BIRTHDAY

As of February 26 I am 24,820 days old…or about 595,680 hours if you prefer. That’s approximately 35,740,800 minutes or 2,144,448,000 seconds. Suddenly 68 years doesn’t seem so bad. My heart has beaten 3,800,000,000 times (give or take a million or two) and I`ve inhaled/exhaled roughly 714,816,000 times. No wonder I’m tired.

I touch on age often in my books. In White Wolf Moon Evan is explaining to Jenn how the years don’t disappear…they remain inside you:

“Sure I’m physically sixty.” He touched his chest. “But in here it doesn’t count for much. When I turned sixty, fifty-nine didn’t disappear. It’ll always be part of who I am. Every year I’ve lived is buried somewhere in this battered old body which means I’m still fifty-nine, and forty and thirty and twenty…”

Yes that svelte and dapper young man still abides in some secret hidden part of this old body. Occasionally he manages to crawl up and out but he finds that the landscape has changed. The lines and weight that 68 years have wrought is alien terrain. Jeans that once required that fashionable Carnaby Street belt now hang in there without any support whatsoever. There’s nothing in the world that can bring back the percentage of human dignity surrendered when your wife tells you to tuck it in and you’ve already tucked. Time is a cruel master.

In the sequel to White Wolf Moon I describe it this way:

Evan leaned against the bathroom sink, listening as the mirror told his tale. The problem is that mirrors don’t write fiction. He could easily forgive the mirror a smidgeon of artistic license; perhaps a little fib or two, even an outright lie…but mirrors don’t do fiction. He stared silently into the realization that the disheveled sixty-something creature staring back at him was indeed sixty-something. His eyes were dark, the laugh-lines of yesterday were annoyingly apparent today, and his hair had become most unreliable. He ran his fingers through the grey shock, placed it carefully then softly sighed as it slipped back down over his forehead.

“Nowadays when I wake up feeling like crap,” he said, “I stare into the mirror and I look like crap. In the old days it didn’t matter how I felt I at least looked good. Sure, I can psyche myself up…tell myself I’m feeling great and do a little yahoo dance on the way to the bathroom but the mirror always shows and tells. It could lie but does it? Oh no…whatcha see is whatcha get Morris. Damn mirrors.”

And he explains it to his wife Marie this way:

“It took sixty years to get this way and it’ll take sixty more to fix it. Hardly seems worth the effort.”

A lot has happened in the last 6.8 decades and I was there. More importantly I paid attention. Through simple osmosis I’ve sucked up a wealth of seemingly unimportant trivia, from housecleaning to simple mechanics to…whatever. I suppose that makes me wise in an offhanded kind of way…the senior. The last time I held this title I was in high school and I really wasn’t very good at it. I didn’t ask to be a senior…it just sort of happened. All of a sudden I had this responsibility to set a good example for all those junior kids, some of which were older than I but obviously not wiser.

That’s how you get to be a senior in high school. Passing. That’s all there is to it. All you have to do to be a senior in life is survive. It’s pretty simple actually.

There’s only one problem with this system of seniority by age. For every wise village elder there is a village idiot. Through the simple act of survival the village idiot could eventually become the village elder. Throughout history many societies have fallen due to an old village idiot.

But I digress and I’m running out of space.

I don’t have a problem with being nearly 10 in dog years, in fact I don’t normally think about it. I can watch quiz shows and answer the history questions not because I studied but because I was there when these things were happening. I’ve gone from one channel on a fuzzy b&w television to a kazillion choices on a big flat screen. I’ve been to drive-in movies perched in the bed of a pickup truck and I’ve watched some of the same movies on Blue Ray whilst parked on my couch. I’ve marveled at so many changes over the years with a sense of wonderment and appreciation that people born in the past twenty years can’t understand. They’ve grown up with the technology and gadgets designed to make life easier. They have no idea what it’s like to head out to the pump to bring in a bucket of water and heat it on the wood stove to take a bath. Times have changed and will forever change but the learning stays the same. Not just book learning but good old fashioned life learning. It’s that basic knowledge and common sense that surrounds us all but so few seem to grasp yet, according to Evan in the sequel to White Wolf Moon, it really isn’t all that difficult:

“It’s no big secret…just pay attention. Eyes, ears, and mind open…mouth shut. Nobody ever learned anything by talking.” Evan squinted and shook his index finger at her. “Listening…that’s the teacher.”

Me2a s

 

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PICKLES & STICKLERS

I’m not sure where the saying “I got myself into a real pickle” came from but it describes the first major stumbling block on my read-through/edit of the manuscript. I haven’t read some parts since I wrote them and I’m quite surprised at the number of things I’m finding that just don’t feel right. As individual pieces they seemed fine but reading them within the context of the overall story they just don’t flow as well as they should. The changes are mostly minor, a word here and a word there and eliminating words repeated in the same paragraph, you know…all those little things you ignore on a first draft. It was relaxing at first and I found myself thinking that this was going to be easier than I had anticipated.

Then came the pickle.

It was a scene of nothing but dialogue between two characters. The first part flowed beautifully and I found myself giggling at lines I didn’t remember writing but then, like an unseen speedbump in the supermarket parking lot, I hit that one line with a jarring thud.

I wanted to get into some old-age philosophy with a character that I’ve always used as comedic and I felt that bringing out his previously unrecognized wisdom was important to the storyline. I realized the problem instantly but correcting it was far from instant. One issue was that I wanted to keep most of his thoughts as they tie in with later dialogue but the bigger problem was in the setup leading up to his words of wisdom. It was something the other character wouldn’t say in casual conversation. The line was forced, obvious, and clearly out of context with the rest of the dialogue.

Over three days I attacked this stickler, trying all my tricks to get past it. I worked on other scenes and came back to that one, getting more frustrated each time. I tried staring at the screen and strumming guitar chords (which always works). I recorded the dialogue on my digital recorder (which usually works). I took a walk around the block and mulled over different angles but that didn’t work either. By the way my block is comparable to three or so regular city blocks so circumnavigating it takes time and about half of it is along riverbank. Watching television, doing laundry, cleaning the basement or taking down the outdoor Christmas lights…it didn’t matter what I was doing that damn scene was the only thing I could think about.

I was working on another scene, this one where Evan (my main character) was sitting on the porch and puffing on his pipe. I included his minor vice because it was something I could identify with. I used to smoke a pipe and had quite a few of them lying around. My son from Alberta is a pipe smoker/collector so last summer I gave him all my old pipes except for three that were special to me, one of them being the first pipe that I bought with my first paycheque back in the early Sixties. I watched him sit across from me on my deck puffing away and remembered how much I enjoyed this activity back then so last July I bought a pouch of tobacco. The fact that I am still only about halfway through that pouch is testament to the number of times I have lit up, the last time being Christmas. Another determining factor was the $35 price tag for a pouch. The previous tobacco I bought was, I believe, about $4.00 (which shows how long ago that was).

Yesterday the sun was shining, the birds were singing, and a fresh new season was in the air. I decided to take my coffee along with a pipeful out to the deck and grind out my dialogue dilemma.

There are some who might say it’s purely psychological and they would probably be right but within ten minutes of going over that scene in my head…it came together. It was so obvious and so minor that I feel embarrassed that I didn’t see it days earlier. The line I was stumbling over wasn’t the only problem…so was the line leading into it. I changed that one and a new segue line naturally followed. Lesson learned? Look at the big picture and don’t get hung up on one element. It all ties together and sometimes what you’re looking at isn’t all there is to see.

I’ve dropped the pickle back in the jar and tightened the top…until next time.

WRITEs

A LITTLE VOICE TOLD ME I WAS WRONG….

My old desktop computer had a text-to-speech feature that I don’t have on the laptop I’m using now. I never used the feature anyway so I wasn’t concerned about upgrading or downloading it when I set up this computer. A few years ago I bought a home music studio program to record a few songs for my own entertainment. This program (Music Maker) has the text-to-speech option but other than trying some special effects on my music I didn’t use it…until now.

This morning I decided to put the first three pages of my new manuscript into the program. I listened while a pleasant, if not somewhat static, female voice read it to me. Aside from a few words that had double meanings (wind as an example) and mispronouncing both the main character’s names she did quite well. Keep in mind these are pages that I have gone through twice, checking for errors and flow, and I was prepared to sit back and just enjoy having someone read me the story.

This isn’t quite what happened.

First she found the missing word “a” in what I had written (“brief career as writer/singer”). That’s one of those things I had read over countless times and just read it as being there. Then the little lady found an ellipse that wasn’t and read it as “period, period, period” although I find it funny that she doesn’t read aloud the single periods or other punctuation. The non-ellipse, I believe, was the result of me switching the language on the keyboard, something that happens frequently although I’m not sure how I’m doing it. This became clear when she read “he’d” as “he-accent-dee”.

She also repeated a line and corrected my grammar by removing the “s” from a word. (“Evan had toured the exhibition of those ‘exciting new visions’ but had seen nothing of note in any of the pieces, most resembling his own failed attempts in Grade Nine art class. He guessed it must be an age thing. With so many years behind his eyes his ‘visions’ probably aren’t what they used to be.”) Out of context she was right…but the “s” stays.

I also found that when you hear sentences transferred to speech you pick up on clumsy wording and I’ve smoothed a few lines out that actually sounded fine in my head but not-so-fine out loud.

I’ve nearly finished tweaking the whole manuscript but I’m throwing another step into the process. Once done I’m going to find a quiet place, throw on the headphones, and let this charming computer lady read me the whole book and see if she finds anything else I’ve missed.

For those that have the Word (or any version of) text-to-speech I suggest giving it a try. It reads exactly what’s there and assumes nothing.

Writers today are fortunate. We have a wealth of wonderful computer tools to assist us with our passion. Text-to-speech has just been added to my list.

pic

MORE FRAGMENTS OF A RECEDING MINDLINE…

Fragment One: Jeff Bridges. I’ve always liked Jeff Bridges and he is, without question, that one living famous person I’d love to have a beer with. As well as being a great actor, a pretty good songwriter/musician/singer, and devout family man he dedicates much of his life to giving back. His primary cause is No Kid Hungry! It’s a program designed to put food in front of the estimated 16,000,000 children who live in American households that are unable to provide the necessary food these kids need. That’s one in five kids. He has been the spokesman at charity events for this cause for some time but not only does he speak out he does something about it. ALL proceeds from his new cd “Sleeping Tapes” go toward No Kid Hungry! and in a few short weeks he has raised over a million meals.

Fragment Two: Matthew McConaughey and “Canned Hunting” debacle. For those who don’t know the story Mr. McConaughey has been linked (as an owner) to a ranch in Texas that offers hunters the opportunity to “harvest” deer that are fenced in on their property. I could write a wordy blog on how I feel about this practice but I’ll leave that for another time. Since this story broke the public outcry in the form of blogs and petitions has spread like the proverbial Texas wildfire. Now his photograph and all references to him have been removed from the ranch’s website and Matthew’s camp is in damage control mode, saying that he is not an owner and hasn’t been associated with the ranch since 2011. A quick search of his bios on line still reveals he owns a ranch in Texas although they don’t disclose the name of this ranch. I’m prepared to give anybody the benefit of the doubt so I’ll remain neutral on this but those that are inferring that, if true, this will destroy his career better think again. He’s a big player and the world loves big players. The list of actors, recording artists, and politicians that have had their indiscretions buried by money and influence is long and will only get longer.

Fragment Three: No Comment. I’ve had a few of my on-line wolf friends question my absence on those “anti-wolf” comment pages since last year. Other than a few of the media public comment sites I no longer get involved with the anti-wolf crowd. I set out some ground rules for myself when it came to responding to their idiocy. One…I would no longer deal with anyone who uses a fake name/facebook page. Two…I would not respond to anyone who hasn’t a basic grasp of spelling and grammar. Three…I wouldn’t respond to anyone who starts out a comment with name-calling or threats and four…I’d refrain from commenting on any post that didn’t contain proven facts with appropriate links. These self-imposed rules pretty much meant I could no longer comment period. It also makes it much easier to “leave the kiddies alone” when they won’t let me play by banning me from most, if not all, of their pages.

Fragment Four: Politically Correct. First, and this is something I never do, I wish to apologize to anyone who might be offended by what you’re about to read. Recently, in an off-hand conversation, I referred to our native people as “Indians” and I was told that it was wrong. They are “First Nations”. As most of you know I worked for At Second Glance Books here in Kamloops and while books about First Nations people were shelved under “Indigenous Peoples” some of the titles of those books contained the word “Indian” and a lot of these books were written by talented First Nation authors. I had many customers come in and ask me where the books on Indians were and many of them were First Nations people, one building a library of First Nations literature for a tourist center. They weren’t offended by a book on “The Western Plains Indians” and really, why should they be? One of my customers went by the name of “Ace” and he was one that asked where the Indian books were. I showed him a lot and sold him a few. We actually became casually close and tossed jibes back and forth on many occasions. One day he came into the store with a couple of friends, also First Nations, and leaned on the counter. He asked if I served Indians here. My glib response was “Sure…you want fries with that?” He and his friends broke into hysterics. After I had a chance to think about what I said I felt I should apologize. “Hell no man,” Ace said, “that was funny. You white people take everything far too seriously.” With that I bit the bullet and asked if he was offended by the term “Indian” and all three of them said no, that they were proud of their Indian heritage (yes, they used the word). I’m not sure if Ace and the boys are indicative of the general feelings amongst First Nations people and certainly I find myself using “First Nations” just in case, but I have to wonder how much of an issue it is. I also wonder who decided that it was politically incorrect to begin with. Really, it’s just a word. I would think the manner or the environment in which it’s used would have a bearing on how it’s taken but then it really isn’t the word that becomes offensive is it? It’s the person using it.

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