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Writing

Writing and Me

Reading and writing have always been an essential part of my life, some of my fondest memories are of doing both over the years. I discovered fantasy quite young, like many of us my gateway was J.R.R. Tolkien, I was a precocious little fellow and read The Hobbit at around 10, and then looked for more and found the Lord of the Rings, and then every word I could read from him, The Silmarillian, Unfinished Tales, and then I looked for everything I could find like it, and then fantasy in general.

Don’t get me wrong, I read everything, science fiction, biography, historical and contemporary fiction, and once I locked myself in the garage by mistake one day I even read an entire book on palmistry, but fantasy really stuck. Then, on my 13th birthday I was introduced to fantasy role-playing through the game of Dungeons & Dragons, and from there my interests widened. I started building my own world and started scribbling short stories at the same time, and then started to bring the two together.

I’ve never quit writing, role-playing and world-building, but the writing part was put on the back burner a lot. My time in the Air Force called for a distinctly different style of writing and I always found it creeping into my work, and a modern technical writing style coupled with bullet statements is hardly the proper format for epic fantasy. But, when I could I scribbled noted and snippets in notebooks, and then I discovered computers.

The first was a Commodore 64, and I spent a couple of years typing all of my notes into it, only to turn around a few years later to have to type it all over again into my first PC. There was a great deal of time lost I guess, but as I typed it all in again I expanded ideas and updated things. Over the years my writing voice changed and I had to jigsaw all of the pieces of stories and styles together and then start the work of smoothing them all out into a single coherent telling of a story. That’s taken a long time as well, but also time well spent.

Now I’m retired, and at 43 I have a lot of productive writing years ahead of me, and now is the time to see what I have in me. I don’t claim to be a great writer, lets understand that right away, I am at best a dedicated amateur with hopes of one day becoming published. My opinions about writing as a whole are simply that, my opinions and bear no great weight in any circles. This doesn’t stop me from having opinions though, and those that know me will tell you that I have an opinion about nearly anything you’d care to mention. With this small disclaimer in mind, what is writing to me?

Creativity is important to me, I am at my happiest when I am writing a story, drawing a map, or even tinkering with the pages of this site (as the rest of the staff will tell you is nearly always). I have told stories about places that didn’t exist since I was old enough to talk and writing them since I learned how to stretch letters into words and sentences. I’ve taken every journalism and composition class that I could and for better or for worse I consider myself at least an adequate writer.

Far too many people think that they cannot write, and this to me is a shame. I don’t know who it was that said that every person had at least one great story in them, but I have the deep-seated belief that they are right. Anyone can tell a story, and if you can tell a story then the next logical step is to put it on paper. To hell with the grammar, scroo spelling, just write the story down. Writing is like most other things, the more you do it, the better you get.

© 2009 – 2020, Tim Boothby. All rights reserved.

Categories
Writing

Is ón cheann a thagann an cheird

I don’t know if it shows, but most of everything I write is stream of consciousness, when I sit down I have an idea of what I want to write but I’ve never been a big outline kind of writer. I took several years of composition and journalism classes over the years and I don’t know why but teachers would demand an outline before I proceeded. I detest that process to the point that I’ve written papers and then the outline from it and turned it in to the teacher.

When I write most things I feel my way through them, to use a buzzword, its my process. Take for example my main “life’s literary work,” it’s fantasy and growing but I only really know, in rough terms where I want the story to go. How it gets there is something I find out when I sit down to write it. By now I know the characters well, and I can make the mental adjustment to write for each one of them to stay in character and in my “writer’s voice.”

Maybe that’s what drives me nuts about the nuts and bolts of the traditional writer’s process. I like to write with feeling, I know when I’m in the groove when I feel something like a voice in my head as I write it, and when I pause and read back through it there is a natural flow to it that tells me I’m cooking with napalm.

Now don’t get too worried that I listen to the “voices,” its not the Twilight Zone voices telling me to do strange things. Depending upon who you listen to I get into enough trouble without listening to any voices. Its like when I was younger, it seemed perfectly natural to dispose of a bunch of dud fire crackers by emptying all the powder into a snuff can, and filling the left over space with match heads. What I didn’t count on was the fuse burning that fast. But I stopped smoking after a few minutes, and my eyebrows grew back just fine.

There is an old Irish Gaelic phrase, I’ve sort of adopted it as a motto, Is ón cheann a thagann an cheird, the craft comes from the head. I value knowledge and learning greatly, I have run four different web browsers, each for different purposes and when I click Opera Google is the home page. I will Google anything in a heart beat. Couple that with my appreciation for the History channels and all of the various Discovery channels it comes in REALLY handy. I gather more notes on more odd subjects because it never ceases to amaze me where I can find a plot element.

One of my next projects is going to have to be more book storage in my Troll Cave, my little office under the stairs, because I have run out of room for reference books. The Encyclopedia of superstitions, the Dictionary of Chivalry my 3 volume dictionary set, all the way in the living room, well that’s about four steps, but I’m still feeling separation anxiety.

So what if I forget what a Gong Farmer is? Its way over there! By the way, a gong farmer is the guy that empties out the cesspits and privies. Yes, that’s right, a gong farmer is the guy that we’d now call a poo wrangler or a turd herder. They dig out and haul off what we don’t want to see or think about.

What a crappy job. Literally.

Writing, like no other discipline is where Is ón cheann a thagann an cheird applies the most. Mathematics is formulas and rules. Science is laws, theories and principles. History is dates. Writing is creativity.

Journalism might be 5w+h, who, what, where, when, why and how. But a well-written news story isn’t a bare recitation of these elements with a circled 30 underneath. The journalist takes the essential elements and with the craft of their art they link them together to present a story that is compelling and has an immediacy that grabs and holds the reader.

I’ve written technical procedures, regulations, newsletters, articles, research papers, a little marginal poetry, very short stories, short stories, and am still polishing what I hope is a few books. The styles are different, their purposes are different, but the flavor and flow of writing is something that we’ll carry with us no matter what we write.

What I really hated writing was performance reports. It is harder to get a bad one through the system than a good one, and you always have to say things in the most PC way possible. I’ve wanted to use expressions like: hit rock bottom and quit digging, somewhere a village is missing an idiot and they can have this one, proof of why cousins can’t breed. On the other hand there are guys that I wanted to say things like: Michelangelo with a tool box, couldn’t get better results carrying a chainsaw, or a sunuvabitch with passion. But no, we have to use the tried and true cookie-cutter bullet statements.

But, most of the world doesn’t have to write bullet statements, we get to use actual language. Language takes craft to make it stand and strut the stage. It takes creativity and passion. It needs the writer to combine their emotions and experiences with all that they have studied, observed and learned and make words rise off the page.

The craft comes from the head, but the head is what you make of it. If you lower your bucket into an shallow well, you will draw nothing up. Dig the well deep, and it will always reward you. The craft comes from the head, and inside your head is where you live. Look, listen and learn every day. See how people act and interact. Read widely and from many authors. Know yourself. Know who you are and you will know more than most people.

© 2009 – 2020, Tim Boothby. All rights reserved.

Categories
Writing

Bringing feeling to what I write…

Music is a friend of mine, just like movies life has a soundtrack and what is on the player depends upon what I’m writing at the time, so before I get started I’ll introduce you to a few situations and the musical friends that help me find the voice I need.

For writing battle scenes, Duel of the Fates from Star Wars or Princes of the Universe by Queen, or most of the Patton Soundtrack.

For a brawl, Beer for My Horses by Toby Keith and Willie Nelson,

For A death scene the obvious choice takes us back to Queen, Who Wants to Live Forever or Too Much Love Will Kill you, or Johnny Cash’s version of Hurt.

Love scenes, Siuil A Run (Walk My Love) by Celtic Woman, I don’t Want to Miss a Thing by Aerosmith, I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That) by Meat Loaf.

For the great speech before the battle: Hold your Head Up by Argent or The Angry American by Toby Keith.

Actors talk about their process, but writers have it too. You can’t write about the privations of a man without food and water when you’re burping up Burger King, you can’t do romance when the dog is hiding when it looks like you need to kick someone. You have to draw on every trick of the trade that actors think is their realm alone. I don’t care what actors say, they may believe that they draw the cold written word from the page and breathe life into it, but no actor ever born can bring life to dead words.

I’ve just written the scene below just now, be a little merciful and I am rarely a first draft writer. Make that almost never, but I digress. You can’t let me do that or I’ll start remembering stories and we’ll be here for hours. Pay attention! Wink

Music, as I said, is a great help to setting a mood, but music alone can only do so much, you have to look back into your own life for experiences to draw from. The piece below tells of the return of a legion to the fort and barracks and houses that they call home, bur the emotions of that can fluctuate throughout even something so short, because the same event that is joyful to one may be shattering to another. I can look back at the times I walked down a boarding ladder or the ramp of an aircraft and remember the feelings that I felt when I saw the people waiting, and then the butterflies you get when you see the face in the crowd that you missed so much.

So, taking that feeling, a little mood music and mixing in other memories and emotions that I’ve felt and seen around me I came up with this, a situation I’ve clearly never been in, but one I can bring myself to feel:

The long lines straightened as the gate opened before them, and men scarcely able to hold their heads up before the sound of the stiff beams being drawn and the massive hinges groan now drew themselves tall and the scuff of boots on gobbles was replaced by the beat of heals striking ground. Proudly now they returned, the weariness of the miles and aches of wounds in the back of a thousand minds as they stepped through the gate and again into that place they knew as home. From the corners of anxious eyes in composed faces they sought the faces of those they loved, spying them at last, a single face from thousands as each found the face they carried etched into their hearts.

And at the head of the column rode their commander, the privilege of the horse now a trial as he felt the eyes of those that searched the lines and could not find the faces of those they gave to their country, and now shaking fingers touched lips nervously as the frantic eyes searched again, and again they returned to the man astride the tall charger in the front rank, their eyes begged and accused him at once and with leaden heart he wheeled his mount and looked over his command.

His voice was rough and he fought for control over it as he ordered the Centurions and Sergeants to case their colors and at his order the broad flag of the legion leapt up the and cracked with a loud snap as the wind pulled it proudly. He had no words for them, they needed none from him as his eyes swept over the ranks and at last he gave the order to stand down and fall out. He himself dismounted, passing the reins over to a waiting groom and standing beneath the standard.

The voices of wives, sons and daughters raised in slow crescendo to joyful and raucous greeting, husbands and wives and soldiers and sweethearts crushing themselves to each other, unwilling to let the slightest space grow between them after these many pitiless months held them so far from each other. The children swarmed, new babies shown and crying with confusion at the strange person that now held them for the first time, many marveling at the size of little ones now grown taller. Tears poured without shame to leave dark dampened lines in the dust of the road on their cheeks to be wiped away by loving hands or ignored entirely as lips touched first tenderly and then with the explosion of long contained emotion. Many was the wife, lass or child with small muddy smeared on their cheeks.

Not so for the Tribune. Amidst all this joy, the ache of greeting his wife formally lest their joy turn to salt in the wounded hearts of those than now looked to him for word of the ones that didn’t come home. Wide eyes and trembling lips that pleaded for words that he could not speak. He could not ease their fears and sorrows, there was no joy for these faces. It tore at his heart and he wished again and once for each of the seventy men that would not march through that gate that he had died in every one of their stead. But he couldn’t even do off the buckles of his armor and show that he too had bled, shedding his blood, but not his life beside his men. Merciful fate mocked him and the words of praise they receives when the grand army separated and returned home were bitter ashes in his mouth now.

He walked among them, a word to each, his regret, his sadness, they mocked him now as hollow as he commanded his face to remain as stone, but they all saw into his eyes and into his soul, it wasn’t enough but they took what they could from him. And then to spare him, to ease the cruel burden of command came the sergeants who left for a bit their own families to go among those that knew now only loss and despair, and then those fortunate families spread to find friends and bring what comfort that could be found on such a day.

Among this huge multitude, yet all but alone he saw what so many would never know. The profession of arms was pitiless and remorseless, claiming with savage caprice the health or lives of the young, the old, the brave or craven without any rhyme or reason. But though the fields of strife drank deeply of the blood of so many, none that lived apart from these men of leather and iron could ever know the bonds between all that shared the lot in life of a soldier, and the lot of the wife, the son, the daughter of a soldier. And as the Tribune saw the many families blend and draw close around those among them in such pain until none could tell where the single families began or end as they drew together as one, and then would his hand seek hers, and their fingers twine together as they drew apart that he could at last bare his pain to the only person that cold custom allowed, after the door closed the world away from them at last.

I hope what I’ve given as my “process” matches what I’ve written, and hopefully some one can tweak and adjust it to their writing. As always your mileage may vary, thanks for indulging me.

© 2009 – 2020, Tim Boothby. All rights reserved.

Categories
Writing

A Credible Hero

In the great wealth of literature we find the hero, broad of shoulder, narrow of hip, keen-eyed, long flowing blonde hair, he rides faster, shoots straighter, is an expert at anything that that needs to be done. How boring is that? First of all, these faultless paragons are neutered as a character, they have to spend all their time being noble so they need a sidekick to round out the one-sided nature of their character, and thus Batman needed Robin, the Green Hornet needed Cato, the Lone Ranger had Tonto, but Roy Rogers may have had Smiley Burdette as a sidekick, but he also had Dale Evans.

But why is Dale a sidekick? Think about it for a second, the traditional hero is all of those Dudley Do-Right traits… where are the scroungy-looking heroes that couldn’t be be stuffed into the traditional hero mould if you greased them down with a can of lard. What about Rooster Cogburn spin-cocking a Winchester rifle in one hand and blazing away with a Colt Navy six-shooter in his other gnarled paw. None of this “I’ll save you!” stuff, nope, ol’ Rooster Bellowed across a field “Fill your hand you son-of-a-bitch!” They sprayed enough lead to sink a ship and a few people were hit, and Rooster’s horse Beau was killed.

What? Silver never died, neither did Trigger or Scout, for that matter. And Rooster didn’t look like a hero, his hair was shaggy and he had an eye-patch and a gut and he swore and drank a lot and shot rats in the house. He doesn’t fit the mold. There are others that don’t fit the mold though, Ellen Ripley, Kathryn Janeway, Emma Peel and I hate myself for saying this, Buffy Summers.

Yes, women can be heroes too. Joan of Arc ring a bell? Or a Belle? And there is Boudica (or Boadicea). More examples you say? Sure!

WWII Soviet sniper Lyudmila Pavlichenko with 309 confirmed kills. US Army Captain Linda Bray who led 30 MPs during the invasion of Panama, they captured a police facility including K-9 facilities. Women technically can’t serve in combat, but the lines seem to be a little blurred, female pilots and aircrew have flown bombers over Afghanistan, the Balkans and Iraq. They’ve been in firefights, they’ve proven their mettle. Female heroes in print? Jalav, Anita Blake, Kinsey Milhone, Sarah Connor, Alice (Resident Evil), River Tam, Princess Leah. So when you see the word hero, toss gender from the equation.

With villains writers have to fight the urge to be uber-evil, similarly with heroes there is a temptation to make the hero the shining knight on the gleaming white charger. Now seems as good of a time as any for example, so lets look at Sparhawk, a character in two separate series by David Eddings. In The Hidden city we find our hero in the fight of his life…

“…but Sparhawk fought as a man superbly trained, a little out of condition and really too old for this kind of thing – but with an absolute confidence that if the fate of the world rested in his hands, he was good for at least one more fight.”

Sparhawk feels human, he has a bad temper, is covered in scars, the classic good looks of the hero replaced with shaggy black hair and a broken nose that never set right. In the same way that we pile negative traits on our villains, and we pile virtues on our heroes. I mean sure, Galahad could kick butt but he was a tea totaling virgin that spent all of his spare time in church or hanging around reminding people he’s more pure than they are. Where’s the fun in that? Ok, you could have him running from wanton women that are trying to dirty him up a little but unless you’re righting a porn script that’ll get old fast.

A hero can’t be polished too much, people all have rough spots, but then there’s the swing in the other direction. Harry Callahan, John McClane, Jack Cates, and Frank Castle. Dirty Harry feeds the anti-authoritarian in all of us, and the fact he’ll stretch the law to get the bad guy feeds that sense people have that justice is tilted to favor the criminal. In Diehard McClane also bucks authority and by the 3rd movie winds up the stereotypical whiskey-fuming copthat spends as much time fighting with his chain of command as he does fighting crime. The same can be said of Jack Cates from 48 Hours, but heavier on the whiskey fumes. But Frank Castle, the Punisher, takes the vigilante ex-cop with a penchant for drinking Wild Turkey straight out of the bottle and wholesale mayhem.

Middle ground, Galahad is too clean and the Punisher is way too dirty to be a character that people would read about and believe that this could be a guy they know. If you need a baby face or an anti-hero then by all means, but I’m looking more for the person next door that anyone can relate to. A hero can be more than a great person doing impossible things, a hero is a normal person placed in extraordinary circumstances and managing to come out on top.

Like undersized and very young Audie Murphy, he stood 5’5” tall barefoot and weighed 112 pounds and was turned down for enlistment at 17 then finally made it into the army after being turned down by the Marines for being too short and too skinny, reasons he was rejected for when he applied to be a paratrooper. He’d already won a chest full of medals and a battlefield commission when he ordered the 19 men still fit for action out of a company of 128 and made a lone stand in snow two feet deep. He first used a rifle and scrounged ammunition to cover the withdrawal of his men then, already wounded, he climbed onto a burning tank destroyer and continued to fight and call in artillery, he is credited with destroying six tanks, killing 240 enemy soldiers and wounding many more. When the comm wire was cut and communication with the rear lost his men came back forward to find them and with this small group he counterattacked and cleared the field and won the Medal of Honor, when the war was over he had every decoration the US had, except the Good Conduct Medal, and several foreign awards as well, he was the most highly decorated soldier of WWII, he returned to the army for a short time during the Korean War, but was kept stateside leaving the Army again at the rank of major. He suffered terribly from PTSD and worked tirelessly to make the government recognize and treat this condition, he was prescribed sleeping pills to try and help ease the nightmares he suffered and when he recognized that he was addictive he locked himself up in a hotel room and suffered cold turkey through the withdrawal privately until the need for the drug had passed. He was a modest man that gave away his medals to his friends, and when they were replaced he did it again. He was 46 when he was killed in a aircraft accident, he is buried at Arlington National Cemetery, his headstone is plain, like all those around it as he declined a special marker that he was qualified for as a Medal of Honor recipient, modest to the end.

That is my definition of a compelling hero, I’ve looked through a lot of biographies over the years, because I want to see what people that did amazing things were actually like as people. Common people in uncommon situations and they rose to meet the challenges. Heroism isn’t being fearless, its being afraid but doing what needed to be done in spite of that fear. Sometimes its doing many brave things and enduring the physical and mental pain for the rest of their lives. Sometimes its testifying before Congress about a condition like “shell shock” that had negative connotations about the mental strength and state of a person regardless of any stigma that might attach itself because of it.

I’m thinking of the Horatio Hornblower sort of hero. A shy man with a lot of self doubts, a sailor plagued by sea sickness, a leader that strives to set the proper example to those in his command, an officer that is at his best when the storms blow wild about him, when red hot shot tears through the rigging and the decks are awash in blood. Hornblower is a common man in all regards until danger focuses all that he is into what we have come to know as a literary hero.

A real hero that bullets can kill, that dire can disfigure, and water can drown and a hero that will brave all of these things when fate comes calling, or by the same token a hero is the person that acts when someone is choking and everyone else freezes. Its a word with wide meaning and wide applications.

Heroes don’t have to be soldiers, they are normal people that see an airliner go down in the middle of the river and brave the cracking ice to reach those that miraculously survived. Its Johnny Cash forbidding any painkillers after open heart surgery to make sure he didn’t become addicted again. Its firemen and policemen running into the burning towers when everyone else was trying to get out. Its those that run toward danger to help others. Its so many things and the one thing in common with them all is that that person could live right next door to you, that person could sip iced tea with you while burgers burn on the grill. You could be looking in the mirror at that person while brushing your teeth.

© 2009 – 2020, Tim Boothby. All rights reserved.

Categories
Writing

(Old) Thoughts on Writing

I’m getting back into writing more these days, trying to finish a story that I started more than twenty years ago.

Why its taken so long to get this far is a little complicated.

I write about the world that I created for AD&D, the roots of the world reach back to when I was 13, even then I was a detail kind of person. As I built countries and races and nations and people I needed to know more about them. I slowly filled several spiral notebooks to satisfy this curiosity.

Then stories started to fill other notebooks. Mythologies, people, laws, history, I needed a how and why to help make the AD&D campaigns feel more alive and real.

Slowly the game helped me flesh out the details over the skeleton, and writing added more still.

Then I left home and all of those notebooks went into the bottom of my duffel bag to Japan with me. The writing continued when I could find time to write, and the games continued as I found people interested in playing. That wasn’t easy. I am something of a work-a-holic and so work took more and more time away from all of that, and then I got married and after not too long I got Milady Kim interested in playing. And so the growth of the world continued slowly as I gathered a few more players. It also began to refine as I grew older and had a deeper pool of experiences to draw upon

Then I got my first computer, a Commodore 64, which at that time was cutting edge, and working on new material took a back seat to putting all that I had from several old ragged notebooks onto a small army of disks. And then I was spending more and more time at work because I was assigned to writing technical procedures and that required I work on a PC. Once again Milady Kim showed me wisdom. Why have work on one computer, and my writing on another, when they couldn’t talk to each other.

So, I jumped onto the PC market, back when the 386SX-16 was the screamingest thing running. And when I wasn’t working on work at home, I was putting everything from the Commodore into the PC. Yes, from writing it all in notebooks, to typing it all into one, then another computer. It took a long time, and in that time my writing matured with me, and so when it was finally all in the computer it was all started over from scratch, so writing that started in my teens took me through my twenties and thirties to bring into full flow and continuity.

The longer I served the more “official” writing that I did, and officialese and fantasy are never really compatible to me, and it would take a week or so off just to get back into the fantasy-writing swing and about that time I’d get a few good days and go back to work.

Then I’d get sent somewhere and I was back to my traveling notebooks. I’ve scribbled ideas in several countries, sometimes in decent rooms, in tents, outside where I could find a space to sit, in ready rooms, on aircraft, you name it. And when I got home it would all have to be transcribes again into the computer.

Now I’m transitioning from service, very soon to retire and so I write almost nothing official anymore, and the writing is flowing back into me. No more short declarative sentences in a style known as officialese. Richard Marchinko describes military communication as: “Redundant, bureaucratic military nomenclature, either in written nonoral or nonwritten oral, mode, indecipherable by non-military (conventional) individuals during interfacing configuration conformations.”

I can hear you all already saying WTF? Well, I included that to show you the difference in mindsets and the problem is causes me to get my head right to write in either form.

Now that I’m writing almost exclusively in the fantasy mode now, a few hopefully short, observations.

——————————————————————————–

A story is a lifeless thing if you don’t have characters that you can relate to, and you have to be able to relate to them on a personal level. I am a sentimental guy, and I have written about characters literally from cradle to grave. And there are times when I get very misty-eyed relating their passing, or great or terrible moments in their lives. A character has to be a 3d flesh and blood creation, or you’ll write flat stories about flat people.

I am not a first draft writer, I write and get as much down as I can and what ends up n the page as draft is really rough, and then I go back and smooth until it flows as best I can and then I move along and do more. This is first draft, sorry about that, it won’t be pretty writing.

To write you have to get yourself into writing mode. Music is good for this. Stephen King blasts AC/DC when he writes. I listen to music that fits what I’m writing. Jerry Goldsmith’s Patton soundtrack for Battles, Queen’s Who Wants to Live Forever for death scenes, Aerosmith’s I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing for Love scenes, just as a few examples. I guess there are method writer’s just like there are method actors, and to that degree I am one of them. I have to feel something to write it, or it sits lifeless on the page.

You need support to write. I rely on my family to help me tune my writing, to point out places where I wasn’t in the grove so to speak. But you also need those around you to be with you in what you do, and there I am one lucky bastard.

Write and let the story take you to the end. I can’t do outlines, I try and as I write I end up at the destination I was aiming at, mostly, but the trips is a lot different than I had programmed. Its like a road trip, you know where you need to be at the end, and you can program the stops, but what you see along the way eventually takes over and rules how you’ll go and what you see along the way.

© 2009 – 2020, Tim Boothby. All rights reserved.