A Writer’s Confessional – Part One

Trying to figure out what process I want to take this year for the Deadwood Writers Voices has been a swirling dilemma for me this past couple of months. And I discovered through my creative process last year writing the meet-cutes drew me away from writing my novels and editing my works in progress. It helped with future story ideas, but my other works got sidelined. I’m striving to balance each piece of my writer’s life, and my artwork—which I’m developing more to open my own business—by using the scheduling process I’ve launched. I’m hoping it will allow me to see how to accomplish everything I want to each week, month, and year.

My weaknesses to this end are reading too much of my favorite genre, romance, and leans heavily on procrastination which is a result of my fear of failing what I’m trying to accomplish. The fear of failure is another reason driving me to schedule things. I can hold myself accountable.

One of the highlights of writing things down has been, aside from the monthly schedule, my bullet journal. I started this along with the scheduling so that I could see my progress. It has helped. I write down every accomplishment. I’ve blocked off six columns which are designated as follows, each day of the month, Hot Blacktop (I needed to fix some grammar and word confusion issues, so I could upload the new content), A New Life (work in progress), Hot Turns (the sequel to Hot Blacktop), DWriters (our blog), and Other (which could be a new story idea or even my artwork). What is exciting about using the bullet journal is I can focus on the accomplishments. If I can see what I’ve done every day, I know I’m progressing even if it is baby steps. It might not be even more than a couple of hundred words, or questions I’ve answered regarding characters and content that will make the work stronger. It’s progress, so I’m going to record it.

Talking about progress, learning more about writing techniques to improve my skills or getting advice from experienced authors on how to be a better writer is on top of my to-do list. Compiling a list of books to read this year has been fun, so I’m sharing the non-fiction list I’ve gathered so far. These are in no particular order, and each is linked back to Goodreads.com.

I hope you would comment and add any books that have helped you in your writing journey, or any book that has helped you in life.

The window into my writer’s life at the beginning of this year has been a short one so far, but insightful. I hope you’ll continue along on my journey and see what happens in the coming editions of my writer’s confessional.

Happy Writing!

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. 

First Experience with Mass Effect: Andromeda

Note:  There are spoilers in this article.

 

Being an avid fan of the Mass Effect series, I had been looking forward to Mass Effect: Andromeda for what seems like forever.  Enough so that I couldn’t resist purchasing the Super Deluxe Edition to get twenty weeks of bonus content for the multiplayer side game.  As with Resident Evil 7 and Dead Rising 4, I was certain that Mass Effect:  Andromeda would not run on the computer I have.  Even more so in this case, since my PC is an i3 with only 6 GB of RAM and Andromeda required an i7 with 16 GB.

I still had to try, if only to cash in on the multiplayer content, but my PC became the Little Engine That Could.  I watched in awe as the game not only booted up, but actually ran without crashing.  I launched the multiplayer to collect whatever booster packs were available – I got an ultra-rare combatant and some nice weaponry in the process – before delving into the main game.  The picture is very grainy and there are a few minor bugs here and there, but nothing that really ruins the overall experience for me.

The story for Mass Effect: Andromeda is fairly simple.  You are playing as Sara or Scott Ryder, the default names given to a set of twins at the core of the story.  No matter which twin you choose as your character, the other still has a role to play.  You are part of an expedition to build a new home for humanity in a galaxy far removed from the Milky Way.  Such a task proves to be a challenge when it’s discovered that an unforeseen calamity has rendered all potential “golden worlds” uninhabitable.  It has also left the space station hub meant to be a waystation for colonists in dire straits.

To make matters worse for Scott or Sara, their twin is rendered comatose and their father, the expedition’s leader\Pathfinder, is killed at the end of the game’s first mission.  The task of finding planets to colonize and thus save thousands of people aboard the space station falls on the shoulders of Scott or Sara.


One of the things I love about Mass Effect: Andromeda is the character customization.  For my first outing, I picked the female Ryder twin, who I renamed as Claire.  The look I chose for her also determined the appearance of her brother and father.  The notion of having a non-playable character’s look be established by what is chosen for the main character is a feature I’d previously seen used in Fallout 4; I really dig the concept and hope to see it utilized in many more video games to come.

My character, Claire, and her father.

Though I had some idea of what to expect from having watched Youtube videos of the opening, I still felt like a out of my element at times.  The first thing that took some getting used to was jumping, particularly over long distances.  The game didn’t offer very clear instructions on how to leap over the more dangerous chasms on the first planet you explore.  I had to resort to trial and error and a lot of failed attempts before I made it across.

The next hurdle was in navigating the terrain.  I got turned around a number of times and was going in circles since there isn’t much deviation in the landscape.  The occasional fights I got into added to my confusion on which way I should be heading.  It’s a wonder that I even made it to a spot on the map where the story would advance.

It took me some time to get through the first mission, but all my roaming still yielded some discoveries about the planet I hadn’t seen in the Youtube videos.  Some landmarks I stumbled across got me inclined to think that this world will be revisited at a later point in the story.

Despite my eagerness to start exploring the next world to potentially colonize, I spent a good deal of time wandering around the space station hub – the Nexus – to talk to people and complete side quests.  After roughly two and a half hours spent “goofing off”, I finally ventured to the area of the Nexus where my character’s personal starship, the Tempest, could be found.  I might not have the best quality picture for the game, but I thought the ship looked beautiful when I first saw it.  In some ways, it looks nicer than the Normandy from the original Mass Effect trilogy.

The game crashed when I initiated a conversation with the Tempest’s pilot, but so far that’s been the only instance where it did.  There was no recurrence of this when I tried it again, so I gleefully surged ahead into the next part of the story.

Exploring the desert planet, Eos, came with its own set of challenges.  Soon after making my way to the planet’s surface, I uncovered a ground vehicle that could make it easier to get from one location to another – unless you’re like me.  As I’ve learned from many other video games that came before, I suck terribly at driving.  This largely led to me spending a half hour doing donuts around the derelict outpost where I found the vehicle or attempting to get up a very small hill with little success.  Part of the trouble associated with the latter was I couldn’t figure out how to shift from four-wheel to six-wheel drive.

After gaining access to and exploring an entire underground vault, I decided to shut down the game for the time being.  Mass Effect: Andromeda was set up so the game could be downloaded at the same time it was running.  I was disappointed when I saw the download, though near finished, had inexplicably halted.  I couldn’t figure out how to get it going again, so chose to cancel and restart it.  This turned out to be a mistake when the download started over from the very beginning.  I was unable to continue my saved game or access the multiplayer side game until it reached a certain point.  My internet connection isn’t the best, so it took two days to pick up where I left off.

As soon as I was able, I accessed the multiplayer game to participate in a few skirmishes.  I had no trouble joining a four-person team, but the load time to start the actual fight was unbelievably long.  After waiting several minutes to join in on the skirmish, I got a message saying my internet connection had been lost.  I subsequently tried a solo run.  While that one did launch after an excessive load time, I quickly got swarmed by the enemy units I was up against.  If that experience taught me anything, it’s to not stay in one spot for the entirety of the fight.

When I was able to resume the main game, I went about establishing a military outpost on Eos to serve as the first successful human colony in the Andromeda galaxy.  I then journeyed to another planet called Aya, where I met with the peaceful alien race, the Angara.  Sadly, this is where my fun came to a screeching halt.  After I recruited an Angaran team member, the game went into an infinite loading screen.  I thought if I gave it enough time, I would be able to carry on with whatever adventure came next.  After waiting nearly four and a half hours, I decided I would have to call it quits.  It appears I will need a new computer if I want to play out the rest of Mass Effect: Andromeda.

Until such time, I am determined to stay spoiler-free on what comes next in the story.  But the game has done such a good job setting up several mysteries with the antagonistic Kett alien race and the underground vaults built by an ancient species known as the Remnants that I will anxiously await the day where I get to see how the narrative plays out.   I can promise a continuation of my impressions of the game when that day comes.

©3/28/17

I Didn’t Know How Special Sunday Afternoon Could Be…

Sunday, May 7, at 4 o’clock, the Ann Arbor Symphony played its final concert of the season at Hill Auditorium. It was one of their finest concerts! The music was magical. It just carried me away.

 

Arie Lipsky is a wonderful conductor. He knows how to bring the best out of every musician. It doesn’t matter what instrument he or she plays. He seems to know how to reach into each one’s soul and ignite that magic spark.

 

The program opened with the Overture to William Tell and the Overture to Semiramide by Gioacchino Rossini. This was followed by the Opera Choruses by Giuseppe Verdi. The choruses were sung by the Carillon Women’s Chorale, the Livingston County Chorale, the Livingston County Chorale Women’s Chorus and Measure for Measure, the men’s choir of Ann Arbor.

 

The acoustics at Hill Auditorium are perfect. You can hear every note that is played or sung no matter where you are sitting. It was an excellent choice for the performance.

 

The stage is very wide and goes completely across the front of the auditorium. It is a thrilling sight to see the entire orchestra sitting there and then to watch the four choruses file in and stand on the risers behind them. The womens’ choruses filed in from the left while the men’s filed in from the right. It was a splendid sight once everyone was in place.

 

The choruses sang while the orchestra played. The selections were: The Anvil Chorus from Il trovatore, the Gypsy Chorus and the Matador Chorus from La traviata, Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from Nabucco and the Triumphal March from Aida.

 

After the intermission, the orchestra played Capriccio Italien, Op. 45 from Tchaikovsky and The Pines of Rome by Ottorino Respighi. The music was enchanting and the moment seemed to go on forever and then it stopped. The applause was exuberant, heartfelt and passionate. Everyone felt they had experienced something extraordinarily wonderful!

First Experience with Dead Rising 4

Note:  There are spoilers in this article.

 

Though Dead Rising 4 was released in December 2016, I was unable to play it until mid-March.  I had to wait until it was made available for my favorite gaming hub, the Steam Network, before I could download it.  Unlike Resident Evil 7, my resolve to stay spoiler-free until I could experience the game for myself was successful.

Like Resident Evil 7, I was certain that Dead Rising 4 would not run on my computer.  I chose to test it anyway and was pleasantly surprised when it booted up – although the load time for the starting screen took a while.  The only nitpicks I initially had were that shadows appear as distorted, blocky shapes, and there was a bit of a lag in the gameplay.  But that’s nothing that ruined the experience for me.  All I care about is that a game runs without crashing.

After the ending of Dead Rising 3 seemed to guarantee that there would be no more zombie outbreaks and that the story was over, the fourth game added another layer to the overall narrative.  In a lot of ways, Dead Rising 4 goes back to the roots of the series – it features photojournalist Frank West as the lead protagonist, takes place in the town of Willamette after a zombie outbreak has started, and has an intriguing mystery at its core.  It even lends some more depth to Dr. Barnaby, one of the antagonists in the original game who was responsible for starting the zombie epidemic in the first place.

One of the things I liked best about Dead Rising 4 is that, unlike its predecessors, there were no time constraints.  Instead of rushing through the game to solve the mystery before the clock ran out, I took my time exploring and killing zombies to my heart’s content.  I also love that the game brought back the option to dress the main character in a variety of wacky outfits, as well as create combo weapons and vehicles.  To take it one step further, Frank has access to a piece of military tech called an Exo-suit that can amplify his speed and strength.  In this outing, he throws cars at zombies to off them if he wants.  So far, I haven’t made much use of the Exo-suits apart when the game makes it a mission objective to put one on.  It is something to explore further.

While I encountered more than a few game glitches – my PC is old – nothing ruined the overall experience.  The one that really got annoying was when I undertook a mission to take out all the zombies present inside a pool hall.  Toward the end of the fight, the camera panned up to show a shot of some second story windows before a handful of the more aggressive zombies crashed through them; the camera angle remained fixed on the windows all through the ensuing fight and its aftermath.  While I worked out a way to kill the remaining creatures regardless, I was unable to exit the building since I couldn’t face the door.  Fortunately, this problem was corrected by loading the checkpoint given to me at the conclusion of the fight.

Apart from that glitch and the general lag in the gameplay, the other bugs I encountered regularly were seeing one or two zombies embedded inside a wall or walking into a room that is completely black.  I couldn’t see anything even with night vision enabled inside these black rooms.  While I enjoyed the game even with these glitches, I hope a newer, better computer will help eliminate them.

Overall, I liked the story developed for Dead Rising 4, but I also feel there are ways in which it could be better.  For starters, the character of Vick, one of Frank’s journalism students, didn’t live up to her potential.  In the opening chapter, I got the sense that she had a personal stake against the military group called Obscuris that was secretly creating and experimenting on zombies.  Had Obscuris taken someone Vick cared about for their experiments?  I was disappointed when this idea didn’t play out; Vick was simply a budding journalist out to write a prize-winning story.

I was also a bit disappointed with Calder, the “uber-zombie” hinted at during the first half of the game.  I remember feeling a sense of dread as I chased him through a train yard filled with mangled, heavily dented cars and then into the sewers.  I didn’t know what kind of monster to expect, but a highly intelligent former soldier decked out in an Exo-suit wasn’t quite it.  What made it weirder was when Frank caught up with Calder, the latter was, for some unknown reason, hell-bent on destroying the research that created him.

I felt that Calder and his motives could have been fleshed out better.  And if I had written the story, I would have had it so Vick and Calder were blood-related.  That would have made for quite the dramatic climax.

The ending to the main game still had its share of drama.  The final scene had Frank pulled from the rescue chopper by a horde of zombies and supposedly killed.  However, there has been news of an expansion pack called Frank Rising that will continue the story and have Frank striving to find a cure for zombie-ism before he fully joins the ranks of the undead.

I don’t know if there are any revelations that would allow for another game in the series.  Unless the company behind the Dead Rising franchise can come up with an intriguing, believable story for a fifth game, this may truly be the end of the road.  Whatever the future holds, I’ve definitely enjoyed the ride so far!

Despite my enthusiasm for Dead Rising 4, the game got pushed to the side for about a week in favor of Mass Effect: Andromeda – more on that in my next blog.