The Story Fights Back

I’ve been writing Genie Memories for probably 18 months or so. The first chapter has gone through at least five drastically different revisions. Four of those were before attending Viable Paradise. Prior to VP, I managed to get up to Chapter 16 before scrapping everything and applying what I’d learned during that week.

To say the least, it’s not been an easy task. I keep feeling as though I take two steps forward, then another one back. The end is out there, but it just creeps along. This story, great as I think it might be, has been doing its best to push back every step of the way.

This, of course, leads to self-doubt. Self-doubt can and will eat a writer alive. At some point in our career, we all have the thought of ‘Good god, this is a horrible piece of shit’. Every writer does this. Even the Hugo award winning Neil Gaiman.

So while wallowing in self-pity, I bounced over to Absolute Write to see what people were talking about and stumbled onto this gem by Uncle Jim, aka James D. Macdonald (author and Viable Paradise instructor) :

And a story that writes itself means you’re on the right track. (The converse, a story that fights you every inch of the way, does not mean that you’re on the wrong track.)

Well – alrighty then.  Genie Memories is fighting me every step of the way, but that’s alright.  Maybe there’s some more story in there that wants out and I just can’t see it yet.  Who knows.  It’s got to be written to find out.

At least I know I’m not alone.

A Good Market Haul

Decorah has a fantastic Farmers Market (one of the best in the state) and as I’ve lived in Decorah, I found myself enjoying it more and more.  It’s not just the local food, but also the opportunity to get to talk to the people who baked the goods and raised the produce.  I also know that when I hand over the cash, it’s going to the person responsible and stays within the community.

Officially, two Saturdays ago was the last market.  A number of people decided that they needed to have another one right before Thanksgiving so they organized renting out a building on the fairgrounds and had an indoor market this weekend.  Too good of an opportunity to pass up so we stopped in to stock up.


From left to right and front to back:

  • Chickens (4 – 5 pds) from Dale Suhr
  • Kale (excellent fresh or dried and in soup and the Viable Paradise XIII battle cry)
  • Kohlrabi
  • Broccoli
  • Celeriac (tastes like celery flavored potatoes)*
  • Homemade Cat Treats
  • Dried Catnip
  • Eggs
  • Chocolate Swirl Cookies
  • Orange Roll (now residing in my stomach)
  • Cinnamon Roll (now residing in Steph’s stomach)
  • Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • Apricot Cinnamon Roll
  • Egg Noodles
  • Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies (not shown)

Everything here cost a little under $50 and came from within about a 30 mile radius.  It will feed us for the better part of a week plus the leftover chicken carcasses will make a good soup stock.

* I’m angling to write an article about this, its history and some recipes.  Anyone know a good food magazine that might be interested?

Write What You Know

They say ‘Write what you know’.

My friend, Donald Harstad, said that this mantra is the reason he doesn’t write sex scenes.  Funny guy, that Don.  Go buy his books.  They’re awesome.

Aside from bad jokes (which I’m sure Steph loves – Hi hon!), the mantra can be interpreted in a thousand different ways.  Type it into Google and feel free to browse the 73,000,000 hits.

I’ve been having some trouble with Genie Memories.  Certain scenes weren’t flowing.  It seemed like a struggle to get some sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph.  I kept trying to tell myself – ‘Is this essential to the story?’ and the answer kept coming back ‘Yes.  It’s essential to move the plot forward.  Theo has to be involved in the FBI sting because it brings him into contact with two very important characters who are essential to the plot.’

I just couldn’t figure out how to do it.  The whole thing left me pretty frustrated for about a week now.  I kept grabbing books – Don’s police thrillers, Steven Kent’s Clone series, Scalzi’s Old Man’s War novels – anything that had sting operations or military planning in it.  I had to figure out how they did it.

Then it struck me.  Yes, that scene was essential.  The way I was going about it, however, was wrong.  I didn’t know the first thing about how the FBI sets up sting operations. No matter how hard I tried, it wasn’t going to work because it wasn’t going to be authentic.  Without the writing being authentic, it would be fall flat and drag, which is exactly what was happening.

With that revelation, a whole flood of ideas came to me.  In less than twenty minutes, I’d written almost 600 words of notes and text.  I modified four chapters.  I setup a major source of conflict to add tension and drama.   Plotted a scene to add some depth and dimension to the character.

Huh.  Four little words did all that.  And I know that makes me pretty damn happy.

Parking, Pistils, and Points

Parallel Parking and I are rarely on speaking terms.  I hate to do it.  Parallel Parking hates it when I make a mockery out of its good name by attempting the feat.  As this is a mutual hatred, I go out of my way to avoid parallel parking.   In Decorah, this isn’t a problem because I can just drive another block or two to find another spot and then walk to where I need to go.  In St. Louis, where we are at right now, it’s a different story.  Going an extra block or two might end up being a mile or so.

This afternoon, I was forced to parallel park and amazingly, I did it.  If I might say so, I did a pretty damn good job.  I know this because Steph was being rather mocking and wanted to get out a camera.  In truth, she was proud of me.  Far too often she’s had to walk extra distance and she really appreciated it.

Points for me!  Of course, this went to my head and I got cocky.  I needed more points (these are valuable and can be redeemed for such prizes as ‘Calm Down Angry Wife’ or ‘I Want This for Dinner and Not That’ and so forth).

While we were walking to our destination, we passed a flower shop.  In the window was a sign that said “50% Off Loose Flowers”.

Me: Loose flowers?  Are those the ones that strut around saying ‘C’mon baby!  Take advantage of my stamen and pistil!’

Steph: While I am proud that you remembered stamen and pistils, it’s negated by that horrible joke.

I lost points.


Risin’ Up …

When us Hughes boys were growing up, we were all involved in Cross Country.  It was a passion for us and of course, our parents made sure to encourage that.  It was probably better than us getting into trouble.

Whenever we had meets that were close by and held in the morning, Dad made sure to rouse our lazy asses out of bed by blasting ‘Eye of the Tiger’ over the stereo.  Annoyed us all to hell.  Seriously, as if it wasn’t bad enough to get up early on a cold, quite often drizzling Saturday morning.

“Dad!  That ain’t cool!”

God, it was embarrassing.  We’d tell our friends about it.  They’d agree.  Some of their parents did the same.  Maybe it was a conspiracy.  The last time I heard the song was my Senior year of High School, right before the cross country meet at Platteville, WI.  That morning, on only three hours of sleep and with it raining on a hard, hilly course, I set a personal best and placed in the top 5.

This morning, while working out and listening to Pandora, the song selection switched and I heard those familiar chords from the 80s.  And I’ll be damned if I didn’t start working out a little harder.

Maybe the old guy was onto something.

100% American … or Maybe Not

I was born here in the United States.  My parents were both born here in the States.  My grandparents … well, that’s where it gets a bit mixed up.  See, somewhere in there, we’ve got a bit of Italian in our blood.  We have no idea who it came from so we don’t know if that person was born here in the States or born overseas.  So somewhere around the early 1900s, my family’s lineage might deviate from being American at some point.  I would be willing to wager though that no one would question that I’m an American.

Photo courtesy Runners World

Why do I bring this up?

Because Meb Keflezighi won the New York Marathon on Sunday.  He was the first American to win in 27 years.  He’s also the first American in 33 years to bring home an Olympic medal in the Marathon (Silver).  And as soon as he crossed the finish line, I knew an article like this one in the New York Times would show up.  Because Meb was born in Eritrea.

That’s right – an African country.

Africans have dominated the long distance running scene for years.  Genetics?  Dunno.  There’s been research into it and nothing’s been found.  I personally believe it’s more of a culture thing.  Running there is considered a viable lifestyle, a way of heritage and history.  It’s also a way out of poverty.  Win one big marathon (Meb got $130,000 for his victory) and you can live like royalty for quite a while.  Take a look around and you’ll find a ton of information about how they train in Africa.  It’s insane.

Here, running is considered a way to stay in shape.  It’s not a sport in most people’s minds.  Save that for football or baseball.  Hell, a single athlete in baseball probably gets more sponsorships than the entire running community gets in a year.  Runners like Ryan Hall or Brian Sells have to work part-time/full-time jobs.  Hall finished 4th at New York, by the way.

At one point do you consider the cut off to be an American?  Meb’s been here since he was 12 years old.  He’s currently 34.  So he’s spent most of his life in the United States. He trained in the States with other runners, attended college in California, and had to go through most of the same experiences.  There comes a point where genetics cannot play a factor.

Not knocking on the other runners, but while most of them wore singlets bearing the names of their sponsors, Meb wore a USA singlet.  Those final miles into Central Park, he kept pointing to that shirt and beating his chest.  He knew what this meant for American running.*

And there’s still naysayers.  *sigh*  I’d be willing to wager that Meb knows more about being an American than most of those questioning his success.  And if they truly want to push it, well, lace up your shoes and get your native-born American ass out there and run faster.

* This is not to knock the other Americans.  Six of the top 10 finishers were Americans.  That’s an awesome showing.