late night ramblings of a storyteller

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#StateOfNASA or Bust!

I haven’t been posting as frequently as I thought I might. Just four postings, counting this one, in just under a year. But… as anybody who tries to carve out a writing life, while holding down a day job, and life happening all around without permission, these little flashes of inspiration become few and far between.

And yes, I do know I should be editing pages for my monthly writer’s group meeting, but I had something drop into my feeds today that got my mind a spinning.

NASA is hosting a State of NASA Day, and recruiting Social Media types to report it out. I’ve been hooked on NASA and our space programs since I was that seven-year-old kid laying on the floor, chin propped up, watching Armstrong and Aldrin step off the LEM into Sea of Tranquility, July 17, 1969.

I’ll be the first to confess I’m not a Twitter King, or Facebook Diva, and I don’t have thousands of followers, but if you don’t ask you can’t get told no. So, I asked.

As a writer, who focuses primarily on near future and/or alternate history SciFi, the chance to spend a day touring a NASA Facility, in my case I’m hoping for Armstrong at Edwards AFB, is mind candy. “Participants will get a unique behind the scenes look at the respective center and the diverse work of the agency through tours and presentations with scientists, engineers, and managers.” A chance to visit hangars that held shuttles or X-Project aircraft is just too enticing not to take a shot.

Maybe they’ll see this and take pity on this middle-aged space geek. Who knows. It sure it would be a way to burn a vacation day and share their #StateOfNASA.

Okay, back to editing.

The Muse’s Pilgramage

This week, I renew my pilgrimage to Santa Barbara Writers Conference — #SBWC17. The impetus for this pilgrimage requires a little backstory.

I wasn’t the best student through high school. Some of the roots go a bit deeper but suffice it to say I did just enough to get by, and never really invested the effort to learn how to write effectively. Though I have always been a rabid reader, I even flunked a creative writing class and was told by the instructor that I couldn’t write. I suppose I could deflect some of this and argue if the teacher had taken even a minimal amount of interest in ‘teaching’ he might have challenged me to learn and improve. But, I must admit, the seventeen/eighteen-year-old me would likely have told him to go sit on a short stick.

Fast forward a few years, and I’ve returned from the USAF and enrolled at Santa Barbara’s community college. Initially with the intent of pursuing a career in law enforcement, but ultimately finding my way to my favorite subject, history. Working through the usual general education courses, I struggled initially with the basic English writing requirements. I was fortunate to find a genuine teacher, who after challenging me – “You’re too fucking smart not to be able to write…” He took me under his wing and set me on a three-semester remedial path to learning how to construct my thoughts on paper, a path that sent me down a career in academia. He did that through writing fiction.

Though I enjoyed it immensely, I abandoned any interest in writing fiction. I did excel in research and writing through my academic career, and into my career in administration, and will forever credit Royce Adams & Mace Perona for that.

Jump forward again, to late 2004, I got bit by a bug. The seeds of a story rattled around in my head so vividly I couldn’t shake it. So, I reverted to the tools I had, and started outlining. Not with the intent of producing anything real, but to get it out of my head. Two pages became five. Five became ten. Ten became fifty. When I reached that point, I shared the document with (yes) my mother. She urged me to attend a one-day writers workshop.

That one day workshop started a journey that brings me back to, this week, and SBWC. Over these past twelve years, I’ve learned much. Shared and collaborated. Become a member of this community of writers. And developing my own small tribe of lunatics, who have been referenced and credited in a posting on my author’s page. Oh! And that initial bug became a thousand-page brain-dump, broken into four, still incomplete, novels. I’ve learned much since those early brain-dumping days, and need to rewrite – because that’s what writers do, we write and rewrite until it’s done.

This page is about Curating the Muse. Identifying those things that spark story, character, emotion, the need to put pixels in some order on a screen and share. I keep coming back to this Community of Writers because it feeds that muse. It fans the flame. The burning need to get these voices and characters rattling around in my head out where others can enjoy them.

I won’t go into listing all those who have pushed me along this path. You all know who you are, and I will, again, thank you for your generosity, wisdom, and support. I will encourage anyone reading, if you have the urge to write, and need a place to start learning the craft, the business, and the capacity to manage it within yourself, there is no better place to start than with the band-o-lunatics that comprise the Community of Writers at SBWC. Dates for next year are already on their site.

Feeding my Science Geekdom

As the tagline states, late-night musings. This segment got its start laying in bed staring at the ceiling at 2:45a on the morning. This space is an outlet for sharing those things that inspire my stories, or educate on the business of writing; I would like to highlight a pair of podcasts that regularly provide fodder.

Radiolab, out of the studios of WNYC, typically hosted by Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, has a pair of Peabody Awards to its credit, and covers topics from culture to science; often focused upon where they collide. This morning’s cause for my mind spinning was the result of their recent revisit of CRISPR.

For those who don’t know CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) is a tool for snipping and replacing genetic code. Imagine the possibly of engineering a mosquito that could no longer carry the parasite that causes Yellow Fever or Malaria. Or the potential of replacing faulty gene sequences that produce variants of Muscular Dystrophy or Multiple Sclerosis. Or cure Alzheimer’s. Maybe a treatment for obesity, or on its darker side, sequencing embryonic genes to enhance traits. All those things are possible and more. And all those issues along with the ethics and societal impacts were explored, to one degree or another.

All of which ties into to the motivations and objectives of characters in my current project. Thus why mind was spinning.

Astronomy Cast, brings together the publisher of Universe Today, Fraser Cain, and the Pamela Gay of CosmoQuest, with a weekly exploration of space and terrestrial sciences. Recent topics have included the Torino Scale (how likely a celestial body is to impact Earth) and The Butterfly Effect. Outside of not bothering to do the research to reference Ray Bradbury’s brilliant short story The Sound of Thunder properly, I’ve found their segments to be engaging and enjoyable.

One of their recent episodes addressed Super Volcanoes, something that has been a favorite topic of mine. A couple of years back my NaNoWriMo project was a time travel piece that leveraged the Super Volcano on New Zealand’s North Island, Taupo, which last blew its top almost twenty-seven hundred years ago.

With two hours to kill each day, to and from work, without consistent reception for NPR, a healthy diversified rotation of material is essential. If you’re looking to expand your rotation, I think you’ll find these two a good add.

Until next time.

Dead Robots Society

The first two chapters of my current project were recently featured in Luna Review. The article also included a brief Q & A. In thinking about one of the questions I wished I had extended its boundaries just a smidge.

The question was, “What do you see as the value of writers’ conferences or writing workshops, beyond a chance to drink among fellow lunatics, I mean authors?”

First, one should never underestimate the value of a drink, or two, with fellow lunatics. It is often an overheard exchange, a bantered notion, or a tangent in conversation, that triggers the next story idea.

In thinking further on it the question, it addresses the inherent contradiction of a life as a writer. Outside of the collaborative process associated with TV and Film, writing is a solitary process. Hours spent writing and re-writing, checking mechanics, tweaking sentences for that right word.

Over the past thirteen years of learning how to write, I’ve concluded that this solitary existence is made easier by finding your band of lunatics. Be it a writers group, a community within a writers conference/workshop, or… as I probably should have included the value of virtual communities. I’ve found several over the years and will highlight others in later posts.

I’ve found one such community with a podcast, The Dead Robots Society and its followers page on Facebook, the Listeners of the Dead Robots Society. The hosts Paul E. Cooley (author of The Black Series, and just released Derelict Marines)  and Terry Mixon (author of the Empire of Bones Saga and soon to be released dystopian Grid Down) put out an episode about once a week – 430 episodes as of the writing of this entry. Topics span interviews with fellow authors; discussions of craft and genre; discussions/debates of the business of publishing, Indy v. Traditional v. Hybrid; or grammar and mechanics. The banter is quick and entertaining; the language is occasionally adult. The content is first-rate.

Though the hosts have changed over the years, the goal has always remained the same — writers helping writers. This objective extends beyond their generosity in sharing experience, to engaging with their listeners online. It is in this engagement that one such virtual community can be found. Members of The Listeners of DRS span genre, gender, geography, and politics, but all engage in the online threads.

If you spend hours a week on the road, as I do, DRS is one of a handful of podcasts that has expanded my knowledge to the industry and craft and remains one of my favorites. DRS can be found on their site, iTunes, and other download services.

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