So Many Things To Do, So Little Time (For Writing)

The hardest part about being an author — other than the inspiration, the cost, the editing, the publishing, and the marketing — is finding the time to write. Unless you are able to make a living at it (oh you lucky 1%-ers), chances are you are busy working a full-time job/jobs, dealing with family, friends, and other sorts of no-writing activities. With today’s technology and mountain of distractions, being able to find a quiet moment to sit and compose a few simple sentences is nearly impossible.

(Heck, I just spent the past 30 seconds composing this paragraph while also wondering about the latest releases on Netflix)

The fact of the matter is that for anyone who wants to be serious about any activity — be it sports, cooking, art, etc. — one must find dedicated time to practice it. And in the case of writing, should preferably be done in an area that is distraction-free. Unfortunately, even if one can find this Shangri-La, there will invariably be other things that compete for your attention.

I know some people who therefore only write late at night or early in the morning when the family is asleep or otherwise distracted, but I personally love my beauty rest and can’t see myself getting up that earlier or going to bed that late when I need to be at work at the butt-crack of dawn. So instead I try to use my lunch hour to sneak in a few quick words or ideas. It’s not ideal, but it is a way to continually exercise my creativity with the hopes that once I do find that large block of free time, I will be able to take full advantage of it.

This will do for now. And with that, I’m off to bed.

The Nonsensical Fantasy Writer: A Precursor to Success

If there is one thing that defines all fantasy writers is the fact that sooner or later you will come up with a nonsensical word. Be it a person, place, or a thing, you will create a word that does not exist in any known language. And if you’re truly gifted, you might even create an entirely new language to go along with that nonsense word.

I’m certainly no J.R.R. Tolkien, so my nonsensical words don’t encompass an entire new vocabulary, but I still have to create them. And when I say have to I mean it seems to be the expectation of all fantasy readers that their authors will create words that shouldn’t exist just as they are creating worlds that don’t exist.

When I started writing, that was the most difficult thing I had to tackle and often times something that stopped me mid-sentence. I felt beholden to centuries of English teachers to write using “real” words and felt skittish about venturing off that proper road. But, as they say, “some rules are made to broken.” And once I started, it became easier and easier to the point where I could create nonsensical words whenever I needed to.

Case and point:

  • Blarflaven

  • Tildletow

  • Hootenanny

Okay that last one is an actual thing (look it up).

These days, I feel a certain level of release to be able to create words that shouldn’t exist; it solidifies the point that I am creating a world, it is mine to shape and define, and I shouldn’t have to be beholden to anyone’s logic.

That being said, one still has to ground the nonsensical in the logical. That is also one of the disadvantages of writing fiction and fantasy in particular: the world may be imagined but it still must abide by certain laws or guidelines, otherwise readers will have a hard time accepting it.

So feel free to be as nonsensical or fantastical as you wish, but keep it sensible.

To Kumon or Not to Kumon or "when public education is not enough"

I am writing this as I sit at Kumon waiting for my kids to finish their homework.  This isn't regular school homework; no, school is officially out today. And this isn't summer school homework either; my kids aren't at that age where summer school is necessary.  

And yet, I am here at a place which for all intents and purposes is like school, what with reading and math lessons followed by nightly homework.  Expect unlike summer school, this is a paid engagement; and the actual price depends on which Kumon you go to.

The reason I am subjecting both my kids and my wallet to this (according to them) abuse is the belief that they will excel further in school.  Although thanks to common core, what is taught here is not the same there and vica versa.  

Worse still, Kumon excels the student forward through complex stacking memorizing, whereby what is learned last time is added to incremently in future lessons.  It's similar to regular school but at an accelerated pace.  That wouldn't be bad if the school didn't then overwrite everything learned with their own lessons.

Sometimes I feel like I'm wasting my time and money but the progress I see from my children makes it worthwhile.  So that means I'll have to increase my diligence to make sure all their hard work in Kumon isn't wasted.  Which also means I have homework too.

Given this, I might ask myself what advantage does school offer?  That's pretty easy given the friendships and other life lessons learned.  Plus, my kids' school has science lab, art, and computer science (although many other schools don't).  But they are still limited in what a teacher can teach in a period and what an entire class of easily distracted children can learn. They still do teach and my children's district is one of the best in SoCal, so it wouldn't be terrible if we didn't do it. But we want the best for our kids and that includes giving them every opportunity to excel (regardless of the cost). And until I see differently, that will include reading and math lessons at a premium.

The Truth About Getting Old-ish (or "You're not 18 anymore")

I discovered a brutal truth last Saturday: I'm getting old. Now I'm not talking about unable-to-look-over-the-steering-wheel old, or AARP-old.  I'm talking about not in my twenties-close-to-my-forties old.  And far too old to do what I ended up trying (and failing miserably) to do. Let me enlighten you...

This particular Saturday, my daughter and son were invited to her classmate's birthday party at this trampoline park/over-priced-playground. I had been to a few before but always sat them out, not because I was afraid but simply because I felt a little foolish jumping on a trampoline like a kid (apologies to mine and everyone else's inner child).  But after much cajoling, my son finally got me to join him. 

I kicked off my shoes, put on my sticky socks (they prevent sliding, and moving across regular floors apparently) and headed over to main bouncing area with various zones of activities.  The first zone we went to was a platform that you swing off of with a rope to drop safely into a foam pit below.  A bit startling, but not terrible. My son then took me to the adjacent room with floor and walls covered in trampolines (an immediately intimidating sight).

My fearless son proceeds to bounce off the floor to the middle of the room, giggling all the way and also calling for me to join him. I reluctantly do, unsuspectedly launching onto the nearest trampoline, and then immediately careening straight towards one of the trampolines on the wall.  To which I bounce off and blast the other way, hopping across the various trampoline pads and nearly knocking over a few children as I try to stop my momentum.  It took another bounce off a trampoline wall and a slight slide before I succeeded.

My super-ego is now telling me this is far too dangerous, but my id joyfully tells me to try again.  My super-ego is winning until I notice a couple of younger-ish kids doing tricks between the floor and wall trampolines.  My id says it looks both fun and easy, and I can do it too (as if my initial near-death experience hadn't proven the fallacy in that logic).

So, I make my way to a secluded area of the room, set myself up and jump towards the trampoline on the wall with both feet (dumb!).  I rebound far too quickly backwards, attempt to stop my fall with my arm, and jerk my head painfully. I am startled, somewhat sore, but not hurt (wait for it...). 

Fast-forward to after the cake and singing.  I noticed earlier that there was this area called the "Ninja Room", set up a lot like those American Ninja obstacle courses, which times how long it takes you to complete it.  My kids requested being able to go in (at $3 a pop) and I told them after the festivities.  It is now after the festivities and they are eager to enter.  I figure why not, and pay the front desk.  They get this special wrist bands and are allowed to enter. 

We head over there, the kids climb the (ominous) steps to the starting/ending platform, and they go for it (after a few mishaps with entering through the exit and not the start).  They are having a blast and it looks like fun.  I notice the entrance has these slanted padded platforms laid out in such a way as to be able to scale with a leap side-to-side until eventually landing on the far level platform (You're ahead of me).  My id once again tells me I can easily do that.  I have, after all, being doing DailyBurn regularly for the past month and got into fairly good shape.

So, So after letting the kids try a few times, I tell the far-more-flexible kids that I'm going next (to loud objections).  I set myself up and bound onto the nearest slanted platform.  I pass the first three just fine, but then my trajectory shifts and I'm headed for the second to last far lower than I would like.  I land and immediately start sliding down. My left hand reflexively shoots out but it can't stop my descent.  I land in the foam pit below with what seems like nothing more than a bruised ego.

Then I glance at my left hand and discover my pinky is bent up when it should be going down.  I had dislocated it.  Fearing it's broken, I pop it back in and find that I can move it amid pain.  I am thankful it wasn't worse, and decide that I'm too old(-ish) for this and far too inexperienced.  I let my kids resume their more talented attempts and head to the front counter to get a couple bags of ice to squash my pinky between. I vow to let my kids (and far braver adults than me) enjoy these (deceptively dangerous) trampoline parks from now on.  I'll sit on the side and enjoy my book.

Exessively Seems or "Am I really certain of it?"

I have been going back and rereading my novels in anticipation of publishing them and discovered I tend to use the words "seemed", "seemed to" and "seems" a heck of a lot.  Sometimes it's within the same paragraph or consecutive paragraphs. I hadn't realized how pervasive it was in my stories until the editing and am certain my editor will highlight it as well.

I haven't done any research on this but I imagine others might fall into this problem as well.  By the very definition of writing in third-person, you are looking through another character's perspective.  So when they interact with other people, they are interpreting what the person is doing or meant to say. So to them, things could seem to be a way when not necessarily being that way. This is true in the real world as well.

For example, you might see someone with their eyes closed and think they are sleeping.  So the person "seems to be sleeping."  But in reality they might simply be deep in thought.  That is how a third-person writer might approach perspective scenes.

But in reality, at least the reality I've written, "seemed", "seemed to" and "seems" while allowing one to stay in the mind of the character decreases the certainty of the scene.  If they are seeming to do something, then they might not be doing it.  That's fine if that is the intention, but if it's a third-person omniscient point where the other character is acting, then it's far more effective to just have the person do the action.

For example, one could easily write: "But this man seemed different" when the third-person narrator is speaking about something.  And that sounds grammatically correct.  It could be that the man was different, or he might not be.

However, if you then change it to "But this man was different".  You are stating in the definite that he IS different.  If you follow it up with the sentence, "he didn't have the same amount of hair or laughed at all of her jokes," then you are defining how he is different.  In this context, "seemed different" would mean a completely different statement as in the narrator wasn't sure whether he was different.  If that is your intention, then fine, but as I've gone through and reviewed my writing, I've discovered the affirmative is far more relevant than the speculative.

Of course if you do find yourself using "seemed", "seemed to" or "seems" a lot, and they are relevant, to avoid hammering the verb into the reader's skull, it would be wise to switch it up with synonyms like "appears" or "looks".

The risk of relying too much on technology or "I cried a little yesterday"

So, I had every intention of writing something different on Wednesday, but unfortunately it was not to be. Because Tuesday night, while using this computer, my work laptop behind me made a strange musical sound followed by the usual Windows error beep. I attempted to wake it up from slumber (something it was lately doing often) but it wouldn't wake up. So I hard reset it with the power button. It came back up as usual and loaded to the login screen. I then left it alone and went to bed.

Come Wednesday morning, I go to use it and find it off. I hit the power button and it boots up to the BIOS screen as normal. Boot up takes a little while, so I walk away. I come back a few minutes later and it's off again. I hit the power button once more and...nothing. I try again and still nothing. I hit it a couple of times without any effect. It is now an expensive paperweight.

But wait, I need the files on there!  So I call up my boss and he says talk to IT. I give them a ring, waiting an expected, excruciatingly long time on hold until speaking to someone who is sorry for my circumstances and suggests I do a bunch of useless already tried steps (remove the battery, try the power, does it work? Plug the computer directly into the wall outlet instead of the surge protector, anything?). After many of these pointless steps, they finally agree to open up a support case regarding it. I then hang up with them feeling both hopeful and devastated at the same time: hopeful I will hear something but devastated that all my work is now lost.

I had backed up my personal files to an external harddrive and moved them over to this computer. So the personal, important stuff was okay (and since then I have made backups upon backups), but all the work stuff I've gathered over the course of a decade of employment is gone.

After a few hours, I finally hear from the technology person who received my support ticket and he informs me that it wasn't the disk that had died (yeah!) but the motherboard. If it had been the disk, it would have booted to the BIOS screen and then nothing further.  Since no amount of power button mashing would make it turn on, something on the motherboard had fried.

The solution is to have the motherboard replaced, a relatively simple process. Unfortunately, it requires a part being ordered and the service guy who will receive the part will not get it until tomorrow. Therefore he will not install it until tomorrow. The technology guy will open up a service request ticket and I hang up with him, feeling somewhat better about my circumstances. I inform my boss of the unfortunate news and then go to the spa for the day (not really, but I could have used it!) I do however, receive an email stating the service request has been made and I will receive a follow up email indicating status of the replacement part order.

Now tomorrow [re: Thursday morning], I am patiently waiting for the call from the service guy and after a few hours, nothing happens. I reread the service ticket email and notice the line "if you require a part, you should receive a notification email immediately after this one indicating the order status." No such email came.

The email further states that if there is a problem, I should call up support and reference this ticket number. I do so, and while I am on the phone for another excruciatingly long wait, I receive an email indicating that my part has been ordered.  I stare it in disbelief just as the line clicks and I receive the friendly voice of another support person. I mention the email in disbelief and the person on the line responds that the part request has been received and is being processed. I explain the fact that I had made a request for this over 24 hrs ago, to which the service person admits is strange, but there is nothing she can do. I hang up with her in frustration and inform my boss that I am once again unable to work.

Given memorial day on Monday, I'm sure a lot of you would be happy with a 6-day weekend but the fact of the matter is I HAD to work. There was a heck of a lot I needed to get done the least of which being deadlines . So here I sit (Friday morning), patiently awaiting a phone call from the service guy telling me he received the part andwould be over to replace the motherboard at such and such time.

And while I wait, I cry a little, because I have become dependent on the technology to get my work done. There is no local office to which I can visit and get a loaner. There is no temporary VPN account I can install on this computer (thanks, security!). There is just my sad, little, useless work space and a several hundred dollar paperweight.

Random Thought

Expanding more on the fact that I'm completely new to this blogging/domain hosting, I feel like I'm a child in the deep end with only floaties on to keep me from drowning. I have lots of people I know who can help me swim, but the fact of the matter is that it's all on me. I'm the one who decided to do this; I'm the one who created the webpage and the accounts; it has my name on it after all.  So whether I sink or swim is all on me too.  Guess the most I can hope for is to doggy-paddle for a little while.

And So It Begins...

After much conversing among those closest to me and with the advent of my first self-published novel (see following post regarding why I'm self-publishing), I have decided to create this website both to market my books, reach my adoring fans (when I have some), as well as reveal the inner workings of Ethan Stein, the author.  I'm not sure how many posts I will be providing or how often I will be posting, but I hope this will provide some glimpse into what it means to be me. At the very least, it should provide some amusing reads.

The initial entries will center around my quest to become published, both the do's and don't's.  Hopefully it will be beneficial to others.