Writing on a deadline

I have achieved the American dream: One wife. One house. Two children. A dead-end soul sucking corporate job. My only legacy will be words.

Writing on a deadline.  After more than sixty years on this earth, much of that time spent writing meaningless drivel for others, I am finally writing for myself.  More than just desiring to write, I am compelled to write.  And I am compelled to write under a deadline.  And that’s alright.  I’ve done some of my best work under pressure.  And nothing provides pressure like knowing that your life has an expiration date.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not expecting to cash in anytime soon.  The thing is that since I had heart surgery last year, I have become increasingly aware about the importance of time and how it’s spent.  I mean, sitting around watching Netflix is fine, but creating stories that describe my thoughts, beliefs, and experiences is much more important to me.

Men spend their whole lives hiding themselves away under the cover of masculinity or propriety or societal expectations, and I’m through with that.  I write what I need to, and when I need to, because while I dance like no one is watching, the content of my stories is the one thing that I have complete control over.

So, does that mean that I’m giving up on the world to immerse myself in fiction?  Of course not.  The future, whatever it may be, is there for me.

Since our society demands that you can’t get nothing for nothing, I’m still working the same miserable job—and monetizing this blog by allowing certain ads—because someday I’d like to at least break even.  And I have my family whom I love and would be lost without.  Finally, I have a file of forty or fifty stories I need to finish and publish.  All these are forward looking, as I continue to be.

Looking forward, what’s next?  I’m about 38,000 words into my next novel (tentatively called ‘Clarice’), and what a ride.  And it is a ride, because quite often I have no idea where we’re headed until we get there.  I guess that’s the difference between deciding to write a novel and being compelled to write it.

Deciding to write a novel is like technical writing—and some writers do this very successfully.

  • Decide on the genre and plot.
  • Create and outline or a template.
  • Create the setting for the action.
  • Create your characters, including detailed physical descriptions and backstory.
  • Plug everything into the outline or template.
  • Edit, reedit, publish.

Compulsion to write a novel is more like having a fever—you just have to ride it out until it’s done with you.

  • Wake in the middle of the night with a thought that might be a story thread and scratch it down on the notepad you keep by the bed.
  • A few weeks or a year later, read about something, or hear about something, that triggers a relationship with your late-night thought.
  • Mull over the relationship for a few days, until it grabs you and you find yourself scribbling notes down on a notepad, envelope, or any paper that’s handy.
  • Start writing from your notes. Add more words.  Any words will do.  Write more and more, remembering that it doesn’t have to make sense to you, not yet.
  • Step away. Have a drink.  Mow the yard.  Watch some TV.  Do this until your mind is completely absorbed by the story swirling in your mind.
  • Return to writing. Feel the characters ooze out of your pores onto the page.  Close your eyes and see where they are.  Become overwhelmed by their emotions and desires.
  • Give the writing over to the characters, let them drive the plot, let them drive your fingers.
  • When you can catch your breath—assuming you and your characters survived—edit, reedit, publish.

Which is it for you—decision or compulsion?  Do you have forever or are you under a deadline to finish?  What makes you put down the TV remote and grab your pen?  What makes your creative juices flow from your mind to your page?  And when are you going to get that story published?

So many questions, so little time.  Start writing now!

© Copyright 2017 by Kevin Fraleigh

Politics, religion, eating, dancing and drinking at Heidi’s Jazz Club — What a night!

So, I’m sitting in my office listening to Warren Zevon sing ‘Carmelita’ on Spotify, and thinking about a conversation from Wednesday night.  I took my wife to Heidi’s Jazz Club in Cocoa Beach to celebrate her birthday, and we met some friends there — Janet and Phil, and Ted.

In between eating, dancing and drinking, the conversation inevitably turned to religion and politics.  They say that there are certain topics that any social conversation should avoid, but it seems that these days, religion and politics are invariably linked.

But I should have expected it.  I mean, Phil and Janet used to go to the same church we went to in Cape Canaveral.  And one of the reasons that we both left was that the pastor insisted on mixing his Trump-centered world view with the Gospel.  We have since found a new church where the pastor doesn’t cloud his preaching with his political opinions.

Our friend, Ted, hasn’t left the old church — and that’s fine.  Everyone deals with their situation in the way that’s best for them.  Unfortunately, during this conversation, he was caught in the middle.  You see, Janet has some very strong opinions both on politics and religion.  I agree with some, and don’t agree with others, but I don’t want the discussion one-sided and repetitive. That’s what these discussions tend to be.

If you believe something, or in someone, great.  Now tell me why, and give me a cogent argument as to why I should believe it, too.  Skip the name calling and rhetoric, and provide a credible source — if your source is the internet you may leave now.

And, no, the Bible — whatever Bible or holy book you may quote —  is not a credible source for anything.  A credible source is one that consists of a primary source (someone who actually heard, saw, or did something) and at least two independent secondary sources (sources whose reporting isn’t based on the primary source).

Of course, our discussions at Heidi’s met none of these criteria.  And I’m getting tired, not just of this, but of the constant nonsense on the internet, the TV, and everywhere you turn.  It’s all religion and politics, all supported by many opinions and very little fact.

Is it any wonder I spend my free time contemplating what happened before the big bang, before the universe was condensed into a grain of sand, then exploded into the everything we experience?  Before there was anything, was there something?  I strongly suspect that there was.  But that’s just my opinion.  I have no facts, no primary or secondary sources to back that up.  That is why what I write is fiction and I don’t try to pass it off as fact.

So if you ever Heidi’s on a Wednesday or Friday night (that’s when Steve Kirsner & Friends play) and you see me on the dance floor, please don’t start talking about religion or politics.  Talk about sex.  Sex is another one of those “forbidden” topics, but I’d rather talk about sex than religion or politics.

© Copyright 2017 by Kevin Fraleigh.

The Dark Tower, Stephen King’s magnum opus, has fallen!

Note: This post contains spoilers.  If you haven’t seen The Dark Tower, you may want to keep reading.

The Dark Tower series has been hailed as Stephen King’s magnum opus.  It is the brilliantly written story of the last gunslinger, Roland Deschain, and his quest for the Dark Tower, the pinnacle at the center of Mid-World that holds all things together.  To tell the story, King penned seven epic novels (eight, if you include The Wind Through the Keyhole, but Dark Tower purists might balk at this.):

  1. The Gunslinger
  2. The Drawing of the Three
  3. The Waste Lands
  4. Wizard and Glass
  5. Wolves of the Calla
  6. Song of Susannah
  7. The Dark Tower

 With the groundwork having been laid, let’s turn to the film adaptation of this massive, oh so carefully crafted, series.  I don’t know if the screen writers (Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen, Nikolaj Arcel) actually read the series or if they were simply given a synopsis and a few catch phrases to work with.  Whatever process they used, they missed the mark.

Sure, Roland (played by Idris Elba) repeated the Gunslinger’s Creed—I do not aim with my hand—and the writer’s snuck in “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed,” but both were from The Gunslinger, and used out of context.

And speaking of context, yesterday my wife and I had lunch with a couple who had seen The Dark Tower, but hadn’t read the books.  Our friend, Janet (not her real name), said that she liked the movie because it showed the conflict between good and evil.  Her husband, in comparison, said that while he liked the like the action, the film left him with more questions than answers—like, who were all those people with the zippers in their heads?

And therein lies the real problem with The Dark Tower adaptation.  The screenwriters provided inadequate backstory for those unfamiliar with the novels to explain the action, and not enough story for those who are Dark Tower disciples to make it credible.  At the end of the film, I just sat there, slack jawed, wondering if I might have fallen asleep at some point and missed all the salient plot points that made the novels epic.  I have been assured that what I saw is all that there is.

I guess what really disturbs me is what has bothered me about almost all of King’s adaptations: How, in good conscience, could someone with King’s stature—especially considering that this is his self-proclaimed masterwork—buy off on a rendering that is such a poor reflection of the master’s craft.  I just don’t get it.  Was it about the money?  Is King so struggling financially that he must settle for giving his fans a bone and not a steak?

Well, I guess we can just file this under an opportunity lost.  Maybe in a couple of decades the story will be remade properly, a seven or eight film saga that it deserves.  Lord of the Rings got it and even Harry Potter.  (And, yes, I know that certain liberties were taken with both series to get them to the big screen.  But even so.)  Certainly, The Dark Tower deserved better.

And with that being said, I’m trying to decide whether to see It in the theater or wait for Netflix.  My head says to wait, but my heart tells me that the remake of It must be better than the 1990 TV Mini-series with Richard “John-Boy Walton” Thomas.  But that is a story for another day.
© Copyright 2017 by Kevin Fraleigh

Stop it Netflix, you’re killing me!

You know, sometimes I get a little nostalgic for the days with only three or four channels on TV.  There wasn’t any recording or streaming.  If you didn’t like what was offered, the TV went off.  But what did that leave you with?  Reading, board games, or your imagination.  No, conversation was really not an option—at least not in my house.

And in that nostalgic fantasy I tell myself that if I didn’t have the distraction of five hundred channels plus Netflix and Amazon Prime, I’d be writing.  Yes, the great American novel is only one off-button away.

Sure it is.

Now I don’t want you to think that I have anything against what’s available on cable or any of the streaming services.  They are as good as the show you watch.  And I must admit that some of the writing—especially for the British and Australian shows—is very good.  Even binge worthy.  Many of the American shows (especially commercial TV) leave me unimpressed.  They are formulaic, simplistic, less than innovative.  But they would have to be for a country that elected, well, you know who.

But binging, I mean just the idea of watching seven seasons of some show—any show—almost seventy hours of your life, immobile and semi-catatonic, in front of your flat screen is daunting.  I mean, what a waste, and yet I do it anyway.

Yes, I admit it.  My first binge was The Killing, 44 episodes back to back, barely taking time to eat or sleep.  Then came another and another.  My wife and I are currently watching The Doctor Blake Mysteries.  And I want to finish watching Shameless.

But I also want to finish reading 1944: FDR and the Year That Changed History by Jay Winik.  And I haven’t even started Hung, Drawn, and Quartered: The Story Of Execution Through The Ages or Giants: The Dwarfs of Auschwitz.

And I need to finish the novel I’m currently writing.  Have you ever considered what happened before the big bang?  After reading this one, that question will haunt you forever.

So what do you do?  Binge or not binge?  Write or not write?  Read or not read?  Life is messy and complicated, and tomorrow I go see the Dark Tower even though I know it won’t be like the books and the ending will probably leave me disappointed like virtually every other Stephan King movie adaptation.  And don’t even get me started on Under the Dome TV fiasco.

Well, they can’t all be Lord of the Rings, just as we can’t all be Ernest Hemingway or J.K. Rowling.  But we can all watch Netflix and wish that the story we are watching is our story.
© Copyright 2017 by Kevin Fraleigh.

Our Dystopian Future is Now

Back in 2011 when I first published Any Tomorrow I was concerned that the publishing environment wasn’t right for a dystopian epic, even if in the end, there was a glimmer of hope for mankind.  For many of us, hope was in the air and there seemed at least the slightest chance that the world might become a better place.

Fast forward to 2017.  My current novel—tentatively named ‘Clarice’—while I was hoping for a simple sci-fi tale about a girl and the alien symbiont living inside her, the story has turned darkly dystopian.  Although I didn’t intend it, I think that the dystopian turn is particularly appropriate in light of the current global  political/economic/social atmosphere .

[And that’s as far as I will take that…  I have made a commitment that, although it might fun to fuss and fume about the current political anarchy, that discussion needs to take place elsewhere.]

For long time readers of this blog, I believe that I have mentioned in previous posts that I have an exercise I find particularly helpful when trying to envision the dystopian future.  As I drive along the highway or back roads, I imagine the trees stripped of foliage, the houses in shambles, and the road emptied of traffic.  My dystopia is one in which the world is in a slow burn.  Desolate wastelands encroach upon the few remaining cities where the inhabitants adapt to living  in hell.

I perform the same exercise with people, surprised?  As I talk to them or watch them, I strip them down to their lowest common denominator.  I try to imagine them in the worst of all possible worlds, because it’s only in that situation that the facade of normalcy is sheared off.  Remove all the world’s expectations, all the cause-associated false fronts, and what’s left?  There is only the need to eat and sleep, to survive from one horror to the next.

Does this mean that in a dystopian future, there won’t be love and kindness and self-sacrifice?  Of course there will.  It’s almost a requirement of humanity that someone in the future have some redeeming qualities.  And while it is certainly possible for a novel to portray human nature as it truly is, who wants to go down that path?  We all get enough of real life in real life.

For the writer, the importance of writing of a dystopian future—and I know this is true for me—is that writing about that the endless pain, the darkness that never ends, and the debilitating nothingness of the wastelands helps me to get that part of my life out of my life and into a fantasy world.

Writing about the terrible aberrations of a serial killer or sexual excesses of a sociopath assures me that while I can see those things in my mind and even, perhaps, take some visceral pleasure in both their crimes and their punishments, I know that’s not me.

As a writer, I hope you can understand the genesis of my stories and as a reader, I hope you can empathize with my need to share my dystopian fantasies.

© Copyright 2017 by Kevin Fraleigh.

What’s on my bookshelf

Back in the days before the internet, when there were only three channels on TV (four if you got PBS), information was derived primarily from books. They were made of paper, could be heavy, and were often awkward and inconvenient to carry. Despite this, a physical, printed book carried a certain authority.

The physical printing process was long, the editing meticulous, and production was expensive.  A thick volume or multiple volumes caused a sense of awe.

I remember well a high school field trip to New York City that included a visit to the largest book store I’d ever seen, one that made our local Walden Books seem pathetic by comparison.  It seemed to have miles of aisles crammed with titles that promised to reveal the wisdom of the ages.  And that’s what I was after, the wisdom of the ancients, forbidden and dark, and very appealing to a student in the occult-crazy early seventies.

In that book store I found Montague Summers’ The Malleus Maleficarum and  The Satanic Bible by Anton Szandor Lavey.  These books, among others, opened my mind to the validity of alternate philosophies and religions.  They didn’t turn me into a Satanist, but they helped me to see that there were other paths to consider.

The different paths away from the mainstream, and what I found along them, were the genesis for what I write.  Whether it be about an alternate dimension, a psychopath, or love in a dystopian future, it all began with expanding my world view through books.

For writers, books beget books, and the key to begetting your best work is diversity in the books that influence your storytelling.  Writers get their inspiration from a variety of sources, chief among these being other writers.  Having access to a rich and diverse library–either yours or the one down the street– is, in my experience, absolutely essential.

For instance some of the books on my bookself include:

And I haven’t even mentioned Stephen King, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, or any of the other fiction writers that have played a role in my writing.  I could go on and on, but I will leave that for another post.

You can see more of my influences on the What’s On My Bookshelf page.  How many of them have you read?  What interests do we have in common?  How has your reading influenced your writing–or desire to write?

The list is far from complete and less than authoritative, but it will be, hopefully, growing in the next few months as I have time to add to it.  You might also note that although each of the books listed on the page has a link to Amazon.com, that isn’t a recommendation to buy that particular edition or format.  I just linked to the edition that I have.
© Copyright 2017 by Kevin Fraleigh.

New Location, Same Commitment to Writing

So, if you’ve found you’re way here, and if you followed my old blog on WordPress (anytomorrow.wordpress.com), you’ll notice that I’m not there anymore.  My site is now being hosted by Bluehost and I now control my own website.  What does that mean for the blog?  Not so much that you’d notice.  The ads may change.  The appearance may change.  But the content will remain what the content has been–insightful and, hopefully, helpful or even inspirational–especially if you are on a quest to channel your inner writer.

So take your time, sit back, scroll through the posts, and enjoy.  And, as always, I look forward to your comments.
© Copyright 2017 by Kevin Fraleigh.

Forward Facing, Always

I had an interesting experience the other evening.  A cousin of mine, very much into genealogy, stopped by to visit my mother and talk to her about our family history.  Neither of us had been back to our old home town in more than forty years.

My cousin talked at length about the hometown, places that still were, places that no longer existed, and of course, graveyards.  What would genealogy be without graveyards?

For a short time it was nice to reminisce, to think about the old days, but I’ve never been one to dwell too long in the past.  Nostalgia just doesn’t work for me.

I heard once that nostalgia was originally diagnosed as a psychological malady in Swiss soldiers stationed far from their home regions.  The soldiers would remember their home lives as idyllic and longed to return.  When they did return, however, they discovered that things were not the ideal they remembered.  That jolt of reality caused a particular form of depression that psychologists called nostalgia.  (More on nostalgia, here.)

Nostalgia has negative consequences for writers also.  Spending too much time thinking about past success (or failures) can lead to being anchored in the past, never moving forward, and never expanding the limits of what you can achieve.  Keep facing forward, learn from the past, but don’t get mired in it.  The next piece you write is always a step ahead from the last.
© Copyright 2017 by Kevin Fraleigh.

The Conversation

A few weeks ago.

Tom: “I bought your novel. That Gustav Linder character looks really interesting.”

Yesterday.

Me: “So, Tom, did you finish reading my novel?”

Tom: “No, I don’t really like science fiction.”

Oh, well, a sale is a sale.  If you like science fiction, read Any Tomorrow Complete.
© Copyright 2017 by Kevin Fraleigh.

Read, read, read!

Everything you read will inform your writing style, but it will not determine your writing style.  Your writing style is one thing over which you have complete control.

© Copyright 2017 by Kevin Fraleigh.