NEW WAVE?

I wrote the following nearly forty years ago. I’m not sure where I was going with it but like most of my writing from those olden times I must have had a premonition that one day I would look back and wonder. It is what made me look back that interests me.

I wish I could remember what blog I was reading recently that referred to the “new wave” of young indie-authors for I would certainly provide a link. It was one of those writings that, like jalapeno peppers, comes back and bites you long after consumption. I appreciate it when something that someone has created can do that. They plant a little seed in your mind and after sufficient germination the message blossoms and you realize that what was written has become a part of your thoughts. I would however hasten to add the word “current” to the term “new wave” because as far back as I can remember there has always been a new wave of sorts, whether in music, art, or writing. It also applies to science, technology and life in general. What was “cutting edge” a few years ago has long been forgotten, replaced by new ideas and products from new wave thinkers and designers.

Waves are like that. There’s always another one on the way.

The writer of the blog questioned why there seemed to be more of these new creative voices today than ever before. While I was surprised he didn’t provide the simple answer I considered that this might have been his way of making me think about the question. The internet has provided a platform and for good or bad anyone can now publish their message. Everyone has a voice and everyone has something to say.

All you have to do is listen.

I’m pleased to be a part of this community and who knows…one of my books might just be the one to ride it to shore. Like Brian Wilson said…catch a wave and you’re sitting on top of the world.

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Within the shadows, without the light, unicorns prance while pan-pipes lay a bed of hushed harmony.  Fragile butterflies flutter between stone turrets resting only briefly amid rich ivy as they flit their way across sunlit castle walls.

Within the light, without the shadows, there is honesty and truth. It is called ‘reality’.

Some say it needs no creative process to survive. Simply put, all that is experienced is all that there is. There are no unicorns.

Between realms there lies a better world. A delicate blend of truth and dreams where fabled creatures, when called upon, may exist. A mixture of warm imagination and cold reality. Sprinkles of hope and guidance spiced with seasoned knowledge and understanding. Gently stirred and mixed yet somehow keeping separate the shadow and the light. This delicate blend of truth and fantasy…of realists and dreamers. Each needs what is unique to the other. Reality requires the elasticity of imagination to stretch boundaries and expand horizons. Creativity needs reality to temper dreams into possibility. Without the other, each suffer.

Where once they sailed the ocean blue, today they sail through darkened space, one daring to dream and one daring to try. Together they have reached the stars.

Reality lasts a lifetime.

Unicorns…forever.

Mike Grant is the author of three novels. “White Wolf Moon”, “Barking at Yesterday’s Moon”, and “Fergus”. Visit his Amazon page to find out more.

HODGE-PODGE & SELFIES….

Hodge-Podge was the name of a character I created for a children’s story back when I was in my twenties. He was an elf-like being who lived in a land filled with castles and crooks and a little dragon buddy. I liked Hodge-Podge because, like his name, he had a personality filled with so many unrelated traits that I could take him anywhere. He traveled between the wings of Finnegan, the aforementioned dragon, and together they made sure that the forest was healthy and all the woodland creatures were safe. That was over forty-tears ago and I realize now that little Hodge was way ahead of his time. I kind of wish I’d finished that project.

I haven’t thought about Hodge-Podge for decades and the only reason he came to mind now was when I titled this blog. It was to be a literal hodge-podge of lighter subjects to break the chain of heavier topics I have found myself pursuing lately.

Instead it’s just going to be a hodge (or a podge if you prefer) on one subject…selfies.

I appreciate that the majority of these photographs are meant to casually capture a moment with friends or a visit to some exotic location and that’s fine…they accomplish what they are meant to accomplish.

I am a big proponent of self-portraiture for many reasons but shots taken in a bathroom mirror do nothing for me and I don’t believe they do anything for the subject either. Before too many shackles are raised I will admit I’ve seen a few of these ‘selfies’ that were interesting photographs…in particular one that was shot in an old mine shaft. The subject was looking into the shaft, away from the camera (or phone) and I found myself trying to see what she was seeing. As simple as this photograph was, it drew me in. It was balanced and beautifully lit with a hidden story line that begged further thought. It’s the old “location, location” theory and in this instance it worked.

Aside from the obvious benefit of always having a model handy, a self-portrait can say so much about the person. After all, the photographer truly understands the subject…or does he?

In a self-portrait you have the flexibility of experimentation. Different locations, clothing, and moods dictate the leaning of the image and all at your own pace. Digital imagery has made this easier. You can shoot as many pictures as you want and choose only those you are comfortable with. In the end you see yourself as other people see you and then the realization sets in that you don’t see you as they see you. Seeing yourself through other eyes is a learning experience if you choose to explore it.

When I signed on to facebook I decided that I wanted my profile pictures to be different than the norm. I wanted them to say something about me and my interests. I have been a photographer forever and I had my own studio and darkroom back in the day but those days are gone. Today the glut of digital art programs is what stirs the creative stew a might. Surprisingly these programs are, for the most part, extremely easy to use and I’ve heard that some of them are even available apps for phone cameras.

The subject of self-portraiture could provide fodder for countless blog postings but I like keeping my comments to fewer than 700 words so I’ll end this one here. Suffice to say it’s easy to take those standard selfies and, with a little practice on the laptop, create images that are more memorable, interesting, and telling. Attempting serious self-portraiture could open up a whole new creative outlet and who knows…you just might get to know yourself better. Ain’t nothing wrong with that.

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THANK YOU JOE SOUTH!

I love it when I have one of those ‘out-of-the-blue’ and ‘ain’t-that-weird’ moments.

I’m in the process of tweaking a scene where my main character Evan Morris goes back to Edmonton, Alberta…the city he called home before he moved to Kamloops. I started off by walking him down a once-familiar street but then I hit a bit of a block and found myself wondering where I was going to take the internal narrative. I resorted to one of my usual distractions.

When I stumble with writing I’ll sometimes pick up a guitar and just strum random chords and stare at the screen. Normally it doesn’t take long to come up with something but today I found myself listening more to the chords I was playing and I realized that they weren’t all that random.

It took me a while to figure out the melody but when I did my ‘ain’t-that-weird’ moment arrived.

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It was a song I learned back in 1969 titled “Don’t It Make You Want To Go Home” written by Joe South. This is a song I haven’t really thought about for thirty or so years but it came back so easily and quickly. Of all the random chords or songs that those chords could have represented this was the one that I needed it to be. As I played it and recalled the lyrics I stared at my computer screen and everything started to come together.

Inspiration sometimes comes from the damnedest places doesn’t it?

http://www.joesouth.com/

A RANT…or something like it.

Excuse me while I gently let off a little steam….

People who know me know that it takes a lot for me to lose my temper. It does happen but not often enough to consider it a character flaw. When someone spouts a silly comment my way I normally resort to the Dude’s (The Big Lebowski) philosophy: “Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man” and move on. But it’s time I set one, no…let’s make that two things straight. These two naggy little things pop up every so often and I need to put them to rest. I appreciate that I might be preaching to the choir on the second reason but I have to say it.

Number one reason for the rant: Retirement. Ah yes…retirement. I sit around all day with a box of bon-bons, a few glasses of wine, and a good sci-fi flick in the dvd player. That’s how many people see me in my retirement. Of course these are people who aren’t retired. I don’t believe I’ve ever eaten a bon-bon, I might have an occasional beer after mowing the lawn and unless there’s a major news story breaking my television sleeps during the day. My wife is a realtor and she spends many long hours away from the house so the daily upkeep falls on me. I actually enjoy the housekeeping chores but it can be a lot of work, not necessarily difficult labor but definitely time-consuming. There’s also that sense of accomplishment when you’ve finished scrubbing down the kitchen and polishing all that stainless steel. That would be the time for a congratulatory glass of wine.

Just because I’m retired doesn’t mean I’m not busy which leads me into reason number two…discipline.

I write, therefore I am. Okay that was cheesy but in a way true. I made a comment about how long it takes to properly maintain a blog (I admit I’m not all that good at it) and someone “inferred” that I need “discipline”. While it was just an off-hand comment it really got the hackles up. Most of the people that follow this blog are writers, thus the “preaching to the choir” comment. They know how much work and discipline it takes to write an average of 1800 words a day or edit that 115,000 word manuscript down to 85,000 words.

Everyone who works from home has to have discipline but those pursuing the creative arts (of any kind) have to have an extra measure. It would be so easy to turn on that television, cruise the internet, or simply take a nap. Y’know…just to recharge the creative energy. I would also suggest that many of you are like me and also fall into the category of writer and housewife/husband. We play out our lives jumping between the real world of dirty dishes, plugged toilets, and runny noses and our fantasy realm where we live vicariously through characters who exist only because we do what we do. I admit that I’d like to spend some time with some of my fictional characters…perhaps offer them a bon-bon or two and a glass of wine. Maybe we could curl up on the couch and catch a movie…but the dryer has stopped. Time to fold and file the underwear.

Those outside our world have no appreciation for the juggling acts that we sometimes have to perform. The conclusion of the workday is whatever time we finish doing what needs doing and sometimes that goes on well into the night. In the end we accomplish something that most of these naysayers will never accomplish. Whether through writing, art, or photography we have taken our thoughts, dreams and yes, the occasional nightmare from the abstract into a physical form that we share with anyone willing to join us.

If you don’t think that takes discipline…yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.

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DIALECT EH?

I love reading dialect but I’d never tried to write serious dialogue in dialect until now. It seemed like it should be easy, scatter a little slang and colloquialism into the conversation and there you have it. I do it all the time on my facebook page, just clowning around.

A few days ago I had one of those off-the-wall images pop into my head. I envisioned a greyed wooden house decaying somewhere in the backwoods surrounded by tall grass, old cars, and trucks. The more I thought about this scene the more I knew I needed to include it in the new book. As I am using the same basic characters from White Wolf Moon I needed to move them into other environments and the old car graveyard not only provides this outlet, it ties in with the original storyline.  I announced my revelation on my facebook page this way:

“Bagged me an epiphany last night…been huntin’ one of those for months. It stumbled noisily up the basement steps and stood by the kitchen island glaring at me through hunted eyes glowing and frozen in the ambient halogen track lighting. Pow…gotcha!! The final piece of the puzzle called ‘sequel’….”

It isn’t the final piece. Working with this new scene opened up a few options in other areas…options that add elements of mystery and excitement that were lacking both in this book and the first one.

The caretaker of this property was the first new character introduced and I wanted him to be unique, totally unlike any of the regular folks. A separate, individual voice with a questionable past…the mystery factor.

The writing process was an invigorated frenzy, pounding out 3,800 words in two days. It was a breath of fresh air (unlike the stench surrounding that old house I was writing about) and the character called Lucas came to life quickly. He needed a dialect to be distinct and to sublimely tell his story in his own voice, without narrative.

I discovered quickly that there is a fine line between creating a character and creating a caricature and had to reign in on his spoken peculiarities. In this case less says more. I spent yesterday smoothing and deleting and while it still requires a bit more tweaking, I’m really pleased with the result.

In 3,800 words Lucas goes through almost every possible emotion and tells his own story without me telling it. Lucas is defined by what he says and how he says it, much the same as in real life, and it doesn’t take much for us to figure out where he’s coming from:

“Waste a time that dreaming was, my mama used to say. While you’re busy with that dreamin’ life comes sneakin’ up and ass slaps ya good.”

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WHAT’S IN A NAME….

Wow…the power we creators of characters possess is mind-numbing.

A half-dozen people live in my little world and I control their very thoughts…not to mention their eating habits, wardrobe, and sex lives. They become real to me in the hopes that they seem real to the reader and, for whatever reason, I have managed to pull it off.

About a year ago a reader condemned me for what I did to Jenn, one of the characters in both books. “How could you put that sweet young girl into such a terrible situation” was the comment. While I reminded her that it was just fiction I felt pretty good that this lady had come to love Jenn as a person and not just a character. To have a reader be just as involved with one of my people as I am is flattering. I have to admit that I was actually uncomfortable putting Jenn into that situation but then she’s a big girl…she can handle it.

Jenn’s boyfriend Matt was to be introduced in ‘White Wolf Moon’. He was to accompany Jenn to the photography exhibit where she uncovered Evan’s secret but in one of the final edits I changed his character into a female roommate instead of a boyfriend and edited him out of later scenes. Having him around that early would have eliminated the possibility of any exploration into Evan’s feelings toward Jenn so…bye bye Matt.

In this sequel I introduce him to the rest of the characters and it actually goes quite well except for one small detail.

“Matt” was a filler name. I hadn’t given any thought to it and I’m not sure why I even used it but I knew it would be changed later when I could came up with something better. He was still Matt up until a few days ago when I decided to go for a stronger name. Among others I tried “Jason” and “Ken” (subtle family references here) but I decided that “Mark” sounded good so I hit the find/replace button and in an instant Matt’s life, as he knew it, changed.

So did mine.

I have a mental image of all the characters I have created…how they look, their mannerisms, and voice. Every time I read something Mark had said or done I pictured Matt. As silly as it sounds this guy isn’t “Mark”…he is Matt.

So find/replace again and Matt’s life is back to normal. Jenn really didn’t mind, or so she says. She’s just happy she has a boyfriend and a ‘cutie’ at that. If she’s happy then so am I…but I also know she’s just humoring me. She prefers “Matt”.

It’s amazing how we identify with the people we create. I’ve just completed a particularly emotional scene with Evan. He is gripped in sadness throughout most of it and is twice drawn to tears. While I wrote the first draft I was fine but during the last reading I felt the sadness that he felt. I won’t confess to shedding any tears although I’m not saying I didn’t. Evan goes through a myriad of emotions this time around, from melancholy to outright anger and I’m with him every step of the way…as I am with all my “people”.

I’m now working on what might be the final showdown, a confrontation between Evan and his old nemesis. Evan usually avoids conflict (although he has already had a bit of a physical altercation in this book) so I have to create a situation where the bad guy leaves him no choice but to react well outside his character. This also means outlining the villain for the reader but drawing out a malevolent character isn’t something I’ve done before.

To try and see life through evil eyes and to use what I’ve learned through those eyes to intentionally provoke a character that is inherently peaceful and innocent is going to be tough but I’m actually looking forward to getting into the mind of a personality totally foreign to me.

And this is what’s exciting about writing…blogsign

INVISIBLE FRIENDS

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Apparently it’s quite normal for a child to have an invisible friend. According to Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D. (published in Psychology Today, January 31, 2013): “compared to those who don’t create them, children with imaginary companions (either invisible friends or personified objects) tend to be less shy, engage in more laughing and smiling with peers, and do better at tasks involving imagining how someone else might think”. I don’t actually recall having such a companion. On the other hand I do remember conversing with inanimate objects…still do. I have yet to learn that no amount of rational reasoning with the toaster is going to brown the bread any faster.

While this was interesting it is what followed that really caught my attention. “Surprisingly, invisible friends don’t necessarily disappear when childhood ends. One study that examined the diaries of adolescents plus questionnaire data concluded that socially competent and creative adolescents were most likely to create an imaginary friend and that this type of friend was not a substitute for relationships with real people. Adult fiction writers often talk about their characters taking on a life of their own, which may be an analogous process to children’s invisible friends”.

I have often said in this blog that I adlib dialogue into my digital voice recorder in order to create more realistic conversations and often, even though I usually have a target end to the dialogue, one of my “other voices” will say something unexpected and throw a different spin or direction into the chat. My friends may be invisible but they do tend to go on and on at times. I’ll frequently picture one or more of them in a situation I find myself in. How would Evan react to the cold soup at the restaurant? What would Marie say to the less-than-courteous teller at the bank? The more I thought about this the more I realized that my characters are with me 24/7 and they indeed keep me company. Yes I admit it. I’m Mike and I have invisible friends but I honestly think that to create realistic fictional characters one has to live with them and consider them “real”.

Now I find myself wondering if I actually did have an invisible friend when I was a wee lad. Perhaps I did. Perhaps we had a falling out and haven’t spoken for fifty or so years. Maybe I was spending too much time playing with “real” friends and he/she became jealous and sulked off to wherever invisible friends hang out. It was probably just a misunderstanding or a silly argument. If that’s the case then I apologize if I had anything to do with causing this rift. Please come back…we have so much catching up to do and I’ve got some really nice people that I’d love to introduce you to.

 

http://www.amazon.com/White-Wolf-Moon-ebook/dp/B0094M2JC2/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1346857924&sr=1-1&keywords=white+wolf+moon

 

GREEN ELEPHANTS

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I blame the school system.
When we start kindergarten we are given a blank piece of paper and a semi-complete set of battered crayons that have been in the crafts drawer for decades and bear the sweat and tears of the countless struggling five-year-old Michelangelos that have gone before you. You are encouraged to be free with your strokes and see elephants in that wildly formed green and blue blob you have created. So far so good but the very next year they give you black-line picture of an elephant and, indeed, you must stay within the lines…think inside the box. Yes you develop motor skills but along with them you learn that elephants are grey, not green. Some of us never had grey crayons and in fact became quite comfortable with having green elephants trumpeting through our expansive imagination much to the chagrin of society at large, which can only accept grey elephants. Those motor skills? Tremendous tools in the pursuit of free thought indeed, but then along comes Math, Grammar, History and other assorted clutterstuff to take up the space that green elephants once commanded. Each of them is important, no doubt, but just as important is the ability to think creatively and allow those thoughts to breathe life on canvas or the typewritten page. It is also the freethinking, green-elephant types that use their imagination to take these sciences to new levels and they do it by exercising their creativity…not by sticking to the formula.
Obviously I have carried this to the extreme and I really don’t blame the school system (that should smooth the feathers of a few distant relatives & friends). There are many young people who have continued to express themselves creatively regardless of what was thrown at them. For these artists we should all be grateful especially now that government funding for all the arts, especially in primary schools, is being cut from budgets.
I visit the followers of this blog (and the White Wolf Moon facebook page) and I see so many young authors, artists, and photographers that it gives me a certain confidence in the future of the arts. It’s in pretty good hands and I’d be willing to bet that most, if not all, of those hands once held green crayons….

COVER PHOTOGRAPHS

Years of working in a bookshop taught me a lot about books and book people. They’re a wonderful lot but sometimes a tad forgetful. They may not remember the author or the title of the book they’re looking for but most will remember the cover.

“It’s blue…with butterflies” or “It’s the Stephen King with the old school desks” or “There’s an old castle on the front…with a Viking helmet” or simply “It’s red and white with black letters”.

The cover therefore becomes the first-line sales tool. The cover usually indicates the genre immediately although romance novels have been treading on the western genre recently. It used to be that a cowboy on the cover meant horses, guns, and bad guys inside. Maybe it still does…I’ve never read a cowboy romance so I probably should refrain from further comment.

After I’d finished White Wolf Moon I asked for suggestions for the cover illustration and mostly I got the obvious. Wolf…moon…y’know. This wasn’t what I wanted. During my time at the bookshop I was subjected to covers of many kinds, from all genres. Mystery, romance, western, sci-fi…they all seem to have a format. When you see a book with a long-haired bare-chested male clutching a scantily clad buxom female against a six-pack it’s pretty clear we aren’t talking Captain Underpants. It’s instant genre identification and it works. General fiction is another story. I knew I had to come up with a cover for my book so I studied what the big publishers were doing. The ones that stood out for me were the simple presentations, a single photograph and minimal text. A lot of Canadian Vintage releases utilize this approach and I found myself reading the book description on the back just because the front cover had caught my eye.

The photograph I used on White Wolf Moon is a modification of a shot I took in 2008. I walked along the river behind my house experimenting with a new digital camera trying different settings, shutting off auto-balances and the like. When I loaded the images onto my computer one of them leapt off the screen.

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It was taken at around 10 in the morning and for whatever reason this one had just the right feel about it. I wish I could remember how I messed up the exposure because, by accident, I ended up with one of my favorite photographs.

When I was going through my files to see if I had any photographs that would be suitable for the cover I stumbled on this one again. I tried darkening it and superimposing a moon to replace the sun but that looked pretty bad so I played with the color balance, turned it blue and came up with the cover shot.

The cover has garnered so many great comments and, I believe, a few sales. I appreciate this approach won’t work for everyone but just because you’re writing in a particular genre doesn’t mean you should be restricted to the norm as far as a cover is concerned. It’s the old “think outside the box” philosophy…experiment a little, try a totally different approach and steer away from the obvious. This is the first thing the book-buyer notices and you need to grab their attention and make them pick it up for a closer look. Play with some radical ideas before it comes time to send it off to the printer…get some other opinions. Mostly go with your gut…if it feels right then do it. If it doesn’t feel right you can always go back to the more accepted approach but you have, at the very least, checked out some options, stirred your imagination, and tested your creativity.

CREATIVITY AND RAMBLIN’ AGAIN…

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One of my creative writing chairpersons once told her group that not everyone is creative and insisted that we, as writers, were the special ones. She was partially right. We are special but so are all the painters, photographers, sculptors…anyone who can take an abstract and create a concrete that can be shared and appreciated by all those who might be interested is special. As far as not everyone having latent creativity within…bull residue. Is the cat burglar who invents a way to by-pass the latest electronic security system any less creative than a poet or a painter? I think not.

Where there is thought there is creativity.  Not everyone has the ability to express their creativity in an accepted form but that falls under the heading of ‘talent’ and talent can be taught. Creativity must be nurtured without restraint within these teachings. Creativity is an abstract. So too is talent. The result of the two is concrete. A photograph, painting, or poem that could not exist without both.

Now the ramblin’….

Other than a nagging cough my cold is behind me…so too is Christmas. It was a good holiday season, family and all…good food and lots of fun with grandkids but there’s always that letdown on the 26th. It seems we build and build for Christmas Day then suddenly it’s gone. Devoid of the gifts that for weeks had promised surprise and excitement the tree now stands naked. The halls may still be decked but they’re quieter now and the turkey chills in the fridge promising a few more left-over dinners. Rather than buying each other gifts this year my wife and I decided we should treat ourselves to a new flat-screen television. The old analog is into its sixth or seventh year and it takes longer to warm up these days (as do I) so we elected to retire it to the basement. I was told by everyone that I’d spend a lot more time watching television with a new big screen but so far I can’t see many reasons why I would. The Big Bang Theory looks pretty much the same only bigger and other than Haven, the Voice and perhaps X-Factor (I’ve lost all interest in Idol), I don’t watch all that much actual television. I do like movies though and after watching one last night on the new Blue-Ray I am looking forward to seeing some of my Alien/Predator flicks on the bigger screen.

I’m now officially retired and learning to both relax and to discipline myself, in particular my time management. It’s too easy to check emails/facebook/blog in the morning then play on the computer or to sit on the couch with a cup of coffee and read. I’m just getting into Jubilee Hitchhiker, the Life and Times of Richard Brautigan by William Hjortsberg. It’s an 852 page behemoth of about 9 point text so I’m figuring I’ll be at this one for a while. I think I may have to schedule an hour or so a day just for reading although I’m not one that welcomes schedules easily…thus my time management problem.

I’ve been away from the sequel to White Wolf Moon for a week or so and I think this is a good thing. I opened up the file this morning and re-read what I’d done with a little more critical distance and there are areas that I’m not quite as comfortable with as I first thought. As for the book itself, it’s been a good two weeks. I’ve sold a few more copies and picked up four ‘likes’ on the White Wolf Moon facebook page plus had some good comments. It’s also been recommended for two book reading clubs so the book part of my life is rolling steadily along.

All in all things are shaping up quite nicely for the year ahead.