Writer’s circle

A few weeks ago, I met with fellow writers from Fredericksburg Writer’s Conference. We read from our works. Some read poetry, others novel excerpts and others short stories.

I read from an unpublished short story, titled, “What Nearly Was.” The group liked it overall, although a few tweaks may still be needed. I’d rather not yet say what exactly it is about, but I will say this: if there’s a home for it, it’s in Christian fiction. The controversial nature it focuses on probably makes it untouchable in the secular fiction market.

 

Talking to experts

In the next few months I plan to talk to a friend about a pivotal part of my novel Randy and Rhonda. It has to do with selling books. I’ll leave it at that.

I’m also hoping to talk to another subject matter expert. Sorry, but I’d rather not give any details.

I read once that Alex Haley spent about 12 years researching Roots before writing it. So, along those lines, you have to research. Yes, fiction is fiction, but if there’s not a healthy sense of realism, a great psychological thriller (one of my favorite genres) becomes comical and campy.

Richard Zowie loves to write fiction. Post comments here or e-mail them to richardzowie@gmail.com.

Back in the saddle, so to speak

It’s been far too long since the last time I blogged. My apologies. For the past few months I’ve been too worn out physically and mentally to blog.

Bad excuse?

Yep.

Despite what has gone in my life (work, work, trying to get cleaned up around the house, dealing with issues in my personal life), writing is something that still needs to be done. Writers write. Sometimes writing is done to earn a living (what I do 30 hours a week) and sometimes writing is done for fun, but it needs to be done to stay in shape and stay focused.

Tonight, when I get home from work, I think I will even have to do some fiction writing to get back in the swing of things.

And, yes, when I’m done, I’ll blog about it.

Post comments here or e-mail Richard at richardzowie@gmail.com.

Writing when you’re tired

This past week I did very little writing in the realm I really like: fiction, blogging, journaling, essays. It wasn’t due to the usual procrastination culprit but rather, no energy. Three days in a row I had far too much to do between my two jobs (the newspaper and the gas station) and did not have the energy. In that trio of days I averaged four, maybe five hours of sleep.

What is Richard like after three days in a row of five hours of sleep?

By Tuesday night, when I usually get home from work at 11:30 p.m., I briefly considered calling my wife earlier and asking her to get a ride to Frankenmuth to drive me home. Despite drinking a lot of 7-11 Double Gulps (I prefer to mix Coke with either Cherry Coke or Diet Coke–don’t ask), I felt very tired. It was almost like Army basic training again, where I almost fell asleep during my graduation ceremony.

So, for the next two days, I slept close to 10 hours each day to try to catch up. I also felt a little under the weather and was worried, due to some discomfort when I breathed, I briefly worried I was coming down again with a viral infection in my lungs like I did in 1999, during another fun period of my life where I was consistently getting little sleep. Viral lung infections feel as if when you take a deep breath, someone is stabbing you in the chest.

And regarding sleep, that brings up the point of this blog posting: how do you write when you’re tired? 

For me, creative energy gets stifled when I have not been sleeping, or when I’m worn down and feel like doing little more than chatting with friends on Facebook.

The solution? Nope, not cocaine. I’ve never used cocaine but based on accounts I’ve read from Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft and from one person I know, the white stuff creates far more problem than it solves. I suppose it is to not allow yourself to get tired. Budget your time. Get sufficient sleep. If that doesn’t work, consume caffeine or make lifestyle choices that will give you more energy. An encouraging spouse or a writing accountability partner probably doesn’t hurt, either.

Suggestions, anyone?

Richard Zowie is a writer–or at least he tries to be. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

Working on my Writer’s Digest ‘My Story’ assignment

It’s about being at your home, finding a cell phone in the cushions of your couch, not recognizing the phone and–guess what?–it rings. 

I have finished a first draft of one version, but I’m not sure if I’ll submit that one. It’s somewhat interesting, but it doesn’t really grab me.

The biggest challenge, of course, is writing something compelling and wonderful and doing so in 750 word. This often requires a writer to part with great writing during the final editing phase.

This contest tends to perplex me at times. One month the assignment was about something tragic happening at a local water hole. The winning story seemed very flat. Maybe I’m just trying too hard.

Richard Zowie loves writing fiction and someday would love to do it full-time. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

A quick compliment goes a long way

My fiction writing career–which I suppose I can technically call a “career” since I do have one published short story to my credit–is something I’d really love to get off the ground. At present, I have several stories in the marketing stage. These are finished stories I’m now trying to sell. A few others are in the editing stage while others are in production, pre-production and even pre-pre-production.

Recently, I contemplated posting a few titles and what the stories were about. After deliberation, I chose not to since at times I tend to be paranoid of having ideas stolen. Like all writers, I probably have a personal bias: some stories of mine are really good, and I don’t want to give away too much for fear of being ripped off.

I sent the list, though, to a trusted friend recently who acts and makes movies in his spare time. I was curious to see what he’d think.

He told me: “I am not blowing smoke your way when I say that I am literally fascinated with every one of these story ideas, my friend.”

It’s the kind of encouragement, you might say, that really motivates a writer to get back to their keyboard and keep working towards that glorious publication day.

Richard Zowie tries to stay busy in his writing life and believes it’s far better to be busy than unemployed. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

Thoughts on the ‘Zen in the Art of Writing’ chapter ‘The Joy of Writing’

Please keep in mind that this is not a critique of Mr. Bradbury’s book Zen in the Art of Writing. This blog posting is simply what I’ve gathered from the book and how I think I can apply it to my own fiction writing career. It’s also my motivation to finish this book and to move onto others.

I’ve often wondered how to best describe Bradbury as a writer to those unfamiliar with his work (my two favorite Bradbury books are The Illustrated Man and Fahrenheit 451). Perhaps Stephen King said it best: with Mr. Bradbury, everything’s green and wondrous and seen through a lens of nostalgia.

“The Joy of Writing” chapter

Mr. Bradbury believes it’s imperative to write with zest and gusto. Writing should be pleasurable, so have fun with it. This type of mentality helps a person put out 2,000 or so words a day. If you find it a burden, then you may have a problem. The same rings true for other professions. To be a successful chef, Gordon Ramsay has said you must a passion for cooking. Actors have told me that getting in front of a camera or on stage requires a love for performing; if your motivation is fame or fortune, forget it.

What should a person write about? Things that you love or hate. One example Mr. Bradbury references is seeing a photo in Harper’s Bazaar that used Puerto Ricans in the background as “props”. Upset by this, Mr. Bradbury wrote a short story where a Puerto Rican man taunts such a photographer by always appearing in his photographs and making some type of gesture that ruins the picture. In his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, King recounts working at a mill and hearing a crazy story about how giant rats lived in the cellar of a decrepit building. Wheels spun and soon King wrote the creepy short story Graveyard Shift.

Sometimes we write about our fears. One short story I’m working on focuses on one of my worst fears: having an automobile breakdown in the summer heat in the middle of nowhere. The main character is on the run from the police but has his car break down in one of the more rural areas of the country: West Texas.

Sometimes, Mr. Bradbury feels writing a story can be as simple as finding a character who wants or doesn’t want something with all their heart. Give them orders, let them go and follow them and write what you see happening. Darn the outlines and character profiles, full speed ahead!

Writing also requires a person to read voraciously and diversely. Books, magazines, anything you can get your hands on. Myself, I suspect much can be learned even by reading bad prose. You learn how not to write and what doesn’t work. For me, what comes to mind is one particular sci-fi novel written by a scientist who simply wasn’t a good writer. Another involves a curious delve into trasy western paperbacks where the methaphors are so bad they’re comical. Obviously, this is best kept at a minimum while energies should be focused on good writing and what does work.

Finally in this chapter, Mr. Bradbury reminds us that life is indeed very short. Write. A writer writes now. Procrastination is the death of writing. This is indeed something I can relate to: my twenties flew by and now, at 37, I’m beginning to wonder what happened to my thirties. If only we lived on a planet like Pluto, where the days are six days long instead of a measly 24 hours.

Up next, the chapter “Run Fast, Stand Still”.

Richard Zowie is a professional writer. He’s worked as a journalist and columnist and also blogs and writes fiction. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

I submitted my 750-word short story to Writer’s Digest’s Contest #18

The prompt: a police detective is assigned to a case involving arson at several Krispy Kreme doughnut shops.

When I first read this, my reaction was, “You’re joking, right?”

Be that as it may, I went through this process for the contest: a comical version that went nowhere, a serious one that seemed to focus too much on the detective’s past work as a firefighter and then a comedy that I grew to like. I chose to polish and then send in the comedy, and perhaps it’s only fitting. How many people snickered when they read the prompt?

As usual, here’s what I’ll do: below I’ll post the serious one I chose not to send in. The comical one I’ll post in about a month, if and when it doesn’t make the cut down to five. Right now, I see this contest as more of a fiction writing exercise than a contest. You know: write and let the words flow. If you’re writing for the sole purpose of seeing your name in print, don’t bother.

So, here’s the contest outtake: the serious version.

Not another fire!

By Richard Zowie

A lapsed Baptist, I don’t pray as often as I should. But right now I’m on my hands and knees praying, Dear God, please, not again.

It’s probably useless. God ignores prayers of convenience. Especially from a Baptist who hasn’t been in church in 10 years because he spends all his time either tracking down murderers or trying to keep a marriage together. My wife tells me I work too much and ignore her when I’m home. There are times I wonder if I’ll have to face the indignity of being served divorce papers right here in the precinct.

So, here I am: a 36-year-old cop who’s been assigned to help investigate a string of arsons at Krispy Kreme doughnut shops. Because I’m an ex-firefighter and a current homicide detective and because two of the fires have resulted in deaths of three people, the fire department wants me assigned to the case.

At my desk I examined witness statements, fire reports and lists of Krispy Kreme employees over the past year who’ve been fired or who left on hostile terms. A call to my confidential informant (a car thief) reveals nothing. He thinks it’s hilarious that a cop is investigating this kind of case, but he finally quit snickering when I threatened to tell Narcotics about the freelance heroin pushing he’s done. Of the 12 employees who were fired or who quit, all of them have air-tight alibis. They all tell me the same thing: the doughnut shops were run by a bunch of incompetent idiots who weren’t worth going to jail over.

I’ve worked on this case for a few weeks and have very little to go on. Between this and the other homicides I’m working, it makes for long days that begin around 6 a.m. and often don’t end until 10 p.m. I hope wife number three understands.

The phone rang.

“Detective Johnson, homicide,” I said, picking it up on the first ring.

“How’s the Doughnut case going?” I recognized the anxious voice as Chief Eichmann. He has a high, scratchy unmistakable voice and never identifies himself on the phone.

“Very slow, sir,” I replied, hoping he wouldn’t probe with questions that couldn’t be answered.

“The mayor wants to know the latest. We need to have a press conference.”

“Sir, there’s not really enough information for a press conference. Could we release a statement to the press?”

“Not enough information?” he asked. I told him what I had.

“Ok,” he said, sounding resigned. I imagined the mayor as one of those types who wants results but doesn’t grasp how incredibly slow and complicated police work can be. No, I’m not Vincent Hanna from Heat where a late-night visit with a rat who says the word “Slick” magically turns into the piece of the puzzle that brings down a crew of professional thieves.

The chief asked me to write as detailed a press release as possible and to send it to him so he can look over it.

So, I sat at my computer and wrote down what we knew. It made two paragraphs. I read over it twice, ran the spell-check, read over it again and printed it out. Knowing he hates documents like this to be e-mailed to him, I took it to his office and wordlessly give it to him.

I looked at my watch and saw it was 2:30 p.m., well past my lunchtime. The case is going slowly, and as an ex-firefighter who became a cop, I hope it breaks. Quickly. Too many bad memories.

When I worked as a firefighter, we responded to many fires, some of which involved people who’d been trapped inside an angry inferno of a house. Some fires were gas leaks, others due to faulty wiring and others started from sheer stupidity on the inhabitant’s part (such as cooking on the stove and leaving a boiling pot unattended). Each dangerous jaunt into a fiery house always made me wonder, would I ever see my wife and son again? If I did, would it be me or a charred visage in a hospital burn unit recovering from third and fourth-degree burns?

In all the fires I covered there were two things I’ve never shaken from my memory: the agonizing, hopeless screams of a person burning to death and the putrid stench of burning flesh. Both are as close to hell as I ever want to get. Even today, I still have nightmares. My olfactory nerves never work in my dreams, but my hearing is in high-volume surround sound. The screams remind of the 1982 horror film Frightmare at the end where a punk trapped inside a wooden coffin is slid into a crematorium. You hear him screaming helplessly in endless agony and know the only relief he’ll have is death or when his nerves are too damaged to sense pain—whichever comes first.

And that’s assuming he won’t still have to spend an eternity in hell.

The nightmares aren’t as bad today, but while firefighting they were horrible. Charred corpses screaming at me to save them. Wearing my firefighter’s uniform, paralyzed, and watching helplessly as a beautiful woman is set ablaze. She screams and screeches and writhes while her skin and flesh slowly melt and char away, reducing the show-stopping features to ones that would make everyone scream as they ran toward the exits. Her eyes melt and boil away while her hair blazes and burns away. I dreaded every call, wondering if the next fire would yet be another inferno to add to my nightmare. Finally, the day came when I approached my chief, handed in my badge and turned in my uniform.

So, I became a cop.

Here I am as a cop, almost laughing at the irony of it all: an ex-firefighter with a bad case of pyrophobia now has to investigate the adventures of a pyromaniac. I imagined the stupid questions reporters might ask at the press conference:

“With all these doughnut shops burning down, where will the police now go to get breakfast or a snack?”

“Has the police department enlisted help from Homeland Security? The FBI? The CIA? The Mossad?”

“Which do you miss the most, Original Glazed, Chocolate Iced Kreme Filled or Apple Fritter?”

“Is that ‘Time to make the donuts’ guy from the Dunkin’ Donuts commercials a suspect?”

I shuddered, glancing at my mountain of paperwork as I left for lunch, an hour’s reprieve. When I return, it’ll be time to rip open old scars and let them bleed again.

Copyright © 2009 by Richard Zowie. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or republished without permission.