June 9

Quote the Writer, Not the Character [Writing]

Okay, I know this will sound strange, but it annoys me when someone quotes a character from a work of fiction instead of the writer. I should let it go, I know, but I think it comes from my belief that writers are under appreciated in general. 

It happens often enough in fiction. I mean, I can understand it to a certain point. People are probably more familiar with the character than the faceless writer. For example, if someone quotes a line from a Sherlock Holmes story, it’s usually attributed to Holmes and not the author, Sir Author Conan Doyle. Elementary, my dear Watson. Sherlock Holmes and Watson illustration.

But I think it’s even more prevalent in television and film. How often do you hear someone quote a line from, say, Casablanca (“Here’s lookin’ at you, kid”) or The Terminator (“I’ll be back”) and attribute it to the character or the actor? Happens all the time.

Casablanca movie poster.

As a writer, I find it annoying. I mean, after I’ve spent time and effort to write a great story I would prefer to be the one credited with a memorable line. That came out of my head, from my imagination. I feel like it’s only fair.

And, full disclosure, I’m guilty of it, as well. I figured I should own up before someone goes back through my old posts and highlights every instance where I quoted a character. I’m sure there are more than a handful.

My partner has tried to help. After telling me to get over it – repeatedly – she’ll then suggest I try looking at it from another perspective. Writers want to be read, and as long as people are reading my stories, why should I care if they quote me or one of my characters? The character came from my head, as well, so if they get the credit, I sort of get it, too. 

She’s right, of course. You can quote me on that.

RB

 

June 8

Saying Goodbye to Dick Robinson [Books]

Just a quick post to say thank you and goodbye to one of the people who helped me develop a love of books and reading. Although you may not know who he is just from his name, Mr. Robinson had a huge impact on getting young people to read here in the U.S. Dick Robinson

For nearly five decades, Mr. Robinson was the CEO of Scholastic Books, Inc. If you aren’t familiar with Scholastic Books, they have been arranging and hosting book fairs in public schools since the 1970s.

Interesting note: The article at Publishers Weekly states that Scholastic starting hosting book fairs in schools in 1981. However, I remember attending the fairs when I was in elementary school in the 1970s. Weird…

To understand how big of an impact Scholastic has had on the book business, consider they are responsible for approximately 120,000 yearly book sale events. That is getting a lot of books into the hands of a lot of kids. And I think that’s amazing.

One of the cool things about Mr. Robinson is that he considered reading a civil right. He was adamantly anti-censorship and incredibly pro-literacy. He also acknowledged that Scholastic played a big part in broadening children’s understanding of the world around them. Scholastic books logo

He once said: “Research says that if children choose and own their books, they are much more likely to finish them.” I can attest to that. Over the years, they have received a great deal of my book money, and I’ve finished every single book I’ve purchased from them. I spent many wonderful hours roaming the shelves at the book fairs they held in the schools I attended, carefully choosing which ones I wanted to read, which adventures I wanted to go on.

Mr. Robinson’s passing is like losing a piece of my childhood. For what it’s worth, thank you, Mr. Robinson. Thank you for educating me, entertaining me, and for showing me the wonders that lie on a bookshelf.

RB

May 31

Music Moment – After the Gold Rush [Music]

One of my favorite singer/songwriters is Neil Young. He first came to prominence in the late 1960s as a member of Buffalo Springfield. Later, in between releasing solo albums, he also was an on again/off again member of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young.

While his efforts with other musicians has always been fantastic, he really shines in his solo work. Particularly, his 1970 album After the Gold Rush. It’s not a rock album, but more of a country and folk record. Mellow, low-key, and perfect for lazy Sunday mornings.

My favorite cut on the album is the title track. It’s soft, dreamy, and wistful, yet at the same time it’s heartbreaking. Neil sings at the higher-end of his vocal range, which adds an almost childlike quality to the song.

The funny thing is, while the lyrics are incredibly moving, they really don’t make a lot of sense. In fact, when the song way covered by Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and Linda Ronstadt for their album, Trio, Dolly called Neil to ask what the song was about.

Neil’s response? According to Emmylou, he said: ‘Hell, I don’t know. I just wrote it. It just depends on what I was taking at the time. I guess every verse has something different I’d taken.’

Regardless, I think the lyrics paint a melancholy and beautiful picture.

Well I dreamed I saw the knights in armor coming
Sayin’ something about a queen
There were peasants singing and drummers drumming
And the archer split the tree

There was a fanfare blowing to the sun
There was floating on the breeze

Look at Mother Nature on the run
In the twentieth century
Look at Mother Nature on the run
In the twentieth century

I was lying in a burned out basement
With the full moon in my eyes
I was hoping for replacement
When the sun burst through the sky

There was a band playing in my head
And I felt like getting high

I was thinking about what a friend had said
I was hoping it was a lie
Thinking about what a friend had said
I was hoping it was a lie

I dreamed I saw the silver spaceships flying
In the yellow haze of the sun
There were children crying and colors flying
All around the chosen ones

All in a dream, all in a dream
The loading had begun

Flying Mother Nature’s silver seed
To a new home in the sun
Flying Mother Nature’s silver seed
To a new home

Lyrics by Neil Young

And to give you a taste of just how lovely the song is, here are two versions. The first is by Neil, the second is the cover version by Dolly, Emmylou, and Linda. Honestly, I can’t say which is better. Both are haunting, beautiful, and stick with me long after the last note fades away.

RB

May 22

Changing a Life

We’ve all had someone who touched our lives in a positive way. It might have been a loved one, maybe a stranger. Regardless, they had an impact on you, changed you, hopefully made you a better person.

I was thinking about this recently. In a broad view, almost everyone I encounter has an impact on my life. Someone holds a door open for me and shows a moment of kindness, which brightens my day and makes me smile. Or someone cuts in front of me in traffic and flips me off, which has the opposite effect. In both cases, they changed my life in small ways. Man holding door open.

Then I started thinking about it from another perspective. Specifically, the people who actually changed my life, who had such an impact on it that my personality, my outlook, my morals, were shifted and molded in a new way.

There aren’t many. At least, it’s not a terribly long list. My parents, for instance, helped to mold me. All our parents did, for better or worse, along with family members. Siblings who bullied, others who showed kindness. I had a great-aunt, a nun for over seventy-five years, who taught me about nature, creativity, and being myself. I had an uncle, a dairy farmer, who taught me about treating animals with care and about hard work. I still remember getting up before the crack of dawn to help feed and milk the cows. And clean out the manure troughs. It was educational, to say the least.

Bigger changes came later. In high school I felt out of place, like so many of us did then, and I immersed myself and reading and writing. I spun reams of angst-ridden poetry and lyrics for songs in my head. I also dabbled in fiction, writing Stephen King-inspired short stories. My sophomore year of high school I showed one of my stories to my Language Arts teacher, Mrs. Covert. She diligently read it, marked it up with a red pen (and I thought my story was bloody before then), then gave it back and told me to keep at it. 

She was the first person who ever read one of my stories. Funny, I don’t think she ever said if she liked it or not (I assume the latter), but the simple fact that she read it and gave me tough but fair feedback made a huge impact on my confidence. Teacher's desk in classroom.

A few years later I got up the courage to show some of my poetry to my senior year Language Arts teacher, Miss Wells. Quick confession: I think every guy in the school had a crush on her. She was young, fresh out of college, and sweet and adorable. Walking the halls, you’d think she was just another student. 

She read some of my pieces after class one day, then looked at me with tears in her eyes. That was mind-blowing. My words touched her. She went on to tell me how wonderful it was, how I had a talent for words, and asked to see more. I brought a few more to her later on, which she gave me feedback on and encouraged me to read some specific poets. Again, a huge impact on my early writing years. 

There were a couple of professors in college, too, who changed my life. One, in particular, Dr. Johnson, always pushed me to do better. I ended up having him for a couple of literature classes and most of my humanities classes. Every paper I submitted he’d give back to me and tell me to rewrite it and resubmit it because he knew I could do better. Every. Damn. Paper. But I did what he told me to do. He showed me that I can always do better than what I think I can, and that I should never settle.

The only other person who I think really had an impact on my life, who changed me, would be my partner. Because of her I’m a better person than I was twenty five years ago. It’s not that she personally changed me, but that I changed because of her. I wanted to be better, to be someone worthy of her, who could be proud of and respect. Without her in my life I probably wouldn’t be where I am today, with two published short story collections, a podcast, cooking videos, a house, a car. Without her I probably wouldn’t know the meaning of real love. 

Like I mentioned above, we all have people to impact our lives to some extent on a daily basis, but the ones who really have an impact, the ones who make you see things differently, who make you want to be better, are few. 

Two men hugging.Cherish them while they are in your lives. And if you don’t realize their impact on you until much later, then cherish the memory of them. 

And also keep in mind that YOU might be the one who makes a positive change in someone else’s life. Wouldn’t that be amazing? And the truth is, you may not even realize that you’ve done this for someone. 

Change is good. It’s inevitable. Just make sure it’s positive. 

RB

May 19

A Kind Promotion

I was recently contacted via Twitter by The Writers Lift, a website that promotes indie writers and creatives. They were kind enough to do a spotlight on me this past weekend, and I thought I’d share.

The site is based in the Philippines, but they showcase writers from around the world. I find that incredibly cool.

I know it’s been said millions of times over the past twenty-five years or so, but I love the fact that people from around the world can interact, support one another, encourage, motivate, and become friends…all without actually meeting face to face.

If you have a few free minutes, please give them a visit and check out their post about yours truly.

A Brilliant Writer and Podcast Host: Richard Bist

The Writers Lift Logo

 

 

May 13

Remember to Breathe

There are times when I take a moment to simply pause and think about what I’ve done over the past few days. That’s when I realize just how quickly time passes. Sure, there are days (usually work days) when time seems to slow down, or even stop, but most of the time it blows by like a bullet train.

And what gets me is the fact that we have a finite amount of time. There’s no going back for a do-over, no repeats, no mulligans (for the golf enthusiasts). We have a starting point and an ending point. And no pause button.

Not that I’m lamenting this fact. I think it’s important to remember it because it helps me to appreciate things.

At the same time, however, knowing how quickly time passes makes me feel like I need to hurry up and do the things I want to do. There’s so many ideas and projects-in-progress that I feel like I’ll never accomplish everything. It’s similar to the feeling I get when I think about books. There are so many amazing stories out there in the world and I want to read them all, but I know I can’t Still, I’ll give it my best shot. A frustrated writer with paper on the floor

But rushing through things isn’t a good idea. Sure, I want to write all the stories I have in my head, I want to see them published, I want people to read them, but pushing myself to try and write them all isn’t going to end well. Art can’t be rushed. I’d rather publish a handful of stories I’m proud of than publish a hundred stories I rushed through and are only shadows of what they could be.

That’s why I remind myself to stop, step back, breathe.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to accomplish things, to leave a positive mark on the world around you, but we’re only human and can only accomplish so much in our lifetimes. Better to go for quality than quantity.

Sure, it’s tough to accept that I won’t be able to do all the things I want to do, but at the very least, the creative projects I can finish will be done well and I’ll be proud of them.Illustration of woman breathing

Remember, take your time and do it right the first time. In the end, you’ll be proud of yourself and leave behind something beautiful. That’s all that matters.

RB

May 13

Making the Best of Your Next Project

Over the course of my nearly thirty-year writing career, I’ve been lucky enough to work in a wide variety of areas. I started out freelancing for a regional trade publication titled, Construction Equipment Guide. Not the most noble of beginnings, but it got my foot in the door and helped me build up some clips for my portfolio.

Since then, I’ve written for several regional and local publications. I’ve also worked in communications and marketing, written about employee benefits, did grant writing for several non-profits, and written scripts for training videos. In between all that, I’ve penned quite a few short stories.

We’re all these jobs fun? Not especially. Some were great, some mediocre, and a few were awful. But through them all I always treated my writing projects the same way. As creative exercises.

That’s how I make the best of every project I work on. It’s sort of like making them into games. I have this information I need to pass along to someone else. I always picture an individual as my audience. That’s the person I’m writing for and I need to make sure they understand.

It doesn’t matter if I’m working on a grant, a short story, or an article for a magazine. In each case I write for that one person. I don’t necessarily see them or visualize what they look like. They are the unknown reader. What I do, however, is put myself in their shoes, look at my text through their eyes. I imagine them to be an ordinary person who may not know much about the topic at hand. My challenge is to write in a way that gives them understanding. typewriter on desk

I’ll give you an example. I was working with a national non-profit that focused on improving childhood nutrition. They had a program where they went into elementary and middle schools and taught children about home gardening, making smart food choices, and showed them how fruits and vegetables could be just as fun to eat as junk food.

I was helping this group to get a grant from one of the biggest retailers in the U.S. I assumed that the people reading this grant request probably didn’t know much about these topics. In fact, I figured they were all well off and probably never had to worry whether or not they and their families were eating well.

With that in mind, I knew I needed to get them to see these issues from another viewpoint other than their own.

So that’s how I approached the project. I had to get creative and figure out how best to explain the situation, what they non-profit was proposing, and how important it was for this giant company to help.

Sure, the material was dry. There were a lot of stats, a lot of data, and I had to massage it into something interesting and compelling. I had to flex my creative muscles.

And that’s what I did. I didn’t write the request in a sterile, by-the-numbers way that I’d seen in so similar documents. I told a story. I wrote about children in the inner-city who had never seen a vegetable garden. I wrote about kids in rural areas who were growing up with diabetes and obesity problems from eating so much junk food. I wrote about a future where the health care system is overrun with adults in poor health.

And you know what? They gave the non-profit the grant. Two-hundred thousand dollars. Not bad.

I’ve found that looking at every writing project as an exercise in creativity not only makes it more fun for me, but it also gives me a chance to do something different. Like with requesting a grant. I know the people reviewing these documents are seeing a lot of the same language, the same points, the same arguments. It’s got to be monotonous for them. When I give them something different to read, something that takes them on a journey, then it’s going to stand out from the rest. And in the end, that’s really what matters.

stacks of paper

If you feel like you’re getting into a rut with a project, take a step back and see if you can come at it from a creative angle. I guarantee you’ll end up with something better than expected.

RB

April 30

A Photo Moment – Amaryllis

One of the reasons I love flowers is because they remind me of the impermanence of things. It’s a tenet of Buddhist philosophy, that nothing lasts forever and our attachment to things is one of the causes of suffering. We have to appreciate things while we have them because we never know when they’ll be gone.

I’m reminded of this every spring when the Amaryllis in my yard begin to return to life. They’re flowering bulbs, meaning, they sprout and bloom when the weather begins to warm, then remain green through the summer, and die off in the winter. Amaryllis blooms

I have several of them in pots on my back patio, and a few growing in a bed further out in the yard. It’s kinda funny how excited I get when I see those first shoots rising up out of the soil, the flower stalk pointing at and reaching for the sky like a green rocket ship. I know what’s coming and I know it won’t last long.

Amaryllis bloom

This year they bloomed in a staggered fashion, first breaking the surface in one pot, then another, then another, as if they were trying to make the beauty of their blooms last a little bit longer. When they finally were in full display, the deep, rich reds were a sharp contrast against the greenery that served as a backdrop.

But my focus is always on the flowers. The colors are so dense, with the delicate stigma looking like alien antenna. Amaryllis bloom

Of course, there is one aberration, which is the one I call the candy cane. Predominantly white blooms with red stripes. There’s only one in the yard, but it’s my favorite. I don’t tell the other ones, though. Amaryllis bloom

The photos posted here were taken a little over a week ago, so now the blooms have faded and drooped and are ready to be cut back. It’s unfortunate, but inevitable.

However, I know they’ll be back again next year to brighten my yard for a few days. I’ll be waiting patiently.

RB

April 29

New Podcast Episode – Creativity and Death

The long-delayed Episode 42 of the Prometheus Project Podcast is now available!

In this episode I look at the topic of death and how we use art to explore it, to find answers, and to come to terms with mortality.

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

Or you can listen to it right here:

April 28

The Magic of Decisions

I was recently reading about the power of our personal decisions and how even the smallest choice we make can change the course of our lives.

For example, a person bought a new pair of shoes and wore them to work in a bar. Halfway through the night, one of the soles came loose. This prevented him from going out with his friends after the bar closed. He could have, but he figured he’d rather not deal with the damaged shoe the rest of the night. He instead went home, went online, and met a young woman in a chat room. Two years later they were married and having their first child.

So if his shoe hadn’t fallen apart and made him decide to go home instead of out partying, he never would have met his future wife.

I read another example about a guy whose best friend was about to move across the country for a new job. The night before his friend left, they went out and got drunk, then later the guy decided to buy a one-way airline ticket and join his buddy. The job ended up not working out, so the friend returned home, but the other guy decided to stay in the new city. Seven years later he was married, had two kids, and a great job.

Again, a simple, spur-of-the-moment decision changed his life forever. shoes with arrows pointing in different directions

It blows my mind when I sit back and consider all the decisions I make on any given day. I decide what to eat for breakfast, what clothes to wear, whether or not I need to shave, what route I drive to work, what I’m going to have for lunch. The decisions are constant and never ending. And each and every one of them changes the course of my day, and potentially my life.

Using myself as an example, when I first moved to Tallahassee I met a guy at a restaurant where I had recently gotten a job. He invited me back to his apartment complex to hang out and meet some people. One of those people was a young woman. She and I would run into each other on and off over the next seven years, until finally one day I asked her out. We’ve now been married for twenty-seven years.

So if I had turned down the offer to go to this apartment complex and meet these people, I probably never would have met my future wife. Amazing, isn’t it?

There’s a theory in theoretical physics that suggests every decision we make creates a new timeline or a new universe. Every single one. That’s an idea that keeps me awake at night considering the possibilities and wondering how my life would be different if I had worn a green shirt today instead of black, or if I’d smiled at that person I passed on the sidewalk instead of staring at my phone screen.

That’s one of the things I think about when working on a piece of fiction. There are so many possibilities to consider – although I try not to overthink when writing fiction, otherwise I may end up in the weeds. We are our choices - Sartre

But still, as I’m writing I’m making decisions with each sentence, even every word, that I type on the page. With my writing style, which is akin to absolute and unplanned chaos, I really don’t know where my stories are going to end up. I usually have an idea of where I want it to go, but the protagonist, or maybe a supporting character, will more than likely make an unforeseen decision and the story takes a left turn into unchartered and unconsidered territory.

Not that it’s a bad thing. I love the unexpected in fiction. I think that makes it more like reality, like life in general. We get up in the morning with plans for the day, but how often does it all work out the way you expect it to?

And from a writing standpoint, I like it when my characters take the lead and show me things I hadn’t thought about or considered. As the saying goes, “No surprises for the writer, no surprises for the reader.”

RB