September 30

Making it Happen

I’ve been working on my next short story collection and feeling good about it. Since being in lockdown and working remote, the lack of commuting and convenience of being at home has allowed me an extra hour or so every morning to write. And yes, I’ve been taking advantage of it.

I should probably be working on my novel, but sometimes I can’t help myself. I love to write short stories. It’s in my blood, my DNA. Plus, I have so many ideas I doubt I’ll ever catch up with them all.

So far, I’ve completed – from initial to final draft – seven shorts in the course of four months. Not too bad! I have four more in various states of composure. At this rate I may be able to have my next collection published before the end of the year. At least, that’s my goal.

And the stories will be mostly science fiction, with a couple of horror pieces thrown in for good measure. The plots revolve around possession, insidious artificial intelligence, environmental catastrophe, and unnamable things that go bump in the night. And that’s not me tripping over a dog when I try to get a drink of water at one in the morning.

The other thing that’s a bit different from my previous collections is that these stories, or most of them, are much longer than I usually write. I’m talking twelve to fifteen thousand words. It feels good to write longer stories, like I’ve been building up to them with sprints and now I’m running (or writing) several mini marathons. I think it’ll end up helping me when I return to my novel draft. Writing longer form stories is new to me and I think it’s wise for me to build up to it.

I’m excited about these stories. I think it’s some of my best writing and I’m looking forward to sharing them. I’ll be sure to post updates as I get closer to the publication date.

RB

September 28

Hand Cramp!

So I’ve been working – writing – on my trusty little MacBook Air for a few years now. I love the action on the keyboard, the screen is the perfect size, and I’ve been able to write more than thirty stories, and the rough draft of a novel, without any issues. She’s my little workhorse. Her name is Stella.

But back in the day I used to write by hand. Yeah, I know, I’m showing my age, but I was a teenager when the first home computers hit the market and they were well out of my price range. I didn’t mind too much. I was perfectly content to scribble away on a legal pad or in a spiral notebook. I kept a handful of sharpened pencils and notepads next to my bed and spent many late nights writing angsty poetry and bad horror stories.

Recently, I thought it might be fun to jump into the wayback machine and start a story draft the old fashioned way. There’s something to be said for writing by hand. Sure, it’s a bit slower and there’s no spell-check, but it feels organic to me. I used to love to write by hand at night. I’d gone so far as to light a few candles to I could feel like I was Poe or Shakespeare scribbling away in their rooms – minus the quill pen.

But what I didn’t realize is that those particular muscles in my hands haven’t been worked much. Typing uses the hand muscles in a different way and allows more movement. When writing by hand with a pen or pencil, the muscles see less movement and more tension.

The result? Hand cramp.

The sad part is that it only took about thirty minutes of manual writing before my hand was aching. The fingers, the palm, even up into my wrist. It wasn’t the most pleasant of experiences.

Luckily, my partner was sympathetic and massaged it for me. She also gave me a lecture on stretching and warming up. She does Body Pump three times a week, so that makes her more of an expert. I nodded in agreement because, hey, she was massaging my aching hand.

Did I learn my lesson? Definitely. Now when I get the urge to write by hand I’ll spend a good thirty minutes warming up with calisthenics and yoga.

Or maybe I’ll just stick with the keyboard on my laptop. Less chance of permanent injury. Stella will take care of me.

RB

September 25

Possibilities

When it comes to art, I feel that the possibilities are endless. There are so many plots, characters, situations, and scenarios that I can’t imagine a time where artists don’t have something to work with.

However, there is a caveat. At least, in some areas of art. Consider the guitar, for example. There are six strings and twenty frets on a standard guitar. I’m not a math person, but that basically breaks down to something like 10,000 or so ways to play a note. Considering how many guitarists there are and have been, coupled with the number of songs that have been written, it would seem that every combination of notes has been played. Yet we still get new songs written on guitar.

Same with writing. The saying goes that every story that can be told has been told. This means that modern writers have to find new ways to tell their stories. Much like a guitarist has to find a new way to combine notes in order to come up with something unique.

Other art forms, painting for instance, don’t quite have the same limitations. There are so many colors and color variances that I can’t imagine how painters could ever run out of color schemes. Plus, paintings can run the gamut from landscapes and portraits to surrealistic and post-modern experimentations.

Regardless, even areas of art that might seem limited still offer possibilities. I think that’s one of the things that makes art and creativity so endearing to me. No matter what, there’s always another option, another angle, another way to approach your project.

For example, I may feel like I don’t have anything to write about (I do) and feel stuck. Looking out through the window on my back door I can see – right now as I write this – two hummingbirds jockeying for the feeder on my patio. There’s a story, right there. I could anthropomorphize them, give them names and personalities, and make them a pair of angry ex-lovers who happened to run into each other at the neighborhood feeder.

Or maybe I consider the fact one of my dogs is laying on the patio while this oddly cute battle wages overhead. Maybe I could get into her head and write about her surveying her domain and wondering if she needs to break up this lover’s quarrel.

And just now I heard a car horn blaring angrily on the street out front. That could be a guy who’s running late for work and got stuck behind someone who wants to drive the speed limit. And he always gets caught behind the same car every morning regardless of what time he leaves for work. Is it a conspiracy? Bad timing? A prank by a mischievous god or goddess?

Maybe it’s just me, but I love to consider the possibilities all around me everywhere I go. I can find stories in the smallest of events or the most mundane of settings. The secret is to not overthink. Don’t try to concoct some intricate scenario or multi-layered plot. Just take it all in, let you mind relax, and soon you’ll begin to see stories everywhere.

The possibilities are endless.

RB

September 23

Baking Frustration

If you haven’t noticed, I enjoy cooking. I write about cooking here on my blog and I post cooking videos on my YouTube channel. To me, cooking is just another way to be creative. My favorite recipes are the ones that allow me to experiment with seasoning and switching out ingredients. It allows me to make it my own way. Usually, that’s a good thing. Usually.

Baking, on the other hand, is my Achilles Heel. The thorn in my side. My kitchen nemesis. Yes, it’s still cooking, mixing ingredients together, using heat or cold to meld them all together into something interesting. And believe me, I try to bake. Working from a box of mix is a no-brainer. Anyone can make brownies from a mix.

My trouble begins when I try to bake from scratch. For some reason, no matter how hard I try, I can never seem to get the recipes to come out right. There’s always something off about them. Too gummy, underdone, or maybe too dry, a little overdone on one end. Drives me up the wall.

However, this past week I tried to bake bread using the instructions in The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Basically, I make a large batch of bread dough to keep in the fridge and pull a handful out every couple of days to bake a small loaf. It’s simple and specific, and while I don’t deviate from the recipe, it’s been fun.

But the loafs…well, I may not be as precise as I need to be when mixing the dough. I’m switching between measuring by volume and measuring by weight. Using weight is supposed to be better, but for me using volume has worked better. I have no idea why.

So I made enough dough for three loafs. The first one turned out okay, but I needed to let it brown more. The second loaf browned nicely on top, but I forgot to pull the parchment paper out from underneath it midway through, so the bottom didn’t cook as well as it should.

But the third loaf…ah, that was were things came together. In fact, I was so pleased with it I took a few pics to share. Unfortunately, my partner got ahold of it before I could grab my phone, so a piece is missing. Not to worry, it was still warm and covered in fig jelly. And no, she didn’t share.

Loaf of bread loaf of bread

The only thing I forgot (because I ALWAYS forget something when baking) is to score the top. Other than that, it turned out almost perfect. Nice thin, crispy crust and a decent crumb.

Once I get this recipe under control, I’m going to try my hand at baguettes. And pretzels. And seeded bread…

I may have an addiction.

RB

September 21

My First Book

Do you remember the first book you read that really spoke to you, got into your head, made you want to be a writer? Or at the very least, made you a lifelong reader? I do. It was Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. I read it when I was nine years old. I know, sort of a heavier read for someone that age, but I made it through (using a dictionary when needed) and it lit a spark that forever changed my life.

Obviously, this isn’t a book a nine year old would pick up off the shelf at the local bookstore. No, I had an older family member who was in college and would bring me the books they were reading in class. Some were way beyond my ability to comprehend at that age, but others, like Siddhartha, resonated with me on levels I didn’t quite understand.

If you aren’t familiar with the book, it was written in the early 1920s by German author Herman Hesse, who also wrote several other fantastic novels. It tells the story of the title character, a young man who comes from a wealthy family in India. He feels empty, restless, like there is something missing inside, so he goes on a spiritual journey. He fasts, renounces all possessions, and eventually meets Gautama, the Buddha.

His path is not an easy one. There is love, loss, and reawakening. As a young man, Siddhartha’s restlessness and longing were something that appealed to me. I was getting to that age when the body and mind begin to morph into something new, so this story was relatable. And from a spiritual standpoint, I could appreciate the philosophy of Buddhism. It was distinctly different from the Catholicism I grew up in.

It’s interesting to note that while this novel is considered an “adult” book, it’s written in a very simple narrative voice, and it’s only 152 pages. Hesse did an amazing job of telling this deep, thoughtful story in a simple, unassuming manner. He didn’t need a thousand pages to get to the heart of the story. From a writer’s perspective, that’s impressive.

And this book has stuck with me over the years. The original copy went with me through middle school and high school, and I think I eventually lost it in one of my moves. I picked up another copy in my mid-twenties and it’s on the bookshelf next to my bed. I still go back and read it every few years. Partly because I love the story so much, but also as a reminder of the philosophy behind it and how it affected me all those years ago.

Is Siddhartha the best book I’ve read? No, but it is one of the most meaningful. I hope you have a book in your past that still resonates with you and I hope you still pick it up and re-read it every so often. There are millions of books out there for us to read, but only a few are special. Those are the ones we cherish.

Do you have a book that had this affect on you? If so, let me know about it.

RB

September 18

Writing Humor isn’t Funny

Okay, personal opinion time. I think that writing humor is incredibly difficult. In fact, it’s far more difficult than writing drama. With drama, the feelings are more universal. Whereas with comedy, well, it’s much more subjective.

What I mean here is that almost everyone responds in a similar fashion to dramatic events. You know, like the loss of a loved one, loss of a pet, a breakup. The same goes for happy events, too. The birth of a baby, a graduation, a marriage proposal…almost everyone feels the emotion and possible tears. It’s universal.

With comedy, however, things get more complicated. Something you find funny isn’t necessarily going to apply to me. Take comedy movies, for example. There are people who love Adam Sandler movies. Me, not so much. I mean, there have been a few funny ones, but for the most part I find his humor to be a bit too juvenile for my tastes. This doesn’t mean that he isn’t funny, just not to me.

Same goes for Larry David and his show, Curb Your Enthusiasm. It’s one of the few shows I watch regularly and enjoy, but I have a few friends that find it too cringe-worthy and don’t like that sort of humor. Which is fine. But it goes to show how varied tastes can be when it comes to humor.

The big question is: Why is humor so subjective? Like I mentioned above, sadness and happiness are generally universal, so what sets comedy apart?

I know there have been studies done on this phenomena, but it’s complicated. Basically, it comes down to being able to accept incongruity. Meaning, one has to be able to accept things that don’t match up. For example, consider the Warner Brothers Roadrunner and Coyote cartoons. When the Coyote (Wile E. Coyote, for those in the know) is hit on the head with an anvil, many people will accept the absurdity of the situation. An anvil hitting him on the head doesn’t kill him, but only raises a ridiculously large lump. And there’s usually a flock of birds circling him, as well. It doesn’t make sense, it’s silly, so we laugh.

However, for someone who can’t disassociate from reality – maybe someone who is offended by any sort of animal cruelty, even cartoon-related – it’s more difficult to see the humor. The incongruity isn’t accepted.

So maybe the answer is that while happiness and sadness are almost always based in reality and are more tangible, humor and comedy are more ethereal and require the ability to suspend disbelief. For some of us, that ability may be limited or isolated to things we aren’t quite so attached to. The animal-rights activist may not find the adventures of Wile E. Coyote to be funny, but they may find the Three Stooges hilarious. Both are physical comedy, but the activist is probably more empathetic to the plight of animals, even cartoon ones, whereas with real people they are able to accept the incongruity.

I think it takes a special talent, a unique gene, in order to write comedy that has a wide appeal. People like Mel Brooks, Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Whoopi Goldberg, George Carlin…they all can reach those wide audiences. Me, I’m just glad if I can make myself laugh.

And I’ll leave you with this:

Today a man knocked on my door and asked for a small donation towards the local swimming pool. I gave him a glass of water.

RB

September 16

Quick and Easy Shrimp

This isn’t a fancy recipe by any means, but it’s a quick and easy way to prepare shrimp. Plus, only a handful of ingredients!

All you need is:

  • 1 lb of shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 3 TB of butter
  • 1 TB of Worcestershire Sauce
  • black pepper
  • Juice from half a lemon

Cleaned Shrimp

cut lemon

First, melt the butter in a 10 inch pan over medium heat until it’s nice and foamy.

Butter melting  butter foaming in pan

Next, season the shrimp with the black pepper and add them, along with the Worcestershire Sauce and lemon juice.

shrimp sautéing in pan

This only takes a couple of minutes, so watch them so they don’t overcook.

And voila’!

shrimp cooked in butter

A couple of thoughts on this recipe: First, I thought using salted butter would be enough. I was wrong. I suggest you season the shrimp with a pinch of salt.

Also, while the flavor was nice – how could it not be since it was cooked in butter? – it could have used a little more…something. Next time I’m going to add maybe a bit of garlic powder (or cook the shrimp with some minced fresh garlic!), maybe a little cayenne pepper, or a bit of curry powder. It just needed a little extra something to make it kick.

Give it a shot. It’s quick and easy and you can customize the flavors. I think this goes well with some thick, crusty bread or over some rice or pasta. Let me know if you make this. I’m interested in what flavor combinations you tried.

RB

 

September 14

A Fork in the Road

I think that one of the causes of ‘creative block’ can be attributed to decision making. What I mean is, when working on a project we have to make choices. Dozens of them. Maybe hundreds. Some are minor, like the color of a character’s hair. Others are major and can change the course of the story. And it doesn’t necessarily matter which it is, sometimes even the seemingly harmless decisions can be hard to make.

I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately. I always have a couple of stories on my hard drive that I’ve set aside because of being ‘blocked’…or more specifically, I have to make a decision and I’m not sure what to do. I tend to fret about it for a while, write a few thoughts and ideas on the page, then hit ‘save’ and close it out until some point in the future.

But why do I do this? That’s what I’ve been trying to wrap my head around. Is it a deep-seated need to procrastinate? Fear of failure? Inability to commit? All of the above?

The thing is, it doesn’t have to be like this. What I mean is that, regardless of the choice made, I can always go back and try something different. It’s not like what I write has to be permanent. I’m not etching my words in stone or using a permanent marker on a whiteboard. I’m typing in a word processing program. If I decide I made a wrong turn, all I need to do is highlight, delete, and go down another path.

So maybe part of it is fear. Not the scary, shivering type of fear, but more of a fear of doing it wrong. I think it’s normal to feel that way, except for when it prevents me from completing a story. It’s a mind game. I have to remind myself that they are just words, virtual words, and I can change them, delete them, rearrange them, over and over again until I get them right.

This may not necessarily be true for everyone. We all have our own reasons for getting stuck on our creative projects. But the next time you get stuck, think about this. Maybe you’re simply afraid of making a mistake or a wrong decision, and that’s what is keeping you from moving forward.

Just remember, we’re writers and creators. We can build things and we can destroy them. The power is ours, so don’t be afraid to try something different. You can always go back and redo it.

RB

September 11

Singing in the Shower

Why are the acoustics in a shower so damn good? It’s not like I’m a professional singer – far from it – but I can hold a tune in an amateurish sort of way. But get me in the shower and I turn into a combination of Freddy Mercury, Pavarotti, and Brad Delp (Boston). I turn the volume up on the little shower radio hanging in the corner and howl.

Maybe it’s the way the tiles are arranged, or maybe the way the water coats them that makes me sound like I should be on stage. Someone should do a study on this. I can see the results now: “A combination of bar soap, shampoo, hot water, and ceramic tile can make even the most tone-deaf individual sound like an opera star.” You’d think the shower industry would be backing this.

And it’s not just me, even my partner sounds good when she’s belting it out while bathing. I can hear her from across the house and wonder, “who is that velvet-voiced vixen?”

I’ve considered whether or not we should try a duet, but then I remember she tends to hog the hot water.

For what it’s worth, singing in the shower is a great self-esteem booster. You’ve got the hot water splashing over you, you’re all soaped up and getting clean, there’s great music playing, and you’re all alone, no judgement, just you and whatever you use as a faux microphone. I tend to roll up the washcloth and use that as my mic. I tried using the bar of soap but it kept popping out of my hand and I ended up chasing it around the bottom of the tub.

And I have to assume I’m not the only one who does this. I figured this was a universal experience, that everyone sings in the shower. You may not do it as often as I do, or maybe you only do it when no one else is at home, but still, you let it all out when the opportunity arises, right? Right?

If not, then you’re missing out on an amazing acoustic experience. And spirit-lifting. I think singing in the shower is one of life’s special moments. The only downside is that my water bill is sort of high. But that’s the price one pays for the ability to sing like a superstar.

And I’m willing to pay it.

RB