December 7

Knuckleball

It’s been said that life occasional throws us a curveball. You know, things go sideways, our plans go awry, and we have to adjust and adapt. However, it’s not just curveballs that life tosses at us. On occasion it’s a knuckleball.

For those unfamiliar with the baseball terminology, a curveball is basically a ‘breaking ball’, meaning, instead of it coming straight at you, the pitcher makes the ball curve (up, down, this way or that way) and that, in turn, makes it difficult to hit. But they tend to fly on a consistent trajectory, an arc. A knuckleball is an entirely different beast of a pitch, and it’s rare that you can find a pitcher who can throw one. The way the ball is held on release causes it to wobble wildly on the way to the catcher (who has to wear an oversized mitt in order to have a chance of catching the ball). A knuckleball is almost impossible to hit.

And that’s where I am at the moment. I’m at the plate watching these knuckleballs coming at me and I’m trying my best not to strike out.

Not to get into too much personal detail, but my partner and I are dealing with ailing family members and it’s extremely difficult, especially with the ongoing pandemic. Assisted living is out because those are hotbeds for the virus. Home health care is a possibility, but it’s also ridiculously expensive. And it’s just the two of us trying to maintain two homes, tend to two elderly people, and at the same time work our jobs and keep our relationship intact.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not looking for help or handouts. At the moment we have things under control. Mostly. But I wanted to write this post to let readers know why I haven’t been as active online as I usually am. My blog posts dried up, my social media accounts are sprouting cobwebs, and my creative output has come to a screeching halt. I’ve been prioritizing family, first, and everything else comes after.

The selfish part of me is frustrated because I love to be creative, to write, record my podcast and cooking videos, to interact with all the amazing people in my social media feeds, but at the moment it all seems so far away, so insignificant when it comes to quality of life and doing the right thing. I miss it dearly and I’m trying to make the time to be creative, even for just a few minutes every day, but in the current situation things seem to change hour by hour: The pharmacy called and meds are ready for pickup; this doctor called to reschedule an appointment; another doctor called because they want bloodwork done; we’re running low on food or other needs; and my dogs need to be fed and exercised; my fish need to be fed; yard work; house work; nine-to-five job…

I think another apt analogy would be comparing our situation to those amazing Chinese acrobats that keep plates spinning on top of those long sticks. Can’t take your eyes off them for a moment or else one will drop and shatter. And if one goes down, others will follow.

Anyway, I’m doing my best to keep things going, to swing at those knuckleballs and avoid getting hit by a wild pitch. I’ll be working on getting back into some sort of creative routine and hopefully you’ll hear more from me soon.

Wish me luck!

RB

November 11

A Rainy Day

Rainy days always make me feel like doing something creative. I mean, it’s not like I can go fiddle about in the yard or play outside with the dogs. If it’s more than a sprinkle, they won’t do much more than stick their heads out the dog door. I can almost hear them say, “Nope!”.

Of course, I can always watch something on television. I subscribe a coupe of streaming services, plus I own a fair amount of movies and shows from back when people actually purchased physical media. In fact, I still have a handful of VHS tapes. One of these days I’ll have to reconnect the VHS player to the TV and see if they’ll still play.

There’s also the option to read. That’s a nice rainy-day pastime. But for me, the problem is having the sound of falling raindrops and the soft rumble of thunder in the distance makes me sleepy. Oftentimes, my rainy-day reading lasts for about thirty minutes or so before my eyelids grow too heavy. Three hours later I’m woken by a cold dog nose alerting me that either the water bowl is empty or it’s time for dinner.

I usually end up writing, which is good. I’m always up for putting words on the page. Rainy days are perfect for sitting in a room lit only by natural light (the dim gray from outside) with the sound of rain acting as my background noise. It’s almost meditative and helps me get into the zone…meaning, the world slips away and it’s just me and my MacBook and the words appearing on the screen.

I like that scenario. It’s transcendental, trance-like. And don’t get me wrong. Most of my writing sessions are good and I can get into that zone – or something akin to it – when I have just the right setting and time to myself. But those rainy-day sessions, well, there’s nothing quite like them.

The thing is, it’s not like I’m more productive or more creative. Stories written when it’s raining aren’t any better or worse than on dry days, or hot days, or cold days. It’s more about how I feel, how it makes me feel. After writing during a good drenching rain, I feel refreshed, rejuvenated, like I’ve been cleansed. It’s almost as if I stood in the rain myself and let the water wash over me.

If you haven’t guessed, today is one of those days. A tropical depression is passing nearby in the Gulf of Mexico and it’s supposed to rain here most of the day. In fact, it’s also going to rain all day tomorrow. Coincidently, I’m also taking leave from work this week, so things are working out quite nicely for me.

And for what it’s worth, it’s raining right now as I write this.

RB

November 9

National Novel Writing Month

Yep, it’s that time of year, the time when writers from all over take part in the madness that is National Novel Writing Month.

NaNoWriMo (as it’s affectionately referred to) has been around for years and I’ve participated a couple of times. The first time I did I ended up with a 75k rough draft – a VERY rough draft – of a science fiction novel. I had the idea spinning in my head for a few months leading up to November 1st, so I had a decent idea of what I wanted to do with the story. But I played by the rules, so I didn’t outline or make any notes. I went into this challenge with a blank page.

It went well for the first two weeks, but then I got stuck. It was just after a big action scene where my protagonist escapes from some government ships that were tracking him near an asteroid belt. My hero was able to kill power and hide inside a crevasse on one of the spinning boulders. The government ships tried to find him, but no luck, so they sailed off. That’s when I sat and stared at the screen on my laptop, my fingers idly tapping on the keyboard, while I wondered what to do next.

After nearly a day of cluelessness, I decided I’d keep writing but instead focus on some backstory and character development, hoping that it would kick start my imagination and get me back on track. Yeah, that didn’t happen. I spent the next two weeks describing some of the planets in my story, along with some of the ships, where my protagonist grew up, and how he ended up with his ship. None of it was that pertinent to the story.

By the end of the month I had hit the word count goal, but the story wasn’t there. Just random ideas and thoughts about the story. So I sort of completed the challenge because I hit the word count, but I never got a complete story out of the process.

I tried again a few years later, but my job at the time had me working some odd and long hours, so I couldn’t spare enough time to really focus on writing a certain amount every day. I ended up tapping out after a week or so.

I haven’t tried again, although it is enticing. I like to be challenged when I write. I set certain goals for myself, some of them normal – like 500 words in a sitting – and some of them odd – like not allowing myself to use “he said” or “she said” when writing dialogue. A full month of marathon writing is appealing. There’s just the matter of time and whether or not I’m willing to set aside other projects so I can focus on just one.

I’m sitting on the sidelines again this year and enjoying the view as a spectator. I have some writing friends who are participating and it’s fun to see how they’re handling it. Of course, I’m being encouraging and trying to keep them motivated as best I can.

But next year, well, I just may have to dive back in again. I think it’ll be fun to see what I can accomplish. Until then, best of luck to all the writers who are participating this year.

RB

November 6

Carnivorous Plant Update

Here in North Florida, the weather if beginning to cool, and with that means my carnivorous plants will be going dormant. It’s sad to see my pitcher plants begin to wither, dry up, turn brown and brittle. My sundews and flytraps will also wither a bit, but they’ll maintain most of their color and simply stop eating and producing new growth. Luckily, most of my carnivorous plants (except for the flytraps) are indigenous to my area, so they’re used to the weather.

But it’s also a good time for some cleanup. Once the plants have dried up, I’ll cut them back some so, come springtime, the new growth will have room to flex. Also, I’ll take some cuttings and get them potted. One of the main things I have to do is replant two of my flytraps. A stupid squirrel got into the pot earlier this summer and decided to dig around like a maniac. I was able to salvage the plants, but the big one needs to be reset and the smaller one needs his (or her) own pot.

Venus flytraps

Here’s another flytrap that’s beginning to get ready for winter. You can see the browning traps. A trap will die off after a meal or two, then new ones will come up. In this case, traps are dying, but no new growth to speak of…just one little trap that’s trying his best (see the very center of the plant).

Venus Flytrap

The colors are still popping on a couple of my pitcher plants. This little guy is still vibrant, and his partner, the sundew, is still producing dewy drops on its leaves.

Pitcher and Sundew

This guy is looking good, too. In the second photo you can see his latest meal. I think it was some sort of wasp. You can also see the fine little hairs that line the mouth of the pitcher. Helps to keep the little critters from crawling back out.

Pitcher Plant  Pitcher Plant with Snack

Like all gardens, they have to cycle with the seasons. I’ll be sure to keep them comfortable, cover them if there’s frost, and make sure they stay wet until spring. I’ll post updates over the next few months as I make cuttings, transplant, and prep them for next year.

Oh, and let me know if you have any questions. As you can probably tell, I adore these little buggers. And yes, gardening is just another way to be creative.

RB

 

November 3

VOTE!

I tend to avoid politics on my blog and social media accounts. Too much derision and toxicity. As I tell my partner, when it comes to politics, there lies madness.

However, today is Election Day in the US. Polls are opening up across the country and people are going to be standing in line for hours just to spend five minutes casting their ballots. I’m proud of each and every one of them for exercising their civic duty, their civic right.

Regardless of your political affiliation, please support the people voting. This isn’t the time for drama or making scenes. We have the right to disagree, to hold differing opinions, but that doesn’t mean that one person’s vote should mean less than another person’s vote.

If you haven’t already, please get to your voting place as early as you can. This year looks like it’s going to have a huge turnout.

Be safe, everyone.

Vote

RB

November 2

Post-Halloween Blues

It happens every year. There’s this big build up to Halloween throughout the month of October. People are planning their costumes, promoting their scary stories, talking about all the great horror films and shows to watch, and it builds to this crescendo on the thirty-first…

Then it’s over. Sure, we get one more day of creepy fun with Dia de los Meurtos, but after that the horrific fun simply disappears. Poof. Like a ghost in the wind.

Sure, there are a couple more big holidays just around the corner (here in the US we have Thanksgiving towards the end of November, then Christmas), but to me, it’s sort of a let down. Thanksgiving, despite the food overdose, is really bland. Pilgrims are seriously underwhelming.

To me, if feels like the entire month of October is wonderful with all the costumes and creativity. It’s fun, silly, creepy, and gives adults the opportunity to behave like kids for a night. We all need that every once in a while.

But now it’s done. The spooks are back in their graves, the vampires in their coffins, the witches back to their covens. And we have to wait another year for them to return.

At least I have my buddy, Fred, to keep me company.

Rik and Skull
The resemblance is uncanny.

RB

October 30

A Halloween Treat

I’ve loved scary stories since I was a wee lad in South Florida, and one of my favorite things to do on Halloween was break out a vinyl album of mine. The album was Alfred Hitchcock presents Ghost Stories for Young People. It was released back in 1962 and I think I found it in a record store when I was around eight or nine years old.

I listened to it so many times when I was young I had it memorized…but it still gave me the shivers. Unfortunately, the original vinyl was lost to time, but I was lucky enough to find it on CD a few years ago. Of course, nowadays you can find almost anything online, and someone was awesome enough to post the entire album on YouTube.

If you’re looking for some Halloween chills, give it a listen. Hitchcock is a fantastic narrator, and the stories, while creepy, also contain a little bit of dark humor. It may be geared towards children, but this middle-aged man still loves it.

Note – the stories are broken out into separate videos, so be sure to listen to all of them!

Enjoy!

October 28

Setting the Spooky Mood

With Halloween just around the corner, I thought it’d be a good time to recommend a couple of things to get you in the mood.

First, you can grab a copy of my dark fiction collection, Dark Journeys. It’s a mix of horror, sci-fi, and speculative fiction. Perfect for reading alone in a darkened room (if you’re using an e-reader) or by candlelight (if you grab the paperback version). The stories include seductive demons, patchwork lovers, marooned astronauts, and an assortment of creepy things to haunt your dreams.

If you’re looking for something auditory, then you can listen to a couple of my podcast episodes. Last year I read one of my short stories, Consumed, for my Halloween episode. More recently, I recorded an episode about the Art of Fear. The first one will give you a few chills, while the second one will inspire.

There’s no shortage of horror-related stuff out there for the discriminating fear aficionado, and nowadays you don’t need books or movies, just read the news and you’ll be horrified.

Man reading burning newspaper
Photo by Nijwam Swargiary on Unsplash

Stay safe, everyone!

RB

October 26

A Little Creativity

I find myself constantly amazed at the creativity shown by people during this pandemic. Yesterday I watched a segment on CBS Sunday Morning about how people are changing their Halloween plans to make them safer. Some of the adaptations included a long-distance candy dispenser for the trick-or-treaters and drive-through haunted houses.

I think it’s fantastic that people are willing to put in a little effort – and imagination – to keep spirits high in a time when we’re all feeling the pressure.

But the creativity doesn’t stop there. I was talking (online) to a friend who told me that over the past weekend he not only learned how to play bingo via Zoom, but also attended a Zoom-based murder mystery party. I didn’t have a chance to get all the logistics behind it, but I can’t imagine how they set that up. Regardless, it’s still an incredibly creative way to bring people together and interact while still remaining relatively safe.

I know, we hear a lot about people complaining about the lock downs, the social distancing, the mask wearing, but I look at this all as an opportunity. Think about it – we can look at all this as some massive pain in the ass that has turned our lives upside down and created chaos, or we can look at this as an opportunity to try new things, to do things in a different way, and to see just how creative we can be.

Don’t let the situation sour your perspective. Sure, things sort of suck at the moment, but you can still make the best of it. Improve yourself, help others, and most of all, be creative. You may have some hidden talents you didn’t know you had. All you have to do it try something new and see what happens.

RB

October 21

A Challenging Read

While I’m a fan of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, I don’t limit my reading list to those specific genres. I feel that, as a writer, I need to expose myself to a wide variety of ideas and input. Plus, my interests are all over the place, so if you took a peek at the stack of books on my shelves you’d see everything from astronomy and biology to biographies and fiction from almost every genre.

Currently, I’m reading The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco and it’s possibly the most challenging book of fiction I’ve read. And this is despite the fact I’ve watched the movie multiple times over the years. It’s one of my favorites.

I’ll post a full review once I’ve finished it. I’m currently a little over halfway through this beast and, while I’m loving the story, it’s so incredibly dense with details and obscurities that it’s taking me a long time to read. And don’t get me wrong – I’m loving the adventure.

Eco is an incredible storyteller, and this medieval monastery murder mystery (alliteration intended!) is well-plotted. But what’s getting me is the almost overwhelming amount of detail he’s incorporated into the story. I’m finding that I have to pause every few pages to look up architectural details he’s described, or to translate some obscure passage from an ancient book of African poetry, or simply to translate some bit of latin. All those years growing up Catholic, you’d think some of that Latin would have stuck in my head. There’s also a great deal of theology and philosophy, so a few passages require a re-read or two to make sure I’m understanding it all.

Of course, it would probably have been easier for me to read it on my Kindle so I could have the footnotes and translations readily available, but no, I bought this one in hardback. It’s a keeper and a fine additional to my unwieldily home library.

I feel like in reading this book, I’m not only being entertained, I’m being educated. My Catholic background helps a bit. I’m familiar with a lot of the ceremony, the prayers, the traditions, so I can easily relate to many aspects of the story. But Eco did so much research into obscure parts of the religion that I find myself both confounded and impressed.

I’m hoping to finish the book by the end of the month, but I don’t want to rush it. This is a book to savor, to enjoy, to relish.

Now, back to it!

RB