Writing with too much time on my hands

Most of us who’ve been at this writing game for a while dream of the day when we can write full time, when all we have to do is wake up in the morning, and go to work on our favorite passion.

I find myself in one of those situations for the next six days. My wife is out of town visiting friends and because of the condition of our beagle he needs someone to be around the house most of the day, not only for pills, but to check that he’s okay and help him through any seizures. This basically leaves me with a lot of time sitting on the couch, not being able to go anywhere away from the house for more than an hour or so.

On the one hand this is great. It’s probably the most restful bit of time I’m bound to have for a while, and the dog needs my presence and occasional assistance more than my constant attention. As I write this he is laying at my feet patiently waiting for is 8am pills and breakfast, occasionally stirring to chew on his nylabone. We have a noise machine going now 24 hours, so I am surrounded by the sounds of calming waves.

Yet I’m not exactly in the writing head space either, and haven’t been for the last few weeks as this has been going on. But I’ve got six days with little to do but sit here with my laptop, petting the dog and typing. And part of me feels I shouldn’t waste opportunities like this by spending them playing video games (even though I probably will spend some time on Bioshock 2) or watching TV. Since my editor is out of town, that work would be on new projects, either stories for Bradburys, or something else, which frankly requires a little more creative energy than continuing on a well established project. My brain says things like, “you could write 2000 words a day, or get four short stories done” and my body says “let’s watch The Simpsons and clear hard drive space” or “let’s read comic books.”

When I’ve had times like this before, it has always helped to have a routine. That’s the one thing I think is good about having a full time job, is that it kind of forces you to have to make the best of the time you have left, and puts your life in a natural structure. So it is nice to start the morning writing to all of you, even though the dog keeps looking at me like time is passing at a glacial pace. “I haven’t eaten yet either, bud.” I gently remind him.

The only problem with routines is they take time to establish. I think it’s probably going to take a couple of days to really figure how best to make use of this time, and then it will be half over. In the end the space of a few days really isn’t that much in the grand scheme of things. If all I’ve done is entertain myself and take care of essentials, that might be restorative for future projects later. And as I write this it might actually be a great time to work on fractals, since it’s this perfect combination  of creative and rote energy.

I guess we’ll just have to see what the week will bring.

How do you guys spend your free time, if you ever get any?

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Kindle Unlimited: Look Before You Buy

Amazon announced last week the introduction of a new service, Kindle Unlimited, which gives you access to a library of 600,000 books for $9.99 a month, or a $120 a year. There’s been a lot of buzz about how this might affect libraries , even though most libraries are a free public service. But we do live in a both/and society and frankly my consumption of eBooks is at a level that $10 might actually be a steal, until you dig a little deeper.

In case you haven’t read this, seen the movies, got the t-shirt, or dressed up as a character at a con.

What are the 600,000 books Amazon is offering you? Their advertising features the Harry Potter Series, The Hunger Games, The Lord of the Rings, and Life of Pi. All excellent and popular books. And if you haven’t read them by now, what’s been keeping you? All of these are books you could find in the Half Price Books clearance section for $1.00 a piece, or check them out from your library, or borrow them from one of countless friends. (Full confession: While I’ve seen a lot of the Potter movies I haven’t actually read the books myself, but I’m a bit of a contrarian when it comes to popular culture).

I’m sorry we don’t have any Grisham, though we do have Grasham.

I did a quick run down of books my wife and I like to read. Like many people, my wife likes John Grisham. Amazon offers dozens of titles by this prolific and excellent legal thriller author, but virtually none are offered in Kindle Unlimited (and the ones that are are short stories or unofficial collaborations). Same goes for Kathy Reichs (author of the Bones series), Elizabeth Peters (Amelia Peabody mysteries), Colin Dexter (Inspector Morse), Marc Maron, Isaac Asimov, Jeffrey Deaver, the list goes on.

All of these authors are available in my local library’s digital lending program. For no cost I can borrow an eBook for 7-21 days, read it on my Kindle, Nook, tablet or computer, and return it with no overdue fees.

So again, what are these 600,000 books exactly? Well a lot of them are KDP select authors, like John Grasham.

Now I love Indie Authors, but…

If you’re the average consumer, who wants to read the latest popular titles for free or for a nominal fee, you might be a little dismayed to find that what you actually can borrow is by an author who’s only sold a couple of hundred copies.

By the way, I’m not picking on John Grasham or any other indie author who publishes on Amazon (considering I am one and Surreality will also be released on that platform). In truth I succumbed to the resemblance of Grasham to Grisham and the fact I peripherally know the author’s relatives (and his book is quite good).

So some consumers will be disappointed they can largely only read self-published work, and the ones that aren’t may be cutting into an indie author’s livelihood.

We all want exposure, to get our name and our books out there. That’s why some authors give books away for free or deeply discounted. But exposure isn’t everything. If you’re enrolled in Kindle Select, you may be kinda hoping for that higher royalty of 70%. Sure Indie Authors get a cut of the lending fund, but that’s nothing compared to what they’d get if they actually sold a book.

And from the looks of it, this wasn’t on their own terms. A number of KDP Select books from authors I know seem to have been automatically enrolled, including work by M. S. Fowle and several author guides in my Kindle wish list.

Okay what about audiobooks?

Audiobooks are probably one of the most price inflated ways to read. A recent indie audiobook bundle advertised containing over $1000 worth of audiobooks, or 11 audiobooks. Audible is an expensive, DRM mired service that is difficult to listen to in the manner you see fit.

My library, on the other hand, offers many books as easily lended audiobooks, many in MP3 DRM free format which makes them easily burned or transferred to devices.

Nutshell time

So in my case, my library actually offers a better service for free than Amazon’s paid service. And by actually buying indie author’s books, I’m supporting their work as I hope they’ll support mine. Kindle Unlimited may have something for you, but your tastes will have to be pretty specific.

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Subtitles

One of Brian and my favorite pastimes when we go together to the bookstore, is to point out strange or unusual books or book titles, often speculating on the true contents of said book, or proposing alternate titles.

We came across one last weekend that really sums this up nicely:

How To Watch Birds: A Bird Watcher’s Guide

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Not the book we saw, but I like the 60s artwork.

Now at first you might be thinking, of course it’s a bird watcher’s guide, what else could it be? Well, Brian and and I had a few ideas.

How To Watch Birds: A Cat’s Guide

How To Watch Birds: Or What To Do When Your TV Is Broken

How To Watch Birds by Alfred Hitchcock

How To Watch Birds: A Guide To Being A 1940s Misogynist Stalker

How To Watch Birds: A Sparrow’s Guide To The Dating Life

How To Watch Birds: Oh, look! There’s a bird.

How To Watch Birds: They’re Always Watching You

How To Watch Birds: Or A Plane, Or Superman

How To Watch Birds: As They Spin On A Rotisserie

How To Watch Birds: A Coming Of Age Story

How To Watch Birds: 25 Years Of Sesame Street

Or here’s a more existential one I found looking for the book cover on-line:

WhyWatchBirds

Why Indeed?

Here are some other titles we came across:

Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers

Psychedelic Origami

Any thoughts as to some good subtitles? Leave them in the comments, or tell us about other weird books you’ve come across.

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We’ll Meet Again

For those of you who are fans of Kubrick’s classic Dr. Strangelove, I just got a tune stuck in your head.

There’s a moment in TV shows, movies and video games that I always like. Something is happening that is bad, be it a brutal fight, a building falling down, or the world being destroyed in a nuclear holocaust and instead of playing intense music in the background, something cheerful is playing.

This is best explained with examples:

  • In the opening scene in Watchmen, the Comedian is brutally beaten and thrown out a window, all while Unforgettable by Nat King Cole is being played.
  • In Metropolis (the anime movie), as the Ziggurat (a huge tower) is destroyed we hear not the bombs or the twisting metal, but “I Can’t Stop Loving You” by Ray Charles.
  • In Dr. Strangelove the ending is dozens of nuclear explosions, signifying the end of the world, all while someone sings “We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when. But I know we’ll meet again, some sunny day.”

I love this to the point where I have even imagined a character who acts as a mafia assassin while Abba music is playing. Can’t you just see it? Someone is riddled with bullets while “Dancing Queen” is played?

Okay, that’s pretty macabre and it’s not exactly what I mean.

I like the contrast of something sweet and something scary. This last week while I’ve been sitting in the living room with the dog I’ve been playing BioShock, which is chock full of moments like this one. The whole game is set to the tune of 1940s standards including the apt “Somewhere, beneath the sea” (the game takes place in Rapture, and underwater dystopia). It’s gotten to the point that when I first entered a room and heard the strains of “Danny Boy” I swore, knowing that something terrible was going to be just around the corner.

So this got me thinking, is there a way to do this in writing?

I guess tone would be the closest analog to actual music. Your character can be the sing-song cheerful type who describes an imploding building with glee, but this doesn’t feel quite right. Again it’s macabre, and fundamentally I don’t think this moment is macabre, but strangely apt. The perfectly executed moments like this in cinema make you feel like there couldn’t have been any other music underneath them.

You could talk about an actual song playing and try to get people to think about that contrast in their heads, but that feels a little too much like screenplay writing as opposed to actual fiction writing. You’re looking for a bizarre juxtaposition, but not one that seems loony or completely off the wall either. It has to fit.

Well, more often than not I write these posts without a particular conclusion in mind. This is just one of those problems I’ll toss into the back of my sub-conscious and see if I can come up with anything. In the meantime, however, have you ever read a story that creates this kind of a moment? How about more of your favorites from TV and film?

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We now join Ben Trube, Writer already in progress

Hello everyone!

Sorry for the impromptu hiatus last week. Some of you may already know that the Trube household has had a sick beagle since the July 4th weekend. What this has meant is a lot of trips to the Vet, Med Vet (the veterinary emergency room), and 24-hour watch by one of both of us.

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Things are a little more stable at the moment. We had a few rough patches early on while we were trying to get his meds right and figure out was going on. My friend Brian likes to encourage my dog whenever he visits to “bite the toes” in an attempt to turn my dog on his master. Well, it turns out what Brian should have been doing was giving my dog Valium. Hoo boy. Beagles are omnivorous to begin with, but that stuff made him think everything was food, including rocks and toes.

You can’t help but feel bad for the guy though. Simon doesn’t know what’s going on when he’s having a seizure and pretty much all you can do is hold him and tell him everything is going to be okay. Last Sunday night he was up for 36 hours pacing and whining to himself both trying to keep himself awake and because he was upset. You had to hold him and keep petting him for 15 minutes (which he didn’t want to stay still) just so he could catch 30 minutes of sleep, and you maybe twenty.

Not trying to bum you guys out or anything. Just giving you a more realistic picture of why I haven’t been writing for a little while. The medications seem to be doing their job for now and we’re trying to enjoy spending some time with him. He’s acting more like his old self again than he was earlier in the week, but he’s very tired, not that he was a particularly active dog to begin with.

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Simon’s my first dog. He was my wife’s for about a year and half before we met but even before we were married I loved spending time with Simon on walks or watching TV with leaning on my lap. He thinks he’s a lap dog, even though he’s 38 pounds (I know kinda big for a beagle, but like I said, omnivorous). I used to spin him on my kitchen floor when he’d lay on his side and he’d look up at me and give me a WTF look, but he’s a sucker for attention.

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And he likes spicy food, particularly the pepperoncinis from Papa John’s boxes, or the fiery Habanero sauce from Qdoba (he begs me for the stuff and it sits well so I don’t want to hear it :) ).

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I know it’s cliche but he looks for me out the window when I’m coming home from work and always greets me with his tail wagging crazily (and I’m pretty sure he’s happy to see me for more reasons than that’s typically when he also gets his dinner). Usually my greetings coming from work are “Beagle!” then “Hi honey!” said to my wife. I’m not some crazy guy who loves his dog more than his wife, but he always greets me with a smile and jumping so how could you not respond?

It’ll come as no surprise to you than owning a dog has entered into my writing. In the upcoming Surreality my main character owns an English Bulldog named Garfunkel (see what I did there?). Actually, I’d love to claim full credit for that, but that’s always been my wife’s joke/reality of the next dog we’re going to get after Simon. More than a few scenes are inspired by real life interactions with the beagle.

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We probably have a few months more with him. Maybe a year, but we’re taking it a day it a time and enjoying what time we do have, while also remembering to make sure he know’s he’s loved and to take him on walks to show him all the interesting smells in the world.

Barring emergency I should be back for the week. It can feel a little rusty to get writing after being off for a while. And I promise Jo I’ll try to catch up on Bradbury’s too! I’ve got this great story about Emu’s I’ve been dying to write.

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My Social Media Experiment

By now many of you will have heard about the Facebook study that manipulated the moods of 700,000 of its users. While most people may feel outraged or violated that their feeds were massaged to give you an optimistic or pessimistic view of the world, I had a different reaction.

Why does Facebook get to be the only one who toys with your emotions?

So here’s a little story that’s sure to send you on an emotional roller coaster. You did agree to this in the terms of service, so I don’t want to hear any complaining.

———————-

Lisa loves her cat, Snowball II.

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But Dr. Hibbert ran over Snowball II with his car.

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Bart: “I know how you feel Lise. No kid wants to outlive their pet.”

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It was difficult but Lisa moved on. And in an animal rescue shelter she found the perfect kitty. She named him Snowball III.

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He didn’t last long.

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Marge: “Oh, Lisa. Honey, it’s okay. You’re a Buddhist. So you know your cats are now reincarnated as a higher form of life.”

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Lisa wasn’t sure about replacing yet another kitty. But her love of jazz, and an aptly named cat convinced her to love again.

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When she got him home, she decided to play him some music from his namesake.

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He didn’t care for it.

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So much so, he jumped out the window.

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Marge: “Lord, if you think I’m making lemon bars for your bake sale Sunday, you better stop killing our cats.”

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Lisa had almost given up hope, but then the lord sent her an angel.

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Or a crazy cat lady. Whatever.

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Lisa: “Look, you don’t want to get involved with a girl like me. My cats have a nasty habit of waking up dead. Now go. Cough me out of your life like a bad fur ball.”

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Things weren’t looking good for this cat either.

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But at the last second the car swerved and ran into a tree.

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Lisa named her lucky cat Snowball V, but to save money on a new bowl, she calls her Snowball II.

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But it’s okay. At least Gil’s gonna have food tonight.

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Or maybe not.

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So how does this make you feel?

 

All stills from Season 15 Episode 9 of The Simpsons – “I (annoyed grunt)-bot”. Thanks to Springfield! Springfield! for episode scripts to check the quotes.

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Massey (Part 2)

“I don’t know. If I’m going to be giving you all my Lego blocks, I think I should get something in return,” Michael, an older boy in Daniel’s school said during recess.

“But you don’t even play with them anymore,” Daniel said. “You just said so.”

“Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t,” Michael said, the words weighing from one side of his mouth to the other. “You know how it is. I’ve got something you want, and you’ve got something I want. Nothing in this world’s free.”

Daniel knew what Michael wanted, his 1970 Reggie Jackson card. In 1970 Jackson had a batting average in the low .200s and a little over 60 RBIs. Just three years later in 1973, Jackson led the league in RBI’s with 117. Arguably, 1970 had been one of the worst years of his career. Daniel liked the card for that reason. It reminded him that even though sometimes things get hard, the best is yet to come.

Michael had lost the card to Daniel some months back when they’d been flipping them out in the gravel behind the school yard. Michael didn’t really want the card back, he just didn’t like the idea of losing to somebody smaller than him. If the card had sentimental value to Daniel, all the better, since it would make giving it up all the harder.

Daniel sighed and opened one of his notebooks. He’d slid the card in one of the pockets, and had taken to looking at it during especially hard math tests or whenever the teacher or his father had just been yelling at him. Reluctantly he handed the card over to Michael, who tossed it in his bag without a second thought.

“I’ll bring the bricks over to your house tonight,” Michael said. “What do you want with ‘em anyway?”

Daniel shook his head, “Nothing. I just really like Legos is all.”

 

Daniel had made a dozen such deals in the space of a week. Rather than meet him up by the house, he had the children deliver the bricks to an old tarp he’d set up at the back edge of his father’s fields. The planting for that section had been done for weeks and he’d volunteered to take care of he watering and feeding of that section to save his father from having to go out that far.

Lester had been proud to see the boy take some responsibility, and in truth was dog tired from the last days of digging and hours of lying under a hot greasy engine. His hands and his face were black, and the tractor was no closer to moving than if he had just pushed it.

At night, long after everyone had gone to sleep, Daniel would sneak out to the field with a flashlight and an old picture he’d taken from one of the albums from when his father had first bought the tractor. The Colorado sky was big and full of stars, so bright that sometimes Daniel didn’t even need the flashlight.

Some nights a few of his friends would come by and help with the work, sorting bricks into colors, helping him balance sections while he built the underlying support structure.

“Why does the outside have to be all red bricks?” Lucas, one of the boys in his grade asked him.

“You ever see a Massey Ferguson any other color but red?” was Daniel’s reply. When he ran out of red bricks, he took to painting the other colors, finally applying a coat to the whole outside of the frame to keep everything smooth and consistent. Some of the pieces he had to glue together for the extra support.

He’d drag himself back to the house a couple of hours before sunrise. By the end he could practically sleepwalk to his bedroom. His mother looked concerned when she came up to wake him every morning. Usually, all she had to do was shout that breakfast was ready, and Daniel would tear down the stairs. But now she practically had to shake him just to get him moving.

Fortunately school was almost over, so his grades didn’t suffer too much. Some of the other kids even took pity on him during some of the tests and let him copy their answers, though for some this was better charity than others.

 

The last Tuesday of May was the hottest all month, getting to nearly 90 in the heat of the day. Lester’s legs were rubber, and his face was leather from spending all day in the hot sun. When he licked his lips he could taste the salt of his own sweat. Daniel was waiting for him outside the house, his hands clasped behind his back, his face looking down in the dirt.

“What’s the matter, son? Why are you standing out here when you should be helping your mother with supper?”

Daniel’s voice was small, and Lester didn’t hear him the first time he spoke.

“What was that. Speak up boy!”

“I said I had something I want to show you!” Daniel finally yelled. Lester couldn’t remember a time when Daniel had yelled about anything. That alone was reason enough to be just a little curious.

Daniel took him out toward the fields he’d been taking care of that season. Lester assumed that Daniel wanted to show off his handiwork, maybe to get some advice from his old man on how he could make the crops grow just a little bit higher. He got confused when he saw an old brown tarp draped over something taller than Daniel. It had a familiar shape but he couldn’t quite place it.

Without a word Daniel took one end of the tarp and pulled. It seemed to take all of his strength for just a moment, before the tarp popped off of something that had caught it, and sent Daniel stumbling back a few paces. The sight in front of Lester nearly did the same.

Standing before him, in perfect detail was his tractor, rendered in thousands of tiny bricks of plastic. He ran his hand along the top of it, and found it as smooth as the metal on his old rig.

“I sanded down the pegs on the outer bricks,” Daniel said.

Lester just stared aghast. Finally he said, “The ‘M’ and the ‘E’ are missing.”

“Of course,” Daniel replied, “this is your tractor.” He got a little twinkle in his eye as he saw genuine admiration in his father’s eyes possibly for the first time in his life. Dad had always preferred Jimmy,not for any particular reason other than he’d known the boy longer.

“Hey Dad, watch this,” Daniel said, jumping up on the black seat.

He turned a golden rounded key to the right and on cue an engine roared to life, kicking back a little smoke at first, but then running smooth, smoother than Lester remembered even on his tractor’s first day.

Daniel kicked a lever into gear and inched the Lego rig forward around his father. He patted the space behind his seat.

“Hop on Dad, we’ve got to get back to the house. We’re already late for supper.”

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