December 17

Winter Blues

It’s that time of year again…days are shorter, it’s getting colder, and people are bundled up and staying indoors. There are bright, sparkling lights hanging in windows, trees and candles flickering inside, and way too much food to eat. It’s the winter holiday season, a time for sharing, caring, and overindulging.

But despite all this, there are people hurting. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) hits a lot of people this time of year. It’s a form of depression that generally begins in late fall and hits a peak during the middle of winter. People who suffer from this find they have no energy, they are sad most of the day, feel isolated, and unfortunately, some turn to suicide.

It seems strange that people would slip into this dark space during what’s considered a festive time of year. And it’s not just people who live alone or don’t have many friends or family. It can affect anyone. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, even your close friends.

The thing is, people who suffer from SAD often don’t say anything, don’t seek help. They suffer silently, treading the dark water trying to keep their heads above the surface. Some are too embarrassed to admit they have a problem and need help. Others simply don’t know how to ask because they don’t know what’s wrong. They all end up struggling to keep moving, to put a smile on their faces.

But these people don’t need to suffer. They may not always seek help, so we, their friends and loved ones, have to make an effort to look for signs. Are they sluggish or agitated? No appetite and having a hard time concentrating? Or maybe their eating way too much, overindulging in alcohol, or maybe even showing violent tendencies. The link I posted above lists out some of the warning signs, as well as risk factors and treatment options. Please, take a few minutes to read the information there so you can be ready to help someone who may need it this winter.

Sometimes, just acknowledging that someone needs help and listening to them can help. If you think someone you know is dealing with SAD, talk to them. Show them you care, that you’re there for them. That may be all it takes to pull them back to the light.

And if you are the one who is suffering, please, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to talk to someone. If you don’t have someone in your life you can talk to, there are websites and call centers you can reach out to for help. There’s no shame in seeking help. In fact, it’s sign of strength when you can ask another person for help. You can do it.

RB

December 17

My YouTube Channel

Yes, I’ve actually done it. I created a YouTube channel.

At the moment it’s hosting episodes of my podcast, but I’ll be uploading additional videos in the near future. Some will focus on cooking – I do all the cooking at home and I have some great recipes to share – and others will focus on art and creativity. And maybe some music.

It’s a work in progress and I’d love to receive some comments and suggestions.

Check it out when you have a few minutes to waste…

RB

December 16

Exploring Another Option

You know, it’s funny how we can fall into opportunities. For example, I’ve worked a lot of different jobs over the years. I’ve done landscaping, loaded beer trucks on the graveyard shift, cashiered in convenience stores, cooked in restaurants, and made prescription eyeglass lenses. However, my dream was to be a writer, and eventually, I became a professional. What I mean is, I finally got hired at an actual company and was paid to write. It was for an online continuing education provider and I outlined and wrote the courses. It wasn’t terribly exciting, but I had the opportunity to be creative and have fun.

As part of the courses, we included short Flash animations to illustrate certain points in the lessons. That was the part I enjoyed the most. One day, probably about two months into the gig, the head of our AV department asked me to come in a read for him. I guess he’d heard me speaking in a meeting and liked the tone of my voice. I read a narration part under his direction, then did a few character voices. He liked what he heard and I ended up spending about half my time in the recording studio. It was almost as fun as writing. It was also my first foray into voice acting.

That was back in 2000/2001. Since then, I’ve done a fair amount of voice work. At another company, where I worked as a marketing copywriter, I ended up narrating about a dozen sales videos and provided character voices for a handful of marketing animations. For a video on the importance of dental insurance, I got the chance to do the voices for four different teeth. The woman recording me kept encouraging me to try different voices, different accents. It was a blast.

Since then, I’ve recorded narration and characters for a variety of training videos, voiced Interactive Voice Response systems (you know, those phone trees you hit when you call a customer service line), and now host a podcast.

But I’ve usually done voice work as part of my job, or been asked to do so by another division inside my place of business. Recently, however, I began to question why I’ve never done it professionally. I mean, I’ve been told many times that I have a pleasant, soothing voice. In fact – and this is slightly embarrassing – a fair share of women have told me they could “listen to my voice all day.” I take that as a compliment, not as a warning of potential stalkers.

So yeah, I’ve gone ahead and tossed my hat in the ring. Or in this case, my voice. I’m exploring opportunities to do more voice work, to do it professionally, to be creative in a new way. Voice acting is interesting and fun. And besides, I have a face for it (That’s a joke. I’m actually quite ordinary looking). Whether I’m using my natural speaking voice, my professional narration voice, or simply doing silly characters, I feel it’s an opportunity for me to expand my portfolio, to express myself, and to have fun creatively.

Of course, I have no idea how this will pan out. There are a lot of voice actors out there, many who have been doing it for years, so my chances are slim. But hey, there’s no harm in trying. I’m willing to take whatever I’m offered, but honestly, I’d love to narrate audio books. Story telling…I mean, if I’m not the writer, I’ll at least be the reader.

Wish me luck. And maybe you’ll hear me talking to you in the near future.

RB

December 12

Knowing Your Characters

When you begin writing a story, just how well do you know your characters?

I was thinking about this while writing an earlier blog post on character names. I’m what the members of the Twitter #WritingCommunity call a “pantser”, meaning, I write by the seat of my pants. I don’t do much planning before I write. I like to have a basic premise, maybe a general character in mind (gender, age, maybe ethnicity) and then I dive in.

I don’t know if this is considered good or bad. In my opinion, a writer should write however best suits them. There is no right way or wrong way, there’s just YOUR way.

So back to characters. I really don’t put a lot of thought into who my characters are when I begin a short story draft. In the early days of my writing career I would go all out, map out the plot and story, mock up some character sketches, have my ending etched in concrete…but I found that killed the creativity for me. I did find it entertaining to do all that pre-draft work (probably due to having played my fair share of Dungeons & Dragons back in the day…creating character sheets and planning expeditions), but when it came time to actually write the story it wasn’t exciting.

What I mean is, for me, having it all planned out killed the fun of writing. Writing is like reading…I don’t necessarily know where the story is going and I look forward to a (hopefully) satisfying ending. So when I begin writing a story I don’t know who my characters really are. They’re like new people you meet at a party or event. You know their current appearance, their name, and you have a first impression. But you really don’t know them. Not yet.

As I write, more of the character comes out. For example, my protagonist is more than likely just a generic stereotype when I begin writing. Then they hit their first obstacle in the story. I don’t know beforehand how they are going to react. It just happens while I’m writing, and more often than not I’m surprised at what they do. I may assume they’re going to run from the beast they encounter, but instead they pick up a weapon and stand their ground. When that happens, new paths open up and my story goes off in an unexpected direction.

To me, that’s magical. Getting to know my characters as they develop is like getting to know a new friend or co-worker. There’s the first impression where I have a basic idea of who they are, but I don’t know their personality or background yet. Then as I begin drafting I get a little more insight. I get the chance to see how they react in situations, how they interact with other characters, and best of all, I get to know their thoughts and feelings. It’s actually quite intimate, in a way. By the time I get near the ending of the story, I know them very well. I have a good idea of what’s coming and what they need to do, what they’re going to do. I probably know them better than they know themselves.

When I’m in that writing zone and really getting to know these imaginary characters, I feel empowered. I like when I’m surprised by their responses and reactions. In a way, they help me to tell the story. Since I often go into my first drafts with blinders on, the development of the characters ties in closely with the development of the story. There have been many occasions where I had an idea of where a story was going to lead, but as I got to know the characters better, especially the protagonist, the path deviates left or right, up or down. While I’m the one driving the bus here, I follow the map laid out by my characters.

I’ll admit that I become attached to them. Each and every protagonist, even the unnamed ones, are still living in my head. I have no idea what they’re doing in there…maybe playing five-card draw or distilling moonshine. Or, more than likely, they’re waiting on me to call them back out of retirement, to give them a new adventure. What they don’t realize is that they are the ones taking me on the adventure. I simply create a setting and a situation, then I put them on the playing board and see where they take me.

There are a few characters I’d like to revisit. But now that I know them, will I still get the same thrill if I put them into another story? There won’t be that same sense of discovery in a new story because I know how they’re going to react. I guess that shouldn’t matter, though, because the story will be new, right? New situation, new opportunities, and they may not be the same character I wrote months or years ago. So yeah, I think I will check in on a few of them, see what they’re up to, and see if they’re ready for another adventure.

I’m curious if any other authors deal with their characters like this, or if they have a different take. Comments are open below if you’d like to share your thoughts.

RB

December 10

Artistic Jealousy

I’m curious if anyone else has ever run into artistic jealousy. What I mean is finding that another creative person is jealous of your accomplishments.

The reason I ask is that I think I’ve just experienced it with someone I know, an artist who up until now had been encouraging and supportive of my endeavors. They were one of the people who motivated me to start podcasting and to publish a collection of my short stories. The thing is, now that I’ve done both they don’t speak to me.

It’s weird because we had a great creative friendship. We’d share our work with each other, give each other constructive criticism, and we even collaborated on a couple of projects. But as soon as I started to complete some of my projects the relationship changed. The artist became distant, acts annoyed when I try to speak with them, and no longer seems to want to be a cheerleader for me. They won’t listen to my podcast and won’t buy a copy of my book.

At first I was hurt by this. I mean, the two of us have had a great time offering suggestions to one another, talking about our creative processes, motivating and inspiring one another. We’ve been doing it for a few years now. The artist pushed me to complete several of my short stories after reading the first drafts, offering me encouragement along the way.

I kept wondering what had happened. Did I do or say something? I wanted to ask, but the artist barely acknowledges me. So I wrote about it in my journal…my personal therapy session. And that’s when I realized that I hadn’t done anything wrong. The problem is that the artist was jealous of me.

I know that probably sounds egotistical, but hear me out. One of the things I noticed about the artist is that they don’t seem to finish any of their projects. The start a lot of them, but nothing ever seems to make it to a final form. I used to encourage the artist to post to their social media accounts so other people can see what their doing. But no, they won’t do that. It’s like they live in this little bubble of creativity and never venture beyond the borders. Despite the fact they encouraged me to chase my dreams, they don’t seem to like the fact that I did what I set out to do…that I did what they pushed me to do. Did they expect me to fail, to give up and abandon my projects? Or does my accomplishments remind them of their own shortcomings when it comes to completing projects?

I find it sad that it’s come to this. I feel that, as creators and artists, one of our purposes is to inspire others, to make people think and feel. It’s not a competition to see who can do something better or faster. It’s about being honest in our work, putting our heart and souls into the finished product, and to hopefully appeal to and inspire an audience on some level. And it not just an audience we’re trying to inspire, we should also be encouraging and motivating each other as artists.

I know this post is more personal than what I usually write on this website, but I need to get this off my mind. It’s a shame that something as silly as jealousy would damage a friendship, but I guess it happens. I’ve seen it first hand. And yeah, it hurts my feelings, but at the same time I’m also a little bit angry. All I did was complete a project, achieve a dream, and because of that I’ve apparently lost a friend. How shitty is that?

I try to always remember that everyone has issues and baggage they’re carrying. Just because someone is in a bad mood doesn’t necessarily mean it’s your fault. People have bad days, have bad lives, and sometimes they simply don’t process things in a healthy way. I get that. But at the same time, I also try to be cognizant of other people’s feelings. If someone is excited about some accomplishment, then I’ll be happy for them and tell them so.

While this artist I’m writing about has ignored my minor success, I have another friend who bought a copy of my e-book on the first day it was available…and she doesn’t even have anything to read it with. She bought it just to support me. I think that speaks volumes and shows what a true friend really is. I guess I’m lucky in that respect.

Jealousy, however, is an ugly beast. But at least I know who my real friends are. It’s just an unfortunate way to find out.

RB

December 9

Insomnia

One of the banes of my existence. I’ve been an insomniac for years, getting by on a few hours of sleep every night. It eventually catches up with me and every so often I crawl into bed on a Saturday afternoon and sleep for a few hours. It’s not an uncommon ailment, but it can be frustrating.

However, over the years I’ve learned to use it to my advantage. I usually wake up in the early AM, around one or two o’clock. The house is quiet except for the whisper of the A/C and the snoring of my dogs. I’ll stir, open my eyes, and check the time on the alarm clock perched on the dresser. I’ll look over at my partner who is always fast asleep and maybe adjust the covers for her. Then I lay back and stare at the ceiling for a bit and let my mind wander.

I avoid thinking about my day job. That’s a rabbit hole I don’t want to fall into. Instead, I’ll start thinking about some of my creative projects. With my mind still foggy from sleep it’ll drift here and there, sometimes mulling over a recent project and sometimes slipping back in time to some unfinished project from years ago that I’d mostly forgotten about.

Once my mind latches onto one of them I begin to pick it apart. Where did the idea originally come from? What were my plans for it? Where did I leave off? And then I’ll wonder if there’s still potential there and if I’m still interested enough to carry on with it. Usually, I’m game.

It’s in these still, quiet moments that my mind works the best. It’s that in-between time, between wakefulness and sleep. A semi-doze. I think having my brain partially disconnected allows my imagination more freedom to explore possibilities. It’s not hindered by distractions around me. There’s no television, no radio, no conversations. It’s just me and my imagination, and I let my imagination take control. I find it to be a pleasant experience, almost Zen-like, meditative.

I often have my best ideas when I’m either in this state or actually dreaming. In fact, I’ve used this time to work out issues I’ve had with stories. If you’re like me, you can run into roadblocks when writing. Not exactly writer’s block, but I can write myself into a corner on occasion, or get to the point in a story where it can go in several directions and I’m not sure which is the best option. In this dreamlike state I can bring the problem into view and then lay there and let my mind do what it does best. All sorts of possibilities present themselves, some are uninspired, but many of them are solid ideas. Which is the reason I also keep a spiral notebook and a pen next to my side of the bed. Scribbling by the light of my phone.

I used to be troubled by my lack of sleep, but over the years I learned to use it to my advantage. Why should I let something like insomnia affect me in a negative way? It’s better for me to take control and use it. I think the same can be said for any issue or problem we may have. We have to confront the problems, understand them as best we can, then make them work for us. It’s like I’ve mentioned in several of my podcast episodes – some people get into creativity to work out their issues. This is the same thing. I have insomnia, but instead of worrying about it and letting it get the best of me, I use it to fuel my creativity.

We can’t let the little beasts in our heads control us. We have to tame and control them.

RB

 

 

December 8

Character Names

One of the few hang ups I have when it comes to writing is deciding on character names. I don’t know what it is, but I can find myself spending more time trying to determine the best names than I do actually writing the story. I know, I know…I should seek help.

I’m not a big proponent of character names having significance. It can work in a story, but I usually find it heavy handed when an author chooses very specific names in the attempt to give the reader some hint about the character’s personality or mental state. Hell, I’ve even seen it done as a way to inject foreboding into a story. I guess I find it to be overkill. Let the story carry me along, I don’t need some fancy or cryptic name to help me understand the plot. Naming the rich female character “Fancy” or the bad guy “Brutus” is a good way to get me to toss the book in the ‘not going to read’ pile.

I’ve gotten better recently. I’m no longer spending hours scouring baby name or name origin websites. I no longer have a multi-page list of name with their meanings stored on my hard drive. That was unceremoniously purged a few years ago when I first tried to break my naming hangup. I felt much better afterwards.

What I do now is simply focus on my character and decide on a name based on who they are…if that makes sense. Of course, I usually don’t know much about my characters when I begin writing a story. I’ll have a basic idea of who they are – gender, age, maybe a general physical appearance or ethnicity – but the personality develops as I write. It’s like I’m getting to know them as the story plays out. Probably not the most efficient way to write, but it works for me.

I’d say that in most cases, I can write an entire story without having names for my characters, or if I really need to differentiate between them, I’ll use placeholder names like Bob and Jane or something generic like that. Afterwards, I’ll go back and read over the first draft to get a handle on who these people are (or creatures) and usually names will come to me. By this time I have a better image of them in my head and their personality has developed enough that I feel I know them. This is when I’ll stare at the screen and picture them in my mind, maybe watch them do things, act out scenes, interact with other characters. That’s when I feel comfortable christening them.

I’ll be honest here – I still look up names on occasion. It’s usually when one of my characters needs a non-western name. Not all of my characters are Caucasian and from the U.S. Some have been Indian, or Asian, or South American. In these cases I want to make sure I chose names that are appropriate for the character’s background. I don’t automatically decide that my protagonist for a specific story HAS to be a twenty-year-old female from Morocco. That’s just how the characters develop. As I mention above, I don’t like to have a fleshed-out character in mind when I begin writing because I want them to develop organically with the story. I may think a character is going to be a certain gender or ethnicity when I begin writing, but by the time I get to the finish line they might end up completely different.

And when it comes down to it, does the character name really matter that much? When you read a story, does it matter to you whether or not the names mean anything? Hold any significance? Does an odd name make or break a story for you? Would Tom Sawyer still resonate if he had a different name? What about Randal Flagg? How about Mowgli? Billy Pilgrim?

For me, I don’t feel it matters much unless it’s that heavy-handed approach when the author puts too much emphasis on the names having meaning. Tom Sawyer could be Igor Johannson and the story would still be powerful. Character names should be just that…names.

I don’t have kids, but I know people spend a lot of time coming up with (hopefully) appropriate names for their children. That’s understandable. Funny thing is, there are studies that show how a child’s name can influence who they become. Obviously, kids are named before they develop personalities, so naming is sort of a crap shoot. With naming characters, however, the personality is already there so finding a name should be even easier. In theory.

When it comes down to it, one could argue that names have meaning, have power. But how necessary is that in a work of fiction? Unless the story is centered on the power of names, I don’t feel they have anything to add to a story other than to maybe identify a character’s gender or ethnicity. But even then, how important is it to the story? Will the story fall apart if you chose the wrong name for a character? Probably not. As long as the writer tells a compelling story, the character names shouldn’t matter.

I’m curious what other writers think about this. Feel free to leave a comment and share your thoughts.

RB

 

 

December 6

Dark Journeys Update

Just a friendly reminder that my collection of short stories, Dark Journeys, is available as an ebook through both Amazon and Barnes & Noble for only $.99 US!

The paperback version will be available in a couple of weeks, and I’ll also be recording an audiobook version for those of you who prefer to have someone read to you.

Hey, you’re busy! You have things to do!

Besides, you get to hear the author (me) read their own work to you. And if you’re curious as to how I sound, check out the Prometheus Project Podcast – an exploration of creativity.

 RB

 

December 5

Pre-Winter Thoughts

The seasons here in North Florida are different from other parts of the country, or the world for that matter. We have summer and winter, but spring and fall generally happen over the course of a few days. That means the other two seasons tend to feel longer.

Winter is now looming large on the horizon. I’m not a fan of cold weather. I grew up in South Florida, on the beach, and I prefer warm weather, warm water, and the smell of coconut in the air. Winter down there was nice, temperatures maybe hitting the low 50s (F), but still tolerable.

My first experience with real winter weather was when I was about eight or nine years old and I spent a Christmas on my uncle’s dairy farm in northern Wisconsin. While it was fun for a day or two…you know, sledding, snowball fights, building snowmen…the cold got old. It was like I could never really warm up no matter how many clothes I put on or how long I sat on the floor vent. Plus, getting up early in the morning and shoveling our way to the barn to feed and milk the cows was adding to the unpleasantness. Oh, and shoveling out the manure troughs. Big fun.

Here is the big city of Tallahassee, winter runs from around mid-December until mid-April, give or take a few weeks. And it can get brutally cold. We’ve had a bit of snow every so often, and I had the pipes under my house freeze on one occasion. Luckily, those hard freezes and snow days are rare and don’t last more than a day or so. Just enough to remind me of that one winter vacation in Wisconsin.

The thing about the cold is that it makes me stay inside the house, wrapped up in sweaters and sweat-pants, and drinking cup after cup of tea or hot chocolate (where’s my Bailey’s Irish Cream?). It also gives me the opportunity to write more frequently. I mean, it’s not like there’s anything for me to do outside besides rake up leaves or clean pine straw out of the rain gutters. Or play with my dogs because the cold weather gets them frisky. I don’t mind that part.

I was smart last year and bought a pair of fingerless gloves, so I can still type on my keyboard while keeping my hands relatively warm. Now that I’m prepared, I plan to get back to that draft novel that’s been patiently waiting for me, and I hope to have it wrapped up come spring. Of course, it’s not the only thing I’ll be working on. There are still a dozen short stories in various stages of completion. But since I’ll be holed up in my house for the next five months or so, then I expect to burn through all of these projects.

I’m hoping the heat from all that writing will keep me warm. Wish me luck…

RB