Writing and Living

Hey, everybody. It’s been a busy, busy couple of weeks. There’s been a road trip to New England. There’s been work and life drama (more on that later, maybe). There’s another trip this weekend, this time to the beach. In the midst of all this, my writing has dropped off a bit, but that’s O.K. I’m going to get back to it very soon.

autumn-colours-in-new-england

Just wanted to let you know I’m still here and still writing. I’ll come back next time with another Writing Update. And then, after that, a recounting of my first New England road trip.

In the meantime, check out the “Foliage Report” from Yankee magazine and start planning your own road trip.

See you next time,

DJ

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Writing Update for August

Ok, everyone. The clouds are starting to part a bit, things are getting back to normal. Feeling good…Turns out August has been BUSY, really busy. I hear that other people are out there, taking vacation…Right now. But sadly not true for yours truly. As they say, “No rest for the wicked.” So, my vacation will have to wait for until mid-September…So…

Let’s take a peak at the writing I managed this month.

Writing Process

The Writing
Alright, warming up, getting limber and getting back at it.

A little slower this month, but, like I said, life and work have chewed up a lot of attention this month. So, this month I’ve managed 4,061 words. Not a lot too bad for me. I usually aim for about 4,000 a month with all the other commitments I have taken into account. And I will add whatever I do this weekend to the total, but that still leaves me a bit behind…But…

I think the words are good and the story I’m working on is solid and growing. I also stopped a little prematurely on latest writing day at a high point, so I could pick up the story easily where I left off. And, today at the gym on the literal treadmill (well, actually, the bike), I figured out the perfect ending to the chapter. It’s got emotional lift, character development, bittersweet-ness. Agh! Can’t wait to write it…Damn!

So, that’s coming this weekend, Y’all!

Total Word Count: 4,061

The Submissions
Also did some more submitting this month. And waiting for Sept. 1 to come so I can start flogging my literary story more vigorously. Did get two submissions out there this month, but heard nothing back from editors, negative or positive. I also have one story still out there which I submitted last month…

…So, just waiting, waiting, waiting.

Total Submissions this Month: 2

Acceptances: 0

Rejections: 0

Total Stories Out: 3

The Pre-Writing
So why is it I get my best ideas when I should be doing something else? Why is it that all these ideas assault me on the street? At the gym? At lunch? During meetings? In the bathroom? When I’m minding my own business?

Ideas

Well, thank God for: Post-It Notes, the Notes App on my phone, pen and paper and good, old-fashioned short-term memory. I have captured 2-3 solid story ideas this month. And I have this weird feeling it’s because I am deeply engaged in writing something that commands all my attention.

Oh well, that’s the way it goes. The good thing is I have captured and fleshed out a couple of cool ideas that I can’t wait to get to some day…And that’s a great thing!


There we go! My writing update for August.

Not that much to it. Still writing, still thinking, still submitting. So, I’ll take it. Let me know what you’re up to in the Comments.

See you next time,

Darius


[Original post was updated to reflect true word count for August of 4,061 words. I also deleted the words “a lot.”]

Here’s To You, the Writer

Boy, I was going to write about something totally different today, until I sat down to write this…Oh well, that’s the way it goes and that’s what I feel. So, here it is…Hope you’re ready for this one!

Writer Gif

It’s tough being a writer. Sometimes, it’s really tough. You face days, week, months (a lifetime?) of creating in silence only to reveal your work in the hope that someone–anyone–out there likes it. That it connects. But during the process you have no idea whether you are will connect or not. It’s not like music or acting, where you can FEEL whether you’re bombing immediately. You just have to move forward, in faith, believing you’re not bombing. That can be tough.

You face being ignored, being rejected, (being laughed at!), being underpaid or not even paid at all! And for what? What? So you can leave a few scraps of papers with your etching on it for later generations.

I’m sorry if I paint too bleak a picture. But here’s the thing…Despite…Despite all these things, there are those of us who do it. Who persist. Despite the rejection, the fear, the trepidation, the low pay…And, most importantly, I want you to know that despite all these things, it’s still worth it. I still believe it’s what I’m here to do.

And maybe, just maybe you feel the same. So, Writer, here’s to you. Despite the long hours, the anxiety, the hard work, the rejection, the low pay. You have found it worth persisting. (After all, you’re here, reading this blog…Aren’t you?). You live, in part, for those great writing days where you really nail it, for that perfect scrap of dialogue, that well-crafted metaphor, the one gesture from your protagonist that says it all without them uttering a single word.

And if someone likes it. Laughs or sighs or weeps when they read it, all the better. And if someone wants to pay you a million dollars to make it into a movie, that’s great too. But it’s the quality of writing and the act itself where the real triumph lies. Not in the awards or money or recognition. All those external things are dust already…The writing…The writing is what remains down a thousand years.

Don’t lose that, that joy, and you’ll keep it up alright. Just like me.

Best of luck, Writer, and I hope I become your reader some day.

Keep it up,

Darius

 

Writing and All That

Wow! What a busy, crazy, good week!

Scribe_1I won’t get into a detailed breakdown here. I think I will save that for next time, but just know I’ve been writing, editing, submitting stories and working and living my butt off.

I think one of the most important things in life is to always be growing, be learning. And I feel I lost that thread for a while, but now I’m getting it back…In spades.

So, a few things I’ve recently learned:

  1. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you’re FORCED to submit your stories to literary magazines…Don’t do it in the summer. Most of them seem to be shut in the summer and don’t open until Sept. 1…at least. So, lesson learned.
  2. If you’re writing, keep writing. Don’t stop. Every page, every paragraph, every sentence you will slowly become a better writer. I’m not saying you will be published, or famous or rich. But if you practice and work hard, you will get better. Every day, every hour, every minute you put pen to page, you’ll improve, bit by bit.
  3. Critique others writers’ stuff. There’s nothing that can help motivate and teach you about how to be a better writer more than critiquing others’ stuff. And it doesn’t cost you a thing, just a little time.
  4. Make sure your work life (what you to do pay the bills), doesn’t intrude too much on your creative life, but don’t let it drift either. Keep the work you have to do to pay the bills interesting. And make sure you keep learning and growing there too. It’s part of life and it needs to grow and change to keep your interest. And you know what? If it’s interesting and a bit challenging, it could make a good story somewhere later down the road.
  5. Be good to yourself, take time for yourself. You’ll feel it if you’re getting burned out, trust me. And if you do, you need to take a step back. Take a vacation, take a hike. Hang out with some friends. Work and writing are important, but don’t forget to make some time for yourself too.

Not too much on my writing in this post, I know! But life/work/writing has been hectic! Next time, I’ll be back with a fuller, better update on all my writing activities.

Until then. Keep reading, keep writing.

,Darius


Oh! And one tiny bit of additional good news: This blog has now passed 200 followers. That’s right! 201 people out there have decided to tune into my writing thoughts and musings on a regular basis.

I’m humbled and very pleased with the attention the blog has gotten. A big thanks to all of you! I will definitely be keeping this up.

Helping an Old Friend Move

BookmanWay, way, way back in the day, I was a free-lance ad writer/fiction writer living in Southern California. And any day of the week, I could go down to Acres of Books, a Long Beach institution, and browse the shelves. I particularly remember the huge, cavernous back room of that used bookstore that would (or probably should have!) been closed by the Fire Dept. It was also rumored that Ray Bradbury would occasionally stop in to browse too, but I never saw him there. Apparently, they kept about 1 million titles in stock at any given moment! And had no air conditioning! What a magical place!!!

Acres of Books was, lamentably, closed down permanently in 2008. {NOTE TO SELF: If I ever get super-rich, I’m going to buy that building and re-open that store!} But it lives on in YouTube videos and the hearts of its old patrons (myself included). But there was, and is, another used bookstore I would go to, not too far down the road: Bookman.

I have also spent time patrolling Bookman, searching for lost classics and just whiling away a solid afternoon browsing their huge collection. Located a few miles away in Orange, Bookman (surprise! surprise!) is now having trouble surviving. In fact, they’re being forced to move (higher rent maybe?) to a new location nearby.

But here’s the good news: They have set up a GoFundMe page to help with the move. This writer has already donated to the move so that we can keep “one of the last true ‘brick and mortar’ used book stores in Orange County” going. 223 people have already joined me, but they are less than half way to meeting their goal. So, PLEASE, PLEASE, consider making a small donation (even $5 will do!) to this worthy cause. And if you have social media accounts, please amplify and spread the word!

This writer will give you a heart-felt “thank you” for your donation and next time I’m at Bookman (fingers crossed), whiling away another afternoon among the books, I’ll know you all are one of the reasons it’s still here.

Until Next Time,

Darius


PS… This article on Ray Bradbury’s last visit to Acres of Books is a real heart-breaker. In fact, I couldn’t read it to the end. But I’m posting here in the hope that you do.

Key quote:

“I can get a complete education in this bookstore. I wouldn’t have to go to a school. All the books that I need, I’d pull off the shelf, one after another, I’d open them up and there I would be. I come to this book store for the revelations of myself and I will find me in this bookstore.”

Continue reading

El Cid’s Infinite Loop

So, lately, I spend a lot of time writing and editing. And doing a little research on top of that. The stuff I’m writing now follows a thread and a character (Yusuf) who first appeared in The Ghul of Yazd, a short story I wrote on a whim. That character lives in medieval Islamic Spain, Cordoba, to be precise.

El Cid

I’m still writing pieces in this vein, so I do a lot of research on 12th century Spain. I read secondary sources (meaning historians looking back at that time), but more and more I’m delving into primary sources (pieces written at the time). I will get more into this primary/secondary divide later, but for now I will only say this: If you’re writing historical fiction or fantasy, the real insights come from primary sources. They’re the only thing that will get you in the mindset of the people who lived all those years ago. Their motivations,  hopes and fears. And as a writer, that’s what you really need to know to breathe life into your characters.

One interesting thing I came across in my research was the personage and fiction of El Cid, the great Christian warrior of medieval Spain who became a national myth. El Cid is not my focus at all, but The Song of the Cid comes from that time period. So I thought, why not read it?

And here’s the most interesting thing: I cracked it open and it begins with El Cid being betrayed at the court of the Castilian king and sent into exile.

They spurred their horses, let the reins hang low,
To their right, leaving Vivar, they saw a hooded crow,
But as they reached Burgos it flew to their left.
My Cid shrugged his shoulders and shook his head:
“Let it be a good sign, Alvar Fanez, for now we’re exiles.”

They ride on into the next town, but everyone shuts the doors and goes inside.

My Cid, Ruy Diaz, rode into Burgos.
His sixty men carried spears, hung with banners.
Men and women came out when they appeared;
Merchants and their wives leaned from their windows, staring
Weeping, overcome with sorrow.
And from their lips, all of them, fell the same prayer:
”Oh God, what a wonderful servant, if only he had a decent Master!”

Sound familiar yet? The horsemen ride on through the town, but the people are afraid to act.

They would have been glad to ask him in, but no one dared;
Don Alfonso, the king, was far too angry.
He’d sent the city a notice, received the night before,
Sealed in dramatic passion, and urgent:
My Cid, Ruy Diaz, was to be turned away,
Given nothing. Whoever dared to disobey
Would lose whatever they owned, their eyes would be torn from their heads.
And their bodies and souls would be lost forever.

Right about here it hit me: “Where have I heard this before?” And I realized that this was, essentially, the setup of every cowboy movie I had ever seen: A just and honest man has been done some injustice. He is cast out physically and/or metaphorically from his home. He has taken his horse to the next town where he will seek to right the wrong. But the townsfolk there, though they support him in their hearts, are afraid to do so.

This is almost exactly the plot of the classic High Noon (yeah, its cliché but you should all watch that Cold War classic!). And is similar to the plot for The Magnificent Seven and many, many other classic cowboy movies. In fact, the opening of A Fistful of Dollars, is not too far from the start of The Song of the Cid.

Now, a lot has been written about archetypes and the collective subconscious and The Hero with a Thousand Faces. And the BBC has boiled all stories EVER WRITTEN down to six basic plots. Sheesh!

But this is what struck me the most about El Cid: Here’s a radically different culture than ours: medieval Spain. With a completely different political/economic/social/cultural system than ours. And yet the first pages of that story could almost be copied verbatim and used as the start to a cowboy or science fiction or adventure movie today.

I guess as a writer that tells me that these tropes, these structures, these myths tap something deep inside us and don’t change much over time. This is why Gilgamesh, the man who wanted immortality, still touches us. Why Ulysses, who just wants to get home, moves us. Why Arjuna, throwing down his bow and refusing to fight his own kin, unsettles us still. And why a Spanish knight, seeking to simply right the wrongs he suffered at the hands of his enemies at court (in modern parlance, “at the office”), is so moving, 800 years later.

So, note to Writer Self: KEEP IT SIMPLE. The same stories that spoke to people a thousand years ago, speak to people today. Great ideas are important, yes, they always will be. But sometimes, in the pursuit of the latest idea or stylistic innovation, we lose sight of simple, good storytelling. Those primal things (injustice, longing for home, family, the desire to leave something behind after we’re gone) are what really drive human beings. And what drives human beings is what drives fictional characters. And what drives characters is what drives great stories…

Something to think about…

Until next time,

Darius

Mix It Up: The Strange Connection between Avicenna and 2 Chainz

Sometimes, doing what you like comes with a price. The price of loneliness, the price of ridicule, the price of just plain obscurity. But great achievement, great art, isn’t about doing what other people want you to do or making stuff just to make money. It’s about listening to that inner voice and following it wherever it leads…

DJ-Khaled_Greg-Noire_Coachella_A010524_

Which brings us to today’s post. I’ve written about following this voice before (writing that story that burns in your belly), but today I want to follow up with a couple of concrete examples of  two guys who did (or are doing) just that. The particular way they are doing it is unique, but not super important: They both took disparate, contrasting things that people felt shouldn’t work together and showed how the could be fused together, beautifully. 


The Kid from the East: Avicenna Avicenna_Portrait_on_Silver_Vase_-_Museum_at_BuAli_Sina_(Avicenna)_Mausoleum_-_Hamadan_-_Western_Iran_(7423560860)
I have been doing a lot of research on medieval Islamic philosophy lately, so I have dug deeper into this guy named Avicenna. Avicenna (from the Persian
ibn Sina) was a young Persian from way back East in what’s now Uzbekistan, at at time when most philosophers were Arabs (preferably from Baghdad). But he had natural talents which couldn’t be ignored. He was able to master mathematics, theology, medicine at a young age becoming
a practicing physician at 18. Soon, he was drawn into the orbit of philosophy. He soon discovered the works of Aristotle, Plato and early Islamic philosophers like al-Kindi. He also discovered the Neo-Platonic school which fused Aristotle, Plato and other influences.

Now, many people at this time thought that Islam and Greek philosophy were completely incompatible. Many felt that the Neo-Platonic philosophy of the ancient, pagan Greeks would never be compatible with a monotheistic faith like Islam. But Avicenna, crazy and talented, thought otherwise.

At some point, he must have realized that the High God of the late pagans was not too different from the Islamic conception of God. Avicenna especially found the NeoPlatonic theory of emanation fit nicely with Islamic theology.

And so, over a long career he lectured, wrote books and developed his own “Avicennan system” which became (as I understand it), the most influential philosophical system in Muslim countries down to the present. And it had a huge influence on the Western philosophers like Thomas Aquinas

In his own time, Avicenna put together something most people never thought would work together and turned into a piece of global culture. But it wasn’t the first, or the last time, that someone did something like that.

The Man from the ATL: 2 Chainz
Speed up to the modern day and there are things most people think would never—or should never—work together. Until the right person comes along, mixes them in just the right proportion and “Bam!” ….A few years later it seems like it was always meant to be.

For example, what, I asked myself, would you get it if you combined: the ominous mood of Renaissance music, Electronic Dance Music sound effects and hip-hop beats? A hot mess, right? Yeah, I thought so.

But somehow, under the right hands, it all comes together.

Case in point, this guy from Atlanta, 2 Chainz. When, I first heard his stuff, that ominous, heavy sound, that sort of lilting piano melody backed up with beats and rhymes…I thought, “Wow, this is different.” Now, he’s not the first to do this (I wouldn’t claim to know who invented this genre!), but he has be doing this style of music for awhile. And the whole time he was making music, he didn’t care if anyone was listening, or coming to his concerts or buying his records. He just wanted to write and play the music and sound he heard in his head. And soon more and more people heard it, started coming to his concerts and buying his records. Including me. And now, it’s as if nothing was ever any different.

We’re the pop stars. Trap rap is pop now. People’s ears have adjusted to what we have to say and how we say it.

And there you have it. Another piece of (soon-to-be) global culture, that most people never saw coming—although all the elements were in plain sight.


What It Means for Cultural Consumers and Creators
I think the bottom line is that consumers and creators of culture have to be open to new things. Now, labels, to an extent, can be good. Going to a bookstore and looking up NeoPlatonic philosophy (if that’s what you dig), can lead you to more good stuff. And streaming Hip-Hop (if that’s your thing), can lead you to more good stuff, too.

But, as a Consumer, to really discover wholly new stuff, you have to dive into a different unknown label. Or maybe turn to a sound or a writer without having any idea who they are. I realize I have a problem with this, but I’m trying to quiet down, look and listen to new stuff more. I  spent years researching and reading Islamic philosophy before I realized it was based on a thing called NeoPlatonic philosophy. I’ve been listening to new hip-hop for months, before I realized it was labeled  “trap music.”

And as a Creator, I have to take those things I like and mix them up, without worrying what others think. For example, I like Victorian Sci-Fi and philosophical-fantasy adventure. (I’m going for a tone now in my latest piece that merges a Platonic dialogue with The Three Musketeers.) Point is, whatever it is, if you’re driven to write something, that’s the path you have to go down. Other people, later, will be there to label what you create. Don’t worry about that, Friend. That’s their job, not yours. 

If you do it well—and if you do it long enough, like Avicenna and 2 Chainz—they will come to you with their labels and their analysis and their weights and measures. That’s up to them, not you. Your job is in the creating.

Get out there and do it.

Good luck.

Darius

Jammin’ on Deadlines

Working hard this week. I am “work-working,” fiction writing and now, blogging a bit. I’m jamming on multiple deadlines, so will keep this short.

aggretsuko-gif

So, a quick update: I’m working on a story and it’s going pretty well. I took a little time out to understand where the plot is headed, got it figured out (thanks, B–!) and now I’m ready to forge ahead. This is my major writing project at this time and everything else writerly (blog, submissions, etc.) is taking a back seat!

I also keep submitting my finished stories to magazines. One piece (The Number Thief) I even sent to a contest (the first time I’ve ever done that!). No movement yet on these, but these things take time.

In addition, I’m Beta-reading a friend’s piece and that has been really interesting and illuminating. And it has made me realize I miss reviewing and critiquing others’ works. It can really be an eye-opening exercise to read other writer’s early drafts. You see that we all struggle with the same things (self-doubt, Show vs. Tell, pacing, etc., etc.,). Can’t wait to to finish reading this and get it back to the author.

I also keep branching out and reading, listening and watching new stuff. The latest is Aggretsuko on Netflix. And it seems fitting that she takes the lead image this post, because I’m feeling a little Aggretsuko myself lately with all these deadlines!

See you next time,

Darius

Listening to Music While Writing

Hey, everybody. How’s it going?

A post today on a writing tweak I’ve started back up this year. As you know, I try to analyze my writing a little and figure out new tweaks that help me become more productive. At the beginning of this year, I said I would try writing with music again.  Well, I am and it’s going well.

 Headphones

Here’s the setup: I just go to the café, get my coffee. Sit down, plug in my laptop and put  on my headphones. Sometimes, I just cruise through my favorite tracks on YouTube, but usually I just dig into the tunes on my PC and press play.

The music does two things, blocks out noise and sets a mood. First, it blocks out the most distracting thing of all: ambient conversation. For a writer, there’s nothing worse than when two people  sit down next to you and start a quite conversation in a language you understand. My ear just latches onto the conversation and can’t let it go. You can forget the dialogue, the details, the prose running through your head! It’s all going to get garbled with bits of dialogue from the REAL humans sitting right next to you. I know it’s  completely NOT these people’s fault, it’s just a natural response. I can’t help it.

Music also sets a mood. So, if I’m writing something dark or brooding, I’ll queue up some Renaissance music (Tallis) or some slow, mellow Hip Hop (2 Chainz). If I’m writing something adventurous or fun, then something Pop (Grouplove, maybe) will do the trick.

So, why do this? Well, I would only do it if it:

  • a) Enhanced productivity (word count).
  • b) Improved quality (better prose).

I feel it does both. Of course, a) is easier to measure. And it does seem that my word counts are higher this year. Music somehow gives me focus or, more correctly, puts me in the (psychological) Zone and keeps me there better than writing without the headphones. And as far as b) goes, I do sense that the prose is better, improved. But that is very hard to judge. I have come to that conclusion simply because I have sneaked back to peak at my writing and I feel it’s solid. At any rate, at the end of this year, I’ll have a perspective on word count.

That’s about it. Something basic I wanted to report. Another tiny thing I do that I’ve noticed enhances productivity and prose. Something you can consider next time you sit down to write.

Until next time. Keep Reading, Keep Writing,

Darius

A Good Writing Day

I’ll make this one simple and quick. I just want to recount a good writing day I had recently because they can be hard to come by and I want to hold onto it, in case I need it later.

It’s easy to recount because I can break it down in three, easy pieces…

img

Not Checking My Email
One of the big rules I have for my Writing Day is ‘Not Checking the Email in the Morning.’ Why is that? It’s simple: I don’t want to have a possible literary rejection hanging over my head.

Now, I know it’s good to be tough and let the rejections flow by, water off a duck’s back and all that. And I’m getting better at it, I swear! And it’s true that the first rejection (of a career or a piece) hurts the most. But after the second, third or fourth it doesn’t hurt nearly as bad.

But still, they can sting. And having the Mojo of a rejection hanging over your head is not the frame of mind I want to be in when I sit down to write for the day. So, checking the email can wait until after writing is done.

So, my Writing Day began by not doing something: I didn’t check my email. So, the things you don’t do can also be important. 

Writing It Out
So, when I got to the café, I got my (English Breakfast) tea, warmed up by brain with some light reading, and settled down to write, like normal.

Only thing is, I ran into trouble right away. Like a frickin’ ambush. It was a chapter I had written last week and I wasn’t satisfied with it. At all. So, I went back, started the chapter from scratch (without deleting the old stuff!). I wrote and wrote and it came out staler than the old stuff…

So…I went back to the old chapter, reworked it, expanded on it a bit and tacked on a new ending. And that was the solution. Not great, but a better solution. Then, I had a little break and got ready for the next chapter.

It was going to be a big, meaty important chapter, so I knew I had to bring my A-game. I got another tea and started grooving to my tunes (headphones on, Word up on the screen). And I…ah…just dove in.

And it just came, it just poured out and kept going and then, when I got to a good break, I just went to the bathroom and—Bam!—Sat right down again and banged out the rest of the chapter. The whole time grooving to some Post Malone which captured that Gothic, grim and glorious mood of the chapter just perfectly…And then…

It was over. And I thought, “Man! That was it! Just what I wanted to say….That was a good…a  great…Writing Day.”

And I saved it all and powered down my PC.

The Best Rejection Letter Ever
And then I was going to leave the café, but first I decided to check my email. Just to see. And sure enough, there was an email waiting in my Inbox. And it was a letter from an editor, about something I had written. And it turns out, it was Rejection letter.

But then, I read the whole thing. And then I read it again and again. Here’s (in part) what it said:

…This is one of the most delightfully written, interesting pieces I’ve read this year. Your writing shines and your research is fascinating. Alas, I’m going to have to send it back to you…It reads now as brilliant historical fiction, ​​but it’s just not for this publication at this time. 

I sincerely hope I will see more of your fiction in the future. Do keep us in mind for your work.

All the best,

XXXXX

That almost knocked me off my chair. And it made my day. And then I thought to myself, “Well, all in all…This is one of the best Writing Days you’ve ever had. If not the best.”

And it was and it is. It comes after having another story serially rejected and not having much interest in this current story I’m shopping around. So, I really needed this shot in the arm. And then inviting to send more stuff in the future was just the cherry on top. The letter gave me faith in this piece and faith that I’m on the right track with my other pieces.

(So, note to the Very-Busy Editors out there: If you do see something that you really like, but doesn’t quite make the cut, sometimes a personal note can be a big boost for us writers! Thank you! And thank you for taking the time review our stuff!) 

Because sometimes that’s all a writer needs to keep going and keep writing another day.

Here’s hoping even better Writing Days lie ahead…For everyone.

Until next time,

Darius