April 29

Fond Memory

I was recently going through the piles of stuff on my bookshelves – spiral notebooks, magazines, actual books – and found a copy of Space & Time magazine from 2015. This was the issue that included my short story, “Sunwalker”.

As with all publications, I was proud to see my name in the table of contents and the story, in all its glory, flowing over several pages. Looking over it again brought back those feelings.

One of the things I had forgotten was that this was the first story of mine that had an accompanying illustration. I didn’t know the editor was going to do this, so it was an incredible surprise for me. The illustrator, Alan Bech, did a fantastic job and the illustration was a perfect fit.

astronaut illustration
“Sunwalker” illustration by Alan F. Beck.

I think there’s a unique bond between illustrators and writers. We compliment each other’s work. I know I’d like to see more illustrations and images sharing the page with the written word. It just feels right to me.

What do you think?

RB

April 27

Journal Overload

Working from home the past few weeks has given me a little more free time in the mornings. I still get up at the same time (5 am), but I don’t have to worry about a commute or getting dressed for the office, so I have some extra time to do a little writing. Gotta take advantage of the silver linings, right?

Most of my morning writing lately has been in my journal. I think it’s because of all the doom and gloom happening right now. Not just the pandemic, but also the ridiculous hoarding, the stupidity and selfishness of people who are refusing to do the right thing, and the mismanagement by our leaders. It’s frustrating, scary, and there’s no way to escape from it all.

So instead of letting it sit in my head and fester, I’ve been writing about it every morning. It’s been a good way to start the day. I can dump all that garbage on the page, vent my frustrations, and try to understand why things are the way they are…and why some people are the way they are.

Unfortunately, I haven’t found any answers. And honestly, I don’t expect to, but it’s still a healthier alternative than letting it sit in my head. When I do that I end up pacing around, fuming, talking to my dogs and wondering why they like humans so much because we sure don’t deserve their undying loyalty.

I’ve been filling several pages every morning, so much so that my hand ends up cramping up holding the pen. Four or five pages coming out in a mad rush, ink smearing on the cheap paper, my body hunched over the edge of the table…well, it’s not good for the posture, but when I get in the zone I lose track of everything else. And I think that’s part of the therapy. Let the world fall away and the words flow.

I hope that others are doing this, too. Writing about the things on our minds, the pressures, the stresses, the joy and the happiness, too, is good for us. It’s healthy to vent. And as a reminder, once you vent you don’t have to keep the pages. Once it’s out of your head you can shred them or burn them or turn them into origami swans. Just write, keep the words going, and you’ll find you feel better afterwards.

Stay safe. Stay sane.

RB

April 24

Be Kind

A little deviation from my usual posts about creativity. Hope you don’t mind.

Kindness has been on my mind lately, for somewhat obvious reasons. I’ve gotten to the point where I’m limiting my exposure to the daily news. Too much bad news, frustrating news, anger-inducing news. In my opinion, most of it stems from a lack of kindness.

And to clarify, “kindness” isn’t just being nice to someone. I mean it in a broader way, encompassing empathy, selflessness, common sense. There seems to be a lack of all these things lately. Well, it’s been lacking for a while, but I think this pandemic has made it more apparent to me.

I think part of the problem lies in selfishness. Too many people think only of themselves. I mean, I get it, sort of. We’re all the main characters in our personal stories. Everyone else is a supporting character. But just like in a work of fiction, actions have repercussions. One person refusing to cover their sneeze because it’s “their right to do so” means that other people, who don’t have a say, get potentially sprayed with germs. The sneezer will probably argue that they don’t care, it doesn’t affect them…and that’s so terribly sad to me.

It makes me think of people who are adamantly opposed to something, like marriage equality. You’ll see a politician argue that it shouldn’t be legalized, that it’s against their beliefs or some such nonsense, but when their own son or daughter come out as LGBTQ, then they suddenly change their stance. Because it affects them directly.

It’s a shame we have to come to that point to get someone’s attention. Why is that? Why are people so short-sighted? Sure, don’t cover your sneeze because it’s your right, and yeah, maybe you don’t get sick. But maybe you spread those germs to someone else who does get sick, and they spread it to someone else, and a chain reaction occurs that ends up getting your mother or father sick, or maybe your children, or your grandparents.

People don’t think about the repercussions of their actions. Everything we do, no matter how small, has a ripple effect the world. Like chaos theory claims, butterflies flapping their wings over the Indian Ocean can start a ripple effect that ends up triggering a hurricane in the Atlantic.

But you know, the same can be done with kindness. Imagine doing something nice for a stranger, a random act, and it causes that person to do something nice for someone else, and that ripple kicks in and suddenly there’s a wave of kindness spreading out with you at the center.

Doesn’t that sound fantastic?

Give it a try. Do something nice for someone, preferably someone you don’t know. Hold a door for someone. Compliment a woman’s dress or a guy’s pair of shoes. Hell, even a simple smile can change someone’s day.

Be kind. It might help to change the world.

RB

April 22

Book Review – Lost Inside My Mind

I’ve always loved poetry, but I recently realized that I hadn’t read any in quite some time. While I have more than a few poetry books on my shelves, I thought I would venture out and discover something new.

I found Dawn Olmo in the #WritingCommunity on Twitter. If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s a wonderful oasis of writers and poets and artists who share their work, encourage others, and have fun talking about our craft. And poking fun at it.

I bought a copy of Olmo’s Lost Inside My Mind from Amazon. I wasn’t sure what to expect as far as content and style, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it was a mixture of humor, sadness, and deeply personal exploration. In other words, exactly what poetry should be.

I enjoyed the fact that Olmo wasn’t afraid to explore different styles of verse, subtly showing her nerdy side with a quick Star Wars reference that made me smile, but then switching gears and speaking from the heart about love and loss. Passion flows across the pages in various forms, from love and sex to fear and despair.

And while she made me smile and laugh, she also brought me to tears with some of her more personal poems. As an author, I respect that. It’s not easy to bare oneself on the page, but Olmo does it unflinchingly.

After a hiatus of several years, I’m glad that Lost Inside My Mind was the first volume I picked up. Is it perfect? No, but it’s honest and raw and passionate, and that’s all that matters.

RB

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April 21

The Prometheus Project Podcast, Ep 28, is available!

The latest episode of my creativity podcast is now live. The topic this week is “Not Perfect, But Good Enough”.

The podcast is available at iTunes, GooglePlay, Spotify, and PodBean. Or if you prefer, I also have a YouTube channel.

If you’re enjoying the podcast, please leave a review on whatever platform you’re listening on. And, as always, I love to hear your feedback, comments, and suggestions.

RB

April 20

Creativity as a Distraction

I don’t think anyone would argue that life can be difficult sometimes. We’ve all had those moments, those days, even those years where everything goes sideways and we’re left wondering where we went wrong. No one is immune from it, but we persevere.

One thing that has helped me cope with downturns is creativity, losing myself in a project like writing a new short story, working on the draft for my novel, drawing, making music, even cooking or gardening. Anything that takes my mind off my current situation, that occupies my consciousness for an hour or more, is a good thing.

You know, art therapy has been proven an effective way to help people cope. I’m no expert by any stretch of the imagination, but from personal experience I’ve found that writing helps me immensely. It doesn’t matter if I’m working on a story draft, writing a blog post, or scribbling in my journal, putting words on a page it therapeutic for me.

In our current situation, a global pandemic mixed with a mostly mismanaged response, I find that I’m writing far more frequently than I usually do. And no, it’s not just that I have more time on my hand. True, I’m working from home for the foreseeable future, but I still have a job to do. What I’ve found is that I’m getting up earlier in the mornings to write, and without a commute I have an extra thirty minutes to add to that. Early morning writing is the best writing…at least in my opinion.

I’m also finding that I have the urge to expand my creative range, meaning, I’m drawing more. I used to draw all the time when I was a kid. Comic books were my inspiration, specifically, Marvel titles. Spiderman, of course, but also Doctor Strange, the Silver Surfer, and some of the more fantastical titles were inspiration for my own amateurish sketches. When I started writing more, the drawing fell to the wayside. It was something I did on occasion while half-watching television or sitting in the sun on the back patio.

But with more free time and more things on my mind, I’m finding more reason to put images on a page. I’ve also had a hankering to pick up a paint brush – something I’ve never really done – but unfortunately, I don’t think I can get into any of the local art supply stores, and most of the online retailers are out of stock. I guess I wasn’t the only one to have this urge.

I’ve also been impressed with the creativity of others. I’m seeing so many interesting things being posted online, on places like Reddit, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr. People don’t have much else to do, so why not find creative ways to entertain ourselves? Some of it has been brilliant, some of it silly, and in a few cases, cringe-worthy, but I don’t mind. People have to express themselves. If it ends up being weird or silly or stupid, well, that’s okay. At least they tried. That’s what matters.

Keep on being creative, dear reader. Work out that stress, that fear, that indecision, and that boredom. Keeping it inside isn’t healthy. And if you do create something, share it with the world. You never know…you might inspire someone.

RB

April 17

First Time or Last Time

There’s a quote attributed to baseball great Joe DiMaggio that I discovered recently that resounded in me. He was once asked why he always played so hard in every game. DiMaggio replied, “There may be some kid in the stands who’s seeing me or the first time, or maybe the last, and I don’t want to disappoint him.”

I think that, as artists, we should abide by the same work ethic. We don’t know if someone seeing our work is seeing it for the first time, or maybe the last. We should make a good impression, a lasting impression. This is why our final product, the piece we put out there for the world to see, should be the best we can provide.

That’s one of the things about the self-publishing world, I don’t think we always get the best final product. I’m more selective about the books I buy than my partner is, and she’s run into all sorts of typos and weird formatting in the e-books she reads. And not just simple mistakes – a misplaced apostrophe or a single misspelling – but entire paragraphs missing, or blank pages where none should be, or fonts changing mid-sentence.

From a reader’s perspective, this would put me off buying another book by that author. To me, it shows they didn’t take the time needed to provide a clean final copy. Laziness? Didn’t care? Or did they put the work off on someone else and didn’t follow up afterward to ensure they did a good job? Could be any of the aforementioned.

And I’ll be the first to admit, it’s happened to me. I’ve submitted stories to editors only to be told later there were typos. That’s incredibly embarrassing and, in my case, I felt it was unprofessional of me to submit something that had obvious errors. Having worked on the editor side of publishing, I can forgive simple mistakes. It happens. No one is perfect and, as I’ve written here before, perfection is boring. If the story is amazing, then it’s much easier to forgive a misspelling or three.

But after reading the quote from DiMaggio, I’m looking at my writing from a different angle. Sure, I always try to do my best to tell a good story, to entertain my readers, maybe make them think differently for a while. But making an impression, either first or last, makes me want to try harder, not just in my storytelling but also in my presentation.

Here’s the thing – making a good impression means not only can you hook a reader, but that reader will then tell another reader, and so on and so on. Even if it’s a last good impression, that impression will stick with the reader. They’ll carry it with them even if they never read another thing you’re written. And in doing so, they will still probably tell others about your work. It’s a win-win situation.

Remember, you always want to do your best. Not just for you, but for the person who spent their money on your book.

RB

April 15

Book Review – Far and Away: A Prize Every Time

I’ve written about the late Neil Peart (pronounced “Pea-art”) on this blog once or twice. He was most famous for being the amazing drummer and lyricist for the progressive-rock band Rush. He kept rhythm for them for over forty years, finally succumbing to a brain tumor earlier this year.

But the other thing Peart was known for was his writing. I’ve read four of his non-fiction books and have enjoyed each one. Although his first book, The Masked Rider, is my favorite, the others have all held up, kept me entertained, and broadened my horizons.

In Far and Away: A Prize Every Time, Peart has collected a selection of essays he wrote between 2008 and 2010. The topics mostly cover his motorcycling adventures across the United States, South America, and parts of Europe. But these aren’t just travelogues. In between observations about the ever-changing landscapes and cycling mishaps, Peart writes about friendship, family, society, and creativity.

The thing I like most about Peart as an author is that I always come away from his books with an education. I learn new things, not just about the parts of the world I haven’t visited, but also about myself. I’ve seen a bit of myself in Peart’s observations. Sometimes that’s good, other times, well, not so much.

Of course, even when riding his BMW motorcycle and making insightful observations about life, Peart is never far from his drumming background. Most of his riding is done between shows while the band is on tour. While his bandmates rode in tour buses or private jets, he saddled up on his bike and rode the sometimes hundreds of miles between cities. Being an adventurer, Peart like to ride off the beaten path, which on more than one occasion left him stuck in mud on a dirt road, navigating without GPS, and finding himself lost in the middle of nowhere.

Through it all, however, Peart never loses heart. Rain, snow, closed roads, and detours…he takes it all in stride and oftentimes uses the moment to find insight into human nature.

For a change of pace, I highly recommend Peart’s books. He’s an excellent storyteller, and insightful human being, and despite the fact that he was an extremely private person who avoided the limelight (see the lyrics to the song, “Limelight“), he opens up in his writing and in rare moments gives us a glimpse of his soul.

That’s something rare and beautiful. He will be missed.

RB

April 13

Fake Accounts

Ugh, so I started my week by discovering someone had create a fake account in my name on Twitter (and possibly other social media sites) and was sending inappropriate messages to some of my female friends.

I feel incredibly lucky, however, because the people who were contacted knew it wasn’t me. It’s nice to know my reputation is such that anything out of the ordinary is a red flag to the people I interact with online. That’s a good feeling.

So if you are contacted by an account that looks like me, please be careful. The fake account misspelled my last name (had an extra “s” in it). Other red flags would include rude behavior or inappropriate comments. And if you are contacted by someone pretending to be me, please report it to the admin of whichever platform you’re on.

Thanks to everyone for having my back. I appreciate it.

RB

April 10

Not Perfect, but Good Enough

I came across this line in Far and Away, by Neil Peart (review coming soon). It comes from Peart’s childhood in Canada. When he’d finish one of his chores, like washing the family car, and ask his dad if it was good enough, his dad would reply, “If it’s perfect, then it’s good enough.”

Peart twisted it a bit to describe his attempt to play the drum parts for several Buddy Rich songs at a tribute concert. Rich is considered the greatest jazz drummer ever, and his drum parts are legendary. Peart knew he couldn’t match his idol’s skill, but he tried the best he could. Thus, “Not perfect, but good enough.”

As artists, I think that’s something we can all relate to. From a writer’s perspective, I admit that I always abandon my stories. There’s only so much I can do to get them as close to what I envision in my head before frustration kicks in. In my head the story is perfect. On paper…it’s always close, very close, but I have to resign myself to “good enough”.

Of course, the argument can be made that perfection is boring. If every story you wrote or piece of art you created was perfect every time, you’d probably get bored with creating. What I mean is, the struggle is part of the creative process. Without it, well, it’s just not any fun.

Think about that for a minute. You write a story that hits every point dead-center. Your plotting is perfect, characterization is perfect, dialogue, narrative…every piece of your story hits every reader in that emotional sweet-spot. Every time.

Sure, it would be nice to have that happen once, but every single time? Where’s the challenge? Where’s the sweat and tears, the sleepless nights, being lost in thought at a stoplight while you try to work out some tangled element?

I hear writers complain all the time about how hard writing can be, and I won’t disagree. It’s definitely a struggle, but at the same time, I wouldn’t trade my abilities for anything else in the world. Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment. Maybe I’m a bit of a masochist. Whatever the reason, I really do enjoy the effort I have to put into every story or poem I write. I think it makes the process worthwhile. I had to work to tell the story. If it’s well-received by just one person, then the effort was worth it.

And no, my stories are never going to be perfect, at least, not to me. But as long as it’s good enough for my reader, then it’s good enough for me.

RB