular interest in this article for several reasons. Mainly the book that I'm currently writing revolves around a school shooting similar to Columbine and one of the characters whose head I attempt to get inside of is the mother of the culprit. So obviously I'm curious to read the thoughts of a true-life example.

Another reason, a more personal one, is that I've always wanted to know how a monster like Dylan Kiebold could live in a home, do chores, eat dinner, make small talk about lifes up and downs, and the parent(s) not have a clue about the malevolence simmering just below the surface. The simple answer is that the darkness within him was obscured by the mask he'd adopted to hide his true emotions. And if someone like him could exist and completely fool his parents, how can you really trust anyone?

We all wear one, you know. Masks. For some of us it's almost translucent. What you see is literally what you get. Those are the people who were born without a mental filter. They say exactly what comes to their mind, regardless of any feelings that might be stepped on ("Are you really going to wear that?" . . . "Wow, looks like you've gained twenty pounds."). And you always know what they're thinking because you can see it on their faces, or in their mannerisms. But the people with masks that thin are a rare breed indeed. It's a good thing too, because those type of people really irritate me. Isn't it ironic how people like that seem so shallow also? There's a certain amount of mystery and attributable substance (albeit assumed) to things we can't see.

I'm on the other end of the spectrum. I'm very hard to read, just ask my wife, and most of the time I like it that way. I shield my feelings, remain detached, and usually avoid circumstances where raw, open emotions are the norm. That's the mask I've fitted for myself, but its also the one I've learned to cope with. I believe the type of person we are, at least the one we project for everyone to see, the mask we wear, is a combination of a genetic make-up and common choice.

Throughout my life I've been asked countless times, by all kinds of people, what I was angry at. But I wasn't angry. Or even upset. I just looked that way to them. I've come to learn that's just happens to be the default look for my face. It's not a conscious choice. I think a good portion of the mask we put on for everybody is that way. We don't control it, it's just the way we are. But there is an element we do have influence over, choice, and that's the scary part. It's that choice that allow the 'Dylan Kiebolds' to hide from the world.

So . . . who has seen underneath your mask? I would postulate that for most people the answer would be no one. Sure, plenty of people have peeked a look or glimpsed a good portion of your actual being, but I doubt that anybody has seen everything that we keep bottled up inside us. I'm talking about the stuff that's deep . . . deep down. Primal. Of course the more time you spend with a person, the easier it becomes to see through the mask. It makes a strong case for lengthy romances and really getting to know your partner before getting married, or more importantly, having a child together. Then again, that could just be me making assumptions because that's the way I am.

Blogs such as this, Facebook, Myspace, Bebo, all are tools to provide people such as myself, ones with crippled social skills, an opportunity to re-shape our mask. They are also an opportunity to identify the 'Dylan Kiebolds' amongst us and get them the help they so desperately need before people are hurt. The depression and struggles Dylan was enduring prior to Columbine was reflected in the journals he kept. Who's to say that if Facebook was popular back then that some of his thoughts, feelings, angst, would have been evident there? Maybe . . . maybe not. If his own mother was clueless, could a facebook friend have any better insight?

While I was wrinting this I realized that Halloween was just around the corner. A night when kids and grown-ups alike dawn masks in celebration. Is it weird to think that some of them will pick a mask that better reflects their personality then the one they wear everyday?

Can I Speak To Your Supervisor Please?

This is a re-print of a post I made on another site I used to frequent. It’s still very relevant.

I recently had to call to cancel my Xbox Live account. I thought I had ended my membership a couple months prior by changing my status on-line, but I found out somebody (oldest son) changed it back. So when the time came for annual renewal, their system automatically billed my credit card. Once I discovered what had happened I tried to e-mail Xbox support to cancel the account again and have the charge reversed, but it turns out they only handle cancellations involving refunds over the phone. So I made a call.

I phoned about mid-afternoon and naturally had to navigate through a recorded menu that if flow charted on a blackboard would stump a college professor. I patiently listened for the keyword “cancellation” and depressed the associated number. Finally a real person, who sounded like a young woman, came on the line and asked me for the last four digits of the credit card my account was billed to. Luckily I knew which card it had been billed against and I actually had it with me, so I scrambled for my wallet and plucked out the card and gave her the numbers. I waited as she was pulled up my account and then she asked me what I could do for me. I found this humorous since I followed a meticulous crafted phone menu that led me directly to her extension for cancellations, but none the less I told her what I needed. She stated she was sorry to hear that I wanted to discontinue the service and proceeded to ask me some questions, all of which I had anticipated.

Can I ask why you are canceling your account? I don’t play on-line all that much because most of my friends have Playstation instead of Xbox.

Are you aware of our Diamond Card features (an upgraded service that offers more features than just the ability to play games on-line)? Yes, I am, but it really doesn’t interest me.

Do you know of a friend or relative who could use this membership? No, like I said they all have different systems.

At this point I’m starting to get a little perturbed because it seems like the dialogue is heading in an unfavorable direction. Then the conversation takes a twist and I’m a little surprised.

“I own both,” she says.
“Both?”
“PS3 and Xbox”
“Good for you. Which one do you prefer?”
“I like them both equally. They both have exclusive games that I enjoy, but in terms of on-line games I like Xbox the best.” Her voice has taken on a more personable tone now.
“I wish you could convince my friends of that. I can’t get them to switch,” I responded.
“Do you have a 360,” she asked.
“I actually have an Xbox, 360, PS2.”
“You’re my hero.”
I laugh.
“Are you into sports games,” she asks.
“That’s a silly question”
“Have you played Madden yet?”

The conversation continued on for another 5 to 10 minutes, with the two of us casually talking about our favorite games on different systems. It was a talk between two game enthusiasts, not a customer and a support person. We came to a natural pause in our chat and she informed me she had cancelled my account and I should see a credit on my card the next billing cycle. She provided me a confirmation number and asked me if there is anything she can do for me today. I asked for her name to write down next to the confirmation number. “Mary” she replied. I quickly reflected on where I thought the conversation was heading and where it eventually ended and I made a decision.

“Mary, can I speak to your supervisor please?”
There’s silence on the other end of the line for a moment, and then, “Certainly sir, but may I ask if I’ve said or done something your not pleased with?”
“Actually quite the opposite. I want to tell your supervisor what a wonderful job your doing. They need to hear that sometimes.”
“Why thank you very much Mr. Hammons, but you don’t need to do that”
“Your right, I don’t need to, but I want to.”

She thanked me again and connected me to her supervisor. From the way her superior acted with me, he obviously wasn’t used to receiving complimentary calls about his phone support people. I told him how pleasant and engaging she was and she was not your typical phone support person. He regrouped gracefully and thanked me for the compliment.

The morale of my story . . . If you feel compelled to complain about bad service . . . you should be willing to reward good service as well.

Gotta Start Somewhere

So I guess it's just the four of us right now, referring to my three commenters from my last post (thanks, by the way). So be it. You gotta start somewhere, right?

As I dig further into the whole publishing model, there is much more going on then simply writing a book, getting it printed, and crossing your fingers while you sit back to see if it sells. It is a very steep climb to the top of that hill that is called being published, one that is fraught with loose rocks and slippery facings. If your work is fitting (and that is still a pretty big IF), there are steps to be taken that are mandatory. They are hard coded into the process and cannot be side-stepped. But there are also steps you can take, optional steps, but they might increase your chance of succeding. Traveling to writing conferences and pitching your book in person to the agents and publishers that attend those functions is one way. But that is an expensive and time consuming way to promote yourself, especially if you have an everyday job. Another method is establishing an on-line presence, a blog, and developing a following. It's something you can use on your writing resume, as well as a way to work on your writing apart from your novel. Obviously, the more traffic your blog draws, the better you look and the more notice an agent or publisher will pay.

So, how do I increase the number of visiters to my site? I could post pictures of women's breasts, that's a sure way to bring web-traffic in. Nah . . . I want people dropping by to read my writing. My thoughts and stories. Maybe I should write about women's breasts?

I'm open to any idea's from my three commenters, or anyone else who might stumble in. I'm committed to doing this. Wanna help? Come back again, and bring your friends.

Roll Call

You know that guy? The weird one. The one who's standing there in the hallway, talking to himself. He's not weird, he was actually talking to somebody, but they walked away when his back was turned and he continued speaking as if they were still listening to him. Awkward!!

I'm kinda curious to see if I'm that guy. I'm wondering who visits this blog, if anybody. So to satisfy my curiosity I'm asking everybody who visits this blog until my next post to leave a comment of some sort. It can be simple. Hi . . . is fine.

Just something to let me know that I'm not standing in the hallways talking to myself. I'd appreciate it!




me

Memory Snapshots from Camping with Boo

Here are some random memories I took notice of while camping out with my son Friday night.

- It sure takes a whole lot of crap to go camping for just one night.
- Driving the 50 minutes to the campsite over winding roads, with all the windows down, the moonroof open, and 'Freebird' blasting on the stereo.
- The tiny doe watching us pull into the campgrounds, unafraid, as if she were welcoming us inside her home.
- We are actually getting pretty good at erecting our tent. It only took us one attempt this time and amazingly it resembled the picture on the box when we first bought it.
- Food, any food, taste ten-times better when it's cooked over an open flame when your camping.
- Sitting on the bluff's by the lakeshore, switching your ears from active mode to passive and letting various sounds drift in on thier own. The water gently lapping against the rocks. An outboard motor sputtering in the distance. Acorns tumbling from the tree-tops or other mysterious snaps and cracks from the forest.
- Watching my son toss large rocks into the lake, smiling everytime it elicits a louder 'ka-thunk' sound when it breaks the surface on its way to the chilly depths.
- Stumbling across a camper with a satellite DISH hooked up and no longer feeling bad about dragging along a small TV and DVD player.
- Watching the sun slip below the horizon and having the presence of mind to snap a picture with my cell phone to send to wife at home. Seeing the moon climbing over my shoulder and suddenly craving the darkness. Boys at all ages love to play with flashlights!
- The beam of a flashlight through the billowing smoke of a campfire, and how it resembles a light saber.
- Being amazed that a glow-in-the-dark stick can still hold so much fascination for a ten year old.
- Fulfilling the time honored tradition of no matter how organized you are and how many checklists you keep, you will still forget something important. This time it was pillows.
- Amazement that there are campers out there who don't realize that one of the reasons people come to the woods is for peace and quiet! Block parties don't belong at family campsites.
- The chill on the back of your neck from a cool breeze and the comforting warmth on your face from a perfectly constructed campfire, is unequaled anywhere.
- Air-mattresses are made in heaven!
- The mist floating hypnotically above the lake in the early morning is simply waiting for a wizard to summon it for a greater purpose.
- Packing up to return back home was best descibed by my son. "It Sucks!"
- Boo still looks forward to our next outing, which tells me I must be doing something right.

Hollywood Ending

I watch a lot of movies. Always have. My very first flick to see in a theater was at a small cozy movie house in Sheboygan Wisconsin and it was entitled ‘The Green Slime’, which I can still recall vividly. I have fond memories of our mom taking us three boys to afternoon matinees to see ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’, or one of the James Bond movies (the good ones with Sean Connery). Back in my college days I was known to see 3 to 4 movies in a single day when all the major blockbusters were released in the summer. I’m the person who would see a new movie on its opening weekend, arriving 30 minutes before show time so I could get my milk duds and take the seat dead center in front of the screen mid way up the aisle. Although the advent of DVD’s, Plasma Televisions, and 7.1 surround sound systems have substantially diminished my visits to the theater, my Netflix account has actually increased the number of movies I watch per week. I still prefer to see a film in its natural environment, the cinema, but our local theater sucks ass and the number of films I am willing to drive an hour to “the city” to see in a decent setting is limited. I point all of this out so you can appreciate my love for film and illustrate what I feel is an above average knowledge of the industry.

Just because I watch a lot of movies doesn’t mean that I’m a critic or anything, but a big reason why I’m writing this today has to do with movie critics. Somewhere along the line film critics stopped simply providing a plot summary and evaluation of a film, and actually started influencing the content in the movies themselves. Of course, they don’t do it directly, it’s more subtle that that. What I’m talking about and what gets my hair up . . . how movies end nowadays.

The ending of a story shouldn’t be taken lightly. The feeling you take away from a piece of work is what sticks with us, and colors your opinion of the whole. It’s the same in literature as well. A book can be an awesome read, but if it falls down in the last chapter I consider the entire novel a disappointment. When you go to a concert, don’t you remember the encores the most? College professors have learned to structure their lectures so that the most important material is either at the beginning or the very end. A great ending can lift mediocre material and leave the audience satisfied and content. Endings matter so much that movie studios commonly hold preview showings of their films and conclusions have been altered because of the test audience’s reaction to it.

I believe that more and more films are criticized because the writer or director chose to tack on a Hollywood ending. I’ve also read where critics have complimented films because the filmmakers resisted that same temptation. I don’t read movie critic reviews very often; in fact when I do read them it is not to determine whether or not I should see a film. Rather I read them after I have already seen a movie to see if I agree with what the popular opinions were. I find that in general I’m not near as harsh as the people who purportedly do it for a living, maybe that’s because they approach the movie going experience as more of a job than the entertainment it’s supposed to be. They’ve forgotten what the movie going experience is supposed to be like and are trying to re-shape the industry via their criticisms.

Let me give you an example. The movie ‘Without a trace’, released in 1983 starring Kate Nelligan was a movie about the abduction of a couple’s 6 year old son. The movie was generally panned by critics because of the obvious Hollywood ending that failed to accurately portray how most abduction cases actually turn out. THAT’S MY POINT. If I wanted to subject myself to the pain and heartache normally involved in that scenario, I would read the evening newspaper or watch Katie Couric. I could also go to see a documentary. But no, I WANT TO SEE THE HAPPY ENDING! That movie is on my top ten lists of tear jerker movies because of that ending. I have watched that movie over and over again. Rented it multiple times. Would the same be true if the movie ended more realistically? Definitely not. Sure, it would have still been a powerful film and I probably would have watched it, ONCE.

Movie studios are out to make money! I get that. They make that money via ticket sales and DVD rentals and purchases. The movies that end up making lots of money are the ones that people want to see multiple times. Movies with depressing, confusing, anti-climatic endings aren’t the type most people want to watch over and over again. So in the cases where filmmakers cave in to the critics, or just try and to be different and forgo a Hollywood ending, they end up shooting themselves in the foot. They too have forgotten why we go to see their films in the first place.

I like happy endings! I like it when the good guys win! But I’m not greedy, the hero doesn’t have to survive all of the time, although the forces of good should prevail. I fully understand that there is a demand for the negative endings. Heck, half of Stephen Kings books end badly, but the man’s a gazillionaire. So sure, a slice of the entertainment pie can be designated to the anti-hollywood ending movies, but just because it exists doesn’t mean the other is any less relevant.

Stop criticizing films for simply providing us with what we really want see. What we need to see.

Out in the Wild

Update: There's a version of my book being read and distributed as we speak (or I write and you read). It's definitely not the final version, and not even the version I intend on sending to those of you who so graciously volunteered to be my guinea pigs, but its close.

My mother-in-law was heading off to the gulf coast to spend time with her sister and her family, so I readied a copy for her to read because she is one of the people I trust to tell me what I did right & wrong. It turns out her sister is also an avid reader, so she will probably have a go at it as well. Let the fingernail chewing begin!

The only people allowed to read my book as it's being written is my wife, and a couple of on-line critiquers who we share chapters of each others work. I have to take my wife's comments with a grain of salt because 1) she's my wife and she doesn't want to hurt my feelings or discourage me, and 2) she knows many of the plot points ahead of time because I bounce most of my idea's off her before I even put them on a page. My mother-in-law also doesn't want to hurt my feelings, so I consider that when I hear her comments, but she's the first one to read the book with no idead of what it's about and that is critical information for me.

For those of you waiting to get your hands on a copy, I should finish up putting on the next layer today or tomorrow and then I'll contact you for addresses.

Thanks for being so patient.
 

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