An unusual blog posting–do you know why it’s unusual?

It’s cold in Michigan right now. Lots and lots of snow. No snow fall right now, thankfully. As I sit and put down words into this blog, I try to think what’s truly most difficult–hot or cold. Running an A.C. or running a contraption that puts out hot air.

I don’t know.

I saw a story moons ago about this man, Paul; Paul works on a book and as Paul works on it, buttons on his writing tool quit working. S, N, and so on.

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One big writing project done, another in the works

Go to my other blog at http://fromatozowie.wordpress.com to see my five-part series of The Day the Music Died. I enjoyed working on that very much and even got choked up a few times while writing it. That’s what happens when you listen to “Sleepwalkers”, I suppose.

Now, off to other assignments. Am working on a feature article about locker rooms and restrooms for a recreation magazine.

And, yes, I still try to journal and write fiction. I have no excuse now that I have a keyboard that actually works!

Approaching 10 years as a writer

I began writing professionally on Feb. 28, 2000, when I started my post-military career as a civilian reporter for the now-closed* Kelly Air Force Base’s Kelly Observer. Worked there with Greg Ripps, Karen Edge, Glen Whiton, Gary Emery, Joe Flores, Oscar Balladares and the late Dick Walters. All were wonderful people.

What have I learned in 10 years? Be professional, polite, and to the point; revise, revise, revise; network and develop great people skills; realize and implement the fact that you never quit learning as a writer.

*No, my working there is not why the base closed!

Loaning out magazines

I loaned out older copies of Writer’s Digest and The Writer to a schoolteacher in Oxford, Michigan. The teacher’s a great guy. I had to be careful, though, when selecting which magazines to give out. One back issue of WD has a feature story about how to write effectively in the erotica genre.

Not exactly something you’d want a 12-ish student reading about, huh?

My entry into Writer’s Digest’s Contest #16

Alas, I didn’t make the final five of the more than 700 who entered the contest to write 750 words on this prompt: Three boys decide to go have some fun at the local swimming hole. Shortly after they arrive, something terrible happens.

Here’s my entry:

Final Swim at Poesta Pond

By Richard Zowie
 
As Robert, Lance and I swam in the slowly-evaporating Poesta Pond during yet another South Texas summer heat wave, a stranger came to the pond carrying a knapsack. He took off his clothes—a t-shirt, jeans and boots—and lay them near his knapsack on the grass near the water. The hot air was soundless except for the hypnotizing drone of cicadas.
            The stranger nodded to us teenagers but said nothing. He was about 40, six feet tall with short-cropped dark hair. His lean, muscular body suggested a few decades of hard labor, possibly construction work. He also had a small, crimson scar about an inch above his right nipple. Around his neck he wore gold and silver chains, the gold one with a cross and the silver one without adornment. He looked distantly familiar, possibly a television star.
            Gliding into the water, he dove down and almost immediately resurfaced. He returned to his knapsack, produced an enclosed soap dish, took the soap out and lathered his entire body. After putting away the soap, he reentered the water and dove down and disappeared for a long time.
            The three of us glanced at each other, not knowing what to say.
            Finally, he resurfaced, wiped water from his face. Almost all the soap was gone. His wet, light-blue eyes glittered.
            “I’m Paul,” I said, trying to be friendly.
            The stranger looked at me for a long time, a relaxed but guarded expression, as if trying to determine the motive of my greeting.
            Finally, a brief smile. “I’m Roger. How’s it going?” he said. His deep, dusty, croaky voice, possibly one used only when necessary, carried no trace of a local accent—or even a Texas accent—for that matter.
            “I’m Lance, and this is Robert,” Lance said. “Pretty hot today, isn’t it?”
            “It is,” he said, ducking under the water again briefly.
            When he came back up, I noticed Roger’s scarred left ear. A small part of the lobe was torn open at the bottom, healed into a jagged, inverted v-shaped pattern. I gazed for a while before realizing Roger was looking right at me. His eyes narrowed, where it was almost impossible to tell they were blue. I laughed to cover up my fear and went under the water.
            When I surfaced, Roger was swimming back to shore. Once there, he dressed. Robert swam to me, glanced at Roger and then whispered, “Hey, isn’t that the guy they had on America’s Most Wanted a month or two ago?”
            With those three words, many thoughts raced through my mind.
            James McCauley.
            Likes to wear two necklaces, one gold and the other silver.
            Strong, silent type.
            Two scars: one just above his right nipple and an open scar on his left ear from when his wife had yanked out his earring in anger over his cheating on her.
            Wanted for murdering his wife and his mistress’ husband.
            Armed and extremely dangerous.
            He’s on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List! I thought.
            James McCauley finished dressing. He reached into his knapsack and produced an automatic pistol. Somehow, he must’ve overheard Robert’s whispering. “Time for a game, boys,” he said, almost bored. “If you want to live, you’d better have good lungs.”
            He cocked the gun and all three of us immediately plunged into the water. I held my breath for nearly a minute, and during that time heard five loud booms. My heart raced as my burning, suffocating lungs pleaded for air; my arms and legs frantically flailed and kicked. Terrified, I didn’t consider swimming to the shore to try to run away. Surfacing seemed too dangerous. Finally, I started gagging and coughing as my mouth opened and I started to swallow and breathe water. I surfaced, coughing and breathing in the hot air and screaming, hoping someone would hear us. Coughing out water, I saw the blue sky—
            BOOM!
            A bullet tore through the center of my chest. The shot jerked me backward into the water, as if I’d been hit with a fiery sledge hammer.
            As I fell splashing into the water, I caught a brief, frantic glimpse of Robert’s body on the shore and Lance’s body floating a few feet away from me. Against the hot, tearing pain I tried to stay afloat but couldn’t. As I sank into the water, water flooded into my nose and mouth, mixing with the coppery taste of blood. As breathing became impossible, the crimson water slowly dimmed to total darkness.

Great writing advice from The Writer magazine

I received the February 2009 issue. What I’ve read so far contains this golden nugget of literary advice: Keep an open mind when it comes to criticism, using it to help you improve as a writer, but learn to filter out the the bad advice.

For example: in the recent fiction piece I submitted to Writer’s Digest, someone told me they felt it was unlikely that so soon after someone being shot that the pond they were in would turn red. Great, practical advice. Someone else, though, didn’t like where I’d placed a distinguishable scar on a character and suggested I move it to a “cool place”. Bad advice.

Usage of characters

Fiction books have this disclaimer in them: “This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.”

This is fine and dandy, but it’s no secret that authors often base characters in their books on real people, or at least composites of real people. Is the disclaimer just something thrown in for legal reasons?

Receiving feedback as a reporter

On Friday, while running an errand and stopping to get lunch from a Kroger* store in Lake Orion, Mich., I happened to run into a township official in the area I cover. They were telling me how much they liked an article and column I’d recently written. Always nice to get feedback like that. Still, I’m bracing myself since on Tuesday night or so I may be running into a man whom I wrote about and described him as a less-than-friendly person. We’ll see what happens.

One thing I have learned is to try not to get too attached to potential story ideas. There was one potential feature assignment I’d been chasing for sometime, only for it to fall through due to a miscommunication. Life goes on.

Marlon Young, Kid Rock’s lead guitarist

marlon-young-posing

He came to speak at a guitar class this morning at Oxford, Michigan’s Oxford High School. I took some photos (not the one here on the blog, though) and even got to interview him. Marlon couldn’t have been a nicer guy.

He’s the second professional musician I’ve gotten to meet, the first one being classic country artist Robert Maxwell Case. Will be writing an article about Marlon for an upcoming issue of the Oxford Leader. The advice he gave was really great, also.

Sent off my submission to Writer’s Digest; other writing thoughts

The deadline was January 10, but I went ahead and sent my submission to the Writer’s Digest writing prompt. The one for February 2009 where you have 750 words to write about something terrible happening to three youths in a local swimming hole.

Did I make revisions? Did President Bush attend Yale University? I must’ve reworked this story at least 20 times, tweaking here and there, rewriting a character, trimming words. Overall, I thought my effort was pretty good and made for a pretty good piece of suspense, but there’s only so much you can say in 750 words.

Once the deadline is passed, I will publish exerpts of what I wrote. Do I expect to win? I don’t know.

Interestingly, while writing for this Writer’s Digest contest, I came across a great nugget of advice from an archived article in The Writer magazine. Two things: first, don’t fall so much in love with your writing that you ignore good, constructive criticism. Second, don’t be so blind towards criticism that you take to heart advice that turns out to be useless.

As far as useful advice, someone asked me if it was indeed possible for a panicked teenager to hold their breath underwater for two minutes. After some thought, I changed it to one. Useless advice: someone told me the idea of tree kids in a swimming hole and being joined by an older man who uses the small pond as a makeshift bathtub had sexual overtones. To me, that was reading way too far into the story and makes me wonder if the person has some odd fixation.

From here, I move on to other writing projects.