Accomplished 2016 Poetry Collection

If I may, I’d like to take a moment of Parental Privilege. (and I guess I may, this is my site, right?)

Last week, we received a hot-off-the-press copy of Accomplished, a compilation of poems publised by teh American Library of Poetry.

It’s a collection of a few hundred poems by students from across the country, submitted to a poetry competition. My daughter has a poem in it — not one of the winners, but one of those selected for publication (which is good enough). She’s dabbled in writing here and there — sometimes more than dabbled. She’s won the NaNoWriMo Young Writer’s Program once, and competed a few times; done some writing workshops and whatnot — but this is the first publication. I couldn’t be prouder. Hopefully, there’ll be more.

No, I won’t be reviewing the collection — just too much poetry. And no, I won’t be reviewing my daughter’s piece — for one thing, the disclaimer I’d have to include would be too long to read; also, I’m not sure that I’m smart enough to get the whole thing she was doing. I will say there were some pretty good poems in there (even from the younger grades) — I didn’t read the whole thing, but I did (and will) sample widely. Sure, there are some “eh” ones, too — but you can see why these made the cut.

Anyway, just wanted to publicly tell my gal that she made her old man proud.

A Few Quick Questions With…Walt Hackman

Late last year, I was approached by Walt Hackman to read and review his book, No Problem, Mr. Walt. Which was absolutely not my kind of book, but there was something about it that appealed to me. I’m glad I did, it was quite a tale. I reposted my take on it earlier today, in honor of the book launch tomorrow. Walt was kind enough to take part in a Q & A with me — which was enough to make me want to re-read the book. Hopefully, it convinces some of you to give it a first read.

I’m always interested in the writing process, why writers make the choices they make along the way — why did you decide to approach your story by mixing Chinese history with the story of your junk?
When I started to outline and write “No Problem, Mr. Walt” it was not in chronological order. As each Chapter unfolded, I found myself writing about subject matter that emerged along with my story – like the reference to caulking from Marco Polo’s journal or the Cultural Revolution – and it occurred to me that including snippets of Chinese history would assist the reader by providing context to make my story more relevant. So, at the beginning of Chapter Two I begin with “I think it is safe to say that the average American may suffer a bit of historical amnesia regarding China’s recent history. Therefore, I have decided to start in the next chapter with the last Emperor Pu Yi in the early 1900s, and present the reader with a brief history up to the present; these bits of history will be presented at the beginning of each chapter. If you understand China’s recent past, it will be easier to understand references to history in the story, and easier to understand present-day China.”
For that matter, why did you decide to Where there some anecdotes/memories that you wanted to put in the book, but couldn’t find a way to fit them into the narrative? Care to share any?
Yes, there are a few but these stand out: the initial draft included poetry that I wrote depicting experiences I had such as the bus ride in Chapter 23. However, the editor felt including them would take away from the story’s narrative so I kept the content they included but the poems themselves were removed.

More importantly, my journey began with the sudden death of my only son Wally, which is something I find very difficult to talk or write about even to this day. I feel there are no words adequate to explain the anguish, sadness and magnitude of our loss. Those parts of the story that dealt with “Rebuilding a (my) Life” were tough for me to write (and rewrite).  That being said, Wally’s death was the catalyst that propelled me on that improbable journey and is an important part of the story even though I only talk about it briefly in the Preface.  I did the best I could to address it but feel that in a future revision I might find a better way to tell that part of the story. My daughter Lynn is a writer and owned the Mei Wen Ti from 2000 to 2008, I think hers might be the voice that best explains that time in our lives and we’ve been discussing a collaboration.

What was the biggest surprise about the writing itself?
Steven King said in On Writing, “….I believe the first draft of a book – even a long one – should take no longer than three months, the length of a season.” For me, my biggest surprise was how long it took me to write the book. Not months but years!

I tell people it was easier to build a boat in China than it was to write a book about it.  Even though I approached my writing with discipline, I found it impossible for me to write a fixed amount daily or weekly like King suggested. I set a goal and really believed that I would get the book completed before the China Olympics in 2008. But looking back, I would still do it all over again because this project has never been about notoriety or money, I have always thought it could be a good story that people might enjoy.

A lot of what makes a writer are the books that he’s read — what books in particular do you think made you the writer you are/the book the book it is? (other than the books on Chinese history, etc.) .
Before starting the book, I read Steven King’s On Writing. One of his main points is that generally, if you want to be a good writer you must be a good reader. I’ve always been an avid reader but I began reading a lot more beginning with every book Steinbeck ever wrote. Somehow, knowing I was going to write a book caused me to notice writing subtleties and styles that I liked. After all the Steinbeck, I read Hemingway’s Boat, The Sun Also Risesand A Farewell to Arms, etc. Even though King’s On Writing is centered around writing fiction, it helped me and I often referenced it along the way.
You’ve lived quite a life — is there another book in you?
The answer is yes. I have given this more thought than you can imagine. I’d like to write a revision of No Problem, Mr. Walt that would meet approval for sale in China (i.e. tone down any reference to Communism that might be viewed as “unfavorable”) And similar to how I included Chinese history for western audiences, this version would be a juxtaposition that includes U.S. history and customs.

On my trips to China, people were fascinated about the junk (surprisingly, you don’t see a whole lot of them especially the size and style of the Mei Wen Ti) and the fact that I was even there building it. Junks (sail boats) have not been built in China now for many years since the introduction of modern engines. Many people I met wanted to know what I was doing in China, why I walked to the bus station and rode the bus, why I was wearing cowboy boots, if I liked the food, if I could tell them about California, why the U.S. was selling our latest jets to Taiwan, etc. Lastly, I believe the book is a simple story that the current generation of Chinese people would enjoy. The collaborative work with my daughter is also a possibility since No Problem, Mr. Walt ends with the delivery of the Mei Wen Ti on the docks in San Pedro. The story that proceeded to unfold after the Mei Wen Ti hit U.S. soil (or rather, water) is a unique one all its own!

Guest Post: Writer’s Block? Step Into My Shower By Robert Germaux

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Does this sound familiar? You’ve placed one of your characters (let’s call her Jenny) in a pretty sticky situation, and now you have no idea how to get her out of that pickle. You’ve tried several scenarios, but none of them quite works. Finally, you decide to take a break, clear your mind a bit. You’re thinking grab a quick shower, drive over to Starbucks for a latte, then come back and get to work on saving Jenny. Five minutes later, you’re halfway into that shower, and suddenly, it hits you, the perfect way to extricate Jenny from that sticky situation.

That sort of thing has happened to me often enough that, at some point, I began to wonder about the possibility of a connection between water and creativity. So, of course, I Googled it, and I quickly learned that there is a veritable waterfall of information on this topic. Yeah, I know. Waterfall of info on water. I couldn’t resist it. No more, I promise. Anyway, I discovered that there does, indeed, appear to be a connection, although it’s not the water per se, but rather a progression of events in which water is just one part. With apologies to Mr. Metcalf, my high school science teacher, I’ll do my best to walk you through the process. It involves dopamine, and one of the few things I still remember from Mr. Metcalf’s class is that dopamine equals good. Apparently, dopamine aids in the creative process (no idea; I got a C- in science), but to get the dopamine released into our brains, we first need to be doing something relaxing, like taking that warm shower or a long walk or a leisurely drive in the country. During these types of activities, your mind is distracted from whatever subject you’ve been concentrating on all day (for instance, poor Jenny), which allows your brain to relax at the same time it’s being flooded with dopamine, and before your know it, genius hits.

Okay, there you have it. Maybe not the most scientific explanation of the process (again, C-), but it gives you the general idea. Relaxation plus distraction plus dopamine equal problem solved. So the next time you’re sitting there staring at that blank page, take a hike.

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A Few Quick Questions With…Michael Landweber

For our third post on this Blog Tour stop, the author of Thursday, 1:17 PM, Michael Landweber was gracious enough to A some of my Q’s. As is typical, I kept it short and sweet, because this dude is busy and he doesn’t need to take up too much time with lil’ ol’ me. There are two questions here about the book we’re focusing on, and then we move on to more general questions. Hope you enjoy.

Michael LandweberMichael Landweber lives and writes in Washington, DC. His short stories have appeared in literary magazines such as Gargoyle, Fourteen Hills, Fugue, Barrelhouse and American Literary Review. He is an Associate Editor at Potomac Review and a contributor to Washington Independent Review of Books. Michael has a soft spot for movies about talking animals and does not believe he would survive the zombie apocalypse. His first novel We was published in 2013.

There are so many questions that I’d like to ask about some of the details of this book, but I’m going to have to settle for something about the process: did you have the rules for the Frozen World set up before beginning the book, or was that something you felt out along the way?
The rules were pretty simple and set from the beginning. Nothing moved unless it was affected by Duck. He would be the only force in the universe capable of changing anything. Otherwise, everything remained in exactly the state it was in when the world froze. Simple, right? Making up the rules was easy; following them was hard. There were many times while I writing when I would decide to do something and realize it didn’t fit in with this world. For example, in an early draft, I thought about shooting someone with a gun. But in order to fire, a gun required more than just Duck power. Similarly, I found myself realizing that he couldn’t cook anything; he could only eat food that was edible at the time the world froze. He couldn’t start a car, but he could ride a bike. So it was never a question of changing the rules. It was a constant struggle forcing myself to not cheat. Hopefully, I policed myself reasonably well. One of the reasons that I had Duck write a guidebook was because it was a great way to share everything about the frozen world I had spent so much time figuring out. That’s why you’ve got multiple pages about how to flush a toilet (and of course because I find details like that amusing).
How hard was it to get into the headspace of an almost 18 year-old (even one of above-average intelligence/thoughtfulness)? Once there — was it as much fun as it seemed?
It is always a challenge to get into a new character’s head. Or maybe the challenge is getting out of your own head. With a teenager, I did have the advantage that I was once 17 years old. However, it is true that when you become an adult, you forgot how desperate everything feels at that age. As adults, we learn to repress some emotions. It’s a survival skill. So, to write Duck, I tried to remember what it felt like when every emotion was on the surface and raw. I think that immediacy is what we lose as adults. Once I got in that mindset, it was fun to write Duck. Anytime I started to think that Duck shouldn’t be doing something, I usually put it in the book, figuring if I thought it was a bad idea then a teenager probably wouldn’t.
What’s the one (or two) book/movie/show in the last 5 years that made you say, “I wish I’d written that.”?
There are so many books and TV shows that I enjoy. I’d love to have written any of them. Of course, the flip side of that is that if I had written them, then I wouldn’t get to experience them the same way. I do surprise myself sometimes when I’m writing, but that’s not the same as the visceral thrill that you can get from watching or reading someone else’s work when the unexpected hits you with a perfectly timed twist. That said, there are two very different works that I wish I could have written. First, The Martian by Andy Weir. I would love to have written something that was so meticulously researched and incredibly readable at the same time. You get to the end of the book thoroughly entertained while somehow convincing yourself that you could now survive on Mars if you had to. Second would be Breaking Bad. The entire series. I admire how strictly it stuck to its vision from the beginning. The writers didn’t seem to care how popular it got. They weren’t trying to make anyone happy. It was unflinching to the very end.
Is there a genre that you particularly enjoy reading or watching, but could never write?
I could never write a good mystery. I don’t watch or read a lot of them, but I do enjoy them when they are well done. As a reader, I never know who committed the crime. Ever. I’ll always think that it is someone who was innocent. I admire the writers who are able to put that puzzle together and keep me guessing to the last piece. But as a writer, my mysteries would probably be more like a pre-schooler’s giant floor puzzle with only four pieces and no irregular edges.
I’ve often heard that writers, or artists in general, will forget hundreds of positive reviews but always remember the negative — what’s the worst thing that someone’s said about one of your books, and has it altered your approach to future books?
There was one reader review posted on a website about my first novel that stuck with me. He said that after reading it he had to bleach his brain and encouraged everyone to keep the book away from children. Actually, now that I think about it, maybe that was one of my good reviews. Seriously though, there are always going to be readers who don’t like certain things I write. So far, it hasn’t changed what I decide to write next.

Guest Post: The Machine Keeps Feeding Me by Clay Johnson

Welcome to Part Two of our participation in the Off to See the Wizard Book Tour (see Part One), a couple more posts will be up in a while. This is a Guest Post by Clay Johnson, the novel’s author, about his process:

I have to hear the words in my head before I start writing, or I’m pretty much hosed. I used to plan out the whole story, or at least try to. I spent a lot of time thinking about it, picturing the action and the plot points, really getting into the thing. I did a lot of imagining while listening to music. I figured if I could see what I wanted to write, then I was golden. Unfortunately, when it came time to actually sit down and do it, I’d hit a dry spot. It wasn’t writer’s block, though; it was more like I was incredibly bored. What I pictured so vividly in my head just wasn’t coming out anywhere nearly so thrilling, and in the few instances that it did I still wasn’t particularly captivated by the process. I kept trying though, and I kept ending up with a bunch of barely started or, at best, half-finished manuscripts.

One day, somewhere around senior year, of high school, instead of an idea, I had just a line. It wasn’t a particularly good line. It was something like: Bill woke up to find death staring down at him and asking if they had any nachos. But I liked what the line made me think of, and I was bored in class, so instead of trying to plan out what that story might be I just went with it. The result was an awesome mess. But it was an “awesome” mess. It was full of great little moments, and a lot of threads that led nowhere. I couldn’t use the story for anything, but I felt invigorated the whole way through. In working on that story I finally figured out my problem. If I knew where the story was going, I didn’t care. I’d already thought that part out; I just wanted to move on to the next story. Somewhere in the transition from over-planning to not planning, I’d found my voice.

I started riffing on just a line, or a vague idea built around a specific image. But the trick was that I had to be able to hear at least the opening line in my head. I had to be able to hear the voice the character would use. As long as I could tap into that, then I could continue the story. The rest seems to take place beneath the surface.

It feels like there is some constantly running story machine cranking away somewhere in the basement of my mind, and while I’m busy doing other things, it’s making connections and drawing paths between two unplanned plot points. Those are the moments I love the most when I write, those moments where two bits that I wrote on a whim meet up and fit together so well that I can’t believe they weren’t planned. Writing this way makes it harder in the revision process, because I end up with a lot of gems I want to keep and can’t, and there’s also a lot of connections that still have to be made after the fact, but almost always less of them than I would expect. As long as I can tap into the sound of the story, the way the words flow and the beat of the thing, the machine keeps feeding me.

A Few Quick Questions With…M. T. Miller

I posted about M. T. Millers’s Risen: First Book of the Nameless Chronicle yesterday (if you didn’t read it, take a moment now — or skip what I said and go get the book). Miller was kind enough to participate in a Q&A with me. I asked some Risen-specific questions and then a couple less-so. I kept it short and sweet, because I’d rather he work on his next book than take too much time with me, y’know?

What got you into writing? Who are some of your major influences? (whether or not you think those influences can be seen in your work — you know they’re there)
Misfortune got me into writing. Due to an unforeseen death, me and my SO found ourselves severely lacking in currency, so I took a ghostwriting gig to plug the leak and save the ship. After some time, having seen quite a bit of the more popular stuff first hand, I decided I was just as good. Time will tell if I was right.

As for my major influences, I’d say those would be George R. R. Martin, Scott Lynch, and on a less conventional note, whoever it is that did the story for the Nier/Drakengard series of games. I think his name is Yoko Taro. I see their presence quite clearly in my work. Martin taught me how to swing the axe, but to do it effectively as opposed to liberally. Lynch helped me with the same thing, but did so with the wit and style I can only hope to match some day. As for Yoko Taro, well. . . he taught me how to handle unhinged characters in a way that works.

How many stories do you have in mind for this? I assume you know what’s going on with Nameless — who he is, where he’s from, what kind of supernatural being he is and so on — how hard is it to give your readers bits and pieces of this information here and there? How long before he figures it all out? Sister Chastity seemed to know — did she? (feel free to not answer those last two — or to make your answer as teasing as you want)
The whole story is planned to run for some six installments, each longer and more complex than the last. For instance, book two will be roughly twice the size of the first one. Of course, I might increase or decrease the number in the future by splitting or fusing story arcs. We’ll see.

I’ve found it much easier than expected, and more fun for that matter, to spread little clues about. I’m not a very subtle person; I go straight for the throat, and I feared that the whole mystery thing would suffer for it. Luckily, I seem to have gotten it under control. At least for now.

Several big reveals will happen sooner than you might think, but answers always come with more questions.

The Sister has seen her fair share of weirdness, but her relation to the Nameless was more defined by his charity than what she knew or didn’t know.

In the writing of Risen, what was the biggest surprise about the writing itself? Either, “I can’t believe X is so easy!” or “If I had known Y was going to be so hard, I’d have skipped this and watched more TV”.
I never expected the epilogue to come out as good as it did. I wrote it in one sitting, and it came out absolutely perfect. It still gives me the chills.
“Horace” is a great name, but not a common one — is there a story behind your selection of it?
There’s a story behind every name, even the lack of one. For me, the name “Horace” invokes the Old West, the American Civil War, and the like. Given that the Nameless Chronicle is more or less “Old West meets apocalyptic fantasy,” it just felt right.

A Few Quick Questions With…Vanya Ferreira

This morning I blogged about Vanya Ferreira’s story, “The Story of Lucius Cane: Book One,” a promising start to a series of stories about an atypical Vampire. Vanya was kind enough to take part in a little Q&A with me about his writing in general and his upcoming projects. I kept it short and sweet, because I’d rather he work on those project than take too much time with me, y’know?

What got you into writing? Who are some of your major influences? (whether or not you think those influences can be seen in your work — you know they’re there)
That’s actually a very interesting question. I remember my parents reading to me as a child and as I got older, my friends would be out and about, while I roamed in the library. I always found the library to be my sanctuary; a place where different worlds, knowledge and realities all overlay. I guess that it was all the reading that got me into writing but this only came much later; I did, in fact, actually despise English as a subject at school. Some of my major influences would have to be Stephen King, Paulo Coehlo, Oscar Wilde, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Christopher Paolini and many more.
About Lucius Cane: how many stories do you have in mind for this? Or are you going to expand this into a novel?.
I’m actually thinking about having 3 to 4 books for this series which would include a complete background of who Lucius is. However, to keep something of the mystery and why he is who he is, I plan to release the background as the final book in the series. I don’t think that I’ll expand it into a novel but I’ll rather just keep it as a short story collection that flows into each other. I have noticed with today’s society that our attention spans have gotten rather short and I think that this makes the story easier to read and keeps the excitement for what’s to come next.
Your Amazon bio says that you’ll have Crime Thriller out this year — what can you tell us about that?
Yes, indeed, I am. At the moment it is still very much a work in progress and doesn’t have a title yet. I believe that it will be quite different than most crime thrillers out there since it closely follows the life of the killer himself as the main character. I wanted to create something that would take the reader through the emotional depths and the crevices of madness that I imagine many killers must feel. For example, the serial killer William Heirens (a.k.a The Lipstick Killer) actually wrote a call for help in lipstick at one of his crime scenes, which just goes to show how difficult it must have been for him to be, well, who he was. So my aim for the novel is to try and transform that mental disparity and transport the reader into the world, and hopefully mind, of a killer.
In the writing of “The Story of Lucius Cane”, what was the biggest surprise about the writing itself? Either, “I can’t believe X is so easy!” or “If I had known Y was going to be so hard, I’d have skipped this and watched more TV”.
About the writing itself? Hmm… I think that I was quite surprised at how easily the story unfolded. I remember that I had the vague idea of someone watching a girl from the bushes, as seen in the prologue, and the rest just seemed to flow. I admit, however, that there were days in between where my inspiration just flat-lined but it seems that to just continue writing would spark it back up. Apart from the writing, I would have to say that the biggest surprise, by far, was the amount of work it takes to actually publish and promote a work. Looking back, it’s quite clear that writing was merely the first, and easiest, stage; it’s the promoting and getting it out there where the real work is at.