I’m on week 2 of fulltime telework. My brain is ready to short circuit. Because work has shut down most normal activities, I’m doing the one thing that my creative brain doesn’t like at all. It needs to be done, but it’s mind-numbingly boring.
I’m getting through the days with looking at the headlines of ONE print newspaper and ONE glance at an online news site (mostly because of work). No watching the news on TV. Heck, when I’m watching TV, I’m muting the commercials. There’s way too much of “we care. We’re helping you with Coronavirus.” Newsflash, media. If you have to tell us you care, you have a huge marketing problem.
I woke up Saturday to a lot of rain. We’ve alternated between a few rainy days, and then one sunny and warmer. The cherry blossoms look like they will pass through without going to peak bloom. But once the rain pushes out and the sun pops out, pollen’s going to be bad.
Writing with the Writing Nerd
I did some early morning writing on two short stories. The fantasy looks to be a false start, though I like the idea itself. Just not sure how to start it, or where. It uses non-24, where the circadian rhythms get scrambled.
The mystery is historical, set in the same era as Golden Lies in a fictional town of Balboa Bay (Morro Bay in real life, so I don’t’ have to get the town details accurate. The working title is Banjo, which is the name of a dog who goes for a walk to find a crime.
I’m taking the writing bit by bit. Even with cutting off the news media, the chaos is still overwhelming for me. It’s hard not to be when getting out of the house ends up being only grocery shopping.
I also submitted two stories, a mystery called “One Red Shoe” and a science fiction flash fiction called “The Schedule.” Looking also at getting “Pirate’s Quest” out the door this week, but it needs a bit of fixing in the opening.
After that, I hopped out on the road, literally to get on the freeway and drive out for a bit, then turn around. My car’s been sitting all week, and it needed a good freeway run to keep the battery charged. Waze annoyed me when I set it so I could find my way back (having hopped off and randomly drove through streets) with a red warning label: Why are you driving?!
Lunch was a pick up at my favorite restaurant again. I’m doing my part to keep them in business. The pickups made me realize it isn’t just good food, but the people at the restaurant that I like, too. I miss that.
TV watching has included some of the older shows, like Hart to Hart. Hollywood is very anti-marriage. When H2H was first created, the network wanted the couple to bicker and not get along. The producers and actors held firm to what it is, and the show is a joy to watch.
In one of the episodes, Jonathan’s past girlfriend is getting married, but something appears to be wrong with the whole thing. Jonathan and Jennifer to rescue. There’s a brief joke from Jennifer about old flames. Jonathan tells her she’s the only one for him, and you can tell right away that she was only joking.
Absolute trust in each other.
Since I’m looking at the older TV shows, what have you been watching? What’s your popcorn show for Coronavirus stress?
Since It Takes a Thief was mentioned above….I saw this show when it went into syndication originally. I remember liking it, but curiously, none of the episodes were memorable. The show was a product of the spy craze created by James Bond, that then died out abruptly (that’s why Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea went from spies to monsters and aliens).
Coming up on Tuesday: Submitting stories. Thursday is on What form rejections mean.
What’s happening now reminds of me when I broke my right foot in 2016. I was on no weight bearing for at least two weeks. That confined me to my house essentially except for doctor appointments and a stop at Panera Bread on the way back to get something that was just different.
Cooking terrified me. No weight bearing meant I was balancing on one foot and leaning against the counter while I prepared food. Having a knife in hand to cut vegetables? Well… I had a lot of scrambled eggs and smoothies.
I’m really glad I spent the time learning how to cook without recipes several years back because it’s serving me well now. A lot of people are finding out they have a problem because they don’t have the cooking chops (this is why spaghetti sauce and pasta are selling out. That was a staple of mine before I got better at cooking).
Morning of the Writing Nerd
My Saturday morning started as a sinus zombie again. The DC area went from 79 the day before to 53 and rainy.
First thing was an attempt at the farmer’s market in Old Town. I wasn’t sure if it was going to be open or not and they didn’t have anything online. So when I showed up, the market square was empty.
Off to Trader Joe’s instead. Since I was 30 minutes after they opened, I was going to do a fast assessment and see if I needed to abort the shopping mission. But they had changed their hours, so I was 30 minutes early. I stood out in front and chatted with a British guy.
By the time TJ opened, the line was over 1,000 feet. Yikes! The employees counted out fifty people and let us in. There was a limit of only 2 each of everything, so no one could take all of one item. I zoomed in and did my shopping in 7 minutes flat.
Back home, I lazed out the morning, watching The Greatest American Hero. Some joker decided to show the episode about bald guys in white t-shirts trying to steal the smallpox virus from a testing site. Next episode was more of a Hollywood staple: character gets amnesia and forgets that he’s a superhero.
I tried a walk in the morning. People were out and about, walking their dogs, or just walking like me. You have to. When I broke my foot, I couldn’t do that. The best I could do was go outside and sit in the sun. Connection to nature is very important for creatives.
The DC area is just in the very early stages of spring. So it’s a wonderful surprise to see the delicate pink blossoms of a cherry blossom tree or a dusting of the dogwood petals blowing in the gutter. The birds are out, setting up their orchestra for the spring. On my walk, I kept hearing barred owls everywhere.
Lunch was a to-go order from my Thai restaurant. I love the food, but I’m finding that take out doesn’t cut it. Eating out is also about the people who run the restaurant. You can tell a place is happy when they recognize regular customers. The chef has come out to talk to me on many occasions.
Afternoon of the Writing Nerd
I started my afternoon stumbling across a writing book that caught my attention. Yeah, I promised myself not to spend so much money on books in these austere times. The books still won.
The book is called F*ck the Details: Fewer Words, Sharper Stories. I’ve always wrestled with the details of the story. A lot of my sticking points have been trying to get more details into the store. I’m not detail-oriented, and frankly, it makes me write slower.
Worse, I can’t leave it out and add it through cycling later. It was a habit to leave it out in the first place, so I don’t want to revisit it.
This book has a different approach to adding the details. One that might work better than what I’ve been doing.
And with that, I started writing the first scene in Heroes Portal.
I think also having a moratorium on the news has made a difference too. I didn’t realize how much of a drain it normally was until I cut off this last week. I’ve been having trouble writing for the last few months, and I think this might have contributed to it. For the creative, so much news is like a slow poison.
Anyway, since we’re all in the same boat with not a whole lot to do, the first scene of Hero Portal is up for your reaidng pleasure. I’ll see what else I can post. Enjoy!
Ever since the aliens came, I wondered if they’d been here in Ancient Egypt times and gave us cats. ‘Cause there was a Calico with brown patches who kept climbing up my back to see what I was doing under the kitchen sink.
She was a pretty little cat, all skinny and lithe, her purring machine humming away. She’d already staked me out and knew I was a softie. But I needed to get this drain unclogged.
“Cat, you need to move your crazy butt.”
Wedging my hand under her belly, I relocated her to the yellowing linoleum. By the time I had the gunk ball plopping into my plastic bucket, the cat was back, sticking her head in the cupboard. Her tail brushed my nose, a cat mustache. But not crazy cat butt. Stinky cat butt.
A pair of wrinkled hands reached down to pick up the cat. “Alistair, behave,” admonished the customer.
Alistair? Who names their cat Alistair?
But then I supposed I’m not one to complain about names. My name is Dice Ford. The Dice is actually short for Candice. Yeah, you’re probably making that face, too. I hate the name, and Candy…just…no. I’m not being called a food. My mother hates it, but that’s okay. She hates that I’m a plumber, too.
This was my fourth call of the day. Second clogged drain, one water heater rusted out, and a lost ring. I’d been glad to leave that last house. Taken longer than the water heater. The couple was probably still fighting.
I tried not to look too much at the customers. I saw all shapes and types and sometimes I wasn’t always kind with my thoughts. Never had blurted out anything stupid but I didn’t want my thoughts on my face. This customer was old. Not old the way you think, though she was in her eighties. No, she was old in the way some people simply are, regardless of their age. Like they’d put up with too much in the world and used up all their years.
“How much longer?” she asked.
No hints of impatience. It was an art form to figuring out how long I should take to satisfy the customer. It was a clogged drain. But if it took ten minutes to fix, the customer would squawk at the cost. So I always did a little fourish. You know, made it look more difficult.
“Almost done,” I said.
Behind the customer, the TV on the breakfast nook table flashed. The melodious voice of one of the aliens filled the tiny kitchen. The customer turned to watch. It was one of the aliens I’d seen around doing interviews. News media ate him up. He was talking about how they were still looking for the right superhero.
“What do you think of them?” the customer asked.
“The aliens?” I latched my wrench around the pipe joints and tightened it. Difficult in the work gloves but I didn’t want to get bit by a brown recluse.
“They’re downtown, you know,” the woman said. “They have a Hero Portal set up in the convention center.”
I hadn’t heard that, but I’d been making an effort to not pay attention. Too much drippy love from the media. They weren’t questioning anything, except what the aliens wanted. Me? I had enough of my mother’s lawyer side in me to be a cynic. People were stupid if they thought the aliens were handing out technology and superhero suits from the kindness of their two hearts.
Alistair squirmed in the woman’s arms, so she let the cat jump to the floor. The kitty immediately scurried back to me on soft feet, inspecting the open cabinet.
“You going to the portal?” the woman asked. “Everyone’s talking about seeing the aliens in person.”
“I’m sure my boyfriend will take me,” was all I could manage.
It was at least true. Jason would be all over the Hero Portal. He’d been talking about flying out to Los Angeles to visit the one there, convinced he was the one destined to a superhero. We’d had our first major fight over it. He’d wanted me to pay for the plane ticket since he couldn’t afford it. I told him to save up for it. He told me I was ruining his chances.
I left the cat inspecting the dark and mysterious hole and stood up to turn on the water. Drain flowing smoothly again and no leaks below. I removed the glop bucket and started putting back the cleaning supplies. The calico came out, triangle nose poking at the bucket like it contained catnip. I quickly snapped on the lid before the kitty got glop all over her pretty white fur.
“Do you think they’ll finally find a superhero?” the woman asked.
I stowed my tools in my red toolbox. Alistair batted at my hands like she had fists. “There must not be very many people with the right DNA. Kind of like a needle in a haystack.”
But the question bounced around in my head as I stowed the bucket and toolbox in my van. The aliens had Hero Portals set up on all the major continents. Not one person claimed a suit.
One of the problems with all the craziness going on this week is that it’s very hard on the creative side, or the muse.
Limit news sources
The media wants to sell us with headlines. They also don’t care about us, beyond what they can sell to us. There’s a constant barrage of “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” That takes mental energy to absorb. When I was in Desert Storm, we lived in minute-by-minute fear we were going to be attacked.
All this is very hard on the creative side. For the first few days, I gave up on any kind of writing. The energy simply wasn’t there. But I took control by doing all of the following:
Unsubscribe to daily news emails. Even seeing the email like is like a bell going off to keep reminding us that we should be afraid.
Unsubscribe to any news sites in your social media feeds. This is the same problem as the emails, only the email is just one. On a place like Facebook, you might get barraged with ten articles. Just no.
Limit your news to one source. I’m a paper subscriber, so that became one newspaper that isn’t doing as much hysterics as everyone else. I also stopped looking at anything on TV. It seems like it’s a long time ago, but those used to be how we got the news and we went the rest of the day without.
Limit your time. If you go online for your news, stick to the main page, look at what you want, and then get off. Then STAY AWAY!
Cut off social media. I’ve been shocked at how many people will send post after post on Coronvirus to be “helpful.” It has the same impact as the news screaming at me constantly. So I’m off Facebook for the moment.
Exercise of any kind is very good for your creative side. Just make sure you pay attention to any guidelines from your doctor. When I was locked down four years ago due to a broken foot, I still did some limited exercise—I had a lot of rules from the doctor on what I couldn’t do then because I was no weight-bearing. I still managed something.
These are some things you can do:
Walk. If you’re not on lock-down, just take a walk down the street. Washington DC is starting to bloom, so I can check out the white flowers on the dogwood trees and listen to the birds. There’s also a lady who walks her dog when I go out. The dog’s got a topknot!
Use the walk to help you mentally separate from what’s going on. I have to deal with Coronavirus at work. At the end of the day, I shut off my computer and head outside for a walk to reconnect with my creative side.
Do other kinds of exercise. Especially if you’re in shelter-in-place. It’s too easy there to do nothing and keeping your body moving is essential t keep your creative side happy. You can grab exercise here and there all day—and the tools are available to you in your house.
Jack La Lanne, the godfather of exercise, was big about keeping the exercise simple. A machine with weights is nice to have, but there are exercises that you can do with a towel or a pair of cans or a book. His famous “bicycle” is done sitting in a chair.
I’ve been doing things like calf raises or chair squats while I wait for the computer to boot up. While I’m waiting for sites to load, it’s bicep curls, chest flys, or wrist curls with coconut milk cans.
Be Prepared for Plan B
You might have to do some things differently because of how you feel and respect that you may not get done what you want.
I normally write in the evenings and on the weekends. With the chaos of the last few weeks, I’m only able to do some early in the morning before work takes me back into it. I consider it lucky that I’m getting anything done at all.
It’s very important during these stressful times to protect your creative side. What are you doing for it?
The business side always gets neglected by writers. A lot of people tend to think that all they need to do is write the book and somehow the rest will magically happen. Even in the writing of the book, there are choices you can make that may help with the business side if you know them. Onward!
Control what cover you get. While it’s true that the publisher won’t give you any say when they create the cover, you have other options available. When you write the book, include 3-4 more visual scenes. That way, they can be used for the cover. (Dave Farland, Superstars)
Entice Hollywood to option your book. Hollywood likes visual, so following tip #1 may also get some movie interest as well. (also David Farland, Superstars)
Include your address, phone number, and email on e-manuscripts you submit. It’s easy to leave this off when you’re sending a manuscript as an email. Why would an editor need the address when they’re simply emailing you? Because the editor copies and pastes the address into the contract. (Kevin J. Anderson, from the Monsters, Movies, and Mayhem submission call)
Write short stories for anthology calls. Even if you’re not published or don’t have much published, you can land in an anthology with big names. Readers will come to the anthology to read David Gerrold and then see your story (Jonathan Maberry, Superstars). Side note: I’m in an anthology with both of these writers!
Reread the magazine guidelines before starting a project, and reread them before submitting. The first part is to make sure you don’t have it wrong in your head and end up wasting time on the story. The second part is to double-check yourself on the little details. (Sheila Chandra, Linda Adams)
Schools love having writers talk to middle grade. Start local and talk to the local librarians and then you can expand nationwide. The schools may even pay a stipend to bring you out. (From Superstars…did not write the writer’s name down).
This week has been influenced a lot by coronavirus chaos. I started the world semi-normal at the beginning of the week (as normal as a writer can be) and want to remain that way.
In that time, the US declared a national emergency and it seemed like everyone started taking crazy pills. So my effort to remain normal (aside from not taking crazy pills) Includes:
Minimizing my news consumption (once a day or not at all).
Dong my normal business.
I’m fighting to stay disconnected from craziness as much as possible. During September 11, I remember when the media realized they needed to stop showing pictures of the attack and did. Now they have no governer, and sadly, may even be doing it very intentionally.
So all I can do is control my input…and refuse to buy into the craziness.
I spent the morning running errands. Groceries first thing. It was a ghost town, except for a few people. One woman was stocking up like she expected a nuclear attack. All I was after was groceries for this week.
Pasta shelves empty. Water shelves empty. Frozen food empty. Fresh veggies—untouched.
I couldn’t get tissues there, which I needed because the pollen’s pretty bad. Time for the backup plan!
Writing Nerd Ninja Trick: Can’t get tissues because everyone else overstocked? Head for Staples. The office supply stores sell tissues and no one’s thinking of it as a place to find them.
Then off to the farmer’s market. I had to check online to make sure it hadn’t been canceled. People were selling, and my favorite vendor was there. He brought a good selection, but much smaller quantities. It was obvious they didn’t expect a lot of business.
After that, I visited my favorite restaurant. They need the business, and I’m happy to provide it. No seating outside today. Sunny and gorgeous and cold. Did dog watching while I was there. People like to walk their dogs in the area while they shop and eat.
Final outbound errand was to a department store to shop for clothes. I wanted something I was going to have fun with, and also a place that I had to hop on the freeway. If I’m not commuting at all next week, I need a freeway run on the weekend to keep up the battery in the car.
Back to working on character worksheets. The story is now called “Hero Portal.”
One of the things I’ve discovered is that there was one writing skill that I should have worked at. I’m really good at characterization, so I passed on workshots for it. At the time though, it was the right decision because there were other skills that needed more love.
I’m wondering if that has to do with why my stories always end up too short. It’s weird, too, because last year, I focused on learning to write longer and got no traction. Then, maybe that goal wasn’t specific enough because I hadn’t tackled this one area. We’ll see…
I feel like I’m working a muscle that was out of shape and needs some strength training.