Saturday, January 30, 2010

Player Piano

By Keith Fisher

Before Kurt Vonnegut died in 2007, He left the world a long list of books that make the reader think. He left words like these from his last book.

When the last living thing has died, on account of us. How poetical it would be if Earth could say in a voice floating up, perhaps from the floor of the Grand Canyon, “It is done. People did not like it here.”

Vonnegut earned the title of Author, by writing books and short stories that appealed to the counter culture of the fifties, sixties, and seventies. Now that those generations have grown up, his books are classic.

In looking over the titles, some of which I haven’t seen for years, I wondered which one should I choose? After consideration, I chose, Player Piano, because it speaks to an interesting time in history, a time when society worried about being replaced by computers.

Imagine that. We were paranoid about computers. In the story, we are brought into the world of a plant manager who, being concerned about his profitability, eliminated his employees, replacing them with computers. He soon discovered efficiency is not what he expected.

Player Piano, by Kurt Vonnegut is a good read. The story will leave you thinking about many aspects of your life. If you’re old enough to remember, The Twilight Zone, from television, You might recall an episode similar to the plot of this book.

Read Player Piano, if you haven’t already. Then, if you’re brave, you could venture into, Slaughterhouse Five, Cat’s Cradle or even, Breakfast of Champions. Be warned, however, there are some language issues.

The Peanut Butter Solution

By Keith Fisher

I asked my daughter what I should write about this morning, and she suggested peanut butter. Since I don’t have an agenda . . . well, it is good. Think of the rich creamy smoothness, and how it feels in your mouth.

“What about chunky?” you ask.

Well, do you remember getting a spoonful stuck to the roof of your mouth? That brown oral, cement, impregnated with little pieces, left you confused whether you should chew or just twirl it around your tongue.

Ain’t it grand? Having to pick all that chunky goodness out of you teeth? Then, having to deal with the peanut butter induced heartburn, brings new dimensions to your anti-acid dependency. What? That has never happened to you? Give it a few years. :)

Every week on this blog I try to offer a different prospective to struggling writers. Sometimes I get a lot of comments, sometimes I don’t. Make no mistake—I love comments. I like to read what people think, and realize I’m not alone in my struggle.

The truth is, we all have issues of uncertainty and days when we wonder why we torture ourselves. We entertain thoughts of escaping to a tropical beach or a high mountain to get away from it all. Then, we start thinking about how nice it would be to take our writing along.

A while back, I watched a remake of the old movie, Yours Mine and Ours. I spent the majority of the picture feeling jealous of the lighthouse tower where the family lived. Can you image how it would be to convert that space into an office for writing?

We could explore the how and why it got there, but the fact is writing is in our blood. On bad days, when I don’t want to do anything, much less write, I’ve found that if I force myself to put words together, life gets better. I lose my troubles in writing and I am renewed.

Also, finding kinship with other writers validates my feelings. It truly is wonderful to be part of a group who understands the pain of killing a cherished character, or having to rewrite a chapter, because your protagonist showed you a better way. I’m part of a large group of folks who have writing in our soul. It’s nice to be encouraged, even better to do the encouraging.

Just like peanut butter helped me focus my thoughts for this blog, my friends help me believe. Thank you to my writing friends. I hope to be able to help you too. Leave comments and remember chocolate goes well with peanut butter.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Getting Frilly Awards

By Keith Fisher

Ain’t it pretty? It’s a tag that tells me I’ve got a good blog. Well, it’s really just another self-promotion plan. The idea, when presenting the award, is to get the receiver to link back to your blog and call attention to more bloggers of their acquaintance. Then your network is increased and refreshed.

My friend, Kimberly Job, tagged me for this one, and I’m very grateful. She mentioned the frilly nature of the award and that I was the only man on her list, but I love getting mentioned.

As you know, I’m a writer of LDS fiction. When you work in the LDS market, or any market for that matter, you notice a preponderance of women versus men who also write. I suspect the ratio is greater in the LDS market, however.

It makes things like awards significantly feminine, but I don’t mind. Being the only man on the list makes me stand out and that can be good also, but when someone checks out my list of friends on Facebook, they might notice I have more women friends than men. What they don’t see, is my sub directory of friends. I divided them up into family, Dutch Oven cooks, high school acquaintances, close friends, other friends, and writers.

The writer’s list is significantly larger than the others, because I use Facebook to promote my writing career, and I include publishers and media types in the list. Of course the number of women, versus men is indicative.

So when I get noticed, and awarded a frilly tag, I’m grateful. When I get included in the girl talk at conferences I am honored. When I become the male prospective in critique group, I am elated. It means I’m succeeding in my promotional efforts, and I might be the successful writer I want to be, someday. It also means I can help romance writers get a grip on reality when they paint a picture of the hero in their books.

I don’t know who has already been mentioned on other blogs, so I will break the rules and only list a few. Thank you, Kim, for the mention.
See they are all women :)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Finding the Method

By Keith Fisher

Where I live, we got a bunch of snow overnight. I went out to shovel my walks and driveway this morning. Around here, snow holds many blessings, Not the least of which, is service.

While shoveling, I noticed how I performed my task, nipping away at it a bit at a time. I took a standing break and glanced at my neighbors. That’s when I realized we all have different styles of snow removal.

I never thought about my method before, but it seems I divide the area into geometric quadrants and sub quadrants. I do the same when I mow the lawn. I remember working on the shape of Nevada on my parent’s lawn. At another house I worked on making Utah, but I was talking about shoveling snow.

My method starts with a long path down the middle of the driveway then I come back up one side turn around and go back down the other side. In the interim, I shovel the curving walk that leads up to the door. I take circular bites out of it, removing most of the snow on the first pass and finish up, by getting the bits left on the other edge. My theory is to push all the snow off the concrete, all the way to the lawn. This prevents water puddles that freeze into black ice, causing accidents.

One of my neighbors starts at one end of the drive and shovels in a horizontal fashion. Throwing snow in no particular spot. He is done, when he gets to the other end. Another, has a snow blower, and uses it about the same way as I use my shovel. I have another friend who puts a blade on his ATV and loves to plow through the ward, clearing sidewalks.

I noticed a little kid trying to help his dad. He took shovels full, and tossed them back on the driveway. At least it wasn’t on the already cleared parts, but he worked against himself, moving the snow twice, sometimes more.

The point of all this, if there must be one, is just like we all have a different way of removing snow, we can develop our own method of writing. We don’t need to write like others. As I said last week, there are certain styles to follow, but you can say things, your way.

I’ve found my writing is like shoveling. Occasionally, I write a great sentence and I have a profound thought or two, but like when snow comes out of the side of shovel or I miss a spot, I have to go back and do it again.

Also, in my haste, I sometimes shovel before the end of the storm. Then it snows a bit more, warms up, then freezes. My efforts were not fruitless, but they caused more work as I removed the ice. In my writing, I sometimes rush headlong into telling a story. I know it’s great. (How could it not be?) Then I suffer embarrassment when my critique group points out plot holes or bad writing. I have to go back and redo it, agonizing over how to fix it.

Sometimes I create work by writing scenes and descriptions that aren’t pertinent to the story. In this, I am like the little kid who throws the snow in front of himself. I have to shovel those sentences again.

The simile for the motorized snow removal is simple. My computer has made writing so much easier. Like the snow blower saves time, I can write whole books quicker, but even with mechanization, there are spots on a sidewalk that just can’t be reached without a shovel. Still though, promoting myself as a writer is made so much easier using a computer on the Internet.

There is a good point in favor of writing over shoveling, however. Unless you count sedentary time, at least my writing won’t give me a heart attack.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Dead Author's Society

By Keith Fisher

In 2008, I wrote a blog on the LDS Writer’s Blogck about what I called a dead author’s society. Based on the 1989 movie, The Dead Poet’s Society, I wanted to periodically write about old books. Books Written by mostly dead authors, the books you were probably forced to read in school.

I kept up for a while, but other projects took precedence, and my Dead Author’s Society fell by the wayside. Now, I would like to resurrect the project, and review some of the classics.

When I launched the project before, I noticed that “The Classics” as many old books are called, are not necessarily good reading. The spark of that opinion has been the cause of many debates with several English majors and literature students of my acquaintance.

One of their favorite peeves is the success of Harry Potter VS Farewell to Arms, or other classic work. They analyze prose for rhythm and measure and diagram sentences to prove the value of the work. I contend that even if the writing isn’t perfect, there is precious value in a book that entertains. In other words, if it gets people reading, then it is good.

That doesn’t mean there is value in a work of sensational exposition, or graphic sex and violence, because there is none. Just because a movie appeals to baser instincts, doesn’t mean the story line is any good.

For this reason, in these reviews, I will be talking about some books by obscure authors (not necessarily dead), and books I would call classic, even though many of my English teacher friends might not. I may also lambaste a classic if I hate it, while I welcome opposing opinions and guest bloggers.

The Dead Author’s Society reviews, should not be confused with the new book reviews I often have the pleasure of writing. Those are reviews I do as part of blog tours to help promote a book.

Now, with that said, I found an Audio book copy of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein at the library and tried to listen to it. Listening and not reading, may have been a mistake, but I didn’t like it. The way the reader interpreted the narrative turned out to one long, whining session. Now I realize it’s a very emotional subject but after a while, I just wanted to slap Victor and tell him to man up.

I’ve since looked at the text and I have to admit, I interpreted it the same way, but I wonder if I would have, if I hadn’t been spoiled by the audio book. I hope you like Frankenstein in spite of what I’ve written here.

Another book, Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling, was a great coming of age story with pertinent lessons.

In Captains Courageous, We learn about a spoiled young man who gets pitched overboard from a cruise ship and ends up working on a fishing boat for several months before he returns to his rich family. The experience straightens him out and he gleans many lessons from his experiences. As you can tell, I loved it.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Honest Officer, I Didn’t Know It Was a Law

By Keith Fisher

I have a confession to make. No, I haven’t committed any great sins recently, and there aren’t any warrants out for my arrest. I read grammar and style books. Well, that’s not quite, the right term. I skim them. But then, I would venture to say, so, do you.

You see I struggle with the English language. Not that I hate it or anything, it’s just hard for me. I used to think I missed it in the fourth grade, like math. Since I was at home with the mumps for awhile, I didn’t learn certain key elements. Consequently, I went through my life thinking I was stupid, when it came to fractions and decimals.

Later, in college, I had the opportunity to take an arithmetic course. It was basic stuff, and I was able to go through it at my own pace. When I reached the part about fractions and decimals, a light came on, and I understood everything from that point forward. I suddenly knew why I struggled with algebra. Combining numbers, or ciphering, (As Jethro on the Beverly Hillbillies, used to say), become joyful for me after that.

I’ve tried, since then, to learn the basics of English, (thinking I missed it in the same way I did math). It was tough. I began to wonder how I communicated at all. It was a miracle to me, that I could write it. As I struggled through the books, I began to realize I already understood this stuff, I just didn’t know the proper terms.

Now I know, it’s not me. I have a friend who calls herself a curmudgeon in matters of style and grammar. All my friends in my critique group seem to get it too, but I struggle, and I know others that do also. It’s not easy to remember the rules. While reading, Lapsing Into A Comma, by Bill Walsh, I realized styles are constantly changing. It’s no wonder I don’t get it sometimes. Then if you add the growing list of words and phrases I can’t use in the LDS market, I think I do pretty well.

When I got serious about writing, I admit, I was clueless about rules like subject/verb agreement, and the placement of commas, but we all have our own problems. Even my friend, the curmudgeon, had trouble with the whole lay/lie/lye thing. But when I look at my earlier manuscripts now, I’m amazed I did so well.

So, when I find a red mark from critique group or the spell and grammar check shows mistakes on my sentence, I relax. Most of the red marks are plot problems and a few comma discrepancies. When the self important spell checker says I made an error, I feel confident in knowing what I’m doing. Writing E-mail as one word, is not a crime when I say, “Sorry, I didn’t know it was wrong,” and I go back and fix it.

It’s hard to keep up with changing style regulations. There are hard and fast English and grammar laws that must be headed, but technicalities can bog you down. Most rules can be bent as long as I know the reason, I’ve learned to find out what’s wrong, and I change it. Basically, I’m still learning the language I write in, without knowing what I’ve been doing.

I’m grateful to have friends who know this stuff, and keep me in line. With their help, I’m getting better—I’m developing talents.

Don’t sweat the small things. Tell your story, and fix the grammar later. Good luck with your writing—see you next week.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Wheels of Progress-or Were They?

By Keith Fisher

Back in the late seventies and early eighties, I heard a lot of rhetoric about Provo Canyon, and the North Fork subsidiary. South Fork was already mostly, in private hands. Traffic, and auto accidents was discussed, and the need for a wider road. Also discussed, was the state of North Fork under the direction of a rich guy.

Can I take you on a journey through my memory? In my childhood, before population grew, there were many magical places. Places like the old Geneva Resort, Saratoga park (With rides), and Provo canyon. None of which exist today.

Provo canyon was a narrow two-lane road with quaint picnic grounds strung out through the canyon. In those days, if you traveled up the road in the late afternoon, you could see campers lighting fires and experience the smell of fresh caught fish, frying in the open air. But there’s more.

I took a drive, to recharge my brain the other day. I drove up the canyon searching for unfiltered sunshine. I needed to get out of the haze caused by an inversion in the valley. It took fifteen minutes to get to Deer creek dam on a four-lane highway. I continued to midway, turned around and came home.

During that night, I remembered things I miss. Things my daughter will never see. What ever happened to the Chalet? To the claim jumper, (Although it wasn’t all that quaint) to Nunns power plant, Rotary Park, and the Bridal Veil Falls Tram? There were old places and wide spots in the road. A river, that flowed past cottonwoods and pines. Bringing back the Heber Creeper (Heber valley Railroad) was a great idea, but even that, changed the canyon.

I lament the loss of The Chalet CafĂ©. It was an old roadhouse, with the character that went along with that image. My parents never stopped there, I’m sure, because people drank beer in the place, but when I got older, I stopped in, and found the remnants of an old lodge with wood paneling, uneven floors and antique furnishings. The food was terrific, like mother used to make. Whether I stopped, or not, sometimes depended on where I was going, and how fast I needed to get there. I took comfort in seeing that place at the branch of South Fork.

When I was a kid, Wildwood and Spring city were places for rich people with summer homes. I couldn’t go there, but they were landmarks too. North Fork and the Alpine Loop were completely wild above Aspen grove before a movie star began to buy the mountain. Then, Timp Haven turned into Sundance, but you could still camp at Stewart falls via backpack trip.

The rhetoric I heard spewed by lawyers, talking about preserving the character of the canyons and keeping our wild places, wild, didn’t hold much value. I hardly ever go up North Fork anymore, because they’ve turned it into a rich man’s vision of nature. I feel like I’m a poor relative, treading in places I’m not welcome.

There was a time, in my childhood, when my family picnicked in the canyon. We laid out blankets on the orchard grass. Sometimes we’d get a picnic table. One time, on a hot day, we sat in the river and used a big flat, rock to set our food on. There were trailer parks and campgrounds, place markers and water fountains. I had a fond memory associated for almost every spot on the road.

In the eighties, we were promised, the new road would not detract from the atmosphere and views in the canyon. Now there is little left of the place I knew. The improved road allows a driver to go to Heber faster, and there are things to see, but who can look up from driving, to see them. There are, a couple of view area parking lots, but the views are not the same. The county took out the power plant at Nunnes and built a picnic area and campground. The reservation lists are long everywhere.

Yes, there is a bike, and jogging trail and I applaud the effort. There are spots of old road too, here and there. Hopefully they will keep them open for posterity, but the highway is far removed from the river and it hampers the view of the canyon from those places.

The free shooting range is gone, but the DWR claims Provo river is one of the best fisheries in the world. The original Canyon Glen was replaced. Can you remember the playgrounds and snack bar? There was a pay phone in front of Wildwood. It’s all gone. It lives in the memory of some of us, but it will never be seen the way it was. I guess it’s as it should be.

Although, I miss the old days, I’m not really complaining about the changes, I realize population dictated the need. The selfish use of North Fork, however, is another story. The thing that bothers me most, is the way the engineers and politicians lied. How they could sit on their campaign contributions and tell us the atmosphere of the canyon wouldn’t change, is beyond my understanding. It is NOT the same place.

Now, I can get to Deer Creek Dam in record time, but I remember a night when I raced up the canyon with the top down on my convertible. Hurrying up that winding road, trying to get to the dam before sunrise. The starlight above the walls of the canyon made our hearts glad. I parked on the south side of the dam, and stood on the sidewalk watching the sunrise over the water. It was beautiful, and then on the way home, we stopped at the Chalet for breakfast. When I was a child, we’d pause at the mouth of the canyon and get a drink from the water fountain, before driving home.

The wheels of progress keep turning. I suppose every generation laments the things that disappear. If I could offer just one piece of advice to the rising generations however, I would suggest you take lots of pictures and write in your journals. They will help you remember the good times and good places, and they will provide proof of what it used to be like.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Six Thousand Four Hundred and Twenty

By Keith Fisher

My friend issued a writing challenge for the month of January. Like other writing challenges I resisted signing up. However, I started writing the sequel to my WIP and after seven days I have 6420 words.

To be fair, I plotted the book in December, before I started. I made research notes and I know where the story is going, but I started writing a week ago. On top of that, I am editing and re-writing my WIP. I was able to spend about seven hours yesterday on re-writes, and I feel wonderful today. I'm still not in the challenge, but I could be.

Writing is an interesting occupation. I got a phone call the other day from one of my writing friends. I'd just returned from the public library, and I’d checked out a few books. My friend asked me what I was doing. I replied that I was reading a list of baby names.

After a brief period of laughter, we noticed how interesting it was, that a writer would immediately conclude I was looking for names for my characters, not expecting a bundle of joy in my life.

Yes, we writers are an interesting bunch, and there are more of us each day. I picked up a bad habit recently. I eves drop on computer screens as I walk past them in the library. Many of those screens show a page full of manuscript, and I walk away, hoping I’ll finish mine first. Yes there is competition, but isn’t it fascinating that even with that competition, writers are more than happy to lend support to other writers?

I’ve attended a few book launch parties lately, and I watch my friends get publishing contracts. Some of them are so talented, they’ve found success in a fraction of the time I’ve spent, but I’m thrilled for them.

You might say. “Sure you are, but how do you really feel?”
My answer is of course I’m jealous, but my friends have stuck by me during some very low moments. They gained my love and loyalty the hard way. Therefore, I am thrilled.

There is advantage, however, to being the last unpublished writer in your critique group. I get to attend book launch parties and learn how to do them. I get to learn about publishing contracts and what to do after you sign one. More importantly I get to associate with the best writers in the field.

When I first got the urge to write, I pulled out a manual typewriter, and started banging away. I told a story that was in my heart, but having done poorly in school, my manuscript was terrible, and I never showed it to anyone.

Later, while working a stressful job, I came back to it. This time it was to relieve the pressure, but after I finished, I wanted my manuscript to be good. I wanted it to touch lives, but it sucked. Don’t get me wrong, the story was great. It was just written poorly.

Since then, I’ve spent thousands of hours in the pursuit of an acceptable manuscript. But when I’m in the zone, when I get caught up in the urgency of telling a story, then I remember why I started writing.

The other day, while writing the sequel, I imagined a character arguing with me. I’ve been writing about the protagonist and her developing feelings for a mother figure in her life. The other character comes to me and says. “It’s not fair. Why don’t you write about me? After all, I’m the real daughter, and I should get more of the story.”

Yes, we writers are an interesting bunch. Good luck with your writing—see you next week.

Oh by the way, I wrote about building a porch swing for my mother for Christmas. I thought you'd like to see the finsihed product. Minus the paint of course. I hurried to finish it. Now, she wants me to store it until spring.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Self Expression and Other Taboos

By Keith Fisher

I wrote a blog for LDS Writers Blogck the other day, but I didn’t post it. After writing about protest songs, and being tolerant of other opinions, I realized the blog would be praised by some, lambasted by others. That’s not the reason, however, for not posting.

My writing has often gravitated toward an effort to evoke a response in the reader. I love to make people consider all sides of an issue, and I hope to gain friends in the process. Since there are eight of us with our names on the blog, and we all have different opinions I didn’t want to associate my friends with a political issue.

Also, as a writer, I want to enjoy a successful career. If I brand my writing as political, some might even say subversive, then I might lose readers before I even get any. For now, I want my name to be associated with great fiction. The kind of feel good, change your life, stories people read to be transported to places that encourage better behavior and love for fellow man.

With this in mind, I reserved the other blog, but please, in all your discontent, remember: You can’t force people to accept anything contrary to their core beliefs, and you can’t change those core beliefs through anger and coercion. Frustration breeds contempt, but when you open the curtain of revolution, what follows, is not always pretty, and the curtain can never be closed.

Mormon Mishaps and Mischief

By Keith Fisher

What a great coffee table book. I have been reading this book in spurts and I loved it. As a culture, Mormons sometimes take themselves too serious. When something human happens in a church meeting, we love to laugh.

This book will provide reason to smile, and laugh out loud if you feel so inclined. It’s a compilation of many different true stories and incidents written by many different contributors. You will enjoy this look into our human side. Who knows, perhaps you will find a story to use in that talk you’re preparing.

You can find a copy in many places but here is one on the internet.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

My Publishing Contract

By Keith Fisher

After hearing it quoted from, I asked for the book, Outliers for Christmas. According to the author, studies indicate 10,000 hours is the magic amount of practice required to master a skill to the point of excellence.

Of course the amount of talent possessed is a factor. Desire is certainly necessary, but ten thousand hours is the number. If we write 4 hours a day, and 6 days a week. That’s 2500 days, 416.667 weeks, and a little more than 8 years.

Let’s see, I’ve been dabbling in writing, really, since before my mission. Then I got more serious about it. I accepted it as an occupation in . . . Since then, I’ve written for about four hours a day, on average. Yep, I figure I’ve reached my ten thousand-hour mark and I can expect a contract anytime.

Are you laughing yet? Yes there is merit in practice, and I think I’m getting better, but it’s like everything else in life, once you learn something, you discover so much more you don’t know.

Before you, or I, get discouraged, remember, I said that talent and desire, are factors. Also, belief in one’s self, will get you published. We’ve all heard stories about authors who put in their ten thousand hours after being published. And there are far more, who got where they are through determination and hard work.

There is a famous quote that states. “Whatever a mind can conceive, and believe, it can achieve." Lately, I’ve become convinced of this, but I’ve also learned to depend on a higher power.

We can do it, you and I. I’ve never heard it said this way, but JK Rowling put in her ten thousand hours escaping the reality of being a divorced mother on welfare, into a world of wizards and magic. She was determined to get past rejection, and finally she had the right book at the right time, in the right place. Do you see a higher power at work here?

The Sorcerers Stone is a good story but not that well written. After more practice, (another ten thousand-hours), Rowling improved, the writing got better.

Keep practicing and plan for the day you sign that contract. Good luck with your writing---see you next week.