Year Five

December 10, 2020 marks the five-year anniversary of this writing project, so I thought I’d take a few minutes to recount a year in a writer’s life. There’s probably a joke to make about celebrating the “wood” anniversary for a book, but I don’t have much in the creative tank tonight.

For many of us, 2020 friggin’ sucked. We’re living through trauma, and so many things made us sad, stressed, or depressed. I write because I want to bring joy to other people, and it was damn hard to summon that joy to the page this year. My emotions ran the gamut, from grief to anger to fear to outrage.

  • We lost some key figures from my childhood (David Prowse, Eddie Van Halen, Alex Trebek, Sean Connery) and my adulthood (RBG, Chadwick Boseman, Ian Holm)
  • Pandemic….well, everything, including anti-maskers who I just don’t understand
  • I started working from home (for what will end up being more than a year)
  • Watched my city, Minneapolis, descend into chaos after the murder of George Floyd
  • We had my wife’s teaching role and my younger son’s special education turned upside down by the pandemic
  • We watched two people younger than us succumb to cancer
  • My wife was in a car accident that sent her to the ER and totaled our older son’s car
  • And for crying out loud, so many Presidential shenanigans

Some of these inspired writing (Whatcha writing during isolation?, Privilege in a time of chaos and injustice, Squeezing in writing time), which is good because I really struggled to work on my novels in the first half of the year. I can’t recall whether I’ve had this much trouble writing before.

But any day I can write one word is a good day, and there were plenty of days that exceeded that. I did make some good progress. During the research for this post, I discovered that I accomplished more than I suspected. Here’s a few highlights:

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Writing Is Weird

It’s a Friday afternoon, and I’ve had the day off from work. Ahem, a day off from the office job. It’s allowed me to put in some writing work. I knocked out just over 2,000 words today, interspersed with some family responsibilities. As satisfying as the day has been, that’s not my purpose for this post.

I’ll just say it aloud: Writing is weird. It really is. You sit, you think, you write out thoughts. Some day, not today, they make sense. Hopefully, to others besides yourself.

I planned to write something of a scene today, and as I consider the labyrinthine journey I took as I worked, I’m surprised – and pleased – with the results. For those of you interested in the writing process, I whipped up a quick post to shed some light on my own methods and madness. Be advised, Dear Reader, this will be a strange walk through one writer’s mind and his storytelling process. Consider yourself well-warned.

* * * * *

In my second novel, my protagonist has been raised without any knowledge of his past life. Like his sister Tildy in the first book, the world thinks Samor dead. But as the children of a Queen and King, their worlds are filled with paintings, books, people, and other references that provide insight into their family and their early lives. The children do not realize this, but assuming I do a proper job, the Reader will.

As I was getting ready for the day, I started debating what I might write about. My mind followed Samor’s book journey and decided I would have him discover the painting of his parents. Tildy does a similar thing in her book, and neither of them recognize the experience for what it is: the first time either of them have beheld their parents – or the infant images of themselves.

Parallel scenes like this are one of the reasons I wanted to tell their stories in separate books. It also allows a fair amount of compare and contrast, which is a handy way to derive inspiration: Oh, Tildy handled the experience this way? How would her brother handle it differently? And what are their shared reactions?

OK, so I’ve set a goal, a destination, for my scene. How do I get there? (For spoiler-y reasons that I won’t explain here, the portraits have been hidden. The why isn’t important to the scene.) I now needed a beginning and a middle.

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Oh, You Just Sat Down and Wrote?

It’s 7:30 on a Sunday night. Beside me sits a glass of whisky and ice. I’ve poisoned it, some might say, with Coca-Cola. And that’s fine for this ending to a long day because I’m desirous of the effects, if not so much the taste.

Much of these first three paragraphs was written, and re-written in the car this evening, while listening to Neil Gaiman’s The View From The Cheap Seats (It’s one of three books I’m currently enjoying. The softcover Brimstone by Preston & Child sits beside the whisky glass and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone awaits my ears when I get to bed, whenever that might be.).

The Gaiman writing is good, as he usually is, but I think there’s more than that pleasure contained in this particular work. It also contains some unspoken encouragement for writers, and I wonder if other people realize that when they read it.

I’ve hardly been writing since the pandemic was declared in March. The Gaiman book, and another huge relief that occurred this week, have served to remove some of the weight that’s been crushing me. Today, some pent up energy was released.

I’ve already mentioned that I began writing this post ahead of time, and that’s much like the new story I sat down to type this morning. Similarly, it formed in my head before I knew I was going to do any writing. As I showered today, two distinct lines popped into my head, as though I had discovered a thing that existed or was remembering something whispered to me in my sleep.

The first was a title: The Time Travel Tinkerer.

The second was the opening: Putter was a tinkerer, a time traveler, and a bastard. At least, that’s how people would have viewed him, if they’d known what he’d done. Or would do, depending on their places in time.

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Here’s that encouragement you need

I’ve got a friend who’s been fighting depression, the kind of battle that needs all the encouragement we can muster. You can imagine my disappointment and anger when he posted that some people had sh** on his creative project, which was one of his outlets for dealing with his affliction.

I’m tired of reading awful comments that go unchallenged, so I’m going to stand up for others when I can. The creative process is hard enough without people trolling for the sake of trolling. Here’s what I wrote for him, which I’m sharing in the hope it helps others, too.

I’m going to take one sentence to call out people who would sh** on a person’s creative project: Do something better with your life and look at this person as an example of someone who is succeeding at that.

Now, on to more important things. I’ve spent years trying to create worthwhile content for people, and I know it’s hard to set aside a project. But take heart: all the creatives we love have unfinished projects, whether they’re musicians, writers, or painters.

I’m encouraging you to keep that creative door open a crack. Then walk away and take a break. Don’t look at it. Don’t try to force it open. Don’t dwell on it. Just let the door remain ajar. You’ll likely find that when you’re waiting for coffee, playing with a kid, or waiting for sleep’s embrace, that a light will shine through that narrow opening. That light is an idea. It could be a title, snippets of lyric, or simply a feeling you want to convey. Capture whatever it is. Even if it sucks. Then capture the next one. Occasionally, pull out that growing list and read through it. Maybe something will spark; often nothing will. When you’re ready, and it will probably be sooner than you think, you’ll realize you have something that forces you to pull that door handle to let a little more light into the room. Let me give you two personal examples:

1. I started my list in high school, well, a couple lists actually. One would eventually be named ‘Titles Without Stories’, which is exactly what it sounds like: catchy or intriguing names that might spark to life someday. Sixteen years later, I pitched ‘The Demon and Mrs. Chang’ to Marvel Comics. I received a very nice boilerplate rejection letter in response.

2. I’ve spent four years writing a novel, capturing ideas like I described above. Now, I’m pitching to agents and working on a follow-up. I’m currently 0-3-1 with agents, btw.

Will either of these make me money or see life in print? Dunno, but that’s not the point of this comment. As your friend wisely said, it’s a learning process. Every project teaches you something about your craft. Each one makes you better: artistically, spiritually, and mentally. And that’s what is really important.

Ars gratia artis

There’s enough darkness in the world that we shouldn’t be eager to snuff a struggling light. As a society, we have given too much power to trolls, and I want to take it back.

–Mike


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© Michael Wallevand, June 2020

Squeezing in writing time

As I mentioned in Whatcha writing during isolation?, I hadn’t been doing much writing. Thinking, yes; time at the keyboard, no. I also stated that I was taking a break.

I think that means different things to writers than many other people. You see, much like the famous Ross and Rachel argument on Friends, whether I was on a break could be debated.

We. Were. On. A. Break!

Since it’s Fathers’ Day, and I’m writing, I think you know the winner in my particular debate.

I was putting a lot of thought into the future of the series, and I don’t mean whether I’d get published or whether I should shelve the project. I was contemplating the ongoing storyline and the eventual intersection of Tildy and her lost brother, Samor (for a little preliminary info on him, go here: the Prince).

Much needs to happen to create the dynamic between them when they meet. Without being too spoiler-y, they are both heirs to the throne. Due to the patriarchy of their society, many will favor him; however, as the first-born, Tildy will also have a legitimate claim, as far a many are concerned.

Before I digress too far, there are beats in the story that must be hit and I need to determine the best books for them to occur. When does Tildy realize this? Book 2. When does Samor achieve that? Book 3. And so on.

So, I’ve been taking notes. Lots of ’em.

Yesterday, I found myself with a little free time. I pulled up Evernote and started popping notes into the appropriate manuscripts. After an hour or two, I’d added maybe 30 total notes into nine manuscripts. You can verify that here: Progress Tracker.

That’s….an ambitious project.

Yeah, which is why I need to understand where the overall story is headed. Otherwise, the – let’s call it writing math – isn’t going to add up at the end.

Equally important, it was a telling thing because I wasn’t “in the writing mood” and the house was hardly free of distractions. The perfect writing environment isn’t sustainable for a married guy working through a pandemic as Summer arrives with two dogs and two kids. I’ve changed my approach to ensure I’m spending my time working, not waiting. Fortunately, I started that transformation years ago.

For me, writing has never been limited to words appearing on a page. Having a similar philosophy will help you spend more time working and less time waiting. Good luck!

–Mike


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© Michael Wallevand, June 2020

Privilege in a time of chaos and injustice

I live in a Minneapolis suburb, though I am far enough away that I cannot see the smoke. I cannot hear the protests. My sleep is not disturbed by the sounds of gunfire and sirens. While the murder of George Floyd has angered me, I have been separated from the cacophony of a world aflame.

I have felt helpless and rooted in place, and it has forced some introspection. I know I do not truly understand the emotions or thoughts of the communities affected by this murder. So I have been listening. As I hear the anguish, the powerlessness, the frustration, and as I read what it’s like to fear a similar fate as George Floyd, I have been reminded that I have lived a privileged life compared to many people in my country.

A decision lay before me: to live within the comfort and protection of my privilege or to use it for something positive. I chose the latter.

I took what I heard and wrote this.

***********************

I am not black.

I am not of eastern Asian descent, nor Slavic or Middle Eastern, nor a member of most of the other wonderful ancestries that humans are blessed to have.

I am not Muslim, nor a member of any of the non-Christian religions that bring people comfort across the world.

I am not female, nor any of the other genders we are discovering in our DNA.

I am not gay, and I do not fit into any of the sexual orientations that close-minded people refuse to acknowledge.

I am not missing any of my five senses or four limbs. My brain doesn’t process the world in a way that requires additional interpretation.

I’ve never been impoverished or homeless.

I am a straight white male living in America and there are very few words that we use to modify that description. We live in a country that must label people to remind them they are different than a particular type of person – that they are other. That they do not have my privilege.

I recognize that in the United States, I have more privilege than all of these wonderfully different ways to be human.

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Word Casualties #4

Our latest light-hearted look at typos and the definitions they’d have if they were real words. (actual words at the bottom)

Teehee fly – a pesky little laughing insect.

Arknowledge – the wisdom needed to build a deluge-escaping watercraft.

Desolatastness – The delicious feeling of being isolated.

Arthuretum – A piece of land on which many different Arthurs are grown.

Anfractcously – The measurement of the fractal space along the surface indentations of couscous.

Malaware – Software that is not only malicious, but dangerously self-conscious.

Fantsy – Used to describe the intricate scrollwork and special fonts used in Tolkien books.

Misfurtones – The dissonance that occurs while singing poorly about fur coats.

Delicktable – Something that looks good enough to be licked.

Tsetse fly, acknowledge, desolateness, arboretum, ???, malware, fantasy, misfortunes, and delectable.


Enjoy what you just read? Leave a comment or like the post and we’ll ensure that you see more like this!

© Michael Wallevand, March 2020

Enticed by Pepper – Writing Exercise

I was going to shut myself away in a quiet room, but my wife’s making homemade chicken noodle soup and the enticing smell is irresistible. It’s the smell of home, but a nostalgic kind. A place where hungry people come in from a wintry outdoors and suddenly find themselves ravenous in a warm, aromatic kitchen.

And so, with no preparation, I sat down and wrote a little about it. I don’t know what this is. Just stream-of-consciousness stuff. I provide it as an unedited example of how easy it is to get writing momentum some days, especially when you’re not overly concerned with structure or other grammatical rules.

I’m writing at the kitchen table

with headphones in.

It keeps out the distractions of home life

Yet allows me to stay within my family’s presence.

I sit here so I can smell my wife’s homemade chicken noodle soup.

As it bubbles on the stove

Its pepper enticing, the rich broth,

the concoction of ingredients that dance merrily in a savory swirl

“Pepper makes me sneeze,” I said as a kid.

It no longer has the effect I pretended it had back then.

Now, it’s an enticement, I want to bask in its aroma

and be inspired by cauldron thoughts

and salivating mouths,

of cooking herbs found near the camp

fresh-picked and green,

their earth nourished by a nearby brook that delights in its passage.

I cannot hear the roiling water as it swirls upon the stove.

It waits for noodles, thick and grand, pleasures each to taste.

And so I type, I write.

I take white pages and darken them with hope.

With no planning save that which can be done in preparation to sit

and bask within a kitchen breeze

its peppered breath a kiss,

A promise,

An inspiration.

Perhaps it will be worth editing later, or pieces will be borrowed for something else. At the very least, it got my mind ready for the other writing I intended to complete. And it got me hungrier.

It’s time for a luncheon interruption.

Homemade chicken noodle soup with carrots, onions, celery, and big thick noodles.

Enjoy what you just read? Leave a comment or like the post and we’ll ensure that you see more like this!

© Michael Wallevand, March 2020

I Did That Thing I Hate #1

Yeah, this is likely be the first of several posts in this category because I keep falling into traps of my own devising.

movie poster

Before Christmas I did that thing I hate. I’ve heard from several unpublished authors who do the same thing, and they hate it, too.

A note of preface. I’m going to overuse air quotes throughout this piece so you can see how ridiculous one “writer’s” brain is.

So, at an event in December, someone introduced me as an “author”. Gasp!

Because many of us are hardwired to distinguish ourselves from authors who have been “actually” published, I said something self-deprecating to ensure these people knew I wasn’t a “real” author. I needed to forestall the inevitable questions about my “book”.

It didn’t work.

The awkwardness probably didn’t phase them and I’m certain neither of them is writing about the exchange two months later.

To many of us writing a book, “author” is a title of veneration which we cannot “earn” until our work appears on the shelf of a “real bookstore”.

Now, I’ll pause here for a moment so you can say something like, “Man, writers are weird/dumb/insecure gumble-goos.”

Yes! Thank you! Sigh.

While you’re SMDH’ing, I’ll mention that it took more than a decade before I’d even accept being called a writer. Seriously. I say this as a person who’s been paid for copywriting, editing, proofreading, and (lord, help me) straight up creative writing. I even had the title ‘Letter Correspondent’, but I wasn’t a writer because that wasn’t “real” writing.

Tired of the quotes yet? I am, and I fricking wrote this.

Ralphie from a Christmas story

Anyway, I knew I was doing that thing I hate exactly as I was saying it. Much like Ralphie in A Christmas Story as he drops the F-bomb, except things worked out a smidge better for me in December.

You see, I was secretly pleased that the subject had been broached, though I’d never say it aloud. I was pleased because there are a few days a year where writers do want to talk about their craft. As a result, we had a nice conversation during which I explained the plot, my protagonist, Tildy, and my motivations for writing a book with a thirteen-year-old heroine.

Not only did it help break me from my shell, it helped me practice my pitch, which for many writers is harder than completing an entire book.

And so, WRITERS (you see I abandoned the air quotes several paragraphs ago), be proud and unafraid, even if it requires you to rewire your brain a smidge.

Good luck with your non-air-quoted writing!

–Mike


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© Michael Wallevand, February 2020

Word Casualties #3

Don’t get mad at typos, laugh along with our made-up definitions!

See if you can guess the writers’ intended words!

anarchrist – A deity who fights for the violent overthrow of established governments.

illustratrated – I claim this one as my own. It’s a longer form of illustrating that involves having an illustration within an illustration (click to link to enjoy my embarrassment).

intarrowgate – A small village of Middle-Earth.

willowmaker – To turn one into a person of small stature for a fantasy movie.

batherobe – One could argue this is a garment for a bather. But that doesn’t make it a real word.

flappergasted – The act of being so surprised, one’s arms are waved up and down in rapid fashion.

Jessus – The name Mary and Joseph were going to use if they had a girl.

factuary – One who calculates insurance risks and provides true information.

flustery – When the wind gets agitated and gusts at high speeds.

alabastard – A pale, fatherless child.

Intended words: anarchist, illustrated, interrogate, widowmaker, bathrobe, flabbergasted, Jesus, factory(?), blustery, and alabaster.

Good luck with your wtiring!


Enjoy what you just read? Leave a comment or like the post and we’ll ensure that you see more like this!

© Michael Wallevand, February 2020