Jan 10

Aspirations and Efficiency

This past December my Deadwood Writers Voices editor, John McCarthy, asked us if we were thinking ahead into 2018 and would we like to share what was on our minds for our writer’s life. There was also a post by Robin Covington on her Facebook page asking if we could pick one word to carry us through the new year what would it be. My word was efficiency. To reach my goal, I’m combining the answers to both questions because I find that I need one to go with the other if I’m going to make any progress in my career.

The answer to the first part is:

  • Dive deep into A NEW LIFE, book 1 in my Leeti vampire series, and see what needs to be done so it’s ready to be published.
  • Write on a schedule instead of when I feel like an idea is brewing.
  • Continue to develop new stories in a loose format so when I’m ready I can start writing the novel.

To help with the points above, I asked the same person, Robin Covington, what she used as an organization tool. She had mentioned Erin Condren’s Life Planners. What’s great about them is that an individual can customize it for a particular use. Plus, bonus, the planners, are made in America. In my case, writing. Here’s the link https://www.erincondren.com/. What it’s going to help me do is narrow my focus on writing while the appointments and scheduling for my family are on the periphery of this schedule.

In my twenties, I used Franklin Covey’s planning system, but I don’t think that style works for what’s happening in my life. I need more visual space to plan my day to day tasks. And I don’t want it to be on the computer. I want to be able to spread it out, look at it, touch it, get a feel for what’s happening next. I won’t stop using my computer schedule because I love being able to get a notification telling me that I better get on my way to make my appointment on time. But having something that is not digital helps my creative side and allows me to get down on paper the ideas of the sexy heroes and heroines I’m writing into stories. And one thing I did learn from Franklin Covey was how to prioritize a full schedule and strive to reach my life goals.

For the first point, regarding A New Life re-reading and editing content, I also need to tackle the grammar errors for publication and make sure the storyline is consistent. With all the things listed above scheduling is essential. If I tell myself I’ll set aside some time for the next day, if I’m not being specific in my listed tasks it won’t get done. I’ll sit down and read or go shopping.

Writing on a schedule seems natural enough, the dates and times and all. It’s the other things that get in the way that hinder the process. So, scheduling the time to write is what’s got to happen.  I’m used to free-writing on Tuesday’s. It’s my day off from making coffee and I have a significant amount of time. What should I do, I write it on the schedule. Appointment. Write on the schedule. Cello lessons for Kid #1. Write it on the schedule. My hope is, the time I set aside to write is productive. I still want to read as many romance novels as I can, but with my hours laid out, it will be easier to focus my ideas and get things done.

Marketing Hot Blacktop is something I’ve been doing throughout 2017, but I don’t think I’ve been as consistent as I can be. I could be using Facebook more efficiently plus all the other media platforms. I need to plan time to watch some tutorials. I need to link my Twitter, Pinterest, and Snapchat accounts to ramp up my marketing presence. Each one is part of my story, and I need to use them the best that I can. Here’s a helpful video I’ve watched regarding scheduling for a marketing focus by author Hildie McQueen.

And for the developing of stories, this planner system will allow me to add pics and fun notes about characters I’m developing, story ideas, arcs, and other tidbits. There are extra pages to use just for this purpose.

Now I have a plan. Here’s to being more efficient in 2018. Happy writing!

Jan 05

First Impressions of Not a Hero & End of Zoe

I’ve been waiting a long time to play Not A Hero, an expansion pack, or DLC, to Resident Evil 7Not a Hero was originally scheduled to be released in spring 2017, but the add-on got pushed back to December because the production crew felt the game wouldn’t meet the expectations of the fans.  While I was anxious for answers to mysteries presented at the end of Resident Evil 7, I was also patient enough to wait for them.

My most burning questions centered around the soldier who claimed to be Chris Redfield, a veteran hero of the Resident Evil series.  Was it really him?  If so, why would he be working for a company calling itself Umbrella — the corrupt pharmaceutical company responsible for creating genetic-altering viruses and horrific monstrosities?  What was the meaning behind the DLC title, Not a Hero?

Early on December 12, I loaded up Resident Evil 7, eager to play the DLC that I expected had been automatically downloaded the day before.  I was surprised when I didn’t find Not a Hero listed among the menu options.  The only new title present was End of Zoe, a secondary DLC title scheduled to be released the same day.  I immediately shut down the game and searched for Not a Hero on my main gaming hub, the Steam Network.  It wasn’t listed there either.

I searched for answers online, and found one forum that seemed to indicate the add-on would only become available upon completion of the main game.  Not seeing any other option, I proceeded to play through Resident Evil 7 in its entirety.  This took almost the whole day because I kept taking breaks at various points.  The last thing I wanted to see after the closing credits was an ad for Not a Hero explaining how to download and install the DLC.

I was a bit aggravated to see that the desired title was now listed on the Steam Network.  I don’t know if it was made available at some point during the day or if my playthrough of Resident Evil 7 unlocked it.  In either case, I proceeded to install it with the intention of playing it the next day.

I woke up around 2AM on December 13.  Rather than try to get back to bed, I chose to begin playing Not a Hero.  I learned in the first few minutes of gameplay the main character is indeed Chris; he is voluntarily working with a new company called Blue Umbrella dedicated to fighting the horrors created by its namesake.

Not a Hero largely has Chris pursuing Lucas Baker, a sadistic madman and budding bioterrorist who had escaped capture during Resident Evil 7.  The DLC, as with the base game, is told from a first-person perspective, with the player experiencing the world through Chris’ eyes.  Despite checking out trailers and tidbits on what to expect, I went into the game largely blind.  I was very eager to uncover whatever mysteries and dangers awaited me.

Unfortunately, the lack of knowledge worked against me in several instances.  I acted like such a noob during the first few hours of my playthrough, it’s a wonder I didn’t get killed more than four times.

I believed I had a pretty good arsenal at my disposal to begin with.  A pistol, combat knife, shotgun, and several grenades seemed like they would be a good defense against the creatures lurking in the mines.  I changed my mind when I first encountered a variant of the monster that could regenerate and wouldn’t go down so easily.  I initially ran from it, then realized I had to go back in to retrieve a key needed to get to a soldier that Lucas had captured.

Trying to rescue said soldier didn’t go so well.  I unlocked the cell door and approached him.  The cave soon filled with poisoned air and started a death trap that Lucas had put together specifically for his prisoner.  Rather than take an air filter that the doomed soldier offered to Chris, I stupidly tried to make a run for it even though my oxygen reserves had fallen to 5%.  I was pretty much dead in an instant.

Once I retrieved the air filter and installed it, I was left with the problem of how to take out the regenerating monster in the cave where the key had been.  After futilely trying to find special ammo that would stop the creature from healing, I cheated and looked online for tips.  The answer was simple: go back to the main cavern and go through the green door to find a night vision filter and the needed ammo.

Upon going through what I thought was the right door, I found myself in a pitch-black tunnel.  But I didn’t let that deter me, nor did I think I was in the wrong place.  I blindly stumbled through the tunnel and proceeded to set off a variety of pressure-plate traps and tripwires.  Surprisingly, I didn’t get killed during this determined search for items.  I had just enough healing items to make it through in one piece.

I don’t know how long it took me to determine that the door I’d gone through was blue, not green.  Once I figured that out, finding the items I needed was a cinch.  The next challenge was to find my way back to the main cavern.  I found that turrets had been set up in the tunnels I’d used to get to this point.  Initially, I tried shooting the turrets to take them out — which didn’t work — and inadvertently used up the special ammo I’d collected.  My answer on how to conquer the turret obstacle was to run past them to minimize the damage.  Death #2.

When I loaded the last save point, I was given a tip on the loading screen to find an alternate route back to the main cavern.  Once I got through that segment, I returned to the blue door.  Finding my way through these tunnels went much smoother.  At least until I reached a room where another soldier had been taken prisoner by Lucas.  This area was loaded with laser tripwires and explosives.  My first not-so-brilliant idea was to lob a grenade into the room to neutralize the bombs.  Death #3.

Upon closer inspection, I found that it was possible to get through the room without setting off the tripwires.  I carefully navigated my way to the imprisoned soldier and initiated a conversation with him.  The next thing I knew, I heard Lucas taunting Chris over the intercom before the tripwires started rotating in my direction.  Death #4.

On my third try at this, I discovered that I needed to cut the power for the room before talking to the soldier.  This still didn’t save the guy, as he’d been outfitted with a collar bomb that was shortly detonated remotely.  Soon after the soldier was killed, Lucas activated an explosive he’d strapped to Chris’ arm at an earlier point in the game.  I was given a time limit to find some liquid nitrogen canisters to temporarily neutralize the bomb and remove it.  Death #5 occurred because I didn’t make it before the clock ran out.

Similar follies plagued me through the remainder of the game, and I believe I died a total of nine times.  While I was happy to make it through Not a Hero, I was left to reflect on my disappointment with the story.

It hit me, once I finished the game, that Chris is starting to develop a reputation for failing to save the team members he’s working alongside.  The same premise was used in Resident Evil 6 and the recent anime film, Vendetta.  At the very least, I would have liked to see this point addressed in Not a Hero — either through some inner monologue from Chris or through a philosophical debate between him and Lucas.

I feel that Chris’ failings is the meaning behind the DLC title.  It is possible that on some level he no longer views himself as heroic.  I have to wonder if this storyline is building toward something big.  I see two possible outcomes to this scenario: either Chris decides to throw in the towel and retire out of shame, or he encounters a situation that redeems him and possibly has him sacrificing himself for the greater good.

My dissatisfaction with Not a Hero was surpassed by the other DLC, End of Zoe.  The secondary game focused on Lucas’ sister, Zoe, who is infected with the virus present in Resident Evil 7.  The basic plot is that her Uncle Joe – an ex-marine – finds her and strives to locate a cure for her.

Joe is essentially a character who relies largely on his fists to take down the creatures standing between him and the means to save his niece.  My main nitpick with this scenario is the excessive number of locations where you can save the game.  In one area, I could barely take twenty steps before coming to another room where I could save my progress.

As with Not a Hero, I played End of Zoe on the easiest difficulty but didn’t find it nearly as much of a challenge.  Despite playing as a character whose specialty is unarmed combat, I didn’t die once during my first playthrough.  I feel that perhaps the easy mode was made too easy.  I hope that the medium and hard difficulty settings will put End of Zoe on par with the other DLC.  I would hold the secondary game in higher regard if that’s the case.

Overall, I feel that Resident Evil 7 and its add-ons opens up some interesting doors for the future of the franchise.  I look forward to whatever story comes next.

Jan 04

Choose Carefully

“You have a choice each and every single day. I choose to feel blessed. I choose to feel grateful. I choose to be excited. I choose to be thankful. I choose to be happy.” – Amber Housley

Happy New Year! It’s time for New Year’s Resolutions. Choose carefully.

Resolve to lose weight because you want to be healthier, not because your crotchety Uncle Theodore called you fat. He’s not exactly thin.

Choose to clear your closet of unwearable clothes to ditch the clutter, not because your nosy mother is coming for a visit.

Resolve to put aside more money toward retirement because you realize your current strategy falls far short of a worry-free post-employment life, not because you’re trying to keep up with the neighbors.

Choose to socialize more with family and friends because you miss their company, not because you’re sure they’ll gossip about you if you don’t.

Resolve to finish your 70,000-word manuscript because the story continues to invade your consciousness. Don’t complete your manuscript to prove to your friends that you’re a writer. Poets, columnists, songwriters, people who create short stories are writers, too, not just those authors with best sellers.

Whatever you decide to resolve to do or change, remember to do it for your personal reasons, not because someone told you what to do.

I’ve resolved to read at least twelve books in 2018 because I wish to learn the techniques of other writers in various genres.

I’ve resolved to complete my manuscript because my story keeps invading my consciousness.

I’ve resolved to enter the Writer’s Weekly short story contest again because several of my non-winning entries led to me winning other contests.

I also choose to be happy with my results, regardless of what others think.

What are your resolutions and why did you choose them?

 

 

Jan 01

Editor’s Log: Brain Training – Commitments not Resolutions for 2018

Have you every wondered why it was so hard to do something that you want to do, but seem to avoid doing it? For example, wanting to write for an hour to get started on that story–suddenly the dishes need hand washing, the trash cans need clearing out, and the dogs need walking. While completing these chores, the plan to write is still present, but never happens.

I listened to a scientist on NPR talk about how the brain builds connections that solidify the habits we engage in. The brain wires and rewires, in part, based on what we focus on doing. Spend lots of time doing the same things in the same way, and the brain records those practices. This might explain why habits are so difficult to change.

There is hope. The brain is adaptable. We just need to plan reasonably and patiently what is to be accomplished, or what new habits to create. Using the above example, writing for an hour in a day might not be where the person’s can find success. Start with 5-10 minutes of dedicated writing. This goal is easier to accomplish than the hour. If you write longer once, celebrate the moment with a fist pump. Then get back to it. At some point, in a week or month, add 5-10 minutes. Again, keep it “easy”–writing is never easy 😉 This repeated practice can lead to the brain recording new habits.

Keep the rules and boundaries simple and limited. Less is more. It’s not important that you write in the morning, use a specific journal or word-processor, or sit at a certain cafe table because that is most conducive to your writing. Those restrictions can be obstacles to the important outcome: Just write. When those conditions are available–great–just do not allow them to get in the way.

Failure is not an end, it’s a growth opportunity. If I write everyday and then I miss two days, stopping is not an option. Reflect on what caused the lost practice. What it just chance or some obstacle that needs to be addressed. Next: Jump back in.

As you create your writing resolutions, what are you willing to do that is already in your habits? What will take some brain growth over time? Be intentional and reasonable so that success will come.

Here are some writing commitments shared:

Wendi Knape

  1. Dive deep into A NEW LIFE, book 1 in my vampire series, and see what needs to be done so it’s ready to be published.
  2. Write on a schedule instead of when I feel like an idea is brewing.
  3. Market HOT BLACKTOP more.
  4. Continue to develop new stories in a loose format so when I’m ready I can start writing the novel.

John McCarthy

  1. Expand promotion of my book: So All Can Learn: A Practical Guide to Differentiation
  2. Read at least 12 books this year.
  3. Write 1-2 short stories.

What are your Writing Commitments for 2018? Share them in the comment section. 

Dec 23

Crow Story, Part Eight

For Laramie, Whenever I May Find Her

 

I come to find out that the dog’s name is Winter. The poor dog is a bright fluffy white, except for the specks of dirt and leaves and the red splotch around her rear left leg. Having felt her shiver in my arms and heard her whimper in the car all the way over here, knowing her name is of slight consolation. Knowing she has humans to take care of her would be better.

She was not wearing a collar, but thanks to a microchip implant, the doggy doctor is able to track down the owner. It just so happens that Winter lives about four doors down from me. I have never seen her before, nor do I recognize the name of the owner. Sign of the times, I reflect. A man never cares about his neighbors anymore, but will put a microchip in his dog when it runs away.

Gracie and Joker have been waiting patiently in the car for about 15 minutes by now. I told the receptionist that I would not be leaving the dog’s side until her owner showed up, but I am also conscious of my dogs and their bladders, so I decide to call my wife.

“Phil?”

“Hi, dear.”

“Where are you?”

I proceed to tell her the story of Jeremy’s re-appearance, the chase, and discovering Winter. “It was crazy, Mo. I’m still catching my breath.”

“Did they find the dog’s owner?”

“Yeah, he’s on his way. He lives a few doors down from us… Hey would you be able to come by and pick the dogs up? I feel like I need to stay here with Winter.”

“Why do you need to do that? You just said the owner was on his way.”

“Call it a hunch. Nothing this bird has done so far has been an accident. I’m guessing there’s something more to him leading me to this dog than just a rescue mission.”

“Well, alright then. I was about to go shopping anyway.”

We exchange our “love-ya’s” and our “see-ya-soons,” and hang up our phones.

Sitting here in the lobby of the doggy hospital, I struggle to put it all together. From the moment this bird entered my life, everything has had a mystic air to it. The feeding frenzy he procured for his flock after scaring that squirrel into the jaws of my dogs; the charm bracelet with the due date of our miscarried first-born; rescuing the fawn in my underwear in the park; and being led to a broken dog in a tipi. None of this can be coincidental. It simply must have a purpose. I have seen far too many coincidences to believe in them anymore.

I recall the video lessons of the Crow Stalker, but learning the calls and the body language of the birds only gives me the substrate. I recall the Legend of Sun Breast, but it doesn’t make any more sense to me than it did the day I read it. Herman Blackclaw died in Laramie at the same time my wife and I were on our honeymoon. But what does it mean? I resolve to spend some more time on the Seven Suns website when I return from the pale green waiting room of the pet ER. There’s got to be something I’m missing.

The pictures of the tipi Mo and I stayed in – now carried in my wallet – stand in stark contrast to the drab surroundings in which I currently sit. I pull them out, unfold them, and flip back and forth. My eyes pour over the creased Kodaks. Unsure what to look for, I frantically dart back and forth from detail to detail. Maybe all I’m missing is a single puzzle piece, some minute point within these images to trigger a memory, to make a connection, to turn into that eureka! moment that I’ve been so desperate for.

The photos of the inside of the tipi offer no such moment. The headdress, the animal skins, the owl… the white owl. Well, it was the same color as the broken dog I just rescued, and they were both on the inside of the tipi. The words “seems like a stretch” slip out of my mouth. Nevertheless, I add “owls” to the things to look up when I return home.

On the outside, the bison and horses dancing on the plain on the outside of the tipi vaguely remind me of the dogs at the park, if the dogs were about 4 times bigger. Pitched against the rolling field of wheat, they appear playful. The brave, standing tall with his bow and his hatchet, looks stoically off in the distance. And then there’s that damned black bird, watching, waiting, knowing. The way the photo is creased, I can flap the bird’s wings by folding and unfolding it.

That provides some slight amusement for a while. My brain has been grasping for a pattern that doesn’t want to present itself – an unmanifest destiny, I think, and chuckle aloud. I have been thinking about this for too long. And lo, in this brief state of mental relaxation, I see something I had not seen before in the photos: a man in the background. “What? Who are you?”

At that very moment, the bell above the door swiftly clangs, and a tall, determined man enters. He wastes no time moving to the vacant reception desk.

“Where is my dog? Where is Winter??”

“Just a moment!” comes a voice from the back. The man raps his fingers on the desk and nervously leans back and forth. I decide not to introduce myself until he’s been assuaged by the receptionist. Impatient, he turns and looks directly at me. A sudden glimmer of recognition sweeps his steely gaze, as though I return it with a furrowed brow. Just as he opens his mouth to say something, the sweet voice of an elderly woman drifts through the doors.

“Are you Mr. Nomee?”

“Yes, yes. You have Winter?”

“Winter? Yes, she’s sedated right now. That gentleman there brought her in.” She points at me, and he turns around with the same faint memory in his eyes. He opens his mouth again, but instead of words, he opts to bow his head in gratitude. He wears a long ponytail that is starting to grey, with dark wheat skin that is beginning to crack.

“Would you like to see her?”, she asks. He nods and follows her through the doors. As they disappear down the hallway, the receptionist begins to ask him the 20 questions required of any owner who unexpectedly needs to get a procedure done on their pet. Some thank you!

My phone goes off; my wife is 5 minutes away. I decide to step out for a cigarette.

 

The cold air that once brought shivers to my spine this morning is now a bright, hot July day. I can hear my dogs whining in the car. I go to give them some pets, but not before I glance overhead to check for crows. None found here.

I return to my photos and study the man behind the tipi in the outdoor shot we took of the brave and the crow, at the tipi’s entrance, but all I can make out is his skintone: a burnt orange. Even with my reading glasses from the car, I can not make out a distinct facial feature. The man is not looking at the camera, but at the tipi itself. His body is hidden from sight.

Faintly, I hear: Caw! Caw! Caw!

I shiver. Looking around there is no bird in sight. I wait for more calls. None come.

My cigarette seems less appealing now, and I toss it as it is halfway done. My wife’s car pulls in as I walk through the door, and my dogs start their whining again.

Back in the office, Mr. Nomee is sitting in the chair that I had previously occupied.

“Phil Rosette,” I say as I offer my hand.

“Alfred Nomee. Thank you.”

“Of course. What happened?”

“I was hoping you could tell me. I let her stay outside last night, and this morning she is not there.”

“Funniest thing: I found her in a tipi.” Pausing, I decide not to tell him the bit about the crow leading me there. “I’m not sure what made her gimpy but it looked like she had just crawled in there to hide.”

My wife walks in to the office.

“Hi, Honey. Maureen, this is—”

“Alfred Nomee. I thought I recognized you, Phil. Now that I see your wife, I know where from. Laramie, Wyoming.”

Suddenly, everything is very cold again.