You Deserve a Break Today

Wow. That actually happened. I certainly remember the line itself: like most jingles, it’s been permanently stored in that special long-term memory area of the brain designed solely for jingle-storage. But I have no memory of the full Broadway production we just witnessed.

Let’s watch it again!

Okay, I’m back. Whew. That was fun.

I chose the McDonald’s catch-phrase for today’s post because once again another Friday has snuck up on me, quite unfairly I might add. I’ve looked over my ten or so draft posts. I’ve looked at my “Blog Post Ideas” list, but I’ll be honest: I’ve got nothing.

And it’s not just today. I’ve been thinking the last few weeks, “What is this blog supposed to be about?” Back to the Fridge had a theme and a purpose. So did Elsewhither. Sadly, this blog is just all over the place.

It might be different if I were famous and had millions of adoring fans who thought it might be interesting to read about my weight one week and the progress of a manuscript the next. But for an average Joe-on-the-street it feels both aimless and tedious.

I think the answer is obvious:

  • Find my special purpose
  • Only post when I have something worthwhile to post

The reason I forced myself to post weekly was just that: to force myself to write. If I did nothing else, at least I’d have that anchor. The above two-point plan makes sense. What scares me is that “when I have something worthwhile to post” turns into once a year.

So . . . I don’t know.

Anyone got any ideas?

Top Ten List

It’s been a long week with a lot going on. Sadly, this week’s blog post has fallen victim to my lack of time. On rare occasions I can whip something up in twenty minutes or so, but only when my brain is operating at full capacity.

So in place of a real blog post, please enjoy this Letterman-style Top Ten list. This week, it’s the Top Ten Things I’ve Learned About Blogging:

Number Ten. Start your weekly blog post before the morning it’s due.

Number Nine. Write about topics people enjoy reading. Not Top Ten lists.

Number Eight. Keeping your blog a secret doesn’t boost readership.

Number Seven. Advertising your blog doesn’t boost readership either.

Number Six. There’s a fine line between “paying homage to” and “plagiarism.”

Number Five. You always have at least one out-of-date plugin.

Number Four. You always have at least one plugin that you’ve never heard of and don’t know how it got there but aren’t sure if you can delete it.

Number Three. The best way to attract a dedicated following is to immediately block access to your content with a “Sign Up For My Newsletter!” popup.

Number Two. The vast majority of your visitors have looked at your site and determined that your page ranking isn’t as high as it should be.

And the number one thing I’ve learned about blogging.

Never assume writing a quick “Top Ten List” off the top of your head will be a quick substitute for a real blog post.

Return to Onederland

You know it’s a busy week for me when I either: 1) don’t post at all, or 2) fall back on the classic weight loss topic. You’re in luck for two reasons this week: 1) it’s the latter, and 2) there’s actually something to report. Actually, two things: 1) the latest diet started out great, and 2) then it stopped. My guess is at this point one of two things will happen: 1) you’ll keep reading this post, or 2) you’re about to close this web page.

Back in January, I wrote about my weight ups and downs between 2013 and 2016. In a nutshell: I got back to Onederland in a big way during cancer treatment, somehow continued to lose weight through 2014 (getting to a near all-time low by Thanksgiving that year), and then quickly gained forty pounds back by January 1, 2017.

So I decided to do something about it. I carefully constructed a new, never-before-tried diet. I call it the Charlie Diet. Here’s how it goes.

  • Don’t eat 1,500 calories of Chex Mix each day.
  • Don’t eat a bag of holiday candy.
  • Don’t eat more than eight slices of pizza at once.
  • Don’t eat Cap’n Crunch out of the Kitchenaid mixing bowl.
  • If there’s time, exercise.

One of my few superpowers is the ability to lose weight very quickly after it’s been gained very quickly. And this time was no different. In the first four days of the Charlie Diet, I lost five pounds. I knew I was onto something!

But then something happened. Lots of things happened. Food kept going in my mouth without my permission. It wasn’t as bad as my previous 4,000 calorie-per-day run, but it was enough to stop the weight loss in its tracks. More than a month went by and all I did was bounce around that five-pound mark.

“It’s okay. It’s still early in the year. You got this,” I reassured myself with my hand in a bag of Doritos. I gained four pounds then lost four pounds. After nearly two months on the Charlie Diet, I had still lost the same amount of weight as I had in the first five days:

Then it happened. The thing that was missing. The Switch. I couldn’t make anything happen because The Switch was off. If you’ve been following me for a long time, you know what The Switch is. When it’s on, it’s on. When it’s off, it’s off. And sadly, we can’t directly control it.

But something happened. I don’t know what. And The Switch flipped on. I carefully constructed a new, never-before-tried diet. I call it the Charlie Diet. Here’s how it goes.

  • No breakfast.
  • No lunch.
  • Apples and bananas for snacks.
  • And in the immortal words of Slim-Fast, a sensible meal for dinner.

Max calories for each day is 1,800 but I come in way below that most days. I started on this February 20. Things were still flat for a while, but then my body realized something was up and responded.

Tune in next fall for my magnificent, “I’m down thirty pounds!” post.

Then tun in again next January for my sad, “I gained it all back!” post.

Dark for Dark Business

Bilbo had less than half a mind to fetch the lamp, and more than half a mind to pretend to, and go and hide behind the beer-barrels in the cellar, and not come out again until all the dwarves had gone away.

“Where are you going?” said Thorin, in a tone that seemed to show that he guessed both halves of the hobbit’s mind.

“What about a little light?” said Bilbo apologetically.

“We like the dark,” said all the dwarves. “Dark for dark business!”

I know where the dwarves are coming from. “We like the dark too,” I say to no one, referring to myself in the plural. I don’t know what it is, but I’m far more comfortable with firelight than sunlight.

If I wake up and it’s one of those not-a-cloud-in-the-sky, bright-sunny-days that the television weatherperson goes on and on about with a smile, I feel deflated. Even if the sunny day is marked by a few happy passing cumulus clouds, I look up and think, “Ugh, how long will this go on?” The worst for me is that late afternoon, sun-getting-low, cloudless orange burn. This one takes me beyond mere deflation and drags me straight to outright irritated.

(Side thought: what’s the difference between “mostly sunny” and “partly cloudy” anyway?)

Oh, but when those storm clouds roll in? When they turn from fluffy white to deep steel? When they tumble and rumble? Oh, I feel light as a feather then. I look up and think, “Ahhh, how long will this go on!” secretly hoping the answer is “forever.”

Photophobia

In fact, I’ve begun to wonder if perhaps I don’t have a mild case of photophobia. In spite of the “phobia” suffix, this doesn’t mean fear. Phobia is also used to describe aversion or intolerance. Photophobia isn’t a disorder in and of itself, but a symptom of other diseases. Much like saying, “I have a cough” doesn’t point to any one malady.

I thought I’d whip up a couple pictures to demonstrate how I see the world. (I’m just assuming it’s different from everyone else. Otherwise I wouldn’t be writing up a whole blorg poast on it.)

Exhibit A: Driving into the sunset for normal people:

Exhibit B: Driving into the sunset for me:

Exhibit C: Car interior in sunlight for normal people:

Exhibit D: Car interior in sunlight for me:

So, Biz, how do you feel about bright lights and sunny days? 🙂

Scribophile

“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” — Thomas Mann

“Ain’t dat da truth!” — Charlie Hills

So I’ve been at this writing thing a while and for the vast majority of that time, it’s been all on my own. I’ve had various individuals proof-read, beta-read, and help edit manuscripts before publication, of course, but that’s all been on a temporary, as-needed basis.

Back in 2009, I mentioned that it’d be nice to have a writing buddy. The idea would be to pair up with someone equally interested in the craft as oneself, and then waste time talking about writing, but never actually executing any writing. No, just kidding. There’d also be beer.

But finding a writing buddy is difficult, especially when one doesn’t even really try, as was the case with me. I kinda sorta figured maybe it might just naturally come up in the course of nature. But I never actually put any effort into it. Much like the lottery: you can’t win if you don’t play.

Then last June, Jason said to me, “Hey, check out this web site.” So I did. And “this web site” turned out to be Scribophile. I signed up immediately, casually looked around the place, and thought, “I think I’ll write a blog post about this on March 10, 2017.”

Actually, I did nothing on the site for three months. Not until it was NaNoWriMo time again. Suddenly, Scribophile felt more relevant than ever.

So what is it?

In short: Scribophile is a “private” online writing community. The primary goal is to critique and be critiqued by your writing peers. I say “private” simply because you have to sign up. That is, the general public can’t hit the site and simply browse anyone’s work. But joining is also free, so it’s not like some exclusive, invitation-only club.

The beauty of Scribophile lies in its Karma system. Karma is the site’s currency. You earn it by critiquing other members’ works. You spend it by posting your own work. It’s a brilliantly simple system designed to maintain balance, lest it turn into a “everybody just read my stuff but I can’t be bothered with your drivel” free for all.

The worst part best part of Scribophile is the forums. Nothing revolutionary here: just the typical “bulletin board” where members can ask questions, share information, and basically have the life sucked out of them (particularly those actually trying to be productive). But in a good way.

I currently have a handful of other writers reading, analyzing, and fixing my writing. It’s funny how common it is to upload something and say, “Wow! This is perfect!” only to have it ripped to shreds by your peers. But in a good way.

So if you’re a writer reading this, be sure to check it out. If you’re not a writer, then I apologize for this post. Here are some puppies to make up for it:

Cancer Book Update

At the end of last July, I posted an excerpt from my up-and-coming blockbuster memoir. Then I blinked and somehow seven months passed by. I spent a lot of that time trying to get the new house presentable. I spent more time at work. And I spent way too much time with my hand in a bag of Chex Mix. But I’ve also managed to squeeze in some time on this book, picking up the pace in the last five weeks or so.

Good news. There’s progress. So much so, that last weekend I actually finished the final draft of the manuscript. To give the term “final draft” some context, here are the typical phases a book goes through before it ends up getting donated to Goodwill:

  • Hey, I have an idea for a book!
  • I jot down some notes.
  • Let’s let those notes simmer for a year or three.
  • Oh yeah, I had a book idea! Where are my notes?
  • Time to write an outline.
  • First fleshing out of the outline is Draft Zero.
  • This is not good!
  • Rewrite. Now I have a first draft.
  • Rewrite again. Maybe a third or fourth time too.
  • Whew! Wrote an ending, sanded off the rough spots, deleted inline notes, killed all the darlings.
  • Final draft complete!

The good part of a final draft is the word final. The bad part is the word draft. This still isn’t ready for publication. Nope, nope. Next phases are:

  • Have friends and strangers in your writing community critique it.
  • Edit it.
  • Read the whole thing.
  • Edit it again.

If all goes well by this point, the book can be published.

If all goes well, that will be next month some time.

I’ll keep you posted.

Total Solar Eclipse

Note: this is directed at my United States neighbors. If you live outside the US, these dates are meaningless. If you’d like to see your own eclipse, adjust your travel plans accordingly.

Nearly seven years ago, I wrote a blog post about an event so far in the future it seemed almost a lifetime away. Well, nearly one lifetime later that event is now just a mere six months away.

If you’ve never seen a total solar eclipse, you’re missing out on one of the most spectacular sky events there is. At least that’s what I’ve been told. I’ve never actually seen one.

But I’ve wanted to see one my entire life. I remember when I was just two days old I pointed up to the sky and said, “Me want see moon block sun!” I grabbed my laptop from the maternity nurse and quickly looked up all the times a total solar eclipse might cross the United States in my expected lifetime.

In reality, though, the concept first came to my young scientific attention sometime after I was ten. Had I actually made that list near the date of my birth, it still would’ve been a very short list. The first was in 1970, the second in 1979, the third . . . well, six months from now: August 21, 2017.

What’s particularly spectacular about this upcoming event isn’t just that it’s been nearly four decades since the last one to cross US soil. It’s that it’s going to be the first time in nearly a century, that the path of totality cuts across the entire country, from the Pacific to the Atlantic:


Source: eclipse2017.org

Make your travel plans now! But if for some reason you can’t make it to this once-in-a-lifetime event, fear not: you only have to wait until 2024 for the next one. Amazing that after a 38-year dry spell, the central United States will get two just seven years apart.

But if you miss that one, you’ll then have to wait until 2045. You’ve been warned!

Image credit: NASA

Out of Order

I’ve been sick for about ten or eleven days now. I’m not exactly sure how long it’s been because there’s no specific point in time one can generally flag and say, “Yep, that was it. I wasn’t sick before then and then I was sick after that.” Unless maybe there happened to be an episode of The Jerry Springer Show in there.

By “sick” I think I mean “have a cold.” The two worst symptoms have been a cough and sore throat. The one worst symptom has been a sore throat. As far as non-life-threatening ailments go, sore throats are about the second worst thing you can get, topped only by earaches. While my body flirted with earaches here and there, I thankfully avoided a full flare up. The supporting cast of symptoms were the usual: headaches, mild fever, and an inability to count calories.

The first few days delivered the usual, start-of-cold, mild-grade symptoms. It’s that hopeful period where you think it just might just dodge a bullet this one time. But around eleven in the morning last Friday, while at work, I’d decided enough was enough. I headed home.

One of my first tasks after arriving home was setting up a doctor appointment. I hit the appointment web site, found a slot open at 11:30 Saturday morning but failed to click “submit” before inadvertently passing out. When I woke up a couple hours later, the slot had been taken and the next opportunity wouldn’t be until Monday. Looking back, I don’t think that would’ve changed anything. It was a miserable weekend either way, followed by an equally miserable week after the appointment anyway.

Let’s skip ahead a week.

The good news is I seem to feel well enough to produce a blog post. I’m not “all better” by any means, but I’ll take what I can get. The bad news is, I’m far behind on everything else. The most important “everything else” is my upcoming book. Last October I said it would be ready in April. I said that again in January. We’re now getting close to days of February that start with a two and I’m worried. I have to get this thing done. I just have to.

So if anyone wants to take over the last few days of this cold for me, that’d be great. Or if anyone has a couple weeks they can donate, even better. Thanks!

Oh, and I also need to know how long I have to wait after taking codeine before I can have a beer. Because I need one of those too.

The Three Facets of a Good Writer

There’s always talk in my writing circles about being a good writer. And most of the time, it’s within the context of how to become a better writer. Typically with respect to omitting needless words and avoiding frilly adverbs. At face value, this doesn’t sound unusual. A social group of gardeners would talk about how to increase plant yield. Musicians would discuss ways to improve their chops. Bloggers would examine ways to better alienate readers and decrease traffic.

But I have one issue with much of this talk about improving writing skills. Why? Well, let’s first ask ourselves: what is a writer? Technically speaking, anyone who writes. Blog post? You’re a writer! Quick email to a friend? Yep, you too! Grocery list? Congrats!

Except that’s not really what we’re talking about. In the colloquial sense of the term, when we say writer, we generally mean a novelist. And having good writing skills is only one facet of producing a novel.

The mechanics of writing are important: syntax, grammar, and being able to take a particular thought and take that thought and string it into an assembly of words in a row that is the best way to put those words into communication.

But good writing does not a novel make. You must also be a good storyteller. And this is where things get tricky. Because good language skills can be defined, taught, and learned. Good storytelling skills are another thing completely. It’s easy to say, “Once upon a time there was a princess and she was locked away in a tower until one day an ogre and a donkey came to save her. They escaped the dragon. They defeated the evil lord. And they lived happily ever after.” That’s a story. And apart from lacking a great amount of detail, it works. But it’s really hard to assemble the story in such a way that critics would use words like “gripping” to describe it.

But even harder than that? It’s the third facet. And I don’t know of any way in the world any external entity can help with this: imagination. Before you can put words in a pleasing order. Before you can spin them into a gripping tale. You need a good idea. When asked, the typical question by most successful novelists is, “It just popped in my head.” Once a story is written, we never really think of what went into its inception. And once we read, hear, or see it, we just assume that coming up with a story is the easy part.

And maybe it is easy. If you think about how many new stories that are produced across all forms of media in any given year. Millions of books published. Thousands of television shows produced. Hundreds and hundreds of movies released. Then multiply that by ten (maybe more) for all the ones that never make it as far as production. Multiply that by one hundred (maybe more) for all the ones that stopped at really good, solid elevator pitches. They’re still stories, even if just a few hundred words.

So easy to come up with a story.

So easy.

So . . . uh . . . anyone want to share one with me? 🙂

2017 Reading Challenge

Are you reading enough? Probably not. Why should you read more? Because it makes poor pathetic souls like me, who like to write books, feel like we’re doing something useful. To that end, a number of “Reading Challenges” have been issued this month which I see circling around my writing community.

These challenges are typically designed to get you out of your comfort zone by listing a number of writing prompts. The “number” is often twenty-six so you can read one new book every two weeks. The prompts are in lieu of actual book titles, since it’s the only way to guarantee that no book on the list has already been read.

Here are some typical prompts:

  • A book recommended by a librarian
  • A book written before 1900.
  • A book longer than five hundred pages.
  • etc.

I already read about as much as my schedule allows. It’s typically in short bursts as I try to squeeze some time in between other events. I wouldn’t say I read a lot. Perhaps at one time I might have said that until I ran into people (lots of people) who say, “Oh, I read about average: like a thousand books a year.” Uhhhh . . .  I could do that if I did absolutely nothing else. I don’t want to do absolutely nothing else. I’m bursting with all sorts of projects I need to complete.

I’ve looked around at the wide array of book-reading prompts out there and believe me there are a lot of them. Seems like for every ten avid readers out there at least eleven of them have issued some sort of challenge and uploaded it to the interwebs. I would declare this is completely unnecessary except for the singular fact that I want to do the same thing.

I can’t read one book every two weeks, but I can probably read one every two months. And so can you! So here’s Charlie’s Reading Challenge for 2017:

  1. A book written in 1941 with exactly eleven chapters but over 200,000 words.
  2. Any book currently banned in at least forty countries.
  3. A book where the protagonist is a fourteen year old girl named Waldroop who is the mayor of a Midwestern city.
  4. A book about a group of seven kids doing nothing as they battle no one in a futuristic utopian society.
  5. One of my finished novels.

Hey, it’s not called a challenge for nothing. Good luck!