Writing Exercise: Memorial Day tribute

I planned to delve into writing this weekend, mixing those responsibilities with other chores around the house. I needed to regain momentum on Project Two, which had stalled during the pandemic; ironically, I was also fighting the lingering effects of my own bout with Covid. I knew I would have plenty of optimism when I finally sat at the keyboard, even if I had no idea where to begin.

That’s when Serendipity paid a visit.

Goodnight, Saigon by Billy Joel came up on my playlist, and his lyrics drew me in like I was watching a movie. I don’t know if you’ve experienced this, but your mind’s eye takes over, even as your body goes through the motions of dressing and pouring coffee. I’m not even sure of the sequence of events: my mind connected the song to Memorial Day and a scene where Samor rejoins his companions after they’ve lost someone. There was nothing; then there was something.

I grabbed the computer, put the song on repeat, and 30 minutes later, I had this.

Samor greeted his companions as they gathered to him. Their welcome was genuine, their words warm. But he read something else on their faces that he hadn’t seen before. Or rather, he realized he hadn’t had the skills to interpret the tragedies that lay there. The worry that creased Hochness’s brow; the crow’s feet that used to merrily step away from the corners of Oafsson’s eyes. Even the betrayer Chork, addled as his mind remained, seemed more sedate against the bonds that held him to the litter. A weight drug at them all, anchoring them to the battle where they’d lost their friend and compatriot. The look of survivors, a mix of gratitude and guilt, made worse by each condemning beat of their living hearts.

His past naiveté angered him, but mostly it saddened him. No words seemed important enough, nor considerate or meaningful enough to break the silence of the moment. And so, he took his cue from his friends, yes, that is what they were now, and he embraced them silently and exchanged knowing looks that would have been inscrutable to the person he used to be. In the strength he gave, he felt more returned. They knew he knew. They accepted him and were grateful that he offered to share the burden.

Samor recognized this understanding wouldn’t have come from a lifetime of study. Simple words upon the page were shallow, going no deeper than the ink that sank into the paper – practically lies for their misinterpretation of the awful reality. The knowledge was horrible, and he wished he’d never acquired it. A small voice between his ears reminded him it was a necessary experience for the future leader of Empyrelia, a land destined for war, but he could derive no comfort from that. He hoped he never would.

I’ve never been in a war, nor lost someone in combat. I will never be able to fully replicate those experiences on the written page, but that is not my intent. Long ago, I realized there were things expressed by my father’s face that I would never be able to read; there was context in his words I would never comprehend. One of my jobs as a writer is to help others understand that they cannot understand, and that is the goal of a piece like this, with Samor being the conduit. On this Memorial Day weekend, it seemed an important thing to share.

Thanks for indulging me and for remembering those who have fallen in defense of America. If you’re interested in the writing stuff, read on.

Alright, let’s pause a second to breathe and let go of some of that weight. Warm up your coffee and we’ll take a look at the other purpose of this post: what are my observations or comments as a writer?

It’s a first pass, lightly edited after a rewritten sentence or two. The organization is largely unchanged, though what I expected to be a simple paragraph grew into three. I’m pretty happy with the language and variety of words. I’m going to review this for overuse of know/understand/comprehend, which is a habit I recognized during the editing of Project One. Additionally, I would argue that “important enough” and “meaningful enough” in the same sentence is redundant, though I’m keeping it for now because I like the rhythm and flow of the sentence and its place in the paragraph.

It’s heavy, yeah, one of the heaviest things I’ve written. I wonder about its inclusion in a YA fantasy novel that includes lighter fare, such as dragons, threadwolves, and ice demons. It’s too fresh for me to be objective, but I don’t think I’ll tone it down. One of my writing principles is to be truthful to my characters’ situations. In books and movies, I feel that the weight of the grief and survivor’s guilt is often glossed over so we can get to the celebration of life, the raising of goblets, if you will. This pain is important for Samor and The Reader to recognize on this journey together. There will be time later to toast to their companion’s memory, and that’s a fun scene I also look forward to sharing.

As I mentioned above, it took about 30 minutes to write those three paragraphs. The writing is tighter and more polished than it often is after that short a time, so I’m pleased. I’m also grateful to have written something with personal meeting; it’s been a few years since Only Some Came Back, which I wrote for Veterans’ Day.

Some writing days are like that – everything just comes together. You sit back and go, “Huh. I like how that came out, even if it’s different than I anticipated.” It’s funny, as easy as that was, this post took about two additional hours to write. That’s just how it goes. Good luck with your writing!

–Mike


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

© Michael Wallevand, May 2022

Writing Exercise: Sometimes You Climb

A note to our son Sam, as he’s training to be a climbing instructor at Scout camp. I share it here because it was too long to text. Pfft, writers.

Sam,

I know you had your eyes set on the aquatics director role and how you were disappointed when circumstances beyond your control prevented it from happening this year. However, when I heard you were moving to the rock wall, I thought, ”Now THERE is a role that perfectly suits Sam.”

And so, if you’ve forgotten how much you loved climbing as a kid, I wanted to share three climbing-related moments from your life.

The first happened when you were three, which would have been the Summer of 2003. You were playing in the backyard, and me, still a relatively new parent, assumed you were safely contained by our six-foot stockade fence.

You weren’t. When I opened the front door in response to a tiny knock, you stood there, smiling and oblivious to any of the thousand perils my worried parent’s mind instantly conjured, not least of which were the dangers of traffic or falling onto the concrete pad. To your mind, an obstacle three times your height was a trifle. And a fun one.

Feel free to share that story at camp. 🙂

The second happened at a water park at the Wisconsin Dells. You weren’t so much climbing up, as climbing off a slippery waterslide. This time you did meet concrete, and painfully so. Alright, alright, this isn’t quite a climbing memory like the first one, but this is my post and I make the rules. However, I think you learned an important lesson about balance and I don’t think you’ve taken a spill like that since.

And that brings me to the third memory. You were a regular chimpanzee on playground equipment. It wasn’t unusual to find you scaling the frame of the swings, crawling across the top of the monkey bars (instead of swinging across from bar to bar), or sitting on the roof of the fort. It became clear that you were sure-footed enough that you wouldn’t fall. No amount of raised adult hands or sharp inhalations of breath was enough to stop you.

If there is one other reason for making three points, it’s this: in climbing, there is a rule called ‘three points of contact’ for which you always have two hands and a foot or two feet and a hand in contact with the climbing surface.

You have been climbing, always climbing, your entire life. It doesn’t matter if the thing was made for it. Oh no. It could happen so quickly, it was like magic, and no adult had enough eyes in their head to prevent it. More than once, I found myself thinking, “There’s a thing he won’t climb” only to find myself soon proven wrong.

Come full circle to your new role at Scout camp, I think of your lifelong connection. How you have climbed across rope courses, down into caves, and up onto mountains, and you have also scaled the ranks from Tiger Cub to Eagle Scout, earning achievements like Arrow of Light and Order of the Arrow along the way. Always forward, always up, always reaching the top.

Similarly in life, we are making forward progress, even when it feels like the opposite. Sometimes we sink or swim. Sometimes, we get knocked down, only to return to our feet.

Sometimes you climb.

And we’ll always be here to encourage you to climb higher. Love, Dad

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

© Michael Wallevand, May 22, 2022

I’d been thinking about quitting

I didn’t want to write this post.

I’m sure some of that came from the societal stigma about showing vulnerability and my extreme reluctance to share personal aspects of my life. I think the greater issue, however, was the fear that such an admission would transform thought into reality if it reached the written page.

I wrote a draft of this post in mid-September after a rough couple weeks, when stressors and disappointments had piled upon another. I’d found myself angering easily or venting frustration in situations where it wasn’t warranted. My novel always appeared to be the catalyst: not having time, not being inspired, delivering garbage when I did sit down.

It wasn’t the first time I’d had similar feelings, but these were more acute and my defenses were down.

My writing time was precious and I was wasting it, and this realization was eating me alive.

There’s a betraying voice in your head that suggests the simplest solution: Quit doing the thing that’s causing pain. Just walk away.

Because writing is the primary way I express emotion, my head started drafting a post along those lines. The admission hurt, and that feeling intensified as I fleshed it out, because it reflected the abandonment of something I’ve wanted my whole life.

I sat at the computer that morning with little optimism and a negligibly more determination. I didn’t want to write this post…and I told myself over and again that I was pretty sure I wasn’t quitting.

Then I happened to read the following passage I’d copied from a book, and my perspective changed.

“You have to understand his motivation,” Michael said. “A writer can spend years working on a book he isn’t sure will ever sell. What makes him do it?”

Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard

No joke, it was like a switch flipped. A flood of positive memories surged through my brain, washing away the dark thoughts that had taken root. I decided that, yes, I was going to write this post, but I wasn’t going to take the “woe is me, writing is hard” approach (if there’s one kind of writing I’m certain people don’t want to read – aside from advertising – it’s that).

And so, I used the Delete key many, many times to get the post you’re reading now.

Writing and telling compelling stories is hard, make no mistake about that, and with any difficult task, there are highs and lows. There will be a few black days, and sometimes you will feel crushed or trapped. There will be days where the lying voices are very convincing, but quitting does not bring the bliss they promise.

Writing this post was cathartic, though perhaps not at the intellectual level a person might assume. No – and apologies in advance – it was more analogous to vomiting up the thing that made you sick. You can wallow in misery, which I’d been doing for a couple weeks, or you can stick your finger in your throat and get it out. Our bodies are miraculous things. They know when something doesn’t belong, and it’s unnatural to fight that. Our heads are the same way. Intellectually, we recognize the blackest thoughts, even when there is little illumination for us to see that.

In closing, here’s another admission, though an easier one to share. I stopped writing this post at the last paragraph and set it aside for months. My purpose for writing it, a desire to lift my spirits, had been achieved. Rejuvenated, I immediately went back to writing and the following weeks were happier. I’ve completed it for your sake and mine. We might not need reassurance or a kick in the pants today, but on another day we will. And this post will be waiting for us.

Good luck with your writing!

–Mike


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

© Michael Wallevand, March 2022

Word Casualties #10 – For the love of all that’s holy

Sometimes….you might just plop gibberish upon the page.

When I’m in the zone, I type around 100 words per minute. That’s not elite status, but I’m definitely moving. My brain, however, is processing the story much faster. Passages aren’t necessarily being fed to the page in order, and oftentimes, sentences aren’t landing with the words in their intended sequence. It’s a bit of a wires-crossed thing that requires some adaptation, patience, and editing.

An unfortunate, though sometimes hilarious consequence, is some serious gibberish. Although it breaks my rhythm, I usually delete these things immediately because they’re too horrid to live on the page another moment. However, since I started this series of Casualties posts, I’ve decided to save some of the better ones as examples of just how wrong an experienced writer can go.

As always, I’ve created some definitions, and the correct words (if I’ve deciphered them) follow that.

CASUALTIES

Hiuefully – a well-saturated color

Initiatititive – making the first move on a sexy date

Tjamls – beasts of burden that tjaverse the djesert

Habyart – a question posed to the entrants of rural art shows: “Habyart?” “Yessaidoo!”

Consticuous – something stuck to the wall and definitely out of place

Priviledge – born with the right to stand upon the precipice

Viluminous – an evil glow

Predigestion – what happens to chewed food slathered in saliva

Predamentary – the basics for stalking prey

Harbordence – a thick fog hanging heavy upon the docks

Trhaventily – seriously, I got nothing here. A flower? A kind of fancy silk lace?

CORRECT SPELLINGS

Continue reading

Why I Didn’t Eat Ranch Dressing for Fifteen Years

This post is about 800 words

 If you’re lucky, you’ve had a bad job. It you’re blessed, you’ve had a terrible job.

I’ve known people who have worked themselves up from near-squalor and I’ve known others who’ve had charmed lives and probably never washed actual dirt from their hands. No judgment either way from me. I can’t begrudge people for the lives into which they were born.

But there’s something to be said for having a career where everything didn’t go your way. Not only are these opportunities to see how you deal with the crucible, but they add a different level of appreciation to what you’ve achieved.

Here’s an example from my own varied work history.

In college, I worked for a temp agency that regularly sent me to a food processing plant. Most of the jobs were mundane: picking burnt chips off a conveyor belt or pulling mislabeled cans off the line. I could literally turn off my brain while I did these tasks, and actually, I wrote a lot in my head during my overnight shifts.

Those aren’t the kinds of tasks I’ll describe here, however.

One night, the shift manager took us to a more secluded part of the factory, where the mercury vapor lights seemed dimmer. As we walked past ovens, labelers, and mixing casks, he explained that we were disposing of ruined food. Bacteria had spoiled a large batch of ranch dressing that had already been bottled. Our task was to open the bottles and pour them into fifty-gallon drums.

You can see where this is going, can’t you?

Continue reading

Have you tapped into something special?

One never knows. A creative project is an emotional roller coaster filled with self-doubt, self-assurance, and second-, triple-, and quadruple-guessing.

Sounds like a Monday.

There are bleak days and dark ones. These are the times when you wonder if your book would better serve as a doorstop than entertainment. I know many writers feel similarly during the course of a project. It could be an external factor, like your day job, piling upon your feelings of self-worth. It could be a matter of life and love. It could be a change in weather. Or it could be that you’ve read that blasted manuscript so many times, the words might as well be in another language.

Unfortunately, those feelings can create powerlessness, creating doubts that are very difficult to overcome. It’s the reason that so many of us have abandoned drafts that we keep promising we’ll return to someday.

We’re often waiting for perfect conditions that never arrive.

When we’re honest with ourselves, truly honest, we recognize that those days are more exception than rule. There are also good days, which are more rule than exception. Even better, we have those moments when it doesn’t feel like work. When things are clicking. When you feel you might – just might – have tapped into something special. And it gives you the power to keep going.

So. I’m writing this for other writers to let them know that sometimes, the universe rewards you and reinforces that you need to keep going. Here are three examples of when this happened to me.

Continue reading

If a book falls in the forest

If a person writes a book and no one reads it, is it still a book? Depending on your reason for writing, your answer will vary.

I write for a variety of reasons – relaxation, brain exercise, practice my craft, gottagetthatdamnideaoutofmyhead – but I primarily write because I want to entertain people. It’s a need written in DNA, and a novel is the current medium in which I choose to satisfy it (I’ve also dabbled in flash fiction, a novella, pitched a comic series, and currently have two tabletop game ideas I’m exploring).

Looking at it from that perspective, I won’t find success until my writing is in someone’s hands, whether physically, digitally, or in the not-too-distant future, displayed via holographic projection. Said another way, what I’ve written is not really a book until someone reads it. It’s simply a interesting story, perhaps an exercise, occupying a similar paradoxical state as Schrödinger’s cat.

I imagine people protesting on my behalf: Don’t sell yourself short! There’s value in the experience! Simply finishing is a major accomplishment! All these things and more are true. They have value, and I appreciate the sentiment.

But they’re not the things that bring me to the keyboard. However…

Continue reading

My Writing Freaked Out a Rock Star

Writing inspiration comes from everywhere. Looking out a window or considering how a person might react to a situation or watching your kids play. In this example, it came from the song “Iris” by Goo Goo Dolls.

“You bleed just to know you’re alive.”

When I wondered what might cause a man to literally, not metaphorically, do such a thing, the story erupted from me. It was the writing experience I’d always imagined, though rarely had. And it came from questions that followed one after the other, piling up until I couldn’t type quickly enough.

More than fifteen years later, I still recall the first scene. A man in a cheap apartment staring at himself in a grimy mirror and hating what he saw. He picked up the razor blade, as he had many times before, and cut his wrist. A single droplet of blood fell into a claw-footed bathtub. As he watched, his cut healed and he screamed in helpless rage. He slashed again and again, healing again and again…until he didn’t. He breathed a sigh of relief. Soon, it would finally be over.

While there’s a violence and hopelessness to the scene, I believed the book would be a beautiful take on the unrequited love story: A man who heals others and himself, and the nurse searching for the person performing miracles in the streets. He falls in love, but will never tell her, never end his self-imposed exile, because his body is too scarred, his psyche too damaged. He’s unworthy of redemption. To further quote the song, “I don’t want the world to see me ’cause I don’t think that they’d understand.”

A few months later, I had the draft of a 30,000-word novella.

Fast-forward to sometime in 2006. Goo Goo Dolls were promoting their latest album, Let Love In. I worked in the Best Buy Music department, and we were often a stop for such junkets. Artists would talk about the album, maybe spin some tracks or perform, and then we’d often get a chance for handshakes and pix. It was the coolest job perk I ever had.

It’s key to understand that “meet and greet” is a brief encounter. Obviously, no one’s making friends, but it is a chance to say a few kinds words or ask a question before quickly moving on. Sometimes, it’s idle chitchat; other times, you get to thank someone for a meaningful impact they had on your life.

Continue reading

Support Your Friends’ Art: Moshi Moshi

Pardon a word of preface before I get to the album I’m going to review. Few in the world are lucky enough to be recognized for the art they create, whether in paints or stone, music or poetry, or movies or books. I believe we can always use more art in the world and that each of us can do our part simply by sharing the things we like. Even if you do not do this, even if you disagree, you still benefit from the artists in the world who are working every day to do something they love. So why not make a meaningful contribution and share something you like? Even better, pay money for something you love.


Moshi Moshi by Ryan and Pony

This post is a review of the album Moshi Moshi, the debut album by Ryan and Pony, friends of ours. And while our relationship predisposes me to support them, I really do enjoy this album. It’s been in my rotation since I bought it.

They fuse dream pop, post punk, brit rock, EDM, and good ol’ fashion rock and roll for a sound all their own,” their website says. I agree. And here’s my impression: It sounds like a synthesis of all the rock and pop music I loved through the 80s and 90s, and it creates something new. The music feels like a natural evolution of that time period, both familiar and fresh. Perhaps I phrase it this way because that’s what I try to evoke in my own writing.

I enjoyed all the songs on the album, but here are the four that have stuck with me from the first spin.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading