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Friday, June 29, 2012

F3 Hunting

     As a kid, dad would drag me into the Catskills, just me, not my sisters, and we'd do a litlte hunting. Never anything major. At most a deer, but usually rabbits and an occasional fox. It was bonding time with dad, but I hated hunting. I hated traipsing through the forest to look at tracks. When we fished, I loved it, but hunting was a chore, especially when dad really got into it with the camouflage clothing.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


     From what they say, it's everywhere. It's what makes the world go round. It's also the bane of my existence as a teacher. Now, I have to say, I have nothing against math, personally. I'm a confirmed Excel junkie. My first instinct for a math problem is to reach for Excel, not a calculator. I perform complex math equations that physicists would be proud of. Well, once they get over shaking their heads and show me the shortcut to cut it in half.
      The thing is, math is only as good as what people put into it, and humanity is notorious for taking the easy route. Deep down, math is complex problem solving, analysis, language, and even philosophy. It's awesome. On the surface, it's an empty procedure and memorization. I remember my times table. I could rattle off answers of up to 12x12 in a heartbeat. It's memorization. Plug and chug. At that level, math doesn't take any thinking. And that's the problem. Math is treated as a means to find a solution. People look for the magic equation whereby they solve for X. However, life doesn't work as an equation.
      There are so many complexities in life that there's no magic equation, no silver bullet, no way to simply plug in values to make things work. I see it in teaching, and I see it in writing. No one has the formula for what makes a bestselling (or even just selling) novel. No one knows the perfect equation of story to humor to plot to characterization. It just doesn't work that way. Instead, it takes a lot of thought, time, and hard work. If there is an equation, that's it. Skimp on any of them, though, and it doesn't work.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Different Enough?

     I had a great concept for a book. Then I ran with it. Thinking like a good little writer, I decided to research to see if anything else was out there that might be like mine. There is. So I got it and read it, hoping that the fundamental concepts were different enough. At first, the news was good. My concept was radically different in nature. Then, about 2/3 through, there was a hint that the concepts were closer.
      Life sucked.
      Big time.
      Here I am, several thousand words into the book, and the concepts are close. What do I do?
      "Pop quiz, hot shot, what do you do." My situation is such that I feel the need to quote Speed.
      I was pretty bummed, to say the least, bu then I began to realize that while there might be a similarity of concept, this author buried it deep, and mentioned it off-handedly. Moreover, I remembered my English lit. There are only so many stories in the world. What matters is in how you tell them. While there are similarities, the execution is radically different.
      So I'm going to press forward.
      Ahead warp factor 9.

Friday, June 22, 2012

F3 A Catch 22

     I looked at the entry in the journal. Round Metal Plate: "The type of metal is unknown, something highly durable, but completely jet black. It's not iron. There is a layer of seasoned cooking oil on it to prevent rust. There is text around the edge stamped into the metal at the time of its making. In Italian it reads: 'Dedicated to Vesta and all the bounties that spring forth from her hearth.' "

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


     I've never been much of a non-fiction guy. I enjoy research, but my first instinct with a book is fiction. I want the escape, the adventure, the immersion in a whole new world. Likewise, I've never thought much about writing a non-fiction book. In a random moment of inspiration I conceived of one, but wasn't sure I wanted to take away from writing fiction. Now a student has got me thinking about writing another non-fiction book. And I'm pretty excited at the prospect. The big question, how to find the time?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Sabotaging Characters

     It's never good to let characters go too long without smacking them back in their place. I think this goes for villains and common people as much as the hero. Bad stuff happens to everyone. I also don't think the bad stuff has to have a deeper meaning like sometimes happens in TV. It was random chance something horrible happened, not the machinations of some shadowy villain or organization (well, except for me). I find striking out at even the little people quite satisfactory, and also a major impetus to other characters.

Friday, June 15, 2012


     Supervillainy, as popularized by comic books, film, and spy novels is characterized by lasers, shiny materials, and evil laughter. One out of three is a terrible ratio, but I can't give up the laugh. But, really, I have cause for the laugh. Humor is important. A plan should be both practical and humorous whenever possible, and I watched the monitor over Atlanta with child-like anticipation. This was going to be good.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


     At the colleges where I work, they perform teacher evaluations every semester or every other semester. I have to tell you, it's always, always a harrowing experience. Here's why. The evaluations are done with another teacher sitting in on your class. They generally give you a few dates to choose from, but there's not much in the way of flexibility for what they see. It sounds pretty straightforward, but here's the harrowing part: students. Students are a wildcard. A gigantic one, at that. There's no telling what students will do from day to day, especially during an evaluation. It could be as simply as being extra rowdy to texting to being completely disinterested in what goes on.
      This has me thinking about becoming a published author. When it comes to agents and editors. There are a lot of things not in my control. I can't control the state of the industry or what is currently trending. I can't control the recent sales of manuscripts. But I can control my own writing. And that is really the most important part of the process. What agents evaluate me on primarily is my writing. If it's good, I do well. I can't control what students do no matter how much I refine my teaching. I can continually improve my writing, though.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Outrageous Ideas

     I have found in my flash fiction endeavors (albeit not all of my attempts are complete stories) that I can embrace my more outrageous ideas, and simply run with them. These have spurned off what are potentially brand new series of books. So I say, embrace the insane idiot, and write about elephant cheese and lobster-wielding mobsters. Who knows what will come of them. Hmmm, lobsters in elephant cheese sauce.

Friday, June 8, 2012

F3 Elves

     Dwarves were surly, raucous, often drunk, and loved to fight, especially while drunk. The only thing against them were their choice of songs. Elves, though, were proper, pious, fond of ritual, and severe. They had a habit of looking down their noses at anyone not meeting their standard. Especially dwarves. I didn't like Elves. I hated their drinks even more.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Assessing Stories

     Last time I talked about assessing my course policies, but it applies outside of school. Assessing what works also has to take place in stories. This one is harder to do, but I feel I've gotten better at it. Turning an objective eye on a story is tough, but an absolutely essential aspect of writing. I feel like I've been gradually overcoming the need for purple prose, and finding a simple elegance in the language. Making sure that the story moves along is getting easier, too. Something a little more difficult is deciding what kind of foreshadowing to leave for future books. I like leaving loose ends and clues that will pertain to future stories, but sometimes they can feel extraneous. But then, it's all part of the process of what to keep and what to kill.

Monday, June 4, 2012


     The semester has ended, and it's time to take stock. I look at things that worked, and things that didn't. Always, always among that list is the revision of the syllabus. Some policies work, some don't. Among the most tedious of the revisions is instituting new policies to close out loopholes students worm their way into. It's tedious, and I feel more and more like a lawyer trying to micromanage every little thing to make sure there is zero misunderstanding and zero possibility of circumventing my will. Of course, in the process of both of these, the compromise is length.
      All of these policy explanations result in a syllabus that looks and reads like a contract to buy a car. I'm sure it's only a matter of time until it's like buying a house. Of course, this automatically negates the possibility of creating a document that is impossible to misunderstand. Also, students look at document that must be drilled instead of stapled, so never bother looking at it.
      I've tried to keep my policies short and to the point, but it is a challenge. I wish for a time when students would embrace college instead of seeking ways to manipulate the system. Policies should be more enlightened. But then, I like to think the world could be a better place if I try to make it that way. So I keep my policies short, and try to minimize damage, while accepting that manipulation is inevitable.

Friday, June 1, 2012

F3 Exotic Tastes

     Brachiation seemed the most expedient, not to mention the most desirable, means of travel, despite the lack of anything to swing from. No trees, no jungle gym, nothing. It was a melancholy moment for which Johnny would remember until the end of his Twinkie. Unfortunately he had a Long Tom, a Twinkie three feet long. Without the cardboard support, it would break apart under its own weight.
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