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Archive for the ‘Creativity’ Category


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My first Randycon.

What is Randycon? It is the brainchild of fellow Tor author Randy Henderson, author of Finn Fancy Necromancy, and its forthcoming sequel, Bigfootloose and Fancy Free. It’s a writers retreat. It’s a mini convention of like-minded folks hanging out and writing, socializing, and relaxing. They do it twice a year, at Fort Worden in Port Townsend, WA. There are about a dozen of us here housed in one of the converted soldier barracks.

I’m getting some writing done on a short story set in the Ultra Thin Man universe. This morning I walked around part of the grounds and took a few pics. (I may tackle Artillery Hill tomorrow, depending on the weather)

Click on the photos to see the larger file.

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In Port Townsend, before arriving at Fort Worden




The barracks where about a dozen writers are hanging out this weekend.



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Alexander’s Castle, on the grounds of Fort Worden.



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Inside the Commons




The modest office of Copper Canyon Press.



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Looking out from the bluff overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca


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The lighthouse.



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Anyone want to be the first one to go in??


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Up to one of the old gun battlements.



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A scenic place, here at Fort Worden.




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As I write this, two weeks remain in the school year. As a high school English teacher, this can turn out to be a busy time. For example, I have about 35 creative writing students finishing up short stories, and they’re due at the end of this week, because seniors are done then, graduating on Saturday. It means a lot of plot outlines, character studies, opening pages, rough drafts, and final drafts to go through.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to work my way through a read-thru and edit of The Ultra Big Sleep, sequel to The Ultra Thin Man.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to get five Fairwood Press books ready for this summer for their official release at the World Science Fiction convention in Spokane, WA.

Meanwhile, I also have a lot of “also need to do this” things on my list.  And it would also be nice to have some sort of life outside of all these things. Yesterday, that never felt more true, with a full day to myself, and stacks of work facing me. I met a friend for a late breakfast, and then came home ready to work.

And…… I couldn’t. I mean, I did a few things, but I didn’t even make a dent. I couldn’t even venture outside into the 80 degree weather to soak up the sun. Really, I don’t particularly like the sun when it’s making my world 80+ degrees. So I sat inside, in air-conditioned comfort, and proceeded to read for an hour or so. And then I watched some television shows via Netflix. I rarely get the time to do this (except during the summer). I watched five episodes of A&E’s series Longmire, and finally finished the first season. (I’d watched the first 5 episodes months before.)

I could’ve worked out for an hour. I could’ve done some editing. Could’ve done some Fairwood work. But none of that happened. I did finish a few of the creative writing stories I had on my lap as I watched. I sat glued to the couch and the TV (and enjoyed the episodes), but I also brooded. A chunk of me wanted to be outside, hanging out with someone. (See, I didn’t have my son Orion with me during the weekend.) I did do a couple of out-and-about things with friends: A movie on Friday night. Firepit gathering with another group of friends on Saturday night.  That breakfast Sunday late morning. But when I was home, I gloomily stared at the pile of work and said SHUT UP to it. And brooded.

It’s maddeningly difficult to juggle so many balls in the air. I’ve been told it sometimes seems effortless to those on the outside looking in, wondering at my tenacious work ethic and prolific output. How do I do it all? In the end, I guess I do get a lot more done than would sometimes seen humanly possible (sleep is sometimes a luxury), but I also put a lot of pressure on myself. When I feel overwhelmed, I’m not very productive. To tell the truth, I would’ve accomplished more this past weekend if Orion had been here. I would’ve managed to check off a smattering of tasks from all categories in the blog post title, and still been able to have lots of quality hangout time with Orion.

I have people in my life who are very important to me, for various reasons. When I don’t see them, I freak out a little. I second guess myself. Do I feel like I’m missing out on something good? Maybe. Is it the extrovert in me wanting to get out and socialize? Likely.

Everything will even out a whole bunch in the next few weeks, I’m sure. When summer is in full swing, perhaps I’ll find my second wind for the year 2015.



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When I was writing in high school and college, I had a reoccurring dream.

Actually, it was a waking dream.

Okay, still not right. The most accurate term for it is “creative daydream.” Years later, the term came to me, and it seemed right. It’s something I still do today.

So…what’s a creative daydream, and what about that reoccurring one?  There’s plenty of research out there that suggests daydreaming is good for creativity. In a book published about a year ago, Creative Confidence, author Tom Kelley explains how studies show “prolific mind wanderers score higher on tests of creativity.” Supposedly, too, it’s nifty for boosting our working memory.

From an early age, I’ve taken spare moments to creative daydream. It’s like meditation, clearing the mind and letting new ideas spring to life. Except, it hasn’t always been about new ideas. In fact, I knew exactly what I wanted to daydream about.

So back to that reoccurring dream. What was it about? Well, it was all about the life of a writer.

Someday I’d finish a book. And…THEN WHAT? What might happen the day I sold a novel? Obviously this scenario lived in the “this is all I know about it right now” world. I would purposefully daydream what would happen, and as I matured as a writer, as I took classes and workshops, when I later on started publishing a magazine and other writers’ books, I learned what the actual process would look like.

So the dream morphed. It gelled until it entered a rather detailed scenario, but the basics always were: The deal with the agent. The call from the editor wanting to buy the book. The contract deal. (It was always for plenty of money, of course.) Finding out about the cover art, and so on. Oddly (or maybe not so oddly), I never factored in any actual post-book deal editing. That would be more work!

But here was the best part of my dream: Finding a box on my doorstep filled with copies of my novel. And it was always November or early December. Why? Because I could surprise my family with them for Christmas. In my mind, it was the perfect situation: I saw myself, over and over, celebrating success during a time associated with love and giving, and I saw myself, over and over, sharing that success with the people who mattered most to me.

You may think it weird that what I have always loved the most about the film Back to the Future is the strange and wonderful George McFly, father to Marty. Why George McFly? Because he has a dream of becoming a best-selling author, and at the end of the film, George opens up a box of his first novel in front of his family: A Match Made in Space, a science fiction novel.

Oh, that moment. That moment when the seemingly unassuming George McFly with the weird laugh sees his dream come true is so full of NERDY AWESOME.

Creative daydreaming has always been a way for me to rehearse new possibilities and visualize success. A motivator. A confidence builder. When copies of The Ultra Thin Man arrived on my porch, in a box, I thought of Back to the Future, and realized my own “dreamed of” future had arrived. Except…it happened in August, not during the Christmas season. Close enough.

I have other creative daydreams I still work on today. I imagine that most of them, at some point in my life, will come true. Why not? It worked for me before. When the stress of daily life hits, when the things that I need to have happen seem next to impossible, when I can’t seem to make any progress on something and can’t figure out how to solve those really difficult problems, that’s when I need to RELAX.

The only way for it to happen is to stop searching for it, and pick up a creative daydream and get to work.



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Over the years I’ve seen a lot of book swag. Mostly at conventions, piled deep on freebie tables: catalogs, postcards, bookmarks, magnets, book plates, samplers.

Some of this stuff is given out at book signings, or it’s used for giveaways. I’ve seen a lot of promotion going on. Trading cards. Pens and pencils. Little LED lights. Stress balls. Buttons. Rubber wrist bands. Stickers. Keychains. Calendars. Chapsticks. (Yes, I’ve seen chapsticks!) Miniature book charms. One romance author I saw online gave out nail polish in the same shade as her book cover.

UTM bookmarkHonestly. How much of this stuff do readers keep? How much does it help the author by giving it away to people? Authors new and old have passed me those postcards and trading cards. At the end of a busy convention, at the end of a signing, I often find myself recycling most of these things. Even business cards. I keep only those I know I’ll want to contact, or remember to search for something online. Now, bookmarks, at least, have a somewhat related purpose. I’m more likely to keep a promotional bookmark, particularly if I have a book I’ve been reading and my place is being kept by a pen, or my own business card.

I ask again: How much of this stuff do you keep?

Next month, The Ultra Thin Man comes out. What to do about swag? I’ve had business cards for a few months now. And in last week’s mail I received bookmarks that I designed. Anything else? I doubt I will. I did design and order a decent-sized vinyl banner of the book cover that looks great. But I’m not giving it away. Because of my own small press, I’ve got several stands that will fit the banner. A nice extra to take to a reading when appropriate, and later I’ll probably find a good wall to put it on.

For my release party on the 12th after my first signing, there will be cake swag. Um. That’s right, win them over with food.

But seriously, maybe I should create some plush Helk aliens with T-shirts bearing my book cover. Or miniature black Conduit tower erasers. Or how about drink coasters featuring the eight planets of the Union of Worlds?

Okay. Well. I’ve got my bookmarks ready.



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Trust me, no spoilers.

A few weeks ago, I watched the series finale of Dexter. Eight seasons of storytelling about America’s favorite serial killer came to an end. I stayed with the show, even though the last two seasons were less than stellar. This final season in particular just never felt right: plot points that made no sense, subplots that went nowhere, weirder than normal voice-overs, characters that were…well, out of character.

Through it all, lead actor Michael C. Hall did his best to keep the serial killer brooding in the character of Dexter. At the same time, he made me understand the struggle we all feel when we can’t understand why life throws its full weight at us. I think this is why Dexter was such a popular TV show and was well-loved, even when the story went Six Feet Under. Say hello to the human condition. We bandy that term around a lot, and when I throw it back every fall at my AP students, they can’t tell me what it really means.

Dexter is the poster child for the human condition. He knows how he should act. He even has a code. Of a sorts. But he has this unmistakable urge to give in to the dark side of the Force. He wants to blame everything on his Dark Passenger. He’s blood spatter, and we, the viewing audience, analyze him relentlessly, hoping something good will come out of him. Dexter is likable. He resonates with us. He evokes strong emotions from us. We’re pulling for him. We’re worried to death that he’s going to get caught when he makes a decision that puts his whole cover in danger.

Secretly—although we don’t go around murdering folks—we fight dark urges. We have our own demons. We can’t seem to get our  heads wrapped around the idea that we know what’s right, while fearing we could do wrong at any moment. We wonder why we’re here, we wonder where we’re going, we wonder what life is all about, and—just why the hell don’t we have our own set of those cool Dexter blood slide coasters…

Look. You and me, we want to be saved. Dexter wants to be saved. Throughout the series, he wants to find that blood work that will help him, when all he’s had before this was his dad’s teachings and, ultimately, the support of his sister. What the anti-hero teaches us is that, in the end, no one really is going to save us. We have to save ourselves. We are the heroes of our own lives.

There weren’t many resonant moments this final season, which bothered me more than anything. Say what you will about this season’s storylines and subplots: through it all, although too often downplayed, Dexter searches for a way to redeem himself. At the same time, he is relentless in his quest to keep his loved ones safe. He is haunted by monsters, he is covered in shadows, but he knows enough to help others realize that shadows are not scary. They’re just the absence of light.

Despite many fans’ displeasure with the finale, I found that those last 55 minutes had more resonance than the rest of the season combined. The acting, strong visuals, unique camera angles, powerful music—it all contributed to my understanding of Dexter, and it gave me a bit more insight into myself. Throughout the episode, it was the use of silence—with actions trumping dialogue and voice-overs—that made me appreciate the absence of the obvious.

Remember your monsters. And thanks, Dexter.