August 30

Bradbury Challenge – Update 1 [Writing]

So my first week doing the modified Bradbury Challenge went well. It’s an adjustment to my daily routine, but I was able to get my reading accomplished and finished the first draft of a new short story, “Bank Shot”.

Title and first paragraph of my short story, Bank Shot

It was interesting to note that, despite giving myself a two-week deadline, I didn’t feel rushed. I had the story outlined in my head, so it was basically just transferring it from my imagination to the page. And strangely, the ending I originally had in mind didn’t change when I wrote it out.

When writing, I’d say that ninety-nine percent of the endings I initially envision never make it out of my head. By the time I write it all out, the story of the moment goes in another direction, or my protagonist does something unexpected and changes path. Something always happens when I let the story take the lead.

This one, for whatever reason, didn’t change. Is that a good sign? I hope so.

I actually finished the draft this past Thursday, so from start to finish it took ten days to type out 2,100 words. My writing window was small, only about thirty minutes a day, and I skipped working on it for two days due to other priorities. All in all, I’ll take that as a success.

So I’m now ready for the next story. I have an idea in mind, something I’ve been mulling over the past few months. I have the opening scene mapped out, and there’s a nice little twist I’d like to try with it near the end. And no, I don’t have an ending in mind. This will be one of my organically-written stories. Just the opening and a thin thread to follow.

I’m looking forward to seeing where this leads. Wish me luck!

RB

 

August 16

Music Moment – Elderly Woman Behind the Counter…[Music]

As one of the main bands to bring the early 90s Seattle sound – aka Grunge – to the mainstream, Pearl Jam has always been a constant member of my many playlists. Their sound is unique, recognizable, and their songs always feel as if they’re painting a mood or telling a story.

One of my favorite songs of theirs is Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town. To me, it falls into both categories. It’s a story song, giving the listener a glimpse into the life of an elderly woman living in a small town, probably spent her entire life working in the same old diner, and realizing the one of her customers is an old acquaintance who just returned to town. Older waitress in a diner

At the same time, the lyrics invoke a mood of melancholy. It’s a song of missed opportunity, regret, lost chances, and resignation. Yet, does the old woman really regret her life, or is she simply accepting her fate?

Eddie Vedder, the lead singer and lyricist for the band, also has a unique voice. His style reminds me of Jim Morrison, the late singer for The Doors. There’s a rawness, a natural flow, to the words. They aren’t necessarily traditional in the rhythms or rhyme schemes, and they have a rawness that appeals to me.

Here are the lyrics. Give them a read, then check out the video link that follows. The song is a brilliant mesh or words and music, evoking a scene that is bittersweet and touching.

Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town

I seem to recognize your face
Haunting, familiar, yet I can’t seem to place it
Cannot find the candle of thought to light your name
Lifetimes are catching up with me

All these changes taking place, I wish I’d seen the place
But no one’s ever taken me
Hearts and thoughts they fade, fade away…
Hearts and thoughts they fade, fade away…

I swear I recognize your breath
Memories like fingerprints are slowly raising
Me, you wouldn’t recall, for I’m not my former
It’s hard when, you’re stuck upon the shelf

I changed by not changing at all, small town predicts my fate
Perhaps that’s what no one wants to see
I just want to scream…hello…

My god its been so long, never dreamed you’d return
But now here you are, and here I am
Hearts and thoughts they fade…away…
Hearts and thoughts they fade, fade away…
Hearts and thoughts they fade, fade away…

Hearts and thoughts they fade…away
Hearts and thoughts they fade…away

Lyrics and Music by Pearl Jam

 

RB

August 8

The Bradbury Challenge [Writing]

It’s no secret that Ray Bradbury was a prolific author. By the time he passed in 2012, he had written over six-hundred short stories, twenty-seven books, plus essays, criticisms, screenplays, and poems. The man was a writing machine. 

Luckily, he was open about his creative process and how he was able to accomplish so much with the written word. As I noted in a previous post, his book, Zen in the Art of Writing, is a must-read for all writers. Bradbury was passionate about the written word, about creativity, and about encouraging other writers.

And this is where the Bradbury Challenge comes from: his daily routine as outlined in the book. Basically, each day Bradbury would read one short story, one essay, and one poem. That was the fuel for his creative fire. Fiction, non-fiction, and a bit of lyrical beauty to get the imagination working. Ray Bradbury

But it doesn’t end there. The most amazing part is that he also wrote one short story every week. Of course, there were weeks, maybe months, when he couldn’t because of other commitments. He wrote so many other things that I couldn’t imagine how he’d have time to squeeze a short story in each week. But then again, the man was a word machine.

Because he’d always been an inspiration to me, I thought it was time I challenged myself to the challenge. Now, I know that I can’t follow his lead exactly. I have a full-time job (writing, no less), plus other daily and weekly responsibilities. Bradbury was a full-time, independent writer. 

So I’m going to partake in a modified Bradbury Challenge. 

My challenge to myself is this: read one short story or book chapter a day, read one poem a day, and write one short story every two weeks. 

While more manageable than Bradbury’s routine, it’ll still take effort on my part. I’ll have to change up my daily routine and cut out some of my usual downtime in order to get words on the page, but I think it’ll be worth it. 

I’m looking at it like an exercise routine. I started back to exercising every morning two months ago. I started small, ten minutes a day alternating between core, strength, and yoga. This week I’ve upped that to thirty minutes a day, doing core/strength/yoga on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, while doing thirty minutes of yoga on Tuesday and Thursday. 

At first, it was tough. I had to push myself to get into the routine. But now, two months later, it’s gone from a routine to a habit. A good habit. 

I think the same can be applied to creativity. I’m going to start with this modified Bradbury Challenge and, eventually, get to where it evolves from routine to habit. Then, maybe, I’ll see about writing one story every week. 

I’ll be starting this on Sunday and will post updates, along with my usual musings, every week. And you’re welcome to join in, in your own way. 

I hope to make Ray Bradbury proud.

RB

August 6

Inspiration from Others [Writing]

A few of the stories I’ve written, or drafted, were inspired by things I read elsewhere. For example, there’s a song by Black Sabbath titled “Neon Knights“, which I turned into a short story about, well, neon knights. It’s only made it to the first-draft phase, but it has potential as an interesting fantasy/sci-fi mash up.

Neon Knight from Black Sabbath album coverThat wasn’t the first or only time that happened. There have been other song titles and lyrics that have sparked an idea, as well as book titles, chapter titles, and even a sentence or phrase from something else I’ve read. There’s something about these little combinations of words, once read or heard, that ignites a creative fire in my imagination.

But then, I always feel guilty about it. For some reason, it makes me feel like I’m stealing something from the original artist. I know, silly, right? In fact, I’d be flattered if I found out that someone created something after being inspired by something that I created. That has to be the highest compliment an artist can receive.

The problem I run into is that I find these little embers of inspiration everywhere. I see them in the stories I read, the music I hear, the world around me. I see a red-tailed hawk perched on a high branch in my back yard and wonder about him. What does he see from up there? What is he thinking? What has he experienced? All that begins to form a story in my mind.

I even find inspiration simply sitting at a stoplight. I look at the people sitting in the cars around me, watch them briefly (so they don’t get freaked out), and wonder about their lives. Where are they going? Where are they coming from? Why does that woman look sad? Why is that little boy bouncing around in the backseat like a billy goat? Brain jumping rope

Occasionally, these spontaneous ideas are worth writing down so I remember them later. Most, however, are just exercises in creativity. Mental improv. A way to pass the time while stuck in traffic on a hot August afternoon.

The downside is that I have a ridiculous number of ideas scattered about on various notepads, envelopes, and scraps of paper. One of these days (ha!) I’ll have to try and organize them. Or at least put them all in the same place. More than likely, I’ll continue to jot them down and stick them in a drawer on in my jacket pocket so I can discover them again someday and be inspired to write something.

RB

August 3

An Author Shout-Out [Writing]

I was incredibly lucky to get an early read of Mackenzie Littledale’s upcoming mini-short story collection last week. It’s well-written, passionate, and stuck with me long after I finished the last page. I’ll be buying a copy once it’s published September 1, 2021, and I’ll write an official review then. Don’t want to spoil anything!

I’ve was blown away by her previous collection, Testing the Ties That Bind. She’s a talented writer and has a unique voice, one that I haven’t encountered before. If you’re interested you can read my review of that collection here.

For what it’s worth, I think it’s important for writers to support one another. Writing can be a lonely endeavor, sitting for hours with no companionship other than the characters on the page. But it’s also incredibly rewarding, especially when we write something special.

If you have a moment, please check out Mackenzie’s website and her other work. Also, be sure to support the less-famous writers out there. Big-name writers usually produce good stories, but there are a lot of unknown writers out there creating amazing worlds. We just have to take a chance on them.

RB